Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I can tell that I need to take the rest of the week to re-charge. My life is usually pretty social and filled with people. It's hard not to be when you live with four other people. But I think I need to take advantage of the kids being with their father and some friends being out of town and just kind of retreat and take some time to replenish. I woke up today feeling a little spent, like I've been giving out too many bits of myself without  making sure I have reserves. I can tell that I need some time alone because I keep thinking about getting back in bed. I don't need a nap. I need time to myself. So, I think I'm going to shut off my chat programs and retreat a little bit.

This doesn't happen to me every day (on Facebook)

It's not uncommon for me to wake up to a new friend request. Particularly from someone I don't know, but has friends in common with me. Hazard of small town life.

This morning, the friend we had in common is a fake identify (the doll of a friend's daughter-- don't ask), so I wondered if this might be too.

Within a half hour, I had this in my Inbox:


Between You and Names have been stripped to protect the innocent
December 30 at 12:25pm
Thanx for accepting my frindship request,are u married,do u live alone,where are u from.whats the age...
Dude. I didn't think my profile picture was that good. 
Edited to add: Haha, I blogged this too soon. 

Got this in reply: "Oh thats nice thank god for u.well dont u have anybody so beautiful like u for me?doesnt matter age..."

Hmmm... maybe I should just go for it?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Out of the Body Travel

And once
when I rose from her body
it was like
water I looked into
water I had held.

-- Stanley Plumly

Monday, December 28, 2009


Bangkok, my friend writes, is evil
and she is going to
save it
from Buddha and Nirvana.

Sundays, I like to read
and drink coffee
when I should be in church.

I fell my friend that I am
chaste and devout
as lilacs
because she asks, because she wants me
to be because she is
in Bangkok.

Yesterday, I forgot my coat.
Bangkok, she writes, is hot.
It clings to her,
mosquito net,

tangled in the dark.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

On relationships

I have been thinking a lot lately about relationships, desire, stimulation, connections, boredom, interests, and how all of these things come together.

I have long believed that you can know something intellectually long before you know it emotionally. And sometimes, at least in my case, until you know it emotionally, it doesn’t really resonate or click. Intellectual knowledge is pretty limited: A judge who doesn’t have children can’t possibly understand the terror involved in a custody battle, the fear of not being able to wake in the same house as your children every morning. And so it is with things that I learn emotionally either through thinking about them for a long time or having new experiences that teach me.

There are probably a number of these things, thought and experience, at play in the conversation I have had with myself.

All of your life, you hear that you can’t really rely on anyone but yourself, that you can’t really know another person. That mostly what we know of other people is the combination of their behaviors (including writing and verbal conversation) and actions. We infuse these things with our own projections and come up with an understanding, or construct, in our own minds of who this person is, and what our relationship with them is like. It’s sort of like trying to figure out where in the jigsaw of your life this person fits. Do they fit neatly into the puzzle right next to your piece? Or are they several pieces away, but you can see them?

The problem with this analogy of course is that the pieces are always changing. And sometimes pieces that once fit together well don’t work anymore. In this way, the puzzle also changes. So, it’s also fitting and appropriate to say that not only can we not every really know another person, we also cannot every truly know or understand ourselves. I do/think/write/say things that surprise (and sometimes shock) myself all the time. So, if I am capable of surprising myself after 40 years, then how am I supposed to know someone else?

I suppose, though, that I do spend a lot of time trying to know and understand myself, my place in the puzzle, my shape, how I can fit. I recognize that my life is a part of a puzzle, though, and that I am neither puzzle nor a lone piece that exists as a tiny island or puzzle. That means I have interactions and relationships with others.

Bear with me. I have to state the obvious to build up to my learning experience here. If I don’t take you on my journey as much as possible, then if you have already had this learning experience, you will say, “Duh,” and if you have not, then you will find me [even more] difficult to relate to. [It always fascinates me when people cannot relate to me, by the way, because I genuinely like people in general and I go out of my way to be pleasant and polite. I realize that I am odd, but does that also equal unlikeable? In some cases, apparently it does, but I don't have much energy to try to figure it out or change it].

Over the years, I have had some fantastic and amazing friendships and some fantastic and amazing conversations. Some of those conversations have occurred in letters that I still have—letters that I have never even had to re-read because the conversations are part of me now. They are so intrinsically tied to who I am that I re-live them every day, in small and important ways. However, I think that I get so excited about these conversations that I start to think that the excitement comes from the other person, getting to know another person, having that interaction, both of us spending time reading and writing, and I start to crave it.

What I have come to realize lately, though, is this:
1)The common denominator in all of these conversations is me.
    2)   What I am probably responding to at a very visceral level is the stimulation of thinking and the reading and writing that I am doing. My own engagement with something.

I have written/talked about elsewhere this Fall (here too? I don’t remember and I’m too lazy to go look right now—if I start re-reading my own damn blog right now I’ll lose this thread of thought) about the fact that I tend to think of about 5-10 things over and over and over again. I mentioned this to my friend Jamie, and he laughed and said, “I think mine is about three.”

