Surreal Apocalyptic Normal Ants

I was thinking about ants today. You know, the way they are busy, on task, moving relentlessly toward a goal known only to their insect, hive minds. They move at pace, not slow, not fast, but with purpose and drive. They walk around or climb over any obstacle to carry their load to where it needs to be. In teams, they carry (relatively) gigantic pieces of food and other detritus; when they need to, they work as a team to chew the largest bits until they are several pieces of more manageable size.  I wondered, as I sat in emergency teacher training at midday, getting ready to take school online for the foreseeable future, if the ants were looking up wondering why we humans had slowed down so much, but with such a sudden sense of conviction, purpose, and creativity.

The sun came up today in it’s usual Torreón way. Slow and colorful. There were clouds to heighten the texture, and a sliver of moon in the west going down as the sun came up. But the air felt different. Not heavy exactly, but not the usual lightweight, carefree, stinky, hardworking and beloved Lagunera air.

As I walked into the brand-new Early Childhood building for a Q&A informative meeting about COVID-19 I picked a little black piss-ant (asquel) off my sleeve. It’s spring. They are everywhere.  I pinched his head off with the nail on my index finger and brushed his remains on the leg of my shorts. So much nothing. 

I wonder, now, what his job was, that little nothing of an ant. Did he get picked up on my shoe by mistake? Did he climb up my body in pursuit of some scent that suggested food? How long had he been travelling up my body to get to my right arm? Why didn’t I notice him sooner? Why didn’t he tickle the skin on my foot, my leg? Maybe he dropped from a tree? I felt like he and I had been walking on the squishy, unpredictable paths of a Dalí painting. 

The painted waves of color on the floor made me dizzy as I walked toward the emergency training for teachers to get ready to take school online. Campus was not quite, but nearly, silent. Down from a population of or over 2,500, to a mere 250 and probably less. Skeleton crew: admin, teachers, office staff and part of maintenance staff. We were in a hurry. Hurry up and come up with a new way of thinking about teaching. Hurry up and come up with an alternate plan. Hurry up and upload, download, transfer, every.little.technological.thing. Hurry up and imagine how to maintain relationships and create them as needed — without being present. Hurry up and learn to be present from afar. 

And yet.

As I was moving along under the fresh, powdery blooms of mesquite and huizache trees, listening to the songbirds of the desert brag about the luxury nests they could build, and the lullabys they would sing to hatchlings. I moved with purpose, but unhurried — despite the lengthy list of hurry up and dos. The air has not stunk in TRC these last few days. It’s strange. TRC always stinks: pigs, soy, Peñoles, the Corona plant, pollution in general. When new teachers comment or ask about the stench, we veterans always used to say “Welcome to La Laguna!” I suspect this stench will likely continue to dissipate in the upcoming weeks of evolution. 

That’s what this is, you know. We are living evolution. To survive, we must adapt. As humans, we can adapt quickly. I wonder if we will. I wonder what effect our adaptation will have on the ants’ steady, unhurried industry. I can’t wait to get my cargo to my house, and lock the door behind me and feel safe, even if I’m not. Still, today, I was comforted to feel like a steady, unhurried, purposeful ant.


Godspeed: an eighth note — or maybe a grace note

I would like to post a photo of Miss Ellis here. But it doesn’t seem right. Doesn’t seem permitted, though her photo is flying over social media elsewhere. Miss Ellis was my parents’ choir teacher in high school; they did a production of South Pacific, and other things I’ve forgotten. Her melodies are part of the foundation of my childhood, and I am so glad I got to see her and visit with her in December. I wrote her this letter last fall, a few weeks before I saw her. She’s gone now, and conducting all the singing. I’m lucky to have known her, and I’d have given anything to have been in her class — then again…maybe I always was.


04 Sept 2018

Dear Miss Ellis,

I had a nice note from a former student today. He graduated high school in 2011. Imagine. Still just a babe, but an attorney now, and looking to study a master’s in law. Imagine.

I know you can imagine. I know because I have “known” you my whole life. You were the lady with the foam vegetables (I think). I don’t know why the sponge corn cob captured me, but I remember well the bubbly, not quite real, but nearly, feel of it under my tiny fingers. And I remember you visiting Momma and Daddy at our house on Parkview Dr. in Arlington when I was just a wee girl. And later in Alpine and even in far-flung Lajitas. They always both spoke so highly of you. They love you so much. And I knew that you loved them, though I can’t say how I have known. Maybe it was the songs they sang. Maybe it was the stories they told. Maybe it was the way Momma wrote you letters and Daddy added a post script.

