There should be a disclaimer on this post. One that says something along the lines of…don’t take it personally, don’t think I’m being intentionally rude, or just deal with it already. I’m not going to take the time to write that disclaimer, other than to say that if you have access to this, it’s probably not you, so don’t freak out about it. Geez.

I broke the rules. They’re unspoken and ingrained deeply in certain social circles of bigger women. You stay fat so that you have something to glue you together, more than that melted Snickers bar in your purse that’s stuck to some Kleenex and lip gloss. The ties that bind are also the ones that force you all to carry plastic from Lane Bryant and complain that companies just don’t appreciate “real” women (though there is definitely some truth to that complaint, but I digress). It’s inherent and intrinsic to the culture. You talk about this stuff while you eat greasy food, drink excess amounts of alcohol, complain about your love life, and ignore the slow onset of things that can/will kill you…

…back up a second. Maybe I do need a partial disclaimer. You see, two years ago I was a fat girl. I was borderline diabetic, I wasn’t sleeping very well, I would sweat constantly, got winded walking up the stairs, and was suffering from near debilitating osteoarthritis in both of my knees. Did I mention I was twenty five then? At twenty three I was diagnosed with arthritis because of my weight. The damage was done. I was also within a few pounds of being morbidly obese. The same day my doctor told me I was playing Russian Roulette with my health, I had to buy big girl store size 24 pants. I remember crying in the dressing room. Rock bottom. It was right in my face, or at the very least hanging from my thighs, butt, arms…oh hell, my whole body.

When I decided to change, I was 100 pounds overweight. I looked like a planet. Of course, I didn’t really notice all that much. I had been overweight or obese since I was nine years old. I was never a healthy kid. I was always the one with heat rash (e.g. the chub rub) between my legs who couldn’t run very fast.  Did my decision take an enormous amount of courage? Sure. A record amount of tenacity and drive? Yep! Did I realize that some of my friends wouldn’t be so supportive? No.

Perhaps it’s my mistake. I thought friendships as deep as some of the ones I have could withstand one or more of us losing a few pounds. It was fine when I was down forty pounds. They chose not to say anything to me about my loss. It was ignored and I was a bit hurt, but I let it slide. I continued my journey. After losing eighty five pounds, with fifteen to go, I’ve lost or am in the process of losing, some friendships that I cherished. These are people that I love, and I’m not sure I understand their reactions to my success.

So the question is: did I do something heinous by choosing to add years to my life? Years that I might have lost to any number of obesity related illnesses? Cancer? Diabetes? I want to be alive to grow old with Justin, I don’t want to have a heart attack, I like shopping for smaller clothes in a multitude of stores, and I like sleeping better, having more energy, and far less knee pain. The fact that I no longer limp when I walk is a major victory for me, and I refuse to feel sorry for it.

The one thing I do know is that I miss my friends. I hope they know that even though I’m smaller, I still love them. No matter what their shape, size, or situation, I’m still going to be here for them. It’s just so sad and hurtful that I’m at a loss.  Sure, most people would say “Screw em,” but that’s not how I roll.

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Our thermostat was broken. It was the first extremely cold day of the year: raining with a good icing threatening overnight. Naturally, I called the maintenance guy to come over and have a look.

We’re standing around while he checks the temperature in the room and he starts asking personal questions. Not in an invasive, creepy way, in a genuinely curious-desire-to-make-human-contact kind of way, or as many people call it, small talk.

The dude’s friendly enough. He’s a big fella about five inches taller than and twice as wide as I am. Turns out he also has a history degree. That’s right, our friendly neighbor HVAC technician? Totally a history geek. Let this be a lesson to all your liberal arts majors out there: don’t plan on quitting your day job.

I digress. I’m leaning against the wall and the guy tells me about his family and how they’re handling the recession. I agree and tell him about my recent salary cut at work. He asks if we have kids. I give a small chuckle and say “No, not ever.”

Suddenly, this guy is holier than thou. Keep in mind I’ve only known this man for fifteen minutes and he says several of the things that those of in the Child Free life hear all the time. “You’ll regret it, children make life worth living. Eh, you might change your mind.” That’s right people, Judgy McJudgerson was all up in my business because I expressed a desire not to have mini-me’s.

