CSPAN has this cool American Writers series.
Cable hasn’t turned off my CSPAN yet. I thought CSPAN was free, but no. You have to pay for it, and I am being ascetic.

But Cable is lazy in following through with my order to turn off my decadent TV programming. So today I got to learn more about Ayn Rand.

I first read Ayn Rand in the summer of ’93. What a momentous summer that was! I loved The Fountainhead so much that I read it at stoplights while driving. I couldn’t put it down!

Rand is interesting, because she is different than just a writer. She is a PHILOSPHER. She started this whole idea of OBJECTIVISM.

I don’t know that much about objectivism, but the essence of Rand’s philosophies is given all throughout her books. It’s a PHILOSOPHY, don’t bother about being realistic.

I had encountered the idea of philosophy once before I read Rand. I had read Francis Schaeffer’s book He is There and He is Not Silent. This was a Christian Apologetic book. That means, it was a book explaining why Christianity is right and true. Previous to my reading Schaeffer’s book, I had never really heard anyone address Christian apologetics. I had gone to chapel every school morning, twice on Wednesday, and then there were the regular church services on Sunday morning and Wednesday night. I had gone to our denomination’s seminary for a year. No apologetics. Just believe!

But Schaeffer…He should have been so over my head, but he wasn’t. He actually had read philosophy, and not just Aristotle. An educated Christian man! I had not encountered such a thing. I was 19 years old, and I was reading this man holding up the bible to the philosophies of Plata, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, Sartre and Camus. I had never once heard of ANY OF THESE PEOPLE. But Schaeffer was bringing up their questions and addressing them as if they were important. I ate the book like a lit match eats gasoline.

When I look at it now, I understand it differently than I did then. Sometimes, you don’t know the answer, but just formulating the question can be so satisfying that you almost forget about finding the answer.

I was changed. The world became Eden once again. I laugh now, because I was in a Soviet era town in Yakutia Russia. I was surrounded by grim blank nine-story concrete apartment houses and grim blank grocery stores. I should have been terrified, but I was cherishing every snowflake and sunbeam, because I finally understood that I had a right to question the world and find out why. Everything was fascinating and beautiful, because I could fearlessly examine it.

That was ’92. The next summer, I encountered Rand, my first taste of Philosophy, directly experienced. I loved it. I did not entirely agree, which I also cherished, because I COULD disagree. But I loved her vision of personal strength and no barriers to achievement.

I didn’t want any barriers to my achievement, now that I was back in America. America is SUPPOSED to be a land of no horizons for the brave individual.

Later, when I got to go to the University again (how I love universities!) I took a philosophy class. It filled a slot in my schedule. My education has largely been determined by the convenient time scheduling of class times.

It was also beautiful experience. I remember enjoying the class so much, I thought of it as a lovely faceted diamond. All these beautiful questions and answers, lined up in contiguous sparkling symmetry. They were not perfect, but so much of them were, that you could forgive the flaws.

It was in that survey class that I met Anselm; he had derived the ontological proof of GOD. Philosophies worry about God a lot.

Anselm was from Britain, and he was the head of a monastery. His little monks were asking him questions about God, like “How do we know that God exists?”

Anselm did not bitch-slap them and tell them to have faith. He thought about it. He came up with a well-thought out answer. It is not a fully satisfactory answer, but it’s a pretty good answer. And it was an ANSWER to a question. He respected questions.

I love him for that. In the 11th century, in Britain, Anselm said, “That’s a good question. I will have to think about it.” I am so grateful to his respect of questions, I can never forget about Anselm. I have heard something about some people getting out of hand with the answers, but I will not blame later followers mistakes on the founder

Years later, when I visited Canterbury Cathedral in England, I sought out his grave. I wanted to reverence him.

“Daily pay for Daily work-$$$”

As I was at the library today, I stopped and picked up a Career Helper newspaper. That’s not its true name, I don’t remember what its name really was. It was filled with advertisements for getting training to be a dental assistant, and for jobs with “unlimited earning potential—all from your own home!”