Since I became a teacher (almost, but not quite, against my will, but certainly against my better judgment) some 27 years ago, I have only ever wanted to be a “Miss Ellis” for my students.

I know that you were never my teacher. But then again, you always were. You were one of the few who didn’t let my (very very) young parents drift off when they were “in trouble.” I learned from your presence, even though I didn’t know you the way they did. You were always there, in letters, visits, kind thoughts, graduation cards, even in the songs we sang in the car on road trips (“that cute little window, that sweet little window wheeeeere, grandmother dwell”). Your presence was a lesson of its own kind – no planning required: no benchmarks, no observations, no follow-up, no grade. But you were always there for graduations. I remember how touched I was that you came to see me walk at TX Wesleyan.

And now, I am the age you were when Momma and Daddy were your students. I watch my own young graduates move off into the world with their wild dreams, their fiery hearts, and all the possibilities before them and I think of my relationship with you, second-hand through Momma and Daddy (in legal-speak is that called “hear-say”? We are hear-say friends!), and I am so grateful for your open-hearted goodness and kindness – what you gave to two kids who loved you 50 years ago and more. I’d have been another person entirely without your support and love for them.

I’d love to have an afternoon to bend your ear about those two; about teaching and the ever-shifting system of education; to tell you a few tales of my own. It’s hard, even now to wrap my mind around the adventures I’ve lived and the lessons I’ve learned. I’m sure yours are equally mind-boggling.

I guess this letter is just to say, maybe I never got to sing in the Choraliers, but I always sing with you (every day) in mind. I confess, though, that my songs tend to run toward Shakespeare, and Wordsworth, and Beowulf, and. . . you know, the literary ones. Or else the “bad boys” of rock and roll. Love my Rolling Stones and Beatles.

I am so lucky to have had you as a backdrop in my life, and I love you as if you were my own family though I barely know you.

Thank you for your part in who I am as an educator. Thank you for loving my Momma and Daddy and accepting them at a time when their own people struggled to do so. I think you, Miss Ellis, are a key part of my foundation. I am blessed to know you even from afar far away. Thank you thank you. These are the teacher bonuses that no one ever tells you about until the kids tell you themselves.

Much love,


Chaos Takes Up Space

Chaos Takes Up Space

The first couple of months of 2020 have been chaotic, uncertain, filled with horrifying what-ifs: will we destroy ourselves in our unwillingness to effectively address climate change? Will my little home or school recycling project help at all? Will Iran and the US destroy us all with WWIII? Will North Korea come undone and blow everyone off the face of the planet? Will we all die from COVID-19 because the Chinese government covered up the discovery of the disease for four weeks? What good is a stay-at-home protest when women are dying in the streets, left to rot in a baldío somewhere? These issues raise the hair on our necks and leave us wondering: How did humans get to be such a wreck? Why did I have to be born to this mess?

But humans have long had a tendency to turn uncontrollable events into fears that loom and shadow over our every day activities. These fears, magnified and distorted by the news media, politicians, and talkative neighbors, like the Youngers’ neighbor Mrs. Johnson in A Raisin in the Sun with her horror stories of home burnings in Clybourne Park, have a nasty way of taking over every other thing in our lives.

The news in the spring of 1986 was filled with scary pictures of human skeletons dying of the AIDS virus. Since we still believed that the virus could be spread by casual contact, everyone was a little nervous. The US was still in the throes of the Cold War with Russia, though things were changing rapidly, Russia was still always a “bad guy.” Only a few weeks before my trip to Germany, on April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl disaster happened. Every night there were news reports about how the radiation was spreading and maps showed the drift of radioactive fallout over France, Poland, Germany and the rest of Europe. My parents almost didn’t let me go on the trip that I had worked and saved and paid for by myself to the tune of a couple thousand dollars. In this ambience of fear and worry, I went off to Germany anyway.

While there, my host Mrs. Wegener took her daughter Katja and me to the local farmer’s market one day. We each had a handbasket lined with a clean tea towel and a few coins each for buying fresh fruit and veg, or some other little thing that drew our eye. The market was in the center of the old town, just like you might imagine a European downtown: stone cobbled streets opening onto a small plaza under the watchful eye of old fashioned looking homes and businesses. There weren’t a lot of people at the market, but the stalls of the vendors were shaded and colorful and full of delights: tight-skinned, shiny, cherries; strawberries the size of the end of my little finger; stacks of buttery, flaky, warm-smelling pastries; clear glass bottles of the local alcoholic specialty, schnapps; colorful hair ribbons that made me think of Little House on the Prairie and Little Women. There were even a few stalls with handmade jewelry. To my small town Texas eyes, ears (and nose) everything seemed glittery, perfect: like a fairy dream.

