Tuesday, August 31, 2004

All Your Memory Are Mine

 High Bridge Road - I think! Between Dewitt and Manlius, it's sort of the Fayetteville bypass. Apparently, Manlius New York was born a little over two centuries ago, disappeared around the turn of the 20th century, reemerged just long enough to contribute some WW II war dead and to build and abandon some invisible school buildings, and disappeared again until the 21st century.  Currently, the town is invisible except for some real estate offerings, High Bridge Road (left), Snook's Pond (large lots available) and the village mayor, who wears an American flag in his pocket.

At least, that's the impression you get if you Google up Manlius, NY.  There are virtually no pictures to illustrate anything I've been writing about recently.  The only references to many of the places I grew up with are in a journal entry I wrote months ago, The Seven Ancient Wonders of Manlius.  There's a Manlius Historical Society, but it basically only has pictures of its own buildings.  Other than that there's an unillustrated narrative of the comings and goings of school buildings written by my former vice principal, Platt Wheeler, a listing that features lots of churches and cemeteries (but not St. Ann's), info about what family film is being shown at the library, and a huge number of real estate listings.  It seems that hardly anyone used a camera in Manlius after 1900.  Kind of makes it hard to find out what's been happening there in the past 30 years, from about 3,000 miles away.

Don't make me come over there!  Come on, people of Manlius!  If any of you stumble on this blog, please email me some pictures.  Give me visual proof that Arly's, Manlius Elementary, Temple's, Weber's, etc. really existed outside my mind!

I'll wait.


P.S. To all of you who don't know or care about Manlius, NY, have you looked up your home town on the web?  Was there much there that meant anything to you?

P.P.S. I just found evidence that Temple's Dairy Store still exists!  I'm so pleased! No picture, though.

M.E. School

Do they sell snow pants any more?

I'm talking about a second pair of pants worn over the regular ones in snowy weather, with straps on the feet and possibly suspenders at the waist.  In my memory, they were sometimes just an extra pair of stretch pants.  At Manlius Elementary, kids wearing snow pants were allowed to slide down the steep hill behind the school without skis or sled or flying saucer.  Without the extra layer, no dice.  I'm sure Mrs. Clayton, the principal, didn't want kids in school all afternoon with snowy pants!

Which one is Jean? I don't remember! Which one is me? Guess!

Behind school was a small blacktop, and then the hill, and then a flat area with swingsets and monkey bars and open space.  I remember ten members of our class (which grade was that?) spreading out on the grass to demonstrate the sun and the nine planets that orbit it.  Beyond that was a  stream that fed Manlius' Swan Pond. And on the other size of the stream was a set of apartments. 

One day in winter when I was in second or third grade,  one of the two-story apartment buildings caught fire.  When the alarm at the school went off, we knew just what do do.  Duck and cover!  Okay, so it wasn't the correct response, but it was winter!  They didn't mean us to go outside on a fire drill in winter, did they? I think we probably did go outside briefly, but after that we lined up inside at the classroom windows, watching the fire.  One classmate, Nancy I think, lived in those apartments, but not, fortunately, in that particular building.

My second grade teacher was Mrs. Nevin.  She told us the first day of school that was strict, but that we would like her, and predicted we would say just that to members of the succeeding class who might ask about her.  I did, too.

My third grade teacher, Miss Olds, was flat-out wonderful.  She used to travel in the summer whenever she could, and bring back artifacts to show to students.  I remember she had a cricket bat from Australia, but I don't recall what she had from Alaska and Hawaii.  The last time I saw her was the same day as my last meeting with Mrs. Livingston: the day before high school graduation. The two teachers were hanging out together in the empty school at the end of a half-day due to teachers' meetings.  After a pleasant conversation with both of them, I went on to Carroll's (or was it Burger King bythen?). Miss Olds turned up next to me in line. "Synchronicity!" she said to me with a laugh.  I had to go look up the word.  After all those years, my third grade teacher was still capable of teaching me something.

Across the street from Manlius Elementary (which was later turned into village offices because of the baby boom going bust  - I think it's the police station now) was Temple Dairy Store,  better known as Temple's. It was halfway between an old general store and a 7-11, both in time and in substance.  People could get doughnuts there (headlights, taillights and bear claws), and milk, Twinkles and other cereals, comic books (a small selection), and, most important to Manlius Elementary students, candy for a penny or two cents or a nickel.  The wonderful crossing guard stationed in front of Manlius Elementary after school would help us get across the street.  Even kids who normally took the bus would sometimes walk home instead, just to get to the candy.

Next door to Temple's was Stone Machinery Co.  It took me years to figure out that the factory didn't make machines out of rock, Fred Flintstone style. The factory's noon whistle could be heard for a mile in each direction.  Depending on which noon hour we had, it served to send us to lunch or back from it, outside to slide in our snow pants, or back inside when we were done.


Monday, August 30, 2004

The Singing Skunk

It was a serious tactical error on my part to trade roles with Jean Jeffrey in our second grade play.  I started to suspect this the moment I did it, got the full impact of it both during rehearsals and right after the performance, and still felt the aftershocks for years afterward.  For the rest of my tenure in the Fayetteville-Manlius School District, I blamed an inordinate share of my peer troubles on that one bad decision:

Karen Funk, second grade.Mrs. Nevin:  Karen, you and Jean may trade parts if you like.
Jean (quickly): I want to be Peter Rabbit!
Karen (reluctantly): I want to be the skunk.

Peter Rabbit and Sweetie Phew were the second and third leads, respectively, in a rather jumbled musical adaptation of Snow White.  I don't even remember whether there were any dwarfs in it.  Peter, despite the name, was basically a Thumper character, and Sweetie Phew was Flower with a persecution complex.

The skunk was a much more interesting and, to my way of thinking, likeable character than the rabbit.  And besides, Peter was a boy's name.  I didn't want to be teased for playing a boy rabbit. So, partly because I liked the role better and partly to curry favor with Jean, I agreed to the switch. I don't think Jean appreciated the favor.  As for myself, I was in trouble. Even as I said the words that sealed my fate, alarm bells were going off in my head.  A skunk?  Are you mad?  Everybody hates skunks!  Besides, it rhymes with Funk!

I did it anyway.  The last line of my introductory song was maudlin but meaningful to me:

"My story ends/I have no friends."

In the course of the play, Pete the rabbit and Bill (whatever he was) have enough of a character arc to ensure that Sweetie's social position is much improved by the reprise:

"I offer clothespins, but each shakes his head;
Bill holds his nose; Pete smiles instead.
Dear Snow White made all things right.
My story ends,
Now I have friends."

It shouldn't surprise you a bit that life didn't imitate art in this case.  I had just paved the way for a rather obvious taunt that continued for years afterwards:

"Funk the Skunk is a pile of junk!"

with variations.  "Flunk the Skunk" got some use, as did "Funk is a Skunk!"

I wish I could say that I successfully laughed this off, made lots of friends with my great self-confidence and adroit social skills, and ended up popular, happy and well-adjusted.  Um, no.

Was it because of that second grade role that I was still being teased by high school?  Of course not.  Being shy, smart and fat is a recipe for social disaster, which I didn't know how to overcome.  Sweetie Phew didn't help, but ultimately, it was my responsibility to learn to get along with the other kids, and take some teasing without being crushed by it. I've been looking at my high school yearbook recently, and to the extent that I even remember them, most of those kids were all right. I should have cultivated more friendships instead of shying away and nursing old wounds.

It wasn't until college that I came into my own.  Even now, married a quarter of a century, an A student, with a number of minor successes behind me to bolster my confidence, the oversensitivity that kept me from laughing off a school play is always lurking, ready to jump out at me.  "Nobody commented on the Skwok piece!  Nobody likes it!  Nobody likes me any more!" And similar nonsense.

Yeah, yeah, I know.  Get over it.  I'm trying!  This is the reason I include my maiden name in my byline instead of just calling myself Karen Blocher.  Having suffered for that name, I figure I've earned the right to use it.  It's part of who I am: a woman who, forty years ago in the Manlius Elementary cafetorium, chose to play a skunk in Snow White.

