Eclipse!

IMG_2264It’s a clear morning on the central Oregon Coast, the first one in a while. We’re hoping for a similar weather pattern a week from now, when the solar eclipse moves to barrel across the country (in actuality, the planet will turn, like it always does, beneath the eclipse). The spectacle will hit the Oregon Coast first, crossing a section that spans from Waldport to a stretch of coastline above Pacific City.

People around here have been bracing themselves. Roads, parks, and area establishments are already overrun with extra tourists. Nightmare traffic is being predicted for next weekend (these tales are mildly reminiscent of predictions I once heeded when Y2K was looming). I’m hoping to avoid a traffic jam on Highway 101 by making it into the area of totality the night before the moon blocks our morning light. On the Oregon Coast, lots of people have been fretting about fog or low clouds getting in the way of the whole show. Today, however, the weather forecast for Newport on August 21 reveals a happy sun. Let’s hope this icon remains nice and yellow.

On Sunday night, I’ll be attending a slumber party consisting of three women who don’t want to drive on the day of the eclipse. In the morning, we plan to have breakfast with friends of the hostess of this said party, so we can all view the eclipse from their eastward facing back deck. Sounds like as good a plan as any.

Normally, I would be back at work by now, kicking off the new semester at Cuyamaca College, in El Cajon, California. I’ve just become a full-time writer (a.k.a. retiree). It’s strange to consider my former coworkers, the ones still living in my old routine. It’s even stranger to think about my own schedule, the unknowns before me. Writing is one of my reasons for this recent passage. And I have been writing most days. I’m particularly happy with two submissions that were born of intensity only a significant amount of time could have brought about.

I’ve also got a number of short stories going, some poems, plus the first draft of a novel that should keep me grappling a while. Yet my works-in-progress pretty much recount worlds I encountered as a working woman. Indeed, my work life has proven to be fodder for much of what I have to say, in my fiction, anyway. Now that I have so much free time, I’m wondering where new material will come from. While my surroundings are gorgeous, the pace of life here is slow. Certainly, my imagination will continue to reach back to earlier times for nuggets that will help me round out this story or that poem. But what about current vicissitudes? Yes, I will spend time with a tribe of people who volunteer, work on their health, travel, and natter in coffee houses. I’ve already joined the Central Coast Chorale. I’m not suggesting there won’t be stories in these dimensions, but I’ve just released a big chunk of me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how my days in higher education kept my self-esteem whole. I had my place on a fine team—we were accomplishing something. I was continually learning new technologies. I worked at developing my teaching style. I enjoyed the college culture—the camaraderie I experienced with passionate educators. I don’t regret my decision to retire, but I do feel the need to remake the fabric of my life so that I actually have something to say.

I will note, the solar eclipse has already made its way into one of my short stories. While my character has decided to walk some eight miles along the beach to Waldport, in order to get into the area of totality, she still doesn’t know what this event will mean for her life. Hopefully her creator will come up with something after she experiences the little gathering on the back deck of the home of these folks she hasn’t yet met, the ones living in Newport.

Update (8/21/17) Newport, Oregon, comes through!

One Size Does Not Fit All

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Choosing the right storage unit has made me feel a bit like Goldilocks. My preferred facility recommends a 10 x 20 for the contents of a three-bedroom house. Yet my three-bedroom home doesn’t contain all the stuff a typical one might have. I’m getting rid of some furniture (though I do have lots of books in the garage). I suspect I can get away with a storage unit perfect for the contents inside a two-bedroom apartment. That said, several storage sizes appear to work for this purpose. It all depends on how many business records I have—how much sports equipment, electronics, extra boxes, appliances, and gardening supplies.

I was happy to discover several online videos meant to help people visualize how various storage unit sizes would work for different piles of things. Still, doubt keeps pricking me when I least expect it. I go over the range of spaces in my mind. I think about all of my stuff. I just can’t figure out which dimensions will work the best. I’m afraid my storage unit will be too small and end up frustrating my movers. Or it will be too big, thus becoming a money drain.

