Looking at the University Experience

Here is episode 18 of Looking Back. This story seems to wander all over the place but there is a method to my madness. I am from Indiana where we have had, in the recent past, the motto “Wander Indiana” emblazoned on the license plates.

They say that eventually you find your tribe and that “birds of a feather flock together”. College proved that to be untrue. I didn’t find my clique but I found diversion. There were a couple of girls that were friendly but only in a pleasant superficial way. We’d bump into each other during lectures. I could eat with them without feeling out of place. One recommended a good tattoo parlor. The other introduced me to sushi and kimchee. On the academic side, I took archery as the fulfillment of the physical education courses. I was good enough to make the archery team. The attraction of being on the team was that we got to travel to other schools to compete. I managed to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing with a minor in poetry. My parents weren’t too thrilled that I spent 4 years earning a college degree that didn’t make me more employable. The German professor was good for a few laughs and she introduced me to people who made connections to others that held the promise of a job overseas. All in all I graduated with mad archery skills, proficiency in German and French, and an excellent command of the English language, the ability to pick a lock, 2 tattoos, and a job in the syphilis capital of the US. You thought I’d finally realize my dream of living and working in Europe. Nope, it didn’t happen.

Looking at the Thaw

Ice cracking a crunch and squeal
Spring will soon deliver
Snow loses its appeal

Lake ice unable to conceal
Fish swimming shiver
Ice cracking a crunch and squeal

A thaw and freeze congeal
Water rough now icy sliver
Snow loses its appeal

Snow boots no longer ideal
Rubber ice quake and quiver
Ice cracking a crunch and squeal

Snow melts the buds reveal
First flowers he’ll give her
Snow loses its appeal

Spring awakens with a shiver
Water cold rushes downriver
Ice cracking a crunch and squeal
Snow loses its appeal

This is a Villanelle. The name sounds French and maybe it originated in France – I don’t know and I’m too lazy to look it up. This form consists of 2 rhyming sounds. There are 19 lines arranged in 5 tercets (3 line stanzas) with a closing quatrain (four lines in rhyming couplets). So far it doesn’t sound too hard but the heart of this poem is that the 1st and 3rd lines of the first tercet take turns repeated 3rd line of the following tercets.

As you might have guessed this was inspired by the recent thaw where day time temperatures reached 50 degrees. This turn of events was not welcome. Sure I’m all for Spring to arrive, however, this thaw and freeze is no good for the critters and the trees and plants. The robins have returned and are looking mighty pitiful. They are cold and hungry. The earthworms had emerged when the snow was melting and the birds feasted but with the freezing temperatures they’ve disappeared. The road crews are patching the roads as fast as they can but no sooner do they fill in one pothole another forms. Along Lincoln Way there are a half dozen hub caps stuck in the snow along the curb. Each one marks a killer pothole.

Looking Soggy

It has been raining. I’m talking about a constant heavy rain. And the temperatures got up to the high 50’s on Tuesday which melted most of the snow. Everywhere you looked there was standing water. I tried to avoid a deep puddle in front of my mailbox by stepping into the grass. That was a huge mistake. The ground is totally saturated. When I stepped on the grass, the water squirted out as if I’d stomped on a water logged sponge. Backing up to Monday, it poured all night and our poor, nearly old enough to purchase booze, sump pump was on all night. I had troubled dreams and suggested to Sparky that it might be a good idea to purchase a back-up sump pump – just in case.

Tuesday night I arrived home still damp from dashing to the car in the pouring rain. Because Sparky was working late, I was eating alone. I had just sat down to eat when I realized I needed a beverage (we keep the supply in the basement). I made it to the bottom of the stairs and stepped down onto the “exercise mat” only to have it “float” away. I didn’t fall down but did do a hydroplane-windmill-squawking like a wounded goose kind of dance. I managed to get the pictures off the floor and moved the weight bench, chair, and floor lamps back from the rising flood. I proceeded to deploy towels. I was brave and pulled up the interlocking foam exercise mat and got that dried off and relocated to a dry area. I used almost all the junk towels from my basement stash. Then I got my water and went back upstairs to eat. As I was taking my first bite, Sparky texted me asking “Can you check the basement for water?” I told him it was wet and that we didn’t have enough towels. After a few back and forth texts he called. When he got home at 10:30 PM he went to work trying to sop up the water.

