A Tale About Me, My Coworkers, and Margaret Atwood

Ah, Margaret Atwood. This is a great library blog and a particularly nice piece about one of my favorite authors. Enjoy.

Eleventh Stack

As a fairly recent newcomer to Pittsburgh (four years last month, which might as well be four minutes when talking with native yinzers), our city’s vibrant and exciting literary scene is something that continuously impresses and surprises me.

The novelty of this should be worn off by now, given that my employer is one of the organizations that contributes mightily to this bookish culture of awesomeness that we have going on in the ‘Burgh.

But maybe it’s because I work for the Library that I revel in this so much.

We’re incredibly lucky to have access to so many prominent writers who regularly visit Pittsburgh. We work closely with our friends at Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures, who offer events such as the Monday Night Lecture Series, PA&L Kids and Teens and Authors on Tour, a new collaborative initiative between our two organizations that presents authors who are…

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Wenching in the New Year

If you haven’t heard about America’s Great Loop or followed my friends on their journey, you need to check it out! The writing is wonderful and the trip true. This is good stuff, and you will laugh.

Dead Reckoning

The weather finally changed last Sunday night, the wind howling in from the north and bringing with it a fifteen degree drop in the temperature. From the way the locals here in Key West are dressed you’d think we’d gone below zero — people wearing stocking caps and gloves and some even wrapping themselves in insulated vests and coats. It’s seventy degrees for Godsakes! Jan and I are running around in our shorts and tee shirts, acting like it’s May in Minnesota. Great sleeping weather and for the first time since we arrived we feel like we aren’t going to melt with any sort of outside activity. It was simply too hot down here.

We had a busy holiday season. First, Jan’s sister Hurricane Mary blew in from Salt Lake City and set things a-whirling aboard old Mitzvah; Yoga, Tai-Chi and long bike rides fueled by granola and tofu. And…

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Random Sammys

Sammy was a truck driver stuck in my husband’s place of work, a truck fixing place—what’s that called anyway—a really big garage I guess. Anyway, it was Christmas Eve and Sammy was supposed to be home with his wife and children in Georgia, but instead he was stranded in Wisconsin in a cold garage. He was leaning against the service counter with his head down when I arrived to pick up my husband from work. I’d brought our two dogs into the shop as a special Christmas treat for everyone. Merry Christmas, Guys! Time to get home and celebrate. Atticus, the schnauzer, promptly lifted his leg on one of Sammy’s tires, unleashing a steamy stream of urine that left an impressive puddle. It was kind of fitting really because Sammy’s truck wasn’t going anywhere for some time. I guess it was super broken. It had let him down, and on the most important night of the year. Atticus must have sensed that.

 

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Atticus likes to hide in bed, too!

I’d been feeling pretty blue, but had been trying to hide it in public for quite a while by then. I found it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and impossible to stay away from that same bed with its heating pad and two willing dog companions as each gray day unfolded. I mean, it was Christmas and I was going to be with none of my kids or grandkids, not for months. Granted, I had just gone to visit them the month before, but I already deeply missed them and I’d never been away from the little ones, who really aren’t that little anymore, on Christmas. And I was living in a state I loved but that was 2,000 miles away from the state where I’d built a life for thirty-eight years.

I was missing all kinds of things and people I had loved and many that I had taken for granted. I still planned on making a big Christmas dinner, but it would only be a dinner for three: my husband, his father, and me. And it had rained for weeks in a state that should have been a winter wonderland by then. My roof leaked. The yard was a mud hole. The holding tank had filled up just that very morning, setting off an alarm almost as offensive as the smell in the mud hole yard, and nobody likes to call Pat’s Crap Pumping Service on Christmas Eve. My solar Christmas lights obviously wouldn’t turn on because there’d been no sun forever. My pink fudge didn’t set. I wasn’t writing. What was there to get up for?

Early Winter 2014 to 15 267

I took this picture at the Kenosha Museum, but it represents my dilemma quite well I think.

 

 

And then came Sammy, and Sammy wanted to get home for Christmas. He hadn’t been able to rent a car with his out-of-state driver’s license. My husband suggested the airport. Could he get a flight? We would drive him. Sammy didn’t know if he could get a flight, but it was his best chance. Soon, Sammy, my husband, Atticus, our other dog, Diesel, and myself were all crowded into my little blue Beetle headed for the airport. It was about a half hour drive going in the opposite direction from the mud hole, making the round trip to pick up my husband something like two hours.

