You May Apply an Expensive, Fine-Line-Diminishing Moisturizer Both Morning and Night, but If You Use Email to Communicate with Your Friends and A Video of Your Birth Wasn’t Posted Online, You’re Not Fooling Anyone

My mom is 77. She’s had a digital camera for years and uses it all the time—but she’s never downloaded a single picture from her camera to her computer. Instead, she snaps her photos and then takes the memory card from her camera and puts it in the photo printing machine at Walmart. She has prints made of all her digital photos. Emotionally, it’s important to her that she have paper copies of all her pictures so that she can sort them, stack them, put them in a scrapbook. When I have suggested to her that she might just download her photos onto her computer, review them there, and then only get prints made of a select few (if she has a place in her house she wants to display one, for example), she literally shudders. It is unthinkable, undoable, for her to have photos that only exist digitally. Instead, she only feels easy and right when her photos have been printed, scrapbooked, and stuck on the shelf.

I understand this, as I struggled, when got our first digital camera, to let go of the need to have prints. Once my pragmatic husband pointed out that it made no sense to pay money to get something made that is then stuck into a box or on a shelf, however, I was able to peel back from my impulses. Cleverly, he opened my mood to the topic by pressing an Imperial Stout into my hand at the start of the conversation. When I tried to argue, “But what if I want to show someone my pictures?”, he said, “Take another gulp, and consider this: instead of going down into the basement and pulling a photo album off the shelf, just go to the computer and pull up the pictures you want to share. It’s as easy to sit in front of a computer and look at pictures as it is to sit on the couch and look at pictures. In either place, you can still bore your audience with endless details about places they haven’t been and people they’ve never met. If it isn’t hard copies holding them hostage, then you’ve saved on money, space, and the energy that would go into the creation of that paper and scrapbook and running the print-making machine, not to mention the sheer amount of glue that will be saved for later use, say, for making googly-eyed monsters at Halloween. In fact, there might be enough glue saved from not scrapbooking that you could invite the children to join you in that project this October instead of making them watch your googly-eyed joy longingly from across the enforced ‘Me Time’ buffer of ten feet.” By the time Byron had finished this lengthy prattle, I was eyeballing the bottom of my glass of stout, amenable to anything, particularly a refill. So, we don’t get many prints made, and I use online photo sharing systems for displaying my pictures.

Then there’s my daughter, who takes photos with her iPod Touch, uploading them directly to Instagram, where she plays around with all sorts of effects and messages. Her friends who aren’t on Facebook (technically, they’re all still too young) connect with her there, and they send each other messages and share fantastically-doctored photos on a daily basis. She is particularly proud of a photo of glitter sprinkling across a hand, the same way my mom is proud of her stack of several hundred pictures of flowers in Hawaii.

From my mom to me to my Girl, we all love the power of photographs, but the way each of us is comfortable harnessing that power differs. It’s generational, spanning age groups from older folks who consider big band music “too modern for my ears” to young nippers who think auto-tuned voices are “how people sound when they sing,” and it’s not just about pictures; the generation gap extends into all kinds of technology.

Of course, it’s unfair to stereotype technology use entirely according to age lines, as so much depends on the individual. My mom can’t figure out how to attach anything to an email, yet my husband’s 97-year-old grandfather spent his last years scanning old family photographs, digitizing them so as to preserve them for the future. This same struggles-with-attachment mom, however, formed a permanent one by using Senior Friend Finder (parent company: Penthouse…va-va-va-voom), an online matchmaking service that kept her in boyfriends for a few years before ultimately yielding the desired prize in the form of an 87-year-old husband. For my own 45-year-old self, I’ve hardly ever touched a smartphone, but my friend Kirsten, also in her 40s, spends her days responding to the buzzing vibration of hers. My 12-year-old daughter can add a sepia effect to a picture of her best friend swimming at the lake, but her 41-year-old father is the one who can use Photoshop to add flippers to her earlobes and place that best friend into a lake on Mars.

A sub-category here is Gamers. In cliched fashion, everyone bemoans that today’s kids are addicted to the Wii, the Xbox, their handheld devices–that they don’t read or spend their days outside getting dirty and sunburned. But that’s too easy a complaint, and it ignores the reality of the nine-year-olds I know who will read for three hours at a stretch as recovery from running through the sprinkler wielding swords. It also ignores the reality of the forty-three-year old Call of Duty: Black Ops addict who opens conversations with “I’ve got enough kills to unlock the cherry metal camo for my weapon!” My old lady reaction to this type of peer is to find his “juvenile” technology use jarring and to gasp, “At our age, honey, shouldn’t we be talking about scotch and mortgage payments and our mistresses?”

Despite the frequent disconnect between age and technology use, some broad observations can be made about the generation gap, and they hold true so long as your inquisitive self keeps its magnifying glass snug in its felt-lined case.

For example, if you receive a forward through email, and the subject line reads FW: FW: FW: FW: while the contents are a rant about “This is not a racist email, but all the veterans in my family didn’t go to war under the Mexican flag,” you can pretty much be sure the sender of that email is over 65. Similarly, alarmist emails (anyone remember those dangerous bananas in Guatemala a few years back?) that spur me directly to so that I can send a link and a note of “You really shouldn’t believe this stuff, Auntie Bev” are invariably sent out by senior citizens, as well.

It also seems that people over 65 or 70 are reluctant to join Facebook, and if they do sign up, they rarely post updates or comments. Perhaps they are happy to lurk; perhaps they are confused as to who can see what bits of information; perhaps they recoil from the easy dropping of privacy; perhaps they are uncomfortable with the quick back-and-forthing that constitutes communication; perhaps they can’t remember their log-in information; or perhaps they occasionally visit The Book of Face just to stare at their thumbprint-sized avatars, marveling that their tiny face is out in public, being famous like that, and wasn’t it nice of their grandson to sit down with them that Sunday and help them resize a photo and upload it to this website that they now can’t figure out how to navigate.

Trust me: for each of the possibilities listed above, I have the face of a real person flashing onto my mind’s screen as I type.

Then there are the people in their middle decades of life who adapt to the various new technologies, who can see that smartphones and texting and social media can help them stay organized or track their kids’ whereabouts or revive faded friendships. Part of the Middle Agers’ use of technology, though, is rueful. They download new recipe apps happily…yet they recall, wistfully, the illicit fun of listening in on a party line, of winding a spiral telephone cord around their fingers distractedly during long phone conversations, of using cassette players to record Saturday Night Live skits off the television. They may use their cell phones as their alarm clocks, but they’ll also bend your ear with nostalgic tales of diving boards and AM radio. What’s more, they view the conventions of texting with undeniable disdain, harrumphing about misspellings and the death of apostrophes with a mixture of agony and condescension.

Trust me: I know someone exactly like this, and she wears my pants and drives my car.

A bit younger yet are those in their 20s or late teens, people who adapted technology use deeply into their lives early in their existences. They grew up with gaming systems, DVDs, never using longhand to write an essay.  Their earliest years of elementary school were shaped by the movement to “get computers into our classrooms,” and they took it for granted that they could stand outside their houses and have a chat on the cordless telephone, if they liked. They were funneled towards IT jobs—always assured that there was demand for employees in computer programming and Web design.

Trust me: these are today’s college students, and their voices are in my head.

But then.

Even younger still

are the kids—

those preteens and elementary-school leg tuggers–

who have had pervasive technologies so deeply woven into their every hour that they have no frame of reference for “before” and “after.” Being able to tell anyone, anywhere in the world, that they are eating a Fudgsicle, as they are eating it…distracting their minds by lobbing birds that are inexplicably angry at pigs that are inexplicably green…writing a research paper without ever visiting a library or touching a periodical…checking the weather by looking at an app instead of the sky…watching, along with thirteen million others, the Harvard Baseball team lip-sync Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”…developing friendships with people they’ve only met once (or never at all)…learning long division on a Smart Board…

all of these things are the new normal for First World kids and, therefore, we might argue, for the future leaders of the planet.

I’m not a fan of complaining about change or pushing back against the tide. At one point, parents and screaming teens alike had their breath taken away by Elvis’ swiveling hips. Attempting to censor or modulate Elvis didn’t make him stop (a job better left to prescription pills and fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches). Nor did forcing teenage boys to get haircuts put a damper on The Beatles. If it’s coming, it’s coming, and all we can control is our responses to the nebulous force of It.