Karen Funk Blocher

The Experimental Class, Part One

This is the first part of a further delving into my elementary school years, inspired by John Scalzi's recent assignment and other people's great responses thereto.

ITAThe 1960s were a time of change and experimentation, even in education. When I started first grade in 1963 at Manlius Elementary, the school district decided to teach half the classes
ITA, a phonetic alphabet. The other half were taught the normal English alphabet and beginning reading, with the help of Scott Foresman & Company's venerable Dick, Jane and Sally,  Spot, Puff and Tim. 

I was in what you might call the control group, one of the classes that stuck with normal English. After a year or two, the district compared the two groups, decided that ITA confused the kids more than it helped them, and phased out the experiment. The whole idea had always sounded crazy to me, anyway.  Let me get this straight: you're going to teach these classes the wrong alphabet, when the kids in them probably already know the right one. You're going to have them read using those w-shaped squiggles instead of oo, and then, when they get good at that, make 'em switch back to oo.  How can this possibly help anyone?

Our more traditional class started with a book called Getting Ready to Read.  We were supposed to match the letter M with a picture of a mouse.  I was already reading Dr. Seuss books by then, so I would fill in half the problems to show I knew the material, and stop.  Mrs. Livingston would mark the uncompleted problems wrong, and put "does not follow directions" and "Karen thinks the rules are for everyone except her" on my report card.  I think if she'd explained that part of the purpose of school was to teach me to follow directions, even if they seemed silly, I would have cooperated.  As it was, I didn't learn that lesson until much later.  Mrs. Livingston and I didn't get along very well.  My mom, who disliked my first grade teacher much more than I did, told me later that Mrs. Livingston once reported having nightmares about me.  Nightmares, plural. Yet when I was in second and third grade, Mrs. Livingston and I would wave to each other as she headed for the teacher's lounge while I waited in the lunch line nearby.  The last time I saw her, the day before I graduated high school, we got along great.

After Getting Ready to Read was a Dick and Jane pre-primer, which we finished reading the day of the JFK assassination. We were allowed to take it home overnight on that fateful day, when we got out of class early. I remember talking about it in the car with my mom, as she drove me to the Hall of Languages at Syracuse University, where my dad was a speech professor.  I sat in an empty classroom and drew gravestones. At the time, I was more concerned with the turning in of a permission slip (and money?) to see an extracurricular showing of a film at school (either Pollyanna, Pepi or The Miracle of the White Stallions - we saw them all) than I was about the dead president.  I was only six years old, and the president to me was the man on tv who was imitated in the comedy album The First Family. I remember going outside that weekend to escape the endless coverage of the assassination and the funeral. It was hopeless. Nobody else was away from their television sets that Sunday afternoon: no kids, no cars on Fayetteville-Manlius Road.

The pre-primer was followed by The New Fun with Dick and Jane.  I didn't see what was so new about it until years later, when a cousin of mine, Ed Oliveri,  tracked down an old Fun With Dick and Jane to use in a Freshman English book report.  The 1940 pictures were markedly different from the 1956 ones. I'm still very fond of the art in my late 1950s - early 1960s version, and the silly, safe, naive world it depicted.

Coming up:  Mrs. Nevin, Miss Olds, duck and cover, six gas stations, and Temple Dairy Store.  But first: The Singing Skunk!

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Mâvarin Fiction Entry: Autobiography of a Parrot

Written about the time that Mages of Mâvarin takes place, this is King Jor's faithful transcription of his parrot's life story. (In Mâvarin, parrots know what they're talking about, if they talk at all.)

Autobiography of a Parrot
By Skwok
As Told to King Jor of Mâvarin

Hatched in Derio. Long time ago. Island. Tall trees. Soft nest. Three baby birds in nest. One fell. Parents fed babies in nest. Me. Sister.

Grew big. Flew. Storm. Wind blew north. White waves. Blue water. Land. Dark trees. Gath moss. Green water.

Spring. Lady bird. Nest. Two eggs. Two babies. Birds flew south. Skwok alone in Gathmak.

Spring again. Same lady bird. Nest. Two eggs. One baby bird. Flew south. Skwok alone.

Many springs. Lady bird gone. Sad. No parrots in Gathmak.

Saw food in box. Caught. Tengrem-man put me in castle. King Jor in castle. Nice man. Sad man. Sat all day on chair. Trapped together.

Jor taught me human talk. Too many words to learn. King Jor said okay.

Spring. No nest. Stayed with sad king. Spring again. Spring again. No lady bird. No nest. Many springs, no nest. King friend. Good biscuits. Good man.

Carli came for Jor. Jor brought me. Magic door. Different, bigger castle.  Fly free. Still stay with king. Still no nest. 

King Jor not sad now. Bird happy.


Art by Sherlock

Postcards from Pleasant Street

As long as we're on the subject of school, here's another old piece I found on my hard drive this week.  This one is about an incident at Pleasant Street Elementary School, many years ago.

Manlius High School, several decades before it became Pleasant Street Elementary School. I don't remember that cupola at all.

In the late 1960s, I was among the very last students to attend Pleasant Street School, an elderly building (formerly Manlius High School) that housed the fourth through six grades of Manlius, NY baby boomers.  Another school was under construction and the auditorium balcony had already been condemned, but we kids probably didn't quite realize that the school's days were numbered.

Pleasant Street itself was a quiet, tree-lined village street that led past the local Catholic church and on toward the road to Fayetteville-Manlius High School.  In the afternoons the school buses would pull up on another street by the school's side entrance.  Across that side street lived an elderly man who used to put up painted wooden signs on a tree in his yard for the kids' amusement: "Velcome backta school" in September, "Happy Halloween" in October.  Sometimes we would see him winking and making faces at us as we waited for our buses.  We didn't know his name, but he seemed harmless enough. I liked him.

One day when I was in fifth grade, the old man crossed the street while half (or was it a quarter?) of the school was at recess, and gave away at least a hundred picture postcards, one to each child.  There were landscapes, and religious scenes, works of art and pictures of famous people.  We eagerly took them, looked at them, and traded them among ourselves.  There was nothing written on them as I recall.  They were beautiful, the highlight of our week if not our semester.

After lunch, Miss Long, our principal, asked that everyone from my recess period come to the school office.  Like a fool I went, postcard in hand, and the postcard was confiscated.  The reason given was that it "wasn't fair to the other students" from the other recess periods.  I've always thought that on the contrary, it was unfair to us.  We had been given a small but wonderful present by an eccentric and kindly old man, and the school had taken it away. (My friend Joel Rubinstein didn't show up to turn in his postcard.)

We saw the old man a few times after that, but it wasn't the same. Our innocence had been spoiled, and doubt had entered our minds.  Was there something wrong about an old man giving a picture postcard to a child?  All these years later, I still wonder.  In this world of Megan's Law and children on milk bottles, the weirdness of Michael Jackson and a case in which child care workers were jailed on their charges' wild accusations about abducting them to the moon, are we too quick to see wickedness in any relationship between an adult and someone else's child?

August 2001.

A few more things about Pleasant Street, while I'm thinking about the place:

* Two school assemblies I remember: a memorial to President Eisenhower, and a visit from E. R. Braithwaite, the teacher who wrote To Sir, With Love, who was by then Guyana's United Nations ambassador.  I wish I could say I asked him an intelligent question during the Q&A, but no: I asked him a question about tropical fish, following up on an anecdote he'd told about reaching one student through his interest in his pet fish.

* The winter I was in fourth grade, it got down to 23 degrees below zero one day. That may have been with the wind-chill factor rather than raw degrees, but in my memory it was the actual temperature.  There was no school that day, but the next day we were back in class.  It wasn't all that much warmer, but Miss Long declared an "outside noon hour" anyway, probably for the convenience of the teachers.  Little girls were not allowed to wear pants to school in 1967, so we huddled together under trees, trying to hide from the biting wind, or participated in kickball games organized by Miss Ramsey, the same woman who once grinned when I told her of ten kids surrounding me to put ice down my back, and said, "makes you strong!"  (Don't ever try to tell me about the innocence of children.)  Later that day, I spent at least an hour drawing protest signs in case we were forced outside the next day.  We weren't.  I should add that I quite liked Miss Long despite these few lapses.  I was quite sorry when she died of cancer in 1974.

