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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Oh Al!; or It's about time.

So Al Gore has "changed his mind" about the whole gay marriage issue. After spending, according to CNN most of his v-p-hood fighting for the Defense of Marriage Act (an act named so as to sound benign, as though it is good for married people when in fact it is an attack on the civil rights of as much as 10% of any given population--and possibliy more in the US.

Al has seen the light, now that he doesn't have the camera lights pointing at him. Marriage, and gay marriage in particular, is not a religious, moral, ethical, or even value issue. The ability to marry--as far as any state should be concerned with it--is simply an issue of civil rights.

Marriage laws do not create, nor do they define, issues of sexuality and morality. Marriage is a set of laws pertaining to money, health, insurance and inheritance. The state has no say in who is or is not a family--take, for example, a woman living alone with her two children, or grandparents caring for their grandchildren because their children cannot. The state, in allowing marriage, simply has a say in who can be in the ICU, who gets to sign up with whom for health insurance, and who gets the house should the family member in whose name it is held should die.

Those against gay marriage claim it is a moral issue, with the now famous, "If we let homosexuals marry each other, then anyone can marry anyone or anything. Next, they'll want to marry animals, or children!" Hmm...what an odd argument. And yet, this argument is not a new one and homosexual marriage is not its first iteration or use.

Compare the above to this argument, "If we let women vote, then children will want the vote, too!" Next, Fido might ask for a seat in congress.

And yet the gay community has yet to argue for gay marriage in terms of civil rights. The argument currently in use is that two consenting adults should be allowed to pursue their lives as they wish--and they should. But until gay men and women begin to sue for the civil rights and create the next wave of the civil rights movement in this country, there will still be an extreme denial of those rights. Until those who believe in human and civil rights stand up and back our fellow humans in their right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, we will continue to agree to live in a country that claims to be progressive but is, in fact, stagnant.

Friday, January 25, 2008

On the idea of a Woman President...

I said it before and I'll say it again; that we even talk about Hillary's gender and Barack's race shows the underlying (and extreme) sexism and racism still extant in this country.

Israel had a woman head of government in the 70s--Golda Meir is still revered as one of the best prime ministers in that country's history. Britain had Margaret Thatcher for 12 years! Germany has a female Chancellor right now. In Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister was recently assassinated--not for being female in that closed, sexist and often extremist Muslim country, but for being anti-terror and anti-fundamentalist.

A woman head of government is not a new idea, it is not a radical concept and it is not proof of a non-sexist society. That we marvel at the possibility, that our media deigns to ask "is America ready?", that we have people who don't look past Clinton's breasts to her heart and mind is a terrifying reminder that women do not have equality in this country. People still worry about the president having PMS--we don't seem to worry about the president having an anti-intellect attitude or a chip on his shoulder about his daddy, but really, deeply, we worry about hormones?!?

And a black man as president?!? Yikes! Could it be possible that we might one day catch up to the understanding even South Africa has reached? Is there a possibility that the great United States of America might someday have the forethought and egalitarian mindset of more than half the world? How can we even begin to maintain the pretence that we have civil rights in our country when we worry about a presidential candidate's race before we worry about his platform. There are people, tell me if this sounds familiar, who don't think we're ready for an African-American in the White House--heck, it is call the White House after all.

This election, no matter how it turns out, will not prove to the world anything but how backward this country is. If we don't elect one of these two, we will face the internal and external accusations that race and gender were the cause. If we do elect them, we will revel in our own open-mindedness and pat ourselves on the back for finally catching up with a decades (and that's because I'm only considering the modern world) -old concept that all people are created equal and are endowed by their creator with...

And so while we are not all of equal talent, ability, intellect, interest or strength, we are certainly all of equal value. We will have to go through this ugly campaign, one way or another. We will have to go through the underlying meanings. We will have to face who and what we are.

I, for one, will look forward to the day when this race will become a joke. I look forward to a US in which there is no need for Black History Month, in which a women's movement is a human's movement, in which these issues are not.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

On writing...still

I have to sit down and work on some stories. I suppose that's what should be happening now, rather than blogging. But I must also blog, so I think, this time, I'll blog about writing.

