Queer

Double Rainbow ND

As a new, non-tenure track instructor at the University of Minnesota at Crookston in 1998-1999, I was enthusiastic and devoted to students. So when a couple of them stopped by my office and asked me to be the faculty advisor to their newly developed group, I was more than happy to help. Plus, it was the LGBTQ group, which we named UMC’s Ten Percent Society, and since college I have tried to work toward social justice, especially in this arena.

This was shortly after the murder of Matthew Shepard, and I was heartsick at his story. I worried about the safety of my handful (or more) of students here Northern Minnesota, even if we were at a college. We had between 5-15 students at most meetings, and they were great kids: within a year, they planned and executed a state-wide conference, held at our campus. I worried about their safety on many levels, but they were brave (even when a few couldn’t be included in our group photo, for fear of being outed before they were ready).

Early on in the process, we talked a lot about what they wanted the group to be. Do you want a support group, a safe place to talk to one another? Do you want to be an activist group? Should we march somewhere? We could write letters to congress people…We did a little bit of all of those (except the marching. We were tired).

I remember one particular conversation. We were talking about gay marriage, and how it all seemed so far away. “But marriage equality will happen in our lifetime,” Sam said to me. “I know it will.” I was shocked. He was a smart young man, but I thought he was delusional. This was years before Brokeback Mountain, and it was (and still is) legal to fire someone in North Dakota just for being LGBT. Instead of arguing (how do you tell an 18 year old that you don’t believe he’ll ever be allowed to marry someone he loves?) I said “I hope you’re right. I really do.”  I didn’t believe it for a second.

Oh, Sammy. You were smarter than me even then, 17 years ago now. I’m so glad that I was wrong. I’m sorry it took so long. I’m sorry North Dakota (and 28 other states) still don’t provide legal protection against discrimination for you yet.  But I am so happy, too.

I hope in twenty years the most recent Supreme Court ruling will seem just like common sense to all Americans. I hope those people who are upset by this ruling can open their hearts to their LGBTQ brothers and sisters, cousins and uncles and parents and nephews and nieces and friends.

Love wins, y’all.

Posted in Love, Teach | Leave a comment

Purpose

Our dog, Seven, turns five today. (That’s a funny sentence, isn’t it?) He’s been with us for the past four years, and adopting him is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. He adores V, and takes turns sleeping with whichever one of us is having a worse day. He doesn’t bark much, warms to new people fairly quickly, and loves to have his back rubbed just above his hips.

He does not care for cats, though, which we discovered through visiting his Aunt Jess’s house. And some other dogs irritate him, too. And because of an accident just before we adopted him, he’s blind in his right eye. Plus I think he’s got some mild anxiety going on, but I fully admit I may be projecting that. At any rate, he belongs with us, and he and I have a good routine worked out for when I take him out to the backyard. He runs out, does his business, and if the dog next door is out he barks at her maniacally for about 30 seconds. Then he comes back to the gate and we go back in.

But today? Today was different. Today he took off as soon as we got to the backyard, and insistently barked at a patch of garden….erm, weeds. He barked for several minutes, and wouldn’t come when I called him, so I cautiously went to see what got his proverbial panties in a knot. I did this cautiously because I am not a fan of varmints in my backyard. As soon I turned the corner, the giant grey cat who lives in my neighbor’s garage took off like a shot across the yard, hopped the fence, and gave me a dirty look when she turned back to us on the other side as she trotted away.

I was mostly relieved that it was not a skunk or one of those pesky opossums.  (Opossum gets “a,” right? Because the “O” is silent? I still pronounce the “o,” though, when I read the word….crap. Revising). But Seven was beside himself. Just absolutely mad with some primal need to find that cat and let it know he was the boss. So for the next 25 minutes, he wove in and out of the bushes in the far back yard, up and down the side fences, barking periodically and peeing on every inch of the circumference, looking wildly for the demon cat he knew, KNEW, had not gotten far. He was a dog with a mission, and he would not be dissuaded by my silly logic.

This is what happens when you have a one-eyed sight hound. It’s kinda sad, a little irritating, but if this is as bad as it gets? I’ll take it.

Happy birthday, sweet boy. And safe travels, grey kitty. Seven means well, I swear.

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V’s Blogpost That Was Not Needed But Happened Anyway!

V has taken over the world.

She’s doing daily entries that are going to destroy your life because you think my mom is cooler than me.

That’s wrong. That’s just very wrong.

So, my cousin named Emmy came over today, but she didn’t poop so we didn’t go to the Children’s Museum.

Yes, it’s a very complicated concept, but get used to it because I am a complicated concept.

But, since I’m taking over the world you should know me.

I like Inside Out, that new movie from Disney Pixar that hasn’t even came out yet.

Yes. I like a movie that hasn’t even came out yet.

Oh, that’s weird?

Yeah, you’re weird.

Anyway, I also like Sailor Moon, a show about Rapunzel’s probable-sister who wears a short skirt and fights monsters that would give me nightmares if I ever had any. So I don’t know why a bunch of people say it was their childhood.

