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March 10th, 2014

04:51 pm - LJ Idol Season Nine: Week 0: Introduction
I still sometimes burn grilled cheese.

How can you say you’re a finished product, a grown adult, if you still burn grilled cheese? It’s the easiest thing in the world.

Knowing that this mold is unfinished, the clay is still wet, introductions make me nervous. I would sit in class—as a student or as a teacher—and feel the weight of the first day introductions. First impressions and all that. I’ve troubled over this one, too.

So my introduction is this:

I'm Stacie. For some of us, that name may conjure a long-ago book character, diabetic, boy-crazy, math-savvy, and fashionable. For others, it’s the name of one of Barbie’s kid sisters. Maybe a Stacie/ey/i/y wronged you—maybe you’d never name your kid Stacie/ey/i/y because of an experience with one (a common teacher’s complaint when searching for baby names of all types).

I want—WANT—to throw out a list of nouns that describe me: mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, graduate student, adjunct professor. And those nouns tell some. They don’t tell all. They mark me by playing on the meanings you have for those words.

Mom states a reality. It doesn’t tell the adjectives I feel when I look at my two boys—delight comes quickest to mind, as does tired, overwhelmed, lucky.

My nouns don’t tell about the little girl who rode her swing set’s plastic horse (named Clip Clop) while singing “Horse with No Name” in the backyard. They don’t tell you that the 15 in my user name is from my long-ago soccer number, and that the high schooler who wore it wanted nothing more to wear it on a varsity jersey—and never got to. They don’t tell about the moment when the first year law student pressed send on the email that notified the dean she was withdrawing from the school—the weight of that moment, the pause before clicking.

So knowing that individual words are sometimes inadequate, sometimes the words change, the nouns provide the starting point, the adjectives thicken the paint, the verbs embolden the brush—knowing the best way to know someone is to know them, to live in their heart and their shoes, to walk with them as they show you their soul. Knowing that any person is a collection of moments that mold their world and color their spirit. Knowing that any moment the grilled cheese—the easiest thing in the world—can burn, change, show the face of Jesus or just a blackened mess.

Knowing all this, I invite you to know me. Walk with me, ask me questions. We’ll learn about me together. I’m looking forward to knowing you, too.

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March 5th, 2014

10:01 am - LJ Idol
With a mixture of eagerness and trepidation, I'm going to try to do LJ Idol again. So here goes nothing.

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January 8th, 2013

11:31 pm - Nathan's first day of school!
Today Nathan went to school for the first time! He is attending a mother's day out program where Luke goes to school -- Nathan will be there on Tuesdays from 9:30-1:30. In my time today, I worked on an article that I'm supposed to revise and resubmit for a publication.

But before school, we had to take some first day of school pictures!


Do you like how Nathan is wearing a shirt that advertises that he's a
super fun guy to get to know? ;) Luke's first day of school shirt said
"I'm a blast!" on it.


Luke had to get in on the action, too.

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January 6th, 2013

11:47 pm - Some pictures.
I've been working on posting a photo a day on my other blog over at buriedthelead.blogspot.com

Here's a silly one of the boys:

On the second day of the year, we took a picture in some of our new Christmas clothes to send to our new aunt (my brother got engaged! They are both far away and I wanted to show her that the nice gifts she sent fit.)

And a sweet post about my late grandpa:

My paternal grandfather, who passed away right before Christmas in 2002, loved Christmas. He made the girls in the family beautiful stables for nativity sets. Now that we are finally settled in a house where we know we will be for awhile, we worked on Christmas decor this year.

I had a nativity set for my grandpa's stable when I was young, but it was lost and broken over the years (it was not a very nice nativity set, either.). This year I looked and looked for a nativity set. I finally found two I liked yesterday. My grandmother would have been pleased that they were on sale. There is a story about my grandmother refusing to buy my grandfather a Sarah Lee cheesecake because it wasn't on sale and she didn't have a coupon. He said, "I make all this money and I can't even get a cheesecake." My grandma also liked to buy the monogrammed glasses that people ordered but then never picked up, regardless of whether the monogram actually worked for our family. We had lots of glasses with other people's monograms on them. It drove my dad crazy!

