Sunday, September 6, 2015


Having lived almost a half century now (THAT'S FUN TO SAY), I'm a little surprised at how many things I'm just coming to terms with. Letting prepositions land at the end of sentences is one thing, but here is another.

Dropping my husband off at the airport for a business trip will never really be fun.
First of all, a shocking number of people wonder why I 'even bother' and whenever they express this I consider why I do it. Obviously (I hope? I guess the Potential 2nd Husbands list seems a little suspect to some...), I like my husband and want to spend as much time with him as possible [except during football season, because a) he would rather be in the garage and b) he doesn't fully appreciate how passionate I am about my team. I digress]. But I sometimes wonder if I insist on taking him because of a subconscious concern about our relationship; I have strongly identified with When Harry Met Sally... since its release - am I worried that not taking him to the airport will say something about us?


Every time I do it, I focus on the fact that PDX has great shops (Powell's!) and a beloved Coffee People so after he leaves I can get fun gifts and books and sit with a delicious non-Starbucks latte in blissful peace. But really what I do each time is have a pastry with my man, staring & talking about anything inane until 15 minutes before his boarding time, not-awkwardly walk parallel to him as far as I can while he goes through security, try not to cry or take 100 weird blurry photos, then wander through the stores feeling melancholy and spending far more money than I should even at Christmastime. "Coming to terms" with this so far simply means admitting to myself that I am sad when he leaves, no matter how many clever things I buy, and avoiding looking directly at any other people dropping off or picking up loved ones; airports are drowning in tears and I am not yet old enough to fully immerse myself in the poetry of this.

Maybe when I hit that century mark.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

wish lists

A Very Special Rerun from Winter 2010

When I was a kid, my mom bringing home the Sears Holiday Catalog felt like getting ONE MILLION DOLLARS dropped into my lap. For a few delicious hours, I could have EVERYTHING I EVER WANTED [that was sold at Sears]. I went through it in three calculated stages - first, dog-earing pages featuring anything I was remotely interested in. Next, I dreamily reviewed those pages and used a broad-tip, exquisitely toxic black marker to circle those items I actually thought my parents might buy for me. Finally, I neatly wrote the item descriptions & quantities of everything I truly desired on notebook paper and if I desperately needed something (like the popularity-enhancing matching Shaun Cassidy pants and t-shirt), I would cut out the catalog picture and glue it on the notebook paper next to its listing. (Got the t-shirt but not the pants and, sadly, popularity remained static).

I still relish the idea of creating wish lists - for everyone, not just myself; sometimes I add things to my kids' Amazon lists because I am certain they simply did not think of asking for Star Wars trombone music or a German pencil sharpener but would really love getting it.

Today, with less than 3 weeks until Christmas [yes; try not to panic], I am designing lists of gifts I wish for certain people who inhabit my world. If I had a Sears catalog, I would cut out pertinent pictures and glue them on notebook paper, too, for emphasis.

For My Husband:
A personal (volunteer) masseuse; freedom from worrying about his hair loss; long, straight stretches of radar-less highway for driving his Cobra; a wife who spends as much time cooking, cleaning, and performing other domestic duties as she does composing hilarious Facebook updates

For My Kids [beyond the sheet music and school supplies]:
The ability to believe your parents when they tell you what remarkable traits + talents they've noticed you developing; a pause button for the universe when you need to take a few extra breaths and compose a coherent response to the girl/boy/teacher looking at/talking to you; the capacity to hold onto all the memories of your best lunch conversations and after-school meet-ups and momentsthatfeellikecenturies in the hallways

For My Friends:
Long periods of uninterrupted time to spend with me, drinking tea and other beverages, eating delectable foods, and talking about everything that brings us joy (and a little snark); more memories of their favorite things - watching kids growing & acting & making music, volunteering valuable skills, traveling, baking, reading in silence, writing future Pulitzer Prize winners

For Fellow Teachers:
The energy to keep delivering knowledge + wisdom + care; extended moments of quiet; time to thoroughly enjoy the activities that you love as much as teaching but give you a tad more peace of mind; unlimited back rubs and frequent spa days

For Our Students:
Warm, comforting places to be outside of school; the solid belief that we teachers love and value them regardless of their backgrounds, faults, and occasional attitudes; visions of a positive future

For Some People I Shall Not Name:
Clarity, honesty, self-awareness, humility, and more than a touch of class & tact in certain circumstances [everyday life]

For My Readers:
Continued good taste in blog material; time to indulge in simple pleasures as well as a few extravagant ones; more opportunities to meet up with your favorite people, in real life and from cyberspace


~ To all, blessings & best WISHES ~

Monday, July 13, 2015

mental health, deconstructed

Today I decided I wanted to start yoga again. This is what that decision-making looked like in stages.

