Sunday, December 31, 2006

Auld Lang Syne.

Amateur night. The night when people put on party hats and act like they can hold their liquor. They hug, kiss, drink, make resolutions, drink some more.

You always know New Year’s Day is approaching because all the TV stations have their “Best of” lists, their hangover suggestions, and their gentle reminders about resolutions. I even saw a sale today – “Let’s resolved to get organized this year honey, go to Home Depot for their big sale.” Jeez.

I find going out for New Year’s is less of a priority. It’s like Valentine’s Day – restaurants pass out noisemakers and cheap champagne, then charge out the wazoo for a fixed menu they produce by the boatload. Crap food dressed up to look nice. I’d rather celebrate at home and save the celebrating for a regular mundane day in early March when I really need it because the winter crazies have hit me hard. Yay, I didn’t kill anyone today, let’s crack open some champagne.

I do have a few memorable New Year’s I’d like down in writing – recorded somewhere so when I’m too old to remember them I can say, “Wow, I did that? Nice.”

So, in no particular order:

New Year’s 1977
It could’ve been any year in the 70’s. As a kid it was the pleading to stay up late, the thrill at watching the ball drop, Dick Clark and “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” all that stuff. I can remember wishing I was there in Times Square because everyone seemed so excited, jumping up and down like they’d won the lottery. And the dancers inside looked blissfully happy, covered in disco glitter, glaring at the camera saying, “Don’t you wish you were me?”

One year my parents went to a party at a friend’s house and got so drunk they couldn’t drive home, so we spent the night. That was the coolest, an impromptu sleepover complete with brunch the next morning. We never got brunch growing up, only on Christmas so that was a special treat.

I remember playing HotWheels with their son Michael, crashing cars on the looping track over and over way into the night. Mom’s friend Tony playing 70’s rock tunes on a reel-to-reel stereo system. Mom was actually really pissed we couldn’t drive home that night, but as a kid you block out the fighting and yelling, you just remember that it felt like an adventure.

Patrick’s House – 1983
My first real boyfriend. I asked to go over his house to watch the ball drop, all so I could have someone to kiss at midnight. And we did, sitting on a beanbag, watching those people freeze their asses off in Times Square and this time girls with big hair and guys in skinny ties dancing to Huey Lewis or something equally terrible. Still looking blissfully happy.

It’s funny about New Year’s, the momentum builds until midnight, you jump, scream, kiss, hug, blow horns and throw glitter, dancing around and then maybe an hour later, it’s like, “What now?”

And the older I get that moment comes sooner and sooner. We stay up, toast another year, flip channels a while, then say, “Okay, off to bed.” Another year down.

I’m digressing. I remember my heart pounding hard right before midnight 1983 because it was the first time ever I had someone special to smooch at the stroke of twelve. I felt like Cinderella. It was so innocent and poignant, just like you’d think it would be. I’ll never forget it.

New York – 1992 (or thereabouts)
The only time I’ve actually gone to Times Square. A bunch of friends racing like mad people for the train from D.C. to New York – a last minute decision because an acquaintance offered us his apartment for the weekend and promised us “Big Fun” and big parties. It was our Sex and the City weekend – just imagine the show and yep, that was us. Throwing party clothes into carryon bags, making sure we would be bejeweled and high-heeled for a big city adventure.

It was cold as shit and because back then it was better to look good than to feel good darling, I didn’t wear a winter coat. Just a navy strapless cocktail dress and sheer wrap. And heels. I looked great walking 40 blocks, my hair big and curly, the only problem was that Kevin thought he could do makeup too and so my eyebrows looked frightening and my lips garish. But the lights in the clubs were dark so that helped things somewhat. I remember Kevin’s friend had so much pancake on he looked like a ghost. I remember my feet hurting and being cold, but I didn’t care. There were no cabs, subways too crowded, but I was in New York baby!

We couldn’t all fit in the one cab we got early on. So Eva in her beehive pompadour lay across us horizontally. We paid the driver $20 extra. Howling with laughter, feet and hands everywhere, the cab driver shaking his head, Eva screaming, "Watch the hair guys, watch the hair!"

First stop? Some club for drinks – but then we went to a loft party – some guy who had helped finance the documentary “Paris is Burning” – I held up a wall and watched Patty Davis act drunk and drape herself all over everyone. And I met Lypsinka – out of drag and looking like a Microsoft nerd in a down vest and jeans. I never would’ve recognized her.

Later we danced in a tight circle at Jackie 60, then eavesdropped on Debbie Harry holding court in the basement. I met Patrick McMullan and Chi Chi Valenti and felt pretty fucking cool since I was a lifetime subscriber to Interview back then. And here I was in Jackie 60! Interview was my guide to life living in little ol’ Richmond, Virginia. I could hardly believe it. It was my own “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” come to life, except better. Because the music was HOUSE.

Glasgow, Scotland - 1995
New Year's here is less of an event than Burns Night (1/25) but it's still pretty nuts. In Edinburgh they do a huge military tattoo in front of Edinburgh castle and pretty much everyone is hyped up on lager. I remember a small flat in Cumbernauld, feeling colder than I could have ever thought possible. We drank a case of Stella Artois that Stewart's brother had brought back cheap from France. Said brother was in Shropshire for the holidays, so we drank his beer. Needless to say he wasn't happy when he got back. I remember fireworks on TV, Deacon Blue on the stereo, cold Stella Artois and chicken pakora to wash it down.

Washington, DC - The Benetton Party - 1994 (?)
My sister, friends and I all drove to Washington from Richmond for the party of the century. The Greek tycoon who owned pretty much every Benetton on the East Coast was holding a thank you/New Year's party for his employees. I was in college, working two jobs, one of them the evening shift at Benetton - folding sweaters and selling sweaters, but constant folding, folding, folding.

This party was incredible, and to this day I wonder how much he spent. An entire office building lobby was set up to look like Rio at Carnivale, and the party came complete with dancers in huge headdresses covered in rhinestones sashaying down a spiral staircase to the music of a steel drum salsa samba rhumba band. I obviously don't know my Latin music, but those guys were great. If you weren't dancing, you were dead. The food was incredible, the desserts were incredible, and the drinks were free. There were miniature musical instruments on five huge Christmas trees and after much champagne, we of course tried to play like the guys on stage. At midnight balloons and confetti fell from the ceiling and I remember all of us looking around stunned, as if to say, "Wow, are we really here?" It felt like Rio. Even today when I think of the top five parties I've ever been to, this one rates right up there. There was nothing cheesy or "New Year's Evey" about it. It was just a great friggin' party.

Chincoteague, Virginia - 2000
My then fiance and I went to Chincoteague for Christmas week - to hike, to drink wine, mainly to rest. Again, it was cold and the beaches were deserted, but we bundled up and hiked around the wetlands, stopping in a Mom and Pop restaurant to dethaw every so often.

The wind felt like a knife across the beach, but the horses, who so often steer clear of the tourists, came right up to us to stare. "Why are you here this time of year you fools?" they seemed to ask. I loved the feeling of the deserted winter beach, no one but us around, drinking from a flask and trying to stay warm.

New Year's Eve found us at the local VFW, guests of the "Year of the Horse Inn" owner, who I guess thought he could make some money out of selling a "Chincoteague New Year" package to tourists. I've discovered he's since sold the B&B and moved elsewhere, but it was a nice little place to stay. We had our own table, party hats and favors, and some really terrible champagne. But the band was good, and the people at our table friendly.

We got totally trashed - I remember going in the bathroom and catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror - New Year's tiara, Mardi Gras beads, plastic champagne flute and a noisemaker all in my hands, purse tucked up under my arm. I cracked up laughing. I looked totally ridiculous and it was fantastic.

Las Vegas - 2002
My husband and I came to Vegas for the first time for some much needed R&R. I always thought we'd "do Vegas" one time and be done with it, but it's so much fun we've been back three more times. Anyway, we chose Christmas week for our first trip, rather than travel to every relative and their mother to visit. Just because we don't have kids, doesn't mean that we're the ones "obligated" to do the visiting. We deserve a great Christmas break too.

I'm digressing again. This trip was fantastic. The food here is fantastic, the gambling and drinking are great, and there is so much to see and do it's like Disney for grownups.

For New Year's we decided to go "Old Vegas" and see Wayne Newton live at the Riviera. Old school Vegas with Old School Wayne. They shut down The Strip and turn it into a giant pedestrian walkway. So while everyone is walking downtown to see the fireworks, we're walking uptown, toward the older casinos to see Wayne. I remember people calling out, "You're going the wrong way!" Yeah, whatever dude, I come from Pittsburgh, land of fireworks.

As we walked, we passed every type of humanity. It was crazier than Times Square. Old people, young kids, teenagers, you name it. This one guy had a plastic glass around his neck that was as tall as he was. One huge daiquiri. When we asked him what it was, he replied, "The best $30 I've ever spent. This here is 100 ounces of happiness." Yeah, and if you drop it, you won't lose any, because it was hanging around his neck on a rope! Truly bizarre, Vegas genius.

We also saw doomsdayers - people in white robes with big signs that said, "The End is Near!" For some reason, I kept thinking of Stephen King's book, "The Stand". Hmmmmm.....isn't Las Vegas the city in that book where "The Dude" appears? I felt for a moment like I was living the book.

Wayne was awesome, but his fans were even better. I didn't bring a camera because I didn't want to carry a purse, and I regret it. We saw an old guy in a brown velvet tuxedo with a ruffled shirt and the most perfectly coiffed combover I've ever witnessed. His date had on a baby-blue evening gown and a tower of black, high hair. Hair so tall and coiled it put Madame de Pompadour to shame. It was better than a David Lynch movie.

