Sunday, March 15, 2015

Friday Night Lights, My Hero

So, I want to test out whether I can still write here. I've been thinking about my favorite modern television series, Friday Night Lights. In case you've missed it, it's about a Texas high school, especially the football team. Sure, I realize nobody can be that enthused about football these days, particularly for kids, now that we know too well what it's doing to brains, but I don't exactly watch it for the football. In any case, on the second time through, I'm more aware of all kinds of problems with the series, but I still love to watch.

As we were cycling the other day, on a trip I had initiated and kind of planned, I announced, as leader, our thought for the day. (I know, I know, I sound like a pain in the butt. But that's me!) "As Coach said last night on Friday Night Lights," I said, "'Gentlemen, the man you are on that field tonight is the man you'll be for the rest of your life.'"

There I was, in the middle of watching FNL on my computer, and I pulled out a piece of paper and a pen and wrote that down.

To me, it means that the choices you make about your behavior -- your enthusiasm and fortitude and team spirit and grit -- aren't things you put on and off. Who you are is who you are. You can't maintain that who you are matches some ideal you plan to implement later.

Well, my friends were unmoved. To put it mildly. And I have a high level of trust and respect for them. Have I just been watching too much TV? What do you think?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Michigan Again

In Seattle, June is a cruel month. Preceded by our lovely, long, cool springs where all the blooms last forever, and by May, seductively warm and sunny, June smacks you back to cold and wet. Summer begins in Seattle, they say, on the Fourth of July. So it finally dawned on me this year: Why not go to Mom's in Michigan in June, instead of July?

As I stood at the bus stop yesterday morning in my Fremont neighborhood in Seattle, I was actually sweating. The whole week is going to be warm and sunny. I knew, I actually did know, it was the hottest I'd be all day, because the weather reports from Michigan were not good. Nevertheless, I packed for the heat I have come to expect, and love.

I brought five little skirts, five little tees and blouses, bike shorts (nothing longer than the knee) and short-sleeve bike shirts. Only two long-sleeve tees, and they're the lightweight ones with v-necks. My only long pants are one pair of jeans. One fleece, no sweaters.

As I write, it's 50 degrees outside and 64 in Mom's living room.  Lots of old ladies overheat their homes, but my environmentally-conscious mom does not. Which is good. But coolish. 

Mom's in the kitchen making broccoli soup for lunch. We still need to go to the library. We need to look at the quilts we're making, the one I brought from home, and one she's been working on in the sewing room. If I could get the internet to work here, I'd be Googling how to DIY repair and repaint a lath-and-plaster ceiling. It's probably still raining, but after lunch I need to kick my butt out to the shed and find my bike, bring her up to the entryway, attach my pedals from home, and take a short ride. In the meantime, my exercise regimen is this: My room is up a steep stairway. I try to leave everything up there until I need it, thus necessitating numerous trips up and down. 

And when I don't need a thing, I do ski-jump style squats to get my blood running.

So begins my summer vacation. I am loving it.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Me Before You

On Thursday I walked down to the Fremont Branch library to pick up some holds that had come in. Six books to schlep back up the hill in my backpack, not to mention the greens and avocado I had picked up at PCC!

Where to begin? I decided to take a stab first at Jojo Moyes' novel, Me Before You. I remember I had read about it in the New York Times Book Review, but couldn't remember what it was about. The blurb-y stuff on the back jacket had me worried: looked a little too much like chick fluff.

The four-page prologue was worse. Unmarried beautiful rich people in bed planning an expensive adventure trip. She hopes he won't take his Blackberry. He lives for his Blackberry, and adventure. Blah blah blah. I figured I could quickly discard this one, and start on Kingsolver's Flight Behavior.

But he walks out of that bedroom and gets hit by a motorcycle and paralyzed. Me Before You is about what happens two years later, when a 27-year-old woman from a struggling family gets a job as his companion. She finds out he has tried to end his life, and has gotten his parents to agree that, if he doesn't change his mind in six months, they will take him to a place in Switzerland where he can enjoy death with dignity.

Our heroine makes it her mission to change his mind.

I finished it yesterday; made me late to the dance last night.

So, interesting literary followup to Andrew Solomon's Far from the Tree, which is all about really hard lives being worth living. (See my previous post.)

But guess what? My next book is Jonathan Evison's Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, a novel that turns out to be about a guy who's caring for a teenage boy with muscular dystrophy! What is going on in my life, that all these books are coming to me?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Far from the Tree

A few days ago I finished reading Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon's tome -- 702 pages, plus notes! -- about families where the children are challengingly different from their parents. Deaf kids, dwarfs, prodigies, gay. One of the most moving encounters is with the parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters.

Solomon himself is gay and had a rough childhood because of it. "I started this book to forgive my parents and ended it by becoming a parent," he says.

