Friday, December 31, 2010

Saints be praised!

This year's advent calendar featured saints. Every day we opened one of those little doors and got a piece of artwork that has a picture of a saint. I was surprised but there were a handful I had never heard of. Weird names that belong to no one. I wondered how that happened, how some names disappear.

I grew up Catholic, so I couldn't help but stumble upon the various saints. The local churches and private schools, most of them had saint's names: Saint Francis, Saint Ursula, Saint Pius. (Did you know there are three Saint Adalbert's? How can that be?) In junior high, I went through confirmation when I got to pick my own saint and add another name to my given name. I was given a small book with the stories behind some of the saints (a Catholic Top-10, perhaps?) and I picked Agnes, mostly because her picture was so pretty. (Don't judge me; I know people who picked their saint because their other names fit together so nicely or the saint had a name they would rather have than their given name. We were in junior high; we shouldn't have been trusted to pick saints that had any actual meaning for us.)

The saints are a wacky bunch. They hear voices, they tend to die in awful ways (I read about one that was killed by stones placed one at a time on top of her breaking her back, then, finally, crushing her to death. There's another one who carved "Jesus" into her arm) Some of them just seem to do good deeds, which is admirable, but seems to be much easier that being burnt at the stake for your beliefs.

It seems like certain saints are around more than others; you see a lot of Saint Theresa and Saint Francis. Even non-Catholics will bury a Saint Joseph to try to sell their house. You also know people with names of saints. You might not know what Saint Maraget is about, but you know that there was a Saint Margaret (in fact, there was a bunch of various Saint Margarets). There doesn't seem to be a reason as to why some saints are more popular than others. I get that Joan of Arc was a big deal, but how did Saint Anne get to be so popular? She's a saint for being Mary's mom and for being older when she became a mom, an accident of biology more than a religious devotion.

This advent calendar has saints I have never heard of: Saint Walburga, Saint Casilda, Saint Palatias. Not only have I never heard of any of these saints but I don't know anyone (or any church) with these names. It made me wonder why there are some saints that get so much and others that are forgotten. What did these saints do to fall out of favor? Why do people pick up on some names but not others? Of course, I would have a hard time giving a baby girl the name Walburga.

Poor Saint Cunegund, forgotten except on the advent calendar.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

D'ya want fries with that?

Oh, central PA, you make the whole fast food experience not so fast. Here we are again, doing the trip to Ohio for the holidays and making another disappointing stop for fast food.

I need to remind myself that stopping for food on the Pennsylvania turnpike is always a tactical error. The reststops on the turnpike are populated by third- or fourth-tier fast food places. Sbarro, Famiglia. I finally settled on Roy Rogers. ("They still exist?" My dad was surprised.) Roy Rogers seems to have taken the marketing strategy of doing a little bit of everything and none of it very well. You can get your hamburger, you can get your roast beef, you can get your fried chicken. You have your choice of about five different sides, mostly potato-based. It all looks a bit sad and washed out.

I decide on the grilled chicken. If you get the "combo", you get a side and a drink. I go to order. There's at least three girls doing something behind the counter but no one is actually at a register and no one comes up to take my order. I wait. Still none of the girls come up to a register. Another person walks up in line behind me. Still no one steps to a register. I look at the guy behind me, maybe he can figure it out. He just shrugs.

Finally, a girl comes to a register. "Can I take your order?"

"I'd like the combination of the grilled chicken and mashed potatoes."

"If you want to add a drink, then you can make it a 'combo,'" she tells me, very happy to be saving me some money. I stop for a moment, wanting to explain that "combo" is actually short for "combination," then realize that it probably would just confuse her, so I nod and agree that that's what I want. She takes my money and hands me a soda cup.

I go to the soda machine which proudly declares that with a touch of a button, I could have one of four types of soda from the same spicket. Although they are different varieties of Coke (diet, sugar-filled, caffeine: yes or no), they are all brown varieties and I am suspicious. I go to the one that is dedicated to Diet Coke, knowing that all the sodas could be the exact same brown variety, but, for some reason, I am trusting this spicket a bit more.

When I get my chicken, I see that it is simply a hunk of chicken on a bun. Nothing more. There is a "Fixin's Bar" for anything else. I shake my head a bit. Roy Rogers can't even give me a bit of lettuce and some mayo. Instead they take the naked route, unwilling to commit to any toppings for your sandwich. I don't think this is the best strategy. McDonald's proudly lists what's on a Big Mac; Burger King may say that special orders won't upset them, but they have a bunch of stuff already slathered on and you have to "hold the pickles." I "fix" my chicken.

I suppose you're not tempted to dawdle with a meal like this. You eat and you get on the road. I had my book but barely read three pages. I look around and sigh. Time to get back to driving.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Do you want to know a secret?

Did you ever think we'd be cheering Joe Leiberman? But the guy came through (with Susan Collins, to give full credit.) "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is now gone, and, maybe, we'll all be a touch more tolerant.

John McCain: Shut up. Seriously, you do not get it. "...we are doing great damage." Really? Please explain. Oh, yes, that study. The one where a majority of military members and their spouses would be absolutely fine with serving alongside openly gay members. But John McCain would rather troll down to the numbers that support his opinion. That certain subgroups don't like the idea of repealing DADT. And maybe that is true, but perhaps McCain would better serve unity in the troops if he, as a war hero, would step forward and make a plea for acceptance. Maybe if he put it out there that it won't make a difference if someone is gay or not, maybe the combat troops would think, "you know, he's right."

Here's what McCain has to say about the conclusions, "I think they're mature enough to make a judgment on who they want to serve with and the impact on their battle effectiveness." You know, I wish I could take a survey about who I want to work alongside, because I'd pick "no intolerant jerks."

"A sad day in history." Oh, John McCain, grow up.

Friday, December 17, 2010

I'm so sick of words!

I am editing an entry for a writing competition. At this point, the entry is mostly written, but I am approximately 100 words over (I get 3000 for the entire entry.) It is time to trim away the unnecessary words, the extra phrases that aren't helping the cause.

The "a's" and "the's" are smug; they know that although they don't really add anything, they're more or less mandatory for proper grammar. The adverbs are nervous. The adjectives are weighing themselves against each other: is the day both "sunny" and "perfect"? Maybe one of them will have to go.

There are whole sentences that think they're safe, but with one swoop, they're nothing but a memory. The surrounding sentences are shocked. They were just next to that sentence and now it's gone! Then they relax for a bit; they're safe for now. But the panic comes back: what if the entire paragraph goes? They check the word count: it's very close. It's doubtful a whole paragraph will go. But, wait, are there words being added? That can't be good.

The nouns try to be confident, but they know that the focus could shift. Those damn pronouns might take over. The verbs know they're needed to keep things going but are there too many? They eye each other; they are the most aggressive of words after all, always itching for a fight.

I am down to 36 to go. I curse the electronic submission process, as it doesn't allow me to cheat. Some of the words are getting annoyed. "You've seen us a hundred times. Just move on. You clearly want us around. Why don't you go after Page 4 for a while?" I skip to the next section and the words on that page breathe a sigh of relief.

I'm a bit sad at the thought of getting rid of any words. Words are valuable. Something made me put them to the page and now: poof! As I edit, I hope the words understand. Someday I might go back to them. Someday I might need them again.

I close my eyes for a moment, thinking of those stray words. I am dreaming that they are still there: forming their own story for later.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Don't get me wrong; I love the show, but I have to wonder: does anyone watch "The Simpsons" anymore? It's still on, right? There are new episodes coming out and I'm sure they're brilliant and funny as always, but is anyone watching them? Are there folks out there who are catching that latest episode on Sunday so they can chat about it at work on Monday?

It seems like the Simpsons have been around forever. In fact, "The Simpsons" have been on the air since 1989 as a half-hour show. Before that, they lived as shorts on "The Tracey Ullman Show" for a couple of years. Think about that for a minute. You have college graduates that have never lived in a world without Homer choking Bart.

Even before that, I was a big fan of Matt Groening's brilliant "Life in Hell" comics. The first time I caught a Simpson short, I shouted, "Matt Groening!" and, I admit, I thought I was pretty cool, being ahead of the trend there. (This does not happen often, so I have to really hold onto these moments.)

Remember when "The Simpsons" was must-see television? Maybe it still is but I'm no longer the demographic. It's not because of any quality issue, but I haven't watched "The Simpsons" in years. This makes me sort of sad, but I have the feeling I'd watch and think, "It's not as funny as it used to be."

