Packing and Moving


In April 2012, to prepare for my retirement move to Sioux Falls, I decided that I was going to throw or give away at least five things a day, not counting paper memorabilia. Paper memorabilia I examined and tossed almost all.  My children’s school papers, notes to me, drawings, I put between plastic sheets and sent to them.   Student evaluations from 1987, most all gone, as well as research material that I will never shape and form into anything. I put my creative writing still to be polished in the file cabinet.

Old love letters from my second husband, I flung in the garbage, after tearing them up as if extracting a curse.  The one from the first, I will keep for the kids so they can have a laugh.  Besides it was written before he asked me to marry him.  Not much romance after the wedding.  I really should say, not any.  I kept all the letters from my mom, grandmothers, brothers, sisters, nieces–don’t think there is one from a nephew.  I didn’t throw away any pictures, except old high school classmates, for most of them I couldn’t recognize if they stood on my porch.

Every day for over a year, missing a few days here and there, I scanned the detritus that comprised my tangible goods. I sorted through furniture, knickknacks, dishes, clothes, old tools.  At first it was easy.  Now making choices is rather difficult.

First I tackled the double-stacked books in the eight seven-feet high bookshelves in my home and those in the four bookcases in my office. I separated the books I could live without from those I must have and those I hope to sell.  A vision of mine was someday to own a bookstore slash coffee shop slash wine shop/dessert shop somewhere, but that dream has faded, for I find that I lack the energy and the desire to cater to anyone anymore.

I presented stacks of books to students as they wandered in and out of my office.  One young theatre major received most of my drama books.  I kept Pinter, O’Neill, Chekhov, Brecht, my collection of Shakespeare, and some other classics.  I’m past directing any more; and if I ever act again it will be a final hurrah, for I really don’t want to spend five to six weeks rehearsing anything. There were two roles I wanted to do before I died–Medea in Medea and Mother in Marsha Norman’s ‘Night, Mother.  I’m way too old for Medea, but if someone I trusted and admired wanted to direct me in ‘Night, Mother before I get too old to wipe spittle off my chin, I might consider it.  As far as directing, I concluded some time ago in Dickinson that the way I direct is not amenable to personalities here.  Ideally I prefer that actors memorize their parts before blocking begins. That way the character develops as the play develops, and the actor/character becomes a collaborator in the process.  But oh, well–Been there; done that.

I’ve had successes directing.  One of my former high-school students obtained her MFA in theatre; she retired before I did.  Another student I directed became Miss America 1974 and sang for my wedding.  She played the chorus in Anouilh’s Antigone, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn in Music Man, Calamity Jane in Deadwood Dick, and Mrs. Wright in Trifles.  When she came to Sioux Falls to see me during her Miss America tour, I met her with my three kids in tow. But I was in the middle of a disastrous marriage, and felt exposed for some reason and intimidated.

Books of poetry I kept most, except those poets with whom I still can’t connect.  Fiction I gave most away, except Faulkner, Vonnegut, some books I haven’t read yet but hope to.  Literary criticism, I kept most.  Some history books–gone.

Boxes of books, three I think, I hauled to the library. They will be recycled or sent to those in need.  Clothes I either tossed in the garbage or donated; some I snapped pictures and sold on Ebay along with the china and crockery and jewelry and shoes I no longer want or can wear.

Soon I will post an ad selling some furniture, a treadmill, a lawn mower, other garden stuff.

The problem is even though it’s becoming more difficult to find things to discard or give away, more stuff emerges hidden away in boxes, underneath steps, on shelves, things I have forgotten about.  The newest piece of furniture I have is my bed, 2006.  Prior to that my sofa and the entertainment center, 2002.  The oldest piece of furniture I have is my bedroom set–1978.   If it wasn’t for my mother’s bureau dresser and the cedar chest that I inherited and the hall table I bought in memory of my mother, I would get rid of every piece of furniture I have.

The more I discard, the freer I feel.  It’s like a cloud of dissatisfaction lifts with each toss.  My burdens lighten.


There but for the grace of God, go I

I don’t know from whom my mother heard “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  But I do know that my mother said those words often.  That statement, which I consider a prayer of thanks and one I originally thought came from the Bible, sometimes was accompanied with another of my mother’s saying, “Don’t judge another until you walk in their shoes.”  I remember the exact time she said the latter to me.  I had just stepped in the house after getting off the bus.  That day I felt ostracized by, and probably jealous of, a female classmate, whose parents farmed less than two miles from us, saying something like the following to Mom, “She thinks she’s so hot.”

