Archive | January, 2013

Ombrophiliac: Rain Lover

29 Jan

Rain.  I am obsessed with it.  I live for it.  At night, I strain to hear it in my sleep.  I love walking in it, don’t have sense enough to come in out of it, thrill to hear it forecast on the weather channel.  My favorite foreign locations all have rainy reputations:  Ireland, England, Germany. 

Maybe moving to Oklahoma has intensified my obsession—craving what we don’t have.  I moved to OK from what is billed as the rainiest city in America:  Hilo, Hawaii.  Unlike the most popular of the islands, the Hilo side of the Big Island, is the “rainy” side.  It generally rains at least once a day.  Sometimes these are only what we called “drive-by” downpours:  literally a few seconds of hard rain; other times it rains all night but is sunny during the day—the perfect formula for most Hawaiians.  When I first moved to Hilo in January 2008,  it was raining when I landed and did not stop for a full month.  This is no exaggeration.  It did not even take a hiccup of relief.  That was a bit much even for me, but the only thing that slightly got on my nerves was the incessant beating on the tin roof.  Don’t get me wrong:  I love nothing better than the pattering of rain on a tin roof, but this was more like construction, a constant hammering.  I don’t recall its raining that relentlessly ever again over the four years I lived there, and I admit I missed it.  I kept hoping it had not been a fluke and would occur again, even every other year or so.  It didn’t, but it did rain at least a little every day.  I loved that. 

What do we call someone who loves rain as much as I do?  I went to the Phrontistery website for the proper term, but did not find it listed.  I found the names for other things I’m overly fond of: dendrophilous (trees) ailurophilia (cats), even logophile (words)—but not rain.  The closest thing I found was ombrophilous (one who is tolerant of large amounts of rainfall), and since ombrophobia is the fear of rain, I would deduce a rain lover is an ombrophiliac.  Call me what you will.  Rain lover.  That’s me.

I’ll close with this poem I wrote once in England:

 

England in November 

          “…the rain has such small hands”

                              –e. e. cummings

 

when rain is constant

company, all things

shift to its capricious

whim, seduced by soft

persistence to sink

down in its ubiquitous

embrace, a moat deep

against all else

 

long rain’s lover, I

have known such quiet

intimacy, warmed my

fingers at its fluid

fire, melted memory

cold into grey

forgetfulness

 

and rose, released from

remembering, discounting

all other offers

          adulterous

          clumsy and

          inadequate

 

face, mirrored in its own,

shining wet with

rain, sweet, and

savory tears.

 

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Bella Forte: Loud and Strong

27 Jan

When one has lived and traveled all over the world, one has the tendency to overlook things in her own backyard.  What could possibly compare to the green glens of Ireland, the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, the crystal coves of Kwajalein, or the serenity of the Serengeti?  

Coming to OKC nearly three years ago, I was beginning to assume I had seen everything the area had to offer in the first couple of months.  Cowboy Museum?  Check.  Route 66 Round Barn?  Check.  Bombing Memorial?  Check.  City Art Museum?  Check. One can browse the antique shops of Guthrie just so often, and the art fairs–while pretty good–only occur a couple of times a year.  One certainly doesn’t expect to find Murano, Italy, without hopping a couple of planes and shelling out a couple of thousand bucks.

But for a quick drive into downtown Edmond at little to no cost at all, Murano, Italy–or its American translation–is waiting, humbly and unassuming, at the Bella Forte Glass Blowing Studio.  Here, father and son glass artists Chris and Micah McGahan will blow your mind with the inimitable objets d’art they coax into existence with just a puff on a blowpipe and a twist of a cane or a rod.  What emerges from the “glory hole” of the kiln is glowing testament to their God-given talent, and the McGahans are quick to deflect that glory back to God even in casual conversation.

Moreover, they will kindly allow you to watch as they work, and, if you’re hungry, treat you to classic Italian cuisine (for a modest price, of course) at Italian Jim’s, the family-owned restaurant attached to their studio and named for Chris’ father-in-law.  Here family recipes (from the Italian side, not the Irish, of course) fired in the pizza ovens rival the glassware as works of art, according to countless satisfied customers since 1996.

