Monday, March 30, 2009


To see the originals, click here:
1. Untitled, 2. Untitled, 3. week seven, 4. Untitled,
5. oriole nest, 6. Lavender light , 7. Posing, 8. Untitled,
9. Untitled, 10. mini, 11. cool canoe, 12. A New Life in My Hand

This weekend I took my former student Brianna to see the Guthrie's A Raisin in the Sun. We went out for Ethiopian beforehand at the Blue Nile. If you live in the area, I'd recommend the combination--good food, good company, good theatre.

Lately I've been enjoying:
- Film: Dear Frankie, Rachel Getting Married
Books: Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner, re-reading Beloved by Toni Morrison and looking forward to following it up with A Mercy

We aren't seeing much of spring around here, though snow has, for the most part, disappeared. We've had a few flakes, but for the most part, this time is limbo--not winter any more, but no true buds, no bulbs poking through just yet. I like to look at last year's photos to see when we might see spring. I'm waiting.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

244: Spring coming on Middle Sand Lake

Post-trial, post-birthday. We spent part of spring break in Michigan with my grandmother. It was a quiet trip, and with my laptop home and some small health issues, I didn't get as much done as I would have liked. I'm hoping tomorrow I will be able to shake the travel fuzz and focus on grading and essay-writing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

243: Happy 30th, love of my life...

This is where I hum, lucky life. This is where I tell you of how glad I am to come home to this man, every day, to sleep next to him (even if he wakes in a panic, thinking I might miss a train, or the trial, or whatever his sweet little dreaming self believes is going on), to share the everyday with him. Above, I love how you can see the seasons with him too: from his thesis defense to spring camping to kayaking on my grandmother's lake to autumn trips to Hay Creek and in winter, at Colville and up Memorial Bluff. He's so good and tolerant, and I smile whenever I look at each of these images, the man who holds my hand and draws me in, keeps me safe and sane. So lucky, and on today too, we celebrate him being here. And it's a milestone too: his 30th.


Last night, around quarter to five, Ryan gently rocked me awake, saying, "Aren't you going to the train?" I asked what train, knowing he was asleep, curious as to what he might be dreaming about. "The train with the jury. You're going to be late." No, I told him, that trial was over, and the verdict was guilty, remember? "Oh."

It will be a long while before this trial isn't haunting me too. I've learned that reading the comments on the articles about the trial are upsetting.

I thought I would be relieved to talk about it, happy to be able to share details and opinions of mine, but I've found it dissatisfying--I cannot seem to convey the complexity of what it is to have taken in those six days and then be in charge of reacting. The true emotions aren't present, just a litany of facts.

But even more, it hurts to see people write that he is a "monster" who deserves "the death penalty" and should "become someone's bitch" in prison. To me, these hurtful people both don't understand the situation (coming to a guilty verdict was not easy, and we wanted to qualify it, write little post-its in places where we wish the investigation had gone deeper, the defense had asked different questions, the defendant had gone on the stand and told his version of the night, the victim's regular doctor could be talked to in regards to over-medication, and on) but there were murmurs in the jury room of how some didn't think the defendant believed what he did was wrong. To me, the reaction is probably not immediately Punish him! Punish him! Indeed, one needs to atone for these sorts of offenses, but what about rehabilitation? What about learning from experiences? What about finding a way to become better people?

And most of all: what about creating a better education system, a better after school program that can put things in place? What about preventative measures? That we are so heavily focused on the after, on cleaning things up in this society frightens me. I think of other issues, of environmental measures that are taken long after the disaster point is reached. I think of reading Having Faith and how the solution to pregnant women is to abstain from dangerous foods--local water, fish, and on. Instead of putting the finances and efforts into cleaning up, it's into sending a message that something else will be removed from the diet of a pregnant woman in order to protect the unborn child. It seems so often we're ready to jump into the aftermath.

And don't get me wrong: I think crisis centers and the justice system and all of it have a place. I'm just sad for two reasons: one, that people can be so cruel in their reactions without knowing enough (ah, so easy to judge knowing so very little), and two, that it came to this in the first place.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Today marked the end of a long week: three days of jury selection, two days of trial, and one day of deliberation, and I was witness to it all.

