Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dear saga,

ZOMG what a night!
 is how I imagine you always begin, pretty much, if not in so many words. But you might also begin
ZOMG let's go see all the grandkids in their Halloween costumery!
ZOMG why don't I wait until way late in the day to ascertain if the manuscripts I need to send out, just at the deadline, can be submitted online?
ZOMG the postal robot is temporarily not in service!
--all of which beginnings are how, dear saga, we ended up driving the streets, the mean streets--the empty, mean, deserted late-night streets--of the south valley in the half hour before midnight, looking for a post office with a working postal robot.

Exiting the nearest post office, the one with the "temporarily not in service" screen:
Me:  Those cussing cusshead cusses that won't let you submit online!

The historian: [supportive. mild.] It's ridiculous.

Me: I know! Why won't they?

The historian: [semper supportive.] ... Seems like they should.

Me:  I wish they would just make up their minds. I wish they would just all agree to ... like, I wish there would just be an agreement...

Historian: [laughs]

Me:  --that sounds like poets, right? They would just agree to a--

Historian: --a national standard?

As we drove the streets--the cursed, damned streets--of the south valley in search of a post office with a working postal robot, I imagined a scenario--any of several possible scenarios, dear saga--in which we would not be driving the &c &c &c streets &c. Perhaps, for instance, I could have checked the list of submissions at an earlier point in the day. Or last week. Or, oh, a month ago when I first made the list. I could have made the copies, and put them in their darling envelopes, and we could have mailed them on the way home from the Halloweenery. That would have been sensible.

But without the unsensible, the foolish, the unplanned, the last-minute and the slap-dash, we would not have had you, dear saga, nor the deep relief of finding a working postal robot in a post office on State Street, nor the satisfaction of mailing the errant manuscripts to their fate, their destination, their just reward, and all with eleven minutes to spare before midnight!

Dear saga, you are my fate, my destination and my just reward: a poet with an historian haunting the post offices of the city, her manuscripts finally winging their way, and just under the wire.

You are epic,


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dear Halloween,

In answer to your questions:

Yes, I found my raven shirt, and no, I have not purchased Halloween candy yet.

stop bugging me,


p.s. no I did not carve a jack o'lantern dammit.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Dear cinema on a week night,

It is 12:08 at night, or in the morning, and I am still thinking about you and longing, perhaps, for a re-view.

"I don't know, maybe you'd like it," I say to the historian.

"So you'd see it again?" he says.

"Oh, for sure," I say. "I loved it."

Cinema on a week night, what you lack in good judgement and self-discipline, you make up for in impulsive, passionate movie love. What you lack in accomplishing some more grading, you make up for in sharing a movie with friends. What you lack in feeling well-rested and well-prepared for tomorrow, you make up for in vivid, cinema-inflected dreams.

Cinema on a week night, I would choose you every night if I could. I'm an exaggerator, but I am not exaggerating.

Thinking about you at thirty frames per second,


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dear spider that was in my dream,

There was also a peach in my dream. And you, dream spider, were on that peach, transparent and tiny. You were getting ready to dig in, with your extra special secret dream-spider tools. I think that's when I woke up.

Really, spider that was in my dream, I have nothing much against spiders, and on an academic level I respect the work you do for good in this world, eating the bad bugs and trapping stuff in your webs and building webs and being all eight-legged and what not. But you go too far, spider. You go too far when you invade my dream, creep me out, and eat my dream peach. I was saving that peach. I was going to eat it for breakfast, and now you've ruined it.

And speaking of creepy things, I think there is entirely too much talk of the scary at the moment. On public radio this afternoon, someone was interviewing someone else who has a study out about horror and how revelatory it is about our state of mind, global-psyche-wise. Oh really? I think what horror shows us is that there is scary stuff, and it just keeps getting scarier. It just gets scarier by the movie, and you know what that tells me about the global psyche? We are terrified, that's what, and you, peach-ruining spider, you are not helping on that front.

Dream spider, if I had found you on my actual breakfast peach, I would have respected you and your fine work, academically. But breakfast-wise, I would have had to crush you like the bug you are. And don't try to tell me you're not a bug. You have 6-8 legs, am I right? Anything in that range is a bug around here, unless you ask my historian, but hear me now: I won't. I won't ask him. I will not have it, dream spider: you may not have my peach.

--and if you recur in my dreams, there is no telling what.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dear month of November,

You are on your way. I would like to submit some requests.
  • Please have suitable weather. I know not everyone agrees with me on this, but it's time for things to get colder. Please no unseasonable warmness. Sun is fine, but let's keep it on the cold side.
  • Please do not rush by. I am behind, month of November, and I have a lot of catching up to do, especially this week. 
          November across the street
        • Please do not be excessively Christmasy. I have promised--promised!--my children that I will not delay in putting up a Christmas tree this year. And I mean to keep that promise. However! That does not mean a slough of Christmas music and other holiday hoopla before Thanksgiving. I have not even been grouchy at all about Halloween this year! There are pumpkins on my porch, and I wore a tee shirt with a spider web pattern on it, and I mean to wear my raven shirt if I can find it. I know Halloween isn't your brief, month of November, but I offer my Halloween-friendly attitude to show that I am not anti-holiday, not at all. But I think we all know what the relevant holiday is for November: Thanksgiving. So let's not rush it.
        • Please, please, please help me get caught up this week. I need to get caught up.
        That is all. I hope you find these requests reasonable.

