My Brainmind

My Brainmind

— with thanks to Billy Collins

Sometimes I picture it
Directly above my eyes
Hovering just out of my view

Or as a fog I should be able to see through,
A grey mass harboring shadows of unrecognizable forms

But then the sun burns away my unknowing
Or I find a box of light bulbs
And my old friend comes through for me again

If it will the next time I call on it, God only knows —
This mystery brain,
Brother to my heart,
A constant companion directing me like a drone operator,
An encyclopedia with pages torn out

Let us say it is a book
I have been writing constantly, even while watching TV and driving the car
Then re-reading aloud — at least in my head

Or now that it is aging,
An echo of itself,
Papers found in a drawer in my hand-writing but foreign

Like yours, it is fickle,
Rock solid watching Jeopardy,
Absent as a deleted app when asked my 3rd grade teacher’s name,
To define ‘transmogrification,’ or what I had for dinner last Tuesday.
Then present again when I need a seldom-used password

Or is it a dream itself,
Not the grey mass the size of my fist the scientists talk about

But part of my whole being —
In every cell,
Hair, organ —
Is even the food I eat, temporarily,
Part of my mind
While in me?

Affecting everything I do —
What to add into my scrambled eggs,
Whether or not to play the guitar,
Which word to choose as an ending

Unhinged

We have a president who is unhinged.

From Merriam Webster —

“Definition of unhinged
: UPSET, UNGLUED
especially : mentally deranged

Synonyms
balmy, barmy [chiefly British], bats, batty, bedlam, bonkers, brainsick, bughouse [slang], certifiable, crackbrained, cracked, crackers, crackpot, cranky [dialect], crazed, crazy, cuckoo, daffy, daft, demented, deranged, fruity [slang], gaga, haywire, insane, kooky (also kookie), loco [slang], loony (also looney), loony tunes (or looney tunes), lunatic, mad, maniacal (also maniac), mental, meshuga (or meshugge), moonstruck, non compos mentis, nuts, nutty, psycho, psychotic, scatty [chiefly British], screwy, unbalanced, unsound, wacko (also whacko), wacky (also whacky), wud [chiefly Scottish]”

Sound familiar? It’s him.

Others have noted his unhingedness; it just gets worse and worse.

John Bolton was the latest casualty of this unhinged president. He has a love-hate relationship with his own cabinet. He hires people to fill positions and then dismisses them or they resign in record time. Thirty-eight appointees either resigned or were fired. That’s over 75% turnover rate. Just ridiculous.

Some of his supporters have even started complaining, noting that he’s swearing too much. If this is what it takes to make sure we don’t make the same mistake twice, so be it.

There was the whole ‘if Denmark doesn’t want to sell Greenland to us, I won’t visit it’ thing. Shades of terrible-twos or middle school tantrums. And I hate how Fox News uses his tweets as the official record of what he said. Tweets are what you come up with to pass the time. Tweets are usually trivial, lazy comments; he’s passes them off as the inside story of his deepest thoughts, which furthers this ‘unhinged’ persona. If this appeals to you, there are trifles on the internet to keep this memory alive forever.

Some say he is impeaching himself with his every tweet and action.

President George W. Bush’s chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, has a message for people who are excusing President Trump’s racism:

“I had fully intended to ignore President Trump’s latest round of racially charged taunts against an African American elected official, and an African American activist, and an African American journalist and a whole city with a lot of African Americans in it. I had every intention of walking past Trump’s latest outrages and writing about the self-destructive squabbling of the Democratic presidential field, which has chosen to shame former vice president Joe Biden for the sin of being an electable, moderate liberal.

But I made the mistake of pulling James Cone’s ‘The Cross and the Lynching Tree’ off my shelf — a book designed to shatter convenient complacency. Cone recounts the case of a white mob in Valdosta, Ga., in 1918 that lynched an innocent man named Haynes Turner.

Turner’s enraged wife, Mary, promised justice for the killers. The sheriff responded by arresting her and then turning her over to the mob, which included women and children. According to one source, Mary was ‘stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground and was stomped to death.’

