Sunday, November 29, 2009

More Gratitude, Less Attitude

Okay I guess I should begin with last week's trip with 35 students to Little Rock. No matter how many times I do this trip, I am still crippled with anxiety over it. I think it has something to do with the weight of being responsible for the well-being and (hopefully) good experience for so many people. I do this trip at least six times a year and for the past four or five trips I've gotten sick ON the trip. One time was a killer migraine (the 2nd one I've ever had), this past summer was a middle-of-the-night attack of a stomach bug that incapacitated me the entire next day. At the very least by Saturday morning I usually develop an intense, throbbing headache that I can feel in every bone in my face. YES I KNOW this means that I need to work on stress coping skills...but somehow even when I have other faculty or staff members along (like this time), I still feel completely drained by the whole experience. Even though I also love this trip. I love experiencing everything anew through the students' eyes. It never gets old.

Even though I'm getting old.

That's another topic...coming up later, just you wait. Yay!

The highlight of my trip was dinner, drinks and high quality conversation with Ai Lien, the delightful, multi-talented, hilarious, soulful woman behind Fear Ants. We can talk and talk and talk. She has that rare gift of being able to stay completely present with you. Know what I mean? You know she's not drifting off into other thought or looking over my shoulder to see who walks in the room or worrying about the image she's projecting....all those distractions and affectations that people adopt in order to craft a semblance of a personality but really just puts up walls between people. I'm finding more and more what a big challenge it is to be fully in the present and, even harder, find like-minded people. So it's not just refreshing, it's downright miraculous that we found each other.

Saturday I got all the students on the bus and ready to go back home, despite yet another medical emergency (I'm telling you...the students with this group have had the strangest list of ailments, nearly all requiring one complicated procedure or another) with one of my guys. D. met me in Little Rock and we drove up to visit his grandmother, who we hadn't seen since his grandfather's funeral in April. Not much to say about the visit....good homecooked southern food, hearing about every person's disease or depressing diagnosis in her life, watched three excellent Mad Men episodes on the laptop late at night....the next morning I received a very upsetting phone call. I will protect my daughter's privacy but suffice it to say that YET AGAIN, as soon as I'm lulled into a lovely, peaceful, extended period of happiness in my relationship with her she somehow manages to destroy it all to shit with one bad decision. Of course I also blame myself for giving her enough rope to hang herself. It's not HUGELY awful...but bad enough that we had to cut our weekend away early to drive directly home and deal with it. I keep telling myself over and over, "This is what teenagers do. They make mistakes. It's how they learn. It's how I learn." I think about Cesar Millan, who when he's dealing with a particularly difficult case, says, "This is good; this is good" when the dog makes its typical mistakes....meaning he can't work to solve the problem if the problem doesn't present itself.

Oh's 1:30am and I've got a superbig day back at work tomorrow after the holiday break. This will have to be continued....but stay close - there's ruminations, pie descriptions, aging-related angst, and film reviews in the near future.

This week, as most Americans are reflecting on gratitude, I must mention how thankful I am for this space for me to spew, blabber, brag, seek help and connection, and share the random and semi-formed thoughts that occupy my brain. Thank you for reading, for commenting, for emailing, and for helping me to feel less alone out there. xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Hero(ine)

Is Jane Goodall not the CUTEST WOMAN ALIVE? I think I died (of happiness) a little when she went in to hug Jon Stewart like a chimp.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

More Ranting, More Art

I will NOT get off this soapbox. This country needs health care reform so badly. We're in crisis and if anyone doesn't think so, they're in denial. Today, Veterans' Day, I read about 2,266 veterans who died last year because of insufficient health care. SHAMEFUL! Anyone who thinks the VA is a good system needs to carefully read this study. Anyone who thinks private insurance is the way to go needs to jump off a cliff.

My personal struggle continues. My jaw, head, and neck have been killing me all week and I can't afford to see the doctor. AND I HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE. I am pretty concerned about other health issues I've been having but guess what? Can't afford it. Why the hell do I continue to pay these ridiculous premiums? Fear. Fear that I will become one of the more than 60% of people who file bankruptcy because of medical bills. I have a partner who lives in fear of getting sick because he doesn't have health insurance. I have a daughter whose father stopped paying child support over a year ago and with that child support, also the insurance that was part of the child support agreement. "Luckily" I JUST BARELY fall under the income guidelines for our state's Child Health Insurance Program. Yay me! I'm poor enough for my daughter to receive state support!