We initially thought the source was the basement window wells. Ever since he built the raised garden on that side of the house, the drainage has been slightly wonky. Seems the water was filling the windows wells and running down the wall behind the drywall and seeping out at the baseboards. We worked until after midnight in an effort to mitigate the flooding. Sparky must have collected 7 five gallon buckets of water from the back corner of the basement. Most things were in plastic storage bins so we didn’t lose anything – except sleep! He had Wednesday and Thursday off and that was a very good thing since it continued to rain! Thursday morning he informed me that although there had been water in the window wells, he suspects a more serious issue. Namely he thinks there might possibly be a crack in the foundation! The basement as of Thursday night was mostly dry and all the towels had been dried and are waiting to be deployed. Just when we thought the rain had stopped, the weather anchor announced that there will be a few more showers Thursday night into Friday!

There is extensive flooding in the area. Our water issues are minor compared to those unfortunate enough to live next to the water! I have 2 coworkers who are stranded and unable to leave their homes because all roads are flooded. That coupled with 2 others out sick (and one just now recovering from the flu – the real flu) meant we were very busy today! The high water in the river has resulted in a goodly section of downtown blocked off for safety. I’m hoping the river has already crested since the river is within 2 feet of flooding the Century Center where my ceramics studio is in the basement.

Looking Shrunk

Episode 17 of Looking Back is now available. I have been feeling much better this week. So much better that I’ve been reconsidering my story ending… My mother always wants a happy ending.

I spend too much time thinking. I’ve always been introspective but my psychologist characterizes it as “derealization disorder”. I think she’s grasping at straws. The previous diagnosis was PTSD and the one before that was Borderline Personality Disorder. In fact, ever since my parents first dragged me into a psychologist’s office they’ve been trying to diagnose me with some mental defect. And all this thinking about the psychologists makes me recall the psychiatrist I saw in college. The whole episode was precipitated by the RA in the dorm. She was engaged to a party boy from another university. He was visiting and she wasn’t back from her class so he was waiting in the lobby. He stopped me and struck up a conversation. I could smell the alcohol on his breath. Next thing I know he had backed me into a corner and had his hands all over me. By the time I was able to slip under his arm; he had unbuttoned my blouse and unzipped my pants. It was a narrow escape. He must have told the RA that I’d tried to seduce him. There was an inquiry and a hearing of the Residence Life Council. I was not expelled but they insisted I see the school psychiatrist. That was when the fun began. This shrink was nothing more than a glorified drug pusher. He wanted to prescribe all sorts of medications to me for bogus mental conditions. Let’s just clear the air, I have never been bipolar. I do not have suicidal tendencies. I do not self-harm. Even though I’ve had bouts of depression I have never had to take anti-depressants or mood elevators. After my sessions with the school shrink the only medication I needed was a round of antibiotics to treat the STD that he conveniently gifted me. I don’t hate mental health professionals but I also don’t completely trust them either – especially the men.

Looking Meditative

My Wellness Coach suggested I do some meditation to reduce my stress levels. I researched and finally came up with a plan (because I plan everything). My plan looked like this:
* Pray during my shower
* Read my daily scripture devotions at work (it come in my email every morning).
* During lunch recount at least 2 things I’m thankful for.
* Select my daily meditation focus word/phrase (I have a set of flash cards and a little book)
* Use that word/phrase during my drive home (sit in the car in the garage for 5-10 minutes to finish)
* Count my blessings in a prayer of thanksgiving before bed

So I had already been doing the prayers and the scripture devotions and just added the other stuff. Three weeks later I had to evaluate the effectiveness of my new meditation regimen. I was disappointed. It really didn’t help reduce my feelings of stress, at least not in a permanent or long lasting way. I found that as soon as I resumed my normal activities the stress jumped back up. I could only hold the tension at bay while actively engaged in prayer and active meditation. I thought I had failed. But the Wellness Coach had a different perspective. After discussing the sources of my stress and evaluating the circumstances of heightened stress, she suggested that the stress was exacerbated by my lack of control over the situations. As an alternative to meditation, she suggested I set boundaries and created a “zone of control”. What the heck is a zone of control you ask (as did I)? In short it is an area where I have absolute control, with imaginary rings (like ripples in the water) of lesser control radiating from the central area. Therefore as of this morning I’m staking out my zones of control.
1. My office – it is mine and everything therein is under my absolute control. DO NOT TOUCH MY STAPLER!
2. The locker room – there are several areas which I control exclusively (bulletin boards, locker, uniform bin)
3. My animal rooms – I share responsibility with another and we take turns.
4. The break room – is a shared space and although I have a spot in the refrigerator that I favor there is no guarantee I can put my stuff in that exact place (unless I get there first).

Knowing that as I move about my day there are areas where I can exert control, gives me an illusion of order and control. Sort of an umbrella against the chaos of the day… It just might be a paisley umbrella with a squirrel carved handle!

