Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pine Needles are Trying to Kill Me...a humorous ranting about nature

January 31, 2010

Pine Needles Are Trying to Kill Me

We live in a mountainous community where we’re able to avoid most of the man-made dangers that occur in the big city, but we still have quite a few dangers up here in this neck of the woods; mountain lions, bears, coyotes and pine needles. That’s right. Pine needles.
Now while I haven’t had many sightings of the aforementioned wildlife, I am CONSTANTLY sighting pine needles which are everywhere and, in fact, they are trying to kill me. Let me explain, lest this doesn’t make sense.
In the wintertime, when pine needles first disengage from pine trees, they appear harmless, like most things that are out to get you. They are somewhat fluffy, innocuous, and a nice, soft brown color. Pleasant looking even. Until the first storms hit, then: Whammo! They gather in piles, (or packs if you prefer), which is when they are at their most vicious.
Lone pine needles I can handle, but regrettably, they don’t stay that way for long because they unite and join forces, most often in the middle of the road. That’s when my death-defying driving dexterity kicks in because their mischievous intent becomes clear. They aim to pitch me off the road.
While my maiden name is not Gordon, Andretti or any other racing-related surname, I have learned a thing or two about running the pine needle gauntlet, our northern California version of the Indy 500, sans a safe track to bang into. Our course consists of long, winding, endless roads, bordered by treacherous shoulders of dirt and gravel, pitted next to vertical, heart-stopping drops into soul-sucking ravines. It’s Double Dog Dare Dangerous because, unlike the Indy 500, our exhibition is seasonally placed in the perilous winter months, instead of balmy spring. Navigating through spruce droppings and nature’s detritus is the price of living amongst nature, but vigilance is crucial.
A normal winter’s day often finds me minding my own business, driving serenely and thinking about things that make me happy; spending my husband’s money, the contemplation of non-invasive, youth-inducing surgical procedures and sugar-free Hershey bars when I come upon what appears to be a small, wounded animal. As I slow down to veer around the unlucky beast there is no movement at all which is when I realize it’s a pile of pine needles I need to negotiate around, not roadkill.
The real fun begins when the pace picks up as I am faced with another mound, and yet another, and another. It’s important not to panic. Nearing panic I begin slaloming as though I’m in the Winter Olympics – SUV Division – narrowly averting disaster time and again. At the end of the run my heart is racing, my palms are sweating, the remaining drop of my latté is cooling in its cup holder; however, breathing ensues once again.
Sometimes I’m not so lucky and a pine needle attacker will come upon me when my cat-like reflexes are not able to kick in. (Of course, cats don’t drive, so perhaps that’s a good thing.) That’s when I test the limits of my non-rack and pinion steering, hanging on by a tread. As I attempt to get over the Mt. Everest-sized hump of slippery needle matter I am struck by the fact that it’s amazing more people don’t get into car accidents, by themselves, than are reported.
Navigating fir fringe is an essential talent, but you’d be hard-pressed to translate it into a résumé capability and yet it’s a non-negotiable survival skill in the mountains. As we have now entered, “Beware of Pine Needles” season, I reflect upon the need for a sign with the requisite winding road squiggle, pine tree icons dotted all along it, signaling danger. Perhaps that can be my new cause, the manufacturing and placement of these signs.
Meanwhile, it helps to defer the resultant Ponderosa pressure by turning it all into a game by yelling comments like, “Whoopee!” “Whee!” “Wha-la!” “You can’t get me. I’m the Ginger Bread Man,” while dodging pine hillocks. In this way I embrace the extreme sports aspect of this mountainous pastime that is dodging Tamarack tips and it’s sort of like going over railroad tracks, really, really fast with bald tires. Very fun. Until I lose control. And the train is a comin’….around the mountain…carrying pine trees.
At this juncture, you may be asking: How can an inanimate object be out to get you? All I can say is: Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean pine needles aren’t out to get me.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Humility Deposit...humility...the gift that doesn't need wrapping OR an envelope

January 30, 2010

Humility Deposit

You know how I know I’m fine, as in “hot” fine? ‘Cuz the homeless guy at the bank told me so. But let me beep-beep-beep, back up on this story a little bit, though, and tell you about how, as is usually the case in my life, a seemingly innocuous trip to the bank turned into a mildly amusing life lesson.

Along about Thursday I decided to deposit some checks in a timely manner, as there is no longer anything remotely resembling what we used to call “float time” back in the good old days. You remember those days, don’t you, when the thrill of the hunt was in beating the checks you wrote to the bank, with cash in hand to cover them?

This would be a breeze, except I’ve experienced a few challenges, shall we say, with regard to initiating deposits through the outdoor versateller. (Do we still call them versatellers anymore?) Even though the machine, my husband and the teller assure me it’s easy to use the ATM, especially now that we don’t put checks in envelopes, my unfruitful remote depository experiences show otherwise.

So now I’m at the bank where I park my car, nod at the security guard, whose job it is to ensure we’re in the lot for bank business, not funny business, and I head inside. On my way in I notice a guy who looks a bit down and out on his luck, though it hasn’t hampered his propensity toward friendliness. He asks me how I am to which I reply, “Fine” and he picks up on that saying, “You sure are fine. Yeah, you are one fine lady.” Well, I had some fun with that, advising the teller of my status as a “fine” woman and we talked about the “local color” our town has to offer, how the guy was harmless and all of that.

A funny thing happened on my way out of the bank. I started feeling badly that I was kidding about this guy because it was obvious he had not ended up where he was on a winning streak. As I waved good-bye and told him to have a nice day the security guard came up to me and told me he thought our guy was a Vietnam veteran.

We chatted for a few minutes about how important it is to know each other’s stories and that it leads to a greater appreciation of everyone, laughing about how his 11-year history patrolling the lot has afforded him the opportunity of seeing everything…twice! I appreciated the fact that he called me “young lady,” when he told me to drive safely. As I headed for home, assured in the knowledge that my bank account had enough money in it, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for the deposit of humility I had just received. And it didn’t need an envelope either.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Norma Rae's Kids...Sister Power and How Bonding Can Go Wrong

January 29, 2010

Norma Rae’s Kids

My daughters always think I’m “losing it” and at no time is their strong bond more readily apparent than when they gang up on me to “remind” me of something about which I am historically inaccurate.

You see, I made the mistake of fostering their close sisterhood union by saying things that, as it turns out, I didn’t really mean and have worked against me. Things like, “If you’re going to be mad at somebody, be mad at me or your father. Don’t be mad at your sister.” I even screamed mantras of connection like, “Sister Power!” and “Goddesses Who Are Related Are Never Hated” and “Buy the Union Label!”

Okay, so maybe that last one was a little off track, but you catch my drift I’m sure. So along about now, as I redefine my role as the parent of young women in the technological age where I receive “push me/pull you” verbal and non-verbal cues, I come away a bit perplexed.

As an aside, by the way, does anyone remember the 1967 Rex Harrison version of the movie, “Dr. Doolittle” that featured cutting edge technology in the form of talking animals? One of the aforementioned animals was called a pushmi-pullyu (pronounced "push-me-pull-you") which is a gazelle-unicorn cross with two heads at opposite ends of its body and when it tries to move, both heads try to go in opposite directions. Now try working that tidbit of information into your next cocktail conversation! This gives a whole meaning to the term “I don’t know whether I’m coming or going” which is more than you bargained for as I launched into the reason for my push me/pull you reference above. Straight away let’s rejoin my topic, if not my frayed nerve synapses.