Mom often chided us not to become arrogant, not to think too much of ourselves.  I think those injunctions were to protect us from the expectations and the cost of hubris, for she knew fortunes can turn on a dime.

My mother seldom shared wisdoms with us, much less anything about daily happenings.  Understanding my mother required hanging on to every word other than requests for us to perform some task.  Once during a visit with the folks, after my second divorce, after the children had all left home, in the midst of Ph.D. course work, after my father had gone to sleep, my mother was sitting on the couch and asked me to listen to the television.  “Beautiful, isn’t it?” she said, not taking her eyes off the set.  Mom was listening to a young female violin player, Akiko Suwanai,  playing a concerto.

My mother’s entire life has been one of hard work, working for room and board in order to feed herself after her first husband died from tuberculosis.  After her first husband’s death, Mom let his parents keep my older sister until she was about the age of five. The reason, my older sister today at 81 still cannot understand.  It was necessary for impoverished women then, unless one wanted both yourself and the child to starve.  I know from reading about women’s lives in the 30s that Mom’s experience was not unusual. For those who desire, please read Tillie Olson’s “I Stand Here Ironing.”

Mom worked endless hours on the farm, morning until exhaustion–helping Dad seed, milking cows, cooking, canning, gardening.  After they quit farming for themselves, they were asked to manage the Shelby County Farm.  Even though my father and mother put the County Farm in the black  by raising crops and growing an extensive garden, Osha regulations said that managers had to have master’s degrees.  My father with his eighth-grade education and my mother with her education up through her sophomore year didn’t cut the mustard, so once again after seven years, they left a farm and moved back to Manilla.  Even then in their late 60s, both Mom and Dad worked.  Mom cooked for the Manilla Depot and Rusty’s; Dad monitored dryers at night for Gruhn Seedcorn.

As I sat down beside her, I never thought my mother listened to music, much less appreciated it, for whenever I sang, I was told not to.  The folks rented an oboe for me to play in high school, or else its use was donated.  I could practice if it didn’t take away from chores.

I learned once again about Mom’s softness that day we watched Suwanai. I was surprised that my mother was aware that this violinist was better than most.  My mother’s interior world, which often was forbidden to us, she sometimes revealed with a slight act, as she did with that request.

One of the other times I glimpsed Mom’s interior world occurred when she reached out to hold my hand as we walked around a few blocks in Manilla.  During that walk, she told me that in her 20s, someone had offered her a position to work clerical at the state capital in Des Moines, but she said no, she wanted to be with Dad, and thus gave birth to four more children.  She took my hand when we stopped to admire this immense flowering plant growing in someone’s front yard.  Its pink blossoms, higher than us.   I don’t remember ever holding my mother’s hand prior to that day.  Her hand was so soft, its weight like a whisper.

As my mother aged, she became even more silent, but it was not the result of diminished capacity.  It was the result of her retreating into her interior world where her thoughts and memories were safe.

The first five years after her death, hardly an hour went by that I didn’t think about Mom.  Those times were accompanied with tears.  Today, tears happen sometimes.  I do know one thing, that as I become closer to the age that my mother was when she died, I now know the meaning of “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Local Lore and Comments

Traffic in Dickinson

Before I moved to Dickinson, ND, I lived in Omaha on Northwest Radial Hwy., a thoroughfare that screeches in a curvy diagonal from 72nd St. to 46th St. where it splits–one leg Military Ave, the other straight south until Radial becomes North Saddle Creek Road. From there, Dodge and head east to downtown Omaha and Old Market.  The triple-paned windows and the steel door of my condo insulated the interior enough that traffic on that Hwy. outside didn’t bother me much.  Not even a hum.  In fact much quieter than the ringing in my ears that I endure constantly–I’m waiting until I go deaf.

I’ve heard accidents.  I even had one on Radial when I was stupid enough to park in front of my condo, even though parking was allowed.  Around midnight, one drunk woman rammed into the back of my Diamante and smashed its rear end.  Not totaled, but it should have been.  Someone witnessed the accident, wrote down her license number, and she was arrested within a half hour at her home by the Omaha police.  Yes, she paid my deductible.

