Sunday, October 31, 2021

Birthday Wishes

There’s a certain oddity in celebrating birthdays when the birthday person isn’t actually around, but that’s kind of how things go when kids get older and become adults and start moving away.

We’ve been technically empty-nesters since late August, though in all the upheaval it has hardly felt like it. Too many other things to focus on. But now that our corner of the world is calming down a bit we can start to look around and realize these sorts of things are happening.

It’s Lauren’s birthday today.

She’s off at Main Campus University and by all accounts having a good time there – we got to see her briefly yesterday when we dropped off some stuff for her, and that was a lovely thing. The next time we’ll get to see her for more than just a few minutes will probably be around Thanksgiving, though she doesn’t get much time off for that to be honest so who knows. We know she’s there, and we know she’s well.

So whatever celebrations are happening are happening up at Main Campus University. We’ll be here, though, wishing her well.

Happy birthday, Lauren.

I’m proud of you.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Observations from a Tired Mind

1. October 28 is apparently not the time to go shopping for Halloween candy unless you want to visit half the stores in town before you end up literally unstacking boxes in the back of the local WalMart – the last resort of the shopper at wit’s end – to get to the few remaining bags of candy they have before they take it away and send it off to wherever things go when they don’t sell at WalMart.

2. There’s already Christmas stuff up! It’s not even November! What about Thanksgiving, at least?

3. Some of this may be on me, I suppose. One day it was late July and I was standing there at the County Fair watching the poultry judging and suddenly – BOOM! – it’s the end of October and I have very little idea of how I got from the one to the other.

4. There is really very little call for a cemetery to be sending out customer satisfaction surveys. “Would you recommend this cemetery to a friend?” You know, I’m not really sure how to answer that question to be honest.

5. After spending nearly sixteen hours in a two-day virtual conference on how to advise transfer students heading to Main Campus University it is clear that my finely honed Zoom skills from 2020 have deteriorated. On the other hand my note-taking abilities are still top notch two decades after leaving graduate school and more than a quarter century after my last actual class.

6. I am going to have a very hard time choosing the winner of this year’s Great British Bake Off, as I like all of the contestants this time around. I have my favorites, of course, so I’m cheering for them to make it to the final, but there haven’t been any that I was happy to see go home so far.

7. Someday the cats will be confident enough that we are back for the foreseeable future that they will not be stuck to us like barnacles or howling like banshees when we are out of eyesight. Today is not that day. Tomorrow does not look good either.

8. I like that I can go back to campus and talk with my colleagues and see students in person again, but I have completely forgotten how to pack a lunch.

9. It’s dark in the mornings now, and cold. Getting out of bed is just more of a chore than it was a month or two ago, and it wasn’t that much fun even then.

10. “Boredom is a luxury good.” (Adam Fletcher) I feel this a lot more than I did not even that long ago.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

News and Updates

1. It rained most of the weekend here – a couple of grey, rainy autumn days with blustery winds and falling temperatures that are about as good as weather gets, I think. I’m going to retire to Scotland someday.

2. The rain did keep me from unloading the minivan for a few days after we’d gotten back, though once it cleared up the unloading proceeded apace. I can’t say the delay bothered me overmuch. Sometimes you just have to let things sit for a bit, and sometimes you’re one of the things that just has to sit.

3. One of the bummers of this past week is that we were on the road heading home when Voces8 were performing at a venue that was, at least in theory, close enough to my house that I could have gone to see them. They’re a British group and there’s been a pandemic (really – pay no attention to the plague rats who insist otherwise) so it’s been a long time since they’ve been anywhere near me. Oh well. If you’re out there listening, #Voces8, I hope you are going to be near Wisconsin again sometime soon. I’ll be there.

4. I suppose it is fitting that this is the week that my pizzelle iron chose to give up the ghost. You can’t really fix these things since they have basically no moving parts and no access to anything on the interior without scrapping it entirely, so now I am without a pizzelle iron for the first time since 1990 when my grandparents gave it to me for my birthday. I’m not sure that they ever really understood why I wanted one, as they both regarded cooking as women’s work, but I have always loved it and I will miss it. The company that made it no longer exists thanks to predatory capitalism, so I will need to find a different one.

5. Although having spent the last few days researching pizzelle irons, I am now sorely tempted to try once again to fix my old one. Maybe I can get it to work again. Or maybe I can find someone else who knows how to repair simple electrical appliances (seriously – it’s a heating element with a handle; the main problem is getting access to things). In either event, I do need to fill this hole in my possessions so I can go back to making the house smell like anise.

6. A lot of twenty-first century parenting is just being unreasonably pleased when one of your children likes a social media post that you made.

7. One of the nice things about going back to face to face classes and advising is that I am finally meeting in person students I’ve been talking with for a year now on Zoom. Some of them are surprisingly tall.

8. I’m doing my best to avoid politics these days as all it does is make me angry, but sometimes you just have to wonder what the hell people are thinking. The more we find out the worse the treasonous insurrection of January 6 becomes, and still there are people who see nothing wrong with it. Watching supporters of the disgraced twice-impeached former president deny the undeniable and defend the indefensible would be comical if it weren’t so utterly grotesque.

9. Twice this month I have spent the wee hours of the night chasing down a bat that was doing laps around my bedroom and then, having caught up to it, depositing it outside. At least I think I deposited it outside the first time. Given how quickly the problem repeated itself, I may just have lost it somewhere in the house where it hid and then reappeared a few nights later. But the second time I definitely saw it fly off into the night, chittering angrily the whole way. I’m hoping it goes somewhere with its little bat buddies and leaves me alone from now on. Seriously – after the last year and a half I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be dealing with bats.

