Saturday, August 31, 2019

Day 51: The second arrow

I've been thinking a lot lately about the Buddhist teaching of the second arrow.  The basic idea is that a pain happens (the first arrow), and then we pile other things onto the pain - stories, regrets, fears - and that is the second arrow.

We had a little less than five days between Tilly's diagnosis and her death.  Her diagnosis came as a total shock.  She was only eleven.  In June, she was hiking all over the eastern Sierra with us.  A little more than three weeks before her death, she had bloodwork done (pursuant to starting a medication for itchy skin), with no hint that cancer was raging through her system.  But the day we got the diagnosis, xrays showed her lungs filled with tumors (and since dogs rarely get primary lung cancer, that suggested that there must have been other tumors elsewhere, probably abdominal). 

She'd spent the night with the vet, waiting for the results and getting stabilized.  Then we brought her home with Tramadol, drugs to help with congestion, and painkilling injections for when things started to really go downhill.  I also cancelled my then-upcoming five-day silent retreat at Spirit Rock.  (It was on compassion; and I was very clear that the most compassionate thing I knew to do for myself, my dog, and my family was to be here at home.)  And, while my formal sitting practice frankly went to hell, I lived those five days as a practice of mindfulness.  (And please note that word "practice".  It means that there were a lot of nonmindful bits in there!)

The definitions of mindfulness that I cite in my classes generally involve at least these elements: moment-to-moment awareness of what is happening (this can be physical, environmental, emotional, psychological, etc), on purpose, without judgement (and, I would add, with compassion).

And that's what I tried to do.

And it was really interesting.

During those five days, there were a lot of first-arrow pains.  There was the night that she went to scratch the rug next to my side of the bed as she always did before going to sleep, and she had to stop and lie down to pant because it was hard to catch her breath.  And the day she couldn't get up into the car by herself anymore.  All the markers of decline, all the signs that she was uncomfortable.  It's hard to watch anyone we love suffering, and that causes suffering.  Those things were really happening, right there in the moment, and the emotions that came with observing them were painful ones.

And then there were the second-arrow pains.  Lying on the front lawn trying to get work done, with Tilly curled up in the sun next to me.  A good moment.  And the second arrow hits - I won't be able to do this any more.  I will miss her terribly.  I can't imagine my life without her.  And then the realization - but she is here.  I am doing this with her now.  If I am present for this moment now, she is not gone.  All the pain was coming from my mind being somewhere other than in the moment that was actually happening.  (Except, notice, that those thoughts were actually happening and causing actual pain - something to bring non-judgemental, compassionate awareness to.) 

Such an interesting thing to notice.  Because here's the thing: preowning all the pain of not having her around didn't in any way lessen what I'm feeling right now.  What it did do, though, was move me away from whatever peace there might be in the moments I had with her then.  Isn't that interesting? 

Noticing the second arrow is useful.  But the definition of mindfulness suggests that we observe that second arrow without judgement (I'm such an idiot!  Why am I doing that?!) or pushing away (I shouldn't feel that, I don't want to feel that!), and with compassion (this is a painful moment).  Doing that made it easier to work with it, without pushing it away or blaming myself for "doing this to myself" - it's normal to think and feel all those things.

But, in that last week, the great gift of noticing was that it made it a bit easier to allow the second arrow to fall a bit more lightly and sting a little less, while being present for the whole experience.  It also meant that I was able to take on board the gift of those good moments - like lying in the sun with my girl - just a little bit more. 

On her last morning, as we waited for the vet to come to the house, all four of us stopped everything we were doing and came together in the living room.  I sat on the floor next to Tilly while she napped in her favorite place on the cool tiles.  Rick and the girls sat in their usual chairs, and we all read or sat quietly, or whatever seemed best.  It was exactly the kind of quiet family moment that we all love.  And for whole minutes at a time, I was able to let the second arrow go and just be in the present moment, which was a really good moment.

Since then, I keep noticing the first and second arrows.  Coming home late at night and grabbing my stuff so I can hurry to the door to stop Tilly from barking and waking up the neighbors - and then realizing that I don't have to?  First arrow.  Putting on my walking shoes and waiting for a nose to get in the way while trying to "help"?  First arrow.  Imagining that I will never again find a dog like Tilly?  Second arrow.  Wanting MY dog back, right now, thankyouverymuch?  Second arrow.  Wanting reality to be something other than what it is?  (Which, by the way, it turns out I want quite often - who knew?)  Second arrow.

It's not that I'm not feeling how much all of this hurts.  It's that watching it all rise and fall and rise and fall gives me a lot of hope that there will be fewer hurting moments in the future, and more equanimity about feeling how much it hurts now.  It's a really interesting experience.  My very own godawful mindfulness retreat. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

Day 50: Friday night at Balboa

Tour of the park with the Conservancy director, food trucks, beer, and blues. Family and friends. Nuff said.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Day 49: The mission of education

I'm in the throes of getting ready to lead a faculty learning community (FLC) about contemplative pedagogy.  I've been using contemplative pedagogical methods for years now, and have been part of an FLC on this subject, but I've never led one by myself, so I'm a bit nervous.  That's not what this is about though (I'm sure I'll feel compelled to write about that at some point).  Nor is it about contemplative pedagogy per se (although I know I need to say what I mean by that at some point).  Instead, as I was re-reading the first assignment for the FLC, I found this quote, and I just needed to share it, because it says something that I believe in completely, but that I think is usually not at all on the minds of those making decisions about education today:

"When I think about the reforms needed if higher education* is to serve our students and our world faithfully and well, I think there should be a litmus test for every project that claims to strengthen the mission of our colleges and universities.  Does this proposal deepen our capacity to educate students in a way that supports the inseparable causes of truth, love, and justice?  If the answer is no, we should take a pass and redouble our efforts to find a proposal that does."  (emphasis mine)
     - Foreword, Contemplative Practices in Higher Education: Powerful Methods to Transform Teaching and Learning (Daniel Barbezat and Mirabai Bush)

Can you imagine a world where that was the litmus test for education?  The mind boggles.

