Sunday, June 30, 2002

It's late and I have an early day planned; Ma & I are going to do a little cemetery research in the morning, part of our genealogy quest. Tonight I had to download my course database on this computer, because the schedule is intense, and for the first week or so the students need a lot of help navigating the whole idea of online delivery. I think during summer session I am going to have to spend a lot more time on the computer on weekends when I'm here, even with the dial-up connection instead of the cable one that has spoiled me, and even though outdoors calls me. So, I thought I would take a few minutes to make an entry in my ejournal (I can never go with the flow, and I prefer that over what I consider to be the very ugly b-word) from this house, which is something I have wanted to do for a while. The garden here is doing great! The borage in particular is thriving. I picked some lettuce. I did my volunteer stint at the museum room today; there are never many visitors, and on a beautiful day like this, what with all the high school graduations scheduled, people weren't exactly pouring into the library. So I passed the time by reading; first a chapter or two in John Adams (I got it for Christmas, but my interest waned a bit when I heard the plagiarism allegations). Now I am up to his election to President. Then, the library was having a book sale, so I bought two paperbacks (as if I need more books; already there is almost no room in either house for anything else) - Ethan Frome, which I love but did not own, and a book by Margaret Atwood that I hadn't heard of before. Right now, reading is more appealing to me than typing...'night.

Friday, June 28, 2002

Over at Testzone, jf has been doing some beautiful and bittersweet writing about her parents' aging, and a related issue, death. When I have written about wondering whether it is good or bad to be introspective and self-conscious, this is one important part of the consideration. I read jf's entry and asked, "How do we learn to navigate between the paralysis of a depressing awareness and the freedom of a shallow denial?"

I did a lot of reading on the subject when I was a teenager; recently I unpacked a box of books that had long been in storage, and there were Life After Life, On Death and Dying, The Evidence for Life After Death, and Death Be Not Proud, among others. More recently I read the supremely comforting Embraced by the Light. In college I took the anthropology of death, and music and death. And my connection to the past, to history and genealogy, to cemeteries, objects and records, is related.

Of course I've done some writing on the subject; from Gully Brook Press there's Compost Pile, and my tributes Bus Ride (privately printed), Howie and Penny at Dogstar and Sirius (or go to Sirius' memorial webpage from the Port Authority).

Thursday, June 27, 2002

80% is a B- but this is one time that's A-OK with me! My orthotics from Advanced Tech came today. They were a nice, efficient company with which to do business. My feet have been gradually doing a lot better because of my new Dexter shoes, but I am eager to see if custom 80% insurance-reimbursable shoe inserts will make them good as new. Well, that's too much to hope for - the nature of this problem is that they weren't really good when they were new - but the instructions say that I should notice about an 80% improvement in a month, and that it may take several days or even weeks for me to get used to them. If that level of improvment happens, I won't care that the 80% reimbursement has to go against a deductible first! My left foot, which is the most painful, is protesting the orthotic...owww...that's the same thing that happened with the new shoes. But only time will tell.

Here is an editorial, "One Nation Under God," from the New York Times. I couldn't agree more. No need to elaborate, bravo NYT!

And here is another editorial, this one from, entitled "Please. Somebody Derail Amtrak." I couldn't disagree more. Here's my letter to the editor, based on an earlier one to et al. (and from Gully Brook Press, a short essay from 2001 entitled Amtrak Summer).

If I get through the work I need to do for class (roster reconciliation and some curriculum tinkering for next week), I plan to reward myself by putting mulch in the garden. It rained last night and I want to save future watering by capturing that moisure in the soil. Planted lettuce yesterday, better late than never. The roses are in bloom!

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

In August's The Writer (I continue to subscribe even though I still mourn the passing of its old format and design every time I pick it up, sigh), there was a brief article entitled "Learning the Art of Self-Promotion." I mention this not because of the marketing tips it contained (which are good), but because it was by James V. O'Connor, who has written a book called Cuss Control: The Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing. Although I have always detested the word "cussing," and much prefer either "swearing" or "cursing" over it, I was intrigued by the idea; O'Connor states that "My intention was to convince people that swearing is abrasive, lazy language." He has a website on the subject as well.

He makes some interesting points. I don't like profanity; I do use it sometimes, but I try to keep it to a minimum. If I feel I must use a "four letter" word, I prefer to say "f-word" or write just three letters, and substitute a dash for one. When I was getting my MPA, I had a professor who couldn't string together five words without having three of them be profane. Now, sure I've used, and heard swearing a lot and not been that offended, but it reached a ridiculous level in this class. It interfered with learning. Sure, I remember the class - the professor's sarcastic, negative approach and trashy mouth.

In younger days, I know I did resort to it a lot more, but I made a serious effort to change that years ago, and I'm happy I was successful. Now when I hear (or read) someone who uses vulgarities every other word, I think, "what a slob." It doesn't matter what they are saying or writing, really. But then it is hard to say or write anything elegant when the sentences are full of litter. It has become so commonplace in society that we are numb to it, I think. It's funny, when I go to a movie and the f-words are kept to a minimum or are non-existant, I probably notice that more now! (An aside, this was just one of the many merits of Minority Report, which I saw over the weekend.) Profanities infect much of weblogland, too. But it is the couch potato of language, so overused and cliche. One part meaningless, one part tacky, and a poor substitute for a more precise modifier. In most cases it strikes me as not one bit creative or clever. And certainly not polite. Anything that contributes to the rudeness of our communities - virtual or face-to-face - saddens me.

There's power in language - but let's leave that for another day.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Back from a long weekend. Tired today. Spent a wonderful day yesterday, not counting the steam-bath level heat, connecting with distant relatives from Florida, New Mexico, New Jersey (& of course New York) in celebration of family history, at an old inn, the Beekman Arms, founded by our ancestors. Class started yesterday, and I am fielding the usual array of panic questions about course requirements. Is is Tuesday already?

Tuesday Too # 18

1.) When was the last time your pet gave you a scare? What happened? If you're not a "pet person", how come?

Not a pet person! Perish the thought!