These, his last lines, are what I want to remember:

Sometimes, I had thought the heroic parents in this book were fools, enslaving themselves to a life's journey with their alien children, trying to breed identity out of misery. I was startled to learn that my research had built me a plank, and that I was ready to join them on their ship.

As I read, the question of theodicy kept coming to mind, you know, "How could a God who is both good and all-powerful create and continue a world of suffering?"

I guess Solomon's book confirmed for me the really odd truth: How can humans so love a world so flawed? Because we might want to blame God for life's imperfections, but we still want to live.

And even more, I think of how (though I never want God to hear me say this) the hard stuff is what makes a meaningful life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Gratitude Practice

The truth is, my day started off badly enough yesterday that by the time I headed for school to tutor, I realized I'd better try to turn things around by counting my blessings as I walked along.

The main problem was nosebleed. Is it indoor heating? Is it the Flonase I took, briefly, on my doc's recommendation? Is it Old Age of the Nose?

Whatever it is, I can't remember having nosebleeds until a month ago, and now I've had several. Anyway, yesterday I leapt from bed determined to do my morning stretches, and instead spent the time with my nostrils pressed together with my tissue-filled left hand -- "ten minutes, and don't stop to check midway!" --  while, with my right, I scoured blood drips from my bedroom carpet.

Blood! It's awful! Sticky and thick and gushing! I think nosebleeds would be good cures for people tempted to murder.

Then later, there's the blob of rolled up kleenex sticking out of the nostrils, just in case. Not a good look for me.

Anyway, here's the positive outcome. I was thankful for the blueberries I ate for breakfast. I had thawed them from my freezer. I myself had put them in there, in the ziploc bag, after my traditional midsummer picking trip to Bybee Farms, in the shadow of Mt Si, with my pal, Dana.

That's a lot to be thankful for, all in the shape of a little round berry.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Geoffrey Pullum Speaks at UW

I was excited tonight to attend a sold-out lecture at UW's Kane Hall on -- grammar! The Scandal of English Grammar Teaching: Ignorance of Grammar, Damage to Writing Skills, and What We Can Do About It .

But it was a bummer. I didn't walk out until most of the question period was over, but it wasn't easy.

First, it was one of those wretched talks where everything he says is Power Point-ed on screen. He could have emailed it.

Second, he was focussed on trivia. I kept thinking, Who cares? He talked about esoteric rules of grammar and why we should ignore them -- but most of us already do. When was the last time you seriously worried about splitting an infinitive? Or about using "since" to mean "because," when it turns out it's only to be used to show a time relationship?

Third, he was mean. He sneered at EB White and The Elements of Style, a book I have found eminently sensible and funny. Whenever he quoted a White drollery, he willfully ignored the humor and interpreted it as nonsense. He faulted White for his advice on avoiding "they" as a singular pronoun, as if White were writing today instead of mid-20th century, when the so-called universal "he" was acceptable. Pullum's own apparent viewpoint is, if it sounds right, it is right, but when White said something similar, Pullum accused him of being wishy-washy.

Pullum displayed an actual undergrad paper which had been wrongly labeled by a confused TA with passive voice errors. Right, that wasn't passive voice. But just because somebody mis-identifies it doesn't mean passive voice is not a problem.

Set up a straw man, knock him down.

During the question period, a lady raised her hand to share the old chestnut attributed to Churchill, who reportedly said about sentences ending in prepositions, "Up with that I will not put." Okay, it's hard to believe a linguist like Pullum would not have heard it, but Pullum replied that he was so tired of this line that he had suggested in his blog that people who repeated it should be hunted down and stopped. Bet that made her feel great.

My opinion? Dr Pullum is not a happy fella. Does he actually care about communicating?

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Book of Mormon

Is nothing sacred? I'm asking.

I wonder how many people are, like me, walking out of Seattle's sold-out thirteen-day run of The Book of Mormon wishing they were headed for a discussion group. True, there was Scott, a total stranger on the bus home, but he hadn't seen it yet. Nice, but not enough.

As the evening began and we ushers stuffed inserts into programs, someone said a man at an earlier show had fumed out of the theater, saying it was the filthiest thing he had ever seen. Ushers snickered. Didn't he know what he was getting into? they asked.

I didn't. I wasn't sure if the Mormon church approved of the play, or even if they had sponsored it, creative as they are with publicity. Why, right there in the program I was stuffing were three full-page, full-color ads urging folks to "read the book." Clever.

Even now, on the morning after, I'm Googling around my computer to see what I should have investigated earlier, and this is what I find as an informational blurb:

[A] hilariously groundbreaking and audacious musical that follows the journey of two Mormon boys sent to Uganda for an evangelical mission. Comedy and chaos ensue when different cultures, traditions and beliefs collide, not to mention, the dim-wittedness of these boys creates more problems when their knowledge of the Book of Mormon is proven to be less than minute and not enough to carry them through their charge halfway around the globe.
Read more:

Okay, sounds edgy, but would it cause you to expect blasphemous and profane? (Do we use those terms in Seattle?)

