17 December 2007

Worth a Thousand Lives

This furry oaf of a man is my governor, Mr. Jon Corzine. You know, the guy famous for not wearing seat belts. And he just went up about a thousand percent in my approval rating.

Do you know what he's doing in the photo at left?

He's abolishing the death penalty in the State of New Jersey with that little pen.

Never let anyone tell you the sword is mightier.

14 December 2007

Because I Could Not Say It At All

I will simply direct you to my beloved (unmet in person) friend dooce. One commenter, Amy, said it all.

B-R-A-V-E-R-Y. Those are your capital letters.

28 November 2007

If I Could Make This Shit Up, I'd Be on Strike in Hollywood.

I had an interview scheduled at a local, unnamed college this afternoon. Or, at least, I used to. I spent the whole morning getting ready. I flossed. I put on a slip. I put on pantyhose, for crying out loud. (The last time I wore pantyhose was at the funeral of a 95-year-old priest. I went bare-legged to my own wedding.) I gathered my portfolio, plundering scattered files and ideas of half-formed lesson plans in an attempt to wow the interviewer's socks off. (At least we could be bare-legged together.) I ate a healthy lunch. I brushed my teeth again, to remove any trace of cranberry mayo. I packed my briefcase, silenced my cell phone, and left early to drive to campus.

Where I was met by several sheriff's deputies and the plentitude of flashing lights that usually indicates major delays on the Turnpike. But this was not an overturned tractor-trailer or a car fire. This, apparently, was an (unspecified) threat that had closed the campus all day.

Is it me, or is this the second time in eight months that I've been escorted off a small-town community college campus because of a bomb threat? I'm starting to wonder if maybe I should take this personally.

24 November 2007

Calling Olson, Calling Memphis

Sadly, I am not in possession of a misspent youth, but I did misspend a good portion of my early twenties to make up for it. Let's see:

College in Greenwich Village dreaming of black Doc Martens and blacker eyeliner. This was before the days when goth was popular with the under-15 set, back when it actually said something. Back in the days when you had to shop at hole-in-the-wall thrift shops down past Bleecker Street because there was no Hot Topic to make it trendy. My army coat was from East Germany, and my pea coat was vintage US Navy, not Old Navy, and had some guy's name stenciled on the neck label.

Flannel over tank tops and t-shirts. Not because of Kurt Cobain, but because of the dust and factory-height windows in the scene shop, which made heating impossible.

Tattoos and random body piercings. Yup, but this wasn't until I was 25. Again, this was when it still pissed people off. Annoyingly enough, my mom thought my first tattoo was cool.

Ditching out after college graduation and fleeing to the Pacific Northwest to become a poet. I picked Spokane partly because it was as far away as I could get from both New York City and my parents without leaving the country or getting wet.

Knowing several different ways to smoke weed without the use of rolling papers. To quote Carolyn Kizer, "After Spokane, what horrors lurk in hell?" I didn't really understand this quote about my beloved adopted city until the eighty-seventh snowstorm one December (with winter not safely ending until April) when the only thing open was the Rosauer's on 14th and Monroe, and the furnace quit.

Crossing the country in a 1965 VW bus with everything I owned, and my cat. It only took about ten travel days, plus four hours for a blown tire outside of Missoula, a tow for a fan-belt replacement that wouldn't stay replaced in Butte, three days waiting for generator parts in Livingston, Montana (which explained the whole fan-belt issue), and two days waiting for a master cylinder rebuild in Bloomington, Indiana, which is where we ended up when the brakes failed and we couldn't stop in Martinsville.

Rolling Rock, cough syrup, antidepressants, thyroid replacement hormone, pot brownies. Never eat the small brownies. They're small for a reason. That reason involves not leaving your body.

Psycho boyfriends. More than my fair share. I still can't convince my parents that this was as much about me as it was about them. Also, it should probably be disturbing that many of them had the same two first names.

Social disorder. No, not the kind in the DSM-IV. The kind that involves nearly getting arrested for all the right reasons while wearing a bag over your head to protest torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners. Except that was technically in my thirties.

Protests and general rabble-rousing. Well, this has actually increased as I've aged. I think I've finally gotten past my fear of being wrong, or being heard and misunderstood, or (worse yet) heard and understood. More importantly, I think I've finally realised that this angst? This tightening feeling in my ribcage? Is put to much better use when it's not all about me. That my adolescence was only part normal desire to rebel, to break on through, to lash out, to brood--and part serious clinical depression and odd behavioural traits that may or may not contribute to a diagnosis.

Because, frankly, that's what I lost those high school teenage years to. Not general stupidity, or partying or bad choices or melodrama or general operator error. But black, stifling, unabated mental illness. And I wish to God that one of us--even me--had seen it for what it was, and stayed at me until I got treatment sooner. My parents blame themselves, I know. But it wasn't their fault. They were the ones I was trying hardest of all to fool.

19 November 2007

The Only Reason This Is Even Remotely Funny

I admit it. I fucked up. Somewhere along the line, I made a colossal math booboo and didn't buy enough yarn for the cardigan I'm (finally) knitting myself after all these years of knitting stuff for other people. No problem, right? Just pop into my beloved Twist in New Hope and ask the lovely Mrs. Debby Brady to please please pretty please stop laughing at me long enough to check with her stockist to see if there's more of this yummy yarn. I really only need about two skeins' worth, because I'm partway up the sleeves, which are the last things you do.

Well, after in fact enduring a whole lot of jokes from Debby and Steve about "Sleeves--make two!" and how I'm going to have to give this sweater to the guy from The Fugitive, she did just that. I got a phone message this afternoon that says the stockist doesn't have any either, and when she does, it will be a different dye lot. This, of course, means that when it arrives, there's a pretty good chance it will be an entirely different colour. Not what you're really looking for in a project you hope to wear in public. So this means that unless by some miracle one of the two other yarn stores in a gajillion-mile radius happens to have some Rowan #536 in dye lot 2616 languishing about the store waiting for me, my best bet is the internet.

Here's where it gets funny, if only just. It was only by visiting Rowan's company site that I discovered just what it is I've been knitting. This lovely, yummy, tweed-flecked rust colour, so innocuously labeled "#536" on the label? Is named "torrid." And I need two balls of it.

Try typing that into a search engine.

17 November 2007


I carry everything I used to be. It forms my skeleton. I carry each lumpen, misshaped pearl of mistake or grief or guilt or insult. Someone will be able to identify my body by them when I die. I carry the memory of our first kiss, just as tightly as I carry the rush of blood through my veins, a hot sound like a whisper. I carry all the songs we have sung, deep in my body; I carry the stars. I carry your memory with me like an old quilt, like a sack of stones to weigh me down, like an old limp from a broken bone that did not heal straight, like silence. I carry your past, too. I carried it that long night when you could not stand it, and I could never bear to put it down. When you are thirsty, I carry water.

I Carry Your Heart

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

e e cummings

Michael Hedges, in a live performance:

05 November 2007


We've been talking a lot about money in a couple of my classes the past few weeks, and we're only just getting started. First of all, I've always found the concept weird. Maybe that's because I'm an artist, a poet, and the idea of spending umpteen hours a week doing something in which I am uninterested at best so that I can earn what are essentially numbers on a piece of paper just seems so....irrelevant much of the time. I participate in direct deposit whenever and wherever it is offered to me, so most months I don't even see a paycheck. Or cash, considering I have a bank card. It's all done on computers. And the transactions have gotten so convoluted that they no longer make any sense to me.

I'm not suggesting by any means that a subsistence living is better, or that direct trade in goods would solve everything (for one thing, I'm not sure I'd want to be the guy whose value is computed in eggplants, or bathroom cleanser, or--god forbid--gym socks). So on a certain level I understand the need for currency, the need to give everyone equal access to things, by giving them instead access to what those things represent, which is of course, "value."

And that's another fucked up concept. Value. Consider: I get paid less than most janitors. For spending three hours per day in a car, four hours per day in front of a classroom, at least one to two hours per day prepping for being in front of the classroom (and that's a rough average that also covers weekends and vacations) and at least another fifteen hours per week grading papers. Usually more. And I love what I do. Except for the commuting part, which frankly I could do without, although it does give me an excuse twice daily to not be grading papers at that moment. (There have been times when traffic is so bad going in towards the Lincoln Tunnel that I've actually been able to grade papers while commuting, but that's neither here nor there.)

In a nutshell, in a perfect world, I teach people to tell the world what they feel and think about things. I teach them to look, to listen, to react in a thoughtful way rather than just a kneejerk reaction that's probably been trained into them by others. With a little luck, I teach them to read, and I teach them to write. And for this, to do this sixty hours per week at three different schools, I am compensated at a rate that puts me below the local poverty line. It puts me right in the same economic class as many of the students I teach, in fact. The ones who can't get ahead. The ones who are searching for jobs that will allow them to leave the ghetto and make something of themselves, and have realized that education is really the only way to do this. I have the education. I have twice the education many of them will ever have. And were I not living in my parents' house at the moment, I'd be living in the ghetto with them. I can't get ahead, either. Education and the economy are funny things. The current administration pretends to have acknowledged the irrevocable link between them, by instituting No Child Left Behind, but that's frankly just a publicity stunt that's doing more damage than it is good. Anybody who works directly in schools knows that. Twenty years after the Jersey City Public School system was taken over by the state, it was given back this summer. I guess they couldn't figure out what the hell to do with it, either.

