Friday, May 15, 2015

Of Mini-Wheats, IT, and Talcum Powder--Letter #53

Dear Governor Ducey,

I like that song, “Mama said there’d be days like this.” I sing it a lot. It makes me think of my mom who sang it happy and who sang it sad and sometimes it feels all days are like this. I woke up to trouble. Max was trying to undo a Lego construct while his Mini-Wheats sogged in milk. He won’t eat soggy Mini-Wheats. I had to pick him up and take him to the table where my own Mini-Wheats sat, sogging. As we ate our now soggy Mini-Wheats, and he cried about his distant Lego, I tried to answer a bunch of emails about that conference I told you I am hosting in October. Panel acceptances went out, as did rejections, and a lot of people were disappointed in the latter. I got a lot of emails about why their panels weren’t accepted and I had to say how sorry I was because I was sorry. I want everyone to come. The people who were happy about the former were excited to register for the conference but then the registration system was only working periodically and I emailed IT in a huge panic and they were busy with other problems and didn’t really know what the deal was anyway. As I emailed IT, I tried to set up the summer class I start to teach on June 1 which involved a lot of internet linking and date calculating which, as this bad-tech day was starting to go, I’m pretty sure ended up wrong. In the meantime, the contracts for the grant project had a math problem all over them which I went back and forth with the grants’ office to fix and finally someone said, it’s fine, this email will suffice as a corrective, to which I sent the most effusive letter ever about how grateful I was to her.

I had to pick Zoe up at 10:30 from school to take her to her AZ State Piano test so I took a shower and tried to print but I had no paper. I printed on my old dissertation paper—making the paper on the contract I’m signing worth more than the money forthcoming stipulated to be paid by the contract. When I came downstairs, Max had gotten the sandwich I made him out of the container and had somehow exploded it all over the living room rug, which is why I had to add “vacuum” to the list of things to do today (and, sadly, yell at Max, which I did, not too long, at least, and not for loud). We picked up Zoe, Max and I, and found the room with her test without too much trouble although I had to park without a permit, which made me jumpy.  Then we went to Bookman’s to find Max a new rock book and all the rock books were too big or too small until we found “Rocks and Minerals” which was just the right size for a book but by then I’d found two new books for myself which I don’t have time to read or the money to buy but buy them I did and then Max wanted to go to Target to get a notebook so he could transcribe his new book (and where I got some cheaper, regular printer paper) which is fine except by the time I got home, I had to call IT, IM IT, email IT and answer forty-seven Facebook queries. While IT IM’d me, I tried to marinate the chicken for dinner but then the chicken leaked all over the fridge so I had to clean out the fridge which I just cleaned out yesterday. We had a few panelist queries too in the other other other inbox to figure out and prepare to send and then the budget office called to see if the invoices were correct, which they were but then we realized we hadn’t received the other pledged support and had to try to invoice for that before the budget lady left town for the next two weeks. IT IM’d back and said they thought they had a couple of thoughts on how to fix the problem so I tried again to register from my house for the conference of which I will be hosting and success! Register for my own conference I did. But then Max wanted the playdoh toys which are as old as I am, almost, since they were mine, and I got them out by the mechanics were gummed up with old Playdoh. I tried to scrape out the stuck-on playdoh with a skewer but the skewer was stronger than the plastic and now the toy is broken but I’m still washing out the old playdoh because water fixes everything.
I had big plans to send out a lot of writing today because May 15th a deadline kind of day but instead I’m on hold with IT, sending a message to a potential panelist on Facebook, and helping Zoe pack for her Grand Canyon camp while Max writes out the Moh’s Scale of Hardness in his new notebook. I got the baby powder to show him talc. Now at least we all smell good but now our clothes are covered in white.

And then, I had the third sign of the week of the apocalypse, after the 100 strikes of lightning in 30 minutes Wednesday night and snow last night (in May!), a duck walking through my back yard. I don’t have a pond in my backyard. Lost ducks. Perhaps I can offer them some baby powder to dry their wings as they mistake the falling sky for a lake they can swim in.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Scarcity and Abundance, a continuation--Letter #52

Abundance—a continuation

Dear Governor Ducey,
The flipside of scarcity is abundance. That’s the point behind these letters. Abundance. More is better. Maybe there’s some nuanced argument one of the letters makes that no one letter could achieve. One thing, at a time, seeded in stuff like garbage and carrots, might hit the right note, at the right time. It’s like poems. The way a poem says, leaf curl, leaves curl, or hunger is an apple, or a blade of grass is a book, or see the elephant’s trunk pull the leg of her dead baby, feel the slice of a broken wine glass in the webbing between thumb and index, hear the tire’s screech, or the squeak of a swing on swingset, or the sound of a man, breathing, breathing, and then not, a sneaker rubbing against a basketball court, cringe a broken fingernail, down to the quick, squint at one hundred lightning strikes, count four hundred thousand cicadas every seventeen years, carry the strange weight of pumice, the strange weight of petrified wood, pretend the log in the river that barely crests his head is a crocodile in Oregon, bury a dog, plant a seed, spy the single grain of sand.


