Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Why Obama's Election Makes Me Jubilant PLUS a Moving Commentary by an Unknown British Woman

I found this commentary online following an article that reported international reaction to the election on the CBS website. It really touched me. Whether you supported Obama or not, I think it will touch you as an American. As an Obama supporter, I am jubilant and optimistic. I hope that the disappointed McCain supporters among you will come to believe that this was right choice, at the right time.

I have raised (almost - Tori is only 17) two biracial children. I married Alix's father, a black man, in 1973. The world was so different then that many people in my own family refused to attend the wedding or even acknowledge it. Thankfully, my family long ago found the heart to accept my three children, black and white, birthed and adopted, but many incidents throughout the years have reminded our family that racism, especially institutional racism, remained part of the American scene.

Obama's victory in this election gives me hope that the spector of racism is diminishing quickly enough that my future grandchildren will not suffer from it. May it be so. (No more racism AND grandchildren someday!!)


From a comment board in The Guardian Newspaper (UK)
Posted by SubstanceD on the CBS website 11-5-08

Sometimes I wish I was an American, in those moments where they seem to stand apart from us. Their endless optimism, their endless desire for change, and movement, and history. They make history, where, as an English woman, I feel I am just you know in it. I sat up and watched Obama become the 44th American President, I watched Americans cry and I cried and I believed in him and his words and the fact that really this is going to have an impact on us all, and to say that we are not involved is really fruitless.

Sometimes I wish I was an American just so I could be proud and wave a flag and not feel like a loser. I wish that I could hold my flag and say you know what, I want my country to be amazing and believe we are, in many more ways that you will never ever understand; and, most of all, I am proud to be English, I am proud to be British.

But I cannot, not just yet, but maybe one day we will chant, Yes we can! and I will teach my children to believe that they can do anything and be anything; and , more over, that we are all safe tonight. And we will live to a dream that those Yanks make seem a little less fluffy and at times like these very real.

Obama, not as an American but as a Human, has given me my Human flag, and for this moment, we live in hope.

Thank you America, and I wish us all a happy and optimistic future!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thoughts on Hurricane Ike

Hurricanes. When we moved to the Texas Gulf Coast 19 years ago, I gave only passing thought to hurricanes. I grew up in tornado country and vividly remember riding with my family to Fargo, North Dakota to look at the aftermath of a big tornado there as a little girl. Two of the sights that awed me that day included a ladies slip streaming in the wind from a tree branch high above the ground and a house opened like a child's toy with the tub and commode gleaming whitely in the after-storm sunshine. After my eighteen years in North Dakota, I spent many more years in Missouri and Kansas, states also very susceptible to unpredictable and dangerous weather.

My next residence, California, did not have tornadoes, but it did have earthquakes, which, like tornadoes, are only marginally predictable. Our first California earthquake scared the beejesus out of me and resulted in two funny (now) family stories. In the first bit of humor, I leaped out of bed and rousted Alix and Lupe (our foster daughter) planting them in the doorway of their bedroom. This is the correct thing to do, but planting them in their doorway meant that they were staring straight across the hallway at Michael who, because he slept nude, was therefore trapped in bed and unable to protect himself from the earthquake!

Leaving Michael, Alix, and Lupe in their awkward triangle, I rushed into Nick's room. Nick was about 6 at the time and sleeping in the upper level of his bunk bed. I snatched him from his covers without a word and stuck him in the doorway of his room before he even had time to wake up. Later, Nick said to me, "Mom, next time we have an earthquake, do you think you could say 'Excuse me, Nick, there's an earthquake.' before you grab me out of bed?"

When we then moved to Houston and people mentioned the possibility of hurricanes, I blithely said, "Well, at least we'll know they are coming."

Turns out that isn't so much help.

When it became apparent that Houston would be involved in Ike to some degree or another, Michael and I made our plans. We had evacuated for Hurricane Rita, joining the maddeningly slow exodus of millions of people, most of whom - like us - should have stayed home. Although we had an enjoyable visit with my brother and sister-in-law in Omaha, getting there and getting home was beyond awful. Why did we evacuate? Because our elected officials told us to. They forgot to mention the now-familiar mantra: Run from water, hide from wind. Why did we run to Omaha? Because when Nick and Julia left New Orleans fleeing Katrina just days before, they planned to be gone 5 days and they didn't get back for 6 months. They lost almost everything. We figured if we were going to be homeless, we should go to a place where we could stay a while without spending our entire retirement fund.

So we fled Rita and swore thereafter that we would not evacuate ever again. We had to prepare to weather Hurricane Ike.

Aside: Isn't it interesting that we use the word 'weather' to indicate coping with the effects of "weather'?

I dutifully acquired enough canned food to last us for ten days. I filled two bath tubs with water for hygiene and etc. I also filled two ten-gallon collapsible containers with drinking water. We moved breakables to safe locations away from windows. Michael taped up the picture window in our bathroom, the only one we felt really worried about because our other windows are mullioned. Michael, with some help from me, cleared everything from our front and back yards that could possibly fly around and hurt someone. We planned to take down and wrap our artwork in plastic, but by the time we got to that, I was too exhausted to care.

A safe spot for us posed a big problem. Our house has no interior rooms unless you count the foyer coat closet and it would not accommodate one of us for very long! We decided to use the bedroom hallway which is enclosed for about six feet and turns out to be the exact width of a twin bed mattress. Victoria's mattress would work, so, on Friday afternoon, we put clean sheets on it and positioned near the hallway for later use.

The coming storm and its television coverage seemed to hypnotize us and we kept watching the reports over and over again while we waited patiently for it to arrive in our area. Ike moved slowly and we live on the northwest edge of Houston, in an unincorporated area of Harris County. From Galveston to our house is one hundred miles and our wait for the storm seemed to last forever.

We did not turn in until 1:00 in the morning. The hallway felt stuffy, so Michael plugged a fan in and pointed the welcome coolness at our pallet. Our cats, Jack and Trixie, seemed baffled by our decision to sleep on the floor. We had moved their litter box into our bathroom from its usual hallway location, for our nose comfort and also to keep them from walking back and forth on top of us during the night. Unfortunately, neither of them stayed put in our bedroom as we had hoped. (To be able to corral them more easily if a disaster occurred.)

By 1:30 a.m. we had snuggled into our cozy bed. Our very cozy bed. Our cozier cozy bed than any we had ever shared in thirty-two years of marriage. Michael and I are not as thin and svelte as we once were. (I have pictures to prove that we were once svelte!) Laying flat, we touched each the hallway walls one side and each other in the middle. Turning onto our sides scarcely helped matters but we soldiered on. At about 2:00 a.m., our power went out. Now fan-less and A/C-less, we added sweltering to cramped. After a horribly miserable hour of dosing and waking, we abandoned safety for comfort.

Our headboard sits directly in front of two large, side-by-side windows. We closed the mini-blinds, piled pillows between the headboard and the blinds, crawled in and stretched out. Compared to the floor of a three-foot wide hallway, it was the Waldorf Astoria.

During this period, the wind rose and the rain pelted our roof harder and harder. We slept in snatches, an hour here, twenty minutes there, rousing and checking out the storm as the noise came and went. Amazingly, the night sky stayed so bright that we could see the storm's action clearly. I had heard how dark it became in Galveston when the storm hit and didn't expect this, but perhaps by the time Ike reached Cypress, the nearly-full moon had risen and was reflecting off the cloud cover.

We never heard the "freight train" sound, but I sat on the bench in the office and watched my neighbors forty-foot tall pine tree wave back and forth like a sparkler in a kid's hand. I watched the rain 'fall' horizontally. Standing by my front door, I felt the pull and push of wind moving the metal door in and out of its frame with odd little sucking sounds occurring at each pull. Our front door has a small entry area that is brick on three sides and open to the yard. Leaves plastered the window on the front door and pine needles danced on our welcome mat.

We worried about our pergola and Michael had tied clothesline rope through the lattice work top in 15 or 20 places to - hopefully - keep it in place. We expected to lose the vines that grew up the supporting beams and across the top. During the height of the storm, we watched out the backdoor window and saw that the clothesline rope hardly moved despite the wind's fury. Apparently, Michael and I built a sturdier structure than we even knew when we put the pergola up two years ago. The vines suffered some, especially the night-blooming and star jasmines which were on the exposed side of the patio, but all-in-all, the plants held up well.
We even had flowers blooming on our bougainvillea within a few days!

During the eye of the storm, when the wind dies down, we ventured out. By this time it was daylight. We pulled on ponchos and opened the front door. We had pulled our cars onto our front terrace the day before, thinking that in front of the house, they would be protected from falling trees, while in the driveway they would be exposed on three sides to danger. They blocked us in a bit, but we crawled through a gap and onto the driveway for our first good look at what had transpired in the first half of the storm.