Subsequently, in a twist of something, likely my gut, my daughters are dating two separate guys, so far so good, both of whom have similar names that are a derivative of what could be deemed the “original” name. For instance, (and I will be changing the names to protect the not-so-innocent me), one is dating a fellow named Johnny and the other is dating a dude named John. The original name may be Jonathan, but I assure you it is a big, fat, hairy deal to err on the side of one syllabic misstep as I attempt to ask questions about the beaus of my fetching princesses.

I do shoulder some blame here because the fun ensued when, in my continuing efforts to attempt humor without a net, I tried to mess up the names on purpose, in the beginning, just to irritate my daughters. This is something I do as a matter of course in my personal Passive-Aggressive Olympics which makes up for all the times my children had temper tantrums in stores, told me off in front of their friends or borrowed something of mine and tried to tell me it was already in their closet. My brief victory in this event – I figure I medaled at least a bronze – created a mental block, so that I am now rendered entirely incapable of saying either guy’s name correctly. At this point, I am convinced both of them will become my future son-in-laws because of my stupid antics.

Once again, I’ve come to a conclusion that is all too familiar: Parenting IS a popularity contest…you’re just never going to win – not even a bronze!

*DR. DOLITTLE MOVIE REFERENCE: Information courtesy of Wikipedia and my brain.

**BRONZE MEDAL REFERENCE: By the way, did you know that the current medaling system was not implemented until after the 1896 Summer Olympics? No, it’s true. This information TOTALLY came from Wikipedia.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Six-Word Memoirs...Six Words of Distillation, Focus and Springboard Goodness

January 28, 2010

Six-Word Memoirs…Six Words of Distillation, Focus and Springboard Goodness

Greetings Writing Community!

Perhaps you’ve already gotten wind of Six-Word Memoirs, but if you haven’t heard of this autobiographical short writing I highly recommend it. Not only do these half dozen words act as a writing springboard for you, but there are a wealth of creativity-fueling materials about it on the Internet, including sites where you can upload what you’ve written to your heart’s content. It’s almost another version of Chicken Soup for the Soul because every manner of thematic content serves as the impetus for these, including heartbreak, life, and love. Even Weird Al Jankovic has come up with "(This Song’s Just) Six Words" that you can find on youtube and is pretty danged amusing. There is some sort of power in six and if you’re into numerology I bet you know why. (I don’t, but that made it look like I had some sort of secret knowledge, didn’t it?)

I’m not sure if this is urban legend and it’s not exactly “Snopes-worthy” to check out, but evidently the six-word memoirs were inspired by Hemingway’s short story featuring a six-word title, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” and the rest is writing fodder history.

Along about a couple of years ago I was messing around with some of my personal essays and somehow, serendipitously, I happened onto this whole six-word memoir thing. I say “serendipitously” because I really needed to fit that word into something I wrote today, so it wasn’t necessarily serendipitous, only inasmuch as it has provided me with hours of writing self-amusement.

As you can imagine, there’s been a book (or dozen) filled with pithy philosophies as provided by the famous and not-so-famous, but the most poignant have been written by teens. NPR has featured the book that started it all, Not Quite What I Was Planning by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser, along with the six-word memoirs of many whose voices I greatly appreciate. The following link is a pretty great one because it’s illustrated and offers up some very thought-provoking stuff:

The key is to get yourself hooked on writing these things, which remind me of a totally “sprung” haiku, if you will. As a teacher, I’ve often used this succinct, but powerful frame to get even the most reticent of writers to come up with something they’re so proud of they often even surprise themselves by voluntarily sharing them in class. This is frequently followed by what I call the “double snap” of approval, as in beat poetry, that provides one of those, “That’s deep, man,” moments.

Now if you’re a follower of this blog, and I sure hope you are, then post a few of your own six-word memoirs, would ya? The problem is not so much beginning these inscriptions, but rather stopping the onrush of them once you start. Here are a few that leapt from my pen as I was driving my daughter to school (which may explain why pedestrians were also leaping from my path at the same time.)

  • Searching for gifts in unlikely places

  • Believing justice as means not end

  • Love for keeps know your joy

  • Legacy embodied remain people treasured always

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Take Me at My Word...A New and Impressive Word a Week

January 27, 2010

Take Me at My Word

I’ve decided to run another little segment in my MS. WRITE-NOW blog every week called “Take Me at My Word,” along with the weekly “Not Not” lists…just because.
Hey! Maybe “Just Because” will be the name of another segment….soon I’ll have more segments than days of the week.

I’m treating my blog as though it’s a very small, but frequently published magazine and I’m the editor which makes for a real decrease in my rejection statistics. Speaking of statistics, as it turns out, statistics show operating their own magazine is the dream of over 60% of all published writers in the world. Now, granted, these statistics have been created by me and my informal poll which had me asking 10 writers, “Hey! If you could have any writing gig in the world what would it be?” to which 60% of them responded, “I’d love to operate my own magazine.”

The great thing about running our own publishing gig is that the only rejections we get are the ones that occur when we’ve eaten something like a bean burrito for breakfast and it doesn’t agree with us, so our body threatens to reject the aforementioned item in an effort to save itself from our poor dietary decision making. I know, yummy visual, huh? I’m not saying this has ever happened to me, a bean burrito just jumped into my mind out of nowhere.

So, as you would guess, “Take Me at My Word” will offer up a somewhat unusual and interesting word that may be tough to introduce into a conversation, but, boy, if you can, impressive stuff! I love words and as many of you know there is a word for just such a person. It’s a word lover. Okay, sure, that may be true, but I’m kidding, because I am referring to a more formal, Latin-y without salsa name: philologist.

While we’re on the subject of words (stop yawning!) here’s a bit of info about this word: philologist: - from Greek philologi, from philologos, fond of learning or of words : philo-, philo- + logos, reason, speech; - Latin philologia.

In a move to grab your attention by confusing you, I’m actually not writing about the word philologist today, but rather an intriguing-looking word which makes you stop and grab your dictionary by the short bindings upon encountering it: Amanuensis

Contextually, it doesn’t provide any big clues, but maybe it hearkens up the name Amadeus for you, like it does for me? Again, not helpful because the word has nothing to do with music, although I could write another blog riffing and making up my own connections, much as I make up my own statistics. (Something to look forward to?)

I came across this puppy in a seemingly simple reading which made me wonder if the author had recently purchased a “Vocabulary Word a Day” calendar and was just itching to use the word. When I looked it up, I realized that I could be accused of engaging in amanuensis in the past. It could even be used to describe me because I’ve amanuenosed a few times in my day. (This word is actually a noun, but I decided to “verb it up,” as is often done with very fine intellectuals in our equally very fine master’s level language programs.) What does the freaking word mean? I’m glad you asked!

"a person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another; secretary."

Word Origin & History
"one who takes dictation," 1619, from L. amanuensis, from servus a manu "secretary," lit. "servant from the hand," from a "from" + manu, ablative of manus "hand"

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper

So, there you have it. Doesn’t that word just look so danged smart you might name a magazine after it? Dibs!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Quote Goodness...words to think by, courtesy of a wise Kripalu Yoga instructor and philosopher, Stephen Cope

January 26, 2010

Words are powerful stuff and for those of us who have said things we wish we could have shot right up into the sky and grabbed back, you know what I’m talking about. The positive part of that assertion is that words can also serve to inspire us, comfort us, and nourish us, really. (I know, not all of these blogs are humorous asides, so this blog entry would definitely be filed under "Words to Think By.") While I don’t always agree with the philosopher or the “quoter” – and, yep, that makes us the “quotees,” I do love the things that Stephen Cope writes and he’s got great street cred in that he is a psychotherapist and senior Kripalu Yoga teacher. “Quote goodness,” as I like to call it, comes in many forms and today’s selection is about the illusion of control and how much easier it is to surrender and see what happens from there. Why take the fabulously fun surprises out of life by trying to control everything? Why, indeed…

"I've learned to trust what I call the Braille method of living - relinquishing grand plans and schemes in favor of an intuitive approach, feeling my way from tree to tree, relinquishing my attempts to control the world and learning, instead, to trust a discerning surrender." Stephen Cope

Monday, January 25, 2010

The "Not Not"'s not that it's not time to end the romance when...