*For my money, this applies to all levels of education - and perhaps should be even more important at the K-12 level.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Day 48: Grace

This past weekend, we made a decision as a family (I'll keep the details vague for now) that turned out not to be a good decision.  A very large part of the reason why it turned out not to be a good decision had to do with the fact that, while I was very clear about the commitment of time and energy that came along with our decision, I hadn't factored in my (new, not-so-improved) stamina levels.  It was one of those situations where a limit that I didn't know I had came and smacked me right in the face. 

It sucked.

I spent quite a bit of time telling myself that I could gut it out.  When the sane voice in my head says, "I can't do this", that voice usually replies, "Of course you can!", which is technically true.  But this time, that small, sane voice in my head agreed that yes, I could, but then asked: what would I have to give up in order to do that?  Because I would.  My energy levels are not inexhaustible.  I mean, they never were, but the limit used to be a lot further out, and it also used to be the case that I could run on reserves for a while and then catch up later.  I don't have the same level of reserves, it turns out.

So we reversed our decision.  And that also sucked.

In all of that, while I did give myself permission and grace to cry uncle rather than gutting it out, I have also done a whole lot of self-denigrating blame.  I haven't given myself much grace.  Other people have stepped in and offered me the grace that I'm struggling with, and in so doing have also offered me a template for what it looks like to think about this through that lens. 

In this sense, I think that this autoimmune diagnosis offers me a chance to (read: insists that I) come to grips with something that I have largely preferred to deny: that life is messy, I make mistakes, I am not in control of everything that happens.

Which also sucks.  But it turns out that living as if those things weren't true comes with its own very particular sort of misery.  The freedom of looking back at this last weekend, and, instead of thinking "man, am I an idiot", getting this tiny glimpse of, "well, life is messy and I didn't see that coming" - it's a very spacious sort of feeling.  (Before my critical voice jumps up and down and insists that I damned well ought to have seen it coming!)  Spacious is good.  Spacious does not suck.


Day 47: Lacuna

Read:  I actually had a quick post I meant to get up here yesterday, and then the day totally got away from me, and when I got home after walking in the morning, working all day, and then having a riding lesson, I fell over on the couch and stopped thinking.  I need to work on that.  I'm back to work full-time this semester after three semesters of a 20% medical leave (as in, I was working 80% time)(as in, honestly, I was working nearly full-time, but funding my outrageous amounts of service work by using medical leave to teach one fewer class).  I don't think I've found my balance yet.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Day 46: First day of classes

I taught six hours today.  In the same classroom.  Which wasn't sufficiently air conditioned.

My classes are kicked off.  They are: English Grammar and Syntax; Introduction to Linguistics; Language and Gender.

My older daughter wants to audit my gender class.  I let her come today.  It is interesting to have one's child in one's class.  Not sure yet the balance between good interesting and awkward interesting.

I have survived.  That is all.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Day 45: Pool drain update

So, I finally asked Rick about the pool drains.  (He's a hydrogeologist; it's kind of in his wheelhouse.)  I'd kind of thought the answer had to be pumps, and I'm right. 

Just in case any of you were actually perplexed by the whole thing, or were worried that the pool was going to drain while I wasn't looking.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Day 44: (Mis)representation, Part 3

At the end of Part 1, in which I shared the true confession that I really believed that roadrunners were emu-sized, Ellen commented, simply: Misrepresentation matters. 

Yes!  Exactly!  That is exactly it.  This is the other half of my Day 29 post, representation.  Representation matters, because it reminds us that our way of being and seeing the world isn't the only way.  It offers us another standard for normal.

And misrepresentation matters, because we form our ideas of how the world works based not only on our own experience, but also on the stories and images that we hear and see.  We experience those, too.  In many cases, these pervasive images and stories about people become more powerful than our own experiences.  And then, in turn, we interpret our experiences through the expectations that come from those images and stories. 

Let me give you an example.  One day many years ago, when I was a student in the Bay Area, I was driving somewhere in Oakland, and I got lost.  This was well before cell phones, so I pulled over to get out my handy dandy Thomas Guide, and two guys came up to the car to see if I was lost.  They gave me directions, and I thanked them, and I got where I was going. 

If you know the demographics of Oakland, you know that the chances were good that these two young men were African-American (in fact, they happened to be).  At the time, Oakland had a very high crime rate.  And representations of African-Americans were (and still are) often of urban youth, portrayed as gang-involved, dangerous, etc etc.  When I told someone about my experience - feeling grateful that these guys had been able to help me - her first response was, I can't believe you talked to them, they were probably planning to carjack you.

