An Education By Fits And Starts But Not Degrees

My formal “college” consists of 26 community college credits, half of them in ceramics.  I took two classes in cultural anthropology, fell in love with Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”, and decided anthropology was my life’s calling–until my husband called my attention to the want ads in our big city paper.  Not a single call for anthropologists anywhere, and since we were among the almost-poor, and I still had kids at home, I had to think inside the box.

I took a business class taught by a one-handed pianist who should have stuck to his night job.  He invited our class to his concert and, even with one hand, his performance was flawless.  When it came time to evaluate him, none of us could do the honest thing and point out his flaws as a teacher of business.  We gave him high marks for personality.

I tnouveau girl reading books 1909ook two creative writing classes taught by an old pot-smoking hippie who wore chains and earrings and orange tennis shoes and who told us right off that he didn’t care what we wrote as long as we wrote something.  I thought the guy himself was ridiculous, trying as he did to be George Carlin and Jack Kerouac, all in the same skin, so it took me a while to realize how much I had actually learned there.   It came to me much later, when I was putting together materials to teach my own adult-ed creative writing classes:  What he gave us was a setting where we could write and fail and get a huge kick out of what we were doing.  He was a teacher without judgement but with a knack for finding what could be fixed.

I took a modern literature class taught by a woman I don’t remember at all–not her name, not her face, not her teaching technique.  But through her I met Eudora Welty, Joseph Conrad, Langston Hughes, and Flannery O’connor–writers I might have overlooked if she hadn’t brought them (and so many others) to my attention.

And that was the end of my formal education.  Whatever else I’ve learned, I’ve learned either by happenstance or serendipity. Being in the right place at the right time.  Stumbling across something that got me curiouser and curiouser and led me to something else that led me to something else.  Unless I got distracted; then it was something else altogether.

Living near Detroit, I had the advantage of meeting some exceptional writers and thinkers and I latched onto them like a parasite on a host.  I tried to drain them of everything they had to give–quietly, of course, without drawing blood.  I went to readings and workshops and lectures.  I joined groups where professional writers gathered.

They taught me a trade, but it’s a haphazard way to get an education.  It’s not an education, in fact.  Whatever it is, it’s full of holes.  Great gaping holes.  Great gaping embarrassing holes.  (I couldn’t find Iraq on a map if you gave me a hundred bucks to do it. I don’t know what Pi is and I’m afraid I’m missing something meaningful.  I only recently found out that Goethe is pronounced “Gurt-uh”.  Good thing I never had occasion to say his name out loud.)

Now President Obama is pushing for free two-year community college for everyone.  It’ll be an uphill battle, but I’m right there beside him, rooting him on.  I don’t want anyone to have to take on the task of educating themselves.  It can’t be done.  They need teachers.  They need campus life.  They need to argue and debate, to be challenged, to be opened up to directions they might never have taken and ideas they might never have formed on their own.  They need to be pushed and pulled and exposed to a world wholly outside of themselves.

They need to prepare for jobs, and we as a country need to pave the way.  We need to build again, creating good-paying jobs for them to fill.  We need to smarten up, and the best way to do it is through education.

We know that now.

Pretty sure we do.

But I could be wrong.

Posted in Art and Artists, Education | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vandals, I Don’t Get You. Can We Talk?

Van·dal

noun: vandal; plural noun: vandals
  1. 1.
    a person who deliberately destroys or damages public or private property.
    “the rear window of the car was smashed by vandals”
    synonyms: hoodlum, barbarian, thug, hooligan, delinquent, despoiler, desecrator, saboteur

    “vandals defaced the front steps of the church”
  2. 2.
    a member of a Germanic people that ravaged Gaul, Spain, and North Africa in the 4th–5th centuries and sacked Rome in AD 455.

_____________________

When I was around seven years old I wandered over to our neighbor’s roadside mailbox and stole the mail out of it.  There was a vacant lot between their house and ours and I remember sitting in the weeds opening that mail. (The mail that, at seven, I doubt I could even read) Then I got scared.  I tore it all up into little pieces.  I got caught–I don’t remember how–and my mother marched me over to our neighbors, where I had to apologize for stealing their mail and tearing it up.

