Friday, January 30, 2009


So many worries…

Is it time for my mother to stop her cancer treatment?

Should I take an aggressive, invasive approach to prevent cancer in my own body?

Need the release of every dollar be fraught with such anxiety?

Why is my sweet daughter suddenly exploding with anger?

After 25 years of marriage and 50 years of living, why do I feel as if everything is starting over?

But such elegant, smooth cord….

I treasure good friends who listen and who have, in some cases, faced the same worries.

Each day my daughter learns in a peaceful, loving academic environment

My sister, at least today, shares rather than attacks my thoughts about our mother’s care.

ve found new pursuits – knitting, drawing, and painting – to open a new chapter for my hands; my heart will follow, surely.

I’m grateful for the
Lithia Writers, who have my back from so very far away.

And the finest needle, language, in its infinite richness and precision….

May it help me string these beads, and place them in my fingers to touch and consider.

Every word can be a healing, every page a release.

We are fortunate, indeed, to write.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A License to Practice Medicine....Again

One of my significant beefs with the Bush II administration was its complete disregard for reproductive rights. While its restrictions on women, their doctors, and their hospitals in this country were bad enough, its determination to impose a specific brand of morality on those who practice medicine in other countries and receive US funding was abominable.

In places where disease, hunger, famine, and rape are rampant; in places where HIV/AIDS and other diseases rage out of control; and in places where women have little opportunity to make decisions (reproductive or otherwise), NGOs have been unable to discuss, much less provide, abortion services as one option among others.

Things really can change with the stroke of a pen.

From Rebecca Traister in today's

This just in: Globe to be ungagged

Day three of life in Obama times, and there's more good news to report: today the president will lift the so-called "global gag rule" or "Mexico City Policy" that forbids NGOs that receive federal funding from providing abortion services or counseling abroad. The rule was first announced in 1984, in Mexico City at the United Nations International Conference on Population, at the height of Reagan-era social conservative fever. It meant that many international family planning and reproductive health organizations (including the International Planned Parenthood Federation) lost a heap of money from the feds, and that others that wanted or needed to keep their funding had to conform to strict policies in which advocacy, counseling or provision of abortion services was verboten. The rule was rescinded by Bill Clinton in 1993, immediately after he took office, and promptly reinstated by George Bush in 2001, days after he took office. So Obama's decision here is not surprising, but it is certainly good news for women and men around the world.

His choice to lift the gag today rather than yesterday, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade decision and the date that both Clinton and Bush made their announcements, is being read as a sign of respect toward antiabortion activists, who staged a large march in D.C. yesterday. That may be true, but it's also true that by making more pro-choice news today, after issuing a very strong statement in support of Roe yesterday, Obama is ensuring that his lift of the gag rule -- which really does change the landscape for international health and family services -- can stand as its own news story, rather than just getting mashed in with the rest of the January 22 "abortion day" news.

― Rebecca Traister

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Words and Lawns

Last May, I overcame extreme anxiety and hit “send,” pushing two essays of the nest. I submitted these fledglings, the first non-academic work I’d submitted anywhere under my own name since age 16, for inclusion in a collection of creative non-fiction. Its editors are two writers and bloggers I’ve come to admire and respect.

The publication date, “fall of 2008,” implied a decision sometime around October. Apparently they did not receive enough submissions, and instead extended the deadline to December 31. Despite the standard “we cannot respond to inquiries about individual submissions” warning, I sent a “cheery little email” not long ago and received a form response. The project’s website has not been updated in any form or fashion; it still mentions the original submission deadline: May 15, 2008.

I do not have the confidence of the other Lithia Writers. I am meek. It was a huge leap of faith to hit that button. And you know what? When I sent those words away they somehow were no longer mine. The sending itself was the point of this event, not acceptance (or so I’m telling myself until the rejection email arrives).

All this brings me around to my lawn.

Every fall, in the hopes of continuous employment, a landscape service spreads winter rye seed over our two acres. The first time they did this, I blustered, “How dare they assume I want a green winter yard!” Then the compliments began to roll in and I learned to savor the feel of soft, cold green blades under my feet.

But this year? My yard looks like a Chia Pet undergoing chemotherapy.

You see, we’re experiencing a serious drought. Smack in the middle of all those biblical weather systems (floods, blizzards, Gulf hurricanes, etc.), we’re high and dry.

Here and there, hopeful patches of brilliant green have erupted among the brown dirt and sere Bermuda and St. Augustine. Looking down, I see hundreds of seeds, dreaming of germination.

This afternoon, I realized that my lawn resembles the writing life as well. Amid the drought of anxiety, we sow our seeds and we wait.