Walking up and down our block, greeting others who had the same idea, we saw a lot of destruction. Fences were gone; big trees were uprooted, leaving peculiar looking hillocks where front yards had been. Many, many branches littered yards and streets and we saw a few roofs stripped down to bare wood and many others missing shingles. Our neighborhood has lots of pine trees and the usual mat of orange pine needles had been accented with lots of green needles. All the trees looked like fall had suddenly transpired: branches were nearly bare. In our case, we lost shingles in six or eight places,had a water leak inside the house, lost one large tree limb in the back yard (that landed safely in an open area!), had lots of small branches down, and the gardens were flattened. (The elephant ears took a real beating, probably the worst of all the plants. They remain flattened even now, so I suppose we'll have to wait for a crop to grow in.) We lost power for three days and cable, Internet, and phone for nearly ten days.

Pretty soon the wind picked up and we fled to the shelter of our house. Without power, it would eventually get uncomfortable, but while the storm made its way through our area, it stayed pretty cool. Saturday afternoon, the sun came out and so did our neighborhood. Everyone was cleaning up - raking debris into piles, propping up fences where they could, cutting up trees and tree limbs.

By Sunday afternoon, the wild disarray of the storm had disappeared, leaving remnants that I expect will be with us for quite a while. Fences are torn apart and piled on front berms along with other types of debris, like the old tire someone deposited on our berm when we weren't looking. Roofs sport blue tarps. Windows are boarded up. People aren't supposed to repair things anymore than absolutely necessary so the insurance adjuster's can see the damage and once seen, probably won't get repairs done until they get checks in hand, so I suppose the tattered look will be around for a while.

Texas insurance policies changed after Hurricane Rita and now insurance deductibles for "tropical cyclones"
are twice as high as the deductibles for any other type of damage. That means many people will not get covered, including - most likely - us. Michael had hoped for a new roof, but the adjuster who finally came by yesterday, says it will be "just repairs" for the roof and the foyer ceiling. With a deductible close to $4,000, we will most likely be paying for this out of our own pocket despite having insurance. That said, I wouldn't trade places with any of the poor souls who had more severe, even catastrophic, damage. We were lucky to be spared serious loss or injury.

Now that I have added hurricanes/tropical cyclones to my list of weathered weather, I can truly say I will be happy to go another nineteen years without seeing my next one!

I had a lot of difficulty getting this blog written. Although the date says 9-18 (when I actually started it), I found I did not want to keep working on it. In the weeks since the storm, I have felt terribly fatigued and down. The aftermath of the storm includes an emotional let down - from being ramped up on adrenaline? - and physical exhaustion. Many of my friends report these same feelings. I probably won't write any more about Hurricane Ike now that I've gotten it out of my system. I'd like to have a happier topic next time!!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Middle-of-the-Night Randomness and Naughty Sock Monkeys

Once again, I cannot sleep. Insomnia is a plague for me. On the nights that I go to sleep and stay asleep, I feel so blessed. This night, I went to bed at 10:55 pm, turned off the lights at 11:18 pm, awakened at 12:55 am (due to various acrobatics involving my husband and our very large cat Jack). After an obligatory potty stop and drink of water, I slipped back into bed and tried every go-to-sleep trick I know. At 2:01 am I gave up and got up. When this happens, I usually get back to bed about 5 or 6 am. This particular morning, I have to be ready to leave the house at 6:45 am. Not a very promising start to my day.

There is this wonderful moment at bedtime when one reclines against her pillow and drifts away into the void. Or, there is this terrible moment when one is teetering on the edge of the void and suddenly her brain kicks in and says, "Whoa, look at that, you're about to fall asleep. Way cool. I don't wanna. Let's play."

My Let's Play brain is inventive and creative. Some of my best work originated in the middle of the night. So I got this idea that if I actualized my creativity during waking hours, I would be able to sleep at night. The entire plan for creating my recent "Naughty Monkeys Peep Show" altered book came in the dark of night. I got up and wrote out a 13-point plan of action that translated into some remarkable art.

Let's talk art. I love to construct things. Always have. I am an architect in my soul and could have been an architect in real life if I had been born a little later than 1950. Math and science were verboten for us females. I found myself steered firmly into feminine jobs, graduating from Webster College with a degree in English lit and a teaching certificate for grades 1 - 12 in Missouri. Fortunately, I stumbled on to an exciting graduate program at Washington University in St. Louis called Technology and Human Affairs. This now-defunct program (it lives on as Engineering and Public Policy, but I wouldn't be able to get into it anymore with my liberal arts degree and paltry science and math background) excited me tremendously and gave me the tools that resulted, after two intermediate jobs, in my career in telecommunications.

While at Wash U. I discovered architecture. More to the point, I discovered a fabulous book titled "The Universal Traveler" by Don Koberg and Jim Bagnall among the School of Architecture textbooks. "TUT" is subtitled: "a soft-systems guide to creativity, problem-solving, and the process of reaching goals." I bought it then, lost it along the way, and got a new volume from Michael for Christmas last year. Thank you, Michael!!

Anyway, that got my attention, but I was too far gone down my educational path (in graduate school and already making up for missing bits of undergraduate education, like taking graduate Economics - two semesters of undergraduate economics in a single semester) to pick up the requirements I would need for architecture. But I bought books on home design and building your own home and anything else that caught my eye about how buildings are constructed and how they turn out. I have a tidy little collection and would happily show them off or recommend them if anyone is interested.

That's the long way around to my point - sorry! I love to construct things. I can figure out what's wrong with stuff by looking at it and reverse engineering it. Sometimes Michael gets frustrated when he has struggled with a repair, let's say, and then I come along, study it for five or ten minutes, and then say something like, "Oh, see this widget over here? I think if you moved it over there, the whatsit will go back in its track and work again." And it does.

So, WIVLA announced its annual print show at the Museum of Printing History in Houston. Theme? Unabridged Edition. What the hell does that mean? I really struggled with the theme because it just didn't translate into artwork for me. When I asked others about it, the general response was that the theme didn't matter for this show (it is a great WIVLA tradition that even beginners are usually welcomed into) and I should just do whatever I wanted. Something printed, of course, and preferably something embellished or altered after printing.

Still, I struggled for meaning. Unabridged Edition. GGGAAHH!!!!

Until on insomniac night when it all came to me and I developed my construction blueprint for my Naughty Monkeys. I would alter a book - the edition - making it into an old-fashioned peep show and I would put a titillating photograph inside - the unabridged part. Ah, but it is for the MPH and sometimes they have children tour, and there have been issues about "fleshy" photos in the past. Besides, who would I take a titillating picture of? I couldn't see my friends or family signing up to be featured in a peep show.

But I have a lovely sock monkey couple, beautifully dressed, thus beautifully available for UNdress, and, as far as I can tell, sock monkey sex doesn't count as pornography!! I did do research on the subject. There are an amazing number of sock monkey websites (who knew??) but any naked sock monkeys I saw (and I saw a lot of them) were innocents.

Oh, I should mention YouTube. There is sock monkey porn on YouTube, but it is of the most puerile and unimaginative sort. Themactically, they involved drunk (or silly) teen-agers, sock monkeys, and sock monkey tails waved around between sock monkey's legs. Nothing like my high-class peep show.

I also researched peep shows, discovering that the shows from the olden days, like the 1904 World's Fair, were much more elegant and well-appointed than modern peep shows. Many photographs of peep show booths and peep show pictures are available for the canny researcher. Apparently stereoptic shows (where you get a 3-D effect) were popular when live women were unavailable.

I devised a construction plan for cutting a door into the front cover of my book, removing the center of about half the pages to create the space for my "show," "papering" the front and back cover with torn tissue pieces (small and a pain to work with, but I didn't know that until too late), hinging the door and putting a doorknob on it ... well, a 13-point plan to create my peep show. I also had to stage and photograph the actual sock monkey pornography.

I felt pretty creepy making them do "stuff," but they didn't object and it was for art's sake. Although there is a fine point to be made about whether sock monkeys can technically be pornographic since they are toys and they don't have the requisite parts for anything sexual. Well, that's a discussion for another day.

Some insomniac nights have better outcomes than others. Tonight I am writing this blog, so you will have to judge how good the outcome was.

I did create the "Naughty Monkey Peep Show" complete with an attached collection box for quarters. (Based on my research, 25 cents a peep is about right for the olden days). My dremel came in very handy for several parts of this art project. I love my dremel. The first attempt failed because I had problems drilling some holes that I later decided were unnecessary. But book two turned out beautifully.

