Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Besides the fact that Hurricane Rita sounds like a wicked cocktail, Gus and me have decided to get outta dodge. Austin-bound and I hope there's a big party over there. Priorities and ducks are straight in a row.

kiss kiss,

Sunday, September 11, 2005


Today I met Charles and Sandra, Ira and Shantrelle.

GRB is not only fun to say, it's home to several thousand people in need--the George R. Brown Convention Center, downtown, right across from Toyota Center and Minute Maid Park. I went down with my med school girls, Steph and Heidi, cute twenty-six year olds in their white coats and scrubs. It was early, we had coffee, and we wound our way through stairwells and elevators until we made it to a large area in the back designated the medical clinic. Heidi gave me the rundown on the shower area set up by Home Depot, private with features you'd find in your own home, the laundry, cafeteria, children's play area, pharmacy, information booth and so on, everything sanitized behind pink-curtained walls.

The mood was calm, air-conditioning pumping through the place, people just waking from sleep. Heidi and I joined a group whose job it was to direct people seeking medical treatment. The greatest service you could provide was being a guide. So many volunteers--750 Muslims alone today were there. So many booths. So many evacuees.

Two parents lost their toddlers in front of our station. One of the mothers spoke Spanish and was commanding her older daughter to ask me for help. She cried, but we weren't worried. We knew the little one would be right around a corner, and she was. Another woman grabbed my hand (we spoke Spanish as well) and asked me to help her find the elevators to the third floor for food. So many people say, "It's that way," and point. I walked the people where they needed to go. On my way back, Charles stopped me. He was elderly and smelled a little of throw-up. He showed me his "Non-resident" pass when I asked his name and told me he'd had a stroke. He meant awhile ago. He meant that it made it difficult for him to read and find his way. He needed me to help him, and I think he chose me out of the crowd as I was walking by because I was about the height and build of his wife. What had happened was that he'd gone to the restroom and lost his wife in the process. Out he came into the crowd of people, not seeing her, disoriented. I wasn't sure what to do exactly. Apparantly a day or two earlier they'd had a large sign posted that read "Lost People." If you lost someone you could just stand there until someone came looking for you. This morning there was no such place. I just stayed with him, trying to get some more details about where he'd been when he last saw her. We wandered a little and opted to have her paged on the next hour. I got him a chair and told him I'd be back.

In the meantime back at my post, Sandra told me she didn't think she could walk, so I wheeled her to registration, through triage, to the waiting room, and behind the pink shower curtain where an attending would help her with her insulin. By that time it was back to Charles. He sat with no Susie, his beloved, which I kind of anticipated. He couldn't remember from which facility he'd come that morning to search the GRB for his two sons. Someone suggested that we register Charles in the locating computers so he could locate himself and find out where he'd come from. When we did that it took him about a minute to realize that he'd sat down right next to Susie. No lie. She had a few curlers wrapping her soft gray hair. When he recognized her she turned her head away. She couldn't look at him. I thought, well I'd better make sure she's pleased. She was smiling like a blushing teenager.

My final adventure was meeting Sandra's six-year old, Shantrelle, a saucy, bubbly, chubby thing with smooth-braided hair and pink clothes from head to toe. She wanted me to let her wheel her mama. I took them upstairs to lunch and got Shantrelle to show me her stuff, counting by fives, telling me about how she could beat up some dumb boy. We said blessings for the food, a long "Ah-men" in unison. She peeked at me when I did that. Cute, happy Shantrelle. Quiet mom, muttering to herself much of the time, saying more thanks, trying to keep some personal space as if she wasn't out in the open all the time, sharing her thoughts and hip pain and wellness check-up with a strange woman in a big yellow volunteer t-shirt.

For every evacuee who gets a Chevy or apartment or new job opportunity there are a thousand who don't, thousands who are dependent on others for today, for tomorrow, for something as small as a safety pin, as big as methadone, as personal as condoms, as dire as your partner when you've lost her.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I will write more about Houston when I have more to share. My company sent out an email letting us know how much money they are contributing, but I can't help but be disappointed. You feel better when you do, not simply give. We are experts in a service that people need. So why not donate our service? Maybe we'll get there. I'm working on coordinating it from our Center but am finding that my attempts to get the right person are falling in with a huge pile of others offering help.