In other news...last week I visited my friend Flannery (an old friend, as well as her bf another old friend, Clint). She is gifted with an insanely imaginative artistic vision, coupled with such an eye for detail. It's no secret that I looooove jewelry and if I had my druthers, I'd have a studio like hers, etching and soldering away. You can see some of her other work here and here. Her prices might seem normal folks like us, but trust me, she undersells herself once you consider not only the price of materials (metals and stones are NOT cheap, y'all) but the TIME involved in making such intricate pieces. I couldn't even hazard a guess as to how many hours go into each lovely ring or necklace. Many, many, many would be a start.

She let me photograph some of her works in progress. I want every single one!!

Like this house locket that from the front looks like....a house with a faceted aquamarine (my birthstone. Just sayin'). She also hand forges the linked chain.
But on the inside, there's the awesome secret tableaux: antlers, a vase of gold flowers, golden boots below the entry table.
And also this handmade flower clasp!
Dude. Handmade Spanish tiles? Are you serious?
And this one! A massive faceted citrine (awesome in its own right) in front...
...and behind a tiny cat napping in a tiny hammock THAT SWINGS BACK AND FORTH!
Check out that etched wallpaper, too. Unbelievable.
Here we have a blue tourmeline bird house...
...with a ladder going up to a loft level. A tiny golden bowl. And that incredible etched gingko leaf wallpaper!
Flannery has owl motifs everywhere, as well as a few very impressive taxidermied owl feathered wingspans. This little pendant is so lovely.
Oh! And check out the pink tourmeline scorpion. Just awesome.
I had to get a shot of this corner of her house, full of treasured art pieces and plants. It says so much about her inspirations and personal taste.

Last week Stella and I went to our friend Golsa's latest exhibit as well. Golsa is Iranian and she paints women whose faces are inspired by women who protested the latest elections in Iran. Her work is powerful, moving, and often leaves me speechless and in awe.

I feel so lucky to know such amazingly talented women.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Lookin' Good

Last week I went to the sort of thing that usually makes my skin crawl - a "ladies night out" event at a big convention center up in Rogers. All these local businesses and Wal Mart vendors were on hand to give away samples and hawk their wares and services. There was a terrible thunderstorm that night and Stephanie and I risked our lives in getting there...but we did make it in one piece, albeit a little late. We rushed around trying to figure out what was going on and how we could get entered into the door prize giveaways. The vendor fair thing was closing up but we did manage to get free bags of Terra Chips, some Celestial Seasonings green tea bags, and two cases each of Yoplait yogurt. Um, yay?

My main reason for going was to see my sister show some pieces from her boutique. She was one of the last to go on, unfortunately and I had sick ones at home to attend to, so Stephanie and I found her and her models backstage. I did manage a few snaps of these gorgeous women and my sister's fantastic clothes, however:(That's my sister, Jessy, in the middle in black. She can really strike a pose, huh?)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Perspective Schmerspective

It just doesn't ever slow down or let up. Nope. Last week D. and Stella both were really sick, probably the flu but they wouldn't know for sure, being uninsured and broke!

In addition to one of my students having an emergency appendectomy, yesterday I was busy with another student having an emergency root canal. It just won't stop.

I feel disconnected from the people and things that make me happy and bring joy to my life. I can't remember the last time I went dancing. Or to my yoga class. I've made a commitment to exercise more and cook more at home and so far that's working out pretty well. This week's menus include chicken, spinach soufflé, saffron basmati rice, baked butternut squash* with marinara sauce, homemade falafel, and roasted poblanos stuffed with queso fresco served over caramelized carrots and onions. So that makes me feel good, at least. What doesn't make me feel good include dealing with generations of deadbeat dads and the psychological trauma that gets stirred up every time I think about all that too much, not being able to afford health care for my daughter, feeling adrift and out of touch with my partner, feeling like a lazy piece of shit, political grandstanding, feeling like I'm alternately wasting my life and killing myself with all work and no play, and on and on and on.

And when my pity party (table of one, please!) gets to be too much, I get an email like this one below from one of my former students. This guy broke my heart. He's from China and was so distraught with having to return to his country without a home. The government in his town razed his apartment building and offered his family a fraction of what a new apartment would cost in return, leaving them effectively homeless. The stories I hear about the Chinese government could turn your stomach - and yet they retain Most Favored Nation status and own the majority of our debt! I think of China as some sort of deadbeat dad, doing whatever it wants with no thought to how it might affect the psychological well-being of its people. I want to quote part of his email to me (please forgive the ESLisms):