Personally, I do okay. I’m on par with my generation, perhaps a bit ahead in a few things and a bit behind in others. Sounds like life to me. I look at my daughter’s relationship with technology and, rather than feeling despair, I trust her judgment. As she told me a few weeks ago, when I noted that she was on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter (among others) and that she should always be thinking of how much she wants to expose herself and how other people might use the information she puts out there, her reply went, “I have all those accounts, but I don’t really use them very much. I’m only 12. It’s not like I have a lot to report.”

Ultimately, I guess I’m keeping up, if occasional limping qualifies as “keeping up,” and I can rely upon that Girl of mine to keep me current. Take, for instance, one of our finest moments of mother/daughter bonding in recent months. It occurred entirely on Facebook as we sat in the same house at the same time. I saw I had a new private message from her, written in response to a joking “So what’ve you been up to since I saw you last?” question I’d sent.

“Here’s what’s been up,” her message read. Then she had attached this:

The same way Elvis’ hips swiped the breath from the chests of WWI vets, this image of my Girl’s first break-up (it had been a low-key 6th grader “going steady” kind of thing, largely facilitated by the fact that they both rode the same bus) caused me to emit an “Oof.” I tried hard not to put myself inside her head during those Adjustment Minutes between 8:55 and 9:06 p.m. It almost worked.

Jinkies. Thanks to technology, I was witness to my first baby’s first time getting dumped.

Naturally, because I’m Old School, I immediately walked to her room for some face-to-face and said, “So, I just saw your message about you and Now-Ex-Boyfriend. How are you doing with that?”

“Fine. It’s not a big deal.” She wasn’t lying. At no point during the year has it been a big deal; more than anything, it was like these two agreed to “date” so that they didn’t have to deal with the pressures to “date.”

“So you’re all right?”

“Totally. Right now, I’m just trying to figure out right now who sings this new song.”

Okay then. I let it rest–while still shaking my head a little at learning of my daughter’s love life on Facebook from a screenshot taken on her iPod.

Apparently, this is how we’ll continue to roll. Two weeks later, I got a FB message from her, asking: “Can I… Or could I? I don’t know which one ^. Start shaving my legs sometime soon?”

You better believe I hit reply and then we hit the Walgreen’s.

An hour later, we sat together on the edge of the tub, lathered up our legs with shaving cream, and practiced not cutting ourselves with razors. We talked about soccer and the heat and how dirty her feet were. We talked about armpit hair and when I started shaving, way back nearly thirty-five years ago. We wondered when Daddy had started using a brush to apply his lather. We speculated about when Paco will start being hairy.

The thing is

and here’s the thing:

the best moments of life

are charged without a cord

and happen in real time

with nary a pixel in sight.

If you care to share, click a square:

Plaster, Pairings, Pacing

It’s going to be a summer of pictorials over here, I fear. Suffice it to say, my head is full of children–often perky, often listless, too often full of the words “What should I do?” now that school’s out. Interestingly, and I remember this from my own youth, they want something to do, but they don’t actually want to do anything. In a stand-out highlight, I managed, last week, to get Paco interested in helping me catalog items that we’ll be donating to Goodwill. He wrote them down and noted their condition (for tax purposes), and I packed them up, readying them for the drop-off.

That was a really great ten minutes we had there.

Outside of that, it’s been a whole lot of other chunks of ten minutes, during which I say things like, “Why don’t you make some slime? We have a kit.”

“No, thank you. I don’t feel like it.”

“Why don’t you read a book?”

“No, thank you.”

“Why don’t you take your scooter out and whip around the sidewalk for a bit?”

“No, thank you.”

“Why don’t we pull out the hot glue gun and glue stuff together?”

“No, thank you.”

“Why don’t you take this shovel and dig me some holes in the dirt?”

“No, thank you.”

“Why don’t you pull out one of our two hundred board games and sink somebody’s battle ship?”

“No, thank you.”

At least I can give him credit for good manners.

This whole shift from school year into summer and the feelings of “I want something, but I don’t know what” reminds me of being a kid and standing in front of our open refrigerator, staring at the shelves of food, and saying to my mom, “I’m hungry. There’s nothing to eat.”

The Girl is easier, as she heads off to her room to recline on her bed and stare at her wall.

When I pop my head in to say, “Are you seriously staring at the wall? Why don’t you pick up that book next to you?”, she responds, “Naw. I’m good.”

See how manners suffer in the preteen? Not a “thank you” in sight.

Fortunately, she’s got a pretty stiff soccer schedule going on, and she’s doing band camp this week (oh, my, but there were nerves before the audition), and we’ve got her doing a program called The Incredible Exchange (adolescents volunteer at organizations around town and receive a certificate at the end of the summer for a ski pass or art classes or theater tickets). She’ll be volunteering at the children’s museum for the next month or so, doing stints at the Dino Dig display and teaching kids to make pinwheels. If it gets her off her bed, I call that a win.

In short, we’re having a classic summer so far, wherein life feels too slow and too busy all at once. Complicating everything was Byron’s bike crash a couple of weeks ago. In his Fine Man fashion, he was biking across the city to the Lighthouse for the Blind, ready to do his shift reading the newspaper aloud on the radio for the sight impaired. Going a bit too fast, he hit some loose gravel and wiped out. His knee was well bloodied, and his wrist took some good impact. What was there to do besides get back on his bike and ride to the Lighthouse? They gave him some bandaids and a bag of ice. He iced his forearm for an hour and a half and thought it felt okay. So then he biked to the YMCA, as he was signed up to chaperone Paco’s third grade swimming field trip. Despite not being able to swim, Byron worked the pool deck…and realized his arm really hurt. I swung through the pool area after my yoga class, just to say hi, and the first thing I noted was “You don’t look so good.” At that point, I heard about his crash. He poo-pooed my offer to stay and chaperone while he went to Urgent Care, noting that his presence mattered to Paco. It was good he stayed, as all other adult males peeled off during the swim time, and by the end Byron was the only male chaperone and, therefore, the one who needed to shepherd the three classes of third grade boys through the locker rooms at the end of the field trip.

Thus, once the field trip was over, and I was off taking Girl to soccer, I got a call that Byron had stuck Paco on the back of his bike and taken him to Urgent Care. X-rays revealed a broken wrist. At that point, we tried to figure out how to get his huge cargo bike home–too big for the bus, too big for any bike rack we have. I was just deciding I could drive us home and then run back to the hospital and then try to handle the bike myself, when Byron announced, “I think I’m okay. I’ll just ride home.”

So, yea, that’s my boy. In his temporary splint, he rode home.

A week later, the orthopedist put a cast on. Because Byron’s the guy who will experience random complications (any long-time readers out there remember the day he got two vastectomies, what with him coming home from the first procedure, having a couple arteries burst, and then having a 4 hour surgery to repair all that?), he’s having a lot of pain and problems with this cast: swelling, hot points, tingling fingers. As of this typing, he’s back at the doc, seeing what’s up. My guess is that they left a screwdriver in there when they were applying the plaster.

Incidents like these allow me to sigh dramatically his direction and point out, “You come across as so simple, but you’re really very complicated, aren’t you?”

The downer of the wrist was nicely balanced by the wonderful evening we had throwing a “Pairings Party.” Although I generally space out most of my running thoughts, once the run is over, I actually remembered my idea to have an end-of-school Pairings Party, wherein guests were challenged to bring their favorite food-plus-beverage coupling.

I hadn’t made scones since before we went to Turkey, so it was time:

I hadn’t had a White Russian since college, and I must say the pairing worked well together–creamy + creamy. Byron made popcorn topped with brewer’s yeast and coldpress coffee for a drink; it’s his favorite afternoon snack.

Guests brought a variety of fun things:

Everyone enjoyed the tasting and hanging out:

At the height of the evening, we had 18 kids romping around the yard:

The trampoline saw lots of action:

…and then, when it was over, we were back to summer, filling those hours.

Paco decided it would be fun to make duct-tape armor. So Byron put on an old shirt, and Paco and I spent a loooooooooooong time applying a few layers of duct tape (sidenote: apparently being the model for this activity is a great weight-loss strategy, as Byron probably sweated off two pounds, just sitting there). Then we cut the thing up the back, releasing Byron; now Paco can slide into it and look as though his torso is bigger and ready for battle.