So how do we determine how much value something has? How do we assign a price tag? Why are the most crucial and worthwhile pursuits the ones that pay the least? Why are poets, teachers, inventors, artists, social workers, nurses, mothers, and midwives struggling to exist while salesmen, advertising executives, stockbrokers, TV stars, pop singers, and real estate moguls have so much money they can't even figure out how to give it away? Why is that? Why does a librarian make $12 an hour if she's lucky and lives in a mid-sized city, and a personal injury lawyer live in an opulent million dollar home? Why do some of my students have to drop my class because they have to work 50 hours a week just to be able to afford to pay the tuition to take my class? Why can't we educate the children of the world because we can't find the $8 billion it would cost to put them all in primary school, but we can spend $40 billion a year on golf?

I guess the real question is what's wrong with not just the economy of the world, but the value system? There's a person in my community who drives her Hummer H3 to the local independent organic foods co-op. What the fuck part of the equation is she not getting? And why isn't she getting it? Why do we buy half-million dollar homes for our families and then work 80 hours a week to be able to afford them, so we can't spend time with the other people who live in them with us? My husband and I often worked opposing schedules because our respective trades required it. The month after we were married, we pretty much only saw each other awake on weekends, when we were both cranky and pressured. When I lost my contract at the end of the year, I tried to cancel Christmas. My husband, hurried home by his manager who was wise enough to hear the anxiety in my voice, curled up next to me on the couch and reminded me what I had forgotten: We may never have any money, he assured me, but we will always be rich. Those twelve words are words I still cherish more than just about anything, even now that he is gone. Because, more than he knew it, more than he wanted to admit, he was right. We were rich. We had each other.

And how the hell do you put a dollar value on that?

03 November 2007

Whee, Whee, Whee, All the Way to The Running Company

Today was a very traumatic day here in Three Feathers. I went shopping for new running shoes. I mentioned at Carpool the obscenely small number of miles before the soles of my feet started hurting during the race, and was told to get different shoes pronto.

Let me start by saying, FireCat does not adjust well to change. Further, FireCat has not run in anything except New Balance since, oh, about 1999 or so. So FireCat was a little freaked out at the idea of having to make new friends for her feet. Especially once she was told that there was, sadly, no way to crossbreed the NB 767w with a marshmallow and generate the perfect shoe.

First FireCat got put into some freakizoid Nike crap that (a) were probably made by 9-year-olds in Indonesia, and (b) had a ridiculous puffy goiter right under the ball of the foot on each insole. Yeah, Morton's neuroma waitin' to happen, that. Ptui.

Then FireCat thought of her now non-imaginary marathon friend Paulette, and asked to try on a pair of Asics Gel Kayanos. Hon, you have really skinny toes, 'cause those things GOT NO TOE BOX to speak of. My God.

Next up was Adidas. Every pair of Adidas I've ever tried on has the arch support up near the big toe somewhere. This pair was no exception.

Finally they brought out the big guns. Saucony ProGrid Hurricane Eighty-Seven Names 9. Huge. Um, so much for sizing up. Tried again a half-size down. Perfect. My (scuse me) balls are happy, my heels are all snuggled up tight, and there's enough room in the toe box to have a square dance. Or even some roast beef, if you were the toe so inclined.

Do you think it's okay if I sleep in them? I have four or five miles tomorrow, and I really don't want to take them off.

31 October 2007

All Over But the Gimping

Meg and Laini have managed to do it again. The hospital is where I magically didn't end up this weekend, though I was fully prepared to if necessary. This weekend was the 32nd Annual Marine Corps Marathon, also known as the 1st Ever FireCat Runs 26.2 Miles At One Time and Manages to Not Break Kneecaps (Her Own or Anyone Else's).

Here's the general time line of the marathon, by pee break:

4:40 AM, Room 909: FireCat wakes up and thinks, What the hell am I doing? while shuffling to hotel bathroom.

5:30 AM, Hotel Lobby: FireCat exits elevator and decides she has time for a nervous pee before leaving for the start line. Gnaws on stale bagel and drinks remaining Gatorade.

6:00 AM, Hotel Lobby: FireCat heads for Metro with shivering parents in tow to see her off. Makes it all the way to Runners' Village at the Pentagon before she actually needs to pee from her morning tea and Gatorade. Legitimate peeing experience.

6:30 AM, Start Line: FireCat lines up at porta-john for "one last pee." Lee is amused.

7:00 AM, Start Line: FireCat gets back in line, behind Len, with uneasy feeling in heart and familiar cramping feeling in uterus. Copious swearing begins as she rummages in her snack-ass shorts for tampons. Lee is sympathetic. Len and Holly are amused.

7:50 AM, Start Line: Wheelchair start gun goes off as FireCat lines up for the menstrual peeing deluge. Not legitimate peeing experience.

Mile 8 (?): FireCat heads for the nearest opening porta-potty door and nearly runs into Lee, who is exiting. Lee is sympathetically amused. Not legitimate peeing experience.

Mile 11: FireCat and Holly meet FireCat's parents waving proudly and taking photos. Rummages in dad's backpack for a Clif Bar and a tampon. Manages to insert each into proper orifice at the appropriate time.

Mile 13.5: FireCat ditches Holly on the National Mall in search of porta-john. Legitimate peeing experience.

Mile 17: FireCat exits porta-john number three and nearly runs into Holly. Non-LPE.

Mile 22: FireCat sees porta-johns just past bridge, but also sees sweep bus still chasing her. Decides to hold it and run.

Mile 24: FireCat sees a mirage in a finisher's space blanket that turns out to be Len. Toddles full-tilt at him, hollering, "Lennnn!" and hugs him. When asked by Len, "How you doing?" replies forlornly, "I gotta peeeeee!" Len is beside himself with amusement, enough so to retell this story to everyone he sees at Carpool later that night. FireCat earns new nickname: Mad Marathon Pee-er. Endures countless hours of peeing references directed at her. (Side note: only an event run by the USMC would have toilet paper remaining after 30,000 people at Mile 24. God bless the US Marines.)

And for the record? I only stopped to pee ONCE on my way home to Three Feathers. So there.


Lee meeting me at the bottom of that last hill and saying, "For those last 200 yards, as you go up the hill, I want you to be thinking about ass cancer."

Mile 22: "CECIL!!!"

Mile 24: "LEN!!!!!!!"

Somewhere in Palisades, getting a good luck snuffle-kiss from the world's most adorable husky.

Also somewhere in Palisades, pointing out to Holly a rather elderly woman in a housecoat and slippers who'd come out to perch on her railing (or walker? or cane? we can't remember. but she was old and stooped), waving at said woman, and having her wave back and holler, "Hi, S_____!" Realizing that even if she had been able to read my shirt from there, what it said was "FireCat". Truly weird, but cool.

Realizing that I can run and eat a Clif Bar at the same time.

Coming up that last hill after "ass cancer" and realizing that, though I wasn't crying, both of my parents were.

The announcer reading my shirt aloud over the mic, and assuring me there would be cookies up ahead. (getting home and finding out that my mom made my favourite orange-glaze cookies!)

Getting looked in the eye by a newly minted Marine as he was presenting my finisher's medal and having him say, "Oorah, ma'am. We're proud of all of you." Marine, we're all proud of you.

Two words: Dutch. Baby.


Getting my period at the start line at 7:00.

Realizing at certain points that I could actually SEE the bus.

Having to pee every four miles because that's what my menstrual cycle does to me. (It's the opposite of water weight, I guess).

The wind. Yeah. Really could have done without that. Nuff said.

Realizing that I need to start wearing different running shoes, because there's no way my feet should have started to hurt before I got to the Mall.

Having to leave Holly. Although watching her ear explode was kinda fun, once she reassured me she wasn't going to fall over.

Learning about the specific patellar tendons and ligaments in a very new and very concrete manner. (Pun possibly elocuted.) I mean, I always knew they were there, but I knew it in a very abstract sort of way.

Having to use handicap bathroom stalls for the next 36 hours.

Having to decide whether to do another before Country Music Marathon in Nashville in April, or just train really hard till then.

18 October 2007

And Now, Back to World Domination

(sorry, Meg, that was such a great line that I had to steal it for my title)

My official first act as Queen of the World, even before I change my title to Emperor;
Even before I enact a global Marshall Plan for the world's children, so that they can have access to free education;
Even before I announce ice cream as a food group and decree Wednesdays an international holiday;
Even before I throw everyone the hell off Antarctica and give it back to the penguins;
Even before I establish the Fourth R in the "Three Rs" of elementary learning: Reading, Ritin', 'Rithmetic, and Recyclin';
Even before I staff my cabinet with Wangari Maathai and Julia Butterfly Hill as Ministers of Trees, Kailash Satyarthi as Minister of Playing with Kids, and Pema Chodron as Minister of Just Being;
Even before I host the world's biggest homecoming party in Tibet for the Dalai Lama;
Even before I figure out where in the sun-dappled garden I would put my papasan Emperor throne;

there's one small order of business that needs to be addressed.

