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Friday, February 06, 2015

Ode to Three O'Clock

It’s just after 3:00 which, according to Sartre, means it’s too early or too late for anything—a truism to which I’ve fervently held since the very first time I heard it.

It’s too late to have the house clean before my husband gets home, too late to have something nice simmering on the stove or in the crock pot. It’s too late to work out after class, like I thought I might. It’s too late to make much of a dent in my research today.

But on the other hand, its too early to do much about whatever dinner will be (order in? Go out? Forage through the fridge?) It’s also too early to kick back and settle in. Too early for pajama pants, or to pour a glass of wine. It’s too early for TV. It’s also too early for any of myriad potential evening game-changers to hit: spur of the moment invites, last minute decisions to shop, or dine, or watch something, somewhere.


It’s simply not time for anything…except maybe the one thing there never seems to be enough time for these days: writing. Oh, how I wish for 3:00 to happen a little more often, and to last a whole lot longer.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

An Open Letter to My Students

A lot of you know that up until Friday I worked for two universities: my alma mater, a state school, and a tiny private Bible college. In January, I will only be working at one of these institutions. What follows is an open letter to the students I’m leaving, as it is important to me that they know why I can’t be there for them in January.

Dear Students,

Now that you’ve turned in your finals and we’ve wrapped up all of our debates (Resolved; the installation of toilet paper is not a good argument paper topic) and played our last round of grammar trivia (did you spend all of your homework passes?) it’s time for me to share the news that this is the end. When you return from break, I won’t be there to complete in Comp II the work we began this semester in Comp I.  I won’t be there for the dozen of you who made it through my Basic English this fall, to help you find your voices and become strong academic writers.

What you didn’t know was that late this semester I was working my way through a process to leave the ranks of adjunct teaching to fill an imminent vacancy for a full time English professor. A real one-woman show. These were the days when you were asking me questions about why you didn’t have access to better research sources and why the course sequencing didn’t follow a logical path and I told you—barely able to mask the excitement in my voice—that things were beginning to change.

This was the time you saw me a bit more around campus and some of you ate with me in the dining hall or sat with me in the lounge and you told me how cool it was that I was “starting to hang out” with you. I thought it was cool, too. In fact, I was already mentally decorating the office where we were going to enjoy weekly coffee bars, tutoring sessions, and a revolving open door ethos of conversation and encouragement. It was an exciting time.

Then something went wrong.

I was told that one of the last steps in the hiring process was to read and support a recently drafted marriage and sexuality statement. And that’s how I became a happily married suburban mom who was denied employment over an issue of sexuality.

When a tiny Christian school determines that the time has come to issue a statement on such subject matter, they want to make sure the result has some muscle; that the verbiage was crafted by people who know black from white, and are adept at spotting the taint of grey when they see it.

These statements are typically thorough, with a tendency to read like a who’s who list of sexual deviance; a catalogue of possible ills. Words like “repugnant” are bandied about.

I read this particular statement with a sinking feeling that settled in the depths of my gut. I didn’t need to think it over because to my eyes the document—literally a black and white treatise—appeared as one big blob of grey.

They were expecting wholehearted endorsement, to stand with them in confidently labeling the entire catalog of variant human conditions as sin. But I couldn’t. See, every item listed represents the state of a struggling human; someone dealing with issues I do not know enough about to simply judge with a nod of assent.

So I gave the only true answer I could.

I said I didn’t know.

I said that in a world where genetics has changed to the tune of one in 100 births (about the same incidence as the birth of a redhead) resulting in some variation of gender difference beyond the male/female lines with which we’re comfortable –that I don’t know where the line is between “holy” and “unwholesome.”

I said I didn’t know if someone who was born female, looks female and feels female is doomed to a life of celibacy when a routine marriage blood test turns up a (surprise!) Y chromosome.

I said I don’t know exactly what God expects from someone who was born ‘clearly” female but sprouts testicles and a penis in adolescence.

I said that not only did I not know—I was OK with not knowing because God didn’t give me the job to know, but to love. I said that my job was to guide people closer to Christ so they could work the details out with him.

