Twenty Thousand Dollars

We got the bill yesterday.

Twenty thousand dollars. That's the price of my life right now. Twenty thousand dollars, not counting all the rehearsals leading up to this point. Appointments, blood tests, ultrasounds ... that sort of thing. My husband told me the amount before he and the bearded young giant left for church today (leaving me behind for the last time, I might add - perhaps the sound of such an amount of money was the shot of adrenaline I needed to finish my "healing.")

I went to the doctor for the two-week checkup on Thursday this week. Since I wasn't in the hospital any more, and since I had had two weeks to recover my lucidity, she was ready to tell me a bit more. She told me that the "papillary serous tumor, borderline" was more than "not nothing." She was ready to tell me that her best guess is that it would have been ovarian cancer within about a year.

Two and a half weeks after the fact, we have the bill. And we have health insurance. Our deductible and our "out of pocket" and all the rest of the things that translate roughly to, "you've got a safety net but it's full of holes," will mean that this will be expensive for us, but it will not be the whole twenty thousand dollars expensive. The safety net keeps us from dying in a big splat on the ground. It keeps us able to go to the doctor and have tests and go to the hospital and have surgeries when we need them. It doesn't keep us from falling off things in the first place because the net is not located at the edge of anything. It's nearer to the ground than that. To use it, we have to fall first.

This morning, in the living room, while the bearded young giant was off brushing his teeth, my husband told me the amount. Twenty thousand dollars. After I could breathe properly again, I wondered, "What would we do without insurance?" And then I answered my own question. "I'd have cancer. That's what we'd do." And he said, "Yeah - because we just wouldn't go to the doctor in the first place." He's right. We wouldn't.

Insurance doesn't pay for the acupuncture or the herbs from the Chinese Medicine people (without which this whole thing would have been quite the nightmare, and with which, early enough, I might never have gotten here at all), and insurance also doesn't pay for the prescription of bio-identical hormones currently making my life comfortably possible. It doesn't pay for things like naturopathic care or massage or other preventive health maintenance measures. It doesn't pay for blood tests that might find problems before they become papillary serous problems. Insurance pays for crisis management only.

That's the way it works in this country. We build small cities for "health care," employ small armies of intake and office personnel, attendants, nurses, assistants, billing people, and housekeeping. We pay doctors piles of money so that they can pay for their insurance - and their schooling. We pay for expensive cutting edge drugs to manage the effects of obesity, sedentary lives, stress, anxiety, and other drugs. (Drugs are the adverbs of the medical world, modifying verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs, telling us when, how, or how much.)

But the patient? The patient is just a bit player in this complicated little cultural drama -- bit player and ticket buyer. If you have insurance, you get a discount on the tickets -- but at least you get to see the show.



Something broke. I am not the me I was.

I feel exactly like I did when my mom used to say, "here it comes ... here it comes .... there it is!" while we were driving past something I wanted to see. But I didn't see it. I didn't see it then, and I didn't see it now. The car has passed the spot, and I can hear the sing-song chant. "Yoooou missed it. Yoooou missed it."

Go back! Go back! I want to see it!

The car never went back.

I missed it.

Sometime this summer, in the steady driving speed of cruise control, at 60 seconds per minute, sixty minutes per hour, twenty-four hours each day, the car drove by the signpost. I missed it. There was a halfway marker somewhere. There has been a before and this is an after. I am peering through the back window as I go around the corners, trying to figure out when it happened.

It did not happen in the hospital. That much I know. A surgeon did not put that marker by the side of the road. Surgeons do not have that power.

It did not happen on my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. That was a good viewpoint, for sure, but it was a very good and beautiful place in a whole series of them.

The place where Before disappeared over the horizon and After started flying past the windows did not happen while I was sitting in class this summer.

It did not happen when my daughter married, or my youngest son turned twenty, or the financial aid award letters finally came for the three of us who need them for this coming school year.

No, I think I might know when this happened. I think I know why I missed it.

I think it began to happen while I was on my knees in the Lady Chapel, with a chance at last to give myself entirely to the waves of emotion. I paced and prayed in the empty church that afternoon. I gave myself utterly into the hands of God. Out loud. On purpose. With the great cloud of witnesses gathered around my head, great gratitude for a very, very good life and all the things it has so far contained met and thundered together with the deepest sadness of grief, and the prayer-soaked bricks and rafters were more than strong enough for the tide.

