Tuesday, November 18, 2008

When life gives you lemons, squeeze them in life's eye

Last time we caught up with our protagonist, she was sending her little letter-minions, her little agents of change, hurrying and scurrying via the internet ether into the world, into the inboxes of the world, sleepers until a click of a mouse set their contents disseminating, dispersing, like Pandora's little cyberbox but not so full of evil. She had strung a line, and her ass was on it, and let's just be honest--it felt a wee bit drafty.

She didn't have long to wait...it was coming, coming, coming and then: she got spanked. A smart little slap, with palm perhaps just slightly angled to produce that pleasing, fleshy smack sound. It was a "this is for your own good" spanking with a shot of righteous, injured indignation and chaser of "from now on, go and be a good girl."

Our heroine (oh, just humor me!) smarted. She frothed a bit of anarchy. The sting wore off and she stopped walking funny. "My, my" she thought; "my ass these days is rather resilient.

And then tonight...Life did it. It busted out with some goddamn lemons. A whole lemony little phalanx of acid reflux inducing, tooth-enamel threatening puckerfacing citrusy sonsabiches.

She thought about iced, cold lemonade. But It is Winter, even if It doesn't know It. She thought about saying "fuck it" and bailing. She indulged in rant therapy.

And then she went home and googled recipes for weaponry made of one simple household ingredient; stingy, stingy lemon juice.

She may have made a few lemon bombs. She may have tucked a few in Life's sock drawer.

Enough third person. I'm gunnin' for the Man now. Wish me luck.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Days All the Rest: LOTSA Letters

Okay, so clearly I'm not up to the challenge of posting every day, even only for a week. I just can't get around to it. HOWEVER, you'll be proud to know this doesn't mean I didn't keep up with my self-imposed "Change Your Reality" challenge. I have sent a gripload of letters over the last few days, I promise, but I'm not going to post them here, because they are all variations of the same letter and you'd be bored. They all had to do with one thing: saving the Writing Center on our campus. I've been a tutor there for more than three years, and its been around for twenty...but now, it's one of the cuts scheduled for the end of this academic year. It's just one of the many answers to the state's mad, insane plan to cut more than 30million dollars (over 14%) from UNR's current budget. (Someone in the TA office altered a bumper sticker "Nevada: We grow things here" by adding "EXCEPT BRAINS." Looking at this state's financial situation, one tends to agree.)

This has been keeping me up at night. As you can imagine, I DON'T have time to be an activist. But somehow, I can't help it. Our Writing Center keeps 7,000 tutoring appointments a year...on a campus of 16,000. The numbers speak for themselves! And as a Writing teacher, I just can't let it go down without a fight. Partly because I worry about the students that will fail without this extra help; but more, because its a resource for the kind of success I wish for my students. In their first scared semester, I can say to my uncertain freshmen, "Look, don't be scared about your writing. If you don't believe in yourself, I'm going to try to build your confidence. And then, for the rest of your time in college, whenever you have doubts about your writing, or you just want to shoot for a high grade in a class or feel great about your personal statement for a scholarship or grad school, then here...there's this resource. Go there. There, someone will REALLY read your writing. They will spend 30 or 60 minutes with you (something few of your teachers will ever do) and they will do everything they can to help."

So, over the last few days I've written:
--The undergraduate student body president
--The Development Director for the Liberal Arts college
--The Provost of the University
--The President of the University
--The Dean of Liberal Arts
--The Associate Dean of Liberal Arts AND
--The Director of Core Curriculum

Now that all of those letters, sent via email, are out in the world, trying their little letter hearts out to change reality, I have to admit...I feel kind of queasy. I know no one can hold it against me for trying to defend something I believe in professionally. But still, for some reason, I kinda feel like it's my (naked, none-too-shapely) ass on the line. Putting yourself out there is central to trying to change the world, I guess. I just hope I don't get spanked.

I guess I could declare next week "When life gives you lemons, just say fuck it and bail" Week (thank you, Forgetting Sarah Marshall)...But somehow, I don't think that's going to happen.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Day 2: Thinking of Kitty

Tomorrow, it's back to reality reality. But today, an attempt to deal with some of thoughts and emotions:

Dear Grandma,

Your oldest daughter, my mother, picked up your ashes this morning. It’s been two weeks since the rainy Thursday afternoon where my phone rang, and I knew what the news was. My phone cut out. My voice was already cracking when I called my mom back. I asked if you were gone, and she answered yes. And now, your body is gone; it is gone and then returned to us in the form of the gone. I will not see your face again; your face is gone. It was your wish—as it is mine—that what stays here on the earth is only dust to be dispersed.

It was never easy to know you, Grandma. I don’t know what you would think of us finding laughs in the minutiae of your death. After her first visit to the crematorium, my mom told me the story of being upsold on the receptacle for your remains. She hadn’t anticipated the complex logistics of design; do you choose the tube that is painted with pansies and has holes on top, so you can sprinkle the ashes out like garlic salt? Or the stately and lugubrious urn—because later, when its contents have been deposed, what on earth do you do with it? Ultimately, she chose a biodegradable box painted with an eagle which could be set free in water—this way, you see, no one need take chances with the direction of the wind. She and I got some mileage from the clever marketing of receptacle designers. She said you would “turn in your urn” if you knew what kind of money she spend on this cardboard eagle box. We laughed hysterically—perhaps too hysterically.