There were ads that said “Tired of your dead end job? Become a truck driver!”

“We’re hiring! Join a Security Team in your area! $9.15 an hour starting!”

There are a lot of jobs out there.

“Daily pay for Daily work! $$$$”

The American dream again. Maybe. Daily pay for Daily work. An honest day’s work and an honest day’s pay.

I wonder if I am being a snob because I am horrified and frightened by these $$$$ jobs.

I have a friend who worked at a bookstore as a clerk, and lived happy and free in San Jose at less than ten thousand a year. Her six-figure-earning friend had trouble making ends meet.

I went to the library to get more books to read. Happy happy me, reading books like a mad person now that I can. And I am such a serious little scholar that I’ve taken to making little synopsis notes of what I read, for future reference.

I was laughing at myself as I walked through the biography section. What does this really matter, anyway? Maybe I just need to be networking as hard as I can, to get a job $$$. But after I saw that newspaper, I thought, What’s the job for either?

Maybe I should be like my bookstore friend. I could sell my car, get three roommates and live with joy in between the covers of the beautiful books.

Just live with joy, somehow, I think.


Well, friends. Blogger has been down. I am sorry to be so uncommunicative.

I just finished reading a book by John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley. I’ve had it for a long time, but I haven’t read it because I was busy reading ASSIGNED books. Now that I am free, I am ready to go on a reading rampage.

So. Steinbeck decided, near the end of his life, to take a trip with his dog and find America. It seems reminiscent of On The Road by Kerouac, but without all of the mysticism. In place of it, Steinbeck has down-home philosophy.

It was first published in 1962. America had begun its mass-produced life. Things like plastic and mobile homes are things Steinbeck regards with wonder and suspicion. At that time, mobile homes were the latest innovation. They had not had time to rust and be blown away in hurricanes– for people to pile rusted car carnage around them and develop trailer park culture.

One interesting difference between Steinbeck’s view of the future and the view now is the great uneasiness about the BOMB. I remember this too, just barely. How everyone lived with the constant fear of nuclear war. It was everywhere, movies, songs, TV, books, conversations. The bomb was a shadow that clouded everyone’s view of the future.

Now, somehow, it is not the same way. I’m not so sure why. Nuclear weapons still exist, and more countries have them now than in the 60s. We are not waging a cold war with the Russians, but I wouldn’t say that Russia is stable, either.

It seems like we just decided to stop thinking about it. It became old news, maybe.

I am reminded of the funerals I have been to—I am thinking of the ones where the deceased was young, and the gathering of friends together for comfort was a gathering of teenagers and 20somethings. It is a shattering thing, that a friend has died, but it is impossible to maintain the attitude of sorrow and seriousness that such and occasion implies. Inevitably, my friends and I would break into some kind of humorous banter. We were torn and mourning but it was just too much to think about all the time.

I think that nuclear war and holocaust is too much to think about. We must move on. Our attention had to go elsewhere.

I don’t know if this is a good thing. I am only looking at what has happened, and I am wondering about it.


I am like a broken record with this, but it IS very momentous to me.

As I stare into the fact of my finishing my bachelor’s degree, I am completely dumbfounded. I don’t know what else to do. I can’t even think. That’s a pretty strange state of mind for me; I am used to having all kind of thoughts. I am hypnotized by the inconceivable fact that I am done; it’s hard to think about anything else.

I feel like Inigo Montoya, in The Princess Bride, after he has finally revenged his father. He said, “I have been in the revenge business so long, I am not sure what else to do.”

Well. I’ll probably have it all figured out by next week. But for now, what an amazing thing. Sisyphus got that rock up the hill.


I just have to say,

I love the Bay Area.

This place is magnificent. The plants, and the sunshiny weather. All the many cities that make it: Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Campbell, San Jose, Los Gatos, Los Altos. All the freeways here, going north and south and east and west. Even more than one going in each direction. You can get anywhere from here. But why would you want to? There is so much here to do.

