Archive for the ‘lucky me’ Category

About three weeks ago, I informed the Sungold universe via Facebook that I was in love. No, not that I was in a relationship. Not that I’d gotten divorced. (Indeed, my dear mate and I were enjoying a local high point.)

It was, um, far more complicated. I was smitten with a kitten. And my husband is allergic. Like, asthmatic allergic, which is cruel, since he loves him some kittehs.

On August 11, a thin orange cat with stunning mackerel markings walked up to me as I was pulling scuzzy weeks from my driveway. He said, plaintively, “Meow?” as cats tend to do. Of course I answered in kind.

Within moments my kids informed me that this little guy could be Little Lion, a much-loved cat their friends had lost earlier in the summer. I held on to Orange Kitty until Little Lion’s family confirmed that we hadn’t found him. We then checked to make sure OK wasn’t an escapee from our friends across the street, who at one point had had two orange/ginger cats. No luck.

That night, Orange Kitty drifted off to sleep in the comfort of our porch furniture, seemingly secure in the knowledge that these silly humans who’d fussed over him all evening and provided stinky fishy cat food would carry on their tuna-scented gravy train in the morning.

But (cue Dragnet music or Darth Vader’s theme): The Ditch Witch arrived sometime between 7 and 8 the next morn. Despite the absurd, even cutesy name, this digger is the H-bomb of the construction world. It commenced to tunnel under roads and sidewalks, preparing the way for 21st century gas delivery. (My town is the poster child for the urgency of infrastructure repair.)

By the time I checked on Orange Kitty, he had vanished, like any intelligent kitteh would. And he stayed vanished for a full four weeeks.

This very last Thursday night, I spotted him in our backyard at 6:20 p.m., evidently hot on the trail of a mouse. He broke off his hunt to issue his trademark pathetic meow and allow us a whisker rub. I was elated. He greeted me! He came trotting up to me! He begged to get in the back door! But my kids were about to be late to music lessons, so I couldn’t dally. By the time I sped back home, the only orange was a streak in the sunset.

But hey, at least we knew he was alive.

Yesterday, Friday, he appeared in once again in the early evening. I was sitting on my front porch – just in case – as I’d done faithfully all those weeks before.And yet he took me by surprise. (Which is actually not surprising, in light of the dozens of porch-hours logged in vain hopes of finding him.) He came meowing up to the porch, instantly seizing my attention.

We were ready this time. We wined and dined him like the prodigal kitten. (And no, we didn’t overfeed him – he’s very thin and we want the food to stay inside him – plus the wine was for me. Obviously.) He again fell asleep on our porch furniture after a few longing glances toward the living room.

Today, I went onto the porch around noon to call him. No kitteh. I slipped back into the house and commenced a samba-esque rendition of “Just the Way You Are.” I got to a rest … and heard “meow! meow!” in the key of G#. A Billy Joel fan?

We’ve spent the rest of the day with this charming pumpkin. I bought him toys and food and worm pills. Two of the three were a grand hit. I figure I’ll need to take him to the vet this week, which will take care of the de-worming. I’m fully aware the vet visit could bring heartbreak. (I notice Orange Kitty is breathing too fast, though his gums look pink to this rusty observer, and he doesn’t seem to be sneezing or coughing, nor is he evidently in pain. He eats well and likes to play.)

We need to ascertain, too, that no one has lost him. Surely, he was once loved and fed with kindness; otherwise he’d be skittish and feral instead of sweetly social.

But my heart can’t help but leap – nay, pounce! – at the hope that we might have ourselves a part-time kitty, one who could live outdoors due to my sweetie’s allergies, yet enjoy lots of mutual love. And feeding, which would be a whole lot less mutual unless he starts sharing his mice (ugh). (Ideally, I think cats belong indoors, but when the alternative is life as a stray, an outdoor gig might be a decent compromise.)

Whatever happens, I take the appearance of Orange Kitty as blessing in my life. A mitzvah. An arc of grace (at least until he falls off the porch furniture; it seems I still attract rather clumsy cats).

Oh, and my statement that we might just have us a part-time cat? Scratch it. We all know who “owns” whom – on whatever temrs he chooses.

Night-night, sweet Orange Kitty. May you please favor us with your presence tomorrow, the next day, and all the days thereafter.

And it not: Well, the cat came back. Not once, but thrice. Reason for hope, even if – as one of my friends has suggested – OK is just one of those “nonmonogamous” kittehs.

(Click here if you can’t see Laurie Berkner singing “The Cat Came Back.” Yes, she’s a “kids’ singer,” but not only – not in the least.)

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Technically, there are not any cats in the old Al Stewart song, “Year of the Cat,” but its lyrics are evocative and elusive, so maybe there’s feline element to it after all. Even though I’m now old and jaded enough to roll my eyes a bit at its “mysterious exotic woman” trope, I still love this song, which I listened to incessantly back in 1976/77. (You can thank Al Stewart for jolting me out of my Barry Manilow phase.)

Since my vinyl is packed away in a box, I hadn’t heard the song in years and only rediscovered it through the magic of Facebook. This live version is heavy on crowd noise, thanks to a boisterous German audience (it aired on Musikladen, similar to Wolfman Jack’s “Midnight Special”) but its long virtuoso piano intro more than makes up for the noise.

We’re actually in the Year of the Cat right now, according to the Vietnamese calendar, which swaps out the cat for the rabbit. Nothing against the rabbit, but since it’s “my” year, I prefer to have been born in the Year of the Cat. Lucky me!

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The kids are asleep, as of 11:55 p.m. EDT. I’ve got candles burning in the same tealight candelbra that did a job on Grey Kitty’s whiskers, lo those many years ago. I sit on the front porch as the rain cascades around me, letting me and my candles burn.

Oh, and I’m wearing a bathrobe, just to confirm that most hoary of prejudices against bloggers.

The kids will wake soon, and when they do, I’ll be presented with offerings. One involves dirt. Or earth. Or something that requires earth. I’m all for it, though I nearly managed to kill my ‘mater seedlings this weekend through a deadly combo of drought, too-close grow lights, and lack of fertilizer. (When my own fumbling incompetence rains down, I do wonder how my children continue to thrive. It helps that their CNS trumps the tomato’s defense mechanisms. I guess opposable thumbs don’t hurt, either. At any rate, my earth mother cred is shot to hell; just ask my ‘maters.)

I will tear up at my children’s sweet offerings, no matter that they felt obligated or spurred by a class assignment at school.

I will hug them and kiss them and keep their presents forever.

And yet, I still have a wishlist.