Our family doesn’t do funerals. That last act of letting you go will come long after you have gone. After we have tunneled into winter and passed under the change of a year, after we have emerged into cold early spring and then it warms, and becomes summer, perhaps we will let you go. Perhaps a few of us will gather at the ocean, and that tacky but environment-friendly container—it’s fitting, as it reminds me for some reason of the RV in which you spent more of our childhood away from us, living the cyclical life of a snowbird—will be gently set out from the back of the boat, its bobbing glide stately, queenly as you were, until its hard surfaces turn soft and the ocean begins the quick work of taking the thing apart. I see the glide and the gurgle, the sailing and the subsuming, the release and then the reclamation as the sea swallows the last soft dust of you.

The facts of your death seem real to me; it is the facts of your life that do not. The reality of a life’s end is the sorting, the culling, the remembering that takes place over boxes of life’s trivia which calls, now that its collector is gone, for some kind of order. Your things had hovered in the purgatory of things; you were never coming back for them. You lived, but forgot; you forgot the number of your children, the long shared life with your husband, your jewelry and your photographs and the yellowed documents which tug our heartstrings: certificates of birth, of degree, of death. You had forgotten them but they, your pictures, your papers, your kitsch, still has something to say about your life. We want to hear those things. We are not prepared to hear those things. We still can’t find the things we need to hear.

There were a lot of tears this last weekend, Grandma. Your three grown children (for a time, in the last couple of years, you asked about the fourth. We will never know what memory or missed opportunity might have been that second son to you, that third little girl) gathered here to make sense of what you’d left behind. It was a treasure hunt; there were tiny treasures. Your first born broke over your wedding vows. Your daughters hugged him hard. My sister found a box marked “Keep”—it contained cards we’d written you and craft projects we’d made you over the years. Somehow, I never knew you’d cherished these bits of us.

It is your art that breaks me. When I came to my mom’s house one night, she told me to look inside a photo album resting on top of the coffee table. In it there were photographs, blurry photographs of paintings, your paintings. Most of them, we had never seen. We had some beauty you left us; we didn’t have all of it or, we discovered, the best of it. There is such life in your mountainscapes. The pictures frame the paintings, images of images, and you are only in one of them. In it, you pose before a craft fair booth laden with your paintings. We never knew you were prolific. There are Oregon clouds or Washington clouds and your art and you, looking proud, looking like a queen. It hurts and it heals to know these pieces of your soul are somewhere, at large in the world.

I wish I had known you better.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Day 1: Mortgage Reality

Here is my first letter for "Change Your Reality Week." We are in a rather drastic situation (as so many are) with our house. Our neighborhood is half empty, values have fallen more than I could have ever imagined, and we have an ARM adjustment coming up in far too soon a time, with no hope of being able to get out of it. This is a letter--a shortened version, as I took some of the more personal information--to our mortgage company asking if they might renegotiate some of our loan terms to make our situation better. I believe, numerically, that we would qualify for consideration, although to be honest I don't know what criteria they are using. It's going in the mail today.

Dear Homeowner Assistance,

I am writing to ask that you consider renegotiating the terms of our loan in an effort to help us keep our house. We have been advised to enter foreclosure proceedings, but have not yet defaulted on our payments, and sincerely hope that with your help we can avoid this.

We purchased our new construction home at was later became evident was the peak of our local market, July of 2006. When we opted for an ARM, even with my job experience in the mortgage industry I had no idea what a foolish decision that would soon prove to be.

With the loss of my job in the mortgage industry, my husband and I lost more than two-thirds of our income. Additionally, since purchasing our house, we have seen values freefall around us, with no bottom in sight. Multiple houses on our street currently stand empty due to foreclosure, and the builder has been unable to sell the remaining inventory. If the recent few sales are any indication, our home has plummeted well over $100,000 in value.

We have no way to refinance or sell, and it is becoming very hard to make our monthly payments. Up until now, we have been struggling to put every spare penny towards our principal balance (at the cost of saving for our daughter’s future or our own) but we are now too strapped to do even that.

Our financial advisor has counseled us that it would be better to begin foreclosure proceedings now, as we have basically no hope of being able to refinance or sell before our ARM adjusts, and the longer we let this go, the more we lose. However, we would vastly prefer to keep our house. We ask, therefore, if you might consider altering the terms of our loan to help our situation. Two changes would allow us to continue to make our monthly payment; a lower interest rate would make our payments more manageable, and converting our loan from a 5-year ARM to a fixed rate would give us the security of knowing that we will not inevitably lose our home, regardless of all of our efforts, to an interest rate adjustment.

In making these adjustments, you would help us protect your investment. Please consider this request.