This conversation has resonated with me for a few months. This was the first week of December. I remember the date because my birthday was right around the corner and I really didn’t want to spend it huddled up next to a space heater. Why in the world would someone who barely knows me feel qualified to make that kind of call about the future prospects of my uterus being used to create a little human?

Well, apparently he’s not alone in this type of behavior. I get it. I’m a woman of childbearing age in a serious, committed relationship with the man I’m going to marry and spend the rest of my life with. To me, that’s the most awesome part about my daily life. I have a great partner who I can talk to about anything, at any volume, for as long as we can stay awake. We have two fantastic pets. No where in our plans for the future are children a part of the package.

In the spirit of clearing the air for family, friends, and the curious passer-by, we’re not doing the whole breeding thing because:

Justin doesn’t want children. Yeah, I know a lot of dudes who are in the same boat. I think that too often there is little to no consideration of whether a man is ready or not to have kids. Some men will never be ready or they might be like my partner: he would make an awesome dad, but he just doesn’t feel like it. I love my partner. In fact, I love him so much that respecting his wishes matters to me.

I don’t feel maternal. At all. I can’t say that I’ve never been maternal about anything, but I can definitely say that the sight of babies doesn’t turn me into a pile of goo. I’m awkward around babies, toddlers, and children under the age of fifteen. It’s a fact.  When a baby cries, I’m more apt to say “Uhm, that thing is crying,” than to jump into action and change a diaper. I’ve never even changed a diaper, but I understand it’s not pleasant.

We like to be adults 24/7.  When, as a couple, we talk about our future, the conversation about future purchases never turns to “Yeah, but we couldn’t have that expensive vase for another eighteen odd years because of the kids,” or “We can’t go anywhere because we can’t find a sitter,” or “I would love to buy that second home in Europe but we have to save for the college fund.” More on the list of things we don’t want to do: pay for a wedding, pay for a car or insurance for a teenager, enforce bedtimes, deal with school administrations about our child, pay for daycare, worry about the safety of our offspring for the rest of our natural lives, it goes on and on…

We’re happy together the way things are. Throwing a baby or two into the mix wouldn’t improve things at all. His attention issues and my stress/panic disorder issues would not match up so well with proper childrearing. No, seriously. We’d make crummy parents because we don’t want, and in most cases, even like children. (Note: if you’re reading this and we know your kid, your child probably is one of the exceptions.)

We’re happy YOU decided you wanted kids and had them. Yay. Go you. Awesome!

As I began work on this blog entry, one of our friends who is pregnant posted something on her blog about things you shouldn’t say to someone who is pregnant. She was dead on, saying some of that stuff is not only hurtful; it’s offensive and just plain wrong. When a couple wants and decides to have a child, it’s a great time for them and they should be happy, without someone trying to bring them down.

People in the Childfree community hear a few phrases so often that they’ve made BINGO cards to go along with the conversations. Here are a few highlights that I get all the time from people I know and from strangers and acquaintances that really bother me:

“You’ll change your mind.”

The simplest answer to this question is: no, we won’t. To assume that this issue hasn’t been thoroughly discussed by both of us over a period of time is ludicrous. We didn’t just wake up one morning and decide not to have kids. Further, why does it matter and what makes you so sure? Children aren’t on our list of things to do before we die, we promise. Owning a summer house? Sure! New Zealand trip? Absolutely! Carrying around a screaming infant, pushing it through childhood and then dealing with the adolescent mess of the teenage years? No, thank you. This is possibly one of the most judgmental phrases that we hear on a regular basis. It’s rude. So next time you think about saying it to someone who tells you they don’t want children or didn’t have children, stop and ask yourself one question: “What if this person said ‘Don’t you wish you could change your mind about those kids?’ Right, it’s rude. I don’t say things like that to you, so you should give me the same respect.

“It’s different when it’s yours!”

BS. Moving on…

“You’ll regret it when you’re old and there’s no one to take care of you!”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Having kids simply to have someone around to take care of you when you’re old is the most selfish, terrible reason to multiply I have ever heard. It is NOT the job of your children to provide for your social welfare as you age. You should be responsible for your own expenses in retirement. Love your kids enough to have them for a better reason, people. Besides, I’d rather regret not having kids than to regret having them. Once they’re here, you can’t return them.

“But the Bible says…”

We’re atheists, so anytime the Bible enters conversation about our choice not to have children, we can guarantee that we’re no longer listening to you. Just because an old book says something doesn’t mean it’s the best course of action.