I awoke with 1st husband at 5:30 a.m. He told me to not let him back into bed because he had a lot of meetings today; I considered getting up with him to get some tea, write, and do some yoga but instead turned to diagonally occupy all bedspace and fell asleep again.

Husband woke me with a kiss when he left for work at 7:00. Imagined getting up to have tea, write in the quiet, do some yoga, then went back to sleep.

Awoke at 8:45 to text from 1st husband saying our new bathroom tile would be here tomorrow rather than the projected end of the month. Texted back "Wow, great!" and thought about going downstairs to do yoga. Ate some chocolate from my nightstand and perused Facebook instead. For two hours.

Got out of bed because back was aching, decided doing yoga would really help, went downstairs and poured a tall cup of ice water [after considering the merits and downsides of various other glasses and bottles in the cupboard]. Emptied CD player of other CDs to put in meditative CD of instrumental classic rock songs, wondered why we still own, alphabetize, and use 600 CDs instead of our 7000 hours of digital music. Cleared coffee table of last night's tea cup, wine glass, chip clip, empty Cheetos bag. Decided to vacuum coffee table drawer along with the impossibly plain always-littered brown rug where I then put my Wii balance board and yoga mat, instantly creating the need to vacuum again. Turned on Wii, discovered balance board batteries dead. Ate more chocolate, recycled old batteries, found new. Resisted urge to change from pajamas into yoga pants and sport bra, closed blinds, sat down to document this morning on the blog I've neglected for seven months.

Message : For any boys (or girls) from my junior high/high school days who lamented not getting any dates with me, thank your lucky fucking stars. Because sometimes this whole thing happens out loud.

Now, I'm going to do some yoga.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

something far away

The second time I visited Singapore, in 2006, I flew alone the twentysomething hours to meet with my husband who had been there for a week already, working. I had plans for our time together - botanical gardens, night art festival, tour of Christmas lights, visiting an old Catholic convent and Snow City, lots of eating & drinking & taking probiotics. We did all of those things, and they were wonderfully memorable (partly because of how much we sweated through every outing). But like with most vacations, the mundane can become the sublime, too, if you're paying attention. 

I wanted to wash some clothes during our stay and after an hour-long adventure in miscommunications with the hotel staff - plus one confusing trip to a restricted area - I realized there was actually no place in the building where I was allowed to do it on my own, and the hotel service would cost somewhere in the realm of the US national debt. So Stu & I took a cab with our two bags of sweat-soaked garments to the mall and handed them to the old woman at Washy Washy, an even hotter place than the sidewalk outside, where the only area not taken over by clothing was our space at the counter. It felt a little scary considering I had only the outfit I was wearing and maybe one more left in my suitcase at the hotel, but my husband had had good luck here the week before. The old woman smiled & nodded at Stu like they were old friends as she grabbed our bags, pulled at a few items on top, then tossed them to a corner full of other bags, shouting in less-smiley Chinese to a worker.  We had to prepay our 22SGD, which was so significantly cheaper than the hotel rate that I once more doubted I'd see my clothes again. 

We had lunch at the Hard Rock Café (because, Americans) then shopped along the main road. I considered replacing all of the clothing I'd just handed over to Washy Washy but settled on just one Esprit shirt and a cute long denim skirt that ended up being very difficult to walk in. 

I'm pretty sure I slept fitfully that night, worrying about whether I'd get my clothes back, if they'd be wearable (I had a feeling no one was looking at labels about dryer heat recommendations), if I would have to spend my teacher pay on a new wardrobe. But when we returned to the launderer, the old woman smiled & nodded in recognition and went right to our bags. Everything inside was clean and folded with care, nothing was missing or misshapen or shrunken; in my relief, I left an embarrassing tip. 

I tried many times to toss out the receipt for our laundry but something kept it in my wallet. Every time I saw it, I remembered how much I loved Singapore (despite the breathtaking heat) and I felt accomplished somehow. I felt like an adventurer, finding a way to get something done without taking the easier, expensive, tourist way. I realized later no one at Washy Washy had spoken English, yet we did great business together. 

I hope I can go back someday. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

me today

With Mark Wahlberg and the spirit of Adam Yauch, in my classroom trying to catch up + get ready for Monday. 

I love my job teaching teenagers, but 'love' is a funny word. In our Poetry class, we call it taboo; instead of telling, show what love looks like. Feels like. Smells, tastes, sounds like. 


This is what my love looks like : a bulletin board next to my desk filled with handsome men and thoughtful quotes and notes from students, and an old laundry receipt from Washy Washy in Singapore; I bring what makes me smile, sigh, wistfully remember and pin it to my periphery for inspiration and joy and relief. My love also looks like tables arranged for seeing each other, a raised eyebrow, hands in the air, faces awake with thinking or furrowed with disagreement or blank with confusion trying to be alleviated. Sometimes it looks like eyelids fighting sleep because that's how life is, for all of us. 