Some writing instructors will tell you that there are only so many themes or ideas. Everything is just variation on these things. Fine. [Haha, originally I typed "Find." I thought that was a great accident] There may only be so many things that we can think about before we start repeating ourselves. It’s clearly an iterative process. I don’t mind returning to the same subjects again and again. It’s usually better to do it with other people, new people, who can bring in fresh ideas and perspectives, but I am also changing enough to be able to do it with myself.

So, back to those 5-10 things over and over. When I read a new book or learn something new or meet a new person or write a new poem or see a new movie, I get excited because I’m not thinking about one of those 5-10 things. I am excited because I’ve stepped out of that dangerous merry-go-round that binds us to it with the centrifugal force of inertia, boredom. I hate being bored. I hate it. I try not to be bored. However, at times, it is not possible not to be bored with oneself.

There have been times this year when I have been bored with myself and therefore had contempt for myself. Or when I have mistaken the need simply to be in the world without acting in it as laziness, and also had contempt for myself. So, when I am engaged in conversation with others, and I am happy, what I have realized this week is that it actually has very little to do with the person I am conversing with (sorry!!!). The excitement and stimulation come not only from the relief at having something new to think about, but also from the way I view myself. When I am writing and reading and my mind is engaged, I’m really happy.

But in the same way that familiarity can breed contempt in our relationships with others, it can also breed contempt within us. It’s no secret that I love the movie Before Sunrise (it accompanies the wonderful Before Sunset). Ethan Hawke’s character Jesse says to the young and beautiful Julie Delpy (Celine) something to the effect that whether he is alone or with other people he is so sick of himself, but there isn’t really anything he can do about that. And he has heard all of his stories and laughed at all of his jokes. So, if he is sick of himself, how can he expect someone else not to get sick of him too? That’s probably why it’s better to have a little mystery in relationships—because otherwise we get bored. I think this can be mitigated if people in both friendships, families, and romantic relationships continue to grow and learn and change—even if the ways in which they grow are vastly different from one another. Perhaps it’s less how much we alike people we are but how much we just like them. However, and this is critical to what I learned this week: I think that what ultimately happens is that we find ourselves, sometimes in relation and proximity to other people, liking OURSELVES a lot more. Liking who we are when we interact with these people.

When I was younger and I would fall in love with a new boy every day, I would pine for the boy. If he was absent from class or stayed home from school, or there was a winter break, I was miserable, obsessed with thinking about this dumb, boring boy who wasn’t thinking about me and who was probably whacking off in his parents’ basement and playing Nintendo. I thought somehow that it was the boy himself whom I liked and wanted interaction with (even though that interaction was usually limited simply to crushing on him, and seriously, a picture lasts longer). I now realize that how I feel has very little to do with the company I am in unless I notice discernibly that I am capable of being someone I really like (or in some cases, someone I really dislike) in concert with knowing another person.
So back to reading and writing and stimulation: It occurs to me that the only person who can satisfy every need and want I have from conversation, friendship, sex, love is me. I am the only person who knows that all of the needs and wants are, what the most salient points are in the conversation for me, and I am certainly the only person who has the time or interest to contemplate and then attempt to meet those needs. So, when I am excited or interested or stimulated in something, it is important for me to realize that I am capable of duplicating or re-living that excitement, interest, and stimulation all by myself, and for myself. I told my friend Erica a few weeks ago that I am not really an emotionally dependent person, and this is what I really mean by that. If someone doesn’t write me a letter, call me, hang out with me, send me a text, answer an email fast enough or deeply enough for me, then I can find the satisfaction I am craving from either engaging in the act of writing myself (behold), or I can in some other way that releases other people from any responsibility for my own happiness.

What is interesting is that I think for a long time, I have experienced a cognitive dissonance between what actually makes me happy and what I think should make me happy—because I have been sold some bill of goods by someone somewhere that I have accepted as gospel truth. I was talking to my friend Ilona earlier this week (yesterday?) and told her that I was feeling guilty about something, and then I further said about it that I felt guilty in the context that I didn’t think other people (un-named, faceless, judgmental people! Whom I wouldn’t invite for dinner or sit next to at Mass!) would approve. Even if they would never find out, I still felt guilty.

Ilona was shocked. She said, “Your guilt is external and not internal?”

Pretty much. Unless I hurt another person, which devastates me. But if what I am doing doesn’t hurt someone else, I’m pretty much okay with it. I have, however, let my fear of these judgmental others dictate not only my actions and behaviors but also my very thoughts. That really scares me. But somehow it seems to take a lot of energy every day to let my thoughts be the loudest, my needs be the greatest, and to have the integrity to be who I am (and to learn and accept that that shifts and changes and will continue to shift and change. If there is a core to my personality, it is as hot, moltenous, and shape-changing as middle earth).

But I will conclude by saying that it’s so nice to be writing again. I like who I am better when I am writing. And I also realize that it’s more effective for me to have a blog, to have an audience of some kind so I can set these words forth. And even though even with a blog, you’ll never have enough viewers or commenters, people will never respond to you in quite the ways you anticipate—but sometimes it’s even better. And because I can’t anticipate or manufacture someone else’s response (not even with a grant), I just have to try to like who I am. And if I don’t, if I am unhappy or think that someone else is not meeting my needs by talking to me enough or thinking about me enough (my god, how presumptuous is that?), or liking me enough (how would you ever know? How do you quantify that, and how on earth can you prove it? ) that it’s actually a result of dissatisfaction with myself. I am being lazy, I want someone else to provide entertainment for me, I am sick of myself, etc. And there are a multitude of ways of changing that. So, I need to go find one and do it.