Here and there, celebration and growth!

There and here, patience and nothingness.

And you always have to mow, either way.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bright, Bright Sunshiny Day...

It’s been a good long time since we merely chatted…about 18 months. So grab your hot toddy, pull up closer to the fire, and listen to me ramble about what’s on my mind.

• The Obama inauguration was an overwhelming joy. I stopped trying to force Young Girl to “get it” once I realized that her blasé attitude is an object lesson in why he was elected. His race is simply not a big deal to her, and not just because of her age. She’s had peers who look like Sasha and Melia all her life. They’re just two girls about her age who have the incredible luck to be living in the White House. Oh, right. They’re African American. Whatever, Mom. During the President Obama’s speech, The Man saw a bald eagle flying out at the ranch. We agreed it was a beautiful, positive omen for the day and the future.

• I have not truly been happy for a long time. But more importantly, I had no idea how blue I’d become. I’ve taken some actions to ameliorate the situation, and I’m pleased to report that the sunshine is breaking through and I’m feeling better than I have in years. Oh, yeah, the menopause thing being over could have a little something to do with that, too.

• As to the above, if you are not happy, and you know what you need to do to feel better, and you can’t do it no matter how much you know you should, please discuss with your health care provider the possibility that something might be up with your body. That’s all I’m saying.

• We’re having a string a stunning, crisp, sunny days. Still, sunny, blue skies with temps in the 40s and 50s are my idea of perfect weather. But I’ll take sunny post-snow days, too. Hint, hint universe.

• My mother continues her miraculous response to her cancer treatment, despite metastasis to her brain. She’s finished radiation for the 6 brain tumors, and is waiting for the go-ahead (neurological stability for a month) to join a clinical trial. She’s breaking all survival expectations. GO MOTHER!

Enough self-important yammering. As soon as I can, I’m headed outdoors.

Friday, January 16, 2009

I Want This Dress In Deep Rich Bottle Green

The lovely Christy  has blessed me mixedly with an award:

I now must reveal five addictions and make five other people do the same. If I'd received this award in the 80s, I'd have been honor bound to begin with my addiction to black shoes, but I am thankfully in recovery from that one. I'm more of a "propensity" type than an addiction type, but I have come up with 5 things suitable for general consumption. So, here goes.

My name is Kelly, and I’m addicted to

1. My Laptop  More precisely, I'm addicted to googling people and things that don’t do wonders for my self-esteem and compulsively checking blog comments, FB updates, and emails.

2. The Pacific Northwest  I am meant to live there. I dream of Oregon and the San Juan Islands daily, and would love to retire to a craftsman cottage in either spot and grow lots of peonies.

3. Very Nice Hotels  I’ve had insomnia issues for years, and I always sleep well in a cold, dark, quiet room on a good bed with tons of pillows. I also like to take my laptop to the bar and people watching in conjunction with addiction #1.

4. My Goofy Dog, Kaiser  He’s a pain in the ass, my husband is allergic to him, and I have to do all the work. But those eyes! And all that love!

5. Procrastination  But I will make significant progress on this one tomorrow, believe it or not, I promise!

I honor the following bloggers:
Do You Realize?, What I Saw Today,  Redmolly Picayune-Democrat, Cheerio Road, and The Savvy Navigator

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Let The Sun Shine In....

Five preteens, four girls and a boy, sit in the small bedroom, playing their favorite summer game. It’s 1969. While “spin-the-bottle” has been part of their repertoire for some time, let me remind you that it is summer. Texas summer. And it’s 1969.

What this means for those of you who are younger or more economically or geographically fortunate than our five friends is that the 3BR 1.5B brick has no central air conditioning. The boy in question is fortunate enough to have a window unit.

The game is “Freezeout.”

They’ve set the Kenmore at its lowest setting, blocked the crack under the door with a JC Penney bath towel, and are just beginning to feel the first goose bumps. Someone drops the needle on an album forbidden in at least one household, in spite of the squeaky-clean family band, because of a single song, the song they all love, the song that brings them to their chilly bare feet….

“Gimme a head with hair…”

Shining. Gleaming. Streaming. Flaxen. Waxen.

I’m pretty sure I was the only one who knew – at least at age ten – that the song was from a play famous for actual naked people (did you guess that I was the one without the Cowsills album?), on stage in a city far far away. Our parents worked desperately to convince us that hippies, Be-ins, yippies, protesters, and other manifestations of malcontent would turn us into “juvenile delinquents.”

We taped our peace sign posters up inside our closets and Bobby Sherman on our bedroom walls.

In one of those great ironies only the universe can create, I now assiduously work to ensure my daughter has the kind of social consciousness my parents did their best to prevent me from developing.

