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W3 Story 2: William Tell
Sep 13th, 2017 by Dr Karma

My (Grand)Daddy spent a lot of time on his grandparents’ dairy farm in Michigan. His grandmother only spoke Finnish, and he only spoke English, but he said they still understood each other.

John and Mary Waltonen, my great-great grandparents from Finland

Not surprisingly, he was an adventurous child. Once, after having been to the picture shows, he tried to jump off the barn, thinking that an umbrella would slow his fall, as it had for a cartoon character.

My grandfather as a young man, with his younger sisters and parents.

But my favorite story from his youth is this one.

He played William Tell with one of his sisters–putting an apple on her head–and getting the bow and arrow ready.

He shot her in the cheek.

And then, somehow, he managed to convince his other sister to let him try on her.

And he shot her in the cheek.

The moral of this story: Waltonen women cannot resist that man.

Today, he would have been 89. If there’s an afterlife, I hope he’s with his sisters today and that all arrows shoot straight and that cartoon physics rule the land.

A very bad boy and his trusting sisters

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A Bad Start: On Growing Up in the South
Aug 30th, 2017 by Dr Karma

I am 14. My beloved (grand)daddy says, “You need to have white babies; our race is dying out.”

Where do I start?

Not “how do I answer that?”

How do I start to tell you this?

My (grand)daddy is recently deceased. I am mourning. Atlas dropped the world.

But he said that.

When I told my mother, she said he didn’t used to be racist. She and Mindy have told me about how when Mindy was a teenager and was working in a store that catered mostly to African-Americans, she was told they wouldn’t be upset if she dated one.

I have heard it so many times.

It’s an alibi.

And now I’m the prosecutor.

Why wouldn’t I have been allowed to?

Why did you hide your non-white boyfriends and lovers (they were roommates) from them?

Why did they have to say it if it were true?

How do I start this?

***************************************************

No one in my family would call themselves racists.

Some context: my maternal grandmother was born and raised in the South. She is an official Daughter of the Confederacy. She married my (grand)daddy, who was a Yankee in the Air Force. After he retired, they built a house on the land she inherited and settled in to a very insular, very Southern, existence.

My grandmother would lower her voice when she said the “n” word–even though she lived in the woods where no one would hear her. I presumed she got quiet because she knew what she was doing was wrong.

When I moved to California, my grandmother asked me if there were many black people where I lived. She was relieved when I said my town was mostly white and Asian. “Oh, they’re okay.”

A few years before her death, she stopped lowering her voice when she said the word.

I wanted to blame FOX News, which was convincing her that her President was not hers–that he wasn’t even American.

But that’s not where it started.

And she still would have said she wasn’t racist.

******************************************************

My son is 5. I am called into his kindergarten. He has been saying he doesn’t like the janitors because they’re black.

He spends a lot of time with his great-grandparents.

I move to California. My grandparents try to guilt me into leaving him with them. Permanently.

Then, my son is 8. We are watching a show–the teachers on it are talking to the principal about a student who has said “the N word.”

My son finally looks at me, frustrated.

“What are they talking about? Nipple?”

And I have to say it, to explain it to him. Grateful that he hadn’t heard it yet some other way.

****************************************************

Where do I start?

I am in kindergarten. It is 99% black.

I come home and tell my mother that I and a boy in my class will get married. He is my boyfriend.

She tells me he can’t be, because my grandmother wouldn’t like it.

It was unlikely that I would have married him. I can’t even remember what we had in common.

But I was transferred to another school–one that was 99% white.

(The South is still pretty segregated, y’all!)

It didn’t occur to me that my mother should have told my grandmother to mind her own business about my boyfriends.

Or that my grandmother was her excuse.

*************************************************

I am 13.

I hear my stepfather getting his Great Dane riled up to go outside.

Usually, he says, “Wanna catch a squirrel?!?” and the dog practically pees itself with excitement.

Today, he says, “Wanna catch a nigger?!?”

“What?!?”

He hadn’t known I was behind him, that I’d heard.

He tells me that it was what his parents always said. I make him swear to never say that word in front of my little brother.

Usually, I was punished–severely and physically–for talking back.

This is the only day ever that I give an order and get away with it.

Because he knows it’s wrong.

It’s years later, thinking back on this, when talking to my students about the importance of language and the words we use, that I realize my mother must have known he used that word.

After class, I remember other things he’d said. Like “Cleopatra couldn’t have been the most beautiful woman in the world. She was black.”

And how no one corrected him on Ptolemaic history or racism.

Or talked back.

***************************************************

When I was little, I had a Dukes of Hazard night shirt. It said, “My heart belongs to Bo.”

A couple of years ago, in my stand-up, I tried to make the point that racism was alive and well in America. (Until recently, I had white Californian students tell me there was no racism because they’d had multicultural days in high school, where they had an ethnic food fair.)