It is at once liberating and paralyzing to understand that in a world full of people, you are truly alone, and that you are pretty much all you have. But the sooner you realize it (or remind yourself of it or re-learn it, and when I say “you,” I am, of course, talking about me) the sooner you can start giving yourself those things you need. And it can be like falling in love. (And I’m not talking about narcissism—I’m talking about self-love and self-efficacy).

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have relationships with other people—those exchanges and interactions can be absolutely the best things we experience. But I think we should temper these relationships and our expectations of what other people can provide for us—and make sure that we don’t blame others for what we are failing to provide for ourselves.

So. Two things I am working on right now:

1)   Making sure that what I am doing doesn’t hurt other people. Wow, that’s actually really hard. I think the best we can do is try not intentionally to hurt them.
2)   Being interesting to myself/ not blaming others for failing to give me what I can give to myself.

Happy Boxing Day!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Facebook just recommended that I friend someone. The name seemed familiar, but I was a little startled when I saw our mutual friends and realized that it is my brother's birthmother.

I just hit the X. Not really ready to do that.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Dude, did you lose a ton of weight?"-- Missy

[re-post from Facebook because I know some of you (okay, just one, Liza) are not on Facebook and missed this.

I posted before and after pictures of myself from the past 7 months to illustrate just that: Yes, Missy, my size has changed. I'm hedging about how much weight I've lost because I don't know. I am afraid to step on the scale because that is always depressing-- but I do know that Between August 17 and August 29th, I lost ten pounds. I was at my parents' house and weighing myself during that brief period. Because I have continued to lose inches this Fall, I can safely assume it's more than ten pounds.

It's funny-- people always want to know why and how someone loses weight, but we don't ask (and why would we?) why and how people GAIN weight. Because we know why, right? We gain weight by eating too much, right? And we lose it by restricting our food intake and exercising, right?

That's what I thought for the past 7 years. But I couldn't figure out for the life of me why, when I was up to running 8 miles at a time two or three years ago, I couldn't lose any weight or change my size. It was horribly defeating: I began to view myself as a person who couldn't take care of myself. Every attempt I made to eat healthily and exercise resulted in... nothing. No changes. I still felt sluggish and tired all the time. Ask my blog readers ( about my posts from the last two years at LEAST. The recurring theme is that I was *tired*. So tired.

I have spent the past seven years telling my doctor how frustrated I am that I can't feel better, can't make myself healthier. I spent two years complaining about the fatigue. It was only after Christian was diagnosed with diabetes and I insisted that something be done that he actually paid me any mind. He prescribed Wellbutrin, guessing that my anti-depressant (CELEXA-- REMEMBER THAT WORD) had "pooped out."

With the Wellbutrin, I did notice a change in energy. But when I complained (AGAIN) about my weight, my doctor shrugged it off: We worry more about active lifestyle (by that time I had stopped running. It was difficult to run, it was slow, sluggish, and it didn't do any damn good. So, why bother?). He told me that people my age who are thinner than I was are hungry all the time. Even the most disciplined person usually can't sustain a weight loss. Well, that's encouraging.

But it doesn't explain the smaller 40-year-old women around me.

Finally, when I was visiting with my ob-gyn nurse practitioner (hurray for nurse practitioners!) in August (between trips to Utah to help my father after his heart surgery), she asked me what kind of anti-depressant I was on. I said CELEXA. She said, "Oh. NO NO NO NO NO."

I had suspected for YEARS that maybe the Celexa was contributing to my inability to change my size. However, I was afraid to change my medication (and my dr would just say, "Is it working?" How do you know? Because you're not suicidal? Even though the rest of your life is in the toilet?) so I stayed on it (because weaning myself off the anti-depressant inevitably failed-- I became instantly anxious and depressed and un-focused by the time I was done with the weaning.)

So, my wonderful nurse practitioner prescribed PROZAC to go with the Wellbutrin. I began taking it that night, and flew back to Utah the next day. I was depressed about leaving my family, but I was oddly elated and in a good mood in the Las Vegas airport. Interesting.

I weighed myself two days after I had started the Prozac and was elated to note that I had lost 2 pounds. ELATED. Because it was the first time my weight had budged (apart from brief thyroid troubles the summer before).

So, the picture in my album that is dated August 2009 reflects about ten days of the Prozac. When I came home, my family and friends noticed an immediate difference.

I have been posting this Fall about my running. The running has nothing to do with my weight loss, any more than overeating had to do with my weight gain. I am running again because it doesn't suck to run anymore. I have gotten faster and it feels good.

I *am* eating more healthily-- in that I have tried to eliminate processed foods from what I eat. But I don't run daily, or even, in the past month, more than once or twice a week. And I have continued to hear, "You look like you've lost more weight just in the past WEEK."

That's great. That's nice. I feel really good, and I am writing poetry again and productive and making strides on organizing my house and my life in ways that I haven't had the energy for for literally YEARS.

