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19 June 2014


for Joe [an old essay, updated & posted because he asked]

Whatever they told you, this is what I know about runner’s high.  It happens for different people at different times, and it’s more than something runners feel.  It’s the same rush of overwhelming satisfaction that a writer feels when he finally gets the story right, the same as the painter when the brushwork reflects the vision she held in her mind at the start, like when someone you adore calls you at the end of a hard day, and pretty close to watching your children laugh in a playground.  It’s glory, it’s a gift.  After twenty years, I know runner's high is more than the satisfaction of a job well done, the unconscious pay back for effort and control and for hard, hard work.  I know you have to earn it.  

At the beginning I knew nothing.  Twenty years ago I could not run a full block without panting.  I was middle aged and out of shape.  I had to take it slow.  But as soon as people learned I was running I began hearing about runner’s high.  It was supposed to be an endorphin rush, an intoxicating sensation of well being, something runners felt every time, or maybe you only felt it sometimes, or once you’re in shape, or maybe it’s a phantom, an illusion, an invention of runners.  I heard all kinds of stories about what I was supposed to feel once I’d run enough.  And I wasn’t getting it.  What I felt was out of breath, odd twinges here and there, and tired even though my muscles were beginning to feel firm even when I relaxed on the couch.  Shelley Reece, a poet I know, told me I would feel runner’s high when I could run a mile.  I increased my runs very gradually and had built up to about three quarters of a mile when Shelley told me that.  

When I could run a full mile and felt nothing special except strength and optimism, I thought maybe all that talk about endorphins was just one of those stories after all.  And then I hit my stride, I achieved condition and made the stretch to over two miles.  I ran to the end of the beach and most of the way home and arrived triumphant and glowing, blowing air, wisps of hair stuck to my forehead, my running clothes stained with sweat.  Nothing hurt, but I didn’t think it was runner’s high.  For the rest of the summer I had a great time increasing my distance gradually to six miles.  I found my pace and pushed for distance, paid attention to the placement of my feet, the angle of my head, the use of my arms.  I counted breaths and relaxed the muscles I wasn’t using.  The ocean breeze brushed my skin, damp and chill like a lick of the air brushing the tiny hairs backwards.  I focused my attention deliberately on relaxing the tension in my fingers, dropping my shoulders, pushing out just that little bit further with each stride.  I watched for birds and and surf and I learned to bind my hair tightly to my head so it wouldn’t slap the back of my neck.  It felt terrific to be out and running, but intoxication wasn’t part of the pay off. 

In the fall I began running with the local high school cross country team and found that teenagers never talk about runner’s high.  Some of these kids were in their fourth year of cross country, had trained all summer, and would complete their season at the State meet, a few had been too busy working all summer or were new to the sport.  I had the disadvantage of thirty extra years and the advantage of a summer of hard training.  My endurance was better than most, but my cross training and hill work were weak.  I’d been running on the flat wet sand in front of my house all summer, and I could go the distance, but the games the team played chasing Frisbees and chasing over rolling ground wore me out.  I came home after practice, my legs heavy as lead, my brain blurry from exhaustion, fell into bed early each night, and dropped fifteen pounds in the first nine weeks of the season.  Still, I was proud of my conditioning and  I was looking for a challenge.    

I decided to participate in a community run organized by the local health club.  Five miles through town, up to Ecola Park and back to the health club.  The other runners were adults, mostly male, mostly taller and younger than me.  The morning was chill and gray, bright under high clouds, a light wind playing the scent of the ocean across my face.  I was nervous, wriggling my toes inside my shoes, readjusting the ties, and tugging at my stretchy running gear.  I didn’t want to look foolish.  But this was not a race and I didn’t need to prove anything on this “fun run”.  Everyone was on their own, no one was keeping time.  A dozen of us hopped around and stretched while the organizers described the route before we headed off.  We began on the beach along the tideline, my favorite footing, reliable and forgiving.  During the first mile I ran carefully past the familiar early stabs in my right shin until I was completely comfortable, striving to run light with little sound.  “Quiet feet are happy feet,” said a varsity member of the high school team I had been running with for weeks by then.  

When the route turned back into town I struggled through the loose dry sand, swung my arms wide, and cursed the footing, but soon we crossed to stable, if harder, pavement.  Nearly two miles into our run we headed up hill onto the Ecola Park road, a steep incline which wound through trees high above the town, and abruptly it began to rain.  Over the sound of my own breathing I could hear water dripping from branch to branch, the patter of drops on patches of roadway open to the sky.  The wet brought up the smell of hemlock and spruce needles, the final sweet hurrah of blackberries dropping from the vine.  I listened for the distant thunder of the sea, but all the sound was the rain and my own body working.  I had to pause the rhythm of my breath in order to swallow, breathe deeply afterward to make up the lost oxygen.  On the wet sand at the beginning of the run, the sound of my feet had been muffled, but now on the pavement under the trees my heels struck with a sharp clunk, a faint grit as I rolled my foot off the tips of my toes.  My shins did not hurt and I tried to keep my feet quick.  I remembered to drop my shoulders against increasing fatigue, but though I had already stripped off my jacket, even as the chill autumn rain became a downpour, I was working hard enough to stay warm.  

