On the Periphery

Things change. Life throws us curves and changeups. It's good to have a place to vent.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

We all get down. God knows, I’ve had my share of depression, especially in the past three years. Although I try not to complain, there are times I really need to just unload on a sympathetic ear. I don’t want to dump on my kids—they are carrying their own loads after their dad’s death and don’t need to be worrying about me. My cousin recently visited, and said she worries about me, and maybe I should see a therapist, get counseling.

Eh, she’s from L.A.

Fact is, I come from a long line of survivors, people who have batted away the fastballs and moved on. We deal. We all find some way to cope. My dad chopped wood or built chicken coops, my mom cleaned or took long walks in the woods or by the lake.

I write.

When I write, I can expose terrible, horrible feelings I would never repeat to another human, and then, when all the venom is out, I hit “delete.” It feels wonderful. I can build worlds the way they should be, develop characters with more problems (and more strength) than I have, and then give them a happy ending and feel relieved. I can be everything I’m not, relive old feelings that have gone dormant, remember the good times—and the bad, and in doing so, I am cleansed.

When life is at its darkest, I thank God for giving me this gift, and know even if life throws the worst at me—which it has—I have the power to overcome anything.
I’m still struggling.

But I’m surviving.

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Saturday, September 03, 2011

I normally shy away from politics, but the recent situation in Washington has caused me great anxiety, and more, embarrassment. With all the backbiting and infighting between Democrats and Republicans (all branches) more befitting a tacky reality show than a governing body, our rulers appear as simply rival gangs engaged in a turf war, and the results could be devastating. The most recent and, I think, most alarming, example is the upcoming presidential speech on employment. We all know that we are in a dire situation, and the President has announced he will present a major plan to get us out of this fix. However, his speech was scheduled for the same day the Republicans were holding an election debate. They whined, and THE PRESIDENT BACKED DOWN, changing the date of his speech. By doing that, he appeared weak, giving the impression that their debate was more important than his speech, and so lost much of his presidential power. Wrong move. Mr. President, we need a leader—a Michael Douglas to stand at the presidential podium and declare with steely gaze, “I AM the President.” Conciliation is no longer effective. We have become a fragmented nation of perplexed sheep. Please, Sir, take command and lead us.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

It’s been interesting watching the recent demonstrations both by and against teachers. Yes, against teachers. People have been wielding signs suggesting that teachers have it pretty great, and why should they be able to negotiate better conditions. There seems to be a misconception about teachers—that their jobs are a breeze, they get summers off, paid a lot, and basically have a smooth ride.

Let me offer some illumination: I was a teacher in Wisconsin, and left because I was burned out and tired of spending every waking hour outside of the classroom either grading papers, attending meetings, or developing plans for parents. After listening to people who begrudge the people who raise their children a decent living or the chance to negotiate for it, I have the perfect solution.

Let’s eliminate teachers and schools completely.

Instead, we will shift the raising and educating of our children back where it belongs: on their parents, making parents responsible for their kids’ studies. They would be required to track their kids on a regular basis with the state, submitting lesson plans and progress reports, working to state standards and being responsible for test scores. Let the parents teach the kids social skills, and deal with inattention and recalcitrance. Of course, the parents would be required to rack up continuing education credits (at their own expense), and pay for materials out of their own pockets. For this, the state would provide a stipend for each child at the level accepted by the state legislature, requiring from the parents a detailed listing of how the funds were used (with receipts attached). For that, the state would provide health insurance (with a large co-pay and deductible required). This would be considerably less expensive than having all those greedy teachers and their exorbitant salaries!

Of course, if both parents work, they would have to figure out how to fit in the students’ time. Maybe one could work third shift, and teach during the day? (I know teachers who have a second job at night to make ends meet.) Hey, piece of cake, right? After all, how hard can it be to teach a child not only academic courses but citizenship, manners, cooperation, and tolerance?

After all, that’s what teachers do. And their reward? A salary that's a third of what they might make applying their skills and intelligence in the private sector. And the "appreciation" of the parents who think they have it so easy. So let the parents do it. I dare them.