I consider myself a writer. I work on writing. I'm trying to get published (and have been published before). I write daily (and not just emails).

Yet writing, though I find it very fulfilling, is one of the toughest things I do. There are writers who say it's the easiest thing they do. I know a few who simply plan a novel and then write it...and then publish it. I look up to these people. They make me wonder if I'm just a delusional idiot with a laptop. There are, to keep me from giving up, writers who have described writing as a form of self-sacrifice and personal torture. I look up to them, too. I know what they're writing through.

For me, it's not totally a matter of just sitting down and pounding it out nor a matter of opening veins. For me, it's a matter of forcing myself to work. I must talk myself into sitting down and starting. I have to block out all the things I'd rather be doing. I have to rid myself of the niggling need to have a cup of coffee-- only a professionally made coffee from whatever coffee vendor is the farthest from me--right now. I have to get myself comfortable enough that I have no excuse to get away from the computer. And I have to have all my other responsibilities for the day complete or the overwhelming guilt of doing something else will come smashing into me as soon as I get to the zone.

So as to be clear, I do get to the zone. Often. (That's one of the things of which I remind myself when I'm talking myself into writing.) I love the zone. I don't actually exist in the zone. Leah, as it were, disappears. The writer in me goes away. It's much like singing (when that happens in the zone). I become a simple conduit of energy. I am being told the story I am telling. It's magical.

And that's one of the reasons I admire the people who can do it for long stretches at a time and with little or no seeming conflict. I imagine they simply live in the zone. Maybe these writers have to yank themselves out of that zone to spend time with us mere mortals. Maybe their lives are all magic. This, of course, is the musing of a child. It is the little kid in me who believes that only her life is outlandish and difficult who can hold these thoughts in her head. The adult in me knows better. She's smarter and more experienced, of course. She's also completely bewildered about those magical folks who can simply float into the zone and get it done.

Guess I'll have to live in my own world of writer-ness. It'll be tough, but not as tough as it could have been.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

What the heck...

It started the way it always starts.

I walk into the office and sign in. A nice person in scrubs says hi and asks me to sit. I do. On infusion days, I rarely wait more than 5 minutes, so I don't bother to get interested in the TV. I'll have my own in a minute and a better choice of channels.

A---, one of my favorite people on the planet, calls me back. She weighs me. This time I asked for her to weigh me. I'd been in last week, so we didn't have to, but I've been losing weight and wanted to see where I was at. She walks me back to the room and lets me choose my chair. There's little choice, really. All three are green, somewhat comfortable and within good view of the TV--though I'm not happy that someone else is here and he's already chosen a TV channel. Poop. No choice for me.

I get over my silliness as soon as I see he's got something on I'd want to watch. I've got a few minutes before the nurse will come in, so I recline the chair and start chatting with D---. He's a nice guy. I've never seen him here before but it's 'cause he's on another type of biomed, so he only comes in every 6 months, not every 6 weeks, like me.

S---, my nurse, comes in. She starts getting the "equipment" ready.

She pulls the tray over and covers it with a blue pad. She tears open a bag of saline and hangs it on the hook near my chair. She puts the line on the tray and then goes to get the needles, tape, gauze, alcohol and other gear.

I make small talk. It works for me.

S--- talks small right back as she hooks me up, gives me my pre-infusion steroids and anti-migraine pills. She gets fluid from the bag and mixes it with the drug. I watch as she re-injects the now-fluid-drug back into the bag. She starts the line running, and turns to take notes, asking about my holiday.

And this is where this last infusion stops being like all the ones before. This is the point at which I start scratching at my very red and slightly bumpy arm.

"Oh, man, I'm itchy," I say.

S--- shoots some more steroids into the IV and slows the flow from the bag. She turns back to the charts.

When she turns back around, I am trying to remove my eardrums using only my short-clipped fingernails as tools.

We're not playing nice any more.

S--- moves quickly. Before I can really register what's happening, she has put more stuff in the lead, turned off the IV altogether and asked how I'm doing. I apologize slurrily, and announce that I think I'm falling asleep. I am. Mainlining Benadryl as a response to anaphylaxis will pretty much do that to a girl.