Shortly before reaching the official entrance to the park at the top of the hill, we found the three mile turnaround marker and I reached out and tagged the rough bark with my cold fingers.  “It’s here!” I shouted to the runner a hundred yards behind me.  I grinned because I knew most of the next mile would be downhill.  I had been keeping pace with a man who was close to my age, and he had been a good motivator to me to keep up my pace.  Ahead of him for most of the run uphill, I had decided I wanted to keep it that way.  Nothing hurt, everything was working.  I was feeling the workout, not so much for the distance but for the challenging incline, but I felt strong, and when I broke out of the trees near the bottom of the hill, just before coming in sight of town, I realized two things:  the rain was a full-bore storm, blowing like crazy, rain so thick I could hardly see where I was running, and I was laughing like a crazy person!  I felt great and I knew, This is it!  runner’s high!  I’ve got it!  I was still tired and my fingers were stiffening from the bite in the air.  I was breathing like a cart horse and my feet weren’t quiet any more.  I was running in huge strides down the center of the road while every sensible person had found shelter to wait out the weather, and absolutely none of that mattered!  If anything hurt, I wasn’t noticing.  I grinned for the rest of the run, thudding across earth trails to clack on pavement and back to trails, increasing speed as I went.  When I arrived at the end of my run, I bent at the waist and breathed twice deeply before turning my flushed face to my husband.  He reached his arm around my back and I felt the heat of his warm arms around me, his voice asking if I was okay, and I laughed with my overwhelming feeling of joy, just like I did on my wedding day.  

That gift of bliss and absolute, intoxicating well being happens for me sometime after thirty minutes of very hard work.  That’s when I catch myself grinning.  I can’t help myself.  Glee rushes around behind my eyes and ripples all the way down to my toes.  Usually I’m not anticipating that because I’ve focused on what I’m doing, monitoring my pace, the way I’m setting my feet, using my arms.  And then it happens.  I’m grinning like a fool.  I might be near the end of a workout or nearer the beginning, but I feel it.  It is real.  

I don’t know exactly what runner’s high is, I don’t even care.  But I guarantee you that when it happens for you, you’ll have earned it.  

31 May 2014


It's possible that I will become restless in a couple of weeks and begin posting regularly again, but that is not my intention. I have posted daily for three months and it's time to do something else. 

Perhaps I will be back in September. In the mean time, thank you for reading. 

30 May 2014


My weirdness

I believe deep down that I should not step on cracks, even though my mother's back was broken long ago and I had nothing to do with it. I only held her hand for hours while she was dying. I have a secret confidence that life will balance itself out despite the reality that it never does and some people suffer too much and others, I fear, will not suffer enough to teach them a damned thing. Suffering, however, does not make us stronger or in any way better and I wish no one harm. That is the ultimate cruelty, to wish suffering on another, so I amend my previous concern about those who do not "suffer enough." We all have too much and most of us soldier on anyway, though hobbling and sore from the effort. 

I believe if I fail to make time to create something, I will succumb to madness. Touching with my hands the wool and cloth, these keys under my fingers; designing plans and imagining new lessons for my students—making new things—is necessary. The making of things is essential to my mental health. No one will convince me otherwise. Without creation, I would fall prey to sadness and depression, and a lifelong struggle to be a better person would die. I would become the other thing: the whining, self-absorbed, depressed, and useless artifact. 

I would never collar an alligator or eat raw chicken or expect someone to take my place… though for this latter I am occasionally grateful when it happens. 

It is past dawn and the birds sing. The ocean drags its tongue across our sand and rocky shore. Though my students sometimes behave as if their education were a competitive sport, I know better. It's my job to teach them. 

I believe teaching keeps me moving. 

ABOVE: I know nothing about Andréa Balt. If she's a great writer or philosopher, I'm thankful to have found her, but even if she's no one I would like to know, I still thank her for the words on the meme above. It is close to my current birthday wish. I also thank Dorianne Laux and Kim Addonizio for their poetry book, The Poet's Companion, which is my inspiration to keep going at this time of the year. Two more weeks...

29 May 2014


Reading Rainbow star Levar Burton has a Kickstarter campaign to bring Reading Rainbow back with all the current bells and whistles and completely free for today's classrooms.

I love that he filmed his Kickstarted in my classroom, Room 24. (Though before you get too excited, you might want to follow the link to The Washington Post.)

The show was a gift to young readers, and I applaud this new program. 