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Friday, November 05, 2010

Don't let anyone tell you ageism is no longer a factor in employment. I was just turned down for a job for which I was supremely qualified, and when I suggested that the person they hired was younger (and less qualified), the answer was a silent affirmation. I was shocked--for this I spent my life building my career, going to grad school, learning, doing, being, creating a solid background coupled with a true love for my calling? To be cast aside because I am too old, even if I have more enthusiasm, more energy, and more sheer ability than someone half my age? Oh, it's there, my friends, that insidious bigotry, that sniggering bias, that outdated idea that age is hampered by infirmity. My wish? That the person who interviewed me someday has to find another job when she is my age (which really wouldn't be too far from today).

Do I sound bitter? Sorry, folks, but I am.


Thursday, November 04, 2010


I love autumn. I love seeing the sun shimmering through golden leaves, and then the gentle flutter of those same leaves as they patter to the ground or whirl in dusty eddies across field or street. There's something comforting in the melancholy of fall, in the final harvest of green-veined tomatoes, of the crisp hoar of a killing frost, of the longer evenings that beckon with the promise of rest. I welcome the excitement of change promised by the seasonal shift that comes with a kiss and a promise.

We all need change in our lives. Sometimes it's terrible change, as with the death of a spouse, yet even the worst can encourage the best as the human spirit, dampened with despair, rises once more and turns to hope. That's the spark that we need to keep going, even when it seems life holds no joy. It is our nature to accept change and keep going through the coldest winter, preparing to embrace the coming spring.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Well, the end of an era. I started this blog when I started graduate school as a chronicle of my time struggling through with all those younger students. Now it's time to think about a new direction with my online presence. Yesterday was my graduation, my MFA in Creative Writing, a day that happened to fall exactly (to the day) four years from the day I began. 

It felt pretty darn good to walk across that stage with all those hopeful young people, knowing that despite our age difference, I shared their enthusiasm, their hope for the future. There's something about completing a project, a poem, a life's ambition, that lifts you beyond the norm, and I was thrilled and lucky to share the day with my proud sons and the amazing daughters they brought me.

I've always felt a little--no, a lot--on the periphery of life. I always seemed to be a facilitator, someone who sets groundwork\ and then watch others achieve. Even one of my life's greatest enjoyment--directing theater--involves getting everyone else prepared to be "on," while I watch from the sidelines. That's always been fine, though--I'm not so much of a spotlight person, and I loved what I did.

But graduate school was something different, something just for me, something I wanted to do if only to prove I could do it. And it was something for Richard, too, something he originally encouraged me to do, something of which he often told me he was very proud.

Now it's finished; I have climbed mountains both literally and figuratively, and I look forward with renewed enthusiasm to more peaks (and valleys) in my life. It's all exciting, it's all good, and I hope now it will all be happy.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Goodbye, my Buddy.

Last week I had to say a final goodbye to my Buddy, the little dog who got me through five years of confusion, of hell, of changes. He was a comfort when I lost my job, then my father. He was familiarity when I moved from my lifelong home, and he was warmth when my Richard died. Yes, my children are my strength, but they have their own lives, which is as it should be. Buddy was completely mine, a constant presence. No matter what, he was waiting for me at the door, wriggling with joy when I came home; he made me get out and walk, to face the world when I wanted to curl up and die. He loved me unconditionally, the way children love you before they grow into the larger world for which you prepared them. Yes, he was old, his heart and lungs were giving out, and just breathing took so much effort. Yet every hard-earned breath was a joy for him, even in his last hours, as he stretched into the breeze. He had a look of acceptance, of contentment.

Buddy's life was a lesson for us all. His first eight years, before we got him, were difficult, his life less than ideal. Yet he was still willing and able to trust and love. I know this all sounds maudlin, but I can't be distant. He was my Buddy, and I miss him.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

One year.

Today is the anniversary of my husband's death. It still all seems unreal, and sometimes when I look at the two dates across the difference, it's like a tesseract and I am back at the moment, feeling the same awful feelings. Then other times, that year stretches beyond times, and I find myself looking across a grand canyon of emotions. I look to the past, and everything is a confused mash of love and anger, of devotion and deception, of hope unabashed and pain unimaginable.

Despite all, Richard, I miss you. I feel like Linda Loman who, at the end of Death of a Salesman says she feels as though Willie is "just off on another trip." Before, though far apart geographically, we had the connection of daily phone calls and emails. If only I'd known how truly far the distance was.

