is a type of learning process
where the teacher and pupil are located
in the same individual"
arthur koestler


At least, when no one else is home ...

Dance like no one is watching.
Sing like no one is listening.
Love like you've never been hurt
and live like it's heaven on earth.

Mark Twain

(First post in a new category: I'm a phenonemologist. So are you. This is what life feels like for me. This category is about my own experience of the world.)


I think I'm in love

Oh oh oh oh oh! I feel ... I feel ...

All at once I'm about 16 or 17 years old. I'm too old to be mistaken for a child, and too young to be mistaken for a woman, and I feel the woman I am becoming, quietly waiting inside my body. She is soft and feminine, and she is waiting. She smiles a lot, but laughs rarely. And she loves haunting antique shops, looking for the odd beauty. I feel as if I am that woman/girl again, out on my own, walking, looking, privately reveling in the freedom and the scent of the air - slightly musty inside the shop, slightly tainted with exhaust fumes from the passing cars outside the shop.

I've just done something unusual. Instead of looking and passing by, instead of the satisfaction I can usually get from being near all of these things so full of their stories, I have bought something. It's a little box. Well, not that little. It's about the size of a music box I had when I was a girl, but it's made of the most exquisitely veined wood, polished to perfection under some kind of metal work design. I mean, the box is wooden, and glossy, and there is an overlay of a kind of wrought iron work. Maybe silver. It looks like the gate at the back of the Lady Chapel in a church. On the top of the box, the metal work looks exactly like a gate - a slightly open one.

I've just bought this box. Without opening it. Somehow, I don't want to be near any other people when I open it. And it took all the cash I happened to have with me.


I don't want to go home. Not yet. I don't want to answer any questions about this purchase. I need to open the box somewhere beautiful, and so I stop in the park, and find a bench near some huge rhododendrons that are just about to blossom. Portland is full of parks like this - and full of rhodies, too. No one will bother me here. I look enough like a full grown woman that no one will bother me here.

The cheap plastic bag makes a stupid sound as I pull my box out onto my lap. Bright pink, too. Ick. I shove it under the edge of my thigh, between my leg and the bench so it won't blow away. What an obnoxious pink. Who makes that color and thinks it's a good idea?

I hold the box in my lap and wait. Savor this moment. Trace the silver work with my finger and try to find the pattern in it. And then I open it - and the slightly dusty smell of incense - the incense of the High Mass floats out into the air, almost too faint to notice.

I knew it! There is something in here! There is a sheaf of paper, tied with a cream colored grosgrain ribbon - did it used to be white? The ribbon has little spots on it, like the foxing on the edges of an old book. This ribbon might have once been white - there seems to be a different color under the cinched places in the knot.

The first page just has a scribbled signature on it.

Luigi Pirandello

Carefully, I put that page under all the others, and start to shuffle the other pages. I read,
Can an author ever tell how and why his imagination gives birth to a certain character? The mystery of artistic creation is the mystery of birth itself.

A woman may desire a child, but the desire, however intense it may be, does not suffice to create; and then one fine day she discovers that her desire is to be realized, but she cannot tell at what precise moment the life within her came into being. And in just the same way the artist, who gathers within himself innumerable germs of life, can never say how, or why, or at what precise moment one of these particles of life has lodged in his imagination, there to become a living creature inhabiting a plane of life superior to our voluble and vain daily existence.

Oh. Oh my.

I think I'm in love.


Maybe so

A couple of weeks ago, I had an appointment with my Lit teacher. I wanted to know how to use the paper we write for her course as a submission for meeting an "outcome" necessary to my degree. If you're my age, the terminology is a bit confusing, but the bottom line is this: in order to graduate you have to demonstrate certain skills. These skills are called "outcomes," and at Marylhurst these "outcomes" may be met by demonstration of the skill rather than by enrolling in and then passing a course.

