Monday, June 29, 2009

Puppy Dog Tails Change the World

(written June 25, 2009 posted today due to internet glitch)

Monday of last week (I know, my brain does not work in chronological order), I had my regular four month pap smear. It’s hard to believe that two years ago this week I was in shock from being told that I had cancer and then going to a misogynistic gyn oncologist. I hadn’t yet gone to my doctor at U of M. I should be a poster child for yearly checkups for women-except I hate getting my picture taken. I always have, even when I weighed half what I weigh now.

I go back again in four months. At that point, I will be considered to be at low risk for recurrence, and can go down to every 6 months for exams. I’ll also finally get my port removed at that point. Yippee and yippee, respectively.

One of my high school buddies (a different one than I mentioned before), recently re-connected with me through Facebook. She is just now reading my blog, including the steroid and stress induced mania from the beginning. I think I was more interesting then, but I’m glad my brain chemicals seem to be back to normal-well, my normal, which probably isn’t NORMAL normal.

Deb is home recovering from having her gallbladder removed. Now she will have a four inch horizontal scar to keep the long vertical scar company. I’m sure she probably feels trapped like a rat. Still no driving, lifting, coughing hard, laughing hard, sneezing, sitting up fast, laying down fast, or pushing to poop. Ahh, a life of leisure. I’m glad it’s not me-again.

On a whole ‘nother subject- I seem to have little dogs running through my brain tonight. Perhaps it’s because my across the street neighbor’s yorkie has taken a liking to me. Perhaps it’s because I’m fascinated with Jake, the puggle that has captured the hearts of my goddaughters, attends obedience school with them and regularly falls asleep in their arms after eating his own poop. Perhaps it is because the other day, someone gave me two organically grown carrots with the tops still on, fresh from the garden and I wanted to share them with Little Bit, so it made me miss Little Bit a bit. Perhaps it is because I saw a toad the other day. Perhaps it is because it is 4:30 in the morning and the only way to stay alert is to embrace my musical turrets and internal tail wagging.

Speaking of tail wagging- we got the dogs groomed a couple of weeks ago and asked that Indigo get a field cut, using a “#7 blade” all over. We forgot to ask for her beautiful fluffy tail to stay fluffy. Now she has a skinny naked black tale like Pluto, except hers has a white spot on it-right toward the top. I never knew she had a white spot on her tail! Without the fluff to catch the air and provide resistance, her wag now seems really really fast. Thumpthumpthumpthumpthump instead of thump thump thump thump. It’s like she has got tail tachycardia. (Indigo is the dog that has not only concealed her white dot from us for about 11 years, but for about 8 years she totally hid the fact that she is perfectly trained on leash. What next, is she secretly engaged or running a business on the side, renting out her kitty sisters to kill mice for the neighbors?)

By the way, has anyone seen my missing screw? If you find it, please let me know. Thumpthumpthumpthump.

Once Upon a Tale of Tales

Once upon a time, (actually, a few weeks ago), there were two beautiful princesses. Their names were Maddie and Ana. One day, the princesses, along with their Faerie Godmother, Aimee, wove a tale of adventure and mystery. In their tale were a princess and a fairy and a unicorn and an evil wizard with an evil cat whose name kept changing. There were three majic jewels and some raspberries. There were mountains and caves and magic pathways and an invisible castle.

As the princesses wove their tale of magic over breakfast and the faerie godmother added scary voices, a bit of magic leaked into the mundane world as the story about “they” became a story about “we”.

This berry season, I shall not be surprised if I accidentally chip a tooth on a crystal raspberry from a bush in the backyard. Nor will I be surprised if a large green crystal creates a protective barrier to protect us from an evil wizard named “Wiz”. However, I bet that my fearless pets will never allow Wiz’s evil cat into our yard. No majic jewels are needed for this.

The Modern Miricle of the Maze of Technology

(Written June 24, 2009. Posted today)

This time, my blog neglect isn’t due to my laziness, busyness, uncreative funk or forgetfulness (I still blame that one on the chemo!). This time, I have had no internet for about two weeks.

It’s really odd to think about the fact that 15 years ago, I had never even used the internet and today, I can barely remember what life was like without it! How did I do research? How did I make reservations or comparison shop for cell phone plans? (Wait…I didn’t have a cell phone then, either.) How did I get the word out when I was having a party? How did I hear about upcoming family additions? (Wait…I didn’t, that was a major reason for getting the internet in the first place. Being forgotten for the simple reason of not being online was kind of a jolt for me. Now it’s a matter of getting people to send stuff to my active account.)

