Sunday, December 17, 2006

Cross-Town Traffic...

Okay. In the first place, I shouldn't have been on the bridge. I had planned to drop off the gift at my mother's house and go straight home. But, I reasoned, it would be nice to see my mom since I hadn't seen her since Thanksgiving, so I decided to cross the river and deliver the gift myself.

My sister was hosting a bridal shower for my niece. I hate those kinds of gatherings, so I had no intention of sitting through it. Silly me--trying to do the "right thing."

So, I'm driving up the bridge with a maroon truck following closely on my bumper. The traffic stopped; so did I. The maroon truck managed to keep from hitting me, thank the stars. I let the car in front of me pull further away to give me some space. I hate riding someone's bumper, even if traffic is stopped. All of a sudden, I heard "Screech" "Crunch" "Boom"; I looked into the rearview mirror in time to watch the maroon truck smash into the back of my car.

For a heartbeat, I just sat there, foot still on brake. I put the car in "Park" and stuck my head out of the window.

"Is anyone hurt?" I yelled. The driver of the maroon truck had exited his vehicle to check on the guy behind him. "No," he replied. "Good. I'll meet you at the bottom of the bridge."

I drove down to the bank parking lot at the end of the bridge, flagged down one of the police directing traffic and told him what happened. Then I gathered up my credentials and waited for the other drivers to join me.

A blue truck hit the maroon truck that hit me. I got off easy. My bumper is bent, I can't open my hatch, and I'm having a few muscle spasms in my back, but, other than that, I'm okay. I can still drive my car. The guy in the maroon truck ended up going to the hospital--he hit his head. The blue truck's radiator was busted, so he needed a tow. I feel all together lucky. Only my ego was bruised, and, of course, my perfect driving record came to an end.

In Louisiana, at least, if someone rear-ends you, it's that person's fault. But still, I hate being in an accident. So much paperwork, so much time, having to put my car in the shop to have it fixed. Someone's going to pay for a rental car, that's all I know.

What a great Christmas present for everyone!

If you are out and about, don't be in a hurry. And leave plenty of space between the car in front of you and your car. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The End of the Semester (as we know it, and I feel fine...)

It's time, once again, for my semi-annual State-of-the-Educator report.

The fall semester has come to a close; grades are due Monday, but mine are posted already (Yay!), so all I have to do is take copies to the dean of the college and the chair of my department.

All was well until I made the mistake of checking my school email--I found a message from a student who has been chronically late with everything this semester; as a matter of fact, she's turned in the bulk of her assignments in the last week. When I gave her permission to submit her last paper late, she obviously took that as permission to turn in everything she hadn't given me this semester. So, when did she turn in her paper that was due on Dec. 6? This afternoon. At about 3pm.

I'd also like to know how someone could misconstrue this: "Do not email or call me about your grades. Dead Week in the cutoff for discussing your grade with me." Sounds clear to me. I deleted about ten emails from students telling me what grades they didn't have on the course gradebook. As if I didn't know. As if I wasn't working on filling in those pesky little squares.

I wish students were just as diligent about their grades during the semester, or about getting work in when it is due. But nooooooooo. At the end of the semester, though, they yell really loudly about how they don't want to fail and will I pleeeeeeeeease take their late work. I'm usually inclined, by this time, to say "NO!" And, if they catch me in the right mood, I will say "No."

I taught five classes this semester--four of them were composition classes. I read, on average, 60 to 100 papers A WEEK--and heard 60 to 100 complaints about having to write ONE paper or having to read something, for crying out loud, or having to post a blog before Saturday, about how much WORK they have to do for all of their classes, about having to work a job AND do coursework for school, and, geez, they don't have time for a social life, and... I could go on, but you get the picture.

So, for all my students who will read this blog (because some of them will), let me tell you what I did with my time--every class day this semester, I got up at 6:30am; I left my house at 7:30pm, arrived at the school around 8:15 or 8:30am (I live 45 miles away from the college). If I was not working my second job after I finished teaching my classes, or hanging around the university for meetings, I usually would get home around 1:30 or 2:30pm (after my 45-mile return journey; except on Tuesdays, when I taught my night class; I didn't get home until after 9pm or so). I would eat lunch, then start reading/grading papers, quizzes, blogs, etc. I usually worked at that until about 10pm. Most nights, I went to bed around 11pm. On weekends (did I have any weekends this semester? Oh, yeah, I took one weekend to go to Austin to see my kids; that set me back two weeks), I usually would get up around 8am and I'd being grading/reading papers no later than 10am.

And, of course, one or two days a week, I'd work my second job until about six pm, which put me home around 7pm; and I'd just start reading/grading until bed time.

And I usually had to stop in and visit my Mom once a week, or go grocery shopping, or clean out the litter boxes, or talk to my kids and help them with their problems, show up for various family functions (I have 9 brothers and sisters, around 40 nieces and nephews=quite a few family functions).

Is this a complaint? No, it's fact. It's the life I've chosen. If I didn't want to do this, I'd go back to being a secretary or administrative assistant or computer network analyst, or move to the Galapagos Islands.

And that's my point. If what you are doing is too daunting and the rewards too few, then give it up and go do something else.