I've been scrolling through an episode list of those first seasons when I used to watch religiously and they're all so chock-full of great stuff. Maybe "The Simpsons" is like SNL in that you watch when you're "that age" and you love those episodes/cast from that era, but then you insist that it'll never be as good as when you watched. I'm still quoting from "Treehouse of Horror III" when I figure something out ("There's your problem -- this doll's set to evil.")

I am amazed at the world that was created by The Simpsons. Is there a show that ever existed that has so many characters, so much history? You know Springfield. You know who lives there and their backstories. Crazy Cat Lady! Disco Stu! I don't know the name of the character Joe Mantegna plays on "Criminal Minds" but I do know he's Fat Tony on "The Simpsons." I love that "The Simpsons" has given us that world.

And, in case you were wondering, my favorite episode of all time: "Last Exit to Springfield."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Go to sleep

When you really think about it, sleep is a very weird thing. Who thought this would be a good idea? If you believe in God, why was sleep created? Why not have Your creatures be awake for all the hours of the day and night to see as much of the world as possible? If you are an evolution fan, how was this a trait that was even selected? How is being unconscious for about a third of the day making you more likely to survive? We must have been competing against the creatures who were sleeping 12 hours a day or something. Although somehow cats made it.

I wish I could get back that sleeping time. I'm not greedy, I don't need all of it: just give me two hours back every night. I'm pretty sure I'd waste most of that time, but I'd still like the option of having that extra time to still not exercise.

There are nights that I start to overthink sleeping. I lie in bed, close my eyes, and think, okay, how do I do this again? What if I forget how to sleep? I am lying there, trying to remember, how did I fall asleep last night? What was in my head? What was not in my head? It's not like walking or eating -- you can't show someone how to sleep. You can do things that might help you sleep, but there isn't some magical formula.

There are nights where I can't even figure out what to do with my body. It's usually one of my arms. It's just in the way. I can't remember if I sleep on it or do I put my head on it or is it off to the side, and every  way I move just doesn't feel right. It feels like I have this extra thing on my body. Seriously, how have I been sleeping with this all these years?

Of course, there are nights when you get that delicious chunk of sleep. When you just magically drift off and wake up eight hours later, feeling absolutely refreshed. Those are lovely nights, but also frustrating. What did I do to get that great sleep? Can I do it again? Why can't I do it again? But, alas, the next night is never as good.

I hope you are a good sleeper. I am jealous, but happy for you. No matter how you sleep, tonight, I wish you good sleep.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Never been kissed

Clearly, I can't stop talking about "Glee" and how they keep getting it wrong. Take this week's episode. It could have been good. It's timely and relevant, and they dropped the ball. That's why I get so frustrated with this show. If they didn't have good ideas, if they didn't have a talented cast, if they didn't have the ability to pull together something amazing, I could just dismiss the whole thing. But they could get it right and they seem to always pick the wrong direction.

There's a bunch of things wrong with this episode, but I want to focus on the kisses. We'll start with Kurt. The minute I saw that bully pushing Kurt around, I knew they were going to have him be secretly gay with a big-ol' crush on Kurt. Why "Glee," why? Because the reality is that, more often than not, bullies are not people with secret crushes on you but, rather, simply assholes. So instead of addressing a real issue that exists today: that there are bullies out there who will physically assault you because you are different, "Glee" chooses the, "oh, I'll bet they're pulling your hair because they think you're so cute route." That's totally the right choice. That'll help all the bullied kids out there.

But there was a moment that they could have saved it. When Kurt told Blaine that the kiss from the bully was his first kiss, there was a moment that was so sad and deep and true. That was a moment you really felt for a character, where you couldn't help but look back on all those little milestones in your life. I really felt for Kurt, that his first kiss would never be a sweet, little stolen moment but rather this mix of violence and confusion and self-hatred. That his first kiss would never be something special. Which brings me to the Coach Beiste kiss. I know most of the attention has been focused on Kurt's kiss, but, frankly, I find the Coach Beiste storyline much more offensive.

Okay, I get the joke: Coach Beiste isn't a pretty, size 2-shaped lady so we can make fun of her! That is funny! Thanks "Glee" for reminding women that they need to be Hollywood-pretty in order to be kissed.  That's a great message. Just remember that, girls: you can be smart and sweet and career-minded, but if you ain't pretty, you ain't getting kissed. Unless (hope and pray for this, ladies), the fabulous Mr. Shue can feel sorry for you and give you a pity kiss. (And, seriously, is there a woman Mr. Shue won't kiss?) I'm sure that's exactly what Coach Beiste had in mind for her first kiss. At least Kurt's kiss was from someone who was attracted to him.

I'm not expecting "Glee" to solve the problems of the world. But if they choose to take on issues, they should try to do a better job. This could have been an amazing episode. Let me write the second half of the episode. Kurt ends up talking to Coach Beiste about being different in high school. Maybe he thinks she's gay. She tells him that, although she's not gay, yeah, high school did suck for her, but she found she could turn to things she loved to do, a support system (which he's in the process of finding with the glee club and his new friends at the other high school), and a good family. Now she's got this great social life and she was just named "Lima's Hottest Single Gal." She tells Kurt he can come to her, give her the names of the guys on the team who are giving him grief, and she'll make them pay -- it'll be their little secret. The last scene has Coach Beiste getting picked up after school for a date with an extremely hot guy. Kurt catches her eye as the date takes her by the arm, and Coach Beiste smiles and says, "It gets better."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

NaNoWriMo (beep beep-pah beep beep)

It's that time of year: not the holidays, but the push to write a novel in a month. November is National Novel Writing Month (a/k/a NaNoWriMo). The idea to to knock out 50,000 words (which amounts to a short novel) in one month. Of course, that's a pretty high word count in a quick period, so it's unlikely that the novel you write will be ready-to-go on December 1. In fact, if you go to their website, they make it quite clear that what you will be write will need revision and this is just a start. The idea is to push yourself to write.

In case the task wasn't intimidating enough, a few days ago, there was a piece in Salon urging people to not do NaNoWriMo. The author of the article argued that there were enough bad books out there and that people should stop writing and start reading. (Her evidence that writers don't read was really just "I was talking to a guy at a party...") She brought up a lot of other reasons to not do it, and, needless to say, the defenders of NaNoWriMo came out in full force. Which made me start to think about why I did it and how it affected me.

You may remember that I took this on last year. As I'd written virtually no fiction in my life, I figured what better way to dip my toe in the pool than to cough up 50,000 words in a month? At the time I thought it was crazy (and it was), but it was really a good thing for me to do. When you have to generate about 2000 words a day, you can't waste time mulling over whether or not the words you are writing are "worthy." You write and write. The edit button has to be off. This freed me up to let go of any inhibitions I was having about writing fiction.

At the end of the month, I'd done it. I was sitting on over 50,000 words, a good start to a novel. But, truly, I needed to not see it anymore. I put it away and, until recently, had done very little with it, and without enthusiasm. This was fine; I had other bits of writing to take care of, and this would be there when I was ready. A couple of months ago, I was finally brave enough to seriously look at what I had written last November, and it wasn't half bad. Since then, I've done some shifts to the story, I've made a lot (a lot) of edits, although surprisingly, not as many (or as deep) as I anticipated. (Although I haven't gotten into the end-of-November writing from last year. Keep your fingers crossed that I wasn't completely insane by that time.)

The point is that without NaNoWriMo, I may have given up on the story or stopped at 10,000 words or flitted to another project. Before last November, I looked at my writing as a hobby, as something I was dabbling in. Sure, I had a blog and a few ideas for stories I might write some day, but this was just spare-time stuff. NaNoWriMo told me to keep pressing on, to not be afraid of that silly idea in my head because, if nothing else, I need the wordcount. Now, I have a book. I wrote a book! Not a long book and (at this point) not a finished book, but it's there. A book. And now I have to say, yes, I am a writer.

Friday, October 22, 2010


My writing assignment for today a short autobiography/personal statement. The reason isn't important, but I want to sum up my story into a paragraph or so. I am not having a lot of success. This is both too long and too short. I am staring at the page, coming up with the occasional phrases here and there, most of which I delete almost as quickly as I write them.

How will I introduce myself? I start to wonder how other people approach this. When you meet someone, what do you tell them about yourself? I know it depends on where you meet them: interview, party, PTA meeting, but let's pretend you've been invited to be on "Oprah" (and for her last season! What an honor!) What is she telling the studio audience before you come onstage?

