Monday, May 25, 2009


Ever catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and not recognize who is looking back? Ever wander through the halls of an old school you attended, or an old neighborhood and felt familiar eyes hanging out in the trees, only when you turned to look, there was nothing but a breeze and a blue jay? Or how about this one -- you walk into a room or into a different city and you know that you could have been here if you'd made other choices. You don't know if the end result would have been more pleasant or less pleasant, you just know that the road you travel could have brought you here.

I think sometimes that I spend a good portion of my psychic energy chasing the illusions of myself. I love all these ghosts hanging around me, so they hang all around me. I love imagining what could have been, and so I do. I love, perhaps most of all, the idea that possibilities are limitless -- that all I have to do is step one foot in a different direction and everything will be different.

Except there'll still be that transparent Laraine hanging out. The one who is always just a finger's length away. The one who whispers things and hides things, only to reveal them at the most inopportune times. Transparent Laraine won't be my friend. That's not her job. Transparent Laraine just reflects. I'm the one who chooses what I see -- gosh, is that another wrinkle under my eye -- gosh, my butt really does look fat in those jeans -- or gosh, those eyes are the same eyes I looked at when I first held up a mirror. My soul is untouched by sagging skin or tired joints. My soul, my truth, has nothing to do with the image. How hard to remember that!

Perhaps the practice is to see what is unchanging in the reflection, not what is changing. Through that which is unchanged, perhaps change can be accepted with a bit more grace. By touching the part that doesn't move, the hub of the wheel, then one can move freely with the spokes.

I want Transparent Laraine to be my friend. I want her to show me in her image that nothing is changing, that I'm 18 again, that I'm not aging. I want Transparent Laraine to reach her hand through the window and be with me all the way through to whatever happens at the end.

But I get this sneaking suspicion that when I reach the end of the line, she'll turn and walk away, and I'll be left to move forward with all I ever had that was real -- the first thing I ever saw when I looked in a mirror, long before I attached a storyline to the rest of my reflection.

I see you, Transparent Laraine, and I guess when the day comes that I don't, I'll put on my traveling shoes (which will be fabulous and sparkly) and move along.

A Heart is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Dear San Francisco,

One day, you're going to write a post card to me. I'm going to be opening my mailbox and in between the offers for a free dinner at Outback and a fabulous deal on any GMC car of my choice, there'll be a note from you.

Dear Laraine,

It's time. I've got a place for you to live and a job for you.

San Francisco

And I'll look around for hidden film crews, but they won't be there. I'll go back to my house, clean out the cat carriers, pack the cats, the clothes, the computers, and say good-bye at last to Arizona.

It's not the right time yet, but it will be one day. I will call from the corner of Castro and Market and say, "Yeah, Prescott? I'm not coming back. Thanks for it all. But you know, the sky in Arizona has always scared me. And you know, the lack of a true urban center in Phoenix has always disappointed me. And you know, my artistic soul languishes in a land of cheap Kokopelli charms and turquoise coyote statues and cowboy poetry. Thanks, though. See ya next time around."

It's not the right time yet. But it will be one day.

Me at Union Square

Keith, me, and our "son" Keezel the Green Monkey God at Ocean Beach

Keith and I at Yerba Buena Gardens before we visited MOMA

Fan-tabulous Victorians on Haight & Masonic

My friend from a zillion years ago, Dex, who is happy and fabulous in the Castro

Me in front of, dare I say it, the 6 FLOOR MACY'S in Union Square

And, who we didn't get to see, my friend Jeffrey, who I hope was watching us from that great gay bar in the sky. We drank a toast to you, and honey, I shopped! Keep the light on for me.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

School's Out!

Shhh! Thanks, America for not telling anyone that the academic semester-system is obsolete. Thanks for not noticing that the vast majority of America's school children no longer need summers off to help with the harvest. We, the humble employees of the educational system, salute you.