Before any of this stuff happens, and happen it will in my new job as Queen of the World, I know a guy in New York who gets his dog back.

(photo (c) Romano)

17 October 2007

More Fun With Typos

Funniest typo ever in one of my student papers this afternoon. Actually, second funniest, as the first funniest typo ever was last fall when Adam, a lovable intelligent young man who can't spell for shit, accidentally spell-checked the gospel of Jesus into the gossip of Jesus not once but twice.

This one? We recently read an excerpt from "The Ethic of Compassion" by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Courtney accidentally titled her response paper to it, "The Ethnic of Compassion." Doubly hysterical because, of course, the Dalai Lama is Tibetan, and because Courtney is the only black student in class.

Politically incorrect, but funny as hell.

13 October 2007

It's Kangaroos All the Way Down

Recent in-class exercise in my Basic Writing textbook:

Add a simple sentence to each sentence below, then join the two simple sentences with a coordinating conjunction to create a compound sentence with proper punctuation. The first one has been done as an example.

One of the sentences in the exercise:

4. Kangaroos carry their young in pouches. _________

A favourite student's response to the exercise, complete with diagrams, corrections, and an illustration (by me):

"Kangaroos carry their young in pouches, but no one carries the kangaroos."

Best. Sentence. Ever.

12 October 2007

True North

When I was a little girl, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, you always got the same answer: "An apple tree." And yes, I was serious. Of course, I knew that I couldn't grow up to be an apple tree. Even at three or four, I knew the difference. Apple trees did not have to wear galoshes to stand out in the rain. Still, time after time this was the answer I gave. Maybe it was because it struck me as odd, that even at this early age, I knew I was a writer. I could see my future, just as clearly as I could see those yellow boots streaked with rainwater and the quiet man with the dark beard with whom I would share my house. I knew this sight was a gift; I knew not to question it; and above all, I knew not to say anything that might jinx it.

Thirty years and umpteen hat-changes later, I have finally found that writer, though it honestly never dawned on me that she would also be a teacher. When I graduated from my master's program, I basically had two options if I wanted to stay in my field: become a prolific poet immediately, or get used to teaching. Neither of those was an option. I knew that, even if I would one day have it, that steel-grey spark of brilliance that makes one a writer, at 23 I was too young to have handled it. And I also knew that teaching terrified the sweet crap out of me.

So I retreated back into the world of theatre, where I had foolishly spent most of my later teen years thinking I wanted to reside, before I remembered that I hated stay up all night, despised the feeling that other people were wasting my time, was eternally tired of living in t-shirts, flannel, black jeans and battered Doc Martens, and also honestly didn't really like heights--not a good trait for a lighting designer whose job it is to spend ten hours a day perched at the top of an eighteen-foot ladder.

Eventually my divorce with theatre became permanent, in part because of cancer. When my energy was at its absolute lowest in the summer of 1998, I realised that this was not how I wanted to be spending it. And so I jumped ship again, into the world of publishing. Finally, a place I could nitpick to my heart's content.

Sadly, I do not make a very good sheep. I don't respond well to being penned into a cubicle, or following the rules dictated by the sales department, or....let's face it, being told what to do. Baa. I was in and out of academia, library work, and publishing for the next several years. Bucking and straining against the harness the whole time. Then one day, quite by accident, I applied for an adjunct teaching position at the local community college. Yes, the thought still horrified me as much as it ever had, but I seriously needed to get out of my current job before my boss forced me to commit ritual seppuku in the library stacks. Totally to my surprise, I was hired to teach an evening class once a week.

Oh my God. Now what? I'd interned for a semester teaching at the prison out near Airway Heights, and then for a semester at a high school in downtown Spokane (the security was pretty much the same, actually) but I had no idea how to actually teach people, for god's sake. Still, after the first night, I knew that I had found true north. I knew that I was meant to spend the rest of my days on a campus. And I knew it four months later when I resigned to move to upstate New York for a new full-time job in publishing, when I lay in bed after accepting the position and cried until my ears filled with tears, because it meant I would have to stop teaching. I remember mouthing to myself over and over again, "What have I done?"

In retrospect, one wonders how much I might have actually been foreseeing, that night.

Three years and a marriage later, I am teaching again. More or less full-time, though you can't tell by looking at my checking account. I am an adjunct at no fewer than three colleges in the tri-state area. I teach more credits than a tenured faculty member, I have no office except the backseat of my Honda, and I receive no health benefits. I am lucky if I clear $22,000 a year, which is the other reason I live with my parents.

And I consider myself the most blessed woman in the world every time I stand up in front of a classroom. Without these kids, I would be sunk. I would be lost. I would have, indeed, no purpose. If I am not to be a wife, if I am not to be a mother, at least I have 85 charges in my care, who for the short months we are together are for all intents and purposes my family and my closest comrades. We learn all about each other. They tell me their secrets, their dreads, their dreams. And I? I share with them what it is that I love. It's not so much that we know all the answers to everything, but that we are continually engaged in seeking the questions we want to explore.

And that makes everything worth it.

Signs that Aliens Have Replaced My Mother

Whilst maman was in Chicago doing a Class Five decon of my sister's apartment, my dad and I noticed that you could actually see dust built up on the piano. It was a beautiful thing. Sadly, there are no cat pawprints in it, because that would be classic. We mentioned this in amusement to mom, and she said something to the effect of, "I'm retired, I'll get around to it eventually. I have all this free time now." Or something similarly whimsical.

That was the first sign.

The second sign appeared shortly after dad scrawled this note on the aforementioned piano sometime last week:

It was there for a couple of days before I pointed it out to mom on her way to bed one night. The wine quotient may be partially responsible for what happened next, but I'm not sure.

Whoever these aliens are, I hope they never give her back. We're having too much fun with her replacement.

08 October 2007

I Am No One's Mother

But if I were, you can be damned sure I'd be breastfeeding.

(click boob for info or to get involved)

06 October 2007

No Getting Out of This One

I thought I had lucked out on the Scribblings front, because last week involved some pretty heavy paper-grading, and before I could look up it was Monday and there were something like 87 posts listed on last week's topic.

Alas, it was not to be. Meg and Laini are on vacation this week, so there is officially "no topic." Which, in the great cosmic karmic debt scheme of things, means that God is telling me something. I hate when that happens, because I was really in some serious denial about having to fess up.

The topics these women pick often scare the bejesus out of me, precisely because I have never actually met or even corresponded privately with either of them; and yet, they have a knack for pulling out of my week's worth of emotional detritus and spiritual backwash the single topic I most need to address. In my world, I have a word for that, and that word is usually D'oh! (sometimes, in fact, there are two words, one of which is technically a compound word referring to the aforementioned deity, but I'm digressing seriously.)

In point of fact, powerful is the one word that describes precisely how I haven't felt in a very long time. Longer, even, than most of you would have guessed. To the casual observer, even someone who comes into regular contact with me, I have it pretty much together, considering. I love my teaching jobs (all three of them); my parents and I have an excellent relationship, marred only slightly by the fact that I currently live with them; and I am well on track to beat the bridge and successfully complete the marathon in 22 days.

Even were you to be a fly on the wall in my therapist's office--which I am totally not suggesting, as that would remove several points from my overall coolness factor--you might suspect that I am handling the loss of my husband in a relatively graceful way, with humour and aplomb and only a modicum of bitterness.

You would, in fact, be wrong. You have not had the opportunity to see me biting the steering wheel of my Civic hybrid because a morning's rush hour traffic has put me over the steep edge of rationality due in part to the fact that it gave me an extra twenty minutes to stew over our last conversation. You have not seen me stay up reading late into the night, only to barely be able to open my eyes the next morning, because it is when I turn out the blue glass bedside lamp that the memories come crowding into the empty space beside me in the bed. You do not know that I still sleep confined to one side of the bed, even after running twenty miles, and when a solitary foot strays onto the cool expanse of sheet next to me, I yank it back as if I have been burnt before I discover what is no longer there. You have not counted the number of times I have stopped during the writing of this to gaze at the photograph on my desk, taken so long ago his hair can't even be contained in a pony tail.

People have suggested that there is a kind of power in powerlessness. It's been suggesting that letting go of our illusion of control is freeing, and to an extent I suppose that's true. But I seriously suck at doing nothing. I, like my mother, am not a human being but a human doing. It is true that certain events this summer allowed me to relax my viselike grip on what I thought was the proper way of navigating this situation, and at times I've even been allowed a few moments, here and there, of something approaching peace. But power? No the fuck way. Not happening here in Three Feathers. Sorry. My only sense of power right now comes from running. From shuffling bow-legged back to my car after heaving myself off the grass into a standing position after my post-run stretch. From knowing that, as pitifully slow as I am, not only did I manage to keep myself upright, I am also, somehow, moving forward.