To add to the frustration of this task, I also made up cards: sort of business cards with my contact information. I figure it would be easier to have a card with my phone number, email address, blog address, that sort of thing, rather than roaming around in my bag, looking for a scrap of paper to write down the information. Some of it was easy: address, phone number, but then: title. Hmm. Title, what would you put as your title? I went back and forth with this for a bit, but decided that the best label was none at all.

Maybe I'm still sorting things out. Maybe I don't want to be labeled just yet. My story is still coming together. I am a scientist, a writer, a reader, an ex-wife, a sister, an explorer, a sleeper (late note: a snorer), a fan of low-brow television, a friend, a photographer, a stubborn pain-in-the-ass, an aunt, a dreamer, a realist. And the best thing is that there's more to come.

But I still am not sure how I should write my autobiography. A whole paragraph.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I've been thinking about why I write. I'm sure there's an aspect of selfishness: telling my story, my way, with my point of view. But I wonder, is my story that different from anyone else's? And that, deep down, is the question: how different is my story and, frankly, how different do I want it to be?

I realize that I want people to feel something when they read what I write. I want them to relate or, if nothing else, think about an issue or a time in their lives. But at the same time, I want to own that story. The emotions tied to these stories are mine, and I wonder if I'm giving up something by sharing a story. Am I giving away a part of my self? Even if I am, is this a bad thing?

The answer, of course, is that this is not a bad thing at all. I completely want the reader to take this part of me and pull into into themselves. At the same time, these emotions I have surrounding what I write, they are mine. The reader may have their version of emotions tied into the story, and that's alright. In fact, it's better than just "alright." If I can write something that stirs someone's emotions, I have succeeded. And I can't think of anything better than that.

Friday, October 8, 2010

In the air tonight

I thought I was done with being annoyed at Phil Collins when the '90s were over. Alas, he is back, with an album that is only interesting when you are debating if it is mostly self-indulgent or mostly just lazy?

If you haven't heard about this album (which I find hard to believe -- the guy is everywhere! [Note to self: hire Phil Collins' publicist.]), it's an album of Motown covers. Now I have nothing against a good cover. In fact, a good one can bring a song to a new place. But for this very special album, Phil wanted to recreate the songs note for note, so he worked to get all the music and background to sound exactly the same as the original songs. Let's think about this for just a moment. Say you're flipping around that radio dial and "Heatwave" comes on. Is this what you're thinking: "Man, this is one great song! Well, except I'd much rather have Phil Collins singing it. That Martha Reeves -- her voice is weak. I need the nasal twang of a British drummer!"

It's karaoke, plain and simple. It's lazy and vain. If he didn't have a name (and, really, I thought he was over), there's no way he'd get away with this nonsense. In one interview, he said that this going back to older music speaks to the current state of music. Isn't he supposedly a singer/songwriter/musician type? If you don't like what's going on in music today, do something about it. You have the means to push it a bit. You don't need a big hit. But, no, you'd rather just whine and rerecord something no one needs.

And, seriously, Phil Collins, get your own pop culture. Did you know he has one of the largest collections of Alamo memorabilia? That's weird, right?

I swear, if he touches the Stax catalog...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

We beseech thee!

Let's address the Jesus debate here. Not the "did he exist one" -- that's for lightweights and late night talks in college. No, let's hit the hard one: who is the cooler Jesus: "Godspell" Jesus or "Jesus Christ Superstar" Jesus? I am shocked to learn that some of my friends (or, should I say, former friends) are actually saying it's Godspell Jesus! I know! They are wrong.

I am not dissing either musical (although I could). Of course "JCS" lead to the monster that is now Andrew Llyod Webber, but this happened when he was young and hungry and the world wasn't tired of his overblown nonsense. The real-life story of how they got this show into production is actually kind of cool and scrappy. They only had enough money to record the title track single, which, lucky for them, became a top-40 hit. This gave them enough money to record the entire album (fun fact: the whip songs of the 39 lashes were recorded in a bathroom), which also became a hit, which allowed funding of the actual musical.

"JCS" shaped how I viewed religion. These characters were real people. They got angry and scared and unsure of what they were doing and crazy. They made choices about what they were doing. They weren't magical or perfect, and they had to work at what they believed. I loved that Jesus was afraid to die and that Judas wasn't sure if he should sell out Jesus (spoiler: he does). As a kid, when you learn that sometimes adults don't want to do certain things, that's a big deal, but when you learn that Jesus didn't want to do what he was expected to do, well, that blew my mind a little bit.

If you're not familiar with "Godspell", then you haven't been attending folk mass. Growing up Catholic in the '70s as a child of parents who love community theater, I probably saw roughly 216 versions of "Godspell." If "JCS" was the angst-ridden, moody version of religion, "Godspell" gave us the joy of religion. "JCS" was a Production; "Godspell" was a bunch of kids jumping around in make-up and crazy outfits, getting you to sing and clap along. "JCS" is a rock opera; "Godspell" is fly-by-the-seat-of-your-(striped)-pants.

Here's an awesome thing they both have in common: Jesus doesn't rise from the dead. Both shows end after Jesus is crucified. You have to decide what happens next. You get to tell the rest of the story.

But we're not here to debate the shows; we're here to address the Jesus question. The only "JCS" Jesus I accept was the original, and that was Ian Gillan; "Godspell" Jesus is shown below, and if I have to tell you who is cooler, I can't help you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A quick nerdy story from my past

When I worked at Rohm & Haas, these were the mornings that Chol would come into our lab, look up from his coffee, smile sadly at my boss, and say, "I didn't get the call this morning either." He'd shake his head and go back to his lab.

(I also have a story where I was talking on the phone to a professor at Cornell and we were getting all excited about comparing upright freezer to coffins, and we both realized how nerdy we sounded so we quickly hung up.)

Ah, the memories of a science geek...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Oh, Glee, why can't you do it right?

I want to like "Glee." I really do. I really should. I was not a cool kid. I was in band and the honors classes in high school. And just in case you didn't get the dork memo, I played bassoon. I may have even had a year I was in the show choir. I've had a serious debate with a friend over which was the cool Jesus: Jesus Christ Superstar Jesus or Godspell Jesus. I love the idea that someone wanted to do a show that features talented kids bursting into song and dance. But "Glee" misses the mark.

Before we go any further, I want to point out that I am not a loyal viewer of "Glee." I've seen about a third of the episodes, so I have a pretty good idea as to what's going on, but, no, I don't know all the details. I can't sustain watching it because of the issues I have with the show. First of all, it doesn't know what it wants to be. Are you a serious high school drama? Are you a cartoon? Are you a musical? I don't want to force anything into a box, but it feels like the show doesn't really know what to be, so sometimes there is a real reason to break into song but sometimes they have to come up with fantasy sequences and it just feels forced. Either give into the crazy of the football team breaking into "Single Ladies" or only have the performances when it makes sense.

It's even more forced when they have the "theme" weeks. The Madonna episode, the Britney episode -- just a series of stories twisted in a way to get certain songs in. Maybe everyone else thought Sue Sylvester doing "Vogue" was hilarious, but it just didn't fit with who she is on the show. And I am over just re-doing the videos. What is the point in that? I get that Heather Morris is an amazing singer and dancer, but when I watched the Britney episode, it took me a few minutes to realize that they weren't simply showing the actual videos. The sad thing is that when they take the songs and do something interesting with them, it is incredible to watch. The best thing I've seen on "Glee" was the Cheerios on stilts with Kurt and Mercedes doing "Four Minutes." Stilts! And it's also the kind of thing that a squad would actually perform at a pep rally. That shows me what "Glee" could be but instead they seem to be content with stringing redone videos together and trying to put together a storyline.

There are good characters and obviously talented actors but the show isn't using them right. Most of the characters want to be something, maybe even want a real storyline, but are forced into situations to fit songs. Would Emma, after being a virgin for so long, with all the questions she must have about her relationship with Will, really give in to sleep with him at that point in their relationship, or was it convenient to allow her to croon "Like a Virgin" because they happen to be doing the Madonna episode? There's so much back and forth: "I'm empowered! I'm not!" that seems to be tied to when they get the rights to a song rather than actual character development.

