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24 July 2015


Often, in June, I have taken a break from blogging. A few weeks ago, I went further, turning all my blog posts back into drafts so that they were invisible. I intended to take a complete break from posting and perhaps return in September. I continued writing throughout my "break", but I did not share any of those dozen posts. I find I continue to write, but I am less willing to share. More recently, I turned a few of my essays back live, leaving 706 posts as "drafts" that are invisible to everyone but me. Some of my favorite essays remain drafts because they did not gather much of a readership; my more popular posts and those with comments are visible.   

I dither. 

Retirement has many meanings, and I do not intend to retire from the world. But perhaps here, my retirement has some literal meaning. 

18 July 2015


In the years I have been on Facebook and until last month, I only deleted two or three genuinely offensive posts and allowed all sorts of things to appear on my page in the name of free expression of ideas. But sometimes that meant tolerating untruths and ill manners, as well as misunderstandings and personal opinions labeled as fact. I am retired now and no longer feel an obligation to be that "fair-minded."

I announced on my Facebook page last month that I was going to begin deleting comments from my page that seemed off topic, rude, irrelevant, or that in any way I did not like having on my page. It is my page. People are free to say whatever they like on their own page.

My rainbow profile picture pretty much labels me as what I am—a liberal do-gooder. I am passionate about what I believe and some things upset me unduly, but I have no problem with controversy or debate; I have a problem with unkindness and inaccuracy. 

Some links I place on my Facebook page because I agree entirely with the author. Sometimes I only find the article interesting and worth thinking about. Sometimes I miss some rudeness in the article, or I overlook it because I believe there is something else worth sharing. I am generally a devoted fact-checker, but I make mistakes.

Some people never read carefully or consider others' ideas so they enter an argument that I never meant to start. I have always tried to be respectful of differences while I was teaching, but I am retired now and I do not have to ignore it when someone calls me a hypocrite on my page or makes unpleasant or hateful comments or fails to actually read the article they are commenting about. I am not censoring, I am keeping space for myself.

We all have our days and anyone can tell you that I am not immune from being rude, but I do try to be considerate these days. People are free to say whatever they like, just not unfairly or unkindly on my space. Life is too short.

As someone pointed out on a meme, there is a difference between banning something and choosing not to use it as an official state symbol. I have unfriended three people over the years. It made me lose sleep. A poet blocked me for posting links to Alison Bechdel on his post about writers winning the MacArther "Genius" Award. He did not know who she was or that she was an author, though it was right there on the press release he linked to. I found his ignorance surprising given that he is a smart guy and, like her, gay (which I did not say). He considered my links, posted as comments, to be intrusive and offensive. I did not mean to be rude, but that is the way he saw it. 

It is hard to have a conversation on the internet. It is easy to be misunderstood and accidentally offend someone. I never regret giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes I just do not have the patience. 

When people say something that sounds unlike what they would say to me in person, I try to consider how I might be misunderstanding them. When they say the same sort of rudeness I have come to expect from them, well, it is hard not to think maybe we should not be trying to talk about the topic online. 

I strive to be polite and sometimes I fail, but I try always to pause and reconsider before disagreeing with others on their page. If people do not like what I have written on their pages, I expect them to delete the comment and no harm done. No offense taken. I will not even know. I turned off my email notifications so I can avoid the controversy as much as I possible. 

17 July 2015


A longitudinal study recently reported in JAMA showed that children with mental health problems are more likely to have problems later in life—five times more likely. "They were tested for symptoms of common childhood psychiatric disorders such as anxiety disorder, social phobia, depression and ADHD . . . [affecting] 1 percent of the population at any given time." Even undiagnosed mental health issues triple the likelihood of legal, economic, and social struggles later in life. 

This shouldn't surprise many people, especially given that this study was conducted beginning in 1992. Mental health care has moved away from treatment and cure to management with medication. The problems studied seem to me to be impacted by the way we live and the pressure we put on children, and anyway, these children aren't expected to get better, only to have their symptoms under control. No surprise that issues continue into adulthood.  

Another study did surprise me, and it probably should not have. This concerns the price in physical health paid by those who succeed in digging their way out of poverty. In "The Paradox of Effort" The Atlantic describes one factor in economic success, self control, and how that impacts overall health and longevity. The struggle to overcome poverty kills. 