You just know this couple spent hours getting duded up and set for their big night out. They sat in the front row and of course Wayne bent down during his show and gave her a kiss. She giggled and blushed like a schoolgirl, and I just howled with laughter. You go girl! In all your finery getting a piece of Wayne!

We saw a guy actually get thrown out of the casino like in the movies and the hubby witnessed a chick pulling a "Britney" because she was too drunk to walk, but that couple was definitely the highlight. As we slowly made our way back downtown, among the literally THOUSANDS of messy drunks (amateurs!) and discarded horns and beads, I kept wishing we'd just stayed at the Riviera. I wanted to soak up more of its "Wayne-ness" and sit and watch the Riviera and its goings on. Not as pretty, not as sanitized, way more interesting. While other people were watching fireworks and Ashanti shaking her booty in front of the Venetian, we got to see some of the real Las Vegas. I mean how much more Vegas can you get? New Year's with Wayne at the Riviera, the same place my parents had stayed in 1973. It was awesome.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I suppose every family has their own embarrassing stories to tell about past Christmases. Or embarrassing relatives, or embarrassing things said after too much eggnog. And maybe not even so much embarrassing – or, okay, embarrassing at the time, but now on reflection, it’s just friggin’ hysterical. Which is why stories like these are often told and retold over and over and over again. It becomes a yearly tradition in and of itself.

One of mine involves my grandpa John. Okay, several involve my grandpa John, because of his penchant for eggnog – more nog than egg, the nog being Jim Beam. Falling into the Christmas tree and knocking it over comes to mind – or holding up one of his grandkids and My Nana hated his love for Jim, and the scolding and yelling involving his holiday cheer continue to remain fond memories – Oh, there she goes again – and there HE goes again. He eventually resorted to hiding his treasure throughout the house – as a teenager I’d try and locate it for obvious reasons. Once I found a pint bottle hidden in the toilet tank – nice and cool from the water. I was completely surprised and had to cover my mouth or else give myself away by howling with laughter. I had some of course – it was a new bottle after all and I didn’t think he’d mind.

Anyway, one of the Christmas traditions we had at Nana’s was that after stuffing our faces, we’d retire to the living room and talk into the wee hours. Often it was the only time we as a family saw each other that entire year so we’d share, reminisce, tell dirty jokes, then laugh some more.

One year, John had had too much nog (imagine that), and so excused himself to go upstairs. A *long* while later, my Dad excused himself to use the downstairs facilities. Before he turned on the light, he heard a loud snore, one to raise the dead. He stared up at the ceiling, shaking his head, muttered, “Damn John…” and turned on the light.

Shortly thereafter he returned to the living room, but didn’t sit down. He remained there silent, until one of us asked, “What is it?”

He replied, “We’re gonna need a couple-a pillows.”

“Huh?” we all responded.

He repeated, “We’re gonna need a couple-a pillows.”

When we still looked perplexed, he added, “John’s asleep in the bathtub.”

And we howled with laughter. So much laughter I know the whole neighborhood heard it. My whole body shook and tears ran down my face. My stomach hurt from the force of it like I’d been punched. It was the best laugh I’ve had before or since. To this day if there’s a problem, I’ll look at my family and say, “We’re gonna need a couple-a pillows,” and the laughter returns.

Now am I retelling this to laugh at my own relative’s expense? Hell no. I don’t write about this to pull any skeletons out, and I certainly don’t judge liquor-related antics, I’ve got too many of my own to do that. It’s not my place to tell tales out of school and maybe people will yell at me for airing laundry better left hidden. My family certainly will. I write about it because I remember it and because dammit, I admire him for his Jim Beam love. Hell, I love it too. He is unapologetic, he’s nonjudgmental, he’s loud and uncouth and who gives a shit. I’m that way too. Good for you John.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Every Christmas I put up my lights. I don't go overboard mind you, but I put up a few. I wrap my stairpost in blue and green ropes, hang colored lights from each window - *colored* lights, not the white ones. Too plain. I throw some colored net lights on the bushes and string a few more blue and white and whatever else is left over from my porch.

I miss the days when all the lights had color and they were big. They had heft. I'm not sure who decided that tiny white lights hung from every window looked like icicles or snow, but they don't. They're just boring.

As a child, that was always my favorite part of Christmas - the lights. Back then you didn't have every estate and park and suburb draping themselves all over and synchronizing the lights to music, and then charging $5 admission (all going to charity of course). The lights were fewer and far between, and that made them seem more special.

The weekend before Christmas we'd always do what I now call our "Whirlwind Tour" of the state, covering about 500 miles and hitting both grandparents' houses in two days. We'd drive back roads (less traffic) and often late into the night. Everyone would be asleep except Dad and me. I'd be looking for lights.

The stretch along Route 17 was good for this. Often the lights would appear as you went up a hill, a little oasis in dark sea. Twinkling, screaming, "I'm here!" We'd drive closer and I'd stare, not wanting to miss a minute. Sometimes it would just be a string or two, thrown over the bushes or winding itself around a tree. But sometimes you'd see a light-up nativity or a reindeer or Santa. The old plastic figures that lit from within, nothing inflatable here. And these little tableau were so far from the road, so you'd have to really keep your eyes peeled - blink and you will surely miss it. And all the lights would be multicolored - like a carnival in the desert.

That was the best part of those long Christmas trips. I remember the car being so cold, to me the entire world was cold and dark. The only sound would be the car and Dad slapping his cheeks to keep himself awake. But then every so often a little pond of lights would appear across the pasture of a farmhouse on some back road somewhere and it would make you smile. It's Christmas!

One display stood out from the rest - so much so that I would beg Dad to take Route 1 home instead of I-95. The car would climb this certain hill just after Massaponax and it was like the whole world exploded. The entire house was outlined in lights, nativity in the yard, Santa, Frosty, everyone was there.

That's the one great house I remember. Now those kinds of displays were everywhere. But as far as I know, at least in that part of Virginia, that was the first. And the best.

One last thing, whatever happend to the candle lights that everyone used to put in their windows? You know, the plastic plug-in kind? Some of them even "flickered" like they were real. I haven't seen one of those in years. I was always impressed by those who had a candle or candle "pyramid" in every window in their house, even the sides and back. Now that's dedication...

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Sunday, December 24, 2006


Christmas Eve at our house always meant one thing - oysters. We couldn't afford oysters at any other time of the year and so the jar would always be brought out Christmas Eve. A big ol' mayonnaise jar full, like one of those jars you use for putting up jelly or okra - whose name escapes me at the moment.

Anyway, we'd eat them every which way - fried, raw, in soup. As a kid, I liked fried best because my dad did them perfectly - just a little breading, not tough, then dipped in cocktail sauce. The more daring of the family would eat them raw - always on a saltine cracker with a drop of lemon juice, then a drop of tabasco. Down the hatch. The kids would scream, "Ewwwwww!" every time Dad ate one of those nasty, slimy things.

Now, of course, I love them. Raw. I've never had them fried again where they were as good as Dad made them. They always end up greasy and tough. I guess memory colors things - they may have tasted like crap back then but I always thought they were perfect. Now I eat them raw - and just raw, not with anything. The best oysters taste like the sea, just a little brine, and they're not fishy, or slimy, or gross. They taste like the ocean. And are perfect with white wine or champagne.

And these days I eat them whenever I can get them fresh - not just on Christmas Eve. And not from a jar either. But I do miss the moment when that jar would come out, because then you would know that Santa was almost here. It must be Christmas Eve because we were having oysters for dinner, yum.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Cheese Balls.

My mother used to work three jobs at Christmas just so she could buy us extra presents to put under the tree. She had her regular job with Henrico County in Richmond – the Bulky Wase Department. That used to crack me up, my mother worked for the bulky waste department, snicker snicker.

Then just after Thanksgiving she would go work second shift at Ukrop’s grocery in their bakery, icing cakes and making doughnuts I supposed. I was never sure exactly what she did only that she came home very late, looking tired.

Her third job was painting pocketbooks. In the late 70’s the preppy look was in and so were those wooden handle Pappagallo purses. The body of the purse was cloth and the handles were made of wood and clacked together when you closed the purse. The purse body was interchangeable – all you had to do was unbutton it and slip on a new cover. You could have Kelly green to match your espadrilles or red for Christmas, or yellow to match your Izod shirt.

She painted things on the purses to sell at a boutique in the chi-chi West End of Richmond – The Picket Fence. Things like lady bugs and sunflowers, and I remember helping her paint a frog holding a slice of watermelon. Navy blue purse, green frog, red watermelon. The frog was holding up the watermelon slice as if he was Hamlet examining that skull of his friend. Mom would stencil the design, paint it in, and later some preppy lady who lunches would buy it for way too much money.

Anyway, by working three jobs she ensured my sister and I would trot down the stairs on Christmas morning to find the Toys ‘R Us store underneath our tree. During the year we often went without, but at Christmas it was sensory overload – so many toys you didn’t know where to look first. We’d snap our heads around like birds wondering which shiny object to pick up first.

Mom used to go insane with the holiday food as well. I remember waking up at 3am – whenever I wake up in the middle of the night I never look at a clock, it just seems to be 3am to me. Anyway, I would hear her downstairs, cooking, baking, stirring. Smells of gingerbread, sharp, warm, a tangy smell would waft up the stairs – probably what woke me up in the first place. The clanking and clanging of baking sheets being scraped across oven racks. The whirr of the blender blending butter and sugar into a creamy mess. Soft curses being uttered every so often.

