Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Not again.

This does not bode well for the immediate future of my writing habit. I am notorious (among myself) for the reverse binge-and-purge of good deeds.

But I could not stop myself.

In another requisite end-of-year reflection, I am forced to recognize how quickly this year has passed. The What Significant Things Happened in 2008? Game was played by my mom and me on Christmas Day as I drowsily drove home from my sister's house. It was meant to keep me awake, as the game Cows was not cutting it.

This year passed with such swiftness, I believe, because of how compartmentalized it was. This is how I think of it: Post-Graduation/Pre-Honduras, Honduras, Post-Honduras/Holly's Wedding/Pre-Teaching, and Teaching. For each segment of time, I was oblivious to anything but my immediate physical and mental surroundings and the tasks at hand. Each chapter, if you will, flowed neatly into the next one in such a way that, without my notice, I graduated college one day and finished my first semester as a real teacher the next -- with a whole year gone in the process.

Perhaps the most surprising realization of all (maybe I exaggerate) was the inspiration for this entry. Looking at my links (almost unfamiliar from the lack of seeing them regularly), I saw the one to my Flickr photos. I knew before I clicked it what I would find: My premium account has expired. The year passed and I did not make my payment. What was more than a thousand photographs and several nifty albums dividing them up has been reduced to 200 pictures, being less than half of my Honduras album. I have not yet decided whether or not to upgrade and save the account. Its practicality has, too, expired for me.

It seems strange to me that silly little bits like this mark the passage of time.

Considering the new year's resolve.

With the new year fewer than two days away, I am almost inspired to renew my dedication to this blog. Almost.

More than half of my school winter break (to be politically correct) has passed, and I am just now unearthing the tools of teacherliness that have conveniently been out of sight -- and undoubtedly out of mind. I'm trying to get last semester -- in all its incompleteness due to snow days -- graded and out of the way, but today, I found myself preparing for this coming semester during which I get to be an English teacher, too. In theory, it sounds exciting. A little bit, anyhow. We'll see. So I must carve out that path for myself and my students. Plus, I need to apply all of my lessons learned from this past semester to rethink my strategies and routines for this semester. Is organization next to godliness? Or is it preparedness?

And so it is now time to reflect upon that hideous false construct of the new year's resolution. I am leary of saying them out loud, much less writing them down, much less publishing them for others to see. I think it is a curse akin to that of the senior yearbook ad. (Refresher course: The couples who take out an ad in the back of the yearbook in order to profess their love for another are doomed to break up before the yearbooks come off the press.) I'm not sure I've accomplished any goal I've ever written down save purchasing an item on a grocery list, which is still a dubious example.

With the above in mind, I will not share my list of very specific tasks I have proposed for myself, both personal and professional. But there is a list! In my mind and nowhere else. Of course.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The ban on MySpace cleared out the crowd.

Ah, Election Day.

The leaves have peaked around here, and the weather's nice. It took me three seconds to vote. Now, I'm at the public library where there is a book sale, and I wonder what it must be like to be the author whose books have been pulled from the shelves, branded with a bold "WITHDRAWN" stamp, and shoved onto the "Reduced! Unmarked books only 10 cents!" table. I bought one Newbery Award winner. How'd that make it on the table? And a ton of audio cassette recordings. Famous speeches, Charles Kuralt essays, a Garrison Keillor broadcast, and a Studs Turkel series because I know that he just died and I don't have a clue who he was. I'm a sucker. I know.

Anyway, I'm getting ready to multitask -- enter grades and catch up on Nerdfighteria while I sit here with the public library computer lab crew: the match.com dude, the solitaire guy, the YouTube lady. We're pretty cool, all of us.

Tomorrow, I'm going to see John and Hank Green. And that's all that matters.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Decision-making and the art of lawncare.

Last weekend, after a week at school that made me actually love my job, I decided that it was time to start looking for a place closer to school. After all, if I'm going to be keeping my teaching post for at least two years, I should be looking for a more reasonable dwelling with a commute time of fewer than 45 minutes each way. Thusly began the hunt.

It was frustrating -- not because I wasn't coming up with any information. I was. My word-of-mouth and school-wide email inquiries were turning up results faster than I could sort through them. But I was frustrated because this week had me chained to my desk until well after dark, long after the hour it is advisable to track down uncharted rental property. Plus, I was just too tired to do the sifting.

Thank goodness for this week. No, it didn't make me love my job quite as well as last week did, but it did give me some time to think. I still haven't followed up on any of those leads. Freeish-time is only now peeking around the corner. Who knows? Maybe I'll go apartment hunting. Maybe I won't. Yes, being closer to school would be nice, but maybe I'm just conning myself with all those glittering pros on my pro-con list. With gas prices going down and with home getting more homey by the minute, I'm not sure if sleeping with a shotgun beside my bed is really what I want right now.

Here's what I've decided:

The grass is no greener anywhere else than it is where I stand at any given moment. I should tend it and cultivate it. I should water it and be grateful for it. I should choose to see the tender shoots of green beside my feet, instead of tromping them down. And if anyone else's lawn looks more lush and velvety green than my own, it is because that person chose to make it that way, and if that same lawn doesn't stay that way after the previous owner leaves and I set up camp, it is because that person took his or her attitude with him or her, I've brought mine along, and it's the same attitude that kept my little patch of grass brown and brittle before. And I can't forget that every place goes through seasons. Nowhere -- short of Narnia -- is grass really perpetually green. But it is almost always certain to come back if I wait long enough.

If I live here or if I live there, life is life. Good or bad. I can choose to run, or I can choose to change myself. Running seems easier, but it's only temporary.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

don't get me wrong

I know. I've disappeared. What can I say?

