Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
For the latter half of my single-digit years, two goldfish held residence in my room. One boasted the name Lisa, while the other bared the name Tom. I greeted Tom and Lisa every day, offering them food and occasionally, a clean bowl. Over the years, Tom and Lisa heard countless stories as I wandered around my room, shaking my hands with reckless abandon each time I stumbled upon the appropriate words to bring my imaginative tales to life. And they listened, patiently, to my temper tantrums over botched French braiding efforts, as well as failed endeavors to “teach” my little brother every component of second grade, and my unsuccessful foray into personal training—a bleak attempt to torture Barbie with calisthenics so she could adequately compete with GI Joe.
I’m sure Tom and Lisa didn’t survive for five full years; however, when I think back to my childhood, I only recall two fish. As soon as one died, we replaced it with a new fish, and in an effort to preserve the order of things in my room, I promptly named that fish either Tom or Lisa. In my little mind, those two names were the most fitting names for orange-gilled creatures moving into my fish tank.
For that reason, death never seemed like a real thing to me. I knew it existed and I came to understand it a little more when I watched both of my grandfathers die, but even then, I didn’t fully understand the depth of their absence until several years later when I noticed how much I missed them, when I started to lose the image of their faces, when I began to accept the fact they would never materialize on the recliner, or around the dinner table ever again.
Since the passing of my grandfathers, I’ve experienced a slew of other deaths, but instead of growing callus to the departure of life, each time I lose someone, I find myself increasingly more saddened, and increasingly more appreciative of the people who are still with me.
This all struck me today when I found out that a friend of mine lost her father. A bowl of sorrow opened in my gut as I empathized with her plight. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to get that phone call; how do you respond to that type of news? What comes next, after you hang up? What happens in the silence that engulfs you?
As I thought about my friend, I wished so badly she could venture out and find another Tom or another Lisa to make her smile. I wished she could go to the store and pick out a shiny, new goldfish, one who could do everything the old fish could—that way, she could go home, plop him into the tank, pick up the pieces and go on. When it comes down to it, I wished so badly that she could slip into my seven year old life.
Sadly, I realize life doesn’t work as simply as it did when I was seven years old, but I do hope that the best part of that simplicity is still possible. I hope that even though we cannot replace those we lose, we can find joy again in our lives. And I hope—that despite the deepest dips of sadness—we can always find the strength to pry open the cracks in our hearts and let loveliness leak into the gaps.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
I approached the dumpster sporting oily hair, a bare face, and grossly mismatched clothes. My recycling bin was overflowing and I couldn’t handle it a moment longer. Since it seemed silly to shower prior to a trash transport, and it seemed wasteful to apply perfectly good make up to a face I would wash as soon as I returned from my field trip, I ventured across the park wearing what ever I could locate on my floor.
Sadly, I walked up to find the Channel 10 News crew 50 feet from the recycling bin. Tino Ramos sported a microphone, and several guys gathered around him. Hoping to slip my disgusting self past the camera man, I zipped across the parking lot, head down, imagining that if I couldn’t see them, they most certainly couldn’t see me.
“M’am, do you mind if we film you throwing out your recycling,” Tino called from a distance.
I shook my bag even harder, hoping to empty it before they could reach me; they were clearly much faster than I planned, standing beside me before I could even raise the bag for a prompt dumping. The “record” light blared in my peripheral and I wanted to cry.
“I’m sorry, but I really don’t want to be filmed. Could you please not put this on air,” I begged as I imagined how entertaining my presence would be on TV.
“We’ll just get your hands. No one will recognize you,” they assured me. I felt more and more violated with every shake of the bag.
Once I finished emptying my goods, I rushed back to my car. Then I turned the key and actually started it; I couldn’t, however, bring myself to drive.
Putting it back in park, I switched off the ignition, opened the door, and ran back to Tino and his crew.
“Excuse me,” I yelled across the parking lot. The entire group of men stopped talking and turned to look at me.
“There’s this guy named Arthur who lost his job so he comes here every day to organize our trash. He got sick one week and this place was mess—the entire area reeked of spoiled food. Whoever is supposed to clean it up, never does anything. Arthur is the real story here. He never asks for money or handouts. He just helps us take trash out of our cars, and he organizes it so we don’t have rodents and insects feasting on everything out in the open. You need to come back when he’s here. Someone seriously needs to pay him. This place would be a disaster without him,” I explained, then I turned to go back to my car.