When I first "went back to school," I wondered about meeting outcomes in a lot of ways. Could I do that? Could I find ways to avoid taking freshman English and Composition for what seems like the twentieth time? (I took it myself, but at an unaccredited school ... and I've coached several other people through it ... please, please don't make me take the course again!) Could I find a way around it?

Maybe so.

For one thing, there's PLA. In the PLA way of gathering credits and meeting "outcomes," you find a college course that teaches the stuff you already know, and then you write an extensive and specifically formatted essay for the Prior Learning Assessment department --- or, I ought to say, and then I write an essay---, an evaluator reads that essay, and then you I get credits as if you I had taken that college course. That's one way: PLA. I have twenty-one PLA credits so far. Students are allowed to accrue as many as 45 PLA credits in a degree, which is about a year's worth of school, and far less expensive than school would be. A lot of people finish degrees this way - even degrees started years and years ago.

Or, you could take a standardized test (CLEP tests and others qualify for this way of gaining credits and meeting outcomes). A student is allowed as many as 45 credits through testing, and I think I'll be able to test for about 27 credits for my degree. Will I be able to meet my basic math "outcome this way?" Well, that's the plan.

Maybe so.

For meeting the "outcome" of basic writing and university level library research skills, there is yet another option. There is the non-credit outcome assessment. For a fairly low reading fee, the student submits a research paper and all of its components, and the assessor reads it, and then certifies that the student met this outcome. If you don't want the credits for it (and I don't - I want to put other classes into these places in my transcript), this is the way to go.

That's why I met with my instructor. I wanted to learn how to do this, and whether or not I could use the paper we are writing in this course as my submission to the evaluators. Can I do that?

Maybe so. Follow the directions, and then the answer is yes. Definitely so. My instructor is willing to read a ten-page paper instead of the eight-pager the course requires, so, yes.

But ... in the course of that practical and useful conversation, something else slipped in. Blipped past. Showed up, said hello, and moved on. I do not think the moment was as shattering to her as it was to me. Can't get it out of my head. I think it was important. I think -- well, I think I just got an invitation to a place I thought I'd left behind me about twenty years ago. I loved it there. I miss it. I thought I couldn't go back, but there, in my instructor's office, with one chance comment from her, it was as if a long-lost friend materialized and stood beside me. She didn't stay long. She just stood there until I looked up, she smiled knowingly - she winked at me, and she left as suddenly as she'd come.

She's a teacher.

I know her. She's the teacher I was becoming when I left the classroom two full decades ago. I thought she was gone, but ... well, there she was. She's not sad, she's not bitter, she's not the least bit tense. She's full of the focused, dynamic joy I always hoped she would be, and she thinks all my anxiety is a little bit funny. She winked at me!

Does a master's degree in Creative Nonfiction point the way, I wonder? Is it possible that the fleeting moments of, "that would have been an interesting life," are actually a kind of calling? Not grade school (which was never my first choice anyway), and not high school (which was my first choice, but which now is so bemired in K-12 politics that I have no taste for it). Not K-12, but college? Community college? Here? Where I live already? Really?

Maybe so.


Still okay

Upon hearing the news that more of the 5th Stryker Brigade has been lost. Upon knowing that our soldier is very near the crushing, obliterating, advancing power of combined forces, all intent on "knocking over the ant hill" in Marjah. Due to my recently intensified sense of seeing things for her - of living this year in this place "for two," in much the same way as eating for two before she was born. For that, a re-post from last August.

For twenty-five years, I have stubbornly, persistently, doggedly pursued courage. I have consciously decided, over and over and over, that my children are at least as qualified as I am (and probably more so) to choose, evaluate, choose again, and live their lives. When they were learning to walk and suddenly fell, they looked up at me with a question on their faces. "Am I hurt?" I still do what I did then. My face always - always - no matter what shuddering or weeping I do in private - my face always answers back, "You're fine, honey. Just get up again." And then, trusting that they will get up again whenever they're ready, I turn my back and calmly resume my own business. Kids are smart. They know you didn't mean it if you worry after you've said you're not worried. You have to live your trust.This stubborn habit of a quarter of a century was easier at first. I'm glad I did a lot of babysitting when I was a girl. I got a lot of practice before I had to be the mom. I started babysitting for other families when I was just 10 years old. I've been in the Child Whisperer business for almost 40 years now. I know, when a tiny child falls the 10 or 12 inches to the floor or sidewalk, a bandaid or a reassuring hug will fix it. And, in fact, most children stop checking to see if they're hurt. They learn very quickly to ignore their fears and trust the next step. Usually.