01 October 2007

Things I've Learned While Training for The Marine Corps Marathon

That because 18 miles is hard does not negate the fact that 3 miles is hard. 3 miles is just hard for less time.
That pain is relative, but cookies are constant.
That Gu and Advil can be considered food groups.
What the underside of my naked nailbed looks like.
The difference between "good socks" and "bad socks."
That after 18 miles, anything is funny. Even pain. Sometimes especially pain.
That there are a lot of little tendons in my knee, and I need all of them to depress the clutch the day after a long run.
Ice is nice.
Every inch of the D&R towpath. In excruciating detail.
That most people think I am truly crazy when I tell them what I did with my day off.
That yes, you really can make a sandwich out of peanut butter and bacon. On toast.
That what I thought was out of breath at mile 2 in March was really just getting warmed up.
If it's on your body, it can chafe.
That no matter how tired my legs get, I can still run with my chin. (Unlike my marathon-friend Kat, however, I cannot run on my chin.)
That I'm stronger than my husband thought I was. That I'm stronger than I thought I was. But I'm not stronger than my mom and dad thought I was.
That when I bitch and moan and groan about needing cookies, complete strangers will send them to me, because they're still my marathon-friends.
The guys at EMS lie. Nuun electrolyte tablets make you burp.
How to convert km/mi and calculate negative splits on the fly.
That fartlek is not a bodily function.
That it's possible to tell the weather without getting out of bed, by how your left knee feels.
And that I'm going home with some hardware. Oh yes I am.

25 September 2007

A Capital Idea

I never thought I'd look so forward to receiving my monthly credit card statement.

Two months ago, I failed utterly to receive my monthly credit card statement for no apparent reason. I realised it when I got last month's statement, because I try not to carry a balance. No problem, right? Call the company, point out to them that you always pay on time and in full, ask them to refund the finance charge and reset the billing cycle, Bob's your uncle.

Not so. (Well, I do have an Uncle Bob, but that's another story. Actually, I have two or three of them.) In any case, the customer service number printed on the bill is something akin to Dante's Eleventh Circle of Hell. The Tenth, of course, being erratic drivers in minivans on the Turnpike. After labyrinthing my way through countless layers of automated choices ("If you'd like to hear a duck quack, press 8") I finally decided to pull out the big guns and press the button for "lost or stolen cards" figuring that might be urgent enough to warrant a customer service rep with a pulse. Eventually I found one, and was promptly put on hold.

Four times.

For ten minutes each. Fortunately, I was on a land line, so I wasn't using precious cell battery time. I was then transferred. Also four times. And asked for my first name, my last name, my account number, the last four digits of my social, and my mailing address.

Four times.

This, of course, resulted in my having to explain (four times) that yes, that is really the name of the town, and no there aren't really "three" of anything in it, except possibly three last remaining seconds before I went completely ballistic and reached through the phone to throttle someone.

Ultimately, they decided they could, in fact, remove the whopping six-dollar finance charge (hey, I'm an English professor. Six bucks is a lot of money where we come from.) and send me a copy of the missing statement. Whereupon they verified my address yet again.

This was two weeks ago. In today's mail, I got an envelope from Joe Schmo's House of Banking MasterCard Services (with the address wrong despite five-time verification, thank you very much--and yet until this they've never had a problem sending me bills). I opened it and read the letter:

Dear Valued Customer:

Enclosed find the copy of the statement you requested for the account number listed below. Please feel free to contact a Customer Relations Representative if you have any questions.


Joe Schmo's House of Banking Services, Inc.

Guess what wasn't enclosed. They'd mailed me a cover letter. And no statement. Brilliant, I tell you. Absofuckinglutely brilliant.

Then again, this is the institution that decided it was a good idea to give me a line of credit in the first place, so that should tell you something.

21 September 2007

B, My Name Is Breast

The last week in August, I was conscripted to attend what seemed like an inordinate number of faculty orientation meetings (particularly as I've been working at two of the three institutions for more than a year) and was thus forced to wear several variations on the infamous "Hello, My Name Is" sticker. You know the ones. They're blue, and really annoying, and they look like this:

(whilst searching for a suitable image that didn't have something rude scrawled in it, I discovered they also apparently come in red. Who knew?) Anyway, I have always found them particularly annoying, not only because I'm antisocial at heart and would prefer to introduce myself only to people who are actually interested in finding out my name, but also because I've never found an appropriate place to affix them.

Let's think about this for a second. I am a woman. I am, in fact, a petite woman. I am also small of torso, being instead mostly leg. Tradition and modesty dictate that we affix such labels to our lapel area, or, failing actual lapels, to our upper chest on either our left or right sides. And frankly, in my case, there's not a lot of real estate there. What there is, is mostly already taken. So to speak. So it's awkward. And often slightly amusing, particularly in warm-weather attire.

I always feel sort of sad, though, when engaging in this most innocent of social overtures. Because while my left breast is out there, announcing itself gaily (Hello! My Name Is TheFireCat) my poor, unadorned right breast sits there, sulking. It, apparently, has no name.

18 September 2007

Tapir Madness

You know, after plotting out tomorrow's course with my dad (mostly so he and my bike-riding mom would know where to drop water bottles early tomorrow morning, swell parents that they be) I'm starting to reconsider my training schedule. Maybe I'll start my taper RIGHT NOW.

Seriously? Ten miles was really cool. The day I ran my first ten-miler, my dad waited for me on the front porch and there was massive high-fiving and I was incredibly proud. Because ten miles is really far to run.

But this? This is insane. The numbers are just starting to get really incomprehensible. 18 miles? 18 miles is not a distance to run. 18 miles is a distance to drive; 18 miles is a distance between exits in some parts of Pennsylvania: "Oh, good. There's a Waffle House at the next exit. Can you hold it another 18 miles, honey? Because then we can pee and eat some scrapple." (FYI, you should totally imagine that in my husband's voice. Because that is one sentence that would never be uttered with the roles reversed.) 18 miles is the distance from our house to the nearest Starbucks, in any direction--a positive thing, in my fair-trade-bean-loving opinion. 18 miles is the length of a really bad delay on the Turnpike during a snowstorm, or the backup if they close the Tappan Zee.

18 miles is a lot of things, but above all, 18 miles is really freaking far. And I'm not sure I'm ready to get intimately acquainted with just how far that is. As Dawn Dais said in her book, The Non-Runner's Marathon Guide for Women, "After 18 miles, I had run out of thoughts." The good news, for me at least, is that's when running starts to get easier. In acting school, they call what I do, "reading too cerebral." My husband used to just call it "really fucking annoying."
"Baby," he'd tell me. "Just shut up. Stop thinking. Please. For me." So when I'm somewhere halfway between Stockton and nowhere, and the trail is looking a little unfamiliar even though I've been there three or four times a week since what seems like the beginning of time when I started training for this thing, and my brain slowly gets unhinged--that's where the running gets good. That's where 18 turns from being something scary and real into just another number, the way my student loans were so absurd that they stopped seeming like real money. (Six hundred dollars for a new rear bumper? That's too expensive. But thirty thousand dollars' worth of student loans? That amount of money, all in one place, and that place being "my lifetime," was just so inconceivable that it used to make me laugh giddily, even while I was paying it.)

And now, since Taper Madness will not actually officially begin in Three Feathers until two weeks from tomorrow, on October 3rd, I give you the next best thing.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Tapir Madness.

17 September 2007

Stay the Course

In the last several weeks, I have spent a great deal of time seriously wondering whether I will be able to finish the marathon on the strength of the training I've done the past several months. We hear all sorts of inspiring stories, from Team Hoyt to my friend Marathon Peach, a sixteen-year liver transplant survivor, to people running to honour the memories of Marines close to them who've died in Iraq and elsewhere while defending their country. They tell us that the excitement of race day and 50,000 cheering fans and the course lined with Marines will carry us the last six miles, even though the training only allows for one run of 20 miles as the longest distance.

I've wondered about all that, because I know where my weaknesses are, and I know that it has been a long and, at times, difficult summer for me, and that my emotional state slowly but inexorably takes its toll on my physical body. I know all these things, and I wasn't entirely sure where in the middle of this equation the marathon would land me.

Then, this morning, it crystallised for me along the trail. The early morning sunlight; the amazingly cold, clear, crisp weather along the river that is so different from the sultry grey heat of this day two years ago; the strength in my body and in my heart as I blasted through my personal record for a five-mile pace by several seconds. I will succeed. I will complete this race.

And the number one reason is that I am not a quitter. Happy anniversary, my dearest love. I miss you.

15 September 2007

Houston, We Have Lift-Off....

...or, should I say, cat-off.

If you ask me, the whole thing is rather anticlimactic. I feel slightly deflated. And other, off-colour remarks.

Making Matters Worse

So far, this is not helping things any. Following the directions on how to assemble this cat has only caused more hilarity here in Three Feathers.

11 September 2007

Is That a Knitted Cat in Your Pocket, Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

This began as an experiment in stripes with leftover yarn from a blanket knit for my friend Matt's newly adopted son. Mostly because I had nearly a skein of each left over, and I liked the two colours together, I flipped back a few pages in the pattern book and began knitting a stuffed kitten (my other options were bear and bunny).

