Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Someone Saw

Sometimes I think we've over-bought into the idea that we can be effective by focusing primarily on the numbers. Sure, numbers can be an essential part of the equation. But they don't take into account some of the most important things of all. It's hard to measure, for example, the true impact of a real human connection.

People aren't widgets.

The other day I met with an inmate who was being released after his 42nd stay in the jail. I can't imagine that he didn't already know that he could go to the Food and Care Coalition to get a hot meal and some bus tokens.

Maybe I helped him by mapping out his to do list to make it more manageable. Get a two-week supply of your current meds at the Rite Aid by the hospital. While you're waiting for them to fill the prescription, go across the street to the Deseret Industries to get a change of clothes. After you check in with your probation officer, go to the Health and Justice Building next door to get a birth certificate so you can get your social security card and then your state photo ID. And so on.

I don't know. Maybe the practical information we talked about will make a difference for him and he'll put more pieces of his life together this time around. I always hope it will.

But it was the unofficial conversation we had as we wrapped up our meeting that struck me.

While we talked, he had his arms resting on the table, hands out, palms up, gesturing. I kept noticing the tattoos on the inside of his forearms.

"Your tattoos are really colorful," I said. "More colorful than I usually see."

His eyes lit up. He pointed to the roses on his right arm. "These were just in black ink for a long time," he said. "Then one day I learned from my daughter that different colored roses have different meanings. So I added color based on those." He showed me the intricate pattern of red fading into yellow and yellow fading into red. I wondered what stories they told.

He turned to go back to his housing unit with a smile on his face. Someone--who was not, by the numbers, required to see him--saw.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Welcome to the Family

On Christmas Day, we added someone to our family. Meet our new little guy. He lives in the fridge.
Whenever we open the fridge door he greets us cheerfully and chats with us. If we leave the door open too long, he scolds us. (I have actually gotten better about not leaving the door open as long because I don't like to be scolded.)

Once in a while, he will ask, "What are you looking for?"

I realized one day that instead of giving him fridge-related answers (The eggs. The milk. The marmalade.), I'm responding in more existential terms.

What am I looking for?

The determination to eat healthier food.
Leaves to come out on the trees.
A way to get to the ocean more often.
The bottom of that stack of papers I'm grading.
Congressional action on, well, anything. 
Peace on earth.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Giving It Up

I've been thinking about giving something up for Lent this year, but have been putting off deciding what it is until the last minute. I've got it now.

Yesterday, I was talking with someone who I think is like me in the sense that we have both have lots of ideas rattling around in our minds and we both want to go in a million different directions. She asked me how I manage. I mumbled something about how I really don't, that I just pretend.

But I don't think that's quite right. I don't think I hide anything. Well, except for when my dad was visiting last week and I asked him not to go in my office because the stacks are piled too high.

What I do is procrastinate whatever seems less essential at the time. Thus, the piles. And, what's worse, I often decide that the more essential thing is to regroup from expending energy on whatever scheme I'm involved with at the time. In other words, I get worn out and I stop doing anything productive for a while. I just hang out (usually in my pjs) and read and think and sometimes write. This means that not only do the the piles get higher, but I end up with more ideas rattling around in my mind and more directions to head in.

I need to figure out how to manage better.

So for Lent I am going to give up procrastinating. Every day I will do something specific that has been hanging over my head, causing me angst. Then, if I get around to it, I will report back here.

And I might give up Diet Coke. But not until the stash in my fridge is gone.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


I'm truly not obsessing about turning 50 this year, but reminders about how long I've been on this earth abound. Like the 50th anniversary of MLK's "I Have a Dream Speech," which was given about a month after I was born. Or the 50th anniversary of Kenya's independence. Or the 50th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique.

Wow, 1963 was a pivotal year. Especially for the Beatles, who were gearing up for their invasion.

A week or two ago, one of Jack's friends told me that people said he looked like John Lennon when he put on Jack's glasses. He reached over and took Jack's glasses and put them on. No kidding, he was transformed into John Lennon.

And then he said, "Who is John Lennon?"


A few days later, I was waiting to pick up Jack at school and I saw this same friend of his walking with a girl. Clearly they were flirting with one another. When Jack got to the car, I asked him about his friend and the girl. Were they an item? Jack didn't have anything good to say about the situation. Was she getting in the way of their friendship?

