Month: February 2016

Keep Cooly Cool Girl

I want to talk about the ego and about sex, but separately. They are entwined, yes. Inextricably so. But at the moment I’m not up for wading into that morass.

All by itself, though, the ego is very interesting territory to explore. Once someone said of me that I had no ego, and my ego was very proud to have heard this. At the time it seemed like a compliment, but I have come to see that we cannot be without this layer to our personality. It keeps us on the lookout for lions and tigers that might want to have us as dinner. It propels us forward into our lives when perhaps we would wish to lay down in the forest, grow moss, and die. And, it enables us to think more highly of our capabilities than maybe we ought, which at times is not such a bad thing in this dog-eat-dog world.

Recently, this ego of mine decided it should take a Spanish course that would challenge it supremely, so we signed up for a relatively advanced course at the college where I teach (I can take one free class a year)—in spite of the fact that I haven’t practiced the language in earnest for quite some time. I also decided to take it for a grade so that I would be sure to do the work, since this ego I have happens to respond exceptionally well to the pressure of going after an “A.” And, what’s more, it wants nothing less than an “A.”

But it is not just the grade that has been motivating me to do my very best. The professor is a colleague, and we are in the same department, so I would feel quite ashamed of myself (that ego again) if I did poorly on any assignment or exam, came to class without my homework, gave an incorrect answer (often he calls on me), or said something idiotic in front of a roomful of twenysomethings.

On this last point, though, no one but the instructor, and another student about my age who on the first day made a beeline for me when she saw how young everyone else was, and the young man who sits next to me knows I am also a teacher at the college. It would not be the least bit graceful or appropriate of me to let the other students know this. And, ego aside, I’m in the class to learn, so in that regard the playing field is level, and I neither deserve nor want any special treatment.

As for the sex part—well, it does fit in here: You see, we often begin class by having a conversation with the person sitting next to us, and we are given questions to ask each other that generally correspond to what we are learning in our textbooks. So, last week my neighbor (an awfully nice guy who still lives with his family) and I were waxing eloquent in Spanish about our exercise and health habits, and we came upon a question having to do with whether we smoked and, if we smoked, at what age we started.

After I told him that I began smoking when I was ten (it was more like nine), and after clearing up for him that he hadn’t misunderstood my Spanish, I said that I had been a “delincuente juvenil.” We laughed at this, and he told me I had come a long way (at least I no longer smoke). But later in the car, I reflected on my use of the word “delinquent” and thought about what I had really meant by it.

When I was young I certainly was not rebel-without-a-cause delinquent, though I confess to having broken a few windows, deflated a few tires, written on a few clean walls, and guzzled more than a few beers all before exiting my adolescence. Rather, what I was labelling as “delinquent” was more west-side-story,  young-girl-hot-for-George-Chakiris delinquent. In fact I was smitten by this Romeo and Juliet-esque musical, and my seeing it right when I did happened to correspond with my sexual awakening. A perfect storm, it seems, since I believe it was then that my lifelong attraction to very bad boys, which probably began in early childhood, was given wings. Yet, it was not just sexual heat I felt in response to what I saw on the screen: It was more that, through the film, I was able to find in myself a deep passion for being fully alive, which existed nowhere else around me, and I must have thought this would save me. I still do.

“Daddy, why doesn’t the sky fall on us?”

Recently I learned about Quora while reading a blog post by a woman whose writing I admire. In no time, I was signing up with the question-and-answer website and soon after was receiving daily digests of sometimes nonsensical but almost always compelling questions that were accompanied by sometimes nonsensical but almost always compelling answers. Here are some examples of the questions you would receive if you signed up:

  • According to the theory of evolution, why do we die?
  • What is the sickest thought you have ever had?
  • What is it like to marry a doctor?
  • How do I become an interesting person in real life?
  • What’s the creepiest thing you have heard a child say?
  • What are some bad experiences of guys who have a very hot wife?
  • How does knowing the Latin origin of a word help me in any way?
  • Why would my teen daughter keep urinating on towels in her room when her bedroom is right next to the bathroom?
  • Is “Please find attached my resume” grammatically correct?
  • How would a dog react if I tried to lick its face?
  • If you smell marijuana being smoked by a neighbor in their backyard, should you notify the police?

