Category Archives: college

The Afterlife vs. the Afterdeath

I just finished reading a most remarkable book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.


Being somewhat ghoulish by nature, once I heard about the existence of this book, I couldn’t wait to read what this hilariously funny author had discovered in her research about bodies donated for medical and other research.

I was amazed.

First, I was astonished to discover how researchers treat their cadavers with tremendous respect, even if they’re subjecting them to a t-bone car crash to find out what happens to the brain when it is rattled from a side impact (this research led to side-impact airbags, by the way). Medical students are even more reverent about the cadavers they are privileged to study. Some even name them. These students know that they would never be able to learn some of this stuff by watching a video, so every cadaver helps immeasurably to educate a new medical student.

The body of knowledge that a selfless donor adds to medicine, safety, forensics… it’s quite amazing. I had no idea. And fewer and fewer people are donating their remains to research.

My husband is not crazy about the idea of me donating my body to research, but I’m filling out the forms today, and he’ll have to get used to the idea. As a cancer survivor, I can’t donate organs like kidneys, heart, corneas, bone marrow, etc.  But if someone can learn something by using this tissue after I’m finished with it, before reducing it to ash, I think this is a good thing.

We spend a lot of time talking and thinking about where our souls or identites or personalities go after death, but we hardly give a thought to whether we waste our remains or put them to good use.

Please give it some thought.


Filed under Cancer, college, Death, Dying

Counseling Myself

I am taking a counseling issues class at school and have to write a paper wherein I counsel a fictitious person.

Well. I’m a writer, and I know that no matter how I dress the characters in my fiction, while they are not necessarily me, they are of me. Very crafty of these instructors. We’re to reveal our darkest ugliness and counsel ourselves.

The interesting thing is trying to choose which issue to pursue. Having done a lot of work on myself over the past decades in my twelve step program, I’m feeling pretty good about myself these days.  And yet, I have issues (as my husband will readily, and maybe even a little joyfully, attest).

Maybe the question is this: how revealing do I want to get with this assignment? Past endeavors have shown me that working on the tiniest little irritation can bring leviathans out of the depths of my psyche. I’m not sure I want that, but working on something small seems like a simpler, saner path.

Maybe I’ll start tomorrow.

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Filed under college, Writing

Neurotically punctual

I can’t be late. For anything, ever. I am always early. Embarrasingly so, occasionally, and my annoyance with my husband when he makes me late is always way out of proportion.

I’ve known this about myself for many years, but it has just recently come home to me because I’m in graduate school, and this program is all about writing research papers.

Because of the way the coursework is set up, sometimes we don’t finish the class until the weekend before the end of the term. So obviously, we have an extra month in which to write our papers. Our grade shows up as a Work In Progress. But then we start a new term and a new class, and there will be a paper due at the end of that one, too.

I know myself, and I know that if I get behind, I will go crazy. Besides, I want to put the old class behind me so I can concentrate on learning the new material.

Other people in my class don’t sweat it. They take the full amount of time allotted, and make certain that their papers are just exactly right before turning them in, even if there are several papers in their personal queue.

I can see by talking with them that I’d rather get it done and turned in on time than producing the best work it can be.  This is not a good thing.

I wonder if there was an incident in my childhood that produced this peculiar neurosis. Perhaps it was too many years in the deadline-driven advertising business.

Oh well. I guess I’m not bugged enough by it to get myself analyzed. I can, however, work on being a little calmer around deadlines.  Frantic is worse for my health than being late, and I need to remember that.

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Filed under college, Stress

My Spiritual Heritage

For school, I have to write an 18-20 page paper on my spiritual heritage. Here is the tongue-in-cheek title given as an example: “The Ways My Personality Style and The People and Experiences in My Life Have Been Instrumental in Shaping My Adult Personality and in Preparing Me to Use My Gifts for Pastoral and Spiritual Care of Other Persons.”

Holy crap.

Actually, everybody ought to do this. It’s quite a revelation.