The Chihuly glass collection at the City Art Museum downtown can’t compete with that.  And impressive as that more famous exhibit may be, Bella Forte lives up to its name, loud and strong.  Chris doesn’t need–or want–to travel to Murano, though he has studied with some of the best glassblowers in the world right here in the US.  I would be hard pressed to distinguish a McGahan from a Chihuly, though I admit I am just an aficionado.  What makes these creations even more lovely to me is the evidence of the Creator reflected in every piece.  One doesn’t need to hear Chris’ apt allegories to recognize the spirituality shining through, though it was gratifying to speak with Chris about his faith and listen to his testimony.  I didn’t even need to speak Italian.  

Check out the website yourself:  http://bellaforteglass.com or stop by 13 S. Broadway in downtown Edmond.  That’s in Oklahoma.  Who’d have thought?

Looking for Love

21 Jan

January 20, a day that will live, ironically, in infamy.  Kyle, my beloved husband of only 13 years, passed away at the age of 35 on that day in 1992.  Hard to believe it has been twenty years; and while it doesn’t seem like yesterday–and time does heal some wounds–the impact of that event will never be over.  I have maintained I had to become a different person just to carry on; the young, naive girl who lost her love could not sustain herself without it.   I had to leave familiar faces and places and seek out new ones that didn’t remind me constantly of what was missing.  And true, exotic adventures and exciting vistas entertained momentarily, but only that.  My journey was always circular:  what I was running from and looking for were the same thing–and neither existed any more.  This really came home to me when I was in Turkey with my friend Banu a few years ago.  I had bought a ring from some eager merchant, and he was just as eager to have his picture taken with me.  We mugged for the camera, faking an engagement photo-op, but I noticed Banu wasn’t amused.  Later, I asked why.  “You should not flirt,” she stated.  “You are married.”  Before a denial could even pass my lips, I realized, in my heart of hearts, she was right.  I was still married to Kyle.  It didn’t matter that he wasn’t around to participate in this holy union–I was still just as married, just as faithful.  No wonder I hadn’t been able to find a replacement–I couldn’t, and I didn’t need one.  He was still there.  A certain peace settled inside me.  I could stop looking.  I just needed to learn to focus on how to be content with this special arrangement, this long-distance marriage, so to speak.  Just acknowledging that was a giant step in the right direction.  With the Lord’s help, it grows easier every day.  Thank you for that wisdom, Banu.  Happy anniversary, Kyle.  I’m still here–wherever I am.

Les Miz: comme ci, comme ca

19 Jan

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.  Wait, that’s another time, another story.  But Les Miserables is very similar.  It is French, after all.  Maybe all French history is the best and worst of times.  Comme ci, comme ca.   Maybe that explains my mixed feelings about the movie, too.  I remember liking the play when I saw it on the London stage.  I didn’t adore it, as so many did, but I did like it.  I remember being impressed by the Revolutionaries’ barricade and by the voice of the man playing Javert, though I don’t remember who that was now.  I can’t say I was impressed by the voice of the man playing Javert in the 2012 film—that would be Russell Crowe, and there’s already been enough written about his poor singing I don’t need to add to the clamor.  Having said that, I didn’t think his voice was all that bad.  In fact, I think it suited the part rather well:  a character like Javert shouldn’t exactly sound like an angel.  To be fair, none of the film actors sang all that well, with the exception of Marius, played by Eddie Redmayne, my personal favorite.  But, on the other hand, none sang that badly, either, and all seemed well cast for their parts:  Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried—and the ubiquitous, inimitable Helena Bonham Carter, of course.  I guess that brings up the on-going debate about whether a musical needs the best singers or the best actors, implying they can’t be one and the same.  (Well, there was Julie Andrews once, but she’s too old to play Cosette, and having had botched throat surgery, she probably couldn’t sing any better now than Amanda Seyfried does anyway.  Sorry, Julie; you know I love you, wanted to be you.  But that’s neither here nor there.  Q’est sera, sera.)  I finally came to the conclusion by the end of the film that maybe a stage musical needs the big, perfect voices, but a film adaptation of the same musical needs spot-on actors.  Must be the intimacy of the small screen.   I forgave their less-than-perfect singing for their commendable acting. 