That's one thing I am getting much more of a sense of since I last wrote--the mood of the city. It helped to drive around to the different donation drop sights. Everyone is calm and whistling while they work. The local news tonight even showed a couple of survivors expressing that they're finding this to be a blessing instead of a tragedy because of the opportunities people want to give--landlords giving free apartments, Chevies with nothing down, everyone approved who was in some way affected by the hurricane, and now jobs. Jobs was the theme of tonight's news. The job fairs begin tomorrow; groups are coordinating efforts to prepare resumes and proper clothing, connecting companies who want to help by employing people with those looking for jobs.

I watched Donny Deutch being interviewed on CNBC last night and he and the anchor were wistful for a Guiliani figure absent in the midst of this new tragedy. The funny thing is that I have never seen people so hungry to help. People usually want quite the opposite--to be left alone to live their separate lives, unaffected, uninvolved because the world, the media, the war, the Republicans, the politicians, the teachers, the parents, they are all to blame.

Class ceilings are lifted for a moment, like we're all in school again and you can be anything you want to be. It could be because it's okay to help the victim instead of the status quo. It could be because we are the status quo, cooped up in disconnectedness, wanting something else.

We are all connected here it seems, it feels, doing and giving, caring, listening, feeling, and whistling while we work. Sometimes it's nice to be without a leader to see what happens when the people are left to rely upon their own instincts.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

here's a little mexico for you . . .

Today Carolina said Mayan prayers for me, rubbed me down in honey, and sprinkled white and red flowers all over my body. She told me that I would be protected, and when in doubt to remember the spirit of the white flowers and look to the left. The flowers in the plunge pool floated toward the left, and the birds' singing came from the same direction. The red flowers are for love.

The present is a night breeze on the veranda with dozens of croaking frogs so happy after the rain. Soft Spanish guitar in the background, distant chatter from the open-aired dining hall, and a few pool balls being struck from time to time.

To be here in this place is to be quiet in one's soul, not restless for something else. We are on the grounds, off road five miles, through dried-out brush that guards this tranquility like spines of a cactus--hidden life as busy as stockbrokers or journalists while the people walk slowly, strolling through garden lanes, listening. Time to take in the world. Place is all things sometimes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Friday, August 19, 2005

How I love my puppy, let me count the ways . . .

Monday, July 25, 2005

Who Keep Up With Me Through My Blog

For those of you who keep up with me through my blog, I am presently watching the delectable "Dangerous Liaisons." I am presently getting dumber each day (from watching so much TV).
Things I would like to do if I found time:

1. Sit on a stone bench next to John Malkovich while his hair is tied in a limp black bow so as to feel dangerous.

2. Take French and Spanish while eating olives and drinking scads of wine.

Interruption for good quote from Miss Glenn Close:
"You'll find that shame is like pain--you'll only feel it once."

3. Find the Houston Opera (I'm detecting a theme).

4. Embroider.

5. Run a race.

6. Get a dacshund.

7. Buy a modern, energy-efficient, earth-friendly condo with a roof garden.

'nother quote
"Men enjoy the happiness they feel. We can only feel the happiness we give."

8. Scratch that. Build a roof garden.

9. Make pottery.

10. Pick up a book.

11. Drink tea.

12. On a blanket.

13. In the sun.

Enter Keanu Reeves. He's in this movie?

14. Paint on some canvass with acrylics on my fingers.

15. Be a joiner maybe, less of a shut-in.

Okay, so classes and clubs and general hobby suggestions are yours to give to me. If you are female, you should feel great happiness from this gesture. If you are a male, I will kiss you or hug you or something.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I miss the cold. It's been warm and sultry too long, and I won't get a winter this year. It must be perfect in the Carolinas. My dreams lately have been spent in tussles with the weather. I'm rolling in waves and can't touch ground. I'm running a marathon and beating the boys; then the ground is thick-cut grass over a marsh, and my sneakers sink; storms come to take me into the water. Last night I was in my grandfather's house, and he was there. I wanted to live with him, but people were leaving the city. I glimpsed the sky and saw storm clouds urine yellow and black in shapes like pencil drawings of falcons.

