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Goodbye, Jordi

We lost our precious Jordi this morning.  She was hit and killed by a car.  She did not suffer.

There are no words for our pain.


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Letting Go

I signed up for a once-a-day email course in letting go.

I’ve been finding that I’m tense and uptight when I didn’t used to be.  I have trouble sleeping, I don’t feel as though I’ve been thinking clearly, and I seem to be having a hard time thinking clearly and focusing.

Almost all of that stress is work-related.  I’m doing what I love, but I’m doing it in a place in which I really don’t fit well, and that bothers almost every part of my life.  I’m hopeful that this course will help me to prioritize what’s important, release what doesn’t serve me, and help me find some balance.

Today’s lesson asks us to reflect on our goals for the course, and I thought perhaps that this might be a good place to put them.

  • How I hope to feel as a result of clearing what no longer serves and supports me is:  I would like to be able to sleep well.  I’ve been having anxiety dreams – frenetic, pointless, busy dreams that leave me feeling more tired than I was went I went to bed the night before – and I feel generally restless and uptight in my waking hours.  It would be a bonus if I could feel better about my professional situation, though I recognize that a lot of that is beyond my control.  I would like to feel as though I’m thinking clearly and that I’m able to focus; I feel as though I’m scattered and frantic most of the time.


  • What I hope to let go of is:  the feeling that I’m powerless.  I have a lot of good ideas and I can see a clear way to implement them; I’m just not sure that I can do it where I am now, so I would like to give up the feeling that I can’t do it at all, that because I’m only one person, I don’t have the resources or the wherewithal to do big things.


  • What I hope to attract is: clarity, confidence, and balance.  I want to feel organized and effective, and to attract people who think and feel the same way I do.  I want to build a team that gets things done, and that supports each other while we’re doing it.


  • How does “clutter” show up in your life?  I tend not to suffer too much from physical clutter; though there are a lot of extraneous things in my life, I’m pretty good at clearing the excess out relatively often (in fact, I currently have a trunk-load of stuff that I can bring to the thrift shop; I need to make a point of doing that soon). My brain is cluttered, though, with to-do lists and scattered tasks, and with a lot of plans and ideas and hopes.  I’ve been working on getting these things on paper and out of my head, but I find that I often think of things that I want or need to do in the car or the shower or, worse, just before I fall asleep.  I’ll focus on getting better at putting these things down (and checking them off); I learned how to use the reminder feature on my phone the other day, so I’ll make better use of that.  I’m also working with my students on weekly goals; I’ll use that as an opportunity to put my short-term stuff in order.

Today is the Solstice, so it feels right that I’m beginning to put these ideas in place today; this day feels like a good day for fresh starts.

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Just Call Me Fred

I mean to give him the same chance every year, whether he likes it or not, for I pity him. He may rail at Christmas till he dies, but he can’t help thinking better of it—I defy him—if he finds me going there, in good temper, year after year, and saying Uncle Scrooge, how are you?      -Fred at his party, talking about his determination to keep being generous and cheerful to his stingy Uncle Scrooge.  Stave III of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

I’m feeling an awful lot like Scrooge’s nephew lately.  I keep offering little bits of kindness and generosity that keep getting baldly ignored.  Case in point:

The other day, I was in Trader Joe’s texting with a coworker – we’ll call her Blair – asking her about the candy preferences of yet another coworker, whom I’ll call Charlotte (I’m putting together little gift baskets and, since I have almost no interaction with Charlotte on a regular basis, needed some inside information).  I sent a bunch of pictures of the choices and managed to determine from Blair that Charlotte likes chocolate covered peanuts, so I bought some.

On my way home, Blair texted again with interest in the peanuts; she doesn’t live near a TJ’s and wondered if I’d pick up a box for her, too.  I’d already left the store, but I had Bean text back (I was driving at the time) that she could have the box I bought for Charlotte, because I’ll be back in TJ’s before I need to give her the gift.  Blair did the “no, no; that’s okay” thing and that’s the last we said about it.

This morning, I left the box of peanuts on Blair’s desk for her to find when she came in.

Blair’s room is two doors away from mine.  We have REALLY easy access to email.  She has a double-block free period AND she passed me, TWICE, in the hallway today.  Never ONCE did she acknowledge the gift.  In fact, she barely acknowledged me (and maybe wouldn’t have if I hadn’t said hello first).

Merry Christmas, Blair.  God save you!

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Fuck Your “Thoughts and Prayers”

Today is December 2nd.  It is the 336th day of the year.  According to all of the sources I have looked at today, there have been 352 mass shootings this year.  For those of you who, like me, might be math-impaired, that’s 16 more shootings than we’ve had days.

Sit with that for a moment, would you?