The Not-Not List of the Week

January 25, 2010

Ahhhh, romance…how can one not ponder the trials and tribulations of this topic as the pounding hooves of Valentine’s Day approach and we’re bombarded with hearts on every wall of every store, chubby babies with arrows poised thusly and all manner of red and pink items enticing us to make sure we don’t forget to let our lovers know of our passion. May I say, that if it has taken these types of reminders to…well, remind us of telling the object of our desire(s) how we feel, then perhaps we have a wee bigger problem in the form of communication, rather than choosing a collective sampling of items to express that passion.

I’ve got to admit I’m a great lover of Valentine’s Day because I’m a sap, believing in “the one,” along with the fact that I just love hearts and I was one of “those” girls who drew hearts around not only the names of every guy I ever took a shine to but, heck, I drew them all over my paper just because. This brings me to the list that I’ve threatened to bring out weekly, on every manner of topic, which I call the “Not Not” List; my little form of the double negative equaling the positive. This week’s topic: R-O-M-A-N-C-E! Get it while it’s hot!

It’s NOT that it’s NOT time to end the romance when…

1. His soulful gaze of romantic intent turns out to be his myopic attempt to see the football game on the flat screen behind you.

2. You answer your phone, hear an intake of breath and upon your inquiry as to who it is your paramour tentatively says, “Babe? Heyyyy, I was just thinking about…youuuuu,” with exactly all of those pauses and inflections.

3. Whenever you’re not in the room, upon reentering said room he seems to be scrambling to hide a piece of paper which you find later and it sports the heading, “Reasons to Stay in the Relationship,” “Reasons to Leave the Relationship”…and relationship is spelled wrong.

4. When your birthday rolls around he says, “Wow! That’s already here again?! How about if I give you the money and you get exactly what you want?”

5. When planning a romantic date it always involves a) dinner at his favorite restaurant b) flowers from the local supermarket and c) An intimate encounter at the end of the night that culminates in a minority happy ending.

6. He calls, hangs out with, talks about, thinks about or brings up his mother more than he calls, hangs out with, talks about, thinks about or brings up you.

7. After a social engagement he is able to describe what every female in the room was wearing, with admirable detail, while he has trouble verbally recovering from his wrong answer to your question, “What color are my eyes?”

8. When you start talking his eyes drift to anywhere else and when questioned about it he goes on the defensive, saying why can’t he just be who he is, followed by a tragic story about his wandering eye and how he was teased about it as a kid.

9. He begins a conversation with, “Let’s deal with some things…” and ends it with, “So, we’re good?”

10. You receive a text that shares more information than he is able to share in person and when you comment upon that fact, he says, “I can be more open when I’m not looking at you.”

11. He has defriended you on facebook, but claims it’s a glitch in the system.

12. When other people know you’re breaking up before you know you’re breaking up. (This one may be attributed to my teenaged daughter.)

13. He goes off line the moment you go on, but claims that’s not the case, but that it’s a glitch in the system.

14. His facebook status is “single,” though you know for a fact it said, “in a relationship” when he was with his last girlfriend.

15. You realize he hasn’t initiated any contact in weeks and you entertain the notion that the only reason he’s still seeing you is because you’ve got the flat screen television featured in number 1 above.

Sunday, January 24, 2010



Posted using ShareThis

The Movie, "Avatar"...If Only the Graphical Could be the Real Me!

January 24, 2010

Oh, If Only the Graphical Could Be the Real Me!

I may be the only knucklehead who hasn’t weighed in on one of the most important topics meriting our attention at this moment in time. In fact, I cannot upload, publish or share any other writings, until I address this most paramount of issues:

How I feel about the movie, “Avatar.”

Like most of us, I thought this was just a movie, but au contraire. Though the 3-D glasses resembled the ones I wear after having my pupils dilated, and thus, were a bit off putting, I went ahead and donned the suckers, ready for an experience. Little did I know that it would be an experience I can’t wait to tell anyone and everyone about, eliciting responses like, “Huh. That’s interesting, ma’am. Paper or plastic?” I just think the richness of the movie’s thematic content alone is worth a conversation, but I’m finding not everyone shares my enthusiasm for this or the potential for possessing a tail.

I mean, right out of the chute, what’s not to love about a future that shows us we can have an alter ego that is taller, more agile, a beautifully reflective blue and has a tail? We might even add braver, imbued with a social conscience and more in tune with basic instincts. We get to be all of these things in the year 2154, vicariously thrilling our way through “Avatar,” as Na’vi-people-in-training leaping from tree branch to tree branch. Suffused with Penguin-like monogamous love and enough truth-seeking neurons to bring down an entire army of warlike heathens hell-bent on destroying the true humanitarians is all ours for a small amount of cash.

Do you like irony? Then this movie is for you because the Na’vi are more human than the humans. Humans are portrayed as having lost their way (again) due to greed, providing us with (again) a cautionary tale of what can be or what will be, dependent upon whether you’re a “glass is half full,” “half empty,” or “there won’t even be a glass” kind of person. The Na’vi protect the earth and her natural resources, while the homo sapiens seek to drain the very sustenance of all living creatures. Humans kill, or set on the path of ruination, the very essence of what will, ultimately, save them. How do you not go out of that theater without purchasing another ticket and fed exing it to an influential politician, along with your end notes?

The historical references abound. How can we not watch the Na’vi prepare for the grand scale attack being waged by the military and not think of Native Americans? Mother Earth, rituals and the honoring of family all play huge roles, reminding us to preserve the important traditions that empower and connect.

It is through the cathartic synthesis of the character, Jake, that we are able to experience hope exemplified by the evolution of a warrior and, thus, the expansion of the term. Emotionally shutdown, due to the potent combination of his own loss of mobility and the loss of his twin brother, he is seething with potential. Ultimately, he develops into a caring, warrior steward of all living creatures, rather than a warrior waging destruction against anything that cannot be coerced into submission.

I’ve got to admit to a dirty little secret here. I’m a sucker for a good love story, but I’m even more of a sucker for the symbolism related to trees and so they had me with the first scene in the tree. When Jake and Neytiri are standing on the branch of Hometree and she says, “You shouldn’t be here,” there is obvious intra-inter-species attraction there. Gulp! And then there’s the “Tree of Voices.” Wow! Be still my heart. Cap that off with all of the meanings related to trees; tree of life, trees manufacture oxygen, trees exhibit seasons, representing growth and transformation. I may need to go hose myself down.

While I’m admitting things here, I may as well admit to you that I’m also a lover of dictionaries. I know. How old school, huh? So when I looked up the word, “avatar” I confirmed the technological meaning we’re all used to these days, “a graphical image that represents a person, as on the Internet,” but I love the definition that relates to Hindu mythology, because it provides me with yet another layer of the movie to ponder: “The descent of a deity to the earth in an incarnate form or some manifest shape; the incarnation of a god.”

Let’s face it. In any time, for any reason, a movie that can lift us up, make us feel large, even engender a bit of spirituality and feel some hope in the bargain, now that’s worth the four-dollar, unrecognizably-flavored beverage.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Market News Email Style...Newsletters You Can Write to...Even for...