Yes, Byron, you are a massive beast.

We also had a really great Grandma’s Marathon weekend. Every year, there is a 5K (with about 2,000 runners), a half-marathon (about 6,500 runners), and a marathon (about 6,000 runners). This year, as well, the U.S. Half-Marathon National Championships were held, which added further excitement for spectators. The race course goes right by our house, which means that the neighborhood turns out in full force to cheer, ring bells, and marvel at people’s abilities and endurance.

Our Girl is interested in doing 5Ks these days, so even though I had stopped doing races a few years ago and felt I was pretty much over 5Ks, you had better believe I stepped up with alacrity when she said, “I want to do the 5K, but I want someone else to do it, too.”

The evening of the 5K was much hotter and more humid than anything we’ve had so far this year, so everyone was suffering. As the race announcer noted, “This will not be your night to set a PR [personal record]!”

He wasn’t kidding. It was a misery. One of the men in the top ten collapsed three times in the last hundred yards, as his brain stopped firing correctly, yet his body kept moving. He did cross the finish line, but it wasn’t pretty. Later in the pack, when I was coming in, a young boy behind me had to bend over and vomit a few feet past the finish line.

Speaking of not pretty.

Here I am, pounding to the line between grandpas, as is my way.

Girl ran the whole thing very well, but she had a tough time with the heat and humidity. Her best 5Ks are still in front of her, which is just as it should be for a twelve-year-old. One of her good friends (and her sister and dad) ran the race, too, so it was a jovial time, all in all.

Races are always way more fun once they’re over.

Can you guess which long-suffering person in the above photo is not a fan of heat and having his picture taken?

The morning after the 5K were the half-marathon and the full marathon. We were down on the race course before 7 a.m., ready to see U.S. Olympic marathoner and native Duluthian Kara Goucher speed by. She won the women’s national championships and set a new course record. News footage that evening showed her grabbing her toddler at the finish line. I was left thinking, “When I had toddlers, it was all I could do to put my feet on the floor each morning and hoist my body off the mattress. I was more Groucher than Goucher.”

The men’s championship was won by Abdi Abdirahman (for a good time, say that ten times fast), a Somali-American who will be representing the U.S. in the marathon this summer, as well. I tell you, when these elite runners whoosh by, it’s such a powerful whisper that my heart beats differently for a few seconds.

I may have to say “HUH?” when people mention The Packers or The Vikings or The Twins, but I’m hella good race geek.

Capping off the race watching for me was this guy. He reminded me that I may sometimes struggle to get through the hours with the drifters that are my children,

…but at least I’m not pushing a dog around in a stroller.

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In the Yard

The kids are in their last days of the school year here, and I’m already in Week Two of teaching summer classes at the college; strangely, there’s something melancholy about this time of year–something about the end of rituals and the starting of new daily schedules, something about the winds contemplating pushing warmer air our direction. Despite the melancholy that comes from taking stock and feeling imminent transition, I really like this time of year, particularly because it’s so delightful to be outside. In this past week alone, my spirits have glided around the backyard, joyfully catching a draft and coasting around, every time I look at our new solar lanterns

and every time I catch sight of the first blooms on the earliest flowers (Siberian Irises delight)

and every time I watch Paco use sparklers as magic wands (“Wingardium Leviosa!” he cries)

and every time I participate in my new favorite sport

[tentblogger-youtube wIgA7a9rE7w]
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I need a dictation machine attached to my jaw as I run.

That way, I could just pant-talk my blog posts; I do a great deal of blogging in my head when I’m out for a run, but then I get home, and there’s laundry to fold, the kitchen floor to sweep, plants to jam into the ground, Snow on the Mountain (cursed opportunist!) to weed, classes to prepare, and kid pick-ups to do. By the time I sit down, it’s 9 p.m., and we’re just about to have dinner and watch a show–

so I really do need that jaw-anchored dictation machine if I’m ever going to blog out as much stuff as I have swirling around in my noggin.

With Byron working steadily at the green house down the road during this busy gardening season, I’m “on” more than usual at home. Every night, I have a moment of, “Seriously? I’m making dinner again? Is this going to happen again tomorrow? Because I might need to start preparing mentally if this whole make-dinner-every-night thing is going to circle around again on me in 24 hours.”

Then, once the dinner is done, there are all those dishes needing washing up.

Were I a singleton, I’d just toss a potato in the microwave and eat it directly out of the skin (Nature’s plate). Every now and then, I’d cook, but it surely wouldn’t be careful meals pre-planned on a daily basis. I’d live my personal credo of A Careful Dinner Cooked Twice a Month Is Once Too Often.

The truth is, in many ways I don’t excel at being an adult. The tasks of daily life are like weights tied to the wings of the little happy fairies who flutter around inside my torso.

On the other hand, even though in my home life my 12-year-old has to tell me, with semi-tempered exasperation, “It’s time to leave, or we’ll be late,” I’m a pretty consistently good adult when it comes to teaching. I mean, somebody’s got to be the grown-up in the room, right? Especially when it’s so often peppered with students fresh out of rehab? The sense of obligation to my students and the material has had me, in recent weeks, getting ready for summer session–starts today–and looking ahead to the SEVEN online sections I’ll be teaching Fall semester. In particular, I’m fretting about the creation of a new class that I proposed and shepherded through the curriculum process this last year: Writing for Social Media. It was approved at all the various levels of approval, which means it’s on the books and now on the schedule to be taught for the first time this upcoming Fall. The thing about a class like this is that it’s focused around ever-changing, ever-emerging technologies, many of which I can presume my students will be more savvy with than I, the teacher. If I can’t out-technology the students, I’ll have to focus on the academic component of creating messages for Facebook, Twitter, and blogs–as in, we’ll be doing some Aristotelian rhetorical analysis of people’s updates. Usually, when it comes to structuring 17 weeks of study, an instructor can rely upon published textbooks as resources. However, with the case of social media, there really aren’t textbooks that focus on how to craft effective messages in 140 characters or fewer or how to leave a comment that’s not insultingly ridiculous pap. So far, my syllabus consists of the words “No LOL usages allowed, even if you have actually just LOL-ed, which I highly doubt you have, as so little on Facebook is actually amusing in an uncontrollable gut-bellowing fashion. If, in fact, your body is barking out a laugh, just do the damn laugh; don’t type it.”

Generally speaking, I find swearing in my syllabus to be an effective technique for establishing my credibility.

Anyhow, every time I have started to plan out the Writing for Social Media class, sans textbook, I quickly get so overwhelmed with the 900 bits I need to pull together and the googolplex of possible activities we might complete that my brain frantically scratches out a “Gone Fishin'” sign and tacks it onto the door of its hut.

Fortunately, after I had a few beers the other night, at about midnight, my brain decided it was time to yank down the sign and get back to work. In a happy explosion of My Inhibitions Are Lowered, So I Can Start to Peg Out a Semester Calendar, I began to build the scaffolding of the class…which now means I kind of have a plan, and kind of having that plan means I’m now tumbling through the domino effect of documents to write and links to embed. In short, I now have only about 887 bits that I need to pull together.

Which is, you know, why I need that running-jaw-dictaphone dealie. I also could use a stop-scrambling-your-metaphors sorter; for the low cost of only $19.99, I could get one of those and halt my nonsensical mixing of fishing and scaffolding and dominoes into the same paragraph.

In the absence of such helpful devices (good news, though: I phoned Melinda Gates, and she’s going to ease into the running-talk machine idea with Bill over pot roast next Sunday and then work on him regarding the metaphor-unscrambler when they hit Fiji in July; he’s more positive and responsive when his mouth is full of beef or his face is full of sun), consistently thoughtful blog posts may be a long time coming. But I do have a few quick updates that might be of interest:

1) For those who read these posts: “The Smell of Success…or Perhaps an Abundance of Broccoli” and “Drop the Damn Fork!”