Everyone assumed I must have misunderstood. After all, no good Christian mom sending her own son through Bible College could really “not know” her stance on such a key issue. So they spent some time “exploring” the issues with me, and asked me to try again.

I said I still didn’t know.

And because I don’t know, I can’t be your teacher any more.

I can’t learn from your stories (because, statistically, even at this tiny, tiny school, some of you are dealing with issues from the Catalogue of Ills, alone, in pain, and desperate for a listening ear).

Because I don’t know enough about your specific deviation from the norm to label and judge it, we can’t sort it out together. I can’t bring you into my office and give you a cup of hot chocolate, and tell you that it’s going to be okay, that I know it will be because God made you and loves you just the way you are. I can’t tell you that even though I don’t know exactly what God wants for your future, I know that if you seek him first with all of your heart you will find your answers and whatever they are they will bring you joy.

I can’ t offer you this type of comfort and support because everyone is afraid.


Your school does not know how to handle these realities, so they are joining the stampede of Christian organizations pounding a path of retreat from issues that challenge our traditional understanding of sexuality and fortifying themselves behind walls of impenetrable statements.

But this very wall is the thing that makes me not afraid any more. I know that as more and more Christian institutions succumb to the pressure of issuing formal statements of stance, that it is unlikely that I will ever work in a Christian environment again. I reek now of compromise, of weakness. I represent The Thing everyone is running from.

Please don’t misunderstand: your school did nothing wrong in not hiring me. I support their freedom to hire or fire on the basis of anything they deem important: I vehemently support that right. What I am saying is that I find it very sad that this is the issue they have chosen adopt as a line-in-the-sand-you’re-with-us-or-against-us matter of policy.

I am sad for you, and I am sad for me, because we are all lesser for it.


And there’s nothing I can do but work outside the system, now, as a voice who now knows, first hand, the pain of being refused employment for something I just can’t change.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

I'm a happily married suburban mom who lost her dream job over an issue of sexuality (an open letter to my students)

Now that you’ve turned in your finals and we’ve wrapped up all of our debates (Resolved: the installation of toilet paper is not a good argument paper topic) it’s time for me to share the news that this is the end. When you return from break, I won’t be to help you find your voices and become strong academic writers.

See, earlier this semester I was working my way through a process to leave the ranks of adjunct teaching to fill an immediate opening for a full time English professor.

This was the period when you saw me a bit more around campus and some of you ate with me in the dining hall or sat with me in the lounge and you told me how cool it was that I was “starting to hang out” with you. I thought it was cool, too. In fact, I was already mentally decorating the office where we were going to enjoy a revolving open door ethos of conversation and encouragement. It was an exciting time.

Then something went wrong.

I was told that one of the last steps in the hiring process was to support a recently drafted marriage and sexuality statement. And that’s how I became a happily married suburban mom who was denied employment over an issue of sexuality.

When a Christian institution decides that the time has come to issue a statement on such subject matter, they want to make sure the result has some muscle; that the verbiage was crafted by people who know black from white, and are adept at spotting the taint of grey when they see it.

These statements are typically thorough, with a tendency to read like a who’s who list of sexual deviance; a catalogue of possible ills. Words like “repugnant” are bandied about.

I read this particular statement with a sinking feeling that settled in the depths of my gut. I didn’t need to think it over because to my eyes the document—literally a black and white treatise—appeared as one big blob of grey.

They were expecting wholehearted endorsement, to stand with them in confidently labeling the entire catalog of variant human conditions as sin. But I couldn’t. See, every item listed represents the state of a struggling human; someone dealing with issues I do not know enough about to simply judge with a nod of assent.

So I gave the only true answer I could.

I said I didn’t know.

I said that in a world where genetics has changed to the tune of one in 100 births resulting in some variation of gender difference beyond the male/female lines with which we’re comfortable –that I don’t know where the line is between “holy” and “unwholesome.”

I said I didn’t know if someone who was born female, looks female and feels female is doomed to a life of celibacy when a routine marriage blood test turns up a (surprise!) Y chromosome.