My need to overprotect the animals leads to many scares, and what has turned out to be uncalled for worry throughout their long lives. But here are three real incidents with my present zoo:

The last one with Edna, my cat, was several weeks ago. I live in a good place for cats, so she does get to go outside sometimes, although I don't let her stay out there at night, or for hours. Several houses down the street there is an abandoned house that provides shelter for some feral cats, and one of them - a shiny, slinky tiger-striped kitty attacked Edna, and punctured her side in three places. Now, Edna is oldish - at least ten, gentle and beautiful. Shortly after I let her inside, I noticed blood droplets on the floor. I tried to inspect her, but her hair is long, and even though she is gentle, she wasn't very cooperative. I washed her the best I could with peroxide, fussed over her all night, and in the morning we made an emergency trip to the vet. A few days later she developed a cat cold from the trauma and antibiotics; she has a great appetite but refused food and hid under the bed. She's a big cat, but in no time she was vanishing before my eyes. I did manage to get her to eat a little ice cream, and eventually I threw away the antibiotics - she recovered like magic. The bald spot is almost completely grown in now, and I'm relieved that she now tends to stay inside the fence.

Sophie, my special needs hound, causes almost continuous scares because of her various conditions, but the worst in memory was last summer, when she was stung by a bee. She is allergic to everything, her face swelled up like marbles, she was panting like crazy - I thought she would die before anything could be done. An emergency phone call to the vet was reassuring, and I gave her a Benedryl - and she was fine.

Rudy, the joy of my life, is shiny and happy and always smiling - the picture of good health and good nature. He is well behaved, and has not caused a scare since he was a young pup. But despite my best efforts, he used to find ways to wiggle out of the fence, or slip out the door - and run, as fast and far as possible. The worst was once when we were visiting my in-laws, who live in a much busier area than either of my houses, and he ran right into traffic. My heart stopped. But in one of those occasions where you just know God is smiling down, and we should all take the time to count our many reasons to be optimistic and thankful for our blessings, a man stopped his car and used it to block traffic - and promptly captured my mischievous canine.

2.) How do you think the things that you think, in other words what do you think consciousness is?

Wow. I don't want to respond, "I have no idea," because that is clueless...but this is a very complex, interesting question. Sometimes I think I am too self-conscious and introspective. Sometimes I think life is easier when it is viewed simply. I have always enjoyed spending solitary time - thinking. Riding a bus, train, or as a passenger in a car, looking out the window at nature zip by, inspires thought. Music can provide the background for reflection, too. Reading sparks me sometimes. Other times, an important incident of some sort happens - and that makes me think, later.

3.) Taking off from last Tuesday's question # 3, check this out: Women's Treaty, and do something about it. If you don't live in the United States, check out the position of your country on the treaty. Thanks to Elaine for her post on the treaty.


Friday, June 21, 2002

The garden is coming along. Every day I visit my seedlings, and imagine the bounty of green beans, beets, zucchini and tomatoes that will be produced in the future. I'm thinking a lot about food today. My niece is graduating from high school, and her party is Sunday. Hard to imagine 18 years have gone zipping by! I got an email message from her brother yesterday, with the subject line "amazing cooking skills requested," asking me to make a big pan of eggplant parmesan for the occasion. Now, with that kind of pitch, how could I say anything but yes? But I guess you know she must be pretty special for me to turn on my oven during a miserably hot day like today.

So I ventured out last evening and got all the needed ingredients - I don't usually have four large eggplants just laying around in the fridge, but I have yet to get the pot of sauce going. I'm also still deciding: fry or bake the cutlets? Fried is more delicious, much less healthy, and very messy. Baked is still pretty tasty, healthier, and will make the house temperature unbearable. Hmmm...

Thinking about either outcome, even in this heat, is making my mouth water. Eggplant parmesan is just about my favorite food. In my former life, I used to eat my lunch out every day, and I loved doing that. But when I have a full pantry from a recent trip to the market, I can whip up some pretty fine lunches right here. So today I made Barilla tortelloni, and greens & beans. Those tortelloni are so delicious - a recent discovery. I could do an advertisement for them, no problem. They come in several varieties, but my favorite is asparagus and ricotta. They are yummy, or my name isn't Giuliano!

I didn't have any white beans before I went to the market (I confess, I made the greens & beans yesterday, and just heated up a bowl today) so I used chick peas instead and it came out heavenly! For sauce, since the pot is still in the planning stages, I had to "make do." In the past I always refused anything but from scratch. My thinking is, if it comes from a jar, it must be crap! But another recent discovery, not for real cooking like the eggplant parm I promised Genny, but for quick meals like lunch while working, is sauce made by a nearby favorite restaurant, Villa Valenti. I felt good about trying it because I love eating there; you can almost imagine grandma cooking away in the kitchen. The supermarket just started to carry two varieties, primavera and traditional, and Rudy and Sophie give it two paws up.

Now, you'd think by all I just wrote that I live to eat, rather than eat to live...which isn't true. But treadmilling does make me very hungry!

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

I like lists. I've been blessed with a sharp memory, but I still jot things down so that I won't forget to buy trash bags, cat food, or soap for S'ville. I always made "to do" lists for work, but lately, working at home, I become so focused in a project - contract work or curriculum updates that I haven't been good about keeping a prioritized work list. It hit me last night that some things are slipping through the cracks; I may forget to pay a bill, or send a card for someone's special day. In the past, working elsewhere, the bi-weekly payday was the trigger to pay bills, and the lunch time stroll took place near a Hallmark shop.

So, I resolved to make a to do list today, and in the process realized I needed to complete my faculty activity report for 2001-02. It is optional for adjuncts, but encouraged, and with the dismal state of the budget in post-9/11 New York, it is a good idea to trumpet one's activities. Computer forms still leave a lot to be desired. I first downloaded the form and intended to complete it in a word processor. Any time I share a document with others, I use a Microsoft product, since it is the "standard." And so - of course! about halfway through, Word crashed. I had saved the document, but when I went to reopen it - I got that lovely message about it being already in use and available solely as read only. After cursing Bill Gates, the heat (I had neglected to put the A/C on because it makes special needs dog Sophie uncomfortable), and Bill Gates again, I thought, I'll try the PDF version, and use USPS to send it. When I opened it, I discovered that the Word version had some differences in format; in other words, in the word processor, there were tabs etc. that were getting in the way. At this point, I figured, I'll get out my old Smith Corona typewriter for the top of the form, and I'll cut and paste the remainder from Word Perfect.

