Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy New Year?

When I watch old movies or see old pictures, I always try to figure out when the people would have been born and who in my family would have been their age, or alternatively how old my family members would have been when the movie was filmed or photo taken. I like to connect distant and abstract things with more tangible and concrete things in my life, and this is one way of doing that. I once was watching an old movie with a guy I was dating and mentioned that my dad would have been two or three when the movie came out. The guy thought it was really weird that I would think that. That's when I first suspected we might not be compatible. Turns out I was right, but that's beside the point.

What really gets me in a twist, though, is knowing that someday people might do that with pictures of me. They'll think, "Man, this old lady was born in 1977. I can't imagine." What makes it all worse is that I have this lingering fear that they'll find my old pictures in some dusty old antique shop in a box of old pictures that no one wanted. Because, honestly, who would want photos of Old Spinster Dena after I'm gone? I'm probably going to be in some random person's decoupage project of antique photos.

Basically, then, whenever I start down this mental path it turns into that existential angst and a question of what is the damned point of anything? Why fight for survival when it's all so temporary anyway, and when no one will care that we lived in another 70 years. No one will know that there was a Dena Huisman who taught at a university in Wisconsin unless they happen across a picture or an old computer file with my name on it.  I'll just be another of the millions of anonymous passers-by in video footage, another person who happened to live a long time ago and who happened to have walked in the path of a camera.

Just another bit of historical ephemera.

So, you know. Happy 2011.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


This semester has been a long one. I've had more ups and downs than typical, but I don't know whether that's me or the semester. Personally, I've been struggling to stay on top of the emotional game. I've had several really high moments, but also some of the lower moments of my life, too. I've been rewarded with some of the best and most dedicated students....and...some woefully undedicated ones.

I am a nerd, admittedly. I enjoyed school all the way through, and I still am wildly crazy about learning new things and thinking. I love being intellectually challenged by friends and family as well as by books and movies. Sometimes I think people see me as too argumentative or forceful in my opinions, but it's not because I want to push my thoughts on others. It's because I want to be pushed and prodded to be clear in my own views. I want to be sure I'm thinking with all the views possible in my toolbox, you know? I don't want to be guilty of formulating opinions that are easy or based on half the available information.

So it is a mystery to me why others aren't the same way. Maybe that's arrogant, assuming the world should be like me, but I don't think so. It seems like the most common and powerful thing in the world to be curious, to try to learn, to take advantage of every opportunity to be better, smarter, more informed. I don't see this as necessarily tied to formal education, though I'm obviously a big proponent of that, given my job. :)  Some of the smartest, best informed people I know have little to no college experience. They just engage in the world and its available information.

This semester, I have seen much more disinterest and lack of effort than ever before in my students. I still have a lot of great ones who do try, but it's harder to keep focused on them when I'm seeing so many more problems. Of course, it's frustrating to grade mediocre work, but that's nothing. The real disheartening thing isn't giving out low grades, it's the lack of caring, the lack of trying, and the lack of desire to learn. It breaks my heart, and I fear if it continues it will make me unable to continue in my job. I can only emotionally handle so much of it.

If you have kids, encourage their curiosity. Build into them a sense of passion for figuring things out, for working hard, for trying. If you're an adult, build into your life more passion for those same things. America is falling behind the rest of the world in intelligence, education, and life satisfaction. These things are not unconnected, but they are avoidable if we stop accepting and rewarding mediocrity.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lasting Impressions

I remember walking past Mitch and Sue, my Sunday School teachers, on Christmas Eve service in about 4th grade. I was a shy kid, and I often preferred adult company to kids. I liked to be treated like a grown up and to have conversations. Mitch and Sue, a couple I'm guessing in their mid to late 20s, were pros at this. And when they smiled and waved at me that Christmas Eve, I remember being so pleased. They were grown-ups who were my friends.

The church we went to until I was 11 wasn't particularly small, but there were very few kids my age and the only other girl was a snooty snoot from the wealthy kids' school. Most of the other kids were hit or miss on attendance, but the Huisman family was not. Unless visiting relatives, we were there every Sunday. That meant, as often as not, I was the only kid who showed up for Sunday School.

Mitch and Sue were always there waiting for me, and then we waited together to see if another kid would show up. They would ask me about school, what I was learning, what I was reading. They were sooo cool.

One time when no one else showed up, they invited me to go to Mr. Donut, a chain donut shop, with them. I must have asked my parents for permission, but I don't remember. I only remember sitting in the back seat of their car, talking about my school as we passed it and how I got to walk home by myself. Then I remember sitting at a stool at the counter of the Mr. Donut. I got to pick out my favorite: a cake donut covered in a hard frosting shell and stuck on a stick. I preferred mine with pink frosting and sprinkles, connoisseur that I was.

And there we sat. Just me and my buddies, Mitch and Sue, shooting the breeze and having a donut at the counter on our stools. Like grown ups.

One could probably argue that this wasn't the best use of church time. Other Sunday School teachers I had certainly were more likely to stay on lesson plan and to force me to memorize my Bible verses. But what Mitch and Sue gave me as Sunday School teachers was less about the intricacies of the Gospels and more about the lived expectations embedded in the messages of the Gospels. Be good to others, even small others. Be gentle and loving and respectful. Be generous with your time...and your donut money.

Truth is, I couldn't tell you the names of any of my more structured Sunday School teachers, save one (Fern Swanson, bless her heart). Mitch and Sue are really the only ones who made a lasting impact because they valued me as a person and loved me as their Sunday School student. They were excited to see me at Christmas Eve and showed me with that friendly smile and wave as I passed, which is more than any other teacher had ever done, but all just like Jesus would do.

But I bet Jesus would have let me have two donuts...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Roadkill Memories

My family and I were driving around Des Moines today, and I saw a dead squirrel in the road. It might surprise you to hear that my first thought on seeing that dead squirrel was about my Uncle Laverne. This always happens when I see that particular brand of roadkill.

Uncle Laverne was one of my dad's closest buddies in the 1960s--so close that Dad served as Laverne's best man when he (Laverne) married Sheila Fisher. Sheila's sister, Cindy, was a bridesmaid, and the best man fell in love with her and married her a year and a half thereafter. So, given the dual connection, I grew up with frequent visits to Sheila and Laverne's house, and they to ours. Their sons and my brother and I were buddies, too.

One of our traditions was July 4. When my generation were all kids (I was the youngest), they came to Sioux City to light illegal fireworks. After we moved to Creston, it was pretty much just Sheila, Laverne and my parents. I would still hang out occasionally when I wasn't with friends. In July 2004, my parents had moved to Ankeny. I had just got back from backpacking Europe and was living at home till I moved to Iowa City to go to grad school in the fall. On July 5, Sheila and Laverne came down for the traditional holiday together a day late.

After lunch that day, Mom, Sheila and I went shopping. As we went around the corner from my parents' street, there was a dead squirrel on the road. Sheila, exasperated, said, "Laverne killed that squirrel. He swerved toward it to be funny but then he ended up actually killing it." We all three kind of laughed but kind of tsked tsked him for it, too.  End of story.

That was July 5, 2004. Less than two weeks later, we got an early morning phone call with the dreadful news that Laverne had passed away very unexpectedly. We truly lost one of our most valued family members that day, and we all still reel from the loss. I spent that morning in shock while Mom went to be with my aunts at the hospital. My brother came over and we went to lunch together to process the impossible-to-process news. On our way to the restaurant, I saw that squirrel. No one from the city had come to get it, so it was just flatter and grosser than ever. 

As I saw it, I thought of that July 5 and Sheila's story. And that dumb dead squirrel made me cry. It was a reminder that someone who had just been to my house, who had just had dinner with us, who had just told stories with us...who had always been in my life, in this world with me....was no longer going to do or be any of those things. The world still existed. The real, tangible, physical presence of him existed there on the road, in a very weird connection. But Laverne did not. It was too much to take in.

