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May 2013

Summer school break, thank you for being you

My 9th grader just got his Scantron assessment back. It's this reading and math test they take three times a year. He ranked at 10% nationally in math and at 86% in reading. In other words, supposedly 90% of students are better at math than him, but I kind of doubt it; while he is sort of bad at math, he's also not a very good test-taker. I bet it's more that only 50-70% are better at actual number work. People are so weirdly rotten at basic arithmetic. His reading score seems about right. He can discuss the difference between an indirect object and a prepositional object; can you?

Because I regularly scored above 99% on these tests when I was in school, I have, perhaps, a different perspective than some. It all came so naturally to me, but this kid will never be able to Algebra his way out of a paper bag. And I don't really care. I drag him, as patiently as possible, through the math course every day of every year like it's Groundhog Day, while at the same time, he's acing what to do with quotation marks. 

Sure, it's nurture, but it's also nature. Yet the government (Let's Make Every Child A Mathematician-Scientist!) system spends so much time trying to bolster weaknesses instead of playing to strengths, we end up wandering aimlessly in a field of mediocrity, searching for the gate. It bogs us down and it keeps him from enjoying the areas he's interested in and good at. I have to make sure he gets to explore more territory next year, not just constantly battle his way out of it. 

The virtual school program we use, OHVA, gets this, I think. But like every program under state regulation, they have to play to the middle, and they, like my son—perhaps like most people—are stronger in the Humanities... 

Everyone should be exposed to basic algebra, sure. And basic geometry. But Ohio students are required to pass Algebra II to graduate from high school. Because it is so difficult to pass, it is usually taken in the third year, so that it can be repeated if necessary. Yet four math credits are required, so a kid who is bad at math is very likely to be saddled with two complicated math classes his senior year. 

Personally, I believe the senior year should be focused on advancing the student's individual strengths and interests. But I know colleges are frustrated with students whose math skills are not up to their standards. Well, I get that. Trying to turn everyone into a teen physicist doesn't really seem to be the answer, though. 

I'm just really happy finals are next week. Baseball, swimming, bicycling, mowing the lawn, lying back and looking up at the sky on a hot July night; these things nurture a kid's character after weeks of desperately attempting to factor and divide quadratic polynomials.  


on blogging and writing and really really needing to brush my hair

With awkwardly apologetic thanks to young Mara Wilson, who reminded me today of something important.

I'm sitting at a picnic table in a park. Way in front of me, my son is playing in a baseball game. But it's cooler up here, and breezy, and quiet. Today hasn't been my best day. In fact, it's been a fairly miserable day, the sort of day that causes a woman of my age to have the startling thought that menopause actually doesn't sound like such a terrible point to reach after all.

13 - 2It looks like a great day, at least.

Here's an example of how bad I've felt today: this morning, someone online responded with a lighthearted flirty remark to a piece of news I'd shared, and my response was, "Meh." I did that, typed it and clicked send, and didn't change it even after realizing the horror of what I'd done. 

Here's a real example of how bad I've felt today: I didn't brush my hair. At all. I brought my son here to the park a little over an hour ago, and sat in the parking lot feeling how unbrushed my hair was, and then my face felt dirty, and I started thinking about how I could not write one single word and be honestly myself if I did not brush my hair. Because no matter how I don't like to put on shoes and no matter that my nails are currently garden-stained, or that maybe I could step up the leg-shaving game, hair brushing is a Thing I Take Seriously. Well, my kind of seriously. I brush my hair when I get up in the morning and before I go to bed at night but I didn't brush it this morning and I didn't brush it last night and it becomes a circle or spiral when you feel too bad to do something you know will help you feel better such that you speak about it without any commas at all. 

Tomorrow I'll feel fine, but today I needed to brush my hair, so I left the park in search of Kroger or Walgreen's for a hairbrush, and the road was fine but endless. At some point I realized that I was going north toward nowhere instead of west toward the city, and it certainly began to look the opposite of a route toward a shopping center. The air smelled of fertilizer. All the roads were marked "Truck Entrance." I finally came to a crossroad, but couldn't see where it would lead until I passed, but when I did pass, I saw a Petsmart sign, so I knew there'd be other stores nearby. Only I couldn't turn around right away, and I thought about how I wasn't enjoying the music Shuffle was offering or the sunshine and breeze through the car window, because a hairbrush was in the other direction. 

Once I got turned around, I was happy to spot a Target sign just past the Petsmart, and then realized I'd stumbled onto a back entrance to the center where we see movies. Civilization! Walking through Target with my basket on my arm, I felt at once cooler and cleaner. 