January 23, 2010

Greetings from what turns out to be snow country today,

It is snowing – again – here in northern California and I’m just not sure how my vision of a beach-dwelling life, translated to mountain-dwelling, but that’s what ended up happening. Thus, snow is a wintertime reality, showcasing my unbelievably wimpy driving abilities. Ah, well, more time for writing, maybe? (In between power surges and me griping about living in Snowville.)

What I offer you this blog around is a sampling of free newsletters to which you may subscribe in order to keep (get) motivated about writing. Now, granted, these publications won’t guarantee publication – oh, if only – but some of them may be just what the proverbial doctor ordered, so check ‘em out, if ya wanna. I usually have a few of these newsletters coming at me email-style, at any given time, particularly the market news types of offerings. I’ll post several other sites in the future, some of which are extremely active in the “keeping you current on market news” department. I threw in a “bonus” cartoon site that features some amusing stuff about the pursuit of writing. I do believe you can subscribe to his site as well, but I tend to multi-task as I tra-la-la through the Internet, so I got distracted and didn’t finish my site map negotiation on that one.


Offering positivity along with writing morsels:

Publication Coach:

Morning Coffee – freelance writing jobs…and more:

Fiction factor, market news:

First Writer:
All sorts of resources related to the craft

The Writer at Work (comic). If you’ve lost your sense of humor due to writing angst, this oughta help:

Friday, January 22, 2010

Humorous Grammar Rules...An Oldie, But a Goodie

January 22, 2010

Greetings Grammaphiles!

While I didn't major in grammar, but rather literature (okay, and broadcast journalism...there, it's out!) I do have a decent working knowledge of grammar and it has even intrigued me a time or two. This I attribute to my early training parsing sentences through the magic that was diagramming these very same sentences on the board, in front of the class, no less.

This whole public display (or lack thereof) of a sentence's inner workings really gave new meaning to the sentiment "do or die" and, in point of fact, the most valuable lesson I learned was how important it is to utilize an antiperspirant that really works in the most nerve wracking of experiences. None of this lovingly crafted by caring individuals, natural crystals kind to the earth, environmentally respectful product for me on this underarm business. I need resoundingly dependable, classified industrial, "I'm sweating waterfalls here" kind of sweat repellent. What this all goes to show you is that the lessons we learn in school are often much less about the actual content of the lesson, but about life.

Today, I'm going to share a longish, but fairly amusing humorous list of grammar rules. Nope, I didn't come up with it, but I'm passing it along for posterity and I don't have the appropriate person, entity, country or deity for attribution. I live on the edge, baby!

There are 55 of 'em to consume, so Chomp! Chomp!


1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.
2. Never use a preposition to end a sentence with. Winston Churchill, corrected on this error once, responded to the young man who corrected him by saying "Young man, that is the kind of impudence up with which I will not put!
3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
5. Avoid clichés like the plague. (They're old hat.)
6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
7. Be more or less specific.
8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies endlessly over and over again
10. No sentence fragments.
11. Contractions aren't always necessary and shouldn't be used to excess so don’t.
12. Foreign words and phrases are not always apropos.
13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous and can be excessive.
14. All generalizations are bad.
15. Comparisons are as bad as clichés.
16. Don't use no double negatives.
17. Avoid excessive use of ampersands & abbrevs., etc.
18. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake (Unless they are as good as gold).
20. The passive voice is to be ignored.
21. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words, however, should be enclosed in commas.
22. Never use a big word when substituting a diminutive one would suffice.
23. Don’t overuse exclamation points!!!
24. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
25. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas
26. Use the apostrophe in it's proper place and omit it when its not needed and use it correctly with words’ that show possession.
27. Don’t use too many quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations.. Tell me what you know."
28. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a billion times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly. Besides, hyperbole is always overdone, anyway.
29. Puns are for children, not groan readers.
30. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
31. Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
32. Who needs rhetorical questions? However, what if there were no rhetorical questions?
33. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
34. Avoid "buzz-words"; such integrated transitional scenarios complicate simplistic matters
35. People don’t spell "a lot" correctly alot of the time.
36. Each person should use their possessive pronouns correctly
37. All grammar and spelling rules have exceptions (with a few exceptions)....Morgan’s Law.
38. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
39. The dash – a sometimes useful punctuation mark – can often be overused – even though it’s a helpful tool some of the time.
40. Proofread carefully to make sure you don’t repeat repeat any words.
41. In writing, it’s important to remember that dangling sentences.
41. When numbering in a written document, check your numbering system carefully.
42. It is important to use italics for emphasis sparingly.
43. In good writing, for good reasons, under normal circumstances, whenever you can, use prepositional phrases in limited numbers and with great caution.
44. Avoid going out on tangents unrelated to your subject -- not the subject of a sentence -- that's another story (like the stories written by Ernest Hemingway, who by the way wrote the great fisherman story The Old Man and the Sea).
45. Complete sentences. Like rule 10.
46. Unless you're a righteous expert don't try to be too cool with slang to which you're not hip.
47. If you must use slang, avoid out-of-date slang. Right on!
48. You'll look poorly if you misuse adverbs.
49. Use the ellipsis ( . . . ) to indicate missing . . .
50. Use brackets to indicate that you [ not Shakespeare, for example ] are giving people [ in your class ] information so that they [ the people in your class ] know about whom you are speaking. But do not use brackets when making these references [ to other authors ] excessively.
51. Note: People just can't stomach too much use of the colon.
52. Between good grammar and bad grammar, good grammar is the best.
53. There are so many great grammar rules that I can't decide between them.
54. In English, unlike German, the verb early in the sentence, not later, should be placed.
55. When you write sentences, shifting verb tense is bad.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Worst Headache is Trying to Open the Pain Medication Bottle