And so, six-and-a-half years later, I think of Laverne's absence from the world every time I see a dead squirrel. It's not your typical memory trigger, but I think it's one that would amuse him. And I'm always happy to think of him, so I guess we all win. Except the squirrels.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Weigh Your Words

I just posted on Facebook what I thought was a little statement of positivity. I was feeling good about life and my place in the world, and I wanted to post a little comment about how my general outlook of self-loathing and negativity was proven wrong..again. There have been several moments this week that really reminded me of how good I have it and how valued I am by those in my life. I had a moment where it hit me how many positives I've experienced this week, amidst the moments of crazy, and I decided to post on it.

Then it was quickly dismissed by a friend as a moment of drunk posting, which it was not.

And I fell right back into despair. Because my general view of myself was proven: I'm weird, people think I'm nuts, melodramatic, foolish, and silly. That one little comment, one little negative comment, innocently intended as a glib little joke, destroyed all the warmth I was feeling. All I could think about on reading it was how everyone else would read it the same way, would accuse me of being drunk, of being stupid. They would laugh at me because I'm the freak people have always assumed me to be. I spent ten minutes crying about it until I finally decided it was best just to delete the posting as a form of damage control.

So here I sit. Right back in despair. Because of one little comment that was not meant to overpower a series of messages of warmth and positivity. I can blame no one but myself for this overreaction, but nonetheless, it's a reminder to me of how one glib little passing statement isn't meaningless. We have to watch our words, lest they be taken seriously. We all have a responsibility to choose our statements carefully to avoid turning someone into a gelatinous mess who won't sleep tonight because she's too busy thinking about all the ways and the reasons why people hate her.

Words are not powerless.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Swings and Things

Having just got home from traveling for a few days, I suppose it's not a huge surprise that I'm feeling a little emotionally taut today. I love to travel in the sense that I love seeing new places, and seeing great places again and again. I love being somewhere else--sometimes anywhere else--for awhile. But I hate to travel in the sense of getting to those places. Air travel, especially, as this summer's two-part blog post about the evils of Delta Airlines will demonstrate.

Yesterday was shaky getting home due in part to Delta Airlines and in part to weather issues. I found myself feeling that old anxiety, coupled with anger, fear, frustration, panic, dread. Things were not going how they were supposed to and it was all I could do not to lash out in front of my travel companions who don't know me well (it was a work trip). My gut reaction to these types of situations is either to get angry and sweary or to cry. Fortunately, I did neither.

Once we were on the plane, though, I had a very difficult time keeping it together. A fellow passenger was inconsiderate, and it pushed me over the edge. I had to put on my iPod, lean forward and close my eyes in order to avoid a full-on meltdown. I had a hard time breathing normally and I was in tears for about half the flight. So, yeah. Today's emotional roller coaster is the inevitable day of letting off steam. Going to the grocery store on a Sunday didn't help, but I digress.

What I didn't expect, though, was the meltdown I had while shutting my eyes for a bit to rest from grading. My mind went to childhood, as it often does, but this time rather than focusing on my own directly, I started thinking about my brother. Like me, he was teased as a kid. I remember a few instances of seeing him be teased, and I know of other times when I wasn't there to witness it. I remembered one cold day on the playground before school when we were standing and waiting to go inside. He had his coat all zipped up, including the fur-trimmed hood. The coat had an extended front part that covered the face more fully. I remember thinking it looked like E.T.'s head. We were standing against the building and a kid came and teased my brother about the coat. My brother said nothing in return. I remember being mad on his behalf, but I didn't say anything, either.

I thought about that day this afternoon, and other little things like it, and I just started to sob. Heaving sobs. Because how dare they make fun of my brother? How dare they not see that he's a good person? He and I are so very different. I'm more social and emotional. He's more reserved by far. He has his eccentricities, as I do, but they are a radically different set than are mine. But, like me, he didn't deserve anyone's ridicule.

And that was the thing that became my bugaboo today. That was the thing that let me get out some of that tension build up. There's no sense in it, nothing that can be done. But maybe that's the point. The cause of the tension was my lack of control, my ability to do anything about anything, so maybe so went the release. The idea that there are injustices and frustrations that no amount of optimism or positive thinking can make better. That there will always be assholes. And asshole companies, like Delta. Who knows. Maybe those elementary school bullies are now running the show at Delta. That would make sense, actually.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy-ish Holidays

Today begins the season of rapid-fire holiday celebrations. From Halloween, we quickly move to Thanksgiving and from there to Christmas, finally wrapping up in two months with New Year's Eve. I love the holidays, and the music, and the decorations, and all of that. But it's blended with a sense of dread.

Most of my friends and family are creating memories as couples, and/or with kids. Most of the people out tonight chasing their costumed kids up and down the street are my age. Meanwhile, I sit home, alone, doling out candy. I'm not buying gifts "from Santa" or making the Thanksgiving dinner for my family.

And, really, who am I to whine about that? Because A) It's a bunch of headache and stress, as anyone with kids and/or in-laws will be quick to tell me, and B) I'm so very very very blessed to have wonderful parents and a brother to go home to for my holidays, which my friends who've lost parents, spouses, or siblings will so justifiably remind me. I truly have much to be glad for, and I am grateful. And I do love being with them, more than I can put to words. And I have it so much better and easier than so many people, in my life and in the world beyond my personal boundaries.

But, but, but. There's always the but. But. I'm so tired of doing it all alone. Being alone. Going to holiday parties alone. Handing out candy...alone. Driving four hours home...alone. Every damned week of the holiday season brings particularly acute reminders of alone. Being alone. Being alone.

My love of the holidays, today included, is hanging increasingly tenuously on memories, nostalgia, and what they once were. Every year, I wonder why the holidays don't feel as exciting or happy as they once used to. All adults experience that, I suppose, but I can't help feeling that a lot of it for me is the stagnancy, the feeling that by now it should be different. By now I should be experiencing the holidays through younger, newer eyes, and through the creation of new memories with new people rather than the rote patterns of solitude and an awkward sense of artificial joyousness glossing over an emptiness and isolation. Through the distortion of tears that can't come out till later because letting them out is a violation of the Rules of Merriment. Of Rule 1 in particular: "Just be grateful and shut up about it."

So, I'll start listening to Christmas music soon. I'll put on the glad face, and I'll sometimes mean it. I'll be happy to see my family, happy to watch It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story. But it will be happiness that's drug down by something more persistent and wearisome. By something that's doing nothing but begging for January...when seasonal depression hits. The blessed relief of seasonal depression, when no one expect any more of me anyway.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Let Me Call You Sunshine

Yesterday, my cousin, his wife, and their two kids made their annual trip to La Crosse to see the fall leaf colors. Unfortunately, the colors haven't been particularly vibrant this year, but we had a really nice day anyway. We went to McGregor and Marquette, Iowa, just over the river from Prairie du Chien, to shop for antiques (I only bought a cheap fake pearl necklace), stopped at an orchard just as it was closing, had dinner together, then came home. After my cousin and the kids went to bed, his wife and I stayed up till nearly 4am talking, which was fun.

It's been years since I stayed up so late, and it kind of reminds me of all the times we'd visit my cousin's family growing up. My dad and his dad were buddies (my parents met when Dad was my uncle's best man when he married my mom's sister), and no two men liked to talk better than Laverne and Dad. When visiting my parents' hometown area, we would often visit them and stay till way late before going back to Grandpa and Grandma's house to sleep for a few hours till church on Sunday morning. My brother and I loved to play with my two cousins, who had four-wheelers, video games, a pool table, and tons of other crazy fun ideas. I also enjoyed (with some horror) watching my cousins pound on each other. My brother and I only ever play fought (besides shouting at one another), so to watch an authentic fight was pretty fascinating to me.

My cousin who visited was the younger son, and I idolized him growing up. I didn't want to play with my girl cousin who was closer to my age--she was way boring in comparison, though we're really good friends now. He was crazy and cool and always so nice to me. He came to stay at our house for a few days one summer, and he graciously played house with me for awhile instead of playing Atari with my brother. How's that for a good guy?

While we were all out shopping yesterday, he reminded me of something I had completely forgotten. He asked if I remembered when my dad would call me Sunshine, particularly when I was upset. "What's the matter, Sunshine?" he would say as he picked me up to comfort me. It's funny that I had completely forgotten that, but I do remember my mom (lovingly) calling me Missy Butt, Booger Butt, and Poop Sock. Haha. I've been thinking about that ever since, and the memory of it has really been particularly powerful for some reason. I guess maybe it goes with the more general nostalgia I've been feeling lately, but it's such a warm, safe feeling to remember those moments of being taken care of, being cuddled when I needed soothing, being loved.

