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Fresh Starts, The Crucible, and Joseph McCarthy: Relationships Matter

    Have you ever thought about what happens to a student, friend, colleague, or partner when you refuse to grant them a fresh start? What if we hauled our students into the principal’s office at the beginning of a fresh semester and reminded them of everything they had been accused of the year before? What if we did this to someone year after year? What happens when we continuously degrade a person even after time has passed, new facts have been substantiated, and old bullies and players have vanished from the scene?

    My current students never thought about life in America after World War II, the simmering suspicions, the Red Scare, the liberal silence, and the Senate hearings that blacklisted writers, actors, and artists from their livelihoods. Unwilling to recognize that American power easily overwhelms fringe politics, conservatives clung to the horrific past and fixated on a worldwide Communist movement believing it would overtake democracy. Even after the most obviously innocent citizens were exonerated, many of them never recovered their reputations or lost incomes. They never recovered because they were never really given a fresh start. But my students, open minded and pure of heart, wrestle with persecution and ignorance on a daily basis, so they know something about the importance of a fresh start and its lasting effects.

    By having them read the Crucible and compare it to McCarthyism, they are not only seeing how an artist can affect public policy, but they are also learning the value of a fresh start. They can see how petty grievances and gossip, jealousy and envy, and raw fear combine to create misconceptions and support lies. They can see how this form of finger-pointing indicates a lack of character and integrity that blossoms in a brain overstuffed with fear and silly, low-level thought processes. The Senate hearings differed little from the witch trials…a litany of hateful players, a lack of common sense, and a desire to indulge in cruelty is not acceptable in any business, school, or government. We all deserve a fresh start without prejudice.





Fake Apologies, Cowards, and Nothing Burgers

            Fake apologies, the stuff of cowards, come from a place of deficit. Usually the person doing the apologizing fears some kind of a loss, such as a sports contract, a job or bonus, or some position of privilege. They may even consider the recipients of the apology not an intellectual equal, so hubris and arrogance override good old common sense. If someone is giving you a fake apology in front of a camera, during a recording, in front of your boss, or some other “staged” moment in time, consider it a nothing burger.

            A true apology takes incredible courage, and it often comes at a huge personal cost. Someone has to admit that they have been weird, rude, or threatening, or that they have cheated or lied about something. The words must be chosen carefully. For example, if someone tells you that it isn’t their intention to make anyone “uncomfortable” then you can bet that they are lying while apologizing. Of course, when someone is screaming at you across a crowded room, exerting their white male presence, and acting like a sexist idiot, then the full intention is to make you feel “uncomfortable.” The person issuing the apology should at least be courageous enough to admit what they did. This apology is clearly a total nothing burger.

            An “authentic” (a word usually overused by fake people but used now in the spirit of jest) apology, at least between people and not institutions, can be done with a card, or in a private moment. A vow to undo whatever harm has been done is usually paired with a sincere apology.

            People of courage typically apologize with sincere remorse and will fully confess to whatever it is that they have done to hurt someone else. Cowards will stage some kind of a fake apology and offer you a nothing burger thinking that you are dumb enough to accept it. Cowards tend to gather in groups, so you might experience backlash if you fail to accept a cowardly and insincere apology. Remember, cowards know they are cowards, and they actually live with this shame day in and day out. They are recognizable to one another, and this fearful condition, this lack of courage and sincerity, programs itself into the fabric of their everyday lives. Because of this, they trust no one, and a plastic and superficial life is all that they know. They skip from one cowardly incident to another, randomly hurting the people they interact with, handing out nothing burgers right and left.

            Bill Clinton might be the daddy of them all when it comes to handing out the nothing burger. In his apology to the American public after the Lewinsky scandal, he admitted to his sexual peccadillo, but he soft pedaled the enormous lie that he told: “I never had sex with that woman.”

            We all know that he told this lie out of fear so he could keep serving the interests of American politics, but we also know that every single one of his apologies were just a huge order of nothing burgers. When Clinton realized that he was caught and he had no way to cover up the peccadillo, he should have volunteered the truth and mixed that with a sincere apology (I’m just kidding).

The most tragic thing to come of the nothing burger is the unwitting people it involves. Without putting much thought into anything, an unwitting person might say that you should accept a nothing burger and move on with your life. But moving on without expecting sincerity enables the coward to feel courageous about a couple of dangerous things: hurting the same person again, or simply finding a new person to hurt. A cabal of cowards can exist institutionally because they’ve been allowed to hand out nothing burgers as a matter of tradition. When cowards begin to think that their behavior is acceptable, then they are willing to go further.

