Saturday, September 30, 2006


I'm at the Cleveland Public Library, it is the color of cold, wet steel outside. Ample windows are letting in only a dusky light and the whole place has the ambiance of a tomb. I'm researching (well, really, I'm off task, but I CAME here to research) a new book on performance learning. It is the perfect day to do library research, it's too dank and depressing to do about anything else unless one is a bird discussing travel plans. Browsing the shelves I found (could it be?) The Idiot's Guide to Homeschooling. right next to Homeschooling for Dummies.

I'm not against homeschooling, not at all. But it might not be the best course of action for idiots (do ya think?). First they define "unschooling," which is taking a stand against dry texts. Next the guide recommends filling the home with books. Let the kid fix his own breakfast. Viola, the kid just had an hour in home ec. Then the kid can spend the morning playing with Legos, a lesson in engineering.

Okay, these truly are books for dummies. No joke. And pretty effective, I might guess, at unschooling youth, if anyone were so idiotic as to attempt to put them into practice.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Beware of grandmothers with glue sticks

Quote from writer/educator Donald Graves: "Too much of my life is spent in routine activities: get up, shave, dress, stagger down for my cup of coffee, write, eat, write some more, pile up my correspondence and teaching necessities in my canvas LLBean bag, drive unseeing to work, wonder about where I might be lucky enough to find a parking spot, walk into the office to check phone calls and correspondence . . . If someone were to ask me to write about my day at this point I would be forced to say, "There hasn't been anything new to it yet, no whys, just a kind of survival, like wading through a marsh. Sometimes I have a whole day like that, or a string of days with the edges of living knocked off. If someone were to suggest that I write about those days, I might have two reactions: nothing happened so why bother or it was too painful to revisit: "I'd just as soon forget it."

Donald Graves Discover your own literacy, The Reading/Writing Teacher's CompanionHeinemann)

Boy, ain't that the truth. Some days are so annoying they can block you up for an entire week! Take last Tuesday (please) when I checked into my flight with my lip gloss NOT in a plastic bag.
"But it is here in my hand, you can see it."
"Has to be in a plastic bag."
Some traveling Good Samaritan donated a plastic bag to my efforts to get through security, but I had to go out and around and through security a second time, lip gloss secure in a handibag. Only this time the vigilant screener found a glue stick in my rolling briefcase that she had missed the first time, thereby subjecting me to a wanding and total swipe down of all my goods for traces of explosives.

In fact all traces of explosives were inside of me at that point and about to detinate, but I held the fireworks securly behind pursed lips. I was about to miss my flight having been tagged guilty of suspicious activity.

Be it known here, Cleveland Hopkins Airport has a zero tolerance policy for grandmothers carrying glue sticks.

Now, don't you feel safer?

More from Graves: "But literate people don't want to forget anything; pain, sadness, joy, anger. They want to tell stories about these experiences to themselves and to friends, to write about them in a diary, a journal, or a short essay. Writing allows us to look at an experience from two angles: at the moment it occurs and and the moment we write about it."

Yeah. Well. Maybe. But just thinking about it now, three days still tweaks my latent explosive tendencies. However, now that I have told the story, maybe maybe I'll be able to see it from a different angle.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Here's the sentence: "She was a woman to admire and to desire, but the message in her eye and her bearing was unmistakable: offend or disesteem her at your peril." I'm still reading Shantaram, written by Aussie Gregory David Roberts -- it's nine hundred pages and I'm not traveling with long stretches on airplanes and waiting areas to read. In fact, I think this is the longest stretch I have had in my writing career without travel. Ah, yes, travel. The part of the writing life that Annie Dilliard skipped over in her book. The part that for many of us keeps our computers and cars updated and our dogs in kibble. Well, anyway, I've been home and home means that the laundry calls out to me and the sun and the sidewalk, not to mention the dogs who are as I write this pulling at my chair leg and rolling around like animals, desperate to sniff their way around the block on the end of a leash. But, extra time on my hands also means that while I don't have as much time to read without interruption, I do have more time to contemplate what I'm reading, even to think about select words, like disesteem.

