Monday, October 31, 2005

Last but...

On Wednesday, one of the Assistant Deans of my school sent out an e-mail, calling for Social Work graduate students and faculty to run on the intramural team. This is the dean who is in charge of all the work at the school I plan to get involved with - all the privilege and oppression stuff, all the student experience stuff - and I figured he would be a good guy to get to know. Grad student and faculty intramural. That couldn't be too bad, could it? I figured there would be some folks who don't run that fast, and the dean was very specific in that running speed did not matter. And, I run 5K - it's my training run, and I'm running it consistently at the fastest speed I've ever run it (this, from someone who never ran as a child, an adolescent, or a young adult...this, from someone who should be revered by procreating small-scale societies...this, from someone who is starting to say: "I get to define who I am. If I say I'm a runner, then, by Jove...")

This is all well and good, of course, but on a frosted October morning, when you are stumpily standing around in a field mostly populated by whip-thin young men who are doing that scary rapid, knees-up runner's stretch, and the people around you are talking about which marathons they ran this year and about their times...You might begin to realize you've made a bit of a calculation error. I almost slunk off the field right then - but I was holding onto the last number for our team, and I couldn't go.

And, then, when the director of the race asked those who were shooting for around a 15-minute race time to step towards the front, I panicked.

Let's clarify, shall we: I run 5-miles-per-hour. It is the fastest I've run, it's a good speed for me, I'm working up to 6 over the winter, but I'm happy where I am...Okay?? That translates to (for those of you bad with math) a 12-minute mile. This means (again, the math avoidance) that I was planning to finish in about 36 minutes.

AGAIN, I'm pretty comfortable with that -

Except when I'm in said frosty field with said speedy runners.

I knew the race was gonna be ugly, and by the first 1/4 mile I knew I was going to be running my own race. Not that I was okay with that - I wanted to quit after the first loop around the athletic grounds, before we'd crossed the river and headed East towards Gallup. You see, I'm not used to being bad at things...not that I'm good at everything, I'm not. It's that I don't generally try things that I know I *won't* be good at - like running. I promised myself I'd quietly drop out at the round of every bend, and at the bottom of every hill. The cold hurt my lungs, and the initial speed push of the crowd had left me weak, and, did I mention how I loathe running in the morning?

Anyway, I did it. I ran myself through the finish line on my little Christmas Hams, and the rest of my team was there waiting and cheering. I began coughing and haven't really stopped.


There's a thing that runners and others say to each other on the trail - "Good Job." It's said low, and forcefully, in a tone that brooks no argument and no denial. Because it is a good job - everyone on the course is running at the top of what they can do - whether it's the fellow in the custom ice-blue Nikes, or me in my crooked number and dirty sneakers.

Believe it, the race was harder for me than it was for him.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Oh, swoon.

Rolf Smedvig.

Not because he plays music, but because he plays liquid.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

iSmack - Warning: Material offensive to parents

For her birthday, wonder-girl got a spanky new iPod. I got her one (the *wrong* one, naturally), and we went back to the store to get one that she chose herself. For heaven's sake, had I known the nano came in shiny black, it would have been no question...

But, like all of us, Alexis sometimes changes her mind. In searching obsessively for mods and hacks, she found this amazing option. This evidently addresses the very real threat of iPod-related muggings.

Alexis writes:

> Maybe I picked out the wrong nano!
> Alex - aka "Flaky," or "the shedder"

(Note that about five days after a large tattoo, the top layer of skin just sloughs off in large, colored scales. What's underneath is tender, shiny new skin, and is black, black, black. You're right - just like her new nano! Unlike her new nano, she drops the scales everywhere for days.)

I wrote back:

Dear Mr. The Shredder,

We have processed your request to gangsta-ize your new iPod nano. Please be aware, however, after modification, you will no longer be able to load unapproved music onto your iPod. Playing any music identified as "pussy" or "punk bitch" will cause your screen to flash insulting expletives, and then possibly pee on your hand.

Thank you for your interest in the apple iSmack modification. I am condfident you will enjoy the new features provided by this upgrade.

The iPod Team at Apple


Alexis responds with a very good point:

I think, instead of peeing on your hand, the offended nano should try to "rape your ass."


Exactly, my friends. Exactly.

Friday, October 21, 2005

On the lam

I admit that I'd left them in the yard for quite a while...but understand that every other time I've found them lazing in the sun near the garage, or rooting about in the compost pile. This time, however, when I called only Crisfield came bounding up. I walked around to the back, knowing that my bus was coming any minute, and wondering if I could ever justify leaving the house when a dog was out and about.