Sad to say, the curator of the MPH, Amanda Stevenson, rejected the piece for the WIVLA show. Although, she told me in an email that she liked it, she also said it didn't fit in the show because it was "architectural and interactive." Being bumped from the show just about broke my heart, but I LOVED the architectural and interactive part. Yes, I am an architect, if only of my own small constructions. But I love them and they work, and people can do things with them - interact by opening the door and peeping at the sock monkeys inflagrante delicato.

I'd like to show you pictures, but that would involved going to another computer and turning it on, and , hey, its 4:11 am and I don't feel like it. But I will put photographs up soon. I have also decided to make some more naughty monkey shows, so stay tuned. At the moment, I don't have the right books to desecrate. I need hardbacks around 6x9 or 6x10 and at least an inch thick. They will not be returned and they will be cut up, so the books have to be junk. I used an old alumni directory for the original peep show. If you have books and live in the area (or want to mail them to me) let me know and something can be arranged!!

Now I am going to spell check, publish, and go back to bed, "to sleep, perchance to dream ...." as the Bard famously said. Or in my case, perchance to sleep!!

Look for future posts on such troubling topics as the raging pit bull in lipstick (her words, not mine) who happens to be running for Vice President on the Republican ticket.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

July 1st Miscel-lanie

A new month, it must be time for a blog entry. I think about entries quite often, but usually in the middle of the night when I can't sleep but don't want to get out of bed. When I do write an entry, I just can't remember all the great ideas I had at 2:00 am. Such is life ...

A few notes come to mind. One of my older brothers had two strokes recently. He is 61, a year older than my husband and he owns/drives a big rig. He happened to be on the road, but not driving, when it happened and fortunately, he is doing well now. His speech is impaired a bit and he has hired someone else to drive his truck while he rides shotgun, but overall, he seems okay. But I am not prepared for my parents, in their late eighties, to have strokes, let alone my siblings. We are all getting older, a fact that I know intellectually, but my inner child refuses to grow up and I don't feel like I'm as old as I truly am. Now, I hear some people making snide comments about my age, but I always thought 58 years old was a lot older than I am now that I am a month short of 58. I don't feel old, but Tim Russert died last month at 58 of a heart attack. My brother had two strokes. While I don't feel so old, I do feel vulnerable.

New topic. Tori seems to be settling in to her new environment. I am driving up to get her and bring her home for the 4th of July weekend on Thursday and we will see then how well she really is doing. But she has changed her nickname from Tori to Vicky. When I call and ask for Victoria, the girls yell out "Vicky." It sounds very strange to my ear. The summer I turned 16, I had the good fortune to attend a summer school program at the Mt. Herman and Northfield Schools in Massachusetts. Over that summer, I turned 16, had my first seriously returned infatuation, and changed my name from Mary Lane to Lane. I doubt that my mother had the same difficulty with the change that I am experiencing because she never called me Mary Lane until I went to Catholic school in the second grade. Up until then, I had been Lanie or Lane, but Sr. Theodosia, my second grade teacher, refused to call me Lane because it was not a saint's name. I refused to answer to Mary - honestly, I didn't recognize the name as belonging to me - and eventually my mother convinced the teacher to call me Mary Lane. Oh, how I hated that name, especially the way it slumped into one word that sounded like a drunk talking ... Marahlane ... Anyway, my mother told me often that she regretted including the Mary part of my name first and wished she had named me Lane Marie instead. So I believe she found it easy to switch back to Lane. Vicky is a little harder for me. It is a family name in both Michael's family and mine (a niece and a cousin respectively), but it has never been Tori's name. Oh, well. I will have to change with the times - eventually. I'm not ready yet.

My friends Marilyn and Ken had a meet and greet for Larry Joe Douherty, our Democratic candidate for Congress, at their home on Sunday. I enjoyed meeting Mr. Douherty. He is quite polished - not the country-bumpkin his Texan name and twang might suggest. This was my very first meet and greet and I must say it tickled me to be able to ask direct questions of the candidate and hear the answers up close and personal. Our congressional district is gerrymandered beyond belief, one of the abominations created by Tom Delay et al when they stole Texas Democratic seats a few years ago. (How the mighty have fallen. I hope Tom Delay gets every single thing he deserves. None of it will be pleasant.) My son used to live in Austin, Texas, 160 miles from Houston. He lived in the same congressional district as Michael and I because of the gerrymandering. Austin was too liberal, so the Republican stretched the district sideways all the way to Harris County (Houston area) to pull in the ultra-conservative, religious right voters we have to live with here. The Delay thugs got away with murder, but the tables are turning now and we have Shrub to thank for a lot of it. Life is funny when you least expect it!

I have much more on my plate, but it is 11:02 PM and I am trying to get to bed at a reasonable time these days, so I must sign off.


Monday, June 23, 2008

The Artist's Way and Robbery on the Electric Highway

Have you heard of The Artist's Way (TAW) by Julia Cameron? It is a program for encouraging one's creativity and artistic growth. I first became aware of TAW in 1996, when an acquaintance invited me to be a part of a group of other artists, all strangers to me, following the program. Five of us signed up for the 12-week adventure and two of those five are close friends of mine to this day. In fact, the three of us, plus three additional people, have recently started another TAW group and are re-exploring our creativity.

The first time I did the program, it sent me off into a glorious whirlwind of unexpected creativity. I hope the same thing happens this time. Each week, we read a chapter and complete tasks associated with them; each day we write three morning pages (MP), journal entries where we just dump all of our gripes, miseries, etc. so that we can get on with our day unimpeded. Once a week, we are each supposed to take our artist-self on a date.

I find it difficult to think of artist dates for myself. Last week, I made cotton candy with my very own cotton candy machine. I loved it. Michael and the kids gave me the cotton candy machine many years ago as a gift and I haven't used it in a while, so spending an evening making and eating the fluffy, sugary stuff tickled me pink. I have recently seen special sugar advertised for cotton candy "floss" and wonder if it is much different from fine granulated sugar. (Besides costing more, that is.) I use extra fine sugar and I dye it with a little food coloring so that it is colorful.

If anyone knows about cotton candy floss sugar, please let me know.

This week, TAW instructs us to engage in reading deprivation all week. Yes, you heard me: know reading for a week. I can hardly bear it. The concept is that if an artist is NOT reading, said artist can show up and do something more creative. Actually, Cameron has a point. I can get so caught up reading that I neglect not only my creative pursuits, but also the basic necessities of life. (Imagine me in my bathrobe, lounging in bed, a half-eaten sleeve of saltine crackers and an empty glass of water in the vicinity. It is NOT a pretty picture.)

Meanwhile, the house is uncannily quiet.Tori has been gone for one week. Everything is tidy, quiet, and predictable around here. I thought it would be terrible, but I quite like it, at least after a week. We have had several phone conversations with her and she is starting to adjust. They are teaching her how to drive - that started today - so I am sure she will be happy (for a while anyway).

It is nice to have a sedate entry after several riled up one. Reminds me of that curse: "May you live in interesting times." My times are not so interesting at all at the moment.

Oh, except for my electric bill. I forgot tell mention that item. It did rile me up plenty. You know, we had a hot May and so far, it has been a hot June. Not much rain, lots of lawn and garden watering required. So I didn't flinch too badly when I opened my usual $35 water bill today and found it was $52.17. (And the day I forgot to turn the water off for several hours could have played into the total.) But the next bill I opened, my electric bill from Dynowatt, almost caused me to have a stroke. Instead of something around $150, what I expected, it was $496.02!!!!! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I kid you not. My cost per kilowatt hour skyrocketed from 16 cents to twenty-five and a half cents.

When I finally got through - no doubt their phone lines were burning up today - the pleasant young man explained that their cost per megawatt hour had gone up from $100 to $4,000 THIS MONTH. Oh, he did mention that he would be glad to put me on contract and lower my rates ... (It is odd, don't you think, that if I sign a contract their cost is lower than if I don't?) I decided to check out the official Texas electric company choice web site and discovered that , despite the humongous rate increase Dynowatt claimed, everyone else seemed to have lower prices. I eventually went back to Reliant for almost one-half of Dynowatt's rate. Yes, I signed a contract, but at least I didn't feel shanghaied into it.

I recommend checking now to see what your charges for the next bill will be based on. Surely some other electric company is going to have a big rate increase, too.

Keep cool - but not too cool!


