Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Christmas Letter

--> Ray and I spent Christmas at home this year, as we have since Mom retired and moved up north from Big City to Little Town. The West River kids & grandkids opted to stay home and have a cozy, quiet Christmas in the Hills this year (cowards!), and our oldest son in the Big, Big City had to work, so Christmas in Little Town was Mom; Ray and me; daughter, sweetheart, and two grandkids; and youngest son and grandkid. Two friends who had no family in Little Town this year joined us for dinner.
Speed Distribution


A Shimmer & Shine Christmas


Opening presents with two four-year-olds and an eight-year-old is like waiting until the cyclone is on your front porch, then opening all the doors and windows. The eight-year-old can read name tags and had already eaten a dozen Christmas cookies, so the whole process of distribution and unwrapping took about 30 seconds. When it was over, the adults were on the periphery of the room, unblinking and slack-jawed, and no one could move for oh, at least an hour, while one brave adult collected small, pointy toy accessories and storm debris (wrapping paper). I can’t imagine Christmas without small children, so I suppose if we ever get to the point where we’re all grownups, I’ll have to rent some toddlers for the day.

Yes, we ALL pressed our faces into this thing.

Because plains people, especially with winter setting in, are obsessed with food, leftovers, and well-stocked larders, I’ll give you our menu, which was potluckish: oyster stew, pork roast cooked in the crockpot on a bed of apples, maple-roasted sweet potatoes, son-in-love’s famous garlic-mashed potatoes, traditional green bean casserole now traditionally prepared by daughter, daughter’s gingersnaps (made with bacon grease…o the rapture!) dipped in her homemade cheesecake ganache, and apple pie. And Spritz cookies, of course. And Bailey’s & eggnog (don’t judge). There are always enough leftovers to send a couple days’ worth of food home with the kids, because as every good Midwesterner is taught from birth, food = love (this prairie programming is why I’ll be eating celery and boiled fish—again—starting in the New Year).


The stylist works her magic.

Ray had to go right back to work the day after Christmas. I’m on holiday break from Little Town U., and the outside temp has ranged between -20 and today’s balmy -14, so Mom and I have spent the past couple days knitting and watching documentaries (CNN avoidance therapy). My addled brain is now replete with factoids about orcas, dog behavior, cat intelligence, Auschwitz survivors, sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, twins raised apart since birth, bird brains, and jaguars (the cat, not the car). I’ve finished a knitted hat and am now well into a matching poncho.


Love from the Borg. You will join us.

So merry Christmas to you all! Ray and I wish you all a new year full of possibilities, renewed faith in humankind, decent healthcare, love & compassion for both friends & “enemies,” and most of all peace, not as an abstract concept, but as the real and lasting result of our collective human effort. And lots of Bailey’s and eggnog (don’t judge).

Friday, August 11, 2017

...but I don't HAVE 20 minutes.

I did something this year, my 61st year, that I’d been mouthing off about for a decade or more now—I got my first tattoo. It’s a lotus flower (the mantra ohm mane padme hum translates loosely as “the jewel [true nature of reality] is in the lotus [mind]), sitting on top of the word satchitananda in Sanskrit, which means truth (sat), consciousness/awareness (chit), bliss (ananda).

Ray’s not a tat fan, but for me, the ink was a way to take possession and ownership of my own body and personhood, apart from my roles: wife, mother, daughter, teacher, etc.

Also, the design itself is a necessary and permanent reminder for me always to return to what’s true. Meditation—the actual subject of this convoluted post—is one way to do that.

Not everyone knows this about me, but I’m pretty tightly wound, not a person who’s good at relaxing. I’m a lot like my two three-year-old granddaughters, who NEVER STOP MOVING. Some part of them (and of me) is perpetually shifting, tapping out a beat, or twitching. That's a LOT of kinetic energy, a LOT of energy down the proverbial drain. So for me, meditation isn’t really about enlightenment—it’s about survival.

Most people know by now that meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, which is the kind I practice, isn’t contemplating one’s navel (and by “practice,” I mean like piano lessons: you do it when your mom makes you, but you’re 13 and you’d rather cut out with your crew to the pool). Meditation is simply slowing down long enough to be AWARE of the present moment, then staying in that awareness as long as you can. I’ve heard it said that living in the past causes regret, living in the future causes anxiety and fear, and only living in the present can bring peace. For me, this rings a big, fat truthiness bell.

