Friday, March 19, 2021


I have to share a story about my trip to Ireland…NOT because it’s about Ireland and we just celebrated a GRAND St. Patrick’s Day, but because two things this week have been pretty triggering for me: the murders of six Asian women in Atlanta at the hands of some schmuck who was “suffering” from sexual addiction, and this meme that popped up in Facebook this week…

I was visiting a city in the south,  and a pretty well-known poet, at the behest of his uncle whom I knew, set up a poetry reading for me. Tom (not his real name) had set up this reading in a downtown pub. I can’t remember the name of the pub, so let’s call it O’Flynn’s, starting at 9 p.m. that night. I didn’t have a car in Ireland, so I was hoofing it or taking taxis everywhere.

Early in the day, I texted Tom to ask for O’Flynn’s address. Much texting back and forth ensued, and I’ll never know the story on O’Flynn’s, but Tom never did give me an address. He told me it was “right around the corner” from my hotel, inside another business, and I could easily walk there. I went downstairs to the hotel’s front desk and asked the clerk to help me locate this place. She couldn’t find it. She guessed it was one of two possible locations, but she couldn’t be sure. I texted Tom again and asked for a street address so I could GPS. He didn’t give me one and said, instead, just to “head down XX Street, and you can’t miss it.”

So (1) I was a WOMAN traveling alone not just in an unfamiliar city, but an unfamiliar country; (2) It was after dark; (3) I was supposed to meet a man I’d never met and didn’t know; (4) I was in the city centre; (5) I was walking; and (6) I had no idea where I was going – I could set out in ANY direction, so vague were the directions, and never find the place.

Finally, I texted Tom and told him thank you, but I was staying in. I didn't know if this was to have been a “featured” reading, part of an open mic, or what kind of event it was. I’ll never know because Tom no longer speaks to me, declaring me “rude” and “inconsiderate” for canceling. It still bothers me, not because Tom decided I was rude—I’m a big girl and can take not everyone liking me—but because Tom, like SO MANY MEN, couldn’t or wouldn’t try to understand WHY I canceled. He didn't GET IT.

It’s so much easier for men to move about (especially white men) that many, I think, can’t imagine feeling vulnerable or being house-bound by fear. Like almost every woman I know, I’ve been accosted, confronted, and abused (only emotionally, for me, praise the goddesses) by men throughout my life. I’m not sure Tom could see the forest for his white male privileged trees.

In spite of still being angry that Tom, a well-educated man and gifted poet who, in the age of Me Too should have known better (or should have offered to pick me up), DOESN’T know better or wasn’t sensitive enough to empathize, I hope we can meet again someday and mend that fence. I love his poetry, and I think he’s an important voice in contemporary Irish poetry. 

I also think that until MEN care about and work for the safety of women, we’d better keep the Wolverine claws (pepper spray, personal alarms, lifeguard whistles, etc.) handy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Love Letter to My Fat

Chalk it up to the pandemic (a YEAR now), quarantine, winter (it’s -9 this morning…yes, you read that right), or a complete lack of my favorite foods—carbs—because I’m 8 months into yet ANOTHER diet. Or, as diet gurus like to say nowadays, “WOE” or “way of eating.” WOE is accurate, too, as in woe is me. Whatever the cause, my patience is, as Monty Python famously said, “wafer thin.” And I realize that often, this blog is a way for me to articulate and examine my own frustrations, so…I wanna talk about FAT. AGAIN.

In America at least, we’re obsessed with weight. In fact, weight has almost become a habitual conversation starter. Eavesdrop on any discussion, watch TV for an hour, go to the doctor FOR ANYTHING, and there it is—she’s gained weight…he’s lost weight…she looks better thinner/fatter…have you SEEN how much she’s gained/lost…her face looks puffy…his face is too thin…that shirt makes her/him look too fat/thin, please step on the scale IMMEDIATELY.

We don’t care, or at least not as MUCH, about a person’s soul, needs, accomplishments (unless they’re weight related), compassion, back-stabbiness, decoupage skillz, or their ability to ID sharp-shinned hawks at 350 yards. We care about their weight gain/loss ratio. Their "before" and "after." And of course, women are disproportionately targeted for fat comments and shaming, but that’s another can of vipers, and you DON’T want to get me started…

I’m someone who was thin and wispy until my child-bearing years. Then, by INTELLIGENT DESIGN, I packed on reserves: If I had to survive an Arctic blizzard, by the thunder gods I’d be able to keep my offspring warm until spring. And if the mister missed his wildebeest and couldn’t bring home the bacon, I’d still be able to nurse the babies, thanks to my body’s voluminous fat warehouse. Or, if a mastodon mashed the mister, I’d have that healthy, baby-factory bod the other men would club each other for, et voilĂ , I’d get my genes passed on.