(There are more characters in the nativity set I bought, but I wanted to be sure that they at least fit in the stable. They do. Phew!)

The inscription Grandpa put on the bottom of our stables. In 1996 he would have been about 83. My grandparents died 65 days apart and my grandmother (who died second) died 65 days from their 65th anniversary. She was relatively healthy when my grandpa died. I think his death broke her heart.

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January 23rd, 2012

08:03 pm - LJ Idol -- Open Topic

When I was teaching, Wednesdays were journal days.

My freshmen would assemble themselves in their desks, and I would wander to the blackboard after the bell. “Journal #X,” I would write on the board, along with the day's date.

And then I would list the topic.

Some days were connected to the readings. We journaled about dreams and nightmares when we were studying the Queen Mab speech in Romeo and Juliet. We journaled about normal freshman things — their first impressions of high school, the things they learned their freshman year.  We journaled about music and TV and movies and holidays and families.

I learned who felt ignored by their parents. I learned who felt left out by their friends. I learned who was struggling with sports and I learned, just as importantly, about their triumphs. I was given a pop culture insight to my students and learned the things by which they defined themselves. I learned these things about all my students, my honors accelerated kids to my lower-level kids. They all journaled. They all wrote for me. Once a week, a creative outlet I wanted them to have in the midst of the literature and the grammar, the vocabulary and the essay writing.

And some days, some days when I would walk to the board to give the topic, I wouldn't have a set topic in mind. My students would sit, poised with their notebooks (and some with loose leaf when they forgot their notebooks), waiting.

I would smile to myself and write, with flourish, “Free Write!”

The free write was greeted with both cheers and derision — a departure from the benign response most journal topics received. There were those students who chafed under the pressure, the responsibility to pick their own topic. There were others who adored the freedom to explore a topic of their choice. Those who spent the 15 minutes of writing tapping their chins with the caps of their pens, eyes gazing at the ceiling, struggling to produce a written page, and those who wrote furiously, their heads bent into the crooks of elbows as they scrawled with their opposite hand.

Those days, when they shared, I would hear fictional stories about aliens and zombies, satires about high school life, memories of a lost cousin or a particularly funny family incident. In some classes, I would see student after student volunteering to read their work, thinking that they were pulling one over on me, simply putting off the more tedious work of the class. I like to think I had the last laugh, that sharing their own writing—reading to a jury of their peers no less—was work in itself, a growth that couldn’t be measured by grades, but one that was just as important.

I wonder if any of them kept their journals and look back at how silly (and how intense, how guarded or unguarded) they used to be. They’re college sophomores and juniors now, and I wonder if they miss the forced creative outlet, a sad loss amongst the rigors of college classes. Perhaps they are relieved.

But I look back fondly on my budding writers, the willing and the reluctant.

And I understand their joy and pain when confronted with a free write — the pressure and the freedom combining to create an opportunity both delicious and terrifying.  


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January 16th, 2012

06:31 pm - LJ Idol -- Sticks and Stones

First, you dig a hole.

Not too deep. Enough to twist an ankle if you step in it. That is the point, after all, it’s a hole of protection.

Next, maybe you stick sharpened sticks into the mud at the bottom, to add insult to injury — stabbing your foot even as your ankle twists out from under you.

Finally, you cover the hole lightly with leaves. So they don’t see it. The sharpened sticks even help hold the leaves up in the middle.

You have to remember where you dig these holes, or else you’ll be humiliated when you fall in your own hole. Mark your hole with a small, smooth stone. And remember! Remember where you put your hole.

Climb a tree. Watch over your hole. Watch over your copse of trees. Watch over your territory. Wait for war.

War will come in a shower of berries and walnuts. War will come in a band of marauding neighborhood boys. They’re the robbers to your cops. They’re the older guys who always make you “it” in hide and seek; grab your arms during tag and spin you around, throwing you into the fence; fling insults at you about your glasses, calling you a “four-eyed freak;” accidentally knock out your loose teeth with elbows and thrown nuts and pebbles. They’re also the guys who hugged you when your gerbil died, and, most importantly, give you strength — so much strength that you grow without feeling like you can’t do things because you are a girl. You love them fiercely. You suspect they love you too, even though you’re like their little sister.