Now, here's the thing.  If it had been her, and she'd pulled over and been approached in the same way, she would have double-checked to be sure her doors were locked, pulled away, and told people (and believed) that she'd narrowly avoided a carjacking.  Her experience was interpreted through a lens that she already held, and then reinforced that lens and made it real. 

We often suggest that if people could only meet one another, they'd understand that their stories about The Other aren't true.  But I think what I'm saying is that it isn't quite that simple.  If we interpret our interactions with other people through powerful preexisting lenses that are informed by pervasive misrepresentations, the chances are high that we will interpret what we see in light of our beliefs, and we'll end up reinforcing those beliefs, rather than disrupting them.  I'm not saying that it's not important to create many many opportunities for people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, and so on, to interact.  But I am saying that it isn't sufficient.  And I am saying that we need to think carefully about how people are represented.  We often mock or roll our eyes at folks when they call out problematic representations - but they all matter.  It's not about being politically correct - it's about realizing that all those "little jokes" and "mistakes" add up to something really big and intractable.

Because it's not just about thinking that roadrunners are emu-sized, or that rabbits hatch from eggs.  It's about thinking that a young woman who gets raped after having several drinks or while wearing something revealing was asking for it.  Or that she actually wanted it, but then was too embarrassed to admit it, and so made a false accusation.  Right?

Misrepresentation matters.  Amen.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Day 43: Lingering childhood misperceptions, Part 2

(Not my misperception this time!)

Imagine the scene:
A ten-years-younger me, more energetic, svelter, in front of about 35 students, in an aging classroom with blackboards, big windows open onto a quad.  I'm leaning against the desk up front, leading a discussion about I don't remember what - something incredibly insightful and educational, for sure.  Students are lively and engaged (except the dude in back who was attending carefully to his fantasy football picks, but there's only so much I can do), asking questions, offering answers.  Basically, your standard college classroom.

A student raises her hand and asks, a propos of I can't remember what, why the symbology of Easter has all those rabbits and chicks and eggs and things? 

An aside: my students know about my magpie brain.  They know that I delight in finding lovely shiny thought-objects and taking them home and turning them over and poking at them.  They also know that I can be easily distracted by a new bright and shiny object, like an interesting question.  And they know (because I tell them) that I think curiosity is the number one hallmark of a lifelong learner, and that I really want them to be lifelong learners even more than I want them to be linguists.  So they ask random questions, and I answer them.  The one thing that saves me and them is that I tend to be unexpectedly excellent at relating apparently-disparate bits of information - so whatever distraction they think they're offering almost invariably leads us right back to whatever it is that we're covering in class.

So, student raises hand, asks question, and I take it as a totally legitimate turn in the conversation and hop up to sit on the desk and start talking about spring and the return of life after the winter and Eostara and fertility and how this relates to resurrection in Christianity and in other religious-symbolic systems as well, etc etc.  As you do.  And then I say that nothing really symbolizes fertility like rabbits (which, I point out in an aside, breed like, well, rabbits) or like seeing a little chick hatch from this seemingly-lifeless oval rock-like lump.

And this young man in the front row, right smack in the middle, gets this dawning look of horrified enlightenment on his face.  He may even have made a sort of mumbling oh no really sort of noise.  All I know is that his neighbors and I all looked at him, and I asked him what he'd just realized.  And he, in tones of embarrassed misery, says:

"I always thought the rabbits hatched from the eggs!"

People, you'd be proud.  I did not laugh.  I didn't even snicker or make smirk-like motions with my mouth or eyes.  I did say that no, rabbits are mammals - and that they aren't echidnas or platypuses, so no body-external eggs involved in their birth. 

And then I went home and promptly ensured that both of my daughters knew very clearly that rabbits didn't hatch from eggs.

Because, of course, I totally know where he got that idea - from the Cadbury egg commercials, right?  And all the Easter bunny delivering eggs stuff.  And he just never revisited it in light of later information (like, mammals bear live young - barring, as I'd mentioned, the echidna and platypus).  It stuck around there, in the recesses of his mind, until the dawning light of a random classroom conversation got him to put two and two together.

I suppose one moral of this story is that my willingness to entertain apparently-random questions has broader educational implications than I give credit for.

Other morals to this story will be addressed in Part 3 of my little narrative.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Day 42: Roadrunners

True confessions time.  I never saw a roadrunner in person until after we'd moved down here.  One day, soon after we moved into our house, I looked out the window and saw this bird walking up a tilted tree trunk.  My first thought was, literally, that looks like a miniature roadrunner!  Because there was no way that a real roadrunner (per the image in my brain) could actually get up into a tree.

Which really tells you all that you need to know about my understanding of roadrunners. 

I can't possibly be the only one who only ever thought of roadrunners in the context of Wile E. Coyote.  And folks, in that cartoon, Coyote and Roadrunner are very close to the same size:
I mean, that Roadrunner is, at minimum, up to mid-Coyote's chest, right?

Not right.  Coyotes (which I see a lot) are about medium dog sized, with longer legs, proportionately, than most dogs.  Roadrunners are not - I repeat, not - about 2/3 the size of real-world coyotes.  If a coyote stood up on its hind legs, a roadrunner could not (again, I repeat - not) look it in the eye.  Greater roadrunners are maybe 20-24 inches from beak to tail.  And that's pretty big, based on the ones I've seen around here.
(Not my image). They do, though, actually stand around with their tails straight up, like Roadrunner does above.  It's very distinctive, and it's why I immediately classified that bird as somehow being roadrunner-adjacent. The only reason I couldn't actually get my head around the idea that it really was a roadrunner, is that I truly expected roadrunners to be (I hate to even write this, it's so embarrassing) sort of more, well, emu-sized. 