Now, the contract on our cell phones is up. I’m torn between renewing the contract as it is, or switching carriers. Here’s the really big part of that decision no matter which company we choose: The internet tempts me yet again! It would be great to just look up stuff as it pops into my brain instead of writing it on scraps of paper to be found later and give me a mental “huh?” when I’m emptying my pockets into the same place day after day so that I will look at it “tomorrow”. On the other hand, at home I have the internet (theoretically, as I’m finding out this week). I can’t safely access the internet on a phone (or desktop computer or laptop computer) while driving, and, I’m not supposed to use my cell phone at work. So, why bother paying $30.oo a month (for 2 phones) for internet access, when my cost divided by probable time online using said phone per month will probably equal around $1.00 per minute. Okay, put in those terms, perhaps I’ll stick to doing things the olde fashioned way- writing with 7mm uni-ball gel-grip pens scribbling illegibly on purple legal pads or on the backs of sale fliers, Homo Depot receipts, half-finished thoughts, or paper towels (lightly used or previously unused).

On the other hand, our president uses a “Blackberry”, and it does have that cool keypad…

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Teachers of Life in the Classroom

(written June 12, 2009, posted today)

I just finished Tuesdays with Morrie, and I still recommend it. I don’t want to go into too much detail because this small tome speaks volumes for itself. It is a story of a man and his dying teacher. It is their story to tell, not mine. I’m sure it will be another one of those books I re-read periodically.

This book brought to mind so many people whose lives have touched mine, but in particular, I’d like to single out some of my teachers to honor. Although I have had many informal teachers, I want to recognize some of those who have stood in front of my many classes over the years, some of those who touched me in some pivotal way in my life. (They all did on some level whether or not I was/am conscious of their influences. I just am not mentioning all of them.)

Mrs. Bishop- my first grade teacher who caught me cheating on a test on how to tell time. She taught me that I don’t need to cheat in order to look smart. Cheating is stupid and like stealing from another person’s brain. (Besides, what if their answers are wrong?)

Mrs. Arnold- my second grade teacher. I had a crush on her, but was still happy for her when she got married. She helped me learn to deal with bullies without beating them up.

Mr. Pence-my sixth grade social studies and science teacher. Before coming to our school, he taught on a Hopi reservation for a year. Through his stories and his obvious love of the people and the culture and his acute awareness of the devastating poverty and health issues there, he opened my eyes to the richness of diversity. And, he had me build a really cool eyeball model even when I didn’t think I could.

Mrs. Bouton- an English teacher from East Junior High who made linguistics into a fun game and first boosted my confidence in the written word.

Mrs. Neira- my high school English teacher who was the toughest teacher in the school. She piled on homework and graded hard. She didn’t let me get away with only doing as well as everyone else. She made me do my best in order to get a decent grade. Mrs. Neira always gave us her best and expected the same from us. We called her the “ditto queen” (with her total consent) because she didn’t think that any of the English textbooks on the market were adequate. She designed her own exercises and assignments, tailoring them for each class as needed to help us love English and ourselves as much as she did. I trusted her with some of my very personal writings that were not written for class. She said to me “never stop writing”. I have always been grateful for her faith in me. I write letters to her still. She never writes back, but she told me she wouldn’t. After all those years, I still hold out hope that she will write back.

Randall Robinson- an English professor from MSU. I took four or five different classes with him and went to England for a summer to learn from him. Randall taught me to love Shakespeare and made me sit down and shut up while other students lavished me with compliments. That was probably the single most uncomfortable, actually horrifying ten minutes of my life, and I thank him for it. He would never give me a 4.0, not because my writing wasn’t excellent, but because he knew that I was holding back my true soul from the page. He gave me a 4.0 the summer that I wrote a play about someone coming out for the first time as a lesbian to a lifelong friend. (I wish the real experience the following January had been as successful.)

Sister Beard- an African American studies professor at MSU was the coolest feminist black nun that I have ever met. Come to think of it, she is the only one. I had a bit (big) of a crush on her.

Reverend Doctor Kim Yarber- my history of African American religion professor at U of M Flint. Dr. Yarber taught me most of all not to write off anyone based upon their religious label (he is a Baptist minister). And, most of all, he cares what his students learn and he seems invested in how the knowledge his class inspired/inspires his students in everyday, long term and extraordinary ways. He speaks his truth and listens to others as they speak their truth.