One of the benefits of living in a big city is that most people who drive know the rules, or else.  You merge by matching your speed to the cars in the adjacent lane of the highway, you signal, you come to a stop at stop signs when you’re suppose to, mainly because not doing so often does lead to accidents.

This morning I took my daughter to work in downtown Dickinson, a mere mile and a half of driving.  On the way there, two women, each in an SUV, broke traffic rules.  I’ve read somewhere that a driver breaks a traffic rule on the average every 20 minutes.  It took me five minutes at the most to drive that mile and a half and five minutes back.  Not 20.  The first woman in the blue SUV was a half block away heading north on 3rd Ave. from 1st St. when the light at 2nd St. and 3rd Ave. turned yellow.  All other traffic had crossed the intersection.  Normally when that occurs the driver in the passing lane miraculously gets to turn left.  (There’s no left turn signal at that intersection and there should be.) But I didn’t turn left for the woman in blue did not slow down.  In fact she speeded up in an attempt to cross the intersection in the yellow, but she did not, forcing me to turn left when the light was red.  I know that she was thinking she’s late for work for maybe she was employed at one of the companies north of Wal-Mart. Who knows what her reason was, but she had one, or else it was complete arrogance and a howdareyoustopme on her part.

Now, I can handle one incident like that every 20 minutes, and not get riled, for shit happens and people make mistakes, but two?

The one in between the first and the second I’m not going to count because it’s a North Dakota law I think for all small towns, at least for this one, for I’ve seen the yellow signs in the middle of intersections to remind drivers that pedestrians have the right of way, no matter if there is a stop sign or not, no matter if they are jaywalking or not. Two young women jabbering did not even look at the traffic to the right or to the left before they crossed the street going south down from the library.  I saw them and stopped, which I was supposed to do.  But considering that Dickinson now has a critical mass of drivers not from around here and a highly critical increase in traffic, that law needs to be rethought.  Of course after the second boom, there will be plenty of space to cross any street.

Then at the intersection one block east of Gate City Bank, a woman in a red SUV south of the intersection but heading north turned left right in front of me, causing my daughter to brace herself.  I screeched to a stop.  I swore.  The man driving the delivery truck in the line after her moved up and I crossed the intersection for I had the right of way.

Ok, I get it, defensive driving is a must here in Dickinson, especially on 2nd Street going east off 3rd.  Last summer a woman in a grey SUV zoomed across the 2nd Ave and 2nd St. intersection going south, and I screeched to a stop going west–I had the right of way again.  There have been many, many other incidents that I alone have witnessed.

You can’t tell me that those three drivers were not from Dickinson.  The odds are not in your favor–I’ve almost done reading The Hunger Games.  One at the most from out of town, considering statistical odds.  So what to do?

Creative Writing, Essays

Paper diapers

One of the essays in the Composition 110 textbook is “What is Poverty?” the text of a speech delivered in 1965 by Jo Goodwin Parker.  The persona who’s speaking says that she is poor, but whether the writer was or not is debatable.  More than likely the speech was written by someone who knew the conditions of poverty but did not live them herself.  I asked the question in the online class, “Do you think an essay is really an essay if it is falsely written, as perhaps this essay is? What should an essay be?  Should there be honesty or could it be written by someone not poor but whose words describe a situation honestly? Why?”

That essay resounded with me, not because, even though we were poor, we were not as poverty-stricken as the woman and her family, but because of one tiny detail: “Poverty is hoping it never rains because diapers won’t dry when it rains and soon you are using newspapers.”  That detail instantaneously brought a memory of me folding newspaper after newspaper into diapers–two to three sheets together, the elongated diamond and then the folding.  Funny though, the first ones folded were Sunday paper cartoons.  They folded nicely and stacked nicely.  Perhaps Pampers should stamp their diapers to look like newsprint.

I know we were poor, but we always had diapers, I thought; but maybe it was one of those times in which rain fell for days and everything in the house was soggy in spite of the wood cooking stove.  I don’t think so.  I think it was because my older brother was sick, and we couldn’t keep up with the washing.  Someone was ill and I was old enough to fold diapers from newspapers, so I had to be at least five or so.

