The Last Dispatch

I started this blog on May 24, 2005 with a post about the film “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” It was about movies for a while, then grad school, then teaching, then a collection of rants and randomness, and it’s been 11 months since my last post here.

As is the trend these days, I have a Substack that I’m trying to figure out what to do with, so if you enjoy the occasional writing and haven’t found me over there yet, here’s a link. Or if you already follow me on Instagram, the posts will pop up there too. There’s not much there yet, but I plan to change that soon.

I’ll keep this spot up for another week, and then I’ll delete the whole thing.

I was talking to a friend earlier this week about how I’ve really struggled with my writing for the past year and he asked what my goal is when I sit down to write.

“I want to believe that at least one person will read something I write and feel less alone,” I said.

Thanks to those of you who read any of these posts over the past 18 years. I hope something I wrote helped you feel less alone.

My Other Mom.

My other mom died early Saturday morning.

I was at a journalism workshop when my best friend of nearly 30 years tried to call. I thought maybe he had seen my Instagram post about how hard teachers work and wanted to catch up. But when I didn’t answer, he sent me a text asking me to call him, and I knew. 

At the first break in our workshop, I called him.

“I have some news,” he began.

How does a person make that phone call, telling people your mother is dead? I wished I could have spared him having to say the words out loud. If I was next to him, I could have put my hand on his arm, squeezed, and said, “It’s okay. I know. You don’t have to say it.”

But I wasn’t next to him, I was states away, hoping against hope that my instincts were wrong.

“Mom passed last night,” he managed.

The absence of the personal pronoun is important there. Because she wasn’t just his mom, she was my mom too.

Not my biological mom, of course, but his mom was the kind of woman that made her son’s friends her sons and daughters. From the time I was 16 until six weeks ago when I saw her last, she was my mom.

She sent me birthday cards and Christmas cards in the mail, always signed, “Love you honey. Come see us soon. Love, Mom and Dad.”

She told me which boys were worth crying over and which ones weren’t, even though I cried over all of them.

She and Dad took me in—twice—when I decided I’d had enough abuse at the hands of a fiance. Helped me move my things, fed me, sheltered me, tried like hell to convince me I did not need a man who hurt me with hands and words. Didn’t judge me when I went back to him.

And then she convinced me that my parents would never give up on me and I needed to trust them and accept their help.

When I moved from Montana to Nebraska, I didn’t get to see her and dad as often as I would have liked. But when time and money allowed visits, their door was open, and I have fond memories of sitting in their living room talking for hours. And every visit, she told me how glad she was that I was part of her life.

Before I had the crazy idea to drive across most of the country, the plan for the summer of 2017 was singular: go to Montana and see Mom. When it was time for me to leave her barely two months ago, she held my hands and looked in my eyes. We didn’t speak for quite some time, and finally she said, “I love you so much.” 

Now it is clear what an absolute gift that trip will always be.

Pop Culture Roundup, Week 6

I saw two excellent movies last week, both 100% worth your time.

The first, “Tower,” is a documentary about the Texas Tower shooting in 1966. This is different from the usual documentary storytelling technique of interviewee looking off camera, while still photos and some ancient video plays as B roll. The director instead used actors and animation, and it’s hard to explain, so you really just have to watch it.

The other movie I saw last week was the Academy Award-nominated “Arrival.” Multiple people had been after me to see this film, and now that I’ve seen it, I need to see it at least three more times. The concept of language and time as constructs that actually hold humans back from progress was interesting, but it was the twist at the end that caused me to feel all possible emotions at once–and I’m not using hyperbole there. It was unlike any reaction I’ve had to a film.

I didn’t really watch or listen to much else last week–this is the time of year when my life starts being consumed by school and the musical, and everything becomes a bit of a blur. But once that is over, I get to collapse into spring break, so if there’s anything I should see that week, leave it in the comments!

Pop Culture Roundup, Week 4

My friends AJ (who is one-third of the wildly popular “Teachers Talking TV Podcast”) and Marya have been pestering me to watch “The Good Place,” a sitcom about a woman mistakenly sent to heaven upon her death. I’m five episodes in and loving it. Not surprising, though: it’s run by the same people who put together Parks and Rec and Brooklyn 99.

Do you have Amazon Prime? Yes? Two things to bring to your attention:

One, “The Man in the High Castle.” This is a dark imagining of what America would look like if the Axis powers had won World War II. I can only watch one episode a day, because once I watched two, and I had horrible nightmares.

And two, Amazon music playlists. They have a playlist for pretty much everything, and while their music library included with Prime isn’t as expansive as Apple Music or Spotify, it’s still ample enough to enjoy. Here’s one I listened to last week.

Finally, even though some might argue that poetry is not popular culture, but I see parts of poems pop up on tshirts and tote bags on Etsy all the time. I’ve been ruminating much of this stanza from Mary Oliver’s poem “Sometime”:

“Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

I’m not sure what Oliver intended by her use of the word “astonished,” but I’m taking it two ways, in hopes I will find balance to my off-kilter state of mind. I can be astonished at the injustices I see, and tell about those. I can be astonished at the simplicity and beauty of life, and tell about that.

What did I miss? What must I absolutely be watching or listening to?

Introverts Belong.

2017 marks 20 years since my mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Every Monday, I’ll be posting tales from that time.

My first week in the Missionary Training Center was quite an adjustment. I’d never in my life lived in a dorm-type setting, and I panicked a little at the structured meal times. Since I’m hypoglycemic, not having access to even a banana when my blood sugar dropped worried me. But it all worked out.

Missionaries are arranged in “districts” of about 12 missionaries each, and in ideal situations, most districts end up going to the same mission. That was not the case with my district. Nine missionaries were heading to Marseilles, two to Ivory Coast, and then me to Montreal. Down the hall from where we met and studied, a district of 12 missionaries were all heading to Montreal. Any number of scenarios could explain why an odd number of women were heading to a mission, and I suppose it doesn’t really matter why I was the one who was isolated from everyone else.

But as I reread my journal entries from that first week, it’s clear that going on a mission was so far out of my comfort zone. The phrase “I feel anti-social” or “I just don’t belong” are on just about every page, and I’m reminded of many articles that I’ve seen in the past couple years about introverts at church. Here’s one such article.

Even though I was an older missionary, there was still so much I didn’t know about life, even though I thought I did. And I wish I’d understood more about introverts and extroverts–especially in a church setting–when I was a missionary. I could have been more direct about how I best serve, and I could have had a bit more compassion for others as well.

But even though I felt I didn’t belong, here’s evidence I did: as part of missionary training, we had culture nights, where we learned about the areas we would be living in once we left Provo. Our first culture night was my 3rd day in the MTC. From my journal:

“I felt so alone at the Quebec meeting, since my district is all going to Marseilles. But one sister came up to me, gave me a hug and said, “You’re not alone! We love you!”

A pretty extroverted move, if you ask me. And one that this introvert really appreciated.