Looking Married

It is one thing to say you’ve been married 35 years and quite another to realize that you’ve been married longer than you were single. When I think about it it doesn’t seem so very long ago that I was a newlywed. Time is like that. One minute you are 16 and over there and the next finds you standing at the 60 years milestone with no clear recollection of how you got there. In my head I’m the same age that I’ve always been. I guess what I mean is that although my body has aged my inner sense of self is still in a perpetual state of youthful optimism, married youthful optimism. I clearly recall the moment I reached that stage of being “adult”. Sparky and I had gone out to dinner at Red Lobster. Back in the day it was an upscale kind of place and a little pricey. We did a little people watching while we waited for our meal. As several groups of people walked past we looked at each other and both said the same thing, “I can’t believe they are dressed that way to eat at a nice place like this.” We had just become our parents! That kind of being on the same page is what being married is like for me. We think very much alike. We hold the same values. We maintain a consensus on parenting. We are of a like mind when it comes to religion and faith in practice. It is comforting, reassuring, and not at all boring. Or maybe it is boring but I like boring. I don’t like surprises and uncertainty. We are planners and list makers and we have calendars and agendas. Neither of us is into risk taking. Although spontaneity can be fun it isn’t a necessary ingredient for having fun.

This Valentine’s Day fell on Ash Wednesday. For us it was a day of fasting and prayer. So we didn’t go out to dinner. For the first time in a very long time we didn’t visit Taco Bell on the 14th. Instead we went to church. This coming weekend is Sparky’s birthday celebration so we’ll find some time to go out to a restaurant of his choice and maybe see a movie (he will get to choose). It is all going to be planned around his work schedule. (Spontaneous doesn’t come into play when you have to juggle work and other commitments.) What all this means is that I’m married and still in love. It means I wish everyone was in love and happy. I wish there were no broken hearts. I wish that marriage vows were never considered temporary. I wish that all marriages and relationships enjoyed a forever trust. I wish abuse and infidelity and hurtful words and actions would never insert themselves into marriages. But it happens and while I quietly celebrated St. Valentine’s Day, I want you all to know I was praying for those whose hearts are bruised.

Looking Like a Virgin

Today’s episode 16 of Looking Back is brought to you by heartburn and severe intestinal distress. I really have to be more careful about what I eat. I seem to have a very bad reaction to peppers – especially jalapeno peppers and spicy red peppers…

I might have mentioned that college was an education beyond the classroom. I had blown off high school without a thought but college was different. I had decided that I wanted to know everything. I was a “nose to the grindstone” kind of student. My professors loved me or at least tried in a literal sense. It was shocking. I’m sure my parents never would have believed that a strict Catholic college would allow that kind of behavior. And they didn’t. It was a very small school so they had a cooperative agreement with the local community college. St. Hedwig would provide advanced history, Latin and Greek language courses and in return Southwestern Community College would allow us to take the upper level chemistry, math and English classes. Just thinking about it makes my skin crawl. First it was my English professor. He was ancient but not dead yet. He tried but I was so green that all he accomplished was to make me laugh. My linear algebra professor was much smoother. I think back and realize he had years of practice seducing young girls. He made me feel like I was the smartest student in the class. He complimented me. He had me come to his office for discussions ‘concerning my grade’. Then he started giving me little gifts – a candy bar, a mechanical pencil, and a key ring. They were little nothings. Then he asked me to get a coffee after class. Then it was lunch and eventually it was dinner. By the time he asked me to come to his house for dinner, I was completely comfortable with saying yes. He seemed very mature but in retrospect he was probably in his late 30s. We had sex on his living room floor. It was a complete disappointment as far as I was concerned. He seemed to really enjoy himself. I figured I wasn’t doing something right.

Looking Discombobulated

Discombobulated is not my favorite mental state. I tend to strive for a more level and logical equilibrium. However the planets have aligned and forces of nature and man have conspired to move me from calm, cool and collected into the realm of discomforted, distressed and discombobulated. I need to get some sleep. I want to get some retail therapy. I desire a little me time. And I’m overdue for a haircut. I had such wonderful plans for the last weekend but the weather did not cooperate. I had to deal with the snow – lots of snow. I fought my way through the grocery store parking lot and plowed through the crowded aisles to get a single gallon of milk and some pizza crusts. The snow plow cleared our street by pushing a 4 foot high wall of snow across the end of our driveway. And I had to dig my way into my drive and clear a path into the garage. And I had to cancel plans to drive to Shipshewana to buy cheese. And I wasn’t able to go for my haircut or to use my coupon at JCPenney’s for $10 off a $25 purchase. And I was thwarted in my plans to peruse Goodwill and Salvation Army. The only bright spot was taking a good long nap. I needed the nap and my sore muscles needed the nap and there wasn’t anything else to do since the snow was piling up and I was so tired from being on call and having the weather play havoc with the HVAC system… In short, if I were a drinker I’d have several empties laying around! Instead I’ve been eating ibuprofen for my back and sipping hot chocolate to help me relax. Today is another fun day and I’m hoping that although it is a Monday, there are no dramas, traumas, or hallucinatory llamas. But you never know about Mondays.