        Over and out in the Denver airport,


        p.s. See what you can do about the election concluding with an acceptable outcome. Please.

        Friday, October 26, 2012

        Dear French restaurant,

        I'm not quite sure why, but I seek you out, French restaurant, and especially in cities where I do not live. I think, in fact, I may never have actually eaten at the French, or French-ish, restaurants in my own town. But I am drawn inexplicably to the bistro as a category when I am away from home, and particularly when I'm on my own.

        When I'm on my own, I want food with a tradition, food that's not afraid of its own commitments, food that is simultaneously a little bit snobby and, paradoxically, also as comforting as soft clothes and comfortable shoes and butter. Lots and lots of butter.

        It's a bonus when the staff are kind. This has happened to me two times, but each of those was a memorable time. Once in San Francisco, the waiter, who had either a real or a really, really good faux French accent, asked me if I wanted "still or fizzy" water, and told me that the sauce on my salmon was "delicious," pronounced with extra French syllables. Tonight, the guy was not remotely French, but he was really nice, and he brought me extra bread when I asked for it, because the saffron sauce on my moules safran was so unbelievably, stunningly delicious. And a spoon when I needed it to eat the sauce.

        And he did not look askance when I had dessert on top of that, a Normandy apple tart. With some sort of extra special whipped cream and salt caramel sauce, just the right amount of each.

        French restaurant, you were everything that I needed and wanted in a restaurant tonight, and more.

        And that sauce was so, so good, it made me grateful. For sauce.


        Thursday, October 25, 2012

        Short notes to public transit.

        Dear public transit,

        I admire how you go everywhere in downtown Denver. I like your frequency and your promptness. Public transit, you are in every case I can think of a blessing to a city and an aid and a comfort to the carless, the out-of-towner, and the downtrodden.

        However, the microphone into which your driver speaks--by all evidence, pretty much articulating the words onto and around the microphone--is the opposite of a transmitter.  It is a transblatter.




        Stop requested, I guess?



        Dear public transit,

        Thank you for your kind drivers, who, while perhaps a bit on the surly side, are also very helpful.
        Possibly my hotel clerk, in helping me to plan my bus ride, could have been a bit more helpful? (Although he was not the least bit surly.) Even so, I did not know, actually, what the fare was when I got on the bus. I was close--I had two dollar bills at the ready, but not the additional quarter.

        "You can take a seat while you find it," the driver said.

        Thank you, thoughtful driver. And yes, I will take a transfer.



        Wednesday, October 24, 2012

        Dear stranger I sat next to in the airport shuttle,

        It was a long ride from the airport into Denver, am I right? It was cold and wet outside, and there was some snow happening. The windows in the van fogged up before we even got started. As we drove, the streetlights bloomed but never clarified through the mist.

        It was a long enough ride that it was possible for me to listen to an entire conversation between you and someone at the other end of your phone. It was weird, stranger. Really damn weird, to be sitting right by you and have you chatting away to your . . . friend? co-worker? I couldn't really tell, but it was hard not to speculate. She's going through some difficult times, though, I can tell you that. I felt for her.

        I felt for her especially at first, because you kind of seemed like a know-it-all. (Takes one to know one. Yeah, I know.) Like, everything she said--I gathered this, because there were pauses in the your-end-of-the-conversation talking--you'd have a ready-made, prefab answer for. And I kept thinking your voice sounded so clipped, brisk. A little self-satisfied.

        Then I thought, wait--who called whom? Maybe this person, your friend, called you, stranger, and you were just being the friend who listens and supplies answers in return. You know, like you do. Sometimes a friend just needs that, someone who will listen and fill in the blanks.

        Then we pulled off the freeway--I never thought an off-ramp Seven-Eleven looked more beautiful, an indication that I might soon be checked in, tucked away, with some food, finally. Your voice changed. It was softer. I heard you tell your friend--must have been your friend--that when someone in the family died, people checked in on you, because they wanted to make sure you were doing okay. You told your friend to drive safely. And that was it.

        Our driver dropped people off at the Marriott, the Hyatt, the Four Seasons, and then I was out the door. I checked in, ordered some room service, called home, watched Nashville, and thought again about you.

        I think you're probably a pretty nice person, stranger.

        (It was still a little unsettling to have been press-ganged into your conversation. I'm just saying.)


        Tuesday, October 23, 2012

        Dear Denver,

        Tomorrow evening, I will be with you. There's a three-day workshop on Race Street that I'll be attending, one for which I have just haphazardly and frantically packed.

        I'll be going to work tomorrow, for my Writing Center tutorials and a fat meeting and then appointments with my grammar and style students. So my bag has to be packed now, which makes me feel haphazard and frantic. I need to do something about that, Denver. Maybe you'll give me some perspective.