Charles Thomas- my religion in American culture professor, who I also know from church. He teaches a touchy and personal subject in a way that encourages his students to express their views and share insights with one another. He seems to enjoy learning from his students as much as he enjoys seeing them get excited about their subjects. I must admit that I was nervous about taking his class because he has seen me at my very best-in the pulpit-where every word and note has been precisely chosen. I was afraid that he would either grade me really hard-using my performance in the pulpit as a measure of my abilities, or grading me too easy because of our church affiliation. He actually did neither of those things. He graded me fairly and I worked hard for his class-as it should be.

Tristan Hassell- teaches Philosophical Foundations of World Religions. His vast and varied mental library of knowledge blows my mind. I had a really hard time deciding on a paper topic for his class because I was afraid I couldn’t be original enough or inspiring enough. Insights from his class have really helped me to go further on the road to clarifying the language for my spiritual journey.

Larry Koch-(pronounced like the word, “cook”) is a sociology professor at U of M Flint. Larry agreed to supervise me in an independent reading class that was the most informative and fun grade I have ever earned. Larry is to me what Morrie is to Mitch Album- but without the terminal illness as a catalyst to the passing on of wisdom.

These are only a few of the formal teachers who have helped me to become who I am becoming. I know there are others whose lessons remain with me in everyday ways. They are in my heart and memories as well.

Of course, I have far more teachers of the informal kind: friends, past lovers and present partner, co-workers, kids I get paid to work with, kids I volunteer to work with, former customers, strangers. Each moment with someone has the potential to become a teaching moment. Each person becomes a teacher when one is receptive to being a student.

I plan to always be a student of those I meet.

Meditation on Mental Toilet Flushing

(written June 11, 2009 (at a different time than the other one) and posted today)

I really hate it when I do or say something mean or stupid. I am wracked with guilt and anxiety until I make it right- through apology or action. In a world where sleep is a daytime chore, this whirlwind in my brain keeps gaining momentum until sleep releases me from that mental toilet flush. That happens only when my body shuts my brain down in exhaustion.

Pausing on Page 55

(Written on June 11, not posted until today)

A couple of weeks before my mom got really sick, she and Deb and I were talking at her dinner table. I don’t remember if it was an afternoon of coffee drinking or one of her dinner talk-a-thons. She knew she had a surgery coming up and I think that on some level, she knew everything was about to go terribly wrong.

Mom had never shied away from talking about death with us kids. We always knew that death is a part of life. It all fits together into a cohesive, harmonious whole. From as far back as I can remember, the older kids had their names on various furniture, with the understanding that those pieces would go to the designated names when she died. It was all part of the grand scheme of things.

On this fall day ten years ago, the three of us (Deb, Mom and I) brought the conversation around to death and our wishes regarding end of life issues. None of us want long term life support. Mom recalled her days working at St. Joes Hospital, caring for terminally ill patients. At that point, I’d never been in a room with anyone when they died. Mom said that the greatest honor that anyone had ever given her was to ask her to sit with them when they died.

In that same conversation, she said that no one should ever have to die alone. Deb and I promised on that day that she would not die alone, that we would both be with her. We were, and so were many of her other children, children by marriage, and grandchildren.

This conversation and the events leading from from it to her death a little over ten months later, often find a place in the forfront of my mind. Oddly enough, it is not always a place of sadness or grief. Most often, it is a place of grace, beauty and gratitude. I think this sounds odd to most people, but to me, it is a good place, a loving place, a place of peace.

I bring all of this up here because, since I am between semesters and was, until tonight, between books to read. I found myself “shopping” among my bookshelves in the basement for something to read. I wanted something quick, that I’d not read before. I looked in my fiction section with shelves and shlves of books lined up neatly and stacked up haphazardly in front of those rows since I ran out of room for orderliness. There were too many to sift thorugh and too little time before I’d be late getting off to work. So I looked to my nonfiction titles: more orderly and fewer titles to scan. I looked to the small ones. I wanted something quick but compeling. My eyes and hand landed on a book that since it was first released, dozens-literally dozens of people have told me that I MUST READ. I never did. It came out when I still worked at the bookstore, and for a good long time, sold several copies a day. Sometimes several went to the same person so they could give them out to everyone they love.