I also found another debate raging inside me—well, maybe not raging, but certainly arguing back and forth:  do I even like musicals, and why or why not?  I can say rather certainly I do like musicals on the stage (the big voices, etc), operas, even.  (I have sung in enough of them myself I’d be a hypocrite to admit otherwise.)  But what about as films?  Mmmm….maybe not so much.  I like my cinema subtle, less is more, drama but not melodrama.  And Les Miz is certainly melodrama.  Romantic melodrama, melodramatic Romance, whatever.   All those big blockbusters are:  Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, West Side Story.  Larger than life.   Idealistic and fatalistic at the same time.  Apollonian and Dionysian.  Yin-Yang.  Comme ci, comme ca.  Must be the ever-running debate inside us all:  idealism vs. realism; angel on one shoulder, devil on the other; good cop, bad cop; to be or not to be.  As one of my students would say, “That’s deep.”  And here’s something deeper:  when I was younger, happier, I always enjoyed a good musical (on stage or film); older and wiser—and sadder, yes—I find I have less patience for them, less sympathy in my cynicism, more criticism of their optimism.

Critical cynic that I can be, I had prepared myself not to like this movie.  I had heard too many comments on either extreme.  People seemed to love it or hate it, with little in between.  That’s a bad sign, usually.  I distrust excess.   But, being ambidextrous, I guess I can easily see both sides.  All things in moderation, as Ben would say.  I liked it—I didn’t adore it, but I didn’t despise it, either.  So there you are.  Comme si, comme ca.  

Bully for Me, Part 2

13 Jan

Even all bad things must come to an end sometime, and after an excruciating eternity, The Evil Santa finally retired. I had outlasted him. The swelling on my tongue subsided after a while and I looked forward to my new-found emancipation. Such liberty was cut short, oddly enough, by what seemed an amazing opportunity to move to Hawaii. A friend and colleague who was retiring from DoDDS needed a partner to buy a house on the Big Island. Though I was not ready for retirement, after six years in the cold, overcast Eifel, I was ready for the promised good weather; I agreed. What could go wrong?
To this day, I really can’t say what went wrong, but wrong it went, and it wasn’t long before I was back to chewing my tongue. My colleague, seemingly a stable person prior to the move, became a raving harpy, railing about first one thing and then another in her new environment, our supposed Paradise. Nothing was good enough, whether it was the noisy neighbors, the lazy lifestyle, my own audacious presence (it was half my property…), or even the aforementioned balmy breezes. If I ever had the temerity to respond in any way but the affirmative, her ill-temper erupted like Mt. Kilauea just ten miles from the house. New friends asked if she was crazy; old ones confided she’d always been a bully. I could just shake my head at her baffling change of character—and bite my tongue. It was easier to return to my self-destructive behavior than threaten her black moods. In the end, and to make this long story somewhat shorter, I was forced to leave the islands entirely, though she expected me to continue making equal payments on the property she would enjoy alone.
The inequity of the situation began to grow in my consciousness until I could no longer hold back my incredulity. After months of “mumness,” my sense of justice refused to continue taking it on the chin—or the tongue, as it were—any longer, and I erupted back. Daring to tell her what I thought, of course, resulted in the largest eruption the islands have probably witnessed, and the ramifications were not pretty. The ashes from her seismic explosion are still raining down, even so far inland as Oklahoma.
But it is an ill wind indeed that blows only volcanic ash. After releasing my pent-up grievances, an air of relief settled around me, and to my grateful surprise, my teeth finally released my tongue from where it had been imprisoned for many, many months. I had found my tongue and stood up for myself and my rights, and my justified defiance had set me free.
I have come to realize bullies come in all shapes and ages and mark their territory anywhere in the world they are allowed to take over. Don’t let outward appearances bamboozle; bullies are not just the bigger boys or meaner girls: anyone from debutantes to old ladies can push their advantage to the detriment of others. And those “others” aren’t just cowering wall flowers: even well-educated, middle-aged, plucky women like me can be victims of their abuse—if we let them. We can’t let them, no matter how cowardly but effectively they crouch behind their ill-earned barricades. It’s their being placated and appeased that has allowed them their reigns of terror into the workplace and community, even beyond the age of retirement.
Bullying—classroom, cyber, corporate, congressional—wherever it rears its ugly head, it must be addressed head-on. Not only are children and teenagers scarred for life, many of them suicidal (the ubiquitous reports are rampant), ordinary undeserving adults are restricted from their inalienable rights by these self-appointed tyrants who have not been stopped early on. Better late than never. In the rational words of the inimitable Sugar Brown, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” And now that my tongue is free, I can quote the even more inimitable Dr. King: “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I am free at last!”
Seems like an appropriate thing to say this close to MLK Day. It’s my Emancipation Proclamation, and I am glad I have the tongue to proclaim it.