What I learned through my tears was that one piece of that mail–the pretty one with the red and blue stripes around the edges–was a long-awaited letter from their soldier son who was fighting in the war overseas.   That was seven decades ago and I still cringe at the memory.  They were sweet people, those neighbors, and they were kind enough to accept my apology, but I’ve never forgotten how I felt when I had to admit, to them, to my mother, and to myself, that I did a terrible thing.  What was I thinking?  What would make me steal and then destroy something that didn’t belong to me?  I didn’t do it to deliberately hurt our neighbors but the end result was that I did hurt them.

But even though I was a vandal myself–no getting around it–I’ve never understood acts of vandalism.  I’ve heard all the excuses– pent-up rage, drunkenness, group dynamics, an extreme sense of privilege–but every act of vandalism is a criminal act.  Deliberate, wanton destruction is a crime.  It’s not cute, it’s not cool, it’s not ever justified, and it can’t be considered anything less than what it is, just because the people who do it aren’t your ordinary criminals.

So last week this happened:  University of Michigan frat members took over 45 rooms at a Michigan ski resort and over the course of a couple of days did more than $50,000 in damage:

Treetops Resort manager Barry Owens said the students were escorted from the premises by Michigan State Police last weekend after causing $50,000 in damage. The resort is in Dover Township near Gaylord.
Owens said Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity members caused significant damage to furniture, carpet, walls and ceilings.
Sigma Alpha Mu Michigan chapter President Joshua Kaplan says his members “are embarrassed and ashamed of the behavior” of some members. He says the chapter “accepts full responsibility” and “will be working with the management of the resort to pay for all damages and cleaning costs.”
“This behavior is inconsistent with the values, policies, and practices of this organization,” Kaplan said in a statement. “We will work within our own organization and with university officials to hold those who are responsible accountable for their actions.
Kaplan said there will be no further comment from his chapter or organization.
“They caused an excessive amount of damage,” Owens said. “The rooms were just a pigsty. Unfortunately, I’ve been in this business for 30 years and it’s the worst condition of rooms that I’ve ever seen. There were broken ceiling tiles in the hallway, broken furniture, broken windows. There’s carpet that’s going to need to be replaced.”
Owens said there were more than 120 people, men and women, in about 45 rooms.
“A lot of the rooms were just very, very dirty,” he said. “There were holes in the walls and different things like that. They were very disruptive to additional guests that were here.”
Owens said prior to the students being removed, resort staff attempted to rectify the situation.
“We tried to address it with them, but we made a mistake and took these people at their word when they said they would change their behavior,” he said.
The resort is considering its options, including pursuing criminal charges against the fraternity. Owens said the resort also has a meeting planned with university officials.

 

What about the criminal charges against the students? What happened after the Kids Just Want to Have Fun Gang were “escorted from the premises” by the State Police?  Were they fingerprinted and then thrown into as many cells as it took to fill?  Are they still there?

I haven’t heard, but you know they’re not still in jail up there in Gaylord. Who are they?  Give me their names.  Let me talk to them.  Let them try to explain why they did what they did.  I want to know how they’re feeling right now.  Not how they’re feeling about getting caught or being blamed or  about whether or not they’ll still have their fraternity.  I want to know how they’re feeling about themselves.

(And whether, at some future date, they’re going to be thinking about running for public office. . .)

vandal damage Treetops Resort

Vandals damage, Treetops Resort. Photo Credit: Detroit Free Press/Keith Wilkinson

(Cross-posted at Ramona’s Voices and elsewhere)

Posted in head-scratchers, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Resolved: To Make 2015 A Year To Remember. If I Don’t Forget

Here it is 2015 (Where did the time go, right?) and let me say once again that New Year’s Resolutions are a fun way to pass the time but are meaningless in the real world.  Not meaning to burst your little bubble on the very first day of the new year;  just telling you, in case you woke up this morning actually believing that all it takes to do something life-changing before the year is out is to sincerely resolve to do it on New Year’s Day.