I asked people to remember The Dukes of Hazard. The Duke brothers are moonshiners–you know, drug dealers, with a slutty-dressing cousin, and they spend every episode running from the cops in a car with the confederate flag on it called The General Lee. It’s a comedy. White America loved it.

“Just some good old boys / Never meaning no harm / Beat all you ever saw / They been in trouble with the law / Since the day they was born.”

If there’s no racism, we can do cross-racial casting.

Imagine that show–except the boys are black. They run illegal drugs. Their cousin dresses like a ho. They run from the cops in the Malcolm X.

“Just some good old . . .”

Bang!

Cause they would have been shot in the credits.

****************************************************

My grandma used to say, “Our family didn’t have slaves. We were too poor.”

And thus she was free, she thought, from recrimination. Even though her ancestors had fought for the South.

(My grandfather bought a certificate, from Rush Limbaugh, I think, that absolved him, as a white man, for everything. It was signed by a black man.)

But my grandfather was a genealogist.

One night, he shows me what he’s found–that one of grandma’s ancestors had owned at least one slave.

“But they treated her just like family,” my grandma interjects.

I wonder how she can be so sure, since a moment ago, she was convinced there was no such person.

But this narrative is important. She needs her story to lead to a South without racism that she can see, so she can be proud to be Southern, so she can be Republican. All these things have to be unrelated.

That way, it can be the race’s fault when she doesn’t like them.

*******************************************************

I am in my thirties. My grandmother and I are sitting in the car, while my mother is in the store, getting my grandmother’s prescription.

I don’t talk about politics with my family at this point. I’ve escaped, after decades of feeling like a misfit, in both my family and my society. I try to enjoy the few times I go home. To ignore the framed pictures of the current and former recent Republican presidents over the dining room table. To ignore the framed picture of a donkey with a red X drawn over it hanging by the washing machine.

Thus, I do not know and have no memory of how this came about–I remember it slapping me:

“All abortion should be illegal unless a white woman gets raped by a black man.”

I try to talk about abortion as necessary, to find common ground about how when it’s illegal, doctors aren’t even trained to take dead babies out of women, how some women who have lost their children have to live with a rotting corpse inside them–to carry it to term.

It is all I can do, because my mind is whirring. It repeats the statement all day.

“All abortion should be illegal unless a white woman gets raped by a black man.”

Is it that the child will be mixed? I know she “feels sorry” for mixed race children, since “they don’t belong anywhere.” In her world.

But no. Because almost all mixed race abortions would still be illegal.

“All abortion should be illegal unless a white woman gets raped by a black man.”

Not a Mexican? No, because she’s probably not even thinking about any other races. Many times, in the South, all ethnicities/races disappear from consciousness. It is literally black and white down there.

“All abortion should be illegal unless a white woman gets raped by a black man.”

But this isn’t about rape. Because a black woman can still be raped by a white man and have to carry it.

“All abortion should be illegal unless a white woman gets raped by a black man.”

I am in bed, not sleeping, when it hits me.

If I were raped by a white guy, she would of course be upset. But the life of that baby would take precedence.

But if I were raped by a black man, and were forced to carry it, and maybe to raise it, then someone might misunderstand–they might think, if they saw me with the child, that I’d had sex with a black guy on purpose.

How would they know I’d been raped, since survivors don’t usually wear t-shirts attesting to the fact?

(In my mind, these t-shirts are airbrushed. Cause it’s the South.)

****************************************************

President Obama is running for President.

I ask my mother to send me some instant grits.

(I do not think these things are related.)

When the grits come, they are accompanied by an airbrushed (read: homemade) shirt.

The shirt features a confederate flag.

The call:

“Well, I know you’re not going to wear it inside.”

“I’m not a racist inside the house.”

“It’s not racist; it’s heritage.”

I stop.

I try again, rogerian-style.

“I’m an American. Why would you expect me to wear the symbol of people who didn’t want to be American any more? Who told America to go fuck itself?”

“Alright.”

************************************************

Obama has just been elected.

My mother: Well, now we’re going to lose our rights as white women.

Me: Which ones?

Long pause.

Silence.

Me: Cause as a white, straight, educated American woman, I have more rights than most people have ever had. I have more rights than some of my friends have right now. Which ones can he take?

Silence.

*******************************************************

Obama is serving his term. My mother is taking care of her parents, my grandparents.

They encourage her to plant her garden. They think they’ll need it, when Obama comes for their guns. When he starts a race war.

*******************************************************

Here are some things that are true.

1. I miss my (grand)daddy so much. And even though this part of him disappoints me, I am deathly hurt by the thought that I disappointed him, as I know I have.

I have always cried–for hours–at the end of Mulan, when the father expresses pride for his daughter.

2. Now that my grandmother has died, my answer to the Pivot question about what you’d like to hear at the Pearly Gates has changed.