* Pleasant Street School was about half a block from St. Ann's Church, although technically St. Ann's was on nearby Academy Street.  In the mid-1960s, the parish tore down a hexagonal or octagonal building near the old, rather small church, and built a larger, more modern church building.  But before that, we Catholic kids got to walk to "church school" in that building once a week--on Mondays I think.  We actually got an hour of two off from public school to go to Religious Ed. It seems odd to me now that the school allowed that, with no legal challenges that I ever heard about.  Similarly, the new choir teacher at Fayetteville-Manlius High School my senior year, Bruce Campbell (no, not that Bruce Campbell) gave us nothing but sacred music to sing, on the grounds that that was the only serious (classical) music worth teaching.  I doubt that would wash now at a public school.  I could be wrong, though. I checked the F-M web site last night, and Mr. Campbell is still teaching choir there.  All my other teachers of thirty years ago are gone.


Friday, August 27, 2004

Maybe It's Just Me After All

Last night it took hours for me to post and tweak the entry below this one, because AOL could only access web pages (including its own) for the first few minutes of each connection. After that, an attempt to do anything with this journal (or any web page) would generate an error page. Even my attempts to sign off usually resulted in a busy/no response message after several minutes of waiting.  I also got bounced from Windows Messenger repeatedly during identical problems the night before.  Annoying, very.

Eventually, as an experiment, I loaded this journal in Netscape and in the stand-alone IE browser, each through the same buggy AOL connection that currently didn't want to open web pages .  They loaded quickly and well. 

So what's the deal?  Did that Windows service pack I loaded the other night mess up my AOL software somehow?  I've run the AOL "fix it for me" routine several times to no effect.  What the heck is going on?  Is there a problem with the Tucson AOL connections, with AOL's servers, or just with my computer?  Is it just me after all?


Update: Sunday morning, 2 AM:

I've upgraded to the latest AOL, disabled the new Windows XP firewall temporarily, and attempted to get support on three companies' web sites (MS, Symantec and AOL) and by phone from AOL. No help has materialized.  I currently can't open a web page with AOL, only from IE or Netscape while connected to AOL.  This is getting VERY annoying!

A Remarkable Facility

Weekend Assignment #21: Everyone had a subject in school they like better than all the rest. What was yours? And what's the most memorable thing you learned?

Alternate Assignment: If you can't think of a specific class or subject you liked the most, which grade of school has the best memories?

I misquoted from Star Trek!Extra Credit: Class pictures!

This is my chance to write something I've been thinking about for a while anyway.  My Compaq just hibernated my first draft of this into oblivion, but I'll do my best to reconstruct it.

It may surprise you to learn that this bookkeeper and accounting student struggled in math for most of high school.  I also dropped chemistry (I had a D in it at the time) and didn't take physics, which was probably a mistake.  What probably won't surprise you a bit is my choice of favorite subject: English. I took four years of English in three years of high school.

Mr Hayes and his motorcycle helmetThe enjoyability of each specific English course depended on what was taught, who taught it, and who was in the class with me.  My favorite course was creative writing, which aced all three criteria.  It was taught by our own rebel of a teacher, Tom Hayes.  His hair wasn't all that long, but he had sideburns and he drove a motorcycle. He sometimes arrived a few minutes late, which I found endearing. He had even written a hip musical called (I think) Simon Says. He knew about Vonnegut, and wrote about Kilgore Trout in my yearbook. He also helped me improve my fiction writing skills considerably.  I produced my first decent, complete short story, "The Disc Jockey," in his class.  I also got to sit next to my boyfriend, Dan Cheney.

My second favorite English course was on essay writing. I liked it largely because I got to sit next to Dan in that class, too. Ms. Hiestand let us write essays about Star Trek (her son Wil joined our Star Trek club that semester). She had a Who's On First poster in the back of her classroom, which Dan and I memorized.  It also didn't hurt that the course exposed us to a lot of different kinds of essays, not just the five paragraph literary kind.

The worst of the English courses, aside from having to read The Scarlet Letter for Ms. Firestine (later Dr. Firestine, who didn't like the book, either) were taught by Miss Conklin.  She was perhaps seventy years old, strict and no fun. She even made us sit in alphabetical order. This placed me next to Karen Florini, who had resented me for seven years over a fifth grade rivalry for the same best friend. (The weird part was that I admired her in return for her talents and dedication. I think she's a lawyer now.)

Miss Conklin kept praising my blue polyester pantsuit (this was the leisure suit era), which was my cue to buy myself some jeans. The only good thing about her literature class was that I got to write a research paper about Sherlock Holmes, called "The Case of the Appealing Detective."  The only good thing about her drama class was the dramatic reading I did from Camelot with a large, friendly male exchange student from Brazil.  His pronunciation of the words was painful, but he had real feeling for the material.

Judith Gordon. Should I forgive her? None of those courses were the setting for the most painful, life-changing moment of my entire high school career.  That came courtesy of Judith Gordon.

Ms. Gordon was the department head, but she was almost as cool as Mr. Hayes.  In one of the courses she taught, comedy, she showed us a bracelet with bawdy charms that she said would fit right in with ancient Greek culture. We were studying Aristophanes at the time. In deference to AOL's terms of service, let's just say that Freud would have found the charms very interesting, especially as worn by a woman.  Another time, Ms. Gordon showed up with one of those head-to-toe garments women from the strictest Islamic sects might wear to be completely hidden from men's eyes. Ms. Gordon offered no initial explanation for this, and we didn't dare to ask.  Halfway through the class she burst out laughing.  She told us how funny it was for her to see how much trouble were were having, trying to cope with a teacher whose face we couldn't see, not knowing where to look or what expression she wore under the garment.

In a different course, Ms. Gordon once assigned us to write a how-to essay.  Somehow I didn't quite get the concept.  Instead of a straightforward set of steps in present tense, second person imperative, I wrote what I thought was an amusingly self-deprecating, first person how-to essay.  I got a D + + on it.  I'm not sure whether it was on this paper or another one that Ms. Gordon wrote the words of praise and condemnation that were seared into my brain forever:

"...a remarkable facility with words...."

She made it sound like a bad thing.  Because of my "remarkable facility with words," she claimed, I believed that I could write anything I wanted, break any rules I wanted to break, and still get a good grade on a paper.  In her view, it was not enough that I had an excellent grasp of grammar, spelling and punctuation, and knew how to be original and amusing. I also had to write to the assignment, fit the essay to the format, relate the examples to the thesis, and write shorter sentences. If I did not do this, I would get a lower grade than a clumsy paper that followed the rules.

I guess you could say that's the most memorable thing I learned: talent wasn't enough. It was also necessary to do what my first grade teacher had always complained that I didn't do: follow directions. Not that I've always done so since then, but that was what was required of me.

The other point here is that writing is more than blurting out first thoughts on the topic at hand. An essay needs structure - not necessarily a thesis, three supporting paragraphs and a conclusion, if that's not the assignment, but some way to organize what is being said so that it is clear to the reader.  Fiction needs a beginning, a middle and an end, usually including a climax and a denouement. (My favorite description of plot structure is "Get your protagonist up a tree; throw rocks at him; get him out of the the tree.") A tv script must be the right length, with the act breaks in the right places. Bottom line: Ms. Gordon was mostly right in her criticism.

Effective use of structure isn't always easy to learn, though. Ms. Gordon's remarks at the top of that otherwise forgettable paper were the beginning of my long battle with the literary essay, broken only by that painless course with Ms. Hiestand. At Syracuse University at least three professors, including Dr. Firestine, tried to explain to me how I failed to relate the examples to the thesis. I could not understand what I was missing, beyond a feeling that it was a "tell 'em what you told 'em" sort of thing.  I finished my senior year with five incompletes, all due to literary essays not written.