It's a reminder that I'm a very lucky person, even now. Dad hasn't called me Sunshine in more than 20 years, I imagine, and given that I'm an adult, it would be creepy and weird to sit on his lap or be cuddled. But I still always know that I can call home and get help when I need it. I'm loved in the same way, even though I take care of myself most of the time. I'm still someone's Sunshine.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Metaphysical Reflections

It's not a giant secret to those closest to me that I've spent most of my adult life away from organized religion, and almost as much time away from "unorganized" religion. I grew up in a religious home, but we went to a pretty awful church when I was a teenager. They basically asked us to put our blinders on and go through life without questioning, doubting, or doing anything even remotely fun. I mean, even the Waltons were scandalous sinners by comparison to these people.

When I got to college, in a fit of uncharacteristically optimistic "maybe this time will be better" philosophizing, I went to a church with a family member. It was okay at first. Seemed more open, people seemed nicer. But, alas, in the end, it turned out to be as much a product of rigid conservatism and unquestioning/unquestionable legalism. I remember one day at lunch with one of the pastors, I asked for an answer to a tough question and got the textbook diversionary answer. Tried again. Same answer. Tried one more time. Same answer. That was the final straw in a long series of frustrations.

So by the time I graduated, I was done. Religion was not for me. I still respected my parents and others who managed to be religious without being close-minded, but I just couldn't participate. A friend/neighbor and I spent lots of time talking about religious issues, but I found myself increasingly alienated from it. By my mid-20s, being in church became truly uncomfortable. I felt like I didn't belong there, and not just philosophically. Whenever I went, I felt a vague physical uneasiness in my chest and stomach. I felt no connection to the messages, to the songs, to the imagery. In fact, it was more the opposite. I felt like crying when I was there. Not because of a longing to fit in but from a feeling of an increasing, gaping (and angry) separation from all that had felt normal as a kid.

Hearing people talk about their faith felt frustrating and alienating. It felt false, like empty rhetoric, even when I knew it to be otherwise. All I could focus on when hearing religious talk was the hypocrisy--the hateful antigay rhetoric from divorced people and adulterers; the anti-immigrant spitefulness from those who spouted "love thy neighbor;" the sexist drivel against female church leadership from people who claimed we are all created in God's image. Et cetera.

I have been purposefully using the past tense in this post, not necessarily because things have changed in any meaningful way. My bullshit detector still flares up when I hear religious talk. But I will confess to experiencing some alterations in how I think. I don't know what it means, what I'm meant to do with it, or what I will choose to do about it once I figure what I'm meant to do about it. I'm nowhere near ready to walk through the doors of a church.

But a few things have been happening. First, I have been having random flashbacks to childhood the past few weeks, and the first image that always hits me as I go through the wave of memories is of me, about age 4-6, running around outside the doors of the (normal, happy) church we went to until I was 11 and we moved. It's not something I actively try to bring up. These flashes just pop into my head at unexpected moments. It took quite a few times before I even noticed that it was the same image that started it. I'm never inside the church. I'm always just running around in front of the doors. That inevitably leads to images of my dad from around the same era. Those differ each time in terms of what he's doing and/or how I'm interacting with him. Even now that I've noticed the pattern, it comes to me unexpectedly but in the same pattern before I even really realize I'm thinking about it.

Then, this summer I read a book by C.S. Lewis. While he wrote many books on religion, the one I read this summer is one of his academic works as a literature scholar/professor. As I read it, I thought back to Mere Christianity, one of the books I read with my friend/neighbor nearly 10 years ago. I got an urge to read that again, but was distracted by being included in a new book club with a book to read by October. I finished that early, and the idea kept nagging at me to read the Lewis book. I ignored it because I wanted to read another new book I had recently bought. But the feeling would not go away. I kept thinking about Lewis and his book. So I got it off the shelf.

What's particularly interesting to me about that is that it also connects in a fairly abstract but notable way to the topic of one of the classes I'm teaching this semester. The topic is social constructionism, which basically argues that all we are as people is a product of the social interactions and relationships--basically our communication and how we're communicated to. (It's more than that, but that's the two-cent summary.) Lewis, unsurprisingly, takes a different view of human nature, but that has made his argument all the more interesting, and the book all the more useful to me in a broad way through multiple aspects of my life. All that does, then, is to force me to really dig into my vision of my self and how a metaphysical entity fits into that...how god/God fits into that.

I have no idea what any of this will lead to. I'm still quite adamantly resistant to a return to being religious in a Christian/organized sense. But I feel like these two things are telling me that this is a time in my life when I'm meant to do some intense and meaningful reflection on my relationship to god/God in some sense that's useful, relevant, and realistic to me. The flashbacks are too intense, and the call to that book to persistent, to ignore. Given my recent shift toward more optimism and openness to whatever positive energy wants to find its way to my door, maybe this is the next logical area of development.

Maybe by the time I'm 40, I'll know who the heck I'm supposed to be.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Nothing to Report

After a rough start to the semester with a difficult situation (ambiguity alert), things are going well for me. I've been able to successfully divert a few incoming self-loathing crises with very little effort, which I take to be a good thing. I have managed to keep up relatively well with my schedule. I have not veered too far off my diet, beyond the occasional splurge. But even with the splurges, I chose to learn some lessons about my body rather than beat myself up for them or run screaming from the possibility of enjoying a little too much.

What is this? Is this equilibrium? Is this...thing...this...contentment...is this what people feel? Is this what it's like to be a balanced, sane, or (dare I say) a happy person?

Is it possible I've turned some kind of corner? Is it possible this corner is a full 90 degree one rather than a moderate, slight, itty bitty curve?

Great googly moogly. Am I going to be okay?

What the crap am I supposed to do with this development? I'm so confused.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It's all gonna be okay

Oof. It's been an interesting few days. I read that book that had me all freaked out about everything in my little universe. I tend to go a little overboard at times, and this was one of those times. But sometimes going overboard is okay. Maybe because when you call for help (even if not to a real person but just to the world more generally), you get responses that serve as little life preservers. It's all simply a matter of asking.

While freaking out, things started happening. I spent Saturday night just meditating. Not in a new-age Buddhist way, necessarily (though that would have been okay, too) but just in a sitting back and letting go kind of way. I decided to pay more attention to my own self-negativity and counteract it when I found myself thinking this way. Then things got interesting.

1) A friend had called on Friday, and I hadn't heard the phone. I noticed the call later on, but didn't notice the voice mail. She called again when I was out on Monday, and that time I noticed a voice mail, so I heard both back to back. The first one was just a sweet simple message that she had thought of me and found something I had given her a long time ago when she was struggling. She wanted me to know how much that meant to her and that she was glad to have me for a friend (um, one who hasn't yet called her back, but I digress). I cried a little at that. The other message was an offer to give me something she had from her mom who recently passed. Very sweet.

2) Then I had another voice mail (I have a habit of not leaving my cell phone where I can hear it--so sue me). It was one of my cousins who just wanted to say that he thought it was great that I had lost weight and that he and his spouse are trying, too. It was just a spontaneous call from a cousin I don't normally hear from, and it was so very sweet and thoughtful. And made me feel really good, too.

3) I was talking to some friends about my prior post topic of anxiety, and they both completely related. They understood and could provide similar stories, so now I don't feel so unusual or crazy. We're all highly functioning adults, so maybe the anxiety doesn't really rule us after all. Maybe I can let that go now.

4) The author of the book that had me freaked out quoted a poet named Mary Oliver, and the quote was really meaningful to me. I had been given a book of her poems from a friend awhile back. I struggle with really understanding poetry, for some reason, so I had started it but not finished. After reading this quote in the food book on Sunday, I went to my shelf to look for the Oliver collection. I couldn't find it anywhere. I figured it would turn up eventually and forgot about it. Then on Monday, I went to my nightstand cupboard to look for a pencil (I'm always losing them). I had cleaned the nightstand out a couple of weeks ago, so I knew there was one in there. I found it, but then I noticed a book in there, which I hadn't recalled putting there; I thought I'd put all the books back on my shelf. I pulled it out...it was the Mary Oliver poem book. I opened it up, and the only poem that was dog-eared (I do that for ones that I particularly like) was the poem that was quoted in the food book.

