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Going Home

My heart hangs heaviest during the autumn of each year, when I know far away the leaves are turning a riot of colors, smoke smell lingers in the heavy cool air, apples fall ready from the trees, and sweaters become the costume of choice. 

 

The north road calls,
the pure voice of fall
fills my ears with joy,
far away, here alone–

The pure voice of fall,
the promise of crisp apples, while
far away, here alone,
I watch the summer moon fade.

The promise of crisp apples, while
distant, I still can savor memory–
I watch the summer moon fade,
the trees don’t change color here;

distant, I still can savor memory,
the purest hues of New England autumn.
The trees don’t change color here-
I will not stay here forever.

The purest hues of New England Autumn
fill my eyes with joy–
I will not stay here forever, not
while the north road calls.

@2016
MaryMargaret

Not Crazy About December

I have such mixed feelings about this time of year. While I love autumn and the changes it brings–especially if it has been a relatively wet spring and summer so the colors of the trees are vivid–in the back of my mind is the reminder (or is it a warning?) that the autumn swiftly barrels into winter and all that winter signifies.

I don’t like winter.

I don’t mind saying that out loud and have been known to tell students that I will flunk them if they say “I love snow” one more time. That sounds cruel, but it’s really just honest.

Snow is/can be pretty, when it’s first falling, when it gently covers everything in sight.

snowfall 1

But after the initial shock-and-awe of that snowstorm fades, reality sets in. People forget how to drive in snow and panic drives most cars. Down here there isn’t the full-on capacity for snow removal that places north of the Mason-Dixon line have so while main roads and highways can be cleared within a day, neighborhood roads remain icy and snow-packed until the temperature can get above freezing and the sun can do her work.

What started out as a beautiful winter-wonderland scene quickly becomes ice and slush and dirty snow, shoved up against the sides of the road and into driveways, blown up and out of the way of one road only to add to the problems of another road. That pretty scene does not last long, but the remnants and the dirt and the ice last quite a long time. What was lovely is now ugly. And cold.

It’s not fun living like that. There’s also the fear that the heat bill will be so high that it won’t be able to be completely paid in one month, and that, too, adds to what quickly becomes a stress-filled December.

Outside of the tangible, and the fact that December really starts somewhere near the end of October as far as capitalist corporations are concerned, there’s the intangible difficulties that December brings. Some people suffer from SAD, a seasonal disorder that can plummet them to the depths of despair. Depression around the jolly holidays is not uncommon, either, although one would never know it to look at what the suits on Madison Avenue insist on choking down our throats: happy people buying lots of happy stuff to make them even happier! What joy! What bliss!

christmas shopping

What an unending pot-full of lies, bound only to end with extreme disappointment for too many people.

So I have mixed feelings about December. There was a time, for about six years in a row, when I did not travel back to the wintry northeast to try to spend a week with my family there. Funding does not allow for me to fly, so I spend four days driving back and forth (which does not leave a lot of time for visiting in a leisurely manner). The expense of this travel is nearly back-breaking. I can keep it close to $300 to drive up (gas, food, lodging) and $300 for the drive back (gas, food, lodging). But money needs to be spent while there. The least expensive Christmas presents for sons and father and daughter, because I do love them and want to give them something, and “Hi, I’m here” just doesn’t seem like enough. So honestly it comes close to $900 to go home for Christmas.

That’s depressing for someone who has not had a raise in six years, yet whose expenses–minimal expenses–continue to rise. Gas, food, lodging. Plus orthodontia and music lessons, school loans and credit card debt. That’s depressing for someone who gets to the middle of the month and constantly worries how she is going to make $200 stretch for 14 days and still pay the phone bill and the electric bill when they come in before the end of the month.

It should not be depressing, the month of December. It should be a time of joy, of completion, of family, of happy gatherings, of looking forward to the next year. But for some, it isn’t. It’s knowing that if one decides to stay home, there will be sadness and a great wish to be with family; and yet it’s knowing that if one decides to go, the stress of worrying about where that money is going to come from outweighs the benefits of actually being with family. It’s stressful no matter what the decision is.

To all of this, this year there is an added reminder of the bleakness of December. Saying goodbye to a dear person after 33 years last December was not easy–not that saying good bye permanently ever is. But thinking of those who are no longer with us to celebrate a holiday they loved does tend to put a damper on things no matter how much we say, “Mom would have loved this and would have wanted us to be happy and keep on the traditions.”

christmas tree

Perhaps this is a first-world problem and I should look at December as just another month, a month to live and enjoy life, to appreciate what I have and love the people who matter to me. It’s difficult, though, because suddenly the tears come from somewhere, run for a while, and dry temporarily only to return when they are least expected.

I want to love you, December, but I just do not think I can.

 

 

There’s a meme of sorts going around on Facebook right now that asks people to put up a list of “10 Books That Stayed With Me.” I thought about this for a day or so, adding and deleting different books in my mind before finally coming up with 11—yes, one more than was asked for or required. After all, it is just a meme from Facebook so are there really hard-and-fast rules when it comes to that? 

What follows is my list with some detailed and some not-so-detailed explanations regarding each one. I realize now that I would also add, to the commentary of The Once and Future King that The Mists of Avalon comes right up there, but it was the White book that opened the door for the Bradley book. I do try to be fair and follow some rules…

Seems like what’s going around now is “10 Books That Stayed With Me.”  Hmm. Been thinking about it for a while now and here’s the best I can do:

 

1. “The World According to Garp” by John Irving. I read the first chapter in, of all places, an issue of Playboy, back in the 70s. When it came out in paperback, I bought copies for everyone in the editing department at Digital Equipment Corporation (that was when paperbacks were around $5). I did not want to see the movie because I was afraid it would ruin Garp for me. And I still have the same reaction Garp has when he’s running at night and sees the blue/green light that signifies someone is watching television instead of reading a book.

2. “The Once and Future King” by E.B. White. Began my obsession with King Arthur and the knights of the round table. It was on the summer reading list, which we had all four years of high school, for the summer prior to freshman year. “The Hobbit” was on the list that year, too, but it didn’t stay with me nearly as much as the White book did.

3. “Medicine River” by Thomas King. Blew me away. Loved it and recommended it to everyone. The movie did it justice, too, which surprised me. But I have to love anything Graham Greene has ever been in. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s warm, it’s enlightening, and I wrote about it in my dissertation.

4. “Hawaii” by James Michener. It’s the only book of his that I’ve been able to read, completely, cover-to-cover. And to be honest, when I re-read it, I skipped the first part with the birth of the island. When I read the Abner Hale was from Marlboro, Massachusetts, I kept reading. The unfortunate part was that my grandmother took it away from me because she didn’t think I should read the sex scenes. Wow. Have you READ this book? Sex scenes? Out of 1000 pages? But it was brilliant, how he wove together everyone’s stories from the missionaries to the natives to the imported Chinese.