Once I slumped down the stairs to tell her to quiet down because the noise was keeping me awake. Yeah, I was a spoiled little shit. But what I found stopped me in my tracks. The dining room and kitchen were a shambles. In my mind it was the middle of the night and so the house must be quiet and empty, every teacup in its place, the table wiped, counters clean, room dark. But here it was bright as day and every surface was either covered in flour or dusted in sugar. Chairs were askew. There were platters and baking sheets on every surface. And everywhere you looked – cookies! Cheese! Food everywhere! My little girl mind was floored. Cookies? Can I have one?

We lived in a 1960’s split-level, so our kitchen and dining room weren’t connected, but there was a long “pass through”. You could sit in the dining room and watch people cooking in the kitchen and hand off any dishes that needed to be put on the table.

Except on this night if you attempted to sit and watch you’d either have your hind end covered in batter or you’d be run over by the tornado that was my mother. It was as if she had taken 5 Vivarin – she was moving so fast it was a blur. I stood there wiping sleep out of my eyes and watched. One minute she was rolling out homemade gingerbread and painstakingly cutting them into men-shapes and giving them eyes and shirt buttons with tiny red-hots, and the next minute she was mixing 4 kinds of cheese and spices for her special homemade cheese balls. No Hickory Farms for this chick, all her stuff was homemade.

In my mind’s eye I see myself hiding on the stair, enveloping myself in the sight before me. The heat coming from the oven is inviting as are the smells of cheddar, Worcestershire sauce, and the warm zing of gingerbread. I want to sneak a cookie really badly but don’t dare. Every cookie is accounted for.

She always made at least 8-10 different kinds, maybe 6 dozen of each? How many cookies is that? Buttery Russian teacakes, gingerbread men, Yo-Yo’s. What are Yo-Yo’s? Two cookies filled with apricot jam to resemble a yo-yo, and very yummy. My favorite? The peanut butter and chocolate cookies. I don’t think they had a special name. Just “Those yummy Hershey kiss thangs you make every year Nan!” Peanut butter dough wrapped around a Hershey kiss, rolled in powdered sugar. Holy crap are they good! I bit into a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup cookie at Barnes & Noble once, and I was transported to 1973. Almost as good, but not quite. Something about biting into a melty Hershey kiss while powdered sugar poofs on your shirt and peanut buttery goodness get all mixed into the equation is just indescribable.

She’d make all of these cookies – not one of them from a box or easy to assemble – then present them as gifts in a tree-shaped glass cookie jar. Each cookie hand-selected and put in the jar and tied with a ribbon. So meticulous and “just so”. But why? Who was all this effort for? You know kids don’t know the difference, that roll of Pillsbury dough from the refrigerator case tastes just as good as long as chocolate is involved.

Lately I wonder more and more what all that extra effort was for. What was she trying to prove? Or was she just creating memories? She certainly created one for me. Every Christmas when I attempt to recreate even a small portion of what she did, I remember. But see, I also remember her being tired all of the time. Every minute of the day she was tired. When I needed to talk, she was too tired. So this is a memory too. Makes you think some.

This year I’m attempting her Russian teacakes. As I stood last night covered in powdered sugar, pulling yet another cookie sheet out of the oven and burning my wrist, I actually looked to the sky and yelled, “How in the hell did you do this every year?” And I swear I could hear her giggling. Good-naturedly of course, but giggling. But also ready to envelope me in a flour-caked hug, comforting away my need to prove anything to anybody. Love you Momma.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Just This.

So I haven’t written in a while. It seems every time I sit to do so, think up a subject, I decide it’s not worth it. Who cares what I had for lunch or my thoughts on the latest crisis in Iraq? I still haven’t even decided whether blogs are a blessing or a curse. I love that they are immediately “out there” and maybe it’s encouraging more people to write more often. But the day-to-day entries just seem like some kind of navel-inspecting exercise, utterly pointless. I guess most writing is to some extent. I’m probably overanalyzing - I usually do.

In any case, I’ve decided to change the purpose of this blog. It may only matter to me because even though I have hits on epizoodiks, I don’t know that anyone is actually reading. This blog, drum roll please, will now be a place to record memories – and yes, I can hear the collective groan rising up. Who needs another memoir, right?

I find that I do. Lately, I look in the mirror and see myself, actually see my face. It’s older. I’m older. I’m really older. It’s not that it’s a bad thing, just something I’ve noticed. I see wrinkles where there were none, stuff is sagging, bags are growing. I see experience too, and I see lots of memories. Stuff I’m holding onto, holding in myself, in my body. It’s all over my face.

I want to let it go finally. Lately I’ve been deepening my yoga and meditation practices and I’m constantly being reminded that the past and future don’t exist, only this moment in time. I’ve always believed that but I think my heart may just now be learning it. Brooding on the past, brooding on the future, they seem real and so you hold onto them the best you can. The brooding is real. But the past and future themselves are not.

I remember a Buddhist priest who had “Just This” written on the inside of her belt as a reminder. I love that – I got it immediately. Just this.

I hold onto the past a lot. Remember it, analyze it, relive it. Over and over again. Maybe by writing about it I can finally let it go, make it some physical act like throwing bad habits written onto a piece of paper into a bonfire for the new year. Or maybe it’s a futile exercise. But I feel the need to do it. I need to let go of some things and make my life a little lighter. Lighten up some of the dark circles I see under my eyes. Quit holding onto what can’t be held.

It’s because I’m forgetting things too. Stuff I used to know so vividly is going away – I can’t recall things people tell me or things that I *know* happened. It’s scary to lose your memories. I suppose by writing them down I’ll feel somewhat better. At least there’s a written record, right? Other people have assuaged their fear this way as well. I know that. Now I need to as well.

Are memories all we have? Are we just a composite of our past experiences? What we remember is not necessarily what *exactly* happened. I’m not the first to explore this, nor will I be the last. I’m just one of the masses here, trying to make sense of all this ephemera I’ve been holding close like a precious memento. I’ve been decluttering my house, now it’s time to declutter my mind.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Grieving Process

You know what’s weird? I actually went through a grieving process when I left teaching. Like someone I love had died, I grieved. I “cried” for the loss of the routine I knew, the highs, even the lows which I had come to despise. I missed them; I missed the worry, and the anxiety, and the feeling of being needed all the time. All that stuff I had come to hate and dread was suddenly gone, and I was left with the feeling like I had been abandoned, even though it was I who had abandoned teaching. I was like a little kid standing in an empty concert hall going, “Hey, where did everybody go?”

The routine I knew was gone. Every summer, when all the grades are in and all the books are put away, and you’ve given your keys and your keycard to the front office lady, your body goes into extreme relaxation mode. You do nothing but sleep and eat for at least three weeks. My cooperating teacher Roseann Blum used to explain it as “There’s a REASON schools are closed in the summer.” If we had to teach all year we’d go crazy or die of exhaustion. This is what I tell people who say asinine things like, “Wow, must be nice to have the whole summer off!” Believe me, all this time off is a double-edged sword in the clearest sense.

You feel so exhausted by the time summer rolls around. Mentally. Physically. I wish I could show everyone the faces of my fellow teachers around May 20th or so. Haggard is a word that comes to mind.

Summer is the time to do all of those normal things that you didn’t have time for during the school year, like going to the dentist, or getting your car inspected. You think, “Oh, I’ll do it this summer when I have time.” Then summer hits and all you want to do is sleep. I never understood teachers who work summer school. Yeah, the money is great and it’s easy work I’ve heard for the most part, but yikes. I’m just too damn tired.

Because you’re so spent from the school year, you really don’t start feeling normal until mid-July. Then, the first of August, something else happens……your body gets more rigid. Your mind starts to tense up. You start to make lists. Do I have this done? Do I have this ready? Mentally and physically you are gearing up for the school year to come. I’ve talked with so many fellow teachers and all of them say this happens to them.

And some (like me) start to have nightmares. It’s the first day of school and you have nothing done. No posters on the walls, no lesson plans, no seating charts. And the class you’ve been given is a class of monsters, the lowest of the low, the dregs. They are shouting, throwing things, as you try and fail to gain control. Then you wake up sweating, your heart racing.

I’d love to hear from other teachers who have had this experience (weird, I’m still calling myself a teacher). Totally irrational nightmares that occur every summer whether you’ve been teaching 3 years or 30. I always know when it’s July because that’s when the nightmares come. And they don’t really stop until the first week of school has been completed. By then you kind of know what you’re dealing with.

And the funny thing is, I had these nightmares this past July too. Even though I had quit teaching. It’s like my body couldn’t give up the fact that I wouldn’t be put through this process anymore. Like a drug addict going through withdrawals. Just last night I had a dream where I had shown up for work, but had no classes and so was hanging out in the faculty room. People were walking around saying, “Why is she here?” Mentally and physically I’m still dealing with this subconsciously and it’s very strange. I’m not teaching anymore but my inner self won’t accept it yet.

Another funny thing? I think I’m going to miss the nightmares. After all, they are part of that routine I had become so used to…….how can you miss something that made you miserable? Any therapist would have a field day…

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Letting Go (Part 2)

Another weird thing happened to me this week, which made me think even more about the fact that I am “letting go” of my old life as a teacher and tentatively stepping into a new role……..this new role being “Volunteer Coordinator” which I guess has a lot of the same qualities as teaching. You have to coax, cajole, teach, recognize, assess, reward to some extent. All of those things.