Today, there were three mass shootings; one in San Bernardino, California which, at this writing, has claimed 14 lives and left upwards of 20 people wounded; one in Houston, Texas which left one person dead and an unknown number wounded; and one in Savannah, Georgia, which left one person dead and at least three wounded.

I always feel the same after something like this happens (and it should be noted here that something like this happens a couple times a week, and yes, I know about almost all of them; I make a point to seek out this news).  I find myself suspended halfway between gaping despair and wordless, seething rage.

Right now?  Rage is winning.

Observe; these are the twitter responses of some of the major candidates for the nomination on the GOP side:

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This right here?  This is why we have 16 more shootings than we’ve had days in this year.  We are experiencing EXACTLY WHAT WE DESERVE because we’ve tolerated – no; more than tolerated, we’ve elevated – the people who aspire to some seriously twisted image of what it means to be an American with “2nd Amendment rights” far more than they value public safety and the lives of our citizens.  We vote these nationalistic, ignorant, dangerous and deluded maniacs into office.  We allow them to refrain from bringing to the legislative agenda anything that even remotely resembles a meaningful, rational attempt to curb our national obsession with firearms.  We’ve allowed them to get the ignorant and frightened all worked up about “baby parts” and refugees and Obama coming for your guns.  We’ve stood politely by and respected the “opinions” of others who tell us that “laws don’t matter; bad guys will always find a way to get guns” and, “an armed society is a polite society” and, “the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” and instead of collectively standing up and saying “you know what?  No.  No more,” we light candles and hold vigils and offer “thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families” and hope that we can finish praying for one set of murdered citizens before it’s time to focus on another.

Fuck that.  Fuck your thoughts and prayers.  Your thoughts and prayers weren’t enough after Columbine to prevent Mark Orrin Barton from killing 9 people in Atlanta.  Your thoughts and prayers after Atlanta weren’t enough to prevent the Virginia Tech massacre.  Your thoughts after Virginia Tech weren’t enough to stop the mass murders in Huntsville or Tuscon or Seal Beach or Aurora or Oak Creek or Minneapolis or Newtown (when we REALLY should have said “here and no farther”) or any of the literally hundreds of shootings that have happened since; they didn’t stop the guy who killed three people at a Planned Parenthood on Friday and they didn’t stop the guy who murdered a waitress at a Waffle House because she told him he couldn’t smoke in the restaurant and they didn’t stop the guy who killed someone for parking in front of his house.  They didn’t stop the staggering number of young black people who’ve been murdered, literally in the middle of our streets, simply because they were there.

For whatever good intentions you might have, your thoughts and prayers don’t do shit.

Enough.  Get off your fucking knees and DO something.  Write to your congresspeople.  VOTE.  Insist on reasonable, rational laws and regulations that will certainly help to limit the number of these kinds of incidents.  Volunteer at your local schools to help teach kids how to manage their problems without violence.  Stop tolerating the kind of rhetoric that allows us to think of our neighbors as less than human.  Be fucking decent to each other.  Stop enabling a society where more mass shootings than days in the year is commonplace.

I’m begging you.


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The Perils of Being an Empath

For quite a long time now, writing has been absent from my day-to-day life. I used to be quite a prolific writer, and I enjoyed the process of thinking and observing and writing very much, but I have let the habit slide and, as a consequence, have fallen well out of practice.

This evening, I pulled up a recipe from Stupid Easy. Beanie had wandered down from her bedroom lair to socialize, and she parked herself in front of my computer while I was cooking, occasionally relaying ingredient measurements to me, but mostly reading old posts on the site. At one point, she turned to me and said, “Mummy, I love how you write. Reading your writing feels like talking to you.”

It’s not the first time I’ve been paid that highest of compliments. Many years ago, I had an opportunity to meet Michael in real life. We had been blog buddies for about a year and a half at that point when we discovered that we grew up in the same neighborhood. One day, Michael mentioned that he was heading ‘home’ from Alabama to visit his family. I asked him where ‘home’ was, and it turned out that it was exactly where I grew up (which is an easy car ride from where I live now). Anyway, we made plans to meet while he was there, and after about five minutes over our salads at Bertucci’s, he paid me the highest writing compliment I’d yet received; “I know this sounds weird, since we only just met, but I feel like we’ve been friends for years. You write exactly like you sound.”

Bean’s echoing of that compliment flipped a switch. I have been feeling like I need to write more – that part of the reason that I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed and so skittish and so restless and, yeah, kind of hunted is that I’ve not had an outlet for all the things that I see, think, and feel.