5) I got an email from a childhood friend who has been very ill, and things are really starting to look up for her. Tests are coming back in her favor, she's feeling great, and her kids are adjusting to school...her daughter even wants to play the flute like I did! Yeah! I was hoping for good news, but the email radiated it from every letter. I just really needed to see that well-deserved peace from her to remind me that all those angst-ridden teen years, those years of anxiety, also produced some of the most joyful and meaningful experiences of my life, and that they will continue to do so for many many many years.

So, from moderate despair came a series of messages of hope. It shows that my attempts to start afresh and be the happy person I deserve as much as anyone to be are not going unheeded or unnoticed by god or the universe or whatever label you want to put on it. Now I just have to keep it up...that's the hard part.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

This can't be good.

I'm reading a book called Women Food and God about how women use food and diets to mask the bigger emotional problems in our lives. So far, it's more geared toward binge eaters, which I have never truly been. I've eaten way too much on way too many occasions, and I've used food as comfort plenty 'o times, but I don't think I qualify as a true binge eater. Anyway. Beside the point.

There was a bit early on in the book where the author talks about how we need to go back to that time when we were children when we remember being free from anxiety and worry and were able to cry and get over it without it being a big deal. Before life became filled with emotional instability and constant worry. Then we will be able to start rethinking ourselves and our relationship to food. She said, "Do you remember when..." and listed all of that, and after thinking for a minute, I realized, "No. I really can't remember then."

Now, I suppose it may partly be because that was quite some time ago, and I was little and little memories are often a little fuzzy. But the times I remember quite clearly from when I was four and five years old are filled with anxiety, doubt, and fear. Fear of school. Anxiety about getting in trouble. Worry about doing something wrong or badly. Anxiety that something would happen to me or my family. That God would be mad at us for tearing up our sidewalk, which he specifically put there when he created the world. Anxiety about being grabbed and stolen by the people lurking under the bed (okay, that one's pretty common, right?). I was terrified to spend the night at other people's houses without mom and dad, even when it was a house I knew well and with people I trusted (which turned out not always to be true, but that's another story).

I'm sure I must have felt secure some of the time, and I certainly had reason to feel so. I had a safe and loving home and family life. My teachers (with the exception of my 2nd grade one) were compassionate. I was never told I was bad or dumb or expendable. But truth be told, it's all kind of overlaid with this feeling of the need to tread lightly because things weren't right or safe.

It certainly explains why I spent so much time bursting into tears for no darn good reason until I was about 11. By that point, I had finally learned the art of keeping it in because it was hard to make friends with people who knew you were a nervous freak all the time. Looking back, even the kids across the street, who were my only real friends as a young child, made fun of me. One night after dinner I was waiting for them to finish up dinner so we could play. They were at their kitchen window facing the street and my front yard, where I waited. They started taunting me for reasons I couldn't fathom, and I started to cry. I went in to tell Mom, who by this point was understandably exasperated with my constant crying, and she told me to go up and tell them to knock it off if it bothered me. Instead I just stayed in my room and cried and played alone. Perhaps that was when I began my path of hiding my tears to keep people from knowing--and therefore disliking--me.

So here I sit. I'm 33. I live in fairly constant paranoia and anxiety. Just like I did then. Maybe I just never had a period in my life where that wasn't normal, which is why it's so hard now, despite my best efforts over the past few years to change it, to be the person I know on some level that I deserve to be. Maybe that's why even after all this weight loss, I still feel the anxiety of being overweight, unattractive, and socially stupid. Maybe my posting this on the web is a step toward not hiding it...maybe that's a good thing. But maybe not.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Why I still shop at Target

I know a lot of people who are currently boycotting Target because the corporation donated a chunk of money to a conservative PAC that supports a governor candidate in MN who holds strong anti-gay views. It's come up a few times in conversation, so I decided to write down my thoughts on it.

Before I begin, though, I want to stress that I vehemently disagree with the MN candidate's views on gay rights. I'm an ardent supporter of marriage and other civil rights for gay and lesbian people, some of whom are my friends and students. I will fight for the rights of all of them to have the same rights I do as a straight person.

That said, here are the reasons why I am not boycotting Target, in no particular order:

1) Target has a history of treating employees with dignity, including gay and lesbian employees who are eligible for partner benefits. That doesn't erase the current problem, but at least it indicates an interest in basic equality as a company-wide policy. WalMart, the most likely alternative to those boycotting Target, barely gives their employees benefits, let alone domestic partner benefits. The big picture still leaves me leaning toward Target, albeit with a skeptical eye.

2) Speaking of WalMart, where I live, I pretty much have the choice of it or Target for the basic stuff that gets me through (e.g., health and beauty stuff, cleaners, etc). So...am I to shop at WalMart, which often treats employees like crap, that has a history of class-action lawsuits based on racial discrimination, gender discrimination, AND sexuality discrimination? That has a history of union-busting in order to keep employees suppressed and unorganized? I don't think so. And neither should these people boycotting Target. The old cliché rings true: it's cutting off your nose to spite your face.

3) Further, unlike Wal-Mart, Target has a strong record of supporting the community through donations to education systems in their communities as well as charitable organizations. My dad works for the Salvation Army, and Target frequently donates money and products for poverty relief in the local community. I personally disagree with the SA's stance on homosexuality as well, but at least they are a private, religious organization, not a public one. What this means, then, is that Target does a lot of good in the community that is being erased by the over-hyped boycott.

4) Then there's the issue of making Target the...target...instead of the larger issue of the Supreme Court's recent ruling that corporations can donate like people. That ruling will have huge repercussions in our society. Corporations often don't have the best interest of people in mind, unless you count their shareholders (if they are publicly traded) and/or their corporate leaders. Target's reputation for being reasonably responsible in their communities and to their employees doesn't erase that they are a giant corporation. Corporations are most likely to push for candidates who will help their bottom line first (not to mention the pocketbooks of their leaders). Most of those candidates will be Republicans, who tend to have more pro-corporate policies. They are also more likely to have anti-gay stances, as well as similar stances on other social issues. That means Target is one of about a bajillion companies in this country that will be pushing for candidates whom I won't like. Am I to boycott all of them? Or just Target? Why one and not the others?

Shouldn't we instead be spending our time fighting the Supreme Court ruling and the political process that now heavily favors corporate interests over our own? Shouldn't Target be an example of the problem, not the be-all-end-all of the problem? Shouldn't we be focusing more broadly on the corporations who actively resist treating gay and lesbian employees and customers with respect? In short, fighting the larger problem rather than the symptom of the larger problem?

5) This whole thing smacks of a left-wing reactionary response rather than measured response to social problems. This is reason number one why I resist every day the urge to find myself on a political fringe. People on the fringes of the right and left are guilty of emotionally lashing out rather than intellectually reasoning. This one happens to be on the left side, but if Target responds too much in favor of the gay and lesbian rights side, you know full well the stupid fringe right folks will do the exact same damn thing the left is doing now. And we're all the poorer for this behavior. We all become blind to the real issue in the mud-slinging.

So there you go. I am working hard not to spend more money than I need to in general, but when I need to buy, I don't feel guilty shopping at Target. I will continue to advocate for full and equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans, but in a holistic, realistic way...not through emotional protests and boycotts.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Customer Service with a Stare

Tomorrow night I am cooking dinner for the poker group I go to. I had a majority of the stuff in my cupboard, but I needed enough that I decided to head over to Woodman's, the local budget grocery store. I had planned to go Friday, but just got a bug up my butt and went tonight instead. It's less busy at night, and I was bored.

I went through the store and gathered all I needed (plus some). By the time I got to the checkout, I figured I had about $25-$30 in my cart. The guy started ringing it all up with that vacant-scanner-swipe-glazed-over look they all usually have. When it was all through, he said (vacantly), "That'll be $115.##." I about crapped myself. I said, "That can't be right! I didn't get $115 in groceries!" Which, frankly, should have been obvious. Who buys some cheese/dairy, some fruit, and some disposable utensils and spends $115? It was three re-usable bags not terribly full! Vacancy, my friends. The checkers are glorified cows who have no clue what they are doing.

