Monday, August 30, 2010

Room for Improvement

Today my new Kindle cover arrived. It's apple-green leather, very pretty. I don't yet have a Kindle to put in it -- they haven't even sent me an estimated shipping date -- but the cover pleases me anyway.

So does Viviana Viola. I practiced for at least ninety minutes today when I should have been doing other things, like writing. This is partly because I was teaching myself a new tune, the Sportsman's Hornpipe, which you can hear (on the viola!) on this page if you scroll down to the second video clip.

It's a lovely tune, and also fairly easy, and I picked the notes up quickly, although I'm fudging the ending a bit and hope Charlene can help me with it on Friday. The lady in the video of course plays it infinitely better than I do. No one but me would recognize it when I play it, but I hope that will change with practice. If I were still playing Felicity, I know the tune would already be in much better shape, but I need to be patient. I played Felicity for almost a year and I've been playing Viviana for less than a week -- and won't have a proper shoulder rest until Thursday -- so of course the sound's much rougher.

Yesterday I discovered that my BlackBerry has a "voice notes" feature, so this evening I tried recording snippets of myself playing to see if the sound quality's better than on the little voice recorder Gary gave me several Christmases ago. On that recorder, Felicity sounded like an accordian; on this one, Viviana sounds like a cross between a trumpet and a kazoo. I'm not sure this is an improvement, but if I ever get a decent recording of myself playing (which would require both competent playing and a decent recorder), I'll post it.

Listening to what I'd recorded was really painful, and showed me how far I have to go. Playing, I'd thought I sounded better than that. I think this is the dynamic I talk about with my writing students, where the story we want to tell is exciting and beautiful and makes perfect sense in our heads, but becomes garbled and dreary when we try to put it on paper. As I also tell my students, though, being aware of that gap is a good sign, because it means that we know we have to improve, and that's the first step in actually doing so.

I hope that when I've been playing Viviana a year, I'll sound a lot better. Even now, though, she makes me happy.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Square One

Last week, seven inches into a gift sock for a friend, I realized that I'd been knitting the lace pattern wrong. Nothing for it but to rip the whole thing and start from scratch with a new cast-on. I'm now almost up to where I was when I realized my mistake, and the sock indeed looks much nicer. (Luckily, I realized my error when I was still on the first sock!)

Last night, I settled down to work on the novel for the first time in over a month, and couldn't produce a word. Part of this is because the book's about the aftermath of a woman's death, and she has a son, and since I just lost my own mother, the material hits too close to home right now. In time, my own experience will, I hope, make the book better, but my nerves need to toughen up a bit first.

I was originally supposed to deliver the completed manuscript September 1. Obviously, that's not happening, and my agent and editor are being very understanding. But one of the reasons I couldn't write last night, quite aside from exposed nerve endings, was because what I'd written most recently sucks -- me? mince words? -- and I couldn't stand the idea of throwing good writing after bad, as it were.

When I woke up this morning, I realized that what I need to do is start the book again from the beginning, just like I did with the sock. Two hundred pages of a novel is a slightly bigger deal than seven inches of knitting, true, but I always knew I'd have to go back and make major revisions. I'd initially planned to finish the first draft and then revise the whole thing, but I can't finish the book without a better sense of what the new material will look like, so instead of drafting a hundred pages destined for the trash, I'll go back to the beginning now. With any luck, I can salvage chunks of the existing two hundred pages.

Meanwhile, I'm back to working on really basic fiddle skills, too, like proper posture and hand positions. I'd developed some sloppy habits on Felicity that won't work on Viviana. In the long run, this is for the best, even if it's frustrating right now. I'm trying to practice an hour a day, but until I get a proper shoulder rest, I'll have to break that into half-hour or fifteen-minute chunks. I did a solid hour this afternoon, and my back's letting me know about it.

Tim's supposed to get a Kun viola rest in next week. (He's including that, along with the new bow and strings, in the purchase price.) I tossed the funky shoulder rest he gave me because it scratched the viola's varnish, although not seriously. My Kun violin rest sort of works, if I stretch it as far as it will go and wrap it in flannel so it won't mark the back of the instrument, but it really doesn't provide enough support, and I'll be very happy to have the right equipment.

Flask sent me sheet music of a viola tune for my birthday (I think she wrote the tune, too!). How incredibly sweet is that? But since I play by ear and don't read music -- not all that unusual in the folk world, which is an aural tradition more than a written one -- I'm hoping that she or Charlene can send me a soundfile.

And yeah, I know I need to learn to read music at some point. But Charlene doesn't seem concerned (she's pleased with how quickly I pick up tunes by ear), and it's not one of my top priorities. After I finish the book, maybe.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Meet Viviana Viola. She's a 16-inch Ji, supposedly new (although her interior label is blank, which is a bit disconcerting). She has beautiful tone and projects wonderfully, which would be better news for those in the immediate vicinity if I were a better player. She's not a rental.

You may recall that I planned to meet Charlene at the music store today to pick out a 15-inch rental. What happened?

Well, they were out of rentals, this being rental season. They'll get more in, but in the meantime, I wanted to test out a viola to see if I'd actually want to play one. Tim, the luthier, said he didn't have any upstairs, but went downstairs to look. He didn't have any downstairs, either. "Do you have any violas I can try?" I asked him. He said he had a 16.

Charlene and I looked at each other and shrugged. We didn't even think I'd be able to hold the thing, but heck, we were there. So Tim handed me the 16, and I could hold it fine. (I have long arms for my size, it turns out.) He handed me a bow. I started playing and swooned. I loved the sound of the instrument. Tim and Charlene, watching me, grinned, and began a lively conversation in incomprehensible musician-speak about what a good instrument this is. Tim gets a lot of Chinese instruments in, but this is the best of its type he's ever seen; the balance and resonance and tone and timbre and yada yada yada are all excellent, and furthermore, yada yada. I wasn't paying very close attention to them, because I was happily sounding out tunes (which I could sound out fine even though this instrument's two inches longer than the one I'm used to).

I stopped playing long enough to ask Tim, "So, um, how much would this one cost?"

"That one's eight hundred dollars."

I probably turned an interesting shade of gray. "Oh. Will the amount I've already paid towards the rental count towards that?"

Alas, no. This instrument isn't a rental. But Tim said he would give me a better set of strings, a shoulder rest, and a new bow.

I chewed my lip. I played the viola. I handed the viola over to Charlene and Tim, who fussed over it and praised it and pointed out that no $800 rental instrument would be half this good. "This is a real instrument," Charlene said firmly, handing it back to me. "And look! It comes with the kind of case you like, with backpack straps!"

I hemmed and hawed. I tried to call Gary, but he wasn't home. I played the viola some more and gazed longingly at it when Tim took it away for a moment. "Let's do this," he said. "I'll put better strings on her, and you can take her home overnight and see what you think."

I perked right up. Charlene, beaming, said, "It's so nice to see you happy!" (She's seen more than her share of unhappy Susan.) "You'll have to name her. Have you started thinking about new baby names?"

Charlene had clearly made up her mind, even if I wasn't quite there yet. Or rather, I was, but I was worried about Gary's reaction. And Gary's reaction, when I reached him on the phone as I drove to the gym, indeed involved a fair amount of sputtering. I was thinking of doing what? What the hey? Couldn't I just wait for them to get the rentals in? "It's expensive," I told him, craftily not naming the amount, "but the tone's gorgeous, and I can already more or less play the thing, and Charlene clearly thinks I should go for it."

After swimming, I went back to the music store to pick up my viola, as I was already thinking of her. (She doesn't smell as good as Felicity Fiddle, but that's the only downside.) When I got her home, Gary was immediately impressed by the tone, but said warily, "And how much does this cost?"