5. “Gone With the Wind”. I saw the movie first, when I was 11 and my aunt took me to see it. I spent most of the Civil War in Atlanta scenes in the bathroom and only came out in time to see Scarlett swear that she would never be hungry again. I’ve been through six or seven paper back editions and have an anniversary edition in hardcover safely stowed on a bookcase. I know how racist it is, but it was written from a southerner’s point of view, from someone who heard stories of the war, first-hand, as a child, so of course her viewpoint would be skewed to the south. What stays with me about this novel is the strength that Scarlett has to do what she does to save her family and her land. And, yes, her obsession with Ashley shows that she’s a flawed character. It stay with me. And I’m totally glad that Margaret Mitchell changed the name of her main character because Pansy O’Hara just wouldn’t have worked the way Scarlett did.

6. “Lord of the Rings”. I re-read it every year, during Christmas break. I was pleased to find out that Christopher Lee (Saruman) does the same thing. I even read all the Appendices at the end. What a mind Tolkien had.

7. “Holocaust” by Paul Benzaquin. On November 28, 1942, the deadliest night club fire in America’s history happened in Boston, Mass. Four hundred and ninety two people died in the fire, most trapped behind a jammed revolving door or piled up in front of an exit that had been bolted shut to prevent patrons from slipping out and not paying their bill. It horrified and mesmerized me when I first read it as a young teenager. I re-read it, slowly absorbing the horror of the pictures and trying to imagine what it was like for the firefighters and volunteers who arrived on the scene and tried to save people. I check Amazon and other places from time to time to see if an old copy has come to light, because I have no idea what happened to the hardcover edition that I read many times at my parents’ house.

8. “Prodigal Summer” by Barbara Kingsolver. I was enthralled by this wonderfully crafted story that I read one summer at the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Such brilliant, pure writing and such a well-wrought story. I had already read “Bean Trees” and was familiar with Kingsolver’s work, but this brought her writing into new prominence for me. Others will say that “Poisonwood Bible” is her best, but I respectfully disagree and maintain it is “Prodigal Summer.” I re-read it each summer now.

9. “Illumination Night” by Alice Hoffman. It was the first Hoffman novel I read and still the one I go back to, although there are so many others of hers that I love. I’ve taught this one in my New England Writers class, too. It was the first time I had read anyone adequately describing the panic attacks that devastated me throughout 1983 and 84. And it was set on Martha’s Vineyard, one of my favorite places on earth. Her story is simple but beautiful and I continue to recommend it to everyone.

10. “The House of the Spirits” by Isabelle Allende. Someone I had never met before, a bookstore employee, started talking to me in Jabberwocky, a bookstore in Newburyport Massachusetts and finding out I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, took me up to the start of the alphabet in fiction and handed me this book. “You’ll love it,” he said. I was skeptical. He was right. It remains my favorite of Allende’s books, all of which I have read. The movie was awful.

11. Alright, I know it said “ten” but I would be remiss not to add “Anything at all written by Andre Dubus”. Not Dubus III (the son) but the original. I knew him. And he was a brilliant writer. All of his works have touched me. I can only hope to be half as good. I miss him.

Because a few people showed interest in reading parts of this yet-unpublished novel, I thought perhaps this would be a good way to put it out there and generate feedback. Keep in mind that this is just the first chapter, for now, and as such it should leave a lot of questions as well as a desire to know more. 

At least, I hope it does.

 

Chapter 1

Rebecca (April 1992)

 

            “Godmother.” The woman sitting in the armchair inhaled softly. “Do you know what the definition of godmother is? No? Well, you’re in good company. Most people haven’t got the first clue what it really means to be a godmother. When Stella asked me if I’d do it for her daughter, Sharon, of course my first response was yes. I thought it was an honor—I thought it was an honorary title, not that I’d actually have to do anything. I’d show up at the church, carry the baby through the ceremony, attend the party afterwards, then send presents from time to time. That’s it, right? Oh, it should be so simple!”

Rebecca waved her hand in front of her face, as if fanning invisible flies away. Or perhaps it was the dust motes she could see wafting towards her in the shaft of light that cut the sparsely-furnished office in two. The long, dark drapes prevented most of the light from delving too deeply into the room, something Rebecca found soothing. They were not drawn completely, and in the inch or so that remained open, a vivid shaft of sunlight from the afternoon threw a sharp line of brightness down the room’s divisional line. Maybe it wasn’t the dust motes she was waving away from her face. Maybe it was the memories she was trying to put in order here, a few times per month, at ninety dollars per session.

“Seriously, Dr. Darbandi,” Rebecca continued, her face turned towards the bookshelves lining the wall, “are you a god-parent? Are you aware of the responsibilities? There are days when I wish I hadn’t said yes to Stella. But we’d been friends for so long. Since I first moved north. Things were much more simple then, it seems. But then they grow increasingly more complex. Or perhaps it is we who make them so. How does that happen? How do we wake up one morning and realize we haven’t got a clue what we’ve been doing for the past thirty or forty years?”

She stopped for a moment, turned away from the bookcases, closed her eyes and folded her hands in front of her. The silence in the room was broken by the ticking of a clock, perched high up on one of the bookcases, enclosed in a crystal glass dome, the three little ball-shaped pendulums turning first one quarter turn to the left, then one quarter turn to the right. Each time they turned, a low, clicking sound resonated softly throughout the room. But only when it was absolutely quiet. Rebecca remained silent for a few minutes, thinking.

“I really wanted this to be coherent today. I so want to make sense of everything, try to understand it all. Mostly, I think I want to forgive myself, if that’s possible. Do you think it is possible? If every person we’ve ever wronged offered us unconditional forgiveness, would that be enough for us to forgive ourselves?”

Rebecca reached into her handbag and took out a handkerchief. She wiped the corners of her mouth, then the corners of her eyes, although no tears appeared there. It was as if they were there, hidden inside, not yet ready for release, yet she felt them. After she replaced the handkerchief, she crossed one leg over the other, looking straight at Dr. Darbandi, who was quiet and observant behind her large oak desk. “Can forgiveness ever come?”

Dr. Darbandi leaned forward slightly. “I’m not exactly sure what it is you think you need to be forgiven for,” she said in her usual soft voice. It was a soothing voice, made that way by years of training.

Rebecca frowned, leaning back and continuing to stare at her psychiatrist. Darbandi’s brown hair fell in waves to a precise point on her shoulders, a few strands out of place that she fixed both before and after meetings with clients. She held no notebook or pen, yet Rebecca knew there was a tape recorder on the desk which faithfully recorded every minute of their sessions. In the silence, the clock ticked its seconds away.

“Whatever have we been talking about today and last week?” Rebecca almost whined, her usually controlled voice raising slightly in both volume and pitch. “I’ve been talking so much and feel as if I’m getting nowhere.”