Oh "Glee," I really want to like you. But I'd rather see the original videos for now.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Whop! about to slip down

Oh, New York Times, why do you love people of a certain age so much? (Hint: not anyone under 40.) Let's talk about this article:

I know the reaction to this article is supposed to be, oh that's terrible! Oh, that's so sad! What a tragedy it is to be an older America! But let's look at the numbers. The Times very helpfully points out that, horrors! 2.2 million people over the age of 55 are unemployed. They also point out that there are a total of 14.9 million total unemployed, which suddenly makes that first number a bit less significant. Do a bit math. Of all the folks that are unemployed, only 13.6% are over the age of 55. Even if you chunk up the other groups into 10-year incriments: 16-25 years old, 26-35, 36-45, and 46-55, each of these groups would average a rate of 21.6%. Which is much higher than the group which includes a wider range of ages.

Maybe that math is a bit of speculation. Let's go to some straight-forward figures. The article points out that the unemployment rate for the over-55 group is at a record (for them) 7.3%, which would be sad if you didn't realize that the overall unemployment rate is over two percent higher at 9.6%. But, wait a minute, the poverty level for this group increased to 9.4%! Of course, the article doesn't mention that the overall poverty level is 14.3%, which means that this group: still better off than most.

I don't really want to pick on an individual, but I have to assume that the NYT picked the woman they focused on as "typical" of this group of unemployed individuals, so I will point out some specifics from the article. I just have a really hard time feeling sorry for her. Her house is paid off (her 3000 square feet of house. That overlooks "the sound."); there's no mention of kids or college tuition draining the pocketbook. When she was first laid off, instead of gathering together a nest egg, she went on two vacations that had to cost at least $10,000 -- a sum most of us would (or more likely need to) hold onto for those pesky bills. Sure, they have approximately $7000/year in property taxes -- less than $700 a month, which is a hell of a lot less than my mortgage. Her husband is still working. In other words, they're doing alright financially. This is not a story of a person who's going to be packing her stuff into a car and camping out there.

The article spends a certain amount of time regarding the "difficult" job search for this age group. But is it really ageism? Even by her own admission, she isn't exactly keeping up with technology. The good news is that she's only waited FOUR years to take a course to maybe help catch her up. Another woman laments that “I don’t feel like I can compete with kids who have been on computers all their lives." Really? Let's say you started working on computers in 1990, which isn't exactly an early adapter -- you should have about 20 years of experience on a computer, unless, of course, you chose to keep your skill set in the 1980's. I recently interviewed a person of a certain age who, when I asked him about the idea of electronic submission (a requirement by the FDA), he basically told me that he was pretty comfortable using Word. Should I be recommending a "hire" for someone who isn't even up to the industry standard just because he's over 60?

The article also compare the average time it takes to find a job for the 55-64 group versus 16-54. That's a pretty big range there. You've got your older group, who have certain salary expectations, experience levels, education, etc, compared to a group that includes high school students. I'd like to see how "easy" it is for that 45-54 group to roll into a new job. The other thing that isn't in that statistic is how quickly each group jumps into the job market or the expectations for a job. I'm guessing that most people in their 50's or higher aren't going after those entry-level jobs.

Unemployment sucks, as does job hunting. It is no fun to send out resumes and have month upon month of rejection or, even worse, no responses at all. But it sucks for all of us. And it sucks a lot more for the 30-something with kids and a mortgage and no vacations to Turkey -- not for the 50- or 60-something with the paid-off house and healthcare.

Friday, September 10, 2010

This is not Freedom of Speech

Let's get this straight: Terry Jones is a terrorist. Oh, you're not sure? Here is the United Nation's definition of terrorism: "Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them." This completely fits this situation. I know people who are flying tomorrow and I have to say, I'm a bit worried. Because people are nuts and overreact, and that's exactly what this jerk Terry Jones is counting on.
So, we can all agree on that the guy is a terrorist. He is using threats to get his way. And now I wonder why hasn't he been arrested? Why do we (really: The Press) keep talking to this guy? Why do we give him the power? I know that The Press is being the weapon here. That if they could have managed to ignore this guy and this act, it would have all went away. It's a story because The Press made it a story. They're also responsible.

That aside, why isn't Terry Jones in jail? He's a terrorist. He's threatening to perform a hate crime. (Don't think so? Well, here's what wiki has to say about hate crimes: "Hate crimes [also known as bias-motivated crimes] occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group, usually defined by racial group, religion, sexual orientation, disability, class, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, gender identity, or political affiliation. 'Hate crime' generally refers to criminal acts which are seen to have been motivated by hatred of one or more of the listed conditions. Incidents may involve physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, or offensive graffiti or letters [hate mail].") He is a criminal. Criminals belong in jail.

Personally, I'd like to just erase this whole thing. Ignore him. Pretend he's one of those crazy guys on the street, shouting at your car, don't make eye contact. Just drive and maybe he'll shut up. But it's too late. We've started trying to have a conversation with him. We're pretending that he might have a point. Now we have to do something. We have a choice. We can let this guy comtinue to commit crimes and let the Muslim world watch us let him commit crimes, or we can throw him in jail. If we saw a guy kicking a dog, we wouldn't say, "oh, that's just performance art. That's just how he expresses himself." No, he'd be in jail. Not saying that someone should be blowing up an airplane over this, but I can get someone being pissed off that nothing is being done about a guy openly committing a crime.
I just am very much looking forward to September 12. And ignoring this guy.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tears are in your eyes

Today I am thinking about friends that come and go through our lives. Some of us have lives full of transitions and, try as we might, we lose contact. We want to remain close, but we have moved: to a new job, to a new location, to a new life. We want to keep the dialogue going, but there is so many other things that creep into our lives, as well as theirs, and suddenly it's been a year since you last talked to them.

Let me tell you about Vicki. Vicki and I were in the Binns lab when I was in grad school. She was a postdoc, and we just clicked. Do you have a friend who just gets you? That friend that when you're just starting the joke, she sees exactly where you're going and starts to laugh even before you're there? That was Vicki. Binns called us The Match Made in Hell. We would tell each other about our lives, our worries, everything. We both moved to Philadelphia the same summer, and, although it would be years until we actually met, we would act like we shared even that: that horrible hot summer when we weren't sure if we should move to this new place, the weather telling us that we made some sort of mistake.

We were both public university gals: I went to the University of Toledo, Vick went to Temple. I would tease her with the current ad campaign: "You could have gone anywhere, but you chose Temple!" We both hated graduate school, although she was actually finished while I was still struggling. She wouldn't wear a digital watch because there was an assay she had to run throughout grad school that required her to keep time on a digital watch. When she finally graduated, she threw the watch away and vowed to never wear another digital watch.

She had gotten married young and had two kids already. I was still single when I first met her, so her life seemed much more complex to me (and of course it was). She and Konrad were juggling the family as well as their postdocs. They worried about funding, they worried about their house, they wondered if their kids were in a good school system. She overindulged her kids but she knew it. She would laugh at herself and tell me that she'd hate her kids if they weren't hers but, God, she loved those kids. She'd do anything for them, although they'd make her nuts.

We both hated playing games: once at a lab party Binns forced us to play Pictionary. We rolled our eyes and said that we would but be prepared to go down. Hard. Because we just knew what the other person was thinking. I remember one clue. I drew a circle and a line and a half-circle over the circle. "Car," guessed Vick. I pointed to the circle. "Oh, tire!" They accused us of cheating and then let us not play anymore, which was fine by us.

We would bring in books and music for each other. We would recommend movies and tv shows. I don't remember what I gave her but she gave me Sarah Vowell and David Sedaris and "Buffy" and so many things I can't even keep track of them all. But there are times, I'm listen to a song or reflecting on a book, and I remember, oh, yes, this was one of Vicki's gifts to me.

I loved the way she'd present her data. She was a casual speaker; she presented complex data as if she were just having a conversation with you. She told you a story. When she would go to other talks, she could tell right away if the speaker knew what he was talking about. We had this sign language: we'd wave out hands slightly to indicate that the speaker was just "hand waving." The Story: that was the goal of research. Did you have a good story?

I don't remember exactly when she told me her mom had breast cancer, but she immediately got herself checked. They didn't find anything. Go deeper, check again, she insisted. And then they found the tiniest thing. It was so tiny. It was hardly anything. And this tiny, tiny thing led to years of treatment. But our lives were changing. I got married, I finished graduate school, she took the job up in Allentown. We were in touch, but it was different. But she beat it. She beat the cancer. That's what she was told.