The gathered end will one day be the catt's butt (is that anything like the bee's knees, I wonder?) and somehow, the pattern assures me, once I add arms, legs, tail, and stuffing, I will be able to fashion the flat end and baste it in such a way that it will grow ears. I'll let you know how it all turns out, but so far I'm skeptical.

Especially since earlier this evening I was sitting in my therapist's waiting room--my very Christian therapist, mind you--and I took this off its needles and sewed the seam up the back. At which point I held it up to inspect my handiwork and immediately blurted out loud, "Oh! A penis cozy!"

I suspect I'll be visiting this therapist for quite a bit longer now.

03 September 2007

So Many Wrong Ways to Take This

I just went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and found a sticky-note on the edge of the sink from my mom, saying she loved me.

It was stuck to a New York Times bag filled with used cat litter.

In many other families, this would cause enough bad blood to ruin the next forty Thanksgivings. But knowing my mom, and how she feels about the cats' presence (and, more to the point, the fact that they have excretory systems), and the general gist of this weekend's conversations? It somehow makes total sense. And if I could get one of them to hurk up a hairball right now, I'd wrap it in a paper towel and leave it by her crossword puzzle, to say I love you, too, Mom.

25 August 2007

A Waste of Good Pasta

Today's long run gave me that sinking feeling. You know, that sinking feeling you get when you realise you need that emergency tampon you tucked into the pocket of your shorts "just in case."

That sinking feeling you get when you break down crying a mere four miles out, even though you know it's just the hormones and the humidity talking, and not the fact that you have eleven more miles to go and seven more miles' worth of water.

When the ground wobbles beneath you eight miles out, and you realize those cramps aren't coming from your uterus but from your lack of hydration.

When you aren't ashamed to steal a partially-used salt packet from a discarded McDonald's bag on a park bench and slit it open so you can lick the wrapper for the sodium.

When at mile eleven you break down crying again anyway, proving the extent of your dehydration because you can't even cry right anymore, for fooksake.

When you limp into a run the last tenth of a mile anyway, because what if there were 20,000 Marines watching, like there will be in October?

That sinking feeling that only lifts when you get home and your dad has made you a peanut butter and bacon sandwich on toast, because he knows that this and only this will have enough sodium to get you up the stairs and into the shower and still meet your post-run protein requirement for not kicking the cats while you try to run in your sleep tonight, and you log on to find that everybody else's run pretty much sucked goats too, from Lauren who had an intestinal bug all week but toughed out 12 miles, to Lenz recovering from knee surgery, to poor tumbling Kat, who now has the worst case of road rash you've ever seen that doesn't involve skateboards, to Fish who cut it short at 3.5 (maybe he's the smart one), to Wil who bagged it entirely and sat down on the couch with two Italian sausage sandwiches with onions and peppers to try again tomorrow.

That threatens to descend again when you realise what a tremendous klunker of a run-on sentence that was, but you don't even have the energy to fix it.

22 August 2007

Water Moccasin

Early yesterday I realised I had four miles to run, and that it was raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock. For the third or fourth straight day. (Wait, that's not true. On Friday, it hailed.)

So I paddled up and down some hills in my spandex and my trusty New (old) Balance 767w, and 36 hours later I have a problem. I have a six-miler tomorrow, and my shoes are still so wet I could wring them out if they didn't have those nifty AbZorb midsoles. My friends on the training board helpfully pointed out that this is one of the reasons why people usually have two pairs of running shoes going at a time. Which I do, in fact.

I don't think they realise the extent of this weather, phenomenon, though. It's seriously been raining for a frigging long time. If I wear my newer shoes tomorrow, come Saturday I'll have not one but two pairs of waterlogged running shoes, which will not be fun for fifteen miles.

Because something I realised yesterday while slogging uphill after wading through my umpteenth shin-deep puddle: wet sneakers weigh a lot. So do wet, formerly-poofy Thorlo running socks.

Plus I'm still not freaking warm again. Seriously. They're saying it's going to be 90 on Saturday, but I ain't buying it. Not when the end of my widdw nose is this cold and I've been wearing long sleeves and cardigans and wool socks and shoes (for god's sake) for the past four days.

Nope. Not happening. Have I mentioned this irks me?

16 August 2007

Just Putting It Out There

Every semester I get someone who doesn't tell me they're dyslexic and then wonders why they're struggling with the workload, despite the fact that every semester, I include this in my syllabus for each class.

Individual Needs:

We all have them. Here are some ways to get yours met.

Academic Resource Center: Students are strongly advised to visit the ARC if they are struggling with reading and writing assignments. Tutors can help students master writing skills (but they cannot and will not write or rewrite your assignments for you). They are there to empower you with the skills for learning.

Disability Support Services: Students with documented learning, physical, or psychological differences should contact R________ at 215.555.0000 x123 for academic accommodations. In addition, please notify me as soon as possible. A learning difference should not be viewed shamefully. Everyone learns differently. If you know the strengths and weaknesses of your particular learning style and make them known to your instructors and Support Services Counselors, we will be better equipped to respond to your needs and help you acquire the knowledge you desire in a manner that suits your particular needs.

14 August 2007

Stunning Revelation

I used to think that running would someday get easy. I can now run ten or twelve miles some days, so running three miles should be easy, right?

Wrong. Running ten miles is hard. Running three miles is just hard for less time.

12 August 2007

Silly Goose

I do not get goosebumps.

Okay, that's not strictly true. I get goosebumps (or goosepimples, or gooseflesh, both of which phrases give me the willies) on a fairly regular basis. In fact, I have goosebumps right now, because I'm sitting in front of a window open to a breeze that's finally less than 90 degrees. What I mean is, I don't get goosebumps.

The hairs along my arms and back will only stand up and be counted when there is something going on concerning the temperature of the air versus the temperature of my body, and my feeble attempt at fur would like to wrap itself around me and get warm, please. I get goosebumps every Saturday while cooling down after my long run (even if it is 90 degrees, which until yesterday it has been). I get goosebumps when I step out of the shower in the morning. Dock chair to lake: goosebumps. Aftermath of a sneeze: goosebumps.

But my body's weird-o-meter does not seem to be located on the surface of my skin. Instead, it seems to be harboured somewhere deeper, along my inner forearms, and at the anchor of my ribcage. Those are the places that hitch and tingle when a soul breaks loose from a phrase of music and flies toward the ceiling; when I wake from a dream that I already know despite not yet having been told; when the ordinary becomes more than that, becomes real.

The first night I spent in my apartment near Princeton eight years ago was like coming home. Only it wasn't I who was coming home, but Elizabet. Elizabet had been the previous tenant, making her home there since shortly after the apartment complex was built sometime in the late fifties. Her husband dead and her children left the nest, Elizabet had made the practical decision to downsize and moved into the garden apartment just north of the Millstone River. The only reason she was vacating now was because her sons had decided she needed more assistance than the neighbours could provide, so they made plans to move Elizabet and her belongings to an "assisted living facility." (which, as we all know, usually means "not really living, but still breathing".)

Elizabet was having none of this, apparently, because the day before the scheduled move, her sons arrived to find her dead on the living room floor. This was not a particular shock to anybody, as she was past 90, but it did put a crimp in the proceedings of moving house, since now there was a will in probate and a coroner who needed to follow rules, despite the obviously apparent cause of death. In the bustle of activity in the weeks that followed as her children hastily cleaned out the apartment, it somehow never occurred to them to take down Elizabet's mezuzah, and the maintenance crew simply painted around it. And so it came to me, with my Bible and my grimoire, my crosses and my pentacles and brooms, this old Hebrew blessing.

It shouldn't have surprised me, that first night, to wake to see a woman standing at the foot of my bed, her hair as white as smoke and her high-throated nightgown clutched between her gnarled fingers. We regarded each other warily; she in distrust of this young thing sleeping in her bedroom--but where was her bed? where were her matching night-tables? for that matter, where were this girl's nightclothes?--and me because....well, because though I could see her, I could also see clearly the closet doors she stood in front of. She was also clearly upset about the cats. Who had let them in?

Then I understood. It was the mezuzah. Because it hadn't been taken out with all of her other things, she didn't understand that this was no longer her home. The cats were mine, I assured her. She was not going to get in trouble for having three illegal pets, and they weren't going to claw her sofa to shreds. I told her she was welcome to stay, and that the mezuzah would remain with me wherever I made my home. She seemed satisfied with this, though slightly annoyed that she was dead--although I can imagine it must have been an inconvenience.

Elizabet has become my personal ghost. Thankfully, my husband took this in stride; the first time he spent the night at the apartment, he woke up the next morning, rolled over to open one blue eye from under his hair, and simply grunted, "You could have warned me about the short dead chick." When we moved me into the house we would later share, it was he who rooted about in still-packed boxes until he unwrapped the mezuzah and thumbtacked it firmly to the lintel, announcing that he was sure Elizabet was relieved to be out of storage.

Sometimes I remember this comment and feel badly that she has, in fact, been wrapped in a box for more than a year. I know, of course, that Elizabet doesn't live in the mezuzah. That's about as ridiculous as a genie who lives in a lamp, or a cat who lives in a teapot. If you want to get technical about it, in fact, Elizabet doesn't actually live anywhere....really. But she always seems more comfortable when she sees this last relic of her days here, affixed firmly beside the door. And somehow, despite whatever faith remains in me and despite not knowing a letter of Hebrew--somehow, so do I.