I can't remember the last time I used the typewriter, but I had been thinking about it fondly, as I reviewed my old writing recently. It was coated with dust, as well as Rudy's and Edna's hair (and probably Howie's and Penny's too - my beloved late dogs) [Sophie is hairless]. It still worked, but the ribbon and correction tape didn't, and I couldn't find a spare. In those cash poor days, I doubt I stocked up they way I do now, with printer cartridges and other office supplies. So I snapped the case shut. Oh well.

I proceeded to cut and paste the entire report, listening to Five for Fighting compete with my box fan. Glue stick in hand, I remembered how many times, pre-computer, I used my exacto knife and cutting mat to make magical layouts, how crude was the procedure, but how much tangible pleasure those simple tasks generated. Mind wandering, I mentally skipped to the next item on my list, which was locating Anne's address in time to get a card in the mail so she can receive it on her birthday on Monday.

I met Anne on the first day of kindergarten. I am the baby of the family, and at the time my oldest brother was 17. He drove me to school that day; I ran up the steps and into the school without looking back; I couldn't wait to go to school, like the big kids. Anne is also the baby of her family, but she spent that first day, and much of the next few weeks, sitting on the teacher's lap, crying.

We became fast friends, Anne and I, despite our differences. For the remainder of our young years, we were best friends. I remember riding our bicycles to Skin's, the general store, and sitting there on the porch, eating ice cream and candy and pepperoni. I remember long, carefree summers spent swimming and playing with our dogs, swinging on the swingsets at the town park, and setting up tables at the end of the driveway, where we sold our mothers' old costume jewelry and made $7 each. We talked on the phone and wrote many letters to each other, even though we spent nearly every day together.

At the end of 8th grade, Anne and her family moved about 300 miles away. We stayed in touch, writing letters, with occasional phone calls and more infrequently, visiting. The differences between us remain; I pursued higher education, she chose not to. I married young; she waited. I have no children; she has two girls. But our views and values remain similar, and our friendship continues, strong and unwavering through 36 years. The shared experience of trips to Skin's, our beloved and beautiful small hometown, reverence for our families, and hating gym class in school will bind us forever. Interestingly, we both are involved in education; she works at the school that her daughters attend, and I teach and write on the subject. Perhaps, even for someone like me who intended to pursue a field that was not female-dominated, the societal pull of so-called "women's work" cannot be denied. Or perhaps school is just so comfortable.

Due to my interest in history and genealogy, I have copies of old letters, between my grandmother and her sister; between a distant relative whom I did not know and some of her friends and relatives; and between another distant relative and her future husband. People with little formal education wrote beautifully, regularly, poetically. Several years ago, when email was fairly new, I remember reading somewhere that it was resurrecting the lost art of letter writing. That's so wonderful.

Sadly, Anne does not have a home computer, or use email. So our correspondence follows the predictable pattern I have observed in my grandmother's and great aunt's letters: Christmas, birthdays, other occasions, and thank you notes. A yearly chronicle of milestones. Last year, when she turned 40, I was all set to attend her surprise party, but my body refused to cooperate. My schedule was hectic, and I came down with bronchitis, nearly pneumonia, and was lectured to stay home, or else, by the doctor. I had a low-key celebration for my 40th, which turned out to be a wise plan, since it arrived exactly one week after 9/11, and no one, including me, felt like celebrating anything. In her letter at that time, she told me about her new house, and sent me her soon-to-be address.

I didn't hear from her at Christmas...this never happens, and so I have been a bit worried ever since. I neglected to enter her new address in my database. I calm my worries by thinking that in her move, she probably misplaced my address, also. An internet search turns up only her old address and phone number. So sending a card meant searching through a box of old papers for last year's birthday card, a task I detest. I'm happy to report that I just checked that item off my new to do list...good thing I am a pack rat! Happy 41st Birthday, Annie!

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Tuesday Too # 17

1.) What's your favorite browser? Why do you hate "the other one"?

Well - I use AOL, and have for years. It costs a fortune to keep it and a cable ISP, but I need a dial-in for the weekend house, plus I don't feel like changing my email address. I also have copies of both Internet Explorer and Netscape, and sometimes I use one or the other. I always preferred Netscape, not for any technical reason but on principle: because I detest all things Microsoft. But what can you do? For teaching, I have Lotus Notes.

2.) Are you fascinated by technology and the internet, or is it just a handy tool for you? How did you get involved in blogging?

I guess I'd have to say "both." It is fascinating, and it is a handy tool. I had no clue about blogging until I read an article in a newspaper, the Times Union, several months ago. It wasn't about weblogs per se, it focused on websites that used PayPal donations as a way of generating support. I saved the article for reference. At that time, I had left my job to write a book (Education: Reflecting Our Society?, Gale Group, MI, 2002) and had zero time for other pursuits, but when I finished the manuscript, I planned to create a website. The Gale Group project was complete at the end of 2001, I spent January revising a nonfiction book proposal (A Visit with Mimmie: Catskill Mountain Recipes) that had been requested by Black Dome Press, and in February, I started to work on the webpage logistics. I returned to the article I had tucked away. I surfed around to the sites listed, and discovered Blogger. I was intrigued, and I thought, this is a clever idea for journaling.

3.) What do you think about the alliance of conservative U.S. Christian organizations with Islamic governments (Iran, Libya, Iraq) "to halt the expansion of sexual political protections and rights of gays, women and children at United Nations conferences" (Washington Post article by Colum Lynch, June 17, 2002)?