January 21, 2010

The Worst Headache of Your Life

Leave it to the good people down at Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. to come up with a fabulous way to determine the magnitude of the American consumer’s headache. The bottle says you should take the medication if your pain is, and I quote: “The worst headache of your life.” But let me back up, lest I delete one single syllable of this story.
The contemplation of the topic came about recently when my husband and I were sitting together in that comfortable silence couples enjoy when they have been married longer than “The Eagles” have been together, broken up, gotten back together, broken up again and gotten back together for reunion gigs as of press time.
It is after these times of conversational calm that my husband and I have our finest, deepest, most thought-provoking interactions of our married lives. As we sit and wait one evening for midnight to approach, or the end of our daughter’s swim team practice, whichever comes first, we broach yet another topical springboard that allows for solid marital bonding.
“Hey, did you know that you need to be drinking a full glass of water with these headache pills?” my spouse asks as he palms the sweet bottle of relief that will make the rest of our waiting time, oh, that much easier.
I warm to the topic and provide my own special brand of insight. “Huh. No, I sure didn’t.”
Being a good reader and thorough to boot my husband goes on to read aloud the measurement by which I will determine the velocity of my headaches in the future and ends with, “You’re supposed to ask a doctor about the medication and tell him if this is the worst headache of your life.”
Believing nothing he says, unless it is reiterated by an outside party, I look to where his thumbnail marks the spot. It takes me a span of time before I can even focus on the writing scribbled on the side of the bottle, those freaking words are as small as ant droppings.
The back of this particular label has got to be THE smallest printing ever and I thought car companies held that particular distinction, what with their ability to put a television advertisement disclaimer paragraph onto the head of a pin which usually contains the words, “will not cover any moving parts.”
Even the small performers at the Ringling Brothers Circus consider these fonts too tiny to use. Believe me, if your migraine wasn’t uncomfortable before, this will rapidly become the case as you decipher the directional hieroglyphics.
I know my migraine meds are a fine product because there is an equally fine soap opera actress who is working toward a fully vested 401K plan by providing testimonials to that effect. Evidently she too was a migraine sufferer who, during the course of her day job where she was getting married twice a week, foiling murder plots right and left, all as he looked for her long-lost son, was finding this particularly challenging when suffering migraine-induced brain blasts.
Picture an excruciatingly painful headache. No, wait, don’t picture it. Feel it. You can barely think, rendering you incapable of reading, let alone following, directions though you know that the Surgeon General, Attorney General and several Brigadier Generals have all strongly advised against ingesting any prescriptive substance before determining the recommended dosage.
From prior experience you know that you have approximately 3.5 minutes to ingest some sort of painkiller, otherwise, you can kiss off the rest of the day, possibly week. As a full-blown migraine headache hurtles down the pike toward you, riding the Pain Express, screaming, “All aboard!” there will be no other stops once it arrives.
You frantically attempt to read the label, conjugating heretofore unconjugatable verbs. It is at this point that I humbly suggest you move on to the method I’ve adopted successfully for years. It’s called the “shake out” method. After besting the miserable childproof cap you turn the bottle sideways and shake it over your hand. However many pills come out to play, that’s how many you ingest. The plan has its flaws, but so does an aching cranium.
When you attempt to gain entrée into your health practitioner’s office for an appointment, no mean feat these days, you can use the pain relief advertising copy to your advantage by putting your own personal spin on it. When asked by the medical assistant why you need an appointment to see the doctor you can reply, “Because if I don’t get one I’m going to become the worst headache of your life.” Would you like that appointment at 10 o’ clock or 2 o’ clock?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

RE: The "Not Not" Weekly List...This Week as Applied to Fitness

January 20, 2010

The Weekly "Not Not" List

I love lists, don’t you? The power that surges through you as you check-off each nagging task, more odious than the one that preceded it. Brightly colored pieces of paper in your wake with “To Do” things written on them like, buy cat food, go to the bank, be positive. Everything from menial tasks to mantras of inspiration are reflected on those tributes to our busy lives.

In a nod to my love of lists I will be instituting weekly “Not Not” lists which term is also amusing to me because of my many years as an educator and student dealing with test questions that begin with, “Which of the following answers do not best describe…” Those drove me crazy with their lack of directness, but luckily the “Not Not” lists amuse me, with the added bonus of being able to use the “Not Not” phrase whenever you’re speaking with people also. For instance, if someone you don’t like asks how you are, obviously not caring about the response, you can cleverly respond by saying, “It’s not that I’m not doing fine…” They go away scratching their head and you’ve somehow accomplished something. (It’s certainly not that you’re not accomplishing anything!)

This week’s installment is in honor of the month of January – the “Oh, God, why am I not more fit and wasn’t this last year’s resolution” month.

Ten Reasons to Not Not Be Fit

1. Avoiding that inevitable, “Oh, no I’m not stuck in the chair, I’ve just got a kink in my leg” comment when trying to escape the student chair during parent-teacher conferences;

2. Not having to assert that you’re big-boned and from hardy stock when you’re 5’2,” can’t do one pull-up and are still having “Red Rover” flashbacks from childhood because you couldn’t make it over, even when you were beckoned to come on over;

3. Refraining from making excuses for your “does not play well with others” metabolism;

4. Squeaking furniture will no longer sound accusatory;

5. No longer will comments about your pretty face and great personality hearken up the painful, however apt, metaphor of the “elephant in the livingroom” which makes you hear Ringling Brothers circus theme music in your head;

6. Driving up hills won’t wear you out;

7. You can postpone the improvement of your personality, instead drafting off of the fact that your fit body now classifies you as eye candy;

8. You will no longer need to generate fantastical stories like, “I’m in the witness protection program” to justify your NO PICTURES policy;

9. You’ll be able to quit saying, “This runs small,” even when you’re talking about jewelry;

10. When others say they need to get fit, you just smile, pick up a barbell and make a mental note to cross this one off your list.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Almosts, Near Misses...what it might mean...

January 19, 2010

You know, so often life is about the near misses, the almosts. Frequently, these are the scary almosts as in, “Wow, I was almost smack in the middle of that huge 24-car interstate pile-up.” (This is often followed by us feeling badly that we even think about ourselves, while others have obviously suffered, so we don’t jump for joy, but quietly genuflect gratefully.)

There are the other almosts though, the kind that provide us with things or people who we “almost” missed. This has certainly happened in my life and not just on the little stuff, but on the biggies, like “almost” not meeting my husband, if not for a fortuitous snowstorm, “almost” not being a writer, except for two extremely integral people in my life, and “almost” not being a dancer, if not for a woman who advocated for me and believed in me and so on.

Today, what I’m going to mention, ever so briefly, is also that middle ground almost, where you have brushes with greatness, but you’re not sure if the “almost” part is a good thing or a bad thing. Take, for instance, the following article from a few years back, that I’m pulling out of my archival material, which riffs on my desire to enter the political arena by way of extending my public service. After this piece entitled, “An (Un) Educated Career Move” ran in Sacramento magazine I was contacted by the chief of staff for the (California) First Lady’s Office and asked to come on in and meet with him and then, subsequently, Maria Shriver. While enjoying a great meeting with both she and her chief of staff, interacting with intellectual and fun people, and being assured they would be in touch, ultimately, I came away without the promised opportunity of a job and that left me wondering. Was it a good thing, this “almost” brush with a new career that never came to fruition? Was it good that I didn’t get an offer because that wasn’t meant to be part of my journey? Initially, I felt as though someone had broken up with me and then, shortly, I came to the conclusion that this experience was just part and parcel of the sum total of experiences I’ve had that provide an interesting back story. In the final analysis, I decided to file the episode in the annals labeled, “I’ll never know.”

What follows is this essay I’ve mentioned, “An (Un) Educated Career Move” that still reflects the passion I feel about education and the wrong-headed paths we often take in our best efforts to support our youth. It is written from a teacher’s perspective, because that is what I am, what I will always be, but it is also written from the perspective of someone who doesn’t mind reflecting on how we can always leave things better than we found them. Many of us share this sentiment, no doubt about it!

An (Un) Educated Career Move

October 2005

Sacramento magazine

By: Diane Dean-Epps

Why would I leave the glamorous world of public education where, oftentimes, it’s a fight just to get a class set of books, let alone four pairs of scissors that work at the same time? And don’t get me started on the paper scarcity, which practically qualifies clean white paper as the Edsel of teaching instruments. The Garfield poster hanging in my classroom used to say it all, admonishing, “You don’t scare me. I teach school for a living.” But you know what? I am scared. I’m scared that we’re not coming up with real solutions because we haven’t identified the real problems.

Teachers are not the problem, but they make for an easy target.These days I feel a little like I’m a first-time speaker at an A.A. meeting when I meet new people. “Hello. My name is Diane and I’m a high school English teacher.” Folks tend to nod their heads sympathetically as they exclaim, “Good for you! I couldn’t do it.” Perhaps my contemplation of “educator flight” is because my profession has taken on the patina of “endangered species,” in which case, as a teacher I may be the proverbial dodo. Rounds of well-meaning but off-kilter legislation like “No Child Left Behind,” which I lovingly call “Every Teacher Left Behind,” has many of us working on résumés that haven’t been updated since we listed our employment objective as “wanting to make a difference.” No Child Left Behind, in particular, forces teachers to prove they are “highly qualified” even though the state of California has already certified them as such, creating more work for everyone, particularly the teachers. This does not benefit children.

