Just like that


Just like that. Mama owl's eyes register surprise.

He calls and says, "I'm coming home right now."

"Oh?" I say. "Where are you?"

He's about a half an hour away. Okay...

So here he is. So, what has he been up to? Still thinking of grad school? What's going on? Oh, he's thinking of staying in Olympia after graduation this spring. Get a job doing something. Wait until the next round of jobs comes up for teaching English overseas.


So ... that was our last bit of kids at home when he left for school last year. Last summer notwithstanding, that was it. It's just us two. Mama Owl and Daddy Owl. All the other owls have flown away.

Remind me.

This is good news, right?

Happy Halloween. He says he's taking his record player and his LP's with him this time. I did not know until just now how much better his heavy shelves full of vinyl made me feel. They're like Elliot Garfield's guitar. He's not gone if they're here. This Christmas one kid will be in Afghanistan. Next Christmas? Will I have one kid in Japan? Or Siberia, learning throat singing and teaching English? My forehead feels very Nutterbuttery and my eyes have gone all Frootloop.


Just like that.


Fall back this weekend

Here it comes again. The supreme indication that we will have what we want when we want it. The biennial pretense of the manipulation of time. (Yay, us.)

At least this is the good one. Falling back means snuggling in for the winter. The knowledge that I'll have to spring forward again in a few months takes a bit of the shine off of it for me, but ...



Education mapping: I've found the red X !

Did you ever stand and stare at those mall diagrams on the lit boards, looking for the red X labeled, "you are here?" Ever feel that slightly dizzy disorientation that comes from realizing you're facing about 90 degrees off what you thought you were? Mall maps are some pretty simple ones, though. As long as the thing is oriented in the same direction you're facing when you're standing there, those aren't too wacky-headed to read.

(But the questions always do tend to pop into my head - questions like, "Why do they split department stores into two annoying separate places? And exactly who is 'Westfield,' anyway? Why does he suddenly own all the 'shopping towns' and why are they all the same?")

Mall maps are a tool for finding the store I want so that I can buy the thing I want and get the hell outa Dallas. Or Renton. Or Clackamas. Or Vancouver. Or wherever else I happen to be where there's too much smell of food court, far too many teenybopper hairdo's and voices talking on cell phones, and where the walls in the mall are, like, rilly rilly tall ... chah ...

In general, I love maps. When I was a kid, we had one like this one (found in a games museum in Waterloo), and I loved it. I should have used it a little more intentionally for learning all the states and capitals in the fifth grade. Somehow, that was a very hard task for me, and I suspect it's because I was memorizing names for things that had no faces. The puzzle would have given me some faces. (Notice that New Mexico is missing? Maybe they just took out that piece so that the viewer could see the information under it. My puzzle didn't have that information. Very cool, say I. Parents everywhere should have puzzles of the states and continents. I wonder if there's one for European countries.)

Maps breathe out possibility and the romance of the unknown. They entice imagination. Or, they should, anyway. Somehow, the map assignments I had to do in school were some of the most mind-numbingly, panic-inducingly, what's-the-point-of-this-beggingly assignments I was ever commanded to do.

How odd. How, I wonder, did those teachers manage to kill the romance of maps? Do you suppose maps are a bit like music or art? If the student isn't allowed to form a genuine and personal attachment to her own creative thoughts and fancies, then it's a bit like pretending to love someone? Ugh.

I quite agree with Margaret Dashwood. The really lovely books of maps ought to be kept away from the greedy hands of dull witted heiresses - and all else who do not understand what they see. (And a library is a very good place to hide! The dull of sense never do think anyone would be in a library.)

But back to the subject at hand. Maps. My maps. Specifically, my MAP, my LAC plan, and my INT plan. Gibb'rish, i'n't it?

Not to me! Not anymore! After a very long day, with the hours slipping by until my stomach reminded me of meal times, I have finally found where X marks my spot. I may even have conquered my hostility toward making maps for school.

See, at Marylhurst, there is one constant drum beat that the student cannot escape. In every class, for nearly every assignment, the school asks the student to own it. Own your education. Own your learning. Name your goals, say if you meet them or if you don't and why and how you believe that happened. Explain yourself. Explain yourself in relation to: your own experience, your own expectations, and all the learning and expectations of all the academics who have gone before you in your chosen field. It's yours. Your education belongs to you. At Marylhurst, they have the keys to the doors, and the doors are labeled, but the students are no more shepherded to the "right" doors than they are given spelling tests each Friday.