As of yesterday, I’m 1.4 pounds away from “goal” with my “program” at Weight Watchers. Honestly, I haven’t been following “program” at all–after the first few weeks, the drudgery of recording every bite and calculating the corresponding points proved too taxing for my non-adult self, and so I adopted a more straightforward policy of “Whatever you’re eating, eat less of it than you want. Always be hungry. Then go get weighed in public by a stranger.” It’s worked well enough, even though I’m doing a good job of being unmotivated and sabotaging my better choices the closer I get to “goal.” This “goal” is according to Weight Watchers’ health guidelines for my height, and hitting it will mean I’ll be within medically-dictated parameters for the first time since I was about 13. Interestingly, even though I’ve now lost almost 38 pounds, I don’t feel different or thin (trust me, I’m not, as I’ll be hitting the very highest number within the prescribed guidelines, so I still tote around a fair bit of heft); I still have all my lumps and bulges–now with a few new bits of sag here and there to break up the landscape, and I’m still just the me I’ve been all along. So there’s a lesson: we are distinct from the sum of our pounds.

2) For those who read this post: “Of Tesbih and Testes: Then It Got Personal”

My beloved friend, Jessica, a woman who sustained our family during the year in Turkey, has had a big life change. After some more financial irregularities and uncountable debts and lying and fighting, her third Turkish husband, Kerem, ended up begging her to take out yet another loan to save his hide. At this point, he had closed his rent-a-car shop and had been unemployed for months. Jessica was teaching full time, giving private English lessons to multiple clients, and doing some translating for a company needing movie reviews–not to mention handling all of the household chores, raising the kids, and paying the bills from her income.

Suddenly, although it had been brewing for ages, the marriage was over. Jessica was fed up–done–and pushed Kerem into a corner where he had to accept divorce. She managed to get him to the court house and to agree to allowing her full-custody of their son (this, after several years of his threatening her with, “You’ll come home one day, and the boy and I will be gone. You’ll never find us”). The divorce took place with record-setting rapidity. For a little over a month now, Jessica has been free of the weight of that marriage; she’s taken a job in Istanbul starting next year, so her income will be significantly higher, and she’ll be closer to Kerem and his family (he has moved to Istanbul and lives with them), so they can see the boy child frequently. Jessica and I have Skyped and Facebooked, and I can tell you she’s pretty blissed out right now. Also: she read my post about her marriages, and she read everyone’s comments, and while she said that seeing everyone’s opinions and judgments was very difficult, it was an eye-opening pain.

3) If you read this post: “If These Old Walls Could Speak”

The neighbors who have three relatively-untended children are

having a fourth.

Me am screamy on this issue but am trying to be kind to the existing children since it’s not the kids I’m mad at. If you read the mom’s blog, you’d think this pregnancy and her life were sponsored and packaged by Martha Stewart. However, as with Martha Stewart, there’s an uneasy disconnect between the smartly-shot, soft-edged photos and an intuitive sense that this purveyor of lifestyle is not as fabulous a person as her flower arrangements imply.

Plus, as I noted in my original post, every story needs a villain, so I’m going to be quite willful in hanging onto her as a Black Hat.

4) For those of you who read this post: “That Solid Inward Comfort of Mind”

Our Girl has used the power of romanticizing memory to turn her experience with Discovery Girls into the highlight of her life, and I think that’s great. The people were excellent, and the whole thing makes her feel special, even glamorous. I could have used some of that when I was 12. So she’s glossed over her heart-wrenching disappointment from the first day–Ah, Glorious Memory!–and now texts and plays Words with Friends regularly with a few of the other Minnesota girls. They’re planning a release party when their issue hits the stands in July. As a pre-July teaser, though, one of her “article” photos is being used in the current issue of the magazine (the one featuring the girls of Wisconsin). She’s the non-glasses-wearing girl in the BFF photo below:

5) For those who read this post: “Gulp”

The hand-shaking “I read your blog” interview candidate got the job.

My groundbreaking series of “personify the body part” vagina posts will be put on hold for the foreseeable future.

6) Not only am I becoming a Very Big Girl by actually starting to use an RSS reader for the first time, I’m trying to get up to speed with a few other “time savers” that actually aid in eating up my hours. Thus, in my attempts to stay on top of at least a few of the newer, bigger apps and Internet technologies, I’m trying out Spotify today. Hell, if Bieber invested in it, it’s got to be good. I live my life by asking myself, before every decision, “What would Bieber do?” Alternately, if the decision involves earrings, I ask myself, “What would Beyonce do?”

Anyhow, Spotify easily embeds music into blogs. The song embedded here features speed-metal-fiddle and is a ragingly-kickass song by the local Duluth music group known as Trampled by Turtles. It’s on my running playlist (try to imagine foot strikes keeping up with the increasing beat). Byron has standing orders that if the YMCA ever calls to tell him they’ve got his unconscious wife there on a stretcher, the first words out of his mouth should be, “Look at her iPod. Is the song ‘Wait So Long’ by Trampled by Turtles playing? If so, that’s the cause of her blackout. She was trying to keep up with the fiddler. I’ll be right down, and I’ll be bringing her a revitalizing Shamrock Shake, so worry not.”

Wouldn’t it be awesome if Spotify had a Dicate-While-You run app?

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Plant Trees Under Whose Shade You Do Not Expect to Sit

It all started with stand-up comedian Marc Maron.

Personally, I only find Maron occasionally funny, only sometimes as good as he wants to be. Mostly, his overblown ego and need for attention quash any shot at charm.

You may have dated someone like this in high school. Although painful at the time, it was for the best that you guys broke up the week before graduation while sitting on the hood of his Dodge Omni in the McDonald’s parking lot; had that relationship continued as a long-distance affair into the first semester of college, he absolutely would have cheated on you with a girl from Michigan named Heather and then called you to confess his misdeed right as you were walking out the door to take your final exam in Poli Sci 101. What’s worse, he would have made you feel that his straying was somehow your fault–because you were, selfishly, too far away, too not there for him, too busy studying the Swedish model of government to fulfill his needs.

Fortunately, although you would have sobbed your way up the hill as you walked to your final exam and then found yourself so distraught you could hardly write out even bare-bones responses about highly-developed individualism in socialistic countries (here’s a direct quote from your exam, as I recently pawed through your recycling bin in The Universe of Parallel Realities and retrieved that tear-blotched Blue Book from 1984: “It’s okay for there to be an I in the midst of a we; why is that so hard for the democracies of the world and asshat cheating bastards to get???”), being freed from that relationship would have meant you were able to move on and really commit to the joys of college life without constantly pining for the half of your heart you’d checked into a dorm at the state university. Post break-up, you would have reclaimed that half of your heart and then, years later, tried not to chuckle too evilly when your cheating ex and Heather got divorced because she’d been caught with lipstick on her collar as a result of steppin’ out with–gasp!–Sharon Garrison after a Pampered Chef party one night.

Other bonuses from this young-adultian angst would have been the fact that your abysmal score on the poli sci final exam helped to convince you that you didn’t actually want to major in politics or become a lawyer. Rather, you would have taken the memories of the nausea you felt when writing about Swedish socialism and wiping broken-heart snot onto the sleeve of your hoodie and decided to make it your life’s work to figure out why stomachs sometimes roil uncontrollably.

All of this is why you would have become a research scientist, specializing in the study of lipids, making three times the income of your cheating ex who, satisfyingly, would be living in a dark one-bedroom apartment with only a couch, a universal remote, and a stack of yearbooks in the living room to keep him company.

But none of this actually happened, Silly, since you guys broke up a week before graduation. That’s why you had your damn act together for your first final exam, and you rocked the poli sci and did become a lawyer. It took a decade, though, for you to realize wholly how propitious that break-up was; only as a fully-realized adult did you have the capacity to register rampant relief at not being yoked to a partner whose contributions to the relationship were limited to (1) ego and (2) need for attention. Your life’s edges had to harden before you could apprehend the exponential happinesses that derive from Not Being Romantically Partnered to A Petulant Child (or A Pampered Chef!), but along the way, you made yourself economically independent and met a good guy–the right guy–someone who doesn’t feel diminished by scrubbing toilets, who doesn’t call spending time with his own children “babysitting,” who watches you when you cry and admires the strength it takes to express emotion.

