Posted in Inside Lane

Dear Judy Blume

Dear Judy Blume,


My son started asking me some hard-to-answer questions recently. While I did my best to share what I thought was important for him to know—and maybe over-shared because that’s who I am, I also offered him books. “I can get you some books? You can read those, and then ask me any questions those don’t answer. Would that help?” Because our household reads like it is a tenet of faith, he jumped on that. Several dozen recommendations later, I picked the four books I thought would most benefit him.


Three were non-fiction books to deal with the facts, the diagrams, and the medical terminology. One was, Then Again, Maybe I Won’t. To deal with the human elements of growth and curiosity. The facts-of-life need the human element, like faith needs works.


I believe in books. I believe in the magic of sliding into someone else’s skin through words. I believe in the power of the fable. I believe in the transformative properties of a well-constructed narrative.


I met Tony Miglione when I was in elementary school—the new kid in the 3rd Grade classroom. Some of what he had to say was way above my head, and it was years before I understood all he was talking about, but a few things really stuck with me. I remembered the lesson he learned about treating waitstaff with respect. I remembered the lesson he learned about maintaining his own principles. I remembered how he struggled as the new kid, but managed to make his own way. And, I remembered how his family’s maid treated the situation when Tony found out about nocturnal emissions. I also always remembered that I should learn to pronounce someone’s full name. Tony Miglione taught me a lot.


I met Margaret Simon a few months later, and she was my friend through a winter break at a daycare, where I spent my time pouring over her worries about religion, relatives, and her period. I remember reading slowly, hoping I could make the book last longer. I remember a grown-up marveling that I was so focused. Margaret gave me an idea of how to deal with insecurity. She helped me understand that we are all on our own timelines, and that is okay. She helped me feel better about my own family’s weird relationship with religion, and inspired me to seek.


Over the course of the next two years, I would meet Katherine Danziger, Jill Brenner, Deenie Fenner, and Davey Wexler, adding them to my close friendships with Peter Hatcher, and Sheila Tubman. I’d known Peter and Sheila for much longer—they were more like cousins. Older cousins, who would tell you things. Every one of those friends taught me about how to treat people, how to accept and appreciate myself, how to forgive, how to strive, and how to live closer to my own moral code. They also made me laugh, made me cry, and showed me how to hope.


My son met Peter and Sheila a long time ago. I was excited to introduce him to Tony, but I downplayed it. They needed to make their own love connection. It was disastrous when I tried to make him fall in love with Peter Pevensie. I think it’s going to work out between them because he’s been carrying the book everywhere he goes. He doesn’t want to miss a second with his new friend.


I’m looking forward to him discovering all my old friends. He’s a conscientious kid. I think he’ll hear what they have to say.


I wanted to thank you for giving Tony, and Margaret, and Peter, and Sheila, and Katherine, and Jill (Jill and I were total BFFs when I was in 4th Grade), and Deenie, and Davey voices.


Thank you for giving me those friends.


Thank you for giving them to my son.




Posted in Inside Lane

A Word About Politics

A few years back, when I met Tamara, one of the first things I did was stalk her blog. Of course, the first thing I read has stuck with me since, and I think about it more often than you’d probably imagine.

You should read the whole piece, but I’ve pulled out the quotes that get me to the gist of where I want to be in this entry:

In English, I am sloppily verbose. I have a treasure trove of vocabulary at my disposal and search for just the right words to make my points. I use two, three, four different ones per idea with slightly different nuances to deliver the completeness of what I’m attempting to convey.

In French I am spartan. I have minimal command of the language. I have no nuances—everything I say is stated clearly and plainly. There is no subterfuge or verbal manipulations. I do not have the capacity for double entendre, coded language or farcical humor. If I want to express a new thought or idea, first I have to look up the words.

–slowly, slowly I began to learn. I started to collect a vocabulary. 

Now two years in, I still struggle–I regularly have to decide in terms of communicating: what are the words I need to know?

In conversation with a French friend who speaks no English, he observed this about me: “I thought when I met you, that you were not for real. I kept expecting you to not be so nice, to get angry or to do something mean. But you never did. You never get angry!”

“NO” I said. “I DO get angry! But I do not know the words. So I have to choose: Should I look up the words to express my anger? How important is it to me? Do I want to know how to fight or say mean things? I decided no. So then I stop being angry. Because I don’t know the words.”



I don’t think I know the words I need in order to express how I feel about this year’s election results. I know the word “disappointed”, but it really doesn’t convey how I feel about people being able to watch a man mock the disabled and jeer at war veterans, and excuse his behavior enough to say, “Yes, that’s the man I want representing me to the world.”

I know the word “dubious” which is the word I ascribe to my feelings about the media suddenly revolting against the candidate at his use of the term “pussy”. THAT was what did it for you? See, I don’t believe that. I think you were just hoping for a hook to hang your horror on, after having laughed and applauded for so long. You wanted a speed bump for the roller coaster you’d switched on, so you could say you tried to stop it. I’ve been a woman in the United States of America for 45 years. I know better than to believe you care whether or not I’ve consented to a man grabbing me by the pussy.

I know the words “cognitive dissonance” because I feel their effects every time I say to myself, “It’s going to be okay,” and I realize that the only reason I can say that is because I am white, straight, cisgendered, middle-classed, and educated, with other white, straight, cisgendered, middle-classed family members to fall back on if we fail. I am not a hungry child, whose mother is working two jobs and still can’t afford daycare. I’m not an elderly person, living on the scraps of Social Security. I’m not a young adult whose parents brought me to this country as an undocumented infant, who has only ever known this nation as a homeland. I’m not a mother, looking at her black son, hoping he manages to avoid the police, or at least unlock the magic combination of submission and approval that will keep him alive when he’s pulled over for speeding. I’m not a soldier, who may have to go into actual battle because of a Twitter war.