Looking at Potholes

It is pothole season. In Indiana we grow corn and soy beans and even wheat but those are all crops that are harvested in the summer or fall. The new crop of potholes, chuckholes or if you prefer ruts, road trenches, or Indiana underground missile silos has appeared. Usually they don’t show up until March or even April but with the freeze and thaw and wild fluctuations in temperature they have shown themselves. For any of you living in warm and tropical climates, the pothole forms when water penetrates the road surface through small cracks in the road and then freezes and thaws repeatedly. This in effect fractures the road material and once vehicles repeatedly travel across the damaged spot a pothole forms. This hole initially is filled with particles of either asphalt or cement in varying sized chunks. As traffic passes over it the filler is compacted (and further ground into a sand like consistency) which is removed by the friction of tires or washed out of the depression. Eventually it gets deeper and and deeper and often larger. Once it becomes large enough to swallow a car tire, it turns dangerous. The pothole can cause a tire to rupture, bend tire rims, bounce off hubcaps, and even bend or break axles.

I am not sure when it happened and I can’t tell you where it happened (although I suspect it was on Eddy Street). But I found a pothole. The result is that my tire is bumped and bulging in a distinctly unnatural way. It didn’t handle any differently and the tire pressure was fine. However it worried me. I had Sparky take a look at it and he determined that he would take it to the tire store and have them look at it. At first the thought was that the metal cords that run through the tire were split – kind of a tire hernia but without the ability to repair it. However it wasn’t the tire. In fact the tire was fine and didn’t need to be replaced. They examined the rim, I wasn’t there, and discovered that it was bent. The tire people were amazed that I had been driving on it and the tire hadn’t gone flat. It is not an inexpensive repair. They will have to order a rim and then we can schedule the swap of the old rim for a new rim. In the mean time I’ve been told it is safe to drive on but to avoid hitting any potholes! Like that is in my power – I’m worried that I’ll be calling Sparky to come fix a flat tire one of these evenings on my way home…

Looking for My Citadel of Silence

Here is episode 15 of Looking Back. I am hoping you are enjoying this story…

I try to keep busy. It helps fend off boredom. I was thinking about summer time. That happens when it is the dead of winter and there is nothing but snow and ice and grey skies. So as I was washing dishes, it occurred to me that summers comprised the most enjoyable parts of my childhood. We lived in a subdivision that abutted a nature preserve. I spent as much time as possible exploring the woods and fields. It was a daily routine to slip outside and vanish into the trees. My one friend from first grade would meet me in a little clearing. We would pretend that we were wild horses and go galloping through the prairie grass. She moved away half way through 2nd grade. It was OK because she’d already pulled away from me and joined the rest of the kids ridiculing me. Superman had a Fortress of Solitude; I had a Citadel of Silence. It was a well concealed hideout. You could only access it by following the fence until it reached the bridge and then crawling under the bridge. Once beneath the bridge, there was a poured cement footing that had split. I excavated that crack into a tidy little cave. It took me over a week but in the end it was large enough to accommodate a makeshift bench to sit on. The soil had a lot of clay and so the walls and ceiling didn’t flake or crumble. I made a niche in the wall to hold my treasures. Perhaps I was always strange but I had found a small skull, probably from a squirrel, which I displayed. Some kids would have been frightened but I thought it fascinating. I had a geode too. It really would sparkle whenever I brought a flashlight to my Citadel. I would visit that hideout constantly during the summers as a way to avoid the other kids, at least until I got too big to squeeze through the crack. One time a couple of boys followed me through the woods intent on making my life more miserable. I could hear them struggle through the undergrowth. I purposely walked through the mud and then scrambled over the bridge. Instead of jumping down, I took off my shoes and went back the way I came. I slipped under the bridge and into my cave. They followed my muddy tracks across the bridge and then plunged off the other side. I had to hold in my laughter as they howled and fought their way back to the bridge through the stinging nettles and poison ivy. Doing dishes is so much more enjoyable when you can recall pleasant memories.