Friday, December 18, 2009

Reindeer Games

Yesterday one of my coworkers gave all of us tree ornaments she made - reindeer made from wine corks. I usually love homemade tree ornaments, but not this one. It was well made. Obviously she had put a lot of care into it. I just didn't like it. Four wine corks glued together with plastic eyes and nose and pipe cleaner antlers and tail just look like a Kindergarten project to me.

Naturally I thanked her and brought it home safely (I thought) tucked into a gift bag with a gift one of my little kids gave me. When I got home, the reindeer was in three parts, the front leg and head having broken off in transit. So that should have been the end of the story. Just toss the three pieces in the trash. My coworker will not be visiting my house at Christmas, and even if she did, I had a handy and true explanation for the ornament's absence.

For some reason, I couldn't do it. The pieces had been hot glued together. I have a hot glue gun (somewhere), and could see where to glue them together to put them back. I dithered back and forth between fixing the ornament and tossing it out. It sat on the kitchen counter all night. By morning I had come to my senses and tossed the reindeer remains in the trash.

In the meantime, I've been reflecting on white lies and pretenses. Would it be a better or worse or just different world if we always told the truth about what we think about things? There are people who think it would be better. They have no hesitation about telling you that the ornament that you spent time and thought creating for them is not to their taste. I've noticed these people tend not to like it if you are honest back. So I'm not sure I want to see a world in which we don't say we're thrilled with the present, or that a friend's new haircut is becoming, or that our children's artwork is the cutest ever.

On the other hand, we all work at honing our listening skills to sort out the real from the insincere. One of my social worker coworkers is so obviously tactful in her dealings with me that if she says, "Susie's mom has some concerns she expressed to me", I automatically translate that into "Susie's mom showed up in my office with a lawyer and a gun". I think most people would know not to give me 6 more assorted wine cork reindeer ornaments after hearing me say, "I wonder where people get those ideas. I would never in a million years have thought to make something like that." Unfortunately, some people are no good at reading the subtle signs. It would be easier to negotiate through a world in which people say what they really think, but it would be harsher. I've seen that world on message boards I frequent, and I don't want to live there.

But occasionally, especially at Christmas, I might want to visit.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Poppy, our cat with the tumors on her leg, had been getting worse and worse. The tumors got larger, she got thinner, and she kept licking the incision site from her surgery, keeping it raw and sore looking. We had discussed radiation treatment, but aside from the cost of 3-5000 dollars, there was no guarantee it would work. Finally my husband asked the vet what I had been thinking - could we just amputate the leg? Poppy by that time was walking on three legs anyway, refusing to bear weight on the sore leg, and she seemed to be in pain.

According to Dr. Kate, animals actually adjust well to the loss of a limb, but she was concerned that Poppy might not make it through a long surgery because she had responded poorly to anesthesia during the earlier lumpectomy. Hubby and I finally concluded that at the rate Poppy was losing weight, we might have to have her put to sleep anyway, and that her dying during surgery was a risk we were willing to take, Poppy being unable to voice an opinion. So two weeks ago, we took her to the vet to be prepped for surgery and hoped for the best.

Our baby came through just fine. She had to stay at the vet's for 5 days post-surgery, but we got frequent updates, and she finally came home a week ago. To our amazement, she is able to jump up on our four-poster, which is a couple of feet off the ground, and she doesn't even seem to notice something is missing. The incision healed quickly with no growing tumor to interfere, and she hasn't been licking it raw. She's had to stay in, which she hates, but today the stitches came out and she is free to go outside.

So now it's raining out. Not just a gentle drizzle, but cloudbursts. Our poor baby is huddling inside yowling at us to do something about the weather, and quick. I feel so bad for her. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny, though, so she can finally go nap on her bench and chase lizards. Maybe the lizards will have a chance against her, but my money is on Poppy.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cooking is Hard Work

My pretty peppers and onions
My husband and I have decided to cook the rest of the meat sitting in the freezer before buying more. For the last several years, we have been eating out more and more, but our buying habits haven't changed. So we needed to get rid of odds and ends in the freezer, including fish hubby caught on a deep sea fishing trip a while back.