The students at Marylhurst have to draw their own maps, and then place their own bright red X's in their own landscapes. You can use a stencil if you want to - for the X, I mean. Or draw it with a marker, or paint it with oil paints, or glue and glitter if that's your bent. But the map is yours, and so is your place on it. Oh. And one more thing. This map of yours has to make sense to other people.

Marylhurst Map #1: It's your EDP - your Educational Degree Plan. (The links are to tutorials on the Marylhurst website.)

In the olden days, I would've called the EDP something else, but I don't remember what that was. A transcript, maybe? An incomplete transcript?

Anyway, the EDP is the list of stuff you have to take to get your degree, and then there's a column for whether or not you've taken it. This is the one map you get given to you at Marylhurst. It's generated through your declared degree, your credits earned so far, and the requirements for what you say you're doing. But there's a catch. It's only in a rare case that the actual courses will be listed on a brand spanking new EDP. Instead, you get a list of "outcomes" you have to fulfill, and you have to figure out for yourself how you want to do that. (It's yours. This education belongs to you.)

The outcomes are determined in two categories: your major, and the LAC - the Liberal Arts Core, the unifying and grounding element central to Marylhurst's mission and identity. In the olden days, a liberal arts degree included history, math, language, etc. Now all of those specific things are gathered into categories. (Am I the only one who didn't know this?)

Marylhurst Map #2: I must find courses that have outcomes in Arts & Ideas, Human Community, Life and Learning Skills, and Natural World.

Marylhurst Map #3: And how does one keep track of these outcomes? On one's Marylhurst MAP, of course! The Marylhurst Academic Portfolio. Name the course's outcome category, tell what you learned in it, and write the ubiquitous Marylhurst "reflection" regarding the course's efficacy in meeting the outcome's goal, and get feedback from advisors. (It's yours. This education belongs to you. You draw your own map, but someone is checking to make sure it's a map that leads somewhere when you're done.)

Marylhurst Map #3: Yesterday, I spent the entire day doing the other part. The requirements for an Interdisciplinary Degree. And now there's a twist. I have to write my own Outcomes. I have to declare my own intentions - draw my own map. Interdisciplinary Studies require that the student both design and justify the degree. It is not a double major - it's a threading together of at least two academic disciplines into one tapestry, the the tapestry has to make sense.

After all of this, the cherry on the top of the sundae is this: I've been writing for Prior Learning Assessment credits. These are very structured essays which are meant to prove academic learning which has occurred within non-academic life experience. Those credits have to have someplace to go. They need to fit either into the Liberal Arts Core (such as the essays I did for Public Speaking and Effective Listening), or into my major (I am not putting any of my prior learning into that category), or they must go into the Electives pile (and that's where the Library Procedures essay went.)

It has taken me two full years of going to school to make a map I want to follow. I've tried versions of other maps, but none of them went where I want to go. As of the end of the day yesterday, I have done it at last. This is my education. It belongs to me. I will be am earning an interdisciplinary degree called "Composing the Human Experience," which is a liberal arts degree with concentrations in Writing and Human Studies.

I am here.






This is the fifth day this month. On only four other days, I was home for the day. If you get up and go to work five or more days a week, you'll think I'm whingeing for no good reason, but this has been a grueling month for me. (And whingeing is a very good word - perfect for what it means.) Home for me is sanity and inner calm and the ability to handle all the little irritations and unexpected stresses and ordinary changes and chances of life -- handle them without straining my ability to be nice, that is. It's official. Ability strained. I'm up to the part where I have to think consciously to avoid saying things like, "Seriously? Damn, that's a stupid thing to say." Or, "Stop talking. It's evident that you have nothing to say." Or just, "Stop talking."

The evident part is interesting, don't you think? In order to find the words - the writing words - I need lots of time away from all the voices talking, speaking all the words. Do you suppose one brain can only process a certain number of words, and if I am going to have any for writing I have to avoid maxing out my system listening to them? (This is why writers often say writers are a selfish lot. It feels wildly selfish to desire unending days at home alone, but it also feels as necessary to sanity as freedom from water torture.)

And speaking of water torture, whothehell made the Columbia River Gorge into the carwash tube? I got a flat tire this weekend, which turned the fact of my nearly worn out tires into a task demanding attention (translation: four new tires purchased). I figure my guardian angel stuffed a nail into my tire so that I could no longer ignore the tire project. With the old tires on my car, the drive home last night would likely have ended up washing me off the highway and into the Columbia, and then out to sea. That was a lot of rain all at once, even for us.