I’ve thought about getting rid of excess stuff. Minimalism is all the rage right now, and I’ve been finding the concept more appealing. If I’m not mistaken, minimalism used to be called Simple Living – before that, “The Good Life,” free of the fetters of consumerism. I always feel warm and fuzzy when I hear people espousing the benefits of this sort of lifestyle. But since I decided to start a new chapter on the fly, I feel the need to hedge my bets. I’m not quite ready to get rid of things that might lighten my load. I might need them down the road (writing projects come to mind, camping trips, a budding resolve over a crucial exercise regimen).

Besides, I’ll probably come back and grab a bunch of this stuff in six months. If my storage unit ends up containing enough room for me to throw down a mattress, I can always move everything into a smaller one. Surely a few volunteers would be willing to help me haul my stuff from one unit to another. If not, I can always hire an extra set of hands (I think there is a company in town that goes by this very name).

There are other moving issues that keep me up at night. Will I get my new address to everyone who needs it? Do I still have all of my “second keys” (PO Box, etc.)? Will I remember to cart my Mini Box back to Cox? Have I kept the necessary moving records for my accountant? Am I storing something I’m really going to need later? I’m packing for my new life. Yet I’m also packing for a vacation in Italy. This is my gift to myself for surviving cancer treatment and making it to retirement. Last April—before I started chemotherapy—I made a point of renewing my passport with the hope that I would be using it as soon as I became cancer-free. This intention has held firm—I am now scheduled to spend time overseas. I packed my bags for Italy first, because I didn’t want to store something that should be in my suitcase.

For the record, I’ve already blown this last one. My REI travel towel now rests somewhere in a pile of boxes stored in one closet. As most of my things are already in boxes, I’m not going to go through them now. I’ll have to buy another towel before I hit the road (another thing to remember as I prepare the house for its next occupants).

I suspect my obsession over storage is really about something else. Have I chosen a life that will end up just right? Or did I just discard one that should have been left intact? As the days barrel toward my departure from San Diego, burgeoning conviction over the rightness of my plans reassures me. My gut is not waffling. And if this new life really isn’t just right, one major change can always lead to another. Goldilocks did try out three sets of furniture after all.

Catalina Island – Southern California Getaway

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I’ve been trying to get to some of my favorite places before I leave the San Diego area in a few months. When I first arrived, I remember struggling with what I viewed as the lack getaways—my definition of them, anyway. I was used to taking a scenic drive to some small town where it was more relaxed and probably quaint.

During my childhood in Davis, my family sought out Northern California destinations, such as Mendocino, Napa, Point Reyes Station, Willits, Grass Valley, Nevada City, Truckee, and Downieville. Some years later, I ended up in Ashland, Oregon, where I ultimately graduated from high school. Ashland is one of those weekend destinations. Still, we made our way to other Oregon towns, including Jacksonville, Butte Falls, Brookings, and Gold Beach. Mount Shasta City in California was also an alluring retreat in the region.

I moved to Eugene to become a Duck and stayed a while. There, the Oregon Coast was my favorite weekend jaunt—Florence, Yachats, Newport, and Lincoln City. Bend was always worth the trip, as was Sisters. After I landed my first professional library position in Seattle, I fell in love with Bainbridge Island, Snoqualmie, Langley, Port Townsend, Anacortes, Friday Harbor, Deer Harbor, Lopez Island, Ellensburg, La Conner, and Leavenworth. Of course, Victoria, BC, was always a treat.

San Diego proved to be another situation altogether. I immediately found the Southern California sprawl overwhelming—not to mention the freeways. Hopping in the car and getting on the road felt daunting, and it wasn’t long before I began to feel hemmed in. The trip to Julian for pie and some mining town ambience was the one exception. I did come to love the various drives passing through Julian, drives that often swerved into Borrego Springs. Yet it took a while before I discovered other places. Idyllwild and Joshua Tree finally grabbed my heart, as did the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area. I stayed in Mount Baldy once. Somewhere along the line, I added Catalina Island to my list.