Watch from your tree, look out into the golden sunlight as it shines down on the field beyond your copse of trees. You hear the blood pumping in your ears as you wait, even as your lone girl neighborhood friend perches on a branch near you. It’s quiet.

You have a grouping of acorns, pebbles, and berries bundled up in your shirt, ready to throw. You have grass stains on your shirt, tangled hair in a ponytail, scraped knees, and big glasses.

Suddenly, a glint of color comes streaking from the far corner of the field. Your little brother, the lookout, running fast, cheeks red with exertion. “They’re coming!” he calls, exhilarated. He sprints into your fort of trees, jumping over the disguised holes, scrambling up a nearby tree, your army now a band of three.

The whoops and hollers of the older boys now start to reach you. You look at your fellow soldiers. You are all smiling, giddy with waiting for the assault.  

You snap a stick off a nearby branch.

You tense, ready to throw.


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January 9th, 2012

04:42 pm - LJIdol -- counterintuitive

Everyone tells her she is strong and independent. A good girl. A smart girl.

So she is having a hard time recognizing herself. Standing at his locker, books clasped across her chest. And hopeful — so hopeful.

Not hopeful that he will ask her out on a date. They are already dating.

Not hopeful that he will kiss her in the hallway.

Not hopeful that he will even hold her hand.

She is hopeful that someone — anyone — would walk by. That person — any person — would see them standing there, talking. Brain cells would collide, connections would be made — suddenly, that person (that wonderful person) would know that she and the boy were dating.

She finds herself in situations like these. Passing him in the hallway and simply willing him to look at her. Sliding into a desk next to him in English and thinking that it might be the day he treats her somehow differently than any other girl — so perfectly polite, so bland, so inconsequential. Thinking that one day he has to show the world the sweet and affectionate guy he is when they are alone. Where no one else can see them. Where no one else will find out.

She is strong and independent. She is a good girl. She is a smart girl.

But he undoes that. He untangles her from her independence.

And as if from somewhere far away, she looks down on her bowed head, her clasped books. She sees her shoulders turn slightly inward, listens as her voice is spoken more softly than normal.

From somewhere far away, she knows she doesn’t need him. She knows that in the grand scheme of things, he isn’t that special. He isn’t that wonderful. He isn’t worth all of this.

From somewhere far away, she looks down on herself and she does not recognize herself. She cannot figure this out.

She is strong and independent. She is a good girl. She is a smart girl.

She is lost.

As they chat, she feels him looking past her, looking through her. She is invisible. She is nothing.

Where is she? Where is that strong, independent, smart, and good girl? Where is the girl that would not stand for this treatment?

She searches down into her heart, her soul. She searches for the girl she is — the girl she is not acting like. She searches for herself, looking deep, wondering if she can recover herself. She feels her brain — her strong, independent, smart, and good girl brain — screaming at her, telling her that she is done, he is done, they are done.

That voice sounds so quiet.

But she hears it. Faintly, yes. Weakly, yes.

She hears it and wonders. She looks at his school face — his polite, disconnected, passionless school face. She can’t figure out why she is acting as an opposite of herself. She can’t fathom why he continues on as her boyfriend-behind-closed-doors.

She yearns for that quiet voice to get louder. She needs its help and strength.

She knows she is strong and independent. She knows she is a good girl. She knows she is a smart girl.

Even if she isn’t acting like it.