God help us. It is hard to write the words. This evil — the evil of white supremacy, resulting in dehumanization, inhumanity and murder — is the worst stain, the greatest crime, of U.S. history. It is the thing that nearly broke the nation. It is the thing that proved generations of Christians to be vicious hypocrites. It is the thing that turned normal people into moral monsters, capable of burning a grieving widow to death and killing her child.

When the president of the United States plays with that fire or takes that beast out for a walk, it is not just another political event, not just a normal day in campaign 2020.

It is a cause for shame. It is the violation of martyrs’ graves. It is obscene graffiti on the Lincoln Memorial. It is, in the eyes of history, the betrayal — the re-betrayal — of Haynes and Mary Turner and their child. And all of this is being done by an ignorant and arrogant narcissist reviving racist tropes for political gain, indifferent to the wreckage he is leaving, the wounds he is ripping open.

Like, I suspect, many others, I am finding it hard to look at resurgent racism as just one in a series of presidential offenses or another in a series of Republican errors. Racism is not just another wrong. The Antietam battlefield is not just another plot of ground. The Edmund Pettus Bridge is not just another bridge. The balcony outside Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel is not just another balcony. As U.S. history hallows some causes, it magnifies some crimes.

What does all this mean politically? It means that Trump’s divisiveness is getting worse, not better. He makes racist comments, appeals to racist sentiments and inflames racist passions. The rationalization that he is not, deep down in his heart, really a racist is meaningless. Trump’s continued offenses mean that a large portion of his political base is energized by racist tropes and the language of white grievance. And it means — whatever their intent — that those who play down, or excuse, or try to walk past these offenses are enablers.

Some political choices are not just stupid or crude. They represent the return of our country’s cruelest, most dangerous passion. Such racism indicts Trump. Treating racism as a typical or minor matter indicts us.” — Michael Gerson

Rebecca Solnit: The Loneliness of Donald Trump

Some have noted that “It’s almost satire. Everything our president says is foolish nonsense and it constitutes malicious ignorance.” Unhinged. Unpredictable. Ridiculous.

This is our commander in chief. I want to be an informed citizen. The more I know, though, the more this stuff rubs off on me. Please, let us make a better choice next time. We can do it. If we work together on this, we can do it.

Seattle 2019 Vacation

In a world without physical photo albums, I find I need a space to collect my thoughts and memories. I imagine that if everyone had a blog, the internet might break, but this is the space I have chosen. It’s ‘my space’ to use a reference from over a decade ago.

Continuing that analogy, I may use this space to jog my memory about events from life…you know, later on when my memory fades. I’ve been writing in physical journals for over 30 years and I use those journals in a similar way. The thing about this space is that since I don’t really have control over it, it could disappear at some point. After I stop paying an annual fee ($40 to be able to put youtube videos on the blog instead of just links, as well as for the option of people subscribing, and more), the people at edublogs might delete this blog one day due to inactivity or for some other random reason. Then, like many of my memories from years ago, my ideas will be gone. I suppose I could write a book…possibly from these blog entries…but assuming I don’t, let’s just say I am more and more aware of the fleeting quality of memories and life in general.

Every day on vacation in Seattle was precious. Every moment really. We spent most of our time in Edmonds, which is about 40 minutes north of downtown Seattle depending on traffic. Rachel and Robbie moved there almost a year ago; one reason was so Rachel only had to drive 10 minutes to work. Robbie is driving for Uber Eats so his work goes where he goes. They had lived in Seattle for around eight years in the same apartment and I think another reason they moved was for a new, larger, more economical space. We all shared one car for the 10 days (plus travel days) we were there — except for a day and a half when we wanted more space and options, so Rachel rented a van. It was fortunate that we were able to find an airbnb two short blocks away from their apartment.

We have never hiked as many different trails as we hiked this trip. In the past, we had been to several trails within the city — Discovery Park, Ravenna Park, Washington Park and Arboretum…there are dozens to choose from — but this time we found five or six new ones outside the city.