Even my husband's own taste buds haven't convinced him you can't bread and fry tuna as if it were catfish, so as you can imagine nothing I say will convince him either. As a result of my cooking all the remaining chicken tenders and him making Southern Fried Tuna, we had a lot of chicken and tuna leftovers sitting in the fridge. I decided to use one of my Friday afternoons off to get a little ahead on cooking by turning the leftovers into tuna patties and a chicken rice casserole, and freezing them to have easy to make meals for the next week. I bought a pack of yellow, red, and orange bell peppers for the patties, but otherwise I was making use of what was on hand.

I do not know how the people on the Food Channel chop veggies without cutting their hands off, because it takes me a long time. Onion and pepper chopping must have taken me a half hour. Then there was making the sauce for the chicken casserole, with onion-flavored milk leftover from making onion rings and grated cheese leftover from cheeseburgers. Since I had so many peppers, I decided to use half of the pepper/onion mix instead of the carrots I had planned for the chicken casserole. That saved me a little time. It still took me two hours to turn already cooked food into a whole two meals. Who takes two hours to cook leftovers? Besides me, that is.

I made a third meal that night of pan sauteed trout (not from the fishing trip) and shrimp fried rice. The trout was a little (okay, a lot) freezer burned, but the rice was nice and filling.

We're now buying meat (and catfish! which tastes great fried!) again, and eating in more and out less. There are still two tuna patties in the freezer for a quick fix. I have learned something from this experience: I'd rather eat out than cook.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Flyways and Highways

Great Blue Heron

Spring and fall are good times for watching birds in my neighborhood. We live five blocks from a pond (we call it a lake, but it's really a borrow pond leftover from highway construction, being fed by a few springs) and there's another one a mile further up the road, near a hospital and medical office building. Both ponds are home to flocks of domestic looking ducks, but the hospital pond has acquired some egrets and at least one blue heron.

I saw the heron and an egret on a trip to my gastroenterologist two weeks ago, or thought I did. Sunday I went to the drugstore in the area and took my camera with me so I could take pictures if I saw them again. The egret was there (and very camera shy), but no heron. There was a gaggle of very fat geese and I wondered if I could have mistaken one for a heron given the brief glimpse I had.

When I got home, there was a hawk sitting on my back fence. That's not a usual sight. Since I had my camera handy, I took its picture through the windshield. The pictures are quite blurry, but it was a hawk, possibly a sharp-shinned hawk. It flew off when I got out of the car.

Yesterday I was back at the gastroenterologist, again with my camera. The heron was there again, and not so camera shy as the egret, so I got a good picture.

This morning, driving along the interstate to work, I saw two more egrets. When it rains, puddles form in the drainage ditches along the highway, and they love to stand in them. Back in the early 1900's, when egret feathers were all the rage for hats, egrets were in danger of dying out. Now they are common features along our roadsides. I miss hats, but I'm glad the birds survived.

Friday, September 18, 2009

How About If I Don't Talk Like a Pirate Day

View from Fortress de San Felipe Bacalar, built in 1729 to protect the pueblo from pirates

Friends on Facebook tell me tomorrow is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. I think I'll sit this one out. Maybe I'll wait for Talk Like a Mugger Day, or Talk Like a Home Invader Day, or even Talk Like a White Collar Criminal Day.

Modern day piracy costs shipping companies an estimated $13 to $16 billion a year, with reported pirate incidents happening at a rate of 20-30 per month. When crew is held for ransom, it costs an average of $120,000 per person to free them. Eventually these costs are going to get passed along to the people buying goods being shipped. Beyond the financial costs, there is the trauma to the crew and their families to consider. Even those who have never been attacked by pirates must be worried about the possibility.

Why is it that everything seems more romantic if it happens on a ship? If someone holds you at gunpoint in the street, you aren't going to see the romantic side of it, but put the same someone on a ship, replace the gun with a grenade launcher, and have the target be someone else, and suddenly it's all good fun.

Oh, wait, it's supposed to be the pirates of old we want to talk like. Yeah, that makes it better. I'm sure they were much nicer people, due to the influence of living with all those parrots, or something. Okay, you can't mow people down with a cutlass as fast as you can with automatic weapons, but the mind set is the same. "You have it and I want it" just isn't romantic to me, whether it's coming from Bluebeard, modern day Somalis, or Bernie Maddoff.

So, matey, talk like a pirate all you want, just leave me out of it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

You're Going to Miss This

The azaleas and bench in the backyard

You're Gonna Miss This is a Trace Adkins song which I like, but the premise of which amuses me. The chorus goes:

You're gonna miss this. You're gonna want this back.
You're gonna wish these days hadn't gone by so fast.
These are some good times, so take a good look around.
You may not know it now, but you're gonna miss this.

