Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Not What We Had Planned

Last Friday I had to make one of my periodic trips to Nashville. My husband came with, and somewhere on the trip home, lunch or dinner, ate a bunch of salmonella and got terribly, terribly sick. He was admitted to the hospital in the wee hours of Saturday morning and stayed there until yesterday. He's never before been so ill.

I had been planning to leave for my annual trip to Florida, to ride with my friends Angelica and Betty, on Sunday afternoon-I'd shipped my horse down a week early, for some training-but of course I put that off. I'm ashamed to say that when I was younger I might have felt a frisson of disappointment or ill-usage about not getting my treat on schedule; it wouldn't have kept me from taking care of my husband, but it would have made me less happy about it. Thankfully I seem to have grown up. I didn't  feel anything beyond profound sympathy for my suffering husband, and gratitude that I could help him, because, frankly, our hospital did a pretty crap job of things and it was good he had me for an advocate.

His room had a sign on its door that said, "name alert." I thought that was odd, as Bradley isn't exactly a difficult name. But my husband explained that it meant there were two people with the same or very similar last names on the floor, so the sign alerted staff to be sure they were treating the correct one.

On Monday I was waiting to take the elevator to get some lunch when another woman came and waited beside me. She was middle-aged, overweight, and had the dazed and rumpled look of someone who'd been trying unsuccessfully to sleep in the clothes she was wearing. In short, much like me. I yawned, hugely, several times, then apologized. I told her that my husband had salmonella poisoning, that I'd been unable to sleep the night before, and and that I'd been trying to nap in the room but all the noise from the machines made it impossible.

She nodded wearily. "I stayed the night here and I was up all night," she said. "This morning I was so tired I couldn't stop crying." She said that her husband had cancer. "They just told us he wouldn't ever leave the hospital," she said. She drew in a huge breath. "This isn't what we had planned."

We rode the elevator down in silence. As we got out I told her that I was sorry about her husband, that I would pray for him and her family. "Thank you, honey, and I'll pray for yours," she said.  She repeated, "This isn't what we had planned."

Later that day I saw her walk into the other patient room tagged with a "name alert" sign. Her husband has the same last name as mine.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Pleasant Riff on Being Transgender

Lent Day 2, and already I've had to stop myself twice from typing something snarky. Not here but on Facebook--but I think snark is snark, and sadly I seem to enjoy it.

I went to the library today--finally found my long-overdue books, one under the sofa and the other mysteriously in my daughter's room--perused the new YA shelves as I always do, and was pleased and a bit surprised--though I shouldn't have been, we have such a fabulous YA librarian--to see the book Some Assembly Required. Some of you might know an older (and very good) book by that title, by Anne Lamott, but this is a new book by Arin Andrews, and the subtitle is The Not-So Secret Life of a Transgender Teen.

I'd already read the book, last week, when I decided that I really didn't know much about what it was like to be transgender. I still don't know with my emotions--I've always felt female--but I now know better with my mind.

As I was walking out of the library, I got an email from my alma mater, Smith College, updating me on a survey they're doing regarding gender. Smith is and always has been a women's college that does not admit men to its undergraduate programs. They're now trying to decide what exactly they mean by "women" and "men" in terms of transgender students. I'm glad they're thinking about it because I've realized it's a more complicated question than I thought.

People can be born with XY genes (genetically male) but lacking the ability for their cells to respond to testosterone, either wholly or partially, making them appear to be physically female, or indeterminate.  People can be born with the genotype XXY and with either male or female genitalia. They can be born with the genotype XX, genetically female, and yet have male external genitalia. In all of those cases, the person's core feeling of self might match either their genes or their genitals.

I know, personally, one trans-male person. He used to babysit for my children. He's a really nice guy, and I like all his family too, especially his mom who is a friend of mine. I can't imagine what it was like for her to realize that a child she thought was her daughter was more correctly her son, but I think she's handled--is handling? his transition well. He is foremost her child, and she loves him.