“You’re selfish.”

Yep. We’re good with it too. Both my partner and I firmly believe in “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” For the reasons mentioned above, particularly with my health, children wouldn’t be a good option for us. If taking care of our relationship, our health, and our wealth is a bad, selfish thing, then we’ll gladly accept it.  This one particularly annoys me because it means that just because you have or want children it implies automatically that you’re more giving than I am. Just because you’re a parent doesn’t make you a charitable saint.

“I didn’t want kids either, but…”

I don’t think Justin and I have ever encountered this one as a couple, I think it’s just me. It’s the same thing as someone trying to convince me that ghosts and Big Foot are real or telling me a conversion narrative. I think it’s great that you saw the light…or…the diapers or whatever, but I’m positive that I don’t want kids and you’re certainly not important enough for me to take on that burden. Sorry.

The bottom line is that having kids is a personal choice. It should be made between two consenting adults or at least one consenting adult and a donor. For us, this is the right decision. If we had children, the romance and the emotional strength in our relationship that we so cherish would be compromised and/or put on hold for a long time. We’re happy that everyone around us is taking the plunge and making little people and don’t fear for the continuation of the human race because we chose to take ourselves out of the gene pool.

Next time you encounter a couple that doesn’t have kids because they chose not to, don’t feel sorry for us. Most of us make the decision in a well informed, healthy way and are completely happy with our lives. Just don’t ask us to babysit for you unless your kid is related to us somehow (Lil G, Jacob…).

I have a grading dilemma. It’s not too serious, but it makes my life very uncomfortable at times. I think it has everything to do with the limits of my ability to correct behaviors in undergraduates.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. I can think of no joy more complete than when I see a student make progress over the course of a semester or really put in hard work to pass my class. These students are likely to make the same mistakes I will describe below, but only with the best intentions.

I try to keep my personal opinions hidden. Like every good historian, I believe in the value of objectivity not only in research, but in the way I teach. Therefore, only accidental traces of my atheism and liberalism seep into my teaching (this is especially the case because the curriculum is standardized). Even though many of my students hold beliefs that I absolutely abhor, I treat them the same as my students who sway toward the things that I believe. They are equals, because that’s how it should be.

Apparently, I’m a rare bird. Many of my pupils are terrified of me before they talk to me for the first time. They’re nervous, I can almost smell their cold sweat.  My only conclusion is that there are some teachers in the community college system who have become embittered (easily done in a system that lacks support for adjuncts, I must admit). I’m easy to talk to, make my accessible, and I’m generally cheerful unless you’re a plagiarist.

Though this issue in several forms has gotten my attention before, today it struck a chord. The question on the discussion board was rather simple: “Why do we study history?” For me, this question is quite easily answered. The government wants you to be a better citizen (read: not Communist or prone to dissension in anyway). The school wants you to fulfill requirements to enable you to transfer your credits. The professor wants you to be made aware of what’s happened in the past. More importantly, taking humanities classes teaches you to think creatively, use your organization, memorization, and written communication skills, how to discuss controversial topics like an adult, and how to maintain objectivity in analysis.

Today’s post from the student was about how the Christian God created “His Story.” As mentioned above, I’m an atheist. Have been for years and in fact, was never part of any organized religion. Not Christened, not baptized. I was given the choice, and I chose the most rational option. This doesn’t mean that everyone should believe the same things I do. Some people need religion to get through their lives, and that’s cool. However, proselytizing on my discussion boards isn’t acceptable.

How does one deal with this as an instructor? The student didn’t really answer the question, so the actual points grading was simple.  This isn’t the first student who has done this, and now that there’s one, there will be others who will copy this sentiment.

As an instructor, with this sort of situation, you walk a fine line. You can tell the student to tone it down and stick to the proven facts, but you risk them being offended. This is further complicated by the fact that I’m an adjunct and rocking the proverbial boat is not necessarily a good idea when you’re a contract employee.  I also feel that perhaps if anything further than a lower grade (for not answering the question) is given, such as a note, that whomever the incident is reported to would also be offended.

The real question, for me, is why this student thought that throwing out a plethora of Bible quotes and standing on a soap box would help their grade. Has this worked before? If it has, what does that say about the quality of education?

