Keep Moving

Today was a grouchy, growls, pain-filled, anxiety-fueled day. I was not my better self. My mom texted to ask how I was and I responded with “I don’t even know. I’m just a stress ball with a migraine in a classroom full of teenagers.”

My desk on an average day.

Students are sensitive to the highs and lows around them. Sometimes they react with kindness and sometimes the teenagerness rises like a wave. Today was the latter; I can’t be too upset by that reaction. Two steps to the side can get you in the weeds pretty easily. I just hope I didn’t make anyone else’s day too much worse. Being a teenager is hard enough.

With the frustration I’ve been experiencing, the difficulty of the day to day is easing in this new space. But I keep reaching for the passion I haven’t had for the last five years. I’m trying. I have good days. I want to do right for myself, for my students. I want them to improve their communication and critical thinking skills….

Lately though, lately, I’ve been considering what else they need to embrace. So many students have an appearance of clinging to ignorance or the party line—whose party line is the question.

I know they have things I’m they are passionate about.

I know they have things they care about.

I know they have things they know about.

How do I get them passionate about reading or writing? How do I help them study all sides of the topics they care about and then communicate what they’ve learned? How do I tap into what they already know and expand it?

These are the things that haunt the back of my mind, that make me feel out of touch.

God—Creator, Sacrifice, & Guide—
Help us in these current storms…
Grant us grace that we may share it with others;
Grant us the wisdom to bring the right supplies,
So we may help those with less than what we have.
Please be our shelter from the wild winds.

Be true…

I’m one for making plans, but I do my best work in between those plans. If I focus on my bright ideas, I trip and fall and fall and fall and fail.

In 2007 I revealed to myself that I can do just about anything if I keep putting one foot in font of another. That how I finished the Portland Marathon in nine-and-a-half hours which is a long time especially for someone in poor physical health. I finished though—2500 people didn’t, but I did. So did fourteen other people behind me. We pushed ourselves beyond any expectation or known limit just to be able to say we finished.

It’s one of the things I hold close to my heart when things seem bleak.

Lydia lived with me in the fourplex my friends dubbed the pit…Beau only knew the house and fell too soon. The Terrors had a couple of rough weeks adjusting to the row house, but they are solidly settled.

Eastern Oregon Gothic (additions 22)

Health and wealth are on the decline while meanness is on the rise, showing the zombie in some people instead of the soul.

Drive on smaller highways and byways, see all the empty buildings calling out to be captured in your camera…careful you don’t get lost in the holes looking out…

It snows it April now, but doesn’t stick in the bowls & valleys that dot the landscape.

It rains on the east side the way it used to on the west side, but the ocean still beats at the shores…

Yetis have been welcomed by their Sasquatch kin in the woods high in the hills and mountains…other cryptids have been spotted on small-town streets late at night, from the corners of eyes.

Teenagers have stopped sneaking out at night; instead they surf the digital waves, becoming pixilated which makes life tougher when they can’t connect back to the analog reality.

Books have started moving in the library and the computers look like they’ve been taking hits—a war of words and information that’s bleeding into the day.

Poetry is on the rise. Teenagers who dig deep into words without sound around them to stop the magic from coming in…

All the colors are bleeding and the desert is drinking them in, changing the landscape something fierce: will the Courts know where they are when they come back?

Music is a language again. All on its own.

Celilo Falls is still there, under all that water…

Waiting for the fish & the spear-fishers to return.

Someday the concrete will be gone…

And the water will be free.

The Columbia calls to people in Boardman…they don’t always go to the home they came from.

A Sonnet

My seniors are reading sonnets and trying their hand at writing one. They’ve had a couple of good discussions. I don’t think they realize that we will be reading sonnets for a couple of weeks. We will be digging into the rhythm and flow, into the meter, into the structure as we jump around the centuries. For now, we are dipping our toes in.

My effort shows how long it’s been since I’ve written a sonnet. I’m asking them to put themselves out there, so I shall do the same.

The world is topsy-turvy;
The monsters all got out.
They took to television with their worry
And led everyone in a huge group shout.
Don’t look under beds;
Don’t look inside closets.
These monsters got elected
By pretending to be hobbits.
The monsters wear suits of gray.
The monsters wear suits of white.
They are the old folks who say
This is wrong. And this is right.
After all, the scariest ones
Have human daughters and sons.