I've never dreamt about waves before, so much water in these dreams. Maybe my psyche is soaked because I live in a city with no drainage. The roads are flood plains. I used to go up high in the sky in my sleep and be afraid of falling. Now I'm in tussles. I feel like drawing or going for a walk on the beach without having to turn around and come back.

Monday, May 23, 2005

A Chuppah, Some Coins, a Boy and a Girl

Last night in the blazes just before sundown, Michelle and Joel said "I do." There were tears from him as he made vows to her. She smiled brightly through hers. When pronounced husband and wife they kissed as most do, repeating it sweetly between hugs of beloved friends.

If only I were a romantic I could come up with something about feeling moved by a true feeling of rejoicing in their happiness and love and steadfastness, the kind where there's no reason to hold your breath. Two is better than one, love never ends, the rabbi and priest mentioned these things.

I love you. You are a blessing to me. Mazeltov.

Friday, May 06, 2005


There are so many ways to begin this conversation. "People may not want to hear about your problems," a friend said to me during our walk through the Barton Creek greenbelt. I'm a little more free mentioning my disorder now, so I referred to it in passing as we continued our talk about the uplifting nature of life, passing belayers spotting people suspended in air, hiking through white limestone trails alongside the natural spring beds of the Austin landscape. Even this friend who writes 10k emails, who went to Hawaii to drop sorrows into the mouth of the Kilauea Volcano, who has a life coach, warned me about the not-so-uplifting parts of life that make people want to treat you like band geek. And in turn, his warning about others felt like subtle hands pushing my shoulders back or tidying my hair, reminders of social comfort-levels, acute and attune to the fine lines that appear on my face.

I began teaching six years ago at a school right around the corner from my apartment in Lincoln Park. I didn't know what I was doing. I hadn't even taken one education course. Actually, I can't remember why I decided to be a permanent sub in the first place. I was finishing my final semester of grad school and planned on teaching freshman comp at any college that would take me. Maybe I didn't know if I would be able to cut it as a professor. It seemed like an accusation that I was making even to try. But I did try. People called me "Professor Haley," shocking, but a good shock, a nice sound.

After my two-year stint as an NYC Teaching Fellow, I left that job to return to college teaching. But I've been struggling with it. It's what I've wanted to do ever since I walked into that bare classroom on the fourth floor of a downtown Chicago office building. The teenagers and early twenty-somethings looked at me funny for my small stature, long hair, and mid-twenty-something self. "What shall we call you?" "Vanessa," I'd tell them. That detour I took to the NY public schools ended up destabilizing me to a much greater degree than I have been able to understand. I have decided that this will be my last semester as a teacher.

. . . . . .

The first time I realized there was something wrong with me was a few days into the second school year of the Fellows program. The principals were very strict about the dismissal--no children allowed back in the school, period. I always took my orders seriously. We were the ones keeping the school together, each one of us with fingers ready to plug the dyke. Ms. Gordon had the front of the line and I took the back. When we reached the ground floor, three of my boys tore off the line for the restroom. I was right behind them, putting my foot down and demanding that they leave the building (probably pointing my finger at the end of an outstretched arm and literally stamping my foot). They stopped, turned back around, and headed out the door.

That is what happened on the outside. On the inside my body heat shot up so high it felt like that hot adrenalin you might feel if you were in danger. As I walked back around the building to collect my things I was dazed--stunned at their attempt to break the rules in front of me, at the heat in me, and my immobility afterwards. By the time I sat down on the subway tears began to fall. I couldn't stop them.

The scary part was that I knew my response was a far extreme from what the situation called for. I wasn't in control. I could cover it. Not one person would have known anything was wrong, but the inside part was terrifying. People call those types of things panic attacks, but I don't think that's what it was. It was some sort of web that had a source. Something had embedded itself in me right below the surface and was ready for triggers.

My life was one giant trigger at that time--the hour-long subway ride in the morning, for one. Stepping inside the dingy metal casing just about killed me. The doors would open and close again, so many opportunities for freedom that I never took. Immediately, I was on the phone searching for help. I chose a cognitive therapist on the Upper East Side of New York City. She was a PhD, a pretty woman. I could talk easily with her. But our therapy was technical. It involved charts and note taking. It involved retraining my mental talk to give kinder, gentler responses to the situations that triggered the anxiety. I can't say that it helped much, a little, but nothing significant shifted inside me.