        I hope so. I'm hoping to learn some things and observe many things and learn some more things. I'm hoping to rest and be quiet. I'm hoping to eat some good meals alone, and I'm hoping to calm down.

        In the meantime, tonight I scanned these, which may or may not be a part of the project of the workshop. I had to cry a little while I looked for these photos. And then I had to cry a little when I looked through them. But the crying's over, at least for now.

        Denver, don't let me down.

        I'm kind of counting on you,


        Monday, October 22, 2012

        Dear debates,

        Gott im himmel, I am glad you are finally over.

        To quote this guy, whoever he is:

        I could say more, debates, but I'll keep it polite,


        Sunday, October 21, 2012

        Dear weekend,

        I liked how you contained a movie and a dinner and picture time with my son and his family. I liked how you contained waking up late(r) this morning. I also liked how I got to spend time with my cherished colleagues, even though (and here's where "like" would be the wrong verb) that time was in the context of a little academic conference.

        I liked the conference, but I am not sure I liked the fact that you, weekend, also contained a conference presentation that I was preparing for up till the minute, practically, that I presented it. That kind of activity is antithetical to "Saturday," which, as you know, is approximately half of what you are made of.

        Still: we got through it, weekend. And now you are over. So I am going to bed, to wake up to the week. Which, frankly, feels a little bit like a relief.

        How do you feel about that, weekend? Shoe's on the other foot, right?

        It's a paradox,


        Saturday, October 20, 2012

        Memo to the new television season.

        TO:         The new television season
        FROM:   htms
        DATE:    Oct. 20, 2012
        RE:         Mid-October Evaluation

        I see a lot of hit-and-miss-iness. For instance, my commitment to The New Girl and The Mindy Project, while stalwart, is running purely on my affection for the characters/stars, and possibly my misbegotten confusion of the stars with their characters.

        I love--I'm using the word love--Tina Fey, and I have loved 30 Rock from the beginning, despite the fact that it has been weird, pretty weird, for quite some time now. I decided long ago I was in it for the long haul. I'm just built that way. But I would appreciate it it, the new television season, if you would convey this message to the 30 Rock writers: would it kill you to, I dunno, make us care about the characters? a little? (Also, you can tell them that I totally fell for that Facebook thing, citing the faux magazine story where they said Jenna was 56 years old. Psych! on me. She's 42. Well-played.) But still: I want to care about the characters! Caring about the characters is why I'm still watching The Big Bang Theory and why I'll watch any episode of Frasier, anytime. (Yes, I know this is sad, but this memo is me giving notes to you. Let's leave my emotional life out of it.)

        Parks and Recreation--hit and miss, but more hits than misses. Carry on.

        Glee has made the transition of taking the younguns past high school graduation rather gracefully, and I am loving it. The last episode nigh unto killed me, because everyone broke up with everyone. Kate Hudson plays a mean/secretly not quite as mean dance instructor at NYADA that has it in for Rachel. It is awesome.

        Now that the "season" of Major Crimes is over and they're promising new episodes next ...wait for it...summer, I am officially bummed. Because I really, really liked it. It made me almost not miss The Closer, and that's saying a lot.

        The Good Wife is as good as it gets. Perhaps it will gratify you to know that it's one of the historian's all-time favorite shows. That's right. All-time. Me, too, by the way.

        I also went ahead and took up Nashville which is a giant slice of cheese served on a cheese plate with a side of cheese and a foamy soapy topping. Wow! But it is compulsively watchable and laugh-at-able and full of excellent music. Also, the city of Nashville figures prominently. This show is so good/bad that the Go Fug Yourself girls do a screen-capped episode guide for it that is a riot. AND it features songs as good as this:

        In conclusion, please don't cancel this awesome/awful show, and let there be more achy-breaky music like this, preferably in every single episode. And characters I care about! 30 Rock, I am looking at you.

        Thursday, October 18, 2012

        Dear reminders,

        It has been a long week already and it's not over. Each day it has been my sweet reward to look forward to the long walk I will take around my neighborhood when the light is still bright, but shining aslant, in its last hour.

        The other morning, my friend Paula said that she was listening to Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations to help her focus on a cold morning. I remembered the copy I once bought of this artist, this same piece. It was within just a couple of years of our getting a CD player. It became one of the small coterie of essential recordings for me, and I played it over and over. I remember listening to him play the aria, the enunciation of the theme. How spare, how quiet, before he plunged into the invention of the variations.

        Tonight, I ran into this, Simone Dinnerstein playing the Bach Partita No. 1. Clarity, like light falling at a slant in the last hour of the day.

        All during my walk, I kept thinking about playing the piano, whose keys are usually dusty, and I don't mean that as a metaphor. What would it be like to move those muscles again? To play Bach, or anything, at the end of every day?

        At the end of my walk, when the sun was in the west and almost gone, and I was heading east down the street to my house, I took off my sunglasses, no need for them any longer. The sky was blue, the trees were yellow. Bright, bright.

        Dear reminders, thank you for bringing this music back to me.


        Wednesday, October 17, 2012

        Dear foodstuffs lying on my table,

        I wonder what can be made of you, separately or together.