Yeah, we all need to vent now and then, even professors. But if this is what you want to do, just do it and do it to the best of your ability. Get organized. And get the work in on time. And, if you have problems or questions or need help with an assignment, talk to your instuctor when these things come up, not three weeks after. It's moot by that time. And what can I do after the fact? At some point, I just have to throw up my hands and say "It's not my monkey!"

Okay, that's enough of that.

I was blessed with an abundance of really good students this semester--students who could write and went at it with their whole hearts, students who worked hard to find meaning in what they read and to understand literature's relevance to their lives. They make it worthwhile; they are the reasons I keep doing this, in spite of the students who drive me over the edge, or maybe "despite" those students. As long as I can find the students in my classes who want to be in those classes, I'll keep doing this.

To all my students, have a good break. And come back to school, if you come back, resolved to do the best that you possibly can in all of your courses. And if you decide on an alternate reality, send me a postcard!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Just leave me the birds and the bees...please!

This is the first "clear" weekend I've had since the semester began--I'll have to read papers tomorrow, and I have a few stragglers I need to grade--but I've actually had some time to work on my online class for spring and to plant my trees from the Arbor Day Society.

I joined the Arbor Day Society during the summer in retaliation for my neighbor cutting down 100-year-old trees. When I joined, the society promised me ten flowering or evergreen trees--I chose the flowering ones--and I subsequently ordered a number of other plants from them. The plants are inexpensive and provide me a way to spruce up my property without going broke. They all arrived at the end of this week and I needed to get them planted pronto. I wanted to have a planting party, but I just couldn't mobilize my forces quickly enough.

So, this morning, armed with a shovel and a rake, I went out and planted 20 plants. When I joined, I chose to receive 10 flowering trees: two Sargent Crabapples, two American Redbuds, two Washington Hawthorns, two White Flowering Dogwoods, and two Goldenraintrees. I later ordered five red Azaleas, two Southern Magnolias, and two Forsythias; for that order, I received a Red Maple.

Finding places for 20 plants/trees seems easier than it is. I tried to ensure that I left at least five feet between my plants, but I'm sure I'll need to transplant some of them next fall. I just needed to get them into the ground as soon as possible. I planted most of them along the fence in the backyard; I plan to create a bird/butterfly/bee garden back there. I already have Plum trees (I need another one of those for pollination; the Plums flower, but they don't produce) and two Mayhaws, so I'm off to a good start. And I have six White Dogwoods already; butterflies love those for laying eggs. I also have flowering Quince (also called "Japonica"--I love that word) and other assorted flowering plants whose names I haven't learned yet. In the spring, my yard blazes with reds, pinks, whites and yellows. I can cut flowers for my house and, while most of my flowering plants don't have smells, they are lovely to see.

If you like to grow plants, the Arbor Day Society is an organization I'd recommend. And $15 a year to help the environment seems cheap.

The only drawback is now I'm on every environmental organization's mailing list! I've received information from the National Audubon Society, the World Wildlife Federation, and the Nature Conservancy. And while the tote bags and bird feeders are tempting, I'd still rather have trees!

So, as Joni Mitchell sings, "Hey farmer farmer, put away the DDT now./Give me spots on apples, but leave me the birds and the bees...please." I want to think I'm doing my part to encourage the birds and the bees (and the butterfles) to hang around my house for a long time.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

iPod Update...

Yeah, I like it.

I have 3 days' worth of music recorded on it (all LEGAL!) and I've gotten a season pass to CSI--every time CBS releases a new episode, it's downloaded to my computer. I've subscribed to six or seven podcasts, and I've downloaded several novellas and novels, among them, Heart of Darkness, Emma, The Death of Ivan Ilych, and A Christmas Carol. And let me mention that I've downloaded the entire repetoire of the Mercury Theater (Orson Welles et. al), including an interview with Orson Welles and H. G. Wells discussing War of the Worlds! I think I'm getting my money's worth out of this ingenious little toy.

I didn't know that a number of old movies are now in the public domain; I've found a couple of sites where I can legally download movies such as My Man Godfrey and Beat the Devil; if the movie is available in MP4 format, I can play it on my iPod.


Saturday, November 11, 2006


I remember standing on Magazine Street in New Olreans as float after float passed by. My grandparents were supposed to be on one of these floats, but I hadn't found them yet. After what seemed to be forever, the last float trundled towards me; there she was! I waved and ran into the street. As I reached the float, a masked woman reached down and handed me a brown-paper-wrapped package. When I opened it, I found, to my delight, a dozen glass-bead necklaces. These weren't the cheap, plastic beads that people fought to catch; these were the kind of beads that would shatter if they hit the ground. My grandmother saved them for me, just for me.