Now the emptiness is real as I consider all the future "missing hims" I'll have: He won't see me receive my MFA next month, an accomplishment he had suggested and encouraged. He won't be here to walk with me down the aisle when our younger son marries next year. He won't hold the eventual grandbabies or coach their Little League games. We won't grow old together, as planned.

Plans change, anger abates, and love remains beyond disappointments and lies. Perhaps that was the only thing that was real, afterall--the love.

I hope you are at peace, Rich.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Okay, yesterday morning I heard a furor going up on the Wake County SC schools to stop busing kids to increase diversity. The cost is too high, and there are many arguments for keeping kids in community schools, close to their homes.

Of course, the argument is divided once more between the rich and the poor--the wealthy people want their children in neighborhood schools because, frankly, the schools are better, supported by the hefty property taxes. Meanwhile, kids (most black or Hispanic) in poor neighborhoods are stuck in poor schools, giving them an even rougher road to the future.

I understand both arguments, but it seems to me the answer is so simple: simply make the schools in poor neighborhoods better. In fact, make them so good that people in wealthier neighborhoods will WANT their kids to go there.

This has been done in many cities, in the form of magnet schools, with some success. Of course, then we have the problem of funding--if we depend on property taxes (which we do), then how do we get poor schools more equitable funding? And what about safety of neighborhoods? I know many teachers who opt to move out of a city or even a state, rather than teach in dangerous inner city schools.

Boy, whoever can solve this one will certainly have my vote next election. But it's a problem that has to be solved. We are losing any ground we have gained through busing, and we are losing children--and that's one resource we desperately need to mine well or all of our futures are bleak.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Okay, time for my rant about the three top stories of the past couple of weeks:

1) Sarah Palin, please, get a job and stop bothering us. Why is the media covering this woman’s whining? You don’t hear Obama complaining about “Family Guy” or “Saturday Night Live” jokes—he has more important things to do.
2) Plushenko—Grow up. You lost. Deal with it. Your program wasn’t that great—all you had was the quad. Lysacek had the grace, the style, and the joy. That's why he got the medal.
3) Tiger—Apologize to Elin and move forward. You don’t owe anyone else anything. And stop trying to explain to the world. For God's sake, man, grow a pair and deal with your own problems in private!

Okay, I’m done. Thanks for letting me rant. Now if only the media would let me forget about these three!

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A while back, the medical community sent out the call that the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine that children received could actually be the cause of some cases of autism. Panic reigned throughout, and many parents opted, on the basis of that study, to refrain from immunizing their children. Now, we are told, “Oops, my bad”—that this is actually not the case. Oops indeed. Many children went without that preventative.

But there is a larger issue at hand from this debacle—trust. Who do we believe? Personally, my first thought upon hearing the retraction was: “I bet the pharmacies that made the vaccine got after the doctors to make that statement.” I still don’t know whether to believe the first study or the second. My kids got the MMR, and they grew up just fine.

The crux here is that we have become, through experience, a cynical society, willing to accept that our doctors, our lawyers, our businessmen, our politicians, all have ulterior motives for everything, with those motives usually hinging on money. Unfortunately, that fact has been proven so often, driven home with a sledge hammer, that we accept deception as the way of the world.


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Monday, January 04, 2010

What's happened to comedy?

I have several old comedy LPs, including vintage Smothers Brothers, Steve Martin, and Bill Cosby, and they still make me laugh. They never graphically refer to bodily functions or sex, they don’t advocate the use of drugs, and they never swear more than the occasional hell or damn. And they’re funny, really funny. So when did funny become replaced by filth?

Many of the new comedians base their routines around heavy-duty drug use or sex, and frankly, it makes me uncomfortable. I used to love Robin Williams, but on his recent HBO show, every other word was F-this and F-that. Not necessary. When did our language get reduced to a series of references to body parts and sex acts? When did graphic swearing become accepted as part of our everyday vernacular?

Now I'm no prude. I swear, but that part of my vocabulary is very limited. (If I ever use an upper-tier swear word, you can be sure I am really angry.) There are words I simply do not, can not bring myself to say—words that are beyond cursing, that are disrespectful, disgusting, or demeaning. Why do we think these words are funny? Is it the shock of hearing words our culture has taught us are taboo? Is it nervous laughter? Or are we simply brainwashed into thinking that crassness is cool, that flaunting convention is hip, that being disgusting is youthful? (Keep in mind that bathroom humor is the preferred mode of 12-year-old boys.)