Now, a quarter of a century later, I'm writing essays on accounting, management and related subjects at the University of Phoenix. I'm four courses away from my BSB/ACC (Bachelor of Science, Business, Accounting). Even now, even as recently as today, it's hard for me to make myself write a formal paper. That old relate-the-examples-to-the-theme bugaboo has magically resolved itself, but I still put off the papers as long as possible.  (For the record, my favorite subject at UoP to date has been business law, of all things. Reading through descriptions of cases and the legal issues resolved in them is fascinating stuff.)

So what have I written professionally?  Essays, mostly.  My first sale was an essay in tribute to John Lennon for Relix Magazine.  Since then I've written music reviews for Relix, celebrity profiles for Starlog, and teeny tiny essays about Doctor Who on the backs of trading cards. I've also written dozens of essays, perhaps hundreds, for Star Trek and Doctor Who and Quantum Leap  fanzines.

And what do I usually write in this journal?  Essays.  But see, here's the thing: these are freeform, fun Ms. Hiestand essays, not Ms. Gordon literary essays.  And even here, after all these years, I still coast on - and am haunted by - my alleged "remarkable facility with words."


Thursday, August 26, 2004

It's Not Just Me?

Oh, it's not just my computer that's been having fits trying to stay online? It's not the service pack? Oh, umm, good. 

It's not that I want to see millions of people inconvenienced rather than just me. It's just that a) someone else will resolve the problem, so I needn't worry about backups and AOL settings and Windows registries, and b) I will have a good excuse tonight why, for the first time in over a year and a half, I won't have my homework finished for class tonight.

Unless, of course, I spend time at the office building auditing flowcharts depicting processes at, um, the office.  I wish that meant it was a legitimate thing to do at work!


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Well, That Was Tedious

  this was essentially a paperweight for three hours.
I've just spent substantially the entire evening backing up computer files and installing the new service pack for Windows XP.  Last night I was up late waiting for it to download.  Eventually I gave up and went to bed, leaving my dial-up connection running.  I forgot to disconnect in the morning, so my phone line was still tied up all day while I was at work.  No matter.  Whom did I inconvenience?  Some marketing person or political pollster?

The installer for the service pack said something about backing up files before installation.  Okay: what files?  Should I be backing up my Windows settings, or just my documents?  In the end I backed up three CDs worth of documents, AOL and other stuff, and did a backup of Windows settings to elsewhere the C: drive.  Then, of course, the first thing the installer did was back up those same Windows settings, presumably also to the hard drive.  Department of Redundancy Department calling - Mojo Jojo speaking, on the phone, talking to you right now....

Well, I suppose doing a backup is almost never a bad thing, and I got a lot of my homework read during the three or four hours of messing with my computer.  Still: phooey. It would have been better to know what needed to be backed up and what didn't.

I see that Windows now has some kind of antivirus protection.  About time, too.  Norton Antivirus promptly advised me not to let the Windows antivirus know what the Norton Antivirus was doing.  Play nicely, bits and bytes.

And now AOL isn't connecting to the web very well, including mavarin.com on Yahoo, and this journal.  I just had to run the AOL fix software twice. Double phooey. And Norton. Triple phooey.


PS to HG: Love that last line!

More (and Sillier) Old Stuff that Rhymes

 the late great Toros 

This one's a fake country song inspired by my beloved Toros and an episode of The Simpsons. Howard will probably like it.  I hasten to add that this is NOT autobiographical in any way. - Karen

Double Play (As I Was Stealing Home)

Now my season's over.
I guess it had to end,
But I thought I could play my games
And you'd still be my friend.

Baseball was my alibi
But I wasn't at the 'Dome,
You caught me in a double play
As I was stealing home.

I knew to steal another heart
Was doomed as it was twisted,
But I never thought you'd catch me out
And do it unassisted.

My only season pass this year
Was with my lovely Dawn,
And now it's our relationship
That's going, going, gone!

You saw us both near second base
While my team was away;
Then threw me out as I came home
And made your double play.

June 1997

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Old Stuff

I did a little rooting around on my Compaq tonight, and came across a few files that predate this computer by more than a decade.  I don't remember putting the files there.  In fact, one of them I don't remember writing at all.

Here is one that I do remember writing. Fair warning: it's a sad and rather graphic poem about the first dog I ever had. John was out of town when Jenny had to be put to sleep after a long illness.  (Don't worry: after this week's Auditing class I'll be back to writing new and happier stuff!)


The Burial:
19 June 1989

There was no moon out as I drove from the shop;
My car was revived but my dog was still dead,
Nevermore to be played with, or scolded, or fed,
Because car trouble's easier than cancer to stop.

There was no moon out when the ditch digger came;
It was barely past seven;  the sun had not set;
The moon, full last night, knew it wasn't time yet,
And it did not know Jenny, by breed or by name.

There was no moon out when I opened the door,
And discovered her box had developed a stench
As it leaked foul dark fluids from her to the bench,
And down to collect in small pools on the floor.

There was no moon out as he dug her a hole,
Watched by the rabbits, gnatcatchers and me,
While hawks screamed, but only because they were free,
As he struck sparks from rocks with his long digging pole.

No moon shone as he dickered to cover her up;
I offered him twenty to lower her down
After carting the box; and I'd fill in the ground
Over the carrion that had been my pup.

There was no moon out, and it surely was late.
I turned the spade once; Handyman did the rest;
He knew I was alone, and not at my best;
Tears were gone, but the horror now would not abate.

When he was finished, the moon rose at last.
He carried the tools out and then drove away,
While I struggled to mop up the smell of decay
From a dog still alive just a day and a half past.


Bulwer-Lytton sentences

I've had these sitting around for years.  Now I share them with you.

1.  “Gee whiz, Professor Peterson,” Billy Blaster exclaimed excitedly as they raced headlong down the silver-hued halls of Starfire Solar Station, “if the sonic laser rifles have stopped working, then how the heck are we going to stop those mean Martian sandsnakes from eating Betty?”
—One of 6 entries supposedly forwarded from a local
Bulwer-Lytton contest to the international competition.  I won a Minnie Mouse pen.   TusCon, 11/18/90

2.   “Where is the thimble?” Joel asked angrily and, receiving no acceptable answer, upended the entire Monopoly set onto the carpeted floor.

3.   According to my notes, it was late in the summer of 1897 that my friend Sherlock Holmes, having just completed a monumental yet still unprintable service for the royal family involving the blackmail and murder of a cross-dressing lion tamer, first ate sushi.

4.   A dark and stormy night was gradually giving way to a slightly less dark, but even stormier day, its thunder grumbling one-two-three-four-five seconds away, its rain filling up the streets, the washes and the insides of my only shoes; and as I slogged – like Sisyphus but without the rock – up the endless hill, barely keeping my feet as my dogs, Noodle and Tuffy, lunged after cats and interesting rain-washed smells, I really, really, really wished that my 1987 Toyota didn't need $2800 worth of repairs.

(I think I'll hold out a couple of the others to actually submit to the contest.)


When the Sleep Debt Comes Due...

...Sometimes you just have to pay it.

Or try to. I went to bed before 9 PM tonight.  If you're scoring at home, that's about 6 1/2 hours earlier than last night. I was too exhausted to even blog, much less read my chapters on auditing.

I was up again a little after midnight, feeling feverish.  I don't know whether it's me, the bedroom A/C unit, or the fact that I went to bed in my clothes. It was only supposed to be a nap.  I still have those auditing chapters to read, and tomorrow night that English Faire meeting will delay any homework I do.

I hope to be back in bed before 3 AM. But don't count on it.


Sunday, August 22, 2004

My Nemesis, the Telephone

not really an EricafonPhones and I don't get along very well.