Friday, June 06, 2008

Don't Worry, Be Happy

My natural cheerfulness reasserts itself!! The sunny summer days do not allow for feeling miserable and besides, I solved part of my problem with the Fanged Frog (FF). Tori kept expressing her need to ask questions of the FF, to discover information about her infancy, so I pulled out her baby book (which I had been saving for the right moment and kind of forgot about), sat down with her at the kitchen table, fetched the tissues she requested, and comforted her as she read through it, looked at the pages and the pictures, and asked me questions.

The baby book apparently met her immediate needs regarding the FF. I wish I had thought of it sooner, but perhaps had she seen it before she felt this emotional crisis, it would not have had the impact, or given the comfort, that it has. We are talking about other ways to capture her early childhood - a digital photo album perhaps. I do have more pictures from the early years that I haven't shown her and they will be great for the next crisis.

The FF had some pictures of Tori on her My Space that she stole from Tori's My Space or got from her own mother (or mother's house after Marilyn died in December). I have gotten My Space central to agree to remove them based on copyright violation, so hopefully that will happen soon.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I have started participating in an Artist's Way process group for 12 weeks with some wonderful long-term friends - Lynn and Carol - and some new friends - Jan and Luisa. We meet at a Denny's from 10:30 to noon once a week, then eat together. Just two sessions already have me thinking more positively about my creative work. And Michael is working with us. Although he can't come to the meetings, he did join us for lunch today.

Beyond that, I am in quite a state of flux and anticipation. Any moment, Tori's new school (where she will board starting in a few weeks) should be giving us a start date for her, which means I can't make any reliable plans for myself. I am also spending a lot of time shopping for clothes with her. (The school has a list of required clothing.) Do you know how hard it is to find chinos for a teen-aged girl in June in Houston? We have been attacking this shopping list for two months and still have only three of the required five pair of chinos. I also must provide a fall jacket and winter coat. Let us hope those items can be added in the fall because they aren't around anywhere except thrift stores right now.

What will it be like for me without Tori at home? Hard in many ways. Tori and I have spent so much time together after school and summers in the last 14 years that I can't imagine my home without her. It will be very quiet, I can tell you that. I will miss her noise.

Tori plays the flute and the piano. She sings. She plays music too loudly. She talks on the telephone, plays music, and talks to me all at the same time. She bangs every door or cupboard she touches. She knocks things over. Tori is a bundle of auditory overload. How quiet my home will be without her. It makes me almost sorry for yelling at her to turn the music down!! Almost sorry ...

She is a hugger and I will miss those hugs. She is a weeper and I will miss comforting her. She is a laugher and I will miss her belly laughs. She is exuberant and my life will be flat without her.

Waiting for the letter or phone call about school is hard. I have had a constant knot in my stomach lately. I tell myself that this is for her own good - and it truly is - but it seems hard to remember in June the pyrotechnical events of last January that started us down this road to boarding school. It tempts me to just say things have settled down and she can stay home, but I know that would be a mistake for her and for us. So I prepare as best I can for the quiet days ahead by anticipating the creative work I can accomplish in those empty hours.

Despite my anxiety about Tori's departure, I do feel cheerful; I just can't help myself.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Fanged Frog Returns

The week after our return from Nick's graduation should have been lovely, but it has brought us more worries. Sunday a week ago, the very day we returned from our wonderful trip to New Orleans, Victoria found her birth mother (Rana) on My Space. This was not an accident, as Rana explained to Victoria in a subsequent email. She created her My Space in the hopes that Tori would find it and, since she had it listed on Tori's aunt Stacy's My Space, it seems inevitable that the connection would be made.

I guess some explanation is necessary for this to make sense. Our adoption of Tori was totally open because we actually knew her and Rana before the idea of adoption ever came into being. We got caught up trying to help Rana, a person who at the time could not benefit from a helping hand. She proved to be a disaster for us, stealing from us and wreaking emotional havoc on our family. She left two-year-old Tori at our house while she tried to find a place to live and a job, but after Rana hit Tori with a belt buckle across the shoulder during a weekend visit, leaving a terrible bruise, CPS decided to take Tori into protective custody. That started the series of events that lead to our adoption of Tori when she was four years old.

We tried to allow contact with Rana at first, but it did not work out because Tori was terrified of her. We did keep Tori in regular touch with her grandmother, aunt, and other extended family members, even though this created a lot of emotional turmoil for everyone involved. (Keeping Victoria in contact with her family was a promise I had made to Rana, and I kept it.)

All of Tori's various mental health professionals over the years have told us not to allow Rana contact with Tori because of the detrimental effect it has had on her the times we tried it. We have followed that advice. We never told Tori bad things about her mother - a lesson I learned many, many years ago after I divorced my first husband - but Tori's grandmother told her plenty of bad things in graphic detail and "living color" as the TV promos used to proclaim during my childhood.

Now Rana is back on the scene and she is the one dishing the dirt. Too bad she isn't dishing the truth. Tori has been variously hysterical, weepy, and conciliatory about the situation. My husband is very distressed and I am caught in the middle between Tori's desire to see Rana and Michael's determination that that will never happen. I see both points of view. I know that Rana has been an extremely toxic person in the past, but I don't know if she has changed (or not) over the last decade. I also know that the draw of a birth parent is very strong, the need/desire to know one's roots. And even though her family history has not been a secret from Tori, Rana owns the mystique of fantasy. She is the "real mother."

I also know that Rana manipulates everything and everyone, that she is a masterful reader of other people (street smarts and con artist finesse par excellence) and that she can look like Mother Theresa to anyone for a few hours at a time. I have already gotten a whiff of her sad story, the one she has undoubtedly been practicing for the last fourteen years, because she told Tori in a My Space email (before I cut that off) that Rana's mother and I turned her in to CPS unfairly because her mother wanted to get back at her and I wanted another child.

For those of you who did not know me then, I was desperately ill, in and out of hospitals, and in no way whatsoever was I looking for another child. Michael and I fought over the decision to take Tori in because he was so concerned about my health, but I felt like we had to do it, had a moral requirement to do it, for Tori. CPS was ready to place her with strangers and I didn't want her to disappear into the system.

OMG, when I think of all the struggles we have had since we first met Tori and Rana, it is frightening and astonishing all at the same time. But here we are. Tori is nearly seventeen. She is a kind-hearted, affection girl most of the time. She is going to graduate from high school in a year and plans to go to community college. At the same age, her mother was in the custody of the Texas Youth Commission for drug dealing and prostitution and, upon her release to a half way house at eighteen, would promptly get pregnant with Tori. Our daughter's life has turned out so much more hopefully than Rana's and I fear that recontact with Rana will knock her backwards.

The most terrifying part of raising Tori right this minute is her current fascination with having a baby. She talks about it all the time, how having a baby would give her someone who would always love her, how wonderful and cute baby's are, etc. It sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy leading up to a pregnancy to parallel her birth mother's pregnancy with her. I keep pushing the down side and encouraging her to think about college, career, husband, before she thinks about a child. Is that falling on deaf ears? I don't know. So far, she has not had that kind of relationship with a boy, so that gives me hope.

Yesterday, she had her last shot of three to protect her from the viruses that cause cervical cancer. I am so happy she could get that protection. I wish someone would invent a vaccine against bad choices. She needs that, too. We probably all do ...

Anyway, this situation is a big worry for me right now and I am struggling to find a balance between Michael, Tori, and "the forces of darkness" out there. It is interesting that Rana, in Spanish, means frog, and that there is a frog whose Latin name is almost identical to Rana's first and last names. The translation of this Latin name is "fanged frog." How apt. The fanged frog is back in our lives. How I wish that I could say to Tori today what I could say to her a week ago, "I don't know where Rana is. She knows where we live and she could contact us if she wanted to."


Monday, May 12, 2008

Life is Sweet: Mother's Day and Graduation All in One Week

Could life be any sweeter? Sunday my family feted me in grand style to show their love for me and this coming Saturday my son Nick will graduate from Tulane University with his degree in Political Economy. What wonderful events to bracket a week with. I feel blessed.

Mother's Day started a special greeting from my friend Dionne. Then I spent some time leisurely perusing the newspaper in bed with a cup of coffee. Mid-morning I got a phone call from Julia, Nick's fiancee, wishing me a happy Mother's Day. And later on, Michael prepared a luscious brunch featuring baked, cream-cheese filled, nut-topped, French toast, bacon, and orange juice. While he got brunch ready, Victoria gave me her gift: a video she created for me with photographs of her as a little girl, some sweet music, and wonderful captions. It made me cry. When we went in to brunch, I found a gorgeous, pink-tinged, white hydrangea with four large balls of blooms sitting on the table.