This week two of my old students asked to be my friend on “MySpace”. How the heck did they find me? I wondered this as I checked my settings, and dummy me, I had it set so that everybody and their mother could look at my profile. Not that I care too much, I don’t use my own picture or my own name………well, it’s a nickname but nonetheless.

I can remember fussing at my kids about MySpace and how dangerous it was and how they should have all the settings put on the highest amount of privacy. And here I am just out there for every creep on Earth to see.

I was so proud of both of them though. It was their own picture (Bad students! Bad students!) but one said she was from Zimbabwe and the other said he was from Hawaii. Good going guys, throw those “Dateline NBC” creeps off your track. At least *something* I said sunk into their brains.

I felt like they were teaching me a lesson, “See?! You have a MySpace too! And you’re doing it WRONG!” and the other half of me felt like they were reaching out. I had left them and so they were looking for me. “Where did you go teacher? Where are you?”

(Side note, yes, I do still call them “my kids” even though I don’t teach them anymore. They were in my classroom for 180 days dammit! One-hundred-eighty days for 86 minutes a day. They will always be “my kids”. I will always be their teacher.)

Which makes what I have to do that much harder. I have to deny them friendship, hit that little “Deny” button. And what’s worse, I can’t let them know why. MySpace won’t allow you to send a message unless they’re a friend. Unless they somehow find my blog they won’t know it’s not because I don’t want them to be my friend, I just feel it’s inappropriate. In this crappy day and age, a teacher can’t really be a friend because mouths start wagging and folks start accusing. It’s not Mayberry anymore. I’m their teacher, and while I *do* feel that a form of friendship is a part of that, here it just can’t work. I’ll always be there to listen and help if I can, but sadly, this just isn’t the right context and never will be.

It makes me so sad to have to do this. Why can’t they have a button that says, “Teacher” or “Mentor” or “Listener” instead of “Friend”? Then I could stay in touch with them, be that second parent, and fuss when I needed to. That’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in letting go of this career, is letting go of my ability to immediately HELP them. I never in my life thought it would be this hard…

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Letting Go...

So I got my Act 48 Expiration Notice in the mail over the weekend. I knew what it was even before I opened it. A slim little envelope telling me that unless I get my ass in gear, I won’t be able to teach in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania anymore.

I ended the last school year about 25 hours shy of completing this professional development requirement. It’s supposed to ensure that teachers stay current with all of the latest gimmicks and techniques with which to serve up the “meatloaf” of grammar and such to hungry, eager-to-learn students everywhere. Most of the time it’s an excuse to get a day off from teaching, sit in a room with about 50 other haggard-looking educators wearing nametags and eating stale Danish while you listen to an ex-teacher, who finally climbed out of the hole of educating to become an administrator, drone on about the newest, “funnest” way to teach diagramming to 5th graders. Most of the time the information is out-of-date or a re-hash of the conference you attended two years ago. Except where before they were preaching “Whole Language” now they’re preaching “Phonics” as the way to go.

Okay, I might be exaggerating just a little. But just a little.

As I slipped the thin paper back into its envelope, it almost felt like letting go. I couldn’t bring myself to throw the thing away, not entirely let go, but I did put it back into its envelope and tuck it into my “to be filed” stack. It felt like releasing a balloon. You can watch it float up and away out of your grasp, but for at least a little while you can still see it and if you jump high enough, you might even be able to catch it back again.

I’m watching this balloon float away, and at the same time my breath is being released out of my lungs like a drained tire. It’s a strange feeling. I like the calm it’s bringing, but not the finality. I have to admit there are still many things about teaching that I miss. But not enough to let go of that damn balloon.

I have to admit I like the clause in this notice that said that while I could not legally teach in a public school until I become compliant with Act 48, I COULD BE AN ADMINISTRATOR-------------for at least 90 days. The mind reels.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

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(…haven’t heard from “the job” yet so I’m not even going to go there, less I have another panic attack, yikes……in the meantime…)

"While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have
To stand naked."

This is what Bob Dylan was singing Sunday night at Falconi Field when my husband began to taunt Melissa Hart, staunch Republican, Congresswoman for the 4th District in PA, and I guess, Bob Dylan fan.

I had recognized and pointed her out earlier, more in disbelief at the irony than anything else. Can a Republican supporter of (I can’t even say his name without cringing) actually BE a Bob Dylan fan? Is she a Clash fan as well? Does she secretly attend Patti Smith and Billy Bragg concerts when no one is looking? Pumping her fist and going, “Yeah, yeah!”

I say “secretly” because she was up in the nosebleed seats with us, downing some beers and sitting with a guy who had a really big gut. I guess he likes beer and Bob Dylan. And he had this really big wart over his eye………

But I’m being shallow, right? Did I say she’s kind of hard to miss because of her huge horse face? Is that too cruel? Did I mention her outfit was, I don’t even know how to put this, beyond fugly? Yellow pants?

Okay, my Samantha Jones side is definitely out, I just think that even if you’re a Republican you ARE representing your constituents and for God’s sake if you need to hire a stylist… (shallow fashion-conscious lady being hustled out of the room while objective, more journalistic lady takes her place).

I’m not saying she can’t enjoy music outdoors on a warm, lovely summer evening, but BOB DYLAN? Puh-leez!

I wonder if she could even understand the words to “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”? Granted, Bob is on the elderly side, stuck behind a piano, even his most dedicated fans are probably straining to understand the words, hell, they did even when he was young, right?

So my husband took it upon himself to sing the words, loudly. He rocks, and I told him so. I, admittedly, don’t know the words (I’m a fan, not a superfan) so all I could do was sit there and gulp down my third Samual Adams Summer Ale and marvel at the drama that was unfolding. And love my husband all the more for having the balls to point out the irony to everyone at Falconi Field.

See, I’m a political coward. I observe the irony. I may even write about the irony. But I don’t have the balls to actually ACT on the irony. It’s a problem I’m working on.

Anyway, when singing the words didn’t have the desired effect, my husband did what every good fan does at a concert…he started requesting songs, but adding the word “Melissa” at the end.


This worked beautifully. Finally, in true politico fashion, Melissa Hart left her seat, dragging her waddling boyfriend behind her. She introduced herself and shook his hand while I sat agape. Wow!

She was the true smooth-talking politician the whole way. “You seem to know me but I don’t know you. Enjoying the concert are you? Obviously you are a Bob Dylan fan, right? I am too. Enjoying the music? Great. Good to meet ya’. Glad to know ya’.” (imagine a pumping, manly handshake here).

In other words, forget I work for those “Masters of War” and just let me listen to the music. Sorry lady, you should have gone to Toby Keith maybe. Here it’s every man for himself.

Then she left. Everyone around us was wondering what just happened so we took it upon ourselves to tell them. They were equally shocked – none of them had even recognized her. Don’t they realize you should know your enemies? (okay, that was unobjective and unjournalistic and I apologize).

Hey, it was just our way of letting those who supposedly represent us actually know how we feel about it. Or it was my husband’s way. Did I mention he rocks? We’re a team. I recognize people and he fucks with them. It’s a system we have – or at least we do now.

p.s. go right now to and type in “failure”. See what comes up? Quick, do it now before the guys at Google figure it out. Or maybe they did it on purpose………we can only hope.

p.p.s. thank god justice was swift in the Harvey case. Just like waiting for “the job” to finally happen, I can’t even go there right now. Still too painful. Not enough distance. I don’t rightly know in my heart which is better, death or life in prison. I’m against capital punishment…………I think. I used to be sure, and then my friends were killed.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006


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This is what I feel like, and it sucks. Like one of those little Catholic babies that die before they’re baptised. Just floating aimlessly, no goal, no destination, nothing. Just wings and a head.

Okay, that’s not true, I do have a goal. I. Need. A. Job. Not just any job, but the one I have interviewed THREE times for. I’m not going to say when or where, because that would jinx things. And I am totally superstitious when it comes to things like this. Like getting the job I really, really want.

I’ve interviewed all summer but this job was the only one that actually whispered possibility in my direction. From the moment I drove to the site. It was like a little nudge going, “This is it.” But they haven’t called me back yet to confirm. There’s paperwork to create and sign, approval forms to approve.

I feel like I’m holding my breath. Tightly. When they call, whether yes or no I’ll exhale. But I sure hope it’s yes.

Since I quit teaching I have felt like this, directionless. Not sure where I’m headed, or “sure” only to find out, no, I’m overqualified. I’d be “bored” in this position. Of course, these were all for jobs I wasn’t even that interested in. It was just a paycheck. It actually hurts to have a job just within your grasp but you’re still unsure if they think that, yes, you are overqualified, or if in fact you are worth all that extra paperwork.

Is standing at a fork in the road too strong an image? How about a girl hoping for that phone call after the first date with a very special someone. Two totally hokey images, and both really appropriate right here. Shit.

Am I not seeing the positives? Probably. Hell, they’re CREATING a position for me, right? But saying and doing are too different things and the “worry momma” in me won’t shut up.

I don’t even have my stress dreams anymore. Every summer, starting about July, I used to get these nightmares about the first day of school. Apparently they are not all that uncommon. It’s the first day of school and you don’t have any plans prepared, your room is bare of posters or supplies, and every kid is a monster. You wake up sweating, panting, heart beating in your chest, and relieved it’s only July. Totally irrational, but it seems all my teacher friends have them.