"Don't let her be your Yoko Ono," I laughed.

And then I had to explain who she was.

Saturday, February 09, 2013


Once a year, Roger has to venture up to Salt Lake City to take around fliers for a BYU library book collecting conference to some of the independent bookstores. It's a tough job, I know.

Since my dad is in town, we decided to kill two birds with one stone (or, as my sister prefers to say, feed two birds with one hand) and left him with Jack so we could spend the night in a downtown hotel. That gave us plenty of time for some leisurely browsing at several of our favorite stores.

People often ask me what I'm reading or whether I've read any good books lately. When we had our bookstore, I made a point of reading lots of books that other people would enjoy so I'd have lots of books in mind to recommend. Now I pretty much just read what speaks to me or that connects to something going on in my life, so I'm never really sure how to answer those questions anymore.

Here's what I picked up last night:

Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams. I'm going to a writing workshop she's leading next week. I remember being intrigued by this book when it first came out and I heard her on the interview circuit. "Shards of glass can cut and wound or magnify a vision," she writes. "Mosaic celebrates brokenness and the beauty of being brought together." I rationalized buying it because I love the way she writes and so I can have something for her to sign when I see her. Oh, and also because it begins in Ravenna, Italy.

A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams by Michael Pollan. It's a memoir about building a small cabin with his own hands on his Connecticut property. He used it as a writing space. I love books that weave threads of seemingly disconnected ideas--especially ideas that enthrall me like how we humans are affected and inspired by well designed buildings. I rationalized buying it because I know exactly who I will pass it on to when I've finished reading it.

A used copy of a book published in 1978 called A Guided Pilgrimage: Literary Places, in which author John Deedy has "set out to provide a guide, with biography and some critique, to people and places in the state of New York and the New England states where persons might commune with the spirits of those who helped create an American literature, or, in the cases of some, a literature that America shares by reading." I rationalized buying it because it jumped off the shelf and reminded me of an idea I've been nurturing for a writing project that involves reading books and traveling to where they were written. Communing with the spirits. And maybe dragging Jack into the project in the guise of educating him. If I don't run out of years before he's grown up that is.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Feat #2: Going Downhill

In my head, I don't want to be the mom who sits on the sidelines while my kid plays in the snow. But in reality, I'd rather be curled up inside, wrapped in a blanket, reading a good book. Let Roger take Jack and his friends sledding.

So yesterday afternoon all we went sledding at Jolly's Ranch in Hobble Creek Canyon, and I was determined to take more than ten runs--not just take a token run then go hang out by the fire like I am generally inclined to do. You know, to prove to myself that I'm not "that" mom.

Happy to report that, at least for one afternoon, I wasn't!

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Feat #1: An Auspicious Start

I'm taking advantage of my dad's visit to enjoy some outdoor adventures. This morning we headed to Utah Lake, which is completely frozen over, to do some cross country skiing.

I've skied before. And I've been on the lake before. But I've never skied on the lake. It was a completely new and somewhat surreal, almost primitive experience.

We couldn't have asked for more perfect conditions, especially for someone like me who isn't too keen on being out in the cold. Clear skies, decent temperature, no wind, easy snow to glide through, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves save for a few ice fishers.

We did a two to three mile loop out into the middle of the lake, working up enough of a sweat that we had to peel off some layers. I even took my mittens off! 

Dad and I agreed that we made a standout memory together. (N)ice.


A few weeks ago, I was yearning for some adventure. I know that is not unusual, but this winter has been especially hard on me. The freezing cold temperatures, the inversion, the gray, gray skies day after day after day.

So I emailed two lovely, funny friends, and asked them if they'd like to meet for lunch in Salt Lake City one day.

We met up yesterday. I thought I'd take the train up to make it an even grander adventure, but it turned out that I have at my disposal a fun little Fiat. I got rear ended in a terrible ice storm last week, and it's the rental I've been supplied with while my Jeep is in the shop. I've almost got myself convinced that the brown car isn't the color of mud but rather the color of chocolate or Italian leather. Almost.

And if having a fun little Fiat to drive wasn't enough, the sun was out. And the skies were blue as far as I could see. Nice day, road trip, good friends, meeting of the minds, hearty laughs, tasty food.

Spring is clearly ahead of me, and my winter stupor is receding in the rear view mirror. Even if it's cold and cloudy every day for the next two months.