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The 45th Moonlight Ramble: Having Fun in Houston

Last night's Moonlight Ramble was a blast because it's just one of the many ways we are proving that our city is getting some of its groove back after Harvey. All kinds of people were out with neon lights on their bikes (I couldn't find my new lights), some people were in costume, and kids and pets were everywhere. I wore my day-of-the-dead bicycle helmet, and I headed out with the first group of 60 riders. I maintained for the entire 10 mile ride without falling off in a pothole, and only stopping once for a water break. I paused briefly at the Houston Bicycle Museum, and then I made it back to Discovery Green with the first wave of riders. We all lined up for a free beer, and I took a comfy seat in the VIP area to drink mine (even though I'm not really a VIP, I find ways to get in those areas). 

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Riding around downtown Houston is fun anytime, but we had people at nearly every corner stopping traffic and making sure we didn't get lost in the dark. 

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I wish I had taken more pictures. Several riders had brought their kids and dogs in carts, and one person rode the whole ten miles on one of those elliptical things. I don't know what you call that thing, but he had some serious leg muscles. It was also kind of eerie because he was dressed like a phantom (with short shorts) and that elliptical thing makes you look like you're floating rather than riding, giving him this ghostly aura. 

I went back to my parking place and reloaded my bike, and drove home to watch the latest episode of my favorite series thinking about how much my neighbors and friends have accomplished since the storm. It is these happy moments that make it worthwhile to live in a city like Houston.


The Light Woman's Confession and Imperative

Yes, I know that everyone tonight is hating me, and that is because I am the queen of light. I am the queen of light housework after light breakfast; I am the queen of light television after reading light Victorian novels rich with sensitive scents, and vivid imagery. I am the queen of light cream flowing over light chocolate coated around light frozen confections, one for each day of the week, after a luxurious light nap after a light lunch of light turkey and fluffy light “made by scratch” bread. I dine on such bread with light butter in front of light television: Dr. Phil, The Late Show, and, of course, Wheel of Fortune. Nothing about my life is serious, including the light haze of olive oil scented heat created by the iron pot cooking the light evening meal. My life is a luxurious ritual of sensuous splendor, the teacher’s summer. I’m never experienced before, except when I was a writer creating proposals for oil companies, leaning into famous faces, dodging cameras, and sensuously kissing lips that I sincerely loved, wanting to have that moment of honesty: come back to me.


My Struggle with Beauty and Artificiality: The Truth is Ugly

Last week I was asked to define beauty as it pertains to English Renaissance love poetry, and as I was working I came to an epiphany. Earlier in the course we had been asked to examine artificiality as it relates to romance, and I just found the whole exercise, the paper itself, an act in futility. The intersection between beauty and artificiality is so complex, but obvious, that I found the prompt hard to answer.

It wasn't until the final paper on beauty, especially as I examined Robert Herrick's early modern poem Delight in Disorder, that I understood why the piece on artificiality had stumped me so badly. For the past couple of years I had been immersed in an environment based on false intentions and duplicity. Busy and distracted, the guilt of my association was running in the background of my life somewhat like a virus, but its effect on my health and mental happiness was slowly becoming an unavoidable truth. As this truth unfolded this summer, I became seriously ill. I think much of my illness was a reaction to the artificiality of my previous assignation. Now I do not mean assignation in the true sense of the word, but only in its shameful qualities, the fact I should have known better. 

Today I scrolled through my social media feed to see what the captains of artificiality were selling this week, and lo and behold, some good old fashioned fakery is, of course, the rule of the day. Basically disingenuous and fluff without substance, the drumbeat remains the same. But Delight in Disorder is a poem about beauty that rejects its connection to artificiality and connects to its authenticity: A carelesse shoestring, in whose tie / I see a wild civility: / Do more bewitch me, than when art / Is too precise in every part (11-14). 

Beauty is sincere. True beauty, the kind that inspires awe and promotes harmony, is authentic in its behavior and motives.

These lines from John Keats poem Ode on a Grecian Urn explains it best:

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all 
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." 
 
The captains of artificiality, these so-called leaders in the midst of their leadership summits, are typical shysters and phonies. Nothing beautiful or harmonious resides within the upper strata of their institution. This "awareness" of their fakery has been a feature of my subconscious for quite some time, and this "awareness" buried under the rush of my everyday life revealed itself during my poetry analysis and interpretations.
 