This is what my love feels like : the shaggy velour pillow against my back in the desk chair, the push of tacks and squeeze of binder clips, a swipe of Lip Rescue, the smooth glide of Flair pens on papers, tension fading in a student's shoulder, breath catching in my throat during a discussion, the empty-building concrete cold that settles in my fingers and under my socks on days like today.

My love smells woody like pencil shavings, floor cleaner sharp, deliciously acrid like playing school in 5th grade with markers that made me lightheaded, Tropical Sorbet spray when the paper mill stench stretches up the hill, and meadow gardeny when I slather on hand cream at the beginning and end of every day. 

Love that tastes like black tea sometimes hot and sometimes lukewarm, fast lunches, secret chocolates in my desk drawer & stale emergency crackers in another, salty smoked almonds for sharing. 

And this love sounds like my IHeartRadio New Order station (Van Halen on Fridays), the daily grind of a pencil sharpener, a whirring projector, scraping chairs and teenage voices negotiating for seats, maybe loud, maybe quiet from the edges, powerful words put into powerful sentences, "Good morning, Mrs. Spencer" and "Bye, Mrs. Spencer, have a nice day."

I love my job.

Friday, January 2, 2015

yellow, for sam

This print belonged to my mother-in-law. After she died I decided I would like to have it, not realizing until I brought it home that it exactly matched the walls of our bedroom. I keep it above my nightstand and think of her every morning & night.

Sam championed just about everything I did - after not killing her son with my reckless driving out of the dorm parking lot where she stood meekly waving goodbye one sunny Pullman afternoon in 1989. She did not like it when I considered myself not good/smart/capable enough so she often praised my sense of style, my decorating skills, my writing, my teaching, and later my mothering. It took awhile for me to believe her but then I realized, she was not a woman who wasted time or energy with lies. Whenever I start to feel not good or smart or capable enough, I remember Sam's earnest face and I can hear voice telling me to just get moving. Try. Stop wasting time. 


Thursday, January 1, 2015

new year sky

"I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me." ~ Anaïs Nin

Start a marvelous 2015, friends

Sunday, November 23, 2014

lucky? or, in the presence of decent humans

This morning I stood next to my 14-year old daughter in the kitchen. She blithely dismantled a pomegranate while I read the Rolling Stone article about campus rape. Every few paragraphs I reached out to stroke her back and hair, grounding her here in her footie pajamas and innocent teen girl bedhead. I wondered if my own mother ever worried like this about what might happen to me at college; we never talked about boys, really, much less what kinds of situations I could find myself in with them. I considered what kind of conversations I should have with my daughter now.

Of course there is the "Avoid ____________________" [fill in the blank with sketchy scenarios like Frat Parties, Secluded Areas, or Anyplace After Dark] mantra repeated to girls whenever they are sent out into the world. This seems like common sense for an intelligent person, which my daughter has shown herself to be. But I was (am) an intelligent person, and I found myself in these scenarios during my years at Washington State University. Often. Even (especially) when drunk and sometimes (frequently) alone. And I was never sexually assaulted. According to the statistics, 1 in 5 women will be at some point in their lives and according to some points of view, it is more likely to happen when a woman places herself in those sketchy scenarios that most with so-called common sense avoid.

So what kind of an example can I provide? Was I just a lucky idiot?

Maybe yes - because I should take responsibility for my actions, and if I were to fall off of a cliff because I stepped too close to the edge, no one would blame the rocks for slipping out from under me.

But more emphatically no - because rocks are not sentient beings deciding to slide under my foolishly placed feet to teach me a lesson. People who deliberately take advantage of others - whether or not they walked into ill-advised situations - are jerks at best. At worst, they are never ending nightmares.

I specifically remember two encounters from my freshman year at WSU that I have shared with my daughter - and my son too because, according to those damned statistics again, he will likely find himself positioned to either participate in or stop an assault during his lifetime. During the telling I fully admit that I made poor choices - underage drinking, getting separated from friends, walking alone in the dark. But I also point out the people I remember who chose to help me instead of harming me.

At a fraternity party, I innocently followed a polite young man into the basement to see their house dog. There really was a dog in the basement, and I petted his sweet head for at least 10 minutes of meandering small talk before realizing Polite Young Man had slowly moved his face to within an inch of mine. When I turned toward him, this boy I'd known for about 20 minutes, I immediately felt sick and told him so. Polite Young Man backed off and escorted me to the bathroom.