Which Adele is happier? kinder? most compassionate?

I’m laughing a little, but I’m also noticing that the people who MAKE all these remarks—who JUDGE others by their kilos and stones—are almost always THIN, and effortlessly so. Or, they’ve worked their arses off to ACHIEVE thinness and now have the right to judge every poor fat slob who hasn’t, kind of like the way people who inherit money bitch about poor folks needing to “pull themselves up” by their fictitious bootstraps. Forget that weight is usually an amalgam of any number of 1734 contributing factors—genetics, hormones, unrelenting stress, insecurity, psychology, sexual abuse, occupation, co-conditions, illness, medications, other traumas, social and familial conditioning, weather, olfactory memories, cell memory, barometric pressure, natural Girl Scout Cookie resistance, past life experience…you name it.

Also, I DO NOT want you or anyone else feeling sorry for me. I'm avoiding carbs to keep my triglycerides and blood sugar down, and I've lost like 5 lbs, which, for you skinny people, is like not eating that ONE Dorito. I know it's hard for thin people to believe, but I LIKE my body. In fact, my lumpy, bumpy body has seen me through periods of unromantic hippie poverty, a 30+-year marriage, the births/nurturing of three of the world’s best humans, a 25-year career, and a solo tour of Ireland that yanked me out of my comfy sedentary life and forced me into moving my two feet back and forth ad infinitum as a means of propulsion (I didn’t lose a lb, BTW—probably my Celtic genes hugging that fat like a bag of Twinkies, in case of famine).

You can SAVE your “IT’S SIMPLE MATH,” too: Calories burned ≠/> calories consumed. If humans were a product of simple math and logic, we humans wouldn’t be in ANY of the messes we’re in.

So next time you see a weather man, game show host, old high school friend, person who used to check you out at Hy-Vee, or really, ANYONE, and the first thing you can think to say has something to do with weight, you are a weight-shaming bigot, and I’m gonna stuff all 15 Scottish shortbread cookies (imported from Scotland, not the cheap imitations, because butter) that I carry in my pockets, right in my BIG FAT MAW and make you watch me chew. Very politely.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Retirement: The Becoming Years

RETIREMENT. Holy buckets. Did I ever think I’d do this? No, I thought I’d teach college English till they pried the grading pen from my cold, cramped hand. But as of May of this year, I will retire from my full-time, 25-year teaching career. (I can’t even believe I’ve had a 25-year career, since Inner Me is still in her 20s.)

I’ve been working since I was 14, when I started as an A&W carhop. For those too young to know what that is, I carried trays of food to people’s cars and hooked the trays on their rolled down car windows. In a brown and orange mini dress. I once served fried chicken and root beer to a man who jumped the parking curb, drove his Caddy through the plate glass storefront and up to the counter, then rolled down his window and ordered. When I looked wide-eyed at my boss and asked what I should do, my boss said, “Get him his chicken.” Ah…good times.

From that time on, I had brief jobless stints, but mostly I worked: waitress, fast-food counter, bartender, janitor, lunch truck driver, bank teller, retail clerk, life skills assistant for adults with disabilities, nursing assistant, surgical prep tech, Extension Office secretary, gig musician, and eventually, college instructor. Much of that time, I was also a full-time parent. Sometimes a single parent. Some of that time, I also took uni classes part- or full-time. That’s about fifty years of wearing what is now a sky-high stack of hats.

It’s scary, I’ll admit. This might surprise you, but I am NOT a relaxed person. I am a compulsive, hyper-responsible worker. I’m not good at “idle.” If I haven’t mentioned it before, I suffer from the HHN-i gene (for more on this anomaly read, that makes it super-hard for me to CHILL. But no worries. I’m already busy compiling a TO-DO list for my retirement years (note the timing of some of these depends on our ability to finally be decent, caring human beings and do what we must to tackle the pandemic). In my ideal post-career world, here’s some of what I’ll be doing… 