Some people believe a resolution is not legit unless you say it out loud to someone who might actually remember–and care–later on.  I’ve done it myself in the days when I couldn’t have started the year without a list of resolutions.  It was a good luck gesture I really believed in.  Sort of like not stepping on a crack to avoid breaking your mother’s back.

But over time I realized the surest way to disappoint myself in the worst way possible was to promise myself (most sincerely, because no other way would do) that I wouldn’t be a complete failure again.  This year I would finally do what I’ve been meaning to do, and this time I mean it.

Sometimes I would even make a list–actually write things down:

Lose 20 pounds.

Make a lot of money with my writing.

Travel to that place I’ve always wanted to go.

Okay, lose 10 pounds.

Okay, make any money with my writing.

Okay, at least get out of the state.

Then, thankfully, I would lose the list, and any remnants of any long ago resolution would drift away, never to be heard from again.

Well, okay, not never.  By the next New Year’s Eve those long-ago resolutions would come back and hit me like a ton of bricks.  I promised!  I resolved!  I said them out loud!  I didn’t do any of them!  (Except to get out of the state.  I did manage to do that.  But who couldn’t when you live 20 miles from the border?)

So this year you could follow my lead, save yourself a lot of headaches, and just bypass that tradition.  The world won’t come to an end.  The year will start, the days will go by, one by one, and nobody will notice that you didn’t make a resolution.

I didn’t know that when I was young.  I went along, sheep-like, because everyone else did.  I honestly thought I was the only one who didn’t keep her resolutions.  I know better now.  It’s the most freeing thing in the world to know my promises to myself are meaningless and therefore totally unnecessary.

You too can be free.  Just say no.  No resolutions!  (If you think you can’t do it, write me.  I’ll talk you down.  I’ve been there.  I know.)

So Happy New Year!  Health! Prosperity!  Love!  Joy!

Carry on. . .

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Posted in Humor | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s Hard to Be Merry At Christmas When It’s “Merry Christmas” Or Else

 The last time I wrote about Christmas I thought I was being pretty polite, considering the message I was getting from my friends and relatives and neighbors.  To wit:  How DARE you even THINK about not wishing me a Merry Christmas!  Which, of course, led me to respond by pleading “not guilty”–which caused me to tell a lie at Christmas since I didn’t feel the least bit guilty. Why would I?

I say “Merry Christmas” quite a bit at Christmas time.  I’ve been saying “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidchristmas-dream2ays” ever since I could say the words, which, I’m guessing, was around December, 1939, when I was just over two years old.  Sometimes I say “Have a great holiday!” without mentioning which holiday I mean when I say that.  There are times when I say “Happy New Year!”, forgetting to say “Merry Christmas”, even though it may be several days before Christmas.  I can’t help it.  It just comes out.

For weeks now I’ve been getting those admonishing Facebook posts and emails about keeping Christ in Christmas by saying “Merry Christmas”. (As if, if we don’t keep repeating those words, everyone will forget who Christ was.)

I hadn’t planned on writing yet another blog about the “war” on Christmas.  Even Bill O’Reilly himself is getting bored with it. I can tell.  (He has now declared the war is over and he won it.) But today I received the email that was the straw that finally broke it.

It was an email from a dear friend and the subject line read, ” MERRY CHRISTMAS!”  The picture that topped it was an old fashioned Currier & Ives etching with digital snowflakes falling, falling, falling.  A colorful “Merry Christmas” banner arched over the top with a bright red ribbon wreathed with holly and ivy.

So lovely. . .

And this is what it said:

I will be making a conscious effort to wish everyone
a Merry Christmas this year …
My way of saying that I am celebrating
The birth Of Jesus Christ.
So, I am asking my email buddies,
if you agree with me, to please do the same.
And if you’ll pass this on to
Your email buddies, and so on… maybe we can prevent one more
American tradition from being lost in the sea of “Political Correctness”.