Sometimes, Oryx is too engrossed in something disgusting to come when I call. But she wasn't anywhere that I could see, she was gone.

I walked to the end of the driveway, looked up the street and down the street, and then to the soccer fields and playground across Pontiac Trail. There, by the goal, was something that looked like a very large fox, or a very hairy skink - Oryx.

I crossed the street, called her name and crouched low with my hand extended. She looked wary at first, and knew she was in trouble, but started towards me with her traditional twinkle-toed trot. She came faster and faster - ears up, tail curled - but as she neared me, she took a wide arc to sniff out my anger level.

I wasn't angry, I was relieved to see her safe and interested...I was glad she had an adventure and was coming home, healthy as always. I held onto her collar as we crossed, but when we got to the bottom of the driveway I let her go and told her: "Back yard, good girl." She bolted to the safety of her home and stood in by the side door, yodeling her homecoming.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Girl's Best Friend

In my thirtieth year, a smooth, red being came into my life:


I have trouble explaining how good it feels to paddle him, how right. Sometimes I feel like I'm out of an ancient illustration, where the creatures of the sea rise up from the water and push a boat before them. Dolphins leap and Sirens call, except it's only us and the ducks and the herons. The way he cuts through water, the way he tracks and the way he keeps going after I've stopped applying pressure...It's a beautiful thing: a girl and her boat.

Alexis in Tank and the river full of bouyants.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Three of Four

Two-bladed spirals.
The light was so thick it sat with us the entire afternoon.

Friday, October 14, 2005 Work

Alexis writes from the Veteran's Hospital:

I'm waiting for one last patient, who needs an infected port dissected out of his neck. A nasty, bloody, purulent procedure. Imagine someone had threaded a shoelace through a steak, and then let the steak rot. And then you got to try to remove the shoelace while doing as little damage to the steak as possible. The OR case was interesting, though. And only one - the other was canceled because the both the vascular surgeon and the interventional radiologist who were the team for these cases today were up all night handling an emergency (an angio case that ended with rupture of the patient's iliac artery - the magic marker sized pelvic artery - requiring desperate emergency surgery). The angio guy was up until 4 am. The surgeon was up until, well, now, and he still has stuff to do. So you know what? I really have no reason to feel bad. Busting ass is what doctors do.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Traumatic Experiences with French Pre-Teens

Satadru asked, and at first, I couldn't talk about it.

Oh, alright - it was the devastating spiritual and emotional depantsing I had the year before I moved to Ann Arbor. I was laid off (a good thing), and spending most of my time writing nasty rants about people in my neighborhood (got one published), swimming, and playing Tetris DX on game boy color. I was getting really good (I thought), and a bit cocky (like someone else I know). I played with ferver and passion. I played on the bus, in line, on the toilet. I played for longer than I could do anything else - till my thumbs were tingling and my elbows were numb. I was *mastering* it, I could feel it happening. And with that, I decided to make my abilities part of my self-definition, I decided to join the community of Tetris masters, and I decided to check my high-scores agains the rest of the world.

Even if I had no idea what I was doing with my life.
Even if I was spinning my wheels and my brain and my fingertips.
Even if I was spending my days in a series of anti-social distractions.

At least I was focused - I was training and building my Tetric skills. That has to count for something, it has to contribute in some way, right? Right??

Alexis begged me not to.

"There's no reason to do it," she said. "Just enjoy the game for what it is."

I agreed...for a while.

Late one night, she was asleep, and I crept upstairs to my computer, tucked in the eaves of our drafty home. I googled and scanned, and it was then that I saw them - the French Pre-Teens.

Curse them...curse them and their shifty huguenotic ways. Not only were their scores high - they were scores I thought impossible. Millions and millions, up to the highest number the score could be - for there were only seven spaces. And, lest you think they were engaging in unsupported boasting, the nasty little tadpoles had taken digital screen shots.

I was devastated. I felt I had nothing. My life spun into a kraken-sucked whirlpool of drowning destruction. I lay awake, eyes red and raw at the dawn.

The next morning, we were leaving on a roadtrip. Headed out the door, Alexis grabbed my gameboy off the couch.

"I don't wannit," I said listlessly, my toe grinding in the carpet, my shoulders low.

"I don't wanna play anymore."

And indeed I didn't - nothing touched me again in that special place that Tetris had occupied. I was alone in the world, the wind whistled through my thin shirt and whipped my hair about my face. I didn't let anyone in...until I met someone who didn't care about my score, who didn't even keep one.