Behind us, from back down the main street, we began to hear a clatter as if many feet were walking and many voices talking or maybe singing. The three of us were snacking on strawberries and pastries while we walked around the stalls; Katja translated for her mom and me so that I could learn some of the history of the town, the way markets were when she was young, how much Germany had changed since the end of the War.

Our stroll was aimless and unhurried, but what had been a distant clatter grew closer and closer until we could hear half the fifty or more voices shouting, “Abt die reagan!” and the other half answering, “Kommt die sonne.” We turned to look at the commotion behind us and saw men and women carrying signs that read “No Nukes” and “Sonne statt Reagan.” Others carried WWI and WWII vintage gas masks in their hands (though I don’t remember seeing anyone actually wearing one). They were polite enough as crowds go, but I was a bit rattled and needed explanation. I had never heard about small, peaceful protests; only the violent, turbulent ones in capital cities in the world: Berlin, Beruit, Chicago.

Katja and Mrs. Wegener explained the play on words between the English surname Reagan and the German for “rain”. [“After the rain comes the sun” and “Sun instead of rain” respectively] I got the joke, but I hadn’t ever met people who didn’t think Mr. Reagan was the best president in the history of presidents. I discreetly kept my thoughts to myself. But I filed away for later reflection that there were places in the world where Americans and especially the American government were not so beloved.

I came back to the US in late July with many experiences besides witnessing my first protest: my first drunk was on red wine on the steps to Sacre Coeur in Paris; espresso; real French croissants; real German schnitzel and liverwurst; bilingual schools. Back at home, the HIV virus raged on, and we were all really sad about Magic Johnson, but that’s been thirty years ago and these days he seems more likely to die of old age than AIDS. In 2020, HIV prevention takes the form of education, awareness, and there’s even a drug called PREP which prevents HIV in those at high risk of infection. The Cold War “ended” when the Berlin Wall came down a few years after my trip; the Cold War or a version of it, started back up again more recently; Chernobyl had lasting effects on many people all across Europe, and probably on those of us who were traveling that summer, and governments (and people in general) are still torn about nuclear energy and the climate in general. US relations with Iran have heated up and calmed back down over and over again.

Chaos seems enormous in March of 2020, like a stormy ocean. Thinking back, though, it seems like chaos comes in waves and then goes back out like the tide. That’s not to say that our world is safe — it’s not. Nevertheless, we humans roll with the punches, try to make good choices in the voting booth, and where the voting booth isn’t available or adequate then inside our own homes. Mostly, we just try to ignore the shadow of chaos and live the best we can with what comes our way, even when we wish that we could have a gas mask to make us feel safer.



Back when I was an angry teenager, I used to complain to my parents that school was stupid and a waste of time. I wanted to be out DOING stuff. Mostly making money or sweethearts. I was torn between love and money.

I didn’t get in trouble at school, but I got fed up with nonsense assignments, and stupid teachers (sorry Mr. Valenzuela and Mrs. Morgan), and the endless classes that had no practical application that I could see. My parents often heard about the nonsense and stupidity. Luckily for me, my parents, young as they were (still in their mid 30s), valued LEARNING things in all areas of study. Daddy, who made a living building other people’s fancy homes, loved geology and history and collected every fossil he found on a build site. Momma loved to read about the science of making plants grow in places where they didn’t really want to be — like the desert — and they both read and talked about psychology, and music, and what makes teaching work, and why particular governmental moves were good and bad.

One time after one of my tear-filled rants, Momma and Daddy sat me down and told me about all the hoops we have to jump through in life to be able to get to the places we choose for ourselves. “School is sometimes just a bunch of hoop-jumping, but we jump the hoops so that someday we are free from other people’s fences,” said my dad who flunked out of 11th grade just because he could. (He went on to complete a bachelor’s in philosophy and political science.) I really believed when I finished my Masters 25 years ago (holy crap! It’s been a long time) that I was done, finito, caput with the hoop-jumping. And yet. Dammit, there’s always a story.

I haven’t talked to y’all about this because I’ve been mad. Mad as thorns. Mad as hornets. Mad. As a result of said mad, I have worried I would say things I shouldn’t, and / or don’t really mean. I’m calmer now; still a little annoyed, but not mad most of the time. So it’s time to share a bit of this most recent experience:

Right after Thanksgiving break I found out that I had to go back to school to get a certification as an “official” teacher in order to keep my job at CAT. (Don’t worry, I have a couple of years — ‘til June of 2022 — to get it done.) After teaching at CAT since August of 2001 (were you even born yet??), and working as a teacher in various capacities before that since January of 1992 (were your parents even married yet??), I found this news somewhat insulting. I felt my supervisors had made a clear-as-glass statement about the value of my experience versus the value of a little slip of paper. Experience = Zero; Paper = Gold Star.