Pine Ridge Park was closest, so we hiked it a couple days

Our time in the Cascades was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Even though every park we hiked was a welcome retreat from life’s hectic pace, the Cascades trip was a journey, a destination (about 1 1/2 hours east), and an all-encompassing get-away. The several, bumpy miles up the dirt road to get to the trail was an event in itself; I couldn’t imagine anyone else would be up at the trailhead. There were about 10 other cars there though. After a delicious picnic, we walked the 2.2 meandering miles to Barclay Lake in lush peacefulness. We explored a few side paths and appreciated the tranquility of the lake when we found it; one family was fishing unsuccessfully and it seemed like most people brought their dog on the trail…but I bet we saw less than 20 people total. The way back went by faster somehow, but was just as gorgeous and serene. The journey was enhanced by a stop for dinner in Gold Bar, WA, at a local restaurant called Prospector’s Steak and Ale. I had a flashback to Bob’s Country Bunker in the Blues Brothers’ Rawhide scene but it turned out to be very good food and decent service. We even commiserated with the Seahawks’ fans during their first preseason game, having many years experience as disappointed Lions’ fans.


Judy and Aaron on our Cascade hike

Rachel and Robbie have a couple of cats that were kittens last time I saw them. This time they were a bit less playful and somewhat distrustful of these new people. It was still fun observing them, though. I wrote an untitled cat poem from my few days with them —

Cats can hear
well enough to be
guard dogs.

Maybe we should domesticate
panthers to be
our attentive watchers.

The grace and style of cats
plus that lethal edge
of a Doberman Pinscher.

The way a cat’s ears
turn at the slightest
peep, crack, bump

In the next room
is impressive —
usually a waste of time

But check it out they do,
anyway —
curious homebodies

That they are —
wary of change
like old Republicans.

Another favorite event was our evening at the ACT Theater seeing The Year of Magical Thinking. I had read the book (and since then, have seen the Netflix biography about the author, Joan Didion) The one-woman play was similar to and different from the book: still a not-so-gentle warning that we will all have life-altering grief to deal with; still a distantly emotional, scattered-but-connected view of her grief; and and update regarding the levels of grief and brief clarity she’s had since the book. If you know me at all, you know I’m a book person. However, when a book is given life in play form with the author’s guidance — I’m always a fan. Theater spaces are sacred to me; magic happens there.

You can see more of our photos at this link (though not all the photos have captions, if you want to see the captions, scroll up on each photo).

Many thanks to Rachel and Robbie for sharing their space and their time which led to many wonderful discussions and numerous, new, special memories.

P.S. I went to several Seattle area bookstores and bought as many (mostly used) books as I could fit into my backpack and luggage. That’s part of what makes each destination unique, I believe. One that I found at the Edmonds Public Library also intrigued me: Halal If You Hear Me: BreakBeat Poets Volume 3. I opened it to a poet from East Lansing, Leila — a sign and a gift. It’s a marvelous collection of young, Muslim poets expressing current, honest feelings and concerns. I bought two copies and had them delivered to our house (delivery was free if I bought two); if you want to borrow one, let me know.

P.P.S. If you want to subscribe to this blog, check out Subscribe By Email: if you are on a tablet or computer, it should be in the left sidebar; if you’re on your phone, you may need to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page (sorry).

Commencing into Success…and a poem

Two thousand nineteen is about half over, and it has felt like ‘opposite day’ for that entire time, so here are two blog entries in one, to celebrate its half-ness and its oppositeness (as the math crowd knows, 1/2 multiplied by its opposite (2) is actually one, so yeah).

Here’s a draft of a poem that may have promise.

Instead, at 6 am

I need the cool breeze
Coming in through the screen

And that pervasive silence,
That welcome absence —

I need distant bird chatter
As the loudest sound

And an orange burst,
Pink spray, green leaved

Morning.

Instead of physical activity
And its expectations.

I need this pen and my journal,
A few moments alone,

Time to contemplate the day
With a glass of water

In a soft recliner
That rocks when I say.

Stillness without sleep
Thought and observation without action

Morning bliss

————
I began the next entry around graduation time. It’s incomplete, unfinished, lacking something…but then again, aren’t most graduates? Aren’t most of us?

Congratulations to the class of 2019 at every level.
Congratulations to those choosing retirement.
Congratulations to everyone who just breathed in and out.

Success is so hard to define. So, for everyone moving from one thing to another thing, I recommend the following podcast: How Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? (You can listen to the podcast or read the transcript by following that link). It’s a recent On Being discussion on that elusive thing called “success” involving Krista Tippett, Abraham Verghese, and Denise Pope.