S--- says, "mmhmmm." and D-- laughs.

The way chemo works (whether for cancer or--as in my case--for arthritis) is that when the allergic reaction stops, the chemo starts back up. We do this as much as possible because truth is that chemo is poison, but when it goes in and slows that screamin' immune system down to a dull roar, my hands start working again and the pain level goes WAYYYYYY down.

So a few days later, I'm still tired, my body is still kind of messed up with whatever they put in me...but I managed to type all this up and my hands feel fine! :)

Sunday, January 13, 2008


So, I just spent a couple hours reading an article on reflection for class. The title, for those interested is "Silence: Reflection, Literacy, Learning, and Teaching." The author, Pat Belanoff. And I thought I'd share some of her thoughts with y'all. Me? I had problems in the reading (hence the literal two hour reading time). I had problems with the length of the work. I thought the section in which Belanoff defines every word she's using was a bit much--and a bit high school--but I kinda understand the need to look into etymological roots of words before we "invoke" their full power.

The point, though, is not the article. The point is that Belanoff argues the need for reflection in teaching. That is, she argues that we need to find a way to encourage our students to think and meditate in silence in the classroom. I like that idea. AND I think that it can be done best in an online class! Now, I have to find a way to encourage my students to do this whole reflection thing. I don't think I'll have them read the article, though. It is not too dense for them. It is not too complex for them. It's too long--and I am ashamed to say that. But, really, some editing would have been nice.

SO how does one encourage reflection in an online class? I don't know yet. But I'm working on it. I do know that in an online class, there is the time, the space, the availability for reflection.

If any of y'all have any ideas, let me know.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

My "babies"

So I've suggested to one of my students that a blog is a perfect place to share pics of her doggie. And that, of course, leads me to share pics of my "babies." My honey likes to point out to me that it's just as silly for me to call them babies as it is for people to dress their dogs. Worse, he says, I insist on talking to them and for them. I never thought I would be this insane.

Don't get me wrong. I always knew I was insane. I've been off for a long time. I like it that way; normal people are usually boring. But I always thought people who talked to their pets were way off. And yet.

And yet, every night, before I go to sleep, I put the babies--read dogs--up on the bed and then take each one in my lap and ask what kind of day he had. Mostly, it started as a way of calming the two so they would fall asleep faster instead of wrestling--on me. But I think i take it seriously now. Still, it must be good for them if it works. They know, when I get in bed and put them in my lap and pet them and talk gently to them that it's time to settle down. When I say "all right," they immediately get off my lap and head for the "puppy section"--read foot--of the bed and lie down. I always finish with "lie down go boom." but they usually are down by then. Still, if they're over-excited, I just have to say "lie down go boom" once or twice and they will.

I have now both admitted to my insanity and defended it. Yowza. Good thing they're so damned cute. Don't believe me? Check out the pic!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Starting the Semester

I was thinking today how much I dislike the first week of the semester; I still don't know my students and they don't know me, I worry about whether my assignments are going to work, I have nightmares about showing up in class unprepared (yes, those don't go away). And then it occurred to me that new semesters are among the reasons I LOVE being a teacher.

I am one of those awful folks who get bored easily. I used to have a desk job. I worked in technical writing. I was good at it. I made lots of money doing it. The benefits were good. It made me want to jump out a window.

As a teacher (and a writer and a journalist) my life is always changing. I don't have the same thing to do day in and day out. I get to change EVERYTHING every 15 weeks when the new semester starts. If my students just had a rough group dynamic, if I was having a tough time connecting, if I had a class at one of those times of day when even the prof is asleep; no matter what may go wrong in a semester, it WILL be over in 15 weeks. Even good semesters HAVE to end. I get to rewrite my courses. I get to put new and interesting things into the syllabus. I get to incorporate what I've learned each semester--and believe me, I learn a LOT every semester.

So, for starters, I oughtta stop whining about the new semester. Yes, the first week is a bit tough and frought with danger: I might walk into class to find that I haven't put on clothes this morning (well, actually, that only happens in the scary dreams). But once that tough part is over and we all find our groove, the semester is what it is--good bad and ugly (and I do mean and).

