Category Archives: Notes of a She-Hack

There’s a mouse on my windshield, what am I gonna do?

I was stopped at a red light on the way home from an evening appointment last night when I saw something moving near the windshield wipers on the outside of the car. I had been parked in the Short North, so I tried to focus on it in the dark, expecting it to be a flier for a night club or some art event flickering in the breeze. Instead, it kept moving up, up, up… until it was in the dead center of my windshield, where I could clearly recognize its form as definitively mouse-like.

I, of course, shrieked like a seven-year-old as the critter made a panicked circle before descending back under the hood. I made a meek attempt to draw it back out by turning on the wipers, and when it didn’t, worried that I had driven it deeper into the bowels of the car. I then drove the next mile or so in my own panic, a phantom mouse scaling my right leg over and over until I could get up the road where it was well lit and safe to stop.

I popped the hood, and saw that there was a little evidence that the mouse was trying to make a nest in the well of the windshield, but there was no mouse to be seen. I called Dan, whose suggestions included: “Um, maybe turn up the heat?” “Get an umbrella to swat it away with” and the extra reasonable: “If it does somehow end up inside of the car, pull over so you don’t freak out and kill yourself.” Then I tried to convince myself, and him, that it must have fallen out of the bottom of the car before I got in to make the rest of the trip home.

A few minutes later, on a stretch of road where the speed limit was about 40 mph, the mouse reemerged and crawled across the outside windshield right at eye-level in front of me, clinging to the glass in the face of high freezing wind like Indiana Jones. It made it all the way to the edge, where I’m not sure if it took a flying leap or managed to find another way to hang on, perhaps in my door. Mice have such bizarre contortionist abilities, who knows? I climbed out the passenger door when I got home so that I wouldn’t find out, because as much tougher as I think motherhood has made me, I’m apparently a freaky coward unless I’m actually protecting my son.

Our garage is a separate structure from our house, where any mouse who has dared cross the threshold has been made into mincemeat by the cat in a matter of hours. I considered letting him pay a visit to the garage, but its too cold. Google searches for “mouse in car,” “mouse in engine” and “mouse on windshield,” were mostly useless, except to make me worry that a family of critters might now live in my engine, where they are happily gnawing away at all of my electric wires and my air filter.

The one potentially useful suggestion I found said that mice steer clear of peppermint essential oil. All we had on hand was some Dr. Bronner’s peppermint castille soap, which has been liberally applied to various parts of my car, inside and out. I’d like to see this experiment increase the product’s uses to 19-in-one: shampoo your hair, clean your dentures, rid your car of mice, etc.

Today’s ride to preschool should be… bracing.

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So there are now at least three blog posts that I’ve started and left unfinished, because they were either too sensitive or too boring for me to hit publish.

Thankfully, Dec’s back to preschool this week, I’ll be doing some work outside of the house and Barack Obama is in Washington. Ground will be broken on a spaceport soon. Library books are due.

Happy Monday.

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School Funding Awareness Week

Back when Ohio’s system of funding education was ruled unconstitutional in the mid-1990s, I wrote about it for a local alternative weekly. There were astonishing stories about what poverty meant to education statewide — like the one about a rural school building that sat on a hillside, its foundation slowly slipping over a gas main. Many other country schools were dangerous, some with less dramatic-sounding health risks like peeling paint and bad plumbing. Resources like libraries were woefully out of date, often housed in bookmobiles or on-site trailers with little or no new material.

In our cities, structures were falling apart and creating potential health problems for their students. It was going to take billions of dollars just to bring the buildings in our poorest districts up to code, let alone begin to improve the quality of education to help students in those areas succeed.

In the time since, the ruling was upheld through appeals and lawmakers have wrangled with new funding structures, but the system remains broken. Our Governor Ted Strickland, who has made education reform one of his signature issues, is preparing to unveil his own plan early next year. I’m anxious to find out what he’s set to overhaul, especially when it comes to this long-standing, fundamental problem.

This is school funding awareness week, so School Funding Matters is promoting a letter-writing campaign to the media and state representatives. They have lots of good background information about school funding’s history and current conditions on the web site, so check them out.