Let me amend that a little. There was one phone I really loved.  We got along great, because it was cool and I knew its secret. It was an Ericafon.  It sat in our front hall from the time I was four years old until the house was sold, fifteen years later.  Visitors wouldn't know how to use it until I'd tell them, "The dial's on the bottom.  Use the red button to hang up." Setting the phone down also pressed the red button in the middle of the dial, so just setting it down properly hung it up.  It was neat and sleek and modern in an era when most phones were still plain black ones.

When I got my own place, and telephones became items to be owned rather than leased from Midstate Telephone or New York Telephone, I tried to get an Ericafon. They weren't making them any more.  Ericafons go for $100 or so on eBay now, with the ringer and the dial instead of the buttons that came out later.  So far, John and I have settled for a remake that turned up at the Discovery Store a couple of Christmases ago. It's the wrong color (my family's original one was white), and it's not really a dial on the bottom, but what the heck.  It was a lot less than $100.

For all its wonders, that original Ericafon was not problem-free.  It was tapped.  Even after all these years I don't feel I can talk freely about all this, so let's just say my Mom knew someone who had been married to a Mafia guy and leave it at that.  Mom's recordings of the telltale sounds on the phone lines were one of the many wedges between her and my dad, eventually leading to the divorce.

In college, my main beef with telephones was that the one down the hall from the dorm room sometimes failed to connect me with anyone who could cheer me up after an upsetting post-divorce letter from my mom. I don't really blame the phone for that one. Later I had a phone cord chewed by a puppy, Wafer, until it only vaguely worked when I twisted the wires together.  I eventually had to walk to a nearby house to call for a repair.  The house turned out to be a home for mentally disabled people or something like that.  They were very nice to me there.

phone homeMy modern day problems are mostly about phones that don't work properly, or that make me feel like a technophobe.  In eleven years I've never learned how to use the intercom function on my phone at work.  Why should I, when I can walk into the next room and check with my coworkers in person? It gets me up out of my hermit cave once in a while, and that's a good thing.

The main house phone works okay now, but the ones before it had problems, and I've never really learned to do more than pick up the voicemail and use a few stored numbers.  Also, when US West became Qwest, the service became iffy for a while.  One day the phone repeatedly insisted that I could only call my mom, who lived less than five miles away, by dialing our area code and making a toll call.  I drove over there instead.

And can somebody explain to me why my PCS phone doesn't work at Disneyland? All around me on our last trip there, people were gabbing on their phone--"Yeah, we're in line at the Matterhorn now; we'll meet you at the Haunted Mansion in an hour!"--but my phone was usually "looking for service."  I half expect that at my church, whose adobe walls apparently aren't very PCS-friendly, but Disneyland?  You can't tell me that all those hundreds of other people chatting their way through their vacations were using different services from mine.

unused Sprint phoneI'm on my third PCS clam shell, beam-me-up style phone, and none of them have been reliable. The first two were replaced free (the one pictured is a reconditioned phone I got in exchange for the second one). The third one, the techs told me, was working fine, despite all evidence to the contrary.  They couldn't explain about Disneyland.  I left the Sprint store and went to an egg-oriented restaurant in the same building, whereupon the phone promptly started looking for service again.

It doesn't really matter that much, though.  Only Eva, Samantha and John ever call me on my current phone.  I originally got it so that Mom, her doctors, caregivers and other interested parties could reach me, but Mom's been gone for a while now.  So I use it to call other people, mostly, such as my Dad whenever I get an A for a UoP course.

At home, the house phone mostly rings with political calls, opinion polls and marketing surveys, and with people who want us to refinance our house.  Since the Do Not Call list, it hardly rings at all.  The annoying part is when a doctor's office or church leaves a message on the house voicemail, no matter how many times I give out the PCS phone number.  Why don't they understand that I work for a living, and am therefore unlikely to take their calls at home at 2:43 PM on a Thursday?

Even when the phone line is used for modeming (I don't have cable or broadband), there are problems.  For a couple of years, we didn't have a working phone when it rained, which made in difficult to do web-based research for accounting papers the night before class. Eventually I had the bright idea of calling for repair service. The guy messed with the loose wires outside and fixed the problem in twenty minutes. The phone line in here starts from a thirty-year-old four-prong jack, goes into an adapter, comes out of the closet and crosses the room, where it goes into a splitter so that both the Mac and the Compaq can go online (not at the same time). Sometimes the tangled cords come unplugged at inconvenient moments.

notice this one's an objet d'art - not plugged in!When it comes down to it, though, my major malfunction when it comes to phones is not equipment failures or my failure to understand the phones. The real problem is this: I'm too shy to make outgoing calls to people I don't know well.  That's about to be a problem again, because Father Smith appointed me as a Oxford Town Crier for the English Faire.  That involves calling parishioners, although I'm going to try to make the job as much about email as telephones.

Anticipating these phone calls I don't want to make has reminded me of my greatest phone-related trauma to date, with the exception of the day I got the call that my mom was in a coma. In this much-earlier anxiety-inducer, my mom hired me to make phone calls on behalf of the Mental Health Association of Onondaga County.  I was supposed to call all the golf courses in Syracuse, confirm their addresses and phone numbers, and get the names of their golf pros. I put off the job as long as I could, and then I started dialing--not from the Ericafon, but from the black phone in my parents' bedroom.

The most interesting call in the early going was to Drumlins, whose golf pro, I was told, was "Emmett Kelly."

"Really?  Any relation to the famous clown?" I asked.

Well yes, he was the clown's son, Emmett Kelly Jr. He'd even done some clowning himself.  Neat.  I thanked the woman and hung up.

What I didn't know was that Drumlins was also listed in the phone book as "University Ski and Golf Resort." So I called that number again, and asked again about the golf pro.

"Emmett Kelley, Junior," the woman answered though gritted teeth.  I could actually hear that her teeth were gritted.  I apologized, found out about the name confusion and hung up.

I don't like phones very much.


Saturday, August 21, 2004

Starlight Cyberball

Even without legs that bend, Barbie is more graceful than I am,
more classy and more romantic.
Trust me: I don't own a dress, and you don't want to see me dance.

Cyberball #1: A Little Night Music

Barbie "Solo in the Spotlight"


Merry Go Round
by Ruth Anne Johnson Funk

You won't hear the words of love I am saying
Words that never should be spoken aloud
With the calliope playing
And the noise of the crowd

Love is just an invitation to danger
We cannot pause for romance
Better to pass by a stranger
Than to take a chance

So we played
Riding high
Gliding by

Down to darkness and in between
We made the carnival scene
But love isn't found
On a merry-go-round

Watch those seeds of love you'll never be reaping
We'll go along for the ride
Acting indifferent and keeping
All the needing inside

So we played
Riding high
Gliding by

Gaily bound to a carousel
We did the carnival thing
But lost the brass ring
For love isn't found
On a merry-go-round

Now for the starlight part:

A Celestial Geode

Hubble photo of N44F

From NASA description: "In this unusual image, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captures a rare view of the celestial equivalent of a geode -- a gas cavity carved by the stellar wind and intense ultraviolet radiation from a hot young star."


Image in other entry:
Quintuplet Cluster
(Hubble Space Telescope image PR99-30B 9/16/99)
"Penetrating 25,000 light-years of obscuring dust and myriad stars, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has provided the clearest view yet of one of the largest young clusters of stars inside our Milky Way galaxy, located less than 100 light-years from the very center of the Galaxy."

She Won't Dance - Don't Ask Her

 Fur Ball Wallflower

Tuffy's not so tuffTuffy Toro would like you to know that during the festivities she'll be in a corner somewhere, hiding.  However, in the meantime, she's willing to stop and smell the flowers.


Tags: ,

"Be Nice to Me..."

Okay, I succeeded in doing what I failed to do last Saturday.  I gave blood.  Apparently, drinking as much water as possible the day and night before really makes a difference. Oh, and as Becky showed us in her journal, the Red Cross also needs cash donations to help with disaster relief.

That is all.  Next entry: Starlight Ball. Net yet, though: it's only 3:35 PM here!