It all has me thinking. And we know what happens when someone with just enough knowledge to be dangerous begins thinking. An intellectual Molatov cocktail: a new trilevel hairstyle, conversion to a vegan lifestyle or, as in my case, entering a career change turnstile. Maybe I’ll run for Director of Sanity in the Department of Education, or write speeches of some sort for a liberal-leaning, bipartisan-thinking dude or dudette. Maybe spunk is responsible for this new journey. I’ve always had spunk, and spunk has helped me almost as often as it’s gotten me in so far over my head I need a fireman’s ladder to read the directions for what I’m doing. Yes, I’ve got the spunk gene, and it was a spunky little me who entered the field of education after leaving the world of broadcasting 15 years ago. No one could understand then why I would leave the glitz (translation: nonstop stress) of television for teaching, and maybe no one will understand why I now contemplate departure from teaching into politics. But I want all of you to know why.

It’s not so much that I am “over” my chosen profession as a public school educator as I am “over” the rhetoric and poor behavior that has me wanting to put educated adults who are more interested in sound bites than sound solutions into a corner on a collective time-out until they can “use their words,” “talk nicely” and “be respectful.” You know. Like teachers tell grade school kids to do when they’re acting naughty. I want to lend my voice to the plebe legislative chorus that has come out of the trenches and really knows what we’ve been fighting for, instead of listening to those who were last in a classroom when chalkboards abounded. (For the record, mostly we use whiteboards now with cool, colored pens. I won’t kid you: I’ll miss writing on those whiteboards.)

Many things lead me to the Capitol besides my failed sense of direction that consistently has me exiting, unplanned, on freeway offramps that always seem to lead downtown, presenting a true metaphor for life. There is a natural progression at work here that cannot be simply charged off to rampant idealism. Not only am I a teacher, but I am a writer who has been telling other people’s stories yea these many years. Now I want to tell all of you the stories of my “special interest” group: our kids. That’s right. Your kids. My kids. Recently, in one week, I dealt with a student’s emotional outburst as a result of a pregnancy scare, and her classmate needed to talk to me—during class—because he was having a whole lot of feelings bubble to the surface because it was the anniversary of his father’s death. Along about that same time, I had to call Child Protective Services because one of my students told me that she had nowhere to live and nothing else to wear because her mother had kicked her out. Granted, every week isn’t like this one. Some weeks I even teach a little grammar, conduct a little state-testing soft shoe and require an essay to be written that doesn’t use nonexistent verb combinations like “could of.”

Teaching is rather like many jobs that are high stress, high pressure, high maintenance, but have some great day-off patterns (think firefighters and nurses). From the outside looking in, the career looks attractive and easy and, dare I say, heroic. The reality is that an individual would last about the time it took to write this article if the only motivation was a run of long vacations. After approximately 180 days a year of enduring our students’ collective pain, it’s possible that the eight-week vacation teachers enjoy every summer really is a mental necessity.

These sweet, needy, verbal children are our special-interest group and we drop everything when they open up, but it costs us. Even so, it’s not enough for me to limit my efforts to the classroom. Maybe the fact that I connect with them is exactly why I’m compelled to seek an audience on their behalf.I wish to work with those who still believe, as I do, that the legislative system is mainly populated with a majority. A majority of good folks who work for their constituents on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis. Who honestly try to be, well, honest. These are the folks who feel it’s important to visit a cross section of schools, not just the cute little classrooms where people wear funny hats as they hold books from which they read in a sing-songy voice, but also schools that sometimes seem as though they are prisons, minus the sound of barbells clunking together after each set of reps.

Sure, I may be leaving my “cushy” job where I get up at 5 every morning, stop and get a latte that costs half of my hourly wage and toddle on in to run my small business of 180 workers, some of whom want to be there. It’s downright luxurious using those Dollar Tree pens I purchase that occasionally write the first time, perching on my thrift-store chair that’s missing a crucial bolt so I list to the right—or is it to the left? (Perhaps a subliminal political message there.) And the workload. Now that is sweet. I continuously show up ready to do my job—teaching material per state-mandated English content standards to high school students—while I listen to my students, trying to meet their emotional needs, as I read in the papers about the dismantling of my STRS retirement program. All of this as I fight for things like dictionaries, tables that can stand longer than I can and mileage reimbursement for a job-related conference I attended six months ago.

Why would I contemplate leaving the field of education and try my hand at framing events in a highly charged political environment? OK, I’ll answer a question with a question. How does that basic criteria differ from the job I am currently working? Because with this big mouth, active pen and idealistic viewpoint, I unknowingly have been politically active my whole life. Whether I’m spiritedly debating the issues surrounding the exit exam, sticking up for teenagers and their need for vocational options (no, they don’t all go to college and yes, it’s true that some do begin college, but unfortunately the majority do not finish), or simply showing up to teach a group of underaged voters, I am in the fray. In the political arena. Because that is where you are when you care. When you devote your life to causes, you learn to harness the passion and effect positive change. It’s not OK to sit back and let others do it.

Oh, sure, I’ve fantasized about the sound of my high heels on those beautiful marble floors at the Capitol as I clop around fighting for justice like some sort of middle-aged superhero—maybe Estrogen Woman. I’ve even thought about a dream press conference where the Democrats and Republicans sit side by side and rediscover the power of compromise. Oh, how I want what I want, but I know things just don’t work that way. And then there’s that visual where I’m dressed to the nines—heck, maybe to the 15s—talking to legislators and being heard by them. But that’s always a teacher’s fantasy. Saying words that will motivate. Inspire. Get through to those who aren’t big on listening. It would be a thrill to have people—even adults—actually listen intently to me without commenting, “Dude. Did you, like, totally dye your hair this weekend?” Heady stuff, this contemplation of political recourse through verbal discourse.

And yet I am fearful—fearful of not being with my teenaged “peeps” and hearing their funny cadence of speaking, their queries about how my weekend was, their endless complaints about homework, the early hours of our school and the icky smell that makes my old portable classroom reek like warm, day-old raccoon. I am fearful that I will lose my way without them to guide me daily, because any teacher who is worth the money it takes to pay union dues knows that a teacher learns much more from the students than the students learn from the teacher. I’m not sure if I’ll ever run for elected office, but I know that running away isn’t an option. What was that freeway exit for the Capitol again?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Reflecting on Dreams Today...and Always

January 18, 2010

Happy Monday and Martin Luther King Jr. Day to Everyone!

This week I wrote about the theme of dreams in the work of Langston Hughes and so it's rather prophetic that this week also marks the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s work in today's day of remembrance and, once again, I am inspired to reflect upon the rich topic of dreams. There are so many fabulous quotes from which to choose when talking about both of these men, but in the case of Martin Luther King, here is one that fosters the kind of emotion we need now and always:

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

We've all been wronged at one time or another, hurt at one time or another, lost our way at one time or another, but as long as we have been loved more than one time or another, I reckon it'll all come out in the "warsh," as my grandmother used to say. It takes the same amount of energy to love as to hate, even when we're right about how we've been wronged. (How's that for oppositional duality logic? I think I've coined a new term.)

Maybe it's the fact that the wind is roaring without and swirling around my cute little country house (as the weather people positively jump up and down with glee), that I am reflecting upon the lack of chaos I feel within. I am always humbled by the journey of other mortals who travel the most perilous of roads and still they retain their strength, dignity and even optimism. I aspire to all of this, but I've fallen short a time or two.
The gift of holidays like today is certainly the time off from our routine, our jobs, our expectations. Holidays are good for those things, no doubt about it, but also, ironically enough, it is this time off that allows us time for reflection and isn't that the best way to traverse the road to personal growth, having reflected upon our own journey? Sometimes we forget to take the time to listen to ourselves...that inner, gut-level, hey-how's-your-now self.