So now, some decades later, you’re a happy lawyer with an iPod, and you love to listen to Marc Maron’s podcast a few times a week. Every time Maron launches into one of his self-obsessed monologues, it’s not so much annoying as it is a welcome reminder of bullets dodged and final exams well written. You listen to the anger and the anxiety that he’s still trying to tame in his late forties, and hearing his biweekly rants makes you smile, makes you sigh with something resembling bliss, makes you think, “Praise the hood of that Dodge Omni that I’m not committed to life in which a voice like that sets the tone.”

The all-too-real phantom woman in this scenario is not me, incidentally, so save yourself the energy of trying to connect fictional dots into a profile of my face. Yes, I drove a Dodge Omni in the 1980s. Yes, we hung out in the McDonald’s parking lot in high school. Yes, I took political science my first semester of college, a class in which we studied the Swedish model (having only skimmed the course description in the catalog, I was stunned when I was the only student who showed up the first day toting a poster of catwalker Vendela Kirsebom). Let’s see, what else can I give you? I know a guy who’s a research scientist whose work focuses on lipids. Although I never asked him directly, I don’t think he’s ever bawled his way through a final exam. I feel pretty certain of this because he’s Algerian, and male college students in Algeria generally don’t come out the other side of their degree programs if they have a track record of public weeping. Oh, also: because I’d rocked the Original Oratory event and the odd Lincoln-Douglas debate during my forensics career in high school, I did want to be a lawyer when I started college, a dream that lasted approximately two weeks, until the night I found myself sitting in a fountain, clutching a half-drunk bottle of Peachy Riunite, wondering where my shoes had gone, and it occurred to me shortly before I dropped my flushed cheek onto the cool, cool stone of the fountain that I might do better to pursue a career not predicated on ration, logic or getting my mind from Point A to Point B without taking a U-turn at the letter K.

As well, I do listen to Marc Maron’s biweekly podcasts, and I do enjoy them heartily–but not because I successfully dodged a relationship with someone like him. Rather, I listen to his podcasts because Maron overcomes his personal limitations by being one helluvan interviewer, particularly when he manages to keep the conversation focused on the guest and not his own history of interpersonal tensions, eating issues, and parental resentment. That noted, I do have to say that when Maron interviewed Conan O’Brien, he received a valuable therapy session from the late-night host thanks to O’Brien’s skills as an active listener.

Then again, if you have Conan O’Brien sitting in your garage, letting you interview him, shouldn’t you maybe shut up about how you can’t stop gorging on ice cream and then reeling from the resultant self-loathing?

In his best moments, however, Maron achieves something wonderful with the comedians, actors, and writers he interviews: he connects; he illuminates; he creates moments that remind listeners that there is power in two voices bouncing back and forth against a backdrop of silence. Of course he’s able to do something wonderful–even self-obsessed egotists have appeal. Why do you think you hooked up with your high school boyfriend in the first place? Remember it? It happened the hour after that dramatic hair-flipper Mindy Fassenberger lobbed a pointed comment your direction, hissing “Cows shouldn’t be allowed in the schools.” Still oozing hurt, you were sitting in trigonometry class, attempting to staunch the flow of liquid pain, when the soon-to-be boyfriend applied balm to your savaged self-esteem by catching your gaze and rolling his eyes while Mr. Norak joked, “I wear glasses because it improves division.” As you and your soon-to-be boyfriend shuffled out of the room towards seventh period, he leaned over and whispered to you, “What a dork. We should call him Mr. Dork-ak,”

and in that moment you were that much less alone in a world churning with cruelty and sneak attacks.

Soon-to-be boyfriend had connected, illuminated, created a moment. Soon-to-be boyfriend had seen you, and that validation created an ingress to your pneuma (Ingress to Her Pneuma, coincidentally, was the working title of Freud’s book about his mother’s loss of virginity; ultimately, however, just before the proofs went to the printer, he changed his mind and went with She Had a Hole in More Than Her Heart).

Maron, at his best, achieves what your boyfriend did that day in trigonometry class: he sees people and helps them move their stories forward.

What’s more, Maron identifies with his guests because he is so conscious–obsessively conscious–of his own vulnerabilities. In addition to ice cream binges, for example, Maron often monologues about how (when his primary companion, Anger, is absent) he is given to weeping at life’s small moments,

such as those portrayed in the reality television cooking program called Chopped.

Each week on this show, four chefs compete in three rounds (appetizer, entree, dessert), submitting to judging after each round, until only one chef remains. Distilling as it does all the hopes and stresses of humanity, this simple cooking show brings Maron to tears.

Having heard of this show through Maron’s podcast, I was itching to see it. All my iPod-toting lawyer friends already watched it with regularity, thanks to earning salaries that could accommodate cable television. However, since I’d had my Peachy Riunite night in the fountain and subsequently decided not to become a lawyer, I had taken a different route, one that has led to the less-robust salary of an English teacher, a salary which cannot rationalize $65 a month just to have access to 150 television channels, only 3 of which are worth watching. If, though, when I was 18, I had realized Peachy Riunite was directing me to a life without cable television and therefore limiting future opportunities to watch Chopped, I might have steered myself towards the apple schnapps.

As you learned on the hood of the Dodge Omni in the McDonald’s parking lot, however, we can’t go back and undo our choices, nor should we care to.

For me, it’s a good thing that I became an English teacher and not a lawyer and, consequently, can’t afford cable. Not only does a cable-free life save me from staring frequently, aghast, at the hair of that guy who hosts Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, it also gives me ample free hours in which to run the trails of my city and nurture seeds into seedlings.

It also gives me the opportunity to be over-the-moon excited when I am in the presence of cable. When I stay in a hotel for a conference, often times I scan the agenda of break-out sessions while muttering, “Okay, which of these can I skip? Because–HELLO, PEOPLE– THERE ARE HOUSES BEING FLIPPED AND BRIDESMAID DRESSES BEING CHOSEN INSIDE THE ELECTRONIC BOX THAT LIVES UP IN MY ROOM ON THE FIFTH FLOOR. PLUS, ALSO, THERE’S AN ICE MACHINE UP THERE, AND THAT’S SOMETHING ELSE I REALLY GET EXCITED ABOUT, AND DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON THE WAY I CAN DROP MY TOWELS ON THE FLOOR, AND THEN THEY DISAPPEAR THE NEXT DAY.”

In addition to hotel rooms, I also encounter cable tv at my in-laws’ house. They aren’t huge television watchers, as a rule, but since they live in the country, they get no tv reception at all without a satellite boost. So they have cable.

And that means I get very little sleep when we visit the in-laws.

Especially when I discover at midnight that back-to-back episodes of Chopped are airing and I will, at long last, have the chance to see what’s been making Mark Maron snivel.

That’s what happened when we were visiting last month, and by the time 2 a.m. rolled around, I was sated and happy. I’d seen people cooking with caul fat, fer holy smashes! Even though I hadn’t cried, Chopped had delivered.

Not nearly enough hours later, my mood was distinctly less upbeat. Because we were having a family birthday party that day, my only chance to go for a run was before the party. As not-a-morning person in general, but particularly not-a-morning person when I’d watched cable and then read my book until after 3 a.m., my mood was dark.

Enter the anti-Maron, the not-your-high-school boyfriend: Byron.

The shorthand of our relationship allowed me to communicate that I was feeling vewy, vewy tiwed and that I feared that having to head out of the bedroom and play nice with his friendly parents might put me over the edge.

“I’ll be right back,” he said.

A minute later, he returned with a banana and a cup of coffee, doctored to perfection. “Once you’re done with these, you should slip out the basement door and not go upstairs at all. Just avoid the morning pleasantries altogether, and go run.”

As if he didn’t already own me.

While I was out running, he puttered around his parents’ kitchen and made all the food for the birthday party.

A few hours later, in the midst of the festivities, my semi-perkified head was starting to droop. “Crikey, but I need the mid-afternoon pick-me-up that is a huge cup of coffee,” I noted out loud.

“Me, too,” agreed Byron, which spurred on coffee orders from his uncle and dad.

We walked to the coffee pot, four mugs in hand,

and discovered a mere inch of coffee pooling in the bottom.

Laying my cheek on the kitchen counter, fleetingly imagining it was the stone of a fountain, I moaned, “How long will it take to make a new pot? I have a serious case of The Whinies today, and only coffee can drown them.”