"Eight hundred."

"Oh! When you said 'very expensive,' I was imagining three thousand."

That's what I'd been hoping. "And you know," I said -- and I'd really only just thought of this -- "the purchase cost of the violin is $700. This is only a hundred more."

Viewed that way, the viola seems almost reasonable. Eight hundred's still a heckuva lot of money, especially on top of what I've already shelled out for the violin rental, and extra especially because this will never be more than a hobby for me, but, well, I am getting a small inheritance from my mother. I'd planned to put all of it into the emergency medical fund, but I think playing Viviana will be good for my health. Although she certainly is heavier than Felicity, so I foresee some aching neck and shoulder muscles in my future.

But never fear! Today's mail brought my birthday gifts from my sister: a very generous gift certificate to my favorite yarn store and a gift card for a ninety-minute massage at my health club. Yay!

I also got a lovely card from my friend Sherry, our priest who moved to Tucson. I made her socks before she left, and she plans to take them on an upcoming trip to France with her husband. She and Pete are in the process of buying a townhouse; in the meantime, they've been renting a cottage. Sherry's seen a coyote and a bobcat in their yard. I'm jealous! I've seen coyote around here, but never bobcat. Not, I know, that one wants to see a bobcat at very close range, but they're certainly beautiful animals.

Meanwhile, one of Charlene's bands was playing at a local rock club tonight, so Gary and I decided to go. We walked past someone who called out, "Do you need tickets?" He had too many, and gave us two for free. He also directed us to the entrance, which we were having some trouble finding. To get into this place, you walk down an alleyway, past a large sign listing the rules -- which include no weapons and no gang insignia -- and have a paper bracelet put on your wrist by an extremely large bouncer while someone else takes your ticket. Inside, we blinked our way through a cavernous dimness with very few seats. What seats there were, guarded by more bouncers, cost extra.

Gary and I made our way up to the balcony so we could lean against the railing, and talked about whether we'd ever been to a venue like this. We used to go to folk clubs in New York, but they had lots of seating. A former boyfriend and I spent a summer dancing at disco clubs like Limelight (using free passes scored from local boutiques), which featured the same style of bouncer. Another former boyfriend -- who spent some time working as a bouncer himself, come to think of it -- was a roadie for a rock band. He got me into one of their shows and, later, got me backstage, where the headliner politely offered me cocaine (hey, it was the eighties) which I just as politely declined. That occasion was probably the closest I'd come to any setting like this.

Charlene's band, which is really someone else's band, opened. Everything was turned up to eleven. When we could hear Charlene, we were really happy, but she's the best thing in that band by far, and she didn't have nearly enough to do, and she periodically got drowned out by the other instruments.

After the set, I turned to Gary, who was massaging his ears. "Do you want to stay?" I asked him. He couldn't hear me.

No, he didn't want to stay. His ears hurt already. We agreed, somewhat sadly, that we're Just Too Old For This Kind of Thing. So we left, making our way through a much thicker crowd than had been there when we arrived, and drove home, where I practiced playing Viviana.

She's a beauty. The bow Tim lent me is slightly warped, so she'll sound even better with the good one he's ordered: also, she'll be more comfortable when I get the Kun shoulder rest he's expecting. Right now I'm using a bizarre, very strange looking shoulder rest, provenance unknown, that Tim had lying around the shop: it features a worn velvet pad, ornate iron curlicues, and little rubber feet that keep falling off. It's better than nothing, but a Kun will be far superior. I removed my gelrest chinpad from Felicity and put it on Viviana; the pad doesn't fit the chinrest exactly, but still makes the instrument more comfortable to hold. (Does anyone know if I should worry about getting an exact fit? Does the exact fit serve any purpose other than aesthetic?)

Tomorrow I'll go back to the music store, return Felicity -- may she find a loving home elsewhere! -- and buy Viviana. This is a little scary, but also exciting.

She is kinda huge, I have to say. Gary, who's been collecting viola jokes for quite a long time now, has responded with glee to having a viola around, despite the expense. "You could use her as a baseball bat!" he chortled. "Think how much beer she'll hold!"

"Yes, dear. And in a power outage, she'll burn so much longer than Felicity would."

By the way, if anyone knows anything about Ji, please let me know. I found an instrument maker by that name in California, but Viviana's supposedly Chinese.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Younger Every Year

We've all seen those annual lists of the world according to college freshman. Such lists remind ancient professors that for kids born eighteen years ago, "text" has always been a verb, or whatever.

No matter how carefully we study the lists, though, the incoming students have ways of shocking us. One of my colleagues -- a good deal younger than I am, mind you -- said today, "I made a reference to Madonna, and they'd never heard of her."

Lizard on Morning Walk

I also saw a rabbit and, as usual, many quail, but didn't get pictures of those.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


One of the effects of being off meds, as I think I've mentioned here before, is that I'm finally grieving Mom instead of being numb about it. Yesterday I had a weeping fit when I realized that this is the first school year when I won't get a phone call from her asking how the first day of classes went.

Gary and I have been watching the final season of Saving Grace. Last night we saw the episode where Geepaw dies. The hospice details were accurate enough that they sent me flashing back to the deaths of both of my parents, which in turn reduced me to a sobbing mess in Gary's lap.

This morning, our parish visited another one (this had been arranged even before our parish was slated for closure). I was sitting next to the widow of the guy who died of brain cancer a few weeks ago. Behind me, I heard our parish deacon mention the name of a deacon at yet another church; this is a woman who's consistently been very kind and loving to me, and who was a reliable source of support during my own ill-fated (and abortive) ordination process.

Then I heard the word "funeral."

What? Was she doing a funeral? But deacons don't usually do that; that's a priest's job. So I turned around to ask our deacon, who said matter-of-factly, "Her funeral's tomorrow."


She died two weeks ago, he told me. Apparently she'd had pancreatic cancer and hadn't told anyone but close family. I was badly thrown by the news, but didn't have time to process it, because the service was starting.

It was a children's service. If I'd known it was a children's service, I'd have gone to the later one for adults instead, even though we weren't formally invited to that (I'm sure I wouldn't have been kicked out!). I'm glad there are people who do children's services, but I like muscular engagement with the Gospel, which doesn't tend to happen during services for kids.

Turned out this one didn't deal with the Gospel at all. This parish uses their children's service as a way to do Sunday School, so instead of using the lectionary, they work their way through a series of Bible stories. Today's Bible story was a pint-sized version of the Exodus narrative. As the kids gathered around the altar, the family-ministry priest told them a cheery little tale about how God freed the Isrealites (happy happy joy joy!), complete with the tenth plague -- the death of the firstborn (happy happy joy joy!) -- and the destruction of the Egyptian cavalry and their horses (happy happy joy joy!).

I don't think I'd have been comfortable with this presentation even if I weren't immersed in grief. As it was, the story was almost intolerable.

During the peace, I snagged the family-ninistry priest and said, "Okay, what's up with telling kids that story?"

"What should we do? Censor it?"

"No," I said. "But give it some context, or reflect on it -- say something like, 'This is a really hard, scary story, and grown-ups have trouble with it too.'"

"We're moving towards Easter," the priest said briskly. "It will make sense to them then."

It will, will it? It doesn't make sense to me, and it's supposed to make sense to a bunch of kids ranging from two to ten? You expect them to remember it at Easter? You expect them to connect the dots?

I'm being deeply unfair here: I'm sure the parish works on connecting the dots, and there was a discussion of the curriculum after the service that we were all invited to, but that I didn't attend because I could no longer stand to be in the building. And this priest has been trained to work with kids. I'm not trained to work with kids. I'm pretty clueless around kids, largely because I didn't enjoy being a kid and didn't like other kids when I was a kid (they didn't like me, either; with a few very honorable exceptions, they either ignored me or beat me up). So maybe I have no right even to lodge a protest here.