After brunch, I dragged my sated self to the living room and finished reading the paper, then jumped in the shower to freshen up for company. Alix and Adam came over in the early afternoon and indulged me by playing cards - a fun new game I found called aBridged - and then starting a new jigsaw puzzle with me. We had a very good time, although the thousand-piece puzzle will require a lot more work before I finish it.

While we were playing cards and working puzzles, past-times Michael doesn't enjoy - he fixed dinner, gracing us with rib eye steak, baked potatoes, and a lovely fresh salad. This is the first time he has fired up his grill in several months and the results can only be described as mouth-watering. Everyone had a dish of ice cream for dessert before Alix and Adam had to go. Later in the evening, I received a Mother's Day call from Nick.

I felt pampered and loved and cherished all day long. Thank you to everyone who made sure I got the most from this holiday! And I am blessed by the fact that my mother is still alive and I get to talk with her regularly and see her at least once a year. I sent her a lovely hand-thrown bird feeder shaped (and colored) like a robin's egg for Mother's Day although she told me she was hesitant to use it as a bird feeder because it is so pretty.

The most wonderful part of this cornucopia of Mother's Day blessings is that it doesn't have to be Mother's Day for me to be treated so well. My family shows me these kindnesses on a regular basis. Michael is always generous with his time and attentions, solicitous of my needs and desires; Tori is a tender-hearted young woman who wants nothing more than to please the people she cares about. My adult children and their partners are wonderful to me, too, as are my many friends.

If it sounds like I'm bragging, I am! I have a lot to brag about when it comes to my loved ones and friends.

Add to that the upcoming festivities at Tulane University and I am a thoroughly happy woman. Nick has worked hard to get his degree and it has not been easy for him. He persevered, though,even paying for most of it himself. It will be a real joy to watch him receive that diploma this Saturday. Julia will be there, along with her mother and sister, so I expect we will have a lot of fun over the weekend. (Not to mention that it is our first visit to New Orleans.)

I am really feeling great about life these days.


Monday, April 14, 2008


All my recent serious thinking and writing dissuades me from tackling another BIG topic. So I've decided on miscel-Lanie, that special category of stuff that comes to my restless mind. Foremost is a big topic, but I won't give it big treatment today because I couldn't sleep last night and I am too unfocused.

Dateline: Texas A&M University, last weekend, Fay Lectures in Jungian Psychology. Michael and I attended together and heard four scintillating - but sometimes baffling - lectures by Joe Cambray on synchronicity. Cambray's lectures will be a book by next year and I probably need to read it to understand a lot of his points, but I got the gist of it. My No. 1 favorite new knowledge from the weekend? This Indian myth, written 2,500 or so years ago, apparently is an explanation of modern field theory physics. (See aside.) That is astonishing in itself, but I fell in love with the illustrations. If you search Indra's Net or Indra's Pearls, you will find a lot of fabulous renderings.

Aside: Indra's Pearls reside on a great net that spans the heavens. At each juncture of the net, there lies a pearl. Each of these pearls reflects all the other pearls into infinity. Through this reflection, each pearl is connected to every other pearl, thus a change to one reflects in all. FYI, Indra is a male god also known as the King of the Gods.

This weekend, Michael and I saw a play - Under the Lintel - at the Alley Theatre in the small theater downstairs. We have season tickets and have sat in the same place for several years. Right in the front row immediately next to one of the actors entrances. I sit on the corner and have had everything under the sun walk, run, or be carted by in close proximity, including a fellow trussed upside and bleeding from a torture session. This time nothing came in that way, but the actor exited there.

John Tyson did a great job of portraying a meek librarian turned into a quester of epic proportions as he sought the mythical Wandering Jew. Very well done, a globe trotting mystery played out in one room with one actor. Bravo.

I began a drawing course two weeks ago and am now entertaining myself immensely by making fairly accurate renderings of spheres, cubes, cones, and pyramids. Also, eggs. I'm quite good at drawing eggs with their shadows. Today I am going to tackle a crumpled piece of paper which I understand is much harder. I always wanted to be able to toss off a drawing that looked good, but I have learned in two lessons that planning is important in drawing and I will probably not be "tossing" anything soon!

I have cat trouble. My two cats are getting on - both 14 years-old this spring. Trixie is a small tortoise shell who is extremely timid. I adopted her out of a paper bag that the SPCA had put in her crate for her to hide in. I hate to think of what her early kittenhood was like. After 14 years of extreme patience and coaxing on my part, she has actually laid on my lap three times in the last year. She also started pooping right outside her litter box in the last year. That does not make me happy.

Jack is our big cat. Recently he's lost some weight and is down to 18 pounds. Jack, unfortunately, is the lap cat! When he sits on your lap, you are pinned down, so you better have the phone and anything else you need in handy reach. Jack is unhappy about something and he is letting us know by peeing places that are inappropriate, like my new sofa. Thank goodness I had it scotch-guarded just after it was delivered. Oh, and both of them throw up, Trixie on the carpet in my bedroom even though the whole rest of her domain is tiled!

So, if you have any advice on how to cure these problems. We have exhausted our resources and have no more ideas. I'm ready to chuck them both - which creates astounding guilt in me - but Michael really, really doesn't want me to do that. Ain't we got fun?


Friday, April 04, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Me

In April 1968, I was a 17-year old white girl in Grand Forks, North Dakota, a high school senior at a very small Catholic high school. My combination of naïveté, sheltered upbringing, and idealism couldn't have been stronger. The only black people I actually knew were two fellow students whose parents brought them in from the Grand Forks Air Base to attend my school. One, a handsome and fair-skinned boy who excelled at athletics, became the darling of all the girls and was way out of my league socially. Another, Caroline, had a dark complexion and a plump figure. Quiet and reserved, she and I became friends.

During my first and only visit to Caroline's house on base, I had my come-to-Jesus moment of understanding that race made no difference. Up 'til then, she had been my exotic friend, part of the "other," a "them" in the age-old game of "us against them." But when my parents dropped me off at her home, something miraculous happened to me. Caroline's family had a dog, a big, friendly, German Shepherd. That dog acted just like all the dogs my family had ever had - it loved Caroline and Caroline's family. In a flash of insight, I realized that the dog did not know this family was black, it just knew that they loved him. And I understood that they were not, in fact, different in any meaningful way from me and my family. Our dogs loved us, too.

Perhaps this sounds silly to a more sophisticated audience, but I lacked sophistication then and for many years after. It is hard to be sophisticated when your world is so small, when life is so predictable, when everyone around looks essentially just like you. I had an intellectual knowledge of the Civil Rights movement and I had opinions about Civil Rights (more on these topics later), but until Caroline, all that knowledge in my head, not in my heart. My friendship with Caroline, and especially that moment of insight with her dog, moved Civil Rights from my head to my heart and soul.

My parents supported the Civil Rights movement. Among their peer group, they were liberals, standing up against discrimination and the plight of black people in the South. (For us, in North Dakota, race seemed like a Southern issue, although it obviously was not.) I vividly remember the first march on Selma, Alabama, led by Dr. King. My father brought our television set out to the dining room so we could watch news coverage during dinner. Watching TV during dinner had literally never happened at our house. I don't even remember it during the days following the Kennedy assassination two years earlier. But there the TV sat, itself in black and white, showing a valiant struggle of blacks against whites and the terrible results.

My father said, after watching for some time, "If I was any kind of a man, I would be there marching with them, but I'm too afraid. I have seven children who depend on me and I am too cowardly to take the risk." A year or two earlier, my dad had been offered a fantastic career opportunity that would allow him to get his Ph. D. in microbiology with full time pay and then go to work for the company that sponsored the post-graduate work. The job required him to move us to Raleigh, North Carolina. Although I know he wanted the job very badly, Dad declined it because he feared taking the family into the South at that volatile time.

From my mother especially, I had long understood that racism and prejudice were wrong. We were not allowed to use any type of racial or ethnic slur in our speech, including the word "gyp," as in, "He gypped me out of ten dollars." The reason, my mother told us, was that gyp was a slur against gypsies and she did not allow its use in her house any more than she allowed n*****.

Aside: My upbringing was so strong, and my adult experiences with race so vivid, that I just can't bring myself to write the n-word in my blog. But I did hear the n-word several times, from two of my five brothers, at my parents' home after I grew up, married a black man, and had a bi-racial daughter. One used it as a dig, saying stuff to me like, "How are things in n*****town?" when I would come home to visit. The other yelled at me to "Take you n***** kid and get the hell out of Grand Forks." right before he threw me against my child's playpen and broke my ribs in four places. My relationship with a black man and my daughter changed everything about race in my family of origin. For many years, the changes were negative, but eventually, they turned positive. That's another blog entry.

