Category Archives: Quick takes

A November farewell

Nov. 3, 2014

He was here to fill my aching arms after our little son Christopher failed to come home from the hospital. He was here to welcome the next child, Emily, safely into our family. He was here for birthday parties, sleepovers, first days of school, first crushes. He saw our oldest, Katie, grow into a woman, graduate from college and begin her new life. And he was here just this morning, happy to be let out into the glorious sunshine, although he had not quite been himself for the past few days. “You sweet little thing,” I murmured in response to his happy purr. And now, this evening, as gently and peacefully as entered our lives, our beautiful cat has left us. Goodbye, Mozart, and thank you for 18 wonderful years.

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Filed under grief, Quick takes

Thofe Pefky Coffee-Houfes

Coffee HoufesDefarts


The original Prohibitionists? In 1674, the Women’s Petition Against Coffee was published in London to protest the sale of this “Heathenish new LIQUOR” because of the effect it was having on their Hufbands. Take a look at their list of complaints.

Well said, ladies.

Because let’s face it. We could tolerate their Goffipping. We could put up with their Impotence, and maybe even endure the occasional Drying of Moifture. But we absolutely cannot, will not, abide thofe deadly Defarts. Now they’ve crossed the line.


Filed under addiction, drug abuse, drug addiction, humor, Quick takes


He is balding in many places, and no amount of elaborate combing-over can hide the telltale glow of pink skin underneath. Over the years, his once-musical voice has been reduced to a plaintive croak. If we watch a movie together, he falls asleep and snores so loudly during the most sensitive and touching love scenes I can barely hear the dialogue. His table manners, once so meticulous, have now become truly atrocious, with food scattered willy-nilly in every direction so that it crunches under your feet when you walk through the kitchen.

And let’s not even talk about his bathroom habits, which have grown so shamefully lax I hesitate to invite anyone over any more. It’s too embarrassing to have to explain why my entire house smells of bleach.


I remember him when he was young and beautiful. I can still vividly remember the day we went to choose him from the animal rescue shelter. He was the prettiest and healthiest kitten at the shelter, snoozing peacefully in his cage with his silky black and white fur highlighting perfect pink ears that flicked gently in the soft Indian-summer air.

We had gone there to ease the heartache of a now-empty nursery that had been intended to welcome home our greatly anticipated second child. Our Christopher died in my arms within minutes of his appearance on earth, and I ached for something small and warm to hold. Although I could not imagine how a small kitten could possibly be expected to fill the void left by a son I had hoped to raise to adulthood, I wanted to demonstrate to Katie, my firstborn, that our lives must keep moving forward, no matter how badly our hearts were broken.

That was more than 18 years ago. In the intervening years, our Mozart has helped us welcome our youngest child into our midst. As far as Emily knows, there has always been a cat who is part of our family. Mozart was here for their first days of school, the endless round of sleepovers and birthday parties, their first crushes. He has seen Katie graduate first from high school, then college. He has seen Emily sail through her entire 10+ years of school with straight A’s. If he continues to hang in there much as he has, he may well see at least one young woman in her wedding gown within the next few years.

And, if our veterinarian has it figured right, he may even still be around to usher in the next generation. At our last well-being checkup, the vet looked into Mozart’s crystal-clear green eyes, nodded, and announced, “Yep. I think this cat’s going to make it to 22.”

As for me, I’m counting on it.



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Remembering Robin Williams

Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
~ Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2


Although the final act by this supremely gifted comic and dramatic actor was a deeply tragic one, for most of us it is not the sum total of his life, not what we will remember as his greatest legacy.

For me, personally, it’s not even the impressive body of funny, moving, profound work he did over a long and productive career … nor even the joy and laughter and hope he brought to untold millions.

In the coming weeks, I am sure that much will be written about those things by people who are far more qualified to analyze them for their lasting impact on us as individuals and on the larger culture. I leave it to the experts to eulogize the invaluable contributions he made to the dramatic arts.

No, for me personally, the totality of his legacy can be summed up in his eyes: blue and gentle, they shone with a lovingkindness that seemed to include everyone in the world, however anonymous or petty or undeserving we might be. It was his eyes that I will remember.