I can't believe this. My first public poetry reading is scheduled the day of her funeral. I'm the only person in my family who can't go--not because of the reading, but because everyone else is going and I have no one to take care of my son. I am heartbroken; I am bereft. I can't say goodbye to my grandmother because I don't have a babysitter.
My sister and I spent a summer with my grandparents. My grandfather was sick, too sick to work. My uncles were still running the shop, putting up gutters and new roofs on houses, so his business was still operating. My grandmother was going to cosmetology school, trying to learn to be a beautician. She was having a hard time; she had never had to work before, and she was afraid because her husband was going to die. He knew it; she knew it. My sister and I, though, didn't know it.
I think maybe the illness came later. I don't remember, really. I do remember riding the train back to Shreveport with my grandmother; her first husband, my other grandfather, worked for the T&P Railroad, so we could ride the train free.
Sometimes, I dream about my grandmother. I dream that she and I are sitting in her apartment kitchen, the apartment she lived in at the time of her death. A row of beer cans are ranged in front of her; she is smoking and her hair is in curlers. That yappy little Chihuahua, Sassy, is sitting on her lap. I hated that dog, and I know it hated me. Whenever I visited my grandmother, I would sleep with her in her bed and the dog would be banished to the bathroom. I understand why the dog hated me, but it wasn't my fault. I don't mind dreaming about my grandmother, but I wish the dog wasn't with us.
When I divorced, I felt a special kinship with Flo. After all, she was the only other person in my family who was divorced. I felt it was one of our special bonds. She liked my ex-husband (well, so did my family), but she understood. Sometimes, you just have to do what you have to do.
I remember one of her poker parties. The special dessert that night was a half of a cantaloupe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the hollow where the seeds used to be. It's still one of my favorite treats.
Her complete name when she died was Florence Albertine Augustine Kurz Twohig Schubert. Her friends called her "Flo." She hated her two middle names. The last three names encompass a huge cross-section of my family history.
I know why my mother disliked my grandmother. Flo was my father's mother--that's the "Twohig" in Flo's name. But, when Flo divorced my Grandpa Twohig, she married my mother's father, Grandpa Schubert, whose wife had died in childbirth. Sounds incestuous, but it's really not. My mom and dad were teenagers, and it wasn't likely that Flo would have more children. So, I guess you could say my mom and dad are step-sister and -brother, but, again, it didn't really matter by then. Flo and my Grandpa Schubert were childhood sweethearts. The story I heard was that her parents wanted her to marry someone who wasn't a day laborer. My Grandpa Twohig worked for the Texas and Pacific Railroad, so he was "white" collar. I think my grandmother married him just to get away from her mother, who was a tyrant. But my great-grandmother is another story.
After my grandmother's funeral, the women went to her apartment to divide her possessions. My mother had asked me, before she left for New Orleans, if I wanted something in particular. I did. My grandmother had a collection of porcelain, and that collection included an old Chinese man and woman. The man held a fishing pole; the woman held a teapot. I loved those pieces. When my mother came back home, she brought me, instead, a porcelain boy and girl and a scarf. My aunt, my grandmother's daughter, claimed the man and woman. I was glad to get anything that belonged to Flo.
Over the years, my mother has surprised me with other possessions of my grandmother's. She has given me two rose pins and the last strand of glass Mardi Gras beads my grandmother had. When I started collecting bee pins, my mother came out with a silver bee that was Flo's. Who knew that my mother would withhold those things for me?
I think my grandmother is trying to let me know she's here, haunting me. The cats have broken the boy doll twice; the silver bee pin has disappeared, as has the scarf. I'm beginning to feel like the little boy in The Sixth Sense, except I don't see dead people. I just know my grandmother is around me, watching, just waiting for the right moment to show herself to me.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Austin City Limits...

Okay, I admit it. I goofed off this past weekend.

Instead of grading papers, I went to Austin, TX, to visit my kids and watch my daughter, Dorothy, in a performance. She was part of a cabaret show, "Inside a Broken Clock: A Tom Waits Peepshow," which consisted of a series of vaudeville-type skits set to Tom Waits' music. It was bawdy, it was ribald, it was FUN! And how long has it been since I've done anything remotely FUN?

Let me back up. I left for Austin after my 9am class on Friday. I hit Round Rock about 3:45 in the afternoon, confident that it wouldn't take me more than an hour to get to my children's house in East Austin.

Boy, was I WRONG. I usually get into Austin just after the lunch rush, but I had forgotten that the afternoon "rush" hour begins about 2:30pm on Fridays. The traffic going out of Austin was moving at a dead crawl; going towards downtown, the traffic seemed to be flowing smoothly. I was confident that I'd be off the interstate in no time.

Again, I was WRONG. I clipped along at a comfortable 65mph until I hit Braker Lane. Then, stuck behind an 18-wheeler, I moved (when I moved) at 5mph until I reached my exit--an hour-and-a-half later. Getting on to MLK Drive was easier, but, again, after about two blocks, I again crawled along at 5mph until I passed Airport Drive.

I managed to pull into the driveway at 6pm. The note my daughter left me said that my son, Daniel, would be home by 6pm, but that he had a show that night. He's a rapper--no joke, he's pretty good. Dorothy wrote that she wouldn't be home until midnight or so.

I read, I knitted, I scrounged around the kitchen for food. I finally crashed about 11pm without having seen either of my kids. Daniel came in around midnight and he and I had a brief conversation; he had to get up at 7am for work on Saturday. I heard Dorothy come in, but I was exhausted and couldn't open my eyes.

