Short Story: Damage

The Seattle sky sparkled that day in its rarest, loveliest hue, a bottomless sapphire blue, a blue that, rather than serving as an unnoticed backdrop for earthly goings-on, grabbed center stage with its intensity. Having a bad day under such a sky seemed like a violation of some immutable law of physics, but a bad day I’d had, nonetheless, one setback after another marching through my life as a single working mom.

And thus, it had come to this. The bookcase-in-a-box, which I had purchased for my ten-year-old daughter Tasha’s bedroom not an hour before, lay in a sad little pile of pressboard rubble at my feet. The murder weapon, a huge rubber mallet, dangled thuggishly from my fingers as I stood straddling my victim, concentrating on slowing my breathing and the shaking of my hands.

Still dressed in my business suit after a difficult day at the office, I’d hurriedly taken the shelf kit out into the front yard to assemble the unfinished boards into proper formation, knowing that I would still need to find time to paint the shelf after assembly. Chips began to flake and fly off corners as I hastily tried to tap piece A into section B, tab C into part D. After the fourth or fifth chip, a large crack opened in one of the boards. Frustration overheated into full-blown rage, seething like lava down through my arms and into my hands. Once commenced, I couldn’t stop the destruction till nothing but chips remained.

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Martin Luther: Lynchpin of Christian History

My World Religions and Spirituality class has swept me up in fascination and curiosity.  We have looked at oral religions and Judaism, and are now concluding our section on Christianity.  Following is my essay on the Protestant Reformation, in which I chose to focus on the Augustinian monk Martin Luther.  The minimum word requirement for the essay was 500 words; in my excitement, I rather blew that out of the water with this piece.  Enjoy.


The image of Martin Luther nailing a list of criticisms to a church door in 1517 is indelibly burned into the Western Christian mind.  The scene has been exhaustively described in books and film, including aMartin Luther (Wikipedia image) 2003 German production starring Joseph Fiennes as Luther (IMDB).  The film’s details are disputed, including an extensive list of “Historical Inaccuracies” on the film’s Wikipedia page, but the fact that this centuries-old story warranted a modern, big-budget film peopled with well-known actors speaks to our enduring interest in this pivotal historical character and the seismic changes he wrought in the history of Christianity and the world.

Although he was not alone in his views, or even the first to hold many of them (Tillich 228), Luther was the first person who was able to survive actively opposing the all-powerful Catholic Church.  He viewed certain church practices as at best a distraction from faithful adherence to Christian principles and at worst a clear corruption of those principles (Molloy 384-5).  Previous questioners of church practices, such as the author of the first English translation of the Bible, John Wycliff, had aired concerns similar to Luther, but their views were not widely disseminated (Tillich 203-4).  The Catholic Church was unable to suppress the spread of Luther’s ideas and writings, however, thanks in no small part to the invention of the printing press (Shlain 324), and Luther was able to plant some of the first enduring seeds of what we know today as the Protestant movement.

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Spirit of ‘Ohana: Native Hawaiian Views of Interconnectedness

School is going wonderfully well.  I’m loving the intellectual challenge of the research and writing, and the pleasure of exploring times and ideas that I’ve long been curious about.  Following is an essay on an oral tradition from my History of World Religions and Spirituality class.


The present-day life of my family in Hawaii, which includes dozens of part-native as well as non-native people I’m related to through my Honolulu-born father, is anchored in the bedrock of an ancient Hawaiian principle: ‘ohana.  In English, ‘ohana is usually translated as roughly equivalent to the word, “family.”  Our typical American usage of the word “family” might bring up images of the traditional family structure, including a mother, a father, children, perhaps some grandparents, uncles and aunts, and cousins.  Blood ties generally define the relationship; members might live far away from one another or rarely even meet.  In Hawaii, however, the word ‘ohana is rooted in the ancient tradition that bonded individuals who were related to each other “by blood, marriage, sentiment, or adoption” (Kalei), and who lived in the same area of land, or “’aina.”  The members of the ‘ohana were deeply interconnected with each other, with their ‘aina, their ancestors, and their deities, sharing food and resources freely in the manner that we know today as “aloha spirit.”