Vein in Vain
Ordinary Heroism
National Marrow Donor Program
American Red Cross
American Society for Apheresis

Friday, August 20, 2004

AOL-J Anniversary CyberFair - Arizona

ARIZONA - The Grand Canyon State

part of the State Fair Carnival

(Don't miss tonight's CyberBall!)


click for Heard Museum gift shop
<-- A Hopi clown celebrates with us.

Koshare Katsina by Michael Dean Jenkins (Hopi/Pima) (courtesy of the Heard Museum)



Have an Eegee's Flavor of the Month with your fajitas, with maybe some cactus candy for a desert-y dessert.  Stroll through the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, take in a gunfight at Old Tucson, and head up to Phoenix for a visit to the Heard Museum and, if you're a fan of the opposing team, an Arizona Diamondbacks game. (Sorry, but they're terrible this year.) Continue north to Flagstaff, and head east on I-40 / Route 66 to check out whether Winslow, Arizona has such a fine sight to see.  Take in the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, discover the little-known wonder of the Little Painted Desert, visit First Mesa on the Hopi Reservation, and double back for a trip to the Grand Canyon.  You'll want to be there to watch the sun rise.

Don't have time for all that?  Oh, well, just read my journal, then.  I'll get to all those places eventually.

my hero
<-- Arizona Governer Janet Napolitano

<--Kokopelli in his native element

Slogan found on the State of Arizona website: 
many lands, many people, many faiths - one arizona

Kokopelli and javalina

Kokopelli entertains a javalina -->>

Below left: Old Tucson bad guys

Below right: more Hopi clowns, courtesy of Santa Fe Trading Co.

Old Tucson "bad guys"courtesy Santa Fe Trading Co 



Karen Funk Blocher


Arizona CyberFair Booth

More Destination Links:
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Heard Museum
Petrified Forest National Park
Grand Canyon National Park
Old Tucson Studios

Thursday, August 19, 2004

How Can I Make That Choice?

Weekend Assignment #20: Tell us about your favorite entry of your own from the last 366 days (it's a leap year). Tell us why it still resonates for you. And "favorite" can mean anything you want it to mean: Most amusing, most heartbreaking, most affirmative of yourself, whatever. One good way to think of it is if you could show someone only one entry from your Journal, which one would it be?

Extra Credit: Show us your favorite picture from your Journal in the last year.

Hey, John!  I thought you promised this week's assignment would be easy!

Should I choose an entry that got the best response, or one that got mentioned elsewhere on AOL? Should I use one of the more controversial ones, or one about my dog?  Religious entry?  Political?  Socially responsible?  Nostalgic? Deeply personal? Funny?  Fictional? Aw, heck.  I've just looked at a bunch of them, and I like some of them a lot: the one about my Mom, the excerpt from King Jor's memoirs, travel stuff, monsoon stuff, even one about Manlius, NY. And favorite picture?  How do I choose between dog pictures, weather pictures, and professional art by Sherlock?  I could happily put a link to everything in this paragraph, but I supposed that would be cheating (and immodest).

Grumble, grumble.

Okay.  The one entry I had the most fun with was compiled from comments I wrote to another blog back in June. It consists of a bunch of Tolkien Pastiches. These are bits of The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings in the style of other writers.  Frodo and friends are rendered as poetry and song and sf classic, and as bits of kids' books.  See how many you can identify before reading the entry's comments. Here's an easy one:

 Once upon a time, a rather long time ago now, about last Saturday, Bilbo Baggins lived with his nephew in a hobbit-hole, under the name Bag End.

("What does 'under the name' mean?" asked Merry.

"It means that the hillside was called Bag End, and he lived under it," said Gandalf.)

"Pippin wasn't quite sure," said Merry.

"Now I am," squeaked a voice.

"Then I shall go on," said Gandalf.

Favorite picture? I kind of like the dog pictures (except for the eye reflection problem), the monsoon pictures, and the Sherlock art of Rani (above). But my favorite is one that no one noticed except Sara. It's of a handmade mug I bought in college, Photoshopped so that a Sherlock picture of Fabi/Fayubi is reflected in the beer (which was really diet soda). It's all to do with this drunken innkeeper who has visions of his other, happier life in another world. Having done this cool thing with Photoshop to no acclaim whatsoever, I'd just like to point it out again.


Just a Little Quote from Chapter 21

“Is it because of the dancing badger example?” Jor asked.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to say that.”

(This from the man who thinks button salad is pretty.)

Meet King Jor

Art by Sherlock

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

You've Got Pictures - or Not!

This is a public service announcement. Without guitars!

My gullibility quotient is rather high, but not usually high enough to actually get me into trouble.  I almost never agree to anything over the phone.  I forward Nigerian scams to authorities, send copies of spoof Citibank email to Citibank, and check everything else out on
snopes.com.  But last week, when I was getting all that attention from the Editor's Picks, I got email and comments from a lot of different screen names.  So when I got an IM from a screen name that seemed familiar, saying "You've Got Pictures," I clicked the link - and got scammed.

The spoof page that comes up from this IM requires typing in a screen name and password.  Then it goes to the familiar loading page with the row of green balls going back and forth.  But the picture never comes up.  There is no picture.  It's just another way to harvest passwords, presumably in hopes of getting financial information.

I had no clue what I had done until the next night, when AOL bumped me as I was finishing up a journal entry.  The disconnect message said that someone else had signed on with the screen name, and to call a certain number if the other sign-on was unauthorized.  I figured it was an AOL glitch, signed on again, and stayed online for an hour or two before getting bumped again.  Same disconnect message.  I called AOL, was asked the wrong security question by a programmed voice, and was passed on to a rather nice AOL tech.  He told me that there had been two remote log-ons from one screen name and a brief attempted log-on using another, and explained what I had probably done.  That was when I remembered the phantom You've Got Pictures.  How embarrassing!  I fell for it!

I had to change all my passwords, of course.  I don't think the scammer got any financial info, but I'll have to be vigilant for a while.  And since then, I've had about four more "You've Got Pictures" IMs, from four different screen names.  Now I type "who are you?" when I get one.  Usually there's nobody there, but last night someone replied that someone had hacked his screen name to do this, and he was trying to stop it.  So if you got an IM from me promising a picture that didn't load, it wasn't me, honest!

The best thing to do with this stuff, or any spammer / scammer IM, is to click the "report to AOL" button, or whatever it's called.  I did this even with the one that said he was an innocent victim, noting that possibility in my accompanying remarks.  Maybe AOL can help the guy clear his (screen) name.

Don't fall for this, okay?


Give 'Em What [I] Want!

The Karens in my head are out
To tell me what to say.
Each has her own ideas about
What you would read today,
And think, "Yes! This is just the thing
I like to see online,
The stuff that makes my poor heart sing,
And makes the world seem fine,
Inspires me with words that ring
To care, and give my time,
Or else, uncanny, seems to bring
Deep feelings that match mine."

"Give them comedy!" says one,
"Like early Woody Allen,
Clever observations, fun,
And laughs served by the gallon.
Be another Thurber, or
American D. Adams,
With hip and funny wordplay for
The sirs and for the madams."

"Oh, get serious," another
Alter ego cries,
"She's not as funny as her mother,
As she must realize.
So let her touch the heart instead
Of someone's funny bone,
With thoughtful reminiscences
Of travels, or of home."

"Play ambassador," says one
Who loves the Canyon State.
"Upload those photographs! They'll see
Why Arizona's great!
Write of javalinas, and
Of gila monsters, too,
Petroglyphs, kachinas and
The latest monsoon view."

"Let's look at Arizona with
Perspective and compassion,"
Says another, "'cause this place is more
Than scenery and fashion.
Let's speak of homeless in the street,
And animals endangered,
And vigilantes packing heat
So they can shoot a stranger."

"Write of Mâvarin!" demands
The diehard self-promoter.
"Post a prophecy that scans,
A letter or a note...er,
What will effectively invite
Some comments and some looks
At our Mâvarin web site,
And sell some future books?"