She got me a part time job in Allentown, so we did see each other while I was teaching there. Everything was fine now. The labs looked great. She had gotten a double mastectomy. Women's clothes didn't fit her, so she was going to get implants. I offered to be a donor. We didn't talk about the cancer; she had other friends for that. She told me that she liked hanging out with me because I didn't ask "How are you?" with that tone: I just wanted to gossip.

Everything was fine. For years. At one point we both had jobs in a suburb of Philadelphia, so we'd go to lunch regularly, but that was only for a few months. I got a new job and we stopped seeing other regularly. It's a busy time, we'll be back in touch soon. The kids were in high school, I had a new job, I was moving, Konrad had exciting new research and they were thinking of moving to Boston.

I remember that phone call. We were supposed to get together for dinner -- it had been too long. But she had caught a pretty nasty cold and was calling to postpone. It was October, and I can close my eyes and can hear her, "I'm scared that it's more than a cold." I assured her it wasn't. I didn't want to believe it either. It had been way more than 5 years. Wasn't that the magic number? Dammit, that's the deal! More than 5 years and you get a pass!

But it wasn't just a cold.

The last time I saw Vicki was at a Binns lab reunion. We joked, just like old times. We talked about going to Rome. We talked about so much. We vowed that we'd stay in touch, but life kept us busy. But it was only an occasional email, and nothing much more than that. I kept promising myself that next time I'd drive up to Allentown, but I was dealing with a new job, moving, all those things.

One night I dreamt that Vicki was up for a major promotion and I needed to testify before Congress. She was in the front row, talking (joking and laughing actually) with the chairwoman as we all went on stage to talk about how awesome Vicki was, how she touched our lives. Vicki was smiling, so happy to hear all of this. It was such a sweet dream. When I woke up, I thought about it for a while, and I realized that this was a memorial. I googled and found she had died about a month ago.

I hate that my life has become one where I have these amazing, close friends for a period and then you lose touch. I hate that I didn't have one last visit.

Most of all, I hate that she's gone. Because I miss her all the time.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Her jaw aches from wanting and she's sick from chlorine

My middle name is Margaret. I'll confess that when I was a kid I didn't like the name. Margaret was old-fashioned and too long for a middle name. My friends' middle names were light and delicate, names like Ann or Lynn, grace notes to their first names, not this long, 8-letter thing that turned my first two names into a sort of a chant: An-ge-la-Mar-gar-et. Not only did no one my age have that name, with the popularity of "Are You There, God? It's me, Margaret?" no one wanted that as a name. I did everything I could to hide my middle name. Although I loved the book, I didn't want to be associated with someone obsessed with getting her period.

It took me a while to appreciate Margaret as a name. I was named after my mom's favorite aunt who died young (so I never met her), but when you're seven, being named after someone doesn't mean much. You don't realize that it's an honor, an extra dab of love placed on you. But as I got older and listened to the relatives who knew Aunt Margaret talk about her so fondly, telling stories about how wonderful she was, I started thinking that it was pretty cool that I had her name.

I must admit, I didn't really start to like Margaret until I found characters named Margaret in books I loved. I find that in literature, Margarets tend to be my kind of gals: Margaret Schlegel ("Howard's End"), Margaret Hale ("North and South"), Meg Murry ("A Wrinkle in Time"), Margaret Ibbotson ("Deerbrook"), just to name a few. They're smart, sensible, no-nonsense, strong women. They're not flighty or weak. Margaret isn't the pretty sister, but she's the interesting one. Margaret gets right boy in the end, but you knew all along she'd make it work out; you just know that she's going to have a very happy life. I want to be those Margaret's. I like to pretend that we're all a part of this awesome sorority. Our mothers named us knowing that we'd be worthy of this group of women.

Now I love Margaret. I'm proud to have it as a name. Because, in the end, we Margarets will make it all work out.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hey ladies in the place I'm callin' out to ya

There's some fuss going around the internet about the New York Times book reviews: who they review (mostly white guys) and how they review them (they *love* white guys). I've got a few thoughts about this. (It should be noted that there are some really interesting pieces out there, so if this catches your attention, take a few minutes to google about.)

Women do behave differently than men. I see it in the workplace where the women will all tell you about their kids and the crazy things their husband did and how they've got to leave early because they have to pick up Little Susie from daycare, while with most of the men I work with I'm not sure who has kids and who doesn't. I understand that a lot of the childcare responsibility falls on women, and in many (most?) cases, that's the choice of the couple.

But do women behave differently because there's something different about us (nature/instinct) or are we expected to behave a certain way (nurture/social pressure)?

I'm always torn with these women vs. men arguments. On one hand, it isn't fair out there, and most (if not all) women have been treated differently (at work and otherwise) just because they're women, but on the other hand, women do sometimes bring it up themselves. A couple of us were looking at a website of this (female) corporate coach and she had a page specifically dedicated to her personal life. Would a man put information about their partner, pets, and home on their professional website? I'd say it was less likely.

Look at your facebook friends' pictures. How many women have their kids or pets or hubbies as their profile pictures compared to the men? I know that facebook is supposed to be social, that it's not a professional site, but it does speak a bit as to how women and men define themselves. Are women comfortable just being themselves or do women (perhaps overly) define themselves as wife or mother?

It is a bit of the chicken and the egg. Women often take the lead at home, which, of course, would lead to a person talking about that part of their life. But are women taking the lead in dealing with the kids and housework because they want to or because society shoves it down their throats? (If you don't think that society still views Mom as the one who takes care of the kids, just watch a handful of the back-to-school ads: see who's sending little Jimmy off to his first day of school. Spoiler: it's not Daddy. I don't know why, but this year it's just pissing me off more than usual. Really, ad agencies? You can't have ONE dad drop the kid off or take her to the bus stop or pack a lunch? Because Dads do sometimes buy the Wonder Bread in real life.)

Do the experiment: watch tv commercials for an hour. Just flip around the stations, get a good mix. You'll easily have a hundred images of women doing the housework, taking care of the kids, shopping for groceries while the men grill and work on computers and maybe try unsuccessfully to help out around the house (but thank GOD Mom can save the day!) Even if you say don't agree personally, that your man does more than his share or you're fully liberated, how can that not be a part of what's in your brain? (Even the damn Dyson commercial -- sure, the guy invented it, but they person they show actually vacuuming is a woman.)

So when the NYT doesn't review women writers as often or as gushy, it's sending a bit of a message. All those images are with us. And this may make us believe that maybe we do deserve different treatment. With the images of vacuuming and doing the wash with your heels on (it's in the current Color-Catcher commercial -- I'm not making that up. Pisses me off every time. She's all happy in her goddam HEELS to be doing her hubbie's wash with hers -- she no longer has to separate the laundry!) women may feel that we do need to apologize for something if we're busy writing books instead of doing the dishes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dipping in the pocket of her raincoat

What do you do every day? Besides sleep, eat, brush your teeth, is there something you do that is maybe something that not everyone does? I was thinking about this the other day. I am on Day 347 of my 365 experiment. (Just to clarify, I am in a Flickr group where we take a picture a day for a year.) The year is coming to a close, and I'm not sure if I will continue forward with this.

There are things I am doing every day to push myself to reach inside. I started writing in a journal at the beginning of the year, and I do that every day. I love doing that. I think about the past day, I revisit little things that bugged me and sometimes I can actually sort them out. I have a page to fill, to analyze my day, to just vent or shout with joy. This isn't my first go-around with keeping a journal, but it's been about 15 years or so.

I have also started this other daily ritual where I list five things a day that bring me joy. I started thing because I sometimes feel that I'm a negative person and this is an attempt to help me shake this. I need to remind myself that there truly is so much to be thankful for, that I have a lot of really awesome things in my life. It's very Oprah but it actually seems to work on most days. I try to not repeat myself too often, but there are days that my only thought is "thank God for coffee!" But even if I list coffee (again) I still have to come up with four more things those days. Reflecting on the good things in my life is not a bad habit, so I'll stick with this one for a while.

I was blogging every day, but that got to be a bit much. I feel like I should be posting more than I am (I thank you for your patience), but, to be fair, I'm also doing other writing which is just more private. Maybe I should have a blog posting on my every day list, but, for now I want to be writing when the spirit moves me.

There are things I should do: exercise, eat five fruits and vegetables, drink eight glasses of water. I start to think of all these things and wonder if I really started adding all these assignments, will I have time for the unexpected parts of my life? I shouldn't fill my life with assignments. I should let things happen without a schedule. (Yes, this is the reason I won't go running or eat those green beans. It's all about the creativity.)