And Quora is not the only website of its kind; there are heaps of them:, ChaCha, Google Questions, WikiAnswers, and Yahoo! Answers, to name several. What I find more interesting than the actual questions asked and answered on these sites, however, is the fact that such sites exist at all. So, I thought I would do a little thinking out loud about the appeal of reading random questions and answers, the latter of which, I’m sorry to report, are not always based in fact—and are not always grammatical.

Peter Baskerville, who bills himself as “Teacher, Edupreneur, and Father of Three” and who has been “Top Writer” for Quora each year since 2012, maintains that the site (and, by extension, others like it) “fills a massive learning-needs gap that currently exists for the people of the planet.”

As an educator and as a longtime proponent of online teaching and learning, I think I might have a sense of what Baskerville means by a “massive learning-needs gap,” though I am hard-pressed to understand how knowing what it’s like for a man to have a “hot wife” is going to help me become a better-informed global citizen. But that’s just me.

No, I think our interest in reading random questions and answers has more to do with our ever-increasing hunger for bite-sized, distractive information parading as essential information and with our brains’ shrinking capacity to identify what is genuinely important; to think deeply about a topic; or to make creative, thoughtful connections between seemingly disconnected ideas.

We have arrived at this moment in history with the attention spans of four-year-olds on a road trip who, from the back seat, call out absently to their parents in the front: “Mommy, can I still play with my dolls when I go to Heaven?” and “Daddy, why did you marry Mommy?” and “Mommy, will I turn colors after I die?” and “Daddy, what is a fish stick?”

February 14, 2016

follow your heart:


“It is also good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation….Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person (for what would a union be of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent?), it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances.”

Letters to a Young Poet (#7) by Ranier Maria Rilke

The designated survivor


Image result for baby in wicker basket

Image credit

It is as if you had arrived in a brown basket on a porch near St. Paul, a piece of bonnet poking out the one side and a wintry mix coming down. You couldn’t help but look up, mouth an O, but all you could see were four sets of dark eyes staring back down, blinking. Or more like a great tumbledown from a brilliant sun to a duller one, the fall through space across a frigid crosshatching of having-all-but-given-up-on-yourself and for what: a guest room with a busted lock and a Princess phone?

The personal is political.

Digital painting based on Based on The Last Supper, ca. 1520, Andrea Solari, after Leonardo da Vinci, oil on canvas, in the Leonardo da Vinci Museum, Tongerlo Abbey.

Generally, I do not write about politics, but my often deeply personal writing is always deeply political, if by “political” one means rooted in larger forces, both seen and unseen. That is to say I am incapable of separating who I am, what I believe, and what I have lived from the historical, social, economic, and cultural influences that have shaped me.

As a young girl and then as a grown woman, I suffered considerable emotional, sexual, and physical abuse. Even a few doctors had their way. Yet, while it is true that I have been badly wounded by these abuses, my deepest scars come from the violence my soul has had to endure. Those who are violent, even if it is emotional violence, are incapable of seeing the humanity that animates their victims, and they lack the capacity for self-awareness and self-honesty. How else could they justify the pain they inflict?

I grew up in an extended family of arrogant, self-deluded misogynists not unlike Donald Trump; even the women hated women (or, more precisely, they hated themselves). So when I listen to Trump speak hatefully and cruelly about women — and speak grandiosely and with high regard about himself — I have to admit that I feel right at home. Although he is as much a victim of history and culture as my family is and was, he nevertheless is a bankrupt and soulless human being who, if elected president, God forbid, would have me waxing nostalgic about those very dark Reagan and Bush days. And, while I am as left of left as they come, last night I was giddy to learn of Ted Cruz’s victory in Iowa because perhaps it means that Trump will soon be down for the count — though Cruz is only slightly less reprehensible than his rival.