            Apologizing is hard work, and it does take effort and courage. But when you’ve apologized for the damage that you’ve done, other courageous acts become easier. Apologizing cleanses the soul, clears the air, and creates lasting bonds of respect and humility. Handing out nothing burgers to the people you have hurt proves you are just a coward.



The Problem with the Cat Squad: Writing and Thinking

Today I am writing to discuss the dancing mumble jumble of the early beginnings of the classical swing and sway of turbulent female bonding gone tragically wrong. A typical feminist will recognize the innate, positive qualities that exist in another woman and seek to hold that person strongly aloft, high above the fray of angry meanderings and petty jealousies of the frantic and dramatically superficial class of thinker. But I am not to enjoy this type of strong hold because I have been dropped into a shrieking palisade of surface thinkers, a menagerie of spite and pettiness, with a faded and dying disco ball twerking its last twerk. How did I get into this sometimes humorous but never painless amateur dance amid a cliquish cesspool of languishing performers? I was duped—that is how. I was sold a bad bargain, and I was convinced that I would be protected. I listened to a detractor, and as you know, detractors want nothing to do with strong women. The typical detractor (male or female) is looking for women that will handily destroy other women, and by doing so the detractor can continue an egotistical power trip. Maybe I should speak the truth, and just tell it like it is—the word ‘detractor’ is insufficient, while the word ‘quitter’ is more accurate.  A ‘quitter’ is always happiest with the status-quo. Quitters never analyze the depth and honesty of their actions--they just stop trying to grow.

At any rate, I have only myself to blame for this death-march-waltz because even if I were completely androgynous and I hid my feminine power side, I would remain a target. Basically, for those who manipulate so that they can continue to live in a state of languor, any sprite of positive energy is a threat; intelligence becomes as unwelcome as a broken heel during the fox trot.  I could try slide stepping my stronger moments on a soft shoe, and maybe that would endear me to my attackers, but I simply can’t; I refuse to bore my audience by becoming a wall flower.

I want every woman I meet to succeed in a place that is appropriate for her, but I am unwilling to support the kind of woman that is a traitor to her own struggle. We all must practice at becoming more self-aware and be cognizant of what it is that we are aiming to do—we need to study our motives and question our ethical assumptions about what is right for others. Only until we are completely conscious of our innermost motivations, can we be assured that we are treating each other with respect and kindness.


Warming Up for Twain while Laughing with Friends and Analyzing Tattle Tales

I've been working on Mark Twain papers for five months, and I am getting low on ideas for writing. First of all, I do appreciate all he has done for letters and literature, and not only is he the greatest satirist of all time, but he is one of the first to signal that all people are equally human, a philosophy that is again losing ground.

But I have a stack of papers and books a yard high, and I have no idea where to start. I have to write another literary paper about his work, but I'm confined to working with only one text, and I'm just not in love with it, so I am totally blocked. I vocalized my dread about the course and the text in a general way to my librarian, who felt compelled to share my feelings with my professor. My professor was unhappy with me, but I feel like she should be looking at the librarian who should have held my confidence while I pushed through my doubts and frustrations.

In the good old days your librarian was much like your bartender, willing to listen to your cry for help and offer solutions and research advice without judgement. I've been around a ton of professional librarians, (I had lunch with a retired librarian today) and not one of them has tattled on me for whining about a text or questioning the pedagogy behind a worksheet (yeah, in my grad studies I have been doing some worksheets). 

Except now I am in a quandary because everywhere I turn some tattling piece of fluff seems to be perched around the corner. Asking questions is no longer considered a critical thinking skill, and you are to remain silent in the face of your doubt because freedom is only an illusion. But I am not really blaming the tattle tales because in the age of surveillance I believe some people have normalized pettiness and dishonesty. I am beginning to see that we are in the midst of a social ill that is yet to be diagnosed or given a name. 

