Tattoo

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Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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I have permission to post this true story. Names have been withheld.

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Electric shaver buzz hums along my scalp.  Hairs trickle and prickle down.

When I am shorn short, writing a check, I ask the stylist, “What’s the story of your tattoo?”

She has a Native American woman’s portrait in full fur and feather headdress from shoulder to elbow.

“Oh, I’ll tell you the story,” she says, sitting in one of the styling chairs. “When I was twenty, I decided that I wanted to be a permanent make-up artist.”

“Like tattooing eyeliner and eyebrows?” I ask.  “A friend of mine did eyeliner.”

“Yeah, but you can do a lot more than that.  Lip liner and shading, and blemish erasing.  It’s awesome.  So, I went to a training school.  And as part of the training, we had to practice on each other.  I chose a Tree of Life for my back.  Each of the students got so many minutes to work on my back.”

 I’m already thinking, this is not going to turn out well.

“Of course, I couldn’t see what they were doing.  They put all these stupid things hiding in the tree branches, like an emoji happy face, cartoon characters, and some joker tattooed a penis on my shoulder.”

At this point, I’m wondering why she didn’t look at her back while they were doing the tattoos.  I don’t ask, though.

“This happened ten years ago.  I didn’t let anyone see my back for ages.  I never wore a bathing suit or a sundress.  I was so embarrassed and angry.

“I took them to court, and I won.  They paid the fine, but they never showed any remorse.  They still thought it was a big joke.

“Finally, I showed the tattoo to my boyfriend’s friend who was a tattoo artist.  He didn’t laugh.  My boyfriend paid him to fix the Tree of Life.  And this one, the woman on my shoulder and arm? That’s my grandmother.  I’m part Romanian and part Native American.  See—she covers up the pee-pee that was right here.”

Yellow

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It starts with creased, yellowed papers of students’ work

stacked in a wire file basket

It’s the end of August, time to prepare

for the new kids coming in.

“Toss it all,” says her colleague from across the hall,

as he strips the bulletin boards bare.

She picks up a wrinkled sheet, reads

My mom got yelow paynt for the kichn.

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Yellow paint splatters, spilling that memory

of her ex, with the walrus mustache.

And when he bends toward her,

the father of her aborted child,

the wild-haired Lebanese

who cajoles, “Tell me

how many men you’ve slept with.”

And when she counts them off

on her fingers,

he slams the ladder to the floor

(they are painting his bedroom yellow)

and calls her “slut” and “whore.”

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The ladder shatters into spikes of glass

from the windowpane

he’s punched with his fist.

He bleeds on the yellow pillow she made for him,

with his name embroidered in Arabic,

that he’s cut open with a Chef’s Best knife.

“See what you made me do,” he says.

“See what you made me do.”

Grace and Gratitude

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Stuffy nose!  Sinus pain!  Headaches!  Unable to breathe at four a.m.!  Since September, I’d been having nose trouble.  Was it allergies?  A sinus infection?  If I went to an ENT doctor, would she tell me to get rid of my cat?

Finally, in December, I’d had enough so I went to a new ENT in Middletown.  She peered into my facial orifices and pronounced there was no sinus infection.  But I should, she said, see the allergist.  I went the next day and met Dr. P., a young Korean doctor.  While typing rapidly on the computer, he took down my medical history.  I was impressed with his speedy keyboarding.

I mentioned that I’d been retired from teaching for eleven years. 

“Oh, what did you teach?”

“Second grade for sixteen years, and then ENL—English as a New Language—for eight years,” I answered.  “I loved it,” I added.  “I loved working with those students and their families.”

Dr. P. stopped typing.  “I was in ESL when my family came to the U.S.,” he said.  “I still remember my teacher’s name and her face.”

He went on to tell me that he’d come from Korea to a high school in Baltimore in ninth grade.  The teacher was so caring and helpful, he said, and she provided a comfortable space for him and her other students.

“She didn’t just teach English,” said the doctor.  “She taught us about American culture and customs—stuff we needed to know.”

I nodded in agreement.  “It’s a special person who chooses to teach ENL,” I said.  “I ended up hearing things about my students that a regular classroom teacher with twenty-five or more in a class would never learn.  ENL teachers become advocates for the kids and their families.”

In my mind, I saw my students: the kindergartener from China who only knew one word in English, toilet.  The fifth-grade girl from Mexico who wanted to be a doctor.  The first-grade girl who refused to speak for an entire year.  So many that I loved and nurtured and watched adjust to the new language, new school, new everything.

Dr. P.  was now putting on his blue non-latex gloves to examine my sinuses.  “You ESL teachers do really important work,” he said.  “I will never forget my teacher and her kindness.”