I sometimes get the feeling I spend way too much time on school, but I haven't figured out yet how to manage. I've never really understood the saying not enough hours in the day until now. I'm not saying it can't happen, but I don't currently understand how someone can be a teacher and a person. You know, a person who has a family, has friends, has hobbies, reads, listens to music, watches movies, gets on Facebook... And to be a real person while being a good teacher? I don't know. Maybe my definition of person is skewed.

One teacher told me that someone once gave her this advice: "I think you would be a better teacher if you didn't work so hard."

I could understand that. "I think I'm in danger of being that teacher," I said.

Another teacher who was standing with us then asked me, "Are you married?" I shook my head no, and she laughed knowingly and confirmed, "Oh, yeah. You are in danger."

I guess you compensate and displace. You can only fill up the time you have available and then the excess gets pushed out. Maybe I've made the mistake of making all of myself available.

I know, I know. It's my first year. It's supposed to be this way. I'll find the rhythm. I'll catch my breath. I just wonder when.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

On Friday, Holly treated Elizabeth, Rachel, and me to McDonald's lunch. It was the one semi-calm moment in the wedding-day whirlwind, even if Holly rushed to paint her own fingernails as soon as she finished her southern chicken sandwich. While Holly did that, Elizabeth and I decided to brave the newly-formed lunch crowd at the counter to get desserts. While we stood there in line and debated whether or not we should ask the lady at the cash register for "vanilla thrillas" instead of "ice cream cones" (Elizabeth ultimately did, though the cashier was not amused.), I felt became aware of a feeling in my stomach.

It was one of those feelings that is neither fully physiological nor fully psychological. I vaguely recognized it, but I couldn't quite place it. It was sort of an emptiness despite having had eaten. Then I had a flashback, similar to the mental connection between an aroma and a place or between a song and a season. For a split second, I wasn't twenty four years old or standing in line with Elizabeth at the McDonald's on Washington and Green: I was seven, and I was alone, lying in the bed that my sister and I shared until the day that she got married. And I had that feeling in my stomach -- or in my heart.

Who knew that I'd have the same reaction to my best friend getting married that I had to my sister getting married? It struck me as sort of odd, mostly because I'm seventeen years older than I was when Sissy married. You'd think my emotions would have matured a bit.

But really, it makes sense. Why wouldn't I feel the same way? I mean, I'm still not sure what the feeling means. I believe that it is one of those amoral things that is -- at the risk of being redundant -- neither good nor bad. But whatever it is, I'm glad that my heart knows what's going on even if, in the whirlwind, I don't.

I'm happy for you, C. B.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

It occurred to me the other day that a person can drive down any road he or she wants. No one is stopping me from driving down those roads that don't really make up the most direct route between home and my final destination. There is no law enforcing the straight line between points A and B. There's no one keeping me from going anywhere except me. Huh.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mining 101

For better or for worse, Niaz and I have decided to start a blog about our first year of teaching, mostly because we thought it was cool that we graduated together, will be doing our first year at the same time, and we'll both be teaching Spanish. We recognize that we are at least partially insane for even considering such an undertaking during what is widely known as the most hectic time of a teacher's life. We're hoping, though, that it will be a good tool for us: a place to reflect, to compare notes, and maybe even to get some feedback. Who knows. It might actually help us make it through the year.

It's called Mining 101, and there is a handy little link to it in the sidebar. We're going ahead and getting started because, after all, we do have to prepare ourselves in advance for this adventure of being first year teachers in Kentucky schools. So we'll be chronicling our experiences, developments, and general teacherliness, hopefully with some regularity. Even if you're not a teacher, it might be interesting to watch us flounder around. And if you are a teacher, help! We'd love to have some of your insight.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Two tales.


I counted twenty-four rings from the center to the sappy edge of the stump. Thinking of the boy in the Giving Tree sitting there bent and wrinkled, I laid a hand on the felled trunk and patted it the way you do the cooling fingers of a loved one newly passed away. This mulberry -- a mulberry because of the little green clumps in her hair -- was twenty-four years old this morning when Dad put a notch and a wedge in the base and pulled her to the ground with a chain and his truck. She was disfigured, he said, from the January icestorm, but Mom and I, driving past in the afternoons, had both mentioned that we liked the way she lifted her jointy arms into the air. Now they are in pieces at her sides. The exposed interior is yellow and solid, not like the hollowed white stump of catalpa keeping vigil several yards away. Grabbing onto a tiny arm, I rock a small section of the trunk toward me. Dad warns me that it'd crush my toes were it to slip, so I push it back and ask if we can take it to the house. Not questioning my motive, which is good because I'm still not sure of it myself, he backs the truck alongside the tree, rolls the little log away from the rest, and lays it in the bed. When we get home, he adds it to a row of wizened chunks of trees past lined up beside the garage. I'm not sure if this is a memorial for fallen trees or if it is a monument of remorse, but this new piece looks out-of-place at the end, with her twenty-four fully-intact rings, same as me.


"Might as well look at the road if you're going to drive."

Dad was taking turns looking at the fields of yellow-tops out to the left and glancing at the road. I was getting tired of my side of the truck getting near the weeds in the ditch and then whipping back into the road. We had been watching yet another pile of brushwood burn when he decided we should go to Sebree. "Let's go get a bite to eat," he suggested. "How about that?" So there we went.

He sat in the Subway parking lot while I ran in, twenty dollar bill in hand. The familiar Subway smell smelled unfamiliar in Sebree. The restaurant is only a few weeks old here, and I am unused to seeing national chains in the area. With Mom out-of-town for the week, I went ahead and ordered a Five-Dollar Footlong for each of us, figuring it might last us a few meals. Chicken breast for me, and meatball for Dad. (True to form, when I ordered his, I requested a football.) I took the sandwiches and Dad's change back to the truck, and we headed for the Dairy Bar.