Regardless of where I am or how late I stayed up the night before, I normally wake up anywhere from 7am to 9am. I couldn't sleep late to save my life. But, this past weekend, I got up extra early because my sinuses flared up and I desperately needed to find a drugstore. I can't find my way around Austin without a guide and Dorothy usually drives me wherever we go.

To get directions, I had to wake her up. Not a good idea. My daughter doesn't like to wake up early and she resists all attempts. I stood in the doorway and called her name. She instantly popped her head up from the pillow and----she was bald. She had shaved off all of her hair. Bald as a baby. Really bald.

I was speechless and it took me several heartbeats to stammer out my request for directions, but not before I blurted, "What did you do to your hair?"

She laughed--"I got tired of it. This is so much easier to deal with right now."

She gave me directions to the drug store and crawled back under the quilt.

I took off for the drugstore and the grocery, came back, made a pot of coffee and waited for her to get up and explain why her head was bald.

I never hasseled my kids about their hair or clothes or anything else that wasn't important. They both have their own styles--they don't need me to tell them how to dress. So, when Daniel grew his hair down his back in high school, the only person who complained was my mother. When he shaved his head his freshman year of college, my mother complained about that. I just couldn't figure out why this was an issue. And I still can't.

Now, for my daughter to shave her head--again, it's her hair. She's dyed it red, blonde, black, orange, pink--every color imaginable--and she's chopped it short and let it grow. It's only hair. But I hadn't seen her bald since she was born. Actually, it makes her look taller. Hmm...I wonder if that would work for me?

So, there I was on Saturday, sitting in the restaurant where my son works, surrounded by bald people--my daughter, my son, and my daughter's boyfriend. I felt out of place. But once I got used to it, I didn't think about it again (until now).

I think both of my kids look fine; they have unique styles of dress, unusual tattoos, and rich social and artistic lives. They are living the lives they want and I couldn't be happier for both of them. One thing they aren't is boring and that's all I care about.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Somebody Stop Me...

Okay, I've done it, what I'd promised myself I wouldn't do. I resisted the temptation as long as I could.

I bought an iPod!

I've become a mass consumer. I've fallen prey to the hype.

Not only did I buy an iPod, I bought iPod accessories!

Oh-my-god! I'm accessorizing an iPod!

I don't even accessorize my outfits and here I am buying "things" to make my iPod experience more enjoyable and intrusive.

Let me explain myself more clearly before I descend into hysteria. I really like podcasts. That's often how I receive my news blurbs (I subscribe to both ABC News and CBS News podcasts); I also like to download audio books ( and other audio and video. One of my other favorites is a general site,, where I can pick and choose what I want from a wide variety of genres and interests. Podcast has a good list of literature sites; my favorite is a Creative Nonfiction site (Podlit) where I can listen to Lee Gutkind and Natalie Goldberg discuss issues in this genre. Since I teach creative nonfiction in my advanced comp classes, I'm interested in hearing what the "masters" have to say. I'm also interested in creating podcasts for an online class I'm planning for next semester, so I've immersed myself in learning everything I can about them.

So, I bought a 30G video iPod from the Apple Store--but, because I wasn't sure I would like it or use it much, I bought a refurbished iPod. It cost me loads less and, if I decide the technology is for me, I can always invest in a more expensive one later. But I also bought (from, another favorite shopping site) an iBlast, which is a speaker system that sounds great and charges the iPod while I'm listening to it, and a tuner for my car so I don't have to change out CDs all the time. Changing CDs in my car is cumbersome--I can get them out, but I can't get them in. This way (as I reasoned it), I can listen to my music without having to carry all those CDs around with me; in addition, I can view video news broadcasts and movies (not when I'm driving, of course!) without having to carry around DVDs or a television.

It all sounds logical, but I'm a great rationalizer. I can convince myself that something is great if I really need to. Only time will tell, though, if this really is a good investment of my hard-earned disposable income. I did manage to get everything transferred (or "synched" in the iPod lingo) and I did listen to one of the podcasts from the Bill Moyers' NPR series on "Faith and Reason" as I fell asleep last night. I downloaded some video from [adultswim] and watched the performances of a few rap artists (something I'm not usually inclined to do, unless the rapper is my son, Daniel). So maybe this investment will prove beneficial. Maybe it will broaden my horizons. Who knows?

Does anyone know of a support group for iPod dependency, in case I get too wrapped up in this? I know me--I have a knitting obsession already; I don't need another obsession.

So, I just want you to know, if you say "hello" to me and I don't respond, I'm probably plugged in to my iPod. Tap me on the shoulder, wave your hands in front of my face, or yank the earphones out. I'm not ignoring you, I'm wired.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I Owe My Soul to the Family Store (of stories)

I open the door of the china cabinet to retrieve a teapot and a porcelain cup and saucer. Tea time is when I relax and I like to make it special, since I do it so seldom.

As I reach in to get the necessary tea tools, I spy the Quaker Man, a doll I’ve had as long as I can remember. It is part of a set—my older sister has his female companion—that my father brought back for us when he returned from his four-year Army stint. Dressed in his German folk costume, Quaker Man is moth-eaten and shabby, from his black, broad-brimmed hat, to his claret coat, to his orange vest and gray flannel pants. His poor socks are so faded and dingy white. His shoes, if I remember correctly, were black, but I have no idea where they are. I probably lost them in my severe neglect. Until I bought my house and unpacked him, he languished in a box in a bathroom closet for three years.