I’m a nervous driver when it comes to driving on freeways or anywhere near a city, but I found myself relaxing as Sammy told his story. He had left Africa at twelve-years-old, alone. He was the only member of his family who was able to emigrate. He lived in a small town in Utah and attended high school there. He loves America. He said that “the father Bush was the president when I came, so I liked him. He let me come to America. I couldn’t understand when Clinton suddenly got the job. How can someone replace the president?”

He said the president in his former country had been in power for twenty-five years and there was nothing anyone could do to change it. His family was afraid when Sammy would visit because Sammy had learned about free speech and they thought he’d get killed for speaking out about how bad things were there. He said, too, that Americans are the nicest, most helpful people in the world. He said that in other countries people won’t even give you directions, much less a ride to the airport. I think Sammy is a little partial to America and that there are lots of nice people everywhere, but it was still nice to hear.

writestamp

I love stamps, and writing, and letters…

He teared up when I asked him if his children believed in Santa. I cried, too. My husband was in the back seat with the two dogs, but the car is so small that his face was only a few inches behind us. I glanced back at him and his eyes were bright blue with tears. Suddenly, it was starting to feel like Christmas.

Sammy got a flight and Mike and I headed home. By this time we too hungry to go home and cook the special dinner we’d planned just for the two of us so we began searching for an open restaurant. We stopped at two places that had their lights on and doors open, but they were having private parties and weren’t serving the public. It was Christmas Eve, sorry. So we did the unthinkable and drove through a MacDonald’s. We got cheeseburgers for the dogs, too.

When we arrived home, we waded through the mud and entered the front door. We both remarked on how cozy the little cottage looked. We each poured a glass of wine, his red and mine white, and Mike checked his phone. There was a message from Sammy.

Merry Christmas and Thank You. I’ll talk to you soon. It was a pretty good Christmas. Wishing all of you a good New Year with lots of random Sammys to bless you.

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This may be an old New Year’s hat, but it’s a Goody.

 

 

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Writing Tools: High-Tech, Low-Tech, and the Unnecessary

Helpful article. I’ll be looking into a few of these tools. What works for you?

A Writer's Path

Computer

by  Christina Dalcher

Stephen King talks about a sort of writer’s toolbox in his book On Writing. I’ll be discussing a different set of tools on Le Blog today.

Ready?

Let’s go.

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My Body

Winefiction 002Last night in bed, I started thinking about my body. About how it aches. About the way it doesn’t move anymore, not in the ways it used to. About the way it gives me very little pleasure anymore. I mean, I still get up every day and put clothes on. I even walk my dogs most days. There’s some pleasure there. My body takes me up and down the street, along the river, and if I so choose, into the woods. The dogs definitely derive pleasure from these walks and I, too, am grateful for them.

I also still very much love hugs. And kisses, especially on the back of my neck.

I love the cool touch of the wind, and the warm caress of the sun.

I love the sound of laughter. And music. And falling water. And birdsong.

I still love the taste of good food and drink, but only late in the day after my tummy settles down from its angry-cramps-in-the-morning routine. Still, I do get to eat and enjoy doing so, which is a big part of the enjoyment of having a body. Oh, and a lovely chilled glass of chardonnay served outside in a garden—that’s pretty blissful.

Field Recordings, Paso Robles, CA

Field Recordings, Paso Robles, CA

It’s not that I am particularly decrepit for my age. I guess it might just be that I haven’t been this age before, and I am realizing how much I took this amazing body for granted for so long.

My skin, for example. I was never much enamored of my skin—too pink, too blotchy, too many freckles—and those moles. I covered my forearms throughout my entire puberty and adolescence, thinking that if anyone knew I had two moles on my left forearm, well, I’d never be loved. But my skin was amazingly sensitive. It buzzed with life and reacted to everything that touched it. Quite spectacular, thinking back.

My joints were supple. I could wrap my legs around my ears!

I ran. I ran for fun. I ran to cleanse my mind and change my emotions.

I was a sensual being. My body, well. All bodies, really, I hope. Electric.

My womb carried two babies, my breasts fed them, and my arms held them. Those were exhausting times, I remember, but oh so incredible. There was no end to the tasks needing to be done and no end to the hugely blossoming love that encompassed every simple movement. Ah, those nights rocking my baby in the dark, singing an old lullaby, afraid to get up and tuck the baby in the crib, afraid to lose the magic

.My body took me on camping trips, road trips, plane trips, and a few trips of another sort—like when I fell down a flight of stairs. What a crash. And what a healing. My body always healed.