Let's set aside the spiritual/psychological good that comes from meditation—that’s too touchy-feely for some folks. There are more tangible, PHYSICAL benefits as well (for these, look here: For an easy meditation how-to, I LOVE this one:

If ever there was a poster child for the most basic physical benefits of meditation, it’s me and my inner three-year-old. And I could reap these benefits in only 20 STINKING MINUTES A DAY. That’s

- 20 minutes of fainting goat or Bob Ross YouTube videos

- 20 minutes of Crackbook posts featuring perfectly-lit photos of my latest kombucha brew

- 20 minutes of blood-pressure-raising, doom-festering, hopelessness-engendering, fist-pounding, Trump-blathering CNN

- 20 minutes of Googling recipes for kale ceviche

- 20 minutes of toenail painting

- 20 minutes of Crackbook comments on other people’s posts about their recent meal/trip/gripe/illness

- 20 minutes of binging Supernatural season what? 24? 25?

Gosh; now that I see this list, it’s clear that (probably a lot like you) I simply don’t have time to meditate. I've got more important things to do. Like get more ink. Twitch. Twitch.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Warning: Sorting Out Suicide

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

Ray and I recently came back from a trip to bid farewell to an extended family member, a charming, compassionate, loving 31-year-old young man who committed suicide. I can’t begin to really understand what leads a person to this sort of utter and complete hopelessness, especially at such a tender age (or even much younger, as has happened with others to whom we’ve had to say goodbye). But I came away with the same thoughts that have been niggling at me for…well…years, really:

1. The Elephant Circle – The brain is not fully developed until about age 25 (probably later for young people who have also struggled with substance abuse before this age). Until that age, when the nerve fibers in the brain are fully myelinated (a fatty coating), young people have a hard time seeing the potential consequences of their actions. For this reason, I believe we need to keep young people in the center of the circle. Like elephants, we adults need to surround them with love and protection (even from themselves), until we’re SURE they can fend off the hyenas (despair, drugs, alcohol, gangs, whatever shape the hyenas take) on their own. This ability to be independent will come at different times for different kids—there’s no definitive magic moment, so we need to be vigilant with EVERY kid.

2. The Abyss Mirage – Imagine you look down the road ahead of you, but you can’t see where it leads. For most of us, it’s foggy ahead; we know the road goes on, we know there’s more stuff ahead, we just can’t see the details. But some people, it seems to me, look down the road and, for maybe only a split-second, see an abyss. Nothing. The void. And in that split-second, they do the only thing they can to escape that moment of complete despair. Maybe it’s not about ending life (because impulsive thought doesn’t see that); it’s about ending pain. Now. Someone said once that dogs have only two senses of time: now and not now. Maybe people who kill themselves see only now, and now is pain. They can’t see not now. They can’t see that the Abyss is a mirage, and there’s ice cream and sex and chocolate and music on the other side.

3. Pre-Funerals – As people from all over the country exchanged memories at the funeral, broken and aching over this young man’s death, I wondered how his life might have gone if we had all gathered 5, or 10, or 15 years ago to surround and enfold him with the same love, desperation to protect and defend, fierce loyalty, and open hearts we were all baring in the funeral home. Had this young man known how many lives he touched? how much he was loved? what joy he brought us? So I’m thinking we should have pre-funerals, a sort of It’s a Wonderful Life for any human who’s getting too close to the Abyss. Maybe there’s a panic button you can push at the first sign of trouble. Maybe you can even help bake your own reception bars.