Now, for Martin Luther King, Jr. His assassination on this day forty years ago rocked me, but it also hardened me against racism. The idealism that had been cracked by Kennedy's killing, fractured at King's. And when Bobby Kennedy was shot just two months later, I almost despaired. This day is sad because of the death itself, because of the riots that it engendered, and because of all the hope that it extinguished in people of all colors and races and nationalities, even in the whitest of us, a Swedish-German-English school girl from North Dakota. But it also cemented our resolve to change the world and launched something bigger than even Martin Luther King, Jr. His tragic death created even more action than his inspirational life had and, although he would have deplored the violent methods some people used, I think he would have approved overall of what we have accomplished in forty years.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Notes from Inside My Bathroom Vanity

I listened to Michael’s unhappiness increase from grumbling to roaring, with a liberal helping of swearing heaped on. The faucet on his side of the bathroom vanity started leaking a few days earlier and had created quite a mess, so we had a hot date at Home Depot and picked up two new faucets. (The general intention at the time was that we can't upgrade his without upgrading mine.) Michael’s temper arose from his attempt - apparently futile - to install the first faucet.

When the noise level became alarming, I checked in with him to see if I could help in any way. His exasperation showed through quite clearly when he told me no. The man practically rolled his eyes.

Aside: A little history is in order here. Michael knows how to do handyman stuff, but he does not accomplish those types of tasks elegantly. It always takes much longer than anticipated; it always requires at least one trip to the hardware store in the middle of the project; and it always generates a mess of epic proportions. On the other hand, I don't necessarily know how to do all the tasks, but I have an intuitive understanding of the mechanics of things. I can look at them and unravel the puzzle of how they go together, figure out what the problem is, and make at least a good start at fixing them. The way I see it, Michael works the brute strength and training aspect while I work the problem solving and finesse aspect. Together, we make a great team.

Okay, we make a great team, but only if Michael lets me be on his team. And when his team is losing, he apparently doesn't want his wife coming in and saving the day. At least, that is how it seemed on Saturday.

I'll spare you the details, but bottom line, it turned out that Michael needed to get inside the vanity cabinet and he did not fit. (I think the not fitting made him as angry as any of it.) So I crawled in and, haltingly, did the work. Of course, all the fittings were over tightened and wouldn't come off. While I fit in the cabinet, my brute strength quotient is fairly low and therefore the struggle went on for hours.

I know many of my readers can't help but ask what it feels like to crawl inside a bathroom vanity. In a word - lousy. The vanity opening (Michael removed the doors) is a generous 21 inches wide; however, that 21 inches is divided by a 3 inch upright board, leaving 9 actual inches on either side to squeeze ones body through watching out for the door hinges all the while.

Michael couldn't manage it because his upper body parts are not flexible, like mine. So, picture this: I thrust my head and shoulders into a very dim, dank, hole and then I flatten my breasts out to get them through. Once I have accomplished Operation Booby Trap, I pull my bottom arm in. If I have to - and mostly I did have to - I can flip myself a little sideways and manage to squash my other arm in. At this point, dear reader, I must rely on my lower ribs to support my body. My lower ribs are, of course, resting directly on a narrow, raised, piece of wood.

The vanity is 21 inches deep. I'm pretty sure my body is longer than 21 inches from head to waist. Heck, I was 21 inches long when I was born! So, once thrust inside the sink, I must become a contortionist. A contortionist with tools, albeit the wrong tools for most of the time. Periodically, I would simply have to get out. Under-the-sink makes in-the-MRI seem like a walk in the park. The reverse of wedging oneself in requires a whole other level of commitment. First slide out the top arm, then pull out the top breast. Then scoot backwards and pull out the second breast. Finally, more scooting to release the shoulders, bottom arm, and head. And don't lift your body up - kind of a natural action when exiting - because you will hit your head on the sink bottom.

While inside, I faced other challenges as well, most notably UFOs settling on my cheek or neck with a ticklish, creepy sensation. But what really grossed me out when the UFOs landed in my mouth. The very worst UFO event occurred when a tiny piece broke off a large plastic nut I was trying to wrestle into submission and landed in my eye.

All I could think of was imminent blindness or at least a trip to the hospital. I desperately wanted out from under the sink and that is exactly when my chances of getting out seemed most hopeless. I panicked. I hit my head on the underside of the sink. I scraped my arm (the top one) trying to withdraw it. Once I had my arm out, my breasts got caught in a vise grip that had not existed until that very moment. With one arm inside and one arm outside, my head and shoulders inside, and my lower trunk and legs akimbo outside, I tried to smash my ample bosom flat enough to pop it out. Yes, I did escape and, with Michael's help, located the eyewash cup in under a minute. The piece of plastic washed out without any trouble, although my eye felt gritty for the rest of the day.

At this point, I thought to ask Michael for safety glasses (of which we have several sets in our garage). Note to self: put safety glasses before sticking head in small opening and banging away on things that are stuck.

By Saturday evening, we had the new faucet installed and I just needed to crawl back inside to do the final quarter-turn tightening on the water lines. Which I did. Except, according to Michael, the hot water leaks and I have to go back to retighten that one. Oh, and put in the new faucet on MY side of the vanity. Now, all I have to do is decide if I'd rather crawl under my sink and install the matching faucet or stay safely away from the vanity cabinet and live with mismatched faucets.

What do you think?


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Blogging Primer

(Presented to WIVLA as part of a panel discussion on 3-18-08)

Blog is a word coined from the phrase web log (as in Captain’s Log). A web log is to a website as a film is to a still photograph: both contain images, but one uses dynamic images and the other uses static ones. (Thanks to a fellow blogger for the idea. See

Bloggers want to keep a running, dynamic record of their thoughts, idea, complaints, visions, products, families, ad infinitum and to do that, they write posts, or messages, that are published in real-time on the internet in a blog.

The reason that a person wants to blog determines the type of blog to set up. For example, you can blog as a personal journal and for this would likely choose a private blog which no one else can see without access to your ID and password. Or you might want to set up a blog for a group to use equally - a critique group or extended family, for example. Group blogs can be read and written into by any member of the group, making planning, brainstorming, and other group activities easier. A group blog can be private or public.

Public blogs are intended to be read by anyone who happens along. Public blogs can be controlled by the owner insofar as whether or not comments will be accepted and from whom; whether those comments must be approved or moderated by the blog’s owner; and whether the comments can be anonymous or not. There are many variables that the blog owner can control and the owner’s purpose or intention for the blog will define how she sets up her blog.

Before you do anything else to create your own blog, go on an afternoon or evening’s jaunt around the blogosphere. Read other peoples blogs at random. You will be AMAZED by the variety, topics, formats, languages, and creativity abounding there. You will undoubtedly be offended, tickled, perplexed, and outraged along the way but you will get a much better notion of what a blog can be and do. Read comments, as well, because that will help you make some choices as you put your blog together.

Once you determine the purpose of your blog - a social blog, a retail blog, a political blog, a personal blog, or a group blog - you need a title for it. Have the title ready before you sign up because it is practically the first question asked in the process and if you aren’t prepared, you might pick a title that you come to regret. Make your title reflect your intention. “Mary’s Musings” is not a great title for a hard-driving political blog; “Front and Center with Mary” may not be the best title for a recipe-sharing blog.

You have your intention and your title. Now you need a blog host; someplace to house your posts. There are many, many websites offering blog hosting. Rather than tell you about them in abbreviated fashion, let me refer you to a good, educational website with lots of information: This site will give you not only the information you need to make good choices but also links that will let you look before you leap and comparison shop.

I have blogged at Blogspot (a.k.a. Blogger, and now owned by Google) for four years. It offers lots of help for beginners and lots of advanced features for experienced bloggers. It is a large, well-known blogging host and not likely to disappear with my 123 precious posts.

Speaking of which, even if you are just blogging as a complete lark, you must immediately start saving your posts to a back-up site. Who knows when the worst might happen and they slide into oblivion forever? Who knows what your lark may turn into two or three or six or ten years from now? Your blog posts might end up being your best-seller or an important record of when you sold a certain piece of art, there’s just no telling.

As a writer, I worried about the safety of my blog posts. In my research about this concern, I came across a website called Creative Commons. In the organization’s own words,

Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. You can use CC to change your copyright terms from "All Rights Reserved" to "Some Rights Reserved. We're a nonprofit organization. Everything we do — including the software we create — is free.”

You can find Creative Commons at

I first put CC on my blog in November 2004, but somewhere along the line I made a template change and lost it, something I just fixed today. Templates are the framework of your blog and good blogging hosts offer a wide assortment of templates for different purposes. Don’t be afraid to make template changes, but when you do, be sure to keep track of the different elements of your blog so everything gets put back.