Probably the greatest gift a parent can give a child is insisting that children attend school every day. Beginning in kindergarten, absences predict a hard time in school. Many students struggling in high and who require school support programs are not disabled by anything but absences—often the equivalent of years of absences by the time they near graduation… if they graduate at all.  

Second to attendance, giving books is the greatest gift. Reading to children from infancy is wonderful, of course, and the mere presence of books in the house predicts greater success. Children of parents with less education benefit the most from having books in their home

We need to get books into the hands of children beginning in infancy. It would also help if parents got off their devices long enough to model the reading habit. Parents, if our children are learning how to swipe a screen before they can turn a page, pause and consider that reading will do more to guarantee our children's futures than introducing technology to infants. There is plenty of time for that after age two.

Being involved with our children and their educational lives is the best predictor for completion of high school and later success in life. There are always exceptions, but reading to our children when they are little, ensuring that they attend school every day they are not actually too sick to go, and having books in the home—especially books that belong to the child—predict a brighter future.

And Reading Rainbow hopes to help!

I just pledged $100. The deadline for the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter is the 2nd of July. There are still 34 days to support this effort, and at the rate it's going they will double or triple their original goal. That would be a very good thing. 

Or would it? I am already second guessing my support. This Kickstarter is a for-profit company, and the most obvious and direct goal isn't to get kids reading books, but to get them using devices, their devices. "You Might Want to Reconsider" warns an article in The Washington Post. Maybe too late for me, but not too late for you to go buy an actual, hold-in-your-hands, honest-to-goodness book for a child. Or read Jezabel's counter to the Post's cynicism: "[which] fundamentally misunderstands the point of Reading Rainbow, painting it as, frankly, kind of a luxury. That's B.S. The program wasn't about how to read, but rather why." So I guess I'm okay with where my hundred bucks is going... but I'm still buying some books.

Get off devices and into books. 

And by getting off devices, I am talking about phones and such. Yesterday in a waiting room I watched a toddler spill his water bottle all over the floor. Mom was up and sopping up the wet immediately. Dad never even glanced up from his phone. Which parent is modeling adult behavior? 

One way to help kids become lifelong readers is to donate books for children.

28 May 2014


Two cities, three hospitals, four receptionists, three ER docs, three ophthalmologists, two surgeons, six nurses, four techs, and an anesthesia nurse. 

The plan was to write about Pacifica Projects today, or about people who tell me how to feel, or sleep, or maybe even about portfolio assessment. I have drafts of those posts saved. I did not intend to start over here with something new. I really didn't want to write about anything serious today instead of bird song and rain and the light building slowly in the east. 

Yesterday I needed to find my way across OHSU alone. 

But first I needed directions. How do I get from the sixth floor surgical unit post-op at The Casey Center back to the ER parking lot north of the ER and then drive back to pick up Gary from Casey? 

The woman at the reception desk who had promised a map was gone home by the time I needed it. Instead I checked the packet of information, found the map, and planned to walk the roadway. Though the official map didn't show the entire road, I was sure I could get there that way. I am not afraid to ask directions, so after walking a few hundred yards, I asked the three hospital employees at the first bus stop if the road would get me back to the main entrance and from there to the ER. "You don't mean to walk the road?" Apparently this isn't done. "Go back, through the garage, take the elevator as high up as you can and then cross to the main hospital." 

I went all the way back to the surgical unit. The post-op nurse asked if I preferred directions or a map. "I'm not good at maps," she said. I confessed that I was not good at directions. 

And then I remembered my primary teacher (Second Grade?) having us create maps showing our walk from our home to school. We had to draw it to scale with labels on the streets. We measured the distances with our own footsteps. It might have been my first experience with drafting. I know I drew and redrew that map. Erasing was not enough to get it right. I had to start over more than once. So revision and drafting in grade school  I also learned a great deal about maps. 

As a child, I memorized several poems, perhaps one each year in grade school, and I still recall, for example, most of poems by Frost and Sandburg's "little cat feet."

I learned parts of speech by doing sentence diagramming, which I loved. 

I wrote reports on states and birds and countries and George Washington Carver and Elizabeth Blackwell. We wrote dozens of these reports mostly from encyclopedias, though always with more than two sources. That was required.

I learned to write a formal outline, and to use notecards in order to organize my essays. This approach was terribly difficult for me. I am a spacial, nonlinear, abstract-random, visual sort of thinker. Formal outlines were a trial for me, almost literally painful. Whenever I could, I avoided doing them. Despite that, I learned to create a linear outline of my writing, and later I learned from that organizational tool how to do algebra and to show my work in Geometry proofs; create art works that required many steps be completed in a specific order; and in college I even used the structure to take notes in lecture classes. And, of course, I learned how to write an organized essay. 