When I was 19, I had a long distance relationship. I told B--- that I missed him and was hoping time would speed up so we'd see each other faster. I'll never forget what he told me.

"I'm hoping time drags by really slowly," he said. "I want time to slow down so that when we do see each other I don't have to beg time to stop. I figure if it's already slow, I can just let it stay that way."

It's silly. It's romantic. It's something 19 year olds and others in love say to each other. And yet...

I no longer ask for time to pass quickly. I always ask for time to go slowly. Even when things are tough--and believe me, when you're teaching full time and taking a PhD things do get tough--and I want to wish time would speed by, I remember what B--- said and change my mind, asking for time to creep.

The point, of course, is far more Zen than what one asks of time (which is kind of like talking to Santa). The point is that if one practices the oblivion one needs to get through difficulties "quickly," one will not be practicing what one needs most to fully enjoy good times: the ability to be in the moment and fully awake to life. That, of course, always leads me to the next organizing principle of my life: I always learn more from challenges than from "good times." I always grow more from the experiences I find most difficult--but only when I fully experience them.

No. I'm not a saint or a martyr. I don't live for pain. But I do recognize that living requires pain. And I do realize that in the big scheme of things, the challenges of the first week of a semester are far from painful--they're just a little discomfort on the road to better things.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Welcome to Segovia, Espania

The taxi ride back to the train station at the end of a long, difficult day reminded me of the bus ride from it that morning

The train, it appears, was packed. The train station was inaugurated, I am told, 4 days before our arrival. It sits several miles outside of town. At least 100 of us disembarked. At least 100 of us tried to get on the lone bus available at the station. No one tried a taxi--because none was present and the desolation surrounding the station made the possibility of one showing up seem rather unlikely.

After 40 or so of us managed to cram ourselves into each other's personal space, the driver closed the doors.

It took about 5 minutes for us to learn that a disgruntled (non)passenger had decided to stand in front of the bus to protest the lack of buses in general and his own lack of a ride specifically. By that time, some were yelling and others laughing. None went for my idea of singing "we will rock you."

When the police car pulled up, we heaved a collective sigh of relief, thus heavily fogging the windows so that it took another 5 minutes of breath-holding--mixed with intermittent yelling at the driver to open the rear door--for us to learn that the officer had no power whatsoever to move, remove, or in any way hinder the protest or the protester who was hindering our ride.

Soon after the officer's impotence was discovered, another bus arrived. Sadly, the availability of a ride to town could not dampen the lone protester's enthusiasm for bus-stopping. It took yet another 5 minutes to get that obstruction talked into boarding the second bus (his companions who had been cheering him on seemed instrumental in this as they, like us, were freezing their proverbial buns off) so we could get underway.

The cheers, sighs, curses, and laughter the moving bus brought out in us fogged the windows back up.

There are, apparently, 2 whole bus stops in the town of Segovia. We were let off at the it or lump it! The driver was having a protest of her own, it seems, and decided she had fulfilled the duties required of her by the 1.20 Euros we had each paid for the privilege. That privilege, we now realized would include walking the rest of the way to the aqueduct--where the town's flourishing tourist district begins and its flourishing bus route ends.

Thankfully, aqueducts are rather large things, and for those of us with aqueduct-recognition problems, the town fathers had seen fit to erect signs...with arrows. The arrow indicated we should turn right at the traffic circle. But we didn't. Well, we didn't turn right away.

First, we dealt with the mixed luck of finding ourselves across the street from the local police station. I call the luck mixed, for though we saw the building as an opportunity to lodge our bus complaints--many and varied by now--we were hindered yet again in our efforts. This time, the culprit was technology--sort of.

The officer at the complaints desk explained matter-of-factly that the computer system was down. When asked if the lack of a computer meant we could not complain, the officer nodded and returned to checking his fingernails for fungal outbreaks.

THEN we walked to the traffic circle and turned right and trudged toward the Roman aqueduct for which this town is famous. It was a wrong turn in the deepest way. Though we did get to the aqueduct and did spend the day in Segovia, we might have done better to turn around. The morning's events would prove an omen and a metaphor.