Now that I am moving forward with my life, I am weighing options and looking at ways to communicate my misgivings about these captains of artificiality. I believe that the fakery will collapse upon itself--but maybe not in time to save the next round of busy, well-intentioned people. The inner sanctions of this feeble institution should be revealed because the intentions at the highest level are false and shrouded in secrecy and lies. And if the intentions are clearly false, then what is the actual motive? The lack of genuine kindness is the ugliness of artificiality, and this is why it was so elusive for me. Removing those layers of doubt and facing the truth, understanding that I defended and contributed to these captains of artificiality has been a humbling experience, not one I dare repeat. My new understanding of ugliness is overshadowing my usual carefree summer break with an ugly rain cloud of despondency. But I think it's important that I made this connection. Now I must not be silent...no one should ever be silent.
 
 

Help Me! Edmund Spenser is Giving Me Fits!

Okay, my task this week was to figure out why Edward Spenser loves his bride so much. To figure this out, I have to analyze the Epithalamion and a couple of his sonnets from Amoretti. My paper is due tomorrow and since I've been sick as Hell for two weeks, I am behind and just not feeling all that poetic. Besides, the early modern period is a weakness for me. I have never been that studious, and I tend to get bored very quickly trying to decode all of that by myself. But my professor is actually pretty good at showing us how to get through Wyatt and Spenser, and now I am starting to really like it. vroom vroom...

And that's why I think I have it! He's created this vision, this idea of love, much like he writes his poetry. He loves her because she is new, with lilly hands, and a white gown, and she is the picture of humility and innocence, just as a new piece of paper feels to the poet. She's like a blank page on which he can write his poem, or compose the plan of his life. He can give her ornamentations across the marriage bed like drifting flowers and swirling cupids, just as he likes to pepper his sonnets with Middle English and flat out confuse everyone. That is why he loves her...yeah, she's beautiful and all of that, but that's not really enough. He can use her for inspiration; she's a real live muse.

All this week I have been reading Spenser as if he was a truly devoted marriage partner. But now I am beginning to think he is just a typical man, and I have been misreading him. He really is in it for himself... He wants to write, and he needs a reason.

 


The Fight Today

    This morning I am all of the faults my Grandmother detested: contemptuous, fatigued, imposed upon, and impatient. I never asked to come here, and my tenure has turned into a trap of sorts, a place I can walk away from; however, if I do, then I will self-destruct and all of my arrows will have missed the mark. A vision of my Grandmother passes before me dressed in her starched apron, her hands kneading the dough, a soft breeze rattling her screen door.

    We will all forget, as soon as humanly possible, the spoilt and petulant, slightly plump little valley girl feigning credentials, yet possessing none, but still allowed to trounce on the souls of hard working, dedicated professionals she perceives beneath her. But, in the academic world, she is simply nothing but a communications degree that failed to make a west coast splash, a loser of plump proportions, a twit beyond description.

     And in the hallways a woman creeps like a lizard peeking into the rooms, searching for fault, and when finding nothing, she constructs a drama from thin air, and she weaves these falsehoods to support the plump and gelatinous, the petulant and feigning. We watch these actions in horror, from behind our glasses, and our dependents look on helplessly, some of them resisting injustice, and others tricked by the duplicity, all of them cheated by the sheer force of the inept and incompetent leadership of our establishment; the falsehoods created to destroy me are openly discussed in the hallways, and this undermines my authority; I am defeated.

      I check under my eyes, and they are darker than ever with lines forming on my cheeks below, and after another bout with the illogical and duplicitous, I wipe a frustrated tear off my cheek, and I grit my teeth for another round because we have never had more to lose, and I do not want to disappoint my Grandmother.

      After all of my years on the docks, the roadways, and the cities and towns of  North America, and after all of the rough characters that have passed in and out of my life from the communities around the world, and after all of my experience, the scholars, the sages, the poets, the chiefs, the professors, the professionals, the workers, the soldiers, and the quitters, after all of these lessons, I was still not prepared for the disgraceful spectacle I now witness—a spectacle of negativity that completely derailed the future of an entire urban neighborhood.