Here are a few highlights designed to heighten your interest:

* “Follow your heart…within reason”

* The importance of friendships across generations (a type of mentoring) — “I think it’s really a calling for this century because the wisdom of young adulthood, I think, is actually an urgency and an impatience and this longing and this aspiration to see the world whole and make it better. We want that. But there’s something so relaxing about living for a while and knowing in your body that life is long and knowing that there will be another side to whatever is happening. And so that’s really the experience you have of failure.”

*“on a small scale, [resilience is about raising] your hand in class and risk ‘sounding stupid.’”

* “failure, what goes wrong, what you get through that you didn’t know how you’d get through, this is the breeding ground of becoming wise and mature.”

I liked the discussion, partly, because of the speakers’ collective awareness that there is no one path to success. And their understanding that one hurdle toward whatever success is most assuredly involves failure. Many of the seventh graders I taught in the final years of my career were downright afraid of failing. That leads to a lack of taking risks (in writing, in class participation, in leadership…) and that can be quite immobilizing.


Generations of Allium look like waves of students over time

I recently had the honor and privilege of participating in the East Lansing High School Commencement. Two graduates asked that I give them their diplomas. That allowed me to have a seat on the stage. I became a witness to the graduates’ pride. A co-celebrator in their joy. As a retired teacher, this was a rare and singular moment. Our district (like many, I would imagine) is not that adept at using the talents of retired teachers, paraprofessionals, and secretaries in an on-going, integral way. The occasional invitation to be included in commencement, however, excuses that educational faux pas just a bit.

Witnessing young person after young person hearing his, her, or their name spoken, finally, at Commencement felt like seeing sunrise after sunrise after glorious sunrise. Each one had a face that mixed exhilaration, expectation, and trepidation with a dose of amazed wonder. They were beacons of hope, one after another. Each a success, but not in a ‘final package’ way; they found a way to cross the stage and it will lead to many more successes —— laced with failures —— on their journeys.

A teacher friend suggested I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Intrigued, I found the TED Talk by the author and I share it here for its important messages; it is, in an odd way, a success story. Not the author’s story, per se, but her awareness that generalizing one experience to fit a whole group (stereotyping) is at the heart of what’s dangerous in our world today.

2009

Danger of a Single Story

I found a wonderful reflection on Adichie’s video that includes a way to incorporate it into a meaningful lesson, for you teachers out there. Both breaking stereotypes and offering self-awareness, this lesson seems important at this time in history.

Other resources:

* Challenge Success is an organization that helps schools and communities re-think what they are asking of students. They offer a way to re-think what success means for each student.

* Success in a concentrated way is a version of flow, a concept I use with students to help them find balance and confidence. Here is Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk on the subject.


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

* As the Women’s World Cup winds down, here’s an eye-opening article about how women’s professional soccer players do what they love in the midst of sacrifices.
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Finally, a blessing to all of us as we strive to live the most whole, rich lives we can…

May you live in peace
May your heart always be open
May you awaken to the divine light deep within
May you be healed
May you be a source of healing for others

(This may be from a Tibetan Buddhist Prayer)

Reading “New” Poets

Here are two poems by poets who are new to me. The first was recommended by a poet friend and I had the honor of hearing the second poet read her poems recently (thanks for the book, Janine!). I’m sharing these poems — on this last day of Poetry Month — as a reminder to look for new poets, new perspectives, new expressions of life’s joys…even in sorrow. These poems touched my heart as I think back over loved ones who have died in recent years; somewhere between dreams, embraces, and memories I see them still. For more information about each poet, click on the poem’s title.

The Embrace
by Mark Doty, 1953

You weren’t well or really ill yet either;
just a little tired, your handsomeness
tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.

I didn’t for a moment doubt you were dead.
I knew that to be true still, even in the dream.
You’d been out — at work maybe? —
having a good day, almost energetic.

We seemed to be moving from some old house
where we’d lived, boxes everywhere, things
in disarray: that was the story of my dream,
but even asleep I was shocked out of the narrative

by your face, the physical fact of your face:
inches from mine, smooth-shaven, loving, alert.
Why so difficult, remembering the actual look
of you? Without a photograph, without strain?

So when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,
your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth
and clarity of you—warm brown tea—we held
each other for the time the dream allowed.