I rarely sob. I do sometimes cry (generally in private), by I rarely sob. That afternoon, the dam collapsed and broke. I realized, then, that I did not feel scared to have surgery - or to move finally and irrevocably out of my years of fertility and mothering. It was not fear that broke over my head. It was grief. And then, in that moment on my knees, receiving the blessing of prayers and holy oil, in private and quiet and safety, I chose.

Perhaps it is the act of the will that makes a before and after possible in our road.

"Blessed art thou."

"How will this be?"

"The Holy Ghost will come upon thee."

"Be it unto me according to thy word."

"Let this cup pass."

"Nevertheless, not my will but thine."

"My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

"It is finished."


And after.

I chose.

And then, the place in the road passed by, I think, while I slept. Mercifully, more kindly even than the surgeon who took ovaries and womb while I slept in a fog of drugs in the operating room, the good Lord who loves me gathered me up, clear and aware and ready at last, from the me I used to be. One night, while I slept, He made me new again.

This is After.

NUMB3RS in real life

Have you watched the TV show NUMB3RS? I'm the only who watches it here - the wooden writing, pan and zoom shaky cam, and beating to death of the plot points by characters who keep explaining things to each other is ... well, let's just say I put up with things more flexibly than the two males who also inhabit this dwelling. This could probably have something to do with the fact that I am usually folding laundry during the show, and do not get distracted or seasick from the camera work because I only glance up from time to time.

But the primary driving idea for the show intrigues me. The show is built on the premise that "we all use math every day" for solving all kinds of problems, and higher level math can be used to solve complex problems. Like crime.

And like zillions of political movers, shakers, shouters, and hangers-on converging on a smallish location for their national conventions! The math class factored in the variables, and came up with solutions. I think this is very cool! Follow the links, and give it a listen.

Youth Radio

College Math Class Helped Organize Convention

Listen Now [3 min 50 sec]

Morning Edition, August 27, 2008 ·
A math class at the University of Denver examined some of the issues facing organizers of the Democratic National Convention. The students came up with several variables that appear to have been incorporated into the quantitative and qualitative distribution of thousands of volunteers.

And one of the variables had to do with BIKES! Okay, Michelle Obama, it's not the first time, but I tell ya whut, I too am proud of our country. Look what the national conventions are doing for transportation! Presenting ... Freewheel!n

Through a unique partnership between Humana, a Fortune 100 health benefits company, and Bikes Belong, a nonprofit biking advocacy group, the Freewheelin bike sharing experience will be in Denver and the Twin Cities during the conventions. Each host city will be outfitted with 1,000 bikes for free use during the convention week.

Go, Democracy! Go, Bikes!


Adjusting seasonings to taste

Oh, this feels good. I can taste it now. It tastes wonderful. It has a velvety feel in my mouth. A heady scent. Opening the lid makes me feel better - stronger - readier. But tasting it like this - tasting it today - right now ... how do I describe this? It's nearly done. It's nearly time to plate and serve. This is good.

I thought it would be a shorter cooking time than it has been. Several times I have peeked under the lid. Tasted a bit. Bitten in. But no. Not yet. Almost, but not yet.

The smell of it has permeated everything. One life has been receding, while my coming life has been simmering there, at the back of the stove, sending out little wafts of the scented herbs and spices I have been collecting and adding to the mixture for decades. The anticipation has been a sort of low level hum in the background, while everything else, good and bad, has been happening.

One child was already gone. Another left. The third has been getting ready. Take away the educating of my own children. Remove the pieces from the pot. The flavor of it remains. Add a spoonful of work at the library. Add another. Stir. Simmer. Taste. Do not let the pot cook dry. Add water. Adjust the lid a bit. Let the steam escape. Finish bedroom walls. Throw away things only fit for the dump or recycling. Clean out the cupboards and tear out a wall to rebuild it. This is a thing prepared in stages. It cannot be rushed. There is no shortcut.

Sprinkle a summer class into the simmering mixture. Be careful. The smell is intoxicating and like any other inhaled thing it will potentize in your breathing.

[Po´ten`tize: To render the latent power of (anything) available.]

I breathed deeply in that class. I felt that power surge. All at once, I remembered my own name.

This sort of cookery is hard work. I wonder if anyone ever told me that.

In the winters it is difficult to keep the temperature steady enough under the mixture. In the summers the heat is unbearable and it is easier to ignore the simmering pot than to open it or stir.