On the surface, that sounds like very good advice, but when I think about it, people in the song are trying to convince a young woman not to keep wishing for the future by telling her that one day she's going to look back and long for the past (and implying that they themselves do). Apparently the whole idea of living in the present has eluded everyone in the song.

I know there are things I am going to miss when I finally sell the house and move away. We can't bring the huge magnolia tree in the backyard with us. We won't even bring the concrete benches, because they are heavy and likely to break. The wisteria-covered pergola will have to stay. I'm not sure a magnolia will grow in our new location, but of course we can build a new pergola, plant a climbing vine and ornamental tree, and buy more benches.

I'm just not sure I want to. I'll miss the things I left behind, for a while at least, but I don't want the future to be an attempt to recreate the past, no matter how happy. I want to enjoy my memories, but not miss them, because I want to be busy building whatever kind of present seems appropriate in a new place. I might want a curved concrete bench, or I might remember that I never really sat on it much, and opt for something else instead. I might want a sunny spot for herbs instead of a tree and a shady pergola, or I might want a porch with a real roof that can hold a fan.

Since no one seems to be in a rush to buy the house, I'll enjoy it while I have it. And then I'll leave it behind, in the past where it will someday belong. It will be happy there.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Little Things

Little things have been weighing me down lately. Besides the house not selling, or even showing, the death of my cat, the illness of my other cat, my increased gastritis, and the general economic miasma, a group of my coworkers took over the office next to mine and demanded that my file cabinet had to go, after I thought we had worked out a deal for it to stay. I wouldn't be so pissy about the file cabinet if there weren't another equally suitable room available for their project, with the one drawback being that a volunteer who uses that room one hour a month has final say over what can go in there. It bothers me that it's easier to inconvenience me 36 hours a week than to inconvenience her one hour a month. The file cabinet is now perched awkwardly in my office behind a toy kitchen set-up and I am making my peace with it, because snarling at a file cabinet 36 hours a week is no recipe for mental health.

And besides, little D has come up with his own way of cheering me up. As I wrote in a previous post, we have been working forever (or at least 8 months) on getting him to say "I want truck" and getting either "I want" or "truck", but not all three words together. Yesterday, he looked at me, said "Mom" (his one word for all adult females), "I want to play truck." He smiled triumphantly. I smiled ecstatically. He got to abandon whatever suitably pedagogical activity I had planned for him and go play trucks. I got to enjoy one of the little things.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Beware of things you get for free. The above armoire is a case in point. My mother-in-law's cousin had a tenant who decamped in the dead of night, leaving the armoire behind. The cousin gave it to my mother-in-law, who lived in an old house with minimal closet space. MIL covered it with a dark stain-varnish combination and used it for storage in her bedroom. When MIL sold her old house and moved into a retirement community in our town, the armoire moved with her.

Eventually MIL needed more assistance than was available in the retirement home and right after her 90th birthday, she moved to Tennessee to an assisted living facility near her daughter. Hubby and I shipped the armoire at a cost of $450. Sis-in-law spent another 3000 or so having it professionally refinished, and it found a home in MIL's room at the assisted living facility.

A year or so later, MIL died, and SIL decided that she didn't need the armoire, and found a moving company to bring it back to us at a cost of $1400. This brings the cost of the "freebie" up to around $5000 if you throw in the cost of the original can of mahogany stain. Of course, since we are hoping to sell our house and move to Texas, we are not only going to have to pay to move it yet again, but also pay the difference between the cost of a house with 8 foot ceilings and a house with taller ceilings, because the armoire is 8 and a half feet tall.

The sensible thing to do would be sell it, but hubby has loved it since he was a child and isn't going to part with it. The second most sensible thing to do would be retrofit it as a TV armoire or bar or entertainment center, but hubby won't do that, either, because that would destroy its monetary value, although how something you are never going to sell can be said to have monetary value is a mystery to me. So at the moment it sits in our living room, taking up wall space, holding Christmas decorations, and looking pretty.

So I have taken to calling it the Precious, as Gollum called Sauron's ring in the LOTR. It's hard to get rid of, and it can actually make you disappear since it's big enough to stand in. I have to admit, it's starting to grow on me. Isn't that a bad sign?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Giggle, Giggle, Chortle, Chortle, Snort, Snort

Lying on the floor to take a picture of the dancer's feet sounded like a better idea than it was.