What. On. Earth.  Really??  At risk of never receiving another Merry Christmas greeting from any of you ever again, I’m going to say this and I hope you will take it in the spirit in which it is given:

What is wrong with you people?

It’s Christmas!  Millions of us love this season.  We look forward to it, we read about it, we sing about it, we who are parents can’t wait to experience it with our children.  We plan, we decorate, we bake, we go shopping, we party.  We find a million different excuses to hug each other.  We hang mistletoe just so we can kiss under it.

We fill food baskets and donate money because it’s Christmas and there is nothing sadder than the thought of someone not enjoying the holidays.  Our happiness is so acute we smile at perfect strangers and wish them good tidings.  Joy, my friends, is busting out all over.

Many of us only go into a church at Christmas time;  some of us not at all.  I love the story of the baby Jesus.  I love Christmas carols. (Last night I watched the St. Olaf Choir Christmas Concert from Norway on PBS.  It was beautiful–a mix of the sacred and the secular–like Christmas.) I love the happy faces.  The candles.  Nice.  All nice.

But let’s talk about Christmas tradition:

December 25 is closer to the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice than it is to Jesus’ birth, which most Christian scholars put nearer to summer, based on historic events.

The Christmas song “O Tannenbaum” was based on a 16th century tune, put to secular lyrics in 1824.

Charles Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” in 1843. While it ends with, “God bless us, every one!”, it’s a morality tale about the rich holding terrible power over the poor.

Irving Berlin, a Jewish songwriter, wrote “White Christmas” in the late 1930s and it became the most popular Christmas song of all time.

Charles Schultz’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was released in 1965 and has been shown every year since.

We love “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Let It Snow” and “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.  We love red and green and silver and gold.  We love twinkly lights and Santa and snowmen.  And elves.  We love elves.  WE LOVE CHRISTMAS!

And you’re spoiling it for us.

It takes all the fun out of it when you think you get to decide for us how we’re supposed to spend Christmas.  For you, Jesus is the reason for the season. Amen to that.  For us, it’s a wonderful, happy holiday that is open to so many interpretations you could get the idea it’s mainly about peace on Earth, goodwill toward mankind.

But we would never know it now, what with this sudden ruckus about putting Christ back in Christmas–as if there were sinister factions out there trying to erase him for all eternity, the main weapon being two words: “Happy Holidays”.

If Christmas means Christ to you, there is no better time than the Yuletide to celebrate him.  But you simply cannot butt into our celebrations, Grinch-like, throwing wet blankets all over our happy days.  If there is a war on Christmas, it’s a one-sided battle and it’s coming from you. You can have it.  For me, it’s the happiest, happiest time of the year.  I feel love in the air and I plan on enjoying every minute of it.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and a joyous New Year.

Posted in Beauty and joy, head-scratchers, Humor | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

No Excuses. I’m a Slacker

I haven’t written here for a while–ever since I had my first cataract surgery, which I admit now, once the thrill of the unknown was over, wasn’t much to write home about.

There is nothing romantic or noble or even dangerous about cataract surgery.   It was such a cinch I didn’t even bother to write about my second one.  (I will say it was a lot like the first one, only on a different eye.)  The colors are brighter but I still need glasses, so I spend a lot of time trying not to think about the fact that I might have saved myself a whole lot of trouble by just saying no.

There is no basking-in-the-sun moment with a thing like cataracts.  Everybody past a certain age has had that surgery.  Say the word “cataracts” and they’ll pounce on you like dogs on swill and attempt to tell you about their own boring experiences with the same surgery you just told them you had.  “It was nothing,” they say, and then proceed to fill you in on every little detail.

Sort of like I did in that earlier blog post.

But enough about that. My useless rants have just begun.

