Monday, May 21, 2007

She Is Always Seventeen

Now, I'm a sucker for storytelling, which is one of the reasons I adore Joss Whedon. But I find my life at a very strange intersection today. One storyteller I always enjoyed was the late Harry Chapin, who provided the title of this post. In one of my favorite songs about hope and optimism and doggone-it-the-world-can-get-better, he reminds us that:

Oh, she is always seventeen;
she has a dream that she will lend us and a love that we can borrow.
There is so much joy inside her she will even share her sorrow;
she's our past, our present, and our promise of tomorrow.
Oh, truly she's the only hope I've seen,
and she is always seventeen.

Joss Whedon is another of my favorite storytellers. His fiction has inspired me; made me laugh, and cry and think. His non-fiction demands that I act. Please contrast Chapin's 17 year old with this one:

Last month seventeen year old Dua Khalil was pulled into a crowd of young men, some of them (the instigators) family, who then kicked and stoned her to death. This is an example of the breath-taking oxymoron “honor killing”, in which a family member (almost always female) is murdered for some religious or ethical transgression. Dua Khalil, who was of the Yazidi faith, had been seen in the company of a Sunni Muslim, and possibly suspected of having married him or converted. That she was torturously murdered for this is not, in fact, a particularly uncommon story. But now you can watch the action up close on CNN. Because as the girl was on the ground trying to get up, her face nothing but red, the few in the group of more than twenty men who were not busy kicking her and hurling stones at her were filming the event with their camera-phones.

It’s no longer enough to shake our heads and make concerned grimaces at the news. True enlightened activism is the only thing that can save humanity from itself. I’ve always had a bent towards apocalyptic fiction, and I’m beginning to understand why. I look and I see the earth in flames. Her face was nothing but red. . . .

All I ask is this: Do something. Try something. Speaking out, showing up, writing a letter, a check, a strongly worded e-mail. . . . Even just learning enough about a subject so you can speak against an opponent eloquently makes you an unusual personage. Start with that. Any one of you would have cried out, would have intervened, had you been in that crowd in Bashiqa. Well thanks to digital technology, you’re all in it now.

Dua Khalil's voice was taken from her. I am certain that the jackals in the crowd who were filming her murder never thought anybody would care.

Well, I care. I'm part of Dua's voice. And I beg you to be part of it, too. This kind of terror isn't relegated to the Old Testament. It happens in our world, today, and in places with enough technological sophistication to have vidphones.

Please, it's harsh to think about, I know. But evil counts on good people to turn away, so please - stare it down. Follow the links and show the world that you're part of Dua's voice, too. It's not half a world away - thanks to vidphones, it's here; right here. On behalf of every 17 year old girl - whether that's you now, or you back when, or you to come - stare it down. If you have ever had a mother, or a sister, or dated a woman who ever has been 17 - stare it down.

Because that wasn't just Dua. That was all of us.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Little "Whelmed"

I've got too much to do. Now, that in and of itself can hardly be considered news. But something just had to give. I'm feeling stressed by pressures coming from work, from writing (the manuscript is due in a hundred days and that scares the bejeezus out of me right now), from trying to keep a house at a level above "slovenly," and a dozen more besides. It's at this point that I've learned to look for signs of being "whelmed." (That's a level just before "overwhelmed" which is scary territory indeed - Overwhelmedland is the home of the headless chicken. Having been in that country a time or two, I can assure you I have no desire to have my passport stamped again.) At any rate, I'm displaying most of the signs of heading nowhere good, mentally speaking.

I had just enough sense to take a deep breath, a hot shower and then meditate a little while. Now, not everyone's comfortable with the idea of meditation - call it whatever you want. Prayer, alone time, anything will do. The weird thing is that I've often heard it said that prayer is talking to God and meditation is listening to God. I happen to believe that God talks to us all the time - often through the mouths of friends and loved ones, occasionally through strangers, and very seldom through burning shrubbery. We just aren't usually listening - I know I'm usually not; my mind has a tendency to keep spinning madly about.