The woman who describes her poverty said that she had no “proper” underwear and that her rotting teeth stunk.  We had underwear, even if we had to wash it out every night in the sink.  I remember that we girls were given days of the week underwear that did not mean that we had to wear Monday’s on Monday, Tuesday’s on Tuesday, but that we had seven pair, which to us was like gold.

We did have rotting teeth, all of us.  Mom and Dad lost theirs when I was in the sixth or seventh grade.  Up until that time, I never saw a dentist; but after the folks’ teeth were pulled–all at once it seems to me–and they gummed their food for a while before being fitted with dentures, in the spring  the folks took us kids for the first time to see Dr. Soe.I don’t remember his face, except that he was tall and thin and that one of his fingers on his right hand had been cut off at the knuckle.  His office was on the top floor of his gray stucco house on the north side of Main Street, a block up from the blacksmith and right east of the band shell. The dentist chair, which leaned back only a little, overlooked the after-school traffic on the street, the kids on their bikes, children taunting one another. The many scenes  of inclusion sprouted little comfort. He often went into a little room to the right, a carved out private space where he mixed concoctions.  He didn’t talk much and I couldn’t, for I was scared to death.  The needles that went in and out of my mouth for a month or more to numb one tooth after another caused more pain the longer the visits went.  But he never had to pull a tooth–filled almost all of them though, but never had to pull a one.   I brushed my teeth diligently after with Gold Bond tooth-powder or baking soda.

Creative Writing, Essays


The other day one hairdresser was dyeing my hair while another and I talked about Facebook and games.  She told me that she dislikes intensely Scrabble but loves to play Words with Friends on Facebook.  Yes, she knows that it’s the same game, but to her it’s different.  She still was astounded when a friend told her that she can’t wait to get the new board game, Words with Friends, played on real-life cardboard or tin, purchased in Wal-Mart or K-Mart or Target.   This hairdresser said, “Don’t they know it’s just Scrabble!?!”

I know the feeling.  I’m in love with Sudoku, not the ones found in a paper magazine bought at the last minute before checkout or the errant ones in daily or weekly newspapers, but the app I’ve downloaded on my IPad and IPhone.  I play it in the middle of the night on my IPad while the blue lPad light further intensifies my sleepless night.  I play it on my IPhone in the car while I’m waiting to pick up someone or going through a drive-in.  I play it before I un-pause a tv show after pouring myself a cuppa of tea–yes, I’m also in love with British mysteries, not the blood and guts stuff, but the ones with intrigue and any murder committed is only incidental. It’s the solving of the murder that’s important, the logic of the chase.

I play Sudoku when I’m also reading a novel on the IPad–Catching Fire, the second in the Hunger Games Trilogy, can’t compete with the logic of Sudoku.  I read for a while, then I play one game, then two, then read, and then back to the IPad to play a game or two.  I also play Chess on my IPad, Spider Solitaire with four decks, and I have a Bridge App.  The Bridge App frightens me, for I find I like playing the bridge app more than going online and playing with real-life virtual people on the other end of their computers in France, Turkey, Holland, Columbia, Saudi–so many I can’t count.  At least the computer is predictable while those bridge fanatics can be so nasty at times, especially when a partner calls me an idiot right before he or she leaves the game; or, if she or he is the table leader, removes me without so much as a by-your-leave.  The only way that I know my bridge is improving is that online I seldom get called names or have to read ????????? or WHAT!! in the chatroom when I make a stupid mistake.  If I’m lucky to be the table leader, I can boot him or her before I read any more.  When I have to decipher if I’m being cussed out in Chinese or French or Arabic,  I quickly cut and paste the words into Google Translator.

I’ve decided that Sudoku is a lot like life, that it would be even more like life if it were three-dimensional.  It’s logical, it has to do with numbers, it might even prevent me from losing my mind and having to buy Luminosity.  Nine numbers in nine little bitty squares and those nine little bitty squares in nine bigger squares.