Even though I was mad, hurt, insulted, and diminished (feeling stuff), CAT is MY school. Not because CAT belongs to me, but because I belong to CAT. My heart is here. I know that if I leave here I will leave teaching in this kind of system entirely. While leaving teaching might not be the worst thing I could do, it’s not what I want to do. Well, okay, maybe I’d love to leave teaching in this kind of system, but it would break my heart and sunder my adopted family and sense of self to leave CAT. So, I determined to show THEM (they used to be called “THE MAN”) that I am bigger than some stupid piece of paper with a state seal on it, and just do it. Get it done. Jump the hoop.

Now, here I am in the 2nd module of coursework for my teacher certification and most days I roll my eyes, do the work, turn it in, get the grade, take the quiz, get the grade and move to the next thing. Some days I also laugh because I know that you and I are in the same ridiculous, hoop-jumping boat. I confess that I am finding little tidbits, here and there, slowly, that fill in gaps in my knowledge and understanding that I have stumbled over for many years. Those pebbles that fill gaps give me hope (despite my endless eye-rolling) that as I progress through the classes I’m taking this spring that there will be more, bigger, and more intellectually challenging stones to come along to fill the gaps that have made me feel unworthy and incapable as a teacher. One day soon I will be a teacher “for real.” But the truth is I know that I was born here, in this teacher role. No matter what I do, what I study, or how I make my living, I will be a teacher because I believe that LEARNING matters (education not so much) in making us human, just the way that our stories, and the stories of all the humans everywhere across the span of time serve to help us construct ourselves into more complete, more human, humans. Thank goodness for hoops and jumping.

Words Saying Prayers (for the SRs)

Words Saying Prayers

I look out across my most recent classroom — I still feel on the wrong side of the room 28 years after my first classroom — and wonder how did you get to be so damned young? How did I get so separated from you, my Everystudent? Seeing you, I feel the disconnect is sudden and insurmountable, but experience tells me that nothing is either sudden or insurmountable. We are all still human, and I’ve been where you are and somehow made it out intact without the benefit of the Internet, Google, cell phones, social media, and all that jazz that fills our days with sculpted busy-ness. Still, I feel so far from you. The distance between us slithers out of my sight far into the horizon and I wonder how to reach you on tired feet.

Rydberg keeps accusing me of being an idealist. Tired feet and all, I confess. Guilty as charged. Heck, a Romantic, even. I still believe that stories can save the world if  I can just get people to listen to each others’ tales; if I can just get people to tell the real stories that they have to tell. Sometimes folks need time and space to FIND their story(s), but I know they are there. Maybe that’s why the distance between us pains me, leaves me feeling tiny, dependent, and uncapable. This big room is the one place where I’ve successfully been able to build relationships in my life. It’s been the one place I could live in my charmed tower of story and connection. But I begin to doubt.

The frog box story had no impact on you that I could tell from your faces. It’s ok. The story doesn’t affect me the way it did once. Daddy has been gone from my life too long. I hardly miss him anymore. Also, I’ve found my own feet to be enough. I don’t need the frog box the way I once did to make me feel “big,” and independent, and capable. Big, independent, and capable are just part of who I am, with or without the prop. But after all these years, I am surprised to feel doubt in one of my most important and foundational stories.

The doubt in my story comes from not feeling the same about it. But I doubt my connections to you because I find myself  not convinced that the voice you speak to me with is your own. I often feel that you say what you think you’re “supposed” to say (whatever that means), or what you think I want to hear. Or worse, that you say what you think will get you the grade that you want. Maybe you even deserve that grade. Even though I believe your stories in your voices are so much more than some ridiculous number I have been trained and forced to assign to your skill.  But I can’t hear your voice. I believe that’s because you’re not using it. At least not most of you, and not most of the time. 

I get that. Authenticity is hard; dangerous. People are afraid and unforgiving of difference, dissent, diversity. Joseph Campbell, a noted philosopher of the relation between mythology and human growth, once said, “. . .what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive” (Campbell 4). I have always found resonance in my classroom; even when I didn’t want it, resisted and rejected the “teacher” title, that resonance was a kind of rapture. Right now, though, my room doesn’t resonate with you except on some seminar days when you set yourself free to show all the thoughts you have thunk (I know…not a word) to each other. I am just a rapturous fly on the wall. 