I’m working as a teacher at the moment. A few weeks ago, I printed out and gave my students an agenda that helps them to set clear and specific goals, and I printed one out for myself, as well. I decided that my goal for November is to plan more dinners (dinner time can be very stressful after a long day. “What do you want for dinner?” I don’t know, what do YOU want? “I don’t know. What do we have in the house?” Gah!), but now I’m thinking that I’m going to add another little goal. Next week, I’m going to write two pieces – probably here. The week after, maybe I’ll write three. Regardless of the amount, I’m going to build writing back into my life. I need the outlet.

Maybe a regular writing practice will help me sleep more at night.

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There is No “Other”

Last week, Donald Trump (I know; bear with me) held an event in a town not far from where I live. During this event, he took questions from the crowd (which, given the nature of the people who would be likely to attend a Donald Trump rally, seems a bit of a risk and makes me wonder what his campaign managers were thinking, but that’s a conversation for another time).

What happened next should have come as a surprise to exactly nobody. Some cretin stood up and proclaimed that – and I’m quoting here – “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. You know our current president is one. You know he’s not even an American.”

Trump, laughing, said, “We need this question. This is the first question.” Please note here that no effort was made by Trump or his campaign to shut this guy down.

“Anyway,” Mr. Cretin continues, “we have training camps growing where they want to kill us. “That’s my question: When can we get rid of them?”

Now, let me say here – as an English teacher who’s also a reasonable human being – that it is entirely possible that Mr. Cretin was expressing, in his own limited way, that he’s concerned about ISIS and Taliban training camps (though the “we” in his sentence makes me wonder if he thinks said training camps are located in the US, but really, who knows what’s happening in that fevered, frightened little brain of his) and he wants to hear from his candidate about what the government might be relied upon to do to try to limit their effectiveness (if not their very existence). It’s possible that that’s what this guy was asking; that his facility with language is such that he wasn’t able to clearly express that idea, and that he didn’t have enough education (or it didn’t stick well enough) for him to discern his unclear pronoun references, but I really don’t think that’s what was happening here.

The fact that Mr. Cretin opened his comment by specifically mentioning this country’s “problem” with Muslims is the first clue that I have to tell me that he wasn’t being nuanced, and he wasn’t talking about training camps in the Middle East.  Further, the fact that Mr. Cretin expresses the idea that “they want to kill us” immediately before asking “when can we get rid of them” tells me that Mr. Cretin isn’t talking about the camps at all.  He’s scared of Muslims; he was talking about icky, scary brown people in his country.

Mr. Cretin was advocating for ethic cleansing, plain and simple.  And, more to the point, I bet if you asked Mr. Cretin if he’d be okay with rounding American Muslims up and sticking them on boats and airplanes and shipping them off the continent, he’d think that would be a capital piece of domestic policy.

Now, there are a couple of things about this that horrify and disgust me.

First, this guy is my neighbor.  I mean, he doesn’t literally live in the house next door (and, as far as I know, he remains “unidentified”), but he may as well; we live in the same area and I am a fellow in this man’s community.

Up until now, I have comforted myself into thinking that my neighbors don’t think like Mr. Cretin.  I’d managed to convince myself that I share my space with decent, reasonably well educated, moderate human beings who have a base level of respect for the dignity of all people, regardless of their race or gender or ethnicity or religion.

Mr. Cretin (and all the other people who were at that event) has convinced me that I’ve been kidding myself.

Second, and perhaps more frightening, is that the mainstream of one of the two major political parties in this country has worked tirelessly for years now to cultivate just this kind of attitude among is base and almost NOTHING has been done to counter that narrative.  This guy, and countless others like him, are the direct and inevitable result of the xenophobic, racist, and bigoted rhetoric and policy the Republican party has been championing for nearly a decade.  What scares the hell out of me is how good the GOP were/are at generating this kind of hatred and how willing people are to swallow it whole and embrace it as their own.

Exhibit A: The other day, I made a comment on a Facebook post comparing Trump’s response to his Mr. Cretin  – “You know, a lot of people are saying that and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening. We’re going to be looking at that and many other things” – with McCain’s response to a Mrs. Cretin at one of his events in 2008.  In McCain’s case, a woman got hold of the microphone and said, “I can’t trust Obama… he’s an Arab.”  to which McCain replied, “No, Ma’am; he’s a decent, family man citizen…blah, blah, difference of opinion.”

On the Facebook post, I made mention of the fact that, while McCain certainly handled his xenophobe better than Trump did, McCain’s response was really pretty shitty on its face.  In denying the woman’s claim by saying that Obama is a “decent family man,” McCain set up a direct, explicit, and unfavorable comparison between “Arab” and “decent.”  “Oh, no, Mrs. Cretin; Obama’s NOT an Arab; he’s a DECENT man.”  While the response to my comment has been mostly favorable (“wow; you’re right, I never thought of that”), there have been a bunch of “oh, get over yourself you whiney, liberal crybaby” responses, too.