I understand that many students make mistakes, and especially in the online environment. It’s no easy feat to move from the pedagogical model to the andragogical one (passive to active learning), but there has to be a point where you consider the feelings and thoughts of others. This student left no room for discussion of her point, not only because she didn’t make one, but since most of my students are of the same faith, there’s no way for them to actively engage this kind of behavior from a discussion standpoint. Once you bring in Jesus, there’s not much more to say.

My father is ill.

It’s not a case of the sniffles, a minor injury, or even something remotely curable.  Before a few months ago, I never even thought of the words pancreas, gallbladder, or hospitalization. In fact, even though I’m underinsured myself, I never thought much about the state of health care in our country.

My father has pancreatitis.

My father has no health insurance…

…and he’s a nurse.

If you think about it, the statement directly above is ridiculous.  In this country, we should take care of ourselves, and especially those of us who dedicate our lives to helping the sick and the terminally ill. Allow me to repeat in case it didn’t sink in: my dad, the home health nurse, former telemetry and ER nurse, has no insurance.

Let me tell you a little bit about my father and why he and my mother are superheroes. They’re both nurses. That should qualify both of them to wear capes, but once I actually got to see them in action. Time has not thrown fog on this particular memory. I’m nine. We’re in my dad’s conversion van coming back from a special lunch out.

Nine was not a time in my life where I thought about death or destruction or car accidents. I was probably more concerned with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or my new kitten, Snowball.  I was that happy child of the desert who wanders around aimlessly for hours with her brother in tow. My life was sheltered.

We turn the corner and there’s a massive accident scene. We live on the edge of town and there’s no ambulance there, no law enforcement, and in an era without widespread cell phone use,  someone had to run to a house for a phone to call the authorities. My dad hit the breaks, he’s already in home health at this time and just happens to have his medical supplies in the trunk. My mom turns around, tells my brother and I to stay in the car, and my parents run toward the five car pile up with medical supplies in hand.

Helpless, and too afraid to defy the orders our parents, my brother and I watch from behind the relative safety of the car windshield as my parents bravely approach a jungle of twisted metal and proceed to save not only one life, but several. They do what they’re trained to do, stabilize the patients. They did it without hesitation and without anyone asking. They stayed until the ambulances and the helicopter showed up. They never asked for thanks.

My father also took care of patients with AIDs in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when it was still heavily stigmatized. He was so good with the in home visits that patients wouldn’t let another nurse inside, demanding my dad.

I’m not saying the man doesn’t have personal flaws, but he’s got the best damn bedside manner I’ve ever seen. He’s a damn fine nurse.

…back to the problem at hand. My dad’s not a drinker. Most diagnosed cases of pancreatitis in the United States are the results of heavy alcoholism. It’s just not who he is. Even though my parents are now divorced, my mother confirmed that my father was never one to suggest drinking or do it willingly. Everyone in my family agrees.

He was hospitalized for a week in March. No one knew what was wrong with him, but he was jaundiced and doubled over in pain. I flew home to take care of him in the hospital. I was frightened, but there was no diagnosis. He was still a big man, not in an obese way, just large. He laughed with me a little as I sat on his bed and did my work. We watched TV, and when it was time for his scans, he demanded that I go with him for comfort.

For a man who took care of me when I was basically quarantined with scarlet fever, pulled infinite amounts of cactus from my hands and feet as a child, and flew 600 miles to take care of me when I got my tonsillectomy, this was  such a small request. I know, he’s supposed to take care of me, he’s my dad. It’s so much more than that though. He has such a capacity for empathy that it pains him to see my brother and I in distress of any sort.

He was brave at the hospital. Months later, with the diagnosis in hand, he has wasted away. I can’t tell how much weight he’s lost, but I can imagine it’s somewhere between thirty and forty pounds. He has a special no protein, no fat diet that isn’t helping him with the pain the way it’s supposed to. He lives his life in horrible discomfort.

I recently went home to visit. I watched my father struggle to eat half a bowl of minestrone soup while Justin, Gavin, Ren, and I ate pizza. He couldn’t do it. This illness is not only taking his body, it’s taking away his life.

There are things that can be done. Operations, medication, therapy, life style changes, exercises…but most of those cost the money that he, and our family, simply doesn’t have. The local public hospital refuses to operate until it gets worse, and when they do, he won’t be able to afford it. None of us will.

