Monday, January 16, 2017

#SOL17: The Featherlight Touch

rom my art journal 10.22.16 (gesso, ink, Tombow paint markers, acrylic paint, tissue paper, found papers)


The first year after the death is a murkier time. Some days I hardly l know myself, hardly know whose name I answer to. Other days, my life seems infused with an intense clarity and truths are revealed some times at alarming rates. In between these swings are moments of sweet, sweet grace.

Resting places.


In the last month I have sensed Rob as if he was embodied once again and existing just beyond the reach of my fingers. I imagine his lips, and nearly feel the featherlight touch of his to mine. Love lives beyond the confines of our bodies and yet we crave what our bodies crave.

Touch. Weight. Corporeal bliss.


The veil between him and me, there and here, thins. I am body restless and wake more than I seem to sleep these last few weeks.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

#SOL17: Sunlit Absence

from my art journal

There was a sunlit absence. 
 - Seamus Heaney


A year ago Rob was transported from the hospital where he had undergone neurosurgery to an acute rehab where he was to learn how to stand and walk again. This transfer would mark his end.

Six days earlier the neurosurgeon had told me that a sizable space had opened between the metastatic tumors that were compressing Rob's spine and the affected vertebrae and that this movement looked promising. More promising to me were the oncologist's words when he explained that Rob would not have been allowed to undergo the spinal surgery had he not at least 6 to 12 months to live. I clung to the one year mark, quickly dismissing the mention of 6 months and this new calendar became a truth. 

A year felt indulgent. 
A year had my giddy.

Because Rob's health had deteriorated so quickly, we had spent the months since the diagnosis responding to crises.  We had not lived in ways that were familiar. And Rob had passed from his very able self in late August to a man who first needed a cane, then a walker, then a transport chair, to not being able to move his lower torso and legs at all.  All of this in less than 4 months.

But on that Friday in mid January the prognosis gave us a small measure of peace. A mere three weeks later we would learn that time was not so gracious and Rob would die 20 days beyond that. 


In the weeks preceding Rob's death, love became more pure, more of a singular impulse. It was as if love was equally a centripetal force binding us together and a centrifugal force that revealed defining differences. 

Cohesion and discordance.

Beyond the first floor of our home the world faded. After almost 6 months of rush and response and 100 days in hospital stays--there were no appointments to meet. No hard hospital chairs to wait in. No pulse and spit of breathing machines. No last attempts to save my husband's life. 

The facades that had insulated us from the knowledge of Rob's mortality were lifted. Here, in the sunny corner of our family room, there could be no denying that Rob was dying Each day his body curled more and more into his center self revealing ever widening spaces between here and there, life and death. The sheer love we had made across the decades rose up around us. A trellis of good intentions. 


My memory of these days is mostly unreliable. The details are a mix of what might have been and what I most wanted or could bear. What I best recall a year later is more impressionistic, more translucent.

Color and heat.
Stasis and movement.

Nearing death is a paradox: part mystery, part old friend you have forgotten--a transfer of energy between the known and the unknown.

It was as if the very molecules that made up Rob's body were in transition--a visual ballet I somehow could sense--even as the emotional distance between Rob and me became more acute. My husband was busy with matters I could not see, do not know. Now and then he would partially narrate what life beyond the confines of this mortal world was like. But these too became less and less until there was only breath. And then not.

Friday, January 13, 2017

#SOL17: Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Cancer and Financial Ruin

Earlier tonight, I'm reading before finishing  preparations for dinner when I see a notice from The Guardian flash on my screen with the headline, Congress approves initial measures to repeal Affordable Care Act.

from The Guardian

Take a minute to study the self congratulating smugness that defines these House Republicans. They appear quite pleased with themselves.

Or look at this image of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from this past Monday.
from The Guardian

After six years of vowing to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act,  these callous clowns are moving ahead. Full steam. No stopping. No plan.

But I'm not here to talk about health care as much as I want to say few words about cancer, grief, and the unnecessary burdening of those who already are bearing too much.