I didn't know nearly as much about range of possibilities for human gender, both anatomically and genetically, two weeks ago. It hasn't taken me long to learn. I hope other people will take the time to learn, too; I hope lots of Bristol teens will read Some Assembly Required. I would like a world where we all get to express who we are, who we were created to be.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Different Lent

It's absolutely snowing like mad outside, a near-whiteout of huge whirling flakes. According to the radar it isn't actually snowing at all, and the forecast was for less than an inch of accumulation. We've had at least three, by my sidewalk reckoning, and it doesn't appear to be stopping soon. My daughter has been off school three days and has almost no likelihood of going tomorrow, when the high for the day is 9. (Our average high this time of year is 50. Around here schools are often delayed for temperatures below 10, because we have them so rarely that kids really don't have the appropriate outwear.) My daughter is getting a little (lot) stir-crazy. I, on the other hand, am in heaven (except for the barn chores). I really like to hibernate now and then. Everything in my week has been cancelled, and there is damn-all I can do about it so I may as well be happy.

It's Ash Wednesday. I nearly always attend Mass on Ash Wednesday because I like receiving ashes on my forehead. I won't make it into church today, but I'm still thinking about Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, and what I want it to mean for me this year.

When I was a kid I usually gave up popcorn for Lent. This was painful; we ate a lot of popcorn on winter evenings in my house. Sometimes I gave up chocolate, which was also hard. As an adult I've been more prone to adding something to my life rather than subtracting. One year I prayed the rosary every day.

It does not make a whit of difference to God if I go without popcorn for 40 days. Nor, I think, is God enhanced by my prayer. But it might make a difference in me.

I've been doing a lot of yoga lately. I plan to blog about that soon. One of the things I've really liked about yoga is how my teachers stress that it is a practice. We practice yoga. We don't perfect yoga. We don't have to be good at it or skinny or bendy, we just have to show up on our mats and try.

In a similar way I want to show up this Lent. I want to allow myself to grow closer to God, and to my ideal self as I am created to be. Which is why I'm writing a vastly different blog post than the one I had planned for today.

I was going to write a rant about something that's really driving me crazy. I've already talked it all out with my daughter, and I even had internet examples to back up my side.

Then I thought, maybe for Lent, I'll give up arguing. Maybe I'll give up rants. Maybe I'll try to write about just the good things.

So this is the start: snow, ashes, a cup of green tea. The noise the wind makes against my window. Forty days of harmony. I can practice. I can try.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Grateful for Flush Toilets

So. I can't get down my snow-covered driveway. My son is sick far away, where I can't tend him. ISIS is beheading Coptic Christians; politicians are spouting stupidities in public where people can hear them. Also, on Thursday it's supposed to be -17 degrees. Fahrenheit.

Here. Where it is never supposed to be -17 degrees.

So I've decided to replace my usual rant with a list of things I am grateful for. I don't mean big things, God, family, friends, love, the glories of modern medicine and technology. I'm talking prosaic. It's the everyday we tend to take for granted. (Also. I've been reading Ian Mortimer's books.)

I am grateful for my washing machine. Have you ever read accounts of laundry day anytime before, say, 1920? Makes you shiver in your bones. I think if pioneer women could see my Kenmore washer, they would throw themselves across it and weep.

Ditto the toilet. Now I have used many an outhouse in my day, but I have never, ever, had to cope with a night jar. And I am grateful.

I'm grateful for disposable paper hygiene products. All sorts, tp, tampons, menstrual pads, but especially Kleenex, which prevents me from having to use upwards of 3000 (non-disposable, and probably requiring ironing) handkerchiefs a day.

Wicking sports fabric. Riding and yoga are so much more fun now that my sweat doesn't make my shirt weigh 40 pounds.

TIVO. I never thought I'd say it, but this, like having separate closets, has been a source of harmony in my marriage. It means I don't have to force my husband to watch Downton Abbey on Sunday nights. I don't have to force him to watch Downton Abbey ever. What's not to love?

Anti-depressants. Oooh, baby. For the misinformed, these are not "happy pills." These are "anti-suicidal thoughts" pills. (Okay, maybe they are happy pills--in that my friends and family are really happy that I'm not depressed.)

Book reviews. I love them. I love all of them. I love good reviews that orient me towards books I would not otherwise read, and I love bad reviews that keep me away from others. I love reading reviews of my own books, even when I itch to correct their mistakes (Ada isn't locked in a basement, she's up on the third floor--which might be the fourth floor here in America). Last week I had a five-letter review of TWTSML, on Goodreads: "Harsh reality and riveting sweetness." Doesn't the phrase "riveting sweetness" kind of rock your world? It did mine. Until my husband, who loves word games, started coming up with replacements for "riveting." Cloying. Sticky. Revolting. Etc.

That's enough to go on with. I'm off to watch Downton since my world is hemmed with snow.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Gallileo's birthday, trust, and freedom.

It strikes me sometimes how many of us approach religion from a sense of exclusion, fear, and guilt, when we're clearly taught, over and over, that we're meant to live in inclusion, trust, and freedom. I mean, how many times in the bible does some sort of heavenly presence (God, angel, etc.) reveal itself to a human (Moses, Mary, etc.) and its very first words are, "Fear not"? Because the human is afraid.

We are meant to trust God entirely, and we're meant to love each other, entirely, without exception. That's pretty much it. Instead we divide ourselves into groups and argue over minutiae, and that comes from fear, not trust. From hate, not love.

Today is Gallileo's birthday. In the early 17th century, armed with the newly-invented telescope and a brilliant mathematical mind, Gallileo discovered that the Earth and other planets revolved around the sun. Before that, everyone had assumed that since the earth was the ultimate form of God's creation, everything in the universe must revolve around it.

At the time, nearly all Christians were Roman Catholic. The Pope denounced Gallileo as a heretic and threw him in jail for 9 years, only releasing him when Gallileo recanted.

Nowdays, of course, we have no problem with the idea that the earth moves around the sun. Indeed, I would say that the majority of people understand and believe that the sun is only one of a countless number of stars in a universe far vaster and more complicated than 17th-century humans ever imagined. It is, in fact, more wonderful.

This illustrates why I get so frustrated with Christians that attempt to put God in a box. Why did the pope denounce Gallileo? Fear. The idea went that if Christians came to believe that the earth revolved around the sun, they would cease to believe that God created the Earth. The newly discovered truth would uproot Christianity.

It actually did no such thing. The idea that the universe was bigger and more complicated than just the Earth didn't seem to diminish anyone's belief in God.

Gallileo himself said, "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect, has intended us to forgo their use."

Someone that goes with "Fear not!" I can see it. Can you?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Contempt and Mercy: The Vaccine Debate

The parents in the waiting rooms of children's hospitals give each other soft, sympathetic glances. Rich, poor, black, white, we're all in the same boat, and it isn't a good one. We feel ourselves sinking. Meanwhile we give each other sidelong glances, quick smiles, and look away. Too much sympathy is heartbreaking too.

I can't tell the whole story here because it is not mine.

In the waiting rooms of children's hospitals some of the children are bald. They are tiny toddlers or sullen teens. They are, every one of them, gorgeous. They are breathtakingly beautiful, tenacious and frail. You find yourself praying for them, Dear God, don't let them die.

If cancer doesn't kill them, chicken pox might. These children's immune systems have been destroyed. They can be put in grave danger by anything, any virus, any germ, any microorganism at all.

In the hallway of a children's hospital, during an epidemic of influenza several years ago, nurses grabbed the arm of every single child that walked by. Patient, sibling, visitor. They hauled that child into a room that was usually a playroom but had become an influenza vaccination center. The nurses asked, "Is this child immunosuppressed? Has this child already had a flu vaccine?" If the answers were not yes, the parent was handed a consent form to sign and the child was vaccinated. Period. The End.

The parents didn't argue. They didn't bring up discredited scientific studies or random noncausitive correlations. (I've noticed that there are more cell phones these days. Does cell phone use cause autism?) They didn't complain about the very slight chance of a febrile seizure. They signed the consent forms and bared their children's sweet slender arms.

Why? Why no howls of protest? Because they were standing in a room in a children's hospital. They already knew what real danger was. Their hearts were already broken by those tender bald children down the hall.

In my hometown newspaper this morning, a letter to the editor saying that vaccinations should be a choice parents could ignore said in part (I swear I am not making this up.): "Do your research on the Web. If what you read doesn't ring true to you, then ignore it."

Feel free, please, to stick your head in the sand. Believe that the Government and the Doctors and everyone else is trying, for some nefarious purpose unknown, to cause your child harm. Imagine yourself some monsters.

Unless you've ever sat in the waiting rooms of children's hospitals. Then you'll know what the real monsters are, and you'll see the faces of children you'd do anything to save. Vaccination? Yes please. My God.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Twitter Rocks My World

I'm really starting to love Twitter, and my husband is really starting to hate that I do. This is because every time someone tweets me, or replies to one of my tweets, or forwards one of my tweets, or favorites one of my tweets (note to my children: notice the correct application of the word "tweet." I've quit calling it a "twit.") I get an email notification. And because my husband and I share an email address, he also gets an email notification. Onto his phone.

Yes, I know I could stop that happening by changing my settings. Thing is, I like getting emails about my tweets. It's all interconnected and fun.

So far, the tweets that have generated the most emails are the large discussions I have with other writers on the following topics: 1) books worth reading; 2) authors worth reading; 3) fonts; and 4) historically accurate vs. inaccurate clothing. Books and authors are pretty self-explanatory but you'd be surprised by how many of my acquaintances get really exercised about fonts. One writer explained that she submits manuscripts in standard 12-point Times New Roman, but she writes in 14-point Arial. LIKE THIS. Another writer jumped in to say that Arial sucks because it relies on context. In Arial, you can't tell the difference between "I" and "l," which is to say, "I" and "l." (Times New Roman) or "I" and "l" (Courier).

I've already gone on record as saying I'm the last living writer who loves Courier font. People in my twitterverse got very aggressive in their hatred of Courier earlier this week. Then one person admitted that it was the best font for "sight-reading entire sentences." Ah, I said. That's why I'm such a fast reader. I like to sight-read entire sentences.

I mean, maybe. How the heck would I really know? I do love me some Courier, however. When I admitted that I send manuscripts to my editor in Courier, and she immediately converts them to Times New Roman and sends them back, and I immediately reconvert them to Courier, writer Jo Bourne, whose work I passionately adore, sent a tweet that was clearly meant to be sung to the theme song from Lion King. "It's the Cirrrccccle of fonts...the cir-ir-ircle of fonts."

This, folks, is why we have technology. This and LOL cats, for sure.

Monday, February 9, 2015

...I Will Not Vote for You

It's very early to be thinking about the elections of November, 2016, but I already have some firm ideas. I don't know who I'll be voting for. But I know who I won't be.

If you have ever made a ridiculous statement about rape, including that raped women don't get pregnant, or that babies are sometimes created by rape by God to turn a traumatic experience into a blessing, I will not be voting for you. (For heaven's sake--even the Catholic church permits D & Cs following rape.)

If you ever answered a question about how you would handle your wife's hypothetical rape, and your answer was anything other than, "Love and support her to the best of my ability, and probably seek counseling," I will not be voting for you.

If you believe that abortion rights are the number one issue the federal government should address, I will not be voting for you. I am as pro-life as anyone, but please. The ship has sailed.

If you believe that the only duty a pro-life person has is to support the overturning of Roe v. Wade, I will not be voting for you.

If you are anti-vaccine, I will not be voting for you.

If you do not believe in evolution, I will not be voting for you.

If you adhere to the idea of "prosperity gospel," I will not be voting for you.

If you believe in complementarian marriage, I will not be voting for you.

If you are against marriage equality, and especially if you have ever said in public, "It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve," I will not be voting for you.

If you think that I personally don't pay my "fair share" of taxes, I will show you the cancelled checks I've written to the federal government, but I will not be voting for you.

If you refuse to believe that Thomas Jefferson never had sex with Sally Hemmings because our Founding Fathers wouldn't participate in racial mixing, I will not vote for you.

If you believe that a white person having sex with a black person is somehow worse than a white person owning a black person, I will not vote for you.

If you believe slavery only existed in the distant past, and does not need to be addressed today, I will not vote for you.

If you state that America was founded by God instead of by humans looking for religious freedom, or if you fail in any way to support the separation of church and state, I will not be voting for you.

If you think the answer to all societal problems can be solved by Big Government, I will not vote for you.

Conversely, if you think the poor in society do not need safety nets and should all just "get a job," I will not be voting for you.

If you show contempt for your voters, you can't have my vote.

If you spout sound bites instead of policy, and care more about your hair style than the truth, I plan to ignore you entirely.

So I need to find a candidate that I can vote for. Who's left? Anyone?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Reasons Why My Farrier Can't Come

My farrier (for you Muggles, that's the person who shoes my horses), Tom, is awesome. He's smart and capable and willing to try new things; he's a true horseman who understands all the individual idiosyncrasies of my herd. He knows that you'd better smack Shakespeare, right from the start, and that you can give Sarah a good poke in the gut if she needs it, but that smacking Mickey would be a very bad idea. When I first got Gulliver, at age 3, 15 years ago, he'd never worn shoes, but on our hard clay soil needed them. Gulliver thought that nailing things to his hooves was a very bad idea and tried hard to kick Tom in the head. Tom's response was to slow down every one of his own movements until he was working at a pace Gully understood.

Tom also sometimes brings me biscuits.

So you can see why I completely appreciate him. I appreciate, too, that he understands whenever I really, really need to have something done--like, say, the time Gully threw a shoe the day before we left for the American Eventing Championships. In the same manner I've tried to be understanding whenever Tom can't make our scheduled day. In our long history together this has happened for a number of reasons:

--He was in a car wreck, and is actually at the hospital.

--His trailer got a flat tire.

--His trailer jackknifed and slid sideways down his steep frozen driveway, and is now in a ditch.

--His cows got loose.

--He woke up puking. (We've also changed the schedule because I woke up puking.)

--It's too damn cold. (This has never happened when I didn't wholeheartedly agree.)

--The horses he had to shoe before he got to mine turned out to be complicated idiots, and took up the whole of the day.

Today's excuse bests them all. His house caught fire.

A smoldering log rolled out of the fireplace onto the wood floor. The smoke alarm went off. (Always have a smoke alarm!) Tom ran to do battle in his pajamas, and, in his words, "the damn water hoses were frozen." He prevailed, fortunately; no serious damage, he says, just a mess and some flooring that's burnt up. But, no kidding, he's not doing my horses today. He'll look at his schedule as soon as he gets a minute, and be sure to fit me in before my horse, Sarah, ships down to Florida for a few weeks.

I'm glad he and his wife are okay. I'm also not particularly sorry he won't be here to day. In my opinion, it's too damn cold.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Killing The Mockingbird

I can't remember what year it was that I first read To Kill A Mockingbird. I remember discussing it with my 10th grade English teacher, but my husband, who sat beside me (Catholic schools always seat you alphabetically) says that it wasn't required reading for that class, because he himself has never read it. (For the record, he's also never read the Harry Potter books, which messes him up all the time in Trivia Crack, no more than he deserves.) Anyway, I loved To Kill a Mockingbird. I remember how it resonated with me that Scout didn't realize she loved to read until her teacher forbade it. "One does not love breathing." I remember the rank injustice of the trial, and the hams piled on Atticus's kitchen table afterward, and I remember that, like Scout, I wasn't afraid of Boo Radley at all.

It's not a coincidence I have a cat named Scout.

So when I heard on Tuesday that a sequel to Mockingbird was being published, I felt an initial happiness. And then, on reflection, skepticism. Further on, sorrow. I'll explain.

A few months ago I read The Mockingbird Next Door, Marja Mills's account of her relationship with the elderly Nelle Harper Lee, and her even older sister, Alice. It's a gentle book, not an expose; what I call a "library book," in that I'm content to have borrowed it rather than bought it. Nelle (Harper Lee's real first name) was eccentric, and a recluse. Marja treats her with respect.

Right after the book came out, Harper Lee purported to release a statement saying that she never authorized the book. Honestly, reading the book, it's hard to believe this, and I wasn't surprised to learn that shortly thereafter, Alice Lee released a statement saying, yes she did, Harper and Alice were both in support of the book.

It gets murkier. During the time that Marja Mills knew Harper and Alice, and even lived in the house beside theirs for a time, both sisters were in good health. Harper was in her 80s, and Alice, still practicing law, in her 90s. While Marja Mills was writing the book Harper Lee had a stroke. She was left mostly deaf, mostly blind, in a wheelchair, and not completely mentally capable. Apparently a woman named Tonya Carter, who succeeded Alice in her law practice, wrote the statement about not authorizing the Mills book, and Harper Lee signed it. Harper Lee, Alice said, would sign anything put in front of her.

I didn't hear until this week about further bamboozling. When Harper Lee's longtime agent died, her new agent somehow had her sign over the copyright to Mockingbird to him. It took a lawsuit to undo it.

Alice Lee had always protected her sister and helped keep her out of the public eye, which was, from everything ever written, exactly how Harper Lee wanted it.

In the past few years, which Alice also spent in a nursing home, Tonya Carter has managed to forbid most of Harper Lee's old friends from visiting her.

Alice Lee died three months ago. Now, suddenly, there's a new Harper Lee manuscript. I believe she wrote it. The story is that she wrote it before Mockingbird, then went back and wrote Mockingbird as a prequel. That all makes sense. What doesn't make sense is the letter supposedly written by Harper Lee, introducing the new work:

“After much thought and hesitation I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication,” Lee says in the statement. “I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”

"Humbled and amazed," doesn't sound much like Harper Lee. She surely knew she had written another book; one assumes that she herself deemed it not worthy of publication. And who are these handful of people she shared it with? The letter, like the others, bears her signature, but nothing of her nature.

I'll probably still read the book. I'll probably find it disappointing. But more disappointing is the thought of this fiercely private woman being manipulated by those still with her. I'm not happy about this at all.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wednesday is the Day for Faith In Action

It's Wednesday, which means it's the day I work at Bristol Faith in Action. Last week I had the pleasure of taking with me, when I went in, a box full of jars of peanut butter and another box full of crackers, courtesy of my friend C, who lives in Washington, D.C., and has real conviction about helping the hungry. I was especially pleased about the crackers and peanut butter last week, because our little food pantry had been down to one jar of peanut butter and 2 sleeves of saltines, and then, it being the last part of the month, we got a ton of requests for food.

Bristol has a large emergency food pantry, and as much as possible we refer our clients there. The food pantry proper will give them more food than we can, and also gives perishables--bread, milk, eggs--that we can't. (We give out crackers with our peanut butter because crackers are shelf-stable.) But people can only go to the food pantry once a month; sometimes they need to come to us, too. Or sometimes they can walk to our office, but not to the food pantry.

The end of the month is always worse because food stamps usually renew at the beginning of the month.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how poverty compounds poverty. I worked a day once at the Remote Access Medical Clinic when it was held in Bristol. RAM clinics offer dental and vision care as well as medical care. I was doing the initial vision screening, with an eye chart, and I was astonished by the number of people who seemed barely able to enunciate. "Aaahh," they'd said, "Bah."  Sometimes I couldn't tell whether or not they were readying the chart correctly. Then I noticed cotton sticking out of one man's mouth.

People were coming through vision screening after they'd been seen by the dentists. Many of them had had multiple teeth removed. The dentists could do fillings, but teeth can decay past the point of being filled.

Later in the day I was working at a different station. I spoke with a young man, early 20s. He'd had eight teeth removed that morning, and he was jubilant about it, because they'd been hurting him, and because at home the dentist charged $100 per tooth for extractions. This man had a job, but it didn't reach to $800 to have teeth removed.

That was shocking--not that he didn't have $800, but that he needed eight teeth pulled. And yet. He came from the coalfields. I can imagine that if you lived an hour's drive from the nearest dentist, and didn't have a reliable car or gas money, let alone money to pay the dentist, you wouldn't get your teeth checked on a regular basis. You wouldn't get cavities filled.

I've got a mouthful of fillings, plus two crowns covering molars whose fillings cracked with age. I've always brushed my teeth conscientiously. I've always been able to go to the dentist.

In recent days I've read stories on the internet about a man in Detroit who mostly walks 10 miles each way to his factory job. Some people thought it must be a fake story, or an exaggeration. Why wouldn't he get a bicycle? Why wouldn't he buy a car? Other commentators pointed out that Detroit is a mess, cars get stolen so regularly there that car insurance costs about $10,000 a year. (The man reportedly makes $10/hr, or about $20,000 a year.) Apparently the man takes public transportation--buses--when he can, and bicycles aren't allowed on Detroit's buses.

Once in awhile at Faith in Action we find problems that can be fixed, completely, with a quick infusion of cash. But mostly poverty is a web, tangled and difficult. I don't have answers. I wish I did.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What I Found in Chicago

The hotel lobby doesn't look familiar. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised; I haven't been there in nearly 22 years. I'm wondering how often hotels replace their carpeting when the front desk clerk clears his throat. He's holding my room key, as well as my credentials for the American Library Association convention, which my editors have left at the desk for me. "You're from New York?" he says politely.

"Ah. No. Tennessee," I say.

He nods, because it's all the same to him. I go up the elevators, which do look familiar, as does the slightly worn-down hallway. The room decor is fresh, but the view out the window, of the Chicago river and the high-rise buildings across from it, is the same.

I was here 22 years ago, this same hotel, for the American Chemistry Society's annual conference. I went because I had a job as a research chemist, and I got put on the list to go to the conference, and it was bad form to say that you weren't really interested. You were supposed to be thrilled with the free trip and the opportunity.

I was only actually friends with a few of my fellow chemists, who, in the company where I worked, were all male and mostly older than me. None of my good friends were on this trip. I hung out with the others at dinner and at a Cubs game, where the guys I was with drank a beer an inning and I stayed sober to drive us home.  McCormick Place, the convention center, was a vast dark frigid hall; I wasn't much interested in the equipment displays, since I wasn't in charge of buying any new equipment (analytical machines easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars), and, honestly, wasn't much interested in the presentations either. I took notes on some, as my boss had asked me to, and was frankly astonished by how poorly some chemists spoke, even about their own work. Arrogant blowhards, I thought.

My life was in a holding pattern. I was grateful for my job, which paid well, had excellent benefits, and was mostly interesting and challenging, but I was becoming more and more aware that it was not what I was meant to do. I was starting to be paid for my writing, but not enough to even think about quitting chemistry. My husband was in medical school. I wanted children, I wanted to be a novelist--and as I sat in my hotel room last Saturday, looking out over the river, all the yearnings and loneliness of that time came back to me. I was so young then. I was so afraid.

A brisk knock on my hotel room door. I open it, and launch myself into the arms of the tall man standing there. "I've missed you so much!" I say.

He bends his head down to kiss the top of mine. "I've missed you, too, Mom," my son says. He's in college not far from Chicago; he's driven over to have dinner with me. "Ready for your speech tomorrow?" he asks.

My speech at ALA, about my new novel. My 16th published book.

"I think so," I say. We go back down the elevators, out the lobby, into the bustle of Michigan Avenue, leaving the memories and ghosts behind.