Title ideas are welcome…

Shadow Paths

My brother and I were recently discussing Frank Herbert’s Dune. I read it first in middle school and was utterly enchanted by the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear—it wasn’t their strange religion; it was the fact the I had recently started to always feel The Fear and I didn’t know how to handle it. Many rereads over many years have left me aware of “flaws in the vision”. I could absorb, but not apply The Litany any more than I could apply my favorite Bible verses to help me control my increasing anxiety. I still love Dune—it is the best book in the series.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death
that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass
over me and through me.
And when it has gone past
I will turn the inner eye
to see its path.
Where the fear has gone
there will be nothing.
Only I will remain
Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)

I’m not sure if Octavia Butler was a natural move or not, but I remember Patternmaster and Mind of My Mind; I don’t really remember the last two books in that series, so I’m rereading them. In high school, I read Lilith’s Brood which made me look at aliens and relationships in new ways. I just loved the way she has clearly had such a different “American experience” from me; it suffused her characters. Her stories were so enchanting. I was fascinated by her characters and their choices because the most alien personalities were often the human ones which fit with how I sometimes felt in social and school situations.

Of course my hands and eyes and mind found a copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and what a story for every girl coming of age in the late 1908s/early 1990s. The novel was a standout, much like Dune in the Herbert canon; I didn’t fall into all (or many) of Atwood’s other books the same way (although I keep trying). I did fall right in love with the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments. The world has always been a dark place for women and some of us are lucky we have the freedom and liberty we do have—but if all women, if all people, don’t have those same opportunities to succeed and fail…

I never got into the whole Earthsea thing. I like fantasy. I love magic. I just don’t get those Earthsea books, but I do love Ursula LeGuin’s science fiction and her essays. The way all of these women spin out a current theory just to see what might be is a gift. The Hainish Cycle is just a series of silken threads spun into the far future with fascinating results. I have loved every one of those books. Even the “boring” ones have something fascinating to say. The world building for each story is incredible and so is the way the larger universe is carefully connected.

I stumbled upon The Armless Maiden and Other Tales For Childhood Survivors in the fall of 1996 just a few months into my first year of teaching. It shifted my perspective on teaching, students, and stories in ways that I’m still learning to understand…The Armless Maiden and Other Tales For Childhood Survivors introduced me to Charles de Lint. I fell hard down the Newford rabbit hole and I’ve never regretted it. I absolutely loved the way he updated and used the folklore and myths of where he lived with “modern” life. I suppose that’s why I keep seeking out other authors who have their own modern takes on myth and folklore.

From de Lint I fell into Neil Gaiman. Oh, his stories are dark and bright and live in forest shadows. His stories often feel like liminal spaces. And his descriptions are sometimes too much, but rarely not enough. It’s so interesting to see what else inspires some writers via their blogs or social media feeds. His current photographs from The Isle of Skye are stunning.

NK Jemisin actually reeled me I with The Ones Who Stay And Fight. It is a great story on its own, but when paired with LeGuin’s The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas—well, it’s a great set of discussions. Then I had to start reading her other stories. It must be obvious by now that I am a little fascinated by brilliant people who tell stories well. Especially, world builders.

Along the way I heard an NPR story about a man who taught at a university, who had an MFA (a degree I’ve been debating for a decade since I’d only be in it to become a better teacher). This man was writing a trilogy he’d mapped out with his daughter. I devoured Justin Cronin’s The Passage when it first came out. Vampires were scary and the trilogy was massive. The world Cronin built was as fascinating as the people who inhabited it.

Dot Hutchison writes about a identity in a way that reminds me of the way Hawthorne constantly weaved “being true doesn’t mean don’t change” throughout his stories; he was only really obvious in The Scarlet Letter. Hutchison , however, levels up the idea of truth by exploring identity through the lies we tell to survive. She also brings to life “the blood of the vow is thicker than the water if the womb” as she intertwines her character with each other in supportive, painful, and true ways. The found families in her books don’t (always) replace the families of childhood or blood, they expand and strengthen the safety net.

Seanan McGuire (under every name) not only embraces and explores monsters, but she has the ongoing motif(?) regarding softness that I’m just now really noticing. The amount of research she puts into her books to make the science work, to give the magic rules, to honor folklore blows my mind in the best way. She is a true thief of knowledge who wraps information up in layers of story and it put me in awe.

I’m about out of words, but I would be remiss in not mentioning an author who captured me in a descriptive net with her Binti novellas. Nnedi Okorafor is a gift. Her other stories are just as vivid and engaging. I’m working my way through them in my massive pile of books to be reading. So far, each one has been a little breathtaking and enchanting. I’m also grateful to have learned about Africanfuturism and that not everyone in this world accepts that their gods or spirits are myths.

I don’t know that more than a few people will read this and I don’t even include any of my favorite nonfiction writers or poets. These authors have given me stories I can reread and sometimes teach. They explore truth, trust, affection, friendship, and sacrifice. They allow pieces of themselves (small pieces) to be shared with their readers.

Thank you all for sharing.