I remove him from his domed display and take a good look at him. For the first time, I notice he also sports an off-white bow tie. Such a jaunty touch and one that I never noticed in the 50+ years he’s been in the family.

I wonder why I keep him, but, in the same thought, I smile, remembering how my father ended up in Germany to begin with. The story is a family heirloom, one my mother delights in telling and one my father never contradicts. Prompt her just a little and she will tell it with a sparkle in her eye, while my father sits stoically; the only sign of his annoyance may be an increase in the television’s volume in a vain attempt to drown her out.

As she tells it, when my sister and I were very young (around ages 2 and 1, respectively), my parents were separated. My mother was standing with us, waiting on a trolley to take us back to our Aunt Claire’s (not really my aunt) where we were living. She had twenty cents in her purse, enough to get us home. My father, who was working as a lens grinder at the time, was not giving her any money for our support. And, to top it off, he had given her engagement ring to another woman (why he had her ring is something that has never been explained, adequately, to me).

My mother was furious. She didn’t know how to make my father give her money for us. We were sick; we needed medicine. We had just been to the doctor and both my sister and I had colds. Mother didn’t have the money to fill the prescriptions and she was, as she says, at the end of her rope. As we were standing there, she noticed an Army recruiting station across the street. At that very moment, she says, she had a most brilliant idea.

My mother is proof that level of education does not equal smarts. She never graduated from high school, but she’s the smartest person I know. She marched us across the street to the Army recruiting station. Her question to the recruiter was straightforward: how could she go about having my father drafted?

This was a risky move—it was 1952, during the Korean Conflict. My mother was taking a big chance; my father could have been sent to a very dangerous place. She didn’t want him hurt; she just wanted him to suffer. The recruiter questioned my mother regarding her situation. Was our father supporting us? No. He patted my mother’s arm and said, “Leave it to me.”

And, so, my father was drafted and, because he had dependents, he was sent to Germany instead of Korea. Yes, it was difficult—he’ll at least admit to that. But, at the same time, he learned to snow ski and he and my mother had time to work out their differences through the mail. My mother received her support through a monthly allotment from the Army. Everybody was (mostly) happy. It must have had an overall positive effect; they’ve been married for 58 years (this October) and they have ten children, numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Certainly, the situation caused some tension in my father’s family. When his father died, my parents had to go through my grandfather’s papers and personal effects. In my grandfather’s desk, my father found a piece of paper with this one line penned on it: “The damn fool let her put him in the Army.” That probably explains why, throughout their marriage, my grandfather called my mother “Jo Anne,” not “Joan,” which is her name. That has to mean something.

Many, many years later, at Christmas, my father brought in a huge box that contained my mother’s present. She unwrapped the first box, which led to another box, which led to another box, until, about ten boxes later, she retrieved the last box. She opened it and, there in red velvet, was a half-caret engagement ring.

Sometimes, I think my parents held on out of spite; other times, I think they’ve stayed together because neither of them wants to be the one to give up. I don’t know why they’ve endured or how they’ve endured and I’m not sure they’ve always been the best representatives of marriage on the planet. Whatever the reason, they have managed to make their relationship work and I’m glad they are my parents.

As with all family stories, I take this one with a gallon of salt. I don’t know if my father doesn’t contradict the details because he doesn’t remember or if he doesn’t want to expose my mother’s story as a fraud. I have to think it’s mostly true, since so much of their life together hinges on that one incident. As legends go, it’s one of the best I’ve ever heard.

As for the doll, I sometimes think I should give him away or retire him to another box. But he is a constant reminder that I can always count on my mother for another story. And, with every story, I learn a little more about what makes me the person I am.

Note: To any of my students who read this, this is my attempt at a portrait/personal essay. It is only a model and is not representative of how I think your essay should be written.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Short People

I'm not easily startled by news announcers; I've seen and heard too much on network news, so very little surprises me these days. But, the other day, I heard something that made me put my coffee cup down and sit up really straight.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I reconsidered what the announcer said: "Some doctors are now treating shortness as a disease." Pardon me? Shortness as a disease? Now, I'm not consulting a dictionary here, but I thought a "disease" was something that was debilitating, life-threatening, and/or requiring medication. Somehow, in my mind, "shortness" doesn't quite measure up (ha ha).

My incredulity might be better understood if you knew that I'm 4'9" tall (yes, "tall"). While "shortness" has served me well as a topic of conversation with strangers in elevators, it hasn't seemed to affect my view of who I am. For some reason, I don't equate my height with my abilities or my worthiness. Call me crazy, but I think a person is more that a measurement chalked up on a doorframe (just so you know, my parents never did that to their 10 children). Where my height is a disadvantage--reaching high shelves or cabinets--society has provided a solution (it's called a "ladder"). In my own home and office, I don't put things where I can't reach them. I'm a sensible person.