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It takes some work to get there from San Diego—several fast freeways and a ferry ride. My maiden voyage departed from Long Beach on the Catalina Express, which also leaves from Dana Point and San Pedro. More recently, I’ve been departing from Newport Beach on the Catalina Flyer, which is particularly convenient for visitors from San Diego (though this ferry only runs once a day and does not have year-round service). The first time I called the Flyer for reservations, one of their attendants urged me not to miss the Bloody Marys sold on board. I didn’t imbibe that time, but I recently broke down to kick off this farewell journey in style. I was a little queasy by the end of the boat ride, but I would probably do it again.

What I like about Catalina Island can be summed up with the word, whimsical. Avalon is a fitting name for the main town. You get on a boat and cross the ocean, often spotting dolphins and whales along the way (dolphins love to frolic in the wake of the ferry). Then you arrive in another dimension, another time and space that truly calls for doing nothing. Of course, there are plenty of playful activities to sample. Take a ride on the Yellow Submarine to get a good look at the fish in the harbor. There’s a glass bottom boat for this same purpose. And a number of crazier rides tempt daring types—parasailing outfits and zip line runs. A person can also take a boat to get in some snorkeling or check out a different side of the island.

The inland bus tours are guided by drivers who have delightful stories to tell—they know the island and its history inside and out. If you go, you’ll most likely end up on an antique bus, circa 1950s. You may even see a bison or two, and then your guide will tell you why. I won’t spoil the fun. I’ll leave it to the visitor to discover this tale, not to mention the numerous other yarns (that’s the beauty of this place, the ongoing storytelling about what has gone down around here). I can offer one hint, though – Zane Grey. I did hear the bison herd has gotten too big at times, so they’ve sent some back to South Dakota to live with the Lakota Indians.

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Zane Grey, aside, the island’s history is fodder for writers looking for a great backdrop. I’ve certainly been known to contemplate the possibility of a longer writing retreat in a cute vacation cottage. All of these cheerful vintage homes beg the imagination to consider who may have lived here and why. The people get around on golf carts, though smart cars are becoming increasingly popular. On one bus tour, I learned “autoettes” are the only vehicles residents are allowed to own, unless they happen to be on the waiting list for the limited number of full-size cars permitted on these streets. The list hasn’t moved in twenty years. As an FYI, visitors can rent golf carts for their own excursions.

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Of course, Hollywood hasn’t ignored the place, old Hollywood, anyway. Today’s representatives of tinsel town seem to have moved on to other domains. Yet the former heyday of movie stars long dead, their interaction with the island, is evident. Those looking for an overview of area history – including Hollywood vignettes – should not miss the updated Catalina Island Museum, recently relocated from the historic Casino to a fine new building.

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During my visit to the museum, I was excited to stumble upon a marvelous exhibit by a figure who moved in the background of my Seattle Days, the famous glassblower artist, Dale Chihuly. I quickly learned it is the museum’s first exhibit featuring an artist of his stature. The pieces on display are perfect for a locale bordering a marine preserve. I was most drawn to the “Seaforms” room, housing individual pieces that evoke sea plants and creatures. I probably could have viewed these creations in the Puget Sound region years ago, as Chihuly created the display in 1983, five years before I arrived there. His much newer Mille Fiori (2016) demands a long look, as well. Also on display are “Coastal Blue and Cloud White Baskets,” “Blue Ridge Chandelier,” “Aureolin Yellow Spire Chandelier,” “Red Reeds,” and “Sea Blue and Green Tower.” (This show closes on December 11, 2017.)

