1970s Adventures with Cats

Our cat Sockie

Pets were a huge part of my children’s lives. We were the proud owners of, over time, lizards, frogs, fish, tortoises, rabbits, birds, a snake, a dog, and, of course, a cat.

During my own childhood, my family had two calico cats, both of whom lived for 18 years. The first joined our household when I was only two or three years old, before my sister was born. Her name was Pannie. Fairly obviously, my parents gave me the honor of naming her. Considering that when my own daughter was three she wanted to name her newborn brother “Swimming,” I don’t think Pannie was such a terrible choice. 

Once my sister was born, the story I recall is that she pulled Pannie’s tail or inflicted some other injustice on her, and Pannie turned around and scratched her, as cats will do. Pannie’s punishment was to have her front claws removed, a procedure many today would consider cruel but one that she did absolutely fine with. In fact, for her entire life, she was an indoor/outdoor cat, and she never had a problem. So I’m glad my parents made that decision rather than to get rid of her. I cannot imagine my childhood without Pannie.

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Thoughts on the Importance of Studying Theme

I recently took a road trip over several days. On the first day’s drive, the interior of my car was filled with the sounds of a wide variety of music, from Cat Stevens to The Shins to Elton John. But on day two, I was really looking for some silence. And that silence gave my mind space to wander.

I’m reminded of a story relayed in the biography of Charles Lindbergh, the famed pilot of the Spirit of St, Louis who flew from New York to Paris. Early in his career, he was a US Air Mail pilot travelling back and forth between St. Louis and Kansas City. In those days, before radios and complete music libraries tucked away in your back pocket, Lindbergh flew in silence. To ward off the boredom, he gave himself difficult problems to solve. One of those problems was determining how to fly across the Atlantic. And on one of his flights, he solved it and went to work.

I certainly did not go about solving such problems on my drive! But I did find some clarity that explained my confusion around how people discuss literature. Maybe not as sexy as being the first to complete a transatlantic flight, but in my corner of the world as a college professor, I appreciated the revelation.

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Memorial Day Tribute

This Memorial Day I remember 25-year-old Private Charles A Newell of Cresbard, South Dakota, who died on October 17, 1918 at Camp Lee in Virginia. He was part of the Veterinary Training School preparing to serve overseas in World War I. Rather than one of the 53,000 US soldiers who died in combat, he was one of the 45,000 who died of influenza after being drafted (see his registration card on the right).

Two weeks before he died, he wrote to his parents: “I am in the horse doctors corps and don’t have much drilling to do. They say we won’t be up on the front line, the nearest hospital is 25 miles from the front. We don’t get any guns at all, so our life is as safe as at home. I expect to go over sometime but don’t know when; not for a couple of months anyway. I don’t care much. I have given up caring since I got in the army; it wouldn’t do any good.”

Learn more about him and others in Cresbard through the writings of Clara Mae Horen in my book Clara’s Journal: And the Story of Two Pandemics…which comes out TOMORROW!!

Thoughts on the Cover of My New Book: Clara’s Journal

Clara’s Journal: And the Story of Two Pandemics explores a year in the life of Clara Mae Horen, an 18-year-old living in Cresbard, South Dakota, in 1918, at the beginning of one of the world’s deadliest pandemics. And Clara is my grandaunt (the sister of my paternal grandfather)!

One of the pleasures of studying Clara’s journal has been learning how different life was 100 years ago, but maybe even more importantly, another has been discovering the similarities we have with a 1918 teenager and with a 1918 country coping with a pandemic.

Now how to convey that in a cover?

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Thoughts on Simplistic Thinking

Goby the Fish

I can think specifically of a few times when teachers worked to indoctrinate me.

The first time was in elementary school. Those were the days when anti-littering propaganda… well, littered school hallways and classrooms. And yes, I was one of those kids who, under the age of ten, was out in the streets lecturing people for littering, yelling out the car window from the backseat at passersby who dropped cigarette butts or napkins on the sidewalk, picking up pieces of trash and railing at the ilk of those ruining our world. I must have been adorable.

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Oh boy. Dare I? Thoughts on Abortion

Wow. Abortion has certainly topped the news cycle lately, thanks to a law just passed in New York and a bill in Virginia that prompted a controversial comment by the governor of that state, who is now embroiled in a blackface controversy that has put his future at stake. 

Needless to say, my Facebook newsfeed is filled with opinions, from both pro-lifers and pro-choicers, on the topic along with countless links to support this point or that point.

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Thoughts on What We Say to Young Adults about the Future

Screen Shot 2019-01-23 at 3.19.17 PMYou can accomplish great things in this life.

That’s it. Now you just have to believe it. Unfortunately, it seems that our media and our educational system is hell bent on convincing you otherwise. And so many of you are taking that to heart. I want to say “Stop that.”

I’d been a college professor (with a brief stint of teaching middle school thrown in for fun) for 25 years when I quit last year. I am not sure if I will ever go back. I’m not sure I want to. But I know academia. It’s my niche. I lived it, and I follow academic news stories in the media somewhat obsessively. One of the reasons I am so interested is that much of what is occurring on a national scale at colleges and universities today are things that already happened at a small community college in Los Angeles, where I was a tenured English professor. I taught there for a total of 16 years, back in the nineties and in the first decade of the 2000s. So what I am witnessing is not all that surprising.

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Thoughts on Reading vs. Listening to Books

screen shot 2019-01-13 at 2.36.46 pmThe question posed on Facebook went something like this (and I paraphrase): Is listening to an audiobook the same as reading a book? If one listened to an audiobook, can that be added to a “books I read this year” list?

My initial response went something like this: No, they are not the same, but I suppose you can put it on the list.

But as people chimed in, and as I was given more time to think about this, I realized that the answer is actually not that simple.

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Lessons from Orange County and The Real Housewives

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It’s all worth it. All of it.

One of my guilty pleasures is the Real Housewives franchise. And the Real Housewives of Orange County Reunion wrapped up this week. Yes, the show is filled with ridiculousness and drama, some of which is certainly played up for TV through strategic editing and forced confrontations. But it has actually been very educational for me, which might sound strange coming from a college professor. But it has been educational in regards to interpersonal relationships and to understanding personality types.

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Thoughts on an English Teacher’s Correction of Trump’s Letter

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When I taught at a Los Angles community college, I was the paid editor of our accreditation reports during my tenure. The first draft was cobbled together with the writings of fifty or so people, and my job was to create a consistency of voice and word choice. And grammar. After all, some people hold steadfast to the Oxford comma while others insist it is superfluous. I had to decide which was right for this publication.

One common inconsistency in the document was the use of capitalization. This is where I, with my Masters of Arts (capitalized as per AP Style) in English, got my real education on capitalization rules. One “rule” as I understood it was that only titles are capitalized, not positions or offices. And the accreditation report was about positions, certainly not the people who currently occupied those positions For example, “the senator” is not capitalized but “Senator Smith” is.

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