Until September 1, taking a photo is on my everyday list. The question is: will it remain there? Should it remain there? Do I still want that obligation or should I free myself from the camera? There is something freeing about taking a picture when I want to, not because I need to. I don't want my life to be a series of checking off the list. But is removing something the best way to get more? I have two weeks to decide.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Where mocking birds used to sing

I recently went back to New Orleans, and had to make a stop at St. Louis Cemetery (#1, if you're getting specific). I love cemeteries. I can spend hours in even a small, local one. I love the peace, the history, the unknown stories that are all around. But there's something extra special about St. Louis Cemetery. It may be the way New Orleans wears religion and death, voodoo and a crucifix, like they all belong together. People leave flowers at the graves (fake, with bright, almost unnatural colors; the real thing wouldn't last very long in the New Orleans heat), and they also leave bottles of Tabasco, tubes of lip gloss, beads (of course), a pair of glasses. They leave bits of their lives, bits of the everyday. They draw the "XXX" on the side and make their wishes or give their offerings.

St. Louis is an unusual cemetery, especially for those of us used to the the tree-lined cemeteries where people are actually buried in the ground, in individual graves, clearly marked with stones or markers. St. Louis has vaults, where the bodies are placed, unembalmed, sealed away for a year as they decompose. After a year, there's nothing left but bones, bones that will mix with the other members of the vault. Some vaults are families, some are groups: workers of a certain union, the poor Spanish. St. Louis has no trees, so I find myself walking around in the bright sunlight and heat, the sounds of traffic in the distance. And yet there is still that cemetery vibe all around. People talk in hushed tones, they pause at certain places, saying silent prayers.

Some of the vaults are well-maintained, some are crumbling into piles of bricks. There are simple ones and ones with gates and statues. There are the famous, much-visited sites and there are the ones off in the corner with a few simple flowers. There is a statue of a child angel, beautiful against the cloudy sky, labeled simply with the oddly-adult name "Larry" and "1947-1949." I walk by all of them, wondering who is there, who is still here, thinking about them. I wonder who the last person was that placed their hand on the vault and whispered that they missed them.

Toward the end of my visit, a black cat crossed my path. For a moment I wondered what sort of omen this might be: is this a good thing? But as he rubbed his head against my leg, I knew that all he needed was a scratch or two behind his ears, which I happily gave him. He wasn't good luck or a bad sign; he was just a kitty, at home among the voodoo priestesses and former mayors of New Orleans.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Short a few credits

Recently I had a blip on my credit rating (a credit card that we [me and the former Mr. HP] thought we had canceled was not, there were late charges, bill got sent to an address neither of us have ever had, bill was unpaid. Bill is now paid.) One little blip, easily explained, taken care of immediately. But my credit rating plummeted, and will likely remain much lower for up to ten years! No, that isn't a typo.

This sort of thing just plays on my biggest fear: if I make one little mistake, if I stop paying attention for one moment, it'll all fall apart. And after it falls apart, it'll be so hard to fix. I just hate that feeling and things like this reenforce this fear.

But it did show me how flawed the credit system truly is. When I went to fix all this, I (obviously) checked my whole record and it's nothing but a series of green checks. Years of on-time payments of mortgages, credit cards, etc, not a scratch on the record, except for this blip. But as a result of this (explainable) blip, there goes 100 points. Oh, I also got dinged for opening new accounts last year: a new mortgage and new solo credit cards. But I moved and got a divorce! No matter, says the credit agencies -- you are clearly some sort of crazy risk to us.

I understand that the agencies exist for a reason. But that number should be a guide, not the be-all and end-all. Because mistakes happen. Moving and changes in people's lives happen. People have bad times in their lives, they get back on their feet, but maybe they let a couple of things slip. It shouldn't follow them for ten years!

As a result of this blip, I decided to get a new credit card (I tend to use one card for pretty much everything) through my bank. The bank I have been with for over 15 years. The bank that I have a fairly large sum of cash in savings with. The bank where I've never had an overdraft, never had any sort of issue with. I'm a fan of this bank, really I am. But I when I applied for this card: rejection! I called and got an approval for a small-ish credit limit (a few percent of what I have in the bank with them, I'd like to point out), but it was embarrassing and annoying.

I'm lucky. When something like this happens to me, I have back-ups. I can go to other places to pay for things. But if I were struggling, if I had waited to buy my house, if I lived paycheck to paycheck, this would have been a huge issue. For me, for now, this is an annoyance.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Modern medicine falls short

When I was a kid, I was terribly shy. This was not just simply a bit awkward in front of strangers. This was wishing-to-be-invisble shy. Wishing-to-disappear-into-the-floor shy. I didn't want to be called on in class; I didn't want to be noticed at all. It didn't bother me that I felt this way. I didn't want to be pulled out of my shell, I didn't want to have a spotlight. I was fine with my books and the couple of friends I had. I saw people around me that needed that attention, and that was fine by me.

As I got older, I saw some the advantages of not being shy. With my shyness, I found when I was noticed, I was almost too petrified to react, like a deer in the headlights. If I fought my shyness, maybe I could fit in a bit better. I realized that sometimes you had to put yourself out there. It was a scary thing for me. Maybe I cared too much about what other people were thinking about me. Maybe it was a sort of vanity, that people would even notice if I mispronounced a word or if I said something that didn't quite make sense.

I wonder about being shy. Is this one of those things that everyone feels now and again or is it just some of us? I look at some people and think that they've never felt shy for a moment. I see some people who always want to be noticed. I see people who are comfortable being the center of attention, who would go on stage in a minute. Me, I am always fighting that shyness on some level. There are moments that the shyness comes over me like a blanket.

True shyness is an emotion that only kids can have. A shy 4-year-old is cute in a way. As an adult, you have to interact with strangers, even if it's just to pick up the cleaning or paying for groceries; you have to give that presentation at work. I suppose as an adult (especially these days), you could craft an existence where you didn't have to interact with anyone, but then you'd be that weirdo cat lady who never leaves her house.

The fact is, these days I usually want some interaction with people. Sure, some of them get on my nerves, but that's not a shyness thing. I feel like I conquered that shyness I had. But there are times it sneaks up on me, and I just want to run away and hide for a bit. And I guess that's alright for a bit, but then I have to go back to fighting.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Through the lens

As I pass Day 300 of the 365 project, I am wondering what should happen on September 1, the day I hit 365. Should I go for 730? Just to clarify, I'm in a flickr group where you take one picture and only one picture to represent each day for a year. To see what I've been up to, you can go here:

It's been fun and interesting, and it's made me a bit less shy about whipping out the camera and grabbing a shot. It has taught me some things about how to use my camera (how to frame shots, super-cool filters for photographing the sky, things like that) and a tiny bit about editing my photos. I now carry my camera pretty much everywhere, just in case there's a shot. I look around wherever I go: maybe there's something interesting happening that needs to be captured. I see more sunrises and sunsets, flowers in bloom, writing on the wall, individuals in their worlds.

But I do worry that the camera sets up a barrier between me and the world. Watching the sun set through the camera is not the same as just watching it and experiencing what's around me. With a camera, I've got a limited piece of the sky. I can put on a filter that gives me some extra pinks and oranges but it's not the reality. I'm trying to get the best bit of the sky, spinning around as I look through the veiwer. What am I missing by trying to capture the world in a 4" x 6" picture?

There is a woman in the 365 group who is taking a picture a day of her baby and I wonder if she is missing out on something by waiting for her daughter to have that pose for the day. Does she get frustrated if she misses out on getting the picture when her daughter does something especially cute? Does she get annoyed if her daughter is having a cranky day and won't cooperate for the camera?

Sometimes it's best to just capture the moment in your own memory. The other day as I walked to work, a fox passed by. For a moment, I wanted to grab my camera, to get that shot, but then I decided against it. Instead, I just watched him pass. We looked at each other, nodded, and he went on his way. There was something a bit magical about that moment. I'm glad I didn't break the spell.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Religion and Morality by me, age 7

When I was a kid, I had some ideas about religion and I thought I'd share them with you. (I swear, I truly believed each of these.)

What is the best way to talk to God? You have to pray. It's kind of like dialing a telephone: you have to do the sign of the cross and all that. If you really want to get through to God as directly as possible, it's best to pray in a church. He really listens there.

What happens when you die? After you get buried, you go up to heaven to be with God. 

What happens to the money that's collected at church? That's God's money, so, obviously, the best way to get it to Him is to bury it. I'm pretty sure there's a special place behind every church where you bury the money that's been collected for God.