1) Can we get beyond the idea that women are uniquely suited to multitasking? Cordelia Fine just bulldozes this stereotype in her book, Delusionas of Gender. And more: Kevin Drum marshals the evidence that multitasking is folly for everyone, irrespective of gender. No wonder I still have a florid scar from the time when I tried to pull a baking sheet from the oven while ensuring that the mini-Tiger (aged not-quite-three) wouldn’t get burned. (Guess who got schorched instead??) I keep multitasking, I’m liable to lose that opposable thumb. Picture a dog watering a tree. Picture a dog baking a souffle. The intersection of that? Um, that would be me. Multitasking. The combo of onions and knives is a particularly foolhardy ideas.

2) Can we please just “be excellent to each other,” as Bill and Ted would say? The one thing I truly want from my beautiful boys is kindness. Toward each other. Toward me. They have mad skillz with their friends, so can we please bring those skillz home? Because, y’know, rudeness is a neurotoxin, especially when rudeness is spread among peer or near-peers. I’m well aware that another camp of researchers regards sibling arguments as healthy, spurring on their verbal development. May God, or some benevolent goddess, or my pal the Ceiling Cat save us from further precocious verbal development. We’re already at a point where the least bad outcome could be a Amero-Germanic version of Alan Dershowitz. But back to the neurotoxins. My kids appear to bee more than fine. They chat; they argue, they wear me down. But my brain? It’s in acute danger of rotting! Neural termites and mad-cow disease could hardly hollow it out any faster than the daily squabbles! No wonder the Red Cross recently rejected my blood on suspicion of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakobs disease, aka mad cow for homans. (True story.)

That’s just my very personal list. I know theere’s ooodles more to say about what other kids and mamas need – not to mention daddies. I realize that my personal wishlist is very much formed by the concerns and privileges of educated, middle-class mothers.As for what less-privileged mothers need – well, Katha Pollitt pretty kicked it into the goal with her commentary on the “Tiger Mother” flap.Please read what she has to say about class,mothering, and solidarity, and I’ll just leave it at that – with the injunction that we should all be excellent to each other, to our parents and our children, tomorrow and always.

Happy Mother’s Day to you all, be you bio-mother, step-mother, adoptive mother, other-mother … or just another exhausted multitasker of any age, gender, or species. May your day be crowned by candles, flowers, champagne, and the survival of your opposable thumbs.

And on those days when excellence turns to flatulence? Well, you’ll still be welcome here at the Kitteh, where we recognize that being a child or a parent or just a fallible hooman is simply who we are. Welcome to the club. I’d light a candle for you, but I must admit it’s rather perfumed, and you might just prefer eau de methane.

(Next up: our local Mama Robin, if I can manage not to terrify her.)

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Long time no meow. Earlier today, longtime reader Euchalon Grandy commented on this blog’s unfortunate radio silence:

Oh No!  I’ve killed Kittywampus with my angry rant!  Please, Sungold, Oh Please come back!  I’ll never post after midnight again!  Nothing but kittens and pink, puffy unicorns from now on…

First: Euchalon, if you bring puffy unicorns onto this blog, they will be driven away by the fierce sound of hissing. (I am honored that you missed me, though!

Second: The blog went dormant because I went on spring break. Even as a student, I never did that! (Too broke.) Then, once I got a teaching job, either my husband or I had too much work (usually both of us). This year, I felt squeezed between winter-quarter duties and spring-quarter prep. I’m still not sure when I’ll get to filing my taxes. Yet I ever-so-maturely decided: SCREW THAT. And so, we were off to the beach. Hilton Head, South Carolina, to be precise, which turned out to be a delight.

The drive south was long indeed (and rains threatened to wash us clean off the mountainous West Virginia Turnpike), but it was also a curious compression of space-time. We left Ohio in sodden winter; by North Carolina, the redbuds were bursting forth; and as we plunged deeper into South Carolina, spring wrapped its green tendrils around us and refused to let loose. It was as though we’d driven three weeks into our future. (Well, the palm trees won’t come to SE Ohio anytime soon, I’m afraid, but the redbuds will soon catch up.)

If you want to view vacation instrumentally, there’s emerging scientific evidence that play is good for us, as Jonah Lehrer reports at Wired. Studies are showing that not just preschoolers benefit more from unstructured play than from direct instruction; even young adults learn better when they have time for play. I’m here to testify that it works for the, um, no-longer-quite-so-young adults, too. As Lehrer notes,

Nietzsche said it best: “The struggle of maturity is to recover the seriousness of the child at play.”

And so I finished my grading from last quarter on the beach, then launched into some reading and brainstorming for a new class that began yesterday already. It was all pretty painless with the salt breeze wafting in the window and the tides whispering and roaring. Nor was it all work. I read a novel for fun and started Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. (I’m not far enough into it to comment yet.) The kids dug such deep holes in the sand that they could practically disappear underground. They scampered after shells and flied kites with their dad. Most days, we were treated to weather in the upper 70s, balmy enough to sit and read a book (my favorite beachy activity) even with kite-brisk winds. One day I had a cocktail on the beach – a Funky Monkey – another experience completely novel to me. Evenings, we dined with other families who’d traveled with us and played board games next to the pool. When everyone was sunburned and avoiding the peak sun, we putt-putt golfed amid semi-tropical bougainvillea and palmettos.

Instrumental thinking? Oh, screw that too!

It was my first trip to the Deep South, apart from New Orleans, and a few things jarred. At the resort where we stayed, black men took care of security, while Latina/os cleaned. The guests were overwhelmingly white, with a few Spanish-speakers in the mix. More than one business establishment called itself a “plantation” of some sort. At the same time – perhaps because we’re steeped in white privilege – we met unfailingly warm, friendly people, from the (black) security guards who used humor to spice up their day, to the (white) elderly lady who informed my husband that she once lived in Ohio, but the good Lord brought her back to the South.

Now we’re back home. I was greeted by my unfinished syllabus and the tragic crayon-in-the-clothes-dryer incident that exploded 10 minutes before we were due to leave on break. I’ve thought more than once: Why are we not still at the beach? and our friends who went on the trip are querulously asking the same. But just this one thing: When we rolled into town again, weary from an 11-hour drive, we were saluted by a stand of daffodils welcoming us home in our front yard. Even the snow that frosted our yard the first night home couldn’t drag them low.

(The pictures below are all courtesy of my husband.)

Two crispy-burned kids in the surf.

The beach, backlit by sunset.

Sungold turning toward the wind.

A friend and I, casting long shadows framed by palmettos.

Just the beach. That is all. It is enough.

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I happen to have a truly wonderful boss, who’s been supportive in ways I can’t even catalogue here. Suffice it to say I’m lucky, and I know it. Thanks to her efforts, it even looks like I’ll be employed next year (though if Governor Kasich decides to drive his famous “bus” over the university, all bets are off).