My body brought me to my beloved classroom and allowed me to teach for many years. I remember when I could hop up on the counter while reading the scene from The Call of the Wild where the man in the red sweater breaks Buck out of his crate and all of the men in the yard jump up on the fence to watch. I remember replaying that scene in the classroom for years, and then one year, I just couldn’t make the jump. I landed on one of my eighth-grade students.

My body survived numerous surgeries, cancer, and chemotherapy.

My toes have been numb for several years now. Neuropathy from the chemo. My joints ache, especially those on the left side of my body. My skin is wrinkled. My hair is silver. I wear bifocals. I can’t hear out of my right ear. A one-mile walk leaves me exhausted. I find myself longing to go to bed with my heating pad early in the evening, and I basically never really want to get up.

My body likes to rest, and I like to try to forget about it altogether. Meanwhile, my mind considers other things. Like, maybe this is a normal part of aging. A stage of getting ready to let go of this old body and move on. So I pray, and read, and write, hoping to figure out what it is that is happening, and even if it is in fact, a real experience, or maybe it’s just a new and interesting facet of depression.

IMG_1192I look for articles about anything and everything connected with this sense of disconnectedness, wondering if anyone else feels this way, too. And then, today, my friend Stephanie posted an extraordinary article from The Washington Post about a rare illness that makes people think they’re dead. Timing is everything. I mean, it does seem that you attract what you think. Last night I’m thinking about being dead and today I’m reading this article. You can read it, too. It’s quite fascinating:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/zombie-disease-makes-people-think-they-have-died/2015/10/30/ca8ab52c-532f-11e5-933e-7d06c647a395_story.html.  Though it doesn’t describe my experience, in particular, it does contain some familiar aspects of what I’m trying to describe.

I remember, for some reason, right now, something my brother told me after our mom died. He said she came to him and said, “It’s okay, Billy. It’s ok.” That’s all.

I was sort of miffed. Why didn’t she come to me? But I guess she knew Billy would tell me. And maybe that’s all I need to know.

It’s ok.

What do you think?

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Tatonka!

My computer screen scrolls my pictures. I’m sure many of yours do, too. Today, after my first full week (which was only 4 days long!) of work teaching high schoolers to become legal Wisconsin drivers, I came home to an empty house and decided to celebrate with music and a little bit of wine and writing. To be honest, my house is never empty, because I have dogs. They are not tatonkas, but they are furry and large (considering the extent of my downsized cottage).

I’m thinking of tatonkas because of this picture.tatonka!

The tatonkas pictured here are not real bison, of course. We are just three friends pretending to be tatonkas at a wonderful country western eatery and music venue located in downtown Chicago. It’s the picture that came up first when I turned my laptop on tonight. Sometimes a thousand words can be useful to describe a picture.

People who know me well know that I am a big fan of wolves—that I have aligned myself with the Defenders of Wildlife for many years, in part because of the hard work they do to protect wolves. Wolves, you may be thinking, are not tatonkas.

True. But everything is connected.

In the beginning of this story, there is a girl laying in the back seat of a 1972 Oldsmobile reading a book. It is a hot summer day and the car has stopped somewhere in South Dakota because the driver, my dad, and the copilot, my brother Billy, have come across a herd of buffalo. “Sis! Sis! Put down that book and get out here and look,” Billy says. “Bison!”

The girl, me, barely looks up. “What’s the big dif?” she asks. “Big cows.” (To be fair to the girl in the backseat, she has spent the bulk of her childhood reading because…well, there are all sorts of both good and sad reasons for that…and she has been living in the Midwest, a land that is loaded with large four-legged bovine creatures…she just doesn’t see the “big dif.” She is young.)

Fifty years later, she is still reminded of her disdain for the tatonka herd. And she is sorry.

Little did she know that the camping trips of her youth would have such an impact on her future world view. As she matured, the girl learned that such sights were akin to great magic. In 1990, when she saw Dances With Wolves for the first time, she was shaken to a degree that can only be described as cataclysmic. Tears. Yes. Weeping. Yes. Regret?

That, too.

Tatonka! If you’ve seen the movie, you are picturing the lovely faces of Kevin Costner and Graham Greene as they connect over the Native American word for buffalo. Just as she did. Finally.

And she began learning more about endangered animals, and history, and love… Eventually, she became a teacher. And eventually, she became a better sister. But never good enough. She bought Billy a beautiful sculpted bison one year for his birthday. She understood that her father had taken her to the wild and free places to observe and to appreciate the creatures of the world. And that her brother had always understood.

More years passed and the girl invited her brother and husband and dear friend to her graduation ceremony at a small college in Washington State. And what did these people see while driving to Goddard College in Port Townsend, WA? A herd of tatonkas, majestic in the green, green grass.