(This initiative comes from KnowledgeWorks Foundation, which recently published a lengthy piece I wrote about education reform at Brookhaven High School that you can download here – more to come on that later.)

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Blog Action Day 2008 – Poverty

Today is Blog Action Day, when over 10,000 sites turn the conversation toward a single issue. Last October 15, the focus was on the environment (I wrote about the risk of lead paint in homes). This year, the subject is poverty.

I can’t claim to know a lot about poverty, only that I know more than I did five years ago, before I spent a fair amount of time in two high schools with the highest number of low-income students in my city. I reflected upon that experience here.

It seems almost a prophetic choice of topics at this moment, when the world has careened into financial chaos. But I have to wonder if our resistance to honest global stewardship and our unwillingness to shoulder financial burdens together have helped bring us to this point. As we seek to recover, I don’t see how we can expect to have a solid economic foundation unless we reevaluate the way we look at and treat poverty.

Here is a list of web resources on poverty compiled by the organizers of Blog Action Day.

The World Bank has an extensive overview of poverty, including how they measure it.

Here is the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent data on poverty.

Here is the Barack Obama/Joe Biden plan to combat poverty.

John McCain’s web site doesn’t appear to list poverty policies anywhere that I can find, although he did make a statement on poverty earlier this year.

The best blog I read that regularly addresses poverty is one plus two, where Jen often writes movingly about her daily work with homeless people. She also hosts one-third of a monthly roundtable that compiles all manner of “Just Posts” from the blogosphere, alongside partners at Under the Mad Hat and creative.mother.thinking.

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Things I remember about being younger

I spent part of the summer that I turned 20 hanging out with a guy I’ll call Ted who had the word wiggle in his last name. (Really.) He was obsessed with Stan Lee and constantly drew cartoons on the backs of envelopes, napkins and stray scraps of paper. We canvassed southern Connecticut with clipboards from Ralph Nader’s citizen action group and hung out late with our team after work on the Long Island Sound beaches we wanted to see cleaned up. I made him listen to Boogie Down Productions and we drove to Giants Stadium to see David Bowie who sang “Young Americans” only because we were there, we were certain.

I bid him an amicable goodbye and drove back to Ohio in late July, ready to take a road trip with my best childhood friend. She and I took one leg of our trip north, where we hiked the Niagara gorge, listened to a Canadian bartender hold forth about the secret meanings of songs by the Guess Who, wandered the streets of Toronto and got turned away from a Hard Rock Café because of a rip in the knee of my jeans. On our southern leg, we spent time in hostels in Baltimore and D.C. so we could go to free museums for a couple of days, but the time we planned to spend on the beach was destined to be rainy, so we turned the car back north instead.

She had moved out to Western Massachusetts, close to where I was going to college, after doing some road trip time on her own and visiting me twice. She always set her arrival date on the full moon because we have been unequivocally, comfortably silly together ever since we met in the fourth grade. She tried classes at UMass for a bit, but people and comforts in Ohio called her home that summer. She left a sort-of boyfriend out east, and he wanted to see her home state, so we made the trek back toward the Berkshires to retrieve him.

Ted was staying with one of his own childhood friends in Waterbury, Connecticut trying to figure out the next step in his life. He invited us to stop and stay on the living room futon, because our northern detour had kept us in the car for over 10 hours already and we needed a break.

Ted’s friend’s real name was Lenny, but late in high school, he insisted that everyone called him Sean because he was obsessed with Sean Penn. By the time I met Lenny, he wasn’t obsessed with Sean Penn anymore. He was obsessed with Billy Idol, but a third name change didn’t seem reasonable, so Sean he remained, except to Ted, who found the whole thing hilarious, and insisted on calling him Lenny/Sean.

We walked into Lenny/Sean’s apartment while he was still at work, so Ted greeted us alone. The shelves in the entry hallway were full of photos of Lenny/Sean’s family. Among the obvious parents and uncles and grandparents and cousins were two framed pictures of Billy Idol. He sat casually in a chair in one shot, every part of his body completely relaxed, except for his shellacked hair. He wore shades and a leather jacket in the other, giving the camera an uncharacteristically shy smile over his shoulder. Ted picked up one of the frames and handed it to me. It was clear that the pictures came from a magazine.