On my Sudoku app, I’m considered an Expert.  When I click on the Sudoku app and press Play and then Expert, some numbers are already put in the little bitty squares.  Those givens as in geometry are what I’m talking about.  We all have at birth something akin to logic.  The blank slate is not there anymore, long gone in the philosophy of yesteryear. Our brains have the capacity to put things together, well most of the time.  Like language and math skills, some experts consider these skills hardwired into the brain.  According to NPR (2011), Psychologist Véronique Izard studied Amazonian villagers who had no math schooling and determined that even with no formal math training, these villagers solved basic geometry problems as if they were math-trained adults. She also posits after studying children age five and younger here in the United States and older children in the United States and France that geometry skills seem to emerge after five, perhaps as early as age six or seven.  I know that there is a difference between geometry and numbers; but in a way Sudoku is a lot like geometry.  It’s two-dimensional on a plane, a floating square similar to the one in the Superman movies who took up those criminals from another planet and sentenced them to eternity, floating endlessly in space, screaming all the while, if I remember correctly. To be imprisoned in a geometric plane–mercy!

But back to the game. I’ve consented to play and have been given some numbers.  One number is highlighted, suggesting that I begin with that number–let’s say five–finding the other little bitty squares in which the number five should be in is the task.  They can’t be in the same line as another five, and since there are nine bigger squares, every little bitty square affects two lines.  Well the problem is with the app that I so enjoy is that my score depends upon how fast I can fill in all the little bitty squares.  And it also depends upon the complexity of the puzzle and the number of mistakes I make.  The computer puts all those variables together.  On paper Sudoku, you can take as much time as you like, unless a spouse haggles you about going somewhere or getting something done, or the person in the car behind you  lays on the horn.  I never played Sudoku when I was married, although a previous boyfriend introduced me to the game years ago.  I wasn’t hooked at that moment; but, yes, over the years, every once in a while, I bought little mags of Sudoku puzzles, all in various levels of expertise. It’s the app on my IPad that I’m addicted to.

I’ll give you a hypothetical, human situation similar to the frustrating world of computer Sudoku.  Let’s say you’re trying to figure out what is going on around you, say in your job or in your personal life , and no one has thought to tell you straight away because you always have your head in a Sudoku puzzle, so you figure it out.  You put a number in a little bitty square and if the app doesn’t reject the number, you know it fits.  Every reject is an X accompanied by an irritating sound.  The same is true in life.  You test out one part of your theory as to what’s going on, what you should do, what move to make in your job, etc.; and if the number holds, you’re good to go with the next number, the next piece in the puzzle.  So you proceed, and I do.  I work at it, seeing patterns, learning more patterns, trying out those patterns until all my numbers are in the little bitty boxes–or all my ducks are quacking in a row.  And I only have had say the minimum 2 boots, or two mistakes. And let’s say my placing all the pieces together in this life puzzle is done in such a short amount of time that I have time for another Sudoku puzzle before meeting someone for lunch, then life feels good, really good.  I’ve got the world on a string, and I’m the one pulling.

But there’s a catch, always a catch.  Sudoku, like life, is addictive.  The minute one problem is solved or one mystery is figured out, there is always another puzzle and another, some more complex, some simpler.  Sudoku the app has that covered too.  It gives you your score–your personal best.  As a result the app creates this immense desire in you to beat your own personal best, to get a higher and higher score, and thus never to find peace.

Creative Writing, Essays, Packing and Moving


Accumulation, the bane of modern existence. Conspicuous consumption, downright immoral.  I am over 60 and not a hoarder by any means, except for clothes and shoes, and my daughter says dishes.

In August I had a rummage sale.  A great deal of “stuff” sold; but I still kick myself, not for selling the things I sold, but for buying them in the first place.  Vintage Royal Copley planters, two alike,  I purchased for a song at a rummage sale in Omaha many, many years ago. They have never held a plant of mine.  Japanese occupation cups, saucers, salt and pepper shakers I won at an auction. A  metal file folder not ever screwed into the wall as it should have been. A vintage dresser sold for $10 less than I paid some eight years ago; worth over $200 now but not in Dickinson.  More pottery. Knickknacks. Christmas, Halloween decorations still in boxes.  Fabric, Fabric, Fabric  I’ve had for years and years and years, but I haven’t pinned a pattern to cloth since 1994, when writing my dissertation.