The last thing I want to mention today is blogger courtesy. Don’t borrow without attribution and, whenever possible, publish the link right there in your blog so your reader can go to the source for more information. Promote your favorite blogs and websites, too. Cross-linking with like-minded blogs is a great way to get your blog read by more people.


Monday, March 17, 2008

The Continuing Curse of ISMs

I listened to callers and commentary on a progressive radio station tonight and the curse of ISMs reared its ugly head once again. I feel frustrated and irritated about the pervasive prejudice that still gets bandied about without being challenged.

Aside: Before you get all "I'm not prejudiced" on me, take a deep breath. I am talking about institutional prejudices and cultural prejudices that persist in our society. I know people who truly believe that they harbor no racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual orientation prejudices yet who display them on a regular basis. These people are rarely challenged because institutional and cultural prejudice is, by its very nature, insidious.

What am I talking about? First, let me give credit for opening my eyes on this subject to one of those two great, sister, advice columnists - Ann Landers or Dear Abby. (I really can no longer remember who, I read the column perhaps thirty years ago, but I have never, ever forgotten it.)

Now, here's the gem of wisdom.

When a person uses gender, racial, ethnic, or sexual orientation as an adjective or as a descriptive term, the person is displaying prejudice - often unconsciously - UNLESS the adjective or descriptive is required for clarity or is germane to the topic at hand - because using that adjective or descriptive word indicates that you find it to be outside the norm.

Examples: a woman doctor, a black lawyer, a homosexual father, a Muslim politician.

The test for this is to restate the label with its "expected" gender, racial, ethnic, or sexual orientation descriptive and see if it sounds stupid.

Examples: a man doctor, a white lawyer, a heterosexual father, a Christian politician. Just for kicks, try this one: a heterosexual couple. If that sounds redundant, you need to give yourself a good talking to.

We don't say a "man" doctor because we expect doctors to be men. Likewise, we expect lawyers to be white, fathers to be straight, and politicians (at least in America) to be Christian. Or, some people do. And even people who can happily accept a black doctor or woman lawyer in actuality may still bow to the institutional prejudice that says it is somehow unusual, unexpected, or rare.

After hearing me praise my rheumatologist, a friend who also has lupus asked me for a referral, which I happily gave. A couple of months later, I ran into the person and asked how the doctor's visit had gone. My friend said, "Oh, I loved Dr. P., but you didn't tell me he was black."

No, I didn't. And why would I? Does Dr. P. being black have anything to do with his skills and qualifications as a doctor? Not at all. But how many times have you heard someone refer to a "black doctor" as if this were a revelation?

Aside: And, no, I didn't give you any hints about the gender of my friend either, because what, really, does gender have to do with friendship or displays of prejudice? I could have really turned that little example into a nice condemnation of somebody by adding a touch of gender, a hint of religious persuasion, and the lightest tint of color, couldn't I?

Those of you younger than I am (57) may not remember the consternation caused by a riddle that popped up in the 1970s. It went like this: A boy was injured in a car accident. He was rushed to the hospital by his father. The emergency room doctor, upon seeing the boy, exclaimed, "I can't work on this child. He is my son." How could this be?

Believe it or not, you young'uns, people were absolutely baffled by this riddle. All kinds of suggestions would be raised - stepson, adopted son, mistaken identity, etc. - before people would give up and say, "This must be a trick question."

Can you guess the answer? I hope it is very obvious to today's reader. The doctor was the boy's mother. But in the 70s, this notion was almost heretical. Oh, we had women doctors; we just didn't think about them or think there were enough of them to be worth considering seriously, even for the purposes of a riddle.

I raised my children on the Rule of ISMs: Never use an adjective or descriptive word to describe someone's gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation unless you have a specific and pertinent reason to do so.

Example: If a woman friend wants a referral to an ob-gyn and expresses a preference for a female physician for this very personal care, it's okay to say something like, "I know a really good woman doctor you might like."

I am hard put to come up with additional examples because I rarely find a reason to qualify people by physical or cultural attributes. And I am not trying to be holier-than-thou; it's just that I have been practicing this for 30 years and I've gotten pretty darn good at doing it.

If you aren't already following the Rule of ISMs, please start now. If you already do, thanks from the bottom of my heart. You are making the world a better place for all of us.


P.S. And a Happy St. Patrick's Day to all of you from the very Irish Devereux clan. (I figure that bit of ethnic reference is completely appropriate given the day, although, by way of full disclosure, I must admit that I am Swedish-German- English and not a bit Irish meself.)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Finding my Feminist Roots: When Being the Best is Undercut By Being a Woman

With the Texas primary coming up on Tuesday, I have been thinking long and hard about who to vote for. Of course, I am going to vote in the Democratic primary - and attend the caucus afterward - but that shouldn't surprise anyone who reads my blog. Clearly, I am a left-leaning liberal feminist from way, way back.

Our choices this year seem like an embarrassment of riches. The excitement of having either a woman or a black person run for president is electrifying. But I have great ambivalence about which candidate best represents my beliefs. Michael and I have been discussing this off and on for several months.

Michael went ahead and voted early one lunch hour at a polling place very convenient to his job. I waited because I haven't been certain who to vote for. I am as susceptible as anyone to the excitement Obama generates and I find him very reminiscent of John Kennedy in his ability to engage the younger generations. (Kennedy died when I was 13.) On the other hand, Clinton is stronger in experience and political savvy. I do not think that "outsiders" really make it in Washington because they don't have the political green stamps and skeleton-in-the-closet knowledge to use in making deals.

My grade school education taught me that our government works on a quid pro quo basis - you help me and I'll help you; you cross me and I'll get you back. Compromise in Congress, compromise between the executive and congressional branches, compromise that has been taken too far with lobbyists but that's another blog. I think Hillary will be far better prepared to negotiate those rocky shoals than Obama. (Compare Lyndon Johnson with Jimmy Carter to get my drift.)

On Friday, Michael and I engaged in yet another discussion of the primary race. I asked him who he had voted for and he indicated Clinton. (I have his permission to reveal that to the world.) I told him that, after much internal debate, I had pretty much decided to vote for Obama. I then asked his reasons and he basically said everything I just stated above. He went a step further and told me that his vote was win/win for him because he voted for the person he thought would be best, but he would be okay if Obama won, going back to the unprecedented situation of a black person and a woman both in serious contention for the Democratic Party's nomination for president.

Musing about this for a minute, Michael added that he remembered learning in college (which hasn't been so long ago for him) that the social hierarchy in America consisted of white men, black men, white women, black women. Privilege and opportunity, acceptance by society followed those rankings.

That rang a bell for me, also and got me thinking. I said to Michael, "We have an older experienced white woman contending with a younger, less experienced, but charismatic black man. What if the roles were reversed? Let's say an older, more experienced black man versus a younger, less experienced, but charismatic white women?" And then I stopped in my tracks, caught by an aha! moment.

There would never be such a competition in our society as it exists today. There could not be a white female or black female Obama. That person would never have made it out of the starting gate. I know it as surely as I know my own name. Michael agreed wholeheartedly when I told him what had occurred to me.

When I went to graduate school, the head of my department told me pointblank that my talents would outstrip my male colleagues because a mediocre man could get into programs that only an exceptional woman could attain. He cautioned me that I might be disappointed in the abilities of the men around me.

Apparently, the same conditions apply to politics today: It takes a superbly talented and experienced woman to get into the political game that a relatively inexperienced - albeit charismatic - man can get into.

Aside: I attended graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis on a full tuition scholarship in a new program that called Technology and Human Affairs that has since morphed into Engineering and Public Policy. Lacking an undergraduate science degree, I could no longer get into this program, but at the beginning it was multi-disciplinary.

You know, I feel terrible about this realization. I feel betrayed in a way. I (among many other people) worked so hard for women's rights in my lifetime and what has it gotten? The chance for a woman to play with the boys, but not on a level playing field. All this has made me decide to vote for Hillary Clinton instead of Barack Obama. He is young and charismatic and he has a future in politics, but let him earn a few more stripes in political service before going to the head of the line in the Democratic Party for 2008's election.

Clinton is experienced, dedicated, and a work horse by all accounts. Even her opponents in Congress applaud her work ethic and her bipartisanship. She is ready to step into the Oval Office and I think she should be the Democratic candidate for President this year. She can beat McCain because she knows the ropes. Even the polls, flawed though they may be, show Clinton besting Obama against McCain. And that is what this is about, right?

