Life, the Universe and Everything

One of my former students slipped away from us today after a long illness.

Keiyana was a senior this year. During her brief sojourn on Earth, she laughed often, fought bravely, and loved much.

I had the pleasure of being Keiyana’s sophomore English teacher. We read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams that year, and on Towel Day, I awarded bonus points to students who brought a towel to class. Keiyana never needed bonus points, but she still brought a towel, just for the fun of it. She was grinning from ear to ear as she held it up for me to see. I was grinning, too. Keiyana had that effect on people. You just couldn’t be around her without smiling.

Keiyana was, in Hitchhiker parlance, “a frood who really knows where [her] towel is.” I think she got that from her mom, who came to parent-teacher conferences, asked me what I needed for my classroom, and then sent Keiyana to class the next week with about umpteen dozen dry-erase markers. (If you know how expensive those markers are, you realize what an incredibly generous gift this was.)

Even when she was stuck in the hospital, enduring all manner of painful indignities, Keiyana maintained her sense of humor, joking about her “lil bald head” after undergoing chemo and celebrating when she felt well enough to play her favorite video game.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a supercomputer is asked to calculate “the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.” After seven and a half million years, it announces the answer: 42. The problem, of course, is that no one knows the Ultimate Question to Life, the Universe and Everything, so the computer’s answer doesn’t make any sense.

I don’t know whether Keiyana has discovered the Ultimate Question yet, but it soothes my broken heart tonight to think of her hitchhiking through some uncharted part of the galaxy, towel in hand and a twinkle in her eye, on a grand quest to find it.

So long, little hitchhiker, and thanks for all the dry-erase markers. Your classmates and I miss you already, but we’ll do our best not to panic as we look up at the stars and think of you cruising through the night on the Heart of Gold.

Ms. P.

Folk Thursday: Proof that God loves me.

I … this … I just … um … wow … it’s …



OK. Lemme catch my breath and try again:

Here we have Michael Ball — MICHAEL. FREAKIN’. BALL. — singing “Both Sides Now.”





Sadly, nobody has posted the whole thing on YouTube yet, so you only get to hear a minute of it. But what a glorious minute. It’s not available in the United States until next week, but for now, just knowing this magnificent thing exists is good enough for me.

Michael Ball. Dear Lord.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.


Folk Thursday: La Llorona

So a weird thing happened the other night. My mom had just finished reading my novel, and she had e-mailed me with her thoughts on the manuscript. In my response, I described how one of the book’s final scenes had drifted into my thought as I pulled into San Jon, N.M., late one night, too exhausted to drive another mile, and checked into a tired little motel a half-mile from the defunct business that had inspired much of the novel’s setting.

I’d gone to New Mexico in search of inspiration that weekend, and I found it in the surreal combination of cold and wind and darkness and desert. What I didn’t realize was precisely what I had found.

As I told Mom about that night and the way it had inspired my perception of one of the novel’s secondary characters — a kind, generous woman facing a terminal illness with grace and selflessness — a name popped into my head: La Llorona.

I had seen La Llorona mentioned once in a Tony Hillerman novel, and I was vaguely aware that she was a weeping spirit, but I knew absolutely nothing else about her.

I Googled her and was somewhat unnerved to discover a painting of La Llorona that bore a striking resemblance to the scene I’d imagined that night in San Jon, where I’d spent the evening curled up in a threadbare motel room, listening to the wind wail outside. Leave it to me to conjure up a 500-year-old infanticidal Southwestern banshee without even realizing it….

In the course of my online research, I made the delightful discovery that Joan Baez had recorded a song called “La Llorona” — so of course it had to be this week’s Folk Thursday offering. 🙂

Meanwhile, the benevolent character in my novel has taken on a slightly different persona. She’s still benevolent, and I still love her, but with La Llorona informing my perceptions, she has taken on a darker backstory, and her benevolence seems to be the product of a tormented soul in search of redemption.

This is what I love about writing fiction: Spend enough time with your characters, and they will eventually write much better stories than anything you could have come up with on your own.


Hive inspection

The weather was warm today, so we popped open the hives and gave them a quick visual inspection. Do I have to tell you how good it felt to suit up and see my girls? The first hive inspection is one of my favorite signs of spring.

After we looked over the hives, we took the dogs to the park. Riggy, who just had his stitches removed yesterday, is getting along fine without his eyes. He doesn’t run full-tilt around the park any more, of course, and he bumped into a bench a couple of times before he figured out it was there, but he did pretty well and seemed to have a good time bouncing around and playing with two other little dogs. It occurred to me that it’s probably easier for Riggy to avoid the obstacles at the dog park, because the dogs out there mark everything all the time. That’s got to make it easier for him to navigate by scent. (Hopefully I am the only one who thought of this. I sympathize with Riggy’s plight, but I don’t need him peeing on my furniture to make it easier to find his way around….)

In other pet news, Walter just discovered that Songdog’s wagging tail makes an excellent cat toy. Song tolerated this indignity until Walter decided to bite his tail. I expect this will become a regular part of Walter’s dog-tormenting repertoire. Song deserves it. He wouldn’t have to live with a cat if he hadn’t decided to kill one of Walter’s littermates four years ago, so this is a problem entirely of his own making.