So now, I pause on page 55 just to write this blog entry to recommend that you read Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom. Even without skipping to the last page, I know how it ends. Morrie dies in the end. And Mitch Albom lives. The story is found in the ways in which they live and die. It brings back Moms two statements: “no one should ever have to die alone” and the greatest honor anyone can give is to ask that you be with them when they die.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Reverence for Uncertainty

I am at the tail end of a rare three day weekend.

Saturday was filled with me and Deb celebrating our 15 year anniversary! I never thought I could stay with anyone this long. I’ve often lamented that my brain is just not hardwired for long term relationships. Perhaps I need to reconsider that assessment.

Today, I got to celebrate the teenagers in our church. These kids never cease to amaze me with their maturity, compassion, mindfulness, honesty, independence, creativity, generosity, curiosity, humor and fearlessness. These kids are what the world needs more of. They represent the best of all of us. Of course there are always questions, uncertainties and moments of insecurity in any teenager’s life (and in most adults’ lives as well). These feelings are uncomfortable and some people choose to try to alleviate the discomfort and fill in the blank spots with other discomfort that they can control by way of self destructive behaviors (who me?). Even though we may not always deal with the uncertainties of life in the "right" ways, those of us who are Unitarian Universalists encourage one another to embrace the questions, confront the uncertainties and hold on for this crazy ride that is life. That embrace can help us face our mistakes.

That is not to say that we don’t sometimes want to jump off the merry-go-round or wish to have this roller coaster life meticulously mapped out, with a GPS, compass, and written directions in 3 different languages with pictures to illustrate...and a bagged lunch, just in case. It’s also not to say that UUs never engage in self-destructive behavior, we are by no means above that, but it seems that learning to cope with uncertainties, questions, and all of the unknowns of life gives us an advantage in a world full of constant change. It gives us an advantage in being able to find our way, with side trips and sightseeing embraced as part of the way.

I’m not sure if I have ever blogged about my penchant for losing my direction. The summer that I spent in London, I never found the same way back from the bar twice. I get lost in my own backyard if the dogs aren’t out there to show me where to go. It once took me four hours to drive from Landing to Kalamazoo because I had no idea which direction to go. And, in a less physical way, when younger, I had trouble finding my mental, emotional and spiritual direction as I kept going off the map to jump into side tracks of promiscuity, alcohol, religious fundamentalism, judgmentalism, self-pity and the paralysis of fatalism. I wanted to feel something by feeling nothing. Self-loathing was a normal state of mind and happiness was scary simply by virtue of being so rare. Numbness was more comfortable than sadness or joy.

Somehow, little by little, I found comfort in knowing that I don’t have to have all the answers. I began to be open to the possibility of not always being right. I found excitement and joy in exploring life’s big and small questions without the expectation of a black or white answer. I came to see that my Truth isn’t always the same Truth as others, but that doesn’t necessarily make one better than the other, instead, it usually highlights a diversity of vision. I learned that it takes way too much effort and consumes too much of my energy when I choose to hate or hold grudges against that which I do not understand. I came to understand that I was angry at the world and hated myself because I did not understand the world or myself. I came to know that understanding is found not in some stagnant dogmatic answer, but in the dynamic questioning of a kaleidoscopic ever-changing universe.

I came to know peace in knowing that I do not need to know.

I believe that our Unitarian Universalist kids have an advantage in knowing that uncertainty is an integral part of the human experience. It helps them learn how to stay flexible in an ever-changing world. They are taught to seek answers, but also learn to be at peace if those answers are not unequivocally answered. They are encouraged to question authority and social pressures to conform to someone else’s expectations. They seem drawn to determine right and wrong based upon the help or harm that an action will have upon the greater good of the world, environment, health and well being of the beings and web in place on this planet, Earth.

Although our Unitarian Universalist faith does not offer neatly folded maps with the “proper” road highlighted, the road that must absolutely be followed in order to reach a predetermined destination, our faith offers something more. Our faith offers the choice of where you want to go and the tools and resources to help you get there. Hopefully the ride for these soon to be adults will not be as bumpy as many of us have experienced. But, if it is, than hopefully they will recognize those difficult areas as challenges that will help them further grow in strength and integrity. My hope for this up and coming generation is that they enjoy this adventure that is their life.

I feel honored to have been invited into the lives of these young women and men as they mature toward the women and men that they have yet to become.