Believe what you will. I just know that I suddenly knew what to do. While I didn't hear an actual voice (I think the Divine knows I'm not quite ready for that level of interaction), there was a sense of deep calm and I knew that today, my job was set out before me. It was as if I had been told, "Don't just do something. Sit there."

Wise advice indeed. The speech evaluations on my coffee table can wait, the outlined chapter can wait to be turned into paragraphs, and the dust bunnies can have another day to evolve into a democratic society.

My life is not "Woe is me" and I'm going to play in the sunshine to remember that.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Feeling Hopeful

I like the title of this post, especially considering that lately I have been feeling rather the opposite regarding my fellow humans. Without going into too much icky detail, suffice it to say that the last few days have been grimy, full of events that make you think that the human race isn't exactly a credit to Planet Earth. For me, this has been doubly true for humans who haven't yet attained the age of majority. While I know intellectually that not all teenagers and tweens are self-centered, spoiled little brats - well . . . let's just say I've spent a lot of time lately grumbling and feeling old about doing it.

Kids - nasty little buggers.

Now, I've often heard that, when you feel sorry for yourself, one of the best things you can do is pick yourself up and go help somebody else. Try that, and Life'll surprise you. Always.

So, today I kept a promise I didn't especially want to keep (tons of work to do, don't you know) and I helped out a friend who was taking some kids to a horse show. Ever gone to a horse show? Especially an "open" show? It's - interesting. Glitzy Western tops that would make Dolly Parton blink are worn next to kids competing in saddle seat attire with long tailored jackets and prim hats and a whole lot in between. And horse shows are not an inexpensive hobby - many of these horses cost more than I paid for my car and quite a few cost more than I paid for my house! And it's hot and dusty and things run late and I don't really remember what to do, and, and, and.

Keep in mind that the kids we were helping were not your typical "horsey" kids. These children are all developmentally delayed due to things such as Downs syndrome, cerebral palsy and the like. They compete while mounted, but there is also a person leading the horse and someone like me, who's a "sidewalker" in case the horse spooks suddenly and the child needs an extra hand to balance.

In the ring, I was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude, for it hit me all at once what a special thing I was able to be a part of. These kids have to face so much crap every single day for no reason that's their fault. And, to be brutally honest, there's a lot these kids aren't going to be able to do, including just walk around a horse show without people talking about them as if they aren't there.

But (and here's where the story gets beautiful, to my way of thinking), you put these kids on a horse and everything changes. They're the equal of any other human. (At least the equal - plenty of so-called "normal" people are scared to death of horses. Too big, too many teeth and too many stamping hooves.) These kids, who most people treat as invisible and oblivious, are suddenly tall. They're balanced on a half-ton-plus of horseflesh and, for once in the seemingly-crummy hand they've been dealt, they're in control and they know it. They're proud and they're beautiful in their own skins. And a third-place ribbon can mean as much as any Olympic medal.

And maybe I was just walking alongside a horse in a dusty ring, but you know what? I felt pretty damned proud and beautiful, too. Even without a ribbon.

Kids? Best thing on God's green earth.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Brains . . . brains . . .

The other day, I joked with a friend that I was beginning to feel like the "academic undead." (Hence the pic of the cute li'l zombie doll.) The more I thought about it, the more truth I saw in the comment.

Let's make it clear that I'm not exactly complaining here. I teach under a 12-month contract, which at my school means 5 classes in each of the fall and spring semesters and 2 in the abbreviated summer semester. ("Abbreviated" in terms of a shorter time period; I cover the same amount of material, with longer class sessions. Sigh. I actually had a student drop my class last summer, citing as the reason "unreasonable amount of work for a summer class." Boo-yah!) So we finished the term Tuesday, had graduation yesterday evening, summer starts on May 21 and my high school classes (they get college credit - I am not a high school teacher, may God bless them, especially in May!) finish June 8. I'm no Time Lord - the living room closet is not a TARDIS, no matter how much I may will it differently - but I wish I could manipulate the space-time continuum just a teensy bit right now to allow a week at the beach before summer starts.