Writing a dissertation that deconstructed dialogue in women’s plays should have nothing to do with pattern and fabric purchases I bought at the same time like a demented fiend.  Pins, needles, even a serger, although an inexpensive demonstrator from a Singer store in Harlan, Iowa, where my mother and I sauntered in to pick out a black covered button for my leather coat.  The serger sold at the rummage sale; the coat I donated to Arcade two years ago. That last semester between teaching four classes, writing and polishing 200 pages of my dissertation, and applying for jobs, I made myself an assortment of 19 dresses, skirts, blouses, and even a jacket.  None of them are in my closet; all have been given away or sold a long time ago.  The dresses I mailed to my sister. After the rummage sale, along with my car’s trunk and backseat stuffed with boxes of items not sold, I donated a huge box of patterns to the Arcade–unopened dress, outfit patterns, skirt patterns too small for me, some blouse patterns I truly love.  Sewing calmed me down that spring semester of 1994 and relieved the stress of writing the dissertation while teaching.   I should have lifted weights at gym.

I sewed both my wedding dresses: the first one, white satin; the second, grey–different patterns, different lengths; the first had a veil.  Each tossed after each divorce.  I made friends’ prom dresses, emerald, black, cranberry– luscious–and my own.  I’ve patched and hemmed more jeans than I care to remember, sewed costumes in college, polyester pants for my brother, dresses for my mother, clothes for my kids when they were little–knits all the rage then.  I machine-quilted four bedspreads and a table cover.  My oldest son, now 45, recently discarded the one I quilted for his college dorm.  He had the thread-bear rag of grey and red in back of a work truck. The first dress I ever constructed, other than the one in Home Economics class, I goofed up considerably.  A date with a new high-school boyfriend, him picking me up that night in a ’57 Chevy, and marathon sewing that resulted in an errant slip with a pinking sheers in the front panel of the skirt.  “Too much of a hurry,” my aunt said. She showed me how to fix the tear so I could wear it to the Donna Reed Movie Theater  in Denison.

I’ve shoes I’ve never worn and never will, because of their 3″ plus height, for I totter not like Jennifer Simpson on her high heels–I have to hold onto something in order not to fall.  Most of them I bought on Ebay.  I’ve sold three of the ten pair I don’t wear.  There’s a pair of Chinese Laundry white with a 3″ heel brand new, if you want them.  This morning I listed a pink cable-knit sweater, a cranberry velveteen one, yellow snow boots–all with tags, all purchased from Ebay.  On Ebay is a Korean hot pot that I bought at a rummage sale for $10; now worth over $100, but mine listed hasn’t sold for $75 dollars. I’ve sold a dress I bought for $39 for $39.  Breaking even is my style.

I’ve binged on Chico’s necklaces on Ebay and even bought a couple of rings. One of the necklaces my daughter  says is Ugggly.  I am going to relist it and others.  Over the years, I’ve only returned one item to a buyer, a vintage Chico’s necklace, a choker with a huge reddish pink stone in the center that unwrapped looks like a tongue with crystals in a line to the tip as if pierced. Immediately I sent it back.  I e-mailed  the seller, “I couldn’t wear it,” and she e-mailed back, “Why?”   When I told her, she said, “not a problem, you really made me laugh-never thought of that but now that I look at it, it could be lol-could have been a perfect Halloween piece (haha) who wouldn’t want to wear a tongue around their neck lol.” I would never have worn that thing around my neck on Halloween or any other day, but I should have given it to a friend of mine whose Halloween baubles really rock, as she says.

The older I get, the less I want, the more I discard.  I think of all the dividends my money could have earned instead of buying.  So far since June I’ve sold over $600 worth of items on Ebay–not bad, some for what I paid.  And I have only put a dent into all that I want to sell. I think the purchases of inexpensive rummage sale items and cheap jewelry from Ebay have a lot to do with growing up poor and soaking my toes in poverty while raising three kids on my own. I couldn’t afford big stuff so I bought little stuff.  I should have put that money in mutual funds and stock, but not in Enron, which I had and lost a bunch.  Now my retired friends are traveling to this country and that, from California to the New York Island eating steak and lobster, Indian food in fine places, visiting museums, seeing vistas from mountain tops and seashores, while scenes of Paris and Holland entice me on the Travel Channel.



I thought to myself at 6 am when I read the first student blog entry in an online class, please, dear god, don’t let this post be plagiarized–it’s so good.  So TurnItIn (a site that detects plagiarism), and plagiarized it is; not all of it but unique phrases and specific words from the same site.  Now comes the immense increase in workload: the checking of all previous posts to determine if the student plagiarized more than once, which she did according to an email that I had sent earlier, the emailing back and forth to the student, the chair of the department, if pervasive and egregious, which I determined it wasn’t, the possibility of  official reporting the student if plagiarism continues, etc.   One extremely difficult task is phrasing a response in such a way that she learns ethically why plagiarism must be avoided, avoids plagiarizing in the future, and stays in the class.