I sat in the exam chair feeling warmed, like a golden shower of light had just poured down on me.  This was grace, a sudden rush of appreciation from someone I’d just met, for a job I did a decade ago.  Dr. P. offered his gratitude to me and all those dedicated teachers who reach out to immigrant students.  And on my part, I was filled with gratitude for the recognition.

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The Karakesh Chronicles: fantasy adventure for middle grade readers.

Available on Amazon and from Handersen Publishing

In Quiet

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In quiet would I look upon the world,

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Four bright umbrellas startle the horses

They careen around the paddock,

coats dark in the mizzling rain

When no harm comes

from purple and spotted mushroom people,

they stop, huffing, ears pricked

a safe distance from the fence

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My paddock has walls, not fences

few strange sights intrude

the space I’ve decorated

like a crab disguising itself with kelp and coral

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which but reflects Your thoughts, and mine as well.

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Wall or fence, all one creation

that won’t keep the wild out

craven thoughts or grudges

Rise, oh, rise above the green pasture

All are already forgiven

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Let me remember that they are the same,

And I will see creation’s gentleness.*

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*Course in Miracles, Lesson 265

Book V of the Karakesh Chronicles — on Amazon

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

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Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen–Random House, 2013.

Here is a wise and humorous commentary on life, women, and aging.  It’s a memoir plus reflections on women’s lives at home and in the workplace.  Quindlen comments on the many aspects of our lives, from aging bodies to mothering to friendship.

On friendship, she writes:

We trust our friends to tell us what we need to know, and to shield us from what we don’t need to discover, and to have the wisdom to know the difference.  Real friends offer both hard truths and soft landings and realize that it’s sometimes more important to be nice than to be honest.

I particularly appreciated Quindlen’s musings on solitude, as I’m an introvert who, like Quindlen’s son, would probably choose to hide in my bedroom at my own party.

Quindlen writes about solitude: I feel as though being alone is hanging out with someone I like.

I totally agree.  

On my wall, I have a quote from Lori Gottlieb’s book, Maybe You Should See Someone.  It says:

Being silent is like emptying the trash.  Introverts need solitude and silence.

On women in the workplace, Quindlen writes: It’s amazing how few women are required on a corporate board to satisfy the suits that they’ve done the woman thing. 

If you’re a woman of a certain age, especially one who juggled work and parenting, you’ll likely enjoy this book.

Petition

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Please, take me out of myself

out of the smallness of what to cook (pasta)

what to empty (the litter box)

what to save (receipts and leftovers)

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Please, take me out of myself

away from examining

the leaks and bumps

of bodily systems

away from this acrobatic mind

that tumbles thought to thought

away from the potholes

of judgement and gossip.

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Please, take me some place

where illusions melt

like morning frost

where the light of Spirit

looks through my eyes

where I can stand firm

on the love

that is our cornerstone.

A Course in Miracles

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A couple of months ago I joined an online study group that meets weekly to read and discuss the Course in Miracles.  First published in 1976, the book’s content originated with two professors of medical psychology, Helen Schucman and William Thetford, at Columbia University.  I have the third edition which includes the preface, text, workbook for students, manual for teachers, clarification of terms, and supplements.

To explain how the book came to be, it’s best to cite Schucman’s own words from the preface:

Three startling months preceded the actual writing, during which time Bill (Thetford) suggested that I write down the highly symbolic dreams and descriptions of the strange images that were coming to me.  Although I had grown more accustomed to the unexpected by that time, I was still very surprised when I wrote, “This is a course in miracles.”  That was my introduction to the Voice.  It made no sound, but seemed to be giving me a kind of rapid, inner dictation which I took down in a shorthand notebook.  The writing was never automatic.  It could be interrupted at any time and later picked up again.  It made me very uncomfortable, but it never seriously occurred to me to stop.  It seemed to be a special assignment I had somehow, somewhere agreed to complete.…The whole process took about seven years. (p. vii-viii)

The material in the Course in Miracles is dense and profound.  I must reread sentences multiple times, and even then, the connections and meanings may elude me.  It has felt like a return to my college philosophy class, but much more demanding of focus. 

That we are spiritual beings having a physical experience in a world that is only an illusion is a premise hard for me to maintain in daily life.  Most of the other members of the study group are more experienced students of the Course. 

Some passages are so glorious that I return to them again and again:

Lesson 278

2. Father, I ask for nothing but the truth.  I have had many foolish thoughts about myself and my creation, and have brought a dream of fear into my mind.  Today, I would not dream.  I choose the way to You instead of madness and instead of fear.  For truth is safe, and only love is sure.