Which leads me to be more than disgusted. We live in a nation that finds this acceptable. They’re going to wait until pancreatitis develops into pancreatic cancer before they help him in the slightest.

I’m not usually one to be a proponent of socialized medicine, but if it will save my father, I’m all for it. I endure all of my illnesses, pay ridiculously high premiums, and have to accept the fact that my insurance will never cover pregnancy or mental heatlh, but it’s nothing compared to what my father must endure at the hands of the insurance company.

Lately, the opponents of national healthcare have been rallying behind the cry of death panels. The real death panels are sitting at the heads of insurance companies, who have somehow come to the conclusion that my father’s life isn’t worth their time. That my father’s hands, which have saved countless hundreds, should be folded atop his chest in a coffin.

Dr. Tiller is dead; gunned down in his church by a militant pro-life nutcase.

Before I start spouting off about this issue: I’ll confess. I stand staunchly on the side of the pro-choice movement. People have called me a monster. I’ve protested the restriction of women’s rights before. Allow me to illuminate my reasoning:

  1. Even if I would never have an abortion myself (hypothetically), I don’t feel that I possess any special right to another person’s body. I wouldn’t tell another woman what to do with a pregnancy any more than I would tell someone not to get a piercing, or any more than I would tell anyone to not have a vasectomy.
  2. I don’t believe in pregnancy as punitive measure. If any woman is not ready for the responsibility of being a mother, than she shouldn’t be forced to be. Mistakes happen. Rape and incest happen. To me, it doesn’t matter what reason a woman gives, if she’s not ready, she isn’t. Period.
  3. I don’t think the government, be it federal or state, has any authority over what I do with my body.
  4. I don’t think that religious groups that I’m not affiliated with should attempt to pursue moral legislative action. My sense of morality is fine without your deity, thanks.
  5. Abortions will not be stopped by overturning Roe v. Wade. They will only become unsafe and secret and more expensive. I disagree with the anti-choice movement calling itself “pro-life” on this matter. It seems like they have an issue with preserving the life of a fetus, but not the life of the mother. Almost as if to say “If she wants an abortion, she deserves to put her body at risk.”
  6. The vast majority of abortions happen in the first trimester when a fetus is non-sentient. Many of the women who have abortions have other children. Sometimes, this procedure is in the best interest of a family.
  7. Abortion is not a decision made lightly. It’s surgery. It’s expensive. It’s not a regular method of birth control.
  8. I hate scare tactics. I hate gigantic posters of “aborted children” that have been Photo-shopped unapologetically. May I reiterate: it’s surgery. My tonsils probably looked bloody and sad when they took them out, too.
  9. Finally, adoption is not always a suitable option for everyone. You may not have a problem with giving away your kid. That’s cool. However, you don’t get to make that decision for someone else. Ever.

When I heard that Dr. Tiller had been assassinated I felt shock, sadness, and frustration. Here was a man who, in spite of many threats on his life and a very public court battle, continued to serve his patients to the best of his ability. He was one of, if not the only, remaining late-term abortion doctors in the state of Kansas.  He stayed in the face of danger because his patients needed him. He was true to his Hippocratic Oath.

When will illogical people stop attempting to punish doctors for performing legal procedures requested by the patient? This particular doctor followed all the requirements of his state. The individual who shot him had been seen vandalizing a clinic the day before. He had a history. Why wasn’t he stopped when he was reported?

This is a despicable failure on the part of law enforcement. There was so much evidence of intent, so many signs pointing to an inevitable, Shakespearean conclusion to this tragic series of events. It concerns me that doctors have to fear for their lives, that their patients face harassment at every turn, and that more than thirty years after the fact, people just won’t give it up.

I will watch to see how this unfolds. For years, I have worried about Roe being overturned by the now conservative-dominated Supreme Court. This case is about more than reproductive choice, it’s about the freedom to do what you will with your body as a whole. To remove this precedent would mean that the government could initiate any number of laws over women and anyone else they felt the need to control. Scary.

There have been men before him. Many that litter the battleground of my memory, husks of the people I once thought they could be. Before we met, I didn’t think people like him existed, that I was the odd puzzle piece that didn’t fit with the set. Maybe I still am. He fits.

I was married once. It didn’t work out and after I left there was a great vacuum in my life that I struggled with for months on end. I was unsure of everything for a long while. I suddenly found that I had lost most of what made me unique and quirky and my huge personality had diminished as a result of giving myself entirely to sustaining what I came to see as a one-sided marriage.