        I wonder whether I will ever look at hard squash at five o'clock, or six o'clock, or six thirty, at the end of a long day in the middle of the semester, and say: yes.

        I wonder if I will still have dried cherries in December, when I will need some for the baking.

        I wonder indeed that there are still peaches in October, and that they are still so delicious.

        I wonder if it is time to go to the store for more almonds.

        Please, foodstuffs lying on my table, reveal your secret logic to me in the form of a menu.

        I'm really, really hungry.


        Tuesday, October 16, 2012

        Dear the word "solutions,"

        I like to use you, the word "solutions," on occasions like these:
        • when there is a math problem.
        • when there is a syntax problem.
        • when there is a proposal in the offing, and a problem has first been identified.
        • when you're talking about a homogeneous mixture of two or more substances--i.e., when one is doing chemistry.
        However, when this came into my e-mail inbox today, I had to demur:

        These are books you're talking about. BOOKS, the word "solutions"!

        Is a movie theater a "cinematic experience solution"? Are shoes "bare feet solutions"? Is a taco a "TexMex deficiency solution"?

        The word "solutions," please never behave this way again.

        I'm not kidding,


        Monday, October 15, 2012

        Open letter to a random movie viewed on television.

        Sometimes when you're in a motel in a town where there's maybe not all that much going on--or what is going on you don't really want to be a part of--and the novel you brought to read doesn't strike your fancy, either, you may find yourself in the middle of a big motel bed with a remote in your hand, cruising through the channels, where there was just moments before back-to-back-to-back episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond, but now there are only back-to-back-to-back episodes of The King of Queens. This cannot stand, you say to yourself and anyone else who will listen.

        So you click through the channels like mad to find something, anything, to divert you from your motel/bad novel/terrible sitcom quandary. You go up to the last channel and back down. Up and down. And that's where you, random movie, come in. There you are, starring Mark Wahlberg--there you are! Mark, what's this you're a part of? You say there's some kind of random event? Maybe it's terrorism, maybe it's aliens, maybe it's some crazy nature-turning-on-the-people situation?

        Yep, this movie.
        It is purely the strength of Mark Wahlberg, purely his reliable Everyman performance, that keeps you watching the random movie whose title you can't quite lay your hands on. You have to triangulate it on the internet--it's Mark Wahlberg, it's Zooey Deschanel--she's in there too--it's whatsisname, who directed that one thing and that other thing. Meanwhile, the deaths are mounting, the dialogue might be getting sillier, and you're not quite sure what's at stake.

        Your husband makes what may possibly be a small derisive noise from over there on the motel loveseat.

        "What?" you say.

        "What is this?" he asks.

        "I think it's supposed to be kind of good," you say. "We didn't see it, but maybe just because it was in the middle of our list? and there were better things to see? It's directed by that one guy who directed that thing, and it's got Mark Wahlberg," you point out.

        He is aware of this last fact.

        Well, there is danger and love and love and danger, and more bodies pile up. Betty Buckley has an excellent spooky turn as a scary old lady living out in the wilds with no radio nor TV neither.  You watch until the very, very end, where there's both a happy turn and one more scary turn.

        Random movie viewed on television, you were not really kind of good--you were more kind of bad. Nonetheless, I am counting you on the list of movies I have seen, and somehow I feel satisfied with having watched you, clearly in excess of your charms. If I were you, random movie, I would remember this one important fact, and maybe share it with all other random movies who are destined to be viewed upon television: Mark Wahlberg, who is a reason sufficient unto himself.

        He was really great in The Fighter, too, and also Three Kings,


        Sunday, October 14, 2012

        Dear getting back to it,

        It was nice to go. I always feel that the most keenly when we're in the car, driving away from everything. Leaving the city, the county, the state, another state. Staying in a room that is not permanently ours--only ours for a night or a few nights.

        But while we're there, seeing new regions and talking about things we don't usually talk about, seeing bears and other wildlife, &c., there are always moments that remind us of what we miss at home, like lots of vegetables, and Bruiser, and home comforts, such as our own full libraries and medicine cabinets and snacks and our own pillows and bed. It is churlish to long for home whilst on a longed-for trip, so we set those feelings aside, mostly. Except at 3 a.m. when the tiny refrigerator in the room is making funny noises and something very small seems to be knocking on the door. Or not. Maybe I was just making it up while I wasn't sleeping.

        On our way home today, we stopped for breakfast at the bakery that was to close for the winter at 2 p.m. We admired for the last time the aspens and the red-twigged dogwood still blazing. We stopped in to see our friends at the little Island Park grocery, and visited our cabin closed up tight for the winter. We stopped to look into the river flowing past us, and drove down the mountain. I remembered my grandmother's big back yard when we drove past Idaho Falls, and we talked some more about things we wanted to do and see this winter, and thought about it when we weren't talking.

        A few hours later when we drove up our street, the cosmos were blooming their best--the most beautiful and prolific they'd been all year. Bruiser came out to greet us in a whole-body wag. We unpacked and checked everything out, in great shape thanks to my son who had taken care. Looked through the mail and washed our faces.