     I question why our supreme leader sits on his hallowed throne and allows this scandal to continue, and I am answered by a poet with underworld connections,

“It is his golden rod, and those who parlay to kiss its tip are whisked away by a magical lizard.”

   My poet winks at me, and I nod in confusion unraveling the riddle, and pondering its meaning. I rock back on my heels, and my sudden laughter fills my vacant room as I comprehend the absurdity of our dilemma: the carnal weakness of man.

 In the world hereafter, I know my Grandmother is smiling.


Writing about a Book

Writing a book has always been my dream, and recently I shared this idea with a scholarly friend that knows the story of my life. My friend sat and thought a bit, and then she remarked, "Well, for a book you need characters. Have you got any ideas? You need a well planned plot, and a worthy protagonist. What are you thinking about?" I had to laugh when she started asking about characters, because I have plenty of them. Some have created a constant background noise throughout my life; flat, not well-developed, and in my story, cowardly followers sipping from the same toxic well. Of course, these followers have plenty of dialogue, lots of hysterical ideas, and can move the plot forward just by the sheer force of their insipid arrogance. In a good play, you would see them whispering in ears, and tip-toeing about the stage tripping over their own self righteous, forked tongues, walking a dog, maybe catching a cab. Cowards are in abundance.

My scholar reached across the table for her cheap little eyeglasses, and then she wanted to know more about my supporting roles, and main character.

"The supporting roles are easy," I told her. "My main character is very independent, and this is why she is hated." "Yes," she snapped, "but even supporting characters are not always supportive of the main character. What a ridiculous conversation we are having!"

It is a "ridiculous" conversation, but one I must have, because my life is no longer about me, and neither is my book. Instead, my story should focus on the faults of the flat character: cowardice, ignorance, jealousy, and selfishness. Instead of allowing them to languish around in the background of my story, I should bring them to the light. I should show them to my world, and I should reveal their flaws, and their failure to create a thesis for their life, their inability to understand harmony, rhythm, and the techniques needed to manipulate an empty page. Never mind that flat characters are technically lacking traits both positive and negative, my composition will endeavor to redefine the 'flat' character, and give it dimensions. I shall move one of these cowards up to center stage, and give it a name.

But, that's a bad idea, because I would spend all of my time trying to humanize a character not worth knowing. My story would no longer be about the best of life, but about the filth, and suddenly I understand why this painful story is so hard to tell. My friend and I are back to the beginning. She orders a drink, and I stare out the window…thinking.

"You need a metaphor. Your book must stand for some principle. What is your principle? What symbol will you use?" I laughed again, as I thought of the symbols in my life: the winding white line along the roadway, the quill, a signature dog, and the number seven. None of my symbols were worth a dime, unless I equated a dog turd with the characters in my life; then, maybe, I could go places. "I am dry on symbols," I replied fretfully, as the image of a dog turd floated around in my brain. "I simply have nothing good to say. I see no way to win with so many flat characters."

But, I have to.


Where the Picture is Dark

Since I moved, I can't find my rear with both hands. Some of my books are in Oklahoma, and some of them are here, and many of them are digital. Some of my books are at school, and my dog ate the rest. I threw a bunch of stuff away, and I sent the wrong box of clothes north, so now I have nothing warm to wear; except that doesn't really matter because it's going to be in the 90's on Monday.

I never have a moment alone.

I have Vince walking around the apartment like a zombie looking for my secondary writing book; I offered him cash if he unearthed it someplace. We have clothes in the dryer, my sheets haven't been washed in two weeks, my dog needs his hair done, Vince thinks I am the worst parent in the world, and I have a whole new set of worries related to work that I haven't even mentioned yet.

The top of my dresser is stacked with baubles, clothes, cheap jewelry, and hair junk. My closet has one box for shoes, and one box for purses, and I haven't even had time, or the will, to dig to the bottom, or kick the boxes out of the way.

But, I am happy. So now I just have to find that book, get back on the pathway, and iron the 4 foot tall pile of clothes that have been stored on the right side of my dirty bed for two weeks. Then, at last, everything will be as smooth as butter on bread. Maybe then I could go visit a lounge, take Vince to a movie, act like a parent, meditate and pray, or take a nice drive in my cutie car.

I don't have any time.