Bless you. You came back, so I could see you
once more, plainly, so I could rest against you
without thinking this happiness lessened anything,
without thinking you were alive again.

Water Lilies at the Musee D’Orsay
by Janine Certo

I study my father across the gallery
in his wheelchair, bald head angled up,
swaying under eight by eight feet
of psychedelic blues and living greens.
I once read that water lilies are always
hungry, and suddenly I picture them
voraciously pulling him into the pond,
his morphine pump loosened
and drifting away, his body turning,
nerves finally cooled. Blossoms
cover his skin, their petals cocoon him.
Then my father wheels his chair
around, his face shocked with light.
He’s searching for me, water in his eyes,
my red purse ridiculous on his lap.

Literary Nonsense

I look forward to reading the daily Writer’s Almanac post in my email. Everyday, I learn something new and practically everyday I am intrigued by much of what I read, which often leads me to read related poems, biographies, or other texts.

Today, I enjoyed it so, that I’m re-posting the whole entry below (to use the links, you’ll have to go to the actual website). I’ll comment on it more, under the entry.

——————
Friday, February 22, 2019
The Writer’s Almanac
with Garrison Keillor

“Be Careful Darkness”
by Erica Jong

Whitman wrote.
He knew
the claws & paws
of darkness,
how they capture
light & try
to blind
our eyes to hope.

Darkness
at the edges
of our being.
We ourselves are light
pushing aside
the darkness
as we move.

Standing still
lets the darkness
in.

“‘Be Careful Darkness’” by Erica Jong from The World Began with Yes. © Red Hen Press, 2019. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

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It’s the birthday of George Washington, born in Westmoreland County, Virginia (1732), whose favorite foods were mashed sweet potatoes with coconut, string beans with mushrooms, cream of peanut soup, salt cod, and pineapples. He lost all of his teeth except for one by cracking Brazilian nuts between his jaws. He got dentures made out of a hippopotamus tusk, which caused him great pain, which he tried to alleviate with opium.

He was not good at spelling and he had a speech impediment. His inaugural address was the shortest in history: 133 words long, and it took him just 90 seconds to deliver.

After two terms, he retired to Mt. Vernon in 1797. He died two years later after inspecting his plantation on horseback in snow and freezing rain.
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On this date in 1632, Galileo published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in which he argued against the belief of the church. He argued that the Earth was not the center of the Universe, and that in fact the Sun is the center of the solar system, with the Earth circling around it.

The book was placed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books the following year, and Galileo was tried and convicted for heresy. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest, and none of his later books were permitted to be published in his lifetime.
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It’s the birthday of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (books by this author), born in Rockland, Maine (1892). She went to Vassar and then moved to Greenwich Village where she lived a Bohemian life involving poetry and love affairs. She was beautiful and alluring and many men and women fell in love with her. She was one of the icons of the Jazz Age. When she went on tour, she drew huge crowds, and she recited her poetry from memory, very dramatically.

Millay wrote, “My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends — / It gives a lovely light!”

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On this day in 1980, in one of the most dramatic upsets in Olympics history, the underdog U.S. hockey team, made up of collegians and second-tier professional players, defeated the defending champion Soviet team, 4-3, at the Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.

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It’s the birthday of Seán Ó Faoláin (books by this author), the Irish author, born in County Cork, in 1900. He is best known for his unflattering but sympathetic portraits of modern Irish life, his criticisms of church-inspired censorship, the narrowness of the Irish clergy, and restrictive family traditions. Thus, he was controversial but also a hero to other writers including Patrick Kavanaugh, Flann O’Brien, Frank O’Connor, and Brendan Behan.

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It’s the birthday of the author and illustrator Edward Gorey (books by this author), born in Chicago, 1925. He was well known for creating drawings for the animated title sequence to the PBS series Mystery!, and he produced picture books such as The Beastly Baby (1962) and The Ghastlycrumb Tinies (1963), which begins:

A is for Amy who fell down the stairs
B is for Basil assaulted by bears
C is for Clara who wasted away
D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh

A new biography just came out about him this past November; it’s called Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey.

__
Frank Woolworth opened the first of his dime stores on this date in 1878 in Utica, New York; his innovation was to put the merchandise out where the customer could pick it up and look at it. By 1919, there were more than a thousand Woolworth stores worldwide.