Our childhoods are inevitably part of who we are and who we become. Suffering never entirely leaves us, there is no happy ending, what we experience is dragged along behind us for the rest of our days. The impact of poverty and illness is inevitable, painful, and permanent. 

My mother was raised in a beautiful house, but also in poverty, because her parents divorced and without help, her mother worked to support them—a single mother in the midst of the Great Depression. This childhood experience impacted her for the rest of her life. She was distrusting of men, but fell hard in love again in her 80s. She hoarded and collected, but loved having money in the bank. She was nearly always kind and gentle with people, but she also had an anxiety disorder.  

My mother-in-law was also raised in poverty, but the sort of poverty people do not think existed outside of movies. Think Steinbeck's classic The Grapes of Wrath—sharecropping but more than a dozen children and her mother dies. 

Every once in a while it's brought home to me how different my childhood was from that of many of my peers. I was someplace in the middle. My parents were educated and we lived in a community with a lot of rich people in a tiny ranch house on an unpaved road. But it is mostly Gary's poor childhood that helps keep me humble. And again, we are not talking about a frugal childhood, one where parents planned carefully or were reluctant to spend money on frivolities. I am talking about not seeing the dentist or a doctor when you should, about being hungry or having to move on short notice. 

I like to believe that knowing these stories about my husband helped me as a teacher. It is so easy to forget, while teaching a novel, that my students may go home to parents with mental health issues, to poverty or alcoholism, that they might be working twenty or more hours this week, that they might have to miss school to move or to take care of a sick or younger sibling. 

What children experience, every experience, impacts their future. We can't avoid every sorrow, we cannot shelter ourselves or the ones we love from everything they face either within or without. 

We can love them. 

14 July 2015



If I stand close to the window of my classroom and look hard west, I can see the ocean. The waves seem to march endlessly to shore, but after the Alaska earthquake in in 1964, a friend of mine saw when they drew back below any low tide he’d ever seen.

The last big local quake, a magnitude 9, took place January 26, 1700. The resulting tsunami crossed an ocean and struck Japan without warning a few days later. Some people there survived to record the devastating event. No one recorded it here, not even in legend. It's likely that every human soul on what would later be called the Oregon coast drowned.

These quakes have occurred approximately every 300 years. The waves rush inland up to a hundred feet high.

There is no knowing when the sea will swing her skirts.

I always visualize myself at school when the Cascadia Fault shakes it’s shoulders free, children running and the terrible traffic as people attempt to drive across the only Seaside bridge that has been reinforced to survive a quake. I imagine myself high above Seaside, shivering and wet, surrounded by teenagers unable to use their cell phones, frantic adults, small children, and the ones who are not there, the emergency backpack containing enough supplies for a few hours.

Imagine the quake in November—the continuous rain and cold and wind. I expect to survive. This fantasy that I will live through the quaking earth and water is the reason I still live here. Whoever survives, the event will wipe every coastal community off the western lip of Oregon, leaving a litter of trees and structures and stone crushed against the coast range. 

Little will be rebuilt at sea level once we can no longer deny what could happen, but perhaps something will survive and become familiar to my granddaughter’s children. There will be new drowned forests, a remodeled coastline, the remnants of a hundred happy summers drowned in the sea. 

Perhaps my progeny will make new memories of sandcastles and beach-combing, long summer sunsets and furious winter storms. Rain will still fall. The cormorants, pelicans, and seagulls will fly.

. . . read The New Yorker. 

A version of this essay, as "The Event," appeared in a newspaper, Tillamook County Pioneer, and was read as part of Tessie Word's audio performance art, "Convergence" (2014).

The truth is that we all live in some serious denial in order to continue living here. But where is life entirely safe? We have only one poisonous spider here, no poisonous snakes. The only hurricane in the past one hundred years killed no one, though it sent a tree through the roof of a student's bedroom. The local quakes in my lifetime have been small and mostly harmless. No tornados. No one hundred degree days on my shore. No months of snow. I live in a benign landscape. I hope to continue living here all my life. But I also have my plans. I know where to run for high ground. I have my whistle and my waterproof matches. I am not a fool.

09 July 2015


A detail of the "Beach Fire" quilt's incomplete and unquilted center panel. 
Each quilt is named, as is each warp.
I am occasionally asked if I will make something to order—a commission. This is something I did do at one time when I was in art school. As a ceramics major in the 70s, I traded a handbuilt tea set for an elaborate stick pin of sterling, gold, and stones. I made a large enamel wall piece for money. I sold at craft fairs in Seattle and Bellevue. I drew portraits that went overseas. I created pen and ink illustrations and gauche paintings that became magazine covers. The pay was miserable, though still better than what I earned teaching in those days. 