Back in June, the place where I work held our annual summer art program for special needs children. They got to take classes in pottery, dance, painting, music, and multimedia, and on the final day, we held our big exhibition. The program is co-sponsored by the Junior League, and they work extremely hard on it.

This year, one of the Junior Leaguers took pictures. I don't know if she is a professional or just a dedicated amateur, but she had some very fancy looking camera equipment, which amazingly enough, kept working despite my constantly drooling over it. For 4 days, she took pictures of the child artists at work.

Friday, I brought my own point-and-click camera to take some pictures for my own use. My boss asked if I could take some pictures of the kids because our Junior League photographer hadn't brought her camera. Since the kids were getting their faces painted for the big performance, I took pictures of them all in their warpaint. Alas, I can't post them, for privacy reasons, but the pictures came out seriously cute, especially since I have lost my fear of getting down on my creaky knees to catch them at eye level. I made up a CD of the faces pictures and a few others I thought she'd like for my boss.

The week after the program ended, I got an emergency request from the coworker who runs the program. She needed four pictures to include with a report she was preparing for a funding agency. The CD of pictures she got from the real photographer had something wrong with it, and she couldn't use any of the pictures on it. Could she use mine? Of course, I said yes. And began the giggling, chortling, and snorting reported above.

I don't know if they ever got a good copy of the "real" pictures. I'm certainly enjoying mine.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sorrow and Hard Decisions

Poppy (in the drawer) and Squeaky in their younger days

Squeaky had always been a calm, quiet cat with the high pitched voice that led my husband and son to give him his name. Unlike our other cats, he preferred to stay indoors, except sometimes in the spring, and one year when he went outside a few days after Easter and stayed there, in the yard, until July. We acquired him a year or so after our marriage from some clients of mine who had a barn cat mama. I made his acquaintance when his eyes first opened and he began exploring the yard and peeking through the back door at me, and his mom's owners were only too happy to let me take him home.

About three years or so ago, Squeaky's kidneys began to fail, and in the last few months, he got skeletally thin. He began having accidents in odd corners, did not appear to be able to see, and started falling asleep near the food dish in the kitchen. I kept telling my husband that we needed to have him put down, but it's hard for my tender hearted husband to let go. I finally realized I'd have to make the decision on my own. On August 4th, we said good-bye to Squeaky.

To make matters worse, a week before we'd noticed that Poppy, our second oldest cat, had acquired a lump on her hind leg. We thought it was an abscess and took her to the vet, but it couldn't be drained. After some expensive X-rays, the vet operated and did a biopsy. The lump turned out to be cancer. The good news is that it is a kind that is unlikely to spread to her vital organs; the bad news is that it can grow large enough to interfere with her mobility. The vet can refer us to an oncologist to see if Poppy is a candidate for radiation therapy, which will require her to be sedated and cost 3-5,000 dollars.

We have some time before we need to make a decision. Right now, she seems unbothered by the lump. She was far more bothered by being restricted to indoors following the surgery, but she's now allowed her usual routine of napping in the garden and chasing lizards. She has really been so patient through all this, although this morning when she was due to go back to the vet to get her staples taken out, she managed to hide behind a bookcase for half an hour or so. I have to stop telling her when she's due to see the vet.

Down the road, we may need to look at her age, the cost, the likelihood of the radiation working, and the inconvenience to Poppy, and make some hard decisions. Cats, unlike people, can't make their end-of-life wishes known. They trust us, and we hope we don't fail them.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Closet for Sale, House Included

We are trying to sell our house. The plan is to sell the house and move to another state to be closer to relatives, one of whom is my son. It was actually son's idea, although he was probably inebriated at the time and has no doubt been wracking his brains ever since for a way to suggest that perhaps we should stay put. He need not worry. Despite the fact that we are supposed to be in one of the top ten housing markets in the country, no one has so much as taken a look at the house, at least not at the inside.

The funny thing is, everyone who is not in the market for a house loves my house. The salesman who sold us an overpriced vacuum cleaner, the mover who came by to give us an estimate on moving our goods and chattels, the bug lady and of course my friends, but I discount what the friends have to say because what else can they say. But it does have some nice features - the above closet which is ten feet long, newly painted, and filled with built-ins, the granite counters and brick floors in the kitchen, the bonus room which used to be a carport and now is the perfect spot for a pool table or a large screen TV, the mud room with utility sink, the lavishly landscaped yard, and a large master bedroom. It's also within walking distance of the elementary school and a pond with ducks, as well as biking range of Wal-Mart and a 16 screen movie theater. One would have hoped it would be an easy sell, but you'd think we were trying to unload the Amityville Horror, with termites thrown in.