I had one kid who took a damned long time to learn this. I thought he'd never figure out that being hurt once did not mean that the universe had become a malevolent place. If you fall off your bike, the bike is not out to get you. It is, in fact, entirely predictable - what happens on a bike follows the laws of physics, and these are laws a kid can learn only through experience.

Eventually, he figured it out. He was seventeen when he told me that he remembered all the times I had told him, "You're okay. Just get up again," and how angry he had been that I had refused to see the problem. At seventeen, he said, "But you were right. Really, all anyone has to do is just keep going for it until you get there." He was okay all along. All he had to do was get up again.
This is the stuff of parenting magazines. If you live in a cul-de-sac, or in an urban apartment, and if you home school or send your kids on a bus each weekday - if you buy jello at the grocery store and fuss about how long waiters take with your food at the TGI Friday's - then, "You're all right. Just get up again," makes some sense.

But what about now? What about the sick-making reality of my daughter's life now? She sees the statistics and gives the reports and knows how many more of her battalion are dead today. The guys whose vehicle crashed - and the ones who burned to death in their Stryker. This is her reality. Every day she wakes up (on the days preceded by a night's sleep) and she faces the new information. The new information is not happy. It's not safe. Another one of these guys died. August has been a bad month for American troops in Afghanistan.
Is she okay now? What do I say to her? How do I admit to the horror of her reality and still keep saying, "You're okay. Just get up again?" Is it even still true? For a person who does not and will not turn a deaf ear to the things all around her, is it still true?I know her. I know she feels every wrong thing about her own team. I know she sees every logical inconsistency and philosophical dysfunction. She also sees the people who live in the land she's visiting as people. She's a soldier who sees people. What can I possibly say?

I say this. I say, "You're okay. Just get up again." This will be what I say to my children for as long as I draw breath because it is always true. For a moment, it seems like you are not okay whenever you refuse to follow the laws of physics - or integrity. You're not okay if you argue with reality - or with honesty. It's no wonder soldiers have psychological wounds. Reality is incomprehensible yet denying it unhinges a man - or a woman.
Right now, I know she is okay. I know this because she admits reality. She rails at it and mourns it and still she does her job with efficiency every day. When she was learning to walk, she put one foot in front of the other, rarely toppled over, and chanted her own little baby mantra of, "Ca-foo. Ca-foo." Her whole life, she's been careful - or not. Cautious - or thrown caution to the wind to see what would happen. And she always figures it out. Every fall from her bike has been okay because bikes - and people - and even cultures and wars - obey their own laws. Falling teaches us how to get up again.

I could not do what she does every day. But she can. She's okay. I calmly turn and tend my own work, and I know that she's okay. She knows how to get up again.


Libraries are good. They just are.

A friend sent me this column from the Indianapolis Monthly. Click on the picture to go read it. It's just so good! Yes, Libraries! Thank you, Mr. Carnegie. Beautifully said, Mr. Gully. Thanks, friend.

Here it comes

A good report on what's about to happen may be found here, and is worth a listen. Where my first baby and only daughter is doing her duty as an American soldier, things are about to get quite lively. Or deathly. The "ant hill" is about to be knocked over, and these are fire ants. Deep breath ... here we go.
O LORD God of Hosts, stretch forth, we pray thee, thine almighty arm to strengthen and protect the soldiers of our country. Support them in the day of battle, and in the time of peace keep them safe from all evil; endue them with courage and loyalty; and grant that in all things they may serve without reproach; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Stephanie at the Library Plays Her Harp and Mimics Gertrude Stein

This is what my harp looks like. My husband made it for me from a kit - for my birthday. He signed the inside of it, and the date says 2004. By my next birthday this coming July, I should have been playing the harp for six years, then. But I learned a bit, slacked off a bit, put it down mostly, and now I can only remember a little bit of what I knew ... and I love this instrument, but I don't actually play it.