The thing that got me through that second year was Ms. Gordon. She controlled those children. I was rarely alone with them. If I would've had to face a second year on my own, I would have crumbled. My second year was different. I'd had a break in time. My capacity for staying the course wouldn't have won. The first piece of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder puzzle is in that first word, "post."

. . . . . .

So, Ms. Gordon got me through that second year. I was able to finish the Fellows program. I was able to maintain my ability to pay rent in New York City. And I was looking forward, with a little trepidation, to returning to my field of work. It's important to have a field; it's how you know more about yourself. Sometimes it's how you know yourself. The magic that happened in those Chicago classrooms told me that I could explain how language works. I could develop someone else's writing. I could challenge someone expressively and emotionally. It's important to draw out the meaning from inside someone. I found that I was good at it. It stimulated me. It pushed me to a place I almost didn't recognize. An academic? I'm so casual and free. But it worked.

I have reached for it again since leaving New York, since leaving public school teaching, to settle back into normalcy. It hasn't worked.

I suppose I haven't been talking much about the specifics of post traumatic stress. I actually avoid them as much as possible. "Anything related to the situation that caused the trauma produces an avoidant response," something like that. For me the avoidance has been strong this year--the journey to the classroom in the morning, walking up to the door, preparing to greet the students--it all makes me miserable. How do you explain the difficulty of something when you go right through the motions like anyone else?

I have also discovered that loud noises are no good: alarm clocks, phone ringers, sudden bursts of noise, they all make me gasp like a teenage girl trying to gain attention. Even though the triggered responses bring waves of fear and crying, they don't happen that often anymore. What fills up the rest of that space is dread of the time when you will face a trigger. You go on with life. No one can tell. You carry out your functions, but underneath it all is dread. You carry it, and I'm tired.

I've been in therapy again, this time with the eighth wonder of the world. She said to me recently, maybe it just ruined teaching for you, referring to my Harlem days. I said, "yes." It's hard for me to say yes, to admit defeat. Walking away feels like defeat, and it feels like I have to let go of some of the magic that is me, that took me twenty-seven years to find, receive, and then have to let back out of my palms again.

I have this thing. I don't know how long it will be with me. I don't dread it so much anymore, because I have been feeling things shift inside me. Leaving teaching behind has also given me great relief within the sadness. I went from five classes to one this semester. I've been better for it. As I reach the end it all comes back up again.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

So I went to see the Enron movie last night. There were lots of guys in that movie. It brings to mind hazing, cliques, the social power of a clique, maybe just power. Was I born with the power gene? I want to be in control of my life, in charge of other people even, but I'm not turned on by power, more like efficiency, doing things the right way.

Basically I felt slime all over me for a good while after the movie, because I know people like the traders in the movie, like those guys in charge, their little macho clique that took extreme sports trips to feed man egos or lack thereof. I could recognize so many people represented by those in the movie.

The film actually spoke to that. According to a study conducted during the 60s, half of us are evil, half of us will shock someone to the death as long as a credible authoritive entity tells us to follow its order again and again. We acquiesce to that authority, as long as it's perceived to be in the mainstream. How powerful is the mainstream? My god. I hope some little sociologists will post on this one.

So half of us will give in, and take the chance to sock it to granny in California, cut off her electricity and drive the price up over and over again because we can. We can do it. We can make a lot of money too. But mostly it's just fun, like playing a video game, and we get a power trip.

I feel suspicious of my friends. Which ones fall in the wrong fifty? Which ones will shock me to death? Jeepers.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

My mother tells me that when I was a baby I was happiest on her hip. She was my constant companion for two years, me contented to be held, to sleep next to her. I was quiet and good, so good she repeats. I take that to mean I didn't fuss, that more than anything I wanted to be connected this soft mommy body and hear sweet coos.

The tumult of my childhood began at seven. Two parents became three: aged twenty-six, thirty-two, and thirty-three. For my dad it was the end of the American dream; my step-mom was threatened; and mom was wiped out from living past her breaking point for years. I had big, beautiful front teeth like Bugs and fine hair, bright, wispy, and gold. My eyes were large and brown, like they are now. I was awfully freckly, and I was every adult's favorite girl, so good, so quiet.

