26 February 2008

"It's a gritty industrial town..."

...or that's what a recent NPR report about a real estate scam called the place I grew up.

They're not really wrong. Akron is a dying city. Having spent the first 21 years of my life there, I found it funny when reading Babbit the characters thought of it as the big city, an exciting locale.

But it once was. Back in the days of yore, the canals made the town a booming industrial city. The "Oatmeal King," made Akron his home base and started the Quaker oats company. You can still go and see the grain silos--now somewhat outdated, circular hotel rooms. In the early twentieth century, the Seiberlings started the Goodyear Tire Company, the Firestone's started their own tire company and the...um, somebody started the General Tire company. Akron became "The Rubber Capital of the World." Quite a title. And one that was well deserved. Immigrants flocked to the city to work in the rubber factories. The city is divided by neighborhoods that bear the names of the companies that built them: Goodyear Heights, Firestone Park.

Sometime in the mid 1970s or early 1980s, though, all of that began to change. The city was already starting to fade--factories had begun to build tires in places where workers did not require company loyalty, pensions, or even high wages. As the rubber industry moved away, the jobs moved with it, and with the jobs went the people. For the last 10 years or so, the city has been trying to reinvent itself. New city schools, a snazzy outdoor amphitheater in the middle of downtown, even a minor league baseball team. I'm not sure how well it's working, but it's an ardent effort.

It's always a bit surreal returning to Akron for a visit. All of my family (except baby bro, who's off in sunny CA) lives there- many of them in the same houses that have been in my family for generations. Every time I go back, it's almost as though I never left. I round the curve of interstate 77 and from the top of the hill, I can see the city laid out before me. And it's like my body remembers before my brain, guiding the car towards my parents house, swerving left of center to miss the large lump in the middle of the road, coasting through the stop sign at the beginning of their block, and smiling at the sawed off telephone pole that was left up to serve as a street sign on the corner of my grandparents' property.

It's always so familiar, and yet every time I return it seems so different. There's a tattoo parlor in the small neighborhood shopping plaza now. There are instant check cashing places and "games of skill" parlors where video stores, rootbeer stands, and mom and pop businesses once stood. It always seems a little grayer, a little older every time I return.

But Akron still has its charm.

Last weekend, as I rounded that same curve as I always do, the Goodyear Blimp was above us in the sky--almost parallel to our car. It's a sight a took for granted as a child- the silver fish-like balloon that was omnipresent in my childhood summers. Only recently did I realize that most people never actually get to see the Goodyear Blimp in person--it's just something that flashes on the bottom of their TV screen during sporting events: "Sky cam provided by the Goodyear Blimp." I lived two minutes from the big hangar where the Blimps were originally housed.

"Look," I told Little Man. "Look out your window- it's the Blimp." It took him a moment--the word and concept were both new to him. But he finally saw it, just as our car rounded the bend in the road and it went out of sight.
"More Bimp!" he called out over and over.

As unlikely as it is that we'll ever live in Northeastern Ohio again, it's kind of nice to know that he'll definitely have more "Bimp" to come.

25 February 2008

Random Bullets from Flying Solo

This last weekend, Little Man and I took a sans-papa trip back to Ohio for my Grandpa's 80th birthday. I don't have the time or energy left for a formal post right now- but here are some highlights.

  • To the wonderful, wonderful woman who saw me trying to get a suitcase, car seat, and half-awake toddler to the rental car bas, thank you thank you thank you for helping me. I have no idea who you are or where you were heading, but I wish I could thank you again for taking the time to walk with my luggage so I could carry little man. I know you were probably heading out and it was completely out of your way to walk me back into the rental car terminal, but you made such a difference.
  • Other than above problem, Little Man was the perfect traveler. He listened to everything I said, he held my hand all the way through the airport, he didn't cry on the plane or make a fuss even once. He was p.e.r.f.e.c.t.
  • I do not have what it takes to be a single mother. After barely 2 days, I was completely and utterly exhausted. Even though he was perfect.
  • People in Ohio do not know how to drive. The left lane is for passing. The right lane is for not passing. Please re-check your driving manuals and don't pass on the right.
  • There is something at J's parents house that is like a sleeping aid for little man. The kid slept until 10 both days we were there. He never sleeps until 10! I realize that it's still 9 central, but little man never even sleeps until 9. Unfortunately, he's trained me so well to be awake by 8 AM that I was up by 7 each day.
  • I'm tired. Really tired. And I have a paper to revise and submit for the conference in March and a lecture to write before 3:00 today. Blech.