The living room had a more overt homage, with a giant white silk screen tapestry of sneering Billy hanging over the futon. The three of us ate pizza and collapsed on the floor, staring up at the pop star’s mean-looking mug.

“Aw… cheer up, Billy,” one of us said, which we all found unreasonably funny. We laughed, manic and punch-drunk for what seemed like a half an hour as we reassured the giant, sneering face that there was no reason to be so angry, that things weren’t so bad.

We regrouped by the time that Lenny/Sean came home from work and settled in for a visit, which was pleasant and free of any mention of “White Weddings” or “Rebel Yells.” Then he grabbed his guitar and sat on the edge of the futon. Ted shot me a slightly alarmed, but bemused look.

Lenny/Sean sang us a song that he wrote, which, to my freshly 20-year-old brain, sounded just fine enough, and thankfully, there were no sneers involved.

But then he launched into a long solo, which he dovetailed into another song that we didn’t recognize, until Lenny/Sean sang the chorus with conviction: “Flesh! Flesh for Fantasy…”

We raised our fists, sneered and sang along.

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September 11

The first tower opened the year that I was born, near enough to Manhattan’s bridges and tunnels for my father to traverse them daily. I only went inside of the World Trade Center a handful of times, but I looked to the twin towers constantly. When they came into view from one of the New Jersey freeways, it meant an adventure was close at hand – always a day inside of one or more of the museums, maybe a stop at FAO Schwartz if I was lucky.

The first time I boarded a plane in Columbus, bound for the LaGuardia airport without an adult, it was my 10th birthday. From that point on, my little brother and I made that trip about three times a year to see our father. Divorce had moved us to Ohio with our mom. I always asked my dad if he could book our flight there at nighttime so that I could look for the city. The hammock of skyline bounded by the Empire State building and the towers helped me pick it out. In all of the awkwardness and emotion of a family split, there was comfort in its glimmer.

We got at least one Manhattan adventure on every trip that kept growing in scope — more Broadway, more restaurants, more celebrity-gazing. (Thanks for waving to me when I was 11, and looked at you wide-eyed in Central Park, William Hurt. It was sweet. And frankly, Sean Penn, you kind of scared me.) As a kid, I never imagined that I wouldn’t live there in my adult life.

Seven years ago this morning, I remember turning on the television, seeing both towers still standing, but burning, and wondering what strange apocalyptic movie VH1 was strangely airing that I had never heard of. I realized the same scene was on every channel. Then I had the body memory of standing on the top floor of Tower Two on a spring day so windy that the outdoor observation deck was closed. The building swayed, and over and over, my knees felt weak. I called my dad, thankfully home and safe in Connecticut, who was processing the scene himself, then getting off the phone to talk to my stepmother, who had just arrived in Grand Central station, safe, but stranded in the chaos of the island for the day as everything shut down, as we all watched in shock as the two towers crumbled.

We were safe, and after I waited for news of colleagues, as well as college and childhood friends for several days, I found out that they were safe too. But my dad and my stepmother talked of the empty cars left at the train stations that week, and the heartsickness that pervaded the entire region for months, the heartsickness that’s clearly still there as I’m watching the children of victims, teenagers who must have been so tenderly young when it happened, place flowers on memorials this morning.

Two months before that day, the company that I worked for decided to shut its Columbus office. I could come work in Los Angeles, they said. How about Atlanta? Then one man called and said “would you be interested in coming to New York?” And Dan and I talked about it seriously. Married less than a year, maybe we could move to Hoboken. Maybe I could move there for a few months alone while he tried to sell his business. But moving for a dot-com didn’t seem very wise, finding a place to live with our beloved dog in or around Manhattan didn’t seem feasible, and shutting down in my husband’s night club seemed like it would leave a cultural wound in Columbus. I imagined in an office 13-ish blocks away, and felt selfishly grateful to instead be at a distance of 477 well-worn miles.

But for all of the hours I spent weepy and confused and frightened and on the phone or watching the horrible-ness and heartbreak and tragedy of it all on television that day, there’s one memory that stands out in my mind most of all. My mother called me to remind me that it was my grandmother’s birthday. I called her close to evening.