07 August 2007

On Hermetically Sealed Poetry

What, because they think the writing is going to go stale? Believe me when I tell you, if it's going to go stale, there is no amount of plastic encasements that can help you now.

06 August 2007

Into the Wild

You've asked me to make a decision, but there are some decisions that simply cannot be made. I freely admit that I caused you unbearable pain. I acted out of selfishness, out of fear, out of loneliness, out of desperation. Who among us hasn't done that?

You've asked me to bind myself to something in which I can never believe, simply because you wish it to be so. You have asked me to let you control me, in order that you might believe I have relinquished control over you. But I've never been able to control you. I've never even been able to control myself. That's how we got here, isn't it?

You've asked me to make a choice that proves what I've always known and what you've stopped believing, at the same time it renders it unviable.

You've asked, in short, for me to do what I've always been sworn to do but have until now failed miserably at accomplishing: to do what's best for you, at the expense of my own personal needs and desires. The one thing I learned best from you is that this never leaves anyone satisfied.

You've asked, darling, for the one thing that was never mine to give.

01 August 2007

Bear Sandwich

Woke up to this sight today. Poor little dude. He's lying on his back, too, in some sort of ursine savasana pose. That can't be very comfortable for a bear.

29 July 2007

Tag, I'm It.

Or so the lovely, unbraided Karen tells me.

The rules: 1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts. 2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves. 3. People who are tagged write their own blog post about their eight things and include these rules. 4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged and that they should read your blog.

Ready? Set? Go.

1. Lately I spend a lot of time on craigslist perusing apartments in the tri-state area. I'm starting to look forward to starting over in a new home. Being here with my parents makes me feel like I'm trapped in some sort of eternal convalescence, unable to entirely heal. Speaking of craigslist, I often judge an apartment by criteria that are less than standard. For instance, grammar in the ad. I don't care if it's the most beautiful, least expensive, safest apartment on the planet with the best feng shui, ever, I'm not gonna rent it if it says what this one did: "beautiful 2 bedroom apart. all hardwood floor, very clean, fleshly painted just!!!" And yes, that's an exact cut-and-paste quote.

2. On the other hand, my mom and I just spent a lovely 90 minutes on the front porch with a pot of Earl Grey and the Sunday New York Times diagramless, which wouldn't have been possible if I lived somewhere else.

3. I just used the phrase "hot, soapy antelope" in a conversation, and it was entirely non-sexual. Seriously.

4. I'm currently in training for the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, in late October. I still find this decision quite startling, because I've never been particularly athletic. In fact, I once flunked gym in high school.

5. I ran out of either steam or wine at four things, because now it's two days later. Apparently I wasn't very interesting Sunday night.

6. I have a black-and-white one-eyed (enormously rotund) cat who is the most traumatized kitty ever to roam under the bed. Every time I sneeze, she leaps up and bolts out of the room in terror. I have bad allergies, so it happens several times a day.

7. One of the most enduring memories of my husband is that, even on one of the last days we shared, he went without cereal so that I could have milk for my morning tea. He was just that kind of man. And my life will never be the same without him.

And now, even though I'm going to be slightly nonconformist and not tag the requisite number of people (because I can't tag Tori, since she tagged my tagger), I now bonk

and....maybe I'll think of someone else later.

28 July 2007

In Very Few Words, the Ever-Talented FireCat Once Again Demonstrates How Difficult Daily Life Can Sometimes Be for People Without Brains

Ladies (and gentlemen, for that matter), please do not attempt this at home. I am a trained professional.

Step One:

"Ass Kisser is a pain-relieving solid massage salve for all the damage you do to your body. It is strongly warming and comforting for bruises, strains, sprains, & most other aches and pains."

Step Two:

"o.b. is the only tampon in the U.S. that doesn't have an applicator. In fact, with o.b., your index finger is the only applicator you need."

I believe Step Three needs no further explanation.

27 July 2007

Sound and Fury

The prompts the last couple of weeks have given me a bit of trouble (as have the inner workings of my life in general), so much so, in fact, that I skipped last week entirely. I had a great title for the post, Somewhere That's Green, but that was it. Anyway, I was lying in a somewhat tepid bath a few moments ago, pondering where the word phenomenon would take me and realising that I am the only person on the planet who has absolutely no interest in whether or not Harry Potter dies at the end of the book (though I am eternally grateful to J.K. Rowling for the number of my semi-literate students she has encouraged to pick up reading as a pastime instead of gang-related drive-bys). I'm also lukewarm on the topic of Crocs, even after hearing former Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez announce during a game the other night that he probably has close to a dozen pairs in a rainbow of colours. There are apparently websites out there devoted to Croc-haters, and while I disdain the current fashion craze for ugly plastic clogs with holes in them the size of subway tokens (yes, I realise they're neither rubber nor plastic, but a trademarked polymer blend, but still. This is supposed to be healthy for me how?) I really can't get into too much of a lather about it. I'm busy hating so many other things.

But then, while I was lying in a tub roughly the temperature of my attitude towards so many of these current frenzies, it struck. First, it was just a puff of fresh air, a glint of blue light, and a faint ozone smell through the open window. Then, moments later, I was stung by a thousand tiny needles of cold and my mother was rushing upstairs to close her bedroom windows.

There's something refreshing about lying in a warm bath while getting rained on, something wild and slightly decadent, almost like skinny-dipping. Which is ridiculous, since of course you're naked when you take a bath, but somehow this is more dangerous. I've always loved thunderstorms, especially those rich, powerful ones that slam across the hills of Pennsylvania and up the Delaware like freight trains at four in the afternoon every day of the week some Augusts. Especially the ones that splattered across the vacant schoolyard macadam in Schnecksville the summer I spent with my cousin Christine, every afternoon like clockwork on our way home from the community pool. Or the ones that bounced back and forth across the hills between Canopus Hollow and Brewster, echoing through the valley for hours and cutting the power to our house (sometimes for days) and once frying the internal modem of my old iBook when lightning struck the transformer right outside the house.

I accidentally caused a thunderstorm once, driving home across Pennsylvania. I can't remember what I was angry at him for; I only remember that I was roiling with rage as I drove home with Chloe while he followed in another car. We watched the clouds boil up on either side of us, and my fingers clenched the steering wheel so hard that I was leaving nail marks in it, and when lightning struck the car neither of us was surprised, but I was blinded by the shower of sparks as it arced out to something on the overpass we were crossing. The next thing I remember is being three or four miles down the road, my ears still ringing, the hair on my left arm still standing up, and the searing jolt still echoing down the nerves to my fingers like when I was little and my sisters and I used to dare each other to touch the electric fence that kept the mules in.

We figured it was because I'm left-handed, or because I usually perch my left elbow on the window-ledge of the car while driving, or because it's the side closest to the heart, which was undoubtedly a little freaked out at having its own electrical current tampered with, but I knew it was as much the wedding ring as anything else. When we could talk again, Chloe looked over at me with a faint smile and suggest perhaps I call him and apologize before I got us both killed.

20 July 2007

While Making My Own Beeline

My drive home today was mildly bizarre, and not for the usual reasons. There is plenty of weird to be had along the NJ Turnpike, just yours for the observing--not the least of which is the old Hydro-Pruf building seen in the opening credits of The Sopranos, which in all its derelict glory now spells out "Hydro-P-U." Am I the only person who finds that incredibly and ironically--albeit sophomorically--snork-inducing for a designated Superfund cleanup site in Newark that lies less than a half-mile from the Passaic River?

Today's weirdness happened much closer to home. I was already deeply annoyed on leaving Jerky City, not so much because I was upset that I couldn't go bowling with my summer students (an activity for which I nevertheless got paid, mind you) as because of the reason. Which was that my teaching assistant flaked out for the third time in as many hours and, in the course of the 10 minutes it took to fill out his time sheet, apparently forgot that I was following him to Hudson Lanes in Bayonne. And left. Without me. While my ass was parked on a bench in front of the building waiting for him. After about 20 minutes I tried to track him down, but the office was closed and shuttered. I stomped the three blocks down Van Reypen towards the parking lot, cussing all the while in every form of slang I know, where I discovered that his car was, indeed, no longer in the lot. I'd been dissed by a little Dominican dude who's so fresh out of college his loans haven't even come due yet. Fucking swell.

I also hadn't slept particularly well (whole other story), plus my satchel was bulging with reading placement tests I would have to spend the whole weekend grading (see "little Dominican dude", above, for why I had to grade all 58 of them), my windshield was starred from random debris flying up during the commute in, and I was having a bad hair day. Actually, it's kind of been a bad hair summer, but that's also another whole other story. So anyway, I was pretty cranky for most of the drive home, despite spending much of it finally catching up with an old friend with whom I'd been playing phone tag.