But -- but, but. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that if I were a kid and heard that story told in that fashion, I'd have one of two reactions:

1) Oh, goody! God killed the bad guys and their babies, and if God kills the people I don't like, that means God's on my side! Cool! God kicks ass, just like in the movies!

2) The adults are telling me a scary story in syrupy voices, and the story doesn't make sense, but that's okay because I'm in church, where nothing makes sense and I'm not supposed to ask questions, so I'll just smile at the nice people with the syrupy voices who are telling me that God loves everybody even though God killed all those babies.

Complacent triumphalism or polite disengagement: aren't both of these responses way, way too common already? Are these the modes of thinking we want to encourage in our kids?

Q. And what would you do instead, Susan?

A. I honestly don't know. I agree with the priest that censoring the Bible doesn't help kids, who are going to hear the scary stories at some point anyway. I also think that telling kids, "this is a hard story for grownups too" -- my first response -- may be too big a burden for them. But more and more, my instinct with any story (Scriptural or otherwise) is to "go to the pain," as we're told during chaplaincy training.

When I go to the pain in this story, I see a young Egyptian woman weeping in an empty bed. Her first child, the sweet baby who was the light of her life and who never did anything worse than spit up on her best tunic, died along with all those other babies. She and her husband sobbed together, holding each other and howling. They didn't know how they'd survive the loss. And then her husband rode out with the army, doing his job, following his orders. He's washed ashore with all the others, all those men and horses: they're lying rotting and stinking and bloated in the sun. She hasn't had the strength to go look at it for herself. She'd know that her husband was there even if a neighbor hadn't reported seeing him among the corpses. All she can think about is how proud her husband was when she had their son, how he cradled the baby, rocked him, sang him to sleep. She doesn't understand politics, and she doesn't know why her family's being punished this way, and she doesn't know how she's going to wake up every morning and keep breathing.

No, I wouldn't say that to the kids, either. But I might say something like, "Who's happy in this story? Who isn't happy? Let's look at the unhappy people: how would you feel if you were one of them? What would you say to them? Do you think God wants us to be happy that they're so sad?"

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Yesterday at my fiddle lesson, I mentioned to Charlene that I've always liked the G and D strings the best, and that whenever I learn a tune with lots of A and E strings, I practice transposing it down.

"Ah," she said. "You might want to switch to viola, then."

We talked about it. She brought out her grandmother's old violin, which she's restrung as a mini-viola, and I played it a bit. I like the sound much better than the violin.

Today I called the rental place: I can swap out instruments, no problem, and what I've paid towards the purchase price of my violin will be transferred toward the purchase price of the viola. So on Thursday, Charlene will meet me there and we'll look at instruments.

I'm excited. I've always liked deeper, darker notes better; I prefer mezzo voices to soprano ones, and I'd probably be studying cello if the thing weren't such a bear to lug around. I'm a little nervous about the larger size of the viola and the heavier bow (you can get a viola that's the same size as a 4/4 violin, but the sound probably wouldn't be as good as that of a larger instrument), but if I don't like it, I suppose I can always switch back. We're going to look for a fifteen-inch viola, since sixteen would be a stretch. (Violas don't come in standard sizes the way violions do. Kinda confusing, if you ask me.)

Charlene doesn't seem to think there will be much difference in how I play the instrument, especially since I play it for my own enjoyment rather than in group sessions, where weird keys would be a problem. I'll have to get a new case, shoulder rest, and gel chinpad, but my wall hanger and Dampit should work for a viola too.

Stay tuned (as it were)!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Progress Report

All syllabi are now basically done, although I need to do final proofreading and edits and then go to work to photocopy for ninety-eight hours. I know some instructors post e-syllabi, and I have most of my course readings on e-reserve, but I still like paper syllabi so the students have a physical object to consult.

As of last night, fifty-three people are coming to my 50th birthday party on Labor Day. Yay! As I've told some friends, my fear has always been, "What if I gave a birthday party and nobody came?", so this is very heartening. (And I'm expecting more folks from work and church, although inevitably, some who've RSVPed yes won't show.) My friend Wendy from grad school is flying down from Seattle for the party, and my friend Ellen's driving up from San Francisco with her two boys. Ken's wife Carol may even come.

I think Gary's deeply alarmed by the idea of all these people, but they'll be spread out over four hours, and we're going to have balls and frisbees and crayons and bubble-blowing stuff -- all courtesy of the dollar store -- for the kids. Liz suggested that we have the food catered so Gary won't have to cook so much. We may check into that; we'll probably have a mix of home-cooked and store-bought stuff, and some people will bring things. There's always too much food at parties like this, so I'm not worried.

We're paying Charlene to play for two hours, which will be a blast. People can even dance if they want to: our all-dirt-all-the-time backyard should be good for that, if no one minds getting a little dusty. (Gary and I don't dance, but I enjoy watching other people.)

In the meantime, classes start on Monday, when I teach until 5:15. At 6:30, there's a meeting at church to discuss Next Steps, including possible formation of base communities. Yesterday, our temporary rector called me to ask a) if I know where I'm going yet, b) if I want to continue lay preaching, and c) if there's anything he can do to help me in that goal. I'm not sure where I'm going, but the place where I think I'm going is also the place where, I suspect, I have the best shot at being able to preach (I used to guest preach there fairly regularly). So I'm not very worried, but it was very nice of the rector to ask me about it.

I haven't knit in days, but I hope to get back to it when the class prep is finally done.

Finally: Knee good today. Back cranky. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Another Day, Another Doctor

Today Gary and I both went to see a new dermatologist. Gary has a mole I've been worried about; our primary-care doc gave Gary a referral to the skin guy, and since he's on our insurance, I made an appointment for myself, too.

Gary's mole is nothing. The dark blotch under my big toenail is probably just a bruise, but the doc said he's a "little worried" about it and wants to look at it again in three months. My sense was that he'd have gone ahead and done a biopsy without the recheck, if taking a biopsy of the skin under a big toenail weren't such an unpleasant procedure. ("Not fun," was how he described it, and when doctors say that, you know the real translation is, "horror and agony.")

Two remarkable things about this doctor visit, though: first, although my appointment was at 9:30 and Gary's was at 10, we pulled out of the parking lot at 10. And the waiting room was mobbed, too. Gary said, "That's the first time in my life a doctor's seen me before my appointment time."

Second, it turns out that our rapidly-vanishing insurance nonetheless has a wellness benefit that allows us one skin-cancer screening per year, so neither of us had to pay anything today. I'll have a co-pay when I go back in three months, but still, it was a very nice surprise.

Yesterday at the orthopedist's office, an older guy in the waiting room was grousing about having to pay for insurance for the first time in his life. He said he can't afford to come to the doctor anymore. I said, "Just be glad you have insurance," which sent him on a rant about people on welfare who get everything for free. (Um. Didn't you just tell us that this is the first time you've paid . . . oh, never mind.) Turns out his wife has been having heart problems, and he sounds worried sick about her, so my inner chaplain managed to win out over the exasperated liberal.

After he'd gone back to see the doctor, a woman sitting a few chairs away, with two small children in tow, shook her head and said, "I hope one day he will appreciate that he has insurance. I lost mine on August 1. I'm terrified."

I asked her if her kids are covered. They aren't. There's no safety net (except, of course, for overburdened ERs which then produce whopping bills for problems that often could have been prevented with much less expensive primary care).

What kind of country doesn't automatically provide healthcare for children?


I asked that question of the orthopedist yesterday, and he said, very gently, "Countries that have done that successfully have about one-tenth our population."