I'm not big on posting my political views on the web, because (1) political is personal to me (in other words, I care about [for example] being a custodian of our land and the environment, so I am a recycling and organic gardening fanatic - but I don't give a d-mn about going to a rally and shouting slogans); (2) I believe most issues to be too complex for simplistic black and white analysis; and (3) my political ideologies have never been remotely "mainstream." My philosophies are a mixed bag: moderate, radical, outrageous, bland. I believe in campaign finance reform, animal rights, and stiff penalties for disobeying traffic laws. I share some views with liberals, and others with conservatives, but I find there are too many members of both groups that are far too closed minded toward, intolerant of and desiring to stifle others' perspectives, and I don't care for the polarization of those labels.

For me, that isn't what this journal exercise is about. But, to respond to this question, I will violate my usual policy a bit. On this specific article, I am very upset by the policies of the countries listed, and I don't agree with many of the ideologies of the groups listed (although I believe they have every right to hold those views), so naturally this issue bears careful watching, but I have a major problem with equating "sexual political protections" with the single issue of "reproductive rights" (which is often simply a euphemism for abortion). Why shouldn't groups that hold certain views fight for them? Do they have less right to do so because they are on the left, or the right, or (gasp) unpopular to some in another camp? Finally, about the tone: I have done some writing on this subject before (it was the subject of my first published story, Scapegoating), I have always thought the media, and many people, are strongly, overtly, and proudly anti-Catholic, poignantly demonstrated by the absolute glee the recent controversies have generated.

Monday, June 17, 2002

Class can be accessed today, but the actual start date is Monday, June 24. Last summer I noticed that many students started doing the work during this week when the material was available, but before class began. This never happens during the regular semesters. Another interesting thing about summer session (aside from the intensity of a six-week schedule) is that many students are from other colleges. This creates a nice diversity.

The father's day gift for my father was a bucket of goodies: eggplant caponata, artichoke hearts, clams (for jazzing up alla olio), dried fruit, trail mix, and 2 lbs. of scallops, which my mother cooked on Sunday and I helped them eat. They were mowing, using a 1942 tractor that belonged to my grandfather, some of the horse pasture in an effort to battle the weeds. A while ago I posted something here, with limited comment because it upset me so, from New Scientist, about genetic manipulation to control an invasive species. Recently I posted the same item to Blogsisters. Funny, not in the ha-ha way but in the "strange" or maybe "ironic" sense, I think not everyone finds altering things (perhaps even us) genetically, or the idea of single sex selection, scary. As a control for invasive species - it is maybe even OK? Or to increase the food supply?

I could puke (literally), the idea is so revolting, and so personally offensive - for so many reasons...because of the slippery slope that can be science, because of choosing based on a characteristic like gender, because the outcome and impacts may be unpredictable, and because of the superiority of organic methods. Bamboo is invasive here in the Castleton yard - we pull some, and tolerate some. That's the organic way. A good pair of gloves and a little elbow grease.

I write this because of the S'ville weeds. They creep deep into the field of timothy, and the horses pick them out of the hay. The idea is to get them before they go to seed, not spray the ground with weedkiller or tinker with their biological make up.

Bob spent most of the weekend glued to the computer, getting ready for a major presentation that he had this morning. Good thing we have a computer at the S'ville house or we couldn't have gone this weekend.

Watching them mow, it was pretty obvious that the big neighboring field - the hay field - is going to need to be cut and baled a little earlier than usual this year. Weather permitting, that is. It is so thick, I'm afraid it will never make it to July 4th. I love getting in the hay, so I am hoping that at least one of the days will be a weekend, so I can be there.

After only 5 days, I conclude that my Dexter Supreme Softspot TCF3 shoes are a marvel - highly recommended. Good thing, because besides the haying, for the first time in my life I have applied for a Reservoir permit, and I am getting a fishing license. Now the extraordinary benefits of essential fatty acids like Omega 3 and 6 can take up an entire post, and that is not the reason for the fishing license anyway. I have no intention of taking fish from the Reservoir. Plus I am taking flaxseed oil to get those wonderful omegas. The Reservoir is the Ashokan, and to go on the NYC DEP controlled grounds you must have both a permit and a fishing license. I've never trespassed on the grounds during all the years when I was growing up nearby, or in any of the years since.

But this year, drinking in the majestic view from the road which crosses the dike is not enough (although I believe that activity in itself to be closely linked to the seeds of creativity). I want to hike around the land and get closer to the communities that have slumbered for 90 years in the valley under the water. I want to discover the ghosts of the past. My feet will just have to cooperate!

Friday, June 14, 2002

I have a very large pinback button collection, with themes ranging from advertising, to political, to historic to artsy. Since today is Flag Day, I am sharing some that utilize stars and stripes.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Got my shoes. They look kind of like black sneakers, but they feel very orthopedic. I'm not used to wearing such clumsy shoes, so I hope I don't trip over my feet.

I started to revise the schedule and curriculum for my summer course. Access to it opens on Monday, and the course itself begins the following Monday. As I work on it, I have this anxious feeling in my stomach. My experience is that summer session students usually are no problem - they are motivated and serious. But just thinking about teaching brings up all that cheating unpleasantness. I'm going to have to come to terms with it...via writing, petting the dogs, gardening, exercise and skilled relaxation.

Time for treadmilling.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

I've had really bad problems with my feet since I was a teenager. It has to do with the metatarsals. I've had episodes of flare, and then periods of being pretty OK over the years. A podiatrist I went to made me orthotics that didn't work. An orthopedic surgeon said I'd need surgery someday, and to put it off as long as possible. I'm not big on the idea of surgery, NSAIDs and cortisone shots, anyway, and I've managed to remain active without those things. But, since that time I have been very careful about the shoes I wear. Always wide, always flat. For years I wore Chinese shoes, but my toes froze in the winter. Then flats became "in" and much easier to find, so I switched to Rockports and Easy Spirits. No $20/pair shoes for me. For the past several months it has been in flare again, especially in my left foot. My latest shoes, Easy Spirits, now hurt. I hate shopping, and shoe shopping is no different - even worse, because obnoxious sales clerks get all know-it-all-ish and act like I'm a moron when I tell them that a certain shoe won't be any good for me. I just can't break in a shoe like other people. If it hurts in the store, it will never be worn at home. And shoes cannot have any heel at all - they must be soft, even in the sole area - with no seams in bad places. Wide is mandatory. So I put off getting a new pair and now I am paying the price.