How do you become a saint? If you're a really good person, you become a saint. You have to really, really believe in God, too. When you become a saint, you get one of those glow-y halos around your head, like Jesus and Mary have. That's how you can tell someone is a saint. There aren't any saints around these days.

How old is Jesus? Well, Jesus wasn't like you and me. Jesus was born on December 25 and by Easter, he was a full-grown man. That's how they knew he was special.

How do you become pregnant? Once you get married, God knows to give you a baby.

What about people who become pregnant that aren't married? God sometimes makes mistakes, like when people get sick. So, sometimes people become pregnant that aren't married. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My first true love

I don't remember when it was I fell in love (I was so young!), but I fell hard and it was for life. Oh, Washington Local Library, you own my heart and soul. The library I fell for wasn't the most beautiful library nor was it very large, but it was the library I grew up with, so it will always be my first, the one I remember with the most love.

The library was filled with so many possibilities. So many books! (oh, it smelled so wonderful. Every library has that amazing scent to it. Don't you want to go into every library and just take it in?) I wanted to read every single book. A library is perfect for an obsessive kid like me: I will read every single "Little House" book. I will read every "Ramona" book. I will read every book on this shelf. And the next one.

When I was a kid, I read and read. But when you had a kid's library card, you had a limit to the number of books you could check out. I would check out as many books as I could every single time. With a little luck, I could maybe talk my dad into checking out a couple of extra books for me. I loved the summer, when I could spend hours reading. ("Go outside!" my mom would beg. "You can't read all day!" Oh, I think I can.) Like every relationship, there were bumps in the road. One summer I signed up for one of those reading programs where they would display the number of books each kid read. Piece of cake, I thought. After the first week, I brought in my first stack of books to the librarian. "I've read all these," I declared proudly. The librarian replied, "You have to read the whole thing, not just the back cover." "I know. I read all of these." I was so excited. I thought she'd be so impressed. Instead she insisted that there was no way I read all of those books. I realized that I didn't need a stupid program to read books. I took my books and never told her about a single one the entire summer.

The library was where there were some of my first milestones of growing up. One day you went from the children's card to the "adult" card. You knew you were growing up when you stopped reading the books written for children and start reading the books that were simply just written. When you got your books from the adult side of the library. When you learned the Dewey Decimal system. I started feeling like a grown-up in the library. (Is it any wonder that the library was the place I'd sneak kisses with a certain boy when I was in high school?)

I didn't always treat the library right. I wasn't always the best about returning my library books. I'd always have a book or two that got lost under my bed, in the back of a closet. I'm not sure why I couldn't get it together, but it was like this crazy thing I had to do. "Here's all your books back but this one!" Maybe it's my tell. Maybe some day I'll commit the perfect crime except I'll leave one overdue library book at the scene. But I'd like to think that the library wouldn't actually let me down.

You can save this post and show it to me in 30 years

Dear all of you who have a flexible schedule (you know who you are) (Don't make me say it.) (I don't want to say it, but: retired folks, stay-at-home moms, ladies who lunch),

I understand, you have a life as well. I get that. I really want to respect it. I know, one day I'll be in your shoes. But I ask you, no I beg of you, can you please try to consider time of day when you do things? You have all day. You have the luxury of time. (Yes, I am jealous. I'm sure that's not helping my mood here.) You can go to the grocery store at 2 in the afternoon. Heck, you can go at 2 in the morning and nap during the day. Why won't you please take advantage of that? I know you have complicated prescriptions. I know you need to talk to the pharmacist. But do you really have to do it at 5 o'clock when those of us who have been working all day just want to quickly pick up their prescriptions?

I'm trying to help. Really. I think we'd both be happier if you weren't shopping when I'm trying to knock out a couple of things right after work. I know I'm no charmer after a day of work. I know I'm not the only one. And when I see someone in their just-from-the-pool gear blocking the aisle while they talk to a friend who also clearly had the day off, I might be a tiny bit snappish. Just a tiny bit. I don't want to be. But when I see your tan, your relaxed I've-got-all-day attitude, it sort of rubs me the wrong way.

I know that sometimes you have no choice. You go to make dinner and, oops, a key ingredient is missing. It happens. But when I see you with a cart full of food, as you slowly walk up and down every aisle, I'm thinking this wasn't that quick emergency.  

Like I said in the title, you can pull this out when I'm retired or have flexible hours. Really. It may be that I need a gentle reminder as well. In the meantime, please check the time and if it's rush hour, maybe you can put off your trip to the store until tomorrow at 10.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sometimes I forget what I'm doing, forget what I want

I love a list. I love making a to-do list and then crossing those tasks off. (I have a confession: sometimes I add tasks to cross them off. You know, you can't just put "take cat to vet." You put: "make appointment," "take cat to appointment, " "pick up cat's meds." Now you get to cross off three items instead of just one.) There's something amazingly satisfying about those blacked-out tasks. Even better, when you have so many of those tasks crossed out, you have to start a new list.

I make a list before I go on a trip. Well, actually, I usually make two: a list of things to pack and a list that tells me what I have to get done before I hit the road. There are sub-lists: books, electronic stuff, what goes in the backpack versus what goes in the suitcase. (I may have a problem.) If I have a long weekend, I make of list of things I hope I get done. (Oh, I hate it when something comes up that wasn't supposed to be on the list. Flat tire!? Oh, man, that's not on the list!)

I usually have a long term list going at all times, the oil changes, the yearly doctor visits, that box in the extra closet that needs going through. It always has those things I mean to do but can't seem to get to. Maybe if I put them on the list, I'll eventually cross them off. But I can never cross everything off that list. There's always that item or two that just can't seem to get crossed off, that I just don't really want to get to. I've been carrying "write a will" for years. I look at these items and think, one day, soon.

I made a list for this weekend. I have great expectations. I am filled with optimism. I come home, ready to start crossing things off.

I have left it at work.

Let's see what happens.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Fitting the pieces together

I have friends who have places they can go that feed their soul. They go to these places and they are revitalized. They spend hours, just sitting, pondering their lives. Or they simply arrive, look around, say, "yes, this is it," and settle in. They just fit there. I suppose the closest thing I can call it is that feeling of home.

Some people are lucky enough to live in these places. There are people feel this way about their hometown. They never leave, sometimes sacrificing opportunities, but it doesn't matter to them. This is where they want to be. Money or a job won't replace this feeling. When I was younger, I had a harder time understanding this. I thought that they might feel trapped or resentful, but as I get older, I see that it's simply a different choice. It's the sweats over the tight jeans. Sure, the tight jeans make your butt look amazing, but those sweats are what you reach for when you just want to be comfortable and relax.

I know some people who didn't feel this way about where they grew up, but moved to a place that fits them. They came home in their twenties (or later.) I have the Midwestern roots, but there is a part of me that is more at home being an East Coast gal. (My graduate advisor used to always laugh when I would remind him that I was from Ohio; he said he would have guessed Brooklyn.) I like the pace, I like that you can be left alone. I know this isn't for everyone, but I want the kid at Target to ring me up, bag up  my stuff, and send me on my way as soon as he can -- no conversation or chit-chat needed. That said, I still haven't found that place that I would call home. I don't have a place that I need to visit or see or touch.

This is not to say that I'm unhappy where I'm at -- not at all. I really do like it here, and I really loved the Philadelphia area while I was there. But the feeling of fit, well, that's a bit more than I have. I wonder if it is something I can work on or is it something that just happens. Perhaps I need to do it bit by bit: first, a room in the house, then another, then the whole house. But shouldn't a part of of this feeling just happen? Shouldn't that place be reaching for me as much as I reach for it?

Of course, another thing I have come to realize is that home is within me. That I bring the sense of wonder and love and peace to the place that I am at. Perhaps this is what I need to focus on these days. Perhaps the friends of mine who have found home or those places they need to visit have simply tapped into their souls, allowing this to happen.

I am coming home, soon. I believe it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tough love with the Scoobies

The other day I watched an episode of "Buffy" that's not a favorite, not by a long shot, but this episode has scenes that touch me deeply, and I found myself crying, again, at how well Josh, et al, could write about loss of love. And although you can get a lot about Buffy and Angel or how Buffy dealt with the death or her mother or Buffy's love for Dawn, some of the non-Buffy relationships touch me the most.