Anyway, here’s a poem I wrote after our son’s best friend fell into the Abyss at age 19. Let’s form our circles, people...

                  for Ike

You will wake up tomorrow and the sun will be up.
                  Stores will open. Some idiot will forget to signal
                  his turn. There will be dishes to do. You’ll get a job
                  offer in Big Sky, Montana.
This will all get easier. Then it will get harder
                  again. Then it will get easier again.
That girl you love will leave her next boyfriend too.
Your mother is canning peaches right now.
                  She will need you here to eat them.
The pain you feel now comes from a cauldron
                  of teenage chemicals swirling through you like bad
                  soup, like toxic river water, like grain alcohol, like Drano.
                  It will eventually push through your system, and you will
                  be able to laugh and think straight again.
Remember that time I stomped in your house and screamed
                  in your face and jabbed at you with my finger? I really
                  wanted to hug you and lock you up and never let you go.
Going to the zoo is almost as much fun at 35 as it is at 13.
It will one day be a mystery to you that you ever felt this bad.
I don’t know if there’s an afterlife. But
                  what if you have to watch the chain
                  of sorrows you leave behind?
The belt will burn and cut into your neck. The pain
                  will be unbearable before you black out.
                  You’ll pee your pants.
                  You’ll change your mind.
                  You won’t be able to stop it.
I love the way your hair flips to the side, and the way
                  you look sideways when you grin, and the way
                  my youngest son’s heart opens up around you.
That girl you love will end up with four kids from three fathers.
                  She’ll work at Walmart and live over her parents’ garage.
                  She’ll try and fail to kick meth. Her kids will be taken away.
That girl you love will end up married to a banker
                  and will live on a lake and have a housekeeper.
That girl you love will be in therapy for the rest of her life.
That girl you love will use your memory like a crucible
                  in which she’ll stew future boyfriends and cook up
                  excuses for sleeping with her future husband’s boss.
After your sister died, your mother stayed alive for you.
We are only here for a blink anyway. Can’t you wait that long?
My son will have a redheaded child. She’ll skateboard.
                  She’ll be beautiful and jolly and full of mischief.
                  He’ll take her to the skatepark in Lennox.
                  He’ll cry because you’re not here to hold her.
You’re my child. You’re everyone’s child. We will all be broken.
You’ll fall in love again and again and again. You might have twins.
                  They’ll be skinny and blonde and hold your hand.
                  You’ll rock them to sleep with Jack Johnson lullabies.
                  When they’re 15, they’ll say we hate you.
                  You’ll try to keep a straight face.
Your mother’s smile will be manufactured and hard for the rest of her life.
You are so full of love and light and promise that it burns
                  our fingers to touch you. We are moths and choose
                  winglessness over being without you.
My son will carry you like a scar,
                  like a confession,
                  like a stone in his gut.
Someone will have to take a picture of your body.
There is nowhere else to go.

Please, please stay.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

You've come a long way, baby. Well, a little way. Well, a teensie, weensie way.

Let me rant a little bit about the “S” word. Conservatives think it’s nonsense, and we liberals like to think we’ve risen (or are actively rising) above it. I mean SEXISM, of course.

Some sexism is so overt it’s beating us all over the head with a 2x4. Girls’ toys vs. boys’ toys. Dresses vs. pants. High heels. Makeup. Hair products. And on and on…

Consider the election. We’re so afraid of women, or we have so little regard and respect for them, that we’ll take a nutbag, egomanaicle, child-raping lunatic over a woman. We hem & haw and blame it on the Russians, Hillary’s failed campaign, the FBI, the disenfranchised & ignored working class, blahblahblahblah, but someone finally had the balls to call it what it is: SEXISM ( Because people squirm at the thought of a “lady” running the show. Gawd, she’ll make us all pack Kleenex and button our coats. And then she'll have a period!

Or take equal pay, for example. COME ON! This is 2017! Seriously?!? Anyone, I mean absolutely ANYONE, who thinks that women earning 21.4% LESS than men doing the same job with the same qualifications & experience is justified, is a SEXIST PIG (Ouch. Hope that stings.).

But the most insidious kind of sexism is deep inside, like a slow-growing, non-fatal cancer. We look just fine on the outside, but inside, the cancer is self-replicating, eating away at us, and keeping us weak, but just so’s it’s barely noticeable. It’s so deep in our blood that maybe only a good leeching will finally leach (bwahaha) it out.

You’ve felt this undercurrent of sexism: Men are assertive, aggressive, determined, forthright. Women are pushy, bitchy, negative, bossy. Athletes (understood to be male) vs. female athletes. Musicians (understood to be male) vs. female musicians. Grrrr.