That said, job security is a very nice thing (12 month contract means 12 months of pay - contrary to popular belief, teachers do not "get the summer off" in any usual sense of the term) and I have to admit that I really, really enjoy teaching. Primarily, I teach public speaking and it warms my heart like a controlled burn to see my timid students grow and stretch and realize that I really do have things to say that are worth listening to, by golly! Now, if I take that idea and put it - let's see - there and I show 'em the picture there . . . well, it's a kick. And I've had students shake my hand at the end of a semester; I've had students tell me that the class gave them the confidence to ask for (demand) a promotion at work or the wherewithal to apply for a new job - I'm not kidding, that's one of the main reasons I do this sort of work.

Another reason is the supportive atmosphere of my school. Community colleges don't have tenure (boo!), so we don't live by the "publish or perish" rule (well, sort of yay, I guess). When I started going to conferences, I was shocked at how many associate/assistant professors at four-year schools (oh, you'd know the names of the institutions if I told them to you) were paying part, or even all, of their expenses from their own pockets. Meanwhile, my school's attitude was, "What? You're presenting? Here - get out there! Fly coach and be sure to tell 'em who sent you!" Since people in my position don't have to write, propose, and present, we get more support when we do.

Which is good, since I'm hoping to go to a handful of conferences in the next year that are in addition to my "usuals." There are two international Whedon conferences that I'm hoping to attend as a presenter - especially with the book coming out. I'm trying to only cross one bridge at a time and I'm trying to remember that we don't usually get everything we want.

But sometimes we do. Seems the Rolling Stones might have gotten that one wrong.

So I keep shuffling forward, teaching, grading, writing, lather, rinse, repeat, research, propose, write. I'm especially fortunate in that I have friends who remind me gently from time to time that it's not good to spend so much time inside hunched over a keyboard that I squint when I go outside and see the large yellow ball in the sky. Somebody take me to a movie, already!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Wheel Keeps Turning

This week, two things occurred that, taken in conjunction, got me to thinking. First, May Day arrived. It's a rather weird day - the Soviets used it as an occasion to parade heavy weaponry throughout city streets, while attorneys briefly acknowledge it as "Law Day" and try to celebrate the contributions lawyers have made to our society. (Keep your snickers to yourself - yeah, yeah, there are plenty of jokes, but I believe that law can be one of the highest callings a person can receive. Of course, I was on the other line when the call came, but that's another post altogether.) Anyway - back to May Day. To the Celts, it was Beltane and signified the start of the summer season. To me, it means it's time to go grub in the dirt and plant things. Second, we had a full moon. Always a time of "hmmmm," regardless of the studies that say that, statistically speaking, nothing that much off the tracks actually happens during the full moon.

As to the grubbing in the dirt, this year, I'm trying straw bale gardening - a little one, just big enough for a few tomatoes, a couple of peppers, and maybe a cuke or two. I've already learned a good deal - including that four bales of straw will fit into a Ford Escort, but you need a pitchfork to clean the car afterward. No one with allergies should ride with me for a few more days, I guess.

Once I had that done, I started looking around and one thing led to another (as it so often does). I ran across the idea of a "bottle tree" a few years back and I finally decided to create one - that's the picture at the top of this post. A bottle tree is a Deep South tradition - usually it's cobalt-blue glass, but I've seen other colors as well. It may just be a coincidence, but the Mediterranean "evil eyes" that are said to ward off evil also feature cobalt blue. Anyway, the idea is that the bottle tree shields the property and residents from the effects of bad spirits and the protective effect is increased if every bottle is attached to the tree with a prayer. I went with nine bottles - a significant number, as nine is three threes, and three is a number that has all manner of mystical associations. Therefore, nine trebles the effect.

Is it true, or mere superstition? Maybe just the power of suggestion? Who knows? But I do think it's pretty, which is good enough for me most days. And in the unsettled days in which we live, I'll take the occasional rabbit's foot as well. Figuratively speaking, that is.