1. Write. Write. Write. 
2. Read. Read. Read (stuff I WANT to read, not stuff I HAVE to read). 
3. Improve my DAILY meditation practice, my antidote to the HHN-i disorder. 
4. Sing & play guitar/ukulele every day. Work on the uke version of "Smoke on the Water."
5. Hang out with my kids and grandkids until they start dropping hints about "bad fish" or "privacy" or "how much your birds miss you."
6. Take many road trips with Ray: Porter Sculpture Park, Montrose, SD; Spam Museum, Austin, MN; an endless list. 
7. Learn Irish (already started on both Duolingo and Rosetta Stone. After almost a year, I can say “Ta tortair agam” (I have a turtle) and “Ta leabhar si an nuachtan” (she reads the newspaper). Handy. 
8. Travel with Mom, wherever/whenever she gets a hankerin’ to go. 
9. Visit out-of-town family & friends. 
10. Go camping. Camp in the Badlands, and stay up late enough to hear the coyote choir.
11. Get back to my Good Old Irish Walks. 
12. Wait…go back to Ireland! Walk THERE! Pleasepleaseplease… 
13. Knit; finish Christmas gifts by Christmas. 
14. Have long, chatty, catch-up coffees with friends. 
15. Raise canaries. Stare at them. Talk to them. Post a nauseating number of photos of them. 
16. Kayak and garden during South Dakota’s lovely three-week summer. 
17. Perfect my mad napping skilz. 
18. Get down and dirty with Find my Irish Donegal ancestors.
19. Teach an online class now & then. 
20. Really clean my house (unrealistic pipe dream). 
21. Unpack the boxes still in the basement from the last move (7 years ago…no rush). 
22. Declutter, unburden, simplify, minimize, downsize. 
23. BE instead of DO. 

It’s a pretty ambitious list, I know (Note to Self: see #23 above). I’m also one of the world’s great procrastinators, so the list could end up on a bulletin board shoved in the back of a closet, behind my senior prom dress (“Killing Me Softly” was the spotlight song), or the fringed leather jacket I lived in throughout the 70s, or the tub of PEZ dispensers (Note to Self: see #22 above). 

In my late teens and early 20s, I had a vision of myself: One day I’d become an idealistic, poor-but-happy, guitar-playing-Joni-Mitchell-singing, recluse hippie writer. Maybe it won’t work out EXACTLY as I imagined, but I feel like I’m about to bring that vision to life. And it only took me a lifetime. ;)

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Pre-pandemic Panic

Final grades are in, Semester released me at last, the Christmas tree and lights are up, and 9 months into the Covid-19 pandemic, a vaccine is finally here. We can’t get it yet, but PRAISE BE to the developers, shippers, pilots, drivers, and shot-givers getting it into frontline workers and nursing home residents so far.

Interestingly, once my grades were submitted and I DIDN’T breathe a huge sigh of relief, I realized just how tightly wound this past year has left me. I’m guessing it’s partly fear of the virus—you know, the dying alone on a ventilator part—and partly isolation/separation from my pre-2020 life. However, I also realized recently that my up-tightness may be a “pre-existing condition,” which I blame, in part, on my HHN-i gene (for more on this anomaly read

The insight that I’m a wee bit panic-prone and pathologically hyper-responsible came into full and glorious focus recently as I was cleaning out closets and cupboards, something I’m guessing 98.2% of educators do over holiday breaks.

You just never know...

Among other things, I came across a Rubbermaid tub of mostly-outdated medicines and leftover or unused prescriptions—for pain, skin rashes, eye/ear infections, respiratory ails, coughs, fungi, various forms of itching, dizziness, diarrhea, anxiety, constipation, and more, including bulb syringes, regular syringes, splints, a single ear piercer, plantar fasciitis boots, Ace bandages, and Castor oil. I also found in various locations deer jerky, a flint fire starter, collapsible cups and dog bowls, an ex-boyfriend’s 45-year-old mountain sleeping bag, 16 extra CPAP hoses, a camping French Press, home-canned QUARTS of jalapenos from 1999, and two LifeStraw water filters. It also seems I have makeup, some dating back to my early teens, stashed in several locations around the house (for quick access, I guess, in spite of the fact that I don’t wear makeup).

What ARE these, I wonder?!?

It’s clear to me now—I have been preparing all my life for the Apocalypse.