19 February 2008

The Best of Wishes, From Afar

When I was growing up, the closest thing I had to a sister was my cousin, A. She had two sisters of her own, so I counted myself fortunate that she still needed and wanted a "best cuz." When we were very young, we were inseparable. We wore matching bikinis in the summer, explored the wonders of my grandma's attic and basement when no one was looking, and led our rag-tag group of cousins in any number of ridiculous antics. One summer we made a movie- a terrible, wonderful version of Cinderella set during WWII. We, being too large to be properly matched to one of the two boys available to play the prince, played the stepsisters. In the movie, you can see how goofy we were together. In my favorite scene, we do a random dance, and you can see the dust from my grandma's newly seeded lawn flying in the air.

But we grew apart somehow once we got into high school--or was it college?? I really can't remember, and I really can't tell you why. We lived almost 200 miles apart by then, and in many ways were in very different worlds. She wore Abercrombie, and in my jealousy, I pretended I thought it was ridiculous of her. I remember going to her High School Graduations--she invited me, but after that, we were never really close.

When I got engaged, to everyone's great surprise, there was quite a bit of discussion about who the bridesmaids should be. I wanted my younger cousins and friends. My mother wanted me to ask A. Actually, I'm not sure that she really wanted me to; she needed me to to keep up appearances. Because there was that whole growing apart thing that seemed to bother my grandmother terribly. "Just go talk to her. She's just shy, like her mother," I was told. I'm not sure if she was ever prodded to talk to me as well, but somehow I doubt it.

I didn't really want to ask her-not because I didn't like her or because I didn't want her around, but because I didn't know her any more. She, unlike me, had gone off to college. She had a life that I could only imagine, because there were no more letters written in pink and purple pen making their way between Toledo and Akron anymore. I knew that my mom was pushed to ask a cousin to be her maid of honor when she wanted her friend. I hated that she was putting me in the same position, but I buckled and said that I would have her in the wedding party.

I'll never forget the day. It was at our big fat Italian family reunion. My mom had called her brother to make sure that A came. She told him that I had something to ask. I was shaking. Absolutely shaking. J had taken one of the kids down to the bathroom and my mom was pushing, "Do it now. Do it now." So I asked. And she turned me down flat. And I was still shaking. She told me that we weren't close, as though I was unaware of it. She told me that I should only have people I was close to in my wedding. And I was shaking.

From anger. From embarrassment. From hurt. (Because who, really?!, gets turned down when they ask someone--a family member--to be in their wedding.)

And for months and months I was so angry at her.

At least I thought it was her that I was angry at. Looking back later, with a bit more perspective, I realize she gave me the best gift that she could have given me--the wedding party I had always envisioned. I realized that we were both just tangled up in some larger dance between siblings who wanted their parents' approval. My mom said that I won that day-- that I showed myself to be the better person. I'm not sure that she was right. She won. She showed herself to have the better daughter-the one who is more obedient and who does for her family as she should. But I don't think I won.

So many of my happiest childhood memories have A. in them. And now we do not talk. We're cordial to one another now. (After the rejection I wasn't so cordial.) But we do not talk. We do not reminisce and we do not laugh about those old times together. And that is completely and utterly my fault. I was the one who made every decision to distance myself, who let myself be put in an un-winnable situation, who made the decision to act self-righteous after that situation exploded the only way it could have. I made our Cinderella movie into a DVD last Christmas as kind of a peace offering. Perhaps it helped. Perhaps not.

Today I learned that A. is engaged. She posted the story of the proposal on her myspace page--and what a proposal. Reading it, I almost cried with happiness for her, but I also couldn't help but feel a little sad. Because I don't think there's any way to fix the break we've had. All I can hope for is cordial, and maybe cordial someday will turn into friendly. Who knows.

