Biography Writing Teaching Appearances  

December 2009 Archives

Sometimes Ya Gotta Jump Off The Train--

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Lincoln airport.jpg

I took this picture of the Lincoln, Nebraska airport yesterday morning. Notice the empty gate. A United airplane should have been there with me in it, ready to depart for Chicago.  I was on my way to the annual MLA (Modern Language Association) Conference in Philadelphia.  This is the annual conference for literary and language scholars.  Thousands of scholars (from across the nation as well as outside the U.S.) take up over 15 major hotels in the hosting city every year.  I've been going for almost fifteen years.  Not this year.

At the time I took this picture, the plane was still in Chicago.  The United clerk gave me the following scenario:  (1) Your plane is still in Chicago (2) Even if it gets here in the next half hour, when you get to Chicago, you will only have 15 minutes to get from Gate C to Gate F (if you know the gates at O'Hare--C to F is much longer than a football field) (3) You'll have to go standby if you can't connect to your Philadelphia flight because all other flights are overbooked. And tomorrow everything is booked too.  

I can't remember at which point (during his description) that I suddenly felt my body relax, my breathing deepen, heard my voice calmly say, "I'm getting off the train."  

He looked at me a little confused.  "It's a metaphor," I said.  "What I mean is--cancel my flight, reimburse me--I'm going home."  

He said, "Well, you'll make a lot of people who are currently on standby very happy."  

I turned around and saw one of my colleagues who had obviously arrived much earlier than I looking distraught and talking on the phone.  I thought about the graduate students who have a much more invested reason (job interviews at the conference) to run around miles of airport concourses to catch that flight because their professional lives depend upon it. 

I gathered up my packed bags, left the airport, but stopped on the way out to take said picture above.  

There are moments, gentle reader, when we have to just step back and say, "What is most important--what really matters?"  For me, it mattered to let go and stay home but not without feeling guilty and worried about the paper I was scheduled to give, the editor I had to see, the meetings to attend.  Lately, though, I've been making choices by thinking whether or not the "action" I decide to do or not do will have important consequences years from now.  I can meet up with the editor later, keep working on this paper, contact colleagues other ways.  I've also been thinking about "worry" in the same manner.  Does it really matter to "worry" about the possibility that you won't get to point B from where you are at point A.  This is nothing new, but lately it's been of much importance to me to breathe deeply, learn to relax more, and just get off the train. 

More soon . . . 

Dipped in Ice

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Everything is dipped in ice right now, encased, immobile.  The sky seems to shrink closer to the earth, sounds become echoing whispers. Here is the little bluestem which, just a month ago, moved easily in the soft breeze. Now it remains motionless:  



Here is the stalwart rose bloom I had noted in my previous post: 
small rose pic.jpg

Encrusted ice appears around its leaves, its stems.  The world is a silent sheath of liquid resin. 


A Rose in Winter---

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My world is now one of snow and cold but in this world--as I was shoveling snow in our front yard a few days ago, I found a soft pastel blush catching my attention.  No not a fresh and lovely rose bloom--but color nonetheless.  It had stamina.  Yes, the one you see here!  I'm giving it credit for facing the major snowstorm, for holding on during the blizzard, for keeping to its pink hued petals at least as much as possible.  The artist Henri Matisse wrote, "There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted."  Agreed.  Perhaps in considering photography, the truly creative photographer is one who has forgotten other digital photo rose prints. And maybe there have been many photos of roses in snow, but since I'm a Los Angeleno, a Californiana--not endemic to this geographic location--a rose bloom in winter (even a faint one) is all new to me.  


I grew up in sun and warmth all year--with a mother who loved roses, who planted all kinds in our front and backyard.  She chose her roses not only by the color but by the name.  She loved roses whose names were in Spanish ('Granada') or were named after American musicals ('Singing in the Rain'), names that described emotion ('Passion') or were named after famous opera singers like 'Maria Callas.' She was also political in her choices, giving the rose 'John F. Kennedy' a special place in the rose bed.  I would assist her when she would take her blooms every May to the Rose Pageant at Rose Hills Cemetery in Whittier, which at the time I did not know was and still is the largest cemetery in the United States.  Because it is so large, there are many events held there which included this festival of roses. She would win prizes for her roses and would share her ideas regarding pruning and planting.  