I’d like to hear, “Well, hi, Karma!” in my grandmother’s voice, the way she said it every time I called home.

No one has ever sounded so perfectly and consistently happy to hear my voice.

3. Typing this, now, has made me cry.

4. My family is normal in the South.

And they are polite to people’s faces.

They are not seen as extremists there at all.

They are not the people who start to whisper when you’re at the park having a picnic with a black man, the whispers getting louder, until the air starts to crackle, and you pack up early–carefully, fearful that if you move to fast, they’ll chase you.

5. My mother said that all people were equal when I was young. With some her words.

6. When people wonder where all this racism and hatred have come from, I’m surprised. Didn’t you hear them whispering? Didn’t you see them start to not lower their voices when Obama got elected?

7. When people try to tell me that the alt-right isn’t really racist, that they’re just angry because they’re poor, I shake my head. Did you live with them? Were you taught by them? Were you their neighbors? They, rich and poor, for all they years I’ve been alive, have said all the things at home that you’re just hearing on the internet now.

8. I have benefited from white privilege. When I was treated well the two times I’ve been pulled over. That I’ve only been pulled over two times. That I could walk down the hall in high school and not get asked for my pass. That I wasn’t asked for references when I tried to rent my first apartment. “You don’t need those.” Everyone else in the complex was black.

7. When I tell people these stories, they say, “how are you you?” And I don’t know. But I’m still part of them. And they’re still part of me.

*******************************************************

The statues need to come down.

My grandmother was a Daughter of the Confederacy. Technically, that means I am too, though I’m not registered. It’s not what I’m proud about–it’s not about who I am.

The statues need to come down.

When my relatives say taking them down is a liberal attempt to erase history, my eyes roll so hard my head hurts.

One of the best field trips in school was to a museum of the Civil War. I liked it because I learned a lot — like where “bite the bullet” comes from. I don’t remember the South being celebrated there–and that’s how this war should be remembered–as a rebellion to study, not to celebrate. Moving the statues to museums isn’t going to erase this history.

(Contrast this to a teacher I had in elementary school–an elderly woman–who told us lots of stories about how the South was better in Plantation days. Yes, this was the 99% white school.)

When my relatives say taking the statues down is an attack on their way of life, I can feel the blood vessels in my chest constrict.

What way of life is in danger? They’ll still be able to put way too much sugar in their tea, to fry absolutely everything, to deny science, to wear confederate clothing, to think racist thoughts and to say racist things.

It’s just that all of those actions have consequences.

When I was younger and I would see a “The South will Rise Again” bumper sticker, I would joke, “And do what?!?”

But it’s not funny at all. They white Southerners are rising again–and what they’re trying to do, by their own admission, is to push an agenda to ensure the prosperity of the white (Christian, straight) race. They want every one else gone or else so subservient that they might as well be. Race traitors like me deserved to be destroyed too, since I’m not helping their cause.

The “American” “way of life” they’re talking about losing is one of state-sanctioned white privilege. It’s the one where your whole state puts on that airbrushed confederate flag t-shirt.

It’s not about being Southern. It’s not about states’ rights. It never was.

That’s why the only “right” talked about in Confederate papers and speeches was the right to own black people.

That’s why black Southerners don’t fly the Confederate flag on their pickups.

And that’s why Nazis fly the Confederate flag in Germany, where Nazi flags are banned.

There’s a meme going around that says liberals think Southern statues “aren’t important.”

They are so important. That’s why they need to come down.

**************************************************

The KKK and the Nazis can march with assault rifles, and the cops do nothing. And the President defends them. That way of life will apparently be fine, statues or no statues.

Unless we do something.

Removing the statues is a small step, but a necessary one.

I don’t know how this started.

I just know it has to stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Notes toward a Eulogy
Aug 2nd, 2017 by Dr Karma

This weekend, we will put my Daddy’s ashes in the ground.

It will be the first time I’ve been home since we buried Grandma.

And I feel awful about that–and guilty. I know Daddy would have wanted me to come home more often, but it was logistically and financially difficult (and the onus to fly to see family has always been 100% on me).

I also didn’t get to say anything to him the day he died. I called, but he was asleep–I was going to call again, but before I got the chance, he was gone.

We hadn’t been able to have a good conversation for a while–his mind had gone so much that he couldn’t follow the thread.

But he did say goodbye to me, in his way, last year.

We were on the phone; when it was time to go, he said, “I love you. The way you are.”

I was stunned, and found myself quickly in a conversation with my therapist.

Therapist: He said that?!?

Me: Yes. It means he’s getting ready to die.

He’d said he loved me before, but I know that I was a disappointment in so many ways, so I wasn’t expecting the second part.

I wasn’t always a disappointment, of course. I went to live with him when I was two–his memoirs say he became a father again that year. He had just retired from the military–as a very decorated man–to take up his dream of being a gentleman farmer.