Items for personal refreshment collected, refreshing drink added to my bag, I thought about how it might sound if I was describing all of this aloud to someone across a table who would be studiously examining each bite of ceviche, desperate for me to finish. The things you say and the things you write each belong in their own realm. Sometimes I can read aloud what I've written, and tell it like a story, and other times the ridiculous nature of what I need to share is heightened that way. Reading it, you can hear it as you like or dismiss it as so much blather, and swiftly move on.

13 - 1 (1)Isn't this an adorable shopping trip, though? It all matches

But, and here is the point I mean to get to, I'm just not an anecdotal person. I read a blog today I enjoyed so much, because it was rich and honest and earnest and anecdotal. And it was written by someone who has taken the trouble to learn to write, to practice it and work to improve her skills, both technically and in a literary sense, which seems increasingly rare to me at the height of my middle years. I work at that, too, but I'm not gifted at anecdote, which is probably the one thing I'd ask of the proverbial wish fairy. I make up funny anecdotes about old people, but seem to not grasp how to share my own, or maybe I just don't fully immerse myself in the experiences I do have, in order to relate them later on. 

Sensory details drop clumsily from my fingertips. Could I have described to you the elation I felt when pulling the new brush through my hair? A man was on the phone in his truck, parked next to me, as I fished through the shopping bag for the wipes to cool my face, and the powder and lipstick to freshen my appearance. I relegated his presence to the background with little thought, but you might like to know he was telling someone to find a new hobby he or she could really get into and enjoy. He seemed quite sincere about it. However, that says nothing at all about the hairbrushing itself or the subsequent emotional relief at achieving my goal. I just felt like I could now get on with my evening. 

On the way to the baseball field the first time, we passed a little house with a plaid couch on the porch. Two young men were standing near it, shirtless, with crew cuts, and I had a brief unkind thought I forced myself to regret. Okay, good, but I didn't allow myself the reflection that would have led to a better description of the moment. This is all so inward and self-grasping, isn't it? It's easy to be honest when you don't dig very deeply, but it leaves you without much to say. I can do better, much better, all the other days of the month, and am freshly inspired by that fresh voice I encountered today. And in four weeks' time, if I once again catch myself out with an expired ponytail, I'll be prepared with an extra hairbrush in the glove compartment of my car. Then I can focus more on what's going on around me, instead of what's on my own head.


30 years on, I remember the music, the movies, and very little else...

I graduated from high school 30 years ago today. I remember it in flashes. The ceremony was held in the football stadium, a quite nice one, because, so I was told, the school was asked not to return to wherever these things were usually held back then. My class wasn't particularly rowdy, but I guess previous ones had been.

There was a girl in my class who was pregnant and about to launch, who went into a strange laughing fit during a speech, and a boy shouted, "the baby's tickling her under her armpits!" Everyone broke up at that. But for the most part, it was fairly ordinary, I believe, and I remember being invited to a couple of parties, but did not go. That's all I remember, except that a few relatives visited and brought small gifts, and I had put together a neat senior year memory book that my future ex-mother-in-law stole along with most of my other keepsakes. But that's another tale not to be told.

Here's a list of 1983 songs that were either favorites then or became favorites later, most of which I still enjoy hearing. There are probably others if I look at a UK hits chart. 

"1999" – Prince
"Blue Monday" – New Order
"Burning Down the House" – Talking Heads
"Delirious" – Prince
"Electric Avenue" – Eddy Grant
"In a Big Country" – Big Country
"Keep Feeling (Fascination)" – The Human League
"Let's Dance" – David Bowie
"The Love Cats" — The Cure
"New Frontier" – Donald Fagen
"New Song" – Howard Jones
"One Thing Leads to Another" — The Fixx
"Our House" – Madness
"Our Lips Are Sealed" – Fun Boy Three
"Owner of a Lonely Heart" – Yes
"Rockit" – Herbie Hancock
"Run Runaway" – Slade
"The Safety Dance" – Men Without Hats
"She Blinded Me with Science" – Thomas Dolby
"Space Age Love Song" – A Flock of Seagulls
"This Charming Man" – The Smiths
"The Walk" – The Cure

Of the top-grossing films in 1983, these are the ones I saw. I liked them all to some degree. I'd say my favorite of this bunch is probably Trading Places

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Flashdance
Trading Places*
Octopussy
Staying Alive
Mr. Mom
Risky Business
National Lampoon's Vacation
Superman III
The Big Chill
Never Say Never Again*
Psycho II
Twilight Zone: The Movie

Here are a few others I saw either that year or shortly after:

Christine
The Dresser*
Gorky Park*
High Road to China
The Man with Two Brains
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
The Osterman Weekend*
The Right Stuff*
To Be or Not to Be
Valley Girl
Zelig

I put stars next to my favorites at the time. Most importantly for me, I think, was this. Mom and I saw every one. 