This was more like it. The Dairy Bar has been in Sebree for longer than my memory. We went through the drive-through and ordered vanilla ice cream cones to eat before supper. Mine small, his medium. Before we could get across the railroad tracks to go home, we heard a train whistle drawing close. We were the first to stop at the crossing with the red-and-white-striped arms and flashing red lights, and we both saw this as an opportunity for Dad to eat on the ice cream before having to contend with it and the steering wheel. Waiting for the train to come, I heard a car rev up behind us and pass us. I figured it was going to turn onto the street parallel to the tracks, but instead, it zoomed straight ahead, zig-zagged through protected arms, and trailed up Main Street only a few seconds before the train crossed the car's path.

For about three minutes, railroad car after railroad car flickered past as Dad neglected his ice cream cone to gripe about the idiocy of that car's driver. I'd finished mine, cone and all, by the time the lights stopped flashing and the arms raised again. Coming up Main, we saw the sky light up pink with rattlesnake lightning.

As we passed out of Sebree, it started to rain. Juggling the barely-eaten ice cream and the barely-functioning windshield wipers, Dad grew anxious. He worked on the ice cream and jumped just a little each time lightning streaked the sky. By the time he offered me the last bit of cone, which I turned down, it was raining steady.

"Guess it's raining on the garden," he said. Today, it was cucumbers, squash, and cantaloupe seeds and more tomato sets in the ground. Indeed, they were getting a soaking.

The rain had slowed when we pulled up the long gravel drive beside the house, but the lightning had grown more frequent. He parked around back, turned the key in the ignition, and squinted out the window. "I don't know." There was a bit of distance and a hickory nut tree between us and the locked back door.

"I don't know," he repeated. "They say not to open windows because the electricity can travel." He rolled down his window.

Lightning behind us flashed and turned the building in front of us pink for a split second. Dad was counting under his breath, the fastest seconds I ever heard, waiting for the thunder. When it rolled, it was apparently far enough away to satisify him. I gathered up all our belongings, Subway included, and made him sort out which was the back door key before we made a run for it. Just as we scurried through the door, there was another flash, but we were safe.

"Don't you think it'd be nice to eat on the front porch," he suggested. I couldn't help but laugh. I nodded and took our sandwiches out through the front door to the rocking chairs, and he went to the basement after two cans of Pepsi. While I rocked and waited for him, I watched the hills across the road disappear into nightfall. Except for those few seconds every now and then when the whole sky would be strange daylight before dimming again and rumbling away.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Restaurant.

I knew that I was taking advantage of the waitress when I ordered the salad bar. When Dad asked how much it would cost to add the bar to his burger and chili, she accidently said two bucks rather than the actual $2.99 that's printed in the menu, the one updated with newer, slightly higher prices to compensate for the economy. I told her, "I think it's $2.99," but she said that since she'd said it wrong, she'd give us that price. I wasn't even going to get the salad bar because, though this new little feature of the Restaurant has made eating there two or three times a week bearable, I was a sort of burnt out and just wanted a burger and fries. But a dollar off? Why not, I said. So at 4:30 in the afternoon, I had a bigger supper than I could handle.

Mom had late meetings and a dinner at work tonight, so it was just Dad and me. There's been a lot of just him and me lately, if you couldn't tell, but it's good. To hear Mom tell it, he's spent the last six years missing me. I'd say he's spent the past six years missing keeping an insanely watchful eye over me. However you cut it, he's glad I'm home these days, and I'm trying to make the most of this year that I've decided to spend here.

Whether anyone wants to read it or not, it's got me writing. Almost too much, because I find myself already drafting paragraphs while I'm still in the experience. For instance, while I whittled away at my too-big meal, I was taking mental notes about the constant drone of FOX News in the background, about the way carrots was misspelled with two Ts on the daily specials board, about how specials had an unnecessary apostrophe in it, about how Dad was alternating between a conversation with me about undergraduate and graduate degrees and a conversation with a guy at the next table (the old man coffee-drinking table for regulars) about how many tons a certain tractor might weigh.

But really, there isn't anything that insightful to write. It was supper with Dad. It was normal and pretty cheap. And that's interesting enough for me.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Dad Chronicles continue.

Maybe I'm just swept up in the fever of the fad, but I'm trying to be green. Ish. I'm buying all the canvas totes at WalMart and IGA so that I don't use any more plastic bags. Of course, I love that the bags are cute and under two dollars, and I keeping carrying my knitting in them instead of groceries. Oops. Anyway, I'm also attempting to compile a compost heap, which so far only consists of a lot green onions, a smattering of eggshells, and one ground-filled coffee filter. Oh, and I'm trying to garden. Trying.

My first feeble attempt is this "egg" plant I have in my bedroom window. I'm trying to get a pansy seedling to pop up in a pre-fab eggshell. Easter marketing, go figure. Still no sign of green despite the daily sunshine and water that I make sure it gets.

And right outside that window, our garden is visible. I can see the tomato plants Dad set last week. I was going to help with that, but I'm still working on my priorities. Last night, however, I did not miss out on the sowing of the carrot and radish seeds. Dad raked out the first trench for the carrot seeds, sprinkled them along, and pushed the soil back over top of them. I dropped the tiny carrot seeds in the second row. Then, I dug, dropped, and threw dirt over a row of future radishes -- hopefully.

Dad's always been the star gardener, and now we're going to see what I can come up with. I'll be watching.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


We went fishing yesterday, Dad and I, at a dead man's lake. It was almost eerie standing, fishing rod in hand, in the short grass of his lawn, well-maintained by his son over a year after the accident, while Dad sorted out lures in the tackle box and lit a cigarette, explaining that we'd need the yellow rope called a stringer to bring the caught fish home. I almost felt like we were trespassing.

But I also felt welcome there. I knew the man. I had been at this same house many years ago for a Christmas party. This was the guy who, in front of the gas station/bus stop, gave me the first fig I'd ever eaten that wasn't in a Fig Newton. He had fished with Dad in his lake just days before the accident, had told him to come whenever he wanted and take as many fish with him as he could. After, his son had renewed the offer. So off we took yesterday, in Dad's white third-hand pickup bouncing down the backroads, which I recognized from my old bus route when I was in high school.