The jury selection took as long as it did due to the nature of the case: a black man being accused of raping a white woman. Later, one of the jurors told me something I'd heard before: somewhere in the last decade, some apartments weren't getting rented out, so the landlord took out an ad in Chicago and Gary, Indiana newspapers; the citizens of this town had apparently not had a great many black neighbors, but began to be witness to a rising crime rate--the first murder in many years was gang-related, and just last year at this time a family was shaken up by arrests for crack dealing and making (indeed, the family lived across the street from us). My own life experiences are vastly different; I spent my childhood in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where my birthday parties had just as many black as white friends, and moving to the Midwest was startling in its near homogeneity. Ultimately, I'm not sure what any of that means--I cannot say I'm not aware of race (what does that word mean anyway? I mean really mean...), of culture, but I also feel, with absolute confidence, that when I was participating in deliberations, that neither the victim nor the perpetrator's race was a factor, and I don't believe it was for the other eleven as well. I am all too familiar of how loaded that situation was, and how the deck can be stacked against someone. (Of course, then, is this harmful thinking too? Again, it honestly was not a factor, but I realize this line of thinking can be damaging too.)

Thursday was by far the most difficult day: it began with the victim taking the stand, her affect strange (we learned she had taken a Valium), her thought process slow and her expression often blank, though just as often, she was crying. I was amazed at the burden of both attorneys; I know it's spoken that the burden of proof is put on the prosecuting attorney, but there is a certain responsibility a public defender has that amazes me. Also, that day testifying: the medical team--the ER nurse and doctor--who did the exam and rape kit, which struck me as another form of (necessary) violation, with swabs and prodding, with clothes as evidence, being permanently exchanged for sweats, a secondary part of a rape kit. The ER nurse explained her professional history, which included "traveling"--thirteen week contracts throughout the western United States, including Denver--and for the decade or so she'd been a nurse, she'd only had two rape cases, and both happened to be here in town. The doctor had seen about sixty, he said, and fifty of those were here in town (he also worked in southern Minnesota as well as on a military base, I believe). We ended our day with the interviewing officer's testimony, including the recorded interview between the officer and the victim, and this is where we left it for the day.

Needless to say, I came home and cried. At the time I didn't know if it was true or not, but the experience was vivid and it was clear the victim had gone through something, had experienced something to bring her in that day, that much we knew.

The second day was more official, with more items being entered into evidence--photos of the living room, clothing, phone records, interview transcripts. It's not all black-and-white, these trials. We are fed these cases on television that give us elements that prove "beyond a shadow of doubt" of guilt or innocence. We're given a litany--the injured hand, the busted chiffarobe, the bruised face, the angry father, the frightened daughter (I taught To Kill a Mockingbird four years running while in the K-12 system--can you tell?). Not so here, and that makes sense--a case wouldn't go to trial if there weren't enough evidence to convict, or just as much evidence to decline a plea bargain. There's always a reason to put fourteen people in those chairs, take away their long workdays and replace them with something that will haunt us for a long time.

And Friday, we hoped closing arguments would close holes, but they didn't. We went into the jury deliberation room, that small box of a place with no windows and a narrow conference table, ready to hash it out. We picked apart the facts, drew a timeline on the board, made a map of the apartment complex, discussed relationships and whose children belonged to whom, and on. We asked each other to pretend as if we were the defendant, or the defendant were our son--what then? What could we bring to the table? We discussed what "beyond a reasonable doubt" actually meant, using the handbook we were given that defines such terms. We went through the four elements of arriving at a verdict (did penetration occur, did it occur against the victim's will, was it achieved by force or coercion, did the event occur in our county on the date in question). We talked and talked, telling ourselves we'd stay all day, as long as it needed, because not only did everyone on the other side of that door deserve our complete fairness and attention, but once we run into each other in town, we want to be able to look each other in the eye and say we'd done the right thing, what was best. And when it appeared we were feeling black-and-white as opposed to that gray area (the one with doubts, which plenty were raised going in, and much was answered by our notes, our charts, our examination of evidence), we then began again, discussing of ways in which we might be able to convince ourselves of a not-guilty verdict, playing devil's advocate and questioning.

In the end, we were only gone three and a half hours. And while we were gone, some officers and others in the courtroom that morning attended the funeral of one of their own who had died of a heart attack during a CPR drill at the station--indeed, with the defibrillators and all other materials close by, the next "best" place to have a heart attack being in an actual hospital. When it was done, the verdict read, our things gathered, the judge came back into our little cave, revealed what had been in the newspaper (the perpetrator was an unregistered level three sex offender--what wasn't mentioned in the article was that he was without an address and the offense happened nearly two decades ago--and the perpetrator opted to not take the stand during the proceedings specifically for this reason--he may have wanted to tell his side of the story, but he knew the prosecuting attorney could ask about prior felonies, putting his credibility into question), and the judge let us ask questions--about the process, details left out of the case, and on, which I felt was incredibly kind of him. We were a curious bunch.

