Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Running to Reconciliation and Self

I've never been an athlete. Sedentary by nature and choice, I can't recall ever running unless being chased by a bee. My brother, Rob, is different, however.  RenegadeBooks just published his premiere novel, The Pronator, last week.

Until I read his book, I didn't know what a pronator was. It sounded like something out of science fiction, or a role Arnold Schwarzenegger would play. However, I discovered that a pronator is one who pronates; that is, a runner whose foot turns slightly so that that the inner edge of the sole bears the weight. Rob's protagonist, Jay, suffers from pronation, but its literal meaning affects the story only slightly; symbolically, it is the flaw that each of us must overcome to reach our next level.

The action of The Pronator takes place during the running of a marathon. Jay wants only to beat his old time and come in under four hours. During that time, the psycho-physical changes that affect runners during a race such as this--intermittent flashes of memories, dreams, speculations--form the narrative as mile follows mile. Recurring themes of a Catholic childhood, nightmare schools replete with bullies, family dynamics, and the mysteries of spirituality reveal a dreamlike biography.

Being the writer's sister, it's obvious to me that Jay is a thinly disguised version of my brother. Further, I know the parts he left out. I don't know what the popularity of this book will be outside the family, but for me it was a revelation and a rare invitation to a sibling's inner life.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The ricochet of gun violence and the balm of love

I was at school when I saw the news bulletin about the shooter at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. UCC is just about 3 hours south of us, but we are part of the same community college system. Just that morning we had talked about guns on campus in my WR 115 classroom. Meanwhile, the shooter had entered another WR 115 class and interrupted their conversation in a vicious and terrible way.

Shock at a distance is shock nonetheless. As an instructor at a CC, it's hard not to imagine the same thing happening on my campus, even in my classroom. There's one exit and a pair of enormous windows that open on the world. What would I do? How could I protect my students? I know the emergency drill: lock the door turn off the lights, pull the blinds, turn off the projector and get everyone on the floor. But that only works if the shooter is somewhere else.

I've been reading responses to the news, many of which suggest that we need more armed security guards and even armed instructors--unworkable for numerous reasons, not the least of which is the plethora of aging educators who are just as likely to shoot themselves in the foot as protect their charges. Besides, taking out one shooter does just that and no more. Another will rise to take his place.

So, how do we stop this epidemic of gun violence? How do I do something? That's the crux of it, isn't it?  Knowing as we all do that politics and government won't serve, the duty falls to the individual. What can each of us do to keep unhappiness and its frequent companion, mental illness, from deteriorating into an unreasoning rage that takes its revenge on the innocent?

As I look at the parade of killers who've emerged over the past 20 years, I see souls who've been rejected and marginalized, who grow in their anger towards insanity and violence. They are not born this way--or, if they are, they need treatment. I'd like to suggest that each of us has the power, through love and kindness, to salvage lives and turn them towards open-hearted community rather than festering isolation. I can do this in my classroom, on the street, in social media. What about you?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Happiness before arising

The room is still dark. The heater has clicked on. From the glow behind the curtains, I can tell today will be another autumn gem. For just this moment, all is calm and full of possibility.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sometimes you can't look away

If you're old enough, you probably remember watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, starring Marlin Perkins and his long-suffering sidekick,  Jim Fowler. This program introduced violence on TV, albeit animal kingdom violence. Among the most memorable segments featured the insatiable python and the enormous beasts it could swallow whole: deer, cows, even crocodiles. Horrendous as the sights were, they were hypnotic. It was impossible to look away.

That's how I feel during Presidential Debate season. Granted, we've only seen the Republicans so far, but their encounters are as gruesome and mesmerizing as those of python versus croc.  I imagine it's no coincidence that croc is a  homophone for crock, as in "that's a crock of crap." It's also interesting that some of the debaters shed crocodile tears over issues less poignant than a Hallmark commercial. So far, no one has disagreed with the others over anything substantive. They are just generally cranky and like to point fingers.

I really don't understand how we came to this means of selecting a leader. Surely we don't want someone who's merely good at self-defense and nitpicking. My mother used to suggest that, instead of waging war and slaughtering the best members of a generation, leaders of  belligerent countries should have to fight each other in some sort of international arena. They'd engage in mud wrestling, say, pole-vaulting. Then perhaps we'd choose leaders based on a different kind of strength. What do you think?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The little moments

This term I've asked my Writing 115 classes to develop the daily habit of observing and thinking about the world around them and then share their thoughts with the world in a blog. I hope that they will become more aware, more appreciative, and more introspective as they compile the raw materials of good writing. This isn't an easy task. Everyone is multitasking their lives, trying to do their best and avoid the crazy-making world that interjects itself with fearful sound-bytes and flashing ads about losing belly fat.

I am going to join my students in this endeavor, so you should see many short posts from me as I, too, attempt to engage with the little moments that pass into nothingness unless explored.

* I won't be posting these on FaceBook, etc. but if you want to see what's going on around me, enter your email address into the "Follow by email" form on this page.

Friday, September 11, 2015


September the Eleventh

If you, knowing what you know,
Having read what you have read,
and remembering
All the tales you’ve heard

Should despite these warnings
name your son Icarus,
You cannot feign surprise
When blood of your blood
reaching wide as a swan unfurled
steps forward from the sill
And into the arms of flames.

The updraft buoys him like cinder
So that he might instead be flying
And for a moment the air is his.