But I feel like I sort of lost 7 years, you know? My joy is tempered with the sadness of that fatigue, those feelings of helplessness and worthlessness I experienced-- my perception that I was slothful because I was unable to make changes no matter how much I tried.

Our society needs to re-examine the idea that there is an equivalent equation between calories in and calories out. It needs to re-examine the idea that weight gain is normal in women because they have reached a certain "age." I'm not saying that what happened to me is happening to everyone else, but I am willing to bet that this will resonate with some of you.


Oh don't worry-- it's mostly joy and relief at feeling like myself again! It's funny how fast you can remember what that feels like. I didn't have time to finish my note earlier, so I wanted to take the chance to finish, because it's relevant to that paragraph about the sadness.

My dilemma now is what to do about my doctor. This is not the first... well, let's just say that it is not only NOT the first time that I have seriously wondered whether I should find a new one. I just hate to yank my family out of his practice because he has known us for so long. However, he convinced me to cancel an appointment 90 miles away with an Endocrinologist, insisting he could provide my thyroid care.

When he suggested that we also ditch our Diabetes team in Columbia so he could monitor Christian exclusively, I was struck with the inappropriateness of his suggestion. He has only had 2 patients with diabetes. Ever. So, even as I am writing this I am wondering, actually, how I could consider NOT finding a new physician. Just for the simple reason that I think he did not and DOES not take me seriously. I think if he had really listened to what I was telling him, or if I had insisted earlier or changed physicians earlier, perhaps...

Of course, you're right. But I just want to round this up by saying that I am not dwelling on this (or inclined to)-- I just think that I should ACT on that reality of 7 years and a) stay proactive about my own health care and b) find a new doctor.

I have thought about writing about this as an essay for a medical journal (that is kind of what I do for a living, so I even know where I would send it). However, I don't think I can claim this is a comment on anything except my own situation. Anecdote is not the singular for data. Even though my NP based her prescription on clinical trials that suggest that Wellbutrin and Prozac can work together to assist weight loss, that doesn't mean it will work for everyone. (Again-- see Melissa's study and Arwen's comment below).

I feel *less* that I have lost weight and more that without the Celexa, the obstacles to my happiness and sense of self have been removed. Ha, that's pretty ironic, isn't it?

Anecdotally speaking, maybe the push I can make here is for us all to realize that our health is ultimately our own responsibility. And I'm glad I kept complaining about it-- because if I had just given up and accepted what my body was refusing to do, I'd probably be as tired and inert as I was before. Don't give up on yourself, and don't doubt yourself. I feel that I spent about ten years of my adulthood learning how to doubt my intuition and instincts, so I am actively trying to hone my awareness of my instincts, and not to back down when I know that something is not quite right. 


Tonight I sit on my couch and watch for you
and I can see the light of the moon on the street.
I picture you in your car,

Sitting in darkness with music,
the night all around you,
headlights and moon on the road.

What is the strength of a vision? Maybe
you are not in your car, coming
back to me, Missouri from Kentucky.

Neils Bohr saw electrons in the laboratory
and said our cosmos depends on observation:
If you have a vision, you will see it.

Even Ezekiel saw the destruction of the Temple
years before it began. He started
mourning so when Judah really fell

he was ready to live again.
So I sit here on the couch, eyes closed, and
I am with you, unseen, in your car, and will it so.

We are pushed and pulled each day by
contradictory forces, standing up against gravity
and drawn always toward the center of the earth

its moltenous, destructional core.
Is that why we seek the cold
loveliness of the moon? Her constant presence,

changing, shape.
Tonight I feel buoyed up
thinking not of destruction

but of the temple as a body.
Remember the Phoenix, how it rose up
spread its wings in the ashes and flew?

So it is with Ezekiel, and me on the couch,
while you, mile by mile from Kentucky,
drive though the silver dark

the moon at your side as she guides you
with her green levitational pull.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fa la la la la

Yesterday, I am not sure I moved from one spot for... hmmm... it was a long time. I probably got up to go to the bathroom. I half a bagel before I went outside, and took coffee with me, which cooled every time I tried to get a new cuppa going, before I could drink it. At some point, my friend John brought me a mocha. About ten minutes after he left, Jeremy showed up with some Red Bull (which he consumed eventually, 9 hours later, when I had left it untouched).

I admit that I was chainsmoking. In fact, I would periodically reach for my cigarette, discover that none were lit, and light another one. And so it went.

Actually submitting a federal grant is something else. Weeks ahead of time, you have to register with the granting agency. Then, you have to get all kinds of confidential numbers and passwords from your university saying that you are, in fact, allowed to submit grants on their behalf. Fortunately, I did all that weeks ago. In fact, I scared a few people in the business office by emailing them and asking them for our Tax ID information, LOL. I could almost hear the collective whiplash as they tried to figure out who I was and how I dared ask for it, all the down the street at my house. I don't have a lot of time to try to figure out the appropriate protocol, and they called all the right people, so it all got figured out.

So, last night, I fill out all of the treacherous application forms, attached the right attachments, and breathlessly hit the "Save and Submit" button. I got email confirmation of its receipt... and then it was bounced right back to me. Claiming that I was not an Authorized Organization Representative. WHAT?????

