Thursday, May 29, 2008

(my grandma, Dorothy, third from the left, surrounded by her sisters in 1951; she was 36 in this photo, 5 years younger than I am now. Sweet Carol Channing, but I'm actually holding up pretty well. This is also the photo that one of my favorite large galpals once spotted hanging on the wall, a photo that caused her to holler out, "All I see is a line of breasts and hips; you didn't stand a chance did you, hon?")

"Above the Horizon: Part Two"

We both interred and memorialized Grandma Dorothy on January 13th of 1999.


By day's end, any self-possession I'd started out with had been adroitly flayed by the Ginsu knife that was my dad's grief. His face had such a beautiful composition of lies and planes and dignity and character, and at the gravesite that day, during the interring of his mother's ashes, all those lines crumpled upon themselves into the most terrible mask of agony.

He affected me so much that I couldn't bear to look at him, for fear I'd have to drop to the frozen ground and pound my fists with the pain of seeing my uncomplaining, silent father attempting to keep his composure. Instead, I gloried at the backdrop of the Beartooth Mountains--a view that would prove sustaining when I stood in the same spot four years later, in February of 2003, interring my dad's ashes next to those of his father, mother, and brother--and then distractedly browsed the surrounding tombstones, musing at how many Finns were buried on this Western plains hill. The sole thing that commanded my attention entirely was the unrelenting torrent of wind, a wind that caused the lanky pastor to yell out his words, lest they be blown away before reaching our ears.

His vestments flapping in the wind like Grandma's laundry had, the pastor stood, raised, on the cement outline of the family plot and asked if anyone wanted to add some words of rememberance. For a few minutes, it was silent.

Then, of the eighteen immediates huddled in a bunch against the blasting gusts, those least disposed to words spoke up. First, my grandma's niece (my dad's cousin), Sandy, contributed, "Dorothy was a kind lady." From there, Dorothy's sister, my great-aunt Ethel, observed, "She was a hard worker." It was Ethel who, alongside Dorothy, had milked the ranch's 80 dairy cows, morning and night, throughout their childhood. In such a case, being yoked to a "hard worker" was good fortune, indeed.

Furthering the tribute, my grandma's youngest sister, Ruthie, agreed: "She worked hard. And she was unselfish. She cared."

After that, no one else spoke. At the time, I fretted about the lack of commemorative words, thinking that at my gravesite--at anyone's gravesite--there should be inspired, seemingly-spontaneous, even lengthy words of regret and ongoing devotion; for myself, I fancy a mass outpouring of bereavement, a stampede of verbal processing, so heartfelt that the sky will hear and know that I had been below it for even a short while.

However, my hard-working, unselfish grandma would not have countenanced or even understood such a luxury of words and public emotion. A few carefully-measured sentences, stoically acknowledged, were more than full tribute for this deceased.

After the graveside interment, we had about an hour before the memorial service proper.

Monday, May 26, 2008

"Above the Horizon: Part One"

I never felt particularly close to my paternal grandmother. She was pessimistic; she groused that I sat on the couch and read too much ("Don't you ever go outside?"); and the candy jar in her living room only ever housed lemon drops and restaurant-style peppermint circles, which are the Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt of the candy world: ubiquitous and completely without redemption.

However, she knew how to cook a goose, and I respected the fact that she was--and remains--the only person I've ever known who could actually cook my goose (and trust me, it's needed a good basting on occasion). Also, she was, fundamentally, a good person, and especially in junior high, a big part of me understood that finding a fundamentally good person was a rarity. I didn't "get" Grandma--we'd never hitch up into a shoulder-to-shoulder percolation of "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang--we'd never hip hop the hippie the hippie to the hip hip hop, a you don't stop the rock it to the bang bang boogie say up jumped the boogie to the rhythm of the boogie, the beat.

But Grandma was all right.

In the 7th grade, when I was assigned a biology project to collect and identify a slew of wildflowers, it was my grandma (having never sat on the couch and read all day thanks to the 80 cows on her Montana ranch with bulbous udders that had them lowing for relief twice a day) who walked the acres with me, plucking flowers out of the ground and handing them over for cataloguing with a terse, "Think this one's called Shepherd's Purse."

So when she died in January of 1999, at the age of 83, her passing meant something. On a deeply personal level, I wasn't affected, to tell you true. But she was emblematic of something bygone, and that fact moves me still.

