Sunday, June 21, 2015

New blog site

For those of you who want to follow my blog, this is where I will be writing from here on out.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

End of year post

If you're reading this (and I am not actually sure anyone does), what would you like to see me write about for this last post?

Add to comments section, please. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Are you always this boring?

That's just one of the self-esteem boosting questions I've been asked by a student this year. He preceded that second question with this one: "Can I ask you an offensive question?" While I formulated my response ("Uh, how offensive?  I mean, we may have different standards of what counts as offensive, so maybe you could give me a hint..."), he plunged in, "Are you always this boring?"

My first reaction was defensive, to think of all the stuff I do that's not boring.  Oh, yeah? Would a boring person...well, wait. Garden? Read? Bird watch? Hike?  Errrr....guess my passions are sedate ones.  

We continued to chat and the student told me not to worry about it.  Not worry?  But that's WHAT I DO.  I will take your one question and break it down every which way and hold it to the light until I have seen all its shades and tones. You may as well tell me not to breathe.  Or not to read.

I continued to probe, and finally the student said, "Well, you never yell or curse or anything."  Oh.  That's boring?  I always thought that indicated stability. Sorry to disappoint. I guess I have come to think yelling makes you look weak, as if you can't even control your own emotions, plus it takes up too much energy and for what purpose.

Would Atticus Finch yell and curse?  (Yes, since I am re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I love to pepper my conversations with references to the characters and situations.  Atticus is one of my favorite literary characters of all time.  I both want to be him and am slightly in love with him. Would a boring person fall in love with a fictional character?  HA!)

Anywho, all this is not to say that I  never have yelled...and if someone were in danger in my classroom, I'd certainly yell, as in, "TAKE THE  SCISSORS OUT OF THE ELECTRICAL SOCKET." (Yes, that really happened.  The scissors just happened to "fall" right in the socket.  Uh-huh.)  But, much like Atticus, who didn't shoot till he absolutely had to, I prefer to save my yelling for the most extreme situations.  

And the student who asked the question?  I like to think I helped him think about precision of language. Yeah, baby! Another literary reference--this time to The Giver.

Would a boring person...?

Postscript: I worry that this post makes me sound self-congratulatory--as in, "Look at me, the Zen Master.  Ooooooooh."  I am not the Zen Master.  I struggle mightily to become more patient and less judgmental and find that I often fail.  I worry.  A lot.  It's just this one small thing (the not yelling) that I've (kind of) mastered. 

Postscript #2:  Anytime I feel kinda good about some aspect of my teaching life, someone will say something that dampens that a bit, as in today when the same student commented, "Oh.  You mean some people ACTUALLY like you?"  He was not joking.  


Taking a break during a hike at McKinney Falls

Friday, May 1, 2015


In almost every picture of me as a child, I am holding or petting an animal, be it pig, goat, fish, dog, kitten, llama, orangutan, or rabbit. As an adult, a good friend said I'd be more likely to save a drowning dog than a drowning human. Now, I am pretty sure that's not true, but it does get at one of the driving passions of my life.

Although I did not end up choosing a career in an animal-related field (unless you count middle schoolers....har har har) all the volunteering I have done as an adult has been animal-related--I have worked at animal rescue and rehabilitation centers, no-kill shelters and with Iggy doing therapy work.

Now, the other day, after I'd had an awful day, the kind where you hate every human being even for breathing (maybe that's just me), I overheard a lady at the grocery store say something like, "Oh, I just looooooooove people." And I wanted to gag. But later, when I thought about it, I realized that I have said "I love animals" or some variant at least one million times.

What's the difference? I still have not exactly figured it out, but I think it may have to do with the fact that I've never heard an animal tell a lie or gossip, or judge someone based on some arbitrary standard, or hurt someone just because they can. That's not to say that I dislike people, although I am certainly not a natural people person. And it's also not to say that people have been awful to me--because I've certainly not had any more heartache than most, and much less than many. 

I guess my passion is ineffable to a certain degree--it's hard to tell where it ends and where I begin.

Black vulture, not a natural beauty, but fascinating nonetheless.  There is currently a pair of black vultures ROOSTING AT WESTWOOD!!!!  I can't wait to see the nestlings!

Monday, April 27, 2015

I judge books by their covers

Even though I don't have an natural artistic talent, probably not even what would be considered a "good eye," one of the jobs I dream about is graphic designer, specifically for book covers.  I decided to create a quick post on this subject after falling in love with the cover for The Harder They Come.