But now that I am home, and all the speaking has stopped filling my ears and head, I have opened my eyes to see the mountain looming. The mountain of writing I have to do now. The mountain of writing I've been itching to get to, for the classes I've already paid for, and want to do well in. Sorta sucks out my breath to look at it.

Interdisciplinary Studies:
Reading: Tillie Olsen, “O Yes” and Moti Nissani, "Ten Cheers for Interdisciplinarity"
Writing: Finish mission statement, including learning outcomes
Draft Individual Degree Plan
First draft of short reflective paper.
Work on: Assemble as much of the Portfolio as is possible at this time; bring to class
11/21/09 to share with classmates and be reviewed by instructor.

Human Studies:
Reading: Through your continued reading and research this week, identify a model or models that best support your emerging "picture" of the aspect of the self-system you want to focus on. Find out a bit about what it's origins were--who was the creator, who has modified the model over time, and how is it used in the human sciences--get to know your tools! (Examples might include Erikson's developmental model, Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, Kolb's model of experiential learning, or a model from systems theory. All of these have been modified over the years to accommodate new perspectives, and are used for a wide range of purposes and environments.) (Make sure to keep track of your references and your thoughts in your Self Journal.)
Writing: a one to two page essay to turn in on 11/2, that is an overview of your reading/thinking/writing to date, and your focus as you develop your self model
Work on: organizing final paper and building the model of the Human Self for final presentation in four weeks (I'm going to use these artist models as props for my final project)

Prior Learning Assessment:
Essay #1: ILS 300 (Children's Lit, a course taught at Southern Connecticut) -- writing for 5 credits, which is 20-25 pages, plus documentation
Essay #2: PSY 222 from PCC - writing for 4 credits, which is 16-20 pages, plus documentation

I have about five weeks to be done with this. I ... um ... well, I think I've used all my spare time already. I may have borrowed some spare time from next quarter. You know that "time turner" Hermione uses for a year at Hogwarts? Yeah. I need to borrow it.


If you wanted to know

Just a quick note here. I'm attempting to keep the more religious writing over at my small Anglicanism blog, and I have put a statement there about the news this week from the Vatican.


Acquiring new tastes

Until well into my thirties, I did not read nonfiction books. Or, at least, I did not read them unless they were about child development or teaching reading or something like that. Someday - perhaps in the next decade or so - I'll figure out what I was avoiding all those years. (I think it has something to do with a threatened life view -- "Hi. I'm Stephanie, and I'm a recovering fundamentalist.")

I have just noticed something. This going back to school thing - it's changing my tastes. It feels a bit like stretching out for a long hike after too long a time confined by illness or injury (in other words, it hurts, but it feels good). Here are some of the titles I currently have checked out from the library:
  • The writer's notebook : craft essays from Tin House
  • The farm to table cookbook : the art of eating locally
  • Fearless confessions : a writer's guide to memoir
  • Dancing in the streets : a history of collective joy
  • The Pushcart prize
  • Just a phrase I'm going through : my life in language
  • The electric meme : a new theory of how we think
  • How the wise decide : the lessons of 21 extraordinary leaders
  • Language and mind
  • The stuff of thought : language as a window into human nature
  • Kabbalah : an introduction to Jewish mysticism
  • Bodies in motion and at rest : essays
  • Five minds for the future
  • Why we make mistakes : how we look without seeing, forget things in seconds, and are all pretty sure we are way above average
  • Not becoming my mother : and other things she taught me along the way
  • The large, the small, and the human mind
  • Against happiness : in praise of melancholy
  • The kingdom of infinite space : a portrait of your head
The closest thing to novels in that list would be the short stories in the Pushcart Prize anthology, and the memoirs. By the way, Ruth Reichl's new book, Not Becoming My Mother, is a work of such love and is written so gorgeously in such a small format that it's like eating a perfectly prepared course at the best restaurant you've ever been to. Elegantly presented and not heaped in a pile, exquisite and multi-layered flavors calling and responding to the perfectly chosen wine, and so satisfying to the nose and eyes that slowing down to savor its flavors isn't something you have to choose to do. I'll be buying this one.


I highly recommend

...the work of Alison Gopnik and all her colleagues. I'm reading The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life. This is the library's copy, but I'm going to buy one for myself. I already own The Scientist in the Crib, which is about the acquisition of language. Today, at her web page, I see that she's also co-authored one called Causal Learning: Psychology, Philosophy and Computation, which I am very interested in. (note: after a bit more paying attention, I have figured out that Causal Learning is a textbook - a huge, heavy, expensive textbook - I need to find a good cheap used copy of that)

Her writing style is engaging, interesting, and delightful, and her research could keep me mesmerized for a very long time. Here, for instance, is a perfectly brilliant representational drawing of the research that has gone into other practical and popular works, such as the Gallup corporation's Strengths Finder model. This is what happens as we get older.