I know this is pretty "heady," philosophical stuff from a gal who is marginally humorous and plies her craft in writings that entertain people. (At least that's the goal. I have certainly had my share of people who have said, "Well, I didn't think that was funny" come at me, particularly when I was engaging in my short career in stand-up, but that's part and parcel of offering yourself up as a humorist. Fortunately, there is no need to also offer up a money-back guarantee.)

There has been more than our fair share of gloom and doom reported by way of the media lately. (At this point, I don't feel as though Barack Obama could give a quarter to a needy kid without someone accusing him of favoritism, pandering, or not doing enough. He's been subjected to that whole, "he just can't win" thing right now and I suppose that's because people are just so scared, that they don't want to be caught "out," believing in anything or anyone again. But I digress.) Some of the depressing reports are due to the real tragedies provided by nature as is the case of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. More often, the negative offerings are provided by the media in a bid for ratings and it is just downright irritating...all rapid-fire, unanswerable questions, character assassinating accusations and personal criticism -- no answers. Not my kind of thing.
Ironically enough, the "real" tragedies bring out the media's humanity, in the form of reporters who are touched by the suffering and so they forget to be angry and proceed directly to compassion instead. That is my dream, you know, that we'll proceed straight from fear to compassion and then jog on over to positive action.
There is so much to think about, so much to ponder, so much to do and it is all possible with that love thing. The "Beatles" had it so right, didn't they? So, I leave off this blog entry with another Martin Luther King Jr. quote that spills hope off the page and into our souls (she said, hopefully) and, let's face it, a person like him should always have the last word, even the final word.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The poem IF by Rudyard it in your very own emotional arsensal as well

January 17, 2010

Hey there babies! What's shaking, besides my hind quarters? Today's missive finds me in the mood to share one of my very "favoritest" poems with you by Rudyard Kipling, entitled IF. Now, granted, if you find yourself often boarding the "Literal Express" you are going to need to provide a wider berth for yourself because the last line will have to be converted to "You'll be a woman, my daughter!" for all you goddesses out there and you know who you are! (See how I'm tying together train and berth in a bid for classification as a Wordsmith Goddess?) Poetry is hugely important to me and this particular piece has offered up solace, encouragement and inspiration, often all at the same time. An intellectual and caring friend from long ago shared this with me and though I haven't seen him in a few decades, this poem remains part of my "emotional arsenal."


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Winter Wonderland...Noting the Anniversary of Barack Obama's Inauguration

January 16 , 2010

If you can believe it, the one-year anniversary of President Obama's inauguration is hurtling toward us and what a year it has been. Though there have been plenty of critics I, for one, still am a believer in the vision of this administration. In view of this, I thought it would be appropriate to admit that I was one of about a trillion people (I'm certainly not prone to hyperbole?) who submitted an essay last year on the topic, "What This Inauguration Means to Me" in order to qualify for the prize of attending the inauguration. Now, needless to say, I did not "win" my place at the inauguration, though I tearfully watched it on youtube and the telly like the other trillion minus ten people who didn't win either. This piece was one of the most fun essays I've ever written because I'm a sucker for a prompt which elicits feelings, I'm a big-time fan of hope and I am fascinated by politics, though the judgmental talking heads have been known to drive me nuts and people who don't let other people have an opinion different than their own, tries my patience. Here is my unpublished, non-winning, never-seen-by-anyone-other-than-me-and-the-Barack-Inauguration-People essay.

Winter Wonderland
By: Diane Dean-Epps

What does the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama mean to me? It means that winter is a season of hope, rather than a metaphor representing our country’s disillusionment. It means we are experiencing a shared awakening, after a long and dispirited hibernation. It means that we possess the combined ability to change and this ceremony signifies a celebration of that fact. Ticking off the ten inaugurations that have taken place during my lifetime, I note this is the first year in my adult life that I am sitting front row center, in a socio-political revolution that envelopes me in tropes of inspiration. While I am certainly signed on for change as a mantra, accepting it as a way of life long ago, the induction celebrating Barack Obama’s presidency intensifies our country’s cultivation and commitment to this thing we call “change,” this thing that is the real constant in our lives. Attaching a richly traditional rite like the inauguration to our nation’s progression is a transformative moment not to be missed. With this historic inauguration, we exemplify the duality of our individual histories and that of our country’s history as we show change to be as constant as care and we connect to one another for the first time in almost a decade.
Barack Obama’s inauguration is a metaphor for our collective ability to change. I would be remiss if I did not mention the momentous element that resides in the inauguration of a racially mixed president, not just because it is inspiring to show the world that, though a stubborn nation, we are able to evolve and grow, but because Barack Obama represents the global citizen that we all need to be. We know this administration is not a panacea for all of our ills, but how refreshing that it offers a solution, a healing, a balm for what ails us and, make no mistake, we have been ailing. The fabulous news is that what we need for change is already in us, confirming our innate ability, not just to court change, not just to embrace change, but to acknowledge its absolute necessity in any governing body and its populace. We have, of course, inaugurated many worthy presidents, some worthier than others when applying a variety of governing litmus tests, but this inauguration, this one resonates loudly, deeply, cleanly, genuinely and differently in our soul because the timing is so right and we are spiritually famished. Swearing in our forty-fourth president, we embrace all of the leadership legacies of the past, simultaneously honoring all of the promise and trust sitting on our hopeful horizon and we are made new again, daring to care. Truth be told, as a nation, we never quit caring. I see it in angry youth, I see it in those who inspire critical thinking and I even see it in the disenfranchised. “Give us a reason to care” is what resonates with us all and while we have always had the ability to care, of late it has not seemed quite safe to invest overly much in that emotion. And that is the trick: to never give up caring; to avoid apathy; to preserve our right to feel significant.
Human nature is a funny thing; when it seems time will prove us unworthy of even our own survival, our better nature prevails and we show that we care plenty. If we would just look up and in, regularly, seeking to bring out the best in one another, we would gain so much more from our enlightened thinking. Room would be made to ponder our future, reflect upon our past and savor our hopes, dreams and aspirations, making the lightness of conciliation a part of our everyday world, much as will be symbolized at that lectern on January 22nd. In this way we can engender the co-existence of even technology and humanity, not making them mutually exclusive. Nature has already done this. I see it in action every time I witness airplane tracers beautifully paint a sky picture, enhancing nature’s sunrise in hopeful shades of beginning, resulting in artful expression. Care is a somewhat intangible term, though positively connotative, but perched on the precipice of honoring a new leader to whom we have entrusted the care of all we hold to be true, there is so much value to the process. This particular investiture represents our country taking constructive action, avoiding a birdwalk into indifference. The fact that so many cared enough to weigh in, to vote; youthful exuberants, overachieving babyboomers, pontificating pundits, marginalized citizens, all spanning a rainbow of ethnicities, backgrounds and beliefs. Our overwhelmingly common belief is that we should care enough to keep trying to “do the right thing,”whatever that means, specifically, to any of us. As the citizenry, it is our responsibility to parry the untrue, to not get lost in the rhetoric, reject negativity, refute untruths, disavow posturing and think for ourselves with great heart and intention. Freedom has a place in all of this; free thinking, free will, free choice. The exertion of all of these rights leads to the preservation of them and that is the real litmus test of how we are doing.
Gazing out over my personal landscape of fifty years, I can assess how I am doing in my personal evolution by looking at how we are doing at the intersection of this year’s inauguration because we are all connected. My greatest individual accomplishment is that I have never stopped caring and I know I am not alone in this exigent endeavor. Americans believe in doing the right thing and while we can acknowledge the oppositional aspects of our history that has us doing both the right and wrong things over and over again, it is with humble acknowledgment of our past follies that we may proceed in a more forward-thinking manner. We cannot boast perfection, but we can boast aspirations of leaving things better than we found them – always. On January 22, 2009 I envision myself attending the inauguration, standing humble and proud in my spiffy, newish black and white houndstooth-patterned coat, wearing the purple mittens my daughters gifted me with this Christmas and dabbing my eyes with a sodden tissue, as I pay tribute to the man who will lead us because we never gave up. We cared enough to pay attention and invest in our seamed futures and while I certainly respect Barack Obama and all he will facilitate, bringing out the best in us, it is the sagacious Dr. Suess who spoke the message best in the story, The Lorax: “UNLESS someone like you; cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Things will be better.