In the defense of my ex-husband, he’s not a bad guy. One day, I’m positive that he’ll make some woman so happy that she’ll burst into rice and flower petals. We made better friends than we did lovers and that’s just not enough for me when we’re talking in terms of eternity.

I’m more than aware that I’m writing this post wearing rose-tinted glasses. Something we all possess in the first months of the wake of the realization of love. I’m not talking Hallmark-card, cheap, commercialized love, but a connection whose depth I cannot even guess.

It began with a game. Not a new game, an old-style simple MUD that began in the mid-1990s. A game I rejoined to fill the listless hours in the dusk of my marriage. It was something to numb me, some text-based anesthetic to get me through moving back to the confinement of Texas.

Ten months go by. Nothing. My life is occupied with other things: my divorce, work, my hair falling out, attempts to date that weren’t successful, and trying to make my body healthy again. He came out of left field. I had just written in my paper journal that I was swearing off dating. He arrived at a time of twilight, and he was the dawn.

Only weeks before we had a passing conversation. This new one involved a paper he was writing for his Philosophy of Science class that I offered to edit as something to alleviate my boredom and distract me from the trapped feeling I had in Dallas. After I finished, I expected that perhaps we would be friends, I had been helpful, he had thanked me and continued to talk, bordering on flirtation. I fell down this chasm. I was powerless. Over the next week, we talked in our every waking moment, flirting, sending pictures, and making jokes. I didn’t tire of him, I found him charming, thoughtful, and pleasant.

Then, on October 23, 2008 we knew. Something shifted. I let slip the g-word (girlfriend) on the phone and was almost embarrassed and terrified that I had screwed something up. His answer was that he was more than happy to name me so. We met in December for the first time. He gave me the stars. Literally. He took me to the Chabot planetarium above Oakland, CA. Thereafter, I travelled across the country every month for a week to be with him. When I wasn’t near him, I missed the sound of his breathing beside me at night, I felt the need for his laughter and the way his eyes lit up when he spoke of computers or Japanese or camping. In these areas, we’re opposites, but it works. We’re different enough and there’s an unspoken understanding that exists, even in our loudest moments.

Sometimes there are no words between us and we just know. This is how I know what he is, what he could be. We are patient for each other. He stood beside me when I was dealing with diagnostic tests that could have ended badly; he holds my hand and takes care of me when I’m sick. I encourage him when he perceives faults, I will walk beside him as long as he lets me, and I try things that I wouldn’t normally do because of his tender encouragement.

I once spoke to my grandparents, who will celebrate their sixty-one year wedding anniversary next month, about what long lasting love was. I heard a few typical things: never go to bed angry, listen to each other, be the safe place for one another. Then, the ultimate truths: laugh together, be each other’s best friend, protect, plan, and enjoy. The two people in my life with a successful marriage (at 90 and 84) still hold hands, still gaze into each other’s eyes, and are the architects of the dream that most of us chase.

Growing old with this man would be wonderful. I think he’s adventurous, fun, and strong in ways that I am not. Most of all, he loves me as I am, and who could ask for more?

Whenever I describe my taste in music to other people I try not to use the word “eclectic” because I’m of the opinion it’s too diaphanous a word to be taken seriously by anyone.  I mean, there are people who can use it honestly, but I think most people use it as a way to avoid judgment by the person who asked the question in the first place. I used to be that way too before I really started fearlessly identifying what I like and what best suits my musical palate.

There are very few artists that I have enough faith in to buy entire albums without even previewing songs. I pride myself on being fairly literate in the musical world and I know that for my money, there are some groups and individuals that deliver in such a consistent way that I don’t need to question it. This is all very personal because everyone has different tastes, but three of the artists that I absolutely adore released new material this week: Iron and Wine, Mat Kearney, and Tori Amos.

When I listen to anything, I’m usually more interested in the lyrical quality of the piece, not necessarily the music. This has also lead to a love of underground hip hop, but I digress. This has everything to do with my background in poetry and I love to see how artists and songwriters mold words off the page and thread it with music.