If every day is accounting, you can compress and squeeze, subtract and reduce. If every day is accounting, you can add, list, expand, burgeon, runneth over. To do the latter, you just have to look around. There are seven billion humans. There are a trillion ants. There are elephants. There are grasses. There are tires. It all adds up and if you keep adding, you never have to do more with less because more was already there.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Scarcity and carrots--Letter #51

Dear Governor Ducey,
            Something that both businesses and universities and lives have in common is their capacity to survive with scarce resources. Humans are a plucky group. They can handle teaching more, making less money, eating less food, working longer hours, living in smaller spaces. Heck, some people live outside. Doing more with less is, of course, possible. One adapts. Survival of the fittest, etc. etc. Animals do it.  Plants do it. Carrots. You can even grow them in Flagstaff. You can stick a seed in the volcanic dirt and hope it rains. Hope the wind doesn’t blow it away. Hope that, if it does rain at all or enough, that if the carrot grows, it doesn’t run into a bunch of rocks. A regular Flagstaff-dirt grown carrot looks kind of like a mess—more a gingerroot than a bug’s bunny, a crooked, bent thing. Woody, possibly edible. Not so easy to chop and add to soup.

            When there’s never enough, it’s hard to be expansive. You just grow a tiny bit, if at all.  It’s easy to hoard soil nutrients. To worry about your own carroty future. You don’t want your neighbor carrot to do well. There’s barely enough soil, rain, sun for you. You don’t want to take on new projects, like making really tall carrot tops and digging further, toward more nutrient rich soil. You’re nervous. You’ve got a little. What if there is less down there? What if it’s even harder than this? So you grow, twisty, tiny carrot, a little bit. You’re still a carrot, sure. But you’re short, stubby, and not as nutritious as a carrot grown in soft, twice-tilled soil, raked for rocks, seeded in organic soil, mulched with compost, soaked daily with water. Those carrots are so gigantic. They fill a salad bowl. They are abundance defined.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Better Listening--Letter #50

Dear Governor Ducey,
The other day, someone asked me what I would say to you if I were actually able to talk to you. It took me a minute to think of what but I finally said, I don't think I'd say much. I think I'd just listen. I'd ask you, do you really not believe that everyone who wants an education should be able to afford one? Don't you think the state has some interest in investing in its people's education? Don't you think education makes a city, a state, a country, better. You believe in "education" I think. Your kids went to college. You went to college. There was no "governor's" class right? But still, you took a variety of classes, probably beginning with general education, the foundation of a liberal arts education. And then you must have gotten some graduate degree for further training that led you to be able to transition from a business guy to a governor guy--because, I'm sure you are getting the feeling that although everything "seems" like it runs like a business, not everything does run like a business. Heck, half the businesses don't run like businesses. But it seems that "liberal arts" education allowed you to transition and move around and move up, which seems like something education should do so you can make your life better and what you think a governor who has great hope for making its citizens' lives better would do. So I would ask you, and I would listen to you answer why you don't think education is good for everyone, or why the state isn't completely, 100% invested in educating its people? I am interested. I admit I am locked in an ideology. I believe in education for everyone, all the time. I cannot see seeing from another point of view but I would listen to you and try to understand why some people should get to go to college and others should not.

The other day, I was running around my neighborhood. A recycling truck was going my exact same pace. As we both approached one house, the recycling bin had tipped over. I went to help the recycling man stuff the recyclables back into the bin.
"You don't have to do that," he said.
"Well, neither do you," I argued, assuming that technically, if the recyclables are not in a bin, he doesn't need to pick them up by hand.
We happened to be in front of one of those little libraries that people put in their yards, like mailboxes or bird houses--invitations to bring the public into your private territory. I walked over, talking mostly to myself, "The Life of Pi. That's a good one."
The recycling man, setting the bin closer to the curb, said, "I like that one too."
"You liked it?"
"Yeah. It was good. Not my favorite, but up there."
"What's your favorite?"
"The Things They Carried."
"I teach that book all the time," I said.
"Where do you teach?"
"NAU. I teach creative writing."
"I've always wanted to take a writing class."
"Well, you should come take one," I told him.
"I always wanted to go back to school, " he said.
"You should!" I said. I'm overly enthusiastic sometimes.