When I got off the freeway, I found myself behind a Buick of uncertain model, one of those newer models that are all interchangeable, with the ubiquitous looped-ribbon support magnet. This one was pink, for breast cancer, though the car was driven by a middle-aged man. Either his convertible was in the shop and he was reduced to driving the wife-mobile, he was a statistical anomaly (since men of course also have breasts, and can thus get breast cancer) or he had pretty stodgy taste in vehicles and really, really loved his wife. Hopefully this wasn't some sort of somber, mobile memorial to her, since when I pulled up alongside at the next light I noticed three identical magnets slapped willy-nilly on the doors and quarter-panels.

He was ahead of me at the next light, and that's when I noticed the pink bumper sticker. Sadly, the cell-phone picture didn't come out, but the bumper sticker said simply, "cancer sucks." Which only another survivor can truly appreciate as hysterically funny. I was so busy trying to capture this moment of gallows humour glory while laughing so hard I was almost crying, that I nearly swerved into the flatbed tractor trailer in the right-hand lane. Which would have been a really, really bad thing. Because on closer inspection (much closer than I would have liked, in fact, for two very different reasons) this tractor trailer--whose bed was stacked with rows and rows of strange, slatted boxes contained in a swath of fine netting--seems to have been carrying bees.

Not beer, not beets, not beef. Bees. Honeybees, I'm sure, but after my immediate response, which was to start itching frantically in some sort of sympathetic psychic allergic reaction to my mother, sister, ex-boyfriend, and mother-in-law, my mind moved onto the more--pardon the pun--pedestrian question. Why?

Not why honeybees; that much was obvious. Honeybees make honey. Any moron who loves peanut butter sandwiches and herb tea can tell you that much. In fact, I'm one such moron myself. No, my question is, why trucks? It's true that the only other method of bee shipment I've ever heard mentioned was by mail order--and can you imagine that? Getting a mail order box of bees? You open your mailbox innocently one day and there's this small, angry, buzzing package inside?--but this method of transport seems to me particularly silly. I mean, don't they have wings? Why do they have to take trucks to get where they're going? Can't they just fly there?

15 July 2007

Just Call Me Heather Donahue

So, I was reading the latest post over at my friend Roast Beef's blog, and my immediate inner dialogue after reading about her post-half recovery run went something like,

"Wait, what??!?!?!?!?!??? Lying around like a slug today was bad for me?????"

"Oh crap, dude. This is not good news."

Well, okay. In truth, I did not spend the entire day lying around like a slug. I did sort of go for a hike today. Or, more aptly, a trundle. In the woods. On state property. Where I shouldn't have been. And proceeded to find a mysterious shallow grave (also on state property where it shouldn't have been, and it wasn't going anywhere soon) that upon poking with a sturdy stick decidedly contained something formerly alive. You can just tell, I discovered, right then and there, if what you are poking is formerly-animate deadness, or just a heap of clothes, for instance. And this particular piece of something formerly known as alive was wrapped in several layers of trash bag. And a blanket. Giving it somewhat the element of forethought. Or, at the very least, a certain earnestness.

So, yeah--technically, I did run today. I ran about half a mile hellbent down the trail in my birkenstocks to the cell phone in my car where I proceeded to dial 911 and opine to dispatch that I really hoped I just watch too much CSI, but there was a dead something buried in the woods and could they please send somebody, preferably two or three somebodies in big white cars, with guns and shoulders and more importantly latex gloves and a shovel? (I left out the part about if possible could they please send Gary Dourdan and Billy Petersen because I get that they're actors, not real crime scene analysts. And besides which, they work in Las Vegas.)

....which they did, post-haste, whereupon I hiked said troopers into the woods (now that I had an escort, it was all legal-like, y'see) and pointed out the Blair-Witch-esque burial mound, and they said, and I quote, ".....aw, shit, man," in pretty much unison. Cop-to-English translation: this is gonna involve some paperwork.

Long story kept from getting any longer, it did eventually turn out to be someone's illegally parked golden retriever, formerly occupied by itself, and they then had to heave it off the side of the cliff because you really can't park that thing there, but you can't give a dead dog a ticket for trespassing, now can you? And in the end I kind of feel really bad for the decedent and his former owner, because he was obviously a well-beloved dog, and someone took the time to bury it wrapped in its favourite wolf-blanket, and erected a nice little cairn to keep the scavengers away, and now it was getting heaved down the side of an escarpment in the general direction of the I-78/I-287 interchange.

But, yeah, I guess you could say I got in a little running today.

One last thing: the cop with the big head of dark hair (the one who did most of the talking and none of the digging, thus the senior officer of the two) was very, very funny when I thanked him (only mildly embarrassed, because there had been a few seconds before the last blanket was unwrapped where we all kind of looked at each other like, "Please do not let this be a six-year-old") before getting into my car and driving away as if I hadn't been trespassing on state land. We were talking about going off into the woods--which of course I did not do, having spied this mysterious shallow grave from the road with my x-ray sunglasses--and he said something to the effect that they mostly put those signs up because they didn't want kids going off into the woods, because "you know, people like to go back there and hug, and stuff."

His exact words. "They go back there to hug and stuff."

I tried really, really hard not to laugh at him for being all prim and proper, especially since he was carrying a firearm, and everything, but seriously? I about bust a gut. Because people who want to hug do not go into the woods to do it. They usually do their hugging right there out in the open. WITH EVERYONE WATCHING.

"Hug and stuff"? Good God Almighty Cheese-Whiz. I really thought I was going to have to sit a State Trooper down right there and give him The Talk.

14 July 2007

Ever Have One of Those Days When It Seems Like Your Boss Is Speaking in Korean?

No, I mean really in Korean. I just got this email response from the man who arranged for my attendance at the Title V Cooperative Institute last month. Oddly enough, I was inquiring as to the whereabouts of the $400 check I was supposed to have received by now as compensation.

The man who sent this is originally from London, so there's no reason for this kind of vehemence. Mi-Hye never got this vexed at me, and she is Korean.

਍㰀䠀吀䴀䰀 搀椀爀㴀氀琀爀㸀㰀䠀䔀䄀䐀㸀㰀吀䤀吀䰀䔀㸀匀甀洀洀攀爀 䤀渀猀琀椀琀甀琀攀 昀漀氀氀漀眀ⴀ甀瀀㰀⼀吀䤀吀䰀䔀㸀ഀഀ ਍㰀䴀䔀吀䄀 挀漀渀琀攀渀琀㴀∀䴀匀䠀吀䴀䰀 㘀⸀  ⸀㈀㠀  ⸀㄀㄀ 㘀∀ 渀愀洀攀㴀䜀䔀一䔀刀䄀吀伀刀㸀㰀⼀䠀䔀䄀䐀㸀ഀഀ ਍㰀䐀䤀嘀㸀匀愀爀愀㨀㰀⼀䐀䤀嘀㸀ഀഀ

਍㰀䐀䤀嘀㸀䤀✀洀 最氀愀搀 礀漀甀 攀渀樀漀礀攀搀 琀栀攀 猀攀洀椀渀愀爀⸀ 䤀✀氀氀 氀漀漀欀 椀渀琀漀 礀漀甀爀 挀栀攀挀欀 漀渀 䴀漀渀搀愀礀㬀 ഀഀ we're closed on Fridays. I believe yours was to be issued by us (rather than ਍倀䌀䌀䌀⤀ 猀漀 椀琀 眀漀甀氀搀 戀攀 猀攀渀琀 琀漀 眀栀攀爀攀瘀攀爀 礀漀甀 渀漀爀洀愀氀氀礀 瀀椀挀欀 甀瀀 愀 挀栀攀挀欀 漀渀 ഀഀ campus. ਍㰀䐀䤀嘀㸀☀渀戀猀瀀㬀㰀⼀䐀䤀嘀㸀ഀഀ
਍㰀䐀䤀嘀 椀搀㴀椀搀匀椀最渀愀琀甀爀攀㈀㈀㄀㔀㜀 搀椀爀㴀氀琀爀㸀ഀഀ
਍㰀䐀䤀嘀㸀㰀䘀伀一吀 昀愀挀攀㴀䄀爀椀愀氀 猀椀稀攀㴀㈀㸀䠀甀搀猀漀渀 䌀漀甀渀琀礀 䌀漀洀洀甀渀椀琀礀 䌀漀氀氀攀最攀㰀⼀䘀伀一吀㸀㰀⼀䐀䤀嘀㸀ഀഀ
਍㰀䐀䤀嘀㸀㰀䘀伀一吀 昀愀挀攀㴀䄀爀椀愀氀 猀椀稀攀㴀㈀㸀䨀攀爀猀攀礀 䌀椀琀礀Ⰰ 一䨀  㜀㌀ 㘀㰀⼀䘀伀一吀㸀㰀⼀䐀䤀嘀㸀ഀഀ
਍㰀䐀䤀嘀 搀椀爀㴀氀琀爀㸀㰀䈀刀㸀ഀഀ
਍㰀䘀伀一吀 昀愀挀攀㴀吀愀栀漀洀愀 猀椀稀攀㴀㈀㸀㰀䈀㸀䘀爀漀洀㨀㰀⼀䈀㸀 匀愀爀愀 匀渀礀搀攀爀㰀䈀刀㸀㰀䈀㸀匀攀渀琀㨀㰀⼀䈀㸀 䘀爀椀 㜀⼀㄀㌀⼀㈀  㜀 ഀഀ 12:21 PM
To: B.
Subject: Summer Institute ਍昀漀氀氀漀眀ⴀ甀瀀㰀䈀刀㸀㰀⼀䘀伀一吀㸀㰀䈀刀㸀㰀⼀䐀䤀嘀㸀ഀഀ
਍㰀倀㸀㰀䘀伀一吀 猀椀稀攀㴀㈀㸀䈀愀爀爀礀Ⰰ㰀䈀刀㸀㰀䈀刀㸀吀栀攀 最漀漀搀 渀攀眀猀 椀猀Ⰰ 䤀 眀愀渀琀攀搀 琀漀 琀栀愀渀欀 礀漀甀 猀漀 洀甀挀栀 ഀഀ for finding a way to enable me to attend the Summer Institute in Paterson. ਍䤀渀瘀愀氀甀愀戀氀攀 猀琀甀昀昀 琀栀攀爀攀Ⰰ 猀漀洀攀 漀昀 眀栀椀挀栀 䤀✀洀 猀琀椀氀氀 琀爀礀椀渀最 琀漀 眀爀愀瀀 洀礀 栀攀愀搀 ഀഀ around.