After a couple of weeks of snow and whiteouts and cold and ice and more snow and whiteouts, we closed up our house in the north woods earlier than usual (almost three weeks earlier) and headed downstate to be with our kids for the holidays.  That was roughly 10 days ago.  Since then there hasn’t been an inch of snow anywhere near our house, or anywhere else in this insanely beautiful but deluded* state.  (*See last state election for details.)

So for weeks now my left leg has been aching.  Behind my knee and up the shin bone.  Off and on, but enough so that it wakes me up at night and makes me limp during the day until I get my sea legs.  But the other night it got so bad I allowed myself to be  talked into going to the ER.  Just up the road.  No more than a mile away.  Except that that particular hospital no longer has an ER!  They closed it in April.  Just like that.

So then it’s a drive into Ann Arbor to the big ol’ University of Michigan Hospital (I used to work there but that’s another story.  Also boring), where they did an ultrasound and eliminated the worries about a blood clot.

Well, okay!  That was a relief!  But the leg still hurt.  And that night, because when one door closes another opens,  my nose began to pour hot water, my throat surrounded itself with sandpaper, and I developed a cough that started around my belly button, ran up my chest, hit that sandpaper running and hurt so much I would have been crying my eyes out if I didn’t know from past experience it would have hurt even more.

So I slept.  For two days and two nights I slept.  I slept so much my hips hurt and I worried about bedsores.  I ate nothing but Club Crackers and chicken noodle soup (both Campbell’s and Progresso, but don’t ask me which one I liked better unless you really want me to tell you.  I’m on a roll with inane stuff today.  You might just want to sit quietly and let me get it out of my system, okay?)

But I’m feeling a bit better today and I think I’m going to live.  That’s the thing about getting old–with each passing year the reality of mortality sets in and you just can’t get away from it.  It’s good to be alive, and sometimes we like to pretend that death will not happen to us–it’s those other old folks who have to worry–but life is precious and there isn’t much time.

I think I’ll go kick some ass.

old lady 2

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

One Cataract Gone, One More To Go

October 8 — My cataract surgery went well yesterday.  So well I feel silly having worried and sweated and stewed about it–which I did, big time.  Something about knowing my eye was going to be sliced and then blasted with a laser while I was AWAKE.  I thought it was pretty crazy that anyone wouldn’t be sweating over it.

They kept telling me they would be giving me large doses of “don’t give a shit” meds in my IV, but I was convinced that I would, indeed, give shits up the kazoo.  It turns out I survived.  And I’m even looking forward to having the same thing done to eye #2.

The lasered eye is still a little blurry but the colors at first were amazing.  The sky was iridescent blue.  The grass was bilious green.  I couldn’t stop looking at my tangerine.   I wonder if this is why children find everything so wondrous?  When we lose the ability to see colors as they really are, do we lose the ability to appreciate them? I don’t know, but I love how everything looks, now that the haze is lifting from my left eye.

The staff at the ophthalmology clinic told me that the older cataracts get, the more discolored they become.  Everything I was seeing was as if I was seeing it though a nicotine film.  Whites, as seen through my left eye, are dazzling today.    My pupil is still dilated so I will need sunglasses when I go out.

10/9 — So now it’s two days after my surgery and things are still a little blurry but much better.  I saw the doctor yesterday and he said everything was coming along normally.  The fuzzies, the floaters, the rainbow ring around lights.  All normal.

But nobody told us about the eye drop regimen.  It’s crazy!  Three days before the surgery it’s two different drops five minutes apart three times a day.  After the surgery it’s three different drops five minutes apart three times a day.  This goes on for a full month.

But it gets better.  The surgery on my right eye will be on October 28, which means we’ll be putting drops in both eyes in an overlap for several days, and then it’ll be another month of drops for just the right eye. And since my hubs has taken on the job of chief eye drop dropper, it’s his burden to bear as well as mine.  Ha!

The drops are steroids and antibiotics and something else for my own safety, so I shouldn’t complain.  And, as everyone has reported, the colors are so much brighter.  And true.  But it’s not brain surgery and nearly everyone of a certain age either already has done it, or will be, so reporting on it in a blog is pretty lame.