Lesson 291

2. This day my mind is quiet, to receive the Thoughts You offer me.  And I accept what comes from You, instead of from myself.  I do not know the way to You.  But You are wholly certain.  Father, guide Your Son along the quiet path that leads to You.  Let my forgiveness be complete, and let the memory of You return to me.

To hear Marianne Williamson explaining aspects of the Course in Miracles, go to this link:

Greeting Card

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These are the days of inner light

to contemplate what is given,

what is right:

the lungs that breathe,

the hearts that beat,

loving eyes,

dancing feet,

the trees that glow

the frost that glistens

the sacred Spirit that always listens.

Oh, holy days of dark December

Let us give thanks,

and remember.

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Welcome, new followers, and thanks to all who read this blog.

Dangerous

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I want to be a dangerous old woman,

the kind that makes people cringe

when she walks into Shop Rite.

The kind who is a fourth-degree black belt grandma

and takes down a mugger.

I want to speak truth no matter what.

I want to be the dangerous customer in Lowes

who knows more about sheetrock

than the manager.

I want to step into the town meeting and hear,

“Uh, oh.  Here she comes.”

I want to clear the floor doing the West Coast swing

with my thirty-year-old partner.

I want to be the dangerous old woman,

poking an accusing finger

at Kyrsten Sinema’s nose,

and give her a piece of my mind.

I’ll wear a lion mask

and catch arrows with my teeth.

Sing dangerous old woman songs

about dangerous old women.

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The Things Kids Say

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Here is an article I wrote when I was teaching English as a New Language back in the 2000s. It speaks to children’s perceptions and the importance of listening. (published in Crossroads, a teachersnewsletter)

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When I was young, a man named Art Linkletter hosted a TV show called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”  My father, a child psychologist, panned the show, saying it was condescending, and, worse, humiliating to the children, whose sincere answers to Linkletter’s loaded questions provided the humor of the program. When Linkletter received a particularly juicy and revealing reply he would mug into the camera while the live audience roared.

         As an English teacher of kindergarten and first grade students, I spend most of my waking hours conversing with very young people.  I hear stories that are amazing, delightful, and unfortunately, sometimes frightening or sad. 

         Years ago, during a morning meeting, a boy announced, “My dad punched a hole in the wall last night.  My little sister was crying and we went to bed at eleven o’clock.  That’s why my dad couldn’t help me with my homework.” 

         More recently, a Pakistani student told me that over the weekend his mother was chased into the jungle by a dinosaur.  “Me and my brother we going find her.  She climbing a tree way way up.  She jump down and we catched her.  “That’s quite a story,” I say. 

         In these days of computer graphics, children have an even harder time distinguishing between fantasy and reality.  One bright little boy from Mexico is working hard at sorting the input he gets in his world.  “Elephants are real, right?”  he asks.  “Vampires are real; they suck your blood.”  There follows an animated discussion about vampire bats who only live in Central America as opposed to the people with the big teeth who turn into bats.  For kids growing up today, the line between what is real and what is not must be blurry indeed.

         When I was little, about five years old, my favorite toys were my plastic horses.  Each one had a name and gender: there was Flicka and Blaze and Snowflake.  I remember one evening when my aunt and uncle from New York came for dinner.  I showed my uncle that Skyrocket, the piebald stallion, could jump from one end of the living room to the other.  My uncle Bob laughed in that indulgent, condescending and infuriating way of adults who consider children an interruption.  I was angry and hurt.  It didn’t bother me that he didn’t believe me, for I knew it was a fantasy, but I hated being laughed at.  I never trusted him again.  From that day on, Uncle Bob was relegated to the category of Adults Who Don’t Understand.

Five-year-old children lack a sense of elapsed time.  When a beginning English speaker tells me about an event, the chronology can get really confusing.  It’s a challenge to decipher some of the stories.

“Miss Alice!” (My name is Ms. Ellis, but I answer to many versions.) “Tomorrow I watch movie Chicken Little.”

“You’re going to see the movie tomorrow?”  That’s me rephrasing and checking for comprehension.

“NO!”  The child is annoyed.  Miss Alice is being obtuse. 

“Yesterday you saw Chicken Little?”

“Yes, I see it.”  I make a mental note to work on the vocabulary of “yesterday, today, tomorrow.”

One morning Lucia tells me, “Miss Alice, my mom had a fire in her stove.  The truck came.  The wall was black.  We got a new stove.”

I am alarmed, so that evening I call Lucia’s house to see if all is well.  Her older sister laughs.  “That happened five months ago,” she says.