FYI.  They're not.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Day 41: Question and answer

So, I've been wondering, as you do, where the water in the pool goes after it splashes over the wave-reducing edge.  I mean, it has to get back into the pool somehow, right?  Or we'd run out of water (some of the lap swimmers are really splashy). 

Lucky for me, Kivrin is of an equally curious turn of mind, and dove down to the bottom of the pool this morning to confirm: the water is returned through these round white vents (would we call them vents?) that are strategically placed across the pool bottom.

Now my next question is: how is sufficient pressure maintained in whatever lines lead from the drainage troughs to the bottom of the pool to keep the water coming into the pool rather than draining out?

(Please tell me I'm not the only one who spends time wondering about things like this...)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Day 40: Instructions on not giving up

Instructions on Not Giving Up

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs showing
their cotton-candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me.  When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath
the leaves come.  Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty.  Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm,
I’ll take it all.

- Ada Limon

Monday, August 19, 2019

Day 39: Still plugging away

All the squares are done.  And the last square got blocked yesterday.  Twenty squares have been knitted into four strips, which have been knitted together.  Two more strips to go, and then the edging.  I think I'm going to make it, y'all.  (By which I mean, I think I'll have it done before she leaves next month - but I may go crazy before then.  I want to knit something small!!  Stockinette!!  Mindless!!!)

You may now return to whatever you were doing.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Day 38: Dinner table conversation

"Bluefin tuna can weigh 1500 pounds."
"That's bigger than our horse."
"It's kind of scary to think about something that big swimming around in the ocean, don't you think?"
"Like sharks."
"No!  Not like sharks!  Everybody gives sharks a hard time, but you're more likely to get hit by lightening or killed by a vending machine falling over than get bitten by a shark! They have an important role to play!"
"Bluefin tuna look like Pepperidge Farm crackers."
"That's true.  And college students will worship anything."
"I don't think college students would worship bluefin tuna."
[scornful look]
"No.  The fish crackers."
"Oh.  I'll buy that."

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Day 37: Where there is wool...

there will be a cat.

(Note, each of those squares is surrounded by t-pins.  She is working very hard to be sitting in juuuust the right way!)

Friday, August 16, 2019

Day 36: The question I'm currently asking myself

How is it that we have so much stuff??

(This is pursuant to needing to empty out our fiber room - aka the TV room - and our bedroom in preparation for finally - finally!! - tearing out the disgusting carpet.)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Day 35: What does it mean to be free to speak?

So, this is a post about something I mull over quite a bit.  It's not going to be the last post on this (and it probably isn't the first, but I'm too lazy to go back and look at other places where I might have mulled/ranted/opined/otherwise engaged in discourse about this).  It has to do with freedom of speech, hate speech, freedom to speak, the First and Second Amendments, and so many other things.  In this moment, the context for thinking about these issues is the hideous hate crimes that took place recently in California, Texas, and Ohio.   Also, the way that language preceding the El Paso violence, in particular, chimes with hateful language which is always already there, but which seems to be on the rise.

Further context for this has to do with free speech on my particular college campus, and the way that speech is protected and exercised, and by whom.  There's a lot to unpack there, but for the moment, recent precipitating events for me in thinking about this are these:
- An African-American student was referred to our health services (the details aren't available, due to FERPA), and was removed from a classroom by police pursuant to that referral;
- A white student, after being reported multiple times for posting hateful misogynistic, white-supremacist and anti-Semitic speech on classroom online discussion boards (nothing was done on the basis of those referrals), engaged in a terrorist attack at a local synagogue, killing a woman and injuring others;
- Female students have been followed down the quad by older white men holding placards with religious quotes, screaming at those women that they are whores and Jezebels, and telling male students that these women will drag them (the male students) down to hell with them.  This is protected, says our campus administration and police, by the fact that our entire campus is a "free speech zone".

The terrorist at El Paso, like our student who committed the hateful and tragic crime at the synagogue in Poway, preceded his attack with a post of a screed that is the definition of hate speech.

I am an ardent supporter of free speech.  I am a trained ACLU legal observer.  I am also a linguist who understands that speech is, inherently, action.  It does something in the world.  Speech is also intertextually linked to other speech, and to specific acts, in many cases.  Intertextuality refers to the process by which we understand a given text (which can be speech, written representations of speech, symbols, etc) through reference to other, similar, texts, or to texts which have been linked to it in many circumstances over the past.  For example, the text of a burning cross is intertextually linked to violence and death, perpetrated by white bodies upon black bodies.  They're inextricable.  The same is true of the swastika - a religious symbol in many many cultures over millenia, now (I would argue) impossible to extricate from Nazism and anti-Semitic violence and hatred. 

The standard pro-free-speech response to the question of what to do about hate speech is to support the rights of the hateful to speak, and to advocate for more speech in return - for those who disagree to speak out in response to the hateful speech.  I have advocated that course of action many times.  Furthermore, the definition of hate speech that actually should be policed in other ways is very interesting: it is usually understood (in court cases) to be speech which can reasonably be expected to lead to physical response of some kind in retaliation, or speech which creates a dangerous situation.  Direct (credible) threats and harrassment are usually also not protected speech.