“Thank you for the tip,” Tino said. Then he turned to the man next to him, “This is the guy who runs the recycling. He’s in charge of the pick up and maintenance. We are doing a story about the program's success.”
I felt like a jerk. My face burned and my stomach flipped in half. I was just trying to do a good deed. I was just trying to give credit to a man who selflessly works his butt off to help out his community. I was just trying to turn a really boring story into something far more entertaining. Instead, I found myself staring at a man who was ready to bite my head off. This was his moment of glory and I doused it with kerosene and lit it on fire.
It's been a year since that fateful day, and I still feel like a jerk. I wonder how the conversation went once I shook his hand and ran to my car, sweating bullets of awkwardness. I wonder if Tino ever got to meet my neighborhood hero. But mostly, I wonder where our world would be without people like my Arthur, people who selflessly strive to serve.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Monday, November 21, 2011
Pages turn before me; I miss her. I miss the memory of her, the idea of her. I miss what could have been.
Pixilated stills and a few videos stream in from the past, but the sound is dull and the image is unclear. I can’t pinpoint my age. Heck, I can’t even recall if we ever had this conversation anywhere besides the kitchen.
“Do you want to practice?” she asks, every time I remember it.
“Kako-si nana,” I repeat syllable by syllable, the little version of me sits, giggling over the roll of foreign vibrations on my tongue, before scribbling phonetic cues along the lines of my tiny notepad.
“Dobro Hvala,” she replies, her arm rhythmically circling a stockpot, activating the sweet stench of vegetable soup. Moving from the pot to the oven, she withdraws a tray covered with perfectly burnt caramelized cherry turnovers, and she sets them out to cool.
Then, the scene goes black.
I wish I remembered what came next. I wish I could hear her voice louder than the logic of my memory, but her figure is hazy and her sound is nothing more than a hum. Everything I remember has been replaced by the smell of soup and the sweet taste of tart and butter.
I wrote about her once, a story that wasn’t even true. I rewrote a teenage love story. I rewrote the final days. I made her understand me. I wrote 5,000 words about a character bursting with the acceptance and pride I always wanted her to feel about me. Scanning those pages, I realize I can’t remember what’s true anymore. I can hardly see her face. I can hardly remember what she was like before Alzheimers devoured her spirit.
I wish she would have known me better. I wish I would have known her. I wish I had asked her everything my inquisitive mind could have ever thought to ask. I wish I could have stained the canvas with something that lasts bit longer than dust. I bet we had some things in common—something more than soup and tarts. I remember she played football with the boys on the farm. I remember that during The Depression she and my Aunt Jo used to share a can of corn for dinner—I tell that story every single year when I teach To Kill A Mockingbird. And
I wish we could have swapped ideas, bantering and conjecturing, recounting stories with hyperbolic flair. I wish I would have tried harder. I wish I would have opened up. And I wish I remembered more than the sweet stench of vegetable soup and the tantalizing taste of caramelized cherries.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
PROMPT: Imagine that you know nothing about the center of the earth insofar as science is concerned. As such a person, what do you think is in there?
Maybe spirits don’t rise, maybe they sink—not to Hades or anything hot and miserable—but into some place pristine and preserved, protected by the weight of the earth. Maybe they are swimming below us, looking up, gliding through air like fish through water, diving and rising with the ebb and flow of ethically-driven desire. Maybe those spirits are looking up at us, laughing at our shortsightedness and self-absorption, waging bets on which creative genius will dig deep enough to discover the fountains of wisdom gurgling beneath.
Maybe the center of the earth is like a heartbeat, or even like a soul. Maybe the surface is merely skin, burned and abused by toxins. If we drill deep enough, perhaps we’ll find a whole expanse of land free from pollution and chemically conceived concoctions. Heck, there could even be a whole new solar system replete with a brand new sun and moon, and string of planets full of second-generation livers, livers who have learned enough to do better next time.
Maybe the center of the earth is squishy, saturated with a gazillion gallons of water--water that fills clear through to the other side. Maybe the ocean doesn’t have a bottom; maybe if we actually dug our way to China, it would involve more swimming than shoveling.