And that made him a different dad from the one he’d been before. I, the oldest granddaughter/youngest daughter, was treated differently than my mother and her siblings had been. I got to be with him 24/7. He was nurturing and patient–and didn’t physically discipline me as he had the others. He taught me how to milk goats, how to make concrete–because I followed him from task to task.

He taught me to rhyme and to find new ways to end the stories we read.

He threw marbles into the deep end of the pool to teach me to dive. And them built me a box–by hand–to keep my marbles in.

When my mother took me back several years later, it was awful–because I wasn’t with him. One day, I told her I felt like Heidi–despondent, taken from her loving, gruff grandfather and the mountain into the cold world of the city.

She slapped me.

Which, let’s admit, proved my point.

It was me growing up, and making choices and mistakes, that really messed things up between Daddy and me. I read the platforms of the two major parties–and discovered I was a Democrat. I spent my summers working instead of basking in his light. I got pregnant and had my child.

He wanted me to go to college so I could support myself, but he and the rest of the family put pressure on me to be an accountant. He didn’t want me to like “liberal arts.” When I showed him the recruitment letter from UCD, one that promised me healthcare, which I could not access in Florida, he said he was disappointed in me and went to his room for the rest of the night. When it became clear that I would be a teacher in higher education, he was disappointed again–he said college makes people communists and said I’d been brainwashed into being progressive.

And as I was getting more progressive, he was moving to the other side–toward racism, hysterical gun rights fears, thinking he needed a garden again for when Obama started that race war.

I wrote him a letter a long time ago, asking him to consider that my job–my beliefs–are my efforts to make this country better–that they are in fact acts of patriotism, not the intentional dismantling of the country. I tried to argue that we wanted the same thing–a better country–but that we went about trying to get it in a different way.

He wrote back and said he knew I’d come to my senses when I left academia.

(I pictured myself, leaving my packed up office several decades from now, having a flash of insight: oh, right! I do hate people who are different from me! And fuck the poor! They deserve it! Even if you’re an orphaned infant with severe health issues, my tax dollars shouldn’t be used for your benefit!)

So it’s been hard.

And I know I’m not alone–all of his children are afraid of disappointing him. And people kept parts of themselves and their pasts from him (like one person’s couple of weeks on public assistance forty years ago).

And now I am in the process of mourning–him and the closeness we once had.

I become an absolute puddle when I think of him being disappointed in me–it’s why he never had to spank me, I guess.

This man had a truly happy marriage.

This man used his words carefully.

This man was a decorated war hero–one who didn’t want a gun salute–because that’s not how he wants us to think about him this weekend.

This man had a wonderful sense of humor.

This man cut a flower from the garden every morning for his wife in the last years of her life.

This man tried to retire from the military after serving in Korea. Then his wife got pregnant–with triplets. And so, needing to provide for his family–he went back in for another two decades and another war.

This man worked hard to get my weight up when I was small–when a doctor said I wouldn’t make it to five feet.

This man pocketed cigars on the way to taking me to the ER when I couldn’t breathe. He told grandma, “If she has to stay, I’m staying with her.”

This man then gave up smoking. Cold turkey.

This man showed me what strength was–what dependability was.

This man is the only one who hasn’t abandoned me.

May we all have the romance, the humor, the wisdom, the devotion, the intelligence, the determination, and the sisu to honor his legacy.

 

My brother, Granddaddy, and Grandma

 

 

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Karma Has Three Fathers
May 23rd, 2017 by Dr Karma

In my grief, I have not thought about you, my readers. The word “daddy” could technically belong to three people, even though I’ve only ever used it for one man.

I have three dads.

My father was James Dean Norris. (I was born Karma Jewreen Norris.) He and my mother got divorced fairly soon after my birth. He died when I was four, and I don’t remember him. He didn’t see me much in between–I don’t know the whole story, except that my grandparents were afraid that if he had access to me, he’d take me.
I have spent a fair amount of time in therapy dealing with growing up without knowing much about him. My mother only told me a few good things about him when I was young. I heard the bad stuff from others–who thought I knew.
That he cheated on her.
A lot.
That when she finally left him, she had to do so with a black eye.
I know he wanted me and was excited about my birth, but I don’t know why he didn’t fight to see me.
He left me two poems, for my 18th birthday (he’d had a premonition that he’d die at 35). They were about reincarnation–I wanted them to be about us. He was an American buddhist (yes, he named me).
I wanted, for a really long time, to understand him, in hopes of understanding myself.
My mom always told me that I got my intelligence from him and from her father (my daddy). I think I was also lucky enough to get whatever inspires loyalty from one’s loved ones.
My therapist once said that my dad could have been a cult leader. The two women I know who loved him loved him completely. He cheated on them, but they both swear he was their soul mate.
I don’t claim to have that kind of power, but when people talk about my cult following on campus, I think of my father.
I have come to terms with the fact that I won’t have the answers I want and the fact that those answers wouldn’t have answered questions about me anyway.