This kind of self-realization might startle some people. But after coming across these essential supplies squirreled away in forgotten caches all over our house, over-analyzing their potential usefulness, and dusting jars and bottles (then re-stashing all but the fungus cream), I have come to believe that my preparations are just wise and careful planning. Because if 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that once this pandemic is finally over and we can unmask, I may still have to pull out the 50-year-old Yardley lip gloss (disguise) or the jalapenos (weapons) and go out to face the Horsemen.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Brace Yourselves

Mom, Ray, and I are spending Thanksgiving apart from our kids and their families, extended family, and friends who traditionally join us for dinner. We’re doing this because we love them all so, and we want everyone to be Covid-safe, so that next year, we can gather to celebrate our passage through this unbelievable year. We’ll Zoom today, so we can chat and/or watch each other cook, and so the little kids can tell us—for an unnatural length of time without taking a breath—more than we ever hoped to know about Mario Bros or Seven Deadly Sins or EllieV's bizarre YouTube Lego life.

Here’s a little Thanksgiving poem from our family to yours. It was published this year in an anthology, South Dakota in Poems, edited by South Dakota Poet Laureate Christine Stewart, which you can buy here (supporting and giving thanks for the South Dakota State Poetry Society): South Dakota in Poems

       a South Dakota Thanksgiving 

The turkey will be spatchcocked, splayed 
like a fallen Pilgrim. Potatoes will be rough-mashed,
with polkadots of peel and enough garlic & rosemary
to ward off vampires. Grandma will find a way to work
candy red hots into every dessert: green jello salad,
sweet potato pie, Eagle brand caramel pudding.
There will be no stuffing. There will be serious talk
of lutefisk and lefse, hot dishes, bars, Mrs. Larson’s
prizewinning crabapple jelly. There will be a few
passing remarks about religion and politics, and no one
will disagree. Uncle Boots will flip out his dentures
for the kids and tell Ole and Lena jokes. The register
of our combined knee-slapping guffawing will wake
the night-shift neighbors. The Trolls movie will play
in the living room, and we will all stop to sing along,
dramatically and with hand gestures, to “True Colors.”
Grandkids will sweetly play until, fully-amped
on pudding and jello, they will turn Mr. or Ms. Hyde,
baring teeth & claws, upturning furniture, snapping
heads off Barbies, trampolining on perfectly relaxed,
napping bellies. Something will be broken beyond repair.
Someone will get hurt. Someone will sneak off to hide
in the quiet basement. And as we’re putting on our coats
to leave, we will all give true & serious thanks—
that we have each other, 
that we made it out alive,
that it’s over until next year.

In Quarantinesgiving, you can have corndogs for dinner if you want.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Let Us Give Thanks

Covid surges on here in South Dakota. According to Johns Hopkins, we’re the #2 WORST state in the nation in terms of our Covid cases, ranking behind #1 North Dakota. Our governor Kristi Nope, Nightmare Noem, Plague Princess (I have more names for her I can’t put in here) said in a press conference yesterday that it was never the intention of the State Department of Health to make mitigation decisions for the state based on the rate of infections, deaths, stress on frontline workers, and those other nasty metrics HUMANS think about. No, Sir. Her priority has always been hospital capacity. In other words, as long as hospitals have beds (at least on paper, even if that means NICU bed space, children’s hospitals, etc.), we’ll have our glorious FREEDUMB from those unattractive masks, and we can just keep fillin’ up those beds! Yeehaw!

In slightly less bitter news, I tested negative—YAY!! After waiting a week for results from test #1, I got an email saying my test was “incomplete” and I would need to re-test. No explanation. So I’m guessing it was a bad test kit, or it’s under a pile of mail in an Idaho post office, or a completely exhausted lab tech dropped it and it rolled into a floor drain. Fortunately, my Little Town U stepped up and offered testing, so I re-tested and got results in 3 days. It wasn’t an antibody test, so by then, I could have had asymptomatic (except for the 7-day headache) Covid and recovered. So much for the testing/tracing efficiency of the U.S. pandemic [non]response.

It's the end of our weird semester here in Little Town, so that means the Great Grading Abyss. It’s like Dante’s nine circles of hell, except not as comfy, and it’s where I’m living now. Ray bought me a giant computer monitor, and I replaced my reading glasses with blue-light-blocking computer readers. Still, I squint like a mole, and my eyeballs feel like Saharan stones. My daily wardrobe starts with an Icy Hot patch on the back of my neck. I piled another cushion on my home office chair, and I added two full-spectrum lights to my workspace. Still, I’m pale as buttermilk (which sounds good right now, since I’ve been living on my office stash of biltong and pumpkin seeds). My weekly Zoom “office hours” with students require me—someone who’s never worn makeup—to slather enough concealer on my eyebags to pave a driveway. Even lipstick can only make me look approaching human. No matter what top I’m wearing, it’s always paired with black sweatpants. If you’re teaching remotely and/or on Zoom much, you know what I mean.