“Oftentimes it takes a while to get to the real starting point,” Dr. Darbandi calmly responded. “I told you that the first day you came back to me. This is different this time, your dreams and anxiety, whatever it is you are feeling, has nothing to do with the panic attacks you had years ago. You say you are willing to do some exploring to find out what is bothering you. You say you are willing to do whatever it takes to settle your dreams. It seems now we may just be getting to that starting point.”

Rebecca recrossed her legs. Her palms were sweaty, and she reached into her bag again for the handkerchief. She breathed deeply and looked up.

“A starting point. Good. What, exactly, is this starting point you believe we are at?”

“Should we recap?” Dr. Darbandi asked.

Rebecca shook her head, struggling against a bit of anger she felt rising in side. “No,” she said. “No recap. Please just once point out something even though I’m sure you want me to see for myself.”

She glanced at Dr. Darbandi and shook her head.

“No, you won’t do that. Alright, let me try. Again.” She shifted position in her chair. “Maybe I have just been wasting time for three weeks, trying to find some center, trying to just get to what it is that is really bothering me, is that it?” Dr. Darbandi nodded for Rebecca to continue.

“Alright, so the last thing I said was about forgiveness and you think that’s the starting point.” Rebecca scratched her palm, suddenly smiling. “Because you want to know what it is I think I need forgiveness for.”

Darbandi smiled back. “Yes. I think that is the real starting point, don’t you?”

Rebecca suddenly stood up and walked around the two leather chairs and headed over to the window. She grabbed the two sides of the curtain at the split where they didn’t quite meet and balled the material up in her fists.

“Would you mind terribly if I opened these curtains?” she asked without turning. “I really can’t bear to stay in the dark when it’s so beautiful with the coming sunset outside.”

“Do what you want with the curtains,” Dr. Darbandi told her.

Rebecca spread the curtains wide and stood, looking out at the city below her. Boston. From the eleventh floor of Massachusetts General Hospital, in the waning light of day with the sun an angry yet dying orange ball in the west, from that vantage point, Boston was a beautiful city. The sound of horns from cars stalled in a traffic jam on Storrow Drive didn’t make it up to the eleventh floor. It was peaceful there, serene and beautiful, watching the last throes of a setting sun. Rebecca looked outward, but not down; her fear of heights would not allow that. Out there, she could see beyond the Charles River as it meandered towards the harbor from beyond Newton and the west where it began as no more than a stream. The light from the dissolving sun gleamed off the Charles, creating diamond clusters that sparkled and hurt Rebecca’s eyes when she stared right at it. She could see Memorial Drive across the river from Storrow Drive, Memorial where it twisted and curved past MIT and the Harvard Boat House, some Harvard residence halls, a few blocks from Harvard Square and the city of Cambridge.

Rebecca looked specifically in that direction, following Mem Drive away from the Science Museum, and she frowned. She shook her head and turned back to the leather chair.

“When I was a child,” she said, “the nuns told us if we confessed our sins to the priest at confession and truly were sorry for what we had done and then did our penance with contrition in our hearts, why, then God would forgive us through his agent, the priest. They told us God loves us no matter what, no sin is too great to be forgiven, and we should forgive our brother seventy times seven times. It’s a euphemism, I think, in the way that wandering in the desert for forty days and forty nights was a euphemism. That just mean no one knew how long those prophets were away. We’re supposed to forgive our brothers an infinite number of times. Because God would. And we’re supposed to strive to be like God.”

Rebecca fumbled with her handkerchief again, twisting it into little knots, looking above Dr. Darbandi’s head at the shelves of books behind her, at the last little stream of light from the setting sun sweeping slowly off the bindings. She picked up the glass of water on the table next to her and took a short sip, coughing briefly as the water soothed her throat.

“But how can we possibly do that?” she continued. “Was that some kind of a sick, pathetic joke, meant to totally frustrate people, make us crazy? Because we’re just humans, we can’t be perfect, and even striving to be perfect when we know full well we can never achieve that state, isn’t that enough to send anyone into deep depression, self-loathing, and madness?”

Rebecca paused, but Dr. Darbandi remained silent.

“I don’t think we need to try to reflect God, not to the extent that we’re spending all our waking time striving to be perfect, knowing that’s unattainable. I think if we just try to be decent human beings and treat each other as we want to be treated in return, that’s half the battle right there, don’t you think?”

“And where does forgiveness come in?” Dr. Darbandi prodded gently.

“God forgives everything,” Rebecca said. “He accepts us back like the prodigals we are, washes away the stain of sin with our penance and gives one of those go and sin no more speeches, knowing full well the humans will sin again, but also knowing He’ll take us back again. God can work that way; He can afford to. But people—now, that’s a different story. I’m not sure forgiveness is one of those things we even aspire to. If we’ve done the wrong then yes, we want to be forgiven, but as a whole, people don’t much like to forgive. Or perhaps it’s just because they feel it makes them lesser people, doormats, if they keep forgiving and getting on with things. Harboring resentment and jealousy and bitterness—well, that’s more human, isn’t it? Don’t we seem to thrive on that?”

Dr. Darbandi grinned slightly. “But you started today by talking about godmothers when I thought you wanted to talk about your dreams. Tell me, Rebecca, how do you go from godmothers to forgiveness? We can get back to your dreams, but right now, think for a minute. There must be something that connects godmothers and forgiveness, to follow your line of reasoning.”

Rebecca laughed. “Well, thank you at least for thinking there is a line of reasoning. I think there is, somewhere, but I know I’m jumping from one thing to another. I think this all—dreams, godmothers, forgiveness—I think this all has to do with Elaine.”

Dr. Darbandi sat up straighter, but did not let on she was surprised by this last statement. “I am sorry about Elaine,” she said.

Rebecca waved her sympathy away and frowned. “Yes, everyone is.” She paused and tears formed in the corners of her eyes. This time she did not reach for the handkerchief to wipe them away. The tears collected and fell, in a little river of woe, down each side of her face. She let them go, and did not move to wipe them off.

“Elaine was also my godchild, as you already know,” Rebecca said. “Though I don’t understand why Stella asked me a second time to stand for one of her children. After Sharon, I thought when Elaine was born, that Stella and Peter would ask someone else. But they didn’t. And against my better judgment, I took her on. I never told you this before, did I?” She looked at Dr. Darbandi, who shook her head.

“I don’t know,” Rebecca sighed and continued. “I feel as if I let both those girls down, somehow. I watched them grow up, watched Elaine take over everything with her grandstanding and theatrics, her demands for attention. I watched Sharon acquiesce to everything, silently letting Elaine and her wants take first place. I watched them through Jack and Ricky Fontaine, and Frances and the Fields Foundation—through everything that happened there, and I just continued along on the sidelines, through the wedding and the baby and all the changes everyone seemed to be constantly going through. And I always held onto the thought that there had to be something for me to do. I don’t usually stand in the wings well, but for this godmother thing, it seemed as if that was all I could do. Stand by the side. Watch their lives.” She suddenly shivered. “It was as if I have a policy of non-interference; the prime directive.”