I went to live with my daddy, my grandfather, when I was 2 and my mom couldn’t take care of me. He wrote in his memoirs that he became a father again that year. No one ever thought it was strange that I called him that. He was just retired from the military, but he was only in his 40s. Every time I called home after living there, my grandmother would tell me where my “daddy” was and what he was doing.
In my EMDR therapy for PTSD, when I’m asked to picture a figure of protection, I think of him.
After my father died, mom gave us both daddy’s last name.
It was he who came to pick me up from the hospital after my son was born–when I was 17 and alone. To take me home when my son’s father and my mother couldn’t/wouldn’t take care of me.

I had a step-father in between, from when I was 5 to when I was 17, when he became my estranged ex-step-father. Our relationship was always difficult, and his request that I call him daddy seemed ridiculous. When my mother finally left him, he took us both out of the will. He also used his lawyer to take half of my money, not just half of my mom’s (I had just over a hundred dollars in a shared account from working the previous summer). (He, like my father, had cheated on her (a lot), but he managed to use his money to lie about everything and to screw her over again after so many years of practice.) I dream about his house fairly frequently–I’m always there, looking for something. (A therapist, long ago: “duh–your childhood!”) The thing I would most want from that house likely isn’t there anymore–a dollhouse my daddy handmade for me that didn’t make it out during the Waltonen woman exodus.

For all those years in between, I was still with my daddy every summer and most weekends.

It’s my daddy who’s died this week. The best man I’ve ever known. I didn’t get to say goodbye or to be there.

We won’t be having services this week–my family, the backwoods people that we are, don’t have regular services with pastors or with non-family people.

A couple of years ago, everyone waited to put my grandmother’s ashes in the ground until the boy and I could get down there.

The boy and I will not be able to go down for more than a day or two until August, so daddy’s ashes will wait above ground until then.

I’m the black sheep in my family, the prodigal daughter. But I get to be home to bury daddy, just like the stories promise.

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W3 Story 1: The Honeymoon
May 22nd, 2017 by Dr Karma

My daddy died on Friday. Wallie William Waltonen is no more.
I can’t write about what that means yet.
But I can tell you some of his stories.

My grandfather was in the Air Force and stationed in Northern Florida. He was set up on a blind date with Winca Jewreen Graves.
50 years after they were married, we asked her why she agreed to a second date.
She said he was a perfect gentleman.
We asked him why he wanted a second date.
“Her legs!”
Right after they were married, they drove up to a cabin in Michigan (where W3 was from) for their honeymoon.
W3 was nervous–they hadn’t spent a lot of time together before. He was worried that they would run out of things to say.
So he made a list–a list of things to talk about while they were married.
He said he never needed to use it.
I am happy to report that they didn’t get very far North very fast–they didn’t seem eager to spend all day on the road.
By the time they made it, though, my grandfather was having stomach problems. Grandma gave him ex-laxx, which apparently is even less fun when one is honeymooning in a cabin in the woods with an outhouse.
He told this story for the rest of their longs lives together, to explain why he wouldn’t let her medicate him.

My grandparents’ hands, as they renewed their vows.

 

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Osiris Begins the Journey to the West
Aug 8th, 2016 by Dr Karma

Earlier this week, Facebook reminded me that I lost Jareth a year ago (FB suggested I might want to repost the announcement of the loss).

This week, something is wrong with Osiris.

Osiris is an old man now–15 years–and he’s definitely showing it. He’s skinny in the same way my great-grandfather was at the end (though he still has an appetite, especially for human food).

He’s beginning to become a bit unhinged–he tried to pee by the front door two days ago, isn’t coming upstairs to bed with me, etc.

Years ago, Isis had something similar happen. She lost her mind in a similar way (and similar symptoms) to my great-grandmother. Eventually, she wandered off, and we never saw her again.

I fear we’re entering the start of the great decline with Osiris.

Osiris and Jareth, 2013

Osiris and Jareth, 2013

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The real bad news today: about my Daddy
Mar 30th, 2016 by Dr Karma

Earlier, I posted news about my denied raise. Because I know how to process that. But it’s not at all the worst news of the day.
(And there have been five contenders for that title.)

My Daddy–my grandfather who raised me for several years when my mother couldn’t–has been officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

And he doesn’t know yet because my mom doesn’t want to tell him yet even though she told me I’d better tell her if it happens . . .
Anyway, I just can’t really write about this yet.
I can cry in my chiropractor’s office, but that’s different.

While I’m processing a bit, here’s a poem about him. I wrote it many years ago when he went in for heart surgery.

