Saturday, June 30, 2007

City girl

You know you're a city girl when a smile breaks on your face because you're in traffic. Yesterday, after packing up the dogs and all that could fit in my small car, I left the woods for the city and didn't look back.

Once I got home and finished unpacking the car that looked like the Beverly Hillbillies', it was time for a quick run to the store to get some groceries, including fruits for my husband and fat-free milk for Geni. While driving to the store on a Friday evening, I ran into a little bit of end-of-rush-hour traffic and was actually glad for it. That's how much of a city girl I am.

Give me cars, give me bustling streets and hurried people, and I'm home. In the woods, I am a stranger and I'm always on edge and stressed out because there's always some crawling thing trying to crawl up me or some buzzing thing trying buzz itself into my ear. In the city, I'm in my element.

After the grocery stop I walked the dogs in the approaching twilight through our familiar streets and they also were glad to mark up every spot they hadn't had a chance to smell for a long week.

Two young boys played with a football in a neighbor's yard and as the ball flew into the middle of the road they looked at each other in dismay. One of them murmured with some evident self-doubt that he'd climb over the fence and make a run for it.

"Don't worry, don't worry, I'll get it," I said, and strode confidently to retrieve the lost ball. But as I attempted a pass at the eagerly awaiting boys, who were trying to elbow each other out of the way to see who would catch it, my throw was so lame that they looked at each other unbelieving. The ball, thrown with little aim and even less force, had failed to go over the fence, as I had hoped, and instead fallen flat right in front of it. I could read their minds as they both thought, "But that was such an easy throw!"

"I'm a girl, ok? I don't throw footballs!" I said, laughing, as I picked up the offending ball and handed it to one of them. I realized immediately that I'd likely taken about 100 years off the feminist movement with my statement. That I'm "a girl" doesn't mean, of course, that I can't throw a football. But, alas, this girl sure can't. They murmured their thanks and continued their game, as if nothing had happened.

I walked on with a smile still enjoying the feeling of being back in my cityscape with cars in the main avenue rushing home as evening fell, little boys playing football in cramped yards, and my dogs and I happy to be home again.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A bug's life

I have become a demanding landlord and have evicted countless bugs from my temporary apartment in the woods this week.

Why not squash them instead of going through all the trouble of evicting them? That's a good question. And I can only say that I have a near Buddhist attitude toward bug life and will not kill them (including flies) unless my life is on the line or for some other nearly-that-extreme reason.

Thus, I've evicted about 10 large black ants, 3 fireflies, and 5 granddaddy longlegs, not to mention the many other unidentifiable bug-creatures I also have captured in my trusty glass jar now deployed solely for purposes of bug eviction. Oh, and I disposed of a drowned June bug in my kitchen sink, as well.

If there's one thing I can't stand is bugs, especially the flying kind. And it's not just a matter of being persnickety or "girlish" in the sexist connotation of that word. I have a real phobia of flying insects to the extent that my husband fears I'll meet an unexpected end if a flying bug ever gets inside my car. That possibility loomed before us last weekend when, as I was driving home from the bug-ridden woods here, I saw a bee buzzing happily in the car. I called my husband, basically whimpering, and he instructed me firmly to ignore it. Bless him and his utter confidence in my ability to act sanely.

I knew better, however, and proceeded to stop the car in front of the nearest house I could find. I quickly opened my door, ran to the back to open my hatchback, and ran as far as I could in the opposite direction until I saw the trespassing bee fly off into its new quarters, likely wondering how she'd gotten to this new and unfamiliar neighborhood. Then I quickly ran back, got in and sped away, leaving an old man sitting in front of his house quite mystified as to what he had just witnessed.

My phobia of flying insects, especially of the completely innocuous moths, is the moral to a tale about not listening to your mother. When I was a young girl -- my mami says I was about 11 -- I insisted on watching this horror film about a man who collected moths. His wife had him killed because she was having an affair (or some such thing), and he came back as a moth and killed her (or some such thing). Before the movie's expected denouement, my mami cautioned me against seeing the movie, saying it might scare me. I scoffed at fear, finished the movie, and scarred myself for life by developing a phobia of moths that quickly developed into an uncontrollable fear of anything that flies that's not feathered.

There appears to be some genetic basis for this phobia, however. My mami tells me that when she was my papi's novia they were riding in a friend's car when a large cucaracha lumbered out of somewhere and my mom opened the door of the moving car to get out so she could avoid the bug. The driver almost crashed and my mom says it earned her stern reproof from everyone in the car since she'd almost committed suicide and manslaughter, all because of a roach. Still, I totally empathize. Have you ever seen a Puerto Rican cucaracha? They're as big as alligators!