Rebecca smiled at her feeble attempt at a joke. The tears had dried on her face. Her eye make-up had smudged slightly, but her face still looked fresh, even though it was so close to evening. The sun had not completely slipped beyond the Charles River and the horizon.

She stopped smiling and sighed. “Levity. That was Elaine’s way of getting through everything, although she probably didn’t consciously realize it. Then again, maybe she did. Make a joke and the problems go away.” She looked up at the woman across the desk. “But I’m digressing again, aren’t I?”

At a nod from Darbandi, Rebecca continued. “Doesn’t Salinger say something about digression in Catcher in the Rye?” she asked.

“I don’t know, you’re the English major, not I.”

“Good point.” And Rebecca grinned again. “Well, I’m sure he does. About someone on the debate team who told lovely stories, stories Holden really liked, only the other members of the team were supposed to shout digression! at people when they digressed. Maybe you should do that,” she suggested.

“Actually, I think your digressions are necessary to your understanding,” Darbandi said.

“Again, you’re probably right. Godmother. Forgiveness. Sharon and Elaine. Okay,” and Rebecca sighed again.

The clock on the bookshelf chimed twice, two soft and soothing tones, and Rebecca glanced at it.

“Time goes by quickly, doesn’t it?” she mused. “I remember sitting in Sister Baptista’s sixth grade class, watching the clock at a quarter to three, thinking it would never be three o’clock so I could go home. Those fifteen minutes seemed to drag for hours, and I always felt trapped by it. I still feel trapped by time, because you wake up in the morning and without even realizing it, it’s the next day, or the next week, or the semester’s over, until years have gone by and I don’t know where they went or what I was going in them. Why people have changed, why some have died, why I don’t seem to feel older. Why is all of that?”

Dr. Darbandi watched Rebecca silently as Rebecca struggled to maintain control. Rebecca continued.

“There are quite a few dreams I seem to be having lately,” she admitted, not looking at Darbandi. “I have never understood dreams, and for the most part have never recalled mine on a regular basis. The ones which are vivid and recollected are those that occur just prior to waking—you know, the ones you have in which you incorporate things that are really happening with the things you are dreaming about, like you’re dreaming about a fire engine coming screaming down your street and its sirens never seem to stop but go on and on and then you realize it’s not a sired but the alarm clock next to your bed and that brings you up to consciousness so you can shut it off. You know what I mean?”

She didn’t wait for Darbandi to speak or even to nod. She barely stopped her monologue.

“They seem to be right there, at the edge of my mind, first thing in the morning,” Rebecca almost whispered. “Elaine’s usually in them, or at least one I remember vividly. If  I think about dreams at all, it’s the Elaine dreams I’d prefer, not the chasing dreams, or the searching dreams.”

“Are you having those, too?”

Rebecca nodded, and sniffed quietly, sitting still, deep in thought.

“Elaine dreams,” Darbandi suggested.

“Yes. Elaine.” Rebecca collected her thoughts. “She’s standing there on the Common, and it’s snowing all around her and we call and call for her to come but she shakes her head and waves and then falls backwards into the snow, spreading her legs and arms back and forth and up and down, rapidly, as she makes a beautiful snow angel.”

Rebecca coughed and took a sip of water from the glass next to her. “Yes, I know. It makes perfect sense. But on the other hand, it doesn’t.” She continued to cough and fidgeted, straightening her skirt and glancing up at the clock, something she rarely did when at Darbandi’s office.

“Do you want to stop talking about the dreams for now, Rebecca?”

Rebecca’s relief was palpable. She nodded. “If you don’t mind, I would rather talk about the girls,” she said. Darbandi nodded, gesturing for Rebecca to continue.

“Three years after Sharon, Elaine was born. I lived close to them then, only a mile down the road, and spent a lot of time with Stella, helping when she needed. It was fascinating in a way to me, watching those two girls, different as night and day. Elaine new the fine art of manipulation from the day she first came home. Sharon was never in need of the spotlight; she never called attention to herself. But Elaine—well, Elaine couldn’t seem to get enough attention, she acted like she was starved for it and went out of her way, doing whatever she thought would get her the attention she craved, at first following Sharon all over and then going at it on her own. At such a young age, too. Even when she was still living at home, it was as if she wasn’t living there. Elaine was her own person. When she was young, Stella liked to say that she was five-going-on-thirty. She just always seemed years ahead of her time, the things she was getting into.”

Rebecca slipped off her brown Rockport walking shoes. Comfortable shoes, but she had a sudden desire to fold her legs up under her on the leather chair. Her handkerchief fluttered to the floor.

“I never understood those two girls, and it seemed as if I understood even less as time passed. I moved across town when they were about ten and seven and didn’t see them as much but still kept up daily with Stella at least. That never changed. We still talk all the time, you know. But then, well, of course mothers don’t always know what’s going on with their kids, especially teenaged girls who think their mothers are from a different planet. Well, maybe we are. I always swore that if I had children I would never start a sentence with the words when I was your age, but I found myself doing that with Sharon and Elaine.

“Were they close? I can’t tell. They never killed each other. But there was a nurturing instinct in Sharon and Elaine always had an intense desire to be nurtured. You’d think they were perfect for each other. But it didn’t work that way. I always wanted to help them, sit them down, talk to them, make them see what harm they were causing each other.”

Rebecca looked at Dr. Darbandi, who was sitting in the near darkness surrounding her desk, her face shadow-lit by the low wattage of the one small desk lamp. Her face seemed haloed in light.

“What is it you think you could have done?” Darbandi asked.

Rebecca fidgeted, slid one leg off the chair and rested her foot on the floor. She shrugged. “I don’t know. Something. Anything. I just feel so bad about everything.”

“What do you mean by everything?”

Rebecca’s tears started to creep down her face again.

“Do you think you could have prevented what happened?” Darbandi asked.

Rebecca sniffed, tears dripping silently onto her blue shirt. She stared at the doctor, saw only a blurred figure sitting next to a wavering, pool-like desk.

“Rebecca,” Darbandi said quietly, “ you are feeling responsible for things out of your control.”

Rebecca shook her head, slowly. “You don’t understand,” she said. “You don’t understand just how Sharon and Elaine are. Or were.”

“Then tell me,” Darbandi gently said.

Just putting it out there to see how it looks, how it reads, how I feel about it. A few short paragraphs, the end of a chapter in progress…

 

“His eyes were open, but they weren’t seeing anything. Norris looked for a reflection of the light in the room in them, but could only see his dark pupils reflecting the dark of the floor. There was nothing there; they couldn’t reflect anything because they were empty, the inside was all empty, nothing was there, nothing to hold onto, and Norris suddenly realized that despite everything else, there never had been anything behind those dark eyes. That Chase went through the motions, but there was no feeling behind the motions. She quickly looked around the room, wondering if anyone else felt the epiphany she was having. No one bothered her. No one looked at where she sat, next to Chase, holding onto her plastic beer cup, holding but not drinking.