Bully for Me: An Emancipation Proclamation, Part I

10 Jan

The enlarged ridge on the side of my tongue was prominent and peculiar—and permanent. That is, unless I was willing for the oral surgeon to slice it off, and then there was no guarantee, after months of painful rehabilitation during which time I would not be able to use my tongue, the swelling wouldn’t return. The orthodontist suggested breaking my jaw and widening my mouth to make room for the expansion —but, again, after months of painful rehabilitation during which time I would not be able to use my mouth, it might not take care of the problem, either. The dentist made a mouth guard to discourage me from chewing on my tongue during my sleep, but most nights I’d find my tongue between my teeth again and the mouth guard discarded on the pillow. I decided to continue to bite my tongue—literally—and try to live with the discomfort. I couldn’t afford time off from my teaching job—a job that required I use my mouth incessantly. 

Why did I start biting my tongue in the first place? I cast my mind back as far as I could to identify when I first noticed the unusual and uncomfortable lump on the side of my tongue. I was living in Germany, teaching for DoDDS (the Dept. of Defense school system) on an American Air Force Base and had decided to visit an acupuncturist for relief with my Restless Leg Syndrome. The first thing the doctor (are they doctors?) asked was for me to stick out my tongue. I complied and was amazed when he asked, “How long have you been biting your tongue?” How did he know? He could see that? Of course, I was aware of the mass in my mouth but had dismissed it as temporary, not wanting to draw attention to something seemingly trivial lest I appear to be a whiner. His return expression made me feel like a fool. “How can I miss it?” He asked what had started the injurious practice, and, again, I tried to think back to when I was first aware of the self-infliction. The best I could come up with was soon after I moved from Kentucky to Germany to take the position with DoDDS.

What was it about Germany or teaching for DoDDS that would precipitate such destructive behavior? A young widow of nearly ten years, I had sought the refreshing change of venue, though it required my giving up a tenured full professorship at the local college to return to the laborious high school classroom, something I hadn’t done for fifteen years. I realized quickly that the allure of living in Europe came with the high price of giving up the relative freedom we enjoyed in the ivory tower of higher education. Gone was the autonomy of the professor and the sanctity of her classroom and replacing it was a massive chain of command crushing the lowly school instructor. Though my advanced education technically ranked me with Lt. Colonels of the Armed Forces, the reality was I was the lowest man on the totem pole, and not just because I was new to the military environment. Teachers truly were the base of the pole, preceded by the students, the parents, the administration, and, of course, the martial brass. What I did, when I did it, how long it took, what I thought and had to say about it—all were subject to control, the kind of micro-managing I had never subjected myself to anywhere, anyhow.

To make matters worse, the principal who had welcomed me warmly to my new position was forced to move on by the end of my first year, only to be replaced by an obstinate ogre whose only credential was longevity. Every innovation I suggested, every improvement I tried to implement, he barred, as surely as he blocked the doorway with his broad, squat bulk. Blood-shot eyes bulged menacingly through smeared thick glasses, his unkempt gray beard earning him the pejorative nickname “The Evil Santa” by the equally unimpressed but suppressed students. Even the parents and base commanders who generally called the shots—not to mention the FEA and private legal counsel—had little effect against him, so tightly were the wagons the DoDDS Fat Cats closed around their Good Ol’ Boys. It wasn’t that they weren’t aware of his bullying—the term noted repeatedly in his file from years of complaints—the system closed around such irritants like a tree forms a callus around wounded bark. Friends warned how miserable he could make my life if I stood up to him, and they were right, because I tried, to little avail. Ultimately, I could either return to my former life of liberty stateside or, if I preferred living in Europe, I could suck it up. In the end, Europe with all its old-world charms and adventures beckoning outside the classroom won out, and I learned to bite my tongue.

Oh.  

That’s where it started. It’s all coming back to me now.

End Part One. To Be Continued in Next Blog.