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Jitterbug Perfume: Lusty Adventures in Time and Metaphor

Following is a discussion board posting assignment from my English 1B class.  We were asked to write about a work of fiction and its effect on us.  I didn’t have to think very hard about which work of fiction I’d write about: Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume has been my favorite novel pretty much forever.  However, I had fun thinking about *why* it’s my favorite and connecting with the impact the book has had on me over the years:

My favorite author, Tom Robbins, was my favorite author even before he wrote my favorite novel of all time.  My copies of Robbins’ first three books, Another Roadside Attraction, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and Still Life with Woodpecker (especially the latter) were tattered and dog-eared with repeated readings long before I got my hands on Jitterbug Perfume.  It was 1985, and I was a twenty-one year old single mom, coping with a new baby and a new job and muddling my way through life.  Jitterbug Perfume was my ticket to a fantastical rocket-ride of metaphorical madness, spiritual surmising, and time-skipping adventure, and I loved it utterly.  My rebellious side adored Robbins’ habit of taking liberties with the English language that would undoubtedly be frowned upon in polite society.  While stretching the art of the metaphor to ridiculous lengths at every turn, Robbins coins new words to suit his language-twisting purposes and pursues (seeming) tangents and (apparently) unnecessary asides till the reader is all a-tangle in his fanciful, sermonistic, even cartoonish prose, only to tie up every crazily flapping loose end in a manner that somehow includes both the delicious itch of tantalization and the sweet release of complete satisfaction (this is the most Robbins-esque sentence in this paragraph, by the way).  Upon reaching the end of Jitterbug Perfume, I burst into tears and immediately flipped back to the beginning and started over.  Since those first back-to-back readings, I have read the book over and over, including once aloud, cover to cover, to my sweetheart.  I never tire of the story, which is densely plotted across time (from the days when the earth was flat to nine o’clock tonight, Paris time) and space (from ancient Bohemia and the Far East to present-day Seattle, New Orleans, and the aforementioned Paris).  Lyrical, silly, romantic, epic, lusty, and illuminating, Jitterbug Perfume never fails to delight and inspire me.  The book blew my burdened, restless young mind open to the extreme possibilities of writing, transforming the art of writing and the English language itself into something decidedly un-boring and sexy in my eyes.  I often wonder if another book will ever come along to tickle and twist and educate my mind as much as Jitterbug Perfume.  Perhaps one day the right book will come along at the right time and once again blow my skull delightfully apart, dethroning Mr. Robbins as my favorite author and deepest influence of all time.  I sort of hope so… and sort of not.

Burning Woman: Art and Initiation in Hot, Dry Places

Following is a profile essay written in June 2011 for my English 1A class.


The elfin, middle-aged woman is curled into a fetal ball on the ground, her T-shirt pulled over her head to protect her eyes and face while a ferocious sandstorm painfully scours her slender limbs.  It’s the first hour of Sharon Armstrong’s first time attending Burning Man, the social and artistic experiment held each August in an immense desert valley in Nevada.  The scorching, utterly flat plain of the valley is known as “the playa.” Today, apparently, the playa wants to play rough.

Sharon Armstrong small portrait“I’d just arrived,” Sharon Armstrong, local artist, clinical psychologist and community activist remembers.  “I walked out on the playa just to kinda see what in the world is this?  What am I here for?  A terrible sandstorm blew up and it was hotter than hell.  I think I had on some cutoffs and a T-shirt.  I felt like my skin was being sandblasted.”  Her eyes widen behind her silver-rimmed glasses, marveling at the memory,  “I could see nothing.  I could remember reading something in their survival manual that, if you can’t get to a safe place, close your eyes and get down.  So I just hit the ground, put my shirt up over my head and waited.”

The few people passing by in the storm were far more sensibly outfitted than she for life in Black Rock City, the temporary metropolis built by Burning Man attendees.  Wearing protective clothing and eye goggles, a few of them checked on Sharon’s condition before fading into the hammering, sand-saturated gale.  Radical self-reliance is a key principle at Burning Man, but so is interdependence and community.  “One guy stopped, and I knew it was a guy from his voice, and he said, ‘Are you okay?’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’  He took off his shirt, put it over me and rode off.  I will never know who it was.”

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Vault of Heaven

Last night we slept out on the deck under the stars.  By we, I mean Conal, our friend Joe, me, and all the other critters we share our mountain with.  For the critters, it was business as usual.  For us humans, it was a magical, gorgeous night a bit outside the usual, everyday experience of life.

Conal and I tried sleeping outside once before.  It was a few weeks ago during the last full moon.  Seemed like a good idea at the time, but the experience was rather less than glorious.  The bright moonlight beaming in our eyes made sleep a challenge.  In addition, it ended up getting pretty darn cold that night.  We abandoned our inflatable-bed-ship sometime in the middle of the night and retreated to the house, snuggling under our cozy comforter indoors with great relief.

This time around there was no moon whatsoever, only stars, splashed across the night in exuberant, sparkly abundance.  I watched, fascinated and wide-eyed, trying to take in the whole scene from horizon to horizon, and not really succeeding.  It was a lot of sky.  The night was lovely and warm, a welcome coolness following on the heels of a day that had reached 106 degrees in the shade.

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A Sketch

Recently I attended a drawing workshop at The Mercantile in Angels Camp.  I’ve been drawing my whole life, but no so much recently.  I miss it, and jumped at the chance to get back into that juicy creative flow.  The workshop, hosted by local artist Paul Herek, was great fun and I hope the experience inspires me to do more.