But I have come to realize that that is not an unproblematic prescription, and these definitions are also not unproblematic.  In fact, both the prescription of "more speech", and the definitions of hate speech, assume (as we so often do) a "standard reasonable person", read: a white man. 

Think about it: if an African-American man engages in physical violence in response to hate speech, he is not going to be judged to be a reasonable person, responding reasonably to provocation - he is going to be read through a very different lens, one which is informed by centuries of texts arguing that Black bodies are dangerous.  If a woman responds with violence, it won't go much better for her (doubly if she is a woman of color).  But, in fact, women are much less likely to defend themselves physically than men, because angry and hateful words directed at women, intertextually, link to physical violence and sexual assault.  It is not safe for a woman to yell back at someone who calls her Jezebel.  So the definition of hate speech becomes hard to apply to cases where the target isn't a white man.  This is also true of the prescription to just speak more: women and people of color speaking out do not get the same reception that white men do, and they are also at much higher risk of a violent response to their speech.

A colleague of mine has a student who told her about going to a crowded music festival with female friends.  A man grabbed one of the women's rear end; when another woman in the group called him out on it, he hit her so hard he broke her cheekbone.  When women speak out, they risk being hurt.  Or, they risk being threatened with hideous physical violence (usually sexual in nature; I've never yet seen a man, posting something disagreeable online, being threatened with rape, but it happens to women so often that we mostly don't even talk about it).

In other words, by exercising freedom of speech in specific ways (ways in which the speech itself is an act which intertextually links to violence and, by so doing, creates an environment of violence), those who engage in hate speech shut the doors on the right to the freedom of speech of others.  It is problematic and simplistic to say that the targets of that hate speech just need to speak out more - saying that denies a reality in which speaking out in response is dangerous, or is policed and silenced.

I am by no means saying we get rid of freedom of speech; I'm not even necessarily saying that we need to narrow our definition of free speech.  I am saying that we need to think carefully about simplistic understandings of how free speech is enacted, who gets to enact free speech with relative impunity, and whose freedom of speech is regularly abrogated by credible threats of violence, whether overt or implied.  When I think about whatever back-door conversations went on after the Poway shooter's hateful screeds were reported on campus, whatever "free speech" arguments were made that kept him from being policed in the same way that the African-American student was policed, I also think about who wasn't getting to exercise their right to free speech in those same forums.  Which students were afraid to speak, lest it result in violence?  Because let's be clear, this man's speech arose out of a tradition of violence, and resulted in violence.

I don't know what to suggest, but I think we'd better be having conversations about this for sure.  I'd love to hear your thoughts - this isn't something to consider in a vacuum, I don't think...

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Day 34: Some of what I'm reading

So, as I sit at the dining room table working, this is the pile of books at my right elbow:

I don't know if I've mentioned, but I'm about six months into a two year mindfulness meditation teacher certification program, so at least some of the reading relates to that.  But a lot of it is the magpie (because honestly, you haven't seen the half of it!). 

What's in your reading pile right now?

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Day 33: Thirty!

Last night, I finished the thirtieth square!  Wow.  It's a miracle.  I also wove the ends in on five already-blocked squares, which means that I can knit those together. I figure if I spread out the end-weaving and knitting together, I'm less likely to get frustrated with how fiddly those tasks are.  Then it's garter-stitch edgings, and I'm done! 

(I say that like it's just around the corner.  But it's not.  We leave to take Kiv to college on September 18, and I find myself hoping that I have enough time.  Because classes start in less than two weeks, and this isn't really meeting knitting, so I need to be disciplined about working on it every evening.)

(Also, guys?  I am SO done with this knit.  I crave stockinette.  I crave small and portable.  I crave something I can knit while I'm reading.  I crave being able to actually look at the bloody TV while I knit.  I am ready to be done with colorwork.)

(But I'm also glad that my daughter will head off to college with a blanket knitted just for her.  My older daughter loved hers all through college, and it is currently folded up neatly on the end of her bed.  This is a Good Thing.)

(Also, I'll be knitting one next year for my niece.  Please please please let her want something less, you know, colorworky.)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Day 32: My wookie

Best Tilly story ever.

We were hiking together when some teenagers on dirt bikes came careening around the corner in front of us.  The girl at the head of the pack said, "A wookie!", and then, reflectively, over her shoulder as she flew by, "A short wookie..."

That's what she was. A short wookie, funny way of talking and all.  I called her Ursula, my little bear.

Rest in peace, girlie, and thank you for everything.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Day 31: Gifts

Once upon a time, there was a young woman.  This young woman had a boyfriend (whom she eventually married) who loved to hike.  He had grown up hiking, and had a real love of climbing to the tops of things.  And he wanted to share the tops of things with her.

Now, this young woman was in reasonable-ish shape.  But not climbing-to-the-tops-of-things shape.  And her boyfriend (later her husband) wasn't particularly good at calibrating those climbs to what she could actually do; he was calibrating them to his desire to share the outdoors and beauty with her.  So he took them on hikes that were really hard for her (but not for him).  And she spent those hikes struggling, and watching him not struggle, and feeling like she was holding him back, and feeling like a failure, and hating herself for that, and hating him for putting her in that position, and just generally being miserable and unhappy and angry and resentful (not to mention red-faced and panting).