10. How tired do you have to be to be sitting at work, eating your lunch, and suddenly realize, “Oh yeah, a few hours ago I was chasing a bat around my bedroom,” having completely forgotten about it in the interim? This tired. You have to be this tired to do that.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Cleared Out

My mom’s apartment is cleared out now.

Kim and I headed out to Philadelphia on Wednesday evening and met my brother there on Thursday. We got back a couple of hours ago – 72 hours away, almost to the jot, with more than a third of that as driving time. We’ve put almost ten thousand miles on the minivan in the last two months, most (though not all) of it spent going back and forth to Philadelphia. We needed to do this one more trip because the complex wanted the apartment empty by the end of the month and my brother and I had some administrative things to take care of while we were there that needed to be done in person – probate, banking, things like that. My mom’s neighbor from our old house is an attorney and he’s helping us through the bureaucracy, and we really appreciate that.

I have to say that the probate people and the banking people were uniformly helpful and kind, which was a lovely thing.

The three of us spent Thursday night and much of Friday packing things, and on Friday morning a couple of polite young men came over from one of those “Two Guys and a Truck” moving companies to take away the big stuff. It took longer than they thought it would but it always does, and they were still done by late afternoon. The company donates things to Habitat for Humanity and Goodwill, so we’re hoping that most of it ends up there. The extended family has already taken what we wanted and it all has to go somewhere, preferably to someone who will want it and use it. One of the neighbors took a pile of stemware, knickknacks, and assorted small items for the ongoing rummage sale that they do to raise money for residents who have outlived their savings, so that was nice.

I never did get to see the place empty, though this doesn’t bother me really. It always felt temporary compared to the house I grew up in, where my mom lived for nearly four decades. It was a nice apartment in a good facility and it served its purpose admirably, but it wasn’t a sentimental place.

The three of us knocked off packing late Thursday night and ended up hanging out in the living room, margaritas in hand, talking about whatever came to mind until far later than was probably good for us at our respective ages. And I think that is how I will choose to remember these last few days there before we turned the apartment over to someone new – a moment of conversation and stillness amid the whirlwind of the week and the backdrop of the last few months.

The moving hand hath writ and having writ moves on, said Omar Khayyam.

What he didn’t say was that having thus written, the memories are recorded and can be revisited. I think that’s just as important as the original meaning of the passage.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Eulogy for My Mom

So here I am, an orphan at 55, but a well prepared one for all that.

My mother’s first job out of college was teaching English at South Philadelphia High School. She didn’t stay there for very long – for one thing I came along and for another she needed to be awake and teaching at 7am and that just wasn’t going to happen – but she never stopped being a teacher.

From my mom I learned many things.

I learned how to read. Not in the “parsing out the words on the page” sense, but in the broader sense of seeing reading as a joy in itself, of exploring new worlds and ideas on the page – sometimes to use them in daily life and sometimes just to experience them. She was never without an open book, fiction or nonfiction, and she showed through her actions how important that was. I have followed her example for my entire life.

I learned how to write for an audience. She was always my primary audience. I wrote an entire dissertation on the basic premise that as long as my mom – an intelligent nonspecialist – could understand it then I was doing it right. I write a lot these days, and she was always my first audience for that as well.

I learned how to keep a sense of humor about things. She had a quick sense of humor, one that helped her accept things that needed to be accepted and change things that needed to be changed. She never lost it. This past summer I got into a minor fenderbender while driving her car. I told her that I would cover it, but she said just to let her insurance handle it. “They’ll raise your rates,” I told her. “Not for long,” she replied.

I learned the importance of strong, intelligent women – that’s an important lesson for any man in this world. My mother was a trail blazer. She was the first person in her family to attend college, which she did by earning a full scholarship. She was the first woman to run her company, much to the initial dismay and eventual relief of the old boy network that was there when she got there. She did what she needed to do and she did it well, and she showed me that this is how life was supposed to work.

I learned how to be a parent, and I tried to raise my kids as I was raised.

Perhaps most importantly I learned how to keep a welcoming home. My friends were always welcome in our home, sometimes when we weren’t even there. We always had a home, no matter how far away we were or how long it had been since we’d been there.

I don’t always live up to the lessons my mom taught me, life being what it is, but I always try.

Thanks, mom.

I love you.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021


Births and deaths create eddies in time.

My oldest child was born in the middle of a Wisconsin winter and I remember sitting there with a newborn for the first time, staring vaguely out the window at the cold January streets and wondering how all of the people passing by could do that so nonchalantly, as if the world hadn’t just changed, as if everything was just as it had been before.

Of course for them it hadn’t changed, not really.

But my world had, and for a brief moment time seemed to roll back on itself, moving forward only in a very small radius of space, until eventually the rest of the world caught up with a roar and we were suddenly all in the same moment.

This is why new parents look so vague all the time.

My dad passed away on a clear day in late winter in Pennsylvania a few years ago, and as we filed out of the hospital and back toward home the same sort of disjuncture was there, an eddy in time where things in my corner of the observable universe did not move at the same pace or in the same direction as they did everywhere else.

It is a strange feeling to be caught in these eddies, in a place where the world had changed for you but not for others, not yet.

My mom passed away on Saturday morning, and here I am back in another eddy.

If you have a moment, spare a thought for someone who will be dearly missed by those who loved her.