——————–

Garrison surprises me with little-known facts about people I thought I knew (I assume they are facts…though he is a fiction writer, so…). The father of our country had a speech impediment and loved cream of peanut soup? Edna St. Vincent Millay was an icon of the Jazz Age? Investigating Edward Gorey a bit on my own, I saw that he was part of the Literary Nonsense movement, according to Wikipedia. That Wikipedia page listed many writers who also have written in this genre that “balances elements that make sense with some that do not, with the effect of subverting language conventions or logical reasoning.” I was surprised at how many from the list I considered my favorite authors: Lewis Carroll, Woody Allen, Dave Eggers, Eric Idle, John Lennon, Jack Pretlusky, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, T.S. Eliot, and even John Flansburgh (from They Might Be Giants); I would add e.e. cummings to the list. And Bob Rentschler. I began to realize that literary nonsense and I had been courting for years without being introduced. The fact that “Jabberwocky” is the only poem I have completely memorized (not counting song lyrics) should have clued me into knowing that I am drawn to literary works of a nonsensical nature. The looks on my students’ faces when I played “Impossible” by They Might Be Giants also might have been evidence worth noting. In addition, I enjoy the Borowitz Report and the Onion more than most things I read. David Byrne is my musical choice of late (Musical Nonsense). And lately I’m writing limericks of all things. I feel like I’m ‘coming out’ as a lover of Literary Nonsense.

A few recent attempts at limericks:

Some say the times are depressin’
And that we can’t learn our lesson
Think before you vote
For God’s sake don’t gloat
Mistakes are always worth confessin.


There once was a lass from Kent
Taken with an artsy gent
Shacked up for fun
When it was all done
Neither one could afford the rent.


The Electoral College is quite bent
The people is does not represent
Elected a crook
A real Donnybrook
Let’s say it together: “impeachment!”

I mentioned my interest in Literary Nonsense to Aaron and he pulled a book out of his library for me to read: A Nonsense Anthology, collected by Carolyn Wells and published in 1902. “Jabberwocky” was on the first page. I found another gem by Rudyard Kipling which seems to fit the day —

There was a small boy of Quebec,
Who was buried in snow to his neck;
When they said, “Are you friz?”
He replied, “Yes, I is —
But we don’t call this cold in Quebec.”

Potpourri

This collection of thoughts is what’s on my mind these days. I could have called it ‘hodgepodge’ instead. It was going to be several posts (at some future date), but here they all are in a sort of fruit salad potpourri.

Either I’ve been preoccupied by death lately or death has been preoccupied with me. I’m not sure which. In July, I was reading They Said She Was Crazy, about how a mother deals with the suicide of her son. It was a fiction, but based on the life of the author, Kristine Brickey, a teacher friend of mine — a gripping, challenging read. Then, I felt the loss of the recent death of Judy’s Aunt Betty and my friend, Scott’s brother, David; the tragic death of a family friend, Corrina Van Hamlin Also hit me hard. In August, it occured to me that another friend, Nancy, had recommended the Joan Didion book, The Year of Magical Thinking, which deals with the author’s ongoing reaction to her husband’s death; Nancy’s husband, Jim, died a year ago and his loss is still on my mind and on my heart.

Then, there are so many car-related deaths in the paper. And weather related deaths across the world. And then a few celebrities died in the past weeks (see below). It’s just so pervasive. Death won’t go away. I can’t seem to get used to its presence. The Armenian Church has a tradition of commemorating the deaths of loved ones, so earlier this month I attended that ceremony where I felt close to my father and the many other beautiful family members we have lost over the years.

I was saddened by the news of Neil Simon’s death. I admired his writing for its wit and insight. Here’s an article about him if you didn’t see it already — I recommend the video on this link, too (a tad long, but a fine tribute).


Here’s one of the best tributes to Aretha Franklin out there. It’s Fantasia singing “Rock Steady” with Aretha looking on.

Senator John McCain stood up for what he believed in and I admired that also. Though I didn’t often share his beliefs, he was a man of integrity. I especially appreciated this photo (below) from the last page of his last book, The Restless Wave.