Between Mr. Cretin and his fellows and the news about the deplorable situation for Syrian refugees fleeing into Europe (and don’t get me started on the comments under news articles about cities in the US whose mayors have offered to take in some of those refugees), I have been have been heartbroken lately.

My yoga message for my class today was about actively rejecting the “us vs. them” narrative that is so horribly present in our day to day right now.  I want people to stop thinking about people as “others” and to remember that every human being is worthy and deserving of love and respect and decency simply because they exist.

On my way home from yoga class this morning, I was listening to On the Media on NPR.  One of the stories was about people in Austria and Germany who’ve been volunteering to help the refugees, and about some of the creative ways they’ve found to offer comfort and aid to people who desperately need it.  The story that got to me was of a young man in Vienna who is talented with computers and IT.  He has gone to a train station to set up WIFI or 3G for refugees so they can be in touch with family and friends.  When asked how long he’d keep coming back to do this work, he replied with “I will be here until nobody needs me no more.”

I wept all the way home.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately.

I really kind of hate thinking about money.  I’m not good at it, there’s a lot about economics that I just don’t understand and, frankly, the entire idea of money fucks with my head.  Think about it; money and everything about it is an ENTIRELY MADE UP CONCEPT.  Everything about how we’ve decided to order money and monetary value is essentially pulled out of our collective asses.  Sure, you can argue that this thing – say, a computer – is worth more than that thing – say, a cucumber – because of engineering and assembly and materials costs, blah, blah, blah, but someone explain to me why, say, a diamond is worth more than, say, a garnet.  Someone explain to me why a science teacher should be paid more than an art teacher (or why a man should be paid more than a woman) or why we think that some professions “deserve” more money than others.  Seriously; given the choice between a bank CEO and my garbage guy, I think my garbage guy should be getting the cushy salary.

So, I posted this article on facebook the other day, and it started a conversation about whether or not we can even begin to upend the way we think about money and society.  At one point, a friend asked this:

“What would you do if your were guaranteed that your needs for food, clothing, shelter, and education would be covered?”

I keep hearing people tell me that there’s no way that this model would work; that people require motivation – and in this stage of our evolution, that motivation is largely economic and competitive – in order to actually DO anything. Without some sort of competitive motivation, people keep telling me, we’d just sit around mooching off the system.

I wonder if that’s really true, though.  That may be the case now, and for some people, but not for everyone.

Take ME, for example. I WANT to be a teacher, despite the shitty pay (and no exaggeration; it’s really bad, especially in the environments – small charter schools – where I do best) and the crappy working conditions and the utter contempt that our society seems to have for teachers lately. I LOVE teaching, and it’s what I WANT to do, and I do it with little consideration for how I’m monetarily compensated for it.

Now, if my husband weren’t an engineer who makes decent money, I wouldn’t – I couldn’t – BE a teacher because there’s no way I could afford to support my family on a teaching salary.  If my husband were to die tomorrow (and we didn’t have life insurance), I would have to consider other ways to make a living; my teaching salary would be insufficient to maintain our house and to send my kids to college (both things that I consider essential to maintaining our current standard of living).  Failing finding a job that could meet my current financial needs, I’d have to adjust my standard of living “downward;” certainly to a different living arrangement, and likely to adjusted expectations about what kind of support my girls could expect from me as they begin their own lives independent of our family as a unit.

How many people get that freedom, though? I’m going to argue that precious few do, and here’s were I make the point that my husband didn’t feel he had that freedom; he became an engineer because he saw it as more fiscally lucrative than doing what he REALLY wanted to do, which was become an architect or a toy designer.  Working, as I do, with high school students, I’m constantly exposed to kids who are making choices about their continuing education based almost solely on the expected financial return of certain career choices. My own daughter summed it up today, in fact, while we were out walking. “I’m going to go to college eventually, probably for 7 years, and I’m going to come out with a pile of debt and no guarantee of a job to pay down that debt (and probably doing a job that I don’t really love, anyway).” I hear people discourage people ALL THE TIME with lines like “what kind of JOB are you going to get with an ART/English/Philosophy degree?!”  I’ve heard freshmen in my writing program tell me that they’re in their major because they’re more confident about job and money prospects with this degree than they would be with a degree that would lead to a career that would make them “happy, but poor.”

So, here’s my question.  Have we come yet to a stage in our evolution – whether as a species writ large or as a culture in the U.S. (or elsewhere; Holland, for example, or Canada, where some places are also flirting with this idea of basic minimum income for everyone) where we’re ready to start ensuring a floor through which no one can fall and giving people the opportunity to find the work that they REALLY WANT to do?  Do you think these experiments are going to work, or are they going to collapse on themselves?


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