Monday, January 9, 2012

"We've got a special plaster..."

If you're one of my FB friends, you may recall that I've had the songs from "Godspell" (the 70s version, as there are some beautiful lyrics changes in the current Broadway production) stuck in my head. My brain is churning an essay/post about the relative social contexts of the old and new versions, and about Christianity and politics in general.

I need to do a bit of research before I hold forth, but do know I'm thinking about it. So if you know anything about the Mars Hill community, the recent upsurge of Bible Churches, the move to "re-masculinize" the church, or the current branding of "nondenominational," please contact me privately. I am genuinely interested in your thoughts and will keep them private. If you prefer to leave them as public comments, that's just fine.

The mean and "Christian" [quotation marks intentional] tenor of the increasingly nasty Republican primary race is raising the hair on the back of my neck. I'm hearing a lot of the usual evangelical code words (although I was amused to hear Michelle Bachman loving on Benjamin Franklin in her out-of-the-race speech. Michelle. Look up Deist). And I'm hearing candidates and the nasty new "super pacs" prancing a minuet around the label "Mormon" in much the same way folks did around the term "race" in 2008. Every candidate has his (and I definitely mean the masculine pronoun) special version of religion that he is certain will guide us back to our rightful place in the global patriarchy (and yes, I mean that, too).

So I leave you with the concept of "special plaster," from the original lyrics of "Beautiful City," and ask you to ruminate upon it until I return.

We don't need alabaster
We don't need chrome
We've got our special plaster
Take my hand
I'll take you home.

What "special plaster" do we need?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"Writing prompts are lame, m'kay?"

Above, behold my current favorite office shelf. I have no design skills whatsoever; my decor is best described as "shabby, absent-minded professor (piling variety) with noticeable lack of chic." But a couple of days ago, I looked up from my writing table and thought, "I really like that shelf."

You need to understand that no intentionality was employed in the arrangement of these objects. In fact, I mostly just stuck stuff up there when I unpacked items I retrieved from my mother's house and sister's apartment. Really. I sat on the floor with a box, raised my arm, and plunked. But the more I look, the more I see and the word that emerges is "matrilineal."

The Man's family has lived in Our Town for several generations, and connects with its and our state's history and Well Known Individuals at various points. My family is about as boring as they come. I was raised in a bland suburb far from my Mother's Iowa birthplace and my father's Oklahoma start. None of this really impacts how we live, but it does mean that Young Girl hears an awful lot about her father's family and next to nothing about mine. Without even realizing it, I've apparently made a little shrine for my girl-roots.

Of course, the shelf heavily features Young Girl: at far left on our steps in Oregon wearing an Austin College sweatshirt sent at her birth from former professors and current friends. Propped in the pale pink frame on the right, she smiles in the same location a few years later during one of our summer visits. The pale pink frame? Class picture from Belden Street Montessori, the world's best preschool. At the bottom right is a picture of The Man and me, mid-eighties, at my friend Beth's (matrilineal), then off-the-grid, Colorado cabin.

The San Simon candle? It's left over from a period of fascination with such candles and prayer cards, available in just about any store in our multi-cultural area. My favorite line from the English translation on the back? "Oh: Powerful St. Simon, I offer you your cigar, your tortilla, your drink and your candles if you help me with any danger I might find." One thing I do know about my mother is that she was raised as a Catholic, at least through her First Holy Communion (courtesy of my French grandfather). until she moved to an area of Texas where no Catholic church was available. He and my Scot Presbyterian grandmother settled in with the Methodists as a compromise position. After my mother's death, I discovered a wealth of prayer cards and medals she'd kept for decades, even some from her aunt the nun, Sister Emily; though Mother never spoke of her Catholicism, it obviously mattered much.

The flat iron was my great-grandmother's. Judging from pictures at her Quincy, Illinois home, she never used it herself, but I know my grandmother did because "having help" was not an option in the Texas oil-field world where she eventually landed. The gravy boat is all that remains from a mysteriously-disappeared set of china my great-grandmother brought with her from Scotland. The one-handled rolling pin was a staple of my childhood, used for everything from my grandmother's homemade noodles and dumplings, to my mother's sporadic attempts at baking, to my own early concoctions. The bell is a mystery. It looks too young to have come from Scotland, though there is a touch of Mackintosh in the handle's design. To my unknowing eye, it says pre-WW I, but barely. Maybe one of you will know more. And in the silvery-frame, anytime from Deco to the 40s, is my beautiful young mother, soon after the birth of her first of three daughters in 1943.

The mirror is just something I stuck in the back, and this shelf was the only one tall enough for the Collected Far Side box set.

Which brings us to the platter.

When I took my job in Oregon, The Man was unable to join me permanently for almost three years. The clock was ticking and we'd begun baby-planning discussions, but weren't very far into the journey. One morning, as I walked across campus, I found a potter selling pieces to benefit the art department. I had no idea why I found the platter so appealing, but I could not stop thinking about it. That afternoon I walked over and spent more than I could afford on the platter and a square trivet. For several months, it sat unremarked on a table in my office. "Nice platter," someone might say, but that was about the extent of its impact. Until the fateful day a Perceptive Colleague did a classic double take and cried, "My God! That piece is all about SEX!"