Friday, the day before Yavapai College's graduation, I went down to Phoenix. I got there a little early and thought I'd just walk through Metro Center, which is the shopping mall near where we lived when I was in high school. (Can't walk outside anymore -- it's already well over 100 degrees there.)Metro Center was a new mall then (in the ancient 70s), and the Metro Center area was still a vital area. My first two jobs were in Metro Center. The summer between my junior and senior years I worked at a place called Choo-Choo Charlie's. I had to wear a goofy hat and a blue apron and stand in the middle of the mall with a plate of sample choo-choos. Choo-choos are basically fried dough dipped in cinnamon. Choo-Choo Charlie's was next to Orange Julius, and the whole set up was next to Sears and an area of shops made to look like a town square. Needless to say, Choo-Choo Charlie's has been gone a long time. I made $3.15/hour there, and I must admit, it was cool to be in the mall before it opened and after it closed. Perhaps this is where my shopping addiction began. Hmmm...

The next job I had was at Blaire Metro Park 8 Cinemas, which was right outside the mall on the outer loop. I worked there in 1986, right after high school graduation until I moved to Tucson to go to U of A. Working in the movie theatre was the best job I have ever had. I was the assistant manager, and I got paid the enormous (to me at the time) sum of $225/week. Golden! I got to start the films, count the money, stay out late, and in general, deal with very few people and avoid having to serve food or work outside where it's hot and sunny. If I didn't need to actually earn enough money to pay for everything, I'd still be at the movie theatre. Seriously. Best job ever. Free films. No one complaining about their grades. No papers to grade. No e-mail concerning the academic year 09-10's assessment plans. No responsibility except to make sure the films started on time, didn't break, and no one stole the popcorn. Best job ever.

When I moved to Tucson to go to U of A, I also got a job at a movie theatre -- the AMC El Con 6 Cinemas at El Con Mall. (Yes, there's a mall-theme to my employment). El Con Mall is gone too, with the theatre only a memory. I worked there when the first Batman opened. Lines stretched throughout the parking lot. Who Framed Roger Rabbit came out while I worked there, along with She's Having a Baby (shudder!) and The Last Temptation of Christ. Protesters for The Last Temptation of Christ hung themselves on wooden crosses placed up against the side of Dillard's. We had more than a chuckle when a monsoon storm hit and the faux Jesuses had to climb down lest they be struck by very real lighting.

El Con Mall is gone now and of course, the movie theatre along with it. The part of Tucson where I lived in the late 80s is also very different. I don't know why I expect things to stay the same -- expect the same people to be living in the same places, the same stores to be in the same malls, the same conversations to be going on just as they were when I left.

In Phoenix, the place where the theatre once was is an empty lot, as is most of the Metro Center area. Restaurant after restaurant has closed. Even Trader Joe's has moved out. Inside the mall, every other store front was empty, with the just-as-empty sign promise on the window of "Another Great Retailer Coming Soon." There are not going to be any great retailers coming any time soon to Metro Center. Phoenix was hit very hard by the housing crash. When I drove into town, the billboard announced that I could buy a new home at "foreclosure prices" up in Anthem (an area north of Phoenix). On virtually every corner, a wooden sign had an 800# with the "We Buy Houses" pronouncement, or, the equally prominent "We fix foreclosures."

I left Phoenix in the middle of its denial of everything -- denial of the inflated value of its homes, denial of the absurdity of building suburbs 50 miles out in all directions from the city's center, denial of the high price of gasoline, denial of the absence of, yeah... water. When I drove south on I-17 into Phoenix Friday morning, I thought Phoenix looked like the world would look if anyone came out alive after the apocalypse. Dirty, dusty, and desperate. Most times when I go to Phoenix, I can't wait to get back out and shake it off, but this trip, I was just left sad. Sad for what is happening to it. Sad for the people who are suffering because the city is unsustainable. Sad for all of us crazy humans who keep wanting more than we need.

Last night was the graduation ceremony. As faculty, it's our last hurdle before the freedom of summer. The graduates are forced to sit on the stage and look out at the audience. They're forced to listen to speeches, and then, after a photo op and a handshake, they are free. And we are free.

To do what? Prescott's economy, even in the best of times, isn't strong. If I were in school now, I'd stay forever, taking out student loan after student loan until I had a string of PhDs. Several students came by my office this semester to ask about what they should do. They're afraid of the empty job market. They're afraid of their student debt (even from attending a community college). I didn't know what to tell them, except stay in school. Somehow, some way, an education has to help dig us all out of whatever this is we're in, right? Somehow, learning about the history of other civilizations, learning about science, math, literature -- somehow, all of that has to matter, right?