"Be quiet, Karens," I demand.
"You each will get your turn.
I'll use humor, and I'll take a stand,
And tell what I have learned
Of Arizona, and of Rani,
Politics and love.
I'll hand out glit'ring words like candy,
Upload a white-winged dove--
But now, please stop; don't make me bandy
Words I keep thinking of,
I'm at work! This is not handy!
I've papers now to shove!"

More poetry: Tolkien Pastiches
More for Scalzi and Mumsy, and If Mâvarinû Wrote Haiku

Monday, August 16, 2004

More Bad News from the Arizona Desert


Art from a St. Michael's church bulletin

Here are several recent news items related to the problem of illegal immigrants in the Arizona desert.  Yes, I'm ranting about that again.

1. "Coyote" caught posing as a No More Deaths Samaritan.  A smuggler of illegal aliens was arraigned today after being caught driving with his human cargo in a van marked to look like a No More Deaths organization van.  The smuggler (they're called coyotes) was also dressed like a member of this Samaritan group, which often ferries victims of heat stroke and dehydration to hospitals.  No More Borders has announced that they willl start changing their logo frequently (and let the Border Patrol know what the current genuine vans look like) to prevent a reoccurrence.

Arizona Daily Star article

2. Death toll rises as migrants die en route to California farm country. Ten people started from the Arizona-Sonora border, and tried to cross what is reputed to be one of the deadliest stretches of desert in the U.S.  The goal: farming jobs in Fresno.  Of the ten, at least six are dead (including the coyote), and two more are in the hospital.  The estimated death count since 10/1/03 is up over 170 now.

Arizona Daily Star (autopsies, 5 deaths)

3. Concern rises that some of the illegal border crossers are terrorists.  The ease of getting into Mexico from other countries has resulted in worries that not everyone sneaking in from Sonora is from Mexico or other Latin American countries.  The relatively porous border into Arizona is in some ways an easier entry point than, for example, a U.S. airport.  However, I've yet to see any evidence that there are any al Qaeda agents out there. The closest I saw to that was a mention that home countries of some of the thousands of non-Mexicans caught included India, South Korea and Poland.  Gee, I'm scared.  There are certainly drug smugglers out there among the coyotes and people looking for a better life.  But terrorists?  Maybe, but it doesn't sound very likely.  Sure, go ahead and watch for them, though--along with all those other people.

Arizona Daily Star

There are other sources to check, but these were the easiest to get to.


Previous entries on this subject:
Ordinary Heroism
Let 'Em In
Arizona, Rain and Those Hazy-Crazy Memories of Summer

A Day in the Life

Like Buckaroo Banzai, I've been going in several directions at once.  (If you don't know about neurosurgeon / rock star / physicist / adventurer Buckaroo Banzai, then you haven't seen my husband's favorite film.  Bear with me.) School, husband, friends and church left no time for blogging yesterday.

It was a busy and varied day.  Sunday morning was, of course, church.  My 99-year-old friend Eva wasn't waiting outside when I arrived to pick her up, so my friend Kevin went in to check on her.  She was feeling, as she likes to call it, "pokey," and wasn't well enough for church.  Kevin made sure Eva didn't want us to sit with her or take her to a doctor, and we went on to St. Michael's without her. I was crucifer, as I often am, especially in the shorthanded summer.  It's no joke sitting in an 85- or 90-degree sanctuary with an extra layer of clothing, the white alb the acolytes wear. I don't know how Father Smith manages to serve in all his heavy garments during Tucson's high summer.  If I had a million dollars, I'd buy the church modern air conditioning to supplement the rather ineffectual swamp cooler.

We alerted Father John about Eva, ate pancakes in the Parish Center, and returned to Eva's with chicken nuggets.  She was feeling a little better by the time we left, but we're all well aware her life is winding down.  Still, we're grateful for our time with her. She's fun to be around.

When I got home, I called my dad in Wilmington. He assured me that they didn't blow away in the hurricane.  They lost a fence and some roof shingles, but that was it.  My heart goes out to people in Florida and their families, but my family is okay, this time. Dad and Ruth left Kure Beach years ago, in part because of the hurricanes that always seem to be bearing down on the North Carolina coast.

The rest of the afternoon was John and me shopping.  It was the usual weekend routine, crammed into one afternoon instead of two: Costco, Trader Joe, Fry's for soda, Safeway for the usual boring food. No vitamin store this week. 

After an hour or so of watching Dick Van Dyke on DVD with John, it was back to the computer for the evening. There was certainly no time for blogging, though.  I updated the church schedule page and the church news blog. I sent a friend an ecard, and answered email. I was in IM with a friend about a possible new cat, and with a UoP learning team member about a chaotic team PowerPoint presentation. 

About twenty emails flew back and forth as the learning team tried to figure out who was doing what and where it all belonged.  Heidi revised my version, I revised her revision, and team members told me my version wouldn't open.  I managed to get it to open, resaved, resent, and then went back and added pictures. 

Somewhere in there I also reported a You've Got Pictures spoof scammer to AOL.

And then, finally, I got to work on the novel for a bit.  I really wanted to get at least the first third of Mages of Mavarin cleaned up enough to send it to Sarah for her birthday, but I just couldn't get it done.  I made progress, though. I hung it up around 1  AM, got in a quick shower, and went to bed.  This is very early by my standards - and incredibly late for John, who was still awake.  Normally he goes to be around 9 PM, and gets up at 3:45 AM to putter and go work out. Last night he had an idea for how to solve Act Two of his vampire screenplay, and his brain wouldn't settle down after that.

Me, I got semi-adequate sleep for once.

It's not fascinating reading, I'm sure, but there it is.  A day in the life.


The Aging Lottery  (features Eva and my dad)

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Vein in Vain

Well, that was disappointing and embarrassing. I failed to give blood today.

I made the appointment about Wednesday for 10:45 AM Saturday at the Red Cross on Broadway. Late last night, I listened to a voicemail message confirming the appointment - at Foothills Mall.  Foothills Mall is a good 40 minutes from my house.

So I set the alarm to get up in time to drive to Foothills Mall if necessary, thus depriving myself of sleep - again. When I called, it seemed to a take a while for the person to locate me and my appointment.  Sure enough, it was for Foothills Mall.  We changed it to the Broadway office at 11:45 AM.  I then tried to go back to sleep.  It didn't happen.  I got up and wrote a journal entry instead.

At 11:41 AM, I walked into the Red Cross office on Broadway.  I collected information on bone marrow registration, filled out a raffle ticket and several forms (it's remarkable how many ways they've found to ask whether you might have HIV), chatted with several nurses about the screening questions and donation and Shiori, produced my driver's license twice in lieu of my donor card, jumped through all the necessary hoops. One nurse told me that saving a life by doing this was a certainty, because "all of our blood gets used."

Except mine, this time.  Five nurses tried and failed to find a palpable vein on either arm.  I have "rolling veins," and it pretty much always takes multiple nurses and multiple attempts to get a quantity of blood out of me. This time, they couldn't even find a vein worth the attempt.

You know how doctors and diets tell you to drink ten glasses of water a day? That's especially true if you're trying to give blood.  I probably had about eight glasses of water or soda yesterday, plus more this morning.  It wasn't enough. The only vein big enough to be found at all was smaller than their smallest needle.  "I'd probably sever it in two, and that wouldn't be good," one nurse said.  So they gave me an ochre-colored form and a packet of crackers and sent me away.

I'll try again next weekend.  You can be sure I'll make a special effort this time to drink as much water as possible the day before.

Meanwhile, I got a form to fill out for the National Marrow Donor Program, and more up-to-date information on it.  For a plain vanilla white person like me, the cost is now about $85. Prospective bone marrow donors of most minorities can do it for free. I was told that occasionally Wal-Mart or some other big donor will fund these screenings, so that anyone can register and get the blood work done at little or no cost.  So I'll check on current and upcoming funding.  If, in the end, I have for come up with the $85, I'll probably do it anyway.