About a week ago, it worsened and now there are symptoms of neuropathy. Morton's Neuroma is what it's called, except that my heels bother me a bit, also. Even my wonderful slippers are no good.The ball of my foot feels strange, practically numb. That's not a really adequate description, though. When I explained it to Bob, he said, is it sort of like the feeling of having a blood pressure cuff on your arm? And that's it exactly. He has experience with thinking these sorts of things up because of his rheumatoid arthritis. I never had so much empathy, and before he got RA, I think he probably did not have as much for my condition.

Since 1998, when I started the residency for my doctoral degree, I have not been walking as much. I think my leg muscles weakened as a result, causing more stress on my feet. I have two pairs of sneakers - 15 year old Cherokees that I use to do yardwork, and new Nikes that I got for the treadmill. Neither were shoes I could wear long term, but I had to have something for those activities. Anyway, at the moment those are the only shoes I can wear at all. I've been forcing myself to do what needs doing - the alternative, laying around feeling sorry for myself, is not acceptable. I notice that when I get busy, the problem lessens. So, I did my gardening over the weekend, and today I got off my a-s, cleared off the porch, used the treadmill and did stretching exercises. I also did some reading on the subject, and I am going to start taking vitamins, and make some dietary adjustments. I am also learning a skilled relaxation technique, because stress is always a player in these things. Finally, I may give custom orthotics another try, and tonight - off to go shoe shopping....

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Garden is in - webpage updates are done - treadmill space is still in progress. Class must be ready June 17, and actually begins on June 24. And, it is hot...

Tuesday Too # 16

1.) The New York Times recently had an article by David Gallagher on the war bloggers (after 9/11 and mostly right-wingers) vs. techie bloggers or so called veteran bloggers. Do you think the very nature of blogging is revolutionary? NOTE: you need to create a user name and password to access the NYTs.

Hmmmm....revolutionary is a strong word, maybe too strong as a description. From the (admittedly short and small) length of time and amount I've surfed around reading others' journals, many words jump to mind, among them self-important and self-absorbed! But the weblog phenomenon definitely is something. Much simpler to access than a webpage. And although it is as easy (to publish) as participating in a chat room or discussion board, it is different. More permanent.

I think this is only scratching the surface.

2.) Are labels (i.e. feminist, left or right) really important? What if the meanings change over time? Is there some particular label you're proud to wear and why?

I don't care for labels, and I think the meanings (including feminist, left, and right) do change a lot over time. I find it is difficult to categorize people this way - interesting people are more complex than a label. But if I had to wear a label, "writer" would be OK.

3.) Would you be willing to give up, or reassess something you strongly believe in because hard evidence suggests that you are totally wrong?

Yes. I believe in assessment - and reassessment. You know, that value of an unexamined life stuff. But labels aside, I also think that there are some absolutes.

Sunday, June 09, 2002

I love planting stuff, and that's an understatement. This month's virtual museum on my Gully Brook Press website focuses on gardening. Both gardening and website updates are about half done. I will finish getting the plants in tomorrow, and the web stuff on Monday. With any luck, I'll get the treadmill space finished on Monday, also. I am tired from all the yardwork -- too tired, which really highlights why the treadmill and other exercise are so important. I don't care to be a health nut, but I don't want to be feeble, either. It's too bad that a life spent watching a screen, under a lightbulb is so conducive to physical weakness.

Jill Carroll, who is something of a super adjunct, regularly writes interesting stuff for The Chronicle of Higher Education. It's great to have someone addressing things from the part-time, non-tenure track faculty member's perspective. Her latest article, Avoiding Adjunct Burnout, contains much good common sense - for example, really use the breaks between semesters for yourself, since as a part-timer, you are not on the university's nickel when there are no classes, and adjuncts often don't have a leisurely summer off since they frequently teach during summer session. I do my best to not spend my weekends here, in my office, and I try to pursue personal writing, reading, etc. during breaks - but I am not teaching the number of classes that she does, so for me there is always the scramble for writing and consulting jobs. I think, though, that I am not at all good at really drawing that line when it comes to students and academic paperwork - I speak to several students per day who want to get into my classes, and I find that many former students contact me for recommendations and assorted favors (most recently to request additional work, in the hope of a grade change). Also, a couple things she mentions apply to any job, I think. (Like the restorative power of taking a bath.)

Thursday, June 06, 2002

The booklet is in, the treadmill space is getting there, webpage updates are steeping, the garden awaits.

The courage to declare myself a writer
I have always wanted to be a writer. In my dreams, not asleep ones but awake fantasies, I always write a lot, what and when I want, and my work is published, adored, it pays my bills, and then some. I remember as a teenager, family members teasing me, calling me John-boy, since to be a writer was his dream also, on that 1970s TV show The Waltons.

But then I guess I have always been a writer. I have several old youthful stories that my mother saved, also file folders filled with later copy, then storage boxes of floppy diskettes (not to mention this machine's hard drive). Stories written at home and for school. Stories for classes, school newsletters and newspapers, for the entertainment of family members, for slumbering unread as incomplete fragments in a file box, and after the advent of email, for a select group of test readers. Stories about cats and boat trips to Lake George. Stories about Thanksgiving turkeys and Halloween pumpkins. Stories about the hassle of having a name that no one can spell. (This problem was remedied somewhat, not completely, by the mayor's visibility.) Book reviews, cartoons and satire. A series of newspapers from the fictional town of Nileston (I also created the physical location using boxes, glue, tape and paint).

First in crayon, followed by pencil, printed and in script, for a while I flirted with fountain pens, and later I banged out stories on my father's manual typewriter with the "S" key that barely struck, cranking them out on a template for making dittos. A series of electric typewriters came next, and then a 286 PC, 486 laptop, the Pentiums and finally, the Internet. Stories scribbled on the back of envelopes. Snippets captured during a frenzy at 3 AM, and feverishly written in a journal designed for the purpose, or sometimes in a spiral bound school notebook, that was not. Written on the train, and while waiting for the bus. Written in the middle of the night, because an idea took over and refused to let me sleep. Written during my annual one-week summer vacation that was planned for that purpose. No exotic locales here, just me and big blue.