The girl’s brother, Billy, is gone now. Her father, too. But the wolves, and the tatonkas, even more strongly, are making a comeback. So we continue to celebrate and play tatonka when the time is right. The girl stops to catch her breath when she reads a story or sees a picture that reminds her of the great struggle every living creature makes, and must continue to make, to remain. To be remembered, revered, and yes, loved.

All creatures, great and small. All creatures.

Mahalo.bedtimesundanceGood Night.

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My Calendar

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I started a new part-time job last week. It’s a job closely related to teaching, a great love of mine, so I find it interesting and meaningful. Sadly, it doesn’t pay well and I haven’t found a way to increase my speed and productivity. In fact, although I believe my work is well-considered, maybe even good, I am nowhere near meeting my quota. My stats fall woefully short of corporate expectations. And I’m not getting any faster.

Speed has never been my forte. It takes me a half hour to eat a piece of toast for God’s sake! I don’t even like to drive the speed limit, let alone go above it. I nearly had a panic attack trying to get through the turnstiles in the London underground with all those nattily-dressed, running, right-handed people swiping their passes faster than the naked eye could see, jogging up the escalators on the proper side (Is it the right, or the left?) while carrying backpacks, and umbrellas, and flowers, and packages of all sorts, texting their loved ones, and wearing impossibly beautiful shoes. I mean, I almost didn’t make it!

Not that I wouldn’t go back to London in a second. I love London. I’m just sayin’.

East Finchley Tube Station, London

East Finchley Tube Station, London

I prefer kayaks to speed boats, shoes to roller skates, books to movies. I enjoy taking the scenic routes, and taking my time. Since I’m a much more a slow pour of molasses than a quick shot of tequila, I’m wondering if this is the right job for me… I mean it. I’m really wondering.

Meanwhile, I’ve done some training in preparation for another new part-time job, one that is also related to teaching. I’m just waiting for some paperwork to come through so I can begin that one. That job doesn’t pay well either, but it’s not so fast-paced. Even so, once that job begins, I will quite busy working two jobs and making hardly any money, basically working full-time. Busy, busy, busy. Hardly any money. Hmmm.

And there won’t be much energy left for creative writing. I know that isn’t an acceptable excuse. Hardly any writers have the luxury of devoting themselves to full-time writing. Most of us have other careers, other jobs, other responsibilities, and during the past year when I had quite a bit of free time, I didn’t complete my novel. I did get a lot of good stuff written, though, and it was really coming along. But the budget—not so much. As I’ve stated in other posts, I did manage to write when I worked full-time. I’m sure I can do it again. I’m just whining.

I don’t want to make a habit of whining, because it’s annoying and counterproductive and all of that. But I thought I’d try it out today anyway. I can see the sign: Warning! Do not enter. Dare I go down that road? Maybe—just this once!

There! I definitely feel better already! I didn’t travel far.

So why did I title this post My Calendar?

Here I am, still making big payments on my MFA, retired from teaching, and working for peanuts. I mean, I like peanuts (I even have a Peanuts calendar given to me by my adorable Southern relatives. You saw the picture.), and I like challenges, but I don’t understand why the skills I’ve worked so hard to hone are worth so little.

Go figure.

blogpictures 004And then I look up at my chalkboard and think about my friend, Ken Decroo,

and his wonderful advice. “Three pages a day, no matter what.”

Rather than, Online Shift 9-2 and Course Instruction 3-6, I’d like to write the following notations in my weekly calendar: Work on novel, Attend weekend writing workshop, Write, Go to writing group, Write, Complete another writing course, Write query letters, Write, Find an agent, Submit manuscript, Write, Get published, Write, Leave for book tour…

And I can do most of those things. I can choose my own road. So, guess what? I’m going to quit one of those jobs today. Right now. And get back to writing. Hope to meet up with you somewhere along Writers’ Way!

That’s all.

IMG_1197That, and Mahalo!!!

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A Cardinal’s Song

Source: A Cardinal’s Song

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1 Tactic That Will Help You Grow Your Following: Meet and Greet

Dream Big, Dream Often

imagesWhat day is it??!!  Meet and Greet Day!

Ok so here are the rules:

  1. Leave a link to your page or post in the comments of this post.
  2. Reblog this post.  It helps you, it helps me, it helps everyone!  So don’t be selfish, hit the reblog button.
  3. Edit your reblog post and add tags (i.e. reblogging, reblog, meet n greet, link party, etc.), it helps, trust me on this one.
  4. Share this post on social media.  Many of my non-blogger friends love that I put the Meet n Greet on Facebook and Twitter because they find new bloggers to follow.  This helps also, trust me.
  5. And if you leave a link and don’t follow me, how about ya show ole Danny some love?