I said I don’t know exactly what God expects from someone who was born ‘clearly” female but sprouts testicles and a penis in adolescence.

I said that not only did I not know—I was OK with not knowing because God didn’t give me the job to know, but to love. I said that my job was to guide people closer to Christ so they could work the details out with him.

Everyone assumed I must have misunderstood. After all, no good Christian mom sending her own son through Bible College could really “not know” her stance on such a key issue. So they spent some time “exploring” the issue with me, and asked me to try again.

I said I still didn’t know.

And because I don’t know, I can’t be your teacher any more.

I can’t learn from your stories (because, statistically, even at this tiny, tiny school, some of you are dealing with issues from the Catalogue of Ills, alone, in pain, and desperate for a listening ear).

Because I don’t know enough about your specific deviation from the norm to label and judge it, we can’t sort it out together. I can’t bring you into my office and give you a cup of hot chocolate, and tell you that it’s going to be okay, that I know it will be because God made you and loves you just the way you are. I can’t tell you that even though I don’t know exactly what God wants for your future, I know that if you seek him first with all of your heart you will find your answers and whatever they are they will bring you joy.

I can’ t offer you this type of comfort and support because everyone is afraid.

 Your school does not know how to handle these realities, so they are joining the stampede of Christian organizations pounding a path of retreat from issues that challenge our traditional understanding of sexuality and fortifying themselves behind walls of impenetrable statements.

But this very wall is the thing that makes me not afraid any more. I know that as more and more Christian institutions succumb to the pressure of issuing formal statements of stance, that it is unlikely that I will ever work in a Christian environment again. I reek now of compromise, of weakness. I represent The Thing everyone is running from.

Please don’t misunderstand: your school did nothing wrong in not hiring me. I support their freedom to hire or fire on the basis of anything they deem important: I vehemently support that right. What I am saying is that I find it very sad that this is the issue they have chosen adopt as a line-in-the-sand-you’re-with-us-or-against-us matter of policy.

I am sad for you, and I am sad for me, because we are all lesser for it.

And there’s nothing I can do but work outside the system, now, as a voice who now knows, first hand, the pain of being refused employment for something I just can’t change.


Thursday, November 06, 2014

Without My Help

Mid-stretch on the gym floor, I was distracted by movement at the glass door. Wings fluttered. I might have heard a thud. Did a bird brush the glass on the way by?

Michelle, my trainer, sucked in her breath and let it out in an long “oooh…”

What did I miss?

“I hate to see things like that,” she said. “I’ll think about it all day.”

I turned and saw a small bird upside down on the pavement, his little chest heaving in what had to be its last breaths.

“I think he was being chased by the bigger bird,” Michelle said.

We stopped stretching and stood in silence as his chest went still.

We finished stretching in solemn silence.

I stood by the door, keeping an eye on her baby while she shut things down in the back. I tried to avert my gaze from the little upside-down body on the pavement.

Someone walked past the gym, making a wide berth around the accident scene. My eyes automatically followed.

“Michelle!” I screamed. “He’s up! The bird is up!”

“What?” Michelle stood next to me by the door. Our friend was upright, his eyes clamped closed, his long beak pointing straight ahead. A slight sag of his right wing afforded a glimpse of a patch of bright yellow feathers, that would normally not be visible unless he was in flight.

“Maybe I should take him to the emergency vet,” I suggested. My mind raced—I had a vague memory that the emergency vet had moved, or perhaps no longer accepted wildlife patients, and I’d left my phone at home. But what could I put him in? What if I hurt him more jostling him around the city in search of a vet that may or may not be in existence?

“Maybe it would be better to let nature take its course,” Michelle suggested. “God knows this sparrow has fallen.”

I nodded in agreement, pouring out the remaining contents of my water bottle on the pavement near the bird, in case he needed a drink.

I started home. What kind of a person leaves a bird to recover on the pavement outside the gym door?

I pulled in front of my house and grabbed my computer in one hand and phone in the other. I dialed the number that appeared on the screen.

“Do you still take wild animals? Birds, specifically?” Yes, the emergency vet still existed, and still accepted wild birds as patients.