Chase suddenly stood up, and beer sloshed out of Norris’s surprised cup. He took her arm.

“Come on,” he said, pulling her onto the dance floor.

Later, she wouldn’t be able to remember what song was playing, what motivated Chase to pick that specific time to dance, but she could always clearly see her own confused self follow Chase onto the dance floor after quickly handing her cup to Matt Brown as he walked by. She watched Chase as he slowly moved his shoulders in time with the medium beat, watched his feet shuffling back and forth, watched his head, as he kept it looking down towards the floor. She didn’t match his movements; she knew he wasn’t paying attention to her. She danced her own dance, her dance of surprise and concern. Her dance that broadcast her wonder that she was there, on the dance floor, with Chase, who was there in body but that was all.

He looked up at her, but not really at her, she realized. He was facing her, shoulders moving, hands up, feet finding a beat to the music, but his stare went past her, to the darkness in the room beyond. Norris looked to his eyes, his dark, unreflecting eyes, and saw an emptiness there that almost stunned her. She recognized that look and a deep impenetrable sorrow filled her. And Norris realized that tears wet her cheeks; she could feel them dripping slowly off her jaw. She didn’t stop; Chase didn’t stop, and neither did her tears.

“How is it possible?” she whispered to herself, the music so loud, there was no one to hear. “How is it possible to dance without joy?”

copyright 2012
MMM

 

Many years ago, during a weekend of running away to be on my own for a few days, I found myself in Newburyport, close to the ocean, which I think is where my heart always will be. I had a room in a small inn, up on the second floor, with wide floorboards and wider windowsills, with a canopied bed and a mirror over the dresser that didn’t quite reflect right. It was a room right out of the 1800s and for two days I was happy.

Wandering around on the Saturday, just breathing in the slightly-salty air breezes coming off the ocean, I happened upon a bookstore, Jabberwocky, and of course I cannot pass up a bookstore, especially an independent one. It was large and airy, with a brick wall in the back and lots of glass-fronted walls in the front, lending both the darkness of seriousness and the lightness of frivolity, both of which need to be present in any good bookstore.

I had nothing in mind. I had brought one book with me, but I had finished it the night before. I didn’t expect to find a bookstore, so this was an especial treat, but I didn’t know what I felt like reading, if I needed to reach back to Dickens once again (because I need to re-read Bleak House on a regular basis) or if I should go with a lighter, more modern read, still literary, but not as dense as Dickens.

Perusing the full back wall of fiction, I suddenly realized someone was standing close to my shoulder. Ordinarily I would have been annoyed at the intrusion of this personal space, but it was a bookstore and sometimes people get close when they are looking for a particular book, so I did not think anything of it until the person spoke.

“What are you looking for?”

It was a friendly looking young woman, smiling at me while looking at the books at the same time. I usually hesitate to get into conversations with strangers, but this time I didn’t. I explained how I was there for the weekend, had finished my book, wasn’t sure what I was looking for, that I was just skimming around.

“I have something you are going to love,” she told me and headed to the start of the Fiction section. I followed.

She pulled a book off the shelf—paperback, I was happy to see—and handed it to me.

 

I had never heard of Isabel Allende, but something magical happened that day, standing near the front of Jabberwocky, this copy of The House of the Spirits in my hand. I opened it up to the first page. “Barabas came to us by sea….” I took a deep breath, I remember that so clearly, and smelled the sea myself, and wondered who Barabas was. I closed the book, smiled at the young woman and decided there that I would buy the book and take it back to my little Inn.

That was the very beginning of my love affair with Isabel Allende. I have never met her, but I wish that I could. In my mind, she is a giant of a woman, passionate about life, enveloped in the business of everyday living, starting her novels (as I would later learn) on the 8th of January, a tradition for her, after her success of The House of the Spirits, which she started on that day.

The novel transported me to a country I had not given much thought to, to a time and happenings that thrilled and horrified me, and I was brought into this world so completely I did not notice the passing of time, nor the fact that I had missed lunch. All things around me floated to the background, so absorbed was I with the language of this novel (yes, I read it in translation, but it was beautifully translated) the story falling into place in front of my eyes, Allende’s brilliant development of each of her characters. I loved Clara; I was put off by Ferula, but I understood her nevertheless; I seethed at the arrogance of Esteban; I cried over the relationship between Blanca and Pedro Tercero. I never wanted the book to end.

And when it did, I went back to the beginning and re-read the first chapter. It so seamlessly comes full circle and the end ties back into the beginning so beautifully, it made me weep. Books move me, but not often to tears, not like The House of the Spirits did.

And of course I wanted more.

I’ve read many Allende books since that runaway trip to Newburyport and will continue to read her novels. None of the others slammed me upside the head the way The House of the Spirits did, but the writing is always sharp, haunting, beautiful, mesmerizing. Allende’s characters come alive on the page and when they leave, or die, as her characters often do, the reader is left with a hole and a sadness. It’s a great writer who can evoke such feelings in a reader, and I do believe Allende is one of those writers. Her nonfiction books read like her novels, and her novels read like people you want to know, or are sorry you didn’t know. She can transport her reader to many places, each more believable and real than the last.

There are not many writers I feel this strongly about, maybe a handful, and I will always be grateful to that Jabberwocky clerk for interrupting my perusing with her simple question and her gift of The House of the Spirits. How did she know it was something I would love? I don’t know.

But she was right.

 

 

I don’t visit the doctor very often. I have been very lucky to have been very healthy (so far… knock wood) and even as a child did not suffer from the usual rounds of ear infections or viruses that others seemed to be plagued with.

You’d think this would make insurance companies happy.

I’m not sure just what it is that does keep insurance companies happy.

So here’s the story:

I suffer from seasonal allergies. I don’t know, specifically, what they are, but I do know that I spend $100 per month on the medications: three are prescription (Nasonex, Singulair, and Astepro) and one is finally available over-the-counter (Allegra). For those who also take all of these, you know how high the cost would be without insurance. As a matter of fact, a few years ago I went to fill a Singulair prescription (from when I lived in a different town) and for some reason my insurance wasn’t showing up and the clerk wanted to charge me $148 for a 30-day supply. I left without it.

They all don’t usually come due for refilling at the same time, but somehow the stars were aligned two weeks ago and I needed the three prescriptions. I called it into my pharmacy (not a large chain, but a mom-and-pop pharmacy that I like near my doctor’s office). The Singulair was out of refills, but the pharmacy calls the doctor for authorization to refill when that happens.

So I picked up two out of three and proceeded to wait. Five days.