Okay: I have no idea how to fix this. I'm glad other people are working on it. I hope somebody can come up with an answer in time to help the mom in the waiting room with her two kids.

Meanwhile, rumors are circulating that beginning next summer, state-employee insurance will be cut to, essentially, disaster coverage: office fees will have to be paid in full, there will be huge deductibles, and so forth. So many rumors are swirling around right now about our terrifying state budget situation that I don't know what to believe, and I've decided not to worry until I know for sure what we're looking at. There will be plenty of time for panic when the time comes, and letting each scenario push my buttons before then will only be dangerous for my health.

Y'know, I could deal with disaster-only coverage if it meant that kids were getting coverage and anybody in disaster mode was covered by some medical entity other than an emergency room. I really could. I'm willing to pay more if it means that other people are getting better care, but that doesn't seem to be the system.

At any rate, Gary and I have agreed that the small amount of money I'm getting from my mother's estate will be put into an emergency medical fund. If we want to do anything fun, like another cruise, we have to be able to swing it out of income. In the event of a real medical emergency, this modest inheritance would evaporate in roughly fifteen seconds, but one does what one can.

On a brighter note, my knee's been doing very well today. I did forty-plus minutes on the elliptical at a fairly brisk pace -- burning 300 calories and covering three miles -- and the knee held up nicely. Yay! (mbj: Thanks for your comment on my last post. Actually, I do have arthritis in my right knee; that was diagnosed many years ago. The orthopedist's reassurance just meant, I think, that the recent acute pain hadn't been caused by anything new and alarming. At any rate, he didn't tell me I didn't have arthritis, and we'd talked about arthritis before the x-rays, so if he hadn't seen any, I'm sure he'd have mentioned it.)

Tomorrow: No doctors! Huzzah!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Life in the Old Girl Yet

My orthopedist, after a physical exam and x-rays (right in his office; how many doctors do that anymore?), reports that my knees are actually in fine shape. "They have at least 100,000 miles on them." I do, however, have misaligned knee caps, evidently common in women. This usually isn't a big problem, but something's irritated my right knee.

So he injected a needle of local-anesthetic-plus-steroid into the knee, and told me to be as active as possible (but to stop if the knee hurts again). I'm going back in two weeks. If the pain's improved or gone, he'll give me exercises to strengthen that knee. If the pain's the same or worse, he'll know that something else is going on and send me for an MRI to check for soft-tissue problems.

Meanwhile, steroids are my new best friends. (He assured me that these injections are very safe, as long as one doesn't have them too often.) The shot wasn't even bad, despite my apprehension: pressure, but no pain, and over very quickly. Immediately afterward, I could walk more easily. I went to work, strolled around campus, did stairs -- yay! -- and generally acted like my old walk-a-lot self. (I'd originally typed "pedestrian self," but realized that could be read the wrong way.) Then I went swimming. After half an hour, the knee started complaining, so I stopped. Oddly, the most painful part of swimming wasn't the knee twinges; the toes of both feet kept cramping terribly. But I wore new shoes today, and I also walked more -- and more normally -- than I have in a month, which means that my muscles were getting forgotten workouts. If the toe cramps continue, I'll call him, but right now, I'm not going to worry about them.

My knee is better again now, after a fairly long grocery shopping expedition, and I hope it will be better yet tomorrow.

What a relief to walk and take stairs without pain again! I so hope that this and the exercises work and that this problem will be fixed, at least for a while. I will say, though, that I'm a little apprehensive about the bill, even though this guy's on my insurance. Office visit, steroid injection and x-rays: what do you suppose all that will cost? Less than in an ER, obviously, but I'm still anticipating having to write a hefty check.

I also saw my therapist today. Despite, or maybe because of, the emotional upheavals of the past week, he's happy with how I'm doing off meds. He says I seem more alive. And we both agreed that if I've navigated the emotional upheavals off meds, I'll probably be able to stay off them.

Stay tuned!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Large Objects

Our new fridge arrived today, finally, a month after we ordered it. Not only can you set the ice-cube maker to create cubes of three different sizes, but it has a water dispenser (inside, not outside). Also, maybe now our frozen stuff will stay frozen. We're happy and relieved, although Gary inadvertently discarded some meat with the old fridge. Bali, who demands tributes of meat whenever Gary cooks, was probably more upset about this than we were.

Also today, I finally finished (I hoped) my application for a "professional development leave" for 2011-12. This is what used to be called a sabbatical, but although we can only apply for a leave every seven years (as in your traditional Biblical sabbath), getting one is a competitive process where a committee sits down and ranks applicants' research proposals. During the leave, successful candidates have to do the research they've proposed. Since none of this is exactly restful -- although it's still a wonderful perk -- the powers that be have wisely changed the nomenclature.

I hope the university is still awarding leaves. Given the budget situation, that's iffy. Given the competition, any applicant's chances are iffy, even if the leaves do still exist. But at least I finished the application. Please keep your fingers crossed for me!

I also dealt, or tried to deal, with an annoying administrative glitch from last semester, and got a teensy amount of course prep done for next week. Miles to go before I sleep, and all that, but I feel marginally more like a functioning academic than I did yesterday.

However, my knee's bad. I did half an hour on the elliptical today, because ellipticals are easy on the knees and I have to exercise every day; working out is essential for my mood, my back, and my weight (which, if only slightly reduced, will also reduce pressure on the knee). Afterwards, though, my knee hurt even after being iced, and walking's become mildly unpleasant, whereas only stairs were before. Stairs are now more than mildly unpleasant. Have I mentioned that we live in a two-story house? I'm avoiding NSAIDs, other than my standard arthritis meds, because they chew up my stomach. The knee isn't swollen, at least, but I'm told that doesn't mean much.

Tomorrow I see my new orthopedist. Yay! I really, really hope he'll have some answers and workable solutions for me. Not-quite-fifty is way too young for a joint to be this crotchety.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Gospel Moms

Continuing today's theme of posts about mom(s), I'm going to write a bit about church this morning. Then I'll be done for the day, I promise (especially since I have work to do for tomorrow!).

This morning we observed the feast of St. Mary the Virgin. Our rector, a former Jesuit, talked in his homily about how, growing up RC, he had no use for Mary, because in her supposedly pious, meek goodness and acceptance, she offered no help with his life or the life of the other working-poor families in the parish.

Yep: me too. Of course, anybody who thinks about it for more than two seconds knows that the real mother of Jesus had to be one strong, spunky lady, especially given how young she was. Our rector told us that he's spent time in Latin American base communities that believe, and act, from the faith that Mary is their sister or their mother, a peasant woman with dirt under her nails and the willingness to raise an extraordinary child under difficult circumstances with nothing approaching adequate preparation.

He invited us to "Reject the sweet, meek and mild," to come up with an image of divine motherhood that helps us in our own struggles. For me, that's easy. My favorite mother in the Bible -- heck, one of my favorite characters in the Bible, period -- is the Syro-Phoenician woman. She never gets a name, but her scrappy advocacy for her child gives her the courage to confront Jesus and, essentially, to startle and shame him into helping her.

As a statement of tranforming and transformative faith, I'll take "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the master's table" over "My soul magnifies the Lord" any day. Mary stood there and said "yes" to the angel who'd sought her out. If you're working with the Mary-meek-and-mild model, it's difficult not to imagine her simpering like a debutante presented with a prom corsage, and even if you work to recover her as spunky peasant (with appropriate sympathy for her straw-strewn birthing suite and the challenges of raising Toddler Jesus), her role in this scene still seems essentially passive and acquiescent (at least to me: YMMV!). The Syro-Phoenician woman had to run down the street to chase after Jesus, who initially wanted nothing to do with her, and bargain like a fishwife for her child's survival. Mary said yes to the Annunciation sweepstakes. The Syro-Phoenician woman (how I wish she had a name!) used her wits and courage to wrest a blessing from a God whose first response was, "We don't serve the likes of you. Get lost."