And then one day, they got a puppy.  And, since she was about to spend a month in the Trinity Alps doing dissertation research, she took the puppy with her.  This puppy was a long-legged, happy, playful sort of puppy, with breeds like german shepherd and collie all mixed into her heritage, and she had energy to spare.  At home, she got three walks a day (to set her up for success, you see - a tired puppy is a less-destructive puppy), with lots of romping and playing.

The Trinity Alps are the mountains around the Trinity river, which has cut a gorge right down through the rock.  The tribe that the young woman was working with* have a language whose directionals intimately reflect this landscape: everything is described as being either upriver or downriver of other things; and also as being uphill or downhill of those things.

So this young woman found a trail where she could take her dog hiking.  A trail which ran upriver downhill from her car, and then downriver uphill back to her car.  It was steep.  And really hard.  And the first time she went on that trail, she spent a lot of the downriver uphill leg hating herself for being slow, and out of breath, and...  Her brain travelled that familiar path (also uphill, as it turns out), to the usual refrain: holding someone back.  Except, it was just her and her puppy.  And as she slowed down on a switchback to regain her breath, she could see that her puppy wasn't impatient or resentful.  Her puppy LOVED it!  Just as much as she LOVED going fast!  Or stopping entirely!  There were smells to smell, and running back and forth to be accomplished, and dirt to scratch at, and squirrels to consider. 

And panting?  Far from being embarrassed about needing to pant as she climbed uphill, this puppy panted all the time.  Happily, unconcernedly - the puppy breathed the way she needed to breathe to be comfortable and to do what she wanted to do.  And so the young woman, unobserved by other people and in the company of a dog who couldn't care less, learned to breathe hard without being embarrassed about it. 

There wasn't a happily-ever-after ending.  Life is a lot more complicated than that.  The young woman and her soon-to-be-husband still went on hikes where she often felt incompetent and miserable.  But she also hiked alone with her dog, and, on those hikes, she learned to love the quiet of the hills, and the growing strength of her body.  She learned to pace herself, because she knew she wasn't holding anyone back.  That dog offered her the gift of companionship without expectations of anything except time together.  She taught the young woman that stopping to smell a plant, or look at the ground squirrels, or to pant a little bit isn't such a bad thing. 

In fact, it just might be the whole point.

*As always, my most profound thanks to all of the Native California tribal communities who have given me the gift of their time, and who have allowed me to learn from and work with them over the years.  The tribe in this case is the Hupa (the language is also Hupa).

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Day 30: Still here

We seem to have found a combination of meds, rest, and food that is letting Tilly be comfortable.  She has enough energy to come into whatever room we're in, to wag when she sees us, and even to bark when people come up the driveway.  Yesterday, I took my work outside onto the front lawn with me, and she came and settled down in the grass - a favorite pastime.  It's simultaneously awful to know that this isn't something that's going to get better, and really wonderful to have some extra time with her.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Day 29: Representation

My daughter recently reminded me of a Toni Morrison quote that she found her junior year when doing an oral report on Morrison's essays:

"There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no room for fear.  We speak, we write, we do language.  That is how civilizations heal."

I love that.  We do language.  Yes, we do.  And when we do it right, civilizations can, indeed heal.

Of course, as we are reminded every single day right now, when we do language wrong, we do incalculable harm.  Language is powerful stuff.

Since Toni Morrison's death, like so many others, I've been thinking again about what her writing meant to me.  (It's well worth reading what other folks are writing about this, for example, this wonderful column by Roxane Gay.)  I was introduced to her in college, when I took an African-American literature class as part of my English and Comp Lit major.  I remember that class as a turning point for me, for a lot of reasons.  All of them, though, boil down to representation and to the way that representation can de-center a dominant perspective, making space not only for other ways of seeing the world but, more importantly, I think, for understanding that there are other ways of being in the world, other ways of seeing the world, other experiences to be centered.

I spent ten weeks during which the only fiction I read was by Black authors.  And what I think is especially important about reading Toni Morrison's work in that context is this: she didn't write for me.  She didn't write for white folks, nor about the experiences of Black folks' relationships with white folks.  Her work centers the perspectives, narratives, ideas, and lives of African-Americans.  Period, full stop.  I love that about her writing.

Those ten weeks quite literally changed my dreams.  As in, the people in my dreams weren't white. Sometimes I wasn't, either.  Because every character of every book I read was, unless stated otherwise, Black, my baseline for "person" in my reading changed.  I didn't even realize what was happening until the next semester, when I sat down to read the first book for that term's lit class.  I sat there, scratching my head - for the life of me, I could not make the main character make any sense.  I couldn't figure out why he was doing or thinking the things that he was.  Had the acronym been in circulation then, I would have been thinking, WTF? 

And then it hit me.  I was reading Hemingway.  But I had picked up the book and visualized the main character as African-American.  Of course what I was reading didn't make sense!  If there was ever an author whose work assumes a white male perspective (largely by not even considering that there might be another one), it's Hemingway. 