Zelda, how I love you. I will always search for you.


So...see this movie. It rocks, if only for the following two points:

You finally get to see where Grommit went to school ...where else? Dogwarts.

In a climactic scene, Wallace is awakened by the smell of Stinking Bishop, a washed-rind cheese soaked in Bishop Pear Brandy, and my absolute favorite cheese in the world. Zingermans used to sell it, and I'd secret away tiny bits wrapped in wax paper for early morning consumption. Alexis would regularly open the fridge, exclaim at the horrible smell, and proceed to throw out suspicious old food. I would stand a bit away, looking innocent and hoping my stash went undiscovered.

What's left over

So, Erin moved out last week. She'd holed up in the back apartement for a bit over a month while she was preparing (emotionally, mostly) to make the move to NYC. We left her in the back, stocked with a bed, a bathroom, and our beer fridge. That last one, as you might imagine, was the mistake...

Because, evidently, Erin is a lush. Admittedly, we aren't big drinkers, and I think maybe Erin had company over quite a bit. Or at least talked on the phone regularly. In any case, the number of beers she consumed was a bit astounding. She's restocked the fridge with Oberon and other yummies, but we remain in awe of her beverage-related abilities.

Here's to you, Erin! Bottoms up, and good luck!

(Now, if only we can find a way to restock our Penn Pilsner - maybe we'll make Alexis's mom bring a case or two when she visits.)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The choir kept singing of freedom

It's been a rough couple of days - big good stuff and big bad stuff too. I'm feeling sort of battered and bruised...not the best mindset to be writing a paper on contextualizing familial identity. I think you should be feeling a little stronger for this type of work. Often I summarize my experience through the example of the songs we sang...As was told to me, and I tell to others, we learned first not the songs of childhood, but of struggle and resistance: that my mother learned "The Ballad of Kevin Barry" on family vacations, and that I sing "The Song of Springhill" to myself when I am scared, alone at night.

I had pulled Rise Up Singing from the shelf this morning - in hopes that I would find the words to Shalom Aleichem ( I did not) which I am learning for a class - and got up from my computer to verify a stanza to include in a personal narrative:

In the town of Springhill, you don't sleep easy
Often the earth will tremble and roll
When the earth gets restless miners die
Blood and bone are the price of coal

And of course, like using a dictionary where you can't look up just *one* word - I can't look up just *one* song. We've been working through some incredibly, shockingly, rudimentary stuff regarding privilege and oppression in the class I'm facilitating...and, for inspiration, I always go back to the songs I learned as being part of the Civil Rights Movement. My favorite of these is "Birmingham Sunday," which I love for its connection to an old, old tune and a not-so-old event. I held the book high in my hands, stood up straight, bounced the sound off my palate, and sat down to sob by the chorus. I tried to get through the rest of it, but, as you probably know, you can't sing and cry.

On grey lonesome afternoons in this town I hate, with a messy house and a noisy street, I look around and don't recognize my life. I am filled with an almost desperate need to be at my childhood home - tucked in my slanted bower, staring for hours at my hundred-acre view of mud and grass and sky, singing softly to myself.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Hmmm. Someone said an incredibly sweet thing to me today in an afternoon class I'm taking - we sit in wide circles (*very* social work, after all), and I was across from her. She was revealing something fairly difficult, and I watched her intently from my seat. After the class, she came up to me.

"You have amazing eyes."

"Um, thanks."

"Your eyes create space to speak."


To clarify.

In fact...Alexis enjoyed the hatchery very much. It's just that my excitement almost totally eclipsed her own.

She was triumphal not because there was external confirmation of my weirdness, but because John was thinking of her. It was sweet.

Please note: Alexis like the fry just as much as you do.

I didn't realize

John, after reading the bit about the fish hatchery, said to me yesterday that he didn't know what he would have done if he'd been in the car with me.

"Like when I swerved and freaked out?"

"No, that you wanted to spend an entire afternoon at a *fish hatchery*."

I have to admit, it DID NOT occur to me that others would not be as fascinated with fish hatcheries as I am. I mean, come on...they are so, well, cool. And fry are very cute. And fish have slime coats. And you get to feed them. And you get to look at them swim. And you get to go through the interactive exhibit and pretend you're a Lake Sturgeon. And, and, and...I just don't get it.

Alexis's response to John's comment was to raise her fists to the sky and say "Thank God, someone on *my* side! I spent three hours at that damn hatchery and didn't say anything!"