On October 13th???


Odd Phenomenon Year.

This calendar year, we had huge mounds of snow on Christmas (we nearly never have that much snow at once, much less in December), we had late freezes and late snows into the spring, we had absolutely scorching summer weather for far, far too many days in a row, I have had elk in my yard (three times!) and now - right now - outside my window, blowing around in the hail and rain, are these enormous fluffy snowflakes! Before Halloween? Seriously? I don't think I have ever seen snow falling against a backdrop of autumn leaves. This is very weird.


Ahhh ... yeah ... right there ....

You know that feeling when someone scratches that place on your back where you can't quite reach for yourself? That "aaaahhhh....." feeling where the itch finally stops? Yeah. That's what this is like for me. I'm a big, furry, itchy grizzly, and I've found a perfect tree for scratching on.

One of the first assignments in my Human Studies course is to find an academic resource for our research into the questions of the human "self." Well, I found this very cool article about meditation. This is the abstract at the top of the article called "Meditation and the Cohesive Self," by Judith Blackstone, Ph.D.:
This article looks at the dialogue between some relational and intrapsychic models of psychoanalysis, regarding the autonomy of the self. The article describes how certain types of meditation—in particular, the realization process—can facilitate both the experience of internal cohesion, the sense of oneself as a separate being, and the experience of participating in a fluidly reciprocal self–world matrix. The article discusses how the experience of interiority that can be cultivated through meditation leads to the emergence of a subtle, qualitative sense of self and other; enables creativity; and increases one’s openness to other people.
And now I know I'm in the right place at the right time! Why, you ask? Because there are so many brow-wrinkling terms in the abstract alone, and yet my reaction is excitement instead of depression, I don't wish for a self-induced coma, and I'm not frustrated. I'm the bear! I'm the tree! I'm the whole forest, and I can feel my leaves unfurling. Aaaahhhh... yeah .... right there ....


Gretchen says Dag says so too

Yesterday, I posited an antidote to disillusionment. Others have done the same. Gretchen Rubin has posted a quote from Dag Hammarskjöld, a Swedish diplomat, author, and the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, who reached the same conclusion.
“Is life so wretched? Isn’t it rather your hands which are too small, your vision which is muddied? You are the one who must grow up.”



Not what I expected.
I'm so disappointed.
I knew it was too good to be true.
Archer sits on a bench in the square and looks up at what
he surmises is her apartment and imagines what's going on inside.
"It's more real to me here than if I went up," he finally realizes.
A friend sent me a NY Times article today. Elaine Sciolino writes about Edith Wharton. (click on the pic or the link to get there) The article is about autumn in Europe, and Paris, and romance, and the power of imagination. And it got me thinking. It got me thinking about all the thousands of warnings I have received during my lifetime, from very frightened and often well-intentioned people, all trying to get me to imagine less. Hope for less. Avoid the cruelty of disappointment and disillusionment. Stop being so happy, because I was just setting myself up.

Today, while I was thinking about that man sitting on a bench beneath the windows of the apartments, and his powerful imagination, and his knowledge that reality doesn't measure up ... while I was thinking about how bad that's supposed to be - that we can be disappointed and disillusioned and wrong about our projected outcomes ... I got to thinking ... Why? Why is it bad to get a reality that uses a different script from the one we expected? Why is that bad?

I have a plaque here in my messy office. On it is a quotation from Proust. "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." I believe that. I think the antidote to devastating disappointment is not to be found either in fixing up the narrative so it matches my first draft, nor in writing less and less imaginative life drafts in a vain attempt to avoid the surprises. The antidote is in having new eyes with which to see, new ears with which to hear, and a wider and wider prospect from which to take it all in. Revising a draft doesn't mean you wrote the first one "wrong;" it means you're still writing. Sometimes it hurts like hell - but sometimes, if you'll use the
  • new generation orthographic & grammatical checker
  • 10 dictionnaries
  • 10 linguistics guides,
then you'll be able to revise your draft and make a narrative that's really good. Really, actually, truly good. The antidote is revision - not a cessation of writing.