There in the yard, I held my rod and reel, fishing line already prepped with hook and neon pink rubber worm wiggling in the breeze, and I watched Dad, cigarette dangling, hunkered over the telescoping box with its three tiers reaching up, offering every type of sure-fire lure imaginable: worms, crickets, minnows, centipedes. All species, all colors, all synthetic materials represented. He selected his first bait of choice, a white underdeveloped-looking grub, and clicked it onto the line, and together, we headed for the weeds. The grass around the bank of the water had not, apparently, been a landscaping priority for the son, as it had been for the father.

As we tromped around the lake's perimeter, looking for a nice starting point, I just followed Dad and watched my feet as they lay down little walls of weeds with each step, like how one cable television show that I once saw described the making of crop circles. We saw a mud turtle, making her own crop cirlces, apparently laying her eggs, Dad said. I wouldn't know. We found a spot that was close enough to some cattails -- "structure is good," he explained -- and far enough away from the shallow edge so that I wouldn't spend the afternoon dragging up hookful after hookful of algae.

Now, I'm no angler, but it seems to me that I go fishing to cast the line and that Dad goes fishing to change the lures. Essentially, I have no idea what I'm doing, but if I have any theory at all about the catching of fish, it is to stay in the same spot, to use the same lure, and to throw it out there over and over. Let the fish come to me if they want to be caught. If I don't get a bite after three casts, no problem. Keep casting until something happens. Wait and see, as foolish as it might be, works for me.

Not Dad, though. I think he used fifteen different lures in the two hours we were there. He was, of course, just trying to figure out what the fish wanted. I, on the other hand, am able to convince myself that if I keep giving my set-up second chances, it'll work out. Either that, or I'm just too lazy to try new things. That's more likely. But let me put it this way, I caught four fish, two of them just as we were giving up on our spot, two of them while Dad was picking out a new spinny, shiny contraption to tempt the fish with, all four of them with that unrealistically pink version of an earthworm. Dad caught one. We threw all of them back and watched as each one happily wove itself back into the lake water.

Right after my fourth bass, Mom called to see if we wanted to meet her and Wade and Day to eat. I told her yeah, that I was getting tired of catching fish. Dad laughed and told me not to tell anyone that I put a hurt on him. He threw out three more casts just in case, and I wished that he'd get something. He didn't, but I knew he was as happy for me as if he'd caught a hundred himself.

We went back through the weeds and up the hill, and I let him put my fishing rod, with the half-eaten worm with the Eagle Eye hook poking through its rubber belly, in the bed of the truck, next to the empty bucket for bringing fish home. Dad put the stringer, still in its package, back in the tackle box. I slid in the passenger side and popped open the half-hot can of Mountain Dew that he put in the truck for me before we left the house, when it was still cold. As we navigated the blind curves and hilltops on our way to Dixon to meet Mom, I pointed out all the houses and who lived in them, names I still remembered from riding the bus to school, and Dad drove and smoked and listened with the windows rolled down.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

¡a leer!

I have the following: a teaching job that will officially begin in the fall, a long list of books that I want to read, and quite a bit of time. I shouldn't feel guilty about sitting around reading for a month or so, should I? Okay, good.

Here's the list.
  • Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen -- I checked this book out from the public library and have only read thirteen pages. I am bound and determined to read the other four-hundred nine before the due date comes around. I have to earn my right to check out an unlimited number of books next time -- books I will check out, not read, and return late. And I want to be a librarian.
  • Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis -- I have, of course, already read this, but the movie comes out next week, and I feel obligated to re-read.
  • I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak -- I bought this book on a recent (small) B&N binge. I read his book The Book Thief while I was in Honduras, love it, recommend it, and can't wait to read more from where it came from.
  • Flash Fiction -- A compilation of short short stories, also purchased during the aforementioned bout of consumer therapy. I'm getting a feel for the form, reading a few pages at a time. Once, at four in the morning when I couldn't sleep.
  • Malinche by Laura Esquivel -- I bought this hardback at a mark-down-mark-down price at the mall. I wanted to buy it at that fancy-pantsed bookstore in Seattle, but it was just too pricey. Now I've had it for several months and haven't touched it.
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer -- I'm putting it on my library list. Allison, I blame you if I jump on the vampire wagon.

I'm going to pretend that putting this list on here will hold me accountable or something.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Honker Lee speaks again.

Twice I've seen a red-winged blackbird sitting on the tallest broken-down cornstalk in the acre, probably standing sentinel over its unborn. It is iconic. It is a poem already written, its existence now a cliche. Here I am, where life is like a poem rather than the poem reflecting life. So I can't write about it. Not allowed. I have to find the spin, the original thought worthy of verse, so I write about not being able to write about the bird who has been written about before. But I imagine that this dilemma, the desire to write about an oft-treated image, has already been bemoaned on the page.

So there it is. I've set up facing mirrors. The eternal picture of a picture, the repeating images, the question echoing back and forth in the dark of the rabbit hole, the portal out of time and into the place where we find an answer as plain and as perfect as a solitary blackbird on a stalk.

Alas, there is nothing left to be done.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Not home.