Atlas Has Surgery

They do tests
stress tests
which we joke about.
They schedule the time
and so you move
unfamiliarly
away from the burden
taking no relief
in the respite
of a short forced sleep.
This too is a burden
if you don’t do it,
you can’t get back to work.
You leave the earth to hold itself.
I don’t know if you trust it to stay
if you’ve read the physics;
even if you have
there may be little comfort;
Newton and Einstein are at odds;
better to do it yourself
so it’s done right.
Newton says we fall because of
weight and mass;
Einstein says we fall because of
the curve of time and space.
Either way, we start to shift
imperceptibly.
The issue is not the fall
but the landing.
In a picture of our fried egg shaped universe,
we do not think of above and below
we fall off the edge of the page;
in a diorama—the bottom of the box;
in a middle school science fair project—
we simply land on the table.
This is where most end up—
on a table
our gravity sinking hard
onto a surface
that does not yield
as your shoulders
sometimes do.

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The Year So Far (February edition)
Feb 24th, 2014 by Dr Karma

I haven’t been in the kind of contact that I want to be with most of you. Part of it is that I’m busy. Part of it is that I don’t necessarily want to talk about how I am.

I was really hoping that this year would be better than last. Last year was busy (no surprise), but also difficult due to my gall bladder, an amazing cervical spine headache that started in summer, and a car accident, which resulted in hours of physical therapy each week (it’s only ended last week).

This year hasn’t been easier so far. I’ve already written about my grandmother dying last month. What I haven’t said yet is that, while she was sick, this particular time of death didn’t have to be. What I haven’t said yet is that I’m angry about some of my mother’s decisions and angrier about her refusal to acknowledge them.

Next month, I will return home during Spring Break. My family is waiting to put the ashes in the ground until I get back. I need to try to have a calm conversation in which I explain to my mother that she can’t change my grandfather’s medicines, etc. without notifying the doctor. But she’s going to get defensive, and we’re going to have a fight, and I’m stressing about it.

The other thing I haven’t said is that it really sucks to be the only woman in the world with the middle name Jewreen. Before, there were two of us.

As for myself, three things are going on physically. Today I have a tube going from my stomach, out of my nose, and to a recorder. It’s testing the ph of my acid reflux and also checking to see if some of the reflux ix actually bile, now that we know I have some bile in my stomach. I am very uncomfortable, doubting I’ll be able to sleep tonight, and looking forward to getting it out after my classes tomorrow. Some of what we’ll learn will determine if the doctor thinks I need surgery for the hernia in my esophagus.

My inclination is not to have surgery; however, the drugs I’m on haven’t been controlling my reflux symptoms like they used to. And I’m on the highest dose of things.

I was finally able to see someone at the pain clinic for this cervical spine headache in December. We are looking at doing a nerve burn in my neck–pain medication isn’t doing anything, nor are the non-invasive things like massage, etc. Friday, I had a nerve block, a sort of test to see if the nerve burn would work. The very temporary block had wonderful effects, although I’m sore and swollen from the procedure. My insurance company wants me to have another test block done before they approve the burn, which would be longer lasting.

Lastly, one of the drugs I need, xolair, is expensive and weird. When my insurance changed at the start of the year, I had to try to get reauthorized for it. It’s now almost the end of Feb–I’ve been off my drug for almost two months. Both my nurse and I have spent hours on the phone with insurance and hours on the phone with the specialty pharmacy. It looks like I might finally be able to get back on the drug next week, though my copay will be lots higher. And then the insurance company wants to reevaluate in June. Every dose they can prevent me from having saves them thousands of dollars.

The other big news is that my aunt Mindy is not doing well. She is now basically too disabled to work. She has been living with my cousin for the past few months. My cousin’s husband, however, is getting transferred to Guam. My aunt has been unsuccessful so far in getting insurance, etc. (The Southern States have not expanded medicaid to poor adults.)

The short version of this is that Mindy will be coming to live with me at the end of Spring. It will be a bit tight–I don’t have the money right now to move us to a three bedroom. But I at least should be able to get her the care she so desperately needs.

Work is fine. The students are understanding about papers coming back two days late the week Gma died. They are understanding and sympathetic about the awkwardness of a tube coming out of my face today. My stand-up class is a joy.

I gave a smart and amazingly attended presentation at a Writing Teacher’s Conference in January. Had a good MLA. I’ve applied to be the coordinator for the Upper Division Comp exam. I’ve got a paper coming out on (a)sexuality in Sherlock. The Prized Writing Ceremony went swimmingly–the Chancellor was there for the first time, and she enjoyed it so much that we’ve already scheduled next year’s so she can be there. I’ll present at pca/aca in April (no more conferences for the year, though–too broke). The Margaret Atwood journal is going online. I’ve been contracted by Cambridge for an Atwood collection. The authors are writing now. Denise and I are putting together a Simpsons collection. Melissa and I are putting together a collection of best comp paper assignments. There are and will be plays and movies and, in April, Willie Nelson. Book group still gathers here for food, wine, and cats. When HBO or BBC is doing something good, there are weekly movie nights too. The boyfriend cooks for me and distracts me and pleases me. Alexander is generally in good spirits. He doesn’t love all of his classes. (His classes are part of me being broke.) But we get along well.