After nearly fifty years on this planet, lots of stuff in my life has been a surprise to me. I am not unscathed. I have wept over my shattered elbow, my life-saving hysterectomy, and a spine torqued in a car accident ... and I have wept over my own sin and failure and weakness and helplessness ... and I have wept over my kids. I've got the scars, in my body and my heart. But it would not - I declare this unequivocally - it would not have been better not to live. It would not have been better not to dream.


October wardrobe

So ... lemme see .... what shall I wear this fall? Oh, I know. How about a huge, hulking, black, velcroed-on boot? Not two - that would be excessive. I'll just wear the one. For the whole month of October. Nothing says Autumnal Sartorial Pinache like one hulking black boot, don't you think?

Better than a plaster cast. That's what I'm going with. Better - because I can take showers this way and not end up with sodden plaster.

I'd never even heard of an avulsion fracture before today. But that's what I've got. Three of them. It's when your tendon is too stubborn to tear, and your bones too hard to break, so your tendon pulls a piece of bone OFF! Apparently it's more common in children. And elite athletes. (Stop laughing.)


Spoon Sisters rock!!

A friend at work showed me this site yesterday. I have to pass it along to my readers. Readers, meet the Spoon Sisters. (Spoon Sisters, these are my readers. Thanks for coming.) There is so much laugh out loud, ingenious, amazing, brilliant, useful stuff on this site that I'm considering asking for a thousand dollar gift certificate. I mean, seriously. How brilliant is this? Brownies, and every piece is an edge piece!

And this is intriguing as well. I can't quite figure out what these are made of. Silicone maybe? What an interesting idea. (What do you do with them when they're all used up, I wonder? Seventh Generation makes a fabric softener sheet that's actually a sheet of brown paper and can be recycled like any other paper.)

I love the Spoon Sisters! Straining ladles, and can strainers, a "Happy Birthday" cake mold and dipping spoons, stuff for babies and parents and weddings and holidays ... it's all good. And since they've dared to sell it (and Anish Sheth, M.D., a gastroenterology fellow at Yale has dared to write it in the first place), and because I really do think this sort of information can be helpful, and because I laughed out loud when I saw it ... well ... here it is: Oh, c'mon. That's funny. And useful. And funny. (I think I'm always going to be eight years old.)


Eat well

To say that a work of art is good,
but incomprehensible to the majority of men,
is the same as saying of some kind of food that it is very good
but that most people can't eat it.
Leo Tolstoy

True, Mr. Tolstoy. Or, I should say, I believe that too. Art and food are so much alike that the metaphor can play and play and not be tired for a long time.

Both require training of the tastes, for instance. Perhaps we are accustomed to that which neither satisfies nor delights. Lots of so-called "art" is like mass-produced and pre-packaged food, and it really is objectively icky. ("Icky" is a highly specialized art critique term.) But most foods, and most art (and most people, and most anything else that is alive in some way) will appeal more to some folks than to others. Good art is not universally loved - but it ought to be universally comprehensible.

I've thought about this a lot over the past few months. We've a son who prides himself on his avant garde tastes ... but it's more than that. He not only believes he has found something of good value, but he also believes he has found something of great power and beauty and artistic merit in the largest sense of the concepts. And so I have listened when commanded to, and honestly, I think I can almost taste what he tastes in the weird and eccentric dishes he has served me. I haven't developed a taste for it myself, but I do get it. I understand it. It's in the escargot and smoked alligator sausage variety (or, actually, reindeer steaks - at least one of those bands is Nordic), but I do understand it. Sorta.

Yak, anyone? Or drone metal fused with something I don't know the name of to make a sound that has obvious roots in chant but probably irreparably harms the vocal apparatus of the "singer?"

Last weekend in class, another piece was added to this mental jigsaw I've been working on for awhile. As an introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies, our instructor gave us two poems to discuss and analyze. (He's very good at this, by the way. Few in the room had done that sort of work, but he was both specific enough and open enough to get the whole room going on some fairly in-depth work. It was a lot of fun!)

After we'd spent some time with our poems, he asked each group what they'd come up with, and he responded to the answers. And then he made the gloriously gorgeous point that good literature is large enough to sustain many interpretations, viewpoints, and perspectives; bad literature clubs the reader over the head with one correct and intended interpretation only. An old-fashioned flash bulb popped in my head, and a section of this topic of art, food, literature, and life was illuminated suddenly and completely for me.

Good art, good literature, good food, and a good life --- they're all alive. And live things are not seen only one way. A fundamentalist of any stripe will tell you "this is the right way" and "this is the right view" -- but art, words, foods, and life aren't like that. Not really. There is a right way and there are many right views for living things.