So, I went and retrieved all of the emails saying I WAS, and logged into the website, and then got on the phone with those poor people who are fielding calls all night from panicked, pissed off, and fatigued people like me. There was one more stupid button I had to press on that damn website, and then I was in. I had to close out of the grant (panic time) and then re-open and re-submit it.

While I was on the phone with them, THREE PEOPLE were calling me and two texting AT THE SAME TIME. It was very chaotic, but that is that.

Then, I poured some Bushmills Black and just sat in the studio with Talia, Jeremy, and Dereck for hours, watching first a Cindy Lauper DVD and then a Deathcab for Cutie DVD, and I started crocheting.

My dad called me this morning while I was just lying in bed thinking about how tired I was. He laughed and told me that I now know why the median number of federal applications that ANYONE submits is ONE. They never want to go through that again. I can understand it, but it was also kind of a high. I felt like I had just given birth to a baby that I never want to see again.

I have another grant due in January. This one is 15 pages, as opposed to the 71-page application I just turned in.

So. Christmas. I hear there's a holiday coming up. We have no tree yet (today?), but we do have very pretty blue lights up outside, and some myriad holiday decorations put up, no thanks to me. The kids (I have great kids) readily admitted around early November that there wasn't anything they particularly needed or wanted for Christmas. At least, not like previous years when they have had very specific wants. So, we told them that we were imposing a $40 budget per person on the holiday. So, if they could think of things that fell in that price range, good. If not, then they'd take what they got. So, Christmas this year is comprised of all sorts of books, a couple of videos and computer games, and two down comforters. Damn. Need to get a hooded sweatshirt, but there is still time. I don't think my kids read this blog yet, but they can be pretty savvy, so I won't mention anything that they don't already have a strong sense about.

It's nice, particularly as the children get older and nobody believes in Santa anymore (oh the trauma, but last year was our first Santa-free Christmas, and apart from the flu that felled us all, it was fine). This allows us to focus on the true spirit of Christmas: the FOOD! Oh my god. I have baking to do, but this house is bursting at the seams with things like camembert, spiked egg nogg, Bailey's, crackers, sharp cheddar, lox, bagels, and whatnot. Even though I didn't eat anything yesterday except that half bagel in the morning and then a broiled bagel at 2:00 a.m. with camembert on it, I am deeply appreciative of the holiday goodness abounding in this house. If it weren't raining today, I would probably try to go running, too. But it is, so I won't.

It's unbelievable how I still have this nagging feeling that there is something I am supposed to be doing, but nope. Nothing. Nothing that I don't want to do.

This afternoon, we are going to take the kids to the grocery store and let them get stuff to donate to the Humane Society, and then we will take it out there. We were thinking about getting a real tree, but we have a fake one in our attic (two, actually), and it's raining...

I found out this morning that my friend John will be here for Christmas. His travel plans have been curtailed by the weather. Chris will be here too. I am unbelievably excited-- I feel like my family just told me they would be home for Christmas. I hadn't planned to go to Mass because I'm lazy and nobody but me really likes it, but John and I will go at Midnight. I really do love high church at Christmas-- though, I don't think anything could really compete with Orthodoxy, especially the monks at St. Tikhon's monastery near Dereck's parents' place. That link takes you to a slide show-- it's certainly very beautiful, in a very old and sort of dead space, dusty sort of way compared to the modern, show-offy glitz I saw in the Mormons' Nauvoo temple. Their imported chandeliers and persian rugs pissed me off-- there is so much suffering in the world, and you are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on THAT? I remember going off on a rant about it to my mother several years ago when she innocently asked me what I thought of my tour of the temple... (If you are playing catch up and new to Jen's blogs, I was raised Mormon, and my parents live in Zion Utah).

I should go now. It's nice to see my kids again after being a virtual mole in the studio for the past ten days. Merry two days before Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Alive and Dead

For some reason, I always seem to have a much more intense need to write when I am under the gun of a big grant deadline, as I am now. This morning, I was thinking about it when I ran out to the grocery store to get the lancets they forgot to include with Christian's prescriptions yesterday. There are plenty of other things in the house I could use to make him bleed, but I am fairly certain the AMA and AAP would frown on the use of a well-sterilized thumb tack. (Although, really, look at the word "thumb tack." Perhaps they were invented for blood sugar testing. Probably not.)

Back to the need to write paired with an intense deadline. My ex-husband always liked to tell a story about a young student who came from a small, rural area (this is a folklore story, by the way, or as my ex used to ask at the beginning of such tales, "Is this a Polish student?"). He amazed his professors and excelled in philosophy, English, psychology, sociology, anthropology. And when he graduated, they had high expectations that he would continue to graduate school to become one of the nation's most important thinkers.

Imagine their dismay when he returned to his father's farm. "Why," they demanded, feeling as if somehow they had been robbed or denied something, "on earth did you bother to go to university?"

His reply has always made me smile: "So I would have something to think about while I am standing behind the plow."

That has always struck me as the best possible reason there is to get an education.

So, keeping the threads of this going, I am working on a grant, and yet here I am blogging.