The music is catchy, the choreography delightful. I smiled, I laughed, I cringed. When the Mormon boys arrive in Uganda, they discover the locals singing a happy African song that seems straight out of The Lion King. Turns out it translates to "F-You, God." They all sing it in jolly defiance against their troubles. Big troubles. High AIDS rate. Murderous warlords. Impending clitoridectomies. Maggots in the scrotum.

Imagine an actor, day after day, singing and dancing "F-You, God!" (Incidentally, in the Paramount Theater lobby you can buy a tee-shirt with this phrase in its original African language. Even in Seattle they're not selling it in English.)

There's a campily-over-the-top-gay-parody Jesus, and scenes of Mormon history played up for their improbability. Which isn't hard, quite honestly, as with the stories in my own Christian faith, I guess. But it brought to my mind friends I met on a trip, a BYU prof of Medieval French philosophy and his smart wife who sang in the Tabernacle Choir; wonderful, smart people. How can they believe that stuff? I don't know, but I don't want to laugh at them because they do. I think it's safer to stay with humor at my own expense.

I think too about reading Jonathan Haidt's book, The Righteous Mind, where he talks about moral receptors, akin to taste receptors. He posits six of them, and says liberals are light on a couple, including sanctity and loyalty. You'd have to be light on sanctity and loyalty to come away in thoughtless hilarity from The Book of Mormon.

That wouldn't be me.

In the end, it's not just Mormonism that takes the hit at The Book of Mormon. The "happy ending" is this: Religious stories are metaphors, and if they work, it doesn't matter if they're true. What matters is helping each other.

A faith for our time, in Seattle.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Getting Along with Others

You know I tutor kindergartners three hours a day, four days a week, right, at my neighborhood school? I did this last year at a different school. I love the kids, the work, and the chance for adult casual, collegial interactions. I like to eat lunch in the staff lunchroom.

At my last school, I learned a lot from teachers during lunch. Usually there would just be one at a time, and I was the main person for them to talk with, and they kindly answered my queries about how to handle this, how to respond to that.

This year, the lunch room table is full of teachers talking to each other. Mostly I listen. But it can get awfully dark. School is -- really hard. Not for me, but for the real teachers. Last year and this, there were kindergartners who hurt teachers, kids who intentionally punch teachers in the face, throw stones at them, and kick. In my school, there are aides who work full-time with one disruptive boy; it's hard not to worry about him getting his hands on a gun in few years.

So early this week, I said, I would love to hear one good thing from somebody!

So one of the aides told a quick anecdote about a success. I said, I love that.

Then one of the other teachers said, This is our time to vent. We're endlessly upbeat in our classrooms. We have to have some time to let down.

I readily agreed, and decided to be quiet.

So yesterday, I get to school, I'm walking down the hall, and I cross paths with the aide with the good story. I said "Hi ____," and she just kept walking.

Ouch! Honestly, I could have teared up.

Then I thought, You don't know what's on her mind. Are you looking for pain and sorrow? Cut it out! You can give this story the "She cut me" title, or you can call it, "She sure is absorbed in her work."

I decided on the latter. But I had to make myself go to the lunchroom at lunch time. I thought, I'll just heat up my food, and if everybody hates me, I can go back downstairs to eat.

But there was a new aide there, who seems to like me, and the lunch went fine, and I decided my problem was thinking the whole world revolves around me, as if teachers have any time and attention left at all for worrying about what Mary Davies thinks or feels.

Will I ever get old enough to stop learning this?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


I was dancing last night with a man who impressed me, once again, with his listening. I'm thinking, do I mean "his listening skills"? Yes, that, and also his intention to listen, his commitment to it. I told him once that I prefer dancers who focus less on the "moves" -- the twirls and fancy footwork -- than on being in the music with your partner. Every time I dance with him, I can tell he remembers.

I mentioned that I like this about him, and, I suppose not surprisingly, he said he considered that high praise. It's kind of delightful when somebody praises us for something we ourselves value and work at. Sometimes you're not sure anybody else notices.

He took the question of listening further, by sharing a thought from a friend who, several years ago, said something like, 'If you want to change somebody's mind, it's easier to do it by listening to them than by talking.'

I'm carrying that thought.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Trees and the Single Gal

I like a tree that grew in the woods. I like the smell. But what a lot of work and expense for one person!

True, I could own and assemble annually an artificial Christmas , but I've never liked them. The only artificial trees that interest me are really artificial, impossible to mistake for something that grew.

My friend Diane sent me a link to some ideas. I like a lot of the little tabletop trees, but I wanted something bigger. Here's what I did:

Then I set out into the cold for lettuce at the food co-op. As I walked along, I passed the home and garden of some wonderfully creative folks at a nearby cul-de-sac. This is what they did with their bean tipis. I'm thinking I'd like to build one of these next summer and keep it as my annual Christmas tree.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying my tree of lights.

All material copyright © 2009 by Mary Davies