That was a long time ago.  

These days I work mostly in textiles, and I do not accept commissions. I give things away. Former students who have babies, and who have stopped by to see me might receive a blanket, quilt, or handknit booties, depending on what I'm working on. I like to think the child wears the socks until they only fit a stuffed bear, that a blanket is dragged around for years until it's rags. It may not be the case. My immediate family has been known to use a handmade quilt to dry the dog. 

I put on warps specifically for friends, but so far I don't do fairs or have an Etsy shop or sell on commission. The reason is that I do not have a clientele willing to pay what these pieces are worth. A scarf donated to a fund-raser years ago was priced at $20. I bought it myself since I had at least $30 invested in the yarn to knit it. A woven scarf was estimated to be worth $75, but that would not have paid for more than materials. 

What does it cost to do what I do? Ignore the years and the hours day-dreaming. Ignore three art degrees and a lifetime of experimentation. How much does it cost? If my mother were alive, she would have penciled all this out for me years ago. Here is my first attempt to figure out the actual costs of a major project. 

My quilts begin with a plastic tub of fabric I use to collect coordinating fabrics. I buy quarter yard pieces of any fabric I like, wash, and fold it. If I find a fabric that is genuinely wonderful, I might buy a yard, or two, or five. Then if I have a plastic tub that suits its colors and patterns, I tuck it inside. If it doesn't work with anything I already have stored, it might go into limbo for years before finding its way into a project. I have about a dozen of these "project" tubs just now with future weaving or quilt projects. (I also have tubs of yarn and fabric sorted by color, but not yet in process to become anything.) Each quilt project bin contains ten or fifteen or twenty yards of fabric, perhaps fifteen or forty different fabrics. Some of these bins are relatively small, about the right size for a couple of sweaters; others are big enough to store a heavy wool winter coat. Each bin is a potential quilt.  

One example is the quilt now on the bed in our oldest son's former bedroom. I bought two yards of an extraordinary orange and smokey blue batik fabric while my son was still an undergraduate, perhaps fifteen years ago. I gathered other materials, and eventually had a project bin. And then it sat for years. I would pull the bin out, arrange the colors, and sketch possible patterns. I spent entire days staring at the fabric, trying to imagine what it wanted to be. Eventually, I figured it out, and two years ago, in the summer of 2013, I began cutting. I worked for a few weeks on it, often laying out fabric on the floor to see what worked, arranging and rearranging colors and pattern.  

Linda Pinkstaff, up at Astoria Quilting, machine quilted it in a custom pattern that we agreed on. This took the quilt out of my hands for a few weeks. When it returned, I put binding on the edges and then put it on the bed. 

Not counting the time I spent staring at the materials—which is by far the most important and lengthy part of the process—I probably spent fifty hours actually cutting and sewing. 

My costs for "Beach Fire": 
          materials, approximately $180
          machine quilting, $400
          50 hours @ $40/hour, $2000

The cost for 80" x 82" quilt would thus be priced at no less than $2580. And that does not count my design time, travel to and from, and so forth. It does not count the extra fabric wasted in tiny scraps or the fabric I bought and did not use. (The latter unused pieces will eventually be used in another project, I hope, cut smaller and smaller until Ruby and I make "leaves" out of it.)

This is not an outrageous amount to pay for a one-of-a-kind quilt, but the people who know me and ask if I do "custom work" are not interested in buying a work of art. And that is what these are. 

The baby blankets I give away cost me $150 to $200 in yarn. A handwoven scarf will cost me $50 or $80. I don't sell them either. 

Are they "worth" that much? To me, they are, but probably not to many others. My time is valuable; my experience is unique. I make these things for my own pleasure, and in the past I usually gave them to people I care about. 

I am not limited to what I can accomplish in the summer now that I am retired, so I am rethinking how to dispose of what I may be making in the next years. I had several projects that I am completing, and all those project boxes with potential quilts and warps . . . 