My career requires not that I plow or dig or wash or sew or clean or walk or lift. My career requires me to think. Because, in order to write the documents I am paid to write, I have to be able to think cogently about the content. So, it's always there, a constant underhum, even as I write this, I can picture in my mind the last graph and table of contents I have to put together today. My mind is working on it even while I am writing this. If I were not writing this, however, my brain would be competing between these thoughts and the grant, and I would be less efficient, less able to get things done.

I won't lie: The tradeoff of being paid to think is good financially, but often wearying emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. By writing and thinking for other people, I am giving them pieces of myself, and then I often need time to get those pieces back. Time that I don't get very much. That is why last year, after the largest grant I've ever done (934 pages), I had to take six months off just to try to get some of the pieces back. It has actually taken a full year for me to feel whole again.

So, despite the fact that I earned... well, my ex likes to think that he and Dereck are both supporting me, and that my career is sort of a little hobby, so officially, I didn't really earn any money last year. But if I had, then sometimes I have to ask myself whether the creature comforts we and the boys enjoy are truly worth the fact that I was almost catatonic for 6 months, for all intents and purposes.

I don't know that the boys think it is worth it. However, I am not looking for a career change at this point. Just ruminating on the fact that I think it's somewhat ironic and amusing that thinking is one of my favorite activities, but I have a career that, by its very nature, prevents me from thinking about what I want to think about for large chunks of time.

I may have just realized why I always say I am going to retire to New Mexico and become a ceramicist. Imagine the possibilities of being able to make art and think at the same time! Two processes coinciding in one moment. It's almost too much to want. My friend Jeremy is a visual artist and a musician. He keeps dreadful hours-- he is truly a vampire, staying awake all night and sleeping all day. I wander out to the studio in the morning to find full ashtrays, fewer cigarettes in my pack, and the detritus of coffee cups and Taco Bell, a red peanut M & M on the floor this morning. Almost every single day, he changes the tuning on my guitar so I have to change it back, and he has had to replace more than one string (but he always does, so, kudos!). I have asked him what he does all night (besides listen to music-- there is always music on on the studio, and we have jerry-rigged these awful computer speakers to try to make the sound better, but we really need to think about getting some Bose).

The first time I asked him that question, his reply sealed our friendship for life (at least for me). He replied,  "I think."

Perhaps what I envy about the visual arts is that you get to think and produce something that doesn't necessarily look like anything you were thinking about. That sometimes happens with writing too, and those moments are always exciting.

Okay, now I've done enough writing that I can put this line of thought to the back of my mind and concentrate for awhile. The pressure of all this thinking can be intense, though, so this is a nice release on the pressure valve. I know that people who see me on Facebook or taking photographs or laughing or writing this blog or poetry while working on a huge deadline may not realize that I am a) letting one part of my brain do the thinking I must do before I can write, and b) letting pressure release. I don't really have a choice-- if I don't do these things, I'll crack up.

I will leave you with these two thoughts:

1. At the pharmacy, an older woman beamed at me-- by older, I mean probably in her late 70s, gauging what she looks like compared to my own parents (who are younger). I smiled back involuntarily and said, "Happy Holidays!" She told me Happy Holidays too, and then leaned toward me conspiratorially and whispered, "Nobody has kissed me! You're supposed to kiss the cook, and I'm the cook, but nobody has kissed me!"

For a brief second, I looked at her mouth and then her cheek and wondered whether she wanted me to kiss her. I decided instead to say, "You need to put up some mistletoe. That will do the trick!"

2. This morning, a package arrived, as will happen right before Christmas. The kids said, "What's in it?" Honestly. What do you think we are going to say?

So, I said, "It's Schrödinger's cat."

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Artist Clayton Merrell

Clay and I were friends when we were at Brigham Young University together. He and my friend Valerie (his wife) also ended up living in Kirksville (where we live) for two years while he taught here. She and I had babies within a couple of months of each other (her first, my third).
At The Foot of the Stairs

The Cat who sat in the Puddle

Anne Lamott told a story in Operating Instructions about a cat that a friend had that was sick and lying in a puddle.

Concerned people worried for the cat. “Shouldn’t we take it to the vet?”

But one smart person prevailed: “No. If you attempt to move the cat, it will die. It is doing what it needs to do. Just let it lay in the puddle.”

I feel like last year I just had to lie in the puddle. And maybe now I’m starting to take care of myself again and come out of the puddle.

It’s nice and safe in the puddle though. There is comfort in just lying on John’s dirty kitchen floor too drunk to move. I am starting to understand, for the first time, Heather’s fear of success—and of even trying for fear of failure.

Inertia is such a powerful, evil thing.


In the twenties, Niels Bohr performed experiments with electrons: He fired electrons through two small slats in a wall; depending on which opening, upper or lower, that the electrons passed through, they hit the upper or lower part of the final wall that stopped them. So: can you picture a machine that fires electrons, fired through two slats in one wall, to travel through a space, and then stop at a second wall?

Next, he closed the bottom slat; the electrons went through the upper slat and hit the upper portion of the wall.

Next, close the upper slat, and see the electrons pass through the bottom slat, to hit the lower portion of the wall.