Writing alternating with reading; books shared between me, Aunt Jean, my grandmother Mimmie, and my sister. At first, books like Dr. Suess, Peanuts collections, and Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions. In a more serious vein, Nancy Drew mysteries and Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi. Then came teen fiction like That Was Then, This is Now, A Separate Peace, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Then funny romantic novels, mostly old and out of print, like those written by Georgiette Heyer. Humor by Erma Bombeck and furniture refinishing by George Groltz. Next, historical sagas by John Jakes and Gore Vidal, followed by a smattering of the classics, in no particular order: John Steinbeck, Flannery O'Connor, Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J. Fenimore Cooper, Maya Angelou, and many others. Books that were once considered racy, like those by Erskine Caldwell. Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. Poetry by Robert Frost. So many others, from the U.S. and all over, some well-known, and some not. Nonfiction works on New York State regional history, biographies of famous, mostly dead, mostly white, men, and accounts of war and disasters. Journals of revolutionary soldiers, and long-dead British ministers. Popular fiction like Patricia Cornwall, Robert James Waller, John Grisham, and Terry McMillan. Lately, I like the work of Sandra Dallas, and many magazines: Organic Gardening, Preservation, American Heritage, Yankee, Dog Fancy, Smithsonian, and of course, Kaatskill Life. And most enduringly, important and dear of all, the complete works of Mark Twain.

On my office bookshelf, there are inspirational works: Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones and Room to Write, Viginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, National Book Award Authors' The Writing Life, Stephen King's On Writing, and Women on Writing from the NAWW; technical works like Barrington's Writing the Memoir, Kaplan's Revision, Whitman and Simon's Recipes into Type, Dietrich and Sundell's The Art of Fiction, and Buchman and Groves' The Writer's Guide to Manuscript Formats. Reference works include annual editions of Writer's Market and Writer's Handbook, Webster's II New College Dictionary, that old standby Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, and various style guides (APA, Turabian, MLA, Chicago, New York Times). Years of The Writer magazine (I still can't forgive them for the ghastly redesign) and Writer's Digest are stacked behind the door.

In high school I liked English class. My favorite teacher's note in my yearbook: "Keep Writing!" and although I am not even sure where that yearbook is at present, I still cherish that inscription. I don't think, in spite of the awake dreams, that I ever seriously considered being a writer as my main profession; I'm not completely sure why, but I always knew the odds were not great for success, and I didn't plan on the academic path, an English degree followed by a creative writing MFA, that might have been an option. I had vague notions of being a lawyer, mostly because I was a good student, liked to debate and was sort of interested in politics. My first semester at college quickly erased that possibility, and instead I found I preferred studying U.S. history, just for the love of learning it. I think my first thoughts of a career in college administration may have come during those undergraduate days. I met some nice, understanding and helpful folks among the administrators, and it seemed like a pleasant profession. But those ideas were only a flicker, and they didn't stick at that time either.

I didn't care for college-level composition courses, but I did find the services of the writing center on campus to be helpful, and there I found a mentor. He was a retired editor and writer of radio plays. I remember the marvelous experience of those sessions. During that time I did a lot of writing, and this was also when I first began to research the market, and tentatively send out a few pieces of fiction and poetry to literary journals.

Needless to say, I received two responses to those juvenile submissions: silence, or rejection letter. Does the ability to revise so easily now actually improve the writing? Or does it instead stifle the passion? Do we produce draft after draft for a reason? Oh, I do know revision is a necessary process, and wordprocessing really is a wonder, but at times I ponder the utility of all this on-screen, on-the-fly editing.

Skip ahead - there were always breaks in the writing flow as I focused on moving, gainful employment, completing some degree or other, renovating a house, and partying. Another flurry of writing, and journal entries, pre-graduate school. A few more short stories circulated, and rejected. As I struggled with what to do with my life, I experimented with a temporary job in public service, and found a good fit. This led to a master's degree, and an eventual job in education, and these activities occupied about 150% of my time. Fast forward to mid-doctoral degree. Frustration. I want to write. I have always wanted to write. I need to set writing goals, and find the time to pursue my beloved, and temporarily abandoned, hobby. In 1996, I decide to compile my grandmother's recipes into a cookbook and folklore story. I work on this for the better part of a year in my spare time, stealing time from wherever I can find it, all the while contemplating a leave of absence from the doctoral program as the solution. But I don't do that; instead I make a decision to not study for the looming comprehensive exams, and just get them out of the way. I sign up and take them with the barest minimum preparation.

Writing sparks more writing, and I produce many short essays and fiction stories. I decide it is time to test the waters, and the first short essay I send out, Scapegoating, is accepted. If only it could always be that easy! It occurs to me now that I wrote that essay in the middle of the night, awakened by an urge to write that could not be ignored. Interestingly, its subject is anti-Catholicism, something that is even more commonplace, accepted (and essentially politically correct) in our culture, five years later. Sad! I was paid $10 for the one-time rights, and before depositing the check I took it to Kinko's, to have them make a color copy. That was before I had my own personal all-in-one color printer; in fact, it was before almost anyone, besides copy places, had such equipment. The kid behind the counter refused my business, saying they were not allowed to photocopy such documents. I argued weakly, and left. Down the street was a small, private office supply store - and there the owner was happy to share my proud moment. My diplomas are in a bookcase, not in frames on the wall, but that color copy of a check for $10 hangs beneath the clock in my little office.

I continued to make progress on my book proposal, and also to turn my attention to trying my hand at query letters for non-fiction articles. I had never been interested in writing non-fiction, but I learned it was easier than selling fiction. And it is writing. I send the newly completed book proposal out to three separate batches of publishers in the next couple of years, making extensive revisions after each try when I get several "thanks, this is lovely, but not right for us" letters, alternating with silence from others.