08 July 2015


We survived the 4th. In fact, it was relatively sane and quite beautiful. We sat out till after 10pm and then headed back inside to watch until we just couldn't stay awake. I confess I like my fireworks at a distance—a quarter mile or more away instead of overhead—but it really wasn't a scary year. We had a wide stretch of sand and other than the lanterns floating high in every direction (really, what are people thinking in such a dry summer?) we felt perfectly safe. Unlike years past, the dog and cat were frightened, and I suspect that is because of the bigger booms. It seems everyone has to blow up larger and larger bombs. Louder and louder booms. I couldn't imagine what the local birds thought about all that racket going on till after midnight. This morning they are finally singing again in the predawn chorus.

Our neighbors were on the beach, but so were a lot of people we have never seen before.

According to moving companies, Oregon is the number one moving destination in the nation. People are coming here. My husband blames the recent legalization of marijuana. I might blame hipsters and Portlandia or Grimm, but I like those shows. Fox claims this is because of the food, culture, and beauty hereCNN credits green space. It's true that my home state is very green in some parts and beautiful pretty much everywhere, but it's beautiful in many states where the economy has not tanked and the schools are better funded. Maybe some of these people could move to those other places. 

Unlike the woman who laughed about "no one was actually born here" when I asked about the ballot measure she was soliciting signatures for, I was. Born here. Native, you might say. I know the local flora and fauna. I welcome them home. 

In the mid-nineties I first saw a raven on our shore. I was running a couple of miles north and had turned for home, and there it was pecking at something on the sand. 

I knew it for a raven because soon after moving back to Oregon in 1979, I'd seen a raven and three crows on the shoulder of highway 26. Once you see a raven among crows, you will not confuse the species again. 

Yesterday morning on our walk, my husband Gary and I saw the local raven pair with their two youngsters. We were the only ones out on the beach, and that is because my husband rises at 3 in the morning, brings me coffee before 5, and is anxious to get out on the beach before anyone else. 

In the winter, in fact at most times during the school year, it has been difficult for me to join him on these walks. I no longer run, and much as I would like to believe the running will come back, I understand in my heart-of-hearts that I am demoted to walking permanently. I was a runner for 20 years. That must suffice. 

What I do now instead of my year-around-every-other-day 4 to 6 miles is a mile or so in the predawn with Gary and the dog. John, an older and even more crippled runner than I, has already been out. I admire his stubbornness but he is slow, so very slow. I will walk. 

I found a sand dollar, part of a snail, and a precious ugly-clam. There was a pit in the sand south of us. There is a lot of sand. This summer there is sand creeping 20 feet up the path Gary cleared through the rocks just a few weeks ago. 

The flow of sand from offshore bars up to the green line of the shore is a pattern we witnessed over the years. Sand moves out in fall and winter, then moves back up to make a dry sand beach sometimes. This is the beach in my mother's childhood and mine too. A hundred feet of dry, pale sand that squeaks when I drag feet through it. Our dog made the sand squeak when she ran circles yesterday. 

Further, changes may have occurred as a result of human interference, the building of jetties and dams. Recent sand erosion threatens development on some parts of Oregon's coast. In other places, sand has been building gradually in recent years.

Locally, the changes have been more dramatic. In the winter of 1998-1999, storm-driven tides tore the sand offshore and raised a high dune of rock. In some places on our beach this ridge of rock dropped abruptly 8 or 10 feet to the flatter shore. For several years, we had no dry sand at any season. 

The ridge of rock moved around, flattened, rose, and was half-buried—a new structure each year. Some years a patch of dry sand would appear north or south of us, other years it would be right out front. Then there would be a dozen strangers camped out. One day a tourist built a camp fire right in our path, at the edge of the green line. In those years where a bubble of sand attracted crowds, we might have wished for the rocks to rise again. 

This year the sand seems to have been fully restored to our beach. 

And when we go for our walks early in the morning, we can imagine that solitude has been restored to us. For most of the 36 years we have lived here, when we saw people on the beach, we knew them by name. We might visit or just wave as we crossed paths. One neighbor still shares all the local gossip. Another hands us tiny images she photographs and prints. Our dog runs in leashed loops around Gary, leaving what we call crop circles. 

As a recently retired person, I look forward to year round walks with my husband. That is not something we have had opportunity to do except on summer mornings when we can pretend to be the only ones here. 

Morning provides ample evidence of visitors, strangers. I hope they are enjoying their time at the beach. I hope they leave the drift logs unburned, leave the birds unharrassed, take their beer cans to be recycled, and that they turn out their lights when they go to bed. 