Cookery can burn a woman too. My potholders have scorch marks and I have learned at last to open the lid away from me so that the steam does not blind me. I can show you the places on my hands and arms where I once burned myself. I have cut myself too. Carelessness born of exhaustion, and now I have the scars.

This is no child's play, this sort of thing. And it cannot be bought at the membership warehouse or under the florescent tubes of a grocery store either. Ingredients have to come from farmer's markets and herb borders in gardens. Sherry not fit to drink is not cooking sherry. This sort of cookery needs wind and rain and sun and seasons in it - not packaging.

While it cooks there - while the developing flavors marry, and the flavor intensifies, it becomes a thing made not of ingredients, but made of the relationships between them.

This morning, today, I lifted the lid and inhaled.

I am all alone in my house on a Sunday morning, an extremely rare situation. I am healing from surgery, and I am healing well. I resume work next week. Before another month is out, this house will contain none of our offspring at night when we go to bed. We will not wait for the sound of a car coming home in the darkness or even a phone call. It will be just the two of us, here in our house, in the second half of our life together.

Today, when the man and the younger man drove away to go to church, I tasted it. I sat down to do a Morning Prayer office, and I wept. This is it. I looked around and breathed it in, and I knew. Here it is. For these decades, it has been simmering away, quietly in the background most of the time, commanding my full attention some of the time. I have honed my skills, and I have learned the nuances of a spice or an herb and the effects of temperature. I have paid the price for inattention and I have taken spoonfuls around the house to anyone at home, saying, "Taste this! It's really good right now, isn't it?"

This fall, I bring it to the table. The only thing left is to adjust the seasonings to taste. It's harvest festival time, and oh, how good it is.



Hyperventilating. Taking in too much air. Too much oxygen. It makes a body dizzy. The room spins. This is rapidly becoming a Lifestyle for me. Hyperventilating Life.

Ha! THAT's what I should call this blog. Hyperventilated Life. It's like being recollected, but it's done at such a velocity that it knocks me on my keister.

Just a sec.



Somebody hand me a paper bag.

(okay, you ... breathe ... just breathe ...)

(I'm to danged OLD for this!)

I wonder if I have been holding my breath again. Maybe that's why all this sudden intake feels a bit hyper.

First, it was this. I want to go to school again. I really want to go to school. How can I go to school? Can I go to school? And all of it apparently on the inhale and then holding it. Afraid to let the air out. Waiting. Waiting. Wondering. Wondering. And then the chance! All at once, enough hours of work at the library, and poof! Enough money to pay for the first course. FWOOOSH! Air out! Air in! Air out! Paper sack! Some. Body. Hand. Me. A. Paper. Sack. Please!

Ahhh.... school again. Oh, I know this place. I've never been here, but I know this place. She is a teacher. I am a student. He is a student too. Do you think this? Yes, but I also think this. Oh, that's a good point too. Wait a minute. Let me write that down. Now, what about this situation? I've dealt with that at work. Really. Oh, yeah. A thousand times. That's what I do for a living. It goes like this. Wait. Wait. Let me write it down. That's a good one.So. Would you like to do some of your degree through PLA? Yes, please. This was fun.
And I appear to be breathing normally again. That has to be a good sign, right?



You saw what?

Oh. Yes. Of course.

Yes, do the blood test. The one that finds cancers. Most of the time it finds them? Most of the time? Okay. Whatever. No real choice here, after all. Do the blood test.

Okay, schedule a surgery. Even I can see that that's not right. I quite agree with you. Anyone with things like that showing up on an ultrasound should have surgery. It's obvious. But I'm not doing it now, okay? Not now. I got married twenty-five years ago, and I am going out of town with my husband and my weird ovaries, and we are going to be alone for a week of all our favorite things, and that's all there is to it. Schedule the damn surgery. I'll call you when I get back. (Surgery? Really? I'm supposed to choose surgery?? Have you met me??)

Turn off the morphine. I don't want it. No. No dexatroximetablahblahblah either. I do NOT like narcotics, Sam I am. I will not will not in a hospital bed, and I mean it. No. No thank you. Pain at about a level two or three. Really. No thank you. (Good. She's gone. Pass me the Arnica. I am NOT taking that other crap when this does the job just fine. When can I go home?)