Sometimes I don't know. And that's why I'm most grateful for this strange but wonderful academic-agrarian calendar. During these three months off, I'll re-believe in what I do. I'll recommit to teaching. I'll dig back out my hope. But this semester, at the end of it all, I find myself doubting that it matters. Doubting that we do any good. Wondering if, especially in these times of uncertainty and fear, if there isn't something else I could be doing with my own education that would somehow matter more, help the world more.

But then I read the cards and letters I have pinned up to my wall at work from students. I remember each of them and the work we did together. I remember my own favorite teachers from school, and how each of them in their own ways, showed me how to look at the world differently. Each one opened a door that I hadn't seen before. Do these women and men from my own educational experience know they did these things? Were they frustrated with outcomes assessment and NCAA self-study plans and curriculum and meeting upon meeting upon meeting? Probably. But they still gave us stories, and projects, and additional resources, and extra time. And then they set us free, never to know what we'd do with ourselves.

Thanks for the summer break, Education System. Thanks for the time to recharge and remember why we teach. It's too easy to lose sight of it with all the hoops and forms and paperwork. Thanks for the chance to breathe. When I go back to teach in August, I'll be back in love with it and with my students. But right now, I'm tired and I want to hear, no matter how faintly, what my own voice might have to say.

Happy Summer, ya'll!

Old PS 186 building in Harlem

Moon Valley High School, where I graduated in 1986

Yavapai College commencement

Saturday, May 9, 2009


New Brunswick County, North Carolina

Tonight's A Prairie Home Companion is in Durham, North Carolina. Last summer, Keith and I took a trip back to my home in North Carolina. We re-remembered to pray before meals when with family. We touched the sand on the Atlantic coast. We ate barbecue with vinegar and Keith learned the default way to make tea is with sugar.

Summer's almost here again. I have two more classes to meet. The happy Snoopy dance has begun inside. I've graded all my papers. I've basically just got to attend graduation next Saturday and then empty out my brain from run-on sentences, improbable plots, poor dialogue punctuation, and my favorite "WhatcanIdotogetanAeventhoughIknowInevercametoclass?" question. I've also got to empty out from the sincere work and authenticity and beauty my students have given me. I love them, but I have to separate from them to hear myself again.

There's a light smell of honeysuckle in Prescott. There's a full moon tonight and there's the possibility of sitting outside on the porch and enjoying a glass of wine without mosquitoes and sand fleas. But still.

I tell Keith -- we can just go up to Flagstaff and turn right on I-40. We'll be home. Home. Home. Just go 90 miles north and turn right. How easy is that.

I've just about accepted that I'm stuck in a longing for North Carolina, no matter how many yoga trainings I take, no matter how many qi gong trainings I take, no matter how much I work with detachment, I find I'm programmed for gospel music, azaleas, and oaks. I find I'm programmed for a religion I don't believe in. The other week Keith and I were browsing books and I found 23 Minutes in Hell: One Man's Journey and I was freaked out for days. No amount of education can seem to erase that basic fear that religion brings up in me. What if they're right? What if? Better get saved just in case. No amount of critical thinking and rational thought and downright disgust with religion can erase those very first years that have conditioned me, apparently for the rest of my life, to long for that Sweet By and By that I know isn't there -- though God and Jesus know I want to believe it is.

Just like home. I want to go to Flagstaff and head east. I want to go home, even as I know, with all my rational thoughts, my critical thinking, my years of education and therapy, that home is not what I will find. My dad won't be there drinking sweet tea. Our neighbors won't have not built the fence between our houses because we sold our home to a black couple. My best friend Donna and I won't still be playing kickball in her front yard before her house caught fire. I won't still be believing body, mind, and spirit that it's as simple as saying "yes, Jesus, yes, I believe."

I don't believe. And I don't believe that heading east for three days will bring me back my family.

But dear Jesus, the longing for it sure feels sweet.

Prescott, Arizona