She died in Montana, a handful of miles from her birthplace: a sod dugout on the family ranch, that passle of acres where she spent the majority of her life milking cows, feeding cows, cooking beans to feed the pigs, baking pies to sell to local restaurants. At 18, she married a Finn, and they raised two sons on their ranch of nearly a thousand acres (small stakes in Montana terms). In sum, she was a classic 20th Century Western woman, placing value on work and work again over words and emotions and how big and open the sky loomed above.

Despite my recognition that Grandma had represented something classic, her death came just as I was facing the first week of a new semester, just as personal debt was at an all-time high, just as I was willing to acknowledge that I had never felt intensely linked to this grandmother. I wasn't sure I'd be flying to Montana to attend her funeral.

Then a sage, in the form of a friend, planted herself firmly in front of my head-down horizon and made my flight to Billings possible, telling me, "Funerals and the like, these kind of things are more important than you know. I think you need to go do this."

I made my way to Billings to find that my friend had been smack-on right. On that trip, I found that, even though I hadn't felt a one-on-one connection with Grandma Dorothy, I could, after her death, appreciate anew all those she had left behind, the crazy-quilt of individuals who were patched together due to her life, stitched more tightly in her absence.

Wednesday, January 13th, 1999, was my grandma's day of memorial.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"Token Diet"

Loathing my general wideness, I decided to try out "The Subway Diet." It worked for that Jared dude, after all, and he looked pretty trim and tidy wearing his khakis and specs in all those commercials. So I committed to the Subway.

But damn if I couldn't choke down all those metal parts. The sliding doors gagged me, and those resistant passenger seats just wouldn't break down, no matter how long I chewed.

After I broke a toof and gained approximately one subterranean ton of weight, I abandoned it as hopeless. I don't know which the hell transit system that Jared was munching on, but it sure wasn't the high-fat retired-Chicago-El cars that I was parceling out onto my dinner plate, bolt by bolt.

Why is dieting always so complicated? All I'd really wanted was a diet where I could eat a sandwich--turkey on wheat, piled high with veggies, perhaps.

Now I've got a spare tire hanging around my middle and a pile of shocks and plexiglass windows hanging out in my crisper drawer.

The good news is that I've just caught wind of something called the "South Beach" diet. Feeling optimistic, I'm thinking that sucking down a gruel of sand has got to be more gratifying than choking on a salad of screws ever was.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"In Which Jim, Who Has Previously Guest Blogged in This Space, Suggests His Lack of a Boyfriend Might Affect His Views on Social Issues, Specifically the State of California's Recent Legalization of Gay Marriage"

So, yea, my pal Jim (aka iJim) used to live in Duluth; he was my boss. Tired of the town and the faculty he oversaw, for we are a wearying lot, Jim packed up his crisp white shirts last year and moved to Palm Springs, California, where he'd taken a job as a dean at a more-arid institution. In his estimation, this was a move up. After all, he was fleeing Duluth's Northwoodsy fellas who wear red plaid flannel to weddings and heading towards a desert that was raining men sporting tight tank tops.

Nearly a year after his move Westward, Jim takes stock of his new state. He writes:

Jocelyn’s fans want to know: what does iJim think of the gay marriage ruling in California?

What’s that? You didn’t ask. Well, that’s fine, ‘cause I don’t care very much either way.

Well, that’s how I felt at first. Sure, this is historic. And so I changed my Facebook status to: iJim is “excited about gay marriage in California, although he’s received no offers.” Many of my friends are really excited about it. Many of my coupled friends.

It’s exciting for those who have a non-US-born partner (Tim and Alistair, Claire and Barbara). Or those without health insurance who might now be able to add them to their policies (Bob and James). Now that I think of it, there are more of these couples than I realized.

But for me--eh.

Maybe it’s because I’m new to California. Had this happened in my former home of Minnesota, I’d be more interested. I’d certainly be more surprised.

Plus I live in Palm Springs, where it’s 104 degrees. It’s hard to get worked up about anything in this heat. And I feel a bit remote, at least two hours from a real city. If I were in Los Angeles, where there was a rally at the corner of San Vicente and Santa Monica Boulevard, I’d probably go. But just to look at the boys.

Or maybe it’s because I’m single and bitter. Maybe I can’t see anything except through the lens of how this affects me today. But I’m not bitter. And not that self-centered. But if I had a boyfriend…

In graduate school, I thought I was Radical Queerrr. Didn’t believe in monogamy. (A shy guy, I practiced it by default.) Didn’t believe in “mimicking heterosexual social structures.” I wrote one or more screeds on the topic. I think I was just cynical then. I was certainly on the early path to Curmudgeonville, where I now blissfully reside next to Joce. (Call me Gloomeo.)