Fortunately for us, we don't have to move at any particular time. If it sells, it sells, if not, we stay put for another year or so and then try again. It's just that it's hard to make plans for the future when you aren't sure where you will be in that future. I have the unsettled feeling of living with my mental suitcase packed, poised for a quick getaway. Do I make that appointment for my dental checkup three months from now? Ask my employer to pay the registration for a conference in November? Look for a job in the new-city-to-be? Or let the listing lapse and try again next summer? I don't deal well with uncertainty.

But as one of my co-workers reminds me, it really only takes one person to want it for it to be sold. So for the moment we are keeping our hopes up and the house relatively clean and presentable. You never know.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I'm Famous, Well, Sort Of

In the fall of 2007, we went to the Houston Museum of Natural History to see the Lucy exhibit. (Or as my husband put it, "Why are we going to see old bones?") Since we were there anyway, we naturally toured the rest of the museum exhibits, including the one pictured above, which is labeled as the world's largest seashell. I took the picture because I loved the way the white and blue looked together, and when I posted the picture to my web hosting site, I of course titled it "World's Largest Seashell". Now if you do a Google image search for "world's largest seashell" or any of several variations thereof, the first picture you see is mine.

It's my one and only claim to fame, because I lead an otherwise boring life. What usually happens in my life is more like this:

I work with young children who just can't get the hang of speaking correctly. Some of them have a condition called childhood apraxia of speech, which simply put means that for them saying the simplest sentence, like "I want cookie", is as difficult as reading Fox in Socks while mildly drunk is for the rest of us. Remediation consists largely of trying to make constant repetition seem remotely interesting to the childish intellect.

That means I spend my day holding conversations like the following:
D: car?
Me: Say, "I want car."
D: "ahwan"
Me: I want what?
D: Car!
Me: "I want car."
D: Here (hands me car)

D had trouble learning the pronouns "I" and "you", so even getting "ahwan" (I want) was pretty cool, and often got him the car. One day, the ladder came off the fire engine (fah en). "Don't worry", I reassured D. "I fix it."

"You fix it?"

My jaw hit the table. Not only three whole words, subject-verb-object, but he used the right pronoun. I went over to my desk to write it down before I forgot.

A little voice drifts over from the play table. "You writing?"

"Yeah, I writing so I don't forget." I crying, actually. I get emotional over little things.

Little things like having the number one hit when you Google "world's largest seashell". It's my one and only claim to fame.

ETA: Another of my adventures with little D can be found at my post Seeds.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Twelve Steps for Parents of Teens and Young Adults

I finally reconstructed my 12 steps for parents of teens and young adults (see previous post), although I think the original was funnier. The occasion for my revisiting them was that my son, busy working in London, forgot my birthday. When he finally did call, almost a week later, it was to tell me that something I posted on his Facebook wall embarrassed him, and oh, yes, Happy Birthday.

Gee, thanks. Fortunately, I restrained the impulse to send the Motherly Guilt-Inducing E Mail, guaranteed good from 6 time zones away. Three hours later the beautiful bouquet, pictured above, was delivered to my office with a card from said son. So if you are struggling with a teen now, I hope the following gives you a good laugh, and be reassured, it may be mud and rocks now, but someday there will be flowers.

Step 1 - We admitted we were powerless over our children’s behavior, and how that really pisses us off.

Step 2 - Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves - Dean of Students, boarding school, drill sargeant, a parole officer - could restore the brats to sanity

Step 3 - Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to a Higher Power, like Judge Judy

Step 4 - Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of our children’s strengths and shortcomings, attributing the former to our expert parenting and the latter to bad genes/bad influences from the other side of the family.

Step 5 - Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being that we have no idea what to do with the creatures

Step 6 - Were entirely ready to have our Higher Power remove all these defects of our child’s character, not to mention the magazines and drug paraphenalia hidden under the mattress

Step 7 - Humbly asked our Higher Power to remove our child to another state

Step 8 - Made a list of all the times we told our own parents how we were going to be so much better as parents than they were, and became willing to make amends to them immediately

Step 9 - Made direct amends to our parents wherever possible, except when they were laughing so hard as to make it difficult

Step 10 - Continued to take personal inventory of our child’s shortcomings, just to have something to do while waiting up until dawn for them to come home and ask “What curfew?”