After I finished my doctorate, I immediately found an administrative job, although I had promised myself while I was working on my dissertation that I would really take my time and contemplate my options. Instead, for some reason I felt the need to see how fast I could find a decent position that met my criteria. The answer was, pretty fast. So? I worked for a while, and then realized again what I already knew: being an administrator wasn't really what I wanted to do any longer, at least not full-time, and not right now. I looked down my list of goals and I found that I had a lot of things checked off. What would be my next goals? A new living room sofa or car just weren't what I had in mind as bullets. I figured I might finally have the skills needed to support myself through freelancing. In other words, I could now teach part time, and maybe land educational consulting projects and education-related writing assignments. This would be my income source, and it would free up some additional time to pursue creative writing, the ultimate goal.

The writing contract work, while not as personally rewarding as writing fiction or even nonfiction of my own design, is still writing. Over the years, during my days as a staff member in academic affairs and later when working for an educational grant program, I wrote memos, letters, brochures, and reports. On mathematics readiness in college, on transition to college, on the economic returns of a college education, on gender and vocational education, on rising junior testing. I've said, I'll write after I finish designing these databases or entering data in this spreadsheet. I've read research studies and journal articles and promised myself that I could write when I was done reading. Next week. Next year. Tomorrow. Later. After graduation. After I get through this chapter. After I grade 35 exams. After the slide show is designed. After I balance my checkbook. After I fold the laundry. When I get back from the party. When Seinfeld is over (not really). After the garden is planted and the plants are watered. I didn't give myself the freedom to be a writer, or to think of myself as one anyway, until I had completed my educational goals. As if being Dr. somehow validated the creative process, made it OK to spend time doing it, no apologies. I guess I was afraid of not making a living, of the failure. I needed some significant accomplishment as a back-up.

All creative endeavors are ultra competitive, and not always very lucrative. The back-up became the lead. If I'd made a more serious, continued effort as a writer would I already be successful (whatever that means) and over the risky part? Don't "they" say you can only write to please yourself, and because you are driven to do it, and not for the income generated? Don't "they" say if you really wanted to write, you could find the time somehow? Don't "they" say, don't leave your day job until you have at least 10 major sales and a guarantee of some stable income from regular assignments? Well, I may not have held to that last guideline exactly, but luckily I was close enough.

So now I am more than seven months into this new journey of goal-seeking. I was already a fairly prolific writer, when not in one of those long silent spells, but since being free I have written an educational book and booklet, I'm teaching part-time and mentoring a graduate student, I've created a website, Gully Brook Press, and online journal, I produce occasional essays and short stories, I've sorted through a lot of old material, I've joined the National Association of Women Writers, Blog Sisters, and several webrings, and I regularly read Inscriptions (the best thing since Inklings and Inkspot bit the dust) and other online writing newsletters, and I sporadically write in a paper journal (this is how most of this was originally captured, actually; it is 1 AM, this wouldn't keep, and so I write in my little bound book with pages that are too small. Warren Kimble's America the Beautiful is on the cover, and my pen is wonderful, a Pilot rollerball fine point, black). My book proposal is being considered by a publisher - seriously considered - a victory in itself as that's the farthest I've gotten so far. I continue to circulate a few stories and essays here and there, I'd like to do more of that. I still don't have as much time for purely creative writing as I'd like - I want to produce more fiction and I have a few non-fiction, non-education queries brewing, trying to get to paper, threatening future 1 AM sessions.

I'm still undecided about whether online journaling makes up for what it voraciously consumes in time by its undisputed benefits of oiling the wheels of creativity and building a sense of community. I remain amazed by the phenomenon of weblogs; where have I been? What is this all about? What will the future bring? An area for much future reflection. I want to perform the analysis: count up journal entries, frequency of certain words, age, gender, subject, color, enter the digits in a spreadsheet, arrive at totals, find theories from communication, technology, methods, policy, make generalizations, bar graphs, pie charts, figure it all out.

The contract work is writing - and I admit to being at least somewhat interested in educational subjects; after all, I spent many years pursuing degrees in the discipline and working in the field, it is a kind of cozy home to me. Teaching is a joy (at least most of the time; the plagiarism plague is water under the bridge), and as my father would say, it's not a bad way to make a living. But both are very time consuming, when compared to the financial returns. It seems I work harder now, for less. There's the constant "sales" element, to network and get assignments, but I have to say, overall it's more on my own terms. And, I definitely am writing, really doing it, I think more than in the past, with the possible exception of a select few occasions that were planned, intensive, and short-term. So the end result is a good one. I have to get a bit better at not procrastinating, and although I do keep to a fuzzy schedule, I'd like to be even more organized.

I've done some thinking now and then about how much time I can give to this endeavor. I don't mean per day - the list of priorities constantly shifts as I juggle projects and budget time. I mean, at what point do I maybe return to the 9-5 world of academic administration and work at a college campus? It does have its immediate benefits, in terms of income and a predictable cash and workflow, seeing interesting and wonderful colleagues, eating delicious lunches out, the occasional happy hour, having the opportunity to wear something besides tee-shirts, shorts and my wicked good LL Bean slippers, and who could forget those stimulating conferences on assessment, or applied learning, or fixing mathematics aversion, or technology integration in classrooms - filled with workshops, keynote speeches, vendor areas, and dinners of chicken a la Marriot with a side salad topped with mandarin oranges and viniagrette dressing.

I do know the answer, at least sort of: Maybe never, but definitely not yet. I'm at least a galaxy away from that option. (With thanks to my mother for relating a story about my father's clever use of that great word.) Which is good. Although being grounded and realistic have their charms, the fact that I still am asking the 9-5 question means I have to do some additional work on the courage part.

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

Tuesday Too # 15

1.) Is there a goal, or something you value highly that a simple time commitment would put within your reach? What is it? Why is it important to you? If it's a high school, or college degree that is of the utmost importance to you, why is it significant beyond the obvious reason (i.e. job)?

As I think about this question, I realize that I've had good luck with setting goals and working toward their achievement, although at some points in my life the process was more haphazard than that. When I was a teenager, I had various ideas about what I was going to do with my life, in terms of what job I would do, how much education I would pursue, where I would live, etc.