Just today, he reminded me that I wasn’t allowed to use the microwave (due to the weird machine I’m wearing). Then, when I thoughtlessly went to the microwave half an hour later, I got the same tone from him that the cats do when they jump on the counter.

My friends are lovely. I miss you and love you all.

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Saying Goodbye to My Grandmother (+ the Best Meatloaf Recipe in the World)
Jan 23rd, 2014 by Dr Karma

I’m about to write a eulogy for my grandmother. First, I need to write this.  (I wrote about the renewal of her marriage vows here.) SONY DSCSONY DSCSONY DSC

SONY DSCMy 85 year old grandmother (Winca Jewreen Graves Waltonen, who always went by Jewreen) died on Tuesday. She was married for 63 years, has 4 children, 9 grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren.

SONY DSCGrowing up, I only had one grandmother–her–though I had two great-grandmothers. My grandmother was more like a mother in my childhood, however, as she raised me for three years when my mother couldn’t and had me for every summer and school break thereafter. Granddaddy (whom I call “Daddy” since that’s what he’s always been to me) had just retired from the military when I went to live with them. They were building a house–all by themselves–on the land my grandmother’s ancestors had claimed in Bay County, Florida, before Florida was even a state. (She has certificates for being both a descendent of Florida pioneers and of the confederacy.) Although she had moved with her Air Force husband to various points in the US and Europe, now it was time to go back home. I was the first extra child to move in with them in a small, round, two-bedroom house in a Florida forest, but not the last. They have only rarely lived together without a child or grandchild who needed a soft space to fall. When I had nowhere else to go after Alexander was born, Daddy picked us up from the hospital and took us home.

My grandmother was a unique and strong-willed person. Granddaddy often teased her about being a savage, based on a homestead without paved roads, childhood pets that included a deer who was allowed in the house (and even to eat off the dining table), and a strong desire to never wear shoes (this is where I get it, people!). She met my grandfather on a blind date and married him the same year. When her first daughter was 2, she gave birth to triplets. She often had to raise them alone for long stretches, as my grandfather served in both Korea and Vietnam. Grandma is still angry about Vietnam protestors (she has no pity for the Kent State students)–she won’t watch movies with Jane Fonda or anything by The Smothers Brothers. (It was my grandfather, though, who introduced me to The Smothers Brothers via audio cassettes he was hiding on the porch.) Although she’s traveled, she never lost even a bit of her Southern accent, but would get mad at waiters who would bring her ranch instead of french dressing, even though what she said was invariably “franch.”

She was a great cook, a solid disciplinarian to her children, a sewer of matching clothing. By the time I lived with her, though, she didn’t do much sewing. She seemed to retire a bit when Daddy did, so she would mend, but not sew. She stopped canning and baking. When I was very little, she and Daddy would visit friends and go square-dancing, but, fairly quickly, they retreated deeper into the forest. The few friends who hung on had to visit them, as they only left the homestead for groceries and doctors’ appointments. Grandma, who was a great lover of nature, spent more and more time indoors. Daddy continued to work outside, to farm, to master computers so he could do extensive genealogical research, to read a variety of texts. Grandma read romance novels contentedly.

Her family became her whole life (instead of the maybe 85% they were before). She worried about us, prayed for us, praised and chided us to each other.

She was not as hands-on as Daddy with the grandchildren. He would read to us and play with us. She wanted us in her lap. I became a Daddy’s girl, following him around the property, having him teach me rhyming games, teasing and being teased lovingly. Grandma nurtured me with food. When I was very young, I was under weight, so I was plied with small amounts of beer to increase my appetite. When it was discovered that I would eat almost any part of a pig and any fish that was fried, they were produced in abundance. We shared a belief that the best thing about a fried chop was gnawing on the bones (Daddy didn’t do that with us). My trips back home always included fried fish–both from her kitchen and from my favorite fast food fish place–and lots of fried okra.

When I was a teenager and started becoming interested in cooking, Grandma and I were really able to bond. Her recipes were not written down, nor did she ever use a measuring cup. I followed her in the too-tight kitchen, writing down what she did with the most loved recipes. A few I adapted later, but most remain the same in my kitchen. Measuring cups are still unused.

She has not been happy with my life choices–I shouldn’t live in California, I should be married with more children, I should be a housewife, I shouldn’t like The Simpsons because it’s an immoral show since Bart talks back–but she has always been very proud of me because I can cook. It is what she brags about with me and what the men in my life who’ve met her always brag about to her.