It has been a few months since I've had anything to procrastinate about. Now, I reckon that I am making up for lost time. I'm in Murray tonight because I'm giving some so-called presentations tomorrow to the Spanish classes at Calloway, and to think, I'm staying in a hotel. This Hampton Inn is snazzy, I tell you. I'm tempted to use this fast internet to put up a video, but I really do, at some point, have to plan what it is exactly that I'm going to say to these high school kids tomorrow. But here I am in a hotel room in the town that I lived in for five and a half years. I just couldn't help myself; I swung by Brentwood. But as it was too weird and I felt like a real creeper, I buzzed in and out of the lot before I could think too much about it. I was going to get some Jasmin to-go, but wouldn't you know that the one restaurant that I've really missed is closed on Sunday, so I grabbed some August Moon carry-out and came back here to the room to get my money's worth out of this hotel experience, watching all twenty-two Brotherhood videos I've missed out on. I caught up with Tessa at Culver's, which didn't even exist when I left town three months ago. It's like this isn't the same place, and I don't know how to be here anymore. I've closed the curtains because I've got work to do. I could be anywhere.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

checking the fire

I went with Dad last night to see how the brush pile was burning. The far corner of the farm was dark despite all the lights: parking lights, flashlights, cigarettes, embers, flames, and fireflies that were in a hurry to meet the stars.

As I stood near the fire, feeling like Earth at just the right distance from the sun neither to scorch nor to freeze, I would glance up to the sky, trying to catch a spark pretending to be a star. Like when you first look at a clock and the second hand seems to have stopped, and just as you convince yourself the clock has broken or time itself has really stood still, it clicks onward dutifully one second at a time. And so I watched orange stars shake loose from the sky and whisp into the night air.

I stood in silence between the fire and Dad as he carried out his winding monologue about the fire, its heat, its size, its smoke -- my only lines, "I guess," "I don't guess," and one hand movement indicating north because he asked me if I knew where it was. Something about wind direction. Then I continued my own monologue, internally, discussing the irrelevance of north, south, east, and west once you exit Earth's gravity. A compass, I imagine, doesn't help any in outerspace. You can't head east to Mars.

Just as I was hypothesizing that north and south might exist in the solar system, Dad broke in, said his science teacher told him that all fire is trapped sunlight accumulated over the years. I could see that. These hundred-year-old trees were giving off their lives' work of drinking in light, a final catharsis. "Nothing is created or destroyed," he then said, in agreement with that teacher. "It only changes form."

I clicked on my flashlight to light a path back to the pickup, and a chunk of burning tree trunk shifted in the pile, releasing a new generation of eager sparks.

"Can you count them?"

My eyes followed as they raced themselves out of the fire and into the sky, and I knew they weren't pretending, just reminiscing.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I can feel it in my bones.

I have never been a dreamer. The more I learn about myself, it becomes clearer and clearer that, though I don't like to admit it, I have a pretty significant pessimistic streak. I've never let myself have dreams because, well, what's the point if it is possible that they won't come true?

Ridiculous, I know.

I am not sure what has changed, but little shimmers of dreams are starting to slip in. And who would've thought it, but dreams don't have to be big, grandiose schemes. They can be small and simple. And these days, I find myself entertaining a few of that sort.

No body deserves to be this content.
Or every body does. One or the other.
Bones are resting in knowledge that,
one day, they will be slumped,
wrapped in beads and cardigan,
wielding spraggled hair of forsythia.
They cannot see the in-between,
but that, dears, is inconsequential.
Consequence is unyielding.
It is the end with which they are
finally able to begin.
They know who they want to be,
and therefore, are.

I'm figuring out what it means to be home, finding out what I love here. Last night, I set up a sewing machine, and I'm teaching myself how to use it. Today, I walked the entire perimeter of the farm -- wanting to take pictures, but contenting myself with looking, listening, breathing. I'm getting ready to go sit in a rocking chair on the front porch and write.

I'm thinking to myself, I want to be old here, but it looks like I already am.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Back from the depths.

In which I make my comeback and hit the highlights of the past two months in Honduras.

I realize I need to nail my hands to the desk to keep myself from essentially doing nothing but flinging and flailing for almost four minutes. Ah, well.

Furthermore, I just want to say this: It officially looks like I am going to be a gainfully-employed, contributing member of society. More on this later as details develop.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Think before speaking.

I was back in the United States less than twenty-four hours when my voice started showing signs of disappearing. It wasted no time sealing the deal. Thank you, Mr. Larynx. We've never had any problems before, and now, you think it's cute to close up shop? Now, when I've been out of the country for two months, during which I was generally unable to speak with the people I love? Now, when what I would like to do more than anything in the world is to talk with them for hours on end? You're right. That's cute.

Being the overly analytical person that I tend to be, with a little dash of everything-happens-for-a-reason spice of life thrown in the psychological mix, I can't help but wonder if you're trying to tell me something, Mister. Yes, I am positively brimming with things to say, but we all know that it's best to think before you speak. You know, do a little reflecting before opening the verbal floodgates. It is conventional wisdom. But with all due respect, looking over those words waiting on the tip of the tongue is usually a moment's task. Seconds, at most. Not for me. Not this time. Looks like I have been sentenced to a few days of silence, of captive thought.

When you are away from everything familiar for an extended amount of time, it is easy to forget that the world does keep turning. Life goes on. Much to everyone's surprise (and by everyone, I of course mean me), I am not the only one with two month's worth of things to say. In all this self-involvement, I am very much in danger of not listening, of not allowing anyone else's words to get in edge-wise. So maybe my voice knew exactly what it was doing when it was packing its bags while I was unpacking mine.

So talk to me. I really do want to know everything that happened while I was away. But get ready. When my wise friend Larynx rolls back in town, you won't be able to shut me up.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


I didn't know until about 5:00 this afternoon when I was at Casa Uno, but this morning, Saira left. Carlos Omar came up to me and told me that it was just him and Ricky left. I didn't understand. And then he said she had gone. I asked around. Ricky and others confirmed. So after, Abdul and Cristian Guerra wanted to teach me about soccer. Of course, I couldn't focus on their Spanish explanations of the rules. They had to say them over and over. Finally, for a few seconds, the indistinct shock and pain did disappear into the game, into the gateless driveway that we were using as a goal.