I didn’t believe that the state (or the State) had any business sanctioning one type of relationship over another. I still believe this. A majority (4 to 3) of the California Supreme Court sort of agreed, saying the state had no “compelling interest” in recognizing straight marriage and not gay marriage.

The decision also decrees that California must recognize gay marriages performed in other states. Maybe that will apply to Canadian marriages, too. David and Daniel will be glad. (Daniel will say he’s “fuckin’ ecstatic.” He may even use his jazz hands.) They got married in Vancouver and live in California.

And, you don’t have to be a resident of California to get gay-married in California. Will Palm Springs be the gay-marriage Las Vegas? Drive-in gay-wedding chapels with Cher impersonators officiating. I shudder.

Yet. The decision goes even further. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The majority opinion, by Chief Justice Ronald M. George, declared that any law that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation will from this point on be constitutionally suspect in California in the same way as laws that discriminate by race or gender, making the state's high court the first in the nation to adopt such a stringent standard.” (,0,6182317.story)

So before I go too far into raining on the “marriage equality” parade, I should think about the ramifications. Court rulings are about establishing precedent and, as Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, about protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

Already, there is a movement in California to get an anti-gay-marriage clause into the constitution. Given that the state has a long history of silly propositions being approved by the public, they just might win.

That would be wrong.

That would be, as Christopher Isherwood put it, living under “the heterosexual dictatorship.”

So maybe I care after all.

Now, about that boyfriend…

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"What Color Are My Parachute Pants?"

It all started with the brown rice.

There was a muttered conversation with Groom, a little talk that went something like, "Yea, okay, we eat a cow a week, so maybe sometimes we need to compensate by ingesting something uber healthy, like, you know, whole-wheat pasta."

Then we ate some whole-wheat pasta, and pretty quickly I decided I'd rather suck shag carpet through a twirly straw than ever eat another bowl of that whole-wheat schmutz.

So we held to The Principle but moved to brown rice. As Groomeo cooked it up that first night, I twitched around the kitchen, stomach growling, wondering what in the world of ultimate nachos I'd be having for dinner after my obligatory taste of the brown rice, which would, doubtlessly, be followed by dramatic retching into the garbage disposal.


It seems.

When you cook up brown rice and then top it with--and Nostradamus never predicted this in all his crystal ballifying--stir-fried bok choy and soy sauce, it's

how you say

somewhat less than


to the point that it's

hella good.

Nowadays, when the menu is announced, and the words "brown rice and bok choy" are uttered, I do one of my specialized and intricately-choreographed versions of the Happy Dance: the one that goes jazz hands, chasse, chasse, chasse, high kick, standing-half-moon, all capped off with a quick cherry-picker.

As I stand there, curtsying, accepting bouquets, panting, I sometimes think, "Me head is a leetle woozy here. There is some serious identity shifting going on. What's happened to the old 'If it ain't fried in powdered sugar and topped with bacon whipped cream, I ain't eatin' it' Jocelyn of yore?" Truth is, I hardly know myself.

Complicating things is the ongoing Polenta Polemic.

Groom lived for a short while in one of those Carolinas y'all keep down there. While hallucinating in the humidity, he learned to love some funky mush dish called "grits." No, not pronounced "oatmeal Jell-o." Try this: "g-r-e-e-e-e-t-z." Yes, that's it.

So throughout our marriage, he has sometimes pointed to the sky and shouted, "Look, Joce, a flying hamburger" and then, while I'm distracted out there with my butterfly net, leaping around trying to snag the thing, he has quietly hied off to the stovetop and made busy there, only to be discovered some time later (when I whomp in, dragging my net behind me, looking very disappointed), his head dipped into a saucepan, a wooden spoon hovering in his big paw, his mouth coated in hominal flakes. He tries to look guilty, but mostly he looks supremely blissed out and as though he's just realized he married the wrong semi-solid.

In the interests of us developing a few common interests that might sustain the marriage once the kids grow up and head off to cosmetology school, I agreed last month to try--NO, not grits, that bitch--but polenta, the Bergdorf version of grits.

Swat me to next Wednesday, but polenta is ambrosial.

It might have something to do with all that butter and the fact that His Groomitude cracks some eggs on top and bakes the whole thing into a "hold me, Mommy, for I need comfort food" lather.