The guy looked at me--you guessed it--vacantly. I just looked back at him while he slowly processed this. I was clearly an obstacle between him and going home. He finally looked at the receipt. I, being intelligent, quickly found the error. The top half of the receipt was stuff the guy in front of me bought and I had $87 in "prior balance" from his stuff. The cow-man brought over a manager to look at it. She, too, had the vacant look, so I explained the situation.

The guy protested that the prior customer had taken a receipt, so it must not be his mistake (uhhhh....right). The manager finally said to the bagger, "Sorry, Megan, you'll have to unload her bags so he can scan it all again and start over."

That's right, my friends. She did not apologize to me for the error or the delay. She did not even further acknowledge my presence. She simply apologized to her employee for having to do more work because of her colleague's vacancy and walked away.

I couldn't believe it. I have a low opinion of people, but that one got even me. I don't expect to have my ass kissed, and I didn't expect any kind of compensation, but a simple apology to a customer seems reasonable, right?

Optimism is futile.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dena, The Blogger, Part Deux

Hello, my millions of readers. :P Just thought I'd mention that I'm starting a second blog because I need more things to distract me from working.

Since I've lost weight, I've had lovely friends and family ask me how I've done it. I decided that, instead of writing each person individually, I'd start a blog to gather information and have fun. With any luck, it will help keep me honest and healthy myself as well as helping other people. Feel free to follow both blogs, as I'll be writing on both. They'll just have different foci.

If you're interested in the new blog, you can find it here: Newly Thin Dena

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Teenage "Rebellion"

There was a terrible accident in Iowa last week. A group of teens were out in the wee hours of the morning and got caught up in a flash flood. One of them couldn't escape the car and died, despite her friends' attempts to get her out. I can't imagine the terror all of them felt, and the regret the survivors must feel for being out when they knew full well they shouldn't be.

The thing is, of course, that none of us have much right to judge. We have all done stupid things, made bad decisions, been overconfident in our "right" to a long, healthy life. And not just when we were teens. The girl who died in the accident had snuck out of the house after returning for her curfew, which falls into the category of a stupid thing, but hardly one that is unusual or particularly evil in the grand scheme of things.

Anyway, the thing about this story is that it has me reflecting on my own teen years and the stupid things I did. What's amazing is actually how few of them I did. Not because I was so dang smart or virtuous, though. I was as dumb and arrogant as any teen...so why didn't I extend my "parents' rules are stupid" philosophy into the common pitfalls of teenage rebellion? Why didn't I defy my parents beyond some serious back talk and eye rolling? And (to be honest) some less than kind thoughts about them. (Sorry, Mom and Dad. I stopped doing that, I promise!!)

The only thing I can figure is that it comes from them. Despite my views of their dumb rules, I knew, understood, and respected them deep down. My parents were great about balancing freedom with restraints. I remember Dad once telling me that they followed a kind of farming/livestock rule of child rearing, which sounds a little suspicious on the surface. The philosophy was that kids need fences and boundaries to understand the world and their place in it. It's a parent's job to build the fence with enough room to run without getting too far away from the barn. As the child grows, the parent must rebuild the fence a little further out to accommodate the growing intellect and abilities of the child. This way, the child learns a little more through a gradual broadening of the responsibilities of the farmyard. By the time a child is a teen, there needs to be a big area where the kid can explore and make some stupid decisions, but still within site of the parent/farmer who can help redirect them when the need arises.

And this is exactly what they did. I was their little lamb who had a small range when I was little. I was free to run, but always in site of the house rules. When I jumped the fence, I was lovingly grabbed and put back in. It was explained to me why I was grabbed as well as what the consequences for jumping were. As I got older and became a full grown sheep, I had more space to run, but I still tried to jump now and then...and again they patiently (usually!!) explained why the boundary was where it was. What's more, the punishment was never being locked in the barn, deprived of light and freedom to roam. I was given a talking to that focused on building my logic and respect for them and the parameters they set.

The result is that as a teen, I had no need to rebel against anything unjust. Sure, I didn't always like their rules, but I had been taught so carefully, lovingly and (most importantly) respectfully that I felt little need to shove anything back in their faces. I had enough room to run and enough security that they would take care of me so long as I stayed in sight of the barn. I didn't have to love it all the time, but I had every opportunity to understand it. And, when faced with something I saw as unjust, I was secure enough in my relationship with them that I could usually tell them about it and we could come to an understanding. Not always exactly how I wanted it, of course, but always with my feelings under consideration.

My 16-year-old self would likely scoff at this writing. That's okay. She could be kind of a bitch sometimes. :P My 33-year-old self knows it's true; proper reflection and distance make that possible. My overall thinking here is not to imply that the parents of that poor girl in Iowa did something wrong or were bad parents. I know nothing of them or their family. I just had to ponder on why I never snuck out of the house after curfew within my own particular family and personal history. I'm sure her parents love her as much as mine do me and did even when I was a bitchy 16 year old.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Making Changes

The past few weeks have been filled with some serious thinking about the way I eat. In reality, it's actually a long-time casual topic of reflection that has been put at the forefront of my mind since I read "Omnivore's Dilemma," a widely read by Michael Pollan book about the modern food system.

The book has made me realize several things about the way we eat. For one thing, I'm more acutely aware of how often food is advertised and marketed as being "real," "made from real ingredients," or "all natural" (and variations thereof). What does it say about us that we are meant to be excited and pleased to see our food be real or natural? Shouldn't ALL our food be real and natural--shouldn't we expect our food to be real and natural? Additionally, I have a more complicated and nuanced understanding of what "organic" is. The word has lost much of its meaning and is actually not a serious guarantee of anything better than non-organic. I've never bought into the craze that organic is by necessity better, but now I am clearer on when and why organic is and isn't better.

Then there's the issue of how much corn we consume in the various food products. I have known this for some time, but I'm more concerned about it, as well as the impact that it has on the economy and health of the state I grew up in--one of the leading U.S. growers of the crop.

But the issue most important to my life, and the thing I've been reflecting on the most, is the issue of how we use and consume animal products...meat. I've read several articles about the atrocious living conditions of animals in the modern meat production industry. I've also seen first-hand the cramped quarters these animals live in--you don't live in the Midwest without seeing confinement facilities for hogs, cows, and poultry. I've long had an uneasiness about the process of raising animals for meat, but reading "Omnivore's Dilemma" has pushed me past the point of uneasiness.

I hope that I'm an ethical person, and I want to be a person who is humane not only to my fellow humans but also to the animals who are part of this world. I do not see a moral problem with eating meat, but I'm increasingly convinced that my sense of justice and morality cannot, and should not, include participating in a food system that allows animals to be confined in too-small spaces, fed foods (i.e., corn) that their bodies aren't meant to process, and given hormones (along with the fatty corn diet) that forces them to grow faster than their bodies are able to sustain. The reason those chicken breasts you buy are so enormous? Because of hormones and corn...the chicken it came from probably spent most of its life unable to walk on legs that were not meant to carry so much weight.

These animals are living short, miserable lives so that we can eat meat cheaply. The low cost of meat has a very high cost in our moral obligation toward other creatures. If I want to be the moral and ethical person I know I want to be, I have to make the decision to eat accordingly. And so, I have decided that I will only purchase meat from animals that I can trust were treated humanely, allowed an opportunity to experience a life that is in line with their natural desires to be outside and eat a healthy diet (i.e., not just corn). I also want to eat meat from animals that were not subjected to growth hormones that force growth that outpaces their skeletal ability to support it. It's less about my health and more about their basic right to a decent life.

This means a fairly radical change. Buying meat is now more expensive (which means eating far less of it). It also means scanning restaurant menus for vegetarian options because most won't serve meat that isn't from the industrial food chain. This means a very challenging dilemma when going to visit family and friends. I'm not sure how I am going to deal with all of that, but it's something I'm going to have to figure out. I don't want to be complicit in a cycle that is so unfair.