Byron, a man who would never call time with his own children “babysitting,” a man who scrubs the toilet and admires my tears, lowered his voice and murmured, “You take this coffee now. I’ll make a new pot. The others can wait five minutes for theirs.”

Some time later, the party over, we were in the car driving the three hours back to Duluth when Byron announced, “Here’s my plan. When we pull over for a bathroom break, we’ll dump you at the Panera so that you can grab a quick hour of wireless access since my parents’ Internet was out all weekend. I know you’re frantic inside about all the student work that’s been submitted this weekend and itching to answer all the questions that have flooded the class and your email. So you sit and work, and the kids and I will drive around and figure out what we’re all having for dinner. I’ll also distract them at Target for a bit to buy you more time.”

An hour later, full of chicken and burritos, my work stress considerably attenuated, we were back on the road. Since the weather was looking forbidding the further North we got, Byron insisted on driving. His knuckles were white the last 90 miles, as high winds pushed the car towards the shoulder, and lashing rains obscured the road.

He got us home safely. Naturally.

As we unpacked that night, I looked ahead to the work week that would have me on campus, participating in job interviews for a new dean. Standing next to a huge pile of dirty laundry, I peered into my closet and wondered aloud, “What should I wear tomorrow? I have to look professional, but I just want to be comfy.”

Not missing a beat, Byron suggested, “You can never go wrong with jeggings tucked into boots.”

Fortunately, he survived my enthusiastic response to his suggestion (a full-body tackle punctuated by a firm smooch) and was functional enough a few hours later to crack a beer made by a brewery called 21st Amendment, pour it into a frosty glass, and hand it to me while explaining, “It’s called ‘Allies Win the War!’; it’s brewed with dates. Enjoy.”

We sat together on our Turkish kilim-covered couch, alternately sipping our beers and holding hands. When the bottom of the glass appeared, he began yawning. “I’m not even going to try to stay up longer. If I go to bed now, you can get to your Sunday night grading sooner, which means you can get to bed earlier, too. What with being kept up so late by Chopped last night, I know you’re whupped. That damn Maron.”

There is this thing about Byron.

Actually, there are about seven-eleventy things about him.

That day, though, the thing about him was that he was–as he always is–positively Wordsworthian. Although it was some two hundred years ago that Wordsworth observed “The best portion of a good man’s life [is] his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love,” Byron breathes new life into the sentiment.

Effortlessly, easily, happily–Byron carries out his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love. He discusses with the kids what foods might work best in their lunch bags. He helps nervous wannabe-gardeners at the green house where he works, directing them to low-maintenance plants that will lead them to feelings of success. He speaks to me of jeggings. He stops to chat with the lonely neighborhood dog-walker who spends hours each day trolling the alleys and sidewalks, looking for conversation. He offers our old patio chairs to the college students across the way. He sits down with our Girl and helps her prioritize her choices of volunteerism sites for a summer program. He reads the newspaper aloud on a radio station for the sight-impaired. He cuddles the hell out of Paco, our most-tactile resident. He retreats to the basement to draw, knowing that, to be capable of kindnesses to others, he must tend to his own needs.

Lacking the ego and passive/aggressiveness of your high school boyfriend, free of the anger and neediness of Mark Maron, Byron demonstrates a less-fraught way of moving through the world.

I like to think I meet him halfway in all he does: by providing endless occasions for his thoughtfulness.

Perhaps I do one other thing, too:

I take the Dodge Omni and political science final exam moments of my personal history–

in their many forms–

and turn them into the basis of an enduring gratitude.

I went through much before Byron, which makes it infinitely pleasurable now to note

and remember

his many unremembered acts of kindness and love.

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It started with about one hundred applications from all over the country, even a few mailed in from other countries.

We on the committee read through the CVs and multi-page cover letters, winnowing down the pool of applicants to thirteen.

With those thirteen quarter finalists, we conducted telephone interviews.

From those thirteen, five semi-finalists were chosen, contacted, and asked to come to campus for face-to-face interviews.

Over the last few weeks, those five semi-finalists have had their days on campus–put through the paces of a schedule stacked with tour, formal interview, academic council luncheon, open forum with members of campus community, and meeting with the president.

As someone on the formal interview committee, I enjoyed, as ever, the opportunity to witness the structure and whimsy of a search process and to do some fierce people watching.

Over the course of five days, the semi-finalists came to campus; at the appointed hour, each one came into the huge conference room, a place anchored by a twenty-foot wooden table surrounded by high-backed chairs, and took a moment to register the fact that there were ten people on the interview committee. Smiling determinedly and throwing back his/her shoulders into a posture of “I can do this,” each candidate then took a seat and a sip of water and braced for the first question.

Every candidate, that is, except the last one.

On the fifth and final day, the candidate came into the room and, when she was informed we would be going around and introducing ourselves to her, she said, “Great. If I may, I’d like to come around and shake hands as part of the introductions. That just feels better to me.”

But of course. Shake away.

Moving from person to person, looking each committee member in the eye and taking note of job titles, the candidate worked her way down the long table, cresting the vice president’s corner and heading into the final stretch.

I was next.

Extending my hand, I said, “Hi, Candidate, I’m Jocelyn Surname. I’m an English instructor here on campus.”

Grasping my paw, the candidate replied, “Nice to meet you, Jocelyn. I read your blog.”

Whazzat now?

By the time she finished working the rest of the table, I’d managed to pull my jaw off the conference table and explain to several of my highly-curious fellow committee members that, yes, I do have a blog, but it’s not something I publicize at work.

Then I tried to recall for a minute if I’ve ever written a post about my vagina.

Because if I had, that would color my tone when asking the interview questions.

Life rule: if someone has had a glimpse into your vagina, even through prose, you can ease up on the professionalism a notch and relax into a voice that acknowledges, “Hey, wassup? We all know my vagina, right? So how might that knowledge affect your budgetary choices if you were to get this job? Would you be willing to add in a line item for vaginal maintenance? Please explain and give specific examples of your work in this area in the past.”

Fortunately, my quick mental flipping through the Rolodex of posts past didn’t yield any with the tag “vagina.” Dickwad, however? Yes, and plenty of ’em.

Life rule: if someone knows you like to use the word dickwad in your writing, you are still obliged to maintain a veneer of professionalism, and you may not ask the candidate if she has ever adjusted her budget to accommodate dickwads.

That’s just asking for confessions of poor relationship choices, and there’s no Kleenex box in the conference room.

It was for the best, then, that my vagina-free blog allowed me to sit up straight, uncap my pen, and prepare to take notes

on everything else she knew.

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How Do You Wander In To That Room of Your Own?

Can we make this one more about the comments than the post?

I know many of you post something every day, and I know many of you simply post whenever you feel so moved. You post when and how you do, and you have your reasons for that.


1) Why do you write blog posts? If you are reading this but aren’t a blogger, why do you sometimes write something and then share it with an audience, even if it’s just one other person?

2) When do you write? Is there a set time in your day? Also, is there a set place or ritual that surrounds your writing?

3) How do you find the time to write, either blog posts or any other kind of “words out of your head”? Is it scheduled in? Do you refuse other options so you can write?

4) Do you choose not to write about certain subjects–because you know who’s reading or because you have a sense of privacy that wants to keep certain things mum? What’s the riskiest subject you’ve ever shared with others? Do you wish you could share more than you do? Perhaps most importantly, if you choose not to write about certain subjects on your own blog, could you give us a sense here of who/what it is since–mwahahahaahahahaha–the people in question are more than likely nowhere near the comment page on the O Mighty Crisis blog?


Personally, I know I did better with twice-a-week posts and leaving comments on others’ blogs back when I taught classes on campus and held office hours in a room with a door that closed. I could finish grading student work and then take a little blogging time for myself before heading home. However, now that I am teaching completely online and have given up my office space on campus, I find that I have to tuck blogging in around the edges.

I write usually because I feel an internal compulsion, a pounding sense of ideas wanting to get out. Most often, these pounding ideas have to do with my love of chocolate chip cookies and my belief that Jessica Simpson has GOT to be at least eighty-eleventy weeks pregnant by now. For me, the blog is a sandbox where I can play; in particular, I like doing mash-ups, where I take random junk and try to make it connect. Linear has its place, but nutty juxtaposition can reap its own rewards.