        And if there's still an election happening in the newspapers, and nine e-mails awaiting me in Canvas, and a full agenda for tomorrow, butter but no eggs, there was nonetheless time to make shortbread and take the dog for a walk, run over to have spaghetti with family, to brag about the bear sightings and do a puzzle with a grandson. Time to be home, in other words.

        It really was a great trip,


        Saturday, October 13, 2012

        Dear the dark sky,

        On Thursday morning as we drove north and east, we had a copy of USA Today with us. It's something we read only when we travel, because often the places we stay give us a copy for free, and there's a crossword. One article, "Ten Great Places to Stargaze," we loved, partly because it told us something new--that there is an international organization dedicated, as it says, to "preserve the night"--and partly because we love stargazing and dark skies in which to gaze at them. It is, in fact, one of the reasons we love going north, to places where the skies are dark and the most reliable newspaper is USA Today.

        We talked about it again tonight over pizza. Some of the places mentioned in the article which are working to certify their dark skies--like Cedar Breaks--are eminently possible for us to visit. Others aren't out of the realm of possibility--Borrego Springs, Big Bend National Park, Glacier National Park. Earlier that day, we had traveled to the north entrance of Yellowstone, into the little town of Gardiner. We reminded ourselves that Mammoth, only five miles from the north entrance, is the park headquarters, and learned that there's a structure called the Roosevelt Arch marking the entrance, commemorating the fact that Theodore Roosevelt was a passionate advocate of the idea of national parks. We learned that the north part of the park--Gardner Valley, where the Gardner River flows--is a winter range for much of the park's wildlife. But one thing we didn't know was how dark Yellowstone would get at night.

        As we walked back to our lodgings, the historian said, "How about we walk right to our car and drive into the park?" This was at about 7:30 or so. "How would that be?"

        So we walked right to our car and drove directly into the park. We wondered if the booths at the west entrance would be staffed after dark. Yes, they are. Would the staff give us many cautions about driving through the park after dark? No, they didn't. And how many cars would there be? What kind of light would there be?

        The skies were darker than they'd ordinarily be because they were cloudy. But we found a startling number of cars driving out of the park. Hardly any cars coming in, but many leaving.

        "It feels so different," I said, as we drove, slowly, on the road lined on either side with what felt like forested walls. One two three four five sets of oncoming headlights passed us. Not exactly unsafe, is how it felt, but not exactly safe either.

        "More cars than I would have thought," said the historian.

        "It's just data, though. We asked ourselves, 'how many cars will there be in Yellowstone after dark?' and it turns out there are more than we thought," I postulated.

        We went as far as a pull out we knew by day, where we could get out of the car and sit by the Madison River. When we turned off the car, the head and taillights went out; the interior lights dimmed, then went dark. We sat on a log and listened to the water. A car went by, on its way to exit at the west entrance. Whoosh of well-engineered internal combustion. Sound that heightened and faded. A few seconds more of the river. More cars. One two three. Then another coming into the park. The trees across the river lit up. It was eerie, we agreed. The car passed, the light passed. More river sound in the dark.

        Another phalanx of cars leaving the park. Their headlights caught the surface of the water. "Okay, after this group passes, let's wait for the next car, and after that, we'll go," he said.

        The phalanx passed. A few seconds later, another car's lights caught the water. "Maybe wait for the next one after this," he said.

        And the dark sky, we loved you even if you were only intermittent, apprehended in the intervals between cars on their way back home.

        yours in night preservation,


        Friday, October 12, 2012

        Dear the pure in heart,

         Awhile back, when I was complaining that Yellowstone was hiding all of its bears, I heard from a long ago friend, who said that bears would show themselves to the pure in heart. I believe his implication was that they would show themselves only to the pure in heart. And since I hadn't seen a bear, truthfully, since I was a child, I thought the accusation was clear.

        Today, we took a drive into the east part of Yellowstone. On our way, we stopped at the visitor's center at Canyon. People had posted their confirmed wildlife sightings there, on a big piece of paper clipped to an easel. Wolves, spotted in Gibbon Meadow and Hayden Valley. Bears at Gibbon Meadow and the Sylvan Pass. We looked at our map.

        We took our sandwiches down to the edge of the river and ate them while we watched the water flow by.  Clouds assembled. We got back in and drove in the direction of the Sylvan Pass. 

        The lake gleamed. Rows of ducks and geese bobbed along the edge and ducked their heads under. We ascended. In the truest sign of the animal-seeking blessed, we saw many cars and trucks pulled hastily to the side of the road, both sides. A park ranger was with them, binoculars and camera at the ready. We slowed.

        "It's something," I said.

        After a pause, with some craning out the window, the historian said, "It's a bison."

        And then, "Nope, it's a bear."

        A grizzly, as it turned out.

        It took its time and walked into and up the road, then down the bank to the other side, perhaps to its afternoon sleeping place.

        The pure in heart, I have, at least for today, joined you.




        This gang of bison was a bonus, I feel

        Posted with BlogsyPosted with Blogsy

        Thursday, October 11, 2012

        Dear gang of cattle,

        Today we stopped at the pullout on the east side of Highway 20 heading north. We had a hankering to walk down to the railroad bridge, to see what the bird action was in the fall, where the weather is colder and northerlier and the snow might already be flying, at least intermittently. We did not expect to see you, gang of cattle, strewn about the landscape like it was your winter range or something. In the distance, we saw a pronghorn leap among you.