Encased in paraffin. Who knew? They encase things in paraffin at the pathology lab. Freezing is faster. But they want to do paraffin. "They do their own sectioning." I have signed the paper that allows my ovaries to become part of a waxy subdivision or exfoliating cul-de-sac or something.

Why does it all have to be so bizarre? A waking dream, and not in a good way. They'll call when they get the call. She'll call when she gets the call. No more than two weeks. It doesn't take more than two weeks. If I don't hear from them by then, I need to call and check up. Just call the office.

Just call and ask, So? Do I have cancer?

Do I have cancer?

Don't ask my husband. He doesn't want that thought to land anywhere on his gray matter. He is afraid it will stick. No, he didn't tell me that. I can see it on his face.

And the phone rings.

And it's the clinic.

And it's my doctor.

It's only been a week.

Could that possibly be good news? She wanted to move quickly if they "found something." (In what universe is finding things bad? Or maybe it's not a universe. Maybe it's a neighborhood. The neighborhood where they send ovaries that have been encased in paraffin. Not a good neighborhood. Don't go in there at night.)


Papillary serous tumor, borderline.

English please?

Not benign.


Not cancer.

Not cancer.

I do NOT have cancer. I did not have cancer. Not cancer. Not.

Coulda been.

Borderline instead.

Caught very early.

Too early to turn evil.

Not cancer.


Paper bag, please?


Tissue. Hand me a tissue.

No. Bag. I need the paper bag.

Wait. Gotta blow my nose. Hurts too much to dance around the house, but I really wanna dance! No cancer. NO cancer!!! School and not cancer. This year is going to be about school. Not hospitals or blood tests or paraffin. Heck! I'm only burning beeswax CANDLES this year. I don't want any paraffin in my HOUSE!!!It is now only a little over a month before Michaelmas, and the battle begins again. The days shorten. The darkness rises.

Light and dark. Love and evil. Power and pretender.

Every time I light a candle this year, I am going to want a tissue for my tears. Every day of light this year is a day for deepest love, and every afternoon, in the moments before my patient, somewhat battered husband comes home for dinner in the darkness, I will light candles.

Today I accept financial aid. It's not much, true. But it will be enough. All summer, the aid has been enough.


Just as an aside ...

There aren't very many topics on which I will speak up every time, will speak about vehemently every time, and if let loose in another age, are issues over which I could easily have become a sort of marching Suffragette, but the breathtaking and horrifying issue of over-managed births in this country (and subsequent unnecessary problems) is one such issue.

So, just as an aside from the usual topics here at this blog, I present the following facts to any and all, and refer you to the BOLD website. We have fallen far, far down into a crevice with rocks and killer ice water at the bottom here in this country since the days of the 60's into the 70's when women first rebelled against Birth As Medical Procedure. We need to rebel again. Now. There is much at stake. Birthing The Future has good resources too. Links to many things. Books, video, stats, websites, movements, community action opportunities ... Follow the links. It's time.

In the United States...

  • 30.2% of all babies are born via cesarean surgery *

  • 41% of mothers get induced

  • 76% of mothers have epidurals

  • 94% of mothers have electronic fetal heart monitoring

  • 85% of mothers are connected to an IV line during labor

  • 25% of mothers have an episiotomy

  • 57% of mothers who give birth vaginally are on
    their backs while giving birth

  • 57% of mothers with a previous cesarean were denied a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean)

  • 15% of mothers were permitted to eat during labor

  • 2% of mothers who received care practices that promote normal birth and are endorsed by Lamaze International



Is there ANY more perfectly lovely sound or smell in the world than the first drops of rain after a bit of a heat spell? To my mind, this is how nature makes her best murmurs of contentment.

A week of regaining consciousness

General anesthesia wipes me out. So do narcotics of any kind, and I refuse them very early (as soon as they start to wear off.) It took me weeks to get the drugs out of my system when I shattered my elbow in '96, and the memory of the nightmare still gives me a kind of emotional vertigo.

But I recovered quickly this time - healthier going in, I guess. And now, all week, I've been regaining consciousness. Today I sit here at the computer first thing in the morning again. My head has popped out of the water at last, and now all the ideas and thoughts and little sprouts that have been sprouting in my interior's summer woods are all within my grasp again. That's what it feels like - like I've just resurfaced into my inner self. Not bad! Not even a full week yet, after all. Surgery was on a Tuesday - this is only Monday of the next week.