And that does not mean there is no wrong or bad way. That's what I used to think. I used to believe that it was my job to find The Right Way and The Truth about a thing, and I thought that to not find it was to be wrong - to be in error. There was a piece of life - and living things - that I could not see. Yes, there are wrong ways. That part is in the picture. It's wrong to beat your wife and kids (or to bully them in any other less obvious way), but there are a zillion zillion ways to love them. Lots of right ways to be the head of the home. Lots of right ways to live a life or raise kids or make lasagna or music or poetry. Lots of right ways doesn't mean there's no wrong way.

Golly, I love being in school. I really do.

And here's one of the poems we discussed --- what do you see here? Human development? Education? Useless musings? There is no single right thing. From Odes to Common Things, originally written in Spanish by Pablo Neruda, this is "Ode to the Dictionary."

Broad ox back, ponderous
beast of burden, heavy book
when I was young
I had no idea you existed, so wrapped up was I
in my own perfection:
I thought I was quite an item.
Puffed up like a moody bullfrog,
I pronounced: "I get
my words
from rumbling Sinai.
I shall distill
their pure shapes by alchemy,
for I have magic powers."

The great Magus said nothing.

Ancient and weighty, in its worn
leather coat,
the Dictionary
held its tongue, refused to reveal its secrets.

But one day,
after I had consulted it
and cast it aside,
after I had
declared it
a useless, outworn thing,
after it had done long months
of duty as my easy chair
and pillow, without complaining,
it couldn't take it any longer: it rose up
in my doorway,
growing fast, rustling it's pages
and its nests,
rustling its high branches.
It became a tree--
an authentic,
apple tree, crab apple or orchard apple,
and words
quivered brightly in its inexhaustible canopy of leaves,
words opaque and musical,
fertile in the foliage of language,
laden with truth and sound.

I turn to
one of
it's great
to form these syllables
out of air.
Farther down the page, there's
a hollow word, waiting for olive oil or ambrosia.
And nearby there's
Stoop Stout Stove
Stork and Storm:
that slide like slippery grapes
or explode when exposed to light
like blind seeds once confined
to vocabulary's cellars,
now come back to life, communicating life again.
Once again the heart burns them up.

Dictionary, you are not
a grave, a tomb, or a coffin,
neither sepulcher nor mausoleum:
you are preservation,
hidden fire,
field of rubies,
vital continuity
of essence,
language's granary.
And it is a beautiful thing
to pluck from your columns
the precise, the noble
or the harsh,
Spain's offspring
hardened like the blade of a plow,
secure in this role
of outmoded tool,
in its precise beauty
and its medallion-toughness.
Also that other word,
the one that slipped
between the lines
but popped suddenly,
deliciously into the mouth, smooth as an almond
or tender as a fig.

Dictionary, guide just one
of your thousand hands, just one
of your thousand emeralds
to my mouth,
to the point of my pen,
to my inkwell
at the right moment,
give me but a
of your virgin springs,
a single grain
generous granaries.
When I most need it,
grant me
a single trill
from your dense, musical
jungle depths, or a bee's
a fallen fragment
of your ancient wood
by endless seasons of jasmine,
a single
shutter or note,
a single seed:
I am made of earth and my song is made of words.


Bump, Stop, Yield

Well, apparently there is a benefit of aging. I did not know this could happen, but it is happening, so, logically, it can, eh? (Hm. "Eh?" I must be becoming a Canadian after my recent frustration with the medical world in the USA.)

The benefit of aging is that the frustrations and vicissitudes (I love that word), the various setbacks and challenges, the "changes and chances of this mortal life" are speed bumps I still have to drive over sometimes, but either my suspension is better than it used to be or I'm a better driver or the bumps wear down over time. Maybe it's a combination of all three things. Maybe after awhile we realize that we can be calm when a bump is coming because we'll be able to be okay as we go over and when we get to the other side we'll still be driving. Whatever it is, today I have and can see that I have:

1. Control over my own medical decisions (somehow, waiting until Friday and taking care of it myself feels right - I feel safe - I'm okay) I stopped at the sign, but now I'm going again.

2. An ankle bone. That has a lot to do with the feeling of being okay. I can see one of my ankle bones again, and my really nasty bruising is turning green and yellow. Now it's not just a joke foot, it's a joke Halloween foot. It's lovely, I assure you. (If someone made a painting out of the exact colors of my foot right now, people would view it and feel a bit ill and not know why.)