If I don't give marrow, or blood stem cells, or platelets, or plasma, or your basic whole blood, then I'm not saving lives. I'm not handing out blankets after a hurricane, curing cancer, feeding the hungry, ending genocide, rebuilding Iraq, bringing health care to Mayans in Guatamala, rescuing illegal aliens in the desert, or talking people out of suicide. (If you're contemplating suicide, though, please don't do it! There's got to be a better option.)  I'll say it again: this is one sure way for most people to do something quietly heroic, to actually save lives.

If the veins cooperate.


Ordinary Heroism
National Marrow Donor Program
American Red Cross
American Society for Apheresis


Since John Scalzi's Weekend Assignment was posted Thursday (my response is a couple of entries below this one), I've looked at a number of the journals that people I respect have been recommending. I've also added to my Other Journals list at the right--again.  But there are at least a couple of truly excellent journals I'm not going to read very often myself.  It hurts too much.

Having spent thousands of dollars trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, I just don't want to read too much about infertility - or, conversely, about how hard it is to raise your kids. If you have children, be grateful for them, and don't come complaining to me. If you can't have children, embrace the advantages of that and get on with your life, as I did, or else adopt.  But again, I don't want to read about it.  Sorry. This is not to say I'll click away from any journal that mentions children or infertility in any capacity, but if that's the predominant subject of your journal, I probably won't be around much.  Fortunately, there are plenty of other people who will, assuming you write well and other people find out that your journal exists.

Similarly, I can't handle reading too much about memory loss (Alzheimer's or dementia), or certain kinds of mental illness.  My mom, a clinical psychologist, was also a psychiatric patient who suffered from a number of baffling and frustrating health problems at the end.  Three weeks before her death in 2002, I watched her consistently bring an empty fork to her mouth at Thanksgiving instead of a forkful of the turkey I'd worked all day to prepare.  It was the worst day of my life. So even though Watching My Sister Disappear is one of the best, most lyrical, wonderful, loving journals I've ever seen, I don't think I will have the equanimity to read it very often.  But I'll probably try to do so, because I think it should be read. (And of course it is widely read by others, deservedly so.)

Virtually all fiction is powered by conflict, the old "man vs. ..." litany of things the protagonist has to overcome, and the decisions the protagonist much make .  Without conflict, there is no story.  But who knew that journals functioned much the same way?  Quite a few of the journals I've sampled recently mention physical or psychiatric health problems (which are also physical).  Dealing with the depression or the MS or the MPD or whatever it is is one of the reasons for writing the journal, and one of the reasons people read it.  Even everyday conflicts (my kid won't take out the trash, there's a snake in the house!) and political conflicts (that darned President!) are fodder for journaling.

So if you have problems - and we all have problems - at least it's something to write about.  And among all the journals in AOL-J Land and elsewhere, there's an excellent chance that someone else is having similar problems, and is writing about them with grace and love and humor.


Friday, August 13, 2004


Late last night, when I should have long-since dragged my exhausted self off to bed, I was instead watching Cold Case Files when an ad came on for an over-the-counter remedy for "fatigue."  Apparently this modern miracle cure was intended to help the chronically sleepy and sleep-deprived get through the day suitably bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  (Why are the wide-awake people figuratively characterized as squirrels?) Afterward, the ad promised, the drug would not interfere with the user's sleep cycle.

Isn't there a contradiction here? It seems to me that the yawning I did all day at work today was very much a part of my sleep cycle--and proof that my sleep cycle needs to be interfered with.  Heck, if I could manage eight to ten hours of sleep a night instead of five to six, I wouldn't be "fatigued."  Even the commercial acknowledges that the pseudo-disease they want to treat can be caused by lack of sleep.  The ad agency knows exactly where to find the target market, too: on late night cable television.  If we fatigue "sufferers" weren't up watching the ad, we probably wouldn't need to buy the product.

Still, I must admit I'm tempted by the something-for-nothing promise of this new drug. Sure, I'd live to stay online or do homework (or watch A&E) until 3 AM, and then be alert and productive at the office all the next day.  But it doesn't work that way.  The body needs sleep. I know that.

It's just that there's always something more interesting or more urgent do be done at 1 AM or later than merely going to bed.  Have I mentioned lately that I have no discipline at all? 

What's the number to call for the free sample of that burn-the-candle-at-both-ends-without consequences drug? I was too tired to write it down.


ZZZZZzzzzzzz (I wish)

A Different Stairway to Heaven

John Scalzi made mention on Wednesday of the classic Led Zeppelin song Stairway to Heaven.  The entry before that was about cirrus clouds at sunset. I'll use both as my lame excuse to post this sunset picture I took over the weekend. 

When I saw this multicolored stack of cirrus clouds between the trees, I insisted on running back into the house for the digital camera. I did so because that's what the clouds looked like to me: a stairway to heaven.  Except, of course, that you'd need a transdimensional portal at the top. Otherwise, you're stuck in the sky with the Davis-Monthan pilots. They're mostly off in Iraq these days, so I imagine the Tucson sky is getting lonely about now.  Even the scheduled summer rain isn't hanging around up there.

I've been waiting for an opportunity to get some good monsoon pictures for this journal, but so far, the monsoon in Tucson is a bust this year.  It's rained almost daily over the mountains (at least, that's how it looks from my house), but that's no more than an empty promise to the rest of the city.  It's hardly rained at all in Tucson itself.  What little rain we've had (last night, for example) has mostly been after dark.

Annoyingly enough, the lack of rain in the city has not stopped people from needing to be rescued from flooded washes.  Just this week there were reports about a guy who tried to cross the Canada del Oro wash at La Cholla Boulevard on Monday night. At the time there was a severe thunderstorm warning - but it wasn't raining, and the wash was supposedly dry. There was no barricade, and no obvious, immediate reason for the man not to continue down the street.  He started across the wash, and was hit with a sudden wall of water from upstream. 

Rural Metro couldn't even rescue the man until the water receded.

Because there was no barricade and he did nothing wrong or illegal, the man won't be charged for the rescue under the local Stupid Motorist Law.


Thursday, August 12, 2004

Other People's Stories

 Weekend Assignment #19: Tell us about an entry in someone else's AOL Journal or blog that really left an impression on you in the last year. Why does it stand out for you? Include a link to it within your entry (come back here and link to your entry in the comments).

Becky Choosing someone else's journal for this was easy.  There are a handful of AOL journals I check almost daily, for amusement (Mrs. Linklater's Guide to the Universe), for poetic inspiration (Interactive Haiku), for righteous wrath (Who Cares What I Think?), for an alternative perspective of life in Tucson (The Peach Pages), and to connect to the rest of AOL-J Land (By the Way, but we're not suppose to mention that one.  Shh!).  But the one journal that's really made an emotional connection with me is Becky's Where Life Takes You.  I've never met Becky, but in the short time we've been reading each other's journals, we've each remarked more than once how much we seem to have in common - not in details, necessarily, but in core experiences and attitudes.

Choosing which specific entry to talk about here is trickier.  There have been two, and I'm just going to have to talk about both of them.

The first entry of Becky's that really got me was called Reunion.  Riffing off something John Scalzi said and her own upcoming 20th high school reunion, Becky explained why she won't be going.  That in turn inspired an entry from me (which I won't link to here - you can track it down if you really care). My entry inspired one by my friend Julie in her non-AOL journal.  Cool, huh? The common element was the idea that for many of us, high school was not a place of happy days and deep friendships with people we'd love to see again.

The other amazing journal entry in Where Life Takes You was called Geek. If I have to choose just one entry, this is the one. It was the story of how Becky went from junior high school outsider to clandestine rebel and cool kid without being dragged down by her "bad girl" mentor. (And she still didn't connect with her high school classmates.)  Nothing like what she describes ever happened to me (unless joining a Star Trek club constitutes being cool and a rebel--which it doesn't), but it could have.  I kind of wish it had. It's a really effective and affecting story, and brings up all sorts of memories and possiblilities for roads not taken.  Read it.