Who's a better model of dissenting discipleship?

None of that was in our rector's sermon. What was there, though, was a moving meditation on the power of base communities, where people use Bible study and personal friendships to "organize for liberation," and a suggestion that since our parish is dissolving, we might think of forming some ourselves.

Since I'd come back from Berkeley thinking about home-based ways of doing church, this appealed to me mightily, and also seemed like more than a touch of grace.


Studying the ring, I just realized that the heart isn't, as I thought, a patch of oxidized silver: it's a heart-shaped hole cut in the silver, with the underside of the rock showing through. This feels like a teensy message from the universe, one I need to decode. Open up that armor and let the heart show through? Or, as Buddhist writer Joanna Macy would say, "The heart that has broken open can contain the universe?"

Whatever I decide it's trying to tell me, it's neat, and makes me like the ring even more.

Ring, by Request

Since mybabyjohn asked for a picture of the new ring, here it is. This isn't a great photo, but it will give you the idea. To fully understand the appeal of the piece, aside from the fact that I love silver and smooth waterworn rocks -- when I was a kid, my family joked that only my back got brown at the beach, because I always had my head down looking for treasures -- you need to know that before I got to Auburn yesterday, I'd had a sobbing fit about Mom, weeping in the car and howling aloud, "I want my Mommy!" In those moments, the knowledge that she and I would never hug each other again seemed unbearable. As a church friend pointed out when I told her the story this morning, cars are perfect places for such bursts of grief.

So by the time I got to Auburn, I was primed for jewelry shopping, a passion Mom and I shared (and that my sister and I still share). The store where I bought the ring is usually way too pricy for me, but they've been adding more affordable work. The minute I saw the ring, I loved it, especially since it goes so well with these mega-cool river-rock earrings Mom bought me, at a gallery in Philadelphia, many years ago.

I tried it on my index finger. It fit. (I have small fingers, so rings rarely fit me; also, this ring, handmade by an artist in Nevada City, was substantially less expensive than other river-rock rings I've seen.) Only after I'd bought it did I discover the heart carved into the underside of the ring. My mother, who rarely criticized me, fretted throughout my life, starting early in my childhood, that I'd get hurt because I "wore my heart on my sleeve." She kept telling me to protect myself more, not to feel so much. Obviously, it didn't work -- gee, y'think? -- and I've recently reclaimed my heart as a gift rather than as a toxic supersite requiring anyone near me to wear a Hazmat suit.

Only as I write this do I realize that while Mom was trying to keep me from being hurt by the world, the message she unintentionally delivered was that I was a dangerous customer whose feelings would injure, poison, disgust or drive away other people. Of course this had to be an artifact of her own history of emotional pain, beginning with her own mother's death in a car accident when Mom was twelve, after they'd had a fight. I wonder if she felt responsible for her mother's permanent disappearance: I don't think Mom even got to see the body. The same accident put my grandfather in the hospital for six months, so my mother and her brother were shipped off for that year to an aunt and uncle. They were loving people, but the whole situation was still horrible.

Wow. You have a fight with your mother before you go off to school in the morning, and the next thing you know, your mom's dead and your dad's so seriously injured that you have to live somewhere else for a long time. No wonder my mother was so uncomfortable with strong emotions! Poor Mom!

Now I really wish I could hug her. The psychological logic seems completely obvious now. Why did it take me so long to figure it out?

And, o holy crap, now I wonder how much I internalized the idea "if you express strong emotions, your mother will die." From the time I could form a thought, I was terrified that Mom would die -- scared she'd drink again, scared she'd get into a car accident like her own mother (my grandparents' car was hit by a bus, and their lack of culpability made the event even scarier), no doubt wounded by her repeated disappearances when I was tiny and she was hospitalized for alcoholism -- and her later bouts with cancer and stroke didn't help matters. (The fact that she died sober and cancer-free at the age of eighty-four really was remarkable.) Among all the other factors, how much of my fear came from that unspoken message?


At Ken's funeral, as I think I may have mentioned here before, another cousin and I talked about how both of our parents had lost their mother entirely too early. My cousin noted that our family isn't good at healthy grieving, and traced the problem back to the accident. Yeah, no kidding.

I loved, and love, my mother very much, and I know it was mutual, but I've also had to spend quite a bit of time in therapy and other places -- not to mention this blog post! -- dealing with her alarm, and my shame, about my messy heart. So finding the heart under the ring made me laugh aloud: hey, Mom, I'm still wearing a heart, but this one's hidden next to my skin. Better?

I hope she'd approve! And mybabyjohn, thank you for asking for the photos. See what you helped me figure out? You should charge by the hour!

Saturday, August 14, 2010


The trip home went amazingly smoothly. There was a bit of Sonoma/Napa traffic, but once I got past that, it was clear sailing. My side of the road had no slowdowns in the mountains, even though traffic on the other side was completely stopped. Hurrah!

I stopped in Auburn for food and gas, and wound up making yet another Discretionary Purchase: a silver river-rock ring, handcrafted and very cool looking.

Here at home, I've laid lotsa hugs on the hubby and the cats (not at the same time!), and unpacked, and made long-overdue progress on a project proposal due Monday. Bali was especially happy to see me, and expressed his joy by chewing a hole in the nylon webbing inside my suitcase. This is why we call him our puppy-cat. He chews everything, although he prefers plastic and metal to leather or wood. He loves to gnaw on jewelry, belt buckles, and plastic water bottles. What an utterly strange little animal.

Even with the depredations of the Toothed Terror, I'm reveling in my own space, in comfortable seating, and in our sunny dry climate, even if it's hotter than blazes. Not to mention Gary's cooking!

Yay, home!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Last Day in Berkeley

This morning I wrote my self-assessment for class, e-mailed it to Nichola, and then went downtown, where I had lunch and bought an $18 silk scarf with all kinds of colors and textures. Shopping, yes, but less than I usually do here!

In class -- where I got many compliments on the scarf, and an admiring comment from a classmate about my consistently fabulous accessories (go, me . . . my dorky, unfashionable inner seventh grader squirmed with delight, I gotta say) -- we did a series of closing exercises. One, timed, gave us a minute each to talk about concrete steps we'll be taking as a result of the class.

I named a couple. The first involves a tithe on discretionary spending. I've never been good about tithing 10% of my income; I'm nowhere near that, although I do make small monthly donations to four different charities. Tithing income is inherently tricky, too, because my income also supports Gary and the cats. Gary isn't religious and wouldn't choose to tithe; I don't know where the cats fall on the issue! But the point is that it's not just my money. It's household money.

So tithing income presents certain family and ethical dilemmas. What I can do more comfortably, though, is to donate ten percent of the money I spend on personal discretionary purchases: i.e. nonessential clothing, shoes, jewelry, scarves, purely "extra" food like chocolate bars, etc. This will make me more mindful of my spending on such items and will also ensure that if I do spend on them, someone besides me gets some benefit. It's kind of like tipping: if you can't afford to leave a tip in a hotel or restaurant, you shouldn't be there in the first place. If I can't afford to give back ten percent of what I spend on goodies, I shouldn't be spending on the goodies, either.

I've already donated an extra $12 to Modest Needs -- one of the places where I donate every month -- based on shoe, scarf, and chocolate purchases this week. I didn't "tip" on basic meals or coffee, and I haven't figured out yet if I'm going to tip on my monthly Audible subscription or Kindle e-books. This is a work in progress, but at least it's gotten me thinking.