Please listen.


A year ago this February I was wondering if Rob, Devon and I would lose our home. I was wondering if the staggering costs of health care and the loss of income would make living where we do impossible. Our health care payment concerns were tempered, in part, because we had pretty good coverage, amazing family and friends who helped us.

And we needed help.

Cancer treatment is expensive. Neurosurgery is prohibitive. Home care can break the little bit of bank you might still have. My husband could no longer work and had stopped earning any income the summer before and by February, I too stopped working completely so I could care for Rob who had come home to die.  Our health care no longer provided any services and my husband could not care for himself. He required round the clock care.  He could not move his body, sit up, stand, walk, turn himself. He was unable to take a sip of water without assistance. I had no idea how I would care for Rob and pay our bills once spring arrived. It was only my husband's death that saved us from financial ruin.


I think about those dark days when I look at the jubilant faces of Speaker Ryan, his merry cohort of legislators, and Senator McConnell. I wonder how it is possible for them to be so out of touch with the sharp and unnecessary pain their careless actions are causing.

When faced with the imminent death of your husband, the financial ruin of your family, and the understanding that on your slim shoulders rests the financial responsibility of a teenage son who will soon be fatherless and is just a year away from college--and frankly the last thing anyone in such a space needs to worry about is what Congress is going to do to screw them over.

They, like me, are deeply hurt already. The surviving spouse has enough on his or her shoulders without having to now worry if the bit of cushion their health care plan provides is also going to be yanked away.

Adding uncertainty to such injury is nothing less than cruel.


Right now in the United States there is a husband, a dad dying of cancer.  There beside him is a wife who is facing what I faced a year ago.  That heartbreak alone, that immense loss is more than some can carry. At least I didn't have to worry that the multi-million dollar medical bills that were piling high as Rob's treatments failed one after the next would also be my sole responsibility. My health care insurance paid the majority of those bills.

Now, I would not know that.
Now, I would add worry as I could not know what the irresponsible GOP in Congress would be doing as I cared for my husband in his last weeks of life and comforted a young son who would no longer have his dad.

Why anyone would want to add to that grief, stress, and fear is impossible for me to understand.


Fix health care?

Revise the Affordable Care Act to make it better for consumers?

But do it reasonably. Not irrationally.

Shame on Paul Ryan.
Shame on Mitch McConnell.
Shame on all who support this recklessness.

These are little boys who have been tossed a new ball to play with and have no sense about the damage their actions are causing. I imagine these men might think differently if they were faced with the ordinary struggles you and I carry each day. I imagine they might pause a bit if they did not have the finest health care plan for free in their own back pocket.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

#SOL17: It Is In Your Hands

What is Written (M.A. Reilly, Tuscany, 2009)

We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.                     
                                            Toni Morrison, 1993  


It is never quite as simple as missing him.

It isn't until the late 15th century that regret works its way into the definition. Before that missing was more about failing to get what you wanted. 

And then regret showed up.


Missing is too anemic a posture. Too sterile. Too boxed-up-pretty. 
Too wrong. 

I don't simply miss Rob. I wish it could be that simple. That kind.


Sometimes when my language shows its limits, it also brings to light a deeper syntax and for a moment I notice how interchangeable wishing and feeling are. How they obfuscate as they reveal. 

Most everything is moveable and mute.


Grief is more tacit than not. More implicit than voiced. Even as scores of writers attempt to codify grief with their memoirs and remembrances or fill pages with the strict talk of psychological stages and loose advice--the desperate pain that has broken and re-formed my body's too-slim bones, still resists the easy metaphors about time and roller coasters, waves and shore.


Once upon a time 
all the king's horses 
and all the king's men 
and even Humpty himself 
knew that missing was never a consideration.