But I wish her only the best. That she finds happiness beyond her dreams with the man she has found to make them real. That she has the wedding she wants--with no drama or squabbles. That she has the marriage she deserves. I wish her and her's what our dear friend wished us on our wedding day- The quiet miracle of a beautiful life together.

18 February 2008

I Heart Corner Gas

They're quirky. They're Canadian. They're on 4 nights a week. What's not to love?

Now if they'd just make some more new episodes...

17 February 2008

So Not Cool

It's bad enough that they're bringing back Knight Rider.

But for goodness sake's people. K.I.T.T. wasn't a Mustang.


15 February 2008

As NIU Mourns...

"She always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day."
-Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

My heart ached for Columbine. I wondered with fear at the shootings at Virginia Tech. And now, in a small college town just a few miles from Chicago, more students have died and another campus is in turmoil, and my own little sleepy prairie town is the center of questions. It seems that the gunman was from here, was a student here, bought the guns here.

We always feel the terror from a distance. I know that I do. When a gunman killed so many at Virginia Tech, I saw my campus through a new set of lenses. I wondered if it could happen to me; what I would do if it did; if there was any chance for survival in the run-down rooms without locks or even, in some cases, working doors, in my ancient building. And now it has come as close to not happening as it could.

I ask myself, why Northern? Why not, god forbid, Follinger? Why did he feel the need to drive to another school when he was a student here? It was so close to happening, closer than I could have ever imagined...even as I did imagine. And as J and I watch the local (yes, our little hometown newscasters on location) news and as more information comes out, what becomes apparent is that these incidents seem totally, and utterly unstoppable.

There is no way to secure an area the size of a small town. There is not a fence large enough or strong enough. There is no way to screen each student and to find the one that might snap. They can just drive somewhere else. A campus is not like a high school-- we deal with mutliple buildings, larger areas, and adults.

I never thought of this profession as dangerous. I'm a library rat, after all. I live in and among books. J was just yesterday asking me if I ever thought about how funny our jobs were, in the larger scheme of things. And I do, because I teach people how to "read" books. It's not really a skill that people need in the most practical sense. I never thought of teaching as dangerous. I went to Kent State, walked by sculptures with bullet holes in them every day, and never thought of college campuses as dangerous. Surely, I thought, tragedy like that can never happen again. And yet they do. They keep happening with increasing frequency.

And there's nothing. Not a single thing. I can do about it.

And the truth is that no one's safe. No office building. No shopping mall. No school. No where. Unspeakable tragedy and grief can reach us here just as easily as it can happen anywhere else. And right now I find it very difficult to put my head around all of this. Every paper you grade, every student you upset, any stranger who picks a time and place can end the bubble of happiness and safety you've built around yourself.

And it can be paralyzing to think about it. And today I wonder every time a siren goes by (why three already this morning??). And ultimately I have no idea how to even think about this.

So I'll pull those I love closer, immerse myself in what I love to do, put everything into every day...because that bubble can pop so quickly. And all we have is now. This moment.

11 February 2008

Dear, Dear Students

The title of the poem is The Waste Land. Not, as many of you seem to think, the Wasteland.

10 February 2008

Jesus isn't amused...


Mother: Garrett, stop being silly.

Garrett: why?

Mother: It's rude and when we're rude, Jesus doesn't smile.

08 February 2008

Things You Can't Blog About

I've always admired certain writers out there in the blogosphere who seem able to be completely open and candid and honest about their lives. They are smart and witty, and with their honesty, they are able to make motherhood seem less confusing and give me hope that one day I'll get it all figured out.

But to be so open, so honest is also to be dangerous and potentially hurtful. That's the problem with this medium. It's wonderful for stress relief and it's great therapy, but you can't talk about certain things that you might want to get off your chest-- to send into the great bleakness of cyberspace like a letter burnt rather than sent. Because the letters I write here are, in a sense, sent. It takes extraordinary courage, in some ways, to write about the people that you love the most, because there is always that risk that they will not see the love in what you have written and be hurt by it.