Step 11 - Sought through prayer, meditation and heavy doses of Valium to improve our conscious contact with our own sanity

Step 12 - Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry the message to other would be parents, “Yeah those baby things are cute, but do you know what they turn into?"

Monday, June 15, 2009

Lost and Found

People keep telling me that once something is published to the internet, it is never really lost, but you can't prove it by me. In the last 18 months or so, I upgraded both my home and my work computers. In the process, I lost two articles I wrote, despite the fact that I had multiple copies at one time. One of them had been published, first on a friend's blog and then in the Denver Post. I have a hard copy, but it's in a frame, which makes it a little difficult to retype. No worries, I think, after all, nothing is ever lost on the internet. Except when it is. Despite multiple searches, not only the Google kind but searches of numerous CD's, floppy disks (remember those?) and Zip disks (remember those?), I can't find it. So I actually took the framed version down from the wall and retyped it, and will post it when I find a suitable picture to go with it.

The other one, my infamous Twelve Steps for Parents of Teens and Young Adults, was almost published, too, as a sidebar to a parenting article, but then Columbine happened and they didn't seem quite so funny. I can probably recreate them, except now that my son is 31, the urgency just isn't quite there.

Maybe I can come up with a Twelve Steps for Wives of Engineers, instead.

But speaking of lost and found, while looking for a suitable picture for this article, I ran across an old picture of my cousins and brothers and I when we were very young. Now it's on the internet. Let's see how long it lasts.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Talking Change

I wrote this in 1990 for our local newspaper, and got paid a whole $15 dollars. It is one of two pieces of writing I have been paid for.

When I was a graduate student at Tulane University, I belonged to an interracial dialog group. It was known to its participants as “the group”, whatever its official title may have been, and was started to promote an exchange of views between blacks and whites, as we called ourselves then. I don’t know much about the group’s formation, having joined after learning about it from my landlord and landlady, who were already members. It was my impression that it was started by a sociology professor at Tulane and that there may have been others involved.

The group was not only biracial but multigenerational, multi-religious in that there were Catholics, Jews and Protestants, but no Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, a fact that probably reflects the religious makeup of New Orleans in 1968 rather than being a deliberate oversight, and included both sexes and several social classes. I don’t remember all the occupations represented, but there were a few folk who worked for a local television station, a social worker, a medical technologist, the college professor, a few graduate students, several homemakers, a teacher, a Protestant minister or two, and a Catholic priest who subsequently became a bishop and who foreshadowed his hierarchical bent by trying to impose some structure on our otherwise loosely organized meetings through various sensitivity games.

When we weren’t humoring him in this, we mostly just talked, not only about topics that were specifically racial, but also about such things as the war in Vietnam, flag burning, self-esteem, and education. I don’t remember how we chose these topics or who chose them.

I do remember learning in a hurry that petite young women with soft voices get ignored in group discussions unless they learn the parlor equivalent of street fighting tactics. To this day one had best not interrupt me if I have the floor.

The assumption behind the group’s formation was that by talking to each other we would learn to overcome prejudice and understand each other’s point of view. My impression was that with some colorful exceptions, most participants were attracted to the group because they were already as free of racial prejudice as it was possible to be in a racially segregated society, although one valuable lesson I learned was how much racial prejudice that description allows for. Yet when our discussions veered off, as they so often did, to the mundane and personal, it was interesting to see how often they broke down along generational, religious, gender, or purely idiosyncratic lines, and, of course, interesting to see how often they did not.

My most vivid memory is of a discussion of infidelity that would have confirmed the most rabid Klansman’s preconceptions. All the married white men in the group insisted their marriages were built on such exquisite trust that they would never feel right cheating, while the black ones felt it was OK for themselves, though not their spouses. It is a measure of just how young and innocent I was that I did not notice that the real dividing line between the two groups was that the first group’s wives were all present and the second group’s wives were not. Years later it finally occurred to me to wonder what the latter group of wives found to do on the nights when the group met and whether it had anything to do with sauce for the gander.