And this is why representation matters.  Our baseline for "person" is determined in no small part by which people we are exposed to, not only in real life, but in all the other places where people are represented in our lives: in art, in television, in movies, in literature.  And also, in the academic literature that we assign and read.  When we only read work by men, or by white folks, or by white men, we reinforce the idea that those are the people who have good ideas.  We allow people's baseline assumptions about who a person is (in writing: white and male unless otherwise stated) to stand without question.  In my language and gender class, nearly all of the readings are by women, and I am working to diversify that list further.  By the end of the semester, in their essays, my students begin to make the mistake of referring to all authors as "she" (whereas, at the beginning, they are likely to make the opposite mistake, and refer to them all as "he"; the first names of these authors are stated clearly and are largely very gendered names).  Of course, what I'd love to see is an even deeper shift - that they make a point of figuring out who each author is, before reading or writing about them.  But it's a start.

To my mind, this is one of the ways in which language can help civilizations heal - by realizing that our civilization includes a tremendous, vital, and beautiful range of ways of languaging, and of voices speaking those ways of languaging into being every day.  And the only way we can realize that is not to know it at some intellectual level, removed from experience, but instead to get down into the rich, loamy earth of that writing.  To perhaps be uncomfortable with it.  To feel what it is to read writing not written for us, but nevertheless rich with potential meaning for us.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go find Morrison's The Source of Self-Regard and get a little more of that beautiful language.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Day 28: Confirmed

By way of update, Tilly has cancer in her lungs.  So we're now in the mode of keeping her comfortable until the time comes to help her along.  We don't have a good sense of how fast this is going to go, but judging by the rapidity of the onset of symptoms, and by the fact that she's already working harder to breathe than she usually would, I don't think we have much time.  So, painkillers, lots of careful cuddling, diced up chicken (and even some lamb!), and time together.

(Me and my girlie, from a couple of Christmases ago)

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Day 27: Derailed

So many things I thought I'd write about this week; also so many things I need to do.  But I spent yesterday at, first, the equine hospital with Disco (non-emergency, not the best news but not catastrophic), and then the afternoon taking Tilly to the vet.  Tilly hasn't been at all well the last few weeks, and she's been on a downhill slide in the not doing well.  When we came home from our weekend away, our greeting (usually an exuberant ten-minute (plus) round of barking and licking and running in circles) was a short bark, a little tail-wagging, and then she went to lie down again.  Hence the rush appointment to the vet.  They kept her overnight, and then let me take her home today.  At this point, I'm waiting on a call from the vet herself; her techs have said that she wants to let me know what's going on herself, which I read as very bad news.  Tilly is on pain meds, which are making her more comfortable (but really not actually comfortable).  Rick and I are thinking we'll cancel our trip this weekend, and I'll probably cancel the silent retreat I was going on next week, but we'll see.  Waiting is hard, and I find myself not concentrating all that well.  Hence the rather dump-like post.  Man, this sucks. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Day 26: Toni Morrison

I woke up this morning to the news that Toni Morrison has passed away.  I was going to say "that the world has lost a truly great writer", but, thank god, she has left us words to savor and to roll around on our tongues and in our minds, and I am grateful.  There's a lot I want to say when I can, but for now, I'll let those words speak for themselves.

“Our past is bleak. Our future dim. But I am not reasonable. A reasonable man adjusts to his environment. An unreasonable man does not. All progress, therefore, depends on the unreasonable man. I prefer not to adjust to my environment. I refuse the prison of ‘I’ and choose the open spaces of ‘we’.”   - Toni Morrison, Mouth Full of Blood

Monday, August 5, 2019

Day 25: Corona

Corona.  Progress
halts.  First gear not low enough.
Where good road trips die.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Day 24: Baby trees

I don't know if it's all of the rain (actual precipitation!) that we had this year, or if I've just noticed for the first time, but there are baby trees everywhere.

Before going to Bluesapalooza, I mentioned that I managed to get a hike in.  I finally was able to go to the Minarets viewpoint by the trail, rather than the road - the last two times I was here, the trail was completely covered with snow.  As was the road, come to think of it:
Tilly didn't mind.

But yesterday, there were only small patches of snow, and I was able to be on the trail, hiking under trees.  For me, the high Sierra come with a scent memory that is so powerful that whenever we come to the mountains and I stop and close my eyes and inhale, a goofy grin comes over me - it's the scent of sun-warmed pine needles and decomposing granite.  There's really nothing else like it in the world. 

Back to the baby trees.  I first noticed baby oaks on my favorite walk (more on that another time).  And then, when we were here in June, we stepped out into a clearing surrounded by Jeffrey pines, and all over the ground, everywhere, there were baby pines, still with their little pine nut seed caps.  I don't know if you can see those little brown caps on top of the needles, but that's what they are.

It's amazing to me - they are so tenacious, so small.  I can't quite imagine how they get from this state to their huge, long-lived adult selves.  I found myself treading very carefully anytime I stepped off the trail.  And coming right behind them is the next year's crop:
Are there baby trees where you are?

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Day 23: Bluesapalooza

Rick and I are up at Mammoth Lakes for this year’s Bluesapalooza. A few observations while I groove to the sounds of Christone “Kingfish” Ingram (fantastic - no way is this guy only 20):

  • I am fairly picky about the beer I like
  • I strongly prefer beer that is bitter (I usually add “like my soul” about now)
  • Read: IPAs
  • IPAs tend to be high alcohol 
  • We are at over 8,000 feet 
  • I hiked 4 and a half miles this morning, covering 500 vertical feet and ending up at 9,100+ feet
  • There are 80 breweries here
  • Reminder to self: we will be back tomorrow
  • Also: hydrate or diedrate
  • Also: bring your knitting next time!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Day 22: Prescriptive grammar is a weird thing

I mull this over quite a lot.  People of a certain generation and background (caveat here: I was taught to say them this way, too, but after doing all of my usual mulling, I got over it) tend to produce the following:

I am feeling/doing well.

where I would say:
I am feeling/doing good.