I know the words riddikulus, obliviate, and expecto patronum, but none of those work for me.

I’ve been trying to find the right words for a post about this since before November 8. I haven’t known them, so I haven’t said them.

But, here are some other words I know. These are words I believe in. Words that do work for me.


















Try again

Try again, again

Get up

Keep going

Don’t stop ’til you get enough

Be the change you want to see

Work for what you want

Work smarter

Do unto others as you’d have others do unto you

Be kind

Heal the sick

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country


I’m leaning in to the words I know best. I don’t have time to try to find the other ones.






Posted in Inside Lane

Я не знаю

I’ve made it through the first three Pimsleur lessons, and my self imposed structure of daily alphabet writings and number recitations. Given my general lack of motivation, I think that’s pretty swell.

Listen, those Pimsleur lessons are no joke. 30 minutes each, and at the end of every one, I’ve said, “Oh, thank god! It’s over!” In three lessons, you come away with about 25 words, 10 different phrases, two verbs, and two forms of masculine/feminine noun endings. That’s a chunk to learn in 1.5 hours, and feel solid with the understanding.

The phrases the Pimsleur starts with all have to do with whether or not the speaker can understand English or Russian. “Excuse me? Do you understand Russian? I understand a little Russian. Do you understand English? No. I do not understand English.” Over and over again, until you are crying out, “да! да! Я понимаю! за любовь бога, двигаться дальше!” Or something similar. I probably misspoke myself there.

But, I keep messing up because I’m trying to use phrases I learned 25 years ago. Three lessons in, I was thrilled to have Pimsleur catch up with what my brain was doing with four things in particular. It’s a lot of re-training. I’m having the same problem with my handwriting.


See that? That’s how I learned to make a little T. I can’t remember why that’s what I learned–I think it’s cursive. Who knows? All I can tell you is that when I am writing, I automatically make that crossed m for a little T. I make my Ds funny, and my Ls funny, and there’s just no hope for my Zh or my Yoo. One looks like a spider trying to creep away sideways, the other looks like I’m playing Hangman and losing. It’s going to take a while before I can write again.


I was able to write “Russian Alphabet” and then, “What?” “Little T?” “What is that?” “I don’t know.”

I find it funny that of everything I used to know, the phrases I remember well enough to write without having to look them up for correctness are, “What’s that?” and “I don’t know.”


Posted in Inside Lane

Do You Understand Russian?

I started my first day back in Школа русского языка (Russian school) today. I wrote my alphabet five times, and repeated numbers one through ten until my child thought the Matrix had glitched. Four is my favorite Russian number, btw. It just sounds happy. Four is a happy, little bluebird of a word. Five sounds like you are rejecting something with great disgust.

Once I was alone in the car, I switched on my Pimsleur cd (Do you understand Russian?), and started ecoutant et en répétant the Russian lesson. Why did I écouter et répéter? Because for two years, I studied French and Russian at the same time, and I have a tendency to confuse the two. Totally different languages, alphabets, and pronunciations, but I still gargle my Russian Rs like a merry Frenchwoman. The struggle is ulreal. Or uvular. You decide.

So, I got started and listened and repeated, realizing that as I was speaking a word, I was seeing the spelling of it in my brain. Pimsleur suggests (strongly) that you not try to take written notes, or read the words as you engage the language centers of your brain. But as I was saying, “Извините,” I was seeing my own handwriting in my brain.


I can barely read my handwriting in English. Trying to read my imaginary Russian handwriting? Whew. I had a brain cramp by the time the lesson was over. I was also appalled at how rude the instructor was, because he never once said “Excuse me, please?” It was always just, “Excuse me.” Dr. McDowell would not have approved.

But, that’s interesting to me. Interesting to me that when I am trying to say a word, I need to know how it is spelled. Maybe as I go on, that will wear off. Once you’ve learned the alphabet, like Spanish, Russian spelling is very straightforward, so it is helpful for pronunciation. I feel like the grammar is fairly straightforward, too.


I’m going to have to get some kind of plug-in for Cyrillic on my keyboard because Google Translate won’t give me the words I want to use, so I can’t just copy/paste. Boo!

Posted in Inside Lane

The Year of Living Russianly

You might know that I studied Russian for five years (because that’s how long it took me to graduate college), and that I taught Russian grammar for a semester (because that’s how long it took me to hate teaching first year Russian students). You might also know that I have lost 99% of my fluency since 1995. I mean, I can still scowl at James Bond movies, and feel cranky when people interchange “R” with “Я” or “N” with “И” (because they are entirely different sounds, you donkeys!), but beyond being able to embarrass myself by mixing up “you give me great pleasure” with “it is a pleasure to meet you,” my русский язык is нехорошо. 

I enjoyed Russian, though, and I miss it.

In the past year, I’ve become acquainted with three Russian speakers, and it’s made me even more wistful for the days when I could easily write myself notes in Cyrillic as a means of appearing to pay attention in boring meetings. Cyrillic is like a secret code!

Worse, I’ve found myself missing Russian literature, which just isn’t the same in translation. I am a little worried what it says about me that I’m missing Sholokhov, but there it is. My heart is a vast, winter wasteland, full of Cossacks and ice. Invade if you dare!


After literal months of trying to decide whether I should work on regaining my fluency in Spanish, French, or Russian, I decided to go back to the language of the Greats and the Terribles, and will spend the next year working to achieve a conversation fluency and regain my literacy.

Because I work best with an audience, I’ll keep you posted as I relearn the alphabet, and retune my ears to the language. I will share book reports, and current events, and let you know how it goes when I attempt to cook from a Russian recipe book.

We can laugh together.

And what do we all need more than laughter? Ничего.