When I was about a year old, so the story goes, my mother became concerned because I wasn't gaining weight and I wasn't growing. She schlepped me to a doctor who ran every test he could. At the follow-up conference, the doctor asked her, "How tall are you?" My mother replied, "Five feet." The doctor smiled and said, "There's the answer to your question. She inherited your genes."

Perhaps I overcompensated by studying hard and working on my smartness factor, but, I have to honestly say, that I don't think about my height unless someone calls it to my attention. I don't go around wishing that people would treat me like a "tall" person; it doesn't occur to me that it's a "problem" for me--other people seem to have problems with it, though.

And I think that's why parents want doctors to treat shortness as a disease--it's not the kids who usually have trouble with height, it's parents. They don't want their sons to be passed over (sorry) for promotions at work; they want their sons to play basketball and get those scholarships.

For women, maybe, shortness works favorably (or not). Some people think we need to be protected; some men think that, because we're petite, we're pushovers (in more ways than one); some women might think we won't stand up (sorry, again) for ourselves. People have weird ideas about other people--if we're not judged by our height, we'll be judged by our gender or color or religion or anything that anyone finds objectionable/different/strange.

But my concern goes beyond this whole judgment thing. If we start engineering height, what's next? Eye color? Intelligence? Physical beauty? Does the name "Dr. Mengele" come to mind? We've already begun in vitro procedures to eliminate or reduce a fetus's pre-birth conditions, such as heart problems. I don't think this is wrong, especially if it increases a fetus's chances for a birth/childhood free from constant medical treatment. But these other qualities are aesthetic, not medical. Having a child who's chance for making the NBA increases doesn't seem as crucial as having a healthy child.

Yeah, I've heard about those surveys that say that short men are frequently passed over for promotions, that people perceive them as weaker, etc. I say it's all in their heads. The best treatment for "height deficiency" is a healthy self-esteem, especially in parents.

As for me, I'm often tempted to turn the tables on those strangers who ask me about my height. I'd like to ask them "How much do you weigh?" or "What's your IQ?" and see how they like such a personal and/or irrelevant question. But, you know, most of them wouldn't get it. I'm not out to change the world; I'm just working on myself.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Back on the Chain Gang...

Well, the new semester has begun and already I'm losing my voice. This always happens the first week of school. I'm not used to talking this much--during the summer, I'm not in constant communication with anyone except the cats; no point in talking to them since they won't answer. So, third class into the semester, two more to go today, and I'm beginning to sound like a hoarse bullfrog. This, too, shall pass, unless I strain my vocal chords.

I'm excited to see a number of my former students in my classes. Familiar faces help with the new semester butterflies--for them and for me. I have five classes this semester, quite a load by anyone's standards. One of those classes is an Introduction to Literature class; this is the first time I've taught it and the class is huge--35 students registered, but it seemed as though I had more students than that, even though several on the roster did not show up. I'm looking forward to it, however many students show up. I enjoy any opportunity to talk about literature.

I didn't get much done around my house this summer; I actually did "take it easy"--cut my hours at the bookstore so I wouldn't have to drive so much with these high gas prices and, instead, I worked on editing transcripts, a job which I could do in the comfort of my study. I enjoyed the two new kittens added to our household, Buddy and Bubba--the yin and yang of kittens. Kittens are really entertaining, but it's also like having little children--they get into everything. I had to "child proof" the house to keep them safe.

My neighbor finally put up a privacy fence, which suits me just fine. Now I don't have to look at all of the stumps from the trees she's cut down. Her beautiful wooded lot is now pocked with stumps--some burned. She uprooted and burned all of the azaleas on her property, too. I'm glad the fence hides most of it. It doesn't, though, mute the sounds from the chainsaws as she continues to cut down hundred-year-old trees.

My friends and I are going to have a tree-planting party in November, though, to try to make up for her destruction. The Arbor Day Foundation is sending me ten trees--dogwoods, crape myrtles, etc.--and we plan to make as much noise as we can while we're planting. I can't understand why someone would cut down healthy old trees. I understand pruning; I don't understand decimation.

The semester beckons! More later.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ah, laziness...

Something can definitely be said for laziness. I turned in my grades last week, showed up for a book discussion at the bookstore, celebrated Mother's Day with my mom and large family, and today is the last of my "obligations"--college graduation. I find this to be a big bore--four hours of pomp and circumstance, 45 minutes trying to get out of a packed parking lot, and another 45 minutes driving home. I should get back home around 10 or 11pm. Yuck! I'm happy for the people graduating, but the boredom of it all almost makes me comatose before I get to it.

I haven't spent much time at the bookstore in the last two weeks, for which, I hate to say, I am grateful. I've been sitting in the backyard watching the hummingbirds chase each other around; I have two pair of Cardinals, Mockingbirds and a ton of Blue Jays to entertain me. Not to mention, my new neighbor's dog, Sampson, a tiny Pomeranian, who barks himself hoarse over my cats (and they just love to tease him). Poor Sammy! He's going to choke himself trying to get to the kittys. Hopefully, my neighbor will get her fence up soon so Sammy can run himself ragged chasing the cats up and down the yard.

I planted some squash and cucumbers, rather late and, perhaps, in a too-shady spot. But, if the bugs or birds don't get the seeds, maybe something will grow. I finally planted the Tarragon my friend Walter gave me. And I've managed to mow the yard twice! The Mayhaws are going great guns, so maybe I'll be able to make some jelly later in the summer or in early fall.