Resorting to the thinking of others and often using their words when unsure of ourselves, I argue are common methods even among adults.  Observing, reading, listening, and analyzing data are arduous tasks, ones that I often put aside because I’m pressed for time, too busy working and doing “stuff,” really don’t care about the outcome because of my personal position, am reluctant to learn and thus become ignorant of all the facts. But most importantly I hate being marginalized, manipulated.

Once in a while I’m caught in a power struggle between two or more points of view regarding one significant or insignificant action.  Either I decline to offer a comment out of fear of repercussions or I offer a comment in the manner of Polonius’ speech to Laertes, a comment that later I determine is not one that reflects my thinking.  Thus forcing me to give a shit. Sometimes my “to be or not to be” results solely from intuition, which we all know depends upon our brain’s ability to make connections based on the information we have and our gut.  Or I change my mind, after rest and reflection.

It’s like combining those child games of pass the message and musical chairs–my statements become misinterpreted when one just happens to mention what I said to a friend or a colleague or an enemy and then that person to another and to another, to what seems like ad infinitum, but which eventually becomes wisps of remembered conversation.  Or, heaven forbid, he or she purposefully mis-states what I said to advance her or his own agenda.  The result is either I fall on my ass because the chair was ripped out from under me by someone who moved faster or I hang there on the edge of this giant precipice clutching scrub brush for dear life.  But no matter whether I comment or not, act or not, my social position is altered, a fearful situation when moving alone through this world.



A gift from the gods, Morpheus, scientific studies on sleep disorders, a CPAK machine rusting in the corner of my closet, the mask I throw off in the middle of the night because I gasp for air as if someone’s hand is on my mouth, ambien that leads me to raid the refrigerator, unisom that affects my lungs, diphenhydramine that causes memory loss as does ambien, no REM sleep that leads to metabolism chugging like an old Ford, six, eight, ten melatonin and nothing, warm milk and toast in the middle of the night



Nice gentle rain today, pattering; but no rain for me on which to daydream through the two windows I face while at my computer.  Eight years ago on October 3, 2005, when I moved in, even with the furnace melting me in the other rooms, my office was ice cold, immune to a space heater.  My desk I had positioned in the northeast corner of a room I designated my office; a desk, really a table designed for church lunches.  All around the other walls were six heavy bookcases loaded with books.  While at my computer, preparing for classes or responding to emails, I froze to death.

As winter approached, I swore that water would freeze if kept in my office overnight.  No laptop at that time to place on the dining room table, so I bundled myself up as if heading out to do chores with no neighbors around to care what I wore–blue sweat pants on top of which was a heavy flannel purple nightgown, a gray or brown sweat shirt on top of the nightgown, a maroon scarf around my head, black, furry gloves with fingers absent, two pairs of socks, and cranberry bedroom slippers.  Still I froze.   Cold air from the basement seeped into the room through the north and east walls that were leaky like barn doors, the air pulled through the room by the principle of heat exchange.  And then the windows.  My hand when six inches in front of a pane grew icicles.   My daughter lived in Williston, some 130 miles northeast, 50 miles from the Canadian border.  She moved to North Dakota a year before I with my U-Haul chugged up the Interstate  from Omaha.  When I first complained that no matter how I bundle up, my neck was still cold, she laughed and told me to give it a year.

After a month, I couldn’t take the cold in that room any more.  I bought some insulated aluminum, normally used to wrap heat ducts, and covered the windows, using aluminum tape to seal.  I made sure that the edges around the window frames were leak proof.  I put some insulation on the walls under the windows to keep my feet from freezing.  I covered the windows in my bedroom with the same insulated aluminum, and reasoned that I not worry about the walls, for I had blankets and a bedspread filled with down.   The next summer I took the insulation off the walls in the office after a crew replaced all the basement windows.