I can not stop change. I cannot have things my way. But in the morning, before our walk, I can hear the ocean. I can listen for birds and the rush of wind through spruce limbs. I can be grateful to have lived here long enough to see the sand return. 

The sand never disappeared. It merely went somewhere else. 

05 July 2015


“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”—Erma Bombeck 

A friend of mine died just a couple of years ago. She was a child in Europe during WW2 and was visiting here in Oregon on the coast during our 4th of July in the 80s. It was a horrific experience for her. Since then, many of my students have returned home and a few have not returned after serving their country. Many of them suffer lasting injury, physical and mental, from their service. But the most impactful story to me was one explained by the daughter of a man who fought in the first Gulf War and how changed he was, how damaged from his terrible experience. 

It is supposed to be the winning side that gets to tell history, but the treasonous rebels in our Civil war have been rewriting history for 150 years. "Eventually, 90,000 Kentuckians would fight for the United States, while 35,000 fought for the Confederate States. Nevertheless, according to historian Thomas Clark, the state now has 72 Confederate monuments and only two Union ones.'It's time we called them on it. The Civil War was about slavery.' " Despite a century and a half of trying to make it about something else, it is time to admit we fought a war about ownership of people, and many statements made before and during that war make that abundantly clear. 

After opting a link about this, a FB friend posted back: "There are many people who are filled with fear at the sight of a pirate flag as they have had life threatening experiences at the hands of today's pirates. We should outlaw all pirate flags and skull and crossbones emblems and symbols. All fireworks should also be abolished because of their impact on soldiers at home who are suffering from PTSD after serving in action." 

So perhaps you can understand why I began with the story of my friend who could still not stand to hear explosions forty years after the fact. (Perhaps the FB poster is being sincere or perhaps sarcastic, because I feel a disconnect between the beginning and ending of his comment.) I posted about this very issue on FB: . . . “the patients [veterans] asked for a separate group where they could talk about the heavier stuff, the guilt stuff” because we do not only ask them to die for us, and they suffer from having done things against their moral code. Set aside the rah-rah for a moment and consider how necessary actions continue to pain our veterans long after society considers their work "over and done".

I find it ironic that the very people I know who are so insistent about the respecting the Pledge and "honoring the flag" are the very people who seem not to understand why this emblem is problematic. My father, who served in the Army in Europe (in Germany) during WW2, used to shake his head at people's ignorance and misunderstanding of our history.

A friend sends holiday cards that, for whatever holiday, consistently include a message about people "actively seeking to destroy our nation and the Constitution." Like most Americans, it's unlikely that this man has actually read the Constitution. Ever. He has plenty of conspiracy theories and a lot of fear, but no reason. For many years I required all my students to memorize The Preamble to the Constitution. It's a carefully worded document, hammered out behind closed doors and, as Janis Ian points out in a meme, with no mention of God whatsoever, but with concern for a more perfect Union.

Look again at the photo up top taken shortly after dawn this morning. Two American flags fly on the beach. They were left out all night, hanging from sticks because someone thought that was what it means to be patriotic. (According to official guidelines: "Traditional guidelines call for displaying the flag in public only from sunrise to sunset. However, the flag may be displayed at all times if it’s illuminated during darkness.") In fact they were disrespecting the flag. In a dissimilar manner a man was wearing our nation's flag cut into shorts on the street in Seaside this morning disrespected the flag. 

But fireworks on the 4th? 

I have issues there too. I love fireworks. At a distance. I do not enjoy them directly overhead. I am horrified by fireworks mistakenly fired sideways, handled by young children, and booming at all hours of the day and night.

There were hundreds of fires in every metropolitan area of our country yesterday. Dogs cowered, veterans mentally prepared themselves for explosions that are mostly illegal, and we watched lanterns float high overhead and sometimes directly over our house on an exceptionally dry 4th. 

Yesterday I made potato salad and stayed out till 10 watching the displays. The explosions ended after midnight. This morning there are newly dead birds all over the beach between the debris from legal and illegal fireworks. 

"The business aspects of the Fourth of July is not perfect as it stands. See what it costs us every year with loss of life, the crippling of thousands with its fireworks, and the burning down of property. It is not only sacred to patriotism and universal freedom, but to the surgeon, the undertaker, the insurance offices - and they are working it for all it is worth."—Mark Twain, 4 July 1899, "The Day We Celebrate"

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