What good would it do for the recycling man to finish his BA? He has a good job. Secure. Maybe interesting--to see what people recycle (by the way, these people had put wine bottles (J. Lohr Cab) in their recyclables. I freaked out because glass can't go with regular recyclables but the recycling man shrugged his shoulders. He has a broader perspective). But maybe he doesn't want to always be a recycling man. Maybe he wants to move up the recycling ladder. Or maybe he would like to write in his spare time. Maybe in writing in his spare time, he'll write a great novel about the man who tried to recycle his wife. Or the mystery of the more-tin-foil-than-one-could-reasonably-use-discovered-in-the-recyling-bin. Or a nonfiction book about J. Lohr cab and how its sustained a number of lives in our community. Maybe he'll sell it to Hollywood. Maybe he'll pay taxes on the sale. Maybe the sale of that movie will pay for 6 other recycling men and women to go to college.  Or maybe he won't write anything or sell anything. Maybe he'll write in his spare time and continue to pick up recycling. Maybe he won't write. Maybe, when he swings by, he'll pull a book out of the Little Library that he read in school and read it again on his way home. Maybe this will make his life a better. Maybe better is what life is supposed to get. How a state isn't invested in that, I don't get, but I'm asking. I promise I will listen.




Friday, May 01, 2015

Cleo the Dog--Letter 49

Dear Governor Ducey,
            We had to put our poor dog Cleo to sleep yesterday. She was getting so old. She had been so old, for a long time. Two years ago, while friends were visiting, she couldn’t get up from under the deck. Each of us, even the friends who were really cat people, went to pet her. We sat with her. Brought her dog biscuits. We sat on the deck so she could feel like she was hanging out with us.  We took her food and water and thought that she would pass in the night. The day after the friends left, she popped up and walked in the house. Perhaps she just likes drama.

            A year and almost a half ago, on MLK Jr. weekend, she was so weak she couldn’t stand. We had to carry her in and out of the house. Sometimes, we had to roll her onto a sheet and carry her in that way. We thought she was indeed done then. We would call the vet after the long weekend. But then on Tuesday, she popped up and walked right in the house.
            She was a beautiful, goofy malamute/shepherd mix. She scratched at the door so our front and back. Our doors are ruined. She begged for food almost always. And we almost always gave it to her. In the morning she cleaned out the breakfast bowls and at lunch I gave her leftover chicken and for dinner, she had some steak. Or potatoes. Or lentils. She liked almost everything except lettuce but she’d eat lettuce if you put butter on it. As would I. It’s my fault, I know, that she begged for food but it seemed in its own way, responsible. Think how much water I saved by not pre-rinsing plates for the dishwasher.
            She had hip dysplasia from when we first got her. She had surgery on both hips before she was one. After that, she would not go into the vet’s office. She would lie down and wheel her legs in the sky.  The vet in Salt Lake, would come out to her as she lay stubborn on the sidewalk. She jumped out of a car window once, trying to see her pal dog in our friends’ car as we found a spot to camp. She loved to swim more than anything and I regret that I didn’t take her swimming one last time. I could have snuck her into Lake Elaine a few weeks ago, if I had known then that this last time was really going to be the last.