Not the same as disrespect. Not a loss of esteem, low esteem or lack of esteem. I love a good word choice! I was writing to someone a couple weeks ago and she used the word wretched in an email. This is a word more familiar than disesteem, but not really common in usage anymore. I decided that week I was in love with the word wretched. I don't feel wretched nor is my life wretched, I just like the word. Disesteem is more rare, its existence too wretched to earn a space in spell check, although it does own its own place in the dictionary. (Then again, how can anyone trust a spell check that wants to replace Annie Dilliard with Dullard.)

Choosing words is like shopping at the grocery. When you are in a hurry, you just run in and grab what you have always bought and race to the checkout line. But when you have extra time, you can read the packages, check the new products section, and taste the samples. Words like wretched and disesteem don't hang out with the hamburger, they are in the gourmet section of the dictionary. The area that takes some time to prepare, to present, and ultimately, to savor.

'Course the writer of this book was incarcerated during its writing, so presumably he had some time on his hands to shop for just the right word to describe this woman pulled from the shelf of his memory in his fictionalized autobiography (aren't all of our autobiographies, even the unpublished recollections, fictionalized? Really? Although it was responsible of him to make note). Incarceration of an adventurer may well be why the book is 900 pages and rich with detailed observations, painting a panoramic picture of India that no reader could possibly view with disesteem.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Under the cover of darkness

I swear, they do it at night. I'm not sure who THEY are, but for sure THEY don't want to be confronted by those of us enjoying our fall walks, watching the leaves take on attitude before they dry and take flight and listening to the birds discussing travel plans. Those of us who are scuttling between sun spots in sweatshirts do NOT want to be reminded of what is coming by THEM. But sure enough, right about the time the Christmas decorations show up at Drug Mart (about now) up go the posts.

People who live in the south or as I did for many innocent years, outside of the infamous northern Ohio snowbelt, (it could be worse, it could be Buffalo) don't know about these metal warning flags. These are the four foot metal bars that THEY attach to the fire hydrants so that the things can be found in the deep snow. These posts are associates of wind chill factors and lake effect snow. Like undercover spies, they invade the neighborhood. Of course the locals recognize them immediately and know that the rest of the crew is amassing over the hill like an invading brigade, sending us into a flurry of yard, gutter, and window preparations.

Last weekend, I noticed the subtle intrusion, which is always the way it is. You never see these defiant little posts being installed, just one day, the posts are well. . . posted, putting us all on notice.

An inner alarm trumpets, "Life is temporal. Fall is fleeting. Winter's coming." Bony little know-it-alls.

No wonder THEY do this under the cover of darkness, whoever THEY are.

Monday, September 18, 2006

To the woman in the blue dress

To the woman in the blue dress walking in front of the empty strip center store on Route 20 who did not tie back her auburn hair letting it fly behind her like a lacy cape -- to the woman who led with her chin and whose smile was reflected in the way she swung her canvas bag timed perfectly with each stride -- to the woman who chose to defy the gray sky with a dress the color the sky could if it were Greece or Italy or some place besides Cleveland -- to the woman in the hip grazing, long blue dress with stars bursting from the cotton, in the dress that was slit to the knee but no further -- to the woman with crinkles in the corners of her eyes who did not require footnotes, who gave today's potential a slight-handed, encouraging nudge without even looking -- to the woman in the blue dress -- thank you.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

My hood Posted by Picasa

My Hood

The neighbors in my hood had a celebratory potluck tonight. The developer, whose family in the past has performed surgery on this old village with the delicacy of a bulldozer, burying the old grist mill to put up a Kinko's and erecting stripmalls with spreading lawns of asphalt from one end of town to the other, has compromised on our old school site.

On the ballot in November will be a zoning change -- not to the 10 units per acre he was proposing (code R-10) but to a new zoning designation, OV for Old Village, that will put restraints on him and help preserve what little is left of the old village (Kinkos not withstanding). He will have to play nice, not put in dense housing and preserve the integrity of the local architecture.