I took a two minute shower and tossed on an assortment of clothes that later turned out to be to be a mostly white graphic T-shirt, inside out, over a canary yellow bra, which glowed brightly beneath the wet patches from my dripping, matted hair.

I grabbed what I could find—and old towel and a cardboard drink carrier, and headed back to the gym. It started to rain.

Please be alive, Please be alive.

I screeched into the parking lot and pulled up to the door. He was there! Upright!

I approached the bird. He was sitting peacefully, eyes open, alert. A good sign—he’d survive the car ride.

I took another step toward him and—woosh! He took wing, quickly becoming a small speck that disappeared into the tree tops.


I stood alone, in the rain in the gym parking lot, clutching a cardboard drink carrier and a towel, laughing at the heavens.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Characterizing the AT, Part 3

((our story begins here)

“Don’t let it be Dave,” was the only thought running through my head as the SUV pulled into the parking lot at the trail head where Lisa, my sister, Audrey, and I were waiting.

Our original plan had been to actually walk the 40 plus miles back to where we’d left the car, but fate would not allow us to make it that distance in the time we had allotted, so we’d called for a driver to take us back to the town where we’d left Lisa’s car.

Since we’d exceeded the pace of an entire Boy Scout troop, we didn’t feel too much shame in this fact, but since Dave had already announced his history of making our planned trek in a mere 2 days, we felt that the Husky—impervious to disgrace-- would be the only one of us without at least a metaphoric tail between our legs.

The guy behind the wheel was an ageless mountain dweller who could have been fresh from the set of Duck Dynasty. We piled into the vehicle with him and his fluffy dog Diogi (DI-oh-gee, like D-O-G, get it?) of whom Audrey was not in the least fond, due to the host dog’s baring of teeth.

Our new guide was easygoing and eager to share his experiences living in close proximity to a popular, 17 mile stretch of rails-to-trails known as the Creeper Trail. So tied was he to the health and wellbeing of the trail, he’d earned the moniker “Creeper Keeper” among the locals.

“Oh, yes, I like to be out there,” he said. “I live outside year round, no phone, no distractions,” he went on.

My mind was reeling, trying to make sense of what I’d just heard. Surely I’d missed something. I decided to keep listening for clue to what I’d missed, so as not to say something stupid.

Lisa, fortunately, just decided to go on in. “Wait a minute,” she said. “You, um, live, outside, year round?”

“Yes, ma’am!”

“Well, how does that work?” she asked. “You must be cold,” she added, no doubt recalling the conversation we’d had with the Boy Scouts earlier of how ridiculously cold everyone had been in what I’ll just point out was an August evening, a conversation I understood only partially, blessed as I was with a furry bedmate.

“Oh, no,” Creeper Keeper said. “I have my tarps. You might have even seen them, regular brown tarps, all strung up by the steps at the trail entrance, under the bridge.”

“Just like a troll,” Lisa would later marvel, “living under the bridge!” but for now, she simply said, “are you able to cook?”

“Oh yes, I have a double burner propane stove and a gas grill,” he said. “But typically, I just take my meals at the Creeper Café.”

Creeper Keeper went on to tell us about his hammock, his guest room (a second hammock), and his couch (a third hammock), and about his fiancée’s upcoming visit when she’d stay in the guest room, and how she loved the tarps and said she’d even let Keeper stay there after they got married as long as he cooked her dinner. He told us of how agreeable this way of life was to him, of how he didn’t need a phone, had Wi-Fi at work, and just passed his evenings with Diogi snug in their tarp, and of how all this has started after he lost his mom some years prior.

We were riveted, deep into the tale, when, suddenly, the SUV just sort of went silent and stopped.

“Well, my car’s dead,” Creeper Keeper said, in the same sort of tone he may have used if making a weather observation.

Keeper's Window Sticker
“Do you have a cell phone?” Keeper called to a nearby motorist, a man clad in a raggedy red T-shirt and spilling out over the sides of the scooter on which he was mounted.

It was an odd question, considering everyone in the car had phones—rendered useless from lack of cellular service.