            Boy dogs liked her but girl dogs thought she was weird. Cleo tried to lick the inside of their ears. She was, like me, overly familiar too soon. She preferred cats. She was such an excellent cat dog that our new cats, Zane and Hazel, walked on top of her. They shared milk from the cereal bowls with her. They stole food from her dog bowl. She was good with her old cats too. Bagiera and Phaedra, Jelly and Box. Box used to jump onto her neck and swing around like a fat necklace. Cleo has never really been the same since Box died, 3 years ago. She lived in 3 states with that cat, Utah, Michigan and Arizona. Box licked her inside the ears. Maybe that’s where Cleo got the weird ear-licking thing. She liked to play ball, because sometimes she could be a normal dog and not a cat (which not to say Box did not sometimes like to catch a ball). She liked to run and we went on a walk or a run every day of her life until about a year ago when her hips really couldn’t take it any more. She shed profusely—a whole other dog’s worth of fur, in the spring. One of my housesitters collected her fur after he brushed her in a garbage bag. We thought about spinning it into proper yarn. A dog blanket.
            She liked to lie on the driveway and sometimes, you’d have to forcibly drag her out from behind the car in which you were trying to back down the driveway. We called her "donkey" sometimes. She was very stubborn. But really, she liked food. She stopped eating dog food last week but she’d still eat dog biscuits. When Erik’s mom, who calls her her first grandkid, came over, she’d run to her and nudge her hand. For a pet, sure, but also for a biscuit. If Erik’s mom sat down, Cleo would yip, wondering where is my next pet? Where is my next biscuit?
            She loved the kids almost as much as she loved dog biscuits. When they had friends over to play tag, Cleo ran after the kids, nipping at their shirts, trying to win, trying to keep my kids from losing. She slept with them and she kept her eye on them and even though she’d never bite anyone, she could bark like a mean dog. The kids were extra safe with her around. As we all were. She was a big dog made even bigger by her love of dog biscuits. And she liked us. She hit her tail hard on the floor whenever we walked in the door. 

            Yesterday was maybe the most awful day of my life. Erik and I took turns crying and sitting with her, petting her behind the ears. The vet came at 11:00 on the dot. The slow ticking down. How anyone supports the death penalty is beyond me. It’s one thing when the end is just a few days or weeks away. Another to steal a whole life. I still don’t know if this was the right thing to do, even though she couldn’t stand up. Even though she couldn’t walk. She was still alert. Her ears pointed straight toward the ceiling when I made breakfast. I gave her an egg. Erik gave her an egg. She yipped for the milk leftover in the cereal. We gave her a biscuit.
            The vet gave her a sedative. We gave her one more biscuit. She fell peacefully asleep. But then, when he gave her the barbiturate, she woke up and looked me right in the eye. Her eyes said, help me. I said I was sorry, so sorry, but that she couldn’t walk. I could have stayed with her another hundred years, giving her biscuit after biscuit but I couldn’t pick her up any more and a dog has to be able to walk. Today is less sad than yesterday but not by much. Max left his bowl of yogurt on the floor. I’m waiting for Cleo to come in the room to lick the bowl so I don’t have to rinse it out.


            And, although this has nothing to do with you, Governor Ducey, it is so sad and it has been such a sad year, thanks to you, that I think I’ll put all sad things in your column. You don’t seem to bear the burden of much sadness. Maybe you can take a little of this weight.  

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Student Over There--Letter 48

Dear Governor Ducey, 

I have a student who got into an excellent master’s program. One of the best in the country. While she and I were exchanging emails back and forth about tuition and cost of living, she told me she’d graduated undergrad with no debt. She also said her parent’s small business could make a small job available to her to help pay cost of living. The master’s program wouldn’t be free with her aid package, but she’d get about half of her tuition covered. It was a steal at any price, I thought, because this master’s program is one of the best and the faculty there are mind-benders. And, half the tuition is manageable, like the tuition at her undergrad.

She doesn’t have any ‘extra’ money. She isn’t a trust fund baby. She worked through school. She double-majored. She has true talent—by which I mean she has great curiosity, mind-bending insight, is willing read every thing she can get her hands on and has designed a strategy for how to make her work meaningful.

I wonder if she would still be able to do it, with this next batch of budget cuts. Could she double major or would she have to get a second job to pay for increased tuition? Would she have sought out grad classes if she could get out of undergrad more quickly? Would she have spent time in her professors’ offices if they were so enbusied with admin work and other classes that they could only give her a half hour of their time? Would she have emailed those profs at 3 a.m.? Would she have received my colleague’s and my guidance if we didn’t have time to check out master’s programs with her? To help her apply?


She’s a star student, an overachiever that has well-achieved and, because she had seen her fellow students receive guidance from their professors, heard of her fellow students taking grad classes, asked us what to read beyond course assignments, seen us in our offices to see if we’d read just one more thing, she knew there was a path to overachiever-hood. But what if there are no fellow students to follow her path, even around long enough to see it, when the budget cuts take full effect. The students work too much. The professors aren’t as available. No one goes to readings anymore, or meets after class because they’re all rushing off to their next class so they can get more done with less so much so that there’s nothing left for the students who would give anything for a little more and who would take that little more to a big program and say to that big program, I got that more, there.