Most of my posts wriggle out over hours and hours of stolen minutes, usually when the kids are at school. When they’re on break, it’ s a rare day when I have any attention to give to a post or the blogosphere. I used to write late at night, but these days, I’m playing Scrabble and Words with Friends instead of pecking away. There’s also my exercise, piano playing, and puzzling that eat up the hours. Most of the time, I type up in our master bedroom on a desktop PC. Other times, I’m sitting in a rocking chair in front of the tv, trying to figure out what I want to say with my work laptop teetering on my fleece-clad legs. Every now and then, I type on my laptop while we drive the three hours down to the Twin Cities; the battery dies an hour in, but it’s better than no time at all.

Lastly, I do choose not to write about certain things simply because I do have some sense who’s reading. Sometimes I think about doing password-protected posts or starting up another blog all together, just so I can share all my innermosts with strangers only. It could happen. It might not. If only so I could blog more freely about the insanity of some students without fear of lawsuit reprisal, I consider the options.


Anyhow, I’m curious. Many times, I visit blogs, and I wonder about the writing habits of the author. Some of us use this venue as a kind of daily diary, yet others of us use it as an outlet for storytelling. One thing is always true, though: when the writing is flowing–even in fits and starts–there is nothing that makes my spirit more zingy.

Well, maybe one or two things do, but I can’t blog about them here.

I know who’s reading, and the details would be too much for half of you.

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Quite Contrary, That’s How My Garden Grows

This time of year, whenever I hop about visiting blogs, I frequently am greeted with lovely garden tours: colors, growth, renewal, dirt, brightness after months of grey. Here, for example, are a few glimpses:

Lime‘s Daffodils

Green Girl‘s Forsythia

Friko’s Quince

Citizen’s Pansies

Usually, I view fellow bloggers’ garden photos enviously, even wistfully, knowing that Spring is still far off for those of us in more northerly climes. However, this year, with the freakishly early and warm Spring, I was stunned to see the first of my several hundred bulbs popping through the dirt–more than a month earlier than I had any right to expect them. Last week, three crocuses reached enough maturity to flower. In MARCH. Unprecedented. And oh-so-delightful in the eyes of this flower lover! No longer would I have to rely on weekly bouquets bought at the store and placed strategically around the house to fill my vision with color and texture and life.

Instead, I could just go outside and see the pretty:

Jocelyn’s Crocus


Jocelyn’s Crocus the Next Day, After the Deer Came

I mean, I knew the deer would show up for the Bulb Buffet. They do it every year. But somehow this year’s munching of the very first purple felt like a very pointed indignity.

My strategy, in planting heaps of bulbs, was that the deer could have 2/3, but then they needed to leave me 1/3 to enjoy. Based on all evidence thus far, the paperwork outlining my terms and conditions got lost in the mail.

Fortunately, the deer eventually get their fill, and the gardens begin to thrive. Until that tipping point of “eventually” arrives, I’ll just enjoy what I’ve got.

I can fill my eyes with

the bright colors on the labeling cards of plantings past. O Tickseed, we hardly knew ye. Come again this July!

At the risk of inspiring covetousness in my garden-loving readers, I also have to point out that the creeping thyme shows every promise of one day not leading with full-on dead and brown:

In fact, the lush denseness of a Duluth garden this time of year once caused a Green Thumb in Georgia to remark, “Why, I’d like to have stuck a trowel in my eye if I had to live all the way up there in such a Godforsaken short growing season”:

Crafters worldwide fight for the opportunity to come to my back garden and practice their weaving on the remnant spokes of last year’s daisies:

Hark! There is color in the garden: it’s the store-bought bouquets from winter, dumped there to compost. Ain’t nothing lovelier than composting store boughts:

Even though my outdoor spaces are pretty much dirt and deadness, the beauty of Spring is that it’s a harbinger of summer fulfillment. For its sense of promise, of teetering on the edge of something beautiful, I love Spring.

Plus, as a crocus makes its way out of the earth, it looks rather like a sea monster, surfacing from the deep, and how is that not fun?

So the buds–backlit by a colorful canoe–are budding…

the daffodils and tulips are denying their fragility and playing strong…

the Bleeding Heart is casting its vote…

and the dandelions trump them all…

As an added measure, I spent some time today sprinkling coyote urine granules over the gardens. If that acrid scent doesn’t gag the deer, then the gentle beasts are entitled to a happy buffet.

As Nature tussles its way to balance, we can channel our outdoor impulses toward human-made delights:

Who needs flowers when we can be our own colorful characters and crazy poppies?

So there. All of you may have gorgeous gardens sproinging up around you,

but I’ve got the ability to fly, and Peter Panning about has proven the best way to cure Crocus Envy.

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Twelve Years Since the Blue Moon

Once again, I beg the forbearance of my long-time readers with this post, as it’s a re-run (but I’ve added new pictures at the end!). However, because it’s a personal favorite, I hope you’ll hang in there for a re-read…or perhaps for a first-time through.

“Twelve Years Since the Blue Moon”

I got engaged and pregnant on the same day.

Even better, it was “Buck Night” at the local ball park, so I also got to drink eleventy dollars of watery beer on a humid July evening while feigning interest in an All-American sport.

You might be trying to forge a connection between all that cheap beer and my getting knocked up. Damn your clever mind. Does it never rest?

Suffice it to say, though, that pretty much all of my days since then have been anticlimactic. They’re all “go to work, read to the kids, sweat through a run, fold some laundry” and ever-so-rarely are they “get engaged, drink beer, get pregnant” kinds of days. I suppose, though, that a girl can only have so many splendid Whopper Days; otherwise, I’d have a whole lot of husbands, hangovers, and kids. And frankly, one or two of each is about all I can handle. Ask both my husbands. They’ll attest to my treating them with an air of benign neglect. Fortunately, they are a comfort to each other.

So, yes, from that sticky July day came good things. I still dote on my groom, and the issue of that pregnancy is just cresting twelve years old (since I, personally, remember a lot from Age 12, this implies to me that I should start being nicer to Girl, now that the threat of lifetime recall is firmly in place).

It’s all good now, but the growth and arrival of our Girl weren’t as straightforward as her conception. In fact, Girl started out as two.

All I knew was that I was pregnant, and the hospital in our town would confirm that but would not have me see a doctor or midwife until the end of the first trimester. So I took some vitamins, ate a lot of Ben and Jerry’s, exercised, and dreamed an entire life for the child inside of me.

Until one night–the last night of that first trimester–when I got off the couch after watching some bad reality tv and went to the bathroom. After pulling down my shorts, I discovered the pregnant woman’s nightmare: blood. Lots of it. And when I sat down on the toilet, there was an explosion of more blood, along with many miscellaneous floating bits…of tissue.

My brain reeled, of course, and all I could think was, “This can’t be good. I’m pregnant, so this should stop.” At the time, Groom and I weren’t yet married, and he lived almost six hours away. I called him; he lurched out the door and into his car; then I called a Best Girlfriend, and she was at my house in minutes.

We went to the emergency room, where I spent a long, long time with my feet in stirrups. I heard words like “she’s dilated” and “tissue in the cervix” and “no heartbeat.” My friend stood by my side, crying quietly into a Kleenex. My own tears ran down my cheeks into my ears.

After some time, I was told that it looked as though I’d miscarried. But, they told me, I was young, so future pregnancy could happen. And, they told me, a miscarriage is Nature’s way of ending a non-viable pregnancy. It happened, they told me, all the time.

But here’s the thing: it hadn’t happened to me before, and so I was ill-equipped to handle the absolute, immediate grief of losing a life I had already planned. Sure, I’d heard of women having miscarriages, but no one had actually ever brought that experience alive for me; no one had shared their experience publicly–and if there’s one thing I do, it’s find ways to process the world by touching the experiences of others. Yet miscarriage proved to be one of those last female taboos, one of the hidden subjects that no one acknowledged. So all I really knew was that I was in significant physical pain (I didn’t even know enough to realize a miscarriage is actually a mini-labor, with a contracting uterus and everything) and in even more profound emotional pain.

When, at 4 a.m., Groom finally got to me, we just cried. And the next day, and the day after that, we cried. A baby isn’t real to the world until it’s born, but it had become real to us from the minute that stick turned pink.  Even more, the promise of a life we’d made together confirmed our rightness of being.