So, too, Daedalus treading the shore, brushing
feathers of ash  from his dusted shoulders
Still thinks of cheating disaster.

Mary Chase

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Floods, vermin, and a multitude of blessings

Life is hard. We all know that. Granted, no one is shooting at me, and I have not contracted any strange viruses, but I am nonetheless bogged down by life events, those I chose and those I didn't. So, if you've been wondering why I am not posting more often, here's the rundown:

The Great Flood

Why should a flood resulting from a freak summer downpour still be affecting my life in December? To begin with, it joined the parade of "one damn thing after another" from which so many of us suffer. Rain flowed in through the basement windows with ungodly abandon, soaking Persian carpets and the wall-to-wall Berber beneath them while I slept peacefully upstairs. I had no idea what had happened until I went downstairs a day or two later to see why the smell of mold was beginning to waft its way up. My first step onto the basement floor went squish. Crap.

Like many people who have too much stuff, too many collections and too little sense of organization, our basement--all 1000 square feet of it--is a labyrinth of cardboard boxes, unsorted piles, forgotten files and out-of-favor furniture. Not to mention one small room I had converted to a clothes closet. Just add water, and the entropy of our lives had begun to meld into one soggy and possibly sentient being.

Even after the cavalry arrived with their fans and vacuums, I was still removing 12 litres of water from the air every day for weeks with my newly purchased dehumidifier. Hauling, sorting, and tossing preceded the removal of the carpets, more drying and finally the installation of a new floor. Even though the tasks are now completed (well, almost...I still have a little bit of organization to take care of) my nights are filled with dreams of swelling books, molding dolls, floating receipts and seeping water.


I never like to say anything bad about Oregon, but, in addition to the friendly beaver and majestic Roosevelt elk, the Norway rat is indigenous and prolific here. Further, recent destruction of a wooded area in our neighborhood stirred up the local population of rodentia and sent it looking for new digs down the street. Our street.

Rats! Plague-ridden, destructive, and evil! A family of them appeared in our laundry room in early fall, entering through a hole Mom and Pop rat had chewed along a pipeline. The parents succumbed rapidly to traps, but their children were observant and smart. We ended up buying several kinds of traps, and experimenting with different kinds of bait after the wunderkinden had learned to avoid peanut butter, dog food, cheese, rice, etc. My husband, Jose, master of gadgets, bought a device called a Raticator, which boasts an "infrared sensing zapper."
This eerie chamber worked on the last two. Or, rather, I thought they were the last two.

I didn't see any physical evidence, but from time to time my Scottie, Whisky, sniffed behind the couch and barked down the heating vents. Whisky is a retired ratter, though, and had achieved little in the area of pest eradication until last week when he wrought such a hullabaloo of pent-up vengeance as I will not soon forget.

Whisky had been sniffing and growling around the dishwasher and Jose, resorting to the least technical of mouse traps, decided to block the entrance to the kitchen with sticky paper designed for trapping unwanted interlopers. I didn't like the idea. Getting stuck and then tossed into a dumpster sounds like a bad way to go, even for a rat. At least the Raticator offers a quick end to life's travails. However, Jose is as stubborn as a terrier. Down went the sticky paper on the other side of the baby-gate that keeps the dogs out of the kitchen, and off to bed we went.

We had no sooner turned off the light than I heard a high-pitched Skreeee-skreeee-skreeee! from the kitchen accompanied by an outraged barrage of Scottie barks. "They will both get tired," Jose said laconically. Not so.

I made Jose get up to see what was happening. He came back and said, "There is a rat on the paper." I already knew that. Skreeee-skreeee-skreeee! Woof-woof-woof!

"Are we going to let that poor creature stay stuck there all night?"

 "Whisky is very interested," Jose said.

"What if he knocks that gate over?" Skreeee-skreeee-skreeee! Woof-woof-woof!

"Whisky cannot knock the gate over. It is a strong gate." Skreeee-skreeee-skreeee! Woof-woof-woof!

Immediately, a crash came from the kitchen, followed by a yip. Then silence. The gate had been breached.  I swear, if Jose didn't say everything in a cute Brazilian accent I'd have smacked him.

We went out to the kitchen. There was no sign of the rat, but Whisky was stuck to the paper. Crap.

I grabbed a pair of scissors to separate Whisky from the paper, lifted him by the tail (this convenient, strong handle comes standard on all Scotties) and found the rat underneath, rather untidily disemboweled. I dropped the tail and pushed the whole mess away with my foot without thinking. My bunny-eared slipper was now stuck to the paper as well.

I think you can imagine the rest. Snip-snip, curse-curse. Detritus out to the trash. Lysol clean-up. Dog and me into the shower. To bed by 2 a.m.

I still think there's one more. Either that of the spirits of rats past are eating the bait in the Raticator--that device appears to have given up the ghost.

AND... There's also good stuff in my life that also keeps me from posting here. 


As usual, just when I despaired of my students, they have stunned me again with their insights. and I remember why it is I do this.


I found a critique group that works for me. They are fabulous readers who offer practical, insightful feedback. Now I need to write more fiction, too.


Earlier this year, I started RenegadeBooks to publish my own work, as well as books by authors who don't fit the mold of today's romance publishers. They don't want to write 50 Shades of...Yikes!  So far, we have 11 titles and a website that needs work. If you want to know more, read Peter Jordan’s Marriage or Here for You Always by Margaret O’Neil.

So that's what's up with me.  I will post more...soon I hope.  Maybe my students will keep me honest and give me some due dates.