3. School assignments. I talked to my instructor yesterday, and now I have everything I need so that I can get on with my study while my multi-hued foot is propped up.

4. Gainful employment. This injury came at a really bad time. I've got hours and hours scheduled at the library this month, and there are training days for the rest of the staff and there are staff members out of town, and so they'll even take me all lame and weak and feeble. (phew!) I hated losing out on the hours, and I really squirmed at saying "no" after I'd already said "yes" and I do love the people I work with. They're so nice to me.

Yesterday I felt like a helpless child again. I really did. The bullying adults were implacable. I could not get answers or help or even simple understanding from anyone. Asking questions that do not have answers already on the forms ... well, it's not done, that's all. It's just not done. (The insurance phone girl's perfunctory, "I understand your frustration," was one of the most aggravating social lies I've heard in a long time.)

But today I don't care anymore. I'm a grownup again, and I'll choose my next few moves because grownups get to do that. I'll also vote for ANY CHANGE to the current insurance and medical office system because ANY CHANGE is at least getting the thing to move or crack or wobble a bit, and ANY CHANGE makes it possible to make more changes.

By the way, do you know the one thing law makers aren't willing to do? The one thing that would probably make all the difference we need to make for a long time with our system? They aren't willing to insist that all insurance companies be run as non-profits. That one change alone would make such a huge difference, we'd hardly recognize ourselves. T. R. Reid is probably right. We probably will need to have a one state at a time example set before anything big will happen, but if we made the insurance companies non-profit, made it necessary for them to cover everyone, we'd have nearly solved all our payment/fee/escalating costs problem. We really would.

I'm a better driver now than I was in my youth. Speed bumps don't panic me (or, not for long anyway), stops can be accomplished and the journey resumed, decisions can be made at crossroads, and narrow bridges can be traversed. I can even find my way out of dead ends if I happen to turn down one.

On our first date, my husband turned down a dead end, and as he made the circle in the street and started back out again, he said, "I've always wanted to know what was down this street." The thing is ... it was not just a joke to cover one of several awkward moments in that marvelous day. Even when he didn't know a street existed before he finds himself on it, he does want to know what's down there. Not all who wander are lost - but it is okay to get lost sometimes. I'm finally becoming a good enough driver not to panic about it. I've always wanted to know what was down this street.


But I don't think so

It might be possible for me to be more angry at and frustrated with the "health" care system in this country right now, but I don't think so.

We do not have a system that cares for health. We have a system that cares for bottom lines, bureaucratic form-filling, and number crunching. The right hand not only doesn't know what the left hand is doing, it has more arms than anyone knows and they're all oblivious of the others.

We have a system that makes me afraid to go to the doctor when I have either broken or sprained my ankle - I don't know which I've done, because I have yet to get an appointment with a doctor. I now have an appointment for Friday, which is one week after the injury. I did not go to the emergency room because I was not dying, and I did not (and do not) think the thing's broken, but I have no way of knowing that until it's been x-rayed. And so why don't I just go get it x-rayed? Or, there are a lot of reasons for that. Here's a partial list.

1. Emergency room visits are expensive. The co-pay is $125, which I happened not to have in my pocket last Friday.

2. Emergency room visits for non-life-threatening injuries are time consuming in the extreme (not that this is much different from any other form of waiting room in any other form of medical office functioning within the AMA)

3. I was not home when it happened - making a logistics problem as well as an insurance tangle.

4. You can't just go get it x-rayed unless a doctor writes orders for it. So, the choice is wait for an appointment and get orders, or go to the emergency room. I chose to wait.

5. There is no way to know how much out of pocket money I might spend on this project, and we are already paying hundreds and hundreds of dollars in unanticipated medical expenses for a test the doctor ordered and the "insurance" approved - but no one could tell us how much that would cost either.

Yes, yes, we asked. Insurance has to approve. Great. So ... did they? No one bothered to call to let us know that either. Yes. They approved. Great. So I had the test. And? And I got a bill from the other side of the country, from a doctor I'd never heard of. I thought it was a scam! But no, that's where the guy who reads the test has his billing done. And that was a separate bill. The hospital got a chunk as well. The doctor doesn't make the appointment, the doctor's receptionist doesn't "even know how much they charge over there," and the people at the hospital will do whatever the doctor ordered, and the insurance doesn't know how much the hospital, doctor, or test reader will charge ... but whatever it ends up being, I have to pay the bill.