Or take, for example, domestic partnerships. I’m of a generation spawned in the 50’s and 60’s. We were all about that fight-against-The Man, anti-establishment, free love, braless, progressive thought mumbo-jumbo. Until we settled. Suddenly, here we are, living a life so close to the goll-dern Cleavers it’ll make your hippie head spin. We women may not be scrubbing in shirt-waist dresses and pearls, but we’re still doing most of the scrubbing. 

Even in the most enlightened households, those replicating cancer cells drive men OUTSIDE (shoveling, garbage, car maintenance, tree-trimming, mowing, etc.), and keep women INSIDE (cleaning, cooking, laundry, dusting, vacuuming, baking, and most importantly, child-rearing). Men are workers and adventurers; women (even if they work full-fricking-time outside the home) are domestics. Even in “egalitarian” households where partners “share” duties, you can usually find OUTSIDE/INSIDE residuals. We chalk up the differences or imbalance to differing interests, talents, time, or whatever, but at its root—in the blood—it’s that same old SEXISM that we just keep passing along, from one generation to the next.

Or here’s another one. I teach college English. Not only is there still a gender pay gap in higher ed (, men also still hold most of the higher paying faculty and administrative positions, something called the “representation gap.” I don’t know that anyone’s come up with a satisfactory (or any) explanation for this, but I have one: my School Marm theory.

My theory goes like this: women who teach are school marms. They wear dresses or casual clothes, because they aren’t really doing any serious work beyond readin’ and writin’. They’re just keeping busy until that man comes along to marry them and take them INSIDE, where they belong. They’re nurturing babysitters, minding society’s brood. Men who teach, however, are professors. They’re intellectuals. They stimulate and challenge and mold the next generation of professors (if the future marms learn a little something along the way, well isn’t that just darling). Professors wear ties and suit jackets and pressed pants, but if they wear jeans and dirty 90’s band t-shirts, that’s okay too because they’re quirky, rogueish, temperamental, or flawed. And they’re just so darned brainy they can’t help it. And boys will be boys.

In higher ed, we like to think we’re well beyond School Marm. But she’s alive and well, not just in disparities in pay and representation, but also in student evaluations ( Students take male teachers more seriously. School Marm, like Caveman dragging Cavewoman around by her hair, is so deep in our blood that it skews our perceptions and values. We don’t VALUE female teachers as much as male teachers. (In some states we just don’t value teaching. Period.) I’ve seen parents completely delighted to find that their kids have a male elementary teacher. We EXPECT elementary teachers to be women, and a male teacher will be “better for the kids” (I’ve actually heard this), tougher, more serious, etc.

Here’s another one. I have a dear friend who’s a retired pastor. Churches, of course, are bastions of sexism. I won’t even discuss the Catholic church’s spreading “cancer” of institutionalized patriarchy, and I LOVE the Catholic church…the ritual, the mystery, the sanctuary of it all.

Even in other churches, where women CAN be clergy, sexism still has a good hold. Male pastors are leaders of the church, God’s right hand, mediators between God and Man (not so much between God and women, because any male pastor will tell you, women should be busy singing in the choir, supervising the Nursery, or setting up coffee in Fellowship Hall). Male pastors HAVE authority. They SPEAK to God and know God’s intentions. God wants you to hold firm! Cling to the rock! Female pastors, on the other hand, are motherly, counselors, nurturers, patters-on-back-ers. They APPEAL to authority (God’s, The Book’s, the bishop’s, the synod’s, etc.). There, there, there. God loves you, and so do I.

Sadly, I don’t have a solution for any of this other than my leech idea, which isn’t likely to be popular. And I’m really weary. At 60, I’m tired of raising the same red flag over and over (nagging…another “woman” thing). I’m tired of all the excusing and cover-up and pretending. I’m tired of a man who does dishes once in a while thinking he’s enlightened and has “liberated” some poor woman. In some ways, I’d prefer the caveman days, where there’s no pretense of equality. Just drag home a stegosaurus, baby, and I’ll cook ‘er up for you. But you might want to remember, women who cook MAKE FIRE.