I haven't exactly been lazy, but I finally have the time to do some of the things I want to do. I have a stack of books waiting for me--I really want to tackle Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman--and I need to write more. My writing group is heating up and I want to have something for our next meeting. And, of course, I need to work on my courses for the fall--one freshman comp and three advanced comps. I also need to work on the online class I want to teach in the spring. I have a great deal to do and more time to do it.

So, stop and smell the honeysuckle, watch the hummingbirds, laugh at the neighbor's dog. It's summer, so let's all chill!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

And in the end, the grade you get is equal to the grade you earn...(sorry JPG&R)

It's that time again--the end of a semester. Along with the final papers and the final exams come the final grades. Some students will be happy; some will not. And, no matter how often I remind them that they earn their grades, I will have a few outraged, unhappy students. Oh, well. One of these semesters, probably the one where I retire, I'll get a whole group of students who "get it."

I both love and hate semester's end. I love it because I get a break from constant paper-grading and student kvetching, committee and faculty meetings, night classes, etc. While I'm in the middle of it, I'm fine. But when the end comes, I'm so ready for it. I always say I'm going to take a day to sleep, but I usually get antsy because of inactivity. I'm used to go, go, going, all the time--teaching, working my part time bookstore job, editing interviews for a local museum, painting windows for my sisters in Houston; I have difficulty slowing down. All that will change is the teaching and grading of papers. The rest will still need to be done, and I'll add some other projects--I'm in the middle of knitting socks, a sweater--and I've got a stack of books I want to read. And I need to finish unpacking and moving the rest of my "stuff" from my former house. So the summer will be full, even without school.

I hate the end of the semester, though. I have so many papers to grade and grades to average and post. But I hate that I'm "losing" my students. I've grown fond of most of them and some of them have had such difficult semesters that I worry about them. I hope they'll keep in touch, but they don't always. I can honestly say that I have a few former students who are friends of mine; they keep me posted on what's happening in their lives long after they leave my classes. I'm proud of the ones who have graduated and wish them the best. I hope I've helped them in some small way. I know they've helped me become better at what I do--my students "force" me to be a better teacher.

So, ciao to all my students. And ciao to the ones I'll meet in the fall. I hope we all have a restful and pleasant summer.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

And the seasons, they go round and round...

Well, it's that time again. Mr. Lester's peach trees are just beginning to bloom, so that means that his produce stand should open in about two months, sometime in May. Only the trees closest to the road are blooming right now, but, I expect, in about a week, I should see the ocean of purple-pink as I come around from the bridge. I can't wait! His peaches are wonderful and I look forward to the first peach cobbler I can bake with his peaches. And, I'm almost out of honey, so I'll need to get my annual supply from his stand.

It seems as though I just wrote about this, but I know it's been a year. How quickly time passes. Everything I do centers on semesters--that's pretty much how I gauge my life and my time. The spring semester always seems shorter than the fall semester, which is silly, because they are both 16 weeks long. We're halfway through now; where has the time gone?

Spring here means wind. I've been to Chicago and, yes, it's a windy city. But this area could rival it. Today, the Red River sprouted whitecaps and I had to drive with both hands on the wheel. I have, I think, a pretty sturdy car, but I couldn't keep it on the road. This is the second day this week with a lake wind advisory from the weather guys. I didn't see any fisher people out today--smart people!!

Kites, anyone?

"And the seasons, they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down.
We're captured on a carousel of time.
We can't return, we can only look
Behind from where we came,
And go round and round and round
In the circle game."

Thanks, Joni Mitchell, for that thought!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Hang up and drive!

Okay. It's inevitable that I write about people who drive and talk on their cell phones at the same time. Well, really, I'm writing about people who do anything with their cell phones in their hands--shop, walk, read. Am I the only person who thinks this is wrong? Am I the only person in the world who thinks phone calls should be kept private?

I'm working at the cash register in the bookstore. A customer comes up to the counter to check out and his/her cell phone goes off. With caller id and call back features standard on every phone these days, I think the call can wait--unless the person taking the call is waiting on a kidney or heart transplant, how important can such a call be? I'm trying to transact business here. It's just rude to expect a teller, cashier or customer service person to stand around and wait while you talk about your gynecological exam really loudly.

I have no mercy on these people. I go through my standard script, interrupting the conversation as often as I can. If the mood strikes me, I won't say anything to the customer at all. I just let the person intuit the total and proffer the credit card/cash/check at his/her leisure. I'm in no hurry.

Or I'm in my office at the college, just working away. Other professors are teaching in classrooms around me and, inevitably, someone comes walking down the hall, talking at the top of his/her voice. The conversation usually goes like this: "What are you doing?/No./I haven't heard anything./Do you know what she said to me?/She said..." Sounds really important, doesn't it? Who the hell cares what she said to you? You probably deserved it. Take it outside, now!

Ninety-nine percent of the conversations I can't help but hear seem stupid, not life-threatening or urgent or necessary. Are we so afraid of being alone with our thoughts that we need to be connected all the time? I just don't get it. I like quiet; I like silence. I want time to think without having someone babbling in my ear.