In Spanish, the word for fun is diversión. A diversion, a distraction. And it did distract me from my worries for a few minutes. Of course the kids love to play fútbol, to have fun.

I heard that she ran away, escaped from school during a test. I imagined her, white and navy uniform and all, crawling through the hole near the end of the chainlink fence. Now I know that she left in a car, with her mom. Karla saw her go, said she left with only her plastic, shoebox-sized Ayyám-i-Há gift box in her hands and the clothes on her back.

I think Saira was twelve. She may have been just a mediana, but she was my friend. She taught me the handsong with that really fast part, "Hola, comadrita. ¿Cómo estás?" I taught her how to knit.

The other girls tell me that she wanted to go. That she had been crying. I didn't know. I hadn't seen her for a few days. And I ate with the grandes instead last night. I taught her class yesterday, but she didn't participate. Quiet and invisible. So, the last I really remember of Saira was when we walked back from the terreno together. I got a picture of her swimming that day. She didn't talk much as she walked beside me with wet hair and shoulders wrapped up in a towel. Rosa and I were having a linguistic discussion about words like cheque and masiso. I guess I lost Saira that afternoon, somewhere on the road. I didn't know for how long.

I am asking myself several questions: Was I really her only friend, someone else to disappear? Did she get angry with me after I gave her a pretty stern lecture about how to treat books? Why didn't she tell me she was leaving? Because others seemed to know.

But there is one question I just can't get out of my head.

Were there two wooden knitting needles and a small ball of yarn in that little plastic container she left with?

26 March 2008, 7:23 pm

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

sitting on the back porch in afternoon

I'm reading in the shade while my clothes, the ones I just worked over an hour to wash by hand, bake in the sun. (So it must be that our house faces east.) The back yard is more of a gulley of dust, rocks, and roosters than a yard. And there are enough banana trees, with their hearts hanging out, to wrap a clothesline around so that it zig-zags once, twice, three times toward the place where we throw our biodegradable trash.

A wind just came through, gusting across the tops of the banana trees, and I worried about my laundry that I can't see. It's blocked by the white wall of the porch, with its garlic growing in cut-off bottoms of plastic pop bottles. But I can see through the break in the wall, where the steps are, that my skirt didn't even flinch at the wind.

As I watch it dry faster than I've ever seen clothes dry in the sun, I remember "helping" Nana when I was a kid, putting out the laundry and gathering it back up again. I didn't know then that it meant she was -- we were -- poor. We might have been saving electricity, but it wasn't to save the environment. No, there was nothing green about us, especially not the insides of our pockets. Green. I guess I was. I just liked running through the damp, billowing sheets, like they were the walls of a palace labyrinth. So we were as rich as I thought we were, as happy and as high as these bananas and mangoes that won't be ready to be picked for another few weeks.

02/23/08, 3 pm

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

This is just to say

I'm in Honduras.

The people are beautiful.

I start teaching English next week.

I don't know how often I will be able to update.

Email is more personal.

I hope everyone is well.

I am.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

How much stuff does it take to make a gringa feel safe?

Apparently, a lot. I mean, I know I have a stuff problem. I know I'm taking too much with me, but after several rounds of elimination, I can't pare it down any more. Something tells me this needing stuff thing is going to change soon. I hope so anyway.

If I'm lucky, three hours of sleep, and then I'm off.

Friday, February 15, 2008

thawed out

Yesterday was our third day without power. Ice dragged down trees and power lines while we slept on Monday night so that, on Tuesday, we woke up without lights or, more importantly, heat. We all complained about it. Oh, the inconvenience, the cold, the unwashed hair.

Several people joked with me that it would be good practice for Honduras, which has frequent power outages.

During the day, we took refuge in the houses of family members with power (ie, hot water, American Idol) or at the Poole Restaurant, whose owners seemd not to mind that we used their electrical outlets to charge our cell phones. But at night, we would come home, light the kerosene heater upstairs to keep the pipes from freezing, and crawl under the covers in the basement, where the temperature remained, due to some fact of geothermal science, a steady 55 degrees.

At about 5:45 yesterday morning, Mom's shuffling around to get ready for work for the first time in a few days woke me up, and I had to pee. I went upstairs, where I had to bypass the kerosene heater on the way to the bathroom. On my way back, I couldn't convince myself to go back downstairs when I could stay by the heater. While I hovered around the heat, I noticed the sky getting pink around the edges of the fields. The sun was going to be up soon.

Instead of going back to bed like I would have done if the whole house had been warm and cozy, I stayed up and watched the sunrise. Everyone knows the sunrise is beautiful, magical, something almost miraculous that, when you actually see it, you can't believe it happens every day. So my description would be superfluous.

At 1:17 yesterday afternoon, the power came back on. I was sitting upstairs beside the heater with two layers of clothes on and reading the newspaper. I was quite comfortable, so the lights popping on, which I hardly noticed because the natural light was sufficient, was sort of anticlimactic. Needless to say, we were grateful, though. I wasted no time to get in the shower once the hot water heater recovered.

However, I have to admit that I was also a teensy bit grateful for the power being out. It was humbling because it reminded me of how incredibly spoiled I am. Though unpleasant, a gently wake-up call is much appreciated. And it got me just uncomfortable enough to get up to see the sun rise over the snow-covered fields and the ice-coated trees. How could I be upset about that?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

And then there was one.

One week, like the Barenaked Ladies' song.

I've spent most of this past one trying not to be sick. I've almost succeeded. In the relaxation part of my self-medication, I have seen quite a few movies. I've watched Benny & Joon on Encore more times than I could count. So many times, in fact, that I even started writing a blog entry about how, even though I don't call myself a rabid Johnny Depp fan, I think he's a fantastic actor. Thank goodness I came to my senses and didn't publish that one. I blame it on all the honey intake.