But not all bosses are so exemplary, as my last post reminds us. That’s why a former professor of mine, Bob Sutton, created a diagnostic test to sort the gems from the jerks. Actually, he wrote a whole book about it, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t.

His online test is the Asshole Rating Self-Exam (ARSE). It’s actually meant as a self-assessment, but you could take on behalf of a co-worker or boss – or ex.

I scored in the low range: “You don’t sound like a certified asshole, unless you are fooling yourself.” I’d like to think that’s right, but I’m guessing most people score themselves lower than other people would rate them. (Cue Zappa.)

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Most of the students I teach, I never hear from after the final exam. The exceptions are almost always utter delights – the folks who sincerely took interest, who liked to learn, who were kind and thoughtful and real. Every once in a while one will re-emerge from the ghostly wisps of the past, reminding us that our work isn’t ephemeral, even if it usually feels that way.

Two former students resurfaced this weekend. One, whom I taught in 2007, wrote me for a reference – no, not a recommendation letter, but the title of an essay! A piece she’d remembered and wanted to reread! Turns out she’s well on her way to a Ph.D. in psychology. She tells me my class made a lasting difference in how she views the world. Judging from her request, she’s got an abiding interest in sexual assault. I hope she’ll be able to marry that with her psych skills. She says she’s developed an abiding “passion” for women’s issues. Words like “powerful” and “inspirational” were bandied about. Let’s just say I’m the one who felt most energized and inspired.

The other ex-student was more of a monster rising up from the deep. [Edit: That comes across as unduly harsh: The ideas she espouses are the monster, not the ex-student herself.] Technically I’d never taught her; I’d only read her column in the school paper, marveling at its wingnuttery. I also listened to the venting of colleagues who had the dubious pleasure of teaching her in WGS and journalism. There, she was intermittently hostile to her feminist teachers and consistently too cool for school. I always thought her ambition was to become the next Ann Coulter.

Surprise! She’s publishing cheek-by-jowl next to Coulter at Town Hall! (Via Renee at Womanist Musings who braved the ooze of the far right – a far more intrepid gal than I.). Now that our young alumna is halfway to her goal, it’s fair to name names: Meet Ashley Herzog, recent Ohio University grad, proud denizen of wingnuttia, author of Feminists against Women. Oh, and she’s also making those lists of “top conservative women who are HAWT!!” (to which we owe the following photo).

In her latest post at Town Hall, Herzog takes aim at my university’s new gender-neutral housing option:

The idea that college life is so tough for gay and transgendered students that they need separate housing is preposterous. Far from being uniquely oppressed, the LGBT contingent is often the most catered-to of any group on campus. Administrators go to great lengths to satisfy these students while simultaneously nurturing a victimhood complex.

(Read the rest if you think it could possibly get better. I promise it won’t.)

Hahahaha! You’d think gender-neutral digs would feature jacuzzis, wall art by Robert Mapplethorpe and Judy Chicago, and surroundsound cycling through Liberace and Elton John, Holly Near and Bikini Kill.

No. Dude. It’s just a dorm room. In fact, said rooms won’t have any extra features. It will merely lack one simple furnishing that used to come standard: a roommate harboring homophobia and transphobia.

As for a “victimhood complex,” Herzog’s been nurturing her own for at least half a decade, spurred on by silly instructors who insisted she work for a grade. By now, her wounded victimhood is festering quite nicely. I’m sure she’s finding that what failed in the classroom will stand her in good stead at Town Hall. Ann Coulter, prepare to move over.

Me? I reserve the right to snark at Herzog in the future when she deserves it. (And she will, she will.) In the long run, I’m far more interested in what becomes of my smart, altruistic former students who don’t see self-promotion as their best quality.

Update 1-27-11, 4:30 p.m.: I want to make it crystal clear that I will never, ever mock students for statements they make in class. That is a zone of privacy, a safe place for exploring ideas, even (or especially!) half-baked ones. I will occasionally blog about interesting things they teach me, but I won’t publish their names. If a student places themselves in the public sphere by publishing views that are reprehensible, criticism is fair play. I still wouldn’t call him or her out for anything that happened in class. By the same token, I’ll link to any student who publishes something interesting, and I’ll do so with great pleasure. All of this goes for former students as well as current ones.

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I’ve been very absorbed in family commitments and the terrible political news, but I didn’t want to miss my bloggiversary AGAIN, for the third year in a row.

This blog started as a space to stash thoughts and material for teaching. Within the first month it outstripped my own intentions. Blame its feline inspiration, which – like the patron cat of this blog, Grey Kitty – is hard to steer or discipline.

Three years into this experiment, with 958 posts and oodles of thoughtful comments (thank you!!) to show for it, I think it’s time to celebrate – with a purrito for each year I’ve been at this. (The two grey kittehs’ markings remind me of GK.)

(From ICHC? of course.)

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People go to such lengths to keep the Santa myth alive! Kenneth Rapoza, writing at Salon, details the lies he spins to preserve the magic for his children:

We send letters to the Santa Claus Main Post Office in the Arctic Circle in Lapland, Finland. A real place. We even got letters back from them two years ago.

That tradition began after my daughter, at 5, discovered in school that the North Pole had no land mass and didn’t support life, except for an occasional polar bear in the winter months. I pointed out that Lapland was a hot spot for actual Santa activity and told her that the North Pole was just one of many Santa stories: not real. It was a nice recovery, but year after year, it’s getting harder to trick her.

What she doesn’t get is the logistics. How can Santa deliver toys around the world in one night? It’s not one night. It’s two because of world time zones and dates, plus the story that Santa flies through the sky on reindeer is just a story. Years ago, he delivered toys in his hometown by sled, pulled by reindeer. But Santa has a big staff now. The Santas you see, including those in the fake beards who are trying to dress like Santa, represent Santa in other cities and towns and — upon receiving your letters to Santa — fill in your wish list with small presents that Santa makes. This is reality, dear. Santa may not be as magical as you think. But don’t ruin those stories for others, I say. She’s cool with it.

Maybe his kids are in for a gentle landing. Maybe it’ll be more like a brutal crash, with reindeer blood and tears despoiling the winter wonderlandscape. That’s sort of how it went for my ten-year-old nephew this year. Everyone had assumed he was in don’t ask, don’t tell mode for fear of losing the loot. But when his seven-year-old sister learned the truth and immediately spilled the beans to him, there were histrionics. I wasn’t there, but I hear it involved oceans of tears and at least a half-hour in the fetal position. He’s fine now, but to judge from Salon’s comment section, there are adults walking this earth who still suffer the aftershock of disillusionment.