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One of the museum’s permanent exhibits propels visitors through the island’s various eras, starting with its indigenous beginnings, and not all of these accounts are whimsical. I was appalled to discover the story of a weird so-called archeologist who once lived and worked on the island, Dr. Ralph Glidden. To say he didn’t know how to respect old bones is an understatement. He dug up several hundred Indian skeletons in the Channel Islands, and then displayed them in a manner that could only be branded undignified. While his Catalina Museum of Island Indians has been defunct since 1950, his handling of human remains continues to make even the least conscientious people uncomfortable. The Catalina Island Museum is now making a lesson out of this chapter of the island’s history, raising awareness around the lackadaisical treatment traditionally afforded ancient burial grounds in America.

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History buffs should also consider a tour of the Casino Ballroom, as the guide will conjure the big band era, how people dressed to the nines before getting on a steamer ship departing from the mainland for an evening of elegant dancing. (You can view a number of photos of these ships, not to mention their passengers, in the Catalina Island Museum.) There’s a stunning movie theater beneath this ballroom—the Avalon Theatre—with a domed ceiling showing off art deco style murals by John Gabriel Beckman. Get there early enough on a Friday or Saturday evening, and you will be treated to live pipe organ music before your talkie starts. The stately Page pipe organ once accompanied the silent films that were screened there.

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The island may sound high falutin, but it is actually down-to-earth, meeting my requirements for the quaint getaway. While all of these touristy perks are fun, I like to walk around, or sit somewhere. Then I walk around again, until it is time to eat somewhere. And then all I can do is sit somewhere else, because there are so many charming views to lull the mind. As I compose this from a white wicker chair on my hotel porch, the morning air feels silky. In a few hours, I plan to head to the Descanso Beach Club Restaurant for lunch, where I’ll sit at a table and watch people play in the water. Maybe I’ll rent a kayak for a few hours.

A Chapbook and a New Life

I am pleased to announce my longer poem, Breast Cancer: A Poem in Five Acts, is scheduled to be published in chapbook format by Finishing Line Press. This project has become the perfect segue into my next phase of life, which will certainly include writing. Yet what’s in store sits calmly down the road holding an armful of question marks.

A year ago, I was recovering from a lumpectomy still waiting to learn if I would also need chemotherapy. I already knew radiation was in the cards. Around that time, I attended a Zen meditation retreat so I could “be” with the drama of breast cancer. I felt a lot of fear during those long hours, but ultimately relished some momentary peace. This was as well as I would feel for another seven months. I had my first chemo infusion on April 4, and my treatment plan continued on from there.

I didn’t often feel the pull to write during that time, but I did chip away at a longer poem, one I would ultimately break into five sections: Diagnosis, Surgery, Chemo, Radiation, and Follow-up. As I documented these experiences, I was occasionally startled out of the general stupor that had dropped over me. In such moments, I could feel what was riding beneath the surface. Unexpected emotion would arise, and I’d put words to what I hadn’t fully let myself define.

It wasn’t long before I got in the habit of heading to my computer right after a treatment, so I could record impressions before they left me. I never worked at it very long, just got stuff on the page. However, during periods of tedium (when I felt well enough to be bored), I tinkered.

Once the three pillars of breast cancer treatment were finally behind me, I needed to set the whole thing down. I let myself polish the poem for a few more weeks. Then I sent it out into the world, as if to say, “I’m done with this!” I was more than happy to move back into normal living—and everything around me seemed heightened. I wondered how long this poetic sensibility would last.

I do continue to encounter sparks of feeling that let me know I’m still processing things. Certainly, this occurred when I received my latest diagnosis, “no evidence of cancer.” Though I’m hopeful my doctors have nailed it, I’m probably not completely out of the woods. My medical oncologist will follow me closely for at least five years, during which time I’ll continue taking Arimidex to ward off new cancer growth. Now I’m trying to figure out what I can do to cheer this drug on. As I design my new life, I should probably ask myself, “What is good medicine?”

