Professor J's Place

10 May, 2010

Mothers, Daughters, and War

Maria Butcher (my grandmother) with Mary (my mom)

I resisted writing my usual sappy mother's day post yesterday, but here I am doing it today. The above photo always blows me away. It could have been taken in the 1980's, I think, except for Mama's bathing suit. Instead, it was taken in 1928. My grandmother, Mama told me, was a flapper. 

My grandmother was also depressed. 

She killed herself on December 13, 1941. Actually, she took poison on December 10th and died on the 13th. After years of my mother's annual depression and anger around the 13th, I finally asked mom what year it was my grandmother died. 


"It didn't have anything to do with Pearl Harbor, though, right?"

"It was because of Pearl Harbor. It was because she knew we would soon be going to war with Germany."

Everybody knew that Roosevelt was just waiting for an excuse to go to war in Europe. War on one front served as a gateway to war on another. Sound familiar?

My grandmother was a German. She met my Grandfather during WWI, when his regiment was staying at my Great grandmother's home. She traveled to America at the age of sixteen. She had four children, one of whom was to die in WWII. She was unhappy with my grandfather, and left him at least once. That's about all I know of my grandmother. It was, of course, early on in our understanding of mental illness. She was thought of as having had a nervous breakdown--what we now call a psychotic break. 

My mother was 16 when she watched her mother die horribly. 

It made her who she was. 

You might say it made me who I am, as well. 

I grew up with a mentally ill woman who was emotionally unavailable and full of rage against her mother, herself, God, and the German people. I remember Mama talking about how Germans were treated during the war. I remember her admonishment that a German heritage was "Nothing to be proud of." I remember that internalized racism. I remember her prejudice against the Japanese. 

And now we are at war on two fronts. What are the wars we're in doing to families now? Are there Persian Americans who hate themselves? How many mothers are dying? How many children will grow up with self-hatred? 

And now we are checking the papers of people who are brown. I already know that there are many people of Mexican heritage who hate their brown skin--hate their accents--hate themselves. What do the new immigration laws do for those children?

I suppose it is the human condition. I suppose we will always hate what is different. I suppose we will mostly hate that in ourselves which betrays us as different. 

I wish we could learn to love instead. 

I wish we would build schools and hospitals in Afghanistan instead of bombing it. I wish we could learn a new way. 

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27 April, 2010


My  mother was a single mom with three girls. She worked hard, but without any support from my father or any other family members, money was hard to come by. So when the weekend rolled around we would load up the cooler with Shasta pop (at .5 a can), hard boiled eggs, boiled hot dogs, and potato salad. And we'd drive out to a park. Usually, we'd head out to Garner State Park in the Texas Hill Country.

I know you readers from outside of Texas hear us talk about the Hill Country like it's God's back yard. And it is. But it might be hard for you to see. It is not lush and thick with trees like the wonderful woods in Georgia and the Carolinas. The hills are not majestic like the mountains of Colorado or magical like the hills of Kentucky. 

Our trees are slightly gray in color; even the old trees seem more like shrubs than the wonder that is the woods of Northern California.

But we are pulled here. 

I think it is the psychology of sparseness. I think it is the short-lived green season, the flowers that blanket the earth and burn away with the heat and drought in no time at all.

So, I don't boil the eggs and hotdogs anymore. But I do pile in the car with people I love and drive. It is my favorite weekend activity. A drive, some music, some photos. And maybe a bit of barbecue to celebrate my comparative wealth.
Hop in, girls. 

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23 April, 2010

Love poems

I was looking at love poems today because, well, just because (she says with a wry smile). Here's one I love. What are some of the love poems that move you? Share them with me, will you?

I Ask The Impossible
Ana Castillo

I ask the impossible: love me forever.
Love me when all desire is gone.
Love me with the single mindedness of a monk.
When the world in its entirety,
and all that you hold sacred advise you
against it: love me still more.
When rage fills you and has no name: love me.
When each step from your door to your job tires you--
love me; and from job to home again, love me, love me.
Love me when you're bored--
when every woman you see is more beautiful than the last,
or more pathetic, love me as you always have:
not as admirer or judge, but with
the compassion you save for yourself
in your solitude.
Love me as you relish your loneliness,
the anticipation of your death,
mysteries of the flesh, as it tears and mends.
Love me as your most treasured childhood memory--
and if there is none to recall--
imagine one, place me there with you.
Love me withered as you loved me new.
Love me as if I were forever--
and I, will make the impossible
a simple act,
by loving you, loving you as I do.

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21 April, 2010


Life is good these days.

The other day, I had this rush of love--and I realized it was from me to me.  All these years I've heard that you must love yourself. All these years I've thought it one of those things that people just said. And here I am--loving myself.

I am being creative again. I am starting to look at the world as a series of images, a series of poems. I haven't thought that way in a long time, and it's good to be back home.

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19 April, 2010

Portraits of Tanith

And while we were at it, we decided to take some photos of Tanith, who wants some source photos for an upcoming self portrait.

Fun with Black Dogs

The other day, Tanith and I decided to use my new lighting system to take some pictures of the black girls.


                  Bessie and Judy                                                                             Judy

This, of course, made the other girls jealous, so more of them later.