Maybe the center of the earth is jam packed with compassion. Each time she rumbles and cracks, maybe she is just leaking a little more of her heart, a humble effort to soften our edges. And maybe it's this compassion, more than anything else, that helps the plants grow, the mountains rise, the fruit ripen, and the blossoms burst free.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Grayness chews away the scarlets, golds and tangerines, painting me blue--not the pretty kind of blue--cornflower or azure, for instance--the cruel kind. The kind that seeps into your fingers as they wiz through still air and slam the snooze button, and into your toes the moment they tap against the chilled floor boards. The kind of blue that latches onto your skin and tugs it further and further to the floor. The kind you feared when monsters lived under your bed. Even though you couldn't quite confront them eye-to-eye, you knew they feasted on the fibers beneath the mattress, waiting for the precise time to crawl out and consume you.
This blue usually makes his first appearance the second week of October. Due to some unforeseen delay--at least so far as I can tell--he's arriving late this year. I'm happy that he spared me a few extra weeks of color, but now that he is slowly leaking into my life, everything seems to be heavier. Winter has so many days, and bright skies and bare skin seem oh-so-far-away.
I wish I loved the cold. I wish I could find joy in the gray. I wish could swat away the blue. But mostly, I wish I could reach out my arms and squeeze the sun. I wish I could run barefoot through the grass. I wish I could dip my brush in tempera and flail it around like a pinwheel, spinning faster and faster until gallons of pigment swallow the blue, imbuing the grayness with bright, splattered perfection.
Midst a bout of wishing, I realized I could--figuratively of course. Pulling out words--quotes, excerpts, poems--I let the letters fly like a stampede of wildebeests, stirring me like a rumble in the savannah. When I reached Dale Carnegie, he made me stop and reread. He changed the direction of my wind.
"It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about," he said.
I promptly hopped on the wings of a bird. I soared into cornflower skies. Blazing rays caressed my skin as I dove between saplings. My eyes burned as color invaded them.
Then I blinked.
My husband was next to me. We were riding elephants. Lions thundered in the distance and they made the earth tremble. We were laughing in the face of danger, consuming life with the full force of adventure.
Then I blinked.
My kitchen table spread out before me--dinner begging for transport to the refrigerator, mail yearning to be read, papers screaming to be graded, keys waiting to be loved, to be touched, to be transformed into something useful, something more. I ignored my other to-dos, and then I pressed the plastic letters, watching images come to life.
A smile tugged at each edge of my lips. Joy scaled the walls of my gut, reaching the summit of my brain, and the promise of tomorrow began to spit rounds of color--we're talking a machine gun of pigment. When the attack ceased, I suddenly realized the winter was a little bit sunnier and the gray was suddenly gone.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Monday, November 14, 2011
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Friday, November 11, 2011
Thursday, November 10, 2011
I want to purge sizable chunks of disgust and slimy, wilted leaves of disappointment, and I want every last morsel to stream down the face of every Penn State coach, former coach and administrator who stood by and said nothing. I want to sit them all down on a bench in the locker room and force them to listen to every excruciating detail Jerry Sandusky’s victims endured, and I want them to dry heave and convulse as they wrestle with the images unfolding in their imagination. Then, I want to ask each man—face-to-face—if he can sleep at night knowing there were so many boys who could have been spared if he would have had enough decency to speak up.
And, while this is all unfolding, I want a camera crew there to film it, and broadcast it to an auditorium where every single Penn State student who pounded cases of beer and took to the streets to riot will be committed to a seat and forced to watch the entire exchange, piece by horrifying piece.
As soon as the broadcast ends, I would like to look into their sober eyes and ask them to honestly determine if Joepa should have kept his position. Ask them if they could have worn their Penn State football garb with pride knowing their institution did not take action—didn’t recognize how absolutely despicable it was for their hero to keep his mouth shut when he most needed to open it.
The entire scandal at Penn State is but one example of a much larger issue in society. It is but one example of a hyper-sensationalized culture focused more on “me” and less on “community”, more on money and less on morality, more on saving one’s own butt than saving our vulnerable children.
Nothing about this is okay. Jerry Sandusky’s actions are obviously abominable, but so is the widespread epidemic of inaction. It is not okay that Mike McQuery walked in on a 10 year-old boy propped against the wall, screaming out as a grown man violated him from behind and he did nothing to stop it. It’s not okay he called his dad and not the police. It is not okay that Tim Curley failed to insure Sandusky was harshly punished. And though it may not be against the law, it is not okay for the most powerful man in Pennsylvania to keep Sandusky on his staff, to avoid following up, and to fail the kids who needed someone to stand up for them.