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December 8th, 2011

04:00 pm - LJ Idol -- bupkis
On June 3, a young woman left a friend’s apartment and vanished into the night.
She hasn’t been seen since.
In a small college town, the community has been gripped by her disappearance. Her big blue eyes sparkle out from missing posters placed around town, still hanging six months later. Her parents have only just returned to their native New York after spending months organizing, searching, calling for information, and talking with the media.
I don’t know this young women. I don’t know her friends. I don’t know her family.
But she haunts me.
I drive through town and my eyes scan the roadside for a glint of blond hair. I drive through town and feel the oppressive countryside surrounding the city — the lakes, the quarries, the acres and acres of forest. The vast space pressed in on the town, choking the possibilities of an easy outcome. She could be anywhere. She seems to be nowhere.
When the searches began, volunteers were asked to bring no children on the searches, wear gloves, brace themselves. When the leaves fell, her parents said we might have answers — the ground easier to see through the trees, the hunters traipsing through woods searchers may have missed.
We were always looking for a body.
From the beginning, a happy ending seemed out of reach — six months later, a happy ending seems impossible. The summer months were full of searches and community support. Those have died down, leaving fatigue and townspeople frustrated at the barrage of signs, the continued coverage, the updated grief-stricken pleas from her parents.
The hows and whys of her disappearance are unanswered questions — those who may know aren’t talking and others continue to spread rumors or engaged in online commentary about her moral failings, her alleged alcohol use that evening, her stupidity at walking home along so late at night.
The search groups from out of state are gone now. There are no longer Texans astride horses searching the fields, no bands of community members handing out fliers, no daily police conferences keeping us abreast of developing case. The landfill has been searched. The biggest lake was searched. The dogs sniffed through the apartments where she was last seen. The computers from her apartment lobby were seized.
She is nowhere, her family says, but everywhere. Her eyes stare out from the posters on telephone poles and at the entrances to businesses. She smiles in these posters — a beautiful smile. Her stats emphasize how small she was — barely five feet tall, less than 100 pounds.
Somewhere, she waits.
In the meantime, we have nothing.

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December 1st, 2011

04:51 pm - LJ Idol -- food memory
The cake had big, pastel icing roses on it. I could scoop one off the cake and set it on my tongue, where it would burn as it dissolved, too sweet for normal consumption.

It was a big cake. White icing. Split down the middle in terms of cake flavor — chocolate on one side and white on the other. A crowd-pleasing cake.

And the crowd was present. Eight years old, I had just made my First Communion. It was April. I wore a dress my grandmother made — satin with sewed pearls. It was a simple but beautiful dress. The hem hung low enough to hide my tomboy scraped knees. I wore socks with my dress shoes, lace trimming the top of the sock. A veil with a circlet of fake flowers. Curled bangs. Big plastic glasses. It was 1990.

I know I was showered with gifts that day, as such was custom. I don’t remember how much money I was given (for some reason, $72 sticks out in my head, but that seems quite an arbitrary number). I know I spent some of it on special clothes to wear to father/daughter Girl Scout Camp that summer. I don’t remember most of the other presents I received, although I did get a watch from my grandparents — it still sits, broken, in a box full of trinkets in my closet. I also got a Precious Moments figurine, which sits in my mom’s china cabinet.

I don’t remember much about the party details, but I remember that cake.

Bakery cake, an inch of icing, with icing flowers and a cross on top of that. My name in piped icing. It said, “God Bless Stacie.” The cake itself soft, spongy, and delicious.

Or at least it looked delicious.

I didn’t eat any.

I watched as others ate the lunch spread. I watched as others ate the cake.

I felt my stomach start to grumble. Still I did not eat.

Months had gone by in preparation at school. We tasted the wafers. We tasted the wine.

And we talked, over and over again about how those who eat of the body and blood of Jesus will not hunger.

I walked to the priest that morning, hands pressed together, fingers pointed at the sky (“That is the proper way to hold your hands, children. It looks better that way. Don’t fold your hands”). I opened my palms as I said “Amen,” accepting the little white wafer, the body of Christ. I felt weird about chewing Jesus. I wetted my lips on the wine, wrinkling my nose at the taste, the thought of drinking blood. I felt joyful at celebrating this sacrament. I felt happy that I didn’t trip on my way up the aisle.

And I expected never to be hungry again.

I missed, somehow, amongst the preparation, the dress fitting, the banner making, the rehearsals for where to walk and what to say — that the hunger satisfied was a spiritual one.

I missed, somehow, that the adults around me still ate, their communion with Christ not sating their physical appetites.

And I stood at my party, watching everyone eating and enjoying the bounty, tasting the icing and gobbling the cake. I stood with my stomach growling, my heart yearning for a piece of cake. My mind stubbornly denying my physical body — “How can you be hungry? You will never be hungry again!”