Dr. S the other day remarked that it was funny I would shriek at bugs because I'm, otherwise, such a strong and level-headed person. Oh, well. We all have our weaknesses, don't we? And some are indeed sillier than others.

But, let me tell you, I'm getting rather tired of this constant bug eviction process and will look forward to the rapidly approaching day when I return to my city home. In the city, the insects are well aware of their boundaries and, like good citadinos, they stay outside, where they belong.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Color in the front

This morning, in my city paper, there is a photo of a white woman next to that of a black man. He, the father of her children, including her unborn child, is now charged with her and the fetus' murder.

The story of one more woman and child killed by her man is a terrible and too-common one both in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. But I couldn't help cringing also when I saw those front-page photos. She, white and pretty, smiling in life. He, black and serious, a mug shot upon being arrested.

I can't help feeling like that man not only bears the responsibility of allegedly slaying a pregnant woman. He also bears the responsibility of enabling racists to murmur the pejorative implication that all people of color have heard in so many contexts, "Well, that was no surprise."

In the summer program I'm teaching, we're using Toni Morrison's Beloved, which I consider (along with the New York Times) the finest piece of American fiction written in the past 25 years. In fact, I consider Morrison the American Shakespeare, a statement that sometimes elicits an incredulous gasp from some of my white students.

In the novel, Paul D refuses to look at a newspaper cutting that Stamp Paid wants to show him. The clipping ostensibly shows Sethe, the protagonist, whose character is based on the real Margaret Garner. She was a slave woman who was tried and convicted in the 1850s, not for killing two of her four children to prevent them from being taken back into slavery, but for damaging the property of her white owner. As Dr. S teaches our students, Garner was billed as the "Modern Medea" by the American press of the time.

Paul D refuses to look at the clipping because he knows that there is never a good reason to have a black person on the front page of a newspaper. And that if a black woman has made it into the newspaper it has to be for something terrible, something that the whites would consider anomalous, even in a black person whom they already expect has "a jungle inside them," to use the novel's own words.

As many African American and Latin@ and other minority activists have charged, the lack of positive depictions of people of color is still a problem nowadays with mainstream newspapers. Too often, the reason an ethnic minority makes it the front pages of white-controlled newspapers in this United States is not because they have saved someone, or cured some disease, or made some amazing contribution to humanity. Most often it is because that ethnic minority has done something that the whites consider anomalous, even in a person of color.

It's true, as my husband points out, that the newspaper had not "raced" the man in this case until they published the photograph. I knew he was African American only because I had seen a video of him on a TV newscast. And it's true, as my husband adds, that this signals a change in how mainstream newspapers have learned to deal with race more fairly. For one, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been paired often recently in front pages and that's not a bad thing, of course.

Still, like Paul D, when I see the picture of an unknown white woman next to that of a unknown black man in a mainstream newspaper, I can't help but cringe and wish, for many reasons, that it just wasn't so.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Welcome summer

Today, on the second day of summer, I'm back home after another week of teaching a great group of students at the tiny college town where I'm living temporarily.

I really enjoy staying in my little apartment (despite being deprived of a TV or Internet), especially because I have a great view to the green and brown woods behind the complex. I've set up a bird feeder on the large picture window in the back and on the window in the dining room area, which the birds found pretty quickly.

Along with the nuthatches and titmice (which are a treat since we have not seen a single one of the latter in our city home since we moved there three years ago), I see a blood-red cardinal with no feathers on his head that looks like a small vulture. I wonder what has caused him to lose his beautiful head feathers and, cheerleader of underdogs that I am, I like to think that the feeder helps him out in some way.

The birds are not the only ones enjoying the seed, of course. I have discovered that the squirrels up north are a lot peskier and carifrescas than the ones here in the city. This one figured out how to jump on the feeder and sits placidly to dine while the birds loudly complain that she's gorging herself on their food. On this occasion, I banged on the window, yelled at the squirrel and made a ruckus (which usually works to make them scurry off) but she just looked back at me with a beady-eye challenge that conveyed it would take a heck of a lot more to get her off the free food.

I took some pictures of the apartment for my mami, so she can see where I've been spending my weekdays, and here's two of them. In one, Rusty peers anxiously out of the kitchen door to make sure his mami isn't leaving him behind in this strange place.