On a side note, there's also the issue of how the industrialized meat is processed by people working in terrible conditions at great risk to their well being. That's an issue that merits an even longer discussion.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Holding Myself Accountable

I'm to my weight-loss goal, and have been successfully holding steady for three weeks. In three more weeks, I will become a Lifetime Member of Weight Watchers (you have to maintain your goal weight for six weeks for that to happen). I assume there's some sort of coronation ceremony for this. Maybe a crown embellished with broccoli florets will be placed on my head and I'll carry a carrot sceptre topped with a grapefruit. Dottie, my leader, will help me take the oath: "I, Lifetime Member Dena, solemnly swear to uphold the tenets of the Points System and will not abuse the powers of FlexPoints bestowed upon me by the people of Weight Watchers. I will endeavor to earn the ActivityPoints I so desperately need and will not surpass the budget thereof." And I'll wear a pretty dress.

But then what? I find myself still a little shaky on my relationship to food. I'm increasingly (rather than decreasingly) obsessed with how much food goes in my mouth and what happens every time I go over points just a little. Will that ice cream put me back where I started? Will having pizza ruin everything? Are my jeans going to suddenly not fit tomorrow because I drank that wine? It's a running discourse in my head, pretty much all the time. I know that's not a sustainable way to live if I want to be a happy, comfortable person. Being thin shouldn't mean being a nutcase, nor should it mean an obsession or compulsion to deny myself things I love. I know that constant worry and denial will not lead to long-term success, and I know that if I'm good most of the time, an occasional splurge isn't going to throw me off course. And if I gain a few pounds, I can lose it again. Weight gain is not like cement setting on my butt or anything.

But the fact is that making my brain accept this new version of food reality is a lot more difficult than actually losing the weight was. This has me surprised and nervous. I thought it would be easier to be on maintenance, but it turns out this is where the work really begins. Physically changing was one thing. Emotionally changing is quite another.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Delta Delta Delta Will Not Help Ya Help Ya Help Ya. (Part 2)

Okay, so part two, which is the equivalent of day 2 of our misadventures with Delta Airlines, the most idiotic, thoughtless, inconsiderate and terrible of all the airlines. Part 1 is just below this entry.

8) The following morning, Mom and I show up at the check-in gate at 9:30 to claim our two guaranteed seats. Of course, we were barked at to try the "automated" service, but I said, "No, your airline screwed us over last night and we were told to talk to the agent instead." She backed off us and moved on to barking at the rabbi in front of us, who tried to be patient and kind, but with only a tenuous grasp on success. When Mom and I approached the agent, she handed us "seat requests" and told us we'd have to inquire about boarding passes at the gate. Mom and I both verbally balked, and she said, rudely, "Don't beat me up. I'm just the messenger." Grrrrrrrrrrr. So I replied, "Ma'am, I'm sorry but your airline has been beating us up for 36 hours." She said there was nothing for us to do but go to gate C37 to ask about passes.

9) After a little holdup at the security checkpoint, we got to terminal C. Just out of habit, I checked the departure board. Lucky decision. Our gate was not C37 but C32. Not a huge difference, but another example of the idiocy and lack of basic competency of Delta Airlines. We got to C32 and I inquired about boarding passes. The guy looked at the monitor behind him which said, "Lansing, MI" in order to obnoxiously point out to me that I was early and/or had the wrong gate. I calmly (but not pleasantly) informed him that we were on edge about being messed up again with our flight and I wanted assurance as early as possible that I was getting boarding passes. He told me I'd have to go to C2 to get more information. A full 10-minute walk back the way I had just come.

10) I left Mom sit and booked it back to C2. While in line, I learned about the couple (probably my parents' age) who had been screwed the night before. They had run to make their connection, and the husband made it while the gate was still open. He pointed to his wife who was no more than 30 seconds away, not being able to run as quickly as he could. The DELTA GATE AGENT SHUT THE GATE ON HIM and said, "Too bad." DELTA DIDN'T WAIT 30 SECONDS for a lady to make the connection. Then the plane sat there for 10 minutes before leaving anyway. Yes. Another girl had been trying to get to her destination for two days but had been bumped or had flights cancelled every time. The people behind the older couple had also been trying for two days. This did not bode well.

11) When it was my turn, the lady told me my flight was full. I said the lady last night had told me there were seven and I was guaranteed two. She said, "You shouldn't have been told that. It all depends on weight restrictions and the gate agents choose who would get to go on the plane." At this point, I realize Mom and I are not getting on that flight without a fight. So I pulled out the heavy ammunition: my Huisman temper. I said, "So, you're basically telling me we are fu***d. Is that what you're telling me?" [Ed note: I did not use asterisks in the original conversation. So sue me.] She looked at me evenly and said, "Probably yes." I said, "So the lady last night lied to me about there being seven seats and that I was guaranteed two of them? And that if I showed up at 9:30 this morning, I could pick which seats I wanted?" Reply: "She shouldn't have told you that." My reply: "Well she did. But now you're telling me that, in spite of that guarantee, I. Am. Fu***d." She said, "Yes." Then I really lost it. I expressed what entire bullshit that was and I wasn't accepting this as possible. Then she took my boarding passes--sorry, my "seat requests"--and went to the nearest gate. She spent several minutes there...and came back with two boarding passes.

12) The only thing she said to me when handing them over was, "She shouldn't have told you you had them guaranteed." Oh, for cripes sake. How the heck is that MY problem, incompetent Delta lady? Seriously? So I said, "Ma'am, I'm sorry I yelled, but you have to understand that your airline has terrible customer service, terrible communication patterns, and terrible scheduling problems. Do you see that?" The response (predictably) was, "Yeah. She shouldn't have guaranteed you those seats." ARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So I again said, "Well, she did guarantee them to me, but that just proves my point that you have terrible customer service, terrible communication, you lie to people and you are completely unorganized!" She just said, "Yes, it's bad communication." Holy shit. It was like talking to freaking Rain Man. So I just said, "Thanks for the boarding passes," and off I went, leaving all the poor other schmucks behind me begging to get on a plane, any plane. Please just get us where we need to go. That kind of thing. Going back to the first point in the prior posting, when they overbook all their flights, they don't leave any room to deal with the people they screw over by being late. If they're going to screw up their schedule so much that they have permanent areas dedicated to rescheduling, they need to AT LEAST have some seats available (i.e., not overbooked) to accommodate this!

13) Finally, it's time to board, only not. We are told it would be another 10 minutes. Fine. About 15 minutes later, we're told it will be another 10 minutes. About 40 minutes later, we are allowed to board. I mean, really. Would it be so difficult to be honest with their customers? Would it kill them to say, "Ladies and gentlemen, there's a delay, and we're not entirely sure when the plane will arrive. We hope within 30 minutes. We'll let you know more as we get information." Honest and completely lacking in condescension. Ugh. So we finally got home about an hour late. Well. Actually about 18 hours late, but who's counting?

Honestly. This is not exaggerated. This airline is so inept, incompetent, arrogant, rude, and pathetic. One might argue that this is a fluke, but A) the other passengers on my NYC-Detroit plane and in line behind me the following day suggest otherwise, B) the permanent kiosks and overall familiarity with DELTA-specific vouchers suggest otherwise, and C) the similarly rude and incompetent experience I had with Delta last summer from NYC-Minneapolis suggests otherwise. This is a pervasive and ongoing problem. Delta Airlines SUCKS. I personally have vowed never to fly with them again, which is particularly sucky given that I have few options out of La Crosse, and even fewer in general when you consider how many airlines are owned by Delta. But I'd rather stay home than give Delta Airlines one more red cent of my money. And keep in mind that saying this is a person who loves to travel and does it as often as I can.


Delta Delta Delta Will Not Help Ya Help Ya Help Ya. (Part 1)

I was lucky enough to fly to Ireland for a whole month, and get paid for it. I'm a person who experiences a great deal of good fortune. I should be grateful for the opportunity to see so much of the world. But here I am whining anyway. I'm sure Delta Airlines would rather I accentuate the positives, but I don't care about how Delta Airlines feels. I want to share with the world (or some tiny fragment of it) just what I experienced through this god-awful, terrible, no good company. A company that is among the worst of an already pretty terrible industry. Below is a list of the idiocies I experienced. Share with your friends.