16 April, 2010


This morning, on my way in from the parking lot, I saw a little bird in the distance. As I got closer, I saw it was a song sparrow. I don't have any photos of my own of song sparrows, so I thought I'd link you to this lovely bird lover.

Back to my random thoughts.
When I realized the bird was a sparrow, I remembered having breakfast at a diner in Iowa. One of the men in at the table asked about the birds in the parking lot. They're just house sparrows, I said. "They're really beautiful," the man replied. 

They are. If this tiny little creature weren't omnipresent, it would be a prized citing on any birder's life list. Instead, people shoo them away from bird feeders because they're too common. 

And I remembered a poem I used to love when I was a child.

Stephen Vincent Benét

Lord, may I be
A sparrow in a tree.

No ominous and splendid bird of prey
But something that is fearful every day
Yet keeps its small flesh full of heat and lightness.
Pigeons are better dressed and robins stouter
The white owl has all winter in his whiteness
And the blue heron is a kingly dream
At evening, by the pale stream,
But, even in the lion’s cage, in Zoos,
You’ll find a sparrow, picking up the crumbs
And taking life precisely as it comes
With the black, wary eye that marks the doubter;
Squabbling in crowds, dust-bathing in the sun,
Small, joyous, impudent, a gutter-child
In Lesbia’s bosom or December’s chill,
Full of impertinence and hard to kill
As Queen Anne’s lace and poppies in the wheat—
I won’t pretend the fellow has a Muse
But that he has advice, and good advice,
All lovers know who’ve walked the city’s street
And wished the stones were bread.
Peacocks are handsomer and owls more wise.
(At least, by all repute.)
And parrots live on flattery and fruit,
Live to a great age. The sparrow’s none of these.
The sparrow is a humorist, and dies.
There are so many things that he is not.
He will not tear the stag nor sweep the seas
Nor fall, majestical, to a king’s arrow.
Yet how he lives, and how he loves in Living
Up to the dusty tip of every feather!
How he endures oppression and the weather
And asks for neither justice nor forgiving!
Lord, in your mercy, let me be a sparrow!
His rapid heart’s so hot.
And some can sing—song-sparrows, so they say—
And one thing, Lord, the times are iron, now
Perhaps you have forgot.
They shoot the wise and brave on every bough
But sparrows are the last things that get shot.

I have always loved sparrows. Not just because they're beautiful, but in large part, because of this poem. 

I identify with them.  Small, timid, plain, common. Just trying to stay out of the way and get enough sustenance. But as I reread this poem, I see the other things I want. The bravery, the doing what must be done, the joy, the humor. And the passion. "Yet keeps its small flesh full of heat and lightness." 

Yes please.

(ps. Thanks to Leslie, "liberrian" extarodinaire, for the text of this poem. I was not at home, and she looked it up for me.)

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11 April, 2010

Notes from a "Hanger-On"

Friday I was able to go to the opening of Salon International at the Greenhouse Gallery as the guest of my friend Susan Carlin. If you are in San Antonio, you should go to this show! It is almost 400 paintings--almost all of which are brilliant.

Here is Susan with the painting she entered in the show: "Gentleman Traveler. "

Anyway, I have spent the past several days  posting a poem a day on Facebook for National Poetry Month. It has been great submerging myself in the word. I've also had the opportunity to work several times at Susan's gallery, to purchase new music (and even to receive some as a gift--thanks Cheri), and to puchase new art (a painting by Bonnie Mann and a cup by Gary Rith). I love creativity. I love being around artists and supporting their work.
And it is important to support art, I think.
But Friday night, as I was being introduced to people as, "my friend Karen," I joked with another friend--the lovely artist Patty Cooper-- that I should be introduced as "a hanger-on," an "art groupie," a "sometime clerk" and "book keeper." I realize that I want to do more than that.
It is no longer enough to share other people's poetry. I need to write my own again. I need to sing. I need to create things of beauty (photos, jewelry, something). I want to be an artist--I want to think of myself as an artist.

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01 April, 2010

Happy Birthday, Beloved Dinah

We celebrate this lovely day with one of the first poems I ever memorized. Mama and I always quoted it to our fireside-sleek dogs.

Lone Dog
Irene Rutherford McLeod

I'm a lean dog, a keen dog, a wild dog and lone;
I'm a rough dog, a tough dog, hunting on my own;
I'm a bad dog, a mad dog, teasing silly sheep;
I love to sit and bay the moon, to keep fat souls from sleep.

I'll never be a lap dog, licking dirty feet,
A sleek dog, a meek dog, cringing for my meat,
Not for me the fireside, the well-filled plate,
But shut door, and sharp stone, and cuff and kick, and hate.

Not for me the other dogs, running by my side,
Some have run a short while, but none of them would bide.
Oh mine is still the lone trail, the hard trail, the best,
Wide wind, and wild stars, and hunger of the quest!

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30 March, 2010

I Heart Texas

I went to my favorite place in the world this weekend--the Texas Hill country. I packed up the car with a cooler of diet coke and my friends Stella, Patty, and Tanith, and we drove up to Blanco and accross to Wimberly. It was a beautiful day: Warm winds blowin', heat and blue sky, and the road goes on forever (Chris Rae).

02 January, 2010


I have no resolutions. But I have a title. I have a plan. This is the year of community.

I will take some risks and meet some people. I will make friends who live in in the same state--maybe even the same city--as me.