Monday, April 26, 2010

Never Yet Tedious!

So this past Saturday's NYT has two articles that fascinated me enough to exhort you, my seven blog readers, to click through.

The first is this article about a convicted murderer in Utah who chose death by firing squad, a pre-2004 option for orchestrating your federally mandated demise. The interesting thing here is not that someone chose to be knocked off by four bullets to the heart, but the way the state has chosen to grant that wish. Five anonymous federal marshals, chosen by some unspecified internal process, dress in black and tote shotguns. They stand at a prescribed distance, aim for the chest, and, at a given signal, discharge their weapons. Four of them have bullets. One of them -no one knows who- has a blank.

This blank fascinates me. What, exactly, is the point? You've intended to kill; you've shouldered your gun; you've fired. The upshot, no matter what, is a dead murderer. So why does one of you need a blank? Or rather, why do all of you need a chance, no matter how slim, at innocence? It's like a funny game of reverse Russian roulette, only instead of death, the payload is clean hands. How odd we humans are, to mandate the presence of something -the blank- that has NO bona fide effect on the physical world, only a -dubious?- moral impact.

The second is this cover article (granted, below the fold, but you take what you can get) on the for-profit charter school management company, Imagine. I'm pretty profoundly conflicted about charter schools, as I've discussed elsewhere. The good ones can represent opportunity for disadvantaged students whose parents take the time and make the effort to enroll them.

On the other hand, separating out kids whose parents give a damn from kids whose parents don't further contributes to the shameful Balkanization of our educational system. Charter schools like to brag that they serve the same disadvantaged population that urban public schools do, but this in untrue. Economic disadvantage is not the sum of a person's identity, and there is a huge difference between a parent who enrolls her child in a charter and a parent who is passed out on the floor.

I am 100% NOT conflicted, however, when it comes to whether for-profit management of charters is a good idea. The answer is NO, people!!! As the NYT article details at some length. This would seem like a no brainer, but this being America, people will try and squeeze profit from anything.

They're already squeezing it from your Grandma: for-profit elder-care dominates the country. My SLP friends who work in for-profit nursing homes have told me horror stories about being pressured into taking on patients who weren't appropriate, providing compromised treatment, and even falsifying documentation at the behest of for-profit management. LET'S NOT LET THIS HAPPEN TO OUR CHILDREN.

Oh NYT. May your print edition always be black and beauteous, and may your bureaus never shrink!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Show, Don't Tell

This pretty neatly sums up how I feel about change.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Simple Gifts

So I ran across this blog post, in which the author's neighbor leaves, on her doorstep, a perfect slice of torte. You eye the layers, the crumb, the frosting. There's a fork, thoughtfully tucked behind the bulk of the cake, and a note. In return, the author leaves her neighbor jam, a pint of olive oil, a single flower, a handful of seeds.

Just because.

I don't know why this seizes me like it does. Because it does seize me, in the sense of causing, in my thoughts, a hitch. I stop in the middle of what I'm doing. I rein in my breath. I consider.

We give to each other innumerable gifts. Christmas, Easter, birthdays, Mothers' Day, heck, even Administrative Professionals' Day. I enjoy mailing off my packages to mark these days, and I enjoy -OK, more like lick the postman in an excess of enthusiasm- the packages I get in return. Yet, there's always a sense of doubled purpose. You must please your recipient, yes, but you're also trying to appease the great dark God of expectation. It's as if we've erected a totem, a pillar around which, deprived of the good ol' bogeys of famine, fire, drought, and trampling by wildebeest, we dance our craven little dance.

There's something more primitive about the cake on the doorstep, and more personal. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours, but also: We are connected. Or simply: I thought of you. It's powerful to know there's someone out there thinking of you; it makes you, somehow, more real. Equally powerful: to have something tasty, to give your neighbor a piece.

All of which is really my way of soliciting cake. Anytime, people! My doorstep is always open! I mean, free of other cakes! Because I will have already eaten them! Right.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Not sure why, but these make me happy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

I Am Here

Cincinnati, OH

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

It's funny to think about the people who lived in a place before you, particularly if your house is as old as my rental. Our duplex dates from 1910, and in many ways -the sloping floor, the disused fireplace, the hairy, monstrous Yeti of a heating bill- you can tell. But the people who lived there? Who oversaw the declension of the floorboards, who broke the flue? Nada. No prints.