Yeah, plus, I don’t have nightmares. Lucky me.

Also I also like Vocaloid, a Japanese robot company. All the robots are forced to sing any notes and sounds you tell them too, so, yeah, go become the queen of Rapunzel’s other probable-sister who dyed her hair blue.

And, I like Gravity Falls, and, if you don’t know about it something is wrong you. It’s probably just, like, the best cartoon on TV that’s not an anime (which then it would be Sailor Moon Crystal). Yeah. Look it up. The other things too, if you’ve never heard of them.

So, you say this was short?

Well, you’re short.

Yeah, Robert Wadlow, I’m talking to you.

Posted in V (potato) | Leave a comment

O, Universe. (I’m stretching for a title)

You ever find something, or better yet, have someone you love find something and bring it to you, and until you see it you didn’t know how terribly much you needed it? How desperately empty your life was before?

That happened to me this morning. My sister bought me a present yesterday, and her loving husband delivered it this morning. And it is so beautiful, so inspiring, it’s the kind of thing that reaffirms my desire to keep a lovely, comfortable home, to invite people in and encourage them to stay for long visits and cold beer. Or cold visits and long beers. Whichever.

I feel a little like my life was wasted, because I didn’t know this object even existed. Am I so sheltered, so removed from the universe of amazing things, that I missed this somehow? I try to not be terribly materialistic, because I’m convinced that any minute a tornado‘s going to sweep my house away. But I would sift through debris for months, nay, years, if need be, to reclaim this most wonderful thing.

I have only one photograph of it, so far. I’m certain there will be more. So you understand what exactly you’re looking at, the object itself is pictured here on top of a clear plastic case I use to hold bracelets. The object itself is a tissue holder. You can see, in the picture, blue tissues coming out of the top. So it’s useful AND beautiful.

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Please, try not to be jealous. I don’t know why she has such luxurious hair. I don’t know why the whites of her eyes are blue, or why her dimples delight me so. What shall we name her, dear readers? Besides “fantastic,” I mean.

Thank you, o universe, for giving me a sister who knew in her heart that this belonged in my home.

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Nature

Oh, how I have loved taking pictures. My mom did, too. For me, photography is a little like singing, though: it’s dang hard to do when your heart is sad. Yesterday, I made myself go out and do it anyway.

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I went out in the first place because it’s been raining for days and days, and I loved how the grass was holding the raindrops. I know, raindrops on blades of grass are such rarely photographed phenomena. I like it anyway. And it is really hard to convince my camera to focus on anything in particular here. This one got some good texture and I like the little row of droplets on the edge of the grass just to the right of the center of the shot.

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Then I noticed the ferns weren’t yet completely unfurled. I always mean to come out and take pictures when they’re wound tight, soon after the come up, all potential and beautiful and ready to burst, but I never quite catch them in that lovely state. Instead, I’ve captured that awkward teenage phase, when they look like angry muppet noses.

IMG_0885 This one looks like it’s just slow to open, but I took this shot so I could illustrate the importance of angle in photography. (Lord knows if you want to learn how to take good pictures, this is the place you come to. See this post from about 4 years ago if you don’t believe me). The shot above is just a mediocre picture full of young ferny-ness, caught just a day or two before it’s fully opened up.

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But this is that same fern frond (fern frond?) shot from above, looking down. See the double heart? See my sappy self get all verklemt? Yeah. This angle is much better, closer, and richer. It shows the loveliness, the process of unfurling.

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Oh, sweet lilies of the valley. I have loved you since I was a little girl and first discovered they were May’s flower. They smell cloyingly sweet, and they will take over a good shady corner in just a few years, multiply so quickly they all but choke themselves out, but I love them so. The rich green leaves and those delicate white flowers: old school and gentle and gorgeous. Look at the little curls at the ends of the petals! So dainty! So self-effacing!

IMG_0897This here’s the grand-finale shot. Look at the veins in the leaves! How the whole plant reaches skyward while the flowers stay focused on the ground. And did you know that those tiny white blossoms had bits of pink up inside? Sneaky girls, hiding the best part just for those who really look closely, who get down to their level and really look.

Like singing, taking photos when I don’t feel like it manages to cheer me up a bit. I may need to try to do this more often.

Posted in Photography | 2 Comments

Matriarch

The day after Myra died, as Jess and I moved through her apartment, trying to get our brains around a life with out our mama, we kept thinking we needed to call someone to ask questions. This happens if your mama dies and you’re not ready for it, and she’s the one who helped you all the time.

Her two older sisters had already died, and I suddenly realized I was not at all ready to be any sort of matriarch. It made me weak in the knees. Even at 41, I’m not an actual grown up. It proved the universe had  made a mistake. Jess and I can’t be expected to fend for ourselves! This is unacceptable!