The scooter rider shrugged in indifference. Although his speech was hampered by the cigarette stuck to his bottom lip, he managed a remark about the shame that it was that we had to break down just when we did, and how much easier it would be if it had happened just a few yards ahead, around the corner, where the road began a long descent.  Keeper considered this only briefly before he jumped from the vehicle, flung open the door next to me, grabbed the frame of the vehicle and began to run. He ran the car around the corner and to the point where gravity began to take over and he jumped back in.

The SUV thus continued onward, and Keeper resumed his narrative. We coasted for miles, Lisa finally voicing the question no one else wanted to broach:

“So the brakes still work, right?”

They did, he assured us, even as I saw a stop sign looming in the distance.

I shook my head. It had been a good run.  “Well,” I said, regretfully, “There’s a stop sign ahead. Looks like our luck’s run out.”

“Yep, yep there is,” Keeper said, gleefully. “”Good thing we’ve arrived at the Creeper Café!” He gave the wheel a good yank and we coasted on in to the gravel parking lot.

Keeper went inside to “contact Dave”, while we milled about the vehicle, wondering what would happen next.

“Do you think he’ll send smoke signals?” Lisa asked.

Keeper returned with a woebegone look. He circled around the vehicle a few times and then went back into the café while we discussed mutiny.
Keeper's Bumper Sticker

“We’re right at the Creeper Trail,” I said. “Can’t be much more than five more miles.”
The others nodded, eyeing our gear just as Keeper reemerged from the café, which, according to signage, is the home of WORLD FAMOUS chocolate cake.

“Good news!” Keeper called. “Jeff’s coming in the van!”

Mainly what I heard here was “Oh good, Dave isn’t coming,” but it seems what was being communicated was: a burly man smelling of moonshine would be coming in a shell of a vehicle and in questionable company.

The van lumbered into the parking lot, and a middle-aged man with an unruly mop exited from the driver’s side. His passenger, a cross between a weathered Howard Stern and current Gene Simmons, followed close behind.

“I wouldn’t lie to you, Jeff!” the Stern/Simmons figure whined.

“Look who it is!” Jeff triumphed, “Crazy Horse! He’s back!” Judging from the dual knee braces, unkempt shock of wild hair, and thick pair of foggy goggles, Horse had been out of communiqué for some time.

“Welcome home!” Keeper said, as the trio wandered to the SUV and stared blankly beneath the hood.

We tossed our gear through the back door, avoiding a table saw and sundry other tools.

Keeper took the keys from Jeff (moonshine, don’tcha know) and climbed into the driver’s seat, while Crazy Horse claimed shot gun. I wondered if we were leaving Jeff behind, but, at the last moment, he ran for the now-moving van, through the back door (because the side one was broken) and slid into the seat next to me. Audrey slithered deep beneath the seats.

“Been handing out Trail Magic” Horse said. “Now I’m trying to get out of that piece of land in Kansas. I’m telling ya, Jeff, I came from Kansas, why would you think I lied?”

Horse made no effort to include us in the conversation: it was as though he’d come along on a ride to pick up cargo. We watched him in a sort of amused horror, much as if he’d been part alien, or actually a 70s-era Simmons, in full make up.

Steed prattled on about a recent string of Zero days (official), (unofficial --just do your own research) and I turned my attention to Jeff, who I assumed to be a low ranking hire of tenuous stability. “So you work for the outfitter?” I asked.

“Yep, I do, I own the place, actually. But we’re a team. There’s no “I” in anything except in Jesus Christ,” he said.

Touché.  “I heard that,” I replied, lamely.

“Lisa!” I said, as we entered town, “It’s the coffee shop I told you about!”

“Nah,” Jeff scoffed, “that’s just if you want the $5.00 coffee,” which I did, I oh so did; however, in the interest of hearing local recommendations asked what he’d suggest instead.

“Oh, the Dairy King,” for sure. ‘None of this decaf, or regular—just coffee.”


Lisa’s van came into view and we unloaded, reloaded into her van, said our goodbyes, and headed straight for some 5.00 coffee.

Tune in next time when we contemplate our next move over $5.00 coffee and wind up bunking at Woochuck's with Timber

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