        But you, gang of cattle, grazed to the east, the north, the south. On this side of the river and on that. Black, brown, white faced. Hundreds of you, and nary a one of you looked too friendly.

        At first, we advanced toward the bridge at a good clip. I asked my husband the historian--I don't think you've formally met him--"Do we need to worry about the cattle?"

        "No," he said, with confidence and a spring in his step.

        "But what about the bulls? Can't they get kind of grouchy?"

        "I've never met a grouchy bull," he said improbably.

        Down the road we went. Ahead, several black cows turned toward us with a dead-eyed stare. We slowed down.

        The historian: ...I don't know.

        Me: What do you think?

        By now, we had stopped.

        The historian: Maybe we ought to go back.

        Another cow stepped into the road and turned toward us.

        Me: Let's just go slow.

        So we walked a step or two forward, and paused. The cows did not flinch. Another step. One of them turned, crossed the road, and walked to the north. We took another step, and another cow stepped away from the rumble. Another step, gang of cattle, and your squad had basically given up their show of force. It maybe have been your block, but you let us pass.

        We walked without further incident to the bridge, although we did pass a bull who gave us what I think was a mean stare, just to show us that we were not in our own territory.

        At the bridge, there were almost no birds, no bugs to speak of, and the water was low. Still beautiful, though. The public lands people had put a gate across the entrance to the bridge so that you, gang of cattle, wouldn't try to cross and fall in, I guess. We stepped over and under and dreamed for a little while, looking into the water.

        As we walked back, we saw the gang council gathered at the salt lick. Possibly you were discussing our intrusion in your 'hood. Sorry about that, a little. Not much. Or not at all, really. We'll be back next summer, and you'll be elsewhere, in some other mountain pasture, we guess. Don't think we didn't hear that lowing and mooing as we passed. We won't take it personally. At least not this time.



        Wednesday, October 10, 2012

        Dear road to Idaho,

        There are many roads I would like to travel. 

        For instance, I would very much like to walk the road past the Uffington Horse, the Ridgeway trail, which is supposed to be one of the oldest roads in Europe.

        It's obviously crazy, but I wonder what it would be like to walk some part of the Silk Road.

        Like a zillion Americans, I would like to drive as much of old Route 66 as there is left to drive.

        I have a deep desire to one day take a long, long, long train ride. Some friends recently went from Vancouver to Prince Edward Island, and swear that I would find the prairies boring. Maybe. But I might want that kind of boredom. Maybe the Trans-Siberian Railroad?

        But road to Idaho, though you are not ancient or exotic or hip or even very long, I do not believe that there is any road I like better than you.



        Tuesday, October 09, 2012

        Dear cellophane wrapper guy,

        There you were, in the row behind me, or the row behind that, at Abravanel Hall. By the way, do you mind if I refer to you as "guy"? It's possible you were female. But it doesn't really matter, Mr. or Ms. Wrapper: because at the Chinese pianist's recital, during the Andante cantabile con espressione movement (written in 3/4 time) of the Mozart Sonata in A minor, K. 310, you began to disrobe some sort of comestible that apparently came wrapped in the distinct crinkly crackle of cellophane.

        I didn't look back to see who you were, or to imply anything, really. I thought to myself, come on. I thought, really? What comestible emergency decrees that one fiddle at some length with a piece of something wrapped in a long-winded piece of cellophane, during the middle of the slow movement of a piano sonata?

        And then I thought a compassionate thought. Cough, I thought. Maybe cellophane wrapper guy had a cough, and he tried to suppress it, and in desperation, during the Andante cantabile con espressione movement, he fished a cough drop from his pocket and couldn't unwrap it fast enough. I thought how all of us in that grand, crowded concert hall were occupied with our own humanness, with our little ailments and discomforts, all of us hoping that the music would lift us, enrapture our attentions, make us fly. Poor cellophane wrapper guy. Trying not to cough. We all do our best.

        I thought this compassionate thought until the Presto movement began. 2/4 time. Speedy and percussive and spine-tingling, accompanied by the aleatory music of cellophane wrapper guy, opening his second comestible.

        I have to tell you, cellophane wrapper guy: I laughed. Not out loud, because it was Mozart, and Abravanel Hall, and because of dignity and all that. I wish I could say I was not amused, but it was just so ridiculous.

        I'm sorry you didn't stay for the Chopin Ballades after the intermission, a little sorry at least, and I do hope you feel better soon, if indeed it was a cough that ailed you. I suggest, however, that, in preparation for your next concert-going experience, you practice unwrapping your future cough drops like a ninja. A Mozart-listening, Chopin-respecting ninja.

        It's about the music, man,


        Monday, October 08, 2012

        Dear Monday,

        How I have cherished* you!



        *Notes and Conditions for A Cherishable Monday: The Monday in question must follow upon the heels of a Sunday spent at home in quiet work and/or dolor and/or rest. It must under no circumstances involve a meeting. It must be crisis-free. The Monday in question should involve glorious fall weather and three walks altogether. Preferably there should be pho for lunch, eaten with a lovely friend one of whom one sees far too little. 