 As I said, I've thought about this a lot (this is what I do in my spare time) over the years, and then recently, I heard someone say, several times, "I felt badly about that", and it caught my attention, because I think it's doing the same thing.  Before I say why I have changed my ways, think about which of the following you prefer:

I am feeling sad.
I am feeling sadly.

I'm guessing it's the first one, right?  Assuming I'm right (I can hear y'all nodding from here), that's because "feel" is what we might call a linking verb (and in the sentences above, "do" is functioning the same way) - that is, a verb that links the subject to the predicate (in this case, the subject is "I", and the predicate is what I'm predicating about "I" which is that I'm feeling sad).  It creates an equals sign between "I" and "sad".  "Sadly", by contrast, makes the verb "feel" here into an intransitive verb, because "sadly" is an adverb, which modifies the verb and tells us more about the manner of the feeling.  In other words, a characteristic of the verbal action of feeling is sad.  But this sentence is really saying that sad is a characteristic of me, not of the action of feeling.

So, looking again at the first sentences, and at the newest object of my grammatical mulling ("I felt badly") it's the same situation.  In the case of "I'm feeling/doing well", it's a judgment of how good I am at feeling or doing, not a statement about my state of mind.  In the case of "I felt badly", the adverb "badly" says something about the verb - I'm not so good at feeling, or I knock things off shelves when I'm feeling for them.  But I would argue that we're really trying to say something about me, hence, I felt bad.

Just sayin'.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Day 21: What did they see?

There have been various of my usual sorts of things tumbling about in my mind, capturing the magpie's attention to greater and lesser degrees, over the last few days.  I'd been thinking that maybe one of those might come to the forefront today, asking to be written about, when I saw this article, entitled, "Video shows last moments of Dallas man, restrained as officers joked". 

And it just seemed like something that needed to be acknowledged. 

Because it's not the first time.  And, although I wish with all my heart that this next bit weren't so true that it's appallingly easy to type, it won't be the last. 

There are so very many things to say about this.  Things that acknowledge complexity.  But in my mind there's also something very simple here.  It's not OK.  It's not OK to watch someone die because of something you did to them, while laughing.  Ever. 

I keep stalling out there and trying to figure out what to say next.  I know that what many people say at this point is that police officers sign up for a job that is dangerous, and they respond as they do because of their training and because they're working in dangerous environments.  And that many of them - most of them, even - are good people.  They'd also say in this case that this man was mentally ill (he is the one who called the police because he was having an episode of his illness), and on drugs. But saying that in this context is sort of like saying that Brock Turner had Olympic prospects.  Or that a 16-year-old rape victim should have been told that pressing charges against her rapist would ruin his life.  It's really not the point.  It privileges the narrative, the perspective, the life, of a person who did something callous and fundamentally inhuman.  It turns the victim into the perpetrator, and erases their perspective and humanity from the story.

What I keep coming back to, especially in cases like this, where we're not talking about a split-second reaction, but rather about a prolonged, extended act of callous violence and disregard for the suffering of another human being, is - what did those officers see?  Not whom did they see, because it seems to me that they must not - they could not - have been seeing a fellow human being; but rather what did they see?  Does mental illness inherently make someone less worthy of consideration as a human being?  Does Blackness?  I mean, I get that the data are in on that one - for many people, the answer is yes. 

And I don't think it's just a matter of, police officers have to make split-second life-or-death decisions, so sometimes they get it wrong (that was certainly not the case here, or in so many other cases).  That is, in so many ways, too easy.  It not only lets those who actually commit these crimes off the hook, but it lets all of us off the hook.  It allows us to refuse to take responsibility for all of the many many narratives floating around that tell us that the mentally ill are somehow less human; that people of color are somehow less human.  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that, even in a situation where someone poses a danger, it is possible to see them as a human being.  And that's why I don't buy the argument that officers need to be able to just act in the face of danger, full stop.  Sure they do; but whom do they see as they move towards action?  What narratives, life experiences, beliefs inform their vision?  We know that people of color, and especially Black men, are seen as larger, older, more dangerous than white men of the same ages and sizes.  That's a cultural lens.  It's the racist smog we breathe.  Put a gun in the hands of someone steeped in that smog, and it's nearly impossible to prevent tragedies.

It's the laughter that makes me ill.  What would it take for me to laugh at the dying suffering of any living being?  What justifies that distancing of one self from another?  What do we have to tell ourselves to make that seem in any way normal; or, worse than normal - understandable, justifiable, something that we support?  I do not believe that police work requires inhumanity.  I don't buy the narrative that we need tough people to do the tough work - not if our definition of tough people is, people who don't see the spark of humanness in other people.  It seems to me that the only people who should be doing that tough work are people who are able to see that.  And that we need to provide the support and structure to make that possible.

There is so much more to say here, so much to consider, so many intertwining forces that come together to create these tragedies, again and again.  But mostly, my heart cries out: how could they laugh?  How can they live with the knowledge that they laughed?  What are we doing to ourselves to create a world where that happens?