This rose is called 'Nearly Wild' and is known for surviving harsh winters and it's also known to be immune to various rose diseases. Back in August, when this rose bush was filled with a myriad of blooms, I took the time one very hot afternoon to sit and prune those blossoms that had faded or were looking just like this one in the picture.  Now in this cold and snowy moment, there is no way I am going to mess with these petals. I think of all the "perfect" blossoms I saw at Rose Hills every year, but this one--this exact one of which I keep photographing--well, I consider it like no other: perfect in strength and durability, beautiful, magical, and powerful. I think of the poet H.D. (1886-1961) and her poem Sea Rose:

Rose, harsh rose
marred and with stint of petals,
meagre flower, thin,
sparse of leaf,

more precious
than a wet rose
single on a stem--
you are caught in the drift . . . 


My Fabulous Students!

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It's that time -- the end of the semester when I am thinking so much about my students and our time in class. Here are some of the books we've read together---


We've had such a jam-packed semester reading and discussing plays, attending plays, reading/discussing memoirs, novels, watching films, having a myriad of guests, laughing and learning together.  

This is English 212--Lesbian and Gay Literature and the students in this class are strong and powerful individuals who are unafraid to read a wide variety of amazing literature. My thoughts keep going to one of our early readings this semester:  Tony Kushner's play, Angels in America.  In an interview, Kushner discussed his play saying, "The question I am trying to ask is how broad is a community's embrace?  How wide does it reach?" Kushner is speaking of personal as well as political bonds.  In Angels in America, it is only after these personal and political bonds are tested, deconstructed, destroyed, that then community is regenerated/recreated to include connections never before imagined.  I think of our group knitted together within the fabric of literary analysis.  And yet, within that fabric, our analytical discussions unravel our own preconceived notions or break open toward other avenues of inquiry.  The authors we read have created works that problematize what it means to be human or what it means to be an individual within a constructed normative society.  


Sometimes I wish this could be a year course.  There is so much more to read, so many more films to consider with these works of literature.  I always hope that my students will not stop but continue and many of them do.  Today when one of my students gave me her final paper, she exuberantly told me how she had come across more books in her research and that she will be reading them over the winter break.  Her effusive manner was contagious.  I kept smiling the rest of the afternoon. 


The Power of PFLAG

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"In 1972, Jeanne Manford started an international movement when she marched with her son Mortie in New York's Gay Pride Parade.  Enraged that her son had been beaten at a gay rights protest two months before while police did nothing, she carried a sign at the Pride march: 'Parents of Gays:  Unite in Support of Our Children'. 30 years later, PFLAG (Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is 500 chapters strong with over 250,000 members, supporters, and affiliates worldwide." (PFLAG History)

Here in Lincoln, Nebraska, the PFLAG chapter is going strong.  Last night PFLAG held its biggest fundraiser of the year:  Jack Saltzman's Chocolate Party.  Jack hosts an amazing gathering in celebration of diversity.  His home is a lovely tour of beautiful antiques, a myriad of Christmas trees and lovely chocolate delights.  

All money raised goes directly to offering support, education and advocacy for our LGBTQ young people.  LGBTQ teens are three times as likely to attempt suicide (Soulforce).  "Of all hate crimes reported in 2007, the proportion committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals rose 16.6 percent, also the highest level in five years" (  It is so important to advocate for our LGBTQ young people. 

I wish for a society that recognizes the gifts that each individual can bring to a community--that every one of us has unique gifts to offer. As soon as someone is left out, as soon as someone is disrespected or violated, we are all left out, we are all disrespected, we are all violated.  

Thanks to you Jack and to all those who attended last night's fundraiser.  If you weren't there but would like to contribute to PFLAG's efforts, here is their website:  PFLAG Lincoln.  Check out the pictures below of our lovely evening:  

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Jack Saltzman and Amelia:  Jack Saltzman's lovely holiday
decorations behind us.  

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John Raible, Amelia Montes, and Randy Messman after tasting the lovely 
chocolate hor d'oeuvres

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Lois Hansen and Pat Tetreault.  Lois and Pat are longtime 
supporters of PFLAG.  Yay for Lois and Pat!!  And below are
the lovely chocolates!

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