My mom has long said she hated lying to us kids about anything, even Santa and the Easter Bunny. I shared her qualms (even though I hadn’t been terribly traumatized, myself) and so I vowed to keep the lies to an absolute minimum. Yes, Santa comes to our house, but their dad and I never told the kids a lie when their budding scientific minds began to deconstruct the Santa myth .

The Bear, age five: How does Santa get into houses without a chimney?

Me: I don’t know. What do you think?

Bear: I bet he uses the door.

Not long thereafter, the Bear determined that the Easter Bunny couldn’t be a real rabbit; he had to be a person. A few days later, he announced, “And I know who he is! It’s Santa Claus in a bunny suit!”

By the time the Bear solved the puzzle, he had a lot of pieces in place: the impossibility of making all those deliveries in one night, the absurdity of flying reindeer, the fact that all the elves’ handiwork was “made in China,” the presence of familiar handwriting and (oops) wrapping paper on Santa gifts, and the small can of blue paint in our garage that perfectly matched the base of the fish tank Santa brought him. The Bear was proud to have done the detective work and thrilled to guard the magic for his little brother. He was a perfect co-conspirator; not once did he let the secret slip.

Over the past year, the Tiger – now seven – would ask occasionally whether Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy was real. I’d always counter, “What do you think?” He would respond, “I think he’s real.”

Earlier this month, he raised the question again:

Tiger: Is Santa real?

Me: What do you think?

Tiger: I think he’s not real.

Me: Why? What made you decide that?

Tiger: Because magic is not real.

Me (with a slight pang – knowing that when magic dies, the whole world is disenchanted): What would you think if you knew it’s me and your dad who are Santa?

Tiger: That would be nice!

I couldn’t have wished for a softer landing. In general, my parenting is pretty imperfect, so I’m reluctant to claim any special wisdom here, either. But if you’ve got young sprogs on Santa’s delivery route, it might be worth trying our approach. Let them decide what they want to believe and how much of the myth to question. Follow their lead. (Hmm, that’s starting to sound like my philosophy on sex ed, too!)

I’m curious how other parents handle this, as well as what went right or wrong in your own falling away from a world enchanted.

Happy holidays to all, whatever you celebrate or believe!

Illustrations are a few of the cookies that my family and I made during the last run of snow days – photos by me, Sungold.

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Today was crap. I caught a student plagiarizing (off Conservapedia, no less!) and that’s the least of my concerns. I’m wound up, worried, and sad about a bunch of things I can’t write about here.

But this? It warmed even my shriveled soul.

(Click to enlarge.)

In case you’re having trouble diciphering:

Dere MaMa

I love you mama you are the best mama

in the howl younavers

you ar betr than the howl werld.

His signature follows (I blanked it here), along with maps of the werld (I am doing a backfloat on it – which sounds about accurate for today) and a diagram of the younavers, which consists of pointy houses that look like mountains – and me.

Of course, I cried when he gave this to me. Who wouldn’t?

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My last post is a whole week ago, marking my kids’ back to school daze. Maybe I had to get back to school, too, before I could feel energized about blogging again? My classes started yesterday, and I think I’ve got a great crop of students this term. I’m not yet sure they’ve got a great instructor. I nearly left my notes, handouts, and class roster at home this morning! My brain is mired somewhere around August 25th – jubilant to have a moment to think without hearing “Mama, Mama,” yet unencumbered by responsibility. Ha! Responsibility? That rump brain of mine had better catch up, stat.

Anyway. I taught my first Feminist Theory class today, and the students were an absolute joy – already engaged and passionate before I did anything to ignite them. They also show indications of thinking hard and deep, and while that’s just what I’d expect, it means I’d better get with the program! I asked them to introduce themselves by going around the room and describing what brought them to feminism/gender studies, and what most stuck with them from their coursework so far. Next thing you knew, we were in the midst of an old-tyme consciousness-raising session. After the break we got back to more detached theorizing, but our mini-CR session turned into a spirited ice-breaker.

All hell broke loose when a student I know well from a previous class described her frustrations: “I just feel so angry and bitter.” The class erupted in nods and yeses and “me toos.” By that point, several students had disclosed or hinted at some difficult personal situations: assault, family violence, and the like. Even more had described becoming aware of the little, everyday things that made them feel diminished because they were female-bodied.

Their response set me thinking about anger, and bitterness, and what’s politically useful, and what’s personally poisonous.

I see a big gulf between anger and bitterness. Both are legitimate emotions, and both may need to be expressed so that we can master them before they master us. But bitterness? It’s paralytic. Bitterness springs from hopelessness and despair. Bitterness rests on the assumption – or fear – that nothing can ever really improve. Bitterness consigns us to passivity and fatalism.

Anger, on the other hand, calls us to action. That only works if we can imagine strategies and tactics that will lead us toward a better world, which is easier said than done. Anger, too, can become toxic, especially if we direct it inward rather than outward, or if we keep it bottled up, or if we hallucinate that any and every expression of anger is productive. Sometimes, anger is just stupid and hurtful. But at least it doesn’t pin us down like captive butterflies. If we combine it with analysis, it can give us the energy to make the world incrementally better.

I don’t have all the answers. This is what I said to my students: When you’re feeling frustrated and hopeless, know that in time, you’ll observe how change occurs, even if it’s glacial. The signal issue that has changed during my adulthood is marriage equality. It wasn’t even on the map in the early 1980s, when I was the age of my students. Now it’s a no-brainer even among many conservative and/or fundamentalist students.

Basically, I launched into a far less eloquent version of Martin Luther King’s famous statement: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Except my version of it featured my youthful anger at James Bond movies, complete with steam puffing out my ears (for some reason, my students found that image hilarious), and I didn’t quite dare to offer them the promise of justice, someday. Instead, I held out the more modest promise that generational change would extinguish Neolithic ideas about gender.

I don’t have all the answers. I’ve merely lived roughly twice as long as my students. Which doesn’t stop them from being further and faster evolved than I: a whole bunch of them mentioned intersectionality and trans issues as dear to their hearts. I’m blown away by their casual use of the term “cis,” which no one even imagined publicly when I first explored gender issues in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Maybe I’m less caught up in anger and bitterness only because I’m old (in internet and cat years) and a natural slacker?

If you’ve got favorite tactics for turning anger – or even bitterness – into something positive, I’d love to hear about them.

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So I just flew back from Germany with my family, and what’s the first thing I see at the screens at JFK? Not my connecting flight – lordy, we’d missed that already, because JFK is still JFK, and it is dysfunction beyond any mere family dynamic. No, the tube is tuned to CNN, and Prop. 8 has just been relegated to the history books. Wahoo! I’ve been a loud cheerleader for the “equal-protection” argument all along, even before Olsen and Boies bet the house on it. From what I gleaned, it sounds as though “equality” carried the day. I’ll know more about the judge’s reasoning tomorrow, I guess, when I’m a bit less stunned from jet lag and oxygen deprivation.