Today I am going to send off my acceptance of the minuscule financial aid I qualified for. Three credits a quarter are better than none, says I. Loaned money, I have decided, is better than no money, as well. For now. And only because it's such a small amount. It's progress.

Being actively in the program will also put me in the position of a current student, with a transcript filling up, and therefore a record to look at when I apply for every scholarship in the universe except those I obviously do not qualify for. (My parents never worked for Kienow's, after all. And I'm not in the Business School or the Music department either.) And meanwhile, every paycheck I get that could pay for a CLEP or DANTES test will. I can spend the three quarters of this school year seeing how many undergrad credits I can get out of the way. That too is progress.


Today is the First Day

of the Rest of My Life. And it's setting up to be prit-tee fine.

Offending off-warranty parts now removed. Healing begun. School being imagined again. And a newly solid clarity under my feet. I will be monitoring toxic intake and release for the rest of my life. This little adventure was a warning shot over the bow of my little boat, and I'm smart enough to heed it.

May the universe smile in a thousand ways on the night nurse who stayed later than she was supposed to in order to make sure I got a shower and a toothbrush, and may good things also fall on the massage nurse she brought with her to take the kink out of my shoulder on my final day in the hospital. I have tasted the deepest kindnesses this week, and I am grateful.


Tomorrow Morning, the warranty runs out

That's what our youngest child said yesterday. He turned 20 years old today, and his comment on Sunday was that the warranty on my parts had run out. I used this old womb for housing a child for the last time twenty years ago. It did a good job, too. So this is sad, and I know I am grieving, but I know enough as well to be thankful. And I am. There is a lot to be thankful for.

This Recollected Life of mine will be down for the count this week because of all the medical necessities, but I'll return next week.

See you then.

"Dilige et vis quod fac."
Love ... and do what you will.
St. Augustine


This too shall pass

"Everything is impermanent. Everything that is born will die. The feeling we have today of joy will change to sorrow and will change again to joy. We are not stagnant beings. Yet, we suffer profoundly because of our belief that we can somehow freeze and hold moments we enjoy forever and not participate fully in moments that cause us discomfort. This is not a cycle we can win. The sooner we can accept transience as a given, the sooner we can access our deepest voices.

"We are human beings, so we will not be blissfully happy all day, every day. Our writing process will not produce gems every time we sit down to the keyboard. Our relationships and our jobs will not always be what we want them to be. Don't try to move away from these truths. Move into them. They are also impermanent. You might as well explore every experience you're having as fully as you can. The next moment will be different."
Laraine Herring



I had become, with the approach of night, once more aware of loneliness and time - those two companions without whom no journey can yield us anything.
Lawrence Durrell, British Author (1912-1990)

That quote is in the ModeRoom Literary Quotes today (see the widget over on the right side column of the blog?) The first time I read it, instead of reading "night," I read "light." For me, both times are true. In the approaching calm of the dark or the dawning first light of the day, in either moment of pause, between inhale and exhale or exhale and inhale, I am aware of loneliness and time. In that moment, the thoughts that dissipate in dreams or stand aside for activity will come and be seen - or felt.

It isn't fear I feel. Is it? Is this fear? What is this?

Next week at this time (a habitual way of thinking for me), I will be recovering from surgery. I heard phoenix music in June, but in June "the test was negative." In July, the doctor said the test doesn't always show everything. Now, in August, the surgery will tell. Cancer, or not cancer? Malignant or benign? Most likely benign. (Most evidence: doctor willing to wait until August to find out).

But so? So it's benign. Doesn't "benign" sound like something not needing such attentions as general anesthesia and a hospital stay and drugs and removal? Doesn't the word benign go in sentences like "she smiled benignly" and don't dictionaries say things like:

1.having a kindly disposition; gracious: a benign king.

2.showing or expressive of gentleness or kindness:a benign smile.

3.favorable; propitious:a series of benign omens and configurations in the heavens.

4.(of weather) salubrious; healthful; pleasant or beneficial.

Well? Don't they say that?


They do say that. Salubrious, they say. Healthful. Pleasant.

A reader has to get all the way down to the fifth definition to find

5. (Pathology) not malignant; self-limiting.

But that doesn't sound so bad either. Self-limiting. Why all the cutting and removing? Why does the doctor want to attack and kill and eliminate this salubrious, self-limiting bit of stuff?