The episode I watched was "Tough Love" which is towards the end of Season 5. It's an episode that's mostly a set up for the season finale and gives us a glimpse into the next season. When I first was watching this episode, I couldn't remember if anything interesting happened, but wiki reminded me that the last ten minutes were the pay-off. A little background on the episode: the Big Bad this season is Glory, who is a god and therefore much harder to kill than your average demon. Oh, and she messes with people brains to stay strong (it's this weird thing where she turns them sort of insane and childlike.) At this point in the season, Glory is really just annoying. Other bits: Willow and Tara are together, and Willow is becoming more powerful as a witch.

In the first half of the episode, Tara and Willow get into a fight, which sets up Tara being alone when Glory finds her. Blah, blah with Glory, which ends with Glory doing the brain thing to Tara. When Willow finds her, the Tara Willow loves is basically gone. This, of course, leaves Willow heartbroken, and this is where I start crying. We've all been there: someone we love leaves us without warning, and all of the pleading in the world won't bring them back. When they are in the hospital, the doctor asks if Tara is her sister or... and Willow, holding Tara's hand, looking at her full of love and pain just says, "She's my everything." How could you not cry over that?

And after the heartbreak, the next thing is to get revenge on what caused so much hurt. Despite Buffy's warnings, Willow goes after Glory. It's pretty amazing. Willow, who was always mild-mannered and level-headed, runs completely on emotion and witchcraft. Glory sees her enter and just sort of laughs; after all, up until now, no one has been able to do much of anything to her. And Willow, chanting and floating, eyes black and intense, announces to Glory, "I owe you PAIN!" And, it works! Of course, Glory recovers, there's a short battle, but Buffy comes in and saves Willow (after all, there are still a handful of episodes left in the season.) But isn't that what you want to do after a heartbreak: lash out at the thing that caused it. You owe it pain!

Another heartbreaking story of love gone bad was when Xander left Anya at the alter during the dreadful Season 6. In the episode "Hell's Bells", Anya and Xander are about to get married, and Xander is confronted by an older man who claims to be the future version of Xander. This man shows Xander his future, which is, frankly, dreadful. The two have grown to hate each other, blaming each other for ruining each other's lives and destroying each other's dreams. It is later revealed that this man wasn't really the future Xander, but the current Xander doesn't care. He realizes that it could be his future, and he can't bear to put the two of them at risk for such awfulness. He leaves Anya, and she is absolutely heartbroken. So heartbroken, in fact, she goes back to being a vengeance demon.

By the time we get to "Selfless" in Season 7, Anya is a shell of herself, willing to inflict incredible pain on others, just because any heartbroken woman wishes for it. When she causes the (very bloody) deaths of an entire frat house, she realizes that she has gone too far, and wishes for her own death. Instead of her own death, she loses a friend as well as her demon status -- she's human again. It's not a major story, but it is interesting to watch her regain herself over the rest of the episodes in the season.

This is what would always draw me in with "Buffy"; the relationships in the series were all very real, multi-dimensional. See, you can write about kicking vampire butt and love!

Movie reviews of movies I haven't seen

Let's talk about the movie "Killers." If I see it, it's going to be one of those things where it's Saturday and I'm sick and there's not a "Law and Order" to be found but, hey! look what's on Lifetime! I'm sure it's harmless, but I'm not going to seek it out either. But I do have a couple of questions: first of all, Katherine Heigl as kooky? Really? Ashton Kutcher is the smart one in this relationship? And, if we really do want to see the kooky blond girl with the secret agent type, won't we just wait for Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise in "Knight and Day"?

"Sex and the City 2." We're over this, right? If you're going to this, it's because you have this weird sense of obligation to the series, not because you actually think it's going to be a good movie, right? Because I just don't get it. Do we like any of them anymore? This isn't a prude thing, but I just kind of find them gross. Maybe it's the different economy or something, but the shoes! the clothes! The fabulous adventures! -- Just kind of gross. Love you, John Corbett, but couldn't you have waited for the "Northern Exposure" movie?

Here's a head scratcher: "Kick Ass" is still at the local theatre.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ma Bell

It's hard to believe, but there used to be a time when it matter where people lived when you called. Do you remember when it mattered if a phone call was "long distance"? I was thinking about this the other day, how we so easily pick up out cell phones and make a call; it doesn't matter if the person is one mile away or across the country.

I remember having friends at other high schools, too far away for local calls. (We actually wrote each other letters! Remember those days? I still have a box of those letters that I pull out now and again, laughing at the silly bits, trying to remember certain names that were being discussed with such intensity.) A phone call was a rarity, maybe for a birthday, but they were to be short and to the point. And since it was a Big Deal, both of us would be awkward: "How are you?!" "How are you?!" "Good, good! What else?" "Um." (Thinking, thinking -- what can I say? I've only got five minutes. There must be something!) The casual feel of the usual chats weren't there. The minute you hung up, there was a flood of things I wished I had said. Once in high school, a couple of us snuck in to use a faculty phone so we could call a friend long distance. We spent half the call saying "Guess who this is!" and the other half just giggling about what we though we had pulled off. (Clearly, this was the crime of the decade!) We barely stayed on the phone for ten minutes, terrified that we would be caught.

I remember when we'd have family vacations or school trips, wondering if we'd pass close enough to make a local call. Could we stop for a few minutes, when it would only cost a quarter to call? Even if we didn't stop, there was a sort of thrill: we're in Columbus now, who could I call if I had the time? I'd have a mental map of my friends: Pacman lives here, Terri is the next town over, is this close enough to Donna's? I'd bring my address book, just in case.

Even now, just last week, I drove near Pittsburgh and thought of a couple of friends I could call as a local call, as if I didn't have my cell phone handy, as if it made a difference. I sort of laughed to myself, remembering when long distance was a Big Deal. And in some ways I miss it. I kind of miss it, that these calls are no longer a special occasion.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Falling back in time

There are things that will suddenly throw me back in time. A certain scent, maybe the feel of the weather that morning, maybe seeing something I haven't stumble upon for a while, all these things play at my subconscious. Maybe it's that, after a bit more than a year of so many changes, I am now looking at the anniversary of these events. Some were small at the time, but have become important; some were important at that moment and remain that way. Some were pieces of a larger puzzle that is still coming together.

It's not deja vu. No, these are actual memories, coming back to remind me. There is no vagueness about what I am feeling when this rush of emotional memory comes over me. It is there, so very real. My mind is throwing me around in time, pushing me towards the past for a short while.

I both love and somewhat dread these moments. I feel these moments so deeply, I may even gasp. When I feel those emotions, my mind adds to the memory, once I have allowed it to enter. ("Wasn't it colder that night?" it whispers. "No, that happened one street over," it may remind me.) Many of these memories are good things, but they're also reminders that I've moved on. There may be reminders in my path, but I am still going forward.

Do you get these moments? Are you ever overwhelmed by memory? I think have had more lately because of all of the changes this past year. When you live in the same place for six years, you can't remember when it was that certain moments occurred: was it a year ago? Four? There have been many springs, many falls, it's hard to remember which holiday it was. But last year at this time, I was living somewhere else (although in the same neighborhood). It's still fairly close, still clear. My life was at a different place. And when I walk to work these days, past the places I've been passing this year, spring in the air again, the sun rising earlier and earlier, I get this rush of the feelings from last year. They're good but I remember wondering, what's up ahead? How will the story turn out? Will everything be alright?

Everything is alright. The story is still unfolding. The path ahead looks amazing, but it will probably be even better than I could imagine. Isn't that just the best?!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Close your eyes

I'm not so tough. I like to think I am. I like to think that I am self-contained, that I don't need to know what you think. But I do care, probably more than I should. I am thinking about this as I prepare to send some of my writing off in a competition. I will be judged. No, I remind myself, this bit of writing will be judged. I will still be me; I will be fine. But the writing, yes, will be read and evaluated.

I have been surrounded by so much support. I am so thankful for that. I wouldn't have even gotten to this point without the encouragement and positive thoughts. This is a gift and I know it. I treasure it.

But I am fearing the "thanks for playing" letter. Or, even worse, the silence. (Oh, I hate the silence. "Did you read it?" I wonder. Is it so bad you want to pretend it's not even there? I try not to think that.) Maybe you've been busy (I hope.) Maybe someone decided to submit an old Salinger story that he wrote with Updike back in the day. Yeah, that must be it; no way to compete with that.

I need to be brave and just do it. I am amazed by those who submit all the time. Those who take their words and put it out there: here you go; tell me what you think. That is a place I am not at just yet. But I am here: ready to close my eyes and jump.