This is a great place.


As I’m shaking my hand out, to loosen it up at the end of the umpteenth essay exam, some of the earlier finishers slip out the door. School is finishing, and the people that I’ve shared my classes with are finishing and leaving. I feel a little wrench as I realize I will not see these people again.

We’ve learned so much about each other, while talking about the books we all read together. I feel the loss of their company as soon as they leave.

Then I feel silly, because after all, I didn’t REALLY know these people. We were just in a class together. The world is full of strangers that brush against me and pass– on the bus, in the stores, all around. They have nothing to do with me. Yet…It’s so amazing that I can get to know some of them, interact and talk and learn about them, and have the joy of telling them about me…And it works! They are strangers, but we are all tied together.

The tenuousness of human relationships astounds me. They feel so solid and permanent in the middle of that marvelous time or conversation you are sharing, when understanding is easy and quick. But small changes and the passage of time take those people far away, and perhaps they will never cross you path again.

People who you thought were a part of you are utterly gone, out of your life. They could be anywhere in the world, happy sad or indifferent.

When September 11th came, it occurred to me that some of the people who had meant a lot to me might even be dead. How would I know? There would be no mutual friend to call me and let me know. It’s a frightening thought.

And yet, though many people that I’ve shared great moments with, who have impacted my life just by allowing me to know them, wherever they are, are still very much a part of me. I remember them. I will not forget the times we shared. Even if I lose sight of that particular memory, I know because my life was impacted and I became a better person because of all those friends.


Well, I get to wear a loose-fitting black student robe for the first time. Graduation is Saturday! I will be a college graduate. It took me 12 years. I had started to think it would never happen.

Only 26 % of Americans over age 25 have “completed a Bachelor’s degree or more” according to the Census Bureau. I am one of those educated elite, now. As it happens, though, there is a higher percentage of young females that complete a bachelor’s degree or mare than any other group. Go girlfriends!

It did take me a long time to finish. You are “Supposed to” go to college straight out of high school and go through to finish, right? In some ways, I feel very odd about this circuitious route I took to the graduation ceremony. Like, maybe I took a wrong turn and had to backtrack to get to the place I should have been at age 22. Like I went three and a half years down a path, figured out I was mistaken and then had to walk three and a half years to get back to where I was supposed to have gone.

And yet…Those seven years were not erased. HUGE portions, seminal experiences we might call them in one of my lit classes, occurred during those times. I am a much better student for what I learned as a corporate consultant. I have a wealth of experience, and even some distance from that experience, to draw upon as I interpret the stories I love so much. I have a lot of…I don’t know if I would call it self-confidence…I guess I know myself enough to know that I must do what needs to be done, because no one else will do it, and no one is asking if I can, it simply must be done. I therefore do it. Whatever it is.

Some of my little early 20’s classmates are looking around nervously, asking what they are going to do with their lives now. “What kind of job will I be able to get? What should I do?” It is a scary question. I at least know that I will be okay. These poor little ones don’t trust that yet. I’ve been through the bad times, and I know I can handle it. I also know that there are many things worth more than security, although I have to remind myself of that a lot when I am low on security.

I want to tell these young English majors, “If you wanted security and money, you should have studied something else.” Maybe they didn’t know what that meant when they chose their major.

I at least knew it.

There is a new professor in the department. He went straight through, the way you are “supposed to”. He has his shiny PhD and all the awards. He was a fabulous student, 4.0 all the way. He is now about to be the head of the Shakespeare department. He’s the same age as me. And yet…I watch him, and often I want to take him aside and give him advice. He knows more than I will ever know about Shakespeare and literature of that period; his expertise is unquestionable. But sometimes, I really think I could help him by telling him a few things. Life is way more than what you can read in books.

I learned a few things sitting silently at corporate staff meetings, then sitting more vocally at meetings. Life skills are often like riding a bike; you can’t explain it, you just have to do it.