In the interest of full disclosure: I’ve loved Iron and Wine for years now. Sam Beam is one of the most poignant voices of acoustic rock for my generation.  As an instructor in United States history I come with my own set of assumptions about the American South. Beam’s unique style mixed with his Southern upbringing combine to not only enrich the emotion of his music, but also to further the listener’s understanding of a culture the “rest of us” don’t see often outside of stereotypes. When I listen to an Iron and Wine album, I feel like I’m walking alongside the coffin of Addie Bundren watching a family odyssey unfolding. It’s such a unique experience in a market absolutely saturated with materialistic lyricism and stale notes.

This newest installment titled Around the Well includes older tracks that haven’t been released before and even Beam’s cover of the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights.”  I’ve been listening to it all afternoon and my favorite song thus far has been “Arms of a Thief” which sounds haunting and has such quality that I’m blown away.

Another album I downloaded this week is Mat Kearney’s City of Black and White. I half-expected to hear the same old Kearney with his semi-hip hop lyrics over pop guitars and I was pleasantly surprised with what I found upon listening. The hip-hop has disappeared. Though I’m a fan of hip-hop and of his older work,  I always thought he’d be better without changing his voice and he has delivered on this album. Granted, this album isn’t as deep as Iron and Wine, but for what it’s worth, Kearney has put forth an admirable effort at reaching greater depth.

The thing about the songs on this album is that they’re catchy. I found my foot tapping for most of my initial run through and felt good after listening to work collectively. I especially liked the bonus version I obtained that includes an acoustic version of “All I Have.” Also worthwhile are “Annie,” the album’s title track, “Everyone I Know” and the first single  “Closer to Love.”

Tori Amos is another animal all together and I mean that in the best way possible. I’ve been a Tori fan now for ten years. Her latest is titled Abnormally Attracted to Sin and is worth every penny. Though I generally tend to go for her project pieces like Little Earthquakes, Scarlet’s Walk, and The Beekeeper I have thoroughly enjoyed this album because it feels like a mesh of her more experimental side and the role I appreciate her taking as a storyteller.

As is her usual fare, Tori’s piano moves the album progressively and connects it in ways that it takes more than just one listen to understand. I felt engaged the entire time I played around with this album.  The sin and the attraction is seen both blatantly and embedded in the lyrics here and it’s a fun puzzle for the listener.  I highly recommend “Welcome to England” and “Maybe California.”

It’s been an abnormally good week for music, so much so that it was worth remarking on. That’s a rare thing indeed. If you had to buy one of these three albums, I’d say go with the Iron and Wine, it’s a real treat.

I don’t believe in writer’s block.  I’ve had trouble writing anything but sappy love poetry lately but I’m not sure it’s worth such a devastating diagnosis. I’m not blocked. I’m distracted.

I have always been a writer, but over the last two years or so, I’ve lost touch with my craft. I used to be able to sit down and write and edit for hours on end, happily occupied with whatever thought I was trying to compress into tight language. Now, I find it difficult to concentrate on what I’m doing for more than fifteen minutes.

What changed? Why?

A good portion of this problem was created in the wake of my graduate education. When I decided to pursue an advanced degree in history rather than creative writing, I was trained to lose part of my creative spark. History is supposed to be objective and fact based and ultimately as close to the truth as humanly possible. I was subjected to a year of culling away at everything that made my poetry good. I was also too busy to even think about the talent I had taken years to develop during high school and undergraduate.

After graduate school, I started teaching in community colleges. Though this is a topic for another day, it caused me to be very busy with learning how to be a good educator and facilitator. This is also not conducive to the regular practice of writing. I feel that I’ve not had the time and that has done something to diminish my drive and tarnish the time I once cherished.

When I wrote as an undergraduate, I was homesick. Not your typical “I’m a freshman in the dorm, please send cookies” kinda way…I mean, devastatingly homesick. The kind where all I wanted on some days was to walk in sand and watch lizards run away from the sound of my footfalls. I was in the Dallas area, far away from my beloved desert. This served as fantastic inspiration for me and I managed to construct amazing imagery based on this passion for the landscape of the Southwest. Over time, I’ve become numb to the loss.

I’m Dante in the woods. I know I should be working through the writing and continuing to produce, but the words are not coming. I have eliminated most of the former frustrations of my life, including rejecting offers to continue graduate school, getting a not-so-costly divorce, and moving across the country and back. It all seems stressful, but I’m sure that it’s for the better. I guess I’m in a prime place to pick up my pen again and see what comes out.

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