 

What else...M*A*S*H* ended that year, and I remember obsessing over that a bit. Oh, and also! That was the first year I noticed a lot of famous people I'd heard of died. There is quite a list for that year, but these are the ones I knew of then.

Tennessee Williams
Gloria Swanson
Norma Shearer
Harry James
Raymond Massey
David Niven
Carolyn Jones
Pat O'Brien
William Demarest

A few other notable events around that time were the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Sally Ride's first trip into space, Motown's 25th anniversary, GPS was approved for civilian use, but then that was cancelled; it's an interesting story, and, um, KISS appeared on TV without makeup on! People said they should maybe not do that again...

We didn't have cable TV at our house, but here's what everyone else was watching when I graduated from high school:

 

 


Social Media Platforms/Places I Go/Collective Cognitive Dissonance...

Roughly, from least often to most often...and a pleasing pattern has formed. I was displeased with the previous Google Plus update, which was very like Facebook in tone and presentation, but of course I got used to it, and simplified it where I could. The new update is so simple and elegant, it's astonishing. The best thing about it is that there are options for people depending on their screen size. Also, the screen stays right where I left it and I can more easily pick up where I was last. 

I think it was the right decision to move away from the Facebook-style format and toward a more Tumblr-like or even Pinterest-like one, depending on personal preferences chosen.

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Time isn't holding us

Everything about this song is gorgeous, from the original writing of it to every aspect of the Talking Heads' treatment of it.  

I've continued to listen to David Byrne over the years, enjoy his collaborative works and his writing. I feel certain that if events had only played out differently, we were probably meant to be together, even if only for a brief astronomical experience. But oh, alas. It was never to be. 

He turned 61 today! That hardly seems possible because he's just not that much…older than me…and so anyway. This is my favorite recent thing that I've heard him do, from 2010, but I just downloaded the album he recorded with St. Vincent and am looking forward to hearing that and seeing them play live this summer. 

 

One more thing, just because I always always love this song. This is from 1996.  


they used to call it ether (draft from February 2008)

I WROTE THIS IN FEBRUARY 2008. I DON'T LIVE IN THAT HOUSE ANYMORE, AND THE SUPER DREADFUL 2008 PASSED ALONG WITH ME STILL BEING...ME. LOOKING BACK, IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO FEEL AS I DID FOR THAT ENTIRE YEAR. I GUESS THAT'S GOOD.

some invisible substance that held the universe together. I think that was coined by Descartes. Anyway. Then they figured out that what held the universe together was—the universe. Matter, you know. And the space between all the matter and molecules is actually space, with energy keeping stuff moving around inside it. It's all one and the same. Matter, space, energy, and therefore, dare I say it? Time itself. Cool, eh?

You'd think I could never stop being inspired by that but right now, nothing is really inspiring. We're in the final dregs of winter, and once again, just when I thought life was finally settling into something comfortable with lots to look forward to, things that had been put on hold, turns out I was wrong again. Another rug yanked, another bruise from my backside hitting the floor. Nothing was taken off hold. Instead it was put back on the rack again. NO. WE'RE NOT HAVING ANY DETAILS.

You'd think I'd be used to it by now. It's clear, though, that I never will be. So the thing to do for us Pollyanna types is "pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again." This might be masochistic for some people, but not for the intrepidly optimistic. How to do that, though?

You might say that if the pattern is interrupted over and over again that it's not the pattern you thought it was. But that's where physics comes into play. These patterns we think we see or established aren't even drops in a bucket. Did you know there are many more molecules in a glass of water than there are glasses of water in the sea?

But knowing and feeling are always, thankfully yet tiresomely, two different things. Right now my feelings are dark but my knowledge is as light as a fresh glass of Pellegrino. Okay, that's a sort of faith, really, the belief that I hold that knowledge. A person has to be able to go on something, to keep going.

Friday night I made fondue.

Saturday was a day of being comfortable in my home. First, though, I went to Panera for a mocha. It was odd doing that by myself, but it was a tasty mocha. I got two interesting-looking books from the library, and then Livvy and I watched all 200 minutes of the BBC series from the 80s called Have His Carcase. It's based on the second Lord Peter Wimsey book to feature Harriet Vane, and was pretty good. We kept the fire in the fireplace going all afternoon and evening.