In the moment between the dark and the light, I feel the full sharpness of my amazement at Western medicine's determination to be body mechanics and to yank out and toss the parts that don't meet the specs. And I resent being approached as if my body were a mechanical device, here to facilitate my life. My body is life - is a living thing. Organic not mechanical. Humans aren't parts, they're people.

And I also think about all the people who never get that ultrasound with the unexpected results, and who never know there are things growing (benignly) where they ought not to grow, and those people just live like that. It isn't terrible, that not knowing. It doesn't usually make any difference at all, I bet.

But still ... the keening, scratching sound of cancer cells floats through - I can hear it in this moment between an inhale and an exhale. They live here in this world with us, and the shadows of their tiny selves - malicious - malignant - flit quickly past when a doctor schedules a surgery like this. I cannot tell - there is no way for me to know - if they are here, in the room with me, now.

That, of course, is the reason for the cutting and the drugs and the hospital. We cannot see some dangers. So we firebomb the building just in case.

I think my poor body is probably doing something benign. It does, usually. I think I have probably agreed to an assault for no reason. Poor body, I say to my own self. The Chinese doctors will help you, and the herbs will help you, and your family will help you. You are not alone. But - I am, in a way. I am alone. For me, right now, this is the last week of days in which I hold the sheltering womb that bore my children. Today is the last Thursday. And it seems to me that throwing away the parts of a person, just because the best and most difficult job the parts ever did is over now... well, that seems a bit malicious. The procedure feels malignant.

I need time to be sad. This feeling I touch in the moment between the dark and the light isn't so much fear as it is sadness. Or ... at least as much of each. I need time to mourn. I need to be quiet and alone and still so that I can feel this. I need to weep. To say thank you for the gifts and to pay attention to their parting. I need to feel it all the way, and not just for that fleeting moment each morning and each day's end, when the world pauses for breath.


Intentional Life

"Moments of clarity, attempts to focus, and questions to ponder in an intentional life" -- that was my original proposition for this blog. Intention. To state intentions. To have them in the first place. To live as if I really do believe that the unexamined life is not worth living and to ask the questions a real life contains.

That's me. Easy peasy. Just like breathing. Can't help myself. Always with the asking of the questions. I wonder things like, "If you say 'this smells horrible,' why then would you ask me to smell it? I believe you!"

And I wonder things like, "How on earth am I going to pay for school?"

That is my question du jour. How on earth am I going to pay for school?


Wait a second.

This blog has been going for a little over a year and a half. When I started writing here, I said I wanted to go back to school, and
I wanted to write (well - and for other people - and for pay somehow), and I wanted my job back at the library.

And now I've taken a class, and my writing has improved, and I am working again at the library - this time in a higher classification! I'm not yet getting paid to write. I suppose a lack of sending writing to people who might buy it could be one cause ... (oh, hush up!), and I'm not in school full time, but somehow, in just a year and a half, a large and obvious part of the original Idea is now Reality.

Well, I'll be blowed! Blowed clean off kilter! While I wasn't looking, things have begun to line up and move forward, just as if I'd meant to do this in the first place!

There is a basic life principle at work here and I am embarrassed not to have seen it sooner. This basic life principle is that we have to keep our eye on the thing toward which we want to go. And its inverse is true. What you keep in sight, you steer toward. I have been looking all this time at school, employment, and writing, and it turns out I have been concurrently (causally?) steering in that direction all along. Huh. Who knew?
Okay, fine.

There is a class I want to take in the fall. (Try again.)

There is a class I want to take next quarter. (Try again.)

There is a class I want to take, which starts at the end of next month. (Better.)

It is a three credit class, I could take the whole thing online if I wanted to (I don't want to, but I could). All Marylhurst students have to take this class sometime within the first two quarters of attending the school. It is, therefore, time for me to take it. As LRN150 was to the PLA program, so LAC301 is to attendance at Marylhurst. It's the introductory layout course for the way the whole of the school works. I want to register for this course, and I want to take it this fall. Now. Not later. Now.

And now I've said it. Eye on the prize, and all that. You heard it. You are a witness to this intention of mine. I still don't know how. I need to win a pile of money. Or send off an article to be published. The finances are still a question. But the intention is here. This is a matter of watching the buoys and lights and markers, and knowing what they mean. This is a matter of steering my little craft toward the next point, on the way to the destination. The truth is that we head toward the thing we keep in sight. LAC301. I can see it.


Cat Man Do

Now, I'm not naming names here ... but I KNOW this cat.