Anyway, I changed my mind about the career part during my undergraduate days, and then I spent my twenties trying this and that, mostly entry-level, deadend paraprofessional jobs, some enjoyable, some not. In K-12, I was a good student in the academic (not social!) sense, and as a teen I did figure I'd get a graduate degree, but as the years passed, that possibility seemed remote. One day, when I was in my late twenties, I approached my boss at a small, non-profit arts organization for a raise and the sum she coughed up bordered on an insult. I impulsively let my temper get the best of me (something that happened more frequently when I was younger, but still flares with the right inducement), and the next day I resigned, deciding to go back to school for a master's degree.

At that time, I had developed an interest in public service, and so I decided to study public administration. Two years later I had the MPA in hand. In the course of my studies for the master's degree, I found an internship in academic administration and discovered that a worklife in the university was a good fit for me. A career in higher education practically demands a doctorate for advancement, I was feeling kind of ambitious at that point, and so about eleven years after that showdown with my boss, I reached that goal. Once I was near to getting a PhD, teaching, research, and writing became appealing. I also started wondering about the need for new goals, and replacing the formal educational process with things in the consumer sense isn't adequate. (Don't get me wrong, as I have no illusions about this. Although not necessary or sufficient, a certain level of material comfort is really nice.) So what's next?

I plan to write some about this quest soon. Actually I was thinking about writing on this subject today, but had forgotten about "Tuesday Too." If I wrap up the higher ed booklet [it's getting close] I might still do it. If not, it will keep a day or so.

2.) Why haven't you done this already? If you're already working towards it, tell us about a particularly difficult hurtle.

#1 pretty much covers the goal achievement process. Sometimes I was very aware of the prize, and really had my nose to the grindstone. The master's degree was kind of like that. Sometimes life's circumstances, for example financial pressure, time commitments, being unhappy about something and having to focus a lot of energy finding a remedy, a thousand other things, knocked me off track for a while. There was a long spell while I was taking classes for my doctorate where I hated everything about the program and I didn't care at all if I finished. Sometimes class would end at 10 PM and I was exhausted (or sick) and I had to work the next day on some big important project. I remember the comprehensive exams were a big obstacle that filled me with dread for years. I couldn't possibly do all the work the department faculty and students whisper is needed to pass those exams. And I had no idea how I would find the time, energy or focus to write a dissertation. I knew something would have to give for me to get through it.

Something did. See answer #3.

So what's the roadblock to "what's next?" More on that in my planned post about deciding to be a writer.

3.) Be realistic. How much time can you comit towards making it happen?

Juggling time has always been a big player in decision-making in the past. For the comprehensives, I abandoned my usual standard (which is rather last-minute, but intense) and didn't study much. I just signed up, and took them. I am a competent note-taker, and I did read through about five of my notebooks once (this required me to hunt for the most important notebook the night before the test in boxes we had stored at a rented storage unit). I passed. For the dissertation, I had to (once again) make sacrifices in standard of living, and leave my full-time job.

Coming soon: commiting to writing time.

Monday, June 03, 2002

Back at my "main" machine, and trying to get enthused about finishing the booklet. I am tired, and so are the dogs. Rudy took one look at the lawn (which needs mowing), turned around, and went back to his basket. Pretty incredible, because he loves the outdoors, although he is very particular about not getting dirty, and he likes the yard groomed and immaculate! The length of the grass didn't matter to Sophie, who didn't bother to leave the bedroom at all. She is my "special needs" hound. She is temperamental, I guess from being abandoned by her former owners, or maybe they were mean to her. She also has severe allergies to pollen and grass. We are presently trying to remedy this with Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, and B vitamins, with a Benedryl on occasion for immediate relief. It will take 8 weeks or more to see any results, and she has been on this program for about 3. Edna, the cat, did decide to venture out, probably because at the other house she is more restricted, there is rain in the forecast for tomorrow, and so she wanted to take advantage of the beautiful day.

Speaking of lawn mowing - I put in the garden at the other house, which is why I am tired. This reminds me of why I need to exercise more - I don't like being so sore from digging. But I do love planting things. It was wonderful. Better, even, than writing for pleasure. On my agenda at the moment is putting in my garden here, so I am hoping the weather is good this weekend, although I will do it in the rain, if necessary. Visions of fresh organic vegetables dance in my head...

Sunday afternoon was the cemetery trustees' meeting. We had a complaint from a plot owner, about a neighboring grave. Last September, a 35-year-old woman committed suicide, leaving her husband and 12-year-old daughter. I have a lot of thoughts about suicide that I won't go into at the moment, but the people were complaining because the family members of the woman who killed herself have adorned the grave as a sort of shrine, in the way that you see along the highway near where traffic fatalities have happened in recent years. It is a small, rural cemetery, and we have no rules about such things. The only restrictions have to do with planting trees, so we are within our rights to tell the complaining people to take a hike, which is what we decided. (In a nice way, of course, with language about compassionate consideration.) Anyway, after the meeting was over, I walked over to the grave in question, and it is pretty clear that the daughter has had a big role in creating the memorial. There was everything you can imagine set up there, sand with sea shells, a little plastic fence, wind chimes, dog statues, angels and cherubs, various garden decorations, a big crucifix and cross and other religious mementos, and a piece of slate with things like "I miss you every second of every day" written in chalk in a kid's handwriting. I guess it could be described as tacky, and perhaps inappropriate, although those weren't the first descriptive words to jump into my mind as I stood there. I tried to imagine what would drive the people who complained to leave that place feeling anything but touched, choked up, thoughtful, and sad. Why would they decide to contact the cemetery trustees? Why would people with such set ideas about what looks nice in a cemetery not have selected a more formal, strict one for their loved ones anyway? Why would they believe it would be right for us to tell that little girl and her father to remove those objects and add to their grief? What ugly people.

Also on the agenda, June updates to my website. (But they are not priority items on my list.) I have taken out my paper journal again, as it serves a different purpose (and at times it is more handy than a PC).