Crystal & Mario

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Upcoming: Change Your Reality Week

Where has the time gone since I've been able to post a post? It's been almost two weeks, I think, and although there has been so much to say I have not found the time to say it. It's been one week since Obama won the presidential election. It's been twelve days since my grandmother died--but only two days since my family, going through her stored-away things, found some hidden photos that showed us what a beautiful artist she was, and also how little any of us really knew her. It's been several weeks since I've plunged deeply into the fight to save my school and the things I care about there, with the unprecedented budget crisis facing the state of Nevada and threatening to devastate my future and the future of my students. It's been about twenty-four hours since my baby took her first wobbling couple of steps.

Things are happening, terrible and wonderful. The pendulum is swinging. I've been laughing and crying. I've been sick, then healthy, then sick again. I've been running. I've been drinking wine. My world has changed and I've been trying to change the world--but forgetting to blog about it.

I've been gearing up for a project with two colleagues that I'm so excited and honored to be a part of, a interview for publication in a scholarly journal (side note: publication = big deal) with a very important and foundational scholar in my field, Edward M. White. I've been reading some of his writing in preparation for the interview; a recurring theme in his work is power, particularly the power of a writer to change her world. This resonates because I've been writing, and the world has been answering. I email big names (rhetoric rock stars) and they write me back. I vote for a Regent one day; we email the next. Nevada's Chancellor of Higher Education (MY NEWEST HERO) will come to my campus if I invite him. I think I'd forgotten that the world responds when you address it directly.

And so, in honor of Ed White, who himself honors the power of the writer, I declare myself a "Change Your Reality Week." Every day for a week, starting tomorrow, I'm going to write and post a letter that in some way attempts to change my reality. Emotional reality, financial reality, educational reality--any and all of the above. I'll let you know, later, if any of it works.

Anyone want to participate with me?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I am SO EXCITED. First, that I don't have to move to Canada. And second, that I actually will, for the first time in my life, have a president that I LOVE. I know he's got a tough road ahead of him, but tonight...I am just SO happy. Congratulations Obama!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

1600 Miles Later...

I'm going to share something gross with you. Come on now, I know you can handle it! Are you ready? Okay, here goes: I gotta tell you that when I see a rack of porn magazines, bearing titles such as "Asian Invasion" and "Pussy Parade," next to a soda fountain or a rack of sun chips and snack cakes, all I can think of is splooge. Splooge in the Ho-ho's, splooge in the Snowballs, splooge in my Diet Coke. And it really makes me lose my appetite.

Why, you may ask, were you in a place that sells such fine publications? Well, let me correct you: I was not in "a place" but actually SEVERAL places that sold them; and as to why, the answer is that sometimes you don't have much choice when you are trekking the 800 miles of highways and interstates between Reno, Nevada and Bozeman, Montana. Those are some stretches of road that cater heavily to the trucker population, as you may have guessed; and sometimes, especially when you are traveling with a baby who tends to poop at the most inopportune moments, you just can't hold out for a nice, clean, porn-free Chevron. You just have to pull over at the nearest combination truck stop/casino and try to overcome your reservations about splooge contamination--reservations that become especially plaguing when you are in Nevada and there is a mysterious series of numbered rooms at the back.

But enough about our fine state's penchant for illicit entertainment, and more about my own naughty activities. On this trip, I walked on the wild side and got caught. Yep, you guessed it--I got a SPEEDING TICKET. A rather hefty speeding ticket, as the cop caught me going 92 in a 70!! In my defense, we had just left a 75, and I had just passed a very old couple driving way too slowly and very erratically. I really hate passing on two-lane highways and our Rav-4 has a V6 engine, so I usally pass fast and hightail it back to my own lane. Unfortunately, the cop caught me on the tail end of my hightail, not slowing down fast enough. That was on highway 93, which goes from Wells NV to Twin Falls ID, and which I have labeled "The Bloody Road," in part in honor of the bloody ticket and in part from all the literal blood. 100 miles of road red from dead deer is about the creepiest thing I've ever seen. Driving it at night, which we did on the way back, was especially horrifying. Once I turned on my brights RIGHT before I came upon two deer in the road, allowing me to slow down in time; another time, we came upon a very fresh accident being partaken of by coyotes, also in the road. YUCK. Let's just say I was THRILLED to reach the interstate again!

Apart from the speeding ticket, and the fact that 1600 miles is an EFF of a long way to drive, we had a great trip. We enjoyed some beautiful scenery, especially on the border of Wyoming and Montana as we skirted Yellowstone. Scarlett, although she had some melty moments (translate: melting-down moments) was overall a VERY good girl, a huge change from her early days of being an absolute nightmare in the car. I loved Bozeman and had an all-around great time at the conference--I got a lot out of the presentations I attended, my own work was well received, and rhetoric rock stars cooed over Scarlett. I also enjoyed stopping at Smitty's Pancake House in Idaho Falls, which was started by my great uncle and is still owned and run by my second cousins, even though none of the family was on hand to visit with. All in all, it was a very enjoyable mini-vacation. But next time I get the brilliant idea to drive 1600 miles over the course of four days, just whack me upside the head, okay? Or better yet, drop me the one-word reminder sure to jog me back into a more logical frame of mind: Splooge.