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Following Atrus

South Haven has a sweet little pier jutting out from town and hovering in the middle of a choppy area of Lake Michigan. It was a windy, perfect day, with air so clear that all colors intensified. As we walked, we realized that both of us felt uneasy, like there was something we were supposed to be doing. We slowed and investigated, looking for anomalies, pattern changes, rusty tracks, and unfinished sequences. We pressed and pulled things, tried to rearrange objects, checked in the waves for unusual flow, and listened for the place where the wind whistles just right.

We were trying to play Myst. In life.

Etched into the concrete:

Of course, there was a tram...

A seemingly inaccessible door...

But how to get to it?

Alexis tried a cold-coffee application...

While I looked down the wall for hidden paths.

In the end, we left without solving it...the desperate cries of the D'ni still in our ears.

New Glasses!

I gots me new glasses! I ordered them last week, and I've been stopping in every day to see if they're in. The funkster girl who runs the shop finally said to me "Alright, already, woman! They're coming!"

They look just like the old glasses, except they're brown (which, according to the 1998 March issue of Elle, is the new black), and they're not completely delaminating. Yay!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Tramopaline! Trambopaline!

Driving along Route 43 between South Haven and Kalamazoo, it was a beautiful, sunny day...we were tootling along at a steady clip, when I suddenly swerved and cut across two lanes of traffic.

"Hamachery," I yelled. "Filmashery!"

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Alexis was worried (and rifling around for the Chlorpromazine darts.)

"Right there! Hish Flachery! Fry, fry!"

And with that, we screeched to a halt in the parking lot of the Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery. I was so excited I forgot to unbuckle my seatbelt and was snapped forcefully back into place as I tried to get to the hatching ponds.

Tours run five times a day on Saturdays, and we had only about 40 minutes to explore before one started up at 2pm. No time to lose! I breathlessly asked the ranger where the tour met, and he looked concerned as I nodded my head enthusiastically at his response. He pressed two tokens into my hand and told me I could feed the fish in the observation pond. "Really?" I blinked up at him.

"Yes, go ahead." He spoke an attempt to calm and reasure.

The observation pond was densely stocked with beautiful speckled Muskies who thrashed and spun when you dropped in the pellets of food. Fishy, fishy, fishy, fish!

At the bottom of the pond, are these dark shapes - Lake Sturgeon. These are probably between 60 and 100-years-old, and the largest fellow here was about 8 feet long.

Oh, and don't be fooled by the pictures above - the pond is actually full of plants and hollows, it's not just a giant cement puddle.


The tour was phenomenal! Ben, the young fellow who'd cautiously given me tokens before, led a group of hysterical-looking Michiganders through the hatching house - filled with long, long cement tanks of fry. He showed us how they collect the eggs - sorry for the blurriness, he was a little squiggley.

First, you grasp the fish in both hands.

Then, you stroke the fish gently.

Faster and faster...

And repeat until you fill the bucket.

Show me on the doll where the conservationist touched you!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

From the observation deck:

There were many swans on the water. Many more than we'd ever seen in one place. I dug and dug in my brain and tried to remember the name for a group of swans - I came up with a "bugle" of swans. Alexis said it was a "thwack."

"No it's not."

"You haven't been as close to swans as I's definately a 'thwack.'"

When we arrived home, I looked it up immediately - and came across a full listing of bird group names. We all know that it's a murder of crows, right? And a gaggle of geese (on the water), an exaltation of larks, an ostentation of peacocks. Well, it's a whiteness of swans, on the water, and a wedge of swans in the air.

a charm of finches
a kettle of nighthawks
a paddling of ducks
a pitying of turtle doves
a siege of bitterns
an unkindness of ravens

Still on the deck, overlooking the whiteness, I asked Alexis:

"What would a bunch of me be called?"

"An abomination of Shanas."


"That's the worst thing you've ever said."

"Well, that's the dumbest question you've ever asked."


After the laughter died down from this exchange - Alexis offered the option of a "Truce" of Shanas. I thought this was some conciliatory attempt, but she insists it would be so named to inspire the group of Shanas (which would always be fighting) to co-exist peaceably.

My mother offers other possiblities:

A serenity of Shanas
A serendipity of Shanas
A splendor of Shanas
A showboat of Shanas
A shoo-in of Shanas
A shambala of Shanas (I may like this one best – shambala is a mystical kingdom somewhere beyond)
A certainty of Shanas (I like this one too)

I love my mother...