We also got an impromptu lesson on how to drive an airport shuttle bus. Because Delta had mucked with our flight times without telling us, then parked us on the tarmac for a good half hour before finding a gate, then sliced more of our connection time by unloading baggage as if it were my grandma’s porcelain (one piece at a time, almost prissily), and then vetoed any chance of catching our original flight by sending us to wait for an inter-terminal train that was broken. It only went one way. The wrong way.

Hey, JFK has improved since our last sojourn there: the one with flood, tornadoes, and threats of arresting my darling husband.

So yeah, the shuttle. We rebooked for the last flight out of the day, and then got on this “shuttle,” where the driver needed to be instructed on how to put it into reverse, how to stay under 10 mph – no, really, UNDER 10 MPH! – and here’s where you have to make sure no plane is crossing your path, and here, and here – it was like watching an astronaut getting his first training, except you’re in the space capsule with him, and you’re positive you’re about to crash with the people you love best, plus their stuffed animals. None of the seats have belts. There are only four seats. I keep hectoring the Tiger to hang on (FER FUCK’S SAKE! …well, that part was conveyed by my tone). The newbie’s teacher said, at one point, “Just like driving in New York.” Fuck yeah. I’ve driven in New York. I wasn’t ready for primetime, but this gal wasn’t even in line for the late-late show. Also, she didn’t have my 16-year-old blonde sister to dangle out the window as a peace offering for a scary traffic move. This was the real thing, weaving in and out of 767s and more.

The shuttle adventure was awesome simply because we lived to tell the tale. Also, the other family riding it had two children who clearly intend to grow up to be Dora and Diego (from Nickelodeon, aka Dora the Explorer). The Tiger righteously complained about their decibels. Might he be inching toward his own genuine appreciation for an “indoor voice”?

More delays, this time presided over by an Asian-American flight attendant who keeps us down to three minutes tops outside the confines of our seatbelt. People turbo-pee, then wait out the end of the flight, wondering if said flight attendant might earn more money for less bother as a dominatrix. (Okay, I admit it: I am the wench wondering that.)

We finally land in Columbus at 10:30, just before our car rental agency is about to close. As I grab my gate-checked bag, I note that it has grown a new strap that seemingly sprouts from the top of it. I ponder whether this could be a trunk, and if so, might my carryon be morphing full-blown into an elephant? If so, how should I expect it to change in the days ahead? (Note that hallucinations have already seized center stage in my perception.) Then I notice the Emirates tags on the faux-Sungold luggage. Oops, someone grabbed the wrong red bag. My sweetheart husband sprinted toward the baggage carousel. By pure coincidence, I spotted and waylaid the lovely and apologetic perp as she left the ladies’ room. My computer cord was in there, so if it had scampered away, I wouldn’t be writing this now. But hey, full disclosure: A couple years ago, I was the woman who took off with someeone else’s crimson carryon, certain no one else had a matching color. I’m pretty sure I was less gracious, more doofus-y, and just plain panicked.

From Columbus, my beloved drove back from the airport in spires, gyres, and forks of lighting that backlit the night sky green-violet-grey. At times you didn’t need headlights at all. We found an all-Grateful-Dead, all-the-time station on Sirius radio. (Why do I not have this in my daily life?) It was the best Dead light show, ever. But then again, I didn’t have to drive. All that was missing was China Cat, Black Peter, and Terrapin Station. I love my husband a little extra for taking on the responsibility and letting me enjoy the storm – a pleasure that echoes back to my dad, and to his mother before him.

Oh, and we got a whiff of skunk as we inched through the Hocking Hills. Just to remind me that this is home. (I think the skunkish message for my husband is a whole lot more contradictory: home/not-home/fascinating-weird. But he likes it!)

And now I’m back in our beloved house, feeling melancholy about places and friends left behind in Berlin. I’ll reintegrate in the next day or two. Transitions like this are always beastly for me. But as the Dead remind me again and again, transitions – those unbounded, undefined spaces between the songs, even the very gaps between the notes (focus on Jerry and Phil to see what I mean) – are the wellspring of creativity and innovation and surprise and ineffable beauty. Coward that I am, I shouldn’t shrink from transitions just because they exact massive housework (like moving house, really) and overtired children (who were both champs).

In the meantime, until I can fully appreciate transitions and the Prop 8 victory, I drink a marbiggie (aka a slightly oversized martini), applaud the Prop 8 decision, and lay me down to rest.

(Go here if the clip doesn’t deliver Jerry to you.)

Update 8/6/2010: I fixed a few typos. I’m sure there are more. Writing on jetlag and lightning intoxication is a sure recipe for fingers running amok on the keyboard.

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Evidently, one ill-fated night soccer and American football got together in a drunken hookup. The fruit of their conception was last night’s World Cup final, a monstrosity of a match between Spain and the Netherlands. It was probably the most foul game I’ve ever witnessed, and I’ve watched quite a lot of soccer.

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you know that Spain won, 1-0, on an elegant goal scored in the 117th minute (that is, nearly at the end of overtime). But the rest of the game was just plain ugly. In the 2006 finale, France’s Zinedine Zidane was sent off after he head-butted an Italian player. His red card was nothing compared to the worst foul of last night’s game, where the Netherlands’ Nigel de Jong intentionally kicked Xabi Alonso in the chest. He only got a yellow card, where red would have been deserved – and frankly, I would like to see de Jong barred from international play for a while. This was more than a foul; it was battery.

(Video of the foul is here, but I expect it’ll disappear soon at FIFA’s behest.)

When Germany’s not playing, I tend to root for the underdog, so I was initially pulling for the Netherlands, but that foul lost my sympathy. Spain played quite foul, too, but at least they weren’t vicious.

In the end, I was glad for Spain. Despite their flailing in the group stage, in the end they lived up to the hype (see: the Germany-Spain match). They also gave me one great reason to root for them: their goalkeeper, Iker Casillas. He did a couple of fantastic saves that spoiled apparently sure-fire chances for the Netherlands. He got emotional when Andres Iniesta finally scored for Spain. And he’s nice to look at, too.

(Photo from the blog Girls Like Soccer Too – which has more yumminess here, too.)

(Photo borrowed from Sky Sports.)

The game for third place was far more exciting than the final, as it was in 2006. Okay, so Germany won third place then, too, but I don’t think I’m just biased. Uruguay and Germany both played fair and the game actually flowed – which can’t happen when a foul interrupts the action every 15 seconds or so. I would have been just about as pleased for Uruguay to win.