In a religion where we come daily to the table to share a sacramental meal. In a family where food is a celebration, the table a meeting place. I stood, denying, hunger rising in me, turning away from that cake.

It was the cake that got away.

I would never make that mistake again.

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November 22nd, 2011

09:57 am - LJIdol -- Inconceivable
Laine took a deep breath as the elevator doors opened.

A brief walk down a hall ended at a table, green and white balloons on the edges, where a brunette woman sat, pen in hand.

“Hi, are you here for the reunion?” she asked, a pleasant smile on her face

Laine recognized her immediately. Lauren Hollbrook, class president of the class of 2001. Important high school moments: dedicated lunchtime bulimic, dedicated weekend Zima drinker, dedicated brownnoser.

“Hi,” Laine whispered. She cleared her throat. “Hi,” she said again, louder, more assured. “Laine Matthews.”

Lauren squinted up at her, “Elaine? You look great!”

It was true. Laine — she had dropped the E sometime in her college self-discovery — had waited until college to blossom. In high school, the Catholic school uniform that had done so much for Britney Spears made her look young and frumpy. Her body hadn’t changed that much, but it was like she had chiseled away a layer of wrapping around it. Tonight, her outfit let her body shine. Her hair was sleek and her makeup made her eyes sparkle and skin glow.

“Thank you,” she whispered. Laine collected her nametag and entered the room.

And there they were. Ten years older, but there they were. Laine noticed with a little glee that some of her classmates were much heavier than in high school, and some of the men had much less hair.

“Elaine Matthews?” asked one of her classmates, squinting at her nametag. Or perhaps her breast, where her nametag was affixed.

She knew him without looking at his nametag: Todd Phillips, basketball player and general douchebag. Important high school memories: most likely to blow off homework, most likely to call someone a “fag,” most likely to loudly discuss the many attributes (or not) of whatever girl he was currently fooling around with (and let’s be honest, there was always a girl).

“Were you in our class?” he slurred. “I would have remembered you!”

He was definitely looking at her breasts.

Laine walked away into the crowd, a satisfied feeling sweeping through her. She couldn’t believe she just walked away from Todd Phillips without a word. People just didn’t do that in high school. It felt good.

There were fewer of her classmates attending than she had thought. But the crowd that was present was mostly the crowd. The Todds and Laurens of the school. Age had mellowed many of them. They spoke to Laine in a collegial way that they never had during high school, when she was, while not ridiculed or bullied, mousy, invisible. At least that’s what she had thought. Perhaps she wasn’t completely invisible — as most of her classmates, the drunk Todd aside, seemed to remember her.

They couldn’t believe how good Laine looked. They couldn’t believe it had been ten years. They couldn’t believe she had moved away, made something of herself. She had been so sweet in high school, and they couldn’t believe they hadn't known her better.

There was so much they couldn’t believe about her. So much they could have known had they taken the time to know her. Laine felt sad, seeing missed opportunities for friends because of the strictures of high school. The differences in them were staggering. The bitchy (but apparently well-read) cheerleader had become a librarian — a profession that high school Laine would have believed she herself was destined for. The prom king’s sweet smile was now punctuated by a puffy middle and a harried looking wife — both away from their couple of kids for the big night. And so many had become nurses.

Laine stood smiling, engaged in conversation, sipping a glass of red wine. She felt amused by the slightly jealous looks coming from the former popular girls — all wearing black to hide the places where their once-amazing bodies had failed them in the last ten years. She started to feel a genuine warmth toward some of these people — a shared past even if there was no shared present.

She felt confused. This was supposed to be a night of redemption.

She briefly reached into her bag, feeling the smooth and cold steel that rested there. A secret.

This was supposed to be a night of redemption.

And what would be the outcome? They seemed so different. They seemed so much the same.

Laine had come to announce her arrival into the world. She wanted to announce it to the people who had spent so much time with her and didn’t care to know her at all. Laine wanted to see the surprise on their faces, the realization that she was so much more than they had thought.

But now she wavered.

Laine finished her wine and set down her glass. Yes or no? Her hand rested at the top of her bag.

And she realized it would be just one more thing about her that would be inconceivable.

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