Then, just for fun, he fired the electrons through both slats, and after they had passed through the slats, he closed the upper slat. There is no way for the electrons to have known this. Yet, they hit the lower portion of the wall. He tried it again, by closing the lower slat AFTER the electrons had passed. Again.
Again. Again.

He determined that observation determines reality.

Learning how to Learn

My freshman year of college, I took a life-changing course called Learning How to Learn, or something very close to that. It was an Honors Colloquium which combined the disciplines of English, math, science, and psychology for freshmen. I remember being shocked by some of the things they gave us to read about evolution, about the nature of truth… It seemed to me that our professors were deliberately giving us materials that would lead us away from the church—or at least make us question it thoroughly. I still do not know if that was their objective, but I do know, after teaching a freshman class myself, that critical thinking is a Dangerous course to teach because it can definitely lead to little revolutions.

Even now, with a Masters in English and three years of university teaching behind me, I can see how distinctly unique this class was. And later I realized that the critical thinking skills I obtained in this class, the connections I learned to make, eventually assisted me in the utter and completely destructive war I waged upon my faith during my twenties. In a search for truth and integrity, in the interest of living an honest life, I single-handedly cut down every tenet of truth I had held dear through my most formative years.

And, of course, it was only in the aftermath of that destruction that I was able to see that in the course of destroying ties to ideals that did not hold up under scrutiny, ideals that seemed impossibly beautiful and miraculous to me because they were fictions, I had also destroyed my very happiness and peace of mind.

So, the trajectory of my life has been the simple, clean faith of my teen years; the destruction of the faith in the pursuit of Truth in my twenties; and the reconstruction of my very soul in my thirties.

My children have a book about forest fires. Forest fires are a necessary, if not happy, way to clear forests for new growth and new life. After forest fires have decimated every dead branch or blade of grass in the forest, and choked to death every animal who could not escape, it must lie barren and wrecked for years before the first tiny buds of grass return and the forest begins to rebuild itself. It has taken me years to realize that the forest of my spirituality is not, in fact, dead as I had suspected. It was merely dormant in the aftermath of that destruction for nearly eight years.

Baptisms for the Dead

Before I went to the temple in Washington D. C. with my family to be sealed for time and all eternity, I went to the temple with a youth trip. The LDS Church’s mission is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone who has ever lived. Perhaps you know that if you want to do geneaology, the place to do it is in Salt Lake City. Well, there is a reason for this.
In order to spread the gospel, it is important first to identify every person who has ever lived. And this occurs through geneaology. For every relative a member of the church identifies, a name is submitted to the temple.
In the temple, work is done for the living and the dead. The LDS teach that work can be done by proxy for the dead. So, LDS people are commanded to go often to the temple. The only time you do work for living is the first time you go, and you do it for yourself.

Before any additional work can be done, a person has to be baptized. And because the adults are busy doing work for adults (there are sacred covenants called endowments that people make in the temple. Having never gone through the temple as an adult, I am not in a position to describe what happens at these times. These ceremonies are sacred to the LDS people, and there are plenty of other sources for the curious), the baptisms are usually left to the youth.
You have to be twelve years old before you can enter the temple to do baptisms for the dead.

Before this happens, though, you usually have a member of the stake presidency (organizational note: a congregation of 100 or fewer people is a branch. A congregation of 100-250 or so is a ward. Wards and branches in a geographical region make up stakes, and they have their own presidencies composed of a President, a first counselor, and a second counselor) comes and talks to the youth about masturbation and what a sin it is. So don’t do it. So, there you go.

I was so naïve, I wasn’t even embarrassed during this conversation, but I’m willing to bet I was the only one who wasn’t.
A few months later, when they are sure masturbation is under control, and when they can get people who will go and supervise the youth, drive the youth, and when they can get people’s parents to pay for the trip, a trip of youth is organized.

So, the youth need temple recommends.

First, you go and talk to your bishop or branch president. First you pray. Then, you sit across from each other, and he asks you the following questions: Do you believe Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God? Do you believe in the gospel? Do you believe the LDS church is the one, true church? Do you believe that the current president of the church is a prophet of God? Do you keep the Word of Wisdom? Do you pay 10% of your income as tithing? Are you chaste? Are you honest in your dealings with your fellow men? I think they even ask the youth whether or not we are obedient to our parents, but I can’t remember.

Then you have a closing prayer.

Then you have an identical meeting with the Stake President.

And whether or not you lie during this interview is purely up to you. I never did, but I certainly know people who did and didn’t feel a smack of remorse about it afterward. Nor have they been struck by lightning, that I am aware of.
After all the meetings, you receive a little recommend the size of a business card. They are quite nice now, laminated, with a picture of a temple on it. This recommend not only allows you into the temple, but it also marks you as a member in good standing. For example, if your car breaks down in a strange city and you need assistance, you can call the local bishop, and tell him you are a temple recommend holding member and he will help you. He may or may not help you if you aren’t—but it is more than likely that he will not be suspicious that you are trying to take advantage of him if you have the card.
Now, you have the trip arranged and the recommend, and so you are ready to go to the temple.

We went in a van, and I don’t remember where it came from, but it was larger than just somebody’s van. And there was a sixteen year old boy on the trip that I had a crush on. Jeff Strong. So, I was just in bliss.