Reflection on Learning

Well, my adventure in LRN150 is all over now. I had my appointment with the instructor to get her recommendations, and once again (why was I surprised?), the whole setup and assumption and intention of the course and the college is to give the learning (and everything that leads to it) into the full control of the learner. She did not give me a List - she gave me possibilities and suggestions. She did not give me a Plan or a Protocol - she gave me the keys to the Design. It wasn't, "Here is what you can sign up for, and you take these classes in this order." It was, "Here is how you design the next part of this if you decide to do it at all." And then, "Do you want to do it?"

And I got very good news. The PLA instructor believes without reservation that I have enough background to "max out" all the allowable alternative ways to earn credits. A full year's credits can be added to a transcript through challenging courses through standardized tests (CLEP and DANTES), and I could easily write for a full year's credits through PLA (Prior Learning Assessment). Online courses are more available than ever, and there is also a dual-enrollment option with the community colleges. All in all, making the stew from that many ingredients takes a lot of careful consultation and planning closely with my advisor, but it's an attainable goal - and far cheaper and faster than doing things conventionally would be.

The last thing to hand in for the class was the "Reflection on Learning" paper. Here's mine, in 770 words.

Reflection on Learning

My experience in LRN150 has been a series of self-revelations, surprises, confirmations and reassurances. Each assignment and project, at home and in class, showed me more of myself as I am and have been, personally, professionally, and intentionally. This process of increasing self-knowledge, the welcoming atmosphere of the class, and the cheerful methods of the instructor have all combined to make me determined to find a way to my Human Studies degree at Marylhurst.

I began to be surprised before the first class meeting. My first draft of the pre-assignment, my autobiography, was three hundred words too long. I found that I had become sloppy and self-indulgent and even a bit cute in my writing in the years since my last formal education. I had, I think, stopped taking myself seriously. I had learned to discount my intelligence, make little of my accomplishments, blunt my once sharp reasoning skills, and tell jokes rather than answer questions. For me, the required length of the paper was easily met – but not by good, solid, academic writing. The process of editing the assignment down to size taught me two things. I learned to take myself seriously again, and I recognized just how much I have learned and accomplished.

The first class meeting was another pivotal experience for me personally. For the first time in my adult life, and perhaps in my whole life, I found myself in the position of one of several students, with a teacher at the head of the class, and yet I made no move to establish my place in the group. I did not speak up when no one else would do it. I did not assume a leadership position of any kind, either with the class as a whole or with the small group during discussions. Instead, I found that I could participate as a genuine peer, neither more nor less qualified than anyone else for the positions we held as adult learners in that room.

I am still not quite sure what to make of this experience. I suspect that my response proceeded first from the obvious fact that our instructor was not nervous about her class. She genuinely enjoyed what she was doing, and believed that any of us who wanted to acquire college credits through writing in the Prior Learning Assessment program would be able to do so. In other words, I had no need to be the teacher. There already was one, and she knew what she was doing.

However, I also suspect that there was more to it than my confidence in an obviously excellent instructor. I suspect that part of what this showed to me was my own readiness to proceed to this next part of my life, free of defensiveness or youthful needs for validation and approval. I think the first class session showed me that I am ready to do what it takes to earn my degree as an adult learner.

The chronolog we turned in during the second class session was a long slog through decades of emotions, expectations, disappointments, successes, failures, and changes. It was emotionally exhausting to write. This also surprised me. What I had thought was going to be a nicely formatted, dispassionate list turned out to be an emotional mining expedition.

These first two assignments, and the next one, the Goal Statement, caused a new self to present herself in class by the third week’s meeting. It seemed to me that news selves appeared in all the other chairs as well. Groups of students re-formed themselves at the tables, and the conversation between students before class, during discussions, and even after class seemed to come into sharper focus.

It was helpful to have department representatives come to speak to us about PLA in their various disciplines, and it was helpful (and kind of fun!) to take the ASSET test in class. It was clarifying to do small group work and it was energizing to have discussions with the class as a whole. Despite the heat of the summer and the noise of the apparently ancient air conditioner units in the window, and even despite the lateness of the class hour, the whole process of my participation in LRN150 this summer has shown me one thing very clearly. I want a Human Studies degree from Marylhurst, and now I know will be able to earn it in part through writing for the PLA program. The class was recommended to me by a student who got her degree in this way, and I will recommend it to anyone else who might be interested.