At any rate, I find myself in off moments, of which I have a satchelful, dreaming of the polenta. I want to fill the bathtub with it and exfoliate with great vigor. Then I want to eat everything in the bathtub with a small spoon and finish off by licking the porcelain dry.

Yea, it's ugly-bad like that.

This whole business of changing and adapting and tolerating new pleasures, well, it's broadcasting into me a freaked-out noise. I mean, who am I, if I'm not a Double-Stuf-chugging, flank-steak-snarfing, Cheeto-deodorant-wearing whore?

It actually gets worse.

Just tonight, as I was typing up this little note to you, Aunt Hepzibah, I was streaming a little tv on the old laptop, as diversion from my own words (lest I find my self tiresome). Before I knew it, I was grunting at the selected program, "Why do you call it cha-cha-cha, Announcer Man? Isn't it just the cha-cha?"

And then.

I realized.

It was 10 p.m. on a Saturday night.

And I wasn't anywhere near the mosh pit at First Avenue (or, better yet, its smarter younger sister, the Seventh Street Entry), nor was I wearing a pair of Docs and a New York Dolls t-shirt, trying to bum a smoke off the guy at the sound board.

Rather, on this Saturday night, I was alone, tucked under the covers, clad in yoga pants,


Worse yet, I was weighing in with opinions--and how could I not, what with the appalling state of Crisitan de la Fuente's posture? Stand up, Senor, if you hope to earn the 10's!

Ultimately, I guess my point here, dear Hepzibah, is that brown rice is a gateway lifestyle slider. You let the brown rice in, and you're just a sneeze away from polenta, just a whiffle away from texting in your vote for Kristi Yamaguchi's jive.

Resist the brown, hipsters. Resist the brown.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


In an age when Kevin Federline sets the standard as a guy to admire, I'm feelin' the need to go all revolutionary like Mr. Muscle Oven Cleaner did back in the '70s and take a moment to set the bar just a tidge higher.

I can up your K-Fed, culturepeople, and his name is My Cousin Kurt.

The adventures of my road-kill-hound cousin have hit this space before, but, with his latest, I'm afraid he may have garnered Reccuring Supporting Character status on this blog.

Sure, he scrapes moose off the highway; he's a dragonfly expert (yea, he's written a book proving his odonatic knowledge); he builds rustic furniture; he has his teen-aged daughter amusing herself with throwing an atlatl out back of the log house he built...

( This is not My Cousin Kurt, nor is it his teen-aged daughter. But it is an atlatl. If you needed this explanation, is it possible you're kind of dim?)

...but that stuff is so My Cousin Kurt that it hardly bears mentioning in a tribute about why I rank him above Britney's ex.

Here's the source of my abiding admiration:

Last year, one of his daughters was given an audio card--you know, one of those really annoying cards that blares a song every time you open it.

First opening of the card, and the song blares out? How cute! Ain't that just.

Second opening of the card, same song? A little drumbeat on the table.

Third opening--what, again? A sense that it's time to move on and open the next present.

Fourth opening, fer chrissakes? An actual request to stop. opening. the. card.

Fifth freaking opening in two minutes? An exasperated exhale and mounting blood pressure.

Sixth #$%^&&(* opening? A sense of slipping sanity and dialing up one's inner sociopath.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the song being played with every opening of the card, in the case of My Cousin Kurt's kid, was "The Chickendance"?

To give him credit, he made it longer than Dick Cheney would have.

But then, My Cousin, my pal, my boy

finally took "The Chickendance" card out front of the house

and shot it.

My hero.

Monday, May 05, 2008

"Epizeudy Boogie-Woogie"

When I think about the rhythm of my existence, the words "West Coast freestyle" cross my mind, as does a brief Lambadic beat, but ultimately I have to admit the cadence of my life is most aptly labeled "semesterlyish."

Back when I was in college, during the "who'll-shove-Alexis-Carrington-into-a-fountain-this-week?" decade of the '80s, I attended an institution that paced itself by trimesters, each lasting ten weeks. Pretty much, that meant we all felt pregnant for four years, except at the end the only things we expelled from our bodies were plumes of smoke from Camel Lights and fountains of vomit from 3.2 beer.