There weren’t many of us on the trip—we were a small branch after all. We played cards on the bus and talked during the eight hours. When we got to Washington, D.C., we went out and had Chinese food, and I was nervous because I had never really had it before, and they kept teasing me about what might be in it. I’m sure I had also read a juvenile fiction book about it, too. But, of course, it was really good.

We went with a lovely young couple named Marcia and Walt Stewart, and their baby daughter Karen. After dinner, I think we walked around a bit, and then went to the hotel. I don’t really remember that at all.

The next day, we went to the temple. When we first walked into the temple, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. There were old people dressed all in white everywhere. The temples are very elegantly clothed: imported rugs, chandeliers, huge murals on the walls. And this is just the entrance way. If you ever have the chance to tour an LDS temple before it is officially dedicated for the members, do it. The story behind the Washington, D.C., temple is that it is suddenly just there after you turn around a bend, and it caused a lot of traffic accidents the first night it was lit up, in all of its majesty.

We were taken, in the temple, to dressing rooms, and given white baptismal garments and white undergarments. Everything has to be white.

Then, you go to the baptismal faunt, which is much grander than the one I was baptised in at the church. And it is surrounded by statues of oxen. I cannot remember the significance of this.

When it is your turn, you walk down steps into warm water, and there is a man waiting there to baptise you, by immersion. You cross your left arm across your front, and it holds your right elbow. Your right hand holds your nose. The baptiser has his left had on your left upper arm, and his right hand on your right arm, and he says, “___________, In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, I baptise you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” Or something to that effect. And he is reading from some kind of prompter of names. And after he prays, he dunks you completely. And he does this 70 times for 70 names.

Then, you get out.

The people who have died are in the Spirit World, being taught about the same gospel of Jesus Christ that you are being taught about in church, by members of the church who have already died. And those people, who have their eternal souls, and their free agency, can accept or reject the baptismal work that is done for them. You hear stories sometimes of someone having a revelatory experience that someone has accepted the work that has been done for them. For a long time after my experience, I remembered one of the names, and wondered if that meant she had accepted her baptism.

I can’t recall the name anymore.

Generally, the LDS have to get permission from the dead’s family members before their names are submitted to the temple. Of course, this does not always happen perfectly.

All of the presidents of the United States have had their temple work done for them.

But a few years ago, the LDS started baptising in the name of people who had died in the holocaust. Of course, once it was made public, they stopped.

I don’t think I need to say anymore about this. Where would I start?


Months ago
they cupped their hands around one lighter
and the tip of his cigarette
burned her right middle knuckle

The small white scar an emblem of
that scalds her now, scalds her now.

Birth in a Denver Hospital

It's been at least thirty years since I saw her
if I saw her then at all.

I don't know how it was that day:
Her hair was brown or blonde, long,

it swept her shoulders, short,
it got pushed back.

Her eyes were blue.
She was awake or asleep,

she saw me or she did not.
It doesn't much matter to me, now

does it?
The lights were probably bright,

the room busy and cold.
She was probably in pain.

The only thing I really know is this:
I was there before I left.

I was naked and small,
and her blood was all over me.


Your wife, thirty-seven years, had
all of her teeth pulled out.

She stayed with her

another town,
her mouth open in gaps.

The next day she went back. Twenty-
eight straight white teeth will not take off

weight, nine of your children,
years of marriage.

They will change
her whole face.

She will smile more, laugh more,
She will feel more. She will want you

to respond to this. She wants you to take her in your arms,

kiss her shiny
new teeth,

run your husband
tongue all over them.

Dust in its Infinite Lightness

Dust, in its Infinite Lightness,
can double the weight of a mattress in ten years.

You stand at the foot of the bed. The sheet, a blue canopy,
hovers and rests for a moment on dust or air, inertia,
the energy of its own rise before it falls.

Physics tells you a feather will fall at the same speed as a brick,
but the sheet wafts down unevenly, rests and settles,
wrinkled on the bed for you to straighten.

You can think of these things, physics and weight,
ten years of accumulated dust,
the cleaning and the straightening and the crawling into bed,

or remember how the breeze lifts the curtain
and the sun catches dust in a stream of light
while you stand, arms raised, attached to the sheet

that billows out before you on the air.

The Thinnes


The day he was born
he drew milk from her
so fiercely
what should have been teaspoon
spilled out of her by late evening.
Her body opened: milk bood baby
water on the same day.

Those were the things she wondered
what her body could do.


It was years before she knew
it could claim her
closing her
one cell at the time.


The son can still see her
waiting for him
on the top step
on the front porch
hair pulled back in thin strings.
She sits, a wisp, with her cigarette
smoke curled round her,
then into thin air:
Thumb and forefinger
the width of her wrist
her skin
white in the porch light
doesn't pinch from the bone.
She can feel her own thinness,
leafmark on the back of her hand.


Remember this?


It is all song:
voice of hands

Here we are fire
and steam, we

dance the absence
without loss

Body knows the drum-
beat is all time

Fall down music dance
head and arms

in the womb

We are all drums:
bongoes, kettle, bass

and snare we dance
contract of blood and bone

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I have survived the weekend.

Just barely.