        An optional consideration is an adult son coming in and out as he goes to school and comes home. 

        Pancakes for breakfast are requisite. Accomplishing several items on the list--requisite. The list itself: foundational. 

        Various other desiderata: a canine companion. The last little strawberries cut up in a yellow bowl. Happy conversation over dinner. A favorite television show. Last bits of work before bed. Bed.

        Sunday, October 07, 2012

        Dear grading,

        Dear grading,

        I know. You haven't heard for me in awhile. That's because I've been behind. But today, I made a big down payment on getting caught up. I was pretty proud of myself. I graded myself into a stupor. As in, I had to take a nap, and that is for real.

        Here's one thing, grading: today you gave me some happy surprises, such as the students who made little videos and audio projects and comic strips for their field research and invention work. It was so much fun to find these little treasures. And it reminded me that I mostly find teaching rewarding. Even if  I staggered to my feet from one lengthy spasm of grading, and said to my husband, the historian, "I hate grading. And maybe that means I hate teaching." But no. No, I don't.
        At least not today.

        Grading, you usually also manage to show me my failings and weaknesses. O. M. G. I am not sure how nearly every student got the idea that the second writing assignment had a 500 word limit. Students! That was the first assignment!  And grading, I was able to clarify this, and we have all moved on. But almost every student! That's got to be a design flaw. And the designer is, and was, and always will be, God willing, me, moi, myself. Blech.

        But. I only have half of a long list of more grading to do tomorrow. Which I will. Tomorrow. When I get up. I hope not to dream of you, grading. Wait until I awaken. You can terrify and exhaust me then.

        Sincerely, htms.

        Saturday, October 06, 2012

        Open letter to Magic Johnson.

        Dear Magic Johnson,

        Thank you for writing to me today! It's pretty exciting to get an e-mail from one of the all-time greats of professional basketball (even if you were an L.A. Laker).

        I just wanted to let you know that I am taking care of your request. I am on your side! I have been encouraging the young people I know, especially, to get registered to vote. In fact, I am doing it right now.

        (I'm going to admit it, I hesitate just a little to encourage the adults I know to register, because I live in Utah, and you know how that goes. Republicans, am I right? Still: grown ups that I know, regardless of your political affiliations, if you haven't registered to vote, get that done! Democracy YES.)

        Anyway, Earvin (can I call you that?), thanks again for the e-mail, and have no fear: you can count on me.



        p.s. Do you remember when we met that one time? It was in the Salt Lake City Airport, and you were there with all of the L.A. Lakers. I confess it was a thrill to see so many professional basketball players all in one place. I gathered all my nerve/chutzpah together and said, My son would never forgive me if I didn't say hello. And you were gracious, and shook my hand. But I was carrying my little baby girl, and you leaned in and gave her your gorgeous smile, and said hello to her in the nicest way. Still a fan, sir.

        Friday, October 05, 2012

        Open letter to the phrase, "I will now entertain a motion to adjourn."

        Dear the phrase, "I will now entertain a motion to adjourn,"

        May I say that, at the conclusion of a meeting at the end of a long week, few words have ever sounded sweeter?

        I observe now, many hours hence, that you have a lovely rhythm--like many great phrases, you start out anapestic and end up iambic,

        which makes quite a fancy little dance out of an intent to bring proceedings to an end:

        O the phrase "I will now entertain a motion to adjourn," you gratify equally in the hearing and the saying!

        And upon my uttering the phrase "I will now entertain a motion to adjourn," the motions fell thick upon the ground, and we were agreed: the adjournment moved, seconded and concluded, executed as those present took up the call:

        and thus word was deed:

        the end, and we parted, and the meeting was no more.

        It's very impressive how you do all that,


        Thursday, October 04, 2012

        Dear broken day,

        --by which I do not mean "bad day" or "day in which things went irretrievably wrong," although it's certainly possible that bad days are also broken days. Broken day, you are one with so many separate elements that you break into pieces which do not knit together. The effect of a broken day is disparate, fragmentary, without a river flowing through it. When seen from afar, a broken day has many edges that do not connect. When seen from close up, a broken day is marked with deep rifts into which one might accidentally step and wrench an ankle.

        Broken day, in my agenda you look like this:

        (but in reverse.)

        You are an archipelago and not a land mass. Perhaps there is a bridge connecting the islands, but it is often treacherous in bad weather.

        Dear broken day, I know that life often organizes itself into units of you--it is how the work gets done. I used to do better at salvaging radiant scraps of time from a day like that. This morning, for instance, I sat out in the chill as the sun stretched across the quad for a few minutes, cold and warm and quiet. But even when I have an unbroken morning, the specter of an afternoon all in pieces, obligations and appointments and enterprises, looms and infects.

        I should probably make a calendar with entries like "wait for horses to appear in the back field" and "watch for the ornamental fruit to turn golden" or "lie still in the grass" or even "don't get up just yet."