“Well, whoever thought I wanted this for my birthday was a real shithead,” my grandmother told me. She wasn’t that salty-tongued most of the time, but you know, sometimes events call for it. “They should take it back.”

In two more days, she would be facing the two-year anniversary of my grandfather‘s death – a man she spent 61+ years head over heels in love with, parented five children with, laughed with and adored. He went into the hospital on the eve of her birthday, then clung dearly to life until he was more than a day clear of it, willfully fighting (if you ask any of his children or grandkids) to leave September 11th with no significance other than it being Grandma’s birthday. He died just a couple of hours after she kissed him goodnight and we all left our hospital vigil, in the early morning hours of September 13.

She had lived through the great depression and World War II. The state of the world shifting, friends and loved ones living in danger of violence — these were not the new experiences for her that they were for me. And September 13 was the day that she received the deepest scar on her heart.

We lost her in 2004, a year before my son was born. Her simple assessment of that day reminded me of how fragile we can be, how quickly scarred and how, reluctantly and painfully or just because we have to, we learn to adapt.

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A story experiment

I’m one of those people who has an emotional attachment to nearly everything in my house. I have inherited a lot of items once held by grandparents or great-grandparents, kept physical reminders of my own childhood and saved many reminders of moments during and before my marriage, of other people who have passed, of times and travels I want to remember. Much of my house is a map of myself and my family, filled with landmarks.

This makes me pretty annoying to live with, because there are things that look like garbage to my husband, which are decidedly not garbage to me. He’s failed me more than once on this count – and some piece of my history has rumbled off to the landfills.

It also makes me not a very good Buddhist, since it doesn’t exactly help me accept impermanence.

But I do find that there are a lot of objects out there with an interesting story. So, I’m examining some of the items people have put up for auction that have little material value, but rich stories behind them at, a sort of blotter of items that are for sale with an unusual narrative. I’m not looking for things that necessarily have a bizarre element, so much as a personal story behind them. So if you have a couple of minutes, give the site a visit and let me know what you think.

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The fideicommissum of my achoo

I’ve been prone since Friday afternoon, when a nasty summer cold walloped me into bed. I missed a birthday party, a couple of nice days and a dog festival, but I saw a lot of television. I watched Olympic synchronized swimming and the movie Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus. I think the synchronized swimming was the more surreal of the two.

Obama picking Joe Biden was slightly surreal, but only because I had a fever when I got the text message. In reality, I find this decision so logical it borders on Vulcan, and I say that with confidence now that I’m so well hydrated. And I’m not the only person who has thought about the virtuous connections between Obama and Spock.

Really, yay for Joe Biden. For at least two years, he’s been one of the only politicians I could listen to talk about Iraq without pulling my hair out. And I’m an Ohio voter who went for Hillary (head vote) over Obama (heart vote) in the primary. Put that one on your cafeteria lunch tray, punditface.

Today I’m dry coughing so horribly, I think tumbleweeds might come shooting out of my mouth. And my son just told me that he wants to be the solar system for Halloween, which means I probably need to take a sewing class or three.

This week I have a couple of little deadlines, but right now, most of my job involves looking for more work, which always feels like a lot more work than working does. I should be more unnerved about this than I am. I have a couple of prospects out there that feel like long shots, and yet, I feel like Tony from West Side Story singing “Something’s Coming.” I think I know better than to let Riff and Bernardo fight at the rumble, but I guess there’s no guarantee I won’t be shot down on the tennis court.

Phew. I’ll leave you with this parting thought:

“Your love is like 1000 caucasian carnivores playing mumblety peg with an eggplant. ”

Courtesy of the Surrealist Compliment Generator , which I have been drawn back to every seven months since I first found it in 1997 or so. It restores my sense of balance.

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Give me light

I had the remarkable opportunity to interview artist James Turrell a couple of weeks ago and preview his light installation at Franklin Park Conservatory.

I hope that the story I wrote gives local people a broader understanding of his work, and a sense of what makes this such a special addition to our local landscape.

The official illumination of the piece is tonight.

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