I Have Thoughts…

Ruth, Esther, and Job are my Old Testament heroes. They risked life and limb, gave up everything they knew, went bravely forward, asked for help when they needed it, took advice when it was offered, took responsibility for things they didn’t have to—they were early existentialists and they were faithful in their beliefs.

Ecclesiastes is my Book of Wisdom. It is about balance. It is about loyalty, affection, asking for and accepting help, offering help, listening…and did I mention the balance? It gives such solid advice. If we listen at doors and we hear people say things we don’t like—well, haven’t we don’t the same ourselves?

Sometimes we get more than we can handle. Ask for help—accept help. That’s the lesson.

John is my Gospel. It comes from a totally different set of sources than the other gospels. It has so much in common with the other gospels. For me though, “in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” The universe was created with God’s will and chaos was tamed with words—it appeals to me on every level.

I don’t really care about people who say I have to take the whole Bible. Why? The Old Testament was put together as the theological history of the Jews. It’s got some great stories. It’s got a lot of darkness. In the end, God can use anyone—absolutely anyone—to further its purposes. God is beyond human understanding and The Bible is just another way humans try to confine God in the hopes of understanding God. There were once many gospel; each one was The Bible for its group of churches based on the disciple that founded them or the disciple’s followers. Those gospels were written to hold the knowledge of what Jesus did, said, taught. The miracle is how much they share in common—they weren’t meant to be side by side by side.

The Letters.

Oh, the letters.

Why are the letters taught as if they apply to every situation?

Why is Paul taught as though he hated women?

Why are the disciples preached about as though women had no place among them?

Jesus talks to and about women. Paul talks to and about women. If the churches that came out of The Reformation wanted to truly diverge from Catholicism, then why do they still teach Original Sin or Paul as misogynist or a thousand other pieces of doctorine straight from the Latin lectures of pre-Reformation Catholic priests?

I have questions. I’ve taken classes. I’ve read books. I’ve read The Bible, more than once and more than one translation. I don’t read Latin or Hebrew or Sanskrit. I don’t think it’s something my brain will be able to master. So, I have to rely on people gifted in languages and trust their translations. I think I’d have the same questions even if I could read The Bible in its original languages.

Not everything happens for a reason. How I choose to handle things is what matters.

My faith is pretty simple.

  • Jesus was the divine son of God who lived and died and lived again.
  • Jesus taught that the first commandment was love God through our actions and interactions
  • Jesus taught that the second commandment was to love others and to love ourselves through our actions and interactions
  • Jesus lived his life by helping the poor, befriending the “sinners”, opening himself up to the unloved, teaching people how to be their best selves
  • Jesus also lost his temper once at a tree, but most of the time at people trying to take advantage of the economically poor or the poor in mind
  • I’m supposed to follow what Jesus taught. Sometimes I fail. I learn and I keep trying.

Then there’s prayer. I pray often. Sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night thinking of people and I’ll pray for them. Sometimes things will be going terribly and I’ll pray for myself. Sometimes I send up prayers of thanks. Sometimes I pray for family. Sometimes I pray for strangers who are suffering.

Prayer is tough.

I don’t think God cares about my dishwasher or my garbage disposal or the leak in my basement.

I know God cares about me.

I also know that my choices, my decisions, my indecisions have a direct impact on my life—good and bad. Other people’s decisions or choices ripple near and far, impacting my life and the lives of others. Everyone suffers. Everyone gets lucky (or blessed). That’s living. That’s life. I don’t think God exists to make this life easier, but I think God can help me do a better job getting through this life. If I live my beliefs, I will be living as a better person—I will be sharing God’s love.

Personal Icons

I’ve written about them before, probably with more poetry and thought. On the anniversary of my paternal grandmother’s death, I want to take a moment to pay respect to the many women I admire.

Elizabeth Thouvenel lost both of her parents at a young age and helped raise her younger sisters. She ran a boarding house for several years while going to school and raising her sisters. She ceded official control of the boarding house to her middle sister when Grandma went to work for a local real estate company. She invested her savings well, made sure her sisters married well, and then met the love of her life. She live nearly thirty years before meeting an Oregon State Trooper, they were married for thirty years before he died, and she lived a full, fully independent life for nearly thirty years before she needed to turn to family for help.

My maternal grandmother was blessed in wholly different ways. She grew up with an often divorced, often single, mother in a time where no one wanted to admit single mothers existed. She and her younger sister grew into women who loved helping others and turned that into marketable skills. Darlene Reese Fletcher has two great loves in her life and found a way to be happy and fulfilled after more than sixty years of marriage to two men who really understood and loved her. She raised children, influenced a brood of grandchildren, and still finds ways to keep her circle of friends (new and old) vibrant and full of love.