The typical tattle tale lives in fear and insecurity, is jealous and dramatic, and believes every little speed bump is a life or death situation. Most tattle tales are not only extraordinarily dishonest, but also malicious and thin-skinned, itchy about trivial stuff and constantly coughing up mucus because they make themselves sick. So maybe we could call this new social ill something like gastrotattletalencephalitis, and abbreviate it to chicken-poop. At this time, I am sitting on a treasure trove of interesting emails shared with me based on the ignorance and fear of such types of people. I'm thinking about finding a way to incorporate these documents into a poem, short story, or other creative enterprise. One such email was authored by a thin-skinned gentleman that sits on a rubber ball during the day and discusses karate--his composition would make a great piece of blackout poetry, and it raises an important question, "Don't they teach character at the dojo anymore?"

Another such funny email hails from a woman that believes that your teaching credentials should be held secret and considers the online- state-certificate-lookup the education department version of Wikileaks. The fact that this ridiculous email exists says a lot about the institution it comes from, and if I was working for their public relations firm, I would have said emphatically, "Don't touch that!" But the irony is completely lost on that particular institution because they failed to do their homework on the issue, or examine an outside perspective. The email reads like an admission of guilt...yes, we are, those people are not certified...yes, no one needs to know what we are, we are not proud of our staff. I am thinking of making a novelette with that document and use the student journalism story that initiated the whole discussion for a framework.

See story here:

Mark Twain would have plenty to say about the way modern society has churned out, and I wish he could help me write these exciting things up. He would be devastated to see that Americans are rowing backwards rather than forward, and I know he would find my email treasure trove an interesting piece of anthropology (the dilemma of Huck and Jim just hasn't reached enough readers).

But not all of the news is bad. Today, I met with my friends for our annual luncheon at Brookwood, and we enjoyed sharing our teacher/administrator stories. We laughed, we prayed, and we shopped for flowers with new gardening gloves. I won a gift card, and we are providing fifteen-hundred dollars to three new teachers; one member may earn a fascinating position. Another educator shared how she examined Hawthorne and the theme of isolation while working on her Masters. The retired librarian, one of the best in the world, just returned from a 16-day European vacation, so she had stories and happiness to share. I was able to personally thank another teacher for the materials she had given me and explain how they worked in my classroom. We had chicken sandwiches, but no chicken-poop, a garden salad, and tomato soup; and we had an open and free discussion...imagine.


Moving and Unethical Landlords: the Trials

If I said I wasn't happy to write under my old banner again, well, I'd be lying! So much has happened this year that needs to get recorded, but I have been too busy to write for fun. What with teaching, taking grad classes, and looking after two dogs and a teenager, my calendar is full and I am overbooked. 

I had to move this June, and it was a real burden on my friends, my work, and my family. All I know is that if someone wants to become a landlord, then they should have to pass some kind of a mental health check, and also take a quiz on basic ethics. I was able to live in my old house for two years, but I knew when the lease expired that they were going to start acting weird; predicting that the greed meter would reach a new record, I choked back the tears and started packing.

My new office is much bigger, but I am not buying more resource materials. My bedroom is bigger, but I'm not adding any new boyfriends. The kitchen is bigger, but it has a gas stove, and I am very intimidated by gas. Besides, the air conditioner is at least 25 years old, and that's too old to do the job, plus the oven makes the house hotter than Hades. 

Logistically, this house is too far from my kid's school. This means I have to let him drive, and he did not inherit my gift of spatial reasoning. Having the ability to measure speed and distance is crucial to good driving, but my son is a dreamer behind the wheel. Guns and machetes concern me because, for the Houston road rage idiot, they are the weapon of choice. Not only that, I am just not comfortable letting my kid run around unsupervised in a car. It just seems like a crazy thing to do!

Anyway, I am about to start blogging a lot more. I am taking a class featuring Henry David Thoreau, and his diary is awe-inspiring. Not that my prose will ever compare to Thoreau's, but it would be fun to try. And I have missed my much! My old issue used to drive a lot of traffic, and I even had some commercial sponsors. I guess now that I have settled down into a more domesticated life people find me boring. 

Well, that's it for today...the blog about nothing has blogged itself out. Now I have to deal with the lost chihuahua in my back yard, then go wash my face and brush my teeth. I think I'll fix the chihuahua up with a kennel and a blanket. Yeah, that's a good idea!

Night world!

When it really isn't about you, even though you think it is!

It's Sunday afternoon, and I am way behind on lesson planning; but, I just had to share this poem today with my readers because I miss my writing, and it's not really about you. In fact, most of the time it is never about anyone in particular, but more about the general mood or tone of my life as I perceive it daily. And while divorce is good, I am currently without one, even though other kinds of formal documents are a consistent pest. In other words, be careful about how you interpret any poem...simply said, you bring your own reality into the framework and words of any artwork. The situation is unavoidable. You should never apply any reality to obvious fantasy.