I’m eleven pages into this project, and seeing things I’d never seen before about the people who have helped me along the way. I’m seeing the ordinary people in my life in a whole new light as I focus on how they have shaped my personality and prepared me to be the person I am today. Of course there are the parents, and the siblings, the occasional teacher who gave me a little extra encouragement. Everyone has those. Everyone has trauma, too, that pushes them one way or another, to choose one thing over another.

But in digging through the detritus of my history (most of it compost at this point, and not all that pleasant to rummage through), I see lots of little seeds that were scattered by mere passers-by. People whose faces I don’t remember, whose names escape me, but whose words of encouragement, advice, and wisdom remain.

The Johnny Appleseeds of my spiritual heritage.

They are legion.

And I am incredibly grateful. Those tiny comments in the aggregate have meant a great deal, have all worked to make me a good person today. Reviewing my life from this perspective makes me want to drop those little hints of encouragement to everybody.

We all want to make a difference in the world. I’m coming to believe that all we have to do is make a tiny bit of difference every day. Those who can make big differences all at once, are gifted in the extreme. But the little things add up.

It’s giving back, it’s paying forward, it’s bearing spiritual fruit.

It’s what we are here to do.

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Filed under college, Spirituality

That cushie comfort zone

I just finished my first weekend in graduate school, and hoo boy, am I outside of my comfort zone. I am leaping into something that I know very little about in the company of people who know much.

I alternate with flashes of panic and overwhelming excitement.  I am at once wondering “what the hell am I doing here?” and thinking how lucky I am to be able to take advantage of such an opportunity.

For the next three years, the twenty-three of us in our “cohort,” will travel this academic maze together. I wonder how many will be at the finish line. This promises to be an intensive study, not only of the subject matter (theology) but of ourselves as we go through the process, sometimes in rather intimate engagement with each other. The instructors have promised us that we will change in the process.

I’m all for change.

I like who I am these days, and think I know myself pretty well, but I am not afraid of further examination. Instead, I am afraid of stagnation. And, truth be told, I’ve been languishing in my cushie comfort zone for way too long now.

I am seriously outside of my arena in this particular academic setting, but I relish the newness of the experience, anticipating astonishments and profound insights, and welcoming whatever personal growth that will result. 

It’s like that old roller coaster. Will I sit in the back car, gripping the handrail with whitened knuckles, my eyes closed, cringing at each spinal twist, just hoping to survive– or will I sit in the front car, trusting the handrail over my knees to keep me locked in, my hands high in the air, eyes wide open, screaming at the top of my lungs, taking advantage of every thrilling turn?

Today I choose the latter. I hope I always will. 

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Filed under college, Possibilities

No more regrets

My college diploma arrived in the mail today.

I know, that’s not a big deal for most people. Well, it is a big deal, it’s just maybe a bigger deal for me, since I’m 56 years old and just got my BA degree from Marylhurst University. When I decided to actively pursue the degree last year, I transferred almost 200 unorganized credits (I needed 180 to graduate). Most of the credits were older than my professors. It still took me an intensive year to fill in the blanks of a degree plan. I finished my degree in English Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing, at the end of August, and today, the diploma came in the mail.

The reason this is such a big deal for me, is that not pursuing my degree, not finishing my formal education, has been the one regret I’ve carried with me since I was 18. I let my many demons dictate my life for years instead.

But the demons have been put aside for more years than they tortured me, and I have made good on all my regrets. This was the final one.

I wasted no time in running out to get a frame, and it now hangs on my wall above my desk, a reminder of how my life used to be and how it is today.

Next week I begin graduate school. Again, I will be older than most of my professors, and my fellow students will be younger than my children. That’s fine. I know who I am and I’m comfortable in my own skin.  The best part is that I’m not furthering my education in search for another career. I have a career. I was born to write. But all education enhances writing.  So, while people in my classes are sure to be pursuing a better job, I’m pursuing a better me. I’m taking these classes simply because the subject matter fascinates me.

How lucky is that?

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Filed under college, dreams, goals, Graduation, regrets, Writing