I finally called the pharmacy (who had told me they would call ME) and was told, “The doctor refused to refill it.”

???

I love my doctor. He’s the sweetest, most observant and kind person on the planet. He’s one of those rare doctors who actually sits there, looks at you, and listens to you before he responds. Kind of unique.

So the thought that he wouldn’t authorize a refill struck me as odd. And that was on a Friday, so I had to wait until Monday to call the office.

Of course, you can never actually speak to a doctor. First there is the automated voice, and you click on the correct number. Then there is the second automated voice of the doctor’s specific nurse, who assures you she will call you back as soon as she can.

I know they are busy, and that’s fine. It’s a minor question I have, but still…

She did call the next day and explained to me that it had nothing to do with the doctor, but rather, with the insurance company and the billing system in the office.

See, if you haven’t been to the doctor’s office for a visit in 6 months, and you want a prescription refilled, the automated billing system rejects the request for refilling.

Which means, even though there is nothing wrong with me, I feel fine (except for the fact that I need my allergy medicine), I still have to pay a $25 co-pay and the insurance company will be billed for a limited office visit (which is probably like $175) all because I’m healthy and don’t have to see the doctor, but need an allergy med refilled.

Does this make sense?

Don’t bother, I already know the answer.

And I still haven’t gone in and haven’t picked up the prescription, which the nurse told me would be authorized, but I would have to come in and see him within the next month or so.

So again, even though there is nothing wrong, and I’m healthy and fine, I have to spend that co-pay and have my insurance pay the doctor’s office billing system because I can’t get a refill on allergy medicine if I haven’t seen the doctor within the last 6 months.

No wonder everything seems to be falling apart at the seams. Little to nothing makes sense.

Just another day in the life of the insurance companies. Next!!!

 

Back in the day—don’t fall asleep!! It’s not one of those kinds of stories!!—it used to be cool to say “I’m with the band,” because for the most part, that meant you were a roadie or a groupie, or a friend of the band, hanging around to help out, move things, or provide all sorts of moral and immoral support.

But that’s not the kind of band I want to talk about here. No, this band is the high school band; in the fall, it is the marching band, focus of half-time shows at football games, and the highlight of most parades (unless you happen to like the politicians or the screaming fire trucks, that is). In the spring it is the Concert Band and the Jazz Band. And for the longest time, it really wasn’t “cool” to admit you were with that band (marching, concert, or jazz), and that’s an unfortunate thing. You know (unless you were actually in the band) you thought of the band kids as “band geeks” and you tended, for the most part, to stay away from them, or made fun of them, or ignored them, choosing to get more junk food to eat during half time, or trying to see who you could chat up under the bleachers.

You know I’m right, so be ashamed. Yes, it’s not nice to make fun of anyone, not just band students. But perhaps if people really thought about them, thought about what it was they did and how much time, effort, energy and sweat (not to mention money) they put into their music, marching, and entertainment for you, perhaps things might be a little bit different.

People need to really know and understand about BAND.

One of the most important things people need to realize about band is just how hard they work to do what they do. You hear tell of two-a-days that the football team goes through and you think how difficult that must be in the hot August sun; the band does that, too. They may not wear pads and helmets, but they wear heavy uniforms and most of them carry heavy instruments. They have to practice rigorously—their music has to be memorized perfectly, and each member of the band needs to know exactly where he/she is moving all over the field. This takes a while to learn and to perfect. During the early weeks of the school year, the band is out there first thing in the morning; some bands practice three and four evenings a week; some of them practice all day Saturday. And the band in this small town in which I live starts what they call “Early Week” two weeks before the start of school, some time at the end of July, during which they teach the new freshmen what band is about, and also during which they start learning their new half-time show for the up-coming season.

Band isn’t something you roll out of bed and decide might be fun to do that day. It’s something that a young person commits to, on a daily basis, often giving up lots of other fun things they could be doing, because they are part of something bigger than themselves: they are part of the band.

So there is learning an instrument and practicing that instrument, not just during band class or time on the field, but at home, practicing on a daily basis. Playing an instrument well is like anything else; it needs practice to make perfect, and practice takes time.

Rather than be dismissive of band students, thinking it’s nothing to marching around with an instrument, think about the hours of sweat, and tears, and learning, and practice that each one of them puts into their art. They are just as dedicated as any athlete you see on any high school/college/university team. They are musician-athletes. It’s not easy to do what they do.

Each band student invests a significant amount of his/her time into learning the instrument, music practice, and in the fall, practicing the marching maneuvers that will ultimately be seen during the half-time show at football games. Some bands might be smaller than others, but each band member (no matter how large or small) gets up early in the morning and puts in many late nights all to perfect what you see on the field. That also involves giving up their own Friday nights, which if you remember back to high school, were just about the most important night of the week for being free and socializing. Band kids socialize, mostly with each other, but they don’t have that Friday night freedom that so many high school students have. It’s their choice, of course, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect for what they do.

Depending on where you live, most towns have at least two parades (no matter how small) each year. Sometimes the smaller the town, the more parades it has. A parade is boring without bands—and they are also very short, with not much to see in them. Here is another instance where a band student is giving up significant amounts of his/her time outside of school to represent their school and their town, by participating in parades. If a band looks and sounds good, it reflects well on the town, on the school, and on the band director, as well as on the students. This, too, is something that takes time, because the band kids can’t lug around a large folder full of music as they march down the street—they have to have all the music memorized. More work, more time, more dedication.

Over the course of the past twenty or so years (and perhaps longer) as less and less money is appropriated for our public schools and the students those schools are trying to educate, too many times the programs that get short-shrift, being cut back or even eliminated entirely, have been arts and music. And music means band. It’s an expensive proposition to have a good, sharp, together band. Look at the band picture above. Each of those students purchased gloves (four pair) and shoes (at least two pair) and they have white pants (home games) and black pants (away games) as well as the jackets, hats, plumes, and gauntlets. They each have an instrument. Some of them are rented from local music stores, some the students own themselves, some are old instruments the schools have had for a long time. The guard (the girls barely visible to the right in the picture) also have uniforms, including flags, sabres (sometimes), rifles (other times)—sometimes more than one flag for the half-time show, depending on who is choreographing their routine.

All of this costs money.

The band has trailers (some bands have 18-wheelers, the more affluent ones anyway) to carry around all their equipment to and from games, and parades, and contests. Those cost money, in addition to the money the parent who drives the truck that pulls the trailer. They are usually Band Booster Parents, who with no reimbursement, (or maybe a little for some gas) give up their time and spend their own money on the band to see that it gets to where it needs to be.

At games, parades, contests, the students need to be fed. Often it is the Band Booster Association that will step in to help; often it is with donations from places in the community (grocery stores, restaurants, banks) that allows the Band Boosters to take care of the feeding of the band.

All of this costs money.