What will you remember him for? Feel free to share your thoughts below.


Filed under compassion, lovingkindness, Quick takes

A new word enters the lexicon

Look. If Lewis Carroll (the author of the famous Alice in Wonderland books) could invent words such as chortle, galumphing and jabberwocky–words that have now become part of standard everyday usage–then I want my chance at immortality as well.

In that spirit, I offer the following term that evolved naturally out of a conversation with a female friend who is encountering some difficulty in making herself understood. Her opponent in this instance is a particularly implacable and arrogant male authority figure, but in truth this word has many useful applications and could work in any number of contexts.

Here, then, is the new coinage.

Ma-tron-ize |ˈmātrəˌnīz, ˈma-|

verb [requires an obj.]; feminine form of patronize, only better

  1. to treat with an exaggerated kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority
  2. to speak slowly, carefully and in very simple language when conversing with a complete and utter moron
  3. to accomplish the above with queenly dignity, grace and majesty

There’s my contribution to the English language. Long may it live.

Just remember you read it here first.


Filed under feminism, grammar, humor, Quick takes, writing

First, let your heart bleed

“If you open your eyes to the world, you feel tremendous sadness. This kind of sadness occurs because your heart is completely exposed. The genuine heart of sadness comes from feeling that your heart is full. You would like to spill your heart’s blood, give your heart to others. For the warrior, this experience of sad and tender heart is what gives birth to fearlessness. Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart.” ~ Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chögyam Trungpa

Today I read these words in a book I checked out of the library. I was seeking some words of wisdom to guide me as I tried to find healing in  a distressing situation that — while not by any measure the worst catastrophe that has ever befallen me — was nonetheless enough of a shock to leave me sad, shaken and depressed.

New words for an abiding truth

In its simplest terms, the above quote sets forth the Buddhist philosophy on sorrow, which counsels that one embrace one’s grief, rather than trying to deny or suppress it.

It’s not really a new idea. I’ve long believed that painful feelings are far better faced and worked through than neatly tucked in, bottled up, or otherwise stifled. Suffice it to say that Trungpa’s words merely put a new wrapper on a familiar concept.

The rhythm of renewal

Still, it never hurts to be reminded that one’s heart can be broken at any age … that we remain vulnerable to people and relationships we thought we had outgrown the need for … that life can blindside and wound us at least as readily as it can surprise and delight us … and that this cycle of heartache and joy is as natural and foreseeable a part of life as the taking in and expiring of breath, as the coming and going of the seasons, as the ebb and flow of the tides. All things in the universe have their expected rise and fall. It is how life continues to renew itself.

Did I say it never hurts to be reminded of these things? Actually, it does hurt. That is precisely the point. It is only in our continued ability to experience the pain of brokenness that we find the suppleness and strength for new growth.

Let the grieving commence

I look forward to the day when this is once again good news. Today, however, it simply hurts. And I’m simply going to have to let it do so.



Filed under fearlessness, grief, healing, Quick takes

Grammer matter’s bc other country’s know are language better then us*

Here’s a little lesson in humility for the following:

*  Every North American who sees no value in learning our own language well, let alone anyone else’s

*  Every North American who makes fun of people who come from other countries and struggle to live in our country, learn our culture, and speak our language

Over the years, I have led numerous grammar “review” sessions at various colleges and universities where I’ve been a professor. These sessions cover the three major problem areas for most people:

1. Apostrophes
2. Pronouns
3. Irregular verbs, especially transitive and intransitive (the biggies are lie vs. lay)

Did you notice how I put the word review in quotation marks? That’s because, for many of my students, it’s the first time they’ve ever heard it.

Of course there are other trouble spots. These are the main ones that lots of people get wrong, including many “professional” writers. Again, note my use of quotation marks.

In all my years of review sessions with hundreds of students, most of whom have come through our public K-12 schools, I have met only one student who already knew this material thoroughly — knew it so well, in fact, that he was able to stay one step ahead for most of the review session.

One student.


Want to know where he’s from?




*PS:  If you caught all eight errors in my headline, then you are probably either: a) as frustrated as I am at the appalling state of language instruction in the United States; or b) foreign.


Filed under classroom, education, education, grammar, Quick takes, Uncategorized