How does one maintain well-being? I know there are lots of opinions on the subject—books, videos, and audio recordings. And what is well-being, anyway? Fitness? Financial success? Doing good for others? Creativity? Love? A going with the flow sort of attitude? No doubt it depends on the person. Perhaps the courage to try things is the solution, finding a way to pound one’s fists through emotional ruts. Then there’s working on diet and exercise habits without becoming fanatical.

Developing an eye for opportunity also seems to be a good idea. I recently set up travel plans for a library conference in San Francisco, only to stumble onto a way to live (somewhat) cheaply live in North Beach for a month in an extended-stay situation. As I looked the possibility over, I briefly thought about writing in this buzzing environment and letting the adventures find me. Surely, this is something to contemplate after I take on my new role as retiree. In any event, stripping my life down to what I still want to do seems paramount right now. I don’t want to waste another moment of good health.

 

Some Thoughts for Library Lovers’ Month

As I move into my last few months at work—I’ll soon be retiring from my community college librarian job—I want to leave behind a few of my recent musings on librarianship. I firmly believe information literacy has fallen through the cracks. While educators pay lip service to information literacy programs, there is a tenacious, underlying sense amongst most people that the open web has superseded traditional library resources, even those available in research databases.

As an aside, I’m defining the open web as the pages we search for every day through Yahoo! or Google. In contrast, many libraries subscribe to password-protected research databases containing articles and books. These databases offer library users access to electronic materials under copyright restriction. In a sense library users “check out” electronic copies of books or articles when they track down items in a research database (after using a library card to log in). Though web-based research databases, such as InfoTrac (Gale), have been around since the late 90s, I suspect your average person has no idea what one is, not to mention how to search one effectively—or why they would even want to bother.

While most current traditionally published materials—books and journal articles—are not freely available on the open web, people seem to shrug at the thought. They’ve become experts at using Google. They always find enough anyway, so what’s the point? Indeed, surfing the open web makes us feel smart and in command. We know what we’re doing! Critical thinking is something instructors talk about. That’s Greek to me. I cringe at the vast body of work that may end up being discarded in the name of ease. This work is currently available in libraries and research databases.

If we as a society don’t make more of an effort to think about how information is created, why it was created, where it is housed, not to mention how credible it is—we are all going to just talk at each other and stop going into any sort of in-depth analysis or deep learning. We’ve gotten in the habit of grabbing chunks of texts off the open web—chunks of text that fit in with the way we see it. Then we throw them at each other. We don’t often bother to evaluate the stuff we find, though most people do understand what goes into the open web. Most people know a good percentage of this information is junk and nattering.

I shouldn’t have to say it: many editors and publishers try to bring out work that is carefully vetted. Of course, traditionally published sources can be erroneous or biased, but odds are the overall quality of the sources available in a research database, such as Academic Search Premier (EBSCO), is going to be much higher than the results of your average Google search. Special note to Google: I’m not picking on you. I love you as much as everyone else. I just think people need to know when you are the best way to go and when you are not. That last line is my concession—a roundabout way of saying we need to learn how to effectively mine the open web, too.

But I digress. I want people to set the open web aside for a moment and consider what research databases have to offer. I suspect one reason the word database is not bantered about in mainstream consciousness is that K-12 teachers are behind on information literacy. Yes, they are using the open web with their students. They might even be teaching their students how to evaluate the sources they find there. But they are probably not teaching them when they might want to choose a research database over a Google search.

Research databases are expensive. Not a lot of K-12 schools subscribe to them. Besides, many schools no longer have librarians to fight for what is currently possible with online research (and there are a lot of exciting changes, folks). Case in point: when I begin a workshop with my community college students, I often poll the class to learn how many of them have ever used a research database. Unless I’m working with a more advanced group, I rarely see many hands.

It doesn’t have to be this way! Our students should be taking to research databases with ease and using them to thrive. While kids love to feel like they are great at using Google, they could no doubt find a similar self-esteem boost over searching a research database. It just takes more effort to show them how to use research databases well.