Now that all the rules have been clearly explained get out there and meet n greet your butts off!

The Reblog post will publish at…

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Scanxiety

billyandloribabes

I belong to an appendix cancer support group, and one of the non-words I see quite often in posts is scanxiety, a condition related to the anxiety felt about medical scans that are given regularly for an indefinite amount of time after cancer treatment. In the beginning my scans were spaced three months apart; now they are six months apart. I’ve gotten good at coping with the anxiety nowadays (four years post diagnosis) most of the time, but when I get to the day before testing, as I have today, I find my mind casting away from anything productive.

My creativity is gone. I can’t concentrate on writing my novel or even reading someone else’s novel. I want to talk about it, but I don’t want to sound like a hypochondriac. I don’t want to seem negative. I don’t want to be told not to worry, everything will be fine. Even though I know it probably will be.

IMG_0679 This photo depicts my usual outlook on life, and was taken on my beloved mountain. This is not to say that I don’t love, love, love Wisconsin!

The thing is, I’ve never gotten over that initial out of nowhere diagnosis. I can only say that I feel vulnerable to invasion, or worse, that I feel like an unknowing host. I don’t understand cancer. There are so many different kinds of cancer, so many different treatments, so many different outcomes. Mine, Goblet Cell Adenocarcinoid Cancer of the Appendix, is supposed to be quite rare. It doesn’t seem so rare when I read the stories in my support group.

Sometimes I think I should drop out of the group; it reminds me daily of something I should not dwell upon. I believe in the power of positive thinking, and maybe reading the very real cancer stories, takes some of my shine away. But I also think that I should buck up—you know, be there for those who ask for a prayer or just need to vent and need to know someone out there really hears them.

I rarely participate in any length, usually just a word or two. Others in the group are much better at knowing what to say. Quite a few of them even offer up-to-the-minute cutting edge medical information, where the best hospitals are, how to connect with an appendix cancer specialist, the ins and outs of health insurance, tumor markers, treatment experiences—all sorts of really important information. I can’t help but feel I haven’t found a place of usefulness within the group.

And here I am tonight, inexplicably sad about the way that cancer changed my life and knowing I might be able to get some help from the group if I could just express myself without sounding like an infant. Most of the posts I read are written by or for those of us who are currently in the throes of the worst of the disease—those reeling and just diagnosed, those going in for their 2nd, or 3rd, or 4th surgery. Those who are in palliative care. The loved ones of those recently passed who write to break the news to the group.

And here I am feeling pretty darn good. I am one of the lucky ones. Makes me feel like a phony just wallowing in a selfish bout of survival guilt. And yet. And yet I am sad. Sad that my life changed so drastically since my initial appendicitis attack. The appendicitis that turned out to be hiding cancer.

Four years ago I was a teacher living on a mountain, surrounded by family, friends, students, colleagues, and neighbors that I loved. My four grandchildren all lived within a few miles of me.

That is not to say that my life is not good today, but it has changed dramatically. I miss my old life. I miss my kids. The circumstances of my life after cancer and my second surgery have impacted almost every aspect of my personal life and my career. Not all of it is bad, but some of it is. I’m not going to lie.

Paris to home 2013 085

Sometimes survival calls for sacrifice, or at least that’s the way I’ve come to wrap my mind around it. Maybe it’s nothing as noble sounding as that. Maybe I just got lazy. Teaching, one of my great passions, had always required great energy, energy that I no longer seemed able to summon. I was eligible for retirement. My husband needed work and found a good position in another state. My tumor marker tests showed increasing evidence of cancer at the cellular level, yet my scans were clear.

I’m not sure what tipped the scale and brought us to this new place. Maybe it was down deep merely an urge to run, something I’d done plenty of times in my earlier years. Grief over my brother’s death, financial hardship, chemo-brain, depression, debilitating chronic health issues, fear of recurrence…all of these things and more must have played a part. I only know for sure that the world changed after my diagnosis.

That’s the thing about cancer. It sneaks up on you. I had no idea that I had cancer until I went in for my post-operative check after my appendicitis surgery. And that’s probably the root of my malaise. If I didn’t know I had it then…

Scanxiety.

I’m grateful for what I have; I still have love and family, however far away some of my loved ones are, and I will be forever grateful for what I have had. Nothing can take that away.

Mahalo.GrandmaJazz

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Filed under Cancer, Cancer Journey, Patient Advice and Support, Support Groups, Teacher, Writing