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One of my very favorite writers of adult fiction--T.C. Boyle.  I recently read his newest, The Harder They Come (and as usual with his work, Very Dark Stuff Happens). I love this cover with its contrast between black and white and for how it hints obliquely at plot elements (the poppies, the evergreens, and the more jungly leaves).

One of my other favorites of his is Riven Rock, the story of real-life Stanley McCormick, his mental health battles, and his doomed marriage.  Although I normally hate covers with real people on them, this one works for me, as the book is historical fiction and the shading and the real photo contribute a suitable moodiness and verisimilitude.  

41frQ1V0rcL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (232×346)
baa9a573f619b1ded684cc7a6bc9ecd5.jpg (1688×2550)If I had only looked at this cover (the one on the left hand side) of All the Truth That's In Me, I would never have picked it up, thinking it's about a "bad" girl who gets in trouble somehow and has to fight her way out of it, while perhaps stopping to re-apply heavy black eyeliner every now and then. 

 I am glad I ignored the cover, as it's smart historical fiction that feels timeless, with an unusual heroine and a compelling plot.  I love the simplicity of this alternate cover--black and white with just that little hint of danger with the colored petal.  

Here are some other recent books with both covers I love, as well as stories I will definitely re-read.  My favorite colors are blues and greens, so it's a bit of a surprise to scroll through my book covers and see how many spare and clean black and white ones appeal to me.  

A House in the Sky185195349711714

Monday, April 6, 2015


I have started five different blog posts today and discarded each idea.  I'm not ready to go back and tell more of the C. story, but I don't know what to do now.

Some of the posts I have started and discarded, either for being boring, repetitive, uninspired or all of the above:

1. Humphrey and working with fearful dogs in general, which led me to think of idea #2
2. about Barney, Fritch devil dog
3. about being a worrier and how gardening can help me deal
4. honesty and how I think it's overrated/used as an excuse for bad behavior
5. about a recent documentary I watched, Going Clear
6. saying sorry

Just yuck.

Now, if a student were coming to me with this problem (lots of ideas, no sense of direction), I'd probably say, "Just pick one and start writing.  It does not have to be the perfect idea. Writing is a process BLAH BLAH BLAH."  

Or, I might take a more philosophical approach, "Hmmmm.  What is it that you REALLY want to write about?  Why aren't you writing about that?"

Right now both those sentiments make me want to punch myself in the face, especially the second one.  Yes, it's true--there is something that's been on my mind a lot, but I feel scared (or something) to write about it.  

Long story short: huge conflict in my family between two people I really love, who both made mistakes and are both being stubborn about reconciliation.  And, really, I just want to say something along the lines of, "GET OVER IT ALREADY."  

It's out of my control and it's just a pile of unsettledness perched on the edge of my psyche.  And it seems like I am the one most bothered by it all even though I DIDN'T DO ANYTHING. Not only can I not really write about it, but I feel like I can't write about anything else either. 


Here's an irrelevant, but cheering, photo: 

Barney Fritch in an awfully dishonest angelic pose

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Elaborate Fictions--Part 2

During the initial phone call, I had a small prickling suspicion that C. was lying.  But I quickly dismissed that thought, thinking who could lie about such a thing.  Turns out that this type of situation is not infrequent.  People's motivations are varied: attention, money, gifts, maybe a thrill that comes with pulling off such an elaborate lie.

I am not sure what motivated C., although if I had to guess it would be mainly the attention-seeking with a dash of the thrilling elaborate lie.  Throughout our relationship, she'd sometimes say things that did not ring true to me, but I dismissed that as part of her dramatic personality, and felt sure that she had a core of goodness and sensitivity.  Of course, now I know that's what she wanted me to think and I have to wonder, "Did she involve me in the hoax because she thinks I'm weak or overly soft-hearted?"  

In addition to the overwhelming anger and disgust I felt once I'd discovered what she'd done, I also questioned myself quite a bit.  Why didn't I trust my gut?  What about me made me an appealing target for C.?  Am I a bad judge of character?  

C. is not a bad judge of character:  She knew me well enough to play on my sense of duty and my desire to be a kind person, so when I'd have to hang up on a conversation to go do something else, she'd often say something like, "You're always so busy..."  She knew I'd drive out to visit her, to listen to maudlin poetry, and to give her what I thought was a final hug.   She knew I'd always respond to her messages.  She knew I'd be struggling to be strong for her.  She knew I'd have trouble letting go.  

I destroyed the good-bye letter she wrote me, but sometimes I imagine that she re-reads the good-bye letter I wrote her and laughs at me.  

To be continued...