Toward that end, I downloaded the soundtrack from Hair and slipped it on her iPod Monday night.

Never trust anyone over 50.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


It is time to face the strange changes....

Small Child turned nine years old yesterday.

As I watched her run and ride and twirl with her friends I realized she was no longer Small Child.

So three cheers and nine candles to Young Girl, in all her glory.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Making Beautiful Music

If a blood-sucking, buzzing bitch is in the same county, she will find me. And feast.

No, this is not the first line in my new lesbian vampire novel.

I am a mosquito all-you-can-eat buffet. A smorgasbord. A slop-trough.  You get the idea. But, as a new article in the journal Science explains, I have the metaphors all wrong.

I am a symphony hall; a dim, romantic piano bar; a frenetic 80s disco dance floor on ladies' night.

You see, for mosquitoes  it truly don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. 

A receptive female mosquito ito emits a tone, say a G; an interested male emits a tone a perfect fifth higher, a D. When the notes align and the pitch is right, they create an audible (to those with wings or fancy recording equipment) overtone. 

Mosquitoes mate only when this overtone is present.

Males without perfect pitch don't get to play.

It just goes to show you, guys: your pick-up line better be pitch perfect.

Learn more about this fascinating story here.

photo credit: Visuals Unlimited/Corbis via

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

We Can Build a Dream With Love

Beautiful image by Jen Lemen* used with artist's permission

Come on people! Sons and mothers! 
Keep the dream of the two young brothers. 
Gonna take that dream and ride that dove.
We could build the dream with love, 
We could build the dream with love.
I got fury in my soul, fury's gonna take me to the glory goal. 
In my mind I can't study war no more.
(Lyrics by Laura Nyro)

Today I drove Small Child to school on a bright, cool Texas morning...the best possible weather. In yesterday's mail, we'd received a copy of a long lost CD, a mix I'd made to celebrate the first birthdays of a mess-o-babies born in our Oregon town in the year 2000. We rolled through the flat, sere pastures, rediscovering old favorites and singing along with everyone from Sinatra to Smash Mouth when the gentle acoustic strums of Roseanne Cash's cover of "Save The Country" broke through like  Hand-of-God-Through-The-Clouds-Sunshine.

About half way through, when I heard the lyrics I've copied above, I hit repeat.

And again.

And again.

And then it hit me in the gut.

On January 20, our nation will have kept that dream.

And if, as I fervently hope, the older brother's brilliant daughter is seated in the United States Senate, we will have built it with love.

Godspeed, Barack and Caroline, as you approach your glory goals.

A nation is behind you, fury in our soul.

*Jen Lemen is an amazing blogger, artist, doula, mother, NPR contributor, and advocate for the girls and women of Africa. Please visit her blog for information on her work, both written and visual.

Monday, January 5, 2009

I Embark

After my daughter was born, I decided I would conquer my "math block." I resolved, at age 41, to complete a calculus course before I turned 50.

One obstacle lay in my path: my last math instruction, trigonometry, had taken place when I was 17. Truth was, I could no longer factor an equation.

Finally I had a reason to be thankful for the sad state of public education. I enrolled in the easiest developmental math course at the university where I worked. While on maternity leave, I factored and solved while my baby slept. I loved it. Putting numbers in neat columns and arriving at finite, correct answer was the perfect counterbalance to the chaos of first-time motherhood.

I breezed through the three "pre-credit" courses once I got my number legs back; the hardest part was using that newfangled graphing calculator. In the old days, such wonders didn't exist and the dinosaur versions were so expensive - even though TI was a 20 minute drive from our school - that we had one per classroom and had to take turns. Yes, Virginia, we used slide rules. Google the term.

My return to work coincided with my entry into "College Algebra." I was doing fine, but the combination of math, child care, sorting out the adminstrivia of six months' absence, and finding time to sleep was not working and I put numeracy aside.  And I never resumed, even after I resigned and returned to Texas.

So 50 came and went last month with nary a bit of calculus. No big.

But I have decided that something else absolutely must come to pass this year. I owe it to myself and to one amazing teacher in my past and colleague and friend in the present, Carol Daeley.

I've never read a novel by Charles Dickens. 

It's a long story, but over the years it's become a point of perverse pride, a literary party-fact: "Why, yes, I'm an aborted-doctor-of literature and you know what? I've never read Dickens. Take THAT."

But in my sixth decade, it's time to shit or get off the pot. My education is incomplete. 

I have chosen Bleak House, and just clicked the checkout button on amazon. The die is cast. 