Now I’m not dreaming of anything. Just nothing. At least I’m sleeping. I wake up and feel like I’ve run a marathon, just not sure where the hell I went. And I wander aimlessly through the house waiting for the phone to ring. For the “right” call to happen. This sucks.

Breathe girl, breathe……………call dammit! big love, jjl

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Charlotte Update

I am overwhelmed. In 24 hours I have received 30+ responses, prayers, cards, well wishes, funny stories, and warm thoughts. I am so grateful, so overwhelmed to have such true friends. Thank you thank you thank you. Each of you will receive an email response as fast as my little hands can type them. :0)

An update:

All of this occurred Saturday night after we found her limping badly, we took her in Sunday - we picked her up Monday afternoon, her eyes so large and scared and a big scary bandage on her forearm where they had put in the IV. But here's the thing........her prognosis is GOOD. You can't tell me that prayers don't work, they do.

What they thought was a tumor is, MAYBE, just a cyst. They drained it and sent the fluid for analysis. But they really think it may just be a benign cyst, not lymphoma or thymoma, and this can be managed by checking it every so often.

She has some renal failure, but not bad. This can also be managed for the time being with medication and monitoring.

Her weight loss may be due to hyperthyroidism, which can also be medically managed. We're also waiting on that test to determine this.

She's also got high blood pressure and a slight heart murmur, which is also mild and can be medically managed.

Not bad for a 17 year old, huh? Just a few pills twice a day crushed up in her favorite soft food. I can't believe how relieved I feel - my biggest worry was that she would be in pain, and be uncomfortable, and I wasn't under any circumstance going to do anything invasive. I've been so lucky to have her for so long. Now it looks like at least she can be more comfortable, without a lot of unneccessary procedures, for a little while longer at least.

I just want her to have a good quality of life and from all the dear, sweet responses I got, all of you agree with me. God bless all of you so much. I haven't felt such love in a long time, and I know it helped Charlotte recover that much quicker. She's hobbling about today, unsure of whether we're going to whisk her off to another place strange, but she's slowly getting back to normal. Thank God.

Big Love everyone (Scottie, you hear me? :)
Nee Nee

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Monday, July 31, 2006

Please Pray for Charlotte

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......she's my kitty kat. Dummy me doesn't have a picture of her scanned, but she looks just like my avatar... I had to leave her at the vet today - they found a heart murmur, kidney failure, arthritis and a thoracic mass that may or may not be a tumor. I'm a mess. I've had Charlotte 17 years, yeah it's a long time, and she's seen me through a LOT LOT LOT of hard times, and has never had to spend a night away from home. I'm a mess. I don't have kids, but I can imagine what it must feel like.

Truthfully, charlotte is my truest friend, she's so intuitive, and is more a mother to me. She takes care of me more than I do her! She knows when I'm sad, she knows when I need a hug, she's always there with a purr when I've had a bad day.

Milan Kundera wrote that the love between a human and pet is the perfect love because they only ask that you love them back, they never make insane demands. They only give give give. Charlotte is so like that. She's a Havana Brown, a black cat, and has never brought me anything but good luck. The French have a saying that people who take in black cats are blessed. I don't know about that, but I thought it was a cool story when an old boss I worked for (a cat lover) told me this so many years ago.

I've been trying to prepare myself for this for a while, but seriously I don't know what I'm going to do without her. I'm hoping they'll let me bring her home tomorrow and I can make her comfortable. she's so great, the perfect pet, a wonderful friend, a true member of our family. What does oprah always say about her dogs? They're her children with fur, well that's what Charlotte is to me, except she mothers me more than anything I love her so much.

I mean I'm 39, and I've had her since I was 22. This is so weird and I'm not ready and I love her and I'm so sad and worried right now, seriously, like my own child was in the ICU or something. I hope you guys understand my ramblings but I'm just so sick with worry. Please send prayers if you think about it. I just think of her in that cage so scared because she doesn't know where she is or why her mommy and daddy left her there and it just eats me up inside. I'm praying like crazy that they'll let me bring her home tomorrow.

thanks for listening guys, I love you all and hope this finds you happy and well. Big love.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Thinking Like a Teenager...

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So I’ve been reading Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man, and I really like it. I’m only maybe 50 pages in and I’ve already found a lot of stuff I can really identify with.

It surprised me at first that he spends so much time talking about himself rather than the classroom, and what in his life brought him to teaching. But the more I think about it, this is integral. You are the kind of teacher you are depending on what person you are. Your life experiences definitely shade how you teach.

What is going on in your life before you get there, and during your teaching career, affect you, your students, the whole environment of your classroom. So for him to talk about the girl he had a crush on at teaching school makes perfect sense. Having that crush changed the person he was, and the way he taught.

It made me think that my mom dying of cancer during my first year of teaching definitely shaded the way I taught and probably how I treated my students. If that hadn’t happened, I’d be a different kind of teacher (ex-teacher now, that still stings to think it). My mom died suddenly and tragically, and so that probably made me extra caring about my students, about not wanting to “lose” any of them. This made me a better teacher, but also a much more fragile one, because if I did lose a student, I took it personally. Very personally, like it was entirely my fault. My mom dying when she did may have caused my burn-out. Certainly not the only cause, but who knows? Your life experiences definitely color what kind of career you have.

Another thing that strikes me is how he suggests that because teaching is so all-encompassing, it truly does become your whole life. It’s like being a parent to 200 kids. It shades how you behave, even how you think, because you are surrounded all day long by young people. You start to act like 8th graders, you start to talk like 8th graders, you maybe even start to think like an 8th grader. Your whole life is school, school, school, every minute of every day, so when you are finally around adults, they may notice you acting strangely.

It might be like a stay-at-home mom who spends her whole day interacting with children finding it difficult to interact later with adults. I have no idea what this is like, so I won’t even venture the comparison. But I could definitely identify with Mr. McCourt saying he found himself behaving strangely around adults because he was so used to interacting with teens.

I can recall faculty meetings where the teachers were twice as bad as the students they were yelling at. The facilitator would have to ask numerous times for people to be quiet, teachers would throw paper balls at each other, tell jokes, whisper behind their hands, even pass notes. It’s like after a day of being dictators and yelling this was their time to let off steam, to act like the kids, the “bad” kids they were supposed to be molding. And sure, I was right in there with them. Molding kids day after day is exhausting. You definitely need time to cut up and have fun……….and a boring meeting on a “Better Way to Teach the PSSA” is definitely prime time to do it.

I have found myself laughing at fart jokes more often, giggling, acting in a “hormone frenzy” like 8th graders do. I have picked up mannerisms, sayings (“Dab It Up!”), music, but thank god, not the clothes. So much of it seems recycled 80’s wear, and I went through that thank you very much.

During my early, insecure days of teaching I would even go so far as to wonder if I was “cool” enough for these kids. I shudder to think about it now, but back then it was important. I wanted them to “like” me. Now, I’m much more able to be myself and could give a shit whether they like me or not. But I admit, there were moments when I would reflect on an episode and wonder if I had handled it like a teacher who’s “young and cool and laid-back” or more like a matronly fuddy-duddy. Even outside of school I shudder inside when I hear myself sounding like my Mom.

I’m sure I’ll still have these moments now that I’m out of the classroom. Hindsight is 20-20, and I had no idea how much my life was “school, school, school” while I was in it. I really like teaching, but I guess I don’t want it to be my whole life either. I want to interact with adults for a while. I hope I never “grow up” entirely, life would be pretty boring, but being and doing and interacting with 8th graders can like McCourt says, “drown” you after a while. I need some air.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Teacher Burn Out

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So as of June 5, I'm an EX-Language Arts teacher for the 8th grade. I used to teach in Hopewell Area School District. They don't know I've quit yet (the resignation is in the mail).

Why did I quit? Sigh. For so many reasons it seems like. Slowly but surely they have added up and added up until it was like a huge overbearing mountain wearing down on me. Being a teacher has been such a burden for the last 2-3 years; it's a weight I can't carry with me anymore. Teaching is hard, but teaching at Hopewell was harder. Why?

1. The distance - Commuting an hour or more (depending on traffic, weather, construction) wears you OUT. During nice weather it's not so bad, but that's when the construction starts up. Then cold weather comes, and the construction stops, but that's when it snows. And Hopewell NEVER closes during snow. Never! Big Yuck.

2. The environment - I have never worked in a place where everyone isolated themselves so much. I've taught there 4 years and am still seen as "the outsider" or the "city girl". It's like I'm back in high school! So many cliques among the teachers and staff. Good grief people. At my school in Virginia the teachers would go out every Friday afternoon just to vent and "hang". Here, everyone goes their separate ways. Just way too stoic for lil' ol' me :) Yes, I realize I'm pouting and venting, and it's probably not too productive. I just know that in four years I've tried every possible way to ingratiate myself to these teachers to no avail. I'm just tired of trying. It's like banging my head into a brick wall; after a while you get a clue. It's time to work somewhere else.

Is it somehow the culture here? I just know that "down South" we always tried to make new people feel somewhat welcome. Will someone pleaaaassse clue me in?

3. The district's priorities - Two years ago due to lack of funds, the middle school canceled its Geography classes. Last year they canceled the entire Foreign Language program. This year they laid off 14 teachers, almost the entire sixth grade hallway. To very little protest. The principal didn't even address it. The union didn't even call an emergency meeting or anything.

During last year's board meeting to decide whether or not to keep foreign languages in the middle school, many older citizens protested that they were tired of paying higher taxes for the school, especially since they had no school-age children attending Hopewell.