Why, my goodness, Dr. Freud, it was indeed. All that time, I'd been working with students in an office that was a pornography showcase! Semen! Uterus! Fallopian tube! A lone egg, protected by a diaphragm from an abnormally long-tailed sperm! And, depending on your perspective, either a quite detailed rendering of female genitalia or a basic penis - take your pick!

I, of course, had noticed none of this. None. But once these items were called to my attention they were all I could see.

I continued to display the piece, now christened "The Platter of Reproduction" by Perceptive Colleague, throughout my tenure. I became a kind of sneaky shrink, ever vigilant for the person who stared at it just a little too long. It offered black comic relief during the painful gamut of infertility testing and the miraculous result thereof, and continues to provide amusement to those in the know.

And so we come full circle: pregnancy, a daughter, me, my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother. Join me in this circle, be you male or female. May we all continue to pass on not only the items of the women who came before us and the women who go before us, but their stories and their spirits.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Well, my goodness! It's been about 18 months since I've posted anything of substance. Maybe you even assumed I'd disappeared. Alas, I'm back.

Texas' state flower is the bluebonnet. A funny thing about this flower, way down here along our southern border, is its need for a harsh, cold winter. The seed coating must be scarified through repeated freezing and thawing for the flower to bloom. Some springs, after a mild winter, the bluebonnets aren't particularly plentiful here in NoTex; when the winter is brutal, they are spectacular.

And somewhere in there is a metaphor for my absence. With Young Girl's return to public school and the subsequent lack of long periods of solitude I had a mild season (not that it felt that way at the time). But over the last year or so, something has been lurking around inside, freezing and thawing and freezing and thawing, and being - in general - harsh. I seem to be sufficiently scarified to start the blooming process which may not flourish until spring, just like the bluebonnet.

Today, I find myself with nothing particularly profound to say, a pot of long-cooking Bolognese sauce on the stove, and a bit of time. So let's just gut out some bullet points, what say?

* Yes, I know it's the Iowa Caucus today. And you know my politics if you've read more than a post or two. I wish I could attribute this, but I've heard the Republican primary season characterized as a reality show. Who will be voted off the island tonight? About a year ago, I laid a small bet - based on several years of successful ticket-predicting - that President Obama would be running against a Romney/Perry ticket. Cold Mormon needs good-old-boy evangelical to go all the way. How could I have underestimated the stupidity of the man who has been my own governor oh so many years? Probably because the governor of Texas is not a very powerful position. It took a national stage for his stupidity to metastasize. I still think Romney is inevitable. But I'd like to see the race for number two be something like "Dancing with a Democrat" or "Flaming Kitchen Knives of Malice." There's some entertainment for you!

* Young Girl adjusted beautifully from classic Montessori instruction to whacko public school. Why whacko? The puzzling curriculum-of-the-day switches, the new social studies standards which are beyond bizarre, a GT program that is nothing more than Behavioral Segregation in most cases.....I could go on and probably will after I go Medieval on the school board in a couple of weeks. It is true. I plan to - publicly - speak my mind in Small Town Texas. As does The Man. Let the chips fall where they may. One highlight, though. Young Girl's 2010-2011 Future Problem Solvers team went to state finals, meaning a trip to Austin without parents. Whoo Hooo!

* My sister has continued to decline. The most recent scan showed her breast cancer has returned in her lumbar spine and ribs. She suffered severe side effects from whole-brain radiation, and when you mess with the brain and its messaging system all sorts of bad things can happen all over your body. When I went through WBR with my mother and my sister, we were told that there was really no way to predict who would suffer side effects or the severity thereof. My mother suffered minimally, my sister, maximally. Sis is now in an assisted-living facility, which has been a blessing beyond belief. And before you start screaming at me about cancer screening, let me just say I am on it with a vengeance. I had my ovaries and uterus removed last year, and meet with a breast surgeon twice a year. Both my sisters, my mother, and I were/are BRCA negative. But the cluster is just too weird to be anything other than hypervigilant.

* Thanks to the truly miraculous Couch-to-5K running program Young Girl and I have now completed four 5K races. I've met or exceeded my (extremely) modest goals in each. I'm what runners call a "penguin," but I'm a runner nonetheless. Even if you think you are too big/old/injured/jaded/whatever, I encourage you to look at C25K. If I can do it...

* Large Dog returned to the German Shorthaired Pointer rescue program in 2009, amid much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Small Dog adopted us in October 2011. One is missed, both are adored.

* I continue to be supported in Our Town by the fabulous women of the First Amendment Friday group. The circle has widened a bit, too. Who knew so many Leftist Ladies hang around these parts!

* I promise to be back tomorrow. Feels kind of great to have my fingers back on the keys.