Happily, one of my absolute favorite players, Uruguay’s Diego Forlan, won the award for best overall player (the Golden Ball). Yay!! Casillas won the Golden Glove (for best goalkeeper). Germany’s Thomas Müller won both Best Young Player and the Golden Boot (for most goals – he won with five, plus the most assists). (The full list of awards is here.) Müller – who’s only 20 – is still so unassuming, he makes me think of a North Dakota farm boy.

I am perfectly satisfied.

My only gripe is that the World Cup is over. Now whatever shall I blog about?

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(Squabbling kittehs from ICHC?)

This morning began with the Tiger waking the Bear by pelting him with stuffed animals. An hour later, he rammed him with a desk chair – “accidentally,” of course. By 11 they were fighting over a toy. I was calculating the days until school begins. And wallowing in self-pity.

(More intransigent sib-kittehs from ICHC?)

So we fled the apartment, ran a couple errands, visited a playground. As my boys were romping happily on the play equipment, a woman rolled up with a one-year-old in a carriage. She turned slightly, and I saw it was actually a double carriage. She was ferrying year-old twins with a striking resemblance to Cabbage Patch babies (and I mean that in a nice way). The carriage was like the Queen Mary. She was rolling this whole ensemble through deep sand. She was patient and cheerful. I spoke with her and she did not make me feel like a loser for wondering how she manages.

I stopped feeling quite so sorry for myself.

By the end of the day, I’d seen no fewer than six sets of twins being strolled through Berlin. Whatever challenges my two bring, at least they aren’t doubled. Also, I had some great one-on-one time with the Bear this afternoon, which reminded me that they’re each marvelous company when they’re not together.

Now, if they could just get some sleep. It’s 11:40 Central European time, and the Bear popped out of bed again, for the eight time tonight. And you wonder why my blogging has been slow the past few months? It’s not just interference from teaching (and now the World Cup); I have two kids who went on sleep strike sometime last winter. Maybe they could take a page from the LOLcats on snoozing, too?

(Sleepy kitteh from ICHC?)

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Last August, my husband and I applied to refinance our home mortgage. At the end of last week – about ten months later – we finally closed on it.

Why did it take so long? In a nutshell: legal trouble. And so a straightforward, dry financial transaction turned into a mini-drama.

Back in 2005, we had insulation blown into our house. The contractor showed up a few days later than scheduled, obviously running behind on all of his work. He tried to play catch-up at our expense. Our supposedly two-day job shrank into a single day, leaving us with a tremendous mess and parts of the job still unfinished. We complained; we paid him for work done but withheld about a third of the invoiced amount; we got dunned repeatedly, wrote letters explaining what was still unfinished, and ultimately filed a complaint with the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

The contractor’s response was basically “FU.” Toward the end of our correspondence, he told us that he had a lien on our property and would collect one way or another. That seemed ludicrous, because we had never gotten any official notification of a lien being filed.

We put him out of our minds for the next few years. Then one day, a few weeks into the refinancing process, the bank called to inform us that a contractor had placed a mechanic’s lien on our property.

I knew nothing about mechanic’s liens, though a quick scan of the Ohio Revised Code gave me a basic clue. I learned that a contractor can stop you from selling or refinancing your home if he says you owe him money. For him to collect, he’d have to initiate foreclosure proceedings. For the lien to be valid, it has to be filed within 30 days of the date when work was last performed on the property – and it must be served on the property holder.

In other words, unlike other types of debt, fees owed to contractors are backed with one’s property as collateral, which puts the consumer at a massive disadvantage when there’s any dispute. While I can understand that the law aims to protect honest workmen from getting screwed over, it’s strongly skewed against consumers when a contractor does shoddy or incomplete work. For a dispute of less than $600, our entire house could be held hostage. And so it was.

In our case, though, the lien had never been served on us. I thought we should be able to make our case even on the substantive facts, but if not, then at least on that legal technicality.

We talked to a lawyer friend. He said the rational thing to do would be to offer the contractor a compromise payment. So we called him – let’s call him Nagol Insulating. Nagol’s response was: “Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! You’re just mad because I didn’t clean up. [There was more to it than that.] You owe me 25% annual interest, but I’ll accept half the interest plus the principal. Oh, and I just got out of court with another customer, where I won again.” We did a search on Nagol and learned that he had dozens of liens filed in Athens and nearby counties. (You can check out contractors’ records for many Ohio counties and some in other states too at Public County Land Documents – a great source that I’ll check before we ever hire another contractor again.)

So we went back to our lawyer friend, who said, “Well, getting rid of this fellow will probably cost you more than than the disputed amount in legal fees, but he’s demanding menace money! I would completely understand if you wanted to fight him.” Our friend couldn’t represent us, since he’d once done work for Nagol and would be open to conflict-of-interest charges, should the case land in court. He referred us to a colleague, whom I’ll call Mr. Magic, Esq., because he’s actually a magician who performs for kids on his off-work hours.

We paid a retainer of a few hundred bucks to Mr. Magic, and I will say that this small act – paying money to our lawyer –  truly did work magic on my peace of mind. Suddenly, we had someone in our corner. Someone who could read the Ohio Revised Code and not just speculate on what it meant! Someone who knew how to speak and write legalese while translating it for our benefit!

Any of you ever felt at the mercy of a bully? I remember it well from my childhood, when no one ever swooped in to protect me. Now, I had a protector. It felt great.

Which leads me to think that everyone should have affordable access to a good lawyer when they need one. For civil disputes, I don’t know how you’d prevent people from filing frivolous lawsuits. And yet, I can’t help but think that their numbers would be dwarfed by folks with legitimate complaints – the legions whose insurance coverage has been canceled when they get sick, for example. As for criminal defendants, yes, they’re entitled to a lawyer, but unless you can pay for your own, chances are good you’ll be assigned someone who’s overworked, burnt-out, perfunctory, or just plain incompetent. (I know someone who pled guilty to a spurious charge of disorderly conduct just because the alternative would’ve been thousands of dollars in legal fees.)

Let’s be clear: the opportunity to retain an attorney rests on a massive dose of privilege. Ten years ago, we could not have afforded Mr. Magic’s fees, which ultimately ran into the high triple figures. We’re really lucky we had the money. Otherwise, we would have either had to cave into the bully’s demands (which were in the same price range, however) or just defer financing the house, likely missing the boat altogether on affordable interest rates.

Mr. Magic did an excellent job, as it turned out. Since there’s no legal mechanism for questioning the validity of an illegally filed lien, the procedure required us to file a “Notice to Commence Suit,” which essentially dared Mr. Nagol to foreclose on us within the next two months; otherwise, the lien became void. It could perhaps also be termed a “Notice to Shit or Get off the Pot.” Nagol tried filing a suit in small claims court, again, but that wasn’t the proper venue and anyway Nagol is the only one who’s convinced he’s a legal hotshot. He’d be well advised to stick to insulating, except even that isn’t true.