So I have learned to do a few things in my starting-out life. But I know that it’s not as much as I am going to need to know, not nearly as much. I have a lot to learn. And I’m excited to get going.

Now that I’m done with my BA, I feel like I will finally have the free time to study the authors and the periods that I really want to learn. I am anxious to get going.

There is just no way I’m going to get done.



I have rented a book on tape from the library. I thought it would be nice, since I had a lot of housework to do, to listen to a story. I found one by Ralph Ellison, Juneteenth. It is a really good recording; they even gave a little introduction to the book before they started.

It turns out that Ellison had been working on this book for 40 years, and had not finished it at the time of his death. I read his fabulous novel, The Invisible Man. If you haven’t read it, it is a really good treatment of race relations and experience in the 60s.

I wondered about why he would have taken 40 years, and not finished Juneteenth. It seemed like he might have finished it a long time ago, and published it during his lifetime.

But then I began to think about what The Invisible Man was about, and I thought…Hmm…It could be scary to write a book that other people don’t like.

I remembered Martin Luther King Jr. I remembered Malcolm X. They were killed for talking about things that other people didn’t like. And they are not the only examples.

But this is only a book. Why would anyone be scared of a book?

Here is something Joseph Conrad wrote:

Fiction is history, human history, or it is nothing. But it is also more than that; it stands on firmer ground, being based on the reality of forms and the observation of social phenomena, whereas history is based on documents, and the reading of print and handwriting—on the second-hand impression. Thus, fiction is nearer truth. But let that pass. A historian may be an artist too, and a novelist is a historian, the preserver, the keeper, the expounder, of human experience.

Books can be more powerful than real life, sometimes. They focus your attention on the details that are important, at least, the ones deemed important to the message.

Stories, writing, is powerful, and can move people and shape culture. What if some of those people are extremely unwilling to be moved? Books can be revolutionary, and in revolution, there are casualties.

I remember the stories of Salman Rushdie, after he wrote the Satanic Verses. It was a book that raised a question about Islamic doctrine, and he suffered for it. His life was threatened; he had to go into hiding. He survived all the threats, but his wife couldn’t take it anymore and left him.

What about Galileo? He wrote a revolutionary book about science, and was imprisoned.

I don’t know why Ralph Ellison waited to publish Juneteenth. Maybe he just was being a perfectionist. But just thinking about it, makes me realize again that the power of a book, to change the life of many people or just one, is not insignificant.


I ran across an article by Angela Davis called ” I Used to Be Your Sweet Mama: Ideology, Sexuality, and Domesticity”. It had to do with the birth of the blues. Now, i like the blues, but I am not really an expert.

She had a really interesting theory about the evolution of the blues. Basically, it is an African American art form, and it grew up after the slaves were emancipated. Prior to emancipation, African Americans sang in groups, because they never really had a place for the solo performer.

When freedom came, the soloist had a place to perform, and people had a place to congregate to listen. Apparently, the earliest blues singers were women; she names Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Ida Goodson, and some others. But the part that really grabs me is the subject matter.

One of the major freedoms granted with the release from slavery was the freedom to MOVE. If you are enslaved, you cannot go anywhere of your own free will. When you are your own person, you can go anywhere you want.

So traveling was sung about; it continues to be subject matter for the blues. “Movin’ on.” I am so excited to see that a historical event, which created new possibilities for travel, revealed itself in an emerging art form.


It gives me new insight into what traveling means to me. Being able to travel is an ultimate expression of freedom. When I am uncertain about where my life is headed or what is in store for me around the bend, I often comfort myself with the idea that I could just get up and go to any place I wanted.

I keep my passport current for that reason.

It’s not so much that I WOULD, it’s just that I COULD.

It is a form of power. Having a plan. These women who sang and made a new music called the blues knew they had a backdoor; they could leave. Sometimes knowing that makes all the difference. Because when you stay it’s your choice. And if it gets bad enough, you know that you can pull the ripcord, hit eject, GET OUT.