You can't even see the Icy Hot patch & sweatpants.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and I can’t wait for the grading to let up long enough to roast a turkey. Mom, Ray, and I will dress in our finest (tops, at least), give thanks for a decent Wifi signal, and walk the iPad around the dining room table, so our kids and grandkids can see the spread—just like the Pilgrims did. Then we’ll put the iPad on a tripod, and we’ll all dig in on camera, from our respective quarantines.

In not-bitter-at-all seriousness, we have SO MUCH to be thankful for this holiday season: each other, the health and kindness of family and friends, the dedication and sacrifice of frontline caretakers (healthcare folks, grocery store staff, gas station staff, child care folks, school staff, and so many others), Dr. Fauci, people who wear masks and respect a 6’ social distance, our Covid canaries Otto and Sylvia and their beautiful, magical singing, the election results, toilet paper, tomatoes from our garden still ripening in the basement in November, music, art, and poetry. And coffee. LOTS of coffee. Back to the 5th circle…

Friday, November 13, 2020

Don't worry; I've got all the answers.

It’s been six days since I was tested for the Big Bug. I still don’t have my results. I've not had a fever, but I've had a fairly constant headache for about 5 days now, possibly caused by Covid/grading non-stop at a computer screen between Advil doses/stress/lack of strong enough coffee/-45's unwillingness to LEAVE ALREADY. While I wait impatiently, I thought I’d tell you everything I know about this pandemic: 

It's called Covid-19. Corona Virus. Unique Corona Virus 19. The ‘Vid. The ‘Rona. The Plague. 

You get it from breathing near an infected person. Plus, you get it from groceries. And countertops. And mail. No, you get it from singing. No, you can GIVE it to someone by coughing on them, but you can’t get it by being coughed upon. You get it from sex. You can’t get it from sex. You get it from petting someone’s infected dog. You can’t get it from touching things. You get it from unprotected punnery. You get it from breathing. You don’t get it from the air. 

Masks make all the difference. Masks don’t work. Masks protect you. Masks only protect other people FROM you. People with asthma can/can’t breathe through masks. Masks protect you from people breathing on you. Masks do/don’t protect you from people singing/laughing/talking/sneezing/coughing/reciting poetry near you. Masks don’t make any difference. Kids and teens won’t/will wear masks. Wear a mask at home. Wear a mask only when you leave home. Wear a mask only when doing dishes or using spackle. Fabric masks are the best. Fabric masks don’t work unless they have 17 layers. T-shirt-knit masks don’t work. We’re providing all employees with free T-shirt-knit masks. You don’t deserve/need an N95 mask. N95 masks are the only kind that work. 

We need to protect everyone. We need to cull the weak anyway. We need to protect the most vulnerable. Babies are immune. Children are immune. No one is immune. Everyone who gets Covid will die. Only old people die from Covid. It’s only lethal if you’re overweight. Fat people should have taken better care of themselves. Old people should have taken better care of themselves. Teenagers are superspreaders. Republicans are superspreaders. People with an “X” in their names are superspreaders. People with the red hair gene mutation are superspreaders. College kids don’t care about their own health. College kids don’t care about endangering others. Herd immunity is a bad idea. Herd immunity is the only solution. Herd immunity will save/kill people. 

Symptoms may appear 0-14 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms appear within minutes/days/weeks/decades after exposure. You do/don't/can/can't have the virus without symptoms. After exposure, you should quarantine for 0-365 days. After exposure, you can go back to school/work/choir practice until/unless you develop a fever/chills/diarrhea/cough/boils/an unexplainable ability to play the bassoon. 

You should get tested immediately after exposure. You should get tested 3-5 days after exposure. You should not waste a test just because you might have been exposed. You should get tested every/every other/every seventh day. You should save the tests for people who really need them. You’ll get your results immediately. You’ll get your results once you’ve had plenty of asymptomatic time to infect many, many others. You’ll get your results once they admit you to the hospital. You’ll get your results once you’ve recovered and have gone back to work. You won’t get your test results. You’ll get a call from the CDC/ your state’s Department of Health/America’s Got Talent. 

If you want to know anything else about the pandemic, just let me know. I’m pretty sure I can answer all your questions.