Some of you might be relieved to learn that I have finally watched Sliding Doors. I had heard enough about the theory to have the movie figured out, but it was worth watching. But as I was watching it today, I was reminded of something I realized last night.

Now, I am certain this is unoriginal. It might even be obvious. I don't think, though, that it had ever actually occurred to me. Last night, something clicked in my brain about why we love Story -- and by Story, I mean books, movies, sitcoms, whatever. At least in a traditional sense, a story is complete. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Of course, it might begin in media res and the resolution might insinuate a future, but by necessity of its medium, a story is going to finish (in 312 pages, in two hours, in thirty minutes). And here's the kicker: as a reader/viewer, we get to experience that. We get to behold something complete, something whole. And that's more than any of us can ask for in real life.

I think the same reason we love Story is the same reason I find romantic movies completely frustrating: the illusion of the Big Picture. (This is where I know I'm not saying anything new here.) When we watch a movie, we see the whole plot, and in many instance, we know more than the protagonist does about his or her story. Also, because we're watching a movie, we even have a sense of a coming resolution because we know it's supposed to end in twenty five minutes. The character doesn't have that luxury. What I'm hitting at here is omniscience.

In "real life" (I dislike that term), we don't have omniscience. We can only see as far as we are, and we don't even perceive that very well. Story, though, lets us be omniscient for a little while. We at least are allowed to have faith that everything will turn out okay. In our own actual experience, it's not that easy.

As an occupational hazard of living a life, we don't actually get to see it in its entirety until, well, the end. And who knows if we will ever have the opportunity for ultimate hindsight, some posthumous Big Picture feature presentation? At that point, I guess it doesn't matter anymore.

The point, I suppose, is that Story is almost like glimpsing the Eternal. (Not always, I realize. Otherwise, there sure would be a lot of crappy eternity out there.) So stories are frustrating because we can never immediately liken our own lives to them. Time doesn't allow us that. But neat little plots are maybe smudgy reflections of reality. They give us hope of wholeness, of everything working out for the good. We can see that perfection in the stories that we read and watch, and for a moment, we know that our story is like that, too, even if we can't yet see it.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Monday, February 04, 2008

Getting it all together.

It's now less than two weeks before I go to Honduras. I am, of course, making a last minute scramble to collect all the things I need for the trip. Here are the highlights of my collection thus far:

  • Plane tickets
  • Malaria pills
  • Hand-crank flashlight
  • Craft supplies
  • Chest-tightening cough

One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn't belong.

Of course, I have quite a few more things to get a hold of. And a few to get rid of, too.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

groundhog day

It's five minutes to six when we drop onto the lower road, when the hairpin turns us toward the sun that we couldn't see before and can't see now. At dusk, the world is instead lit by an unseen source that has turned it all to black and white -- all but the yellow stripes that slide alongside the car, pulling us home. Everything else has gone grayscale between the chalk sky and the charcoal trees. (The three houses visible from this spot in the road were meant to be white; I can see that now.) By the time we reach the crossroads, the light will have changed again. I will, for just a second, put my hand between my eyes and the windshield, and I will, for just a second, be surprised to find that it's only a silhouette.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sometimes I like to look at my archive list, click a month at random, and read all the entries. Because I am somewhat obsessed with the chronology of my experience, I can usually figure out what was really going on in my life at the time, what had led up to the events I was describing, and what events followed that particular point. Tonight, I clicked February 2005.

It didn't take me long to notice a few things: Maybe it's just because I'm the one who wrote it (and therefore share the author's humor), but I think I'm sort of funny. Also, it was clear to me that I was going through a phase of some serious introspection. There is a sort of buzz of anticipation that floats around so much of what I wrote.

It wasn't until I got to the halfway point in the month that I caught on: That was the month that I decided to go to Spain for the summer. While the study abroad experience itself definitely influenced my subsequent perspective, it was the actual decision to turn in my KIIS application that was what they like to call life-changing.

I often look back on that time in my life and accuse it of being a signifcant series of steps that had led me to now. I know; people get sick of hearing about it. But who knew that I actually had an inkling about the importance of those days at the time? To quote myself directly from February 20, 2005:

The past facilitates the future. There would be no present without the past. There would be no future without the present.


There are so many aspects of my life that wouldn't be existent if a chunk out of the middle of my past hadn't occurred.


Looking back and seeing each slat of the bridge that would carry me across fall into place is easy. Yet another version of "hindsight is 20/20," no doubt. But waiting for that next foothold to come is not easy. And sometimes, it's tempting to believe that it will never come and you'll just have to jump from where you are--no matter how far you are from the other side. But what I'm learning is this: That foothold will come. The best thing for me to do is enjoy the view from where I am until it does.


By no means have I met the greatest obstacles of my life or taken the most fearful steps of the journey, but maybe I've learned enough to keep my eyes open a little more.

I surely hope so.

window poem at 9:04 am

While I waited to call the travel agent back this morning, I picked up the copy of Wendell Berry's Collected Poems 1957-1982 that I got when I went through my poetry-buying rash, which also included the purchase of multiple collections from Billy Collins and Deborah Garrison. Today, I opened the book randomly to the Window Poems section. Before I found this larger collection in the bookstore, I nearly bought this originally handprinted, hardbound copy of Window Poems because of the accompanying woodcuts throughout. But I bought the larger collection instead -- more for the money, said conscience at the time -- though I had forgotten the window series was collected in it. So this morning, by chance, I opened to number 6 in the series of poems about windows and was somewhat "inspired" to try my hand at one. After all the most beloved aspect of my room is the, well, windows.

window poem at 9:04 am

I think my two are facing south and west.
I don't have the sense of direction like
These farmers whose land the eyes overlook,
That sense of understanding seen in the
Sun's eye as he does his thing, or as the
Moderns would have it, as we do our thing.
But it's the last day of January,
And who can trust the sun this time of year?