Friday, January 15, 2010

January 15, 2010

I am enamored of Langston Hughes; the man and his work. I know I share this sentiment with many scholars and bibliophiles and I’ve had the pleasure of studying both he and period in which he produced much of his work – the Harlem Renaissance. This spawned the topic for my master’s thesis, “Changing the Exchange,” which examines his poetry and offers up some theories I have about his work, overall. The depth and breadth of what Langston created, his numerous travels and unending perseverance in the face of so, so much adversity, make him a great focus at all times, particularly in times such as these, when hope is needed. Well-known for his poem “Dream Deferred,” which prefaces the written version of Lorraine Hansberry’s phenomenal play, A Raisin the Sun, he underpins all of his work with the thematic linchpin of dreams. I was particularly enthralled with his poem “Cultural Exchange,” which was rich with layers of meaning and multiple allusions that led to weeks of research just to explicate the meaning of a few of the elements. Having said that, I love equally the fact that Langston was creatively influenced by the music of his time and so I’d like to share with you one of my favorite poems by him called, “Juke Box Love Song.”
Juke Box Love Song
I could take the Harlem night and wrap around you,

Take the neon lights and make a crown,

Take the Lenox Avenue busses,Taxis, subways,

And for your love song tone their rumble down.

Take Harlem's heartbeat,

Make a drumbeat,

Put it on a record, let it whirl,

And while we listen to it play,

Dance with you till day--

Dance with you,

my sweet brown Harlem girl.

By: Langston Hughes

Link to Diane’s master’s thesis for fun: (And, actually, it was a whole lotta fun to research and write!)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Blanket you see it, now you don't!

January 14, 2010

Well, folks, here's one from the archives and it deals with the fact that sometimes things aren't exactly as they seem. It's called...

And now for another installment of, “Why Nothing In My Life Is Simple.” Time being the funny little thing that it is, while this vignette is practically a transcript of what happened, my kids are now teenagers and I wrote this when my youngest daughter was only about three years old. Thus, I have excavated this from the “basement manuscripts,” as it were, of my writing collection. Does that make it worth more?

Our pets have a “blankie” – it’s pink, old, rust-stained and full of memories for them, I’m sure. We leave the pinkie blankie in their special garage haven for those times when we find ourselves gone for lengthy periods of time (5 to 10 minutes) and/or when the weather is inclimate. The blanket stays in the garage. Or so we thought.

One rainy morning my youngest daughter is belting out some nondescript tune as loudly as she possibly can when I ask her to pipe down for a sec, ‘cuz I’m trying to do two things at once – chew gum and back down the driveway. You have to know that, while our driveway is not a nosebleed-inducing driveway, it is steep in the same way that a ramp is steep for Evil Knievel’s son. Okay, maybe it is steep. As we back down the driveway I find that the vehicle is not handling quite as wonderfully as usual, but I chalk that up to the fact that I insist on rolling over our hedge every morning and evening of our lives, elevating my husband’s blood pressure and our insurance rates. This fact often makes for a bumpy ride, particularly during a season of growth when the hedge looks like an unkempt buffalo topiary – upside down.

This particular morning we drive into town, onto the freeway, around mountaintops, and over a few more hedges not located on my property at speeds often reaching 60 miles per hour. As I arrive at my daughter’s school, I shut the driver’s side door as I have done every day since my 16th birthday, but I’ve never seen a sight like this one. There is something pink wrapped around my front driver’s side tire and, if I’m not mistaken, it’s the dog blankie. That thing is wrapped so far around the axle that I’m surprised I didn’t see it coming through the steering column as I drove the streets of Nevada County.

As I mildly exclaim at my misfortune – “Oh, @#&!” – I take the most prudent tact to removing the blasted thing from the tire, attempting to yank it off of the one-wheel portion of my all-wheel feature. I place one of my stylishly shod feet onto the tire and pull as hard as I can while the rain pours down on my head and my youngest daughter stares in disbelief.

The blanket doesn’t budge. Nope, not even a thread. I decide to finish this job off after my cornflakes kick in more noticeably, so I walk my daughter to her class and then drive off to my own place of business which also happens to be a school. This is when the real hilarity begins.

After parking, I hope against hope that the blanket has managed to dislodge itself. Huh-uh. No such luck. It must weigh three hundred pounds at this point, with the rain soaking it, making it extra sticky with all of that nice dog hair and mud. There it is. Wound tightly. Mocking me.

I resign myself to a lack of closure on my tire issue and go teach a class or two. Admittedly I’m a tad distracted so I decide to get proactive and call the on-campus automotive teacher for some professional counsel. After he gets done laughing, he informs me that a couple of his students would be only too happy to help me (translation: laugh at me), so drive on over to the auto shop.

By this time I am not only a fashion “don’t” I am a fashion abomination. My hair has become a dismal reflection of the kind of day I am having. It’s lank, lifeless and dripping hair products at an alarming rate. Rarely have I ever gone backwards in my beauty routine so early in the day. Few vestiges of my facial make-up remain and I have even less of a semblance of a hairstyle. I hoof it out to my car, experiencing the fine sensation of seeping clothing. I am so wet that my hosiery is making an attractive sucking sound in my shoes like that which is emitted by movie star swamp animals. I persevere, even though I know that I am not going to be voted “Middle-Aged Beauty on Campus,” (coincidentally, this same situation will also guarantee that I will not be up for any “brainiac” awards either).

Out of viable choices, I continue my journey to the auto shop and am met by two unlucky teens who disgorge themselves from their class, where they seem barely conscious, something I’m sure is not the teacher’s fault. (Perhaps as a teacher I am biased?) They look at me incredulously after I tell them my story, get the vehicle turbo jacked-up on the lifty-thing and commence to helping me with my problem. Except I have no problem. Well, no pink blankie problem anyway. After I apologize profusely and the students try very hard not to laugh, I drive around in search of the offensive blanket that is out to get me. In the name of all that is holy, how can that tenacious piece of wool that I spent thirty minutes attempting to drop off in the space of a three-minute drive from one parking lot to another?

I had a hard time accepting the fact that the blankie was now M.B.I.A. – Missing Blankie In Action, even though, given the way things play out in my life, it made perfect sense. I decided to cruise the many parking lots that surround our school to see if perhaps it had gotten dragged around by some other poor sap, morphed itself into a car cover or some other viable reason for its departure, but, alas, I was rewarded with not one pink blankie sighting. It just goes to show you that this situation is no different than any other situation we encounter in life, whether it’s a pink blankie, the potato masher or a man who dances – they’re never there when you really need them.