I mean, it's a hand made harp, right? It's gorgeous. It sounds lovely. The Great Husband has made me a bookcase, a platform for raising the washer and dryer off the floor for convenience, and a harp - other things too, of course, but those are the biggies. And the only things I use are the bookcase and the washer and dryer? What is wrong with me? Laziness. That's what. I just haven't been disciplined enough to keep up with it. But now it's caught up to me.

After dinner last night, the phone rang. A woman in our community has organized an after school program, and sometimes they get local musicians to bring in their instruments and talk about the instrument and how it works, and play a little. Somehow, this woman who once bought hay from us for her goats knew I have this harp. (How did she know?) And so she called. And we nailed down a date, despite the fact that I told her that any claim I might make that I can "play" the harp would be such an exaggeration that it would be a lie. "Can you play a scale?" she asked. "Well, yes. I can do that." "Well, that's good enough," she said. "We just want you to talk about the instrument and show us how it works."

Well, what can I say? The pull of a multi-age group of kids was too strong. I'd don another clown suit for the chance to work with those kids, and you know how I feel about clown suits. So I said yes. And we nailed down a date. (So now I have a few weeks to practice!) And I told her that I had to do that - nail down the date - because otherwise I'll get a call from the library, and since I'm a sub, I never know when that might happen. "Oh!" she said. "You're Stephanie at the library?"

I've been a lot of things in my life, but no one's ever called me Stephanie at the Library before. I think I can wear this one with pinache. Kinda like it, actually ... "Stephanie at the Library." It makes me want to write poetry - which I tried yesterday - for an assignment for Modern Lit - in the style of Gertrude Stein. Wanna see?

Torn Page From a Calendar
Is resting side to diagonal while for interest. Of passing to pass and not of waiting is liturgical of purple. If the whiting minder lilac knees breath breathing lilac breathing smoke. For passing comes. Square of under past cement.
To pass. Red of circles. Oh the square to pass red circles to cement. And breathing cut. Corner. Came and passing come. Windshield grit of passing comes to passing of the window. Of the curtains. Close the passing. And the torn. Settle passing.

Here's Stein reading Stein - with the bizarre visuals in this video, so you know where I was headed. This sort of thing is ... um ... an acquired taste, shall we say?


A New Carol Gold - I want this one

While we were at the beach, and, as usual, visiting the Bronze Coast Gallery as is our accustomed habit (well, okay ... my habit, The Great Husband putting up with my habit - because he enjoys art but hates tourists), I found the Carol Gold I might be able to afford. I love it. Or ... it's a "these" and not an "it," I suppose. Each piece fits comfortably in my hand, they can be moved about a bit - what they're saying seems to change with their attitudes toward each other. I just love this. I couldn't stop touching it. It's called "Talk."


That's my boy!

(The date is goofy - someone just told me about it, and I hadn't noticed. It happened in January - not February.) You can't see him very well. He's in front of the piano, sort of in the dark, and he lifts his head a couple of times during his solo -- Starting at about 4:49 ... that's my boy - on the guitar - man, that's cool!


Fresh breezes blowing

While much of the continent is dealing with Winter, we are having such a mild bunch of days that it feels like the beginning of spring. The Oregon coast was drizzly ... or sprinkly ... or clear ... or partially cloudy ... but not cold. We walked and walked and walked.

We ate.

We viewed and viewed and viewed.

And I revived. Fresh breezes blew their salts through my head, and I feel awake again at last.

I also feel ... um ... well, rehydrated, I suppose. Baths are good. Baths are very, very, very good.