Don't they want their future tax-paying citizens to be intelligent, well-rounded individuals? It's bad enough that the music and art programs are "bare bones" but to cut out foreign languages entirely is just too much. I understand that many people are on fixed incomes. As a teacher, though, I cannot stand by and condone the elimination of any educational program. There just has to be another solution. It saddened me that the district didn't even try to find one.

I can't teach within a district where the only priority seems to be whether or not our standardized-test scores are up to par to the neglect of everything else! Eventually our students are going to be good test-takers, but know next to nothing about the world we live in! This is just so unacceptable and I'm so angry that everyone is just standing around acting like it's "business as usual". Creativity is stifled, critical thinking is stifled, problem-solving isn't even addressed. But if you can fill in the right bubbles on a multiple-choice test, then you're A-okay.

4. Conflict of Interest - Did you know that the head of the HEA is married to a member of the district's school board? Could this be a conflict of interest, particularly when the new contract for next year is being negotiated and teachers are being laid off? Possibly.

5. Gasoline - Did you know that the district uses gasoline to kill weeds? I discovered (and complained to no response) that when they want to kill weeds outside the school, the custodian dumps gasoline on them. Which eventually will leach into the groundwater. Not only is this environmentally unsound, and probably illegal, but in recent days, I'm sure it's very expensive! Maybe if they found a safer, cheaper way they wouldn't have to lay off so many teachers? Who knows?

6. T-Shirts - Due to lack of funds, our union (HEA) was unable to offer our new retirees any sort of benefit/incentive package this year. Instead, they spent $25-30 a piece (by my estimation) on t-shirts proudly proclaiming the "HEA" label. I left mine in my faculty mailbox. What a waste of money. How many teachers are in our district? Times that by the cost of the shirts. I'm not sure how the funds work, but that seems like it would be a tidy sum for our retirees.

7. Tired - Lastly, and probably the biggest reason I'm leaving teaching (at least for a while) is that I'm TIRED.

Tired of parents telling me how to do my job.
Tired of administrators telling me how to do my job.
Tired of students telling me how to do my job.
Tired of citizens telling me how to do my job.
Tired of politicians telling me how to do my job.

Frank McCourt said, and I agree, that teaching is the only profession where everyone who ISN'T a teacher has an opinion on how you should teach. His book, Teacher Man, is terrific, by the way.

I have a Master's Degree in Teaching. I have a Bachelor's Degree in Literature. I have taught in the Language Arts classroom for the past 7 years. Granted, there are more experienced teachers than me. But dammit, I'm a good teacher, and I'm so TIRED of people judging, suggesting, complaining, cajoling. How about a little support people? I'm not perfect by any means, and I'm sure I've got more to learn, but a little credit for performing "in the trenches" would be nice. When was the last time a parent, administrator, citizen, or politician spent more than 10 minutes in a classroom?

Walk for one day in my shoes, in any of our shoes before you even open your mouth. Guaranteed, you have no idea, unless you're a teacher yourself, of the toil and sweat and worry and real WORK that goes into planning a school year and then seeing it through. As my cooperating teacher Roseann Blum used to say, there's a REASON we have summers off. If we didn't, we'd probably go insane.

Several years ago I was livid with my father when he had the nerve to suggest that teachers make too much money. I won't even go into the argument, suffice to say he was speechless when I was done with him. :)

So I'm out. I am DONE. At least for the time being. I love to read, write, and I love working with young people and all the simple, pure and heart-wrenching rewards that come with that. I have learned to cherish those moments, to hold them close, to remember them.

But the "arena" in which I've been teaching is wrong. It feels wrong. My gut tells me to try something else, maybe volunteering, where the pressure of the dreaded "standardized test" is taken off the table entirely. To look for a situation where I can work with young adults and show them the beauty that lies in poetry, the worlds that lie in books.

I love when I can get through to a student and show them what it's like to write something really good. I'm not giving that part up. Not by a long shot.

I didn't mean for this to turn into a "tell-all" or a tirade, some behind the scenes look at how down and dirty Hopewell is. They mean well, they really do. I learned some valuable lessons there, I met some great students, as well as some students who made me a better teacher. I'll take away nothing but good things. But I have to admit, this entry has made me feel better. I just felt like before I could start the next leg of my journey, wherever that may take me, I had to get rid of this baggage.

Travel light I always say. Thanks for listening. Big Love, jjl

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Baby Ducks Update

I haven't posted in a while. May is always a huge "rush" with the end of school, spring planting, etc. I did find out that the baby ducks died because of malnutrition. A vet did autopsies and there was no sign of trauma. Two news reporters were kind enough to email me with this information. They just believe that the ducklings were too small to climb up and out of the reservoir and because of the lack of rain, there wasn't enough vegetative growth (algae?) for them to survive.

And today during my walk I was overjoyed to discover nine new ducklings paddling about. So tiny you couldn't even see them unless you were right over them. And these were climbing up the side of the reservoir as well as swimming about and looking cute.

It lifted my heart beyond words.

I've joined my neighborhood's mailing list, and am in the process of getting to know my neighbors and becoming a member of my neighborhood association. It seems so simple, but it has taken me a long time to "find my voice" instead of just preaching about speaking out. Baby steps, baby steps. I wonder if other people go through this kind of internal conflict?

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Baby Ducks

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Below is an email I just sent to Today 14 baby ducks were found dead in a reservoir near our home. They have been taken to a vet for autopsies, and the reservoir line has been shut down until further notice. Highland Park Reservoir sits in the middle of Highland Park, and while it serves as a water source for Pittsburgh, it also provides a beautiful, quiet, natural place to walk and hike in the middle of a major metropolitan city:

Dear WPXI,
I'm an 8th grade English teacher with Hopewell Area School District. I just saw your story on Thursday night 5/11/06. I feel sick with guilt. On Sunday I was walking the reservoir and saw those precious baby ducks swimming with their mother. They were so small and it lifted my heart so to see such a sweet, simple sign of Spring.

On my second trip around (I was power walking) I also saw two middle-school-age boys throwing rocks at these baby ducks. It made me sick. I wanted to say something to them, and yet I didn't. Fear prevented me. Honestly, I was afraid they would turn their rock throwing on me. That is no excuse of course and I can't stand people who make excuses. I was just too afraid. I was alone and was worried about protecting myself. Now I can't eat, I can't sleep because I feel like maybe if I had had the courage to open my mouth, those ducks would still be alive.

Eventually, the mother swam the babies to the middle where they couldn't be reached by any rocks. I consoled myself with this fact and hoped that someone more courageous, bigger, stronger than me would say something.

I just wanted you to know that maybe they didn't die because of something in the water, but because of a few young bored people who cannot see the simple beauty of new life, but can only see something to destroy, something to use for target practice. It's sickening to me. I'll never forgive myself for not saying anything.

Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help this situation. I plan on joining the Highland Park Association immediately to make sure this sort of thing cannot happen again. I feel very changed by this and don't know that I will ever be able to forgive myself. But you can rest assured that if this happens again, I'll be the first one to speak up. If we let ourselves be ruled by fear, what kind of neighborhood are we creating? You know that commercial where the faucet is running but no one turns it off? They only stand around talking about it, wishing someone could do something. Sunday I was one of those people, but as of today, I will be the one who turns the faucet OFF. Maybe there is some solace in that.

Thank you for listening,

I feel just sick to my stomach about this. What a hypocrite I am. All day long I preach to my students that "Apathy is Lethal" and even have a banner up in my room with this quote. I also have the quotes "Constant. Conscious. Compassion." (Jack Kerouac) and "No Excuses." (Kyle Maynard).

What's worse is I lied to my students. An issue about ignoring the obvious, and not speaking up when you need to, came up in class on Monday. I told my students about the ducks, but this time I lied. I told them I *did* speak up. I spinned it around and created a tale that I had WANTED to happen, rather than the pathetic, lame thing that actually happened. And karma paid me back for that lie. They died.

Now, of course I have no way of knowing what really happened to those precious, young creatures. But dammit, when am I going to learn that the truth will set you free? And that apathy, truly is lethal.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006


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For the longest time, I hated azaleas. They represented the heralding of spring, and while as a young girl I loved spring because it brought Easter and my birthday, it also brought the agony of pollen allergies. Bryan Park and its Azalea Festival usually meant that my sister, dad, and mom would all go and stroll among the flowers, taking pictures, enjoying warm spring air, while I would remain in the car, eyes swollen shut and red with itching and scratching.

I loved the clouds of color, the abundance of it. But because I glimpsed it all from the other side of the car window glass, I felt like these flowers were only put on this earth to torment me. To show me the spring warmth, the rebirth, the colors, the fragrance, the bees buzzing, all the wonderful Easter-like fun that everyone else could have except me. I was left to sniff, scratch, wheeze and suffer while everyone else frolicked. To make a long story short, azaleas, and anything associated with azaleas, the festival, Bryan Park, etc. all represented one big pity party for little ol’ Née Neé.

Bryan Park was a fun place though. Our dad would take my sister and I down to the rocks, the river rocks that were stacked everywhere, water running over them. We’d spend hours, long spring and summer days crawling and climbing over them. It was the closest thing to hiking that we suburbanite girls would get as children. I still remember my dad saying repeatedly, “You fall get wet.” One time I did, and he was right. I spent the rest of the humid day smelling like slimy, decaying moss. I didn’t mine though, it was fun to finally fall in. We’d spent so many summers crawling over rocks and being scared of the water, wondering “What would happen?” so to finally fall in felt more like a relief. Coming to terms with your fear.