Law and Order: OKC

7 Jan

Anyone who knows me, knows what a fan I am of the original TV series, “Law and Order.”  Place into evidence of my allegiance Exhibit Number 1:  the ring tone on my cell phone.  Smiles of recognition break out whenever it rings and the famous “dun dun dun dun dun dun dun” of the well-known theme song fills the room.   My loyalty to the long-running show has remained intact throughout the years of notorious pairings and re-pairings of detectives (my faves, of course, Jerry Orbach and Chris Noth), DAs (though none fills the shoes of the inimitable Steven Hill), and ADAs (I stand by my commitment to marry Sam Waterston, should he ever become available).   I can quote the opening lines:  “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.”  Fascinated by these “ripped from the headlines” stories, I especially appreciate the two separate but equally important groups, enjoying how the show (unlike its equally popular spin-off “L & O: SVU”) is divided into two equally interesting segments:  the street and the courtroom, incorporating the best of both worlds.  My enthusiasm has known no bounds:  one time I even caught myself—a little late, perhaps—excitedly sharing details of a recent episode with the  students in my prison classroom, asking if they found the show as absorbing as I did.  Their looks of dismay did not necessarily curb my enthusiasm, but they did serve to remind me to reserve my “Law and Order” remarks for when I was outside the prison gates—a privilege we did not share.

My interest in law and order is not exclusive to “Law and Order.”  As mentioned above, the appeal of crime and punishment (also including but not exclusive to Dostoyevsky’s classic) attracted me to teach nearly eight years in the Kentucky prison higher education system and continues to contribute to a hefty classification of my library.  If I recall correctly, the first profession I professed as a child to wanting to pursue when I grew up (aside from longing to be a fairy, which is a state of being, more than a mere profession, of course) was the law, and I am not sure when teaching replaced that noble (or ignoble, as the perspective demands) calling.  The similarities are obvious, though the paychecks not “separate but equal.”  Even settled in my middle-aged vocation, I sometimes still find my mind drifting toward law school, though PTSS acquired from watching “The Paper Chase” years ago manages to shroud that phantom (pun intended).  And in spite of pejorative stereotypes and caricatures of cops both on and off the screen, I must admit uniforms do attract even cynical and seasoned feminists such as myself.

So when my colleague and friend invited me to “ride along” on his patrol last night, I jumped at the chance to see the underworld drama first-hand, from the front row seats if not the very stage itself.  Confident we wouldn’t see much action in OKC, I was rather surprised to learn the fair city’s crime rate ranks in the top 10 of the nation, though I was not privy to seeing much of it play out.  Just enough traffic stops of intoxicated or unlicensed drivers, the odd drug deal or gang activity, and the ubiquitous presence of “working girls” reeking of marijuana kept the graveyard shift from boring me to death without scaring me to death at the same time.  Granted, I don’t scare easily—I found as few years ago being in Belfast during the middle of an IRA raid “exhilarating” rather than terrifying, for example—but I wasn’t exactly on a suicide mission, either.  Many of the night’s scenarios were more amusing than disturbing, though it comes as no surprise to what depths human beings will sink these days; as I said, I am a seasoned viewer of cop shows.   What did surprise me was the calm compassion my friend and his associates showed toward every one of their “clients,” for want of a better term.  No matter how low the life, how obvious the guilt, each was innocent till proven otherwise, and each cock-and-bull story was listened to with respect and understanding.  None was made to feel inferior, though their choices that night surely landed them in the “stupid” class if not the city jail, and even repeat offenders—my friend recognized every one of the working girls from previous arrests—were treated with patient tolerance.  This certainly wasn’t the stereotypic behavior of our men (and women) in blue we’ve been led to believe.  It was a lesson worth losing sleep over.  Thanks, Jeff.

It got me to thinking about God.  How patient he is with our repeat offenses.  How stupid we are making the worst choices over and over.  How guilty we are and how weak, no matter how many times we vow to “never do it again.”  How calm and compassionate he is.  How blessed we are to have him patrol our lives to try to keep us out of trouble, keep us from damaging ourselves or others any further.  If we let him.   I noted how some of the lawbreakers last night weren’t so compliant.  Their sullen stubbornness only succeeded in elongating the ordeal.  Those who cooperated immediately were rewarded with quick and helpful treatment.  Like Jeff and his partners, God only wants what’s best for us; sometimes we’re too pig-headed (no pun intended) to let go and let him work things out for our good. 

Knowing Jeff is working on a PhD in English and teaching college courses part-time, I asked him if he were to leave the police force would he miss it.  Yeah, he admitted, though he did reveal it wasn’t easy being in a profession where everyone hates you.   Sometimes it’s hard getting people to do what’s good for them; in their arrogant ignorance, they resent the very one who is truly on their side.  And the more ignorant they are, the more arrogant; the more guilty, the more resentful.    Let me enter into evidence Exhibit Number 2:   a flashback of the vote against God at the DNC last year. 

But that’s a blog for another day. 

Rebecca Luttrell Briley, Ph.D.