In the second, the miramelindas do well in their green planter on the window ledge in front of the kitchen sink. I'm really glad I took that picture because by the next day the flowers were all dead. Something had dug them up and/or tried to eat them from within. I'm not sure who the culprit is yet, but I've also found out that granddaddy longlegs like to live in potted plants. I'll have to find a spider expert who can tell me whether that has anything to do with it.

This week, I evicted four granddaddy longlegs and two brown furry centipedes from the apartment. Eeew! Dr. S said: "Welcome to living near the woods." And my husband saw a moth that sounded like a shrieking monkey, which he said was as big as a hummingbird. It was flying around at night. Augh!

While I really like the now-homey apartment, made even homier by Dr. S, who has shared her mother's beautiful handmade curtains and her nice furniture, and while I enjoy being able to have Dr. S over for a slice of her world-famous key lime pie, or being invited to a spur-of-the-moment feast of grilled hamburgers at the house of a venerable professor, or having a student over for a good chat, I have mixed feelings about being so close to nature...

In any case, with nature near or far, it's officially summer and my plan is to enjoy every single one of its upcoming 99 days.

¡Bienvenido sea el verano!

Friday, June 15, 2007

The face of my earth

I feel, a little, like I fell off the face of the earth for a while, even though that's not true. It's just that I was in a different part of my earth for a while, and now I'm back home.

I spent the week (and will return for the next two), working in a great program at my college with a group of absolutely wonderful students. But, unlike the regular semester, this program runs daily from 8:30 to 5, like a regular job. I haven't had that schedule since I taught high school seven years ago so I'm completely pooped. My husband, who has a normal M-F 8:30-5 job, has no sympathy for me.

I stayed up at the tiny college town this week and have to say that while I sorely missed some of the comforts of home - including Cable TV and Internet service (I am wired in my office but not in my temporary home-away-from-home), I enjoyed being able to be so close to campus. The nearness of and to everything allowed me to go "home" for lunch since the drive to and from the classroom is less than 5 minutes (compared the full hour-plus I spend commuting from my real home).

Meanwhile, Rusty enjoyed barking at the deer, at least one of which examined him with some curiosity, as if wondering whether because of his blondish-red color he was some weird long-lost relative. The obviously very young fawn even made a move to come nearer but its mother quickly corrected it, likely letting it know in deer-talk what a dog actually is. Rusty grinned his goofy smile and walked on. He also loved taking long walks on quiet country roads, marking everything within reach and figuring out the smells for possums, deer, raccoons, squirrels, skunks and all the other wild quadrupeds in the area.

That other earth has its charms and I'll be falling off the face of my usual earth again next week. But, for now, I'm back home and Magellan is snoozing next to my keyboard, under my desk lamp, while Darwin does likewise on the floor a few feet away. And, soon, my husband and I are going to take an evening walk with the dogs. I love my earth.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Time is a river

It is fitting that the Latin dissertare means "to discuss" and "to connect." This morning, I've been dissertating, discussing and connecting away, for almost two and a half hours straight.

The dogs aren't walked and Magellan keeps stepping on my keyboard, trying to get me to pet her, and I think it's time to take a break.

Usually, I'm in a competition with time, trying to get as much done within seemingly unstretchable periods of minutes and hours that yield nothing more than what they are.

But when I sit in front of the computer to dissertate, to discuss and to connect, time becomes a watery, shinny river that goes where I want it to go and expands at my whim.

That's why, when I'm dissertating, time ceases to exist and the dogs wait patiently for their walk as the morning turns into noon while Magellan, devil's cat that she is, does not wait patiently. Instead, she makes sure I know she's here by sitting, like right now, in front of my keyboard swatting one of my yellow highlighters, annoyed.

Darwin, also bored by my failure to throw his fake mouse for the 1,000th time, is yowling his woe somewhere in the upper reaches of the house (I'm ensconced in the basement office).

Alright, alright. I get the point.

I'm getting up and doing what I should've done two hours ago. I'm going to walk the dogs, pet Magellan and throw Darwin's mouse.

But when I get back, I'm sitting right here where I am and, like an alchemist, I'm transforming what is usually steely time into a sparkling river. And I will likely only notice that the afternoon has turned into evening when the impending darkness knocks against my little window.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The quietude of solitude

There is a quietude to solitude I love.

That being with myself and no one else, especially after having been surrounded by others, even my dearest ones.

That universe of possibilities, which expands and glitters like a galaxy when there is just me.

There is a quietude to solitude I treasure.

There is no loneliness, or sadness, or boredom or fear. Only possibility.

There is a recharging and regrouping and reassessing that happens in solitude.

There is a quietude in solitude I need.

That solitude I am thankful for. Especially because I know it is never a solitude for long.