        One thing: I have gathered myself at the end of a day in pieces by walking. Today, I got home and pulled on my walking clothes and plugged in my headphones and walked till I felt just a little dizzy. Dizzy but restored. Broken day, would I have felt that restoration so keenly but for you?


        Wednesday, October 03, 2012

        Dear sandwich that literally saved my life today,

        Perhaps you recall the scene? It was 12:47 p.m., just thirteen minutes before my afternoon office hours were to begin. I had eaten the Triscuits, all three and a half of them, lurking in the bottom of the box; five Jujyfruits, the dentists' friend; and fifteen dry roasted almonds. But my soul cried out for more. Lo! in the depths of my afflictions, both physical and spiritual, I was anhungered, and therefore I headed over to the food court to obtain nourishment.

        Which is how, sandwich that literally saved my life today, I happened to find myself in the sandwich line, next to my colleague. "What's good here?" she asked me. And so I proselytized my usual to her: the BLT hack (only a hack because BLT is nowhere to be found on the menu, but you can add bacon to any sandwich, which reminds me of that scene from Five Easy Pieces where Jack Nicholson is either an antihero sticking it to the man,or an asshole--but I am always nice about it, and the sandwich people are happy to play along), with pesto mayo. That's you, sandwich that literally saved my life today. Now, I have had other good sandwiches, and Lord knows that I have made many great sandwiches myself, but I think this might be the best sandwich ever.

        I have no idea how my colleague felt about her sandwich, but after she paid for hers, I ordered the same--the sandwich that literally saved my life today--and went back to my office to eat. No students arrived, and I fell upon you like a wolf upon prey. While I was eating, wolfishly, I simultaneously wanted to keep eating forever, and to finish, so that I could reflect upon the glory.

        Later, another colleague came to my office. We are working on a paper together, maybe. We spent a couple of minutes commiserating about things.

        "But on the bright side, I had a really good sandwich for lunch," she said.

        And so had I. Which just goes to show: sometimes a good sandwich can rescue a day. Can redeem it. Can, literally, save your life. Thank you, sandwich that literally saved my life today, for being that sandwich.

        No really--thank you,


        Tuesday, October 02, 2012

        Dear intermittent transitional sniffle,

        By my count, this is the third interval at which you have recurred since September began. With the listlessness. The hot eyes. The, yes, unfortunate itchy, sniffly eponymous nose. I am, quite frankly,
        a little annoyed that you are here again.

        Intermittent transitional sniffle, what angel are you? What messenger? Are you here to tell me that cold is coming? That the days will be darker?

        If I had to guess, I'd wager that you're telling me in all but words--in the language of the symptom--that I need more sleep. And also that, with more sleep, I would not feel, at this moment, so beleaguered, stressed out, overwhelmed all at once--and really, at an escalating rate over the last week and a half. Sleep, you're saying. Sleep!

        Intermittent transitional sniffle: I hear you, but do you have to be so pushy?


        Monday, October 01, 2012

        Dear my ten o'clock walk,

        Every night at about nine thirty, Bruiser turns to us--sometimes he's been lying, head on paws, between us; sometimes he enters the room, as if to make an important announcement--and makes it clear that it's time, time now to head out for a walk. We, on the other hand, are never ready before ten, a fact we generally explain to Bruiser, an explanation he generally accepts, and not grudgingly, because he is not a grudging dog. It's not in his nature.

        Ten o'clock is the best time for an evening walk, especially right now, in the fall. In the summer, I think we can all remember ten o'clocks that were still a little sultry, and ten o'clock walks that made us all feel a little draggy. No one likes a draggy walk. I myself prefer a brisk walk, which is why fall nights are the best nights for walking--they are all the way cooled down. Bruiser likes the slight chill in the air as well. He is alert to the night. His tail curves up, and he trots along at a smartish pace, unless he scents something worth halting for. It's either trotting or halting--no half measures.

        Briskness, my ten o'clock walk, is one thing you have going for you. Another is that by ten o'clock, the neighborhood has quieted down. Yes, there are occasional dogs that like to talk a good game from behind their fences, and an infrequent cat or three or four, walking with insouciance across our path, or watching us coolly from behind a truck tire or under the lamplight on a porch. But the kids are in bed, the bikes are put away. No delivery trucks or garbage trucks or mailmen to distract us. It's just us and the night air and the sprinklers, still going in October, blooms of mist bedazzling the grass and painting the sidewalks wet.

        And the moon, taking its time in the sky. As we walk west, then north, then east, then south again, we reorient ourselves, finding the moon tangled in the branches of the tallest trees, or fitted into the saddle of a mountain ridge, or sailing free, high, high. We observe how quickly it begins to wane once it has been full, and then how it burgeons once it has whittled down to a sliver. Every night, it is our treasure. We even like seeing it illuminate a sky full of clouds.

        I have lately begun taking a late afternoon walk by myself. I love it because I can move fast, I can put music in my ears, because it is a full measure of light and I feel free. But, my ten o'clock walk, I love the way you are a ritual to end the day, that you involve a covenant with a dog, that your mise en scene is the quiet streets of our own neighborhood, and that you are always, always blessed with a traveling moon.

        till tomorrow,



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