A year after that, I replaced the living room picture window.  At the same time I obtained bids for the double-hung windows in the house–$600 a window, the cheapest, something that I could not afford then, for the replacement of the picture window was over $1400 on top of the previous year’s expense of basement windows that exceeded $1600.  This past year, five years after the first bid, I obtain another bid–$900 a window, or an additional $1500 from the same company who gave me the cheapest bid in 2007.  Needless to say, at my salary I cannot afford to replace all five, so I decided not to do any at all. So the insulated aluminum still covers the windows in the office.  I have chosen, however,  a couple of years ago to take off the aluminum insulation from my bedroom windows and run a space heater during cold days and months.

By the way, so that my house still had some curb appeal, I put the insulation over the shades that had been drawn to keep out the early morning light; and in front of each shade, I hung  a small rectangular stained-glass eye-catcher.  I daydream about the sands of New Mexico.

Cats and Dogs and Other Feathered and Furry Creatures, Essays

Cat’s Meow

I know that a graduate student at Cornell has studied the meows of cats, both domesticated and captive. In that study the researcher determined that it’s solely the sound of the meow and not its content that appeals to humans, that humans’ reactions artificially select cat’s behavior: humans’ responses to cat calls cause cats in turn to recreate those cat calls to get us humans to do something, like feed them.  He also stated that captive cats sound angry all the time to human ears. No kidding.  I would be angry if I were held captive perpetually–maybe that’s why after I’ve been talking for a while at a party I get tired of the sound of my own voice and leave.

Not an academic study I’ve come across but one probably posted by a cat lover on the meaning behind certain tail positions of cats.  That study says that if a cat’s tail is fully erect with a vertical tip, the cat is greeting me in a friendly, cheerful manner.  If one were to watch my cat, Pumpkin, when he does that, one could rightly assume that he thinks he’s the cat’s meow.  He’s confident, sweet, yet really knows how to get what he wants. However, there are times when that tail and his meow mean something entirely different.  Today he meows into the room, tail erect, meows more until I meander after him to the kitchen where he saunters over to the screen door.  I conclude that he wants me to let the dog in, and I do.  But in contemplating that dog and pony show (tail and meow act), I think he really wanted me to let him out, as I sometimes do: Put him in a halter and hook the halter to a chain that really isn’t tied to anything–Don’t tell him that–where he sits outside in the grass and chews.

There has to be more studies on cats’ meows than that one.  When my daughter’s cat, Levi, meows at my cat over the cat dishes, Levi’s not trying to learn what his  cat meows manipulate Pumpkin to do. I believe he is really saying something like, “You’re think you’re king cat, but you’re only holding the scroll.”

My daughter and I recently discovered something odd about cat behavior.  Her cat, Levi, who was in our home long before Pumpkin, sometimes does not poop in the litter box, no matter how fresh the litter, how new it is.   I was complaining about this awful situation to a friend of mine, who informed me that behavior is one showing dominance. In other words, Levi’s pooping outside the box–I wonder if there’s a correlation to male humans?–says to Pumpkin, “I get the big cheese.”

Well, we couldn’t stand it anymore, the pooping outside the box, so after taking into consideration what my friend said about dominance, we decided that Levi needs a new home, one in which he is the one and only.  Besides he seems to adore males, and since neither my daughter nor I is one, he had to go.  So we put him in a cat carrier and off we go to the nearest no-kill shelter over 90 miles away.  We didn’t call first, as we should, denying the fact that there might not be room for one more domestic cat.  And there wasn’t, and we bring him back, over 200 miles of weepy cat meows in various pleading tones.  When he escaped from my daughter’s arms after we came inside–we had let him out of the cat carrier in the car, hoping that the meowing will cease–he zipped downstairs, head down, tail between his legs. The litter box is downstairs.  That little escapade  really fixed him for a time.  For the next month, he went in the litter box every time.  We concluded that metaphorically in Levi’s mind when he returned from that long trip like a prodigal cat, he became the house underdog.

A week ago, he pooped outside the litter box again; and we took him on a little ride again.  Unlike Pumpkin who adores being outside, Levi is a big pussy.  He despises being outside.  If he finds himself on that sea of green grass, it  becomes a bed of hot coals, and he tiptoes off as fast as his banty legs will carry him, screaming and cowering by the screen door, his tail tucked far up under his legs.

If I were someone who studies linguistics, I would definitely study cat meows, for there can’t be much difference between the position of a cat’s tale and what comes out of his mouth.