Mostly though, it’s not okay that the majority of the hoopla surrounding this case has focused Joepa’s sad story, rather than on the damage Sandusky’s action, and Paterno’s inaction, caused for the boys who were violated, vilified and shamed. It’s not okay that in every interview he seems to focus more and more on himself—and very little on the bigger issue. It’s not okay that he doesn’t seem to understand what is so very wrong.
Seething with hubris, Joe Paterno fell like a greek hero—but perhaps all of us are a little bit to blame. We crown sports heroes with jewels of idolatry, worshipping them, abetting them, dangling money in front of them, hoping to get “in” with them because the affiliation breeds envy and status. But the moment they are caught, we throw our hands up and wonder what’s wrong, wonder why this keeps happening, why our heroes keep collapsing. We wonder why they think they’re infallible even though we are the ones who propped them high on ivory towers.
Paterno might have been a great coach, he might have built an empire, he might have made a difference in a lot of lives—but when it mattered most, he let everyone down. He let down the potentially dozens of kids who were sodomized by Sandusky. He let down his players who bought into his myth and lost the purity of their dream. He let down his loyal fans, his community, his institution. And he let down all of the kids who are missing out on the lesson he could be teaching right now—the lesson of fully owning one’s mistakes, and promoting the cause of action, of speaking out, of realizing that we all have the responsibility to protect each other.
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Herman Cain said he was “going to set the record straight now that somebody’s publically detailed an alleged incident of sexual misbehavior” and last night on Jimmy Kimmel, he asserted that “he’ll fight the latest harassment allegations head on because there’s not an ounce of truth to it.”
The fact he is speaking now, rather than last week, leads me to wonder if there was “an ounce of truth” in the other allegations—or at least documentation to substantiate unacceptable behavior, documentation he was hoping ghost accusers were unwilling to share with the public in a detailed, personal manner.
If he wants to win the election, he will have to eventually come clean. While in some ways I applaud his desire to “stay on message,” I think a large part of his message must demonstrate integrity—a quality that is slipping away from leaders and role models alike.
If Herman Cain is truly an upstanding, respectable man, he needs to show us. Voters need to know who they are electing because we’ve been regularly disappointed by hollow facades. Lies flood the newswire until extra-marital affairs are unmasked by the prevalence of proof. People we came to trust bribe, threaten and promise luxurious opportunities to those who keep their secrets—that is until the media promises their secret-keepers more.
The media feasts on scandal like frenzied sharks because its audience demands and devours it. The exacerbation of suspicion sells magazines and advertising space, and the public consumes it as readily it consumes candy bars and big macs.
As much as I doubt Cain’s proclamation of innocence, my suspicion of the media generates a little bit of doubt regarding the allegations. Stories can easily spin out of control and venomous rumors can obliterate good reputations in a heartbeat. And because it is so easy to steal a few moments of fame, sensationalism often crowds out the integrity of truth. People are so bent on becoming “famous” or “heard” or “visible,” they choose to violate any honorable code of conduct in an effort to steal the spotlight. Perhaps these allegations stem from a deliberate effort to destroy him rather than reveal his character; perhaps they’ve been planted; perhaps the media made more of it than it should have—but perhaps not. After all, in this situation, all but one of the victims are remaining silent; all but one are spreading their message without seeking fame.
The fact the first three women didn’t want the spotlight leads me to wonder if there is something more at stake. I suppose it could be what Cain suggests—a democratic ploy to destroy his ratings. Or it could also be that they are good, moral women who want the world to know this leader is another dirty scoundrel. Perhaps the latest subject of these attacks, Sharon Bialek, is right—perhaps Cain sees nothing wrong with what he did. Perhaps he cannot admit wrongdoing because he doesn't understand that his behavior was, in fact, inappropriate.
Regardless, I keep coming back to the same conclusion—if Herman Cain has nothing to hide, then he needs to say more than “there isn’t an ounce of truth” to the allegations. He needs to own up to what happened, what was decided and why he settled. Did it happen because it was cheaper than fighting? Or did he settle because he violated the law? It’s going to come out one way or another. He can be a big person now, or he can cower later—or worse yet, if he really is innocent, he can look back and wish he would of shared the truth.