I had two mixed drinks made with gin and Grand Marnier, one with sweet vermouth and one with dry, both with a touch of lemon juice, shaken and strained. After I made the kids their dinner, which was a baked breakfast casserole, I ordered myself some sushi online and had it delivered. Then I watched Torchwood and went to bed. Never touched the computer all day except to order the food.

Yesterday we were going to watch the next in that TV series, Gaudy Night, but I guess someone noticed another person had finally checked out some of that series at the library, and took it out ahead of me. That's irritating since they hadn't been checked out in forever. But hopefully they'll be returned on time. So instead I tried to organize some of my online life and had a bad job of it for most of the afternoon. I felt so low I thought I was going to have to sit in that chair and not move from it until a meteor came in through the window. But I managed to keep going anyway, and then in the evening, LP and I went to Marshall's to get some things to finish our TV wall. We have such similar taste we either naturally gravitate toward the same things, or else one of us will find something and the other will say, oh, yes, of course. It's a good thing.

I think it looks pretty good. If you look at the pictures full-sized, you can see our light-hearted yet noble African princess in front of the vase next to the TV. And you'll note we chose rather peaceful-looking masks, rather than fierce ones.

Also last night I posted an old poem to my poetry page, which I've renamed. I did this because earlier in the day I was at the Wayback Machine, looking for a file I lost a long time ago, hoping it was on an old web page. I found the old page from 1999 that linked to it, but not the link itself. I did run across another series of poems I'd thought were gone, though, and was amused to reread them. A couple of you may find the one I posted amusing as well, or else disturbing. Or both, you know. Anyway, I renamed the poetry page and created a new banner for it in honor of my very first website, and also the mood I am taking up in order to conquer the external aspects of my current pain. We do what we have to do to keep going, like Dory the Blue Tang.


That same old spell...

It's that light and breezy confidence with a measure of reserve just barely visible behind the glint of his eyes. He manages to wear his clothing both fitted and loose at the same time. Unstructured structure? It's something she's seen European men pull off as easily as flipping a switch, and it's one of the reasons she enjoyed wandering New York in summertime, but it's not very common here. 

Anyway, none of that is something she can see. It's just what she imagines when she senses a certain frequency in the air, conjured from very little data, more from what she knows or wishes she knows to be there. Impressionist filter on a dimly lit photograph. But as she imagines it, the sunlight is at a sharp afternoon angle, and the surfaces around her gleam reflective, like the surface of the ocean she still mourns and craves; thirsts after in poetic fashion.

He's one of those familiar strangers; someone you see for the first time and are sure you know, though you really never do. He's weather-seasoned around the eyes, but his smile is bright and youthful, willing her to return his carefree regard. She is nearly certain that if she breathed in just a certain way, she'd inhale his scent and he'd know the warm vibration of her skin beneath his fingertips. She's more certain he already does. 


Mother's Day and Me

There's something truly charming about the unpredictability of Mother's Day for me. You see, I really care about my birthday. I love to be feted and congratulated for being here. Presents are a bonus; something I kinda hope for, because who doesn't like a present? And I have a family of really terrific gift-givers. But it isn't ever required. I just really love the idea of birthdays, and of people being glad I have mine. I really like cake. Last year I made my own birthday cake and dinner, and those of us who were here really enjoyed it.  

Mother's Day is different. If there wasn't one, that'd be fine by me. I know my family loves me. And sometimes they, either in a group or a couple of them individually, splash out and do something grand for me. Other times, there might be mostly nothing or an offer to vacuum or make dinner.  I would like someone, this year, to offer to reorganize the pantry and then actually do it, but it isn't as if I couldn't point my finger and say, "You. Pantry duty. Today." to whoever is at hand when I think of it.  Or just do it myself, as usual. 

One year there was a big breakfast and an iPod waiting for me. It was pretty great, but it didn't make me expect something equally as grand and splashy the next year. Which is good because that didn't happen. Anyway. The person who came up with the idea of Mother's Day later disowned it because she was appalled that it became a marketing tool. Personally, I always tried to teach my kids as they were growing up that all these "special" days can be marked, if we choose to, without buying things. Especially Valentine's Day. I want a homemade card or no card, thank you. (That's not really true. Just if you carefully choose a card to give me, I still expect you to write something in it besides your name.) 