Or rather, subtle signs, a couple of clues. The cat hair in the heating vent, the robin's egg blue of the kitchen walls. And, in the back, three raised beds in the sunniest part of the yard.

The raised beds make me sad. Someone was a gardener, and that someone would be pretty darn appalled to see the the pantheon of scraggly yet enterprising weeds presiding over the beds today. There are even a couple of miniature trees. I am not a gardener, but here, in this house, I should be. I love fresh vegetables and flowers, herbs and puttering around outside. I ought to be gardener. I would be a gardener, if only I had the time, or I knew how, or I wasn't terrified of earthworms, or [insert excuse here].

I could be X, if not for Y. Everybody's got a little folio of these formulas, a set of alternate selves they thumb through during down time. If I'd had the proper training, I would be a musician. I would make a great teacher, if I'd ever tried. If things were a little different, I would be a professional wrestler.

Gardener is up there for me. If I only [knew how to garden, had gotten around to learning, didn't fear the nexus of terror that is the worm], I'm sure I'd be out there right now, planting bulbs or weeding or, um, whatever it is you do this time of year.

Librarian is another one. I love books! I love organizational systems! If I'd just [gone to library school instead of SLP school when I was trying to decide between them], I could be answering your reference questions right now. Also you would probably not be three years old, which would be a relief.

And then there's minister. I come from a very long line of ministers. Ministry combines so many of the things I love to do -writing, exegesis, connecting the big to the small, counseling, socializing, ritual, administration, community building- in one shiny package! I would make a fantabulous minister, if not for [the niggling issue of believing in God].

I know you do this, too. Yes, you, reader, the one on the other side of the computer screen. You would be a great parent, or knitter, or novelist, or runner, if only [XYZhandoffatethegreatpenguin].

I don't mind them, these alternate selves. I don't think they do any harm, and sometimes they do us good, giving us a taste of other lives, a savor of possibility. But the fact of the matter is, we aren't any of these things. I'm not a librarian. I never even seriously contemplated seminary. And I have allowed my raised beds to look, for almost three years now, like this:

We are what we are, that old cliche. But also: We aren't what we aren't. For whatever reason, big or small, good or negligible, we chose another path.

Which doesn't mean that we can never reverse course. Maybe someday the gardening fairy will appear and teach me how to plant some basil.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Sometimes I think our personalities are like my father's dead Saluki, Roo. Roo was big and white and an insatiable jumper; he jumped again and again, leaping the six-foot-high wooden fence to chase cars and worry squirrels before skulking back to whine at the gate. One day he didn't come back. Someone found him half-dead by the side of the road and my father had to put him -howling, Roo; howling, my father- to sleep.

Like Roo, our natures throw themselves under the bus. We keep jumping our barriers -our consciences, our better selves, our wiser impulses- and racing down the same old roads.

For me, it's envy. Of the seven deadly signs, this is my fence-jumper. I know it does no good to feel it; I know it dunks me, willy-nilly, into unhappiness. And yet, again and again, I leap.

Envy is worse than covetousness. You covet when you envy, yes. You want something someone else has. But there's a black edge to envy, a lash of self-loathing. Someone else has something you ached for or something you worked for, and it is because you weren't good enough. Envy twists you; it makes you sour and bitter and ashamed.

But as my SLP boss said at staff meeting today, you work with what you've got. You don't whine about who you are or where you are or how many psychologists you have available for intakes. You look at what's out on the table and say, What can I do with this?

Even if what's on the table is a dying dog.

P.S. I stole this image from the NIH. Green mice = woah!

Monday, April 5, 2010


The trees have leaves.

The deuce of it is, I was watching for it. This year I've been careful to chart the seasons, to track the progress of the sun, the temperature, the parade of flowers. Snowdrops to crocuses, crocuses to daffodils, daffodils to magnolias. The maple next to my window has been dead, stiff-armed. Until suddenly it's not; it's shameless; it's stricken, broken out in a rash of green.

It's always this way, with change. Never while you're looking. Puppies into dogs, friends into acquaintances, the bungee drop of wakefulness into sleep.

I hate this.