Some high school bands are lucky and get some funding from their schools, but even getting a little from the school doesn’t come close to covering the cost of everything band-related. Most high school bands—and I include the one in this small town in which I live—get nothing from the schools.

I think that bears repeating: most high school bands get zero monetary support from their schools.

Despite the fact that they are students too, who deserve to be supported just as much as any other group, be it an extracurricular group or any athletics team, despite this fact, and the amount of hard work, dedication, time, effort, energy, and money they put into their work, they get zero support from the school. They are largely ignored.

This is important for people to know. Nothing is handed to band kids. Booster Associations and the goodwill of community businesses as well as constant fund raising is what keeps a band together, not to mention what each students’ family puts into the bands’ efforts, because without parental support, too, it is difficult for students to stay with band—and let’s face it, for the most part, students who start band in sixth, seventh grade tend to stay with band throughout both junior high and high school.

This is just what people need to understand about these hard-working students. Some of what I’ve been talking about might differ from town to town, city to city, but the fact that the arts keep getting funding cut  is something that everyone can agree on. It’s the first to go, and that’s just sad and wrong.

Which takes me to the last point I want to make here about understanding band. Often people who don’t understand will say, “well, what’s the point? Who cares about band? What is it good for in the future?”

And I’m so glad you asked.

Band kids learn so much more, beyond the right steps and the right notes, from their years in band. This is where life-long friendships begin. The bonds that hold band kids together is one of those ineffable things that is hard to describe to someone who hasn’t seen or experienced it. Because of everything they go through together, they become a family. Families have crises and fights but the bottom line in most families is that each member will go to the mat for another one, no matter what.

Band is like that.

Band kids learn how to get along, especially with such a wide variety and assortment of people from all different backgrounds, faiths, and ethnicities. They learn about compromise and about work ethic. They learn how to mourn defeat and celebrate victory. They learn how to work together, one unit, one team that cannot be broken.

Band is like that.

I don’t want to get bogged down in statistics, but they are out there, and they show that students who play musical instruments often have higher GPAs, test grades, and are more likely to succeed in college because of their musical training, than other students who have not had the opportunities they have had. Being “musical” works that creative part of one’s brain that sometimes doesn’t get used as much as it should as we go through life. But these students have that; they dig deeper, strive harder, produce more and work better together in a wonderful experience that they miss once they graduate and go on to college or out into the work force. They’ve grown and learned together.

Band is like that. Band is just wonderful on so many different levels.

And people should know that. It really does take a village to raise a child, and it takes a lot of help to keep a band going. Everyone works hard, especially the students, and they should always be respected, and even in times of economic turmoil, they should always be helped, just as athetics always manages to be funded. The band should be part of that funding as well. Our band students deserve that. ALL our students deserve that.

That’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about band, but it’s not even everything. It’s just a start. If anything is obvious, it should be clear that I love band. I support band and appreciate everything that goes into making the band run smoothly.

I only wish everyone did.

copyright 2012
MMM

Two years ago yesterday, one of the most wonderful, courageous, and brave women departed this life for the next part of her soul’s journey. She left behind a bereaved extended family, one that continues to miss her on a daily basis. One of my sisters was lucky enough not to have erased a voice mail message from her, and she made copies for the rest of us, so we can listen to mom’s voice from time to time, when the pain needs some soothing that nothing else can touch. 

What follows here are the words I wrote to share at the memorial service we held for her. She wanted no funeral, no sadness at a cemetery, and we honored her wishes, all of them. It was a sad, joyous celebration of a wonderful life, cut too short there in the end. The last time I saw her was about four weeks prior, when I went back to the rehabilitation place by myself to spend a little time with her. She smiled that contageous smile of her, the one you can see in all the pictures we have of her, and I told her I would see her in October, and that I loved her. 

“I love you!” was the last thing she said before I had to turn and go down the stairs and leave. It wasn’t the last time I spoke with her, but it was the last time I saw her—smiling, ever smiling.

 

 

Seventy-eight years was not enough. But that we were blessed with 78 years of Dorothy Anne Southam Mackie has been an incredible, wonderful thing.

My mother was one of the best people ever to walk the planet. I’ve often told people she was a professional masochist because she taught kindergarten for twenty-three years; but the truth is, it takes a special person, one with more patience than I’ll ever know, to teach our littlest students. Going shopping anywhere around here with mom, I was always guaranteed to hear a number of people come up and say “Hi, Mrs. Mackie” and she would explain that it was one of her students, or their parents, or the children of her students. She was so well-known, well-liked, well-respected, and well-loved.

She put her heart and soul into everything she did. I remember very well how she went back to school, to Framingham State College, after my brother Rick started kindergarten—I remember collecting wild flowers to press with her for one of her classes—it might have been botany; and I remember her struggling with “new math” something that I—a literature person even then—could not help her with. But as with everything else she did, she persevered, she gave it her best and she graduated with her degree in Early Childhood education one week before I graduated from high school. We were so proud of her.

Teaching kindergarten was not without its drawbacks—for us, not for her. I used to joke that she talked to us as adults for about three weeks out of the year; the rest of the time, we were as five-year olds to her. But that was always alright—she spoke to her five year olds with the same love, respect, and kindness that she showed everyone else all her life; she loved them, as she loved us.

 

 

What I will remember the most, always, about my mother was her eternal optimism. She was the original Pollyanna, in only the very best of ways. No matter what, mom didn’t see the glass as half-full, she saw it at three-quarters full—seven-eighths full. Nothing was so terrible that better times weren’t coming. Everything, she always told us, would work out alright in the end. She had the best hopes and dreams for everyone—for me, for Anne, for Andrea, for Rick—and it didn’t occur to her that we wouldn’t accomplish what we wanted to in our lives. She gave us that gift of hope and belief in ourselves. Even the times when I would feel at my lowest, she had the words to bring me back up. She believed in me—in all of her children—even when I wasn’t sure I could believe in myself. She was proud, so very proud of all of her children and everything we did. And that love and pride continued with each and every one of her grandchildren: Jeff, Alex, Zeely, Carmen, Stirling, Taylor, Nikki, Mia, and Juliana.

She loved to give so much more than to receive. Christmas and birthdays were major events for her and she planned for all of them with equal enthusiasm. She loved having her family around her, for birthdays, holidays, Christmas, Thanksgiving. And we often made fun of her, because she took the longest to eat of anyone there—but it was loving fun; she knew it and we knew it too.

Ever since mom died, a song that Josh Groban sings has been going through my head, especially these lines: “For you are my forever love, and you are watching over me from up above.” Because that is mom. She IS our “forever love” and we know she is watching over us even now, because she always did in life.

So when you see a rainbow…think of mom.

When you feel the sweetness of a spring rain…think of mom.

When you smell the beauty of a home cooked family feast…a beautifully decorated Christmas tree…a decorated table…cards taped to the doorway…think of mom.