I prefer the one that I think opens
To the south, with the hills rising into
Its second-floor view. Gray trees line the top
Of the slopes, reminding me of that bed
Of pins that, if you push your hand into
Its points, there is a metallic model
Of your topography on the other
Side. Upstretched limbs thus indicate the land.

The white pseudo-panes and faux-wood blinds are
Transparent graph paper: It's an upward
Trend with a slight decline at the moment.
(I imagine Al on that dramatic
Hydraulic thing that lifted him into
The rafters in front of the red-lined screen.)
We are peaking somewhere near the middle
Of the last pane, at about the sixth slat,
Depending on how I hold my head. But
You know, numbers do not ever lie.

Of course, this was before I went back and started reading Window Poems from the beginning, a very good place to start, as it turns out.

"The window has forty
panes, forty clarities
variously wrinkled, streaked
with dried rain, smudged,
dusted. The frame
is a black grid
beyond which the world
flings up the wild
graph of its growth,
tree branch, river,
slope of land,
the river passing
downward, the clouds blowing,
usually, from the west,
the opposite way.
The window is a form
of consciousness, pattern
of formed sense
through which to look
into the wild
that is a pattern too,
but dark and flowing,
bearing along the little
shapes of the mind
as the river bears
a sash of some blinded house.
This windy day
on one of the panes
a blown seed, caught
in cobweb, beats and beats."

Wendell Berry
Window Poems, number 3

Well said, Wendell. Well said.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What would you do if your mother asked you?

Last Saturday night, I watched my nieces, Victoria and Kathryn, while Sissy and Randy went to a dinner at their church. I spent the night at their house (for the third night that week), and before I left the next morning, I wrote this:

I put on yesterday's clothes. And I put on yesterday's socks, but they were yesterday's socks yesterday. They're all stretched out in the heel and toe, lint clinging inside and out. I unwad them and put them on my feet and set out to find my shoes.

Walking across the living room rug in my sock-feet reminds me that these socks have got to be washed soon. It feels like when I was a kid, sleeping over at a friend's and I've been there for a week, and the morning my mom comes to get me finds me in the same clothes I'd been recycling -- play clothes, pajamas, whatever. And a lot like those friend's-house mornings, I can't find my shoes. I'm looking under couches, under the futon I just made up, behind recliners until I remember Dr. Seuss.

We had a "book party" in Kathryn's room last night -- a regular Seuss marathon. I read Green Eggs and Ham, which I don't think I've ever really read before, and The Cat in the Hat. Victoria joined us on the alphabet rug and got in on the action by reading us the sequel to the Hat Cat's adventures.

It was beautiful.

Kathryn, three, listening with rapturous joy as her sister, twelve, reads her a book. Victoria -- who used to hate to read and still stumbles over some of the Doctor's rhymes, rightfully so -- is volunteering to read with enthusiasm. She hands me the pages with red background because, somehow, that trips her up. But together, reading, listening, looking at the whimsical illustrations, we manage to finish all three books. And with the vigor of the Little Cats and Voooom!, we "clean up" Kathryn's room and retire to the living room for a dose of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies and television. When Sissy and Randy return, it appears that we hadn't experienced the simple joy of reading at all, but rather that we are certified Couch Potatoes.

But this morning, the whole family of them has gone to church, and I'm about to leave, except I can't find my shoes. Until I remember our book party, as Kathryn called it. So I went into her room, still and strewn with Pinkness. In front of the miniature kitchen, I find, in this room of little pink things, my shoes -- big and brown and looking as foreign and as wild as Thing One and Thing Two.

A wake-up call

Presenting installment número tres, in which I get a wake-up call and realize that I'm up to my old blogging tricks again.

I made this last night, so to update the info: I did get the application mailed, and I did get my shot in the arm. It hurts. Wah-wah. And I slept even later today. Of course, if I want to wake up early in the morning, I probably shouldn't stay up half the night making a silly video blog. Though, I have to say that I am learning so much about revising and editing a "text" through this process. So I'm going to tell myself that this is an exercise in improving my writing. Right.

Possible future topic of discussion: the word adventure. Look out.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Curiosity Killed the Cass, or I'm Nosy

I'm getting excited. Seems everybody's getting that bloggin' feeling again. Now that people are officially being scattered the Four Winds, these crazy things called Blogs almost have a practicality to them. Turns out, we're not all writing about the same experiences anymore. And we have an almost eager -- though meager -- audience of friends. These days, our words might not just be trees falling into an earless forest, to borrow the phrasing of Wallace Stegner.

Here's my humble suggestion: If you're blogging, throw some links up to your friends' blogs so we (me and my 500 cats) can read them, too. If you're not blogging, start so I can see what you're up to. And then I can link your blog so that everyone else can see what you're up to. At the least, check out my "recommended reading" section and stalk my friends for a while. I think they have some pretty interesting things to say. That is, of course, why we're friends.

I know you're on the edge of your seats waiting for the next vlog (sarcasm added), but you might have to wait a day or so.

Friday, January 25, 2008

So do I get a senior citizen discount at Golden Corral?

NOTE TO SELF: Check the middle-of-video screenshot before uploading it to YouTube. You're not flattering yourself at all.

Alright, not to spoil you guys or anything, but I've somehow managed a second...episode? Is that what we'd call it? I don't know.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

washed up goes vlogstyle.

I don't know what exactly I was trying to accomplish with this effort. It came off as a sort of pitiful mix between Reading Rainbow and A Current Affair, which sounds nice, but well. If you watch it, you'll see.

I wouldn't mind keeping this up, but it took nearly an hour just to upload the thing to YouTube. So I would have to come up with something worthy of vlogging to justify the time spent -- which was a LOT, despite the quality level -- on making/editing/uploading. And random books from my bookshelf with accompanying unenlightening discussion and my sort of irreverent reaction to Heath Ledger's death isn't good enough for me.