So that (described far more briefly than I've talked about it here, obviously!) was my first concrete step. My second will be to start some kind of "house community" for church folk; maybe not a formal house church, although I'd already e-mailed my bishop about that possibility a while ago, but some group that meets in a home (mine or someone else's), thereby rendering the ordinary sacred. I've come to believe very strongly that church buildings become idols, draining away money and energy from the work of ministering to the world. Even if I don't convene a house church (which would raise pesky issues of clergy, etc), I could host something as simple as evening prayer once a week, or a book discussion group, or, ideally, a 12-Step recovery-from-empire group. I'll probably also keep attending church in a building, but at least I'll be giving myself and others an alternative model.

This would also help me get better at community. One of the things that kept coming up this week is that we can't do any kind of social-justice or social-change work by ourselves (and Christian life has always been communal; even solitary religious are supported by communities), but I tend to be a loner. I join groups, but isolate within them. That's a pattern I'd like to change, and I hope this will help.

So we listened to each other's concrete steps, and then we did one of those appreciation circles where you turn to the person standing on your right and say, "I appreciate you because . . . ." I always find these exercises incredibly nerve-wracking. What if my neighbor can't think of anything nice to say about me? And sure enough, when my neighbor turned to me with a smile and said, "Well, Susan," everyone in the room started laughing, no doubt remembering Wednesday. But my neighbor said she appreciated my willingness to speak up and be vulnerable, and she seemed to mean it. (Nichola told me later, "You modeled that for us," which was a very positive spin on behavior for which I haven't always received positive feedback.)

The person to my right was the person with whom I had The Conversation on Wednesday. (By the way, I figured out on Thursday that one reason Wednesday had been so hard was that it was the four-month anniversary of Mom's death. Duh! That body memory'll bite you every time.) But again, I came up with lots I genuinely appreciated, and I think my appreciation was appreciated.

We ended the class with a blessing, and then people got ready to leave. Nichola lives in a group household, an intentional community, with five other people in West Oakland; tonight's their open dinner, so she invited all of us to join them. She gave me a lift, stopping at the Berkeley Bowl for a side dish and to let me ogle the vast produce department.

The dinner was just wonderful. We had great food -- fruit salad and a yummy kale and potato soup with optional rice -- and the company was even better. One of the housemates and her partner had just gotten back from several months in India, and her parents were visiting from South Carolina, so we had lively conversation about everything from camel rides to powerboats to physical books versus e-books (her mom's an art teacher who binds her own books from her own handmade paper) to kids' television, pondering the pluses and minuses of Mr. Rogers versus Sesame Street. We talked about animals; one of my classmates and her partner visited Washoe the chimp and own artwork by Koko the gorilla. My classmate's partner, songwriter and storyteller Nancy Schimmel, sang us her wonderful song 1492, as well as a beautiful grace. I was very impressed to learn that she's Malvina Reynolds' daughter. Yes, that Malvina Reynolds. Little Boxes Malvina Reynolds. Wow.

After dinner, Nichola taught some of us a speed-Scrabble game called Bananagrams. I was initially very bad at this, but won the last round. Then I got a lift back to campus from a classmate.

Very fun evening.

Now I have to either start packing, or go to bed so I can get up and pack. Please pray for a better trip home than the one I had to get here!

G'night, all.

The Palm Trees of PSR

The sun's out again!

Berkeley Kitty

Thursday, August 12, 2010


First of all, the sun was out today. Hurrah! Before class, I ambled down to Shattuck Avenue, my face turned to the sun whenever possible, and then ambled back up to campus again. It was good to get some exercise, and even better to get some exercise in the sun.

Before class, both of the instructors and most of the students sat outside, soaking up sun. Then we went inside, and class went better than yesterday, although I still yearn for concrete guidelines I (and others) hope will be forthcoming tomorrow. We spent the last hour of class sitting outside, in the sun.

After class, I ambled back down to Shattuck with a classmate -- a chaplain who works with the families of organ donors -- and we had dinner together at a restaurant called Poulet that specializes in chicken. It was a very satisfying meal, with good conversation about chaplaincy, life, and the course. We have very similar takes on the class, which I think is reassuring to both of us.

After dinner, we ambled to Andronico's, where I bought coffee and my friend bought fruit and I bought a dark chocolate bar with ginger which we split. We both agreed that this was permissible, because dark chocolate is healthfood. She'd never had dark chocolate with ginger. She loved it.

After we ambled back to the dorm, I finished one pair of socks (for myself, from scrap yarn) and started another. I should have been doing schoolwork, either for the class (we have two small writing assignments, one due tomorrow) or for the beginning of the semester, but that will all have to get done some other time. To answer Claire's question in her last comment, this isn't exactly a vacation -- the class is work, and I brought a lot of work with me, since the UNR semester begins a week from Monday -- but I kind of took today as a vacation day anyhow, what with all the ambling and knitting and sun-soakage and chocolate. I'll pay dearly for it later, but it sure felt good. I've been trying and trying to be productive here, with very limited success, and it was a relief to let myself off the hook for a few hours.

My chaplain classmate, after listening to the string of losses I've gone through over the last few years, shook her head and said something to the effect that if I weren't a little off-kilter right now, she'd be worried about me. Roger that.

Very thick fog began to roll in as it got dark this evening, so I doubt that we'll have sunshine tomorrow, at least in the morning when I'm free to amble. But I can hang on through another dreary day if I have to, since -- God and the CHP willing -- I'll be back in sunny Reno sometime Saturday.

The Sun's Still Out!

The Sun's Out!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Not Fun

When I got to class today, one person was lying on the floor groaning about how the dorm bed was hurting her back, which sent another into her own tale of dorm-bed woes. My bed is fine, but I can't find a comfortable chair in this entire town. Even using my ergonomic backrest and combining furniture pillows into various configurations, I can't get comfortable in the chairs in my room. The chairs in the classroom are even worse, real torture devices. I can't find a restaurant with comfortable seating, although I've had excellent food, and my hope of settling into a nice couch at the local coffeehouse after dinner was dashed when the coffeehouse was closed. At seven.

What kind of college-town cafe closes at seven in the evening?

Plus, I can't find bright lighting here -- I'm currently working in my room, directly under a ceiling light, with a tabletop lamp shining right on my computer, and I still feel half-blind -- and I think the sun's only been out about ten minutes the entire time I've been here. At least I'm warm enough at the moment, although that's been rare this week too.

In short, I wasn't in a good physical space today, and also wasn't in a good emotional space, because some of the class material had brought up renewed grief about Mom. All of that resulted in my losing it during class. I can't be too specific here for confidentiality reasons, but in brief: someone in the room was dominating the discussion, and -- in my view -- was being permitted to do so (in fact, invited to do so) because of minority status. This person has dominated the discussion for several days. Actually, "discussion's" a misnomer. From my point of view, we've all been listening to monologues. Today I sat and listened to a monologue I felt like I'd heard before, and I wanted to hear the voices of the other people in the room.

So I said all of that, although none too coherently and with lots of personal spillage mixed in. Most of the other people in the room (including, most notably, the person I was addressing) praised my "vulnerability," "authenticity," and "courage." "Wow," someone said. "Nobody at PSR is ever that honest!" I think most of them, including and especially the originally offending party, actually meant the generous things they said to me. (Someone else acted very annoyed and left the room whenever I spoke after that: hey, whatever. Voting with your feet works.) I have a long history of being the Sore Thumb, and if I can't speak up in this setting, what's the point of being here? And it's not like I have anything to lose, since I'm not in a degree program. And after "The Conversation," as it was quickly dubbed, the dynamics of the room indeed became more balanced and egalitarian, and I do think I'm now on better terms with the person who was pushing my buttons. We've figured out -- and I don't for a minute think this is coincidence -- that we have many of the same issues.