Yesterday I was rereading Toni Morrison's Nobel lecture. It's been at least ten years, if not longer, since I last took a look. This time it was the repetition of what rests in hands and the space the narratives open that caught my heart. It was the stories that get made between the old woman and the group of young people as they circle each other, equally blind and seeing, that moved me, that forged a path through these multiple narratives to arrive at the end when the old woman says to the young people (and us)
Finally...I trust  you now. I trust you with the bird that is not in your hands because you have truly caught it. Look. How lovely it is, this thing we have done - together." 


In the last hour of Rob's life I clasped his hand between both of mine and held. I held and murmured words, bits of phrases that sounded like, Let go. Find peace. We'll be okay. Let go

A litany of half poems, half prayers. I was anchoring him, not to this earth, not to our time together, but to something more enduring than our hands, our bodies, our selves. 

I was wrapping him and me in this story I am telling so that when he crossed from here to there he would do so feeling the touch of his wife, his lover, his best friend. Feeling until what was earthly gave way to what would be next.


What was within our hands then was unnamable in that late afternoon light. I remember those last minutes. The rough sound of his breathing. The way his jaw unlocked, loose like the lift of a bird finding new flight. 

A wild bird lifting.


I don't remember lifting my phone and making a photograph of my dying husband--one I found this week. One I must have taken sometime during that last hour when the rose colored towel was beneath his head that rested on the pillow I now sleep with each night.


Do I miss him? Could love ever be so ephemeral? So fleeting?


Imagine a story you know by heart. One you love more than the words you use to tell it. It is a story that has transcended the language in which you think. It is a story that lacks meaning.

Now, imagine what it costs to willingly open your hands and release that story, that man, your heart.


That story was never mine alone and it is this connection that sources beauty and pain as it touches me here, now.


What is not in my hand now is what I most trust.


I didn't, perhaps couldn't, know what we caught as we lived and languaged each day. What we made.


I didn't know what I sealed between his and mine hands as he crossed from here to there. 

I didn't know it would be this simple act of love that would sustain me a year later and would allow me to say here and now--that this thing we made together was truly lovely.

Friday, January 6, 2017

UPDATED: 28 Contemporary Speeches about Human Rights and History

Below find 28 important speeches and talks delivered during the last 50 years that focus on human rights. These speeches address issues of race, representation, and justice. I have included links to the transcript of each speech and when available video or audio of the speeches.

President Barack Obama, Farewell Address. (January 10, 2017)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie addressed the class of 2015 at Wellesley’s 137th Commencement (May 29, 2015)

Remarks by the First Lady at Topeka School District Senior Recognition Day (2014)

Malala Yousafzai, Address to UN (July 12, 2013)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We should all be feminists (April 12, 2013)

Leymah Gbowee, Unlock the intelligence, passion, greatness of girls (March 2012)

Julia Gillard, ‘The Misogyny Speech’ (2012)

Representative Maureen Walsh Remarks on ESSB 6239 (2012)

Aaron Huey: America's native prisoners of war (2010)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The danger of a single story, (July, 2009)

Barack Obama's Speech on Race  - A More Perfect Union (March 18, 2008)
Transcript: Barack Obama's Speech on Race 

Al Gore, The Nobel Peace Prize Speech(December 10, 2007)

Elie Wiesel, The Perils of Indifference, (April 12, 1999, Washington, D.C)

Nora Ephron, ‘Commencement Address To Wellesley Class Of 1996’ (1996)

Hillary Clinton, ‘Women’s Rights Are Human Rights’ (1995)

Maya Angelou, ‘On the Pulse of Morning’ (1993)

Mario Cuomo, 1984 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address, (July 16, 1984)

Ursula K. Le Guin A Left-Handed Commencement Address (May 22, 1983)

Audre Lorde, "There is no Hierarchy of Oppressions" (1983)

Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, “I Am For the Equal Rights Amendment.” (August 10, 1970)

Robert F. Kennedy, Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr - Eulogy (April 3 1968, Indianapolis, IN)

Cesar E. Chavez, The Mexican-American and the Church (March 10, 1968)

Martin Luther King, Jr. A Time to Break Silence (April 3, 1967)
Transcript and Audio