Today, I’ve come to terms with my allergies (the fog of Benadryl is something I live with three months of the year) and I love azaleas. One day you’re looking at a wall of green, and miraculously, overnight, it explodes into a wall of color. Whole fireworks of color.

Mature azaleas are just amazing. I remember one house near ours on Forest Hill Ave. in Richmond, on 42nd Street that just exploded with color every spring. Hot pink, red, white. Light pink azaleas are wimpy, they must be strong, bold blooms to really stand out. And if the plants are old, there’s no stopping them.

Just the other day I saw a yellow azalea bush. Wow, this made all those forsythia look like an afterthought. Huge, billowing blooms, with wings spread so wide they looked like they might take off like butterflies. I was mezmerized. On that same walk I passed a house I had passed dozens of times before, but this time the whole front was covered in color. What I had thought were just plain ol’ hedges turned out to be white, red, and hot pink azaleas, screaming for attention. That’s what I love about azaleas. The surprise of them. Who cares that they’re only pretty for a little while? In that little while they live an entire lifetime. The surprise of them is the thing. They don’t hang around forever like geraniums or marigolds. They’re here for a short, vibrant, loud, time. Then they’re gone. Like “Boo!” blink and you might miss them. “Surprise! Azaleas!”

And I admit, they make me miss the Azalea Festival, and Bryan Park, and my dad, and my sis, and even that dank, mossy smell of the rocks. The demons of my childhood are now dear old friends.

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Sunday, April 30, 2006


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Spring is blooming everywhere here and it made me think of all the different ways flowers have influenced my life and what they mean, the meanings they hold for me. Kinda silly maybe, but in these harried couple of weeks I have been lacking in inspiration, but all the flowers going crazy around here sure have been inspiring.

Iris are one of my favorites. They always seem so lacy, so delicate, like if you breathe on them they will melt down and be destroyed. It's too early for them yet, but on my walks I've seen one or two intrepid purple ones, forceful in their blooms as if defying the time when they're "supposed" to be around. The daffodils are crinkling up, dying, the tulips right now are at their height, and here is one iris, tiny, as purple as a queen's gown, and in the sea of tulips it truly stands out.

My Nana loved tulips - her garden was full of them. They ran all along the left side of her house, purple and white. Large, delicate, frail like lace, but strong and vibrant for the few weeks they bloom. She had a print of Van Gogh's "Irises" on her living room wall for years and years. I always loved that painting.

When my cousin Jenny was in the hospital for some serious surgery I remember Aunt Judy feeling extra comfort when she discovered the same print hanging right outside Jenny's hospital room. Nana had died a few years before, but it was like she was sending a message to us that everything would be okay.

Irises will defintely become a part of my new garden - hubby and I just cleared a huge amount of overgrown vegetation from our front yard, and more than anything I want to create a garden of flowers that remind me of things, of beloved relatives, of places, of smells, of wonderful memories I've gathered in my life. I don't ever want to plant something because it "looks right there". I want to be able to walk up my front stairs and be constantly reminded of where I've been and where I'm going. Maybe I'm overthinking this. But I still love and miss Nana's irises.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Happy Birthday Bryan Harvey...

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Happy birthday Bryan. We sure miss you babe. It's Kate Pierson's birthday today too (from the B-52's), and yeah, it's mine as well (sheepish grin). I'm are 50. My husband and I have a tradition where we do a tequila shot on our birthday, just because, and also to remind us that we're not too old to do a tequila shot. Guess this year I'll just have to do two. Love you Bryan, BIG LOVE............and happy happy happy birthday.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Another Memorial...

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I was talking to my sister this morning. She told me the Harvey Family was buried yesterday in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. Saturday, April Fool’s Day. They were murdered January 1, and buried exactly three months later.

I guess I never really thought about it deeply enough to realize that, of course, they would have to go through the gathering of evidence – my mind can’t go any deeper into it than that – “the gathering of evidence”. The fact that it took three months to give this wonderful family an honorable burial is just surreal to me. My logical mind can certainly grasp the importance of putting the case to rest, but my heart just screams at the thought that they were only buried yesterday. Since my sister told me I’ve been walking around the house, doing laundry, picking up things, trying not to dwell. To do anything but dwell.

She found out about the funeral from an acquaintance of hers who would be attending. When my sis mentioned that she wanted to tell me when the funeral would occur, this person said, “Well…’s by invitation only,” in a really derogatory tone as if my sister and I were just some gawkers who want to jump on the bandwagon of Harvey mourners. Instead of the friend that I was and am. It left a bad taste in her mouth and mine.

Okay, I’m being really harsh. I certainly am not going to judge someone who was obviously close enough to the Harveys to warrant an invitation to their funeral. I would hope they would keep it very private. But think about it. “By Invitation Only”. God, that just sounds so weird. Everything about this tragedy has been surreal, weird, unseemly, tragic, unreal, you fill in the blank. But to state it in those terms just freaks me out. Isn’t there another way to put it? Couldn’t she have stated it differently? Maybe I’m overanalyzing, it’s certainly a trait I’m known for. But today for some reason I can’t get past it. It makes it sound like some black tie event, instead of a final chapter in a story we wish never would have happened.

Yeah, I know, it’s not the final chapter. Sis also told me about trees they had planted in Maymont Park near the buffaloes. This is nice, right? I’m sure there will be a lot of this kind of thing in the near future. Tangible memorially-type things.

I’m teaching “Tangerine” by Edward Bloor to my 8th graders and in the book they plant a tree to memorialize a student tragically killed by lightning during football practice. In the book the gesture seems empty and “lip-service” –ey, as if the school were just doing it in order to let everyone know that yeah, they understood the tragedy of this event now will you please just get off our back about it?

I hope the trees in Maymont Park aren’t there for that reason. Somehow I think I’ll know when I go visit them. You know I’ll visit them. I have to now. People need those tangible real things like trees and graves to visit so that they can begin somehow to make sense of death. They place flowers and say words and walk away maybe feeling just a little bit better, right?

I’m sorry, I guess the bitterness which had only begun to leave me has come back for a little while. I’ve been trying to be “healthy” about the event, meditate, write, to honor them by living vigorously. But when I heard the whole “By Invitation Only” thing, I don’t know, I mean, God! (takes deep, calming breath)

I have to admit it seems only too appropriate that they would be buried in Hollywood Cemetery. Right smack in Oregon Hill. The memories I have of this place would fill a book. It’s so quintessentially Richmond – as they are. Now they are part of Richmond’s history just like Lewis Ginter and that lady who wrote all the murder mysteries, what’s her name? Edith something?

In high school and during my twenties my friends and I spent many sunny afternoons trolling through the tiny alleys and byways of this place. Visiting graves decorated with lambs (for infants who died) or grieving angels. We’d smoke, drink purloined beer, laugh, talk about life. I remember one time going to Dairy Queen and eating sundaes while studying the graves and their dates, their sentiments.

I vaguely remember sneaking into the big iron gates after dark, but I can’t remember if we were even successful or what we did once we got in. Look for ghosts? Hold a séance? Smoke a cig and hope we didn’t get caught? I mean, the place was scary enough in the daytime.

I remember thinking the caretaker’s house, a big gothic monstrosity, was haunted, and when they turned the thing into student apartments I was intrigued and repelled. What would it be like to have free access to Hollywood all night long? To live so closely among the dead?

My friends and I even had a meeting place. The “Bryan” gravestones which were at the far end of the cemetery in the older section, way up high, behind a wall which overlooked the James River. We’d even pick flowers to place on their graves. Then, we’d sit on the wall, warm ourselves in the sun, smoke, and listen to the river. I always thought it a good place to live out your years after death. I bet the Bryans think so too.

The only other cemetery that comes close to Hollywood’s Gothic, Victorian atmosphere is the Pere-Lachaise in Paris. The place has an aura that makes you want to walk with reverence, with mindfulness, with silence. In my late twenties when I was trying to come to terms with myself, to overcome a harrowing depression that seemed would never leave me, I would go to Hollywood and hide among the gravestones. I’d take a journal and write. I remember when the breezes would blow how I would sometimes hear voices in the trees. The dappled sun would laugh through these very same trees and it would calm me and I would write, write, write.

p.s. After I wrote this, I told my husband about what that person going to the funeral said. He made a face and said, “Wow, that’s so quintessentially Richmond,” without even seeing what I wrote. Since he grew up in Buffalo, he's an impartial observer I guess. Anyway, it made me look at my hometown with a more critical eye. Underneath our veneer of “community” do we have an underbelly of incestuous clique-ish-ness and “I’m in with the ‘in’ crowd” going on? Blech.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Thank You Momma, Thank You Kris...

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Last night’s show was phenomenal. As my husband and I sat in the grungy, darkened theater, for a moment I felt like I was back at the Biograph, or the Jade Elephant in Richmond.

Kris Kristofferson stood on stage with just a guitar, his hamonica and two bottles of blue gatorade. He sang song after song after song, and with each lyric my heart melted a little more. I heard songs I hadn’t heard in years, and the memories flooded me and I couldn’t stop myself from weeping. Weeping with a bittersweet sadness.

And not even sadness, really, more of a wistfulness that wanted Momma there beside me to share it. Except she was there, hovering, and in the smiles of the people around me. She was laughing every time I heard a beer bottle “clink” and she was singing all the lyrics through all the voices of the people there: Bobbi McGee, Sunday Mornin’ Coming Down, you know them, right? Hell, she was there in the yells and whoops of the lady-fans in the front row. I bet if she had been there physically, she would have hurled her panties on stage! I laughed to think it.