Since those days, I have been in a consciousness raising group, a a marriage encounter, various singles groups and a support group for battered women. I have marched with my sisters at ERA rallies and escorted patients across picket lines at women’s health clinics; I have taught an adult Sunday School class and chaired a United Methodist Women’s circle. My life has not lacked for lively discussion and group support.

Yet all of those groups are stratified along gender or religious or political lines, and too many of them along age and racial lines. I miss the old group. I miss a place in my life where I can meet with people who have nothing in common but the language they speak and the air that they breathe, and share what it means to be human and perplexed by the problems we all face.

Monday, May 25, 2009

50 Down, 50 More to Go

May 9 was the day of our annual canoe trip at the agency where I work. Volunteers from several different public and private agencies around town made it possible for us to provide an opportunity for our clients and their families to enjoy a 20-30 minute canoe ride followed by a picnic meal and fun in the water playground. With the help of beanbag chairs, wedge cushions, and improvised supports, our therapists are able to get our physically challenged clients seated in the canoes, and with the help of experienced canoeists and volunteer lifeguards, we are able to keep involuntary dunkings down to a minimum.

Since I have an assignment from my photographer acquaintance, I took advantage of the canoe trip to lie down on the dock to take pictures of the canoeists starting out and returning. I also took pictures while sitting on the dock and of course, while in a canoe. The picture above of volunteers helping a family into a canoe is one of the pictures I took, posterized with Photoshop so as to protect people's privacy.

The day after the canoe trip, there was an article in our local paper about the canoe trip, and one of our former clients was quoted as saying that whenever people told him he couldn’t do something, we were there to tell him that he could.

May 9 was also the day of the prayer vigil at St. Anonymous.

I've had a lot of time to reflect on the two events, one secular, one religious, in the weeks since. Two Bible verses keep coming to mind:
And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me'
Which of the two did the will of his father?

Update 9/16/2011: This year the center featured Erick, the client referred to in paragraph 3, in a video for their fundraiser breakfast. It can be seen here, along with footage from the most recent canoe trip.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Famous Last Words

One of the cliches that I find most often puzzles, amuses, and annoys me is the one that goes, nobody ever said on their deathbed, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office".

It puzzles me because I wonder how anyone would know that. 107 humans per minute die around the world. Who is keeping up with all their last words? Is there a Last Words Fairy I don't know about? Okay, my last words will probably be some variation of, "Help me!  I don't want to die", but I don't pretend to know a thing about what the rest of you are going to say.

It amuses me because I have no trouble whatsoever thinking up situations in which someone might very well have said "I wish I'd spent more time at the office" on his deathbed, or hers. Suppose for a minute Joe Philanderer, CEO of Widgets, LTD, gets a yen for his secretary and arranges to leave work early for a rendezvous at her home. Suppose the secretary's husband comes home early, catches the two of them, and shoots them.  Is it totally impossible that Joe Philanderer will expend  his last breath whining, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office"? Or what if he leaves early, gets on the subway, and becomes the victim of a poison gas attack?  I could spend all day coming up with scenarios in which time spent at the office could be a lifesaver.  I'm not saying they're likely, but - 107 people a minute.  That many people makes any unlikely scenario possible eventually. 

But mostly the saying annoys me because of what it says about how the speaker views work. Work to them is not producing a product or service that is going to make someone else's life better, happier, or even possible, it's just putting in time at an office. Producing porn magazines, writing textbooks, designing a more fuel efficient car, designing a scheme to defraud widows and orphans, curing cancer, giving subordinates ulcers - it's all the same thing.  

When you start to think of what people actually do in their worksites, you start to realize what these people are actually saying.  They're saying that no medical researcher ever wished on her deathbed that she had finally found a cure for cancer, no elementary school teacher ever wished he had taught just one more child to read, no ICU nurse had ever hoped to wave goodbye to one more recovered patient, no speech language pathologist ever wished she had taught one more child to say "mama" years after that child's mother had given up hope of hearing the word.  They're saying no auto worker ever wanted to make just one more car that would take some 18 year old to college and no seamstress ever wanted to make one more wedding dress or baptismal gown.  

I don't believe that.  I think our work is or can be our connection to a community that depends on us, our way of loving our neighbors the way we love ourselves.  I hope when I die I can look back on my work life, not as a distraction from the Really Important Things in life, but as a way of finding my self by losing it.

And I hope Joe Philanderer doesn't get shot by his secretary's husband, even if I never do buy any of his widgets.  I mean, he's a scuzzball, but, even so, he should spend more time at the office.