Lyndon B. Johnson,  Speech Before Congress on Voting Rights (March 15, 1965)

Nelson Mandela Nelson Mandela: ‘I am prepared to die’  (April 20, 1964)

Malcolm X, “The Ballot or the Bullet” (April 3, 1964)

Martin Luther King, Jr. I Have A Dream (August 28, 1963)
Transcript and Audio

John F. Kennedy's Civil Right Address (June 11, 1963)
Transcript and Video

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Reading and Writing Argumentative Essays

Rob conferring with students

Below find resources for helping middle school and early high school students read essays that are calls for action and to write about topics of interest from an argumentative viewpoint.  Argumentative essays ask readers to take a stance and/or take an action.

1. Paired Essays:
The first text provides background and invites the reader/writer to begin thinking about the topic generally. The second essay is to be deconstructed to see how the writer constructs his/her argument.

  1. Does Technology Make Us More Alone? (from New York Times, 10.14.16)
  2. Leave Your Laptops at the Door to My Classroom (from New York Times, 1.2.17)
You are about to read an Opinion essay by a college professor who doesn’t allow students to take notes or otherwise use laptops in his classes. Think about how you best take notes. Do you write them with a pen or pencil, type them or do you have a different system? What role, if any, does distraction play when you use a computer or other device?

Author's Claim:
  1. Trump’s Labor Pick, Andrew Puzder, Is Critic of Minimum Wage Increases (from New York Times, 12.8.16)
  2. Trump's Pick for Labor Secretary Doesn't Think Workers Should Get Breaks (From Mother Jones, 12.28.16)
But this isn't some exotic new political creed introduced by Trump. It's warmed-over Republicanism.
  1. 7 real things you can do right now about the catastrophe in Aleppo. (from UpWorthy, 12.13.16)
  2. How the World Closed Its Eyes to Syria’s Horror’ (from New York Times, 12.14.16)
Have you been following 7-year-old Bana’s tweets and her story from Aleppo, Syria? Have you seen images or videos of other people there on the news or social media? What is happening in Aleppo now?
  1. Teens are cutting back on drugs, alcohol, smoking and even electronic cigarettes, study finds (from Los Angeles Times, 12.12.16)
  2. Video: Surgeon General Raises E-Cigarette Concerns
  3. ‘Use of E-Cigarettes by Young People Is Major Concern, Surgeon General Declares’(from New York Times, 12.14.16)
Have you ever vaped or smoked a hookah? Do you know people who do? Watch this short video and then discuss with a classmate what you know about e-cigarettes from a personal, scientific and social standpoint.
  1. The latest ranking of top countries in math, reading, and science is out — and the US didn't crack the top 10 (from Business Insider, 12.6.16)
  2. What America Can Learn About Smart Schools in Other Countries’ (from New York Times, 12.8.16)
The United States is among the world’s biggest per-student spenders on education, but its 15-year-olds still trail in math against peers in most developed countries.
  1. The Superior Social Skills of Bilinguals (from New York Times, 3.11.16)
  2. Why Bilinguals Are Smarter   (from New York Times, 12.1.16)
Using two languages strengthens the brain...
  1. Blue Feed, Red Feed: See Liberal Facebook and Conservative Facebook, Side by Side (from The Wall Street Journal
  2. Social Media’s Globe Shaking Power (from New York Times, 11.17.16)
How are social networks helping to to fundamentally rewire human society and even alter global events?
  1. Origins of Agriculture (From Online Encyclopedia Britannica)
  2. How The First Farmers Changed History (from the New York Times, 10.17.16)
What is the agricultural revolution? How did it change our species and planet?
  1. Disputes Over Environmental Impact of 'Fracking' Obscure its Future (from CNBC, 4.8.13)
  2. Sorting Through the Claims, Counterclaims About Environmental Impact of 'Fracking' (from CNBC News, 4.8.13)