Whatever happens in the next 24 hours, I know my responsibilities will continuously haunt me. I have the October blues, and there is nothing that can be done for November disillusionment, and the false hopes of post Christmas, the melancholy of January. The piles of paper, the demands of work, and the gains and losses of life are part of me now, like never before. If I lose, then I lose with a crowd.

This afternoon I hit the couch, exhausted, and I started to dream. I could feel the rumble of my truck, and hear my steel belts clacking away on the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge. I was alone again with my thoughts, dreading the scales, the cops, deadlines, and Houston traffic. I could smell the smoke, hear the music, and see the graceful deadly swamp with the mossy trees, and glassy black water completely at peace; but I was alone, and I was lonely, and the picture was dark.


The Poet and the Sister :-)

So long to the format, a bitter fill-in-the-blank document, something void of character, lacking in quality, and unusable. How dare you criticize me when you have denied me something tangible, you incomprehensible phony, you inexperienced quack. And on the day you beat us all, the sun will slip behind the western sky, and it will fail to rise, an eclipse as brilliant as an atomic blast will puncture the heavens, and life will eternally cease to exist, my father awaits me.

We have nothing to hide from you, and we have nothing to fear.

Once, long ago, we took a measure of the stars, and my brother laughed with me, and against the tide we were.

"It doesn't matter if they like you or not, for you belong to something better, something unexplainable."

Of them all, he loved me the most, and his words were true, not hollow, or masked with sympathy. I continued to listen, for he was a poet, and his wisdom arched across the plains, and the mountains of our home so far away.

"Your life, the road you travel, is unique, and your vision is clear."

And this is why they would throw me away.


Moving Day...OMGosh!!!

Dear Friends,

Today I have to start moving in earnest. I don't know what to do, and I am completely overwhelmed! If only you could see how much junk I have accumulated in the short 6 years I have been living down here. All of my furniture is BIG. All of my furniture is super HEAVY! I live up, not down, and even though I have been going through drawers and closets throwing stuff out and giving it away, everything is still completely full. Not only that, I have a computer network. At least it looks like a network, tangled wires are everywhere, and once I unplug this mess, what then? 

I am lonely. The Direct television crowd turned my service off a whole day early...I have no background noise. That means I can only get music as long as I leave my computer wired in.

I can't get the keys for my new apartment until tomorrow!

My child is still sleeping in his bed...he is clueless. He has no idea how much work he is in for today!

But we have so much to look forward to. My new place has two balconies, a marble kitchen, and a garden tub. The swimming pool is beautiful, and the fitness center is open 24 hours a day, completely sanitized and clean. Up the road, a fabulous junior high for Vince, a school with awards, a place where all of the drama is between the kids, and not the adults.

In Katy, people are friendly, they mind their own business, and life is too busy for wild speculations and chronic gossip. I will have Target, Starbucks, fabulous restaurants, the YMCA, a skating rink, my son's karate class, and my Jazzercise.

So, I am happy, just overwhelmed :-(


Please, Help Me Raise Money for My High School English Class!

Dear Friends,

This week I am in Chickasha at my old house to celebrate Father's Day and have a yard sale. We are getting rid of everything Vince has outgrown, and all of the stuff we no longer need (like a huge collection of traveling gear dating back to 1983).

As you know, I have to spend some of my own money to create a classroom environment fit for my students. Last year I was in training, and all of this year I taught as a substitute. That means I haven't had time to shop for all of the neat teacher things I will need: books, binders, file storage, classroom literature sets, games for my students, software, bookshelves, and a variety of reading materials.

We haven't completely decided what days to have our yard sale...maybe Thursday and Friday. I have to be back in Houston for a "Positive Behaviors" conference that begins early next week, so I want to go back Saturday night or Sunday morning.

Anyway, I will let all of you know more as I work it out.

At any rate, I am extremely excited and pleased with my new position, and my students deserve the best of everything. I know none of you thought you would ever hear me say this, "But I can't wait for school to start!"

Last, but not least, I want to thank at least three outstanding men who have really helped me along this year...you know who you are, and all three of you are excellent fathers. Without your guidance, help, and thoughtful words, I could never have made this drastic career change. Because of your kind support I have more to offer to my students and my family. Angels ARE everywhere :-)

So, as we celebrate Father's Day, I am going to thank my late dad for giving me the strength to survive the ridiculous...no wonder he chose to live his life out on a small Pacific island...no wonder! :-)