No other industry does business this way -- or, not legally, at least. Just imagine taking your car to the shop. "It doesn't work right," you say. "Okay," the guy says. "I'll do whatever I think needs to be done, and you'll pay 30% of that. That be okay with you?" Oh, sure. You'd agree to that, right? He has no way to tell you what the bill might be. But you have to agree to pay a third of it.

I've just spent the morning on the phone, trying to figure out how to handle the fact that my ankle was injured in a fall. As usual,

1. I have to be approved for the expense for the insurance to pay anything.
2. I called the insurance people. How much do I have to pay?
3. It depends on what the doctor orders. You pay a third of whatever the doctor orders. How much might that be? There's no way of knowing that.

If my ankle weren't the reason my right foot is currently the size of a joke foot, I would now take a very brisk walk to work off some of this steam. I hate dealing with medical people and insurance people - especially when all they can tell me is that they don't know anything at all about what someone else might decide or what those decisions might cost me.

The "system" (which is really just a wadded-up and for-profit mess made of every system there is, including the one where people go without care - you know... like in Bangladesh or the wilds of Africa?) is a system that does not work for me. We are employed. We have insurance. And I'm scared to go to the doctor. So - our system? Maybe it could be more broken - but I don't think so.



Just like that.

A small, rapid knock on the bedroom door.
"You awake?"

Muffled answer. Awake. Sure. Of course we're awake. Why wouldn't we be awake at three o'clock in the morning? Isn't everyone? (groan) "Yeah."

"Good! We gotta go!" (Oh lord. She's so awake. Ugh.) I don't know if she went to bed at all or if she was too keyed up and just used the time to pack.

Someone in my life - I don't remember who it was - used to say to me, "You're such a soldier." The person meant that I seemed brave. That I was stalwart in spite of difficulties. I may have been. I don't remember. Our daughter is. Our daughter is a soldier.

But she wasn't being brave this morning. (I was.) You have to perceive a problem for bravery to be needed. She was just being her own self. Ready to go. Packed. Only, this is a new self, too. The kind of keyed up she was when she left here - ten minutes ago - in the dark - before dawn - it wasn't nervous or jittery. (I am, a bit.) Her nervous, jittery energy - a kind of anxiety, I think - it was often under her surfaces before, and now it has ebbed away from her. She has become a steady person. Calm. Way, way too awake at this hour, but calm under the energetic competence and pulsing motion. (Me too. Under my tears and occasional involuntary sob, I find calm.) Sounds too much a cliche to be true, but she's become not merely "strong;" now she's "Army strong." (I'm not.)

She rested while she was home. I might be able to rest before she comes home again, I suppose. No. I take that back. I will be able to.

This is just like when she was a baby. I couldn't fall asleep if I couldn't hear her breathing. She breathes her own life now. I've heard her. I will be able to sleep. Be safe, girl. Do good work. We miss you every day. We love you. You're such a soldier.


Cat in the window, daughter down the hall, and clouds on the mountains

What an odd little glen I've stumbled into. The path is only here for a short few steps, but it's very pretty.

I have Pandora playing on my computer (I made a station called "Carla Bruni," and I'm really happy with the results). The cat is sitting in the partly open window sniffing somewhat without intention at bugs and bees that fly by every once in awhile.

And then, from my daughter's email address, I get a message about a funny thing to look at online. But this daughter is about ten steps away from me - for today - for right now, this morning, she is in a bedroom in our house, propped up at the head of the bed with her laptop. Her brother set up the wireless connection thingy for her before he left for school. So ... me online here, her online there, and what's the most sensible way to show me a link? By sending it, of course.

Soon she'll get up and leave the house for a last day of messing about in town. This weekend she has to go back. To Afghanistan. To the army. To war.

I feel as if I am ambling along, on some sort of naturalist's walk, taking notes and drawing pictures with colored pencils in my journal ... picking and pocketing a sample or two in the hope that their dried form might be enough to remind me of their lives. And now, all of a sudden I've turned a corner, and there is this peaceful, quiet, pretty, slightly amusing place. This little place. It's quiet in here, but it's not still. The water flowing in and back out again makes its bubbling noises on the rocks. Where the path leads around the corner and out the other side of this little, hidden place, I can see the mountains and the clouds that brush past their tops. What's up ahead is terrifying and beautiful and wild and so, so much larger than I am.

Today, this morning, I stop for a moment and breathe the air of this place. On my face I feel a hint of winter, like barely audible background music or the intake of breath before speech. I stand here, and I can hear the voices of the things I love. I won't stay long. But it sure is pretty.