1) On the way over to Shannon, Ireland, one of my students was on the same flight. She made the error of assuming she had reserved a seat on the plane when she made her...reservation. Unfortunately, she and about six others were told their reservations had been for nothing because Delta, as always, overbooked the plane. My student had to stay overnight in NYC to get on the next night's flight. This involved an extra trip back to the airport from the first hotel that turned them away because Delta had made no reservations for them there. Yes. This theme will return later.

2) On the way back to the U.S., Mom and I flew into JFK airport on time, with nearly three hours to spare till our flight to Detroit. We were feeling pretty confident, in spite of the fact that JFK airport is a sinkhole of doom and delays. About 15-20 minutes before our scheduled boarding time, an announcement was made that our gate had changed to another one a little ways down the concourse. All of us scrambled down to the new gate to be greeted by a wide-eyed and very confused desk agent who wanted to know who we were and what we were doing there. Turns out our gate hadn't changed...the OTHER flight at the original gate was supposed to move. So we all book it down back to the original gate, only to find the other flight was being told they were not to move.

3) At about this point, we find out that our plane was delayed by "weather." Apparently, if there's a light overcast, it's bad weather. Shortly after being fed this obvious pile of crap, the sun came out. Too late, though, because we were already being bumped back on departure by at least an hour. I waited in line to find out if it were possible to get to Chicago instead, where my dad could pick my mom and me up from his meetings there. I was told no, but there was a plane from Detroit to La Crosse the following day at 12:40. Our best scenario, barring making our tight connection, was to stay over in Detroit. No compensation, of course, because they were still claiming "weather" as the cause of the delay.

4) While waiting in line, a lady asked if this was the gate for Barcelona. This was the OTHER flight that was supposed to leave from our gate, but maybe now was supposed to be at the other gate now (unclear). So I told her I wasn't sure but I think that was now the other gate. The poor lady asked the ticket agent and was told to stay here because this was the right gate. No more than five minutes later, the loudspeaker announced that the Barcelona plane left out of the OTHER gate. The poor lady looked confused and exasperated (a feeling I well understood).

5) About 2 1/4 hours late, we finally took off for Detroit. The pilot, bless him, got us there as fast as he could, but we arrived no more than ten minutes late for our connection. We were told hastily to go "over there" to get rescheduled. We took off for "over there" but saw no "there" to go to. By this time, I was getting really hacked. I saw a Sky Miles kiosk, where a woman was trying to sign people up for the program. I figured she would know where "over there" was so I approached. She cheerily asked me if I wanted to get a free Delta flight for signing up. I said, "Actually, no. I don't plan to fly Delta ever again." The guy signing up looked up in surprise and asked if they were really that bad. The lady hastily said, "No! They are NOT that bad!" and gave me a dirty look. Unphased, I said to the guy, "Well, this is the second time in less than a year that they've left me stranded overnight, so you do the math." The lady asked what I wanted and sent me on my way.

6) It turns out "over there" was a designated gate with information and phones specifically for all the Delta customers who, like us, had been jacked over. It's pretty telling to me that there's an entire area cordoned off to deal with all this. I mean, this was not a temporary setup but a permanent, carpeted, furnished area. Ugh. So we were barked at to scan our boarding passes to get replacement flight. Delta planned to get us home the following day via Indianapolis via Minneapolis to La Crosse. Three more flights on Delta? I don't think so. The lady there barked at us to call in to get something better. The lady on the phone (the designated Delta phone bank in the permanent area set up for customers they screw over) told me she didn't know why they had done that when there were seven seats available on the direct La Crosse flight at 12:40 the following day. Seven seats. She said she had me marked down for two of them. All we had to do was to show up at 9:30 to the airport the following morning to claim the two that we wanted. I said, "So you're telling me I am guaranteed two of those seats tomorrow morning. You have guaranteed me two seats?" She said yes. Two seats guaranteed. Okay.

7) Now. I have to say something decent here. Delta did put us up at a hotel (mom and I each got our own rooms instead of sharing) along with $18 in meal vouchers. The funny thing is that when I called the pizza place to have dinner brought to our rooms and said I had some vouchers, the lady on the phone said, "Oh, you mean Delta vouchers?" So clearly this was not a novel situation. Mind you, she didn't ask if they were airline vouchers. She asked if they were DELTA vouchers. DELTA specifically. She KNEW THEY WERE FROM DELTA BECAUSE DELTA SUCKS.

To keep these short(ish), I'll start the following day's events in the next posting...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Luck of the Irish

I just returned from a month in Galway, Ireland, where I taught a summer course for my university. I was lucky enough to live with people who have become friends, as well as to have my friend, Jennifer, come. We traveled around the west of Ireland and experienced a lot of life. But the part of my trip that will remain forever at the top of my list of best weeks was the last week there, when my mom came to visit.

Back in January, I had been to a medium who told me that my mom would visit me sometime soon, and she would need me to take care of her. At the time I just figured that meant Mom might come up to La Crosse for a few days. When I found out later I was going to Ireland, she mentioned that she might like to come visit. I told her to think it over, but she was reluctant to come without Dad and Dad was reluctant to come at all. Finally, one night on the phone she said, “You know what? I’m coming on my own, and you’ll just have to take care of me.” Just like the medium had told me. I knew it was meant to be now. And I knew it would all be okay.

The morning of June 18, I took the bus to Dublin with my school group, and then as quickly as I could took the commuter bus to the airport. There she was! My mom was in Ireland. If only her luggage had arrived with her…alas. The first chance for me to help her was trying to figure out how we would get them back. It took a few phone calls, but it showed up in Galway two days later.

We spent the first two days in Dublin, and Mom was a real trooper. I kept her walking all afternoon that first day to try to keep her awake till evening. Otherwise, jetlag will persist. She walked in sandals that gave her blisters, but she never once complained. The next day we went off again and explored our hearts out, stopping at a cathedral, a prison (!!), and a lovely park dedicated to Irish revolutionaries from the early 20th century.

On Sunday, we were glad to leave Dublin for the relative calm of the west. Over the days together, we explored Galway, the ocean near Galway, The Burren and Cliffs of Moher, and Connemara and Kylemore Abbey. Each day trip out of Galway included lots of walking, lots of sitting on small buses, and lots of climbing around very rocky and uneven terrain, but Mom took it all on with gusto and saw as much as she could. She also took with great equanimity the swearing and inebriation we witnessed (not to mention the time I had Guinness with lunch)! In the quieter moments on the bus and on walks, we talked about family, life, and the things around us.

One of my favorite moments was in Eyre Square in Galway City Center. We were just relaxing and soaking up some Irish sun, and I got out the joke book she bought for Dad as a souvenir. I read some aloud and we both laughed till our guts hurt. Even some of the less “clean” ones. It was great to be sitting in Ireland and just enjoying each other's company. And I always love getting a big laugh out of her.

My mom and I always get along (now that I’m an adult anyway), but this last week in Ireland was a rare opportunity to be friends and travel companions in a way that is difficult in the course of everyday life. I already knew I was lucky and blessed to have the parents I do, but now I know that the luck of the Irish gave me a week that will forever live in my heart as a moment of pure happiness.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Almost there.

As I leave for Ireland in the coming days, I have less baggage to carry than I would have one year ago. I've been a light packer for a long time now, but never in my adult life have I carried less with me as I traveled than on this trip. Because this trip I am 54 pounds lighter. Given that the limit for luggage weight is 50 pounds, this means I am slightly more than one whole suitcase lighter. If only that meant they allowed me an extra 50 pounds for souvenirs on the way back.

I recently went back to look at older pictures, including the pictures that finally motivated me to start Weight Watchers last October (the one on the left above is The Picture). I'm pretty excited about the change, and can't wait to have good pictures to bring back from Ireland! I can't measure my self-worth based on how I look, and I don't base my perceptions of others' worth on their looks, but it's hard to deny that I feel a lot more confident now as well as healthier. And I certainly don't dread looking at pictures of myself like I used to. So it's all to the good.