My mother's curses  were creative and funny: "You should grow like an onion with your head in the ground" (even funnier in Yiddish) is my favorite. Those curses were actually meaningful curses, not just random words inserted for shock value. Very effective, and never tiresome, as is repeated swearing.. There are a number of comedians out there who understand that you don’t have to be dirty to be funny. Find them. Encourage them. Shun the filth and let’s get back to what is really funny. And as for the filth-mongers, they should each lose all their teeth but one, and that one should ache. Now that's a curse!

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Okay, folks, I am now convinced we are completely crazy. Tiger Woods has lost yet another sponsor on the basis that he is not a good role model, thanks to his admission of infidelity (multiple infidelities, but who's counting? Oh yes, the paparazzi.). Meanwhile, Michael Vick is being REWARDED for his courage in the face of adversity (remember him? He's the puppy-killer.) So what are our children learning? Murderous torture can be forgiven, but multiple lovin' can't be. (Sounds like a Country-Western song to me!) No, I'm certainly not one to praise the golfer for his lack of control and his failure to follow accepted moral standards. But his career is being destroyed by a zealous press ready to crucify him, while Vick is patted on the head and told "Good boy" (yes, the irony is intended) for his ability to "overcome his adversity."

Let's hope in the New Year that common sense prevails everywhere.

For a more in-depth look at this travesty, I encourage you to follow the enclosed link to Megan Lee's editorial in the Chicago Tribune. Her comments are what got me on this tirade anyway, and I tip my hat to her for her clear-eyed view of a ridiculous situation.


Monday, December 21, 2009

With the year coming to an end, I mount my soapbox. Hang on, folks: it's a long tirade, and not a pleasant one.

Studies have recently shown that there is an alarming rise in the number of autistic children. This in itself is a disturbing fact, but it makes one wonder as to the why of the statistic. Some say that there are simply more children, hence higher numbers. Others suggest that diagnostic techniques are just better, so more children are being diagnosed (after all, many autistic children show little outward indications of the condition). Still others say that the percentage of autistic children is simply higher. It does make one wonder as to possible reasons for the spike. Personally, I wonder if the rise has anything to do with the increased use of drugs in our society--both recreational and prescription.

Of course autism can be unrelated to drug use. There has been found to be a genetic factor that has nothing to do with drug use. But the surprising rise in children with autism could be related to drug use by parents and even grandparents. It would be interesting to see tests done to see if there is a correlation.

Although marijuana and other drugs were popular among the more “arty” set as far back as the Roaring 20’s, the increase in drug use really began to grow with the 1960’s. (It’s said that if you remember the 60’s, you really didn’t experience the 60’s.) Drug use continued, and even grew, with such drugs as LSD, ecstasy, cocaine, and even heroin becoming as common as pot. If you think about it, imagine what those drugs—even casual use—did to the users. What do you think those effects were on future generations?

Nowadays drugs are a way of life. Every other TV commercial hawks some pill or other that will cure impotence, reduce urinary urgency, stop dry eye or even eliminate toe fungus. We’re so anxious for the “quick fix” that we have come to rely on the actual chemical fix, and I have to wonder about the effects on our bodies and those of future generations. Of course, most prescription drugs carry the warning “do not take if pregnant or planning to become pregnant,” but what about the drugs taken prior to pregnancy? Reports have shown that the effects of drugs remain in the body and can be passed on to newborns long after use has been discontinued. And the effects come not just from the woman—drug use has been shown to affect sperm as well. Don’t you think that maybe this could account for the rise in birth defects and conditions such as autism?

I have no scientific expertise, of course, and all this is speculation on my part. (I am sure the theory has been advanced by others.) I have no desire to put down anyone for life choices. But I do wish people today could consider the possible consequences before they rush to take drugs to make their lives “better.” They may be affecting the lives of generations years down the line, and also affecting the larger community. Yes, this has become a rant against drug use. It's a personal choice that goes beyond stupidity, all the way to gross negligence that affects us all.

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