It gave her the power again. Being able to travel meant that she was the one in control.
And that can make all the difference.

poli sci

My last class for my undergraduate career is finished. It was a Political science class.

THe teacher seems impossibly old. But he tells a lot of stories. He tells them well too. One of the things about being an old person is having such a great amount of stories to tell.

He was actually a politician, so he had a personal viewpoint to speak from, when discussing all the branches of government and how they work.

He took a whole hour today to talk about the wonderfulness of the government.He was trying to convince the class to consider working for the government as a career. He said, “there are a lot of really sharp people in this class. For my own selfish reasons, I would like to have sharp people in the government. You should seriously think about it.”

But his story is the kind of story that has been heard so often it doesn’t seem like it could be true. He told us his whole life story, this time, not just the bits and pieces.

He was born to a young woman, 20 years old, and his father was 19. His father left them right after he was born. His poor mother, in the middle of the depression, had no skills and had to take care of herself and her child. THe only thing she could do was be a waitress. So she was a waitress, and supported her little baby. He said he remembers that once, when she worked at a hotel, she was able to buy the broken cookies for a discount price. So every once in a while, he was able to have the broken cookies. And he began to resent the broken cookies. He wanted a WHOLE cookie.

Later, he went to live with his grandparents. They were sharecroppers in Northern Indiana.

Sharecropping seems so remote. Almost as far away as medieval fuedalism. But it wasn’t THAT long ago…

He remembers sharecropping, and raising the pig and the cow. He described how they would put a barrel in the ground, wrapping up all their carrots and potatoes in newspaper, and use it for cold storage. He said some of the potatoes would be rotten, but it was the way they could preserve vegetables for the winter.

His major goal was to finish high school. NO one in his family had finished high school. In fact, going to high school was in some ways an act of selfishness. What you were supposed to do was find work and help out your family. But he did not do that. He went away at age 15 to live on his own, pay his rent and feed himself with a parttime job and finish high school.

Then came WWII. And the GI bill. That let him go to college. The poor sharecropping boy who used to sit in the Indiana sun with nothing on but his tattered trousers and watch the trains go by, wanting, wanting to go too, but not believing it.

He went to college. And he describes how once, when things were bad, and couldn’t pay his dorm rent because he didn’t have a job. He was living off oranges picked from trees in the town plaza. For WEEKS.

Then he decided that he was going to do whatever it took to get a job. He decided to walk down the street and ask for a job at every single place, every single one. until he got a job.

My god. I find that so admirable. Because, really, that is what a job is for: food and shelter.

In Tolstoy’s masterpiece War and Peace, Pierre struggles to find contentment, and he only finds it after he figures out that food and shelter are not to be taken for granted.

I have been very close, very close, to living off oranges. When I remember that, it is easier to remember how blessed I truly am.

If you have food and shelter, all the other things are frosting.

In Russia, there is a cultural emphasis on bread. You must have bread at every meal. Bread was very important, even though not everyone enjoyed the bread or ate it. I asked why bread was such a big deal.

“Because if you have bread, you are not hungry. You have food, and you have enough, if you have bread. You will be satisfied, you will be okay”

It takes less than you might think to make it. A slice of bread, apparently. Or, in this land of sunshine, oranges in the park.

The important thing about my professor’s story is that he did not quit school to find a job. He stuck it out.

As he was going from business to business, he was turned down again and again. He went into an insurance broker’s office and told his story to the guy. The guy said, “i’m sorry. I have kids of my own I’m taking care of. I can’t use you. Good luck”

But as he turned to go, another man stopped him. He said, “You mentioned that you were taking classes in Political science at college. I might be able to use you.”

He was the insurance broker, and on some kind of drunken dare, he had been nominated to run for state senate. Only, he knew nothing about government.

They reached an agreement. THe broker would train him in the insurance field, and he would train the broker in how the government worked.


He threw his pride out the window; no need for pride. It’s just about the basics.