Some days later, we went to see the midwife at the hospital, to have her check my uterus to see if all the tissue had been expelled that night in the emergency room, or if I’d need to undergo a D & C, to “clean things up.”

As I lay there, again on a table, she palpated my uterus, noting, “There’s still a fair amount of tissue in here. If you don’t mind, I’m going to roll over the mobile ultrasound machine to see how much we’re dealing with.”

I didn’t want to see the remains of the babe, so I stared at the wall as she worked, not registering her words of, “Hmmm. I see a heartbeat here.”

How cruel, I thought. Why is she taunting me?

But. Then. It. Sunk. In. A heartbeat?

My head whipped to look at the monitor, where I saw a most-contented-looking little figure, reclining in the tub of my belly, a strong and regular heartbeat emanating from its chest.

My memory of the next few minutes is the feeling of Groom’s tears hitting my face, as he stood above me, and the midwife exiting the room, saying, “I’m just going to give you guys a few minutes.”

So my grief had prayed for a miracle–for the miscarriage not to have been real, for that pregnancy to still be happening. Suddenly, it was. Gradually, we pieced together that I had been carrying twins, and one of them had not made it. This, according to one nurse, happens more frequently than we know, but it is still a “once in a blue moon” event.

For the rest of my pregnancy, we called the kid inside of me The Little Gripper; I pictured it hanging resolutely onto the walls of my uterus by its tiny, soft fingernails while its twin fell out of me. Assuredly, I will never stop missing The Kid Who Fell, but mostly I can only marvel at the child who hung in there.

Today, March 31st, it has been twelve years since The Little Gripper became our Girl, twelve years during which she has emerged as reserved, smart, sweet, wry, amiable to a fault, Love Incarnate.

The Birth Day: Groom cries some more, as Girl greets the midwife. Under the white sheets, once again relegated to laying on a table, I wonder how long it will be before I can have a bowl of Peanut Butter Cup ice cream.

Girl Was One

And Then She Was Two

Same Dress at Age Three, But the Wheels Were New

Four Was Fun

Five Became Her

She Grew to Six (Plus Two on the Lap)

Then She Was Seven, Feeling Crafty

Eight Flowed Easily

Nine Popped with Color

Ten Took Her Places

At Eleven, Ancient Landscapes Broadened Her

Twelve Promises More of the Same and the Start of Much That Is New

As the years tick by, I love her purity of character above all else.

Even she was six, a wee first grader, her unalloyed caliber was evident. One night, at bedtime, her overtired Brother Wee Niblet (now Paco) cried in his bed, sobbing: “I don’t want to go to sleep, ever. I wake up in the night, and I am alone. I’m always alone. I’m never going to close my eyes because sleep is too lonely.”

We had already pushed the kids’ beds next to each other, strung the room with lights, played music on a CD player through the night, and tried everything to get him to appreciate sleep as an opportunity, not a burden. But no matter what I suggested that night, he cried even harder.

Then an almost-seven-year-old hand snaked its way across his bed and extended itself onto his torso. With all the compassion of two souls, Girl said, “Here, buddy. Just hold my hand while we fall asleep. And when you’re asleep, I’ll just keep holding on to you. You know I won’t ever leave you all alone.”

Happy birthday, Toots. Every single day for twelve years now, I have thanked the sky above for that blue moon.

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[audio:|titles=12 – The Circle Game] ——————————————-

One year, when my dad’s birthday rolled around, my mom didn’t know what to buy him for a gift–he already lived under Montana’s Big Sky and possessed a lovely tenor voice, both of which made the case for him as A Man Who Had Everything. So she did as many a clever gift giver had in the past: she made his present.

She made him a baby, and that baby was me.

I was wrapped in a soft blanket and presented to my dad on March 25th, 1967. That day, I was zero; he was thirty-two. The day before, his own mother–born in a dugout sod house forty miles away from the hospital where I was delivered–had celebrated turning fifty-two. Thirty-three years and six days later, Baby Jocelyn would give birth to her first child, a Girl. From March 24th to March 25th to March 31st, the last week of March has always been loaded with birthdays in my family.

One of the many beauties of my life has been my status as Baby of the Family. As the third of three kids, I enjoyed the best of everybody: I was Mamma’s Girl, Sister’s Girl, Brother’s Girl…and, of course, as his special present in 1967, Daddy’s Girl.

As the years passed, we always enjoyed sharing a birthday. Naturally, Dad didn’t get feted the same way I, a kid, did. For me, there were party hats and friends gathered ’round and much-observed blowing out of candles.

But for adults, life is just life, including birthdays. I blew out candles; my dad went to work. Then the next day would come, and then the next week would roll around, and then it was April, and then it was summer, and then there was gardening.

Mixed in to every year were the birthdays of others, such as my sister below, turning twelve, much to my delight (CAKE!).

Then the summer would end, school would begin, and it would be fall, then winter, then a new year, more holidays, more birthdays, more life.

Always, my mom was there, my brother was there, my sister was there. My dad was there. We took road trips; we ate chili; we watched tv; we dusted the knicknacks.

Eventually, it was our birthday again. Eventually, I turned sixteen.

All words–all possible apologies–fail me as I try to make amends for the hair on that sixteenth birthday. Chalk it up to 1983 and the exuberance of youth.

I blew out the candles. I opened gifts. I wished my dad a mutual happy, happy day.

Cake demolished, we carried on. Back to life. Back to studying and practicing and visiting. Always back to music.

Here, Dad is all tarted up for his role in The Magic Flute. Is there really a dinosaur-lizard creature in Mozart? I was too busy frizzing up the back of my hair to pay proper attention.

A few more years passed, and I went off to college, where I was surrounded by new friends, foregoing even silverware on my 19th birthday.

As ever, March 25th was followed by March 26th, which then spun back into studying and dancing and lolling.

At home, in Montana, the music continued.

At some point during college, I became enough of an adult that Dad and I could share a cake on our shared day. I’d started from him, gone off onto my own, and come back to rejoin him with more deliberation.

Of course, as children do, I then hopped back in my car and drove away. For Dad, there was gardening, music, tv. Life.

I graduated and began my own career. And then my grandma, born on March 24th in that sod dugout on the prairie, died.

I sat next to my dad at the memorial service and pressed my leg against his, absorbing the shudders of his body as he wept. Later, in both the hollowest and most meaningful of gestures, I put my hand on his knee.

Then I got in my car and drove away. He taught. Gardened. Sang. Observed.

As the seasons went ’round and ’round, my brother got married and became a father. I became an aunt. My dad became–most joyful of things!–a grandfather.

With a few more spins of Earth’s axis, I, too, married and had a child. My parents’ joy grew.

But then we all would get in the car and drive away. He would dig in the dirt, watch his shows, look for coupons. Always and ever, there was music.

Sometimes, he and my mom would get in the car and come to us. His thousand-watt smile never beamed more brightly than when we was with his grandchildren.

My father has four grandchildren, but he only ever met two of them. He was in his final decline in the hospital as I gave birth to Paco. Fifteen days after that emergency C-section, Dad died, alone, still hopeful of a recovery, his heart and lungs finally giving out after years of chronic ailment. Two months later, his fourth grandchild was born.

It’s his not knowing his grandchildren as they grow up that slices me most. Now, a decade later, they are, to a one, intelligent and creative and funny and poised. His death at age sixty-seven means his most amazing legacy will never know what they missed.

Now it’s March 25th again, and he would be seventy-seven. This is my tenth birthday without my father. I am not maudlin or overly-sentimental about his passing. His death means he was alive.

That he was alive means I’m alive

and that Girl can spend all day holed up in her room with a book

and Paco can ask to play baseball at dusk.

Birthdays are, of course, our way of marking time, of slowing down long enough to take stock, of noting where we are in the arc of our lives, of taking a guess as to how much more we might still have in front of us.

Dad and I won’t share a cake this year. We won’t wish each other “insider” birthday greetings. I won’t put my hand on his knee ever again, nor will he ever again slide into the driver’s seat, snap into his seat belt, and put me at the center of everything by asking, “Where do you want to go?”

I was his most-original birthday present.

He was my gift of a lifetime.

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