So how can our K-12 teachers demonstrate database searching when they are strapped for resources? Public libraries could step up to the plate by offering a robust set of databases for their user districts. That way there could be one set of databases for an entire city and all of its K-12 schools.

Another solution could involve alliances between community college libraries and K-12 schools. This may seem outside of your average community college library mission. Yet if our students were exposed to research databases in middle school or high school—or even upper elementary school, college instructors would have it easier. College students could then put more effort into improving their reading and writing—instead of scrambling to learn how to track down sources worthy of academic research.

It goes without saying, you can’t just put databases up on a library website and expect students to “get” them. In-depth training requires a commitment of time and resources. In the end, people must become convinced the general population needs to learn how to utilize web-based research databases. I challenge educators and librarians to turn database into a household word.

Sneaker Wave

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I’ve been spending most of my winter break on the Oregon Coast, mentally preparing for my retirement. On New Year’s Day, I sharpened this resolve by submitting a Service Retirement Application to CalSTRS. I feel too young to be heading through such a passage, though when I was in my 30s, I watched several coworkers (in their 50s) come to this same decision. At that time, early retirement did not seem unreasonable—my coworkers did not seem too young. Now it feels like I’m getting away with something.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin driving south to face my final semester and tie up loose ends in the San Diego region, before beginning my next chapter, which will probably play out on the Oregon Coast. I woke up to several inches of snow, snow that even fell on the beach. This pristine surface made the world more beautiful and unsafe at the same time. Hazardous conditions already seem to be easing, though I have dropped my earlier plan to drive over the Siskiyou Summit—where chains are no doubt required—in favor of a trip along the Coastal Highway.

I do need to learn how to become more spontaneous, to view change as an adventure. Snow brought joy to my morning. I ended up meandering to breakfast through the white stuff, enjoying gorgeous winter tableaus along the way. In the restaurant, I found myself the only diner, with the exception of a couple of retirees who were discussing upcoming trips to Hawaii and Cabo San Lucas. I’m not upset I’m taking scenic route back to San Diego, though it will eat up more time. I’m already becoming less ambitious about driving for hours on end to get somewhere.

Though I’ll be a young retiree, I have been in the workforce since I was eighteen. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Oregon, I took a work study job, shelving books at the Eugene Public Library. Three months later, my grant ran out, and the library put me on the city payroll. I ended up staying with the Eugene Public Library for almost eight years. This early work experience eventually prompted me to begin a fulfilling career in library science, one that has taken me into two large metropolitan areas and one small town. Needless to say, the role of working woman is pretty much intertwined with my identity, if not my self-esteem.

I doubt I’m done working. Tentatively, I’m scheduled to do some part-time work at my college in two and a half years. CalSTRS even allows one to come out of retirement, should another appealing job offer surface. But my recent health scare has prompted me to move in some new directions for a while. I’d like to break down psychological patterns that may have had a hand in tripping up my physical health. I’m keeping an eye on my aging mother. Perhaps not knowing exactly where I’m going will be edifying.

Not knowing isn’t easy for me. I like to plan everything. I read about people who fly by the seat of their pants, people who revel in it, and I wonder why I’m not like that unless I’m knocked upside the head. When something hits one like a sneaker wave, one is forced to do what is often suggested by sages, “Go with the flow.” During my chemo treatments, I spent a lot of time trying to remember what it was like to feel healthy—to live normally. A sense of well-being can be wiped out in a flash. Now that I have it back, I want to cherish everything. I hope this feeling lasts.

In a few weeks, I’ll be pitching a novel to three agents at the San Diego State University Writers’ Conference. It is the second novel I have finished, though it’s the first one I started. Both books are set in Oregon. I’m not planning to spend more time in Oregon because of these novels, though it will probably good for me to be up here, should either be accepted. Maybe I’ll eventually become a rainbird. That way I can head down to the desert after too many inches have fallen. Alas, I’m already starting to make new plans.