The bad news is, I was wondering if there was a problem because ਍漀昀 琀栀攀 搀攀氀愀礀 椀渀 爀攀挀攀椀瘀椀渀最 琀栀攀 爀攀椀洀戀甀爀猀攀洀攀渀琀 挀栀攀挀欀⸀ 䤀 猀瀀漀欀攀 眀椀琀栀 儀甀洀愀爀 刀愀稀愀Ⰰ ഀഀ who's teaching at the EOF Summer Program with me, and he indicated he received ਍栀椀猀 挀栀攀挀欀 氀愀猀琀 匀愀琀甀爀搀愀礀Ⰰ 㜀 䨀甀氀礀⸀ 䤀 栀愀瘀攀渀✀琀 爀攀挀攀椀瘀攀搀 洀椀渀攀 琀漀 搀愀琀攀⸀ 䤀猀 猀漀洀攀琀栀椀渀最 ഀഀ awry in my paperwork (or lack thereof) or are they just being tediously ਍猀氀漀眀㼀㰀䈀刀㸀㰀䈀刀㸀吀栀愀渀欀猀Ⰰ㰀䈀刀㸀匀愀爀愀 匀渀礀搀攀爀㰀⼀䘀伀一吀㸀 㰀⼀倀㸀㰀⼀䐀䤀嘀㸀㰀⼀䈀伀䐀夀㸀㰀⼀䠀吀䴀䰀㸀ഀഀ ਍

13 July 2007

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

My first instinct when I got this week's topic was, Oh boy, is this one ever in the bag. See, if there's one thing I know about, it's hair. I come from a very hairy family. And I don't mean that in the traditional way. We're Irish, not Italian. We don't, for the most part, display dark hairy forearms (or hairy backs), and only my father and I sport the infamous Marty Scorsese eyebrow-toupee look. (You're laughing, but it's true. Brooke Shields circa 1982 ain't got nothin' on me.) When she was a child, my uncles used to call my mom "Hairy Mary." Beauty salons have love-hate relationships with us, especially me with the uncontrollable blond wad with the Bonnie Raitt skunk-stripe at my left temple, and my father with his Sean-Connery-Medicine-Man white ponytail. Which, it's worth adding, drives the Bishop absolutely batshit.

That was going to be what this post was about, but then I realised it's funny how hair is coming to represent all I have had and lost in the past two years: Juno, my husband, my marriage. (In some places in India widows shave their heads--as opposed to throwing themselves on funeral pyres, I guess, this is a humane way to deal with the impossibility of grief--and I truly understand the compulsion that began this tradition, even if I didn't practice it quite so literally as my poor, shorn husband.) Our children. We already knew, sight unseen, that Jocelyn was going to be known in our neighbourhood as "the baby with the hair." If you've ever met either of us, you know exactly why this is. Let's just say that our wedding day was 95 degrees, the church was unairconditioned, the reception was outside in the meadow, and my husband and I were, with each passing moment, one golder, longer, and curlier than the other in ringlets of uncontrollable humidity. I at least had the advantage of a gallon of hairspray, six hundred bobby pins, and a two-piece veil. My husband would not release his pony-tail for fear of sporting a two-foot deep Afro.

In some ways it was not only a wedding of our families, our bodies, and our souls, it was also very much a wedding of our hair. The bathroom at our house was a haven for blond, corkscrewing strands, more than you would think possible to be in the sink, on the floor, slithered down the shower drain trying to escape, or trapped in our hairbrushes, and us to still have some on our head. Out in public, we often looked like chimpanzees engaged in grooming behaviour, reaching over and plucking long golden strands off the other's sweater, then pulling and pulling and pulling until it was finally free, then commenting on whose it might have been. Long, grey, and wavy, most likely mine. Long blond and tightly sprung, most likely his. Long, blond, and wavy--anybody's guess. Short blond and wavy, probably our friend Robin's, though how his hair ended up on our clothes as often as our own is to this day a mystery. I mean, we were at each other's houses all the time, but it's not like we were over there head-butting each other.

And then there were the cats. Two black-and-white cats and one grey cat can generate quite a bit of fur, and ever notice how they shed the white and grey fur on the black bathrobe and the black fur on the off-white bathrobe? That's a trick I'd like to master. We went through three vacuum cleaners in our relationship, mostly because of the nasty pea-green shag carpet in our rental living room. Final score: cats 3, vacuum cleaner 0. I'm going to have to buy another new one when I move again.

Lastly, I'd like to add Juno to the equation. Juno was Robin's beloved malamute. Juno was the hairiest creature known to science. Ever seen a malamute during her spring blowout? The spring she was with us for this event, we had piles of fur the size of canned hams and cocker spaniels. Tumble-fur blew on the slightest breeze, sometimes large enough to spook the cats. Paws down the most heard comment in the household we shared was, "Oh, look honey....dog hair." Robin lost Juno close to 28 months ago, and I'm still finding clots of her fur in the nooks and crannies of my belongings. Robin was right. She truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

The last time I saw my husband, his hair was the shortest I have ever seen it in the years I've known him. When we first met, he was growing it out, recovering from a conservative haircut in honour of his brother's wedding. I could still see a few golden ringlets under his hat, ringlets I wanted to take around my fingers and kiss one by one, but the length of the curls that had grown to midback during our years together had been sheared away, as if removing the weight from his scalp could erase the images of us from his mind; as if cutting it off at the root could deny its existence; as if by denuding himself of his body's most shining beauty, one of his secret powers, he could ease the passage of mourning.

Yes, I understand the urge.

06 July 2007

What About Ass Cancer?

I find it increasingly alarming that women get (you should pardon the expression) the short end of the stick so often. For instance, earlier this year, a woman was escorted from the Berkshire Square Mall in Reading, Pennsylvania, because she was breast-feeding her child. Somehow that qualified as indecent.

In the course of my training for the Marine Corps Marathon, I have banded with a group of like-minded lunatics for online cameraderie, training tips, success stories, struggles, injury complaints, and, of course, discussions about beer. Several weeks ago, I made reference to a fund-raising group for breast cancer. Len, a grizzled sage in his 60s, commented that he was surprised it had gotten through the censors that many non-moderated boards have in place. Come on, it wasn't like I had said tit cancer, or anything. Besides which, a breast is a body part. We talk an awful lot about body parts on the message board-- specifically hip flexors, and groins, and piriformis muscles, and plantar fascii, not to mention everybody's favourite band, the ITB--and in my opinion (one shared, no doubt, by Susan Patron) a breast is just another one of those body parts, like an elbow. Or, yes, a scrotum. Or whatever. It's not sexual. It's not dirty. It's just there.

And several weeks later, the post got edited. It now says "**** cancer". (personally, I think it should say "breast ****" because if anything's a dirty word, it's cancer, but that's another story for another soapbox.)

Then, completely unrelated to anything except a discussion about whether or not we would be allowed to use iPods on the marathon course, I made the comment that if it came down to me and Mile 22 and if whether or not I heard an Eric Bibb tune was the difference between finishing the marathon or not, I would rather have my iPod than "have to fly his blues ass down to DC to sing to me." And my friend Lee immediately noticed that I had just said "ass" where formerly I had not been able to say "breast".

Well, you can probably see where this is headed, can't you. It's true that I ranted quite a bit in capital letters that a breast is just another part of the body FOR GOD'S SAKE and they should get off it already. It's true that Lee and I had quite a fit of the giggles and are probably going to get scolded by other board users about going off topic. It's also true that I immediately made everyone swear that if I bonked along the back eight miles of the course, they would come up to me, look me in the eye, and simply say the words "ass cancer" to get me going again. And it's true that we did a test run with a part of the male anatomy, positing that the penis (might be) mightier than the sword. I don't know that this is in fact true, and right now I'm probably less qualified than anybody to judge, but it's apparently mightier than the breast, because you can say "penis" on the message board.

Personally, I still think it's just that the mod's an ass-man.