And I do wonder things about the outcome: what might have happened if one certain person had been found to testify, or if he would have testified, or if the investigation would have done certain things, or the child she was babysitting had woken up. We are so talented at the what if game and it can bog us down. It comes down to the facts, what was presented in that courtroom, and we can't speculate in any direction, not in such a way that influences our decision; those conversations can be for later.

I'm glad for the experience, the intimate look at the justice system, going behind the scenes, in a sense, though it's been one of those weighty experiences that will shadow me for a great long while.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

240: How Today Made Me Feel Better

Indeed, the trial has been emotionally draining. But a good thing: today, Ryan and I took the dogs for a long walk today, enjoying this small bit of blue skies, the sun shining down as we gazed over the Mississippi River and local grainery, knowing the melting is only so far away... I do intend to ruminate on the trial as much as I legally can just as soon as it is over, but we have been called back for this coming Monday. For now, all is quiet, my husband is charmingly distracting (he even danced in front of the newspaper dispensers downtown as we walked by), and I hope whatever is decided is right and just, though after this, I only wish I truly knew what those words meant. Instead, I only know love, right here and right now, no matter how snowy and gritty it might be, and I am grateful because I will always feel safe. Who knew this love would need to feel safe for me to sleep at night.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Sometimes I realize just how un-thick my skin is.

Sometimes I feel as if I try too hard to please others.

Sometimes breathing is enough.

Sometimes I'm amazed at the capacity we have to hurt one another.

Sometimes I try to be too much, too many selves.

Sometimes I'm spread too thin.

I feel this little pit of frustration, of sorrow inside of me, and I know there is a string of reasons. I feel blue inside and out, like I reached my peak capacity for the negative column a few days ago and forgot to notice. It's that kind of hibernate-under-the-bed ache. Do you know it?

It's late winter here in Minnesota. Last weekend, we had a sunny day, and Ryan and I went to the work of clearing out the backyard. A few days later, the temperatures plummeted, and now, my hair is freezing in clumps as I walk outdoors, and snow covers the ground again, but mostly--ice. Not that thin sheen we slip on, but those thick cakes strategically placed for optimum irritability, our cars parked slightly at a slant, our doors jammed up on the walk.

Sometimes it's like this, a slump down, a need for an explosively good something to come along. Or just a good night with friends, you know? Unfortunately, this is not on my docket for a little while--mostly, it's just jury duty and grading facing me. Five hours of sleep, that uncomfortable cycle, and dogs who haven't had enough attention. I will crawl out of this, I know, but being here, right now, it's exhausting. I want to sleep through the night tonight.

238: the rural juror

It's late, and this week has already been consumingly long.

As some of you know, Ryan and I have been receiving summons for jury duty off and on throughout the past few months, alternating groans as the name "Yvonne Black" appears on the return label, cursing this woman who officiated our wedding and showed no sign of recognition when I crossed her path in the grocery store years later (big surprise; we met her just half an hour or so before the actual ceremony).

This Monday, when I called in, I expected for it to be canceled, as it always is, as the person charged tends to plea bargain out, and we are left with our half-days half-ruined. Mondays are my non-campus days, so I simply return to the task at hand--be it grading, reading, essay writing.

And since Monday, I sat. And I sat. Great walled rooms, cathedral ceilings, windows looking out at drizzling ice-rain days, my classes eventually canceled, my professors emailed, my anxiety at missing more school (see: Palm Beach; see: AWP; see: snow storm), and there is nothing anyone can do about any of it. All valid, all piling up just before the halfway mark.

Today the jurors were winnowed down from just below forty to fourteen (the two alternates not knowing who they are--a good thing, I think, to keep all of us paying attention). Indeed, I am one of the fourteen, and I can tell you this: it is a criminal case. And that is all.

I did make it to campus tonight, for most of one class and for a Dislocate reading. I'll post some of my favorite pictures from that tomorrow. I was also able to pick up my forty-some student midterms and my forty-some student essays, all of which will be graded over spring break. I know I shouldn't have been, but I was a little shocked when I saw that it couldn't all fit in my mailbox; indeed, they had to bring down a box to stuff it all in. It will be a long week of grading and travel following a long week of heavy subjects and concentration. I will sleep long and hard at some point, though not tonight. Not long, anyway.

Monday, March 9, 2009

237: making mozzarella

This Sunday we met at Angie's house, a first homesteading get together, and made mozzarella with this recipe, followed up by homemade pizza. I would say the experiment was a success, and I hope will be the first of many get togethers of this lovely band of women who are interested in making more mindful choices about living. And homemade pizza plus homebrewed wine plus good conversation is always a lovely combination.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

236: more Louise Gluck

More photos of the event here.