Still, the whole thing was exhausting, with tears on both sides, and I really, really could have used a comfortable chair afterwards. And I couldn't find one, although I did have a nice dinner.

(Note to Gary, who fears that recovery from the dominant culture means giving up comfortable chairs and central AC: it doesn't mean that, honest. I asked. The instructor, laughing, said, "No, no, this isn't about asceticism!")

Also, today I've been getting panicky e-mails from several of my UNR students about issues I need to address and can't easily address from here, although I'm doing the best I can. Need I add that I haven't been able to get done the work I brought with me, blithely assuming I'd have the time, energy and light to complete it around the class schedule?

Aaaargh. I've always had a good time during my weeks in Berkeley. This week is quickly toppling into the "Not Fun" category. I'm lonely; I can't see; I'm behind on crucial course prep; my back hurts. But tomorrow's class topic is Hope, so I can only hope that it will leave me feeling more hopeful.

And hey, at least I'm not numb anymore!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wake You Right Up

Yesterday I returned from class in a rush to pee, only to discover workmen in my bathroom. (Shortages of bathroom opportunities seem to be a theme of this trip; I've tried to use them as reminders that much of the world can't count on anything approaching convenient indoor plumbing, but sometimes my patience frays.) Evidently whoever stayed here last week had complained about a leaking shower stall. Anyway, yesterday the workman apologized, and left fairly quickly.

This morning I slept really late. Partly this is because, sans CPAP, my sleep was of poorer quality than usual and I needed more of it; partly it was because I pigged out on chocolate last night. Bad Susan! Anyway, when I finally woke up I heard voices in conversation, thought they were from the hallway outside -- even as I wondered groggily why they were so loud and clear -- and, again at the urging of my bladder, wandered yawning, blinking and in the buff out to my bathroom, only to encounter yesterday's workman with a bucket.

We both yelped and performed evasive maneuvers. I can only assume that he'd knocked on the door of the suite and that I, asleep, hadn't heard him, which he'd taken as a sign that I wasn't there. In any case, I suspect he was more embarassed than I was. I retreated to my bedroom, threw on sweats and a t-shirt, and went back out to talk to him and his partner, who'd been in the shower stall when I emerged from my room and had missed the whole encounter. This gentleman explained that the shower was really fine, but asked me to put a towel in front of it when I bathed. After the two of them left, I discovered my bathmat, sopping wet, balled up inside the shower, and I admit that annoyed me a little.

It was certainly a memorable way to wake up.

I barely had time for my in-room breakfast before I had to go to class. I've been feeling very numb in class, which is ironic because we've been discussing American empire systems and how they foster addictions and numbness. To answer Jean's question, the title of the class is "Dissident Discipleship within the American Empire: Cultivating and Modeling Truly Alternative Ways of Being." I took this course because I wanted some concrete, practical suggestions for how to live against the grain of dominant/oppressive culture (aside from breaking my own addictions to shopping and chocolate, projects which are going very slowly, to the detriment of my bank balance and my waistline). I found yesterday's discussion annoyingly intellectual and also us-versus-them-y, a trait that tends to put my b.s. detector on Red Alert. Today was better, because we talked much more deeply about personal experience, instead of bashing mythical Thems. (We have met the Them, and They are Us.)

So far I'm most moved by, and interested in, the concept of "buried narratives," the untold histories resulting in behaviors that look personal but really have deeper cultural and historical roots. In other words, the personal is political: family addiction and abuse, for instance, are often byproducts of social oppression and trauma. The instructor's given us a handout inviting us to explore how our apparently personal suffering connects us to history and thereby to the suffering of others. "For example, if you were abused by someone who fought in a war, then you are now connected to the children of veterans returning from Irag, to children of military men and women all over the world, and to children of guerrila warriors and freedom fighters as well." (Here's the entire Deprivatizing Suffering exercise, for snyone who's interested.)

I've gotten so used to the rhetoric of suffering as special-making -- "I'm more oppressed than you are, so you'll never understand me" -- that the notion of transforming suffering into connection is very refreshing. I also like the course's reminder that oppression hurts oppressors too, by costing them their humanity. Nobody wins.

The instructor, Nichola Torbett, founded Seminary of the Street, and is starting a 12-Step Group for people trying to recover from the dominant culture. I love this idea, and if I lived in the Bay Area, I'd go to those meetings in a heartbeat. But I don't live in the Bay Area; I live in Reno.

There are huge ironies here, or maybe not. The East Bay seems so distant from what I think of as dominant culture that the idea of meetings here to recover from dominant culture is . . . well, I don't know, something like Buddhist monks having meetings to recover from materialism. (East Bay residents do have a sense of humor about their own politics; the co-instructor of the course, an African-American lesbian Christian pastor, had us convulsed today as she described the gyrations local seminary students go through trying to make sure that any religious service welcomes anyone of any possible background or tradition. "And you'd better smudge some sage in case anybody's Native American! And include origami cranes in the liturgy for the Asians in the building! And there might be somebody who thinks God is a muffin, so we'd better have a few committee meetings about how to revise our liturgy to honor the muffin god!") On the other hand, maybe you can only realize you even need recovery from the dominant culture when you've gotten that much distance from it. In any case, Reno seems infinitely more afflicted by the dominant culture than the East Bay does, and is there any chance of getting such a program started in Reno? Should I try? Can I try, if I'm not yet in recovery from the dominant culture myself?

Is any of this even making sense?

When I signed up for the class, I didn't know yet that my parish would be closing. Now that it is, I'm trying to discern what the class is suggesting about how to proceed from here. I've long had a sense that for many Christians, church buildings and administration become idols, getting in the way of doing God's work in the world, and the class has deepened that conviction. I may try to get some folks together to do house church back home, since I already have some friends in the parish who are open to this (and so's my bishop, although I'm not sure what we'd do about clergy).

Sigh. If anybody reading this in Reno would be interested in a 12-Step Group to recover from the dominant culture, let me know, okay?

Monday, August 09, 2010

Westward Ho

It usually takes me three and a half hours to get from Reno to Berkeley. Yesterday it took six and a half. Granted, that included two sorely needed breaks to stretch, refuel and recycle liquids, but still.

Over the mountains, there was roadwork. Everywhere, there was incredible traffic, as everyone who'd been in Reno for Hot August Nights headed west again. Traffic crawled, rarely getting up to thirty miles an hour. The one time the road cleared enough for all of us to get up to actual highway speed, I got pulled over by the CHP and given a speeding ticket.


Granted, I was speeding. So was everyone else on the road. I wasn't going any faster than anyone else; I just got unlucky and lost the CHP lottery. They've cut me breaks at least twice before, though, so my number was up this time (and I saw a lot of other people pulled over).

Anyway, it was a thoroughly miserable trip, especially when I stopped for gas about sixty miles out of SF. I needed to use the bathroom, but it was out of order. I drove to the gas station across the street to use their bathroom, which had a line of at least fifteen people, no lie. Even worse, the people emerging from the bathroom looked really unhappy. I wound up driving west an exit or two, where I finally found clean, functional facilities in a fast-food place.

I guess the trip could have been worse. Eastbound traffic in the mountains, already down to one lane because of construction, was stopped dead: people had gotten out of their cars and were wandering along the side of the road. The CHP officer told me there'd been two accidents, including a big rig that had gone off the road, and no one knew how long it would take to get things moving again.

By the time I got to Berkeley around 6:30, I was thoroughly frazzled. Luckily, my suite's lovely: I have a living room, bathroom and bedroom to myself -- and the bedroom has a view of the Bay Bridge and SF skyline -- although when I unpacked, I discovered that I'd fogottten both a crucial piece of my CPAP and crucial items of clothing. Gary's FedExing all that stuff to me; it will get here tomorrow. Between FedEx charges and the speeding ticket, this has become a very expensive trip!