I have to admit that it hurts to know how unalike we are. Our tastes differ in entertainment (except TCM), in politics, in social policy, in intellectual pursuits, in beliefs about equality/race relations, etc. There’s no way she would have liked me if we hadn’t been family.

It hurt her very much when I moved to California to pursue my PhD and, more importantly, my place in the world, which, frankly, was just not in Northern Florida. She wanted me to give up Alexander, so he would be raised apart from California values and in the bosom of the family. She said, when it was clear that I was leaving, that she might as well die. It was only a little easier when some of the younger grandchildren followed my example to be beyond a few hours’ drive away.

Even though I was out of her physical orbit, however, I was never out of her heart. And even though we were so fundamentally different, there were some very important things that link us: We both believe the moment when Yul Brynner puts his hand on Gertrude Lawrence’s waist in The King and I is one of the sexiest moments in movie history. We both know about the pleasure of a pork chop bone. We both laugh more than most people, especially when we’re in pain. We both know that the first thing you should do when coming home is removing your shoes. We both know that she is lovable–when she turned 80, I gave her a list of the 80 reasons why. We both know that my last meal will include fried okra if I have any say in the matter. We both give people recipes with vague measurements because we just “know” how much of everything there should be. We both believe her husband is the best man in the whole world.

I’ll put up some recipes of hers over the next few weeks. First, want to share her BBQ Meatloaf. It is the only meatloaf I’ve ever had. When I was younger, I didn’t understand why people spoke of meatloaf with derision, as it was one of my favorite things. What it was, of course, is that they hadn’t had my grandmother’s, which was never dry, never flavorless. When I first saw someone else’s meatloaf, I decided to stick with what was great. Here it is; measurements are approximate.

Grandma J’s BBQ Meatloaf

1 lb. ground beef

1 tsp onion salt

salt to taste

1/2-1 c. bread crumbs

1 8 oz can tomato sauce (my change in the recipe is to use a 16 oz can so I can have more sauce)

1 egg

2 TBS brown sugar

1/2 tsp dried mustard (Coleman’s)

2 TBS vinegar (I use a bit less)

a few ounces of water

Mix the ground beef, onion salt, salt, egg, and 4 oz of the tomato sauce. Form a loaf. Place the loaf in an 8 oz greased baking pan.

Mix the remaining tomato sauce (in the can) with the sugar, mustard, and vinegar. Add enough water to reach the top of the can. Pour over the meatloaf. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour. (No need for ketchup on your leftover meatloaf sandwiches–the sauce will be even better!)

PS–I tried for over an hour to insert a couple of pictures into this post. It’s just not working. However, you can see pictures of my grandmother at the link in the very first line.

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Rarely a Bridesmaid . . .
Jun 8th, 2013 by Dr Karma

Most women my age probably can’t say that they’ve been a bride more often than a bridesmaid. On the 22nd of June, I’ll break even, as I stand beside two of the most important people in the whole world to me.
Our story is a bit uncommon, however. I knew the groom, Chaz, first. In fact, Chaz and I dated when I lived in London for the summer of 2006.
Carmen was the woman who came after me. I used to tease Chaz that he’d replaced me with the Spanish me, especially since he kept telling me how alike we are. We’re both pale skinned, dark-haired, strong, intelligent, geeky, museum loving women. How could he resist us?
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I actually got to meet Carmen, though. I was in London for a conference, and they offered me a place to stay. Chaz was right when he said Carmen and I would love each other. We became instant friends, spending many a late night drinking and talking (often about a problem she diagnosed–that I needed a man who would make me tea [and now I have one!]). Poor Chaz would come home to find us up and have to decide which of his girls to give a hello peck to first.
Carmen and I talk more often than Chaz and I do now. She is a great treasure in my life, and I’m so thankful to Chaz for bringing us together.
Part of the reason we’ve been able to bond so well is that Carmen was never threatened by the fact that Chaz had been with me. Early in their relationship, he’d explained that he wouldn’t be able to be with her if he hadn’t been with me. Our relationship was healing for and important to us both. And Carmen thus appreciated me before she even met me.oxford20
Some people still find this odd. For example, the day we went bridesmaid dress shopping, we ended up having a discussion about how we wouldn’t want to marry virgins.
“What if the guy is terrible?” Carmen wondered.
“Of course he’ll be terrible,” I said. “A man needs women to say,

Carmen drinks out of a Karma's Bitch mug!

Carmen drinks out of a Karma’s Bitch mug!

‘hey, stop doing that!’ How else can he learn?”
Carmen leaned over, kissed me on the cheek, and said thank you.
The other bridesmaid then said, “And that’s why you two and your relationship are weird.”
(For the record, the women before me had Chaz all ready–I never had to tell him to stop it.)

Yes–we are weird. And that’s why we love each other so much & why I’m so honored to be a part of this wedding.

Here’s to the happy couple!

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