Even beyond wanting Momma there, I wished my whole family could have shared this with us. The love and trust and honesty and just simple, good music I felt in that room was something I wanted to wrap and give everyone I care about. It was beautiful and good in a way so few things are.

One song in particular got to me, “This Old Road”. As Kris sang, I pictured Mom running down Woodman Road, putting mile after mile behind her, running and running and running. I think I will always think of her in this way now.

This Old Road – Kris Kristofferson
Look at that old photograph
Is it really you
Smiling like a baby full of dreams
Smiling ain't so easy now
Some are coming true
Nothing's simple as it seems

But I guess you count your blessings with the problems
That you're dealing with today
Like the changing of the seasons
Ain't you come a long way (Ain't you come a long way)
Ain't you come a long way down
This old road

Looking at a looking glass
Running out of time
On a face you used to know
Traces of a future lost
In between the lines
One more rainbow for the road

Thinking of the faces in the windows
That you passed along the way
Or the last thing you believed in
Ain't you come long way (Ain't you come a long way)
Ain't you come a long way down
This old road

Say you tried to chase the sun down
And you let it slip away
And the holy night is falling
Ain't you come long way (Ain't you come a long way)
Ain't you come a long way down
This old road

Look at that old photograph
Is it really you

Thank you Momma, for being with me, at least for a little while, I felt you there, and thank you Kris for bringing her back. I’ll never forget it. God bless you both.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006


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Five years ago tomorrow, in the blue-grey dawn of March 27, 2001, I watched my mother die. Some days it feels like it never happened, other days I feel like I’ve lived an entire lifetime since she left us.

I wrote a eulogy for her, and delivering it is still the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. Talking in halting tones, clinging to my sister, not fully comprehending what was going on.

I’m still not fully prepared to write about that night, but I find myself five years later a lot better equipped to deal with a world without her. I’ve been reading Orson Scott Card’s Speaker For The Dead. Ironically, I picked it up just a week ago, and I agree with him when he says that we tend to recreate the person’s life to suit ourselves after the person has gone. I can see that. I probably didn’t have as great a relationship with Momma as I would like to believe. Hell, that’s what I held onto to deal with my grief. I’ve probably ascribed attributes to her that she didn’t necessarily have. Or maybe she had them, but just not as strongly as I remember.

Memory is a squirrley thing. It changes all the time, you can’t ever pin it down. Things that I will never, ever forget my sister can’t recall ever happening. Things she insists Momma did I just won’t ever believe. She could NEVER, in my mind been that stiff, that unyielding, that judgemental. But in my more honest moments I realize she probably was. Most mothers have those moments. Some only have those moments.

I want to paint her life as her “Speaker” in rose-colored sunset colors, but she had her dark side too. She could be extremely unyielding and judgemental, particularly about the choices I made with my early adulthood. We fought, screaming insults at each other, even throwing things. She also had her own demons, something we tend to forget when “speaking” of and about a person we love so much after they’re gone.

But God, I miss her. I find myself imagining the relationship we could have had as two adult women, because we did and do enjoy so many of the same things. We have a relationship now, but it’s ethereal. I talk and she listens. I hear that judgemental voice sometimes too, but these days it doesn’t bother me. I’m grateful she’s listening.

I still think we fought so much because we were so much alike. I imagine her in heaven sitting in a beach chair sipping on a huge margarita, eating chips and salsa, and howling with laughter down at me as I try to control a class of 30 over-hormoned 8th graders. She always told me she couldn’t wait until I had children of my own. Now I have 100. Touché Momma. Touché.

She ran marathons. She loved the beach and working on her tan. She loved to cook exotic foods, and if she’d had the money she would have traveled the world. Momma loved dancing, drinking, partying, and music. The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Cream, Deep Purple, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Teddy Pendergrass, Barry White and Jerry Butler and Tammy Terrell are just some of her favorites. Rod Stewart was a god to her. Her album collection stretched from one end of the dining room to the other, taking up four huge bookcases.

To this day if I ever hear “You Wear It Well” or “Maggie Mae” by Rod Stewart I think of how she used to dance around the kitchen in her Dr. Scholl sandals, halter top, with her black hair piled in a floppy bun on top of her head and her huge Cher-style gold hoops swinging. Or maybe she never did this. But in my mind she does. She was always cooking, always singing, always dancing. In my best memories she is.

These days I try to believe that in everything I do, I act as a vessel for her. She is spirit now, but I’m still body and spirit. If I can live my life without regret, to the fullest, if I can live my life vigorously, then maybe she can hitch a ride along with me. So when I’m singing at the top of my lungs in the car to “Blue Sky” by the Allman Brothers, she’s right there in the backseat smiling, or she’s in me, in my heart, and she can feel the singing, the hope, the joy. I want to be that for her. A way for her to keep living. If not through memories, then through me and the memories I continue to make.

My husband and I are going to see Kris Kristofferson tomorrow night at the Rex Theater. He was another of her favorites, and I know as I sip my whiskey and listen to him sing, she’ll be there, somewhere in the crowd. And I hope that I can continue to act as her “Speaker” and not only pay tribute, but be honest, because I would want the same.

And one day a long time from now, I can join her in that margarita and chips, and we’ll howl together at all the funny fights we had, all the silly things we used to do that seemed so important. All those times we wouldn’t give an inch because it was so damn important to be “right” rather than just giving each other a big hug. And maybe someone will be down here “speaking” for me. Until then, I’ll do my damndest to speak right, and speak well. She deserves that. Big Love Momma.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Copthorne Hotel

I found a "cough" from 11 years ago. Cleaning out boxes, I came across a one-page, much-creased piece of paper with scribbled thoughts. And oddly enough, I think it's good enough to post. Even if it's just so I don't lose this paper to the wind or the trash or something. It's a "cough" from another me, another life, a ghost of my past, and who I was then.


Copthorne Hotel Bar, Glasgow, Scotland
January 11, 1995, 1:45 p.m.

In the Copthorne, must learn to bring my journal everywhere (because I always have free time). The sun filters through high marble-rimmed windows onto businessmen's pens, through their straight hair and across their cursory conversation. Knives and glasses clink politely while waiters hover, trying to appear concerned, really. Smoke dances with the sunlight before flinging itself away carelessly.

A woman in black boots sips a bloody mary from a pub glass, lug-soled and thick, they reveal her rebellion against the plaid and paisley, secretly, dangling under the table like a taunt.

Ties hang straight and hair is clipped like the talk of figures and next month's projections. Mariah screams "Make it happen!" I wonder who really hears (maybe only the waiters).

I wait patiently. Red buses roar pass the icy windows, the sun piercing and brilliant on George Square as it stabs through last year's holiday ornaments (bell, holly, angel).

Everything is neat and prim, even the neon decorating the bar which says nothing more risque than "bar food" and "cocktails". My coffee is dark, strong, and sweet, a Scottish winter night in the arms of my lover. What must he think of me, with all the skeletons around my neck like some bizarre choker. His face does not betray him. His sense of mystery is intact, while mine has long since disintegrated to disarray, a shambles.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Lucky Money Candles

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So my husband and I went to Kelly's over the weekend, and they had Lucky Money candles on the table. Those tall glass cylinders with the Native American headdress on the side, lots of "lucky" phrases and filled to the brim with green or blue wax. They were on all the tables, in various colors, red, pink, white, and black to ward off evil spirits. Most had burned down to the nub, which I suppose meant that money, love, luck and lots of happy spirits were floating about this smoky, burgundy vinyl booth-lined bar. Yeah, happy spirits like Jameson's and Jack Daniels. Ha. Ha.

Kelly's is our favorite drink hangout - it has the same vibe as The Village in Richmond, lots of dark wood, dark lighting, cozy. Except the crowd is much older, almost like the people who used to hang at The Village lifted themselves by the scruff of their necks and plunked down in Kelly's Bar and Lounge.

The first thing I thought of as I ordered a vodka gimlet straight up and gazed into the watery blue wax ringed with black soot, the flame dancing about, was Kathryn. She had these in her store. I had sold these more often than I could ever forget, rolling each in old wrapping paper and taping it closed, placing it in a plastic shopping bag so it would make it safely back to whatever dorm room or hole-in-the-wall apartment it was going to. To be burned in hope. Night after night for hope. Or maybe just for light.

It was probably the gimlet, but I began to wax poetic to my husband about Kathryn Harvey. He'd never met her, and that still grinds away at me. I can't get my mind around the fact that he will never know her, her warmth, her laugh. I can try and try to make him understand just how fucking fantastic she was, but all he can do is look at me and listen quietly, shaking his head. He understands, but I can see he doesn't "get" it. You can't really know a person until you actually spend time with them. The stories you tell, no matter how spellbinding or descriptive, can't take the place of actual experience. This realization makes me want to stop writing, to stop trying. It all suddenly seems so pointless. So I order another gimlet. It makes me so sad that he will never know her. Just as my grandmother and my mother died before he could know them.

Like I had another life entirely before I met him, which I suppose I did. I just want him to know who I WAS, as well as who I AM. He's a part of my life, he's a part of me and my experience. I gazed into the blue candle looking for answers, and all it told me in its firey depths was, "Keep writing, you'll figure it out."

p.s. I did find out that Mimi Regelson still operates Exile which I find extraordinarily comforting somehow. As the behemoth of VCU grows around her, she's holding her ground. Big Love Mimi.

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