Now I just have to hope I have the luck of the Irish when it comes to keeping it off during a month of travel!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Language Police

All the recent talk about the new rules for textbook curriculum out of Texas has me fairly steamed as folks who know me well will be unsurprised to hear. The old "it's not biased when it is our view" line seems to be rearing its head. However, I'm not so biased myself (not that I'm unbiased, mind) that I see the problem being caused only by the right. In fact, there is a larger problem of both ahole wings of the political spectrum unduly influencing the terrible, toothless way that our children learn about history. A couple of excellent books come to mind that highlight this bipartisan ineptitude:

1) "The Language Police" by Diane Ravitch is an excellent look at how these things have crippled education from the left (in California) and the right (in Texas). These two states are shown to be responsible for a large part of the material covered in the entire nation's textbook choices because these two states purchase the most number of books. Money talks--there's a history lesson for America. Ravitch is a former Assistant Secretary of Education.

2) More commonly known is "Lies My Teacher Told Me" by James Loewen. This is a more narrative book, retelling the common stories of American history in a more historically accurate way as compared to the way history textbooks cover them. Loewen argues that the toothless and boring telling of history in K12 history textbooks is a result of left- and right-wing groups taking the complexity of events out of children's hands. As a result, children are unable to develop critical thinking skills and an ability to understand current events from any kind of accurate historical context. He is sometimes kinder than Ravitch, arguing that the review boards may be "well intentioned." I would argue otherwise...on both sides. Loewen is a former history teacher.

3) "A People's History of the United States" is another classic by Howard Zinn, but this one is not as impartial. :) Zinn was a strong social critic and activist, with a heavy tilt toward the left. However this book is meticulously footnoted and strongly argued. He also has the decency not offered by many left- or right-wing authors to lay out his bias at the front. He said in the introduction that his book is no more impartial or neutral than any other textbook or history book..but it's no less so, either. All history books take a perspective, but the perspectives he writes about--of the downtrodden, the losers, the poor--are rarely truly covered in more traditional history books.

Today is Geek Pride Day. Here is a sampling of my geekhood. :)

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Now I'm feeling all bloggy, so I'm writing again. I feel compelled by two recent events to think through some things.

First off, an old friend from high school mentioned my rather cynical Valentine's Day entry, both to confirm my feelings and provide me with some new perspectives to think through. I really appreciated the response, and it has helped as I've mulled it over. I'm feeling a little less cynical.

Then, around the same exact time he was writing, I was hanging out with some friends--the twins' mom and dad, actually! Yay, twins! Anyway. We were talking about my lack of serious dating potential in the area, and I was set to be all jaded as usual, and then my friend said something nice. She told me that she had hope for me and what lays ahead. It made me feel good.

It took a few days for those two events to collide, but they've just done so as I've partially drifted off to sleep and back into wakefulness. In my jaded Valentine's Day post, I said how I hated when people tell me to be patient or that "it will happen" because it sounds so condescending to me. Yet, when my friend told me she had hope for me, I felt really good. I got to wondering what the big difference is between those statements that would lead to such different emotional responses on my part.

It is this:

The former statements feel condescending because they sound like the kind of thing you would tell a kid who wants a new toy. "Just ask Santa and you'll get it!!" We always say stuff like that to kids, along with telling them to ask God, or to be patient, or whatever. I interpret all these things in the same way.

The latter is not condescending because it sounds like the speaker's own personal feelings of hope and positivity on my behalf. It's not a pat on the head but a statement of personal conviction or positive energy toward how the speaker sees my fate. I interpret that as similar to a more adult compliment or statement of faith in me as a person who is capable of great things...and deserving of having great things happen to me.

I teach my students about how communication is part intention and part interpretation. I argue that interpretation is more than half of meaning making in interpersonal interaction. It's the primary force, actually, at least in my opinion. So while the intention of speakers in both these categories of statements are the same ("Chin up, Dena! Great things may be in store for you!"), their interpretation by me--and hence their practical meaning--is radically different. One instills a sense of camaraderie, the other a sense of superiority/inferiority.

So if you're looking to cheer up a single friend (or anyone about anything!), think through the interpretations of your words. What might you say to help them persevere? Try expressing your own personal hope for their future.


Saturday, May 15, 2010, was a day of universal balance. Three things happened that symbolized the true essence of existence in my little version of the world.

1) My friends' twin babies were born. The start of new life, and more importantly new life that I will be able to spoil and cuddle, began on Saturday. The twins were long expected and eagerly anticipated (not least of all by their mom who lugged them around all those months), and I can't wait to be part of their lives.

2) I watched several students I know graduate from college, finally ending their childhood in a real and significant way. While technically they have been adults for several years, it's that college graduation and entrance into the career world that really makes the transformation complete. In the coming weeks, months, and years, they will be building their adult life, along with all the intensity and randomness of the middle years.

3) My great uncle, Leonard, passed away. Mere hours before the emergence of the sweet new babies who entered the world, the world lost a great soul. Uncle Leonard was sweet, kind, and loving. He and his wife have been like a third set of grandparents for me my whole life because we celebrated Leonard's and my dad's mutual birthday every year. Leonard gave great bear hugs and loved to tease. His absence from the world is the world's loss.

All three of these things happening in one day makes me keenly aware of how time waits for no one, that we're not in control of the meandering life cycle, and that each phase of life has its small place of importance in the ongoing line of history. But even its importance is overshadowed by the relative brevity. We are who we are for as long as we are, and when we transition from life on earth to whatever comes next, we know there is someone (or, in this case 'someones'!) who will replace us and carry time forward.

In my life, right now, these new babies are delightful symbols of life moved on after the loss of another life I loved. They mean to me that I have to keep moving through the cycle in the same way that my uncle Leonard did before me and that they will after me. Leonard would love this connection of life as much as I do. Because he understood that's the balance of things.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


So I haven't been posting again. I just get a little distracted. But I'll go ahead and post today about some things that really irk me about friendship and relationships.

1) I'm more often single than not (alas), and I get really tired of being the backup friend. I'm good enough to go out with, travel with, talk to...until someone with a penis comes along. Then I'm relegated to backup status. I only get asked to entertain you when the penis-bearer is unavailable. I'm supposed to accept this as normal, reasonable behavior. To understand. To be encouraging and supportive. And then, when you break up, I'm supposed to come running back to you to help you through it and then be grateful that you suddenly have time to hang out with me again. I'm not. I think you're a jerk when you do that. And I feel very small and pathetic, like I'm a homeless dog who should be grateful to eat whatever scraps are thrown its way.

2) Don't tell me (or anyone) to "just be patient" or "it will happen." It might not, and patience won't help if it's not going to happen. It's patronizing and insulting. It sounds like pity, and I don't need any additional pity. I have enough self-pity without you adding to the mix. Thank you.

3) Don't tell me how you so often wish you were single again so you could just go out and have fun whenever you want. Bullshit. Single people aren't going out and having fun all the time, living some sort of crazy fabulous life. We're home a lot, and when we're out, we're often the third wheel. You no more wish you were single again than I wish I were a meth addict. Don't patronize me. (Are you sensing the theme?)

4) Stupid restaurants that offer buy-one-get-one-free coupons or deals frustrate me. I don't need two meals, thank you. I would very much like to have a 50% off meal, though, which is the economic equivalent. So offer me that instead of telling me I can't get a deal because I'm unattached. *I'm looking at you, Subway.*

How's that for a happy Valentine's day? Remember kids, Valentine's Day is VD.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Goals for 2010

1. Stop being negative about so many things. Being negative is a negative thing, after all.

2. Enjoy the crap out of my week in London in March.

3. Keep losing weight till I hit my ideal weight. Then keep at my ideal weight. Also, avoid becoming one of those hyper-paranoid eaters where I watch every ounce of weight and every calorie every day. Just be cool with how I look without being obsessive.

4. Relatedly, find some sort of physical activity that is both good exercise and enjoyable. And that doesn't require good weather, considering where I live.

5. Be more opinionated and independent and less submissive. (Haha. Just kidding.)

6. Be more proactive in my social life. I need to do a better job of seeking out friends and maintaining the friendships I have. I have been pretty bad at that in La Crosse, and it has to stop if I'm going to make a life for myself here.

7. Learn to love house cleaning. Or at least to do it, even if I don't love it.

8. Blog more. (See #5.)

9. Be okay with ending lists on a non-even number. (Goal accomplished!)