2. Claims, Claims, Claims
Read and view the following.  What claims are being made  What counterclaims?

  1. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty Senior Counsel Lori Windham on a legal victory for common sense and public health. Photo credit: Associated Press. (Video from The Wall Street Journal, 1.4.17)
  2. Texas judge halts federal transgender health protections (AP Top News, 1.1.17)
  3. Judge blocks Obama mandate forcing doctors to perform abortions, transgender surgeries (from The Washington Times, 1.1.17)
  4. Transgender Patients May Suffer After Texas Judge Blocks Obama's Policy (from Governing, 1.3.17)

3. Revising an online essay

What might you do to make this article more persuasive?  What call to action would you include? What counterclaim would be important to consider?
We'll Never See These Animals Again (From Mother Jones, 12.31.16)

4. Writing prompts from the NY Times 

200 prompts for Argumentative Essay Writing
301 Prompts for Argumentative Writing
650 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Examining Counterargument Using 15 Contemporary Essays

from The Atlantic

Below are links to essays from popular contemporary magazines . These essays have been composed with counterclaims.

  1. From The Atlantic 4.1.16 Study: How Much of an Environmental Threat Is Ocean Garbage ... Apr 1, 2016 ... A new paper sifts through past research on marine debris to assess the true extent of the environmental threat.
  2.  From The Atlantic 6.15.15 Do Teenagers Still Believe in the American Dream?  Jun 15, 2015 ... Compared to their counterparts in recent years, high-school seniors in the mid- 1990s appeared to have more faith in social mobility and less ...
  3.  From The Atlantic 8.25.14 Students Aren't Getting Enough Sleep—School Starts Too Early ... Aug 25, 2014 ... A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics says delaying the day may help teens get more rest.
  4.  From Forbes, 12.16.16: Does Putin Not Understand That Trump Not Clinton Threatens His Petrostate? Paul Roderick Gregory Paul Roderick Gregory, Contributor What we do know is that Clinton lost and Trump won. We do not know what was going on inside Putin’s head. If Putin’s emotional demon dominated, he would be happy when Hillary lost. If his rational-choice side prevailed, he would be unhappy with Trump’s victory.
  5. From Forbes, 12.15.16 No, The EPA Has Not Actually Changed Its Conclusion On Risks Of Fracking To Drinking Water
  6. From The Nation, 10.18.16 The Debate Over Syria Has Reached a Dead End Two warring narratives now dominate discussions—and neither is sufficient. BASSAM HADDAD
  8. From Salon 4.7.16 “Religious freedom? This is just discrimination”: Outraged Trevor ... Apr 7, 2016 ... “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah last night tackled so-called “religious freedom” bills, making headlines most recently in Mississippi, and which ...
  9. from Salon 2.8.15 America's hip-hop travesty: How rap lyrics are being used in court  to police Black talk Feb 8, 2015 ... A New York Times columnist mocks the dead. Movies do the same. But when rap lyrics do it? Here's what happens.
  10. From Time Magazine 3.6.15 States Battle Over Bathroom Access for Transgender People Katy Steinmetz @katysteinmetz  March 6, 2015 Legislatures across the country are fighting over issues related to gender identity and sexual orientation
  11. From Time Magazine 11.24.15 Ferguson: In Defense of Rioting | TIME Nov 25, 2014 ... The violent protests in Ferguson, Mo., are part of the American experience. Peaceful protesting is a luxury only available to those safely in ...
  12. from Time Magazine 7.8.13 Violent Video Games Don't Make Us Less Caring |
  13. Jul 8, 2013 ... Do violent video games make people more callous and less likely to help others? The latest study suggests not— but it likely won't be the last ...
  14. From Time Magazine 12.21.12 School Shootings: Arming Teachers Isn't the Answer | Dec 21, 2012 ... The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School has led to a national conversation about guns, with many arguing that access to these weapons ...
  15. From Time Magazine 6.6.12 Claim and Counterclaim: Who Is Bombing Damascus? By Rania Abouzeid / Beirut  Friday, Jan. 06, 2012