In the end, Nagol’s lien expired since foreclosing on us would have cost him a four-figure sum just in legal fees. (Hmm, maybe not everyone needs access to an affordable lawyer?)

I sort of miss having Mr. Magic, Esq., on retainer. But mostly I’m just glad we could finish the refinance job.

Which brings us to what Paul Harvey used to call “the rest of the story.” Back in August, we were quoted an annual percentage rate of 4.85%. Friday, we closed at 4.325%. Thanks to Nagol’s shenanigan’s and the resulting delays, we just went from a 30-year mortgage (at 5+ APR) to a 15-year. Our monthly payment stayed the same.

If Nagol only knew! But then again, it’s enough to have vanquished the bully once. I don’t see any need to provoke him.

(If you’re a local reader and want the real name of Mr. Magic, Esq., I’m happy to provide it if you email me. As for Nagol, if you want to avoid him you can just spell his name backwards.)

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This post doesn’t get a trigger warning, exactly – just a sticker for minor TMI and, well, a bit of ickiness.

Yesterday Hitler went into his bunker one more time. By the time my lecture ended at 2 p.m., he had died again – and not a moment too soon. While we’ve still got another week of classes, I must say it’s a mighty relief to know that Hitler is now charred beyond recognition. For all the satisfactions I’ve found in teaching this course, it has been emotionally and intellectually arduous. (And of course, my own struggles are a trifle, compared with those who were actually, historically victimized by the Third Reich.)

But this is not a post about Hitler. Indeed, now that Hitler is out of the picture – and just in time for the three-day weekend, too! – I finally feel free to take some time to sticky-tack my own life back together. For instance? Long-deferred trips to the doctor, including my first-ever visit to the dermatologist. If you’ve checked out my little Sungold pic, it’s obvious that surveillance for skin cancer ought to have started with me still in the womb. And indeed, the doc agreed that two of the spots I’d identified as potential trouble were precisely that. Out came the portable deep freeze, which spritzed all points of suspicion with liquid nitrogen. Those trouble spots now look far worse than ever, but I’ve been assured that any rogue cells have been killed dead, and that the dark-brown spots will eventually fade, rather than being the first step toward dressing as a Sexy Dalmatian next Halloween.

But then there was a third spot, not nearly so suspicious, but quite uncomfortable whenever I leaned back against a hard wooden chair. My doc said no problem, we can remove that mole, too. This trick, however, required a signed consent form, a shot of lidocaine, and a few stitches.

Afterward, I asked to see the “specimen,” now floating in a jar, which would be sent to pathology. It looked remarkably like a very pale pencil eraser. It look like a pencil eraser had mated with a fetal pig preserved in formaldehyde. Yes, I do see the biological implausibility of this. I’m going for the aesthetic point while realizing that this is – at best – the opposite of aesthetic.

I am not grossed out by things floating in glass jars. For that, I spent far too much time reading historical medical journals while working on my dissertation. I was just fascinated at how this plug of tissue, barely reddened and fringe-y where it had moments earlier nestled near my spine, had gone within seconds from being me to not-me.

All of which brought me back to a theme that has preoccupied me ever since, some weeks ago, I was looking through some college-era pictures. Those quarter-century old pictures were also, emphatically, me/not-me, though mostly on a symbolic level.

Nestled among the photos was an old braid of hair. My hair. It wasn’t a mere representation. This braid? It was physically me. I had grown it, brushed it, more or less tenderly cared for it. And then one day, soon after I met my someday-husband, I needed lightness, and so off went my locks. (This was before anyone was aware of Locks of Love. From today’s vantage point, I suspect my braid is too short to donate. Anyway, the vintage of my braid (1992!) hardly makes me a fab donor candidate.)

This braid is still tangible. You can pick it up and stroke it, marveling at how much softer my hair was in my youth, back when I rarely blowdried it and never colored it.

It is a piece of my youth, transported, whole and unfaded, into my increasingly middle-aged present.

Mostly, though, I almost feel as though this disembodied piece of me should be able to bear witness. It cannot, of course. But it should, dammit! Nothing else in my life has stayed inert since 1992. I’ve married, borne two children, moved from Germany back to the U.S., bought a house, finished a dissertation, embarked on a teaching career, seen my husband through two forms of cancer, and learned to like horseradish.

I think similar thoughts about my kids’ teeth as they lose them. I have no dignified way to keep them. They pile up in plastic ziplocs like tiny pawns for a game as yet to be determined. These little gamepieces are both of my children and yet wholly other. I do not know why I keep them. I couldn’t bear to thrown the in the trash. They’d require a solemn burial.

I guess there are two aspects of our permeable, detachable, deconstructable bodies that perturb me.

One is that these lost teeth remind me of aging, and I don’t just mean my own. As he approaches his seventh birthday, the Tiger now has only half of his top teeth. When his permanent teech ease into place, his little-boy grin will be gone forever. Actually, it already is. When that little boy is gone, he’s gone for good. He’s essentially dead, apart from those fragments of memory we carry with us. They are never enough.

The other thing? All these loose part – these spare parts – remind me that it’s not just the body that’s permeable. Our selves are permeable and unstable. Call me a postmodernist, but I think this is both true, and deeply unsettling.

Or maybe I’m just my mother’s daughter. For years after her gallbladder removal, she kept a vial of her stones in the medicine cabinet. I’m guessing they’re still there.

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Happy Kitten Caturday

Often my kids are a lot like this:

Crabby sibling kittehs from ICHC?

But today my kittens have been getting along just beautifully. It helps that they’ve had friends over this afternoon … Lucky them, and lucky me.

Happy Caturday! May all your kittehs coexist in peace.

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… these would be the survivors still on the island.

All of these chard pictures are brought to us courtesty of occasional commenter Hydraargyrum. It was he who covered the chard back in late November, when its ice-encrusted destiny was apparently sealed. Instead, he came by my house and dropped a blanket over the chard, allowing me to harvest more in December and then coax it through the winter under cover.

Don’t ask me what the brick means in the next pic. It is a local brick. Does that make it magic? Dunno, but it helped hold down the agricultural cloth (aka Remay) while the winter winds whipped ’round my chard. The inscription is “ATHENS BLOCK,” in case that’s driving you slowly bonkers.

I will admit that this chard will be far beyond assertive. It will start as obnoxious, and then bolt, because it’s a biennial and destined to go to seed this spring. We’ll eat it anyway, at least until bolting makes it outright revolting.. And by “we,” I emphatically don’t mean my offspring.

Yesterday I spilled the beans about our crocus appearing, so as recompense for your putting up with my endless chard-blogging, here’s a particularly purple view. They’re survivors too, aren’t they?