I've been investigating some since coming back to Texas, not really with intention, just like you would turn over stones after coming back to a field you used to play in long ago.

This third drought (that I mentioned when I last wrote) was triggered by loss. It makes me say in response that I am good. A friend just gave me this exposition a few weeks ago--if you do good and contribute to the world, don't you get good things in return? With a hug on my face I just looked at her and nodded yes, when I knew very well that this is not true; it's not a point system where you work to get to the highest rung of the emotional sublime. But I am good.

I feel the loving eyes of my friends upon me, a little like their own stamina is taking a hit. I've been quieter; I haven't had a clue how to talk to most of them about what's been cutting off my air flow. It's those folds I was mentioning before.

It actually makes me go quite blank here. I'm getting closer, though. Perhaps I'm stunned by the most intimate kind of deceit, promises of a faithful friend left under a little stone in some old field. There were two people who knew, and now I'm the only one.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Ruth Ella Coward Schumacher

It's springtime in Texas, and tomorrow is my grandmother's birthday. Ruth Ella Coward Schumacher passed in August, 1996. She grew up in Illinois, roaming the outdoors, as did my mother, as did I. She had a baby brother, Willis, a mom, and a dad. But her dad, although quite tall and full of health, caught that awaful flu in 1919 and died when Grandmother was just five years old. Her mother had loved him deeply, not in a girlish way, but in a quiet swallow of meaning that spans one's life. She was twenty-five, a widow, with a five- and three-year old to take care of. She went to work for the telephone company as an operator.

Grandmother was green and gold floral, a double stitch, clothes on the line, wisteria, hummingbirds, and dimes in a dish. She taught me how to make things using my mind and my hands--to read a pattern, measure, press and sew; to carve ceramics using sandpaper, tiny tools, and brushes for dusting; to make intricate wreaths; and to roll hair in curlers, with some Rave solution for waves that would roll down your back. Her house smelled like eucalyptus leaves and antique wood. The floors creaked underneath the carpeted hallway where our ancestry hung. I would go there every summer to spend three weeks. We filled our time with projects and the mall, and she would send me home with new outfits and new skills. I felt completely capable in her presence. Her spirit wanted to take on any seeable notion. She house painted, hunched over her garden till sweat dripped; she wanted to do things herself, and I did too. I let her show me how. I listened carefully to her. She was happy. She loved me. She didn't worry. She was proud of me. Grandmother always knew what to do. She wasn't daunted by life.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

some love quotes for Valentine's Day

1. "There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness." Friedrich Nietzsche

2. "Love is not about losing freedom; it's about sharing freedom with a partner who's as talented a liberationist as you." some chick named Sarah

3. "I hunger for your sleek laugh and your hands the color of a furious harvest. I want to eat the sunbeams flaring in your beauty." Pablo Neruda

4. "Between whom there is hearty truth there is love." Thoreau

5. "Love is being stupid together." French poet Paul Valery

6. "Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place." Zora Neale Hurston

7. "Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within." James Baldwin

8. "Love is the difficult realization that something other than oneself is real." novelist Iris Murdoch

9. "I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for the part of me that you bring out." Elizabeth Barrett Browning

10. "Love is the most difficult and dangerous form of courage. Courage is the most desperate, admirable, and noble kind of love." poet Delmore Schwartz

11. "You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, but that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anyone, deserve your love and affection." Buddha

12. "Our love is like a well in the wilderness where time watches over the wandering lightning. Our sleep is a secret tunnel that leads to the scent of apples carried on the wind. When I hold you, I hold everything that is--swans, volcanoes, river rocks, maple trees drinking the fragrance of the moon, bread that the fire adores. In your life I see everything that lives." Pablo Neruda

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The lovliest blessings, cuddles, and kisses to my dear friends Lisa and Konrad. They're having their first bebe!!

Hip hip hooray to Katie and Davey who have been accepted (I'm pushing it along just a little) to medical and dental school at Creighton U in Omaha, Nebrasky. They have cute brick tudor homes there in the downtown where they would love to live. It's only a 12-hour drive from Houston she tells me. Road-tripper extraordinaire, I will be there.

That's the good news. I'll be back sooner than the time I've been away. Promise.