I want a Democrat back in the White House. I'll support Obama if he is the party's choice, but my heart - and my vote - is with Hillary Clinton.


PS As they say in Chicago, "Vote early and often!"

Monday, February 25, 2008

Carmina Burana Heaven

I hate to take attention away from Killing the Angel in the House (see last post), but I had such a moving experience on Saturday night that I really want to memorialize it. Michael, Tori, Alix and Adam, friends Tony and Eric, and I went to the Houston Symphony Chorus and Houston Symphony's performance of the Chichester Psalms by Leonard Bernstein and Carl Orff's stirring Carmina Burana.

Aside: The Houston Symphony Chorus members are volunteers!! Imagine all the work they do just for the love of music. I applaud them doubly for this. My friend June Russell sings in the chorus. She has a lovely voice and when M. and I viewed the recording from his recent birthday party, we discovered that she had sung a special Happy Birthday to him. (See my post New Years and Brass Bands for more on the birthday bash.) June is also a great photographer.

I love the Carmina Burana. My son Nick is responsible for bringing it into our family's consciousness more than ten years ago. I actually have the music downloaded onto my iPod Shuffle. It creates a unique rhythm for working out at the gym.

Last year, the Houston Ballet performed the Carmina Burana as a dance, musical components interwoven with the ballet. They had three full choirs singing, two adult and one children's. The stage practically overflowed with bodies. That experience in music and dance exceeded any artistic performance I have ever seen in sheer majesty and power. The Symphony and the Symphony Chorus had their own power, though. We had orchestra seats and thus fantastic visual and aural experiences. (At the ballet, the orchestra was hidden in the pit and we were seated in the Grand Tier.)

I thought the violins would burst into flame a few times because their playing was so phenomenally fast. The vocal soloists delivered such wonderful performances that I can scarcely find the words to describe it. There was lots of emoting, including some cutting up and hamming. During the "swan song," the soloist sang from the audience and actually stood right behind us for part of his delivery.

But I must give the most credit the the chorus. Their range in this composition is so challenging. The seamlessness of their performance awed me and literally brought me to tears. Thank you Houston Symphony Chorus, Houston Symphony, (the name unknown to me) Children's Chorus, and soloists for a performance that thrilled me, made me laugh, and made me cry from sheer joy.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Killing the Angel in the House

Earlier this year, as I walked around the house grumbling about never finding time to work on my writing anymore, Michael responded by saying, “You need the kill the angel in the house.” That got my attention. What angel did we harbor, I wondered, who was interfering with my writing? What was he talking about?

In answer, Michael referred me to published remarks made by Virginia Woolf in 1931 in a lecture titled “Professions for Women” to the Women’s Service League, a group concerned with female employment issues. Then he handed me his textbook, “The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present,” with a yellow sticky marking the spot.

I set the book aside for a less hectic moment and got around to reading it several weeks later. I wish I hadn’t waited because it turned out that I really needed her ideas. The concept of the “Angel in the House” originated with a poem by Coventry Patmore written in 1854. Glorifying the self-sacrificing, pure woman, his poem found such an eager audience among the Victorians several decades after he wrote it that for Virginia Woolf’s contemporaries it became a cultural icon they would immediately understand.

Aside: No modern woman will want to wade through Patmore’s epic poem entire (he published it as a book), but even reading short passages will make you struggle to control your gag reflex and your funny bone simultaneously. We sometimes speak of damning someone with faint praise; Patmore profoundly demeans women with his effusive praise. If you have the stomach to read the passage most associated with Woolf’s essay, click here for a link: YUCK!

Speaking to her audience about the poem, Woolf said, “You who come from a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her – you may not know who I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can.”

Rather than quote the entire essay, let me paraphrase Woolf succinctly. This Angel who plagues women writers (and by extension creative women of every stripe) is ourselves. I can’t help recalling cartoonist Walt Kelley’s famous quote, inscribed on an Earth Day poster in 1970: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Even from my twenty-first century viewpoint, the concept quickly became clear. Who was it that made sure our family’s laundry was done? The Angel in the House. Who was it that got dinner on our table? The Angel in the House. Who was it that stopped what she was doing to pick up our child when she missed the bus or had to attend an extracurricular event? The Angel in the House. Who clipped coupons, made grocery lists, and shopped? The Angel in the House. I could go on, but it is too depressing.

I have met the enemy and she is me. I am the Angel in my House and the Angel has to die if my creative life is going to go forward. Even more depressing than being the Angel in my House is the fact that, after a lifetime of feminism and a deep commitment to a woman’s right to choice in all aspects of her life, it took my husband to point my Angel out to me. (On the upside of this, I did at least marry a man who would notice it and tell me so at the risk of his own comfort.)

Besides introducing the need to kill the Angel, Woolf addressed two important areas where the Angel in the House particularly harms the creative woman. One is through deference to men and the other is through the avoidance of physicality in the artist’s work. Here is how Woolf begins her argument about the Angel’s interference with her writing:

Directly ... I took my pen in my hand to review that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered, “My dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own, Above all, be pure.

Let’s see, simper; act dumb; play up to men; use everything in your trick bag; but through it all, don’t be a “bad” girl. It seems to me this Angelic advice is very similar to the standard expectations of my generation and even, try though we did to liberate them, our daughters’ generation as well.

When I attended the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writers Conference of the Southwest last July, I signed up to have a 15 minute interview with a literary agent. Fortunately for me, I did not have the first appointment because the woman who did was treated by the male agent with inexcusable condescension and disparagement. Because she returned and told the rest of the women in our group about it, I was able to gird my loins, get into warrior mode, and incapacitate my Angel (even though I didn’t know about her at the time) in preparation for my own interview.

They say the best defense is a good offense and I needed a good one that day. I succeeded in taking control of the interview from the beginning and I did not allow the agent to blow me off like he did my associate. But the process of preparing myself, planning what to say and how to say it, created an afternoon of anxiety for me. Looking back, I think my Angel was whispering the same things in my ear that Virginia Woolf’s whispered to her eight decades ago.

About the physicality issue, Woolf invited her audience to imagine a girl at her writing table, absorbed on a creative trance, exploring her unconscious self like a fisherman (Woolf’s word) would explore a deep lake. The girl’s fishing line begins racing through her fingers.

Her imagination had rushed away. It had sought the pools, the depths, the dark places where the largest fish slumber. And then there was a smash. There was an explosion ... The girl was roused from her dream ... To speak without figure, she had thought of something about the body, about the passions which it was unfitting for her as a woman to say. Men, her reason told her, would be shocked.

My friends will tell you that I am not a prude. There lurks in the back of my head, though, a censor who keeps tabs on my work, a personal content-rating board that I always blamed on my childhood Catholicism. But many of my friends who have the same kind of censor did not grow up Catholic. I remember taking a writing class not so many years ago in which the students were assigned to write an explicit, one-paragraph sex scene. The instructor’s stated purpose was to help us break through the barriers that inhibited our writing.

In this class of women, including a female teacher, the results opened my eyes. I couldn’t do it: my paragraph fell far short of explicit, focusing instead on the emotional content of the scene. Another classmate confined her paragraph to the description of a dog licking his own genitals. A few people managed to write something explicit and actually read it aloud to the class, but not many. Most of the work presented was hedged and hesitant.

I think now that my constant critic is the Angel in the House and that she remains as potent in the 21st century as she was in the 19th. Perhaps she is more subtle in her approach, has adapted herself to modern attitudes enough that she doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, as her original incarnation certainly would have, but she is there, riding our shoulders, chiding us, influencing us, pushing us away from our creative endeavors.

Woolf’s commented at length at the problems created for creative women by the Angel in the House. Her ideas were pithily summed up by this comment:

Though I flatter myself I killed her in the end, the struggle was severe; it took much time that had better have been spent upon learning Greek grammar; or in roaming the world in search of adventures. But it was a real experience; it was an experience that was found to befall all women writers at that time. Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.

I would really like to get some dialogue started on this topic because I think it is a very significant issue for women. I cannot understand why Woolf’s essay didn’t make its way into my liberal arts education, particularly since my undergraduate degree is in English literature. My friends in the Friday Morning Writers Group (all women) had virtually the same reaction. They immediately identified with Woolf and wondered where her essay had been all their lives.

Do you, dear reader, agree with Woolf that there is an Angel in the House interfering with women writers (and artists, etc.)? If so, how have you been affected by your Angel? If not, how do you explain choosing the laundry over your writing, painting, dancing, and so on? (You can’t fool me, there is not an artistic woman out there who is not, at sometime in her normal creative life, picking housework over her creative work.) Have you been able to kill – or even maim – your Angel? How? What works, what doesn’t?