I can remember reading something from the notes of John Steinbeck about how the people that hated him were angry if they thought he characterized them in his novels, but how they hated him even more if they suspected they were completely ignored. The people that hate me can go ahead and take their hate to the next level because, clearly, I could care less about their feelings come what may. 

But maybe this isn't really about you after all, and maybe it's still not absolute fiction. It's very possible that you are deeply loved by me, and, of course, you would never appear in any of my more negative suppositions. I am hoping that is the stance you prefer to take, whatever you are reading---the high road of poetry analysis.

My Protest


I object to your shaming technique.

My demonstration consists of my

movement away from you.


I’ve lost your all-consuming clutter.

The myriad of your trash, stacked

behind and before, below and beneath,

our shared space.


I’ve lost my sympathy for you,

                my desire

                                to help you

                                to understand you

                                to support you


My patience has abandoned me, along

with my antipathy.

                I have lost all feeling for you.


I’ve gained a flower of blue, calm attitude

blooming in a garden of peace,

a fresh space overlooking an emerald garden,

a recovery from your divisive, hateful, dramatic



I hold my perfect square of sunshine

between my fingers.


My protest is over…

Our divorce is complete.


Now think about this...the average reader would assume that I have just obtained my last middle aged right of passage---the divorce! Some other readers of this poem might think I have done the unthinkable---tossed my teenager out into the street!

I am not about to do that anytime in the near future. His behavior is impeccable! He is even neat...So, what could this poem be about? What inspired me to write this horrible little bit of anti-art? Okay, I will tell you. 

Something that truly offended and shocked me inspired this piece of angry junk. And if you were ever offended by something, then you know how it can stick in your mind forever until you cleanse it by writing it away. What I have seen over the years will without a doubt make it into some kind of a permanent record; but until then, please, be patient with me. My anti-art is simply my way of dealing with the present, while recording it for the future. 

Honestly, it is NOT about you :)


Wasted Days and Wasted Nights

Periodically, we all move into the mind numbing mode of disillusionment that pushes us into the blackest caves of our cranium, moving us closer to depression. We start to imagine our time as a force ticking past; we can hear the tick, tick, tick into the abyss of nothingness, but the bills march on, and the children continue to grow, and time shapes us into an older version of our beautiful, earlier self; normally a bigger version, a fatter version, a version with wrinkles, gray hair, folds of spotted skin, and unspeakable abnormalities.

This would all be acceptable if only one could find a sense of justice. Of course, something larger and more material than a "sense of justice" would be better: justice on a platter, or justice from the top, maybe justice that coincides with truthfulness, a justice that is not blind to reality. After all of the meanness, and the petty lies, the thievery, and the troll under the bridge whispering into the ears of a snickering fat butter ball, then we could all accept our place, and toil for less with more joy in our hearts.

And this joy would be for the queen's rapid packing, and the whining and sniveling know-nothing ignorance of a test passed too easily will flirt off into the dance floor of another time, and another place, and all of us will benefit from the justice of the dotted line on a highway headed north, back home where this constant back and forth, backstabbing mediocrity is accepted as normal, and the nasally whine of a voice too cheap, and too falsely dramatic, will fade into the muffled memories of a building meant to spread truth, and reveal justice.

Finally, after years of struggle, a flower will find time to bloom in a garden that was once toxic with hate, lies, insecurities, jealousy, and petty greed.

That will be the day.

Twitter Account: Charlie and Renae

Charlie the Westie, and his hoosis (human sister) Renae, are two of my favorite Twitter characters. They live in Seattle, but I met Renae at a Starbucks in Houston a few months after I became acquainted with her and Charlie via social media. While some social media friendships fizzle and wither, ours has rather grown, and I am hoping she gets to visit H-town again soon.

Charlie the dog usually comments on their shared life. Renae is a student that loves to read fiction, watch sports, and snack on interesting foods. This makes her an idea hoosis for Charlie, and he obviously loves her immensely.

Charlie and Renae are part of a world wide group of dog owners that frequently communicate "in character." These interchanges are sometimes comedic, but often meaningful as owners provide advice, friendship, and sympathy on a wide range of discussion topics.

LIfe is difficult, but the Twitter account @NaeNae_1204 will lighten your spirits as you read the antics of Charlie and Renae. Click and follow!