Though writing doesn't need to be completed in a linear fashion, most often it is read that way, and understood that way by readers. I hated outlining, but I learned to do it so well that I forgot it had ever felt unnatural to me.

Here we have a problem. Not everything I did in school still needs to be taught—salt and flour maps were fun but mostly gone, I think. Using the Periodical Index. Typing (literal typing) is gone. There must be many things I was taught and which are no longer taught because they are unnecessary. But some things still are necessary, even if they are gone from the curriculum. 

My students do not know how to create a formal outline. As best I can tell, none of their grade school teachers taught them to write an outline. For the linear thinkers this structure would have been a treat; for the rest of us, it is merely necessary. When I asked one class about outlining, only two of my students even understood what I was talking about. These two had learned formal outlining in schools in other states. The rest of my students didn't even understand the concept. 

The inability to construct a linear plan helps explain why so many of my students might, for example, include a paragraph about costs of a program on page 3 but the paragraph about fund-raising doesn't appear until page 6. They don't notice how the two ideas might be connected until I point it out to them. 

A few of my current students memorized The Preamble, which I assign each year, in fifth grade. A few have memorized a poem. Perhaps some elementary teacher in my district still teaches outlining? Perhaps the standard graphic organizer for the much-maligned five paragraph essay is being taught so that I can teach how to make it better? I don't know. 

After twenty years service to my district's steering committees, a conversation among elementary teachers revealed so much—too much—about what was not being done in pursuit of what "had" to be done to address specified learning goals that I had to resign. I couldn't listen to it any more. I began to rethink my views on private schooling. It was all too depressing. 

What this post is about, then, is not my husband's detached retina, which was scary enough, but another scary thing. No one is teaching my students how to organize their thoughts in a linear way. This lack will impact them not only in my classes, but in Algebra and Geometry, and many other places where it is necessary to think logically and to order ideas and to rank from main idea to detail.

I walked south to north, through six buildings using oral directions, a map, and landmarks from the passage hours before to find my car and go back the other way. I walked the reversal of the path my husband and the first of the ophthalmologists followed getting us from the ER to Casey, walking right through the ER unit to get to the street where I could see the garage I'd parked in hours before. Then I drove my car on the plan described by the post-op nurse, in reverse. The map below is one I found today, not the one I had when I was negotiating elevators and hallways and roadways at OHSU yesterday evening. I think if I'd had this map, I would not have retraced my steps and started over. Even now, studying it, I can see an easier path than the one I took. I was never lost, but following a map makes such a journey easier.

How to get from here to there. Tell me or draw me a map or I might recall the pathway from previous experience. There are many methods, but they all require a process and a destination. 

They all require that you be certain about where you want to go. They all require measuring your way with your own footsteps.

27 May 2014


It has been many years since I hiked Tillamook Head. We didn't go the whole way, just from Indian Beach to the lookout and back, but I got a workout. 

All photos above by Madora Lawson. Below, the end of our day.

26 May 2014


There were a couple reasons I worked my way through college. No one else would pay. It wasn't that my parents could not afford to help me, though that is what I believed at the time. And I wanted to go to college. 

It did not occur to me that college was supposed to prepare me to earn my way or that I might be wasting my money or that I would fail in college. None of that concerned me. I pursued education because I wanted to know more and I valued what college would teach me. I thought it was part of growing up to go to college.  

Once I was there I discovered that the most marvelous thing about college was that it wasn't high school. 

The cliques were gone, the judgements, the stupid conversations about who said what, the clothing, the hallways of people staring… 

The war finally ended. There were veterans in my classes who had life experience wholly different from my own. I met people who had attended prep schools and others from Nigeria and Haiti, people who lived in ashrams and with four generations of their Greek immigrant family. 

It wasn't always easy to be independent. I worked part time year around. We lived in a really awful apartment building, but we could walk to class. We did not own a car. We did not drink, smoke, or use drugs. We never went to Hawaii or anywhere else on an exotic vacation. We didn't vacation at all. 

We ate simple meals, that I almost always cooked myself. Each term a coupon in the University Book Store student packet offered a Mexican dinner out that we could afford. We went out for pizza sometimes. We had department potlucks that introduced me to chapatis and yams without marshmallows. 

I remember it all with great fondness. Today I remember the ones who did not come home, the ones who came home changed, the ones who deserved better. 

College was one of the good times of my life. The ideas… the possibilities… the conversations and people and books I read… 

Today, I could not have done what I was able to do in the 70s: Support myself and pay my own tuition and expenses while working a minimum wage job

What it would cost to make college free: Apparently nothing at all beyond what we already spend as a nation. 

What would it cost if my students failed to attend? Just about everything.

ABOVE: “Woman reading a possession order” by Tom Hunter (left) is a straightforward allusion to “A girl reading a letter by an open window” by Vermeer. 

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