I don’t know what all of this means. They are just things I’ve been turning over in my head. And when I lay myself down at night to sleep, I think of Lisel in The Book Thief “[who] couldn’t tell exactly where the words came from. What mattered was that they reached her. They arrived and kneeled next to the bed” (207). I imagine the letters on this page pressing their serifed hands together in prayer and story and I hope that next week I will hear you there where we always meet.

Campbell, Joseph and Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth. New York. Anchor Books. 1991. 

Zusak, Marcus. The Book Thief. New York: Knopf. 2005. Print. 

I’ve been visualizing this for years…

In the first apartment I lived in that was real, my roommate and I printed and posted on our fridge this quotation from a fax that she got at work. At the time we had no attribution, but Karen and I wept and talked over this one many times for the long (and far too short) years that we were roomies and many times in the decades since then: *language alert*

“What if instead of drugging, shocking, tying down our Mad Women, we put Them in warm tubs of water naked as babies and got in there with Them and cooed and encouraged Them to cry great salt tears, to grieve the passing of dreams, the rape of the soul? What if we rocked Them to sleep in giant hammocks of competent fat arms when They were too damn exhausted with keeping up pretenses or holding up Their heads any longer? What if we agreed with Her that the whole world is fucking crazy, out of balance, and that SHE is not to blame for the halt and the lame, the lack of food, the phone not being answered, the port wine stains on babies, the wars on every continent of the globe?

What if we gave Her a baseball bat (none of this nerf shit impotent harm nothing foam battaca bat bullshit, but a solid wood bone-cracking put a goddamn lump on it BASE FUCKING BALL BAT) and let her slam every post stump wall door window house car in an arena where She is cheered on to a frenzy? Then let’s pick Her up when she falls down exhausted and foaming and take Her down to the locker room for a steam bath and massage that leave her noodle limp and rage-less for the first time in decades.” ~Dina Kerik, quoted in We’Moon Calendar, 1997

**Note from ~LD: I have daydreamed about the ball bat, a real one, for nigh on 3 decades now “thanks” to this long quotation. I have no idea how to tell you how much relief seeing Beyonce do the very thing in a dress like a golden tassel and high heels gives me. I watch it over and over, often without sound, even though her situation is not the one I lived. I still have this quotation on my fridge; the same one I printed in 1992. Hold up. We are not yet noodle limp, much less rageless. I LOVE this video with my whole self. Namaste. ~LD


Letter to Santa RE: TPs the Struggle is Real

Dear Santa, Do you have one of these books on hand for me this year? I need to be reminded in the face of other people’s lack of knowing that Just like it is. No matter what. If I screw up every other thing in my classroom, I know, in my soul that Just like it is. No matter what.

I’ll try to be better behaved the rest of the year. Maybe one of your elves has a used one, tucked away in a hidden coat pocket. Like a librarian I once met. Far, far away.  In a book. Where books had to be kept in pockets for safety. Thanks in advance, Santa. Tell Mrs. Santa “HEYO” for me.  ~LD  P.S. Coal is fine, too. = )

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 11.37.08 PM

The important thing about a TP is that it defies definition; you consider, you play, you throw some words together and sometimes it works better than you thought. But the important thing about a TP is that it defies definition.

The important thing about a TP is that it is free. Yes, you can summarize or tell a tall tale, or make a connection or do something completely different. You consider, you play, you paste some words together and sometimes it works better than you thought. But the important thing about a TP is that it is free.

The important thing about a TP is that your words are more than just words; they are your considerations, your play, your constructions, your conclusions, your connections;  your weaving of words; sometimes it works better than you imagined. But the important thing about a TP is that your words are more than just words.

The important thing about a TP is that it is YOU. Those words are YOUR words; that play is your play; those thoughts are YOUR thoughts; those considerations are YOUR considerations; those connections are YOUR connections; that tapestry of language is of YOUR design. But the important thing about a TP is that it is YOU.


~LD with apologies to Margaret Wise Brown The Important Book

For the uninitiated: TP = a weekly written reflection assignment I give students. It stands for think piece. But whatever. The important thing about a TP is … see also above. = ) ~LD

breaking the “no” voice

Once, there was a small window

on every sheet of paper,

in every word document

where, with a sweep of my pen

the stroke of my fingers,

I could escape the shouting voices

and twisted faces of doubt, derision, and bedevilment,

but one day, I reached out, with pen tip poised

only to find the window papered over with quips from beloved writers:

” ‘Write what you know’ is the stupidest thing”

“If you can’t write clearly, you probably don’t think nearly as well as you think you do”

and the old favorite, “author-of-the-moment” is so much better than me.

How could I possibly come up with such a clever idea?”

And so the “not good enough” voice

goes round and round

the circumference of my brain

trapping me as surely as barbed wire

on the wrong side of the window.