This was a major victory for grass roots organization and neighborhood solidarity. So tonight we celebrated with fried chicken, salads in our finest tupperware and fudge brownies. Modern neighborhoods are populated with commuters who try not to run into one another in the street rather than stopping to chat. We were no different -- but we are now.

What a gift that developer gave us, really. He may have taken away the playground, but he gave us more of a neighborhood.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Techno Trauma

My phone stopped taking a charge. I know this feeling, understand it in my core. When the sun is perky and I am too comfortable under the comforter. When no amount of caffeine starts my engine. The time I fell asleep at the only professional football game I ever attended, crowds around me calling for blood. The times I've dragged my feet in the face of deadlines. Filed extensions. Just said, no to hysteria. Failed to take the charge. So understandable on a human level -- so absolutely intolerable in a machine. How dare that Motorola turn it's back on me!

So, I did what every good electronics consumer does, I tossed the old and bought new. Not the same model, the new improved model with windows, excel and 2 gigs of memory. Keep in mind that my first computer had a mere 4 megabytes of ram. Then I upgraded to 8, 16, skipped 32 and went straight to 64 because the computer salesman told me that was all I'd ever need. Wonder where he is now and if his beard ever came in?

I now have a phone that is more powerful than what NASA used to launch the first man into space. I have synchronized my life into this little machine. But like the columnist (Anna Quinlen?) who once commented that she was afraid if they put the whole of world knowledge on an IPod, she would be sure to lose it in her purse, I am not certain I am competent or capable to handle this thing, let alone make a phone call with it.

Also awaiting the arrival of my new computer. Stay tuned, I hear it has dual exhausts. I probably won't know how to drive that thing either. Sigh.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

"the smell of hope -- the opposite of hate"

I've been feeling depressed lately about the state of the world. News articles and television conspiring to remind us daily about the vulnerabilities of mother earth and all her minions -- human, fish, reptile and fowl. From polar bears to tropical frogs to children in Afghanistan and green space in Ohio, it seems so much and many are in a persistent state of peril.

Yesterday I spent at the Lake County Farm Park with my daughter Katie and her children Stephie (5) and Scotty (almost 3). There is something about small hands reaching out to pet the knees and necks of the unbridled kindness of workhorses -- an act of mutual trust -- that seems hopeful. Like the walk through the corn maze, each stalk holding but one or two ears, reaching with pride to heights of nine feet. Young kids nursing from their mothers and sheep dogs that can control their universe with a look, no technology required. So much of what we have we do not need and so much of what the world needs they do not have. To go to the farm park is like looking the word "balance" up in the dictionary. Just for a reminder.

Started a new book yesterday, a recommendation from my dear friend Bonnie Campbell Hill. Shantaram. On page 4, the author Gregory David Roberts observes when exiting the airport in Bombay, that it smells of "the sweet smell of hope, which is the opposite of hate; and it's the sour, stifled smell of greed, which is the opposite of love." That phrase has followed me everywhere since I read it.

And that line followed me to the farm park where I caught a whiff of what Roberts was talking about. And (gratefully) it has followed me back home.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

"way back when, in '67"

Name that song. If you can name Steely Dan, you were probably alive and musically aware in the 70s, as was most of the audience at the outdoor concert last night. Gray ponytails and speading foundations filled the lawn at Blossom. The temperature was in freefall, but Hurricane Ernesto's leftovers didn't reach the Northcoast until this AM. I think if someone had taken the loudspeaker and asked everyone wearing denim to leave, there would have been 8 people left. So much for us free thinking boomers.

It is bizarre for me to think that 1967 is as far back for kids today as the roaring twenties was for me as a kid. Has the world changed that much in 40 years? Musically, yes. Rap was invented replacing soul train. But I don't remember as the Beach Boys were rocking and the Beatles were on the upswing, before the Stones qualified for AARP covers, anyone still listening to Al Jolson. The modern world has so many more options, and every year we drag more cultural baggage to pass to the next generation, who can't wait to drop it and step up to the running board on the next SUV. But more remains each year, celebrated by the oldies but goodies.

Except blue jeans. This movement has real staying power. I wonder what people wore before we all dressed alike? I guess I need to talk to someone who can still remember -- when? The forties?