So there are things I feel that I cannot blog about, because there are things I can't say face to face still. There are things I will probably never say face to face.

That honesty, I suppose, is not for me. But still, however silent, I send good wishes and desperate hopes to the powers that be.

06 February 2008

Your "WTF?!" Moment of the Day

"Stop The Free-Riders. Use some of the money currently spent on providing expensive "free care" for the uninsured at emergency rooms to instead help the truly needy buy private insurance."
--Mitt Romney.com

Could someone please explain this to me?? Because, I honestly don't have a clue who exactly are the "truly needy" if they're not the uninsured in emergency rooms.

05 February 2008

Dear Blonde Chick-a-dee on The View

The free market cannot solve our healthcare problems. The free market means that firms need to "maximize their profits"--the only way for health insurance companies to maximize profits is to minimize payouts. The way to minimize pay outs is to not give people the treatments they need, to not allow people who are sick to get insurance, and to not cover expensive procedures.

Sorry to break your little republican red heart, but the free market isn't always the best way to take care of people. Adam Smith, afterall, wasn't Jesus.

04 February 2008

About Obama

I like Obama, I really do. I like watching him speak. I think he has some great ideas. But todays NY Times piece by Paul Krugman makes me think twice about giving him my vote.

Krugman says that with Obama there's virtually no chance of us achieving universal health care in the next administration. That, to me is a deal breaker. When I think about the problems my husband has had with health insurance, prescription coverage, and heath care costs, I know we need a universal heath care system-- socialize away, just as long as we can stop people who are treatable from suffering or dying from diseases that are absolutely treatable or curable.

There's a very strong possibility that Little Man could also have Crohn's, or some over digestive track ailment, and the idea that with the system we have today, his future would be limited by the very real need to have a job that comes with outstanding benefits. Without those benefits, prescription costs can run $400 a month, medical treatments can run $5000 an infusion, the cost of doctor's visits can be staggering, and the cost of surgeries unapproachable.

I hate to be a single-issue voter. I try not to be. But this is my issue. It's shameful that in the richest country in the world health care is not a right. And whomever I vote for tomorrow and in November has to be solid on this issue.

03 February 2008

What Children Become

Lately the news has been somber. I've been following what is happening in Kenya--the killings and the terror that seems to have taken hold of that country--and I can't help but be speechless in the face of it. I've heard stories of children and their families barricaded into their homes and burned to death. It seems as though every day there is some new story--world-class athletes being targeted for death, children cut down by machetes, whole villages terrorized. It sickens me and leaves me numb with disbelief and sadness. And Wonder.

Because the thing that I fail to be able to understand--despite knowing that history is filled with stories of horror and violence--is how these things happen. How is it that children can grow into monsters. Sure, there are those cases where a child is abused or neglected or something traumatic happens and changes the life of a child. But I have to think that for the vast majority of these cases, these people who are capable of doing such unspeakable things to other humans were once children.

These were once infants held and rocked in the arms of their mothers. Their births were life changing moments for the people around them. Strangers looked at them and smiled at the preciousness of new life, coochie-cooing over their prams or bassinet's. These people, capable of killing innocent children in horrific ways were once children themselves. And I can't quite get my head around how that sort of transformation happens.

But the thing that I find incomprehensible is that, for the most part, these transformations happen all the time- in all places. The same day that I heard about Olympic runners from Kenyan being hunted down, the Chicago news had a story about a car-jacking where a 1 year old baby was killed. The car-jacker knew that the baby was there when he went after the car, but rather than abandon the child with the car, he killed it. A gunshot. In a tiny body.

These are things that keep me up at night, my mind racing. How do you protect your child from this sort of horror--horror and violence that can happen anywhere, at any time? How do you keep your sweet and wonderful little boy from changing into something unrecognizable? How do you reconcile a God that is supposed to be kind and merciful, loving and parental, with a world in which such unspoken horrors exist? How do you keep your children safe?

And how do you keep your mind from racing at night after hearing story after a story that you are unable to do anything about?