When you hear the sound of a newborn baby’s cry…think of mom.

Because she’s there in all of that, and so much more.

She’s in the soaring of the birds, the crashing of the ocean waves, the peacefulness of the setting sun, the mourning dove cry, the near-silence in the quiet moments before dawn.

 

When Andrea was going through some papers on mom’s desk in her room, she found a piece of paper that stuck up a bit from the others. Andrea took it and read it—she felt that it was as if mom was leaving us one more “instruction for life”  as she had given us life lessons from the very beginning.

Here was one more simple request from mom to those of us she would leave behind, one more request from this beautiful soul who always thought of others before she thought of herself. There is no author*, but I’ll share this with you:

“Miss Me, But Let Me Go”

            When I come to the end of the road,
And the sun has set for me,
I want no rites in a gloom-filled room,
Why cry for a soul set free?

Miss me a little, but not for long,
And not with your head bowed low.
Remember the love that we once shared,
Miss me, but let me go.

           For this is a journey we all must make,
And we each must go alone.
It’s all a part of the Master’s plan,
A step on the road to home.

            When you are lonely and sick of heart,
Go to a friend we know,
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds,
Miss me, but let me go.

           

 

Rest well, mom.

You’ve instilled in all of us, especially your children and grandchildren, a legacy of love, forgiveness, understanding, compassion, and a joy for living life to its fullest that we will carry with us as long as we live, and will hand down to the children and grandchildren yet to come.

We will miss you, we will let you go, but you will live on in our hearts for as long as your descendents prosper. Thank you, mama.

No goodbyes, simply, “We love you—see you soon.”

 

Since the time of the memorial service, I have found that the author of the “Miss Me, But Let Me Go” poem was Edgar A. Guest. I’m still trying to find out when it was written.

copywright 2012
MMM

 

Without consciously thinking through the consequences of my actions, last fall I applied for a sabbatical. I thought, given the state of my university’s financial situation and the fact that almost the entire faculty teach overloads (not necessarily to “help out” but because there have been no raises for five years and people need the extra money simply to make ends meet) there was no way my request would (1) make it up the chain of command to the President with a unanimous, positive recommendation; or (2) be approved by that august body of unknowns, the Board of Regents.

But it did. To my surprise, delight, and fear–it was approved and somehow courses were filled and I was faced with the reality that when everyone else returned to classrooms in August (yes, we return at an unGodly early time of year), I would be “not-there” and off doing all those projects I blithely listed on my Request for Sabbatical.

Students started asking me what I was teaching in the fall, wanting to sign up for my classes, and I put off telling them I wouldn’t be on campus for the longest time and I don’t quite know why I did that. Was it my subconscious being fearful at the thought that I would not be on campus teaching for the first August in almost 20 years? Whatever it was, when I finally admitted that I would be on sabbatical, I almost universally got the same response.

“What’s that?”

After about the seventeenth time of explaining it, I thought perhaps I’d go and look up the origins of the term and what they used to mean, wondering if it started out as one thing but has evolved to be something else by 2012.

I hate to admit it, but I turned first to Wikipedia:

Sabbatical or a sabbatical (from Latin sabbaticus, from Greek sabbatikos, from Hebrew shabbat, i.e., Sabbath, literally a “ceasing”) is a rest from work, or a hiatus, often lasting from two months to a year. The concept of sabbatical has a source in shmita, described several places in the Bible (Leviticus 25, for example, where there is a commandment to desist from working the fields in the seventh year). In the strict sense, therefore, sabbatical lasts a year.

So yes, I do honestly believe “sabbatical” started out as one thing but has been distorted (not by all institutions, perhaps, but some of them anyway) to now mean something else. “A time away from teaching whereby you do lots of other work you haven’t been able to do because you’ve been busy teaching and serving on every committee known to mankind”? Perhaps that’s it.

I like the original interpretation, and I smile, broadly and with evil intent, each time I read the words “a rest from work”.

What does that mean? I don’t understand that concept because even when I’m not WORKing, I’m working. And anyone who is in academia and who writes (creatively or academically) knows what I mean. It’s the same thing behind those “summers off” that teachers get.

Now that you are done laughing hysterically (the teachers reading this, that is) you understand my point. There is no such things as “not working” when you are an academic, no matter what the anal conservatives who would dismantle higher education, those with disdain for intellectuals, those who consider academics “snobs” and people who want to further their education as being indoctrinated by those liberal snobs think.

But this “rest from work”…

 

I liked the picture. It’s of Creation. As in “God created the universe and everything in it and on the seventh day He rested.” Which makes sense, because in academia, in theory, one is allowed sabbatical once every seven years. (Please don’t post comments telling me it is less or more at your school. I’m going to the generalization here. Thanks.)

So with this “rest from work” in mind, I went back over my Request for Sabbatical” and all the emails back and forth from the head of my department and realized that it wasn’t put forward until I was specific about all the WORK I was going to accomplish in my one semester off. Yes, not a full year, I could not afford that. My institution will pay full salary for a one-semester sabbatical and half-salary for a full year. I am not even sure how I am going to make it financially through one semester without my overload pay, but that’s another story.

“Rest from work”. That’s not going to happen.

So today is the start of Week 2 in the Fall Semester and I’m looking back at Week 1 to see what this professor accomplished during her “rest from work.”

Finished and revised a 15-page ten-minute play (tentatively titled “Reading Trumps Everything” for lack of a better title at the moment) that will be produced in September by the Theatre Organization of our University;

Continued collecting both poetry books and books about poetry to better keep up with recent scholarship for those writing and understanding poetry courses I teach;

Set up a schedule of writing for the novella Dancing Without Joy and the revision of the 450-page novel, After Elaine;

Continued research on journals for the several short stories ready for publication consideration;

Continued brainstorming sessions (20-30 minutes per day) for character development in Dancing Without Joy;

Volunteered two hours two mornings a week at the Local Animal Shelter;

Purchased two five-shelf bookcases, cleaned and installed them, and began going through boxes of books to determine what would make its way from the garage into the newly-revised living- and study room;

Finished reading The Angel’s Game, The House of the Spirits, and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (apologies all around for that one);

Consulted with the head of the department regarding teaching schedule for Spring 2013;

Consulted with the Dean of the School regarding the process of requesting consideration for Full Professor and the deadlines for such request;

Washed the floors in the study/library and rearranged books, desk, and DVD collection;

Perused extensive record album collection to decide which ones should be converted to CDs, most of which are 70s and 80s rock and roll.

Not bad for one week’s worth of someone who is supposed to be “resting from work.” This, however, is where I would prefer to be:

 

Or here:

 

Or actually here, because this is what it looks like on my beloved Cape Cod as you walk through the dunes and the sand and approach the ocean:

I will get there yet. Look how much I accomplished in one week of rest. Imagine what the other 19 will be like, too!