But they sliced into my eye and busted up the cataract with a blast of a laser and rolled up the new lens and stuck it in there and it magically unrolled and settled into place.  And don’t forget that amazing iridescent blue.  And those whites.  They’re dazzling.

So toodle-oo and tweedledum.  I’m off to see what I can see.

Michael in the ferns

 

Posted in Beauty and joy, Just for Fun | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Should I Die At 75? Oh, Wait. Too Late.

many candlesOn September 17, the very day–I mean, the exact day I turned 77, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel’s essay, “Why I hope to Die at 75″ appeared in The Atlantic magazine.   You could have knocked me over with a feather.  Really?  (We old people say, “really?” while you say, “seriously?”.  There’s one difference right there.)

Emanuel is a bioethicist and breast oncologist who is for Obamacare and universal health care and against euthanasia for the aged.  Nevertheless, he apparently believes that because most people over 75 are no longer as vibrant as most people under 75, and many of them have insurmountable health issues, there should be an arbitrary cut-off date after which any reasonable human being would do humanity a favor and go find themselves a nice iceberg somewhere and float off into the darkness. Singing.

I have admired Zeke Emanuel for. . . I don’t know. . . a long time now. I can’t remember.  (Don’t kill me!)  I always thought that of all the Emanuels, he had his head on straightest.  But it could be that on the very day I turned 77 my brain read Emanuel’s piece, took notice that I was exactly two years past the cut-off date, and got confused about what it was supposed to do now.  Whatever happened, I don’t get this guy.  Not this time.

He said:

By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life. I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown and in the midst of their own rich lives. I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions, important or not, I am going to make. And hopefully, I will not have too many mental and physical limitations. Dying at 75 will not be a tragedy. Indeed, I plan to have my memorial service before I die. And I don’t want any crying or wailing, but a warm gathering filled with fun reminiscences, stories of my awkwardness, and celebrations of a good life. After I die, my survivors can have their own memorial service if they want—that is not my business.

Ooooh. . . weeping here.  So sweet!  (Except for that part about “dying at 75 will not be a tragedy”.   Easy for him to say.)

And then he said:

. . .the fact is that by 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us. . . This age-creativity relationship is a statistical association, the product of averages; individuals vary from this trajectory. Indeed, everyone in a creative profession thinks they will be, like my collaborator, in the long tail of the curve. There are late bloomers. As my friends who enumerate them do, we hold on to them for hope. It is true, people can continue to be productive past 75—to write and publish, to draw, carve, and sculpt, to compose. But there is no getting around the data. By definition, few of us can be exceptions. Moreover, we need to ask how much of what “Old Thinkers,” as Harvey C. Lehman called them in his 1953 Age and Achievement, produce is novel rather than reiterative and repetitive of previous ideas. The age-creativity curve—especially the decline—endures across cultures and throughout history, suggesting some deep underlying biological determinism probably related to brain plasticity.

Hold on a minute.  Old Thinkers.  Processing. . .

Nope.  Nothing. Never mind.

There are people who are still brilliant–or at least special–long past the time most of us would have given up and moved on.  They’re Emanuel’s exceptions and the older these people get the more they become potential national treasures.  It’s because they’ve beaten the odds and are living proof that, even at such an advanced age, they still have much to contribute.  It’s also true that younger admirers have put themselves in their place and feel better about their own chances of making waves for that long.  But too often they stop celebrating that person’s achievements and begin celebrating their longevity.  Any mention of them from then on ends up being a eulogy. As if whatever they were is in the distant past and now they just are.  This sort of thing doesn’t help.

A cut-off date of, say, 75 when even Emanuel, the chooser of the cut-off date, admits that nobody ages in the same way during the same time-frame, is so dumb all I can figure is that he needed an attention-getter to make a few points about how terrible it will be when he’s no longer at the top of his game.

Take it from me, Zeke.  You’ll get over it.

Posted in Art and Artists, Beauty and joy, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment