Thursday, January 29, 2015


My father died on January 29, 2014-- one year ago today.  I am reposting the following tribute 

(originally posted on January 30, 2014).

As I remember him today,  I reread his obituary.
What an extraordinary man he was and what a remarkable amount he accomplished in his life!

The Measure of the Man: Tribute to My Father 

My father died last night.

He went to sleep--peacefully.

My mother and I were with him

He was the only man who has been present in my life and for me -- all of my life.
He was a faithful and loving husband and wonderful father.
My mother is missing him.
My sisters are missing him.
His grandchildren are missing him
His sons-in-law are missing him.
I am missing him.

My father died last night.

Seven years ago for his 80th birthday surprise party I wrote the following piece as a tribute to him.
As I reread it--through both tears and smiles and rememberings-- these words still define the measure of my father.
At my mother's request, I spoke these words  to honor my father at his funeral.

My father can be measured by the words that define him.
As a little girl I remember my father always seemed to have a tape measure handy in his pocket—ready to measure whatever needed measuring.  And it seemed like back then there was a lot to be measured.

I also remember he always had a word in his pocket.
He is knowledgeable about just about everything, could give a word or two or a sentence on any topic--- and he could speak volumes in his areas of expertise….engineering, construction, geology, mechanics, aviation and airplanes, finances, mathematics, cars and science, and the list goes on.

See Knowledgeable J  

This is a word from his measuring stick J In his own estimation, he has never been wrong.

He is faithful to God, working tirelessly on various church commitments and efforts.  He is faithful to his wife, family and friends, working overtime to provide for his family with all that he thought we should have, and continuing to be there for both family and friends.

He was and continues to be one of the best looking men I know with a smile that suggests the mischief he has just spoken or performed, or the devilment he is about to do. (When he first met my mother at The Ohio State University, she asked what he was studying-- he replied Devilment!)

He can fix, build, erect, construct, invent, or create what ever is needed for whatever purpose …and he can do it quickly.   We had hardwood floors and a finished basement in the house in Shepard. In addition, there was a pool always in our yard, and an ice-skating rink, along with a tether ball court. Of course, the obligatory swing set that everybody else had was also present. He made sidewalks for Grandma Whiting…. And made everything in her house work also.  Our cars were never out of service long. Our skates were sharpened, our bikes always fixed and our toy room had plenty of shelves to hold all the toys, games, and dolls.

Daddy is the one who killed the bugs and caught the squirrels, birds, raccoons and other creatures that happened by accident into our home. He was the one who carried the “big stick”  in case of bad guys.  We were always safe when he was around.

Not only was he not afraid of the bad guys, but several times he demonstrated by both words and actions that he was not afraid of the “uniformed good guys.”  Those guys in blue took second place to getting home to the gash in Rhonda’s head, to get Renee and her broken arm to the hospital in record time, and to helping a petty thief beaten bloody by the security guards at Gold Circle.

At a time when it would have been easier to go to bed after watching the late night news, or before that hour, he waited up in order to pick us up from weekend parties, dances and other events.  Most of my friends were told by their parents, Yes, you may go if you can get a ride.My dad was always the ride!!

Daddy enjoys eating good food and cooking good food.  He loves to eat out…Chinese, pizza, any restaurant instead of home… especially his favorite breakfast spots, McDonald’s and Bob Evans.   He cooked most breakfasts that I ate during my childhood and most weekend dinners.  I never understood why at someone else’s house we would have to wait until a “mom” came home to cook .  It did not work like that in my house.

In addition to cooking, Daddy, very ably and comfortably, did things that I took for granted but soon discovered were “ women’s” jobs…..He cooked, cleaned, sewed, ironed, combed our hair…whatever needed to be done.  He was the supportive, egalitarian husband…before his time.

My father is very wise, worldly and experienced.  He often gives advice on how things should be done....little things and big things.  He enjoys this role.  See Knowledgeable

My father is one of the smartest people I know.
For me, the connotation of serious intelligence usually involved numbers and math.  He was a wiz at these…SeeKnowledgeable

I don’t know anyone else except my dad who relishes a good bloody operation on The Discovery Channel or the Learning Channel.  He also enjoys sharing the details.

He is a quick wit and bounces with laughter at the funny parts or sometimes when he has said something that tickles himself.

He gets a weekly ration of hugs and kisses from the ladies at church.

His word is his word.  If he says he will do something, you can believe him.  He will be there doing whatever he promised, whenever he said he would.

My father is proud of all that he had accomplished during his lifetime…. and rightfully so.
My father is now resting-happy and healed in God's divine light, perfect peace and eternal life.
My father died last night.
I am missing him.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Think about a person--living or dead-- who is important in your life.

How do you measure that person?
What words define him? What characteristics does she exemplify?

Write about this person using words and characteristics from your list as a starting point.

Friday, January 16, 2015


Charlie-Hebdo-2015-11" by Thierry Caro - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Am I Charlie?

Do I have the right to offend?

Do I have the right to write, draw, say.....  offensive things?

Do I have the right to defend your right to write, draw, say...  offensive things?

When do these rights interfere with the rights of others?

Who determines whether there has been an offending word or picture ...and who had been offended?

When is an insult or ridicule or criticism illegal?

When does satire cross the line and become not just bad taste or silliness, but an offense worthy of deadly retaliation?

According to James Scott in Satire: From Horace to Yesterday's Comic Strips
Making fun of other people comes naturally to most of us...Since human beings could talk, they've been using insults to put each other down or build themselves up or both.  But there is a careful  and complex language of ridicule-- a person who does not know where to stop, may earn powerful enemies or lose valuable friends.
So the purpose of satire is to ridicule.

And for the record, I feel that although many of the Charlie Hedbo cartoons I have seen are funny and make points that I may (or may not agree with), they were always offensive on some level to some person or group.

Also for the record, I support and defend their right to challenge  the establishment and  the traditions, the  practices and values-- of the government- their own and others--  of religions--their own or lack of, and others, and so forth, in this satiric manner.

Did they cross the lines of good taste? Definitely. Is that their right?

Pope Francis weighed on this question indicating that lines were crossed, that there are limits in freedom of expression  in terms of ridiculing the religion or faith  of others, but  he unequivocally  opposed the attack.

Hana Shafi, a Canadian journalist goes a step further, indicating that the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo are not satire at all, just racist, and that neither racism, sexism nor homophobic expression should be protected as freedom of expression.

Did the cartoons in Charlie Hedbo cross the line?
Daily Kos published a sampling from over the years by one of its foremost cartoonists?
Judge for yourself. What do you think?

Charlie Hedbo offices were bombed in Paris, not the United States, yet at the same time it is an international issue, this is a very American issue, .

Our First Amendment gives us the right to express ourselves individually and collectively, in writing and in speech, in our homes and in public assemblies. We are free to believe in our God, your God, their God, or no God.

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

 Again,  according to  Scott in Satire: From Horace to Yesterday's Comic Strips
The First Amendment... protects the  satirist's right to freedom of speech in the US as long as  the satire does not deteriorate into punishable crimes of  slander or libel.  Slander is the act of intentionally telling lies that  injure a person's reputation.  Libel is the  writing and publishing of these lies.

Ironically our Second Amendment grants the right to bear arms,  although not to be used in retaliation for or avenging of  perceived First Amendment opportunities or breaches.

Amendment II
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
To read the entire US Bill of Rights click here.

A new issue of Charlie Hedbo was on newsstands Wednesday and sold out in record time. More copies were immediately printed.  Click here to read about this issue and see the cover which is, as we would predict, both clever and offensive.

How would this all have been handled in the US?

Would we have marched 3.5 million strong?

When the World Trade Center was bombed, three days later in record numbers we went to church at the National Cathedral.  We, like the people of  Paris, like the publishers of  Charlie Hebdo, did bow down nor hide from "offended" terrorists.

Where would we have met, marched, orated, and protested in the US over cartoons that resulted in deaths?

 Are we all Charlie?

The last French policeman to be killed in the Paris attack was a Muslim named Ahmed Merabet.  He was killed as the gunmen were escaping.

 Am I Ahmed?

The world has ralllied around Paris and the attack on Charlie .

Why are we not seeing the same coverage of the recent attack at Baga in Borno, Nigeria?
And why have we forgotten all about the kidnapped girls in that same country?

This thought-provoking  commentary by Charlotte Alter for Time Ideas at asks that same question.

The people under attack in Nigeria and other recent terrorist attacks are not offending anyone. They have not drawn intentionally offensive material,  but  are simply seeking to exist  in their own country.

Am I Baga?

Just who am  I?

 Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Reflect on the recent Paris attack on Charlie Hedbo.

Make a list of your own questions concerning this  event and its related and implied issues.

Make a list of thoughts and beliefs related to this event, to freedom of speech and expression,  and to censorship and terrorism.

Write an essay exploring your ideas.

Examine satirical cartoons.  One source for satiric cartoons that can be used as mentor texts is The Onion.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


You have just been called by the name of the only other black person in the room.
We all look alike.

You were just told by a friend that her husband didn't get selected for the fire department because a certain number of blacks has to be hired.
It couldn't be because he failed the test for the second time?

You have been told your are smart ( articulate, clever, ambitious, add you own adjective here...)
Unsaid... for a black woman.

You have just been told a racist joke.
Why did this person feel comfortable saying this to you?

As we go about in this world, we rub up against everyone else going about in this same world.
As we encounter each one, each two or three, each larger community, we are changed.

Each encounter builds the me, and the we that we are.

The effect is cumulative and observable.
The effect is undeniable, but often times indescribable.

Claudia Rankine defies the elusiveness of defining  these encounters.

She enumerates her encounters, those that remind her that her race sometimes arrives before she does, those that remind her that her race is, indeed, an encounter changer.

 Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric, a  2014 National Book Award Finalist, is the treasure I have found to help me regain my sanity as we all process the encounters of a familiar, yet horrifying kind that we experienced this past year and the first few days of the new year.

Her poems/prose call us to look again and again at isolated incidents, that taken one by one might be hurtful or dismissive or disrespectful, but because of their familiarity, perhaps not given a second thought.

Her poems/prose hold up a  magnifying glass to those encounters that we have experienced, yet not truly registered and processed fully because they happen every day.

What happens if we pile  them all together creating a landscape we can't escape?

Incident after incident, comment after comment.

The powerful subtleties and toxicities of living black in America-- every day.

Rankine examines not only her personal life, but also public life and current events,

Over and over I nodded in both recognition and consternation at everyday occurrences such as the following:

Because of your elite status from a year’s worth of travel, you have already settled into your window seat on United Airlines, when the girl and her mother arrive at your row. The  girl, looking over at you, tells her mother, these are our seats, but this is not what Iexpected. The mother’s response is barely audible—I see, she says. I’ll sit in the middle.
The new therapist specializes in trauma counseling. You have only ever spoken on the phone. Her house has a side gate that leads to a back entrance she uses for patients. ...
...When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house! What are you doing in my yard?
... And though you back up a few steps, you manage to tell her you have an appointment. You have an appointment? she spits back. Then she pauses. Everything pauses. Oh, she says, followed by, oh, yes, that’s right. I am sorry
I am so sorry, so, so sorry.
Incident after incident, comment after comment.

The powerful subtleties and toxicities of living black in America-- every day.

In Section II she tackles  encounters of  Serena Williams, looking behind what we see, to the encounters that shaped her public persona. How do such encounters play out for all public figures?

Reading Citizen requires pauses to process that which we don't daily take the time to fully ponder and acknowledge,  pauses to turn the fabric of our lives over to examine the nap and knots, and ridges and loose threads on the reverse side.

So powerful and revealing was this genre-defying book that as soon as I had come to the last well chosen word, I began at the beginning and reread the entire book-- this time slower, savoring each image and each sentence.

I was also hungry for more.

After a quick search, I immediately bought another of her works,Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric  ( Yes, the subtitle is the same for both books.)  In the same genre- bending form as Citizen, Rankine gives us an autobiographical work that articulates our dark and lonely time--honestly tackling intimacy, death, politics and more.

And I  also wanted to know more about the writer.

I discovered a wonderful interview with Rankine at Dive Dapper.

And Rankine's own website offered a veritable buffet of food for thought, including audio readings of her poems, interviews and reviews, listings of her books, two plays, and  a series of short video essays or situations, as she calls them, which she has created with her husband, John Lucas,

In section VI of Citizen, there are scripts for several of these situations, touching on topics such as Hurricane Katrina, Trayvon Martin, Jena Six,  and Stop-and-Frisk,

Incident after incident, comment after comment.

The powerful subtleties and toxicities of living black in America-- every day.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

For one day (or more if you choose),  be intentional in observing daily encounters in which you are involved, as well as encounters between others which you are privileged to observe.

Make notes about the context, text  and subtext of each encounter.

Make notes about the spoken words, body language and facial expressions, as well as the seemingly unspoken and assumed.

Write a short prose poem about several of these encounters.

Taken together, what insights do these encounters offer?

Thursday, January 1, 2015


As we begin a new year, we often pause to reflect and remember the year past, the many years past.

Where have we been?  What have we seen and heard and experienced?
Who has entered our lives and who has exited from our present and our future?

Where are we going in the new year?  As we look forward, what do we hope to see?

Each year for many years, I reread all of my journals on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.

I  no longer do that.
For one thing, it seemed that all I had ever written was sad-- I had not recorded my happier, higher moments-- and I, indeed, had them.  I guess I was too busy living them. So crying through old journals and memories each year was my cathartic practice then.

But more practically, there are now  far too many journals and writings and poems at this point to reread, to relive.   I have made more of an effort to be inclusive in the nature of the moments I choose to record.

I do, however, from time to time, still review what I have written in the past, reflecting on what I have experienced, and remembering both the good, the bad, and the ugly. This week I reread selected posts from my blog over the past two years--rereading words I had forgotten I had written, reliving feelings and thoughts I had forgotten I had experienced, cringing at some paragraphs and smiling satisfactorily at others.

It seems that we  think about the new and now in the context of  then, what has been, what used to be.
As the New Year approaches, I have begun to think more intentionally about the whole notion of new. What does new mean?

Commercials on our TVs, computers, and other electronic devices entice us.  Colorful two -page spreads in our magazines,  newspapers, and other print materials beckon to us.

New and improved!
The Latest Thing!
The hottest ....from... wherever!

Is new really better?

We would think so if we believe the barrage of images rushing at us from media.
Is the latest meant to replace and erase, or obliterate the old?

Have they really made changes that will make a difference in my experiences with the product?
Or are these just marketing words designed to  trick me into thinking I am getting something dramatically better?

TVTropes humorously explores the linguistic entanglements of  "new and improved."

Comedian George Carlin observed that the phrase is perfectly meaningless in the first place. Which is it, a new product, or an old one which has been improved? Logically it cannot be both "new" and "improved"...
 Click here to read the complete " New and Improved" article.

Laying humor aside,  new may not be always better-- no matter how shiny or technologically advanced.

 And instinctively, we know that to be true.

We have always cherished the classic (think cars, think songs, think literature).
We have always venerated the vintage (think clothes, think jewelry, think dishes).
We have always appreciated and treasured the ancient (think scrolls, think artifacts and art, think everything archaeologists discover and dig up).

 Still, we eternally search for the new and improved.

We traditionally approach each new year like a shiny penny ready to be spent on new things.

What will I do new in this year?
We proceed yearly listing our resolutions, our goals--new habits we wish to begin or end, new activities, relationships and we will usher in or from which we will exit, new actions... all new... (or maybe new again-- the same as last year because we failed by  January 6 or 7 or February 12... or whenever it was we quit being our new and improved selves.)

But I am offering a different approach as we enter this new year.
I am proposing a different, "new and improved"  new year question.

What went well in the  past year (s) and what will I keep as I enter the coming year?

What well worn, familiar habits served me well in 2014 or back beyond in the past?
What memories and experiences will I bring forward to inspire me, remind me, lift me on a bad day?
What relationships supported me and forced me to be the best me?

What do I want to keep and repeat in 2015?

As I think about this year and ask myself this new question and the subsequent questions that it suggests, I am reminded of,  sustained by, and propelled forward by several poems.

 I must celebrate and critically examine myself and my past year.

Vaclav Havel reminds me that It Is I Who Must Begin.
It is I who must begin.
Once I begin, once I try --
here and now,
right where I am,
not excusing myself...

-- as soon as I begin that,
I suddenly discover,
to my surprise, that
I am neither the only one,
nor the first,
nor the most important one
to have set out
upon that road.

Read Havel's entire poem here. 

 In Deciding, William Stafford reminds me to make decisions intentionally, carefully considering the consequences.

 Stafford, likewise, reminds me in Next Timeto notice that which is in front of me-- each moment, each person, each " leaf and feather". 

Next time what I'd do is look at
the earth before saying anything. I'd stop
just before going into a house
and be an emperor for a minute
and listen better to the wind
      or to the air being still.

Then anyone who talked to me, whether
blame or praise or just passing time,
I'd watch the face, how the mouth
has to work, and see any strain, any
sign of what lifted the voice....
 Read the entire poem, Next Time here.

Wislawa Szymborska, in Life While-You Wait, reminds me that sometimes life just happens -- we can't rehearse, we can't premeditate, we can not always know the role we play...

Life While-You-Wait. 
Performance without rehearsal. 
Body without alterations. 
Head without premeditation.
I know nothing of the role I play. 
I only know it's mine. I can't exchange it.
I have to guess on the spot 
just what this play's all about....
 Read the entire poem, Life While-You-Wait here.

And finally, as I enter 2015, William Stafford echoes my thoughts and  encourages me to keep the old that has served me well.

In The Way It Is, he urges me to continue to follow that thread woven through my life that holds me to me.

There’s a thread you follow.It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.....
Tragedies happen: people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Read the entire poem, The Way It Is here.

Yes, this new year, I will ask a new question:

What went well in the  past year (s) and what will I keep as I enter the coming year?

 The above poems can also be found in two of my favorite collections.

It Is I Who Must Begin
The Way It Is
Life While-You-Wait
The Way It Is
 For more about these essential collections, read my previous post, Teaching With Fire, Teaching With Courage.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

 Reflect on the past year, or more years past.

What went well in the  past year (s) and what will you keep as you enter the coming year?

What well worn, familiar habits served you well in 2014 or back beyond in the past?
What memories and experiences will you  bring forward to inspire you, remind you, to  lift you on a bad day?
What relationships supported you and forced you to be the best you?

How will you celebrate the you that  you have been and also critically analyze yourself, as well?

How will you make decisions as you move into the new year?

How will you face and accept  life as it happens to you- unpredicted, unrehearsed?

And how will you hold onto the thread that connects you to you?

What do you want to keep and repeat in 2015?

Write a poem capturing your reflections, intentions and questions.