There are a couple things I don't own I'd like to own, like a fabulous Italian espresso machine and a violin, if anyone is actually making a birthday gift list. But really, someone else making a cake and saying, "Hey, you" would be enough. Or not even the cake part. I'm good at celebrating me, after all. As to Mother's Day, I was actually planning to spend some time in the giant fancy cemetery tomorrow, and so mostly I'd just like to ask for nice weather; slightly gloomy, perhaps, but not too cool. 


A lady is always prepared

I think I've mentioned this before; there's a Tumblr called theburninghouse where people submit a photograph of what they'd take with them in the event of a fire. I like to read it and see how simple or complicated people make their "to save" lists.

Since Hurricane Katrina, and then a few other events or maybe since always, I've kept a bag by my bed. Currently it's a bright red one, but sometimes it's orange. My laptop will fit into it, but the laptop isn't the highest priority; if it's nearby and can be grabbed, super. 

Occasionally I think about what would fit into the bag, usually things I have near my bed at night, not because of paranoia, but because they are the things I most like to have around, I guess. And they'd all fit into that one bag, with room left over. Maybe I'm always thinking, subconsciously, about running away…

Now, in the car, there's a big blanket, flashlight, and a few other emergency items. Usually a box of baby wipes and an extra pair of shoes, and a small first aid kit. So with me, the bag, and the kids all in the car, life could carry on however it needed to under most extreme circumstances we are ever likely to encounter.

Anyway, here's what would go into the One Bag in case of fire, and it would take less than a minute to pull it all together: Redbag
(Going to substitute with a better photo later on)

A pair of clean panties
foundation/sunscreen
lipstick
sunscreen
Aleve
Sudafed
Neosporin
hand lotion
hair clip
nail clippers
essential oil blend
card deck

Kindle Fire HD and charger
camera and charger
iPod and headphones
pen and notebook
phone
card holder
keys
mini flashlight
batteries
15-in-1 multi-tool

If possible, boots and sweater. 


Aging iPod, aging me

First I had a light blue iPod mini, in 2005. It was stolen. Then I got a black iPod 5th generation, with 80gb. I guess that was in 2006. In late 2008 or so, it met with a peculiar accident, and stopped working. For Mother's Day 2009, the girls and man colluded to buy me a 6th generation silver one, with 120gb of space. I still have it. It is my number one "save from a fire" object. It has all my digital music, of course, but is also an external hard drive in terms of important writing and photographs that have to be trotted around from one computer to another now and then. I share music with the kids with it, and my playlists are a thing to behold, purpose-wise and archive-wise and just fun-wise. 

Later in 2009, the 6th generation Classic iPod was upgraded to 160gb, and it's remained that way ever since. It is still being produced, but hasn't changed since then. The focus has been on the Touch, instead, which makes good sense, of course. But I'm not interested in that, even if it had more space. My Android phone works well with my Apple computer if I need it to, and the Kindle Fire HD covers all the ground I'm interested in online. The fact is that I'm a little old-fashioned at this point; I'm happy with my self-contained music player just as it is. 

But the battery won't last forever. Just recently, it shows signs of reduced charge time, though not by all that much. As "old tech" batteries go, it's still very impressive. However, once they start to go, the decline seems to pick up speed. So I want to be prepared. It would cost $66 dollars to send it in for a new battery. I don't know…maybe it would be the right path to take. It would be good to have a better sense of how long the unit itself will last, to know if it's worth battery replacement.

We have a terabyte external hard drive; everything is saved to it regularly enough, so if the iPod fails, I won't lose music the way I did the first two times, when my computer was so small it couldn't contain my music collection and still run properly. But I kind of want a new-in-the-box Classic waiting for me the day I need it, because how long will Apple continue to produce them? 

This is the kind of thought process you have as you get older and are, frankly, just a little tired of things changing, when the old thing worked perfectly well. I already don't ever want a new car, even though the CX-5 is such a little badass version of my first-year CX-9. But with cars, there are very good reasons to upgrade now and then; they do improve the technology in ways that benefit us. My music player just handily plays music I can't get on records, and does it anywhere I like. And it has enough space for huge files of things that need to sound glorious, like the Jonas Kauffman Wagner album. I'll occasionally buy improved headphone, speaker, and cable to transfer that sound to my ears, of course.  

I don't mind realizing this thought process is occurring more often. It's like when you realized you no longer needed to know every new band that came out, and later when you went back to buying a style of shoes you thought were comfortable twenty or thirty years ago.  It doesn't mean you gave up on whatever the world still has to offer, which is changing faster and faster, almost by the moment. Your view hasn't truly narrowed; it's just shifted focus. I mean, for a couple more decades, anyway. 

Here's my opera boyfriend Jonas talking about his new album. Just because, is all.