Now, I am working as a officer for Health Inspect and Supervision in my city. But more and more social problems occured in our community, these issues had made heavy burden to local people in their nomal life.
High inflation lead to everything which pursued to high price and benifits in all occupation, this reason pushed our government becoming rich but most of local people or household with poor conditions. High price house, Education system corruption and Health care with high cost, these are likely new three mountains hold down Chinese people after new China was found in 1949 by turndowning the old three mountains such as feadulism, stratocracy and imperial.
Like my house removed by local government, they told us that they wanted to set up a new residential building in our location. Most of my neighbors had to move another place to live or rent for waiting the building construction about two years. However, we had to pay more money for them that we could move new one. As you know, there is 6500 Yuan (1000 US Dollar)/squ meter for our house price, I need to pay 350,000--400,000 Yuan for the extra fee to them if we continue to return our new apartment with the dimension of 100 sq. meter. It is equal to the value of salary for working 15-year without any expenditure. In some large cities, the price of real estate surpass 30,000 Yuan (5,000 US Dollar) per square meter. Most people in China appeal to inhibit the high price of housing for residents.
Food price is also high speediness comparing with the income of local residents. For example, the pork meat is about 12 Yuan/Jin (one Jin is equare to 500 gram) as same as 3.5 US Dollar/ Kilogram. Every food included vegetables, egg and soybean products with not normal ratio. In meantime, education system was corrupted filled with smell of money. Like the compulsory education of elemantal school, most teacher compel students to attend their extra class in Saturday or Sunday for special tuition. Some knowledge of text were not lectured in normal class but giving the weekend courses. Because of obtaining extensive knowledge, the students had to attend these weekend class such like my daughter and their classmates. These children are so hard work in very day but also have not time in their weekend.
The third burden for local people is a difficult thing for seeing the doctor. Although the reformation of health system was advocated by government again and again, there are many unfair facts in patient treatment in hospital by health policy-makers. Some people have privilege for treatmen in hospital such as governmental offical, and other people have not basis health care like local resident. The Social Medical Insurance is just superficial project showing outside and most of category in common diseases did not include in SMI.
So, How about the economic development of China is, as saying as it is a model ecomomic of price makeup in nation. As the leader of government says that the development of economic is improving high price of commodity. They called that this is startup the requirements of domestic costumers. Like housing, food and shelter, these are rigid consumption whether or not how high the price is. Consequently, the rich of government in our country is set up the foundation for sarificing many benefits and interests of the local people.
May be a reason of the experience of abroad study, compared other country like Thailand and The United States with my homecountry, I found the difference with others and wanted to try doing something in order to arouse my compatriots. Last week, I was very sad to hear a message for "returned chinese scholars commit suicide" . He was Dr.. Tu Xuxin (涂序新), a graduate of America's Northwestern University and committed suicide when he hired at the lecture of Zhejiang University. Just short time of three months after he returned home from Chicago, Dr. Tu chose this extreme method to end his life. Although existed his personal character with the conflicting for environmental survival, there is not ignore social problem pushing him into the one way to end.
I also reminisce of many things happened in the period of my visit-studying in U of A .These are likely the moive show in my brain. Especially I recalled the anecdote that there were 3 students like freshman helding the activity of donation for some organization when I went to Student's Union in one day afternoon. I expressed very interesting and talking with them, they told me about their vision and goal and they worked for the organization of Blood:Water Mission. I was moved by their passion and loving and did not hesitate to donate 10 Dollar to them. They sent a Red T-shirt to me in the return. From the simple thing, the youth take part in attending social activity to enhance the responsibility and obligation for sociality in our community.
For the influenza H1N1pandemic, there are more and more cases in our area but not death case. Local health authorities called the residents keep good health habit to fight this plague such as washing hand, covering mask and avoiding the crowd. In addition, you can avail to take traditional medicine like herb syrub something. In my opinion, I found the result in the newsletter from our journal which 35 cases were confirm Influenza H1N1 out of 214 suspicious cases. That is to say that there is 16 percent for H1N1 and remnant is common colds. Even now, there are also many schools would be closed if found any suspicion in case of the epidemic..
I was regretted for writing this prolixity to let you understand my situation and the truth reflection of my thoughts. I also know there are long way for making our country to become more democracy and freedom to all people .
In the special day, I express my appreciation to your encouragement and hearten. This is end of this time, I will share my story or ideas next time if you are interesting to listen.

So this email did a number on me. Why am I complaining? I have freedom and health and enough love in my life that I feel overwhelmed sometimes. I think the least I can do is share this man's words. Frankly, I'm shocked that the government allowed his email to be sent to me. Another former student of mine who lives in Urumqi has no internet access whatsoever because of the unrest there. What a mess we've all got ourselves into, huh?

*PS - whomever came to this site searching for "butternut squash anal sex," I am deeply disturbed by you. Although you might be my soul mate.