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.