I have a cell phone only because my parents MADE me get one. My mother's afraid that, if I end up in a ditch, the police will need my GPS to find me (not likely!). But mom complains because I never answer it. I just don't turn it on unless I don't have access to long distance to call my kids, sisters, or brothers. But, when I use my cell phone, I'm usually in my office or in my PARKED car; I don't walk or drive while talking and I hate using it in public.

I drive 45 miles one-way to work every day and 45 miles back home when I'm through for the day. Inevitably, I can tell when the person driving in front of me on the highway is talking on a cell phone. The car speeds up and slows down, alternately and constantly, and the brake lights come on every few seconds. These drivers seldom use the cruise control. Sometimes, the driver is going way too fast--I've had talkers pass me going 80 or 90 miles an hour and they seldom have enough control over their vehicles. The guys talking behind me usually ride my bumper. One thing I know for sure is they seldom pay attention to their driving; they're too busy talking.

I want to get bumper stickers for my car: "Hang up and drive!" I think I'll tape them to all of the windows of my car, set the cruise control to 55, and see how many people take my advice.

I don't want to hear other peoples' conversations, phone or otherwise. Too much loose talk flies around us all the time; people just talk and talk and talk and say nothing. Why add more hot air to my breathing space? Stick to the moment--focus on the business at hand and return the call in the privacy of your own parked car!

At least we can choose to read (or not read) blogs!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Welcome to my reality!

Living in a small town, I've come to appreciate stillness and silence. I seldom receive phone calls or visitors, and I prefer my life that way. I spend hours every day, both at the college and the bookstore (when I work there!), dealing with people, with issues, with whatever; when I get home, I want a cocoon of quiet around me. I don't want to talk, except to my cats.

This is perhaps why I can't tolerate "reality" shows. Nothing on these shows is "real." It's all manufactured--how many of us are stranded on an island full of headhunters, having to scrounge for our daily bread and fight the other "strandees" for "immunity"? What's real about that? As for "The Great Race," for many of us, the "race" begins the moment the alarm clock scares us out of bed in the morning. We race to work, to lunch, to the drycleaners, the grocery, then race to get home to watch a "reality" show. Hey--I have enough trouble dealing with MY reality; I don't have time for someone else's.

I've thought about having someone follow me around with a video camera to capture the nuances and vagaries of my own day. How truly boring would that be? "And here's Ms. Smith chastising a student for not turning in an assignment." Or, "Here's Kathleen trying to decide which brand of toilet paper she should buy." Who wants to see that?

Well, that's how I feel about any of those shows on television that brand themselves as "reality." Hey, come live in my world for a while--worry about paying the bills and high gas prices and weather reports. Worry about free-ranging dogs chasing down your cats and mauling them. Worry about your parents' health and what's going to happen the day YOU fall down and break your leg when no one is around to help you.

Reality, I suppose is what you make it while you're just living your life; or, maybe, for many people, reality is what happens when you're watching "reality" on television. However it comes about, I'd still rather have my life than the million dollars I'd get for eating shark guts and taking out the competition by whatever dirty means necessary.

So, welcome to my world. It's boring, but it's at least "real"!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A Dog's Life

Don't get me wrong. Even though I am a cat person, I have nothing against dogs. Dogs are sweet (mostly), funny (when they aren't chewing up your $100 shoes), and lovable (if they are raised to be lovable). But, with my schedule and my definite independent spirit, cats just suit me better.

I don't need a fence to have cats; they ignore fences, true, but, if a cat is neutered, it usually won't stray far from its home. I can leave my cats for a week with ample food and water and clean litter boxes, knowing that they will not chew up the furniture or shred the feather pillows on my bed. Dogs, on the other hand, are high maintenance. A dog left alone for long periods of time will splinter the furniture and rip the wallpaper off the wall from boredom. Dogs need stimulation; cats just "vant to be alone." And, when they don't, they'll let you know.

The small town where I live does not have a leash law; dogs roam at will. Most of the dogs around here are big, usually hunting dogs, and they will chase anything that moves, from squirrels to skunks to...cats. About two Saturdays ago, three large dogs caught one of my cats on my front lawn; I thought they had mauled poor Boudreaux to death. He's fine now, but is not keen on venturing out the front door anymore, which makes me happy, but frustrates him. He has always been something of a bully, and it's just sad to see his lack of confidence (not to mention I have heart palpitations when any of my cats go out these days; I won't let them go out after dark anymore).

Dogs need to be kept home--at their homes. I don't want them in my yard bothering my cats or me. People who own dogs should keep them in fenced yards, inside, or on a chain. They should neuter their dogs if the dogs are not part of a controlled breeding program. Because my cats are neutered, they seldom leave my yard; they might go next door--the neighbor who owns the house next door loves cats; he has 5 acres and doesn't mind the cats hanging around because they kill mice and rats. My cats don't go in the road and they don't go across the ditch. I wish the dogs around here would learn from that. Better yet, I wish our town would institute a leash law and hire a dog catcher; maybe if we had a branch of the ASPCA, we could find owners who would keep them at home where they belong.