My mother developed gestational diabetes with me; and, it exploded on her between my and my younger brother’s birth. It started to affect her health dramatically the same year I started teaching. I’m impressed by the constant renegotiation she and my father have weaved through for 46 years; I’m amazed by her ability to deal with declining health, and a declining quality of life, with grace and faith. [My father loves her to the point that he would rather be her caretaker than see her taken away, and , luckily, they both have enough mobility to make this continue to work.]

My closest female friends amaze me with their resilience, their willingness to love and lose and love again, their passion for their work. They have raised or are raising (or are helping to raise) some pretty amazing human beings. They are strong and passionate and kind.

Even with the humanity and flaws each of these women acknowledge and deal with, they work hard to be the best versions of themselves just like the women before me in my family.

I just want to thank every woman who does her best with what she has, every woman who tries to teach the children in her care to be true and to be kind and to be their best selves, every woman who stumbles or falls and rises again. They each play a part in who I aspire to be whether it’s risking their hearts, their financial security, or letting go of the plan they thought they had for their lives. Thank you all.

Eastern Oregon Gothic

  • In the middle of a dust storm on I-84 between Hermiston and Pendleton. Ignore the sand walkers you can only see from the corner of your eye. Slow and steady.
  • Coming down Cabbage Hill from LaGrande to Pendleton in fog so thick a wrong turn will take you a dimension over…ignore the lights that aren’t quite diffused enough to be from an actual car or truck. Slow and steady.
  • Walking around Wallowa Lake be careful of the Summer Court and the Winter Court, but always be more careful of Coyote. In the fall, never folllow the elk back to their home at the bottom of the lake. Never disrespect Chief Joseph or his people…
  • Don’t let the theater ghosts follow you home from school…all the schools with theaters have at least one. If you hear their footsteps, just keep walking slow and steady. Don’t look back.
  • Be careful of The Lavender House. Sure everyone goes out there time and again. It’s always the thirteenth trip that crosses wires in your car or in your head. It’s a two hour walk to find cell service after your car breaks down and it’s a rare day of rain, every time.
  • On the North Fork of the John Day river it’s easy to find Bigfoot’s Cabin. Never go in without need or take without need. Always leave a thank you gift, no matter how small. They don’t like rude people—rude people end up picking the wrong mushrooms in the fall.
  • Don’t listen to the wind in The Dalles. Those who do end up out past the cherry orchards or almost knee deep in the Columbia River without knowing quite how they got so far. Slow and steady.
  • When you go to Pendleton for the “world famous” Round Up, never jump the line at The Rainbow; never let the changelings hypnotize you; and skip the third step going down to Crabby’s for a dance. Never ever get lost from your group at The Pendleton Underground—strays don’t always make it out…
  • Ignore the bronze statues on moonless nights. Every small town has a few. You might get stuck on their pedestals while they get to stretch into your life. Slow and steady.

I originally posted this to my tumblr on 08/20/2018

Am I making any sense?

I remember moments from my childhood, but I don’t seem to remember as much as some people do. I know that some of my memories have been fuzzied by time or exaggerated retelling, but I know there’s a lot I’m missing. Tonight, I had dinner with my Aunt and Uncle. Among the many topics we covered was Wild Wild Country and I gained some clarity about why I allowed some memories to drift.

Until tonight, I hadn’t put together the time my dad was really sick when I was little and the time all the salad bars in The Dalles were spiked with salmonella.

Until tonight, I hadn’t put together why I have such a deep issue with something that happened around me from third grade through seventh grade.

My parents did a really solid job of sheltering my brother and I from the increasingly scary reality they dealt with for five years. I’m sure I didn’t want to remember why it was important not to be alone walking to or from school. I ignored the people openly watching our house. I didn’t put all of my father’s little lessons on how to be safe into the right context.

What I did remember was our only elementary school lockdown and the speculations we all had as sixth graders—we were pretty convinced the Rajneesh has returned with their guns. I have to give Mr. Mac credit at least for talking us off that ledge. I also remember that I stopped taking art classes of any kind at WOSC when they purchased some cheap trailers from what was left of the settlement outside of Antelope, Oregon while the art building was being retrofitted for earthquake safety.

I know I’m more than old enough to sit down and watch a documentary series about this on Netflix, but I totally walked away twenty minutes in when Wild Wild Country already started to seem awfully sympathetic to people who really did do some serious (and seriously intentional) damage over the course of building their “intentional community”. My dad was a confirmed name on a Rajneeshpuram hitlist because he was the publisher at The Dalles Weekly Reminder; and he was working closely with his editor to figure out exactly what was going on inside and outside of Antelope. Their peers at other local news organizations probably went through similar issues during those years.

I don’t like seeing this minimized into a simple case of “rural overreaction” or “rural intolerance”. I’ll finish watching it, but not tonight.

The biggest monsters always have human faces.