Later, when I started teaching at the University of Idaho and then the University of Colorado, I made the switch to a sixteen-week schedule. Damn near wore me out, that business. Because seriously, when I was an undergraduate, the mere ten-week schedule was hectic enough, with me juggling absences in my various classes just into that tenth week before each professor started to realize I was actually enrolled in her course. Yup, right about final exam time, I faced down raised eyebrows and questioning looks when I dared to enter the classrooms of the courses I'd been enrolled in for two-and-a-half months. My defense, when the professor stuttered to ask me if I wasn't perhaps in the wrong room, was to glare and act affronted that my constant and active presence had never before registered with that poor, confused professor, even though my only constant activity had actually taken place downtown at the bar.

So you can imagine what those later jobs oriented around sixteen strung-out weeks did to my sense of internal scheduling, particularly because I was the instructor, the one in charge, the one who had to be there, like, nearly every time we had class. Crikey, but that was a whole lot of showing up to do. Fortunately, the beauty of "group work" soon shone its face upon me, and I realized that, so long as I got my carcass into the classroom, I could set them on each other before kicking back for the duration, hefting my feet onto the table and peering under the podium on the off chance that some other instructor had left behind an Entertainment Weekly.

Oh, all right, Matlock. Occasionally I'd address words to the room full of students and make some marks on their papers and do a little jollying along. But, really, sixteen whole weeks of anything is ex-haus-ting, sugar. (Hearty Huzzahs, then, to Da Groomeo, who's kept me on board for nearly nine years now. I stay 'cause he keeps hiding the Nutella.)

Yea, sixteen weeks whups me. But even the ten-week trimester back in the shoulder-pad years highlighted what a fragile and delicate violet is The Jocelyn Who Sways at the Slightest Breeze: at the end of every term, without fail, I'd push through those final exams (introducing myself to the teacher as I exited the room that last time) and, just as I started packing a bag and heading for the airport to grab a flight back to the Homeland, I'd



swelly-ish tonsils

and a fever.

Indeed, once the push to the end of term was over, my immune system collapsed and invited every random microbe roaming the quad after the previous night's kegger to enter my nostrils for a gnarly in-head continuation of the party. Thus, "end-of-term" always translated to "buy-Theraflu-in-bulk."

Even when I started teaching on that even-more-wearying-sixteen-week-rhythm, I was sure this tendency towards end-of-term illness was simply a Student Syndrome. After all, hadn't I seen how easy it was to be a teacher, how simple it could be to pretend to be engaged in my work? What could possibly be sick-making about filing my nails and pouting out twelve times a week to the tuition-paying kiddles, "No, Jerome, accept is not spelled e-x-c-e-p-t"?

Strangely, though, the sixteen-week semester, under which I still teach, is far-reaching enough to make everyone in the classroom sick. Sure, we're all sick of each other by about Week 11, but who knew physical sickness would continue to set in at the end of every semester for me, even with the eight-foot buffer I like to call the "No Steppie Here, Tiffany" zone, an eight-foot buffer that happens to exist right in front of the instructorial magic carpet of desk?

It's like all those students actually do come up to ask questions; it's like I actually do circulate the room and look over shoulders, making suggestions. It's like all those gettin'-sick students get me sick, too. It's like there's just as much stress for the teacher at the end of term as there is for the rarely-attending students who are frantically trying to get up to speed after multiple absences ("Um, hi. Are you in this class? What's that? Your name is on the roster? Tiffany, is it? Sure it's not Jocelyn? At any rate, welcome to the final exam!").

It's like, right now, as I type this, we're heading into final exams on campus. It's like I've been hacking, dripping, and snerfling into the keyboard as I type and consider the 50 research papers, 40 Novels finals, and 20 English Lit exams I have to mark in the next week, before I start to chip away at prepping my summer classes.

It's like, my external rhythm may be set at semesterlyish, but my internal rhythm innately functions on a six-week bee-bop. On a six-week calendar, by the time anyone even thinks about coming to class...or getting hostile about a grade...or coughing in the No Steppie zone and turning the instructor into some wan Charles-Dickens-orphling-looking thing...

we are out of there--

textbooks tossed into the bonfire,

cars idling in the Wendy's drive-thru as we await the deliverance of the restorative semi-frozen bev-cream known as The Frosty,

hands beating out a highly-personalized staccato tattoo onto the steering wheel as we wait.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

"The Spindly Nasturtiums"

Photos like these remind my head to think nice things

about these miniature people--

lest the only thought in my brain regarding them be,

"Horton hears a tinkle, but what age do y'all need to be before the pee actually goes into the toilet instead of getting mopped up by my pasty white heinie when it hits the seat?"

They have made me Human Charmin, so they do well to pump up the cuteness on occasion and save their own sorry asses.