———

Alton Road Update

East Lansing residents who are getting tired of the city being under construction may be interested in an update of one of the construction projects. We live on Alton Road. It connects Saginaw Road and Burcham Road. Bus line 24 has a couple stops on Alton and it’s getting re-paved with new pipes and sidewalks. This is good news of course. The road was lousy. This project is also a pain in the butt in many ways.

Here are some photos from the tiresome part of the project, which may last for another month. I’ll try to remember to post a photo of the finished product.

This is Saginaw under construction, but our road is connected to it on the right.

Sometimes we can’t get out of our driveway for hours. Arrgg.

Check out the City of East Lansing’s construction update page for more information.

————

“I’m going to 8th grade today”

It was fun to say that to Gabi when I bought my ticket to the movie, 8th Grade, recently. Especially since she’s a former student of mine. It made her smile.

This movie portrays what one 8th grade girl is feeling during the last weeks of 8th grade. I was reminded how difficult it is to be a teen these days. Her constant use (addiction?) of her phone leads her to several emotional and social tests including a ramped up disconnect with her father. This movie could be a perfect conversation starter in families and schools.

————

Some articles I’ve read recently that I enjoyed:

* “My Armenia” in the New York Times by Peter Balakian

* “Why Trump Supporters Think He Is Not Corrupt” in the Atlantic by Peter Beinart

* “What If Trump Actually Did Shoot Someone On Fifth Avenue?” in the New York Times by Thomas L. Friedman

Big Brother Wished Me a Happy Birthday

Google has a creative group of people working tirelessly to celebrate some aspect of each day on their opening page. These Google doodles often highlight the life of someone I didn’t know existed from history. Today (my birthday), Google remembered my special day with this graphic (below) — when I clicked the play button, the candles moved as if lit.

It’s intended to make me feel like a celebrity, I suppose. For a second, it did feel good. Then, it fed into that creepy feeling that the world knows too much of my business. I also received birthday wishes via snail mail from our investment company, an email from Affordable Tours (the company we used to book a bus trip around Italy this year), and my dentist’s office texted me. And Biggby did send me my coupon for a free drink…so I got that going for me. It’s an attempt at contact, but it falls short.

I followed the link on the Google birthday wish and I learned about some historical things that happened on my birthday, which was nice. My favorite historical fact from October 28 is that in 1965 Pope Paul VI issued a decree absolving Jews of collective guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ; I was five that day and somehow my folks didn’t tell me about that earth-shaking moment in history (oddly it was the same exact day that the Gateway Arch along the waterfront in St. Louis, MO, was completed; maybe it’s not so odd since that first fact seems like a giant leap in logic).

The Internet’s awareness of my daily life bothers me during the rest of the year, too. I’ll buy plane tickets on Orbitz for a trip to Seattle; later that day, my Facebook feed will include statements like “while you’re in Seattle, check out the Space Needle.” WTF? Leave me alone. I don’t need your help. And I don’t like where this all seems to be going. I don’t want to be a character in a dystopian novel. My identity is too public, too easily available and that never ends well in those dark stories about the future.

My problem: it’s becoming impossible to disconnect from the internet for long periods. Am I addicted or at least too dependent? Life is too precious to tear away the personal, emotional, spiritual side and give it up to a machine. It reminds me of a sad video that a friend shared called “Are You Lost in the World Like Me?” This sort of thing is happening in subtle, as well as dramatic ways every day. It’s up to us to keep in touch personally instead of just through —

As I was typing these words, my Boston cousin, Nancy, called me. We talked for a long time and made tentative plans to meet in the Spring. She balanced out all the techno-wishes I had received. And renewed my hope in the human race. It really is up to each of us to make life-giving choices every minute. Thanks, Nancy.

Moving On From the Surgery

I don’t think I can write about other stuff until I write about my surgery. I’m 99% better, so I think it’s time to share and move on. Each photo has a caption that you can see if you click on the small letter ‘i’.

A few photos of my first major surgery

There’s so much more I could say — about high health care costs, monstrous total costs, great doctors, my poor reaction to the anesthetic drugs, Judy’s support, throwing up, steady improvement, fluid collecting, going back to emergency, medication change, numbness, poor sleeps, pleased to have the growth out, scar healing well — but you don’t want to hear all of that.