At another party, I could not find my friends after a couple hours of drinking and was being followed around by a mammoth guy, who was undeterred when I explained my type was a more wiry, funny nerd. I finally ditched him and wandered through a surprisingly dark number of blocks before stumbling into the parking lot by my dorm. I realized then that I had no key and no way to contact my roommate. As I considered my very bleak options, I realized someone I knew was listening to Paul Simon in his car nearby. I knocked on his window and waved; he was an upperclassman from the men's dorm next to mine. He waved, turned down the radio, reached across to open the passenger door for me. I told him my situation and he said he would let me stay in his room for the night. We listened to the rest of the songs on the tape before Nice Guy led me to his room, put out a blanket and pillow on his bed, then woke up his neighbor so he could sleep there and give me privacy. "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard" always reminds me of Nice Guy and that safe feeling I had after making a series of stupid decisions one night.

We can shake our heads now, almost 30 years later, at my naïveté or what my kids perceive as my inherent "confident/scary" demeanor but the simple fact of the matter is this : in those scenarios, the men around me decided to behave like decent people. Of course they had hormonal desires, most certainly they considered at least for a moment what they could do to me for their own gratification. But they also overrode those desires and chose to see me as a fellow human who needed help, and they understood that meant more than satisfying urges.

I don't like thinking of myself as "lucky" to have avoided sexual assaults in college. Saying I was "lucky" promotes the idea that most men simply cannot control themselves in the presence of a vulnerable woman. Or it might tempt people to believe the men in my situations were gay, excusing them from the overwhelming impulses of heterosexual males. This is all nonsense - just like discussing what a person is wearing when attacked. Luck should have nothing to do with it.

I hope I am teaching my children to be smart in the world, to make safe choices. But we all make foolish decisions, for a variety of reasons, and nothing should excuse us from decent behavior toward each other. Otherwise we are all just as dumb as rocks.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

fifth draft

This week in my Teacher As Writer workshop, which has been a million fucking times more difficult and emotional and exhausting and interesting and valuable than I expected, we wrote [and rewrote and rewrote] a Personal Narrative. I am posting here what I will take to professional writers for feedback tomorrow, which when I think about it (like I just did there, typing that sentence) makes me feel like throwing up. But it'll be cool, I'm sure. It's only my guts on a page.

Feel free to give me your thoughts, too. Gently, though, please.


I spend the day pretending not to feel contractions. One cinches my stomach, a yanked seatbelt feeling, as I navigate Portland’s noon traffic. I grimace and turn up the radio, smile dumbly at passing drivers. At home I reread the chapter in my pregnancy manual about false labor, eat a sandwich, rub my belly.

Later, I watch Monday Night Football and compare the slamming linebackers to this tiny human tackling my internal organs. I groan, poke a heel from under my ribs. I wander to the computer room, move a stack of papers from one shelf to another, return to the game. When my husband comes in, I mention the contractions. His eyes narrow, he counts the days to our due date, but I repeat facts from the manual. He nods, convinced, and we go to bed.

I cannot sleep. The baby gyroscopes whenever I adjust my body, creating a brisk countermovement. I try to lie still, stare at the ceiling, but even my breathing inspires him to reorient with each exhalation. My husband asks if everything is okay. Yes, I growl, I’m fine.

I sit up, click on the light and lean for a book on my nightstand. The baby rolls like a child’s bowling ball bumpering down its lane. My eyes skim over words mechanically until a stab across my abdomen snatches my breath. I hiss through my teeth expertly, a skill learned in childbirth class. When the pain passes, I wait with teeth bared for the next. I turn pages until it attacks, slashing harder than the others. My husband opens an eye. What is going on? he mumbles. I've got this, I say, hissing.

I slouch out of bed, the baby a giant roiling marble under my skin, and shuffle toward the stairs. I consider them but decide instead to move papers in the computer room again until another mean squeeze stops me. I lean against the wall, stare at the clock. Eight minutes tick away before the next contraction. Like my husband earlier, I recount the number of days left.

I run a bath and heave into steaming water. My husband opens the door, peers into the bright bathroom. What, he pauses, staring, are you doing? One leg contorts over the edge of the tub, I hold a razor in my left hand. He blinks. Should I call? I glance at the clock - almost 4 a.m. - press my lips to a white line. Another contraction. Hissssss. Okay. I twist back to my stubble, concentrating. Razor steady, I shave both legs.

We negotiate construction zones and tighter, faster contractions. At the hospital, a crowd of medical students surrounds us, fixes me with a paper gown, monitors, probes, punctures. Carefully packed suitcase abandoned. A beeping heartbeat quickens then slows. I sink to hands and knees, slide a clipboard placed on my right across the bed so I can sign the release. Husband? I can see only unfamiliar eyes alert and tense under so many masks. I lie down, wait, breathe, one last hiss. Then there is my husband, changed into sterile clothes, eyes wide and ready under his mask. He holds my hand as we roll to the operating room.


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