Saturday, January 3, 2009

I Still Love the Modernists

I've been out of the crosshairs of the literary canon for quite a good long time. During my most recent enmeshment, the writers I "specialized in" during graduate school - The Modernists -  had fallen out of favor. Their deadwhitemale corpses were the cannibal feasts of fierce young Xinists and Xicists who, ironically, had adopted one of the great Modernist mottoes:

Make It New

Everyone was chasing after some new writer and some new angle to (dare I say) fetishize, and being Dead and White and Male pretty much meant a writer was Going To Pay. 

Given, the new writers were mostly wonderful; granted, the old writers (they weren't all men though they were all dead and they pretty much were all white) were not always on the fashionable side of the political fence. They drank, smoke, and screwed with abandon. Some were not very nice to each other or anyone else.

But they wrote with the angels. 

The angels.

I could go off on a rant here about how anyone who still thinks Hemingway is a misogynist needs to go on a very long retreat with a copy of The Sun Also Rises and anyone who thinks Faulkner is a racist should do the same with The Sound and The Fury, but I'll spare you.

Instead, I just want to tease you with a tiny bit of light. This isn't the happiest poem, but glory how it sings.

Take it away, Mr. Eliot.....

1. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
(T.S. Eliot 1888-1965)

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats 
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question … 
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

If you would like to read on, click here.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Turning Over a New Lexicon

Those who know me will back me up on this one: I am not stodgy. I will say just about anything to anyone anywhere at anytime.

That said, however, I also believe that certain niceties should be observed, and right at the top of the list is Standard English When Appropriate. I toss around slang and, um, colorful diction all the time but I do my best to be cognizant of my audience. And one thing I guard against is the linguistic equivalent of “mutton dressed as lamb.” Nothing is more cringe-worthy than a middle-aged teacher trying to hang with the peeps. 

Writ small, u will not c me l8er. 

As a neophyte texter, I faced a dilemma every time I whipped out my thumbs. Character limits forced me to send three messages to every student’s one. And since it took me forever to figure out how to coax an apostrophe from my non-QWERTY device, I wrote without contractions for months.

Eventually I loosened up a bit, but only to a small circle.

My peeps, u no.

When I teach, my students are usually veterans of the AP wars; they write shell-shocked, stilted, voiceless prose and I must help them loosen not tighten their diction. But I still want things
right, damn it.

So when I finally became a mother, those who’d known me for big chunks of the 41 years it took me to breed braced themselves for the birth not only of a girl child but also of a fire-breathing perfectionist bitch of a mother… Joan Crawford with
The MLA Handbook.

But just as ligaments and tendons loosen to allow a baby’s body to pass through a small space, my rigidity collapsed in the presence of my daughter’s linguistic development. While an adult mispronouncing a word usually sends me running for the Xanax, I was fascinated by the organic process in which she sussed out verb tenses and found her "r" and "l." But I’m still a perfectionist on the inside, and her spelling is another story altogether. Maybe I’ll come back to that in another post, after enduring homework thanks to a couple of glasses of Oregon pinot noir. A commentator on NPR recently urged listeners to accept the reality that “thru” and “nite” may well become standard spellings in 10 years.


But motherhood has relaxed me. It’s made me a more patient, process oriented teacher and a more self-forgiving writer (which is a good thing, considering that this post ended up in Chicago when I was headed for Providence, but oh, well…). My daughter has taught me more about Being, Impermanence, Suffering, and Life than any wall of texts could. She’s also inspired me and made me laugh.

And she’s a princess of neology.

I’d refer to her as a
“neologist,” but Merriam-Webster Unabridged hasn’t extended its definition yet. So as my initial contribution to Lithia Writers’ Collective, I offer you two new words, courtesy of Small Child, age eight for six more days.

Snoreful: one who snores noticeably. “Mommy, Kaiser's such a snoreful dog.”
Braggative: someone (most often a third grade girl, but you never know….) who seems to think she’s awfully special. “Mommy, Narcissa’s nice, but she’s kind of braggative sometimes.”

Use these with pleasure, and happiest of Januarys to you all.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Starting The New Year Right

Today, a secret fantasy came true. No, Alan Rickman did not whisk me away to a remote windswept island.

My Oregon writing group, The Lithia Writers' Collective, invited me to fill the Friday blogging spot recently vacated by Julie Inada, a writer and writing teacher from whom I have stolen so many tips I should be locked away under the "Three Strikes" rules of most states. I have missed these women so much for so long that I can't wait to be part of the group, even if I'm 2000+ miles away. I only hope I can keep up, especially since I must follow Christy.

If I can overcome my mounting performance anxiety, you can read me tomorrow at LWC. 

Unless Alan shows up.

Then, dear friends, find yourselves another girl.