My course is interesting, if not entirely what I expected: more academic than practical so far, although I suspect that will change.

Felicity Fiddle, swaddled in blankets for insulation in the backseat, was nicely in tune last night and seemed to have weathered the trip fine. Tonight, everything had gone haywire, and it took me a good forty minutes to get her even remotely in tune again. I couldn't get the fracking pegs to stay put: I'd tighten a string and get it in tune and then, sproing, the peg would loosen again. Drove me nuts. I finally got everything adjusted and relatively stable, but I hope this doesn't happen again tomorrow! I'm using my practice mute so I don't bother anyone else in the dorm, and I'm having fun playing, but man, the tuning challenge was almost as frustrating as yesterday's drive (if not as expensive!).

The weather's cool and cloudy here. I usually appreciate that during the summer, but this week, I miss Reno's sun. Also Gary. Also the cats.

I'll feel much better when I get my CPAP and can get a good night's sleep!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Codes: 0. Births: 1.

The hospital where I volunteer has recently started the lovely practice of playing a snippet of Brahms' Lullaby on the PA system whenever a baby is born. I was in the ER today when we heard the familiar chords; everyone looked up and smiled.

What a great thing to do! If we hear a blaring announcement whenever someone's in grim shape, good news should be just as audible.

And, even better, I didn't hear any codes today.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Bourgeois Consumer: Guilty as Charged

I've resisted the e-reader trend for lo, these several years, largely because my job leaves me so text-tired that my favorite way of "reading" these days is listening to books on Audible. I've also downloaded free Kindle programs for my PC and Blackberry; the Blackberry offers a surprisingly useful reading experience, although my eyes start crossing fairly quickly from the small screen.

My credit card has one of those rewards programs where you accumulate points towards various free goodies. Browsing their catalogs, I discovered that they offered Sony e-readers. Intrigued by the idea of getting one of these gizmos for free, I started doing research, a task made easier by the fact that Liz has a Sony Touch and let me play with it when we were in Arizona. I loved the annotation feature, but didn't like the glary screen or lack of wireless. The Sony Pocket, also offered by the rewards program, has a better screen, but no annotation feature, and the same lack of wireless.

I was going to get the Touch anyway, but -- to make a long story short -- today I caved in and just went ahead and ordered one of the new Kindles, which I'll get mid-September, if I'm lucky, because everyone else is doing the same thing. It has wireless and 3G and a keyboard for annotations and a non-glare screen, plus a "read to me" feature, and I already have a bunch of Kindle books, and the Sony was more and more seeming like second-best, and I'm about to turn fifty, and Gary and I agreed that this is my birthday gift, even though the cruise already sort of was.

Also, I got an apple-green leather cover. In for a penny, in for a pound.

Now I just have to figure out what to do with all those credit-card points.

Later: We can use the credit-card points for a $250 account credit, which will pay for the Kindle and cover. Yee-hah!

New Socks

Here are the socks I made for Tiel. Aren't they pretty? I'm very pleased with them, if I do say so myself.

With any luck, I'll mail them off today. I sure hope she likes them!

In other news, my sister knits continental style, while I've always used the slower English method. On the Arizona trip, she taught me continental, which I've been trying to master so my knitting will be faster and more efficient. I've been managing a rough version resulting in uneven stitches, but this morning I think I finally found a way to secure the yarn in my left hand while maintaining tension. This involves byzantine winding around fingers and wrist, so I suspect there's a simpler method out there, but this one works for now!

Health Updates

For the past two days, I've been entirely off meds -- yay! -- and I'm already feeling a little more connected to the world. I hope it holds!

On the less positive side, my knee's been hurting like a sumbitch. Ice packs help, as does frequent movement (in a rocking chair, say), so the joint doesn't stiffen, and I've been swimming or using the elliptical -- recommended for folks with knee problems -- to buoy my mood and to keep working on my weight, which is definitely one of the contributing factors. But the problem's gotten to the point where stairs are a challenge; I have to do one step at a time, since bending the knee with any weight on it becomes very unpleasant very quickly.

Next week I'm in Berkeley; the following week, I'm going to see Katharine's orthopedist. My Berkeley visit will involve a second-story dorm room, in a building I suspect doesn't have elevators, and mandatory walks downtown for both exercise and food. I'll be slow and careful. Annoying, but not the end of the world.

That week, Gary and I are also both going to see a dermatologist. He has a mole on his face that's been worrying me for a while: our doc says it's probably nothing, but best to get it checked out. Best to get both of us checked out, since we live in the sunniest state in the country and I'm truly awful about using sunscreen. I have a black mark under one toenail that's probably a bruise, but I'll feel better when a doctor reassures me that it's not skin cancer.

Ah, middle age! I'm not sure I can count the number of specialists we've collected.

The Funeral

As you can see, love of cats runs throughout my family.

This was Carol's favorite picture of Ken; she called it "The Cat Strangler." He loved to take self-portraits, but to get their beloved cat Wilson in the photo, he had to get a wrestler's grip on the cat.

When I called Carol the day Ken died, she said, "How do people do this when they have children? I don't even know how I'll tell our cat that Ken is gone."

I'd hoped to meet Wilson when I went to Arizona, but he hid from the houseful of people. It was great to see my cousins and their kids, all of whom are becoming smart and funny adults, but I was very emotionally shut down through the entire trip, feeling numb and distant and despondent.

At the funeral home in Phoenix, packets of wildflower seeds, printed with the Cat-Strangler photo, sat in a bowl next to the guest book. I took two packets, although plants die when I look at them, and our non-yards aren't exactly conducive to growing anything anyway. I may ask gardener Katharine if she wants some wildflower seeds for her yard. I had to have the packets, though, because of the photo.

The next day, we all drove up to Flagstaff for the burial in a family plot that holds my great-grandparents and great-uncle. It's a gorgeous spot, shaded by a huge tree. My uncle, Ken's dad and my mother's brother, is an entomologist who specializes in bees and has discovered many species. His granddaughter, my cousin Jim's daughter Maggie, travels and collects insects with him. On a previous trip to the family plot, the two of them discovered a ground-nesting bee, a new species they named after my aunt Barbara, known to the family as Bobbie.

After the burial service, Uncle Jerry and Maggie kept walking purposefully away from the plot and mourners. I thought maybe they needed alone time. Then I saw Maggie come back from the car with a white collecting net, which she began swirling in vigorous figure-eights. They'd found a nest of Bobbie-bees (not their scientific name, of course), and Maggie happily captured several for her collection.

Rather unfortunately -- at least from my point of view, and given the occasion -- this involved killing the insects by stuffing them in a test tube containing cyanide. "You don't want to stick your nose into this test tube," Maggie said cheerfully, evoking an oft-told family tale of how an ashen Bobbie once found toddler Ken (or was it Jim or Steve?) happily teething on a collection cork. Luckily, the baby hadn't gotten to the cyanide yet.

The best part of the trip, for me, was the drive Liz and Gary and I took from Flagstaff back to Phoenix, via Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, and mountaintop artist's colony Jerome. Liz and her husband once made the same trip with my mother. Liz discovered she was pregnant when she threw up in Oak Creek Canyon, so it was a memorable journey, and I still have the beautiful silver ring and handwoven rug my mother brought back for me.

You've already seen the photos from our drives.

Gary loved Sedona and wants to go back sometime when it's not blazingly hot. I loved Sedona too, because Liz and I found a splendid yarn shop there, and I bought some lace yarn the color of the red rocks.

I love my family, and I love Arizona. I hope I'll get to see both again when I'm feeling less remote.