Here is the sketch I did in the one-hour session.  This is Niki Robison, who manages The Merc, and may I say is a lovely human being, inside and out.

Niki sat with perfect stillness and patience while we all stared at her and sketched, even though she got roped into the deal kind of last minute.  Paul hadn’t planned on having a model, but Niki graciously allowed us to use her on a spur of the moment request.  I’m pleased with the likeness, and Niki told me she liked it, too.

The workshop was Paul’s first at The Merc.  He asked those of us in attendance if we’d like him to do more events, suggesting painting, additional drawing in various media, stained glass, and sculpture.  I said, “Yes, yes, yes, YES!”  I’m pretty much thrilled at the prospect of doing some new creative work.  Plus, I think Paul is pretty much the bees knees, so I’m thinkin’ I’ll be doing more of his classes here soon.

A Day to Celebrate

Conal, Ann, and I watched the inauguration this morning.  Never in my life have I seen anything like the throngs of celebrating citizens amassed to watch Barack Obama take the oath of office in the freezing temperatures of a Janurary day in Washington D.C.  And rarely before this past year have I felt cause to actually care about anything to do with politics and government.  Well, other than to be grouchy, sad, discouraged or just plain mad—or all that at the same time.  I know I’ve got lots of company, and I’m filled with optimism and hope for our country.

And mischief, as usual.

Make your own Obama poster here.  Be sure to check out the galleries, especially the top rated submissions.

Blog… Blaaahg

Is just me, or is blogging beginning to be old school?  Passe?  So, like, five-minutes-ago?  Maybe, maybe not.  I’m reading that some forward thinking web gurus are blogging less and less, increasing their use of social networking tools like Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others to connect with the wider internet community, passing around news, tech tips, pictures, ideas, articles, current whereabouts, party plans, and just about anything else you can think of sharing, all online and nearly in real time.

I’ve noticed that my public online writing energy has veered ever further away from blogging and into the developing world of social networking tools.  Blogging for me has usually meant a fairly extended solitary exercise of crafting an article (since I’m kind of picky about what and how I write), perhaps working on an image to include, then posting the article and maybe getting a comment or two.  Or not.  Even if I make the effort to eyeball my site statistics, I don’t really have an intimate sense of who’s visiting.  Now that I think about it, it’s about as enticing as junior high school homework assignment.  Unless there is something I’m hankering to write about just to get it off my chest, blogging has lately become a rare choice.  Apparently, what I’m after is a more lively connection and engagement with the world via online resources.  Hey, it only makes sense, since I live in the middle of nowhere.

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The Longest Night

I didn’t sleep much last night.  I’d been struggling with keeping a headache at bay for a couple of days.  A long drive in the car yesterday over the twisty Sierra mountain back roads didn’t help, nor did having too late a lunch.  Getting too hungry always makes my head hurt.  During our delayed lunch, I got some family news that unsettled me, throwing me a bit further off kilter.

Then there’s the part where I always get a little grouchy around my birthday (December 22nd), which is generally overwhelmed by Christmas.  I usually put on a brave act of not caring, but it actually does bum me out sometimes.  Uh oh, I’ve outed myself!  All you other Christmas kids out there will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Back at home in the evening, I gravitated toward a bit of relative solitude, hanging out with my laptop in the rocking chair in the living room, enjoying the Christmas tree and the warm fire in the woodstove while Conal and Patrick spent time on their computers in the office at the other end of the house.

I’ve been very happy lately, contented and peaceful in my life.  The depth of my reaction to the collision of physical, mental, and emotional upheaval of the day surprised me.  Conal came out and checked in with me at one point, and I shared all this with him.  Oh, except for the birthday thing.  That didn’t occur to me till just now.  He thanked me for letting him know, and went back to the office since I wasn’t at the point of wanting any help.  I enjoyed his asking, and getting a little clearer on what was stirring in me, but I wasn’t ready to exit that introspective space yet.

The evening wore on into night, and I realized I was not getting sleepy.  Rather than toss and turn in bed and disturb Conal’s rest, I stayed up playing with my laptop in the rocking chair.  I caught up on email, read blogs, researched some products.  I listened to my collection of Christmas music and experimented with new software.  I watched part of a movie.  Have I mentioned in the last five minutes how much I love my new Mac?  Sigh.

A Twitter friend tweeted about this being the time of the longest night, and I was struck by the irony of my wakefulness near the turning of the year, when the dark hours stretch their longest.  What a long night to endure without sleep!  Anyway, the hours rolled on by.

I finally started feeling a tiny bit sleepy sometime around 1:30 a.m. and went off to bed.  Getting my eyes to stay shut required a bit of reading with my tiny booklight, but, snuggled into the cozy warmth, finally I fell asleep.

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