Happy Spring, everyone! The equinox slipped by me yesterday, but at least my flowers didn’t miss it.

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The Tiger got his fracture rechecked yesterday in Columbus, and it was a good experience all around. They x-rayed him immediately, without any need for me to harass them into doing it. Then we finally met the doctor in charge, who’d been only a distant overseer in the hospital. He was sporting a walrus mustache and working on Basset hound jowls. He was kind and respectful. He managed not to scare my son. Best of all, he pronounced the Tiger’s humerus in good alignment.

“So,” I said, “are we out of the woods as far as surgery?”

“No. We like to follow breaks like this closely at first. You’ll need to come back again next Wednesday. Then, if all goes well, the cast can come off two weeks later.”

“So when will you know for sure about surgery?”

“By next week, the bone should sticky. There’s not much danger it could slip out of place after that.”

“If you had to give me odds of avoiding surgery, from this week to next week, what would you say? Just as a guess?”

“Oh, about 80%.”

I’m still jittery about that other 20%, but overall I think my sweet little stinker is going to be okay.

The really good news is that we learned that the break isn’t in a growth plate after all. That’s a huge relief. My niece’s fracture was complicated by its running through a growth plate, and my sister is plagued by a quiet simmering worry about proper growth in the years ahead. As an inveterate worrier myself (it runs in the family), I’ll rejoin her worry party now, knowing that the Tiger shouldn’t have any long-term issues beyond a very slight restriction in the elbow’s range of motion.

We also got rid of the ace bandage around his cast (seen above), which was looking increasingly grungy. It was replaced by another layer of the blue casting material, which means we can all sign it now. Yay!

Note that both stuffed tigers are also suffering from injuries. Daddy Tiger broke his foot. You can’t see Mama Tiger’s broken tail, but it’s being held up by the sling around her neck. Mama Tiger got her “cast” off yesterday and is feeling great, after some initial stiffness.

My apologies to anyone who was watching the calendar and realized I should have reported in yesterday already. It is true that I usually like to write a post every day. If I miss a couple of days, it means something is up, and you would be right to suppose I’m not gallivanting on a tropical beach. Most often it means that I’m overworked and underslept. (Stacks of student papers are calling to me this very moment!) Occasionally it means I have the blues. And there’s always the chance that something really awful has happened. Last night, though, I was just I was too depleted to write. I had nothing left after the trip to Columbus: rushing on the road, reassuring the Tiger, bathing in the relief. Funny how exhausting even good news can be.

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It was yesterday. Two years. Huh.

So I guess that makes today my first anniversary of forgetting my blogoversary. Because I spaced on it last year, too, amid snow days and work stress.

It’s never too late to raise a glass, right?

Festive kitteh from ICHC?

Here’s to 753 posts … the patience of my regular readers … the thoughtfulness and civility of my commenters … and the disappearance of my most Nuckolheaded troll ever. (Google hufu for an intro to this charming fellow, if you missed him.)

Oh, and I’m enjoying my flash-in-the-pan Technorati authority. I have no idea how “authority” is calculated these days, but it registered the spike in rage about Mary Daly. Given how dry that post was, I’m thinking I should write super-nerdy posts more often, using actual books. Next up: how to do perfect footnotes according to the Chicago Manual of Style!

Truth is, I mostly write about what interests me. I write to learn. I write because the static in my brain has to go somewhere. It’s a somewhat solipsistic approach, which makes me all the more grateful for my readers.

I write in hopes of being a better teacher. I brought the Mary Daly material into the classroom today while discussing exclusionary practices in second-wave feminism. I understood it better, thanks to my commenters.

Here’s the deal: I’ll spare you that post on Chicago-style footnotes if you’ll stick around.

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Surely I can’t be the only one feeling a little melancholy at the start of a new year?

Rationally seen, I’m actually on a good trajectory. Last year was a doozie for me, with the onset of a mysterious ailment on Inauguration Day that continues to disrupt my life. I still don’t have a name for it – which is mostly good news, because I didn’t much hanker to call it MS or vasculitis or lupus – and I still feel lousy most of the time. I’m slowly getting better with more energy from month to month. I’m grateful that my cognitive capacities seem to have recovered, apart from minor trouble recalling names. My hope for 2010 is to get the upper hand over the remaining pain, tingling, and fatigue.

But the start of the new year always brings retrospection as well as hope, and I guess it’s inevitable that we grieve what we’ve lost.

For me, New Year’s Day is also the anniversary of the death of my dear cousin Jacquie, whom I lost to an especially aggressive form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. She’s now a decade gone. If you’ve ever listened to Diane Rehm’s radio program and admired her gift for listening to her interviewees, then you’ve had a taste of Jacquie’s great gift, too, though she never made a career of it. She knew how to make people feel that whatever they were doing and thinking was just fascinating. I don’t believe it was ever fake, either. This deep, pervasive fascination was how she embraced the whole world. In midlife, she returned to college and completed a bachelors and master’s in anthropology. She was the one person in my family who understood the love of academia, and so she was my only relative who fully understood that part of me. A generation older than me, she was like a sister to my dad, and he still breaks into tears if he starts thinking too much about his loss. He’s not the only one.

And then, in a different register but still important to me, the anniversary of Grey Kitty’s death overshadows the next couple of days. She, too, died of lymphoma, to the best of our knowledge. She left us on January 3, 2001. I wrote about her last year on that anniversary, so I’ll stop before I get even more maudlin.

The days are short. The skies are dark. Holiday lights and baubles are going back into storage. The next ten weeks will bring the chaos of snow days and power outages, sick children and struggling parents. The North Dakotan in me says that I should be grateful to live in southeast Ohio. The Californian in me asks, WTF was I ever thinking when I left???!

The economy is still a shambles. Health care reform is about to shipwreck on the shoals of a mandate with weak cost controls. We’re still involved in Iraq and miring ourselves ever deeper in Afghanistan.

So let me tally up the good: George Bush and Dick Cheney are no longer our lords and masters. My kids are healthy, bright, and basically kind-hearted – well, to everyone but each other. None of my loved ones with a cancer history have had a recurrence. My niece’s serious arm fracture seems to be healing well, so far. Life is peachy with my dear mate; we’ve been watching the final season of Monk and remembering why we like each other. My teaching load should be slightly lower this quarter than last, giving me time for nature’s greatest tonic: sleep. I still have a job (at least until May) and my husband’s job is secure. My family loves me, and I love them. I have a community of friends who sustained me during the darkest days of last winter. We’ll do it again.

Also: tomatoes.

Here’s wishing you blessings, joys, and good health in 2010. Feel free to commiserate or celebrate – or both! – in comments.

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