And yet, here we are. The universe made a sort of amends, providing us with my mom’s amazing friends and family. Her two younger sisters, Barbie and Linda, my dad’s sister Shirley, our friend Carla, and our honorary aunt, Bev K. all stepped in to help us right away. Since then, dozens (literally dozens!) of women have reached out to Jess and me, to offer love, condolences, happy memories…to let us know we are not fending for ourselves at all.  (Men, too, have helped us, in so many ways, especially Uncle Rick, our cousin Jonathan, and our friend Darrell. But it’s M for Matriarch today, not for Men. Thank you just the same, fellas).  I’ll always be grateful for this first year, as raw and awful as it’s been, because I still feel my mom’s presence everyday, through the love of the women whose lives she touched.

When I was in college, as part of Women’s History Month, the Women’s Center had butcher-paper posters rolled out where students were invited to write out their matriarchal lineage.  I looked forward to it every year. Mine reads like this:

I am Jennifer

Daughter of Myra

Daughter of Beulah

Daughter of Myra

Daughter of Sophia

Daughter of a woman whose name we do not know.

But I’m also the daughter of my hometown, of women around the world who knew my mother, and of women who never met her but know me, and have helped me through these last ten months. I’m the daughter of Janice and Marlys and Vickie and Mavis and Carolyn and Sharon and Carol and Marcia and Beverly and Shirley and Lynnette and Kathy and Mary and Charity and Trudy and Nancy and Shari and Crystal and Jenn and Emily and Sara and Sarah and Rebecca and Tenessa and Carla and Shannon and Lauri and Rachel and Leah and Karen and Ann and Marlene and Margaret and Beth and Leah and Clare and Darcy and Susanne and Colleen and Karla and Diana and Nicole and Tami and Jeni and Megan and Meagan and Logan and Kristen and Chelsea and Chelsey and Dana and Christine and Jessy and Jennifer and Barb and Heidi and Charlotte and Vinny and Judy and Andrea and Bonnie and MaryEllen and Teresa and Claudia and Connie and Pam and Erin and Charlene and Dawn and Amy and and …well, you get the idea.

I’m still not ready to be a matriarch.  With a posse like this, though, I suspect there’s not much we can’t handle together. And I am so thankful for that.

Posted in Grief, Mama | Leave a comment

Lusitania

If you thought the Andrea Doria was fun, why, just you wait. Today’s entry is the spectacular Lusitania! Fun for the whole family!

In one week, it will be 100 years since the sinking of the Lusitania (7 May 1915). I think everyone should pay attention. It was kind of a big deal.

The Lusitania was one of four shipwrecks that most interested me, growing up. I know I had read about it extensively before fifth grade, because it came up somehow in a reading we had, and Mrs. Buchholz stumbled over the name, and I excitedly and quickly corrected her. That day, I learned that it’s not polite to be too enthusiastic when correcting one’s teachers (Sorry, Mrs. B!). I also learned that no other fifth graders at Norman County West shared my historical shipwreck interest. Sigh.

Though the Titanic gets most of the shipwreck press these days (thanks, James Cameron), the sinking of the RMS Lusitania is a much more exciting story, in many ways. The ship was smaller than the Titanic, less fancy, and had been in use for over seven years when it was hit by German U-boat torpedoes, off the southern coast of Ireland. The Lusitania went down in less than twenty minutes. Shit, it took Cameron twenty minutes to get Leonardo DiCaprio out of his handcuffs. It took almost 3 hours from the time the Titanic hit the iceberg until it finally went down.

All those great lessons we’d learned from the Titanic about lifeboats and orderly progression were lost on the Lusitania, because there was so little time. After the initial blast of the torpedo, there was a huge explosion, and the ship immediately began to list to one side, making half the lifeboats unusable.

Germany had declared they would practice “unrestricted submarine warfare” on any ships they could find in “war zone waters.” And they meant it, apparently, sinking supply ships and cruise ships alike. Still, though the sinking of the Lusitania killed more than 1100 people (more than 120 Americans), President Wilson really, really, really didn’t want to get involved in this war. Germany sunk an Italian liner in 1915 that killed another 25+ Americans. It wasn’t until nearly 2 years after the Lusitania disaster, 6 April 1917, that America entered WWI.

This source lists 1962 passengers and crew members on board the Lusitania. 1201 died. Of 129 children on board, 94 perished. (761 survivors).

On the Titanic, of the 2224 passengers and crew, 1514 died. Of 109 children, 53 died.  (701 survivors). Again, though, the Titanic had six times longer to send out lifeboats, and the boats on both side were usable for much of that time. One reason more children survived on the Titanic, though, was that handy “women and children first” thing, which apparently didn’t hold up well with the chaos of the Lusitania.

Want to know more?? Of course you do! You’re in luck. I can’t even tell you how excited I am about Erik Larson’s new book, Dead Wake, about the Lusitania disaster. He’s the genius who brought us The Devil in the White City (Worlds Fair and mass murder?? swoon!), and I can think of no one better to metaphorically bring the Lusitania back up from the ocean floor.

Posted in Books, Dad, Hendrum | 2 Comments