Monday, November 07, 2011
Sunday, November 06, 2011
My friend Annie’s “Team Daylight Savings” status happened to be the first Facebook post I saw today. I laughed at the allusion to the Twilight saga—Team Edward or Team Jacob—and then I scrolled through the rest of my home page, looking for links to interesting articles or videos.
Surprisingly, as I scrolled, I saw status after status berating Daylight Savings Time. Given everything else one could be angry about, the venting struck me very oddly. Never, in my wildest imagination, would I ever think an additional 60 minutes would incite parents whom I hear repeatedly complaining about a lack of time to accomplish the many additional tasks they now have as a result of bringing a child into the world. Nevertheless, friend after friend has posted attacks on daylight savings because those of us without kids get to sleep in an extra hour and they do not.
I don’t recall such an onslaught of bitterness last year, and I can’t fathom why so many people are so mad. Even if your precious little children bound out of bed at the same time they do every day, it seems reasonable that you could convince them to go to bed at their “regular bedtime” that night. I’m not a parent, so perhaps this is a silly concept; however, I recall my parents having a pretty strong authority when it came to turning in for the night.
If you’re concerned your toddler can read clocks, don’t change them until they fall asleep. Cover your cable boxes and keep them from your cell phones. Or, better yet, toss technology aside, take them to the park on this gorgeous day, and play with them, laugh with them, enjoy them for just a little bit longer so they are tired enough to actually fall asleep early. And then, even though you might have had to wait a little longer than the people without children, take solace in the fact that you will also get your extra hour. An extra hour that you, too, will be able to spend in the most fitting manner—tucked into bed, or ticking off a widening list of daily tasks.
The last I checked, time is the very resource none of us can buy, but all of us want. Instead of squandering it with bitterness, why not open your arms and embrace it? On one day a year, we get sixty extra minutes to spend as we choose. So even though my sinus infection is making me feel pretty crummy, these extra 60 minutes are making me feel thankful. I have a huge stack of papers to grade, and that extra hour of sleep cleared my head just enough to make grading them seem possible.
Saturday, November 05, 2011
Friday, November 04, 2011
Thursday, November 03, 2011
PROMPT: Is there a stranger you encounter daily? Who is he/she?
Perched behind the entryway glass, chair propped against the wall, he sits there every single day. Leg bent at the knee, inner edge of his foot balanced on the top of his thigh, newspaper held in out-stretched arms, while a mug of coffee rests on the table beside him. Occasionally, the cup interests his fingers enough to warrant a tip to his lips. More often, it just stays there, a statue fixed in marble.
His silhouette catches my eye the moment I reach the last row of pigment diagonally streaking the parking lot asphalt. Even though I see him, I never look—at least not then. I purposely direct my gaze to the front doors, catching him only out of my periphery. Without looking though, I always notice him peering out the window.
When I reach the second entryway door, I question a turn to my left and wonder if I should meet his greeting with an acknowledgment, or continue to the counter and order my coffee. The neighborhood is a friendly one, after all. And this guy seems to survey each person who skirts through the door; he never directs his attention solely at me. When I do turn, I find his smile to be warm and friendly, not creepy and suggestive. And he has never once risen from his seat to make an unwelcome advance. He just sits there—a body bent on observing, sipping and greeting the bleary-eyed morning-goers who regularly seek solace in a cup of caffeine.
As I wait for my coffee, I always pass the time by reflecting on my turn—or lack thereof—wondering whether or not my culturally conditioned gut is unfairly questioning his intentions. Should ask him about his day or attempt to discuss a story peering from the front page of his newspaper? He could be lonely, after all, sitting in the coffee shop because he has nowhere else to be. Or he could be a recent retiree seeking pleasure in a morning routine. Or a writer seeking inspiration for his characters. I’m sure one of those possibilities is a bit closer to the truth than the suspicions coloring my imagination; nevertheless, every day the suspicions prevent me from asking.
When I open my situation to the broader context, it leads me to wonder how many experiences we miss trying to be safe, and on the other end of the spectrum, how many tragic moments could have been prevented if someone just took the care to listen to his gut. Mostly though, I wonder how we can strip out the factor of luck, and actually identify how to discern the difference.