Thursday, December 1, 2011

How Is She?

Mom was admitted to the hospital on the Monday prior to Thanksgiving.

I visited.  Once. My sis Vicki could go home for the one hour that I was there. To take a shower and bring back Little Debbie snack cakes.

Mom didn't know me but she thought I was cute. She said as much as my Sis and I were hand feeding her the Little Debbies.

"You're cute," she said. With the Most Precious Eyes and all of Heaven shining up at me.

People ask "How is she?"

I say, "She's doing better."

She is back in the nursing home. There are Alzheimer's horror stories out there about eldercare, but we think Mom is being treated well. Vicki no longer has to sleep beside her hospital bed to ensure the night nurse tries to feed her pills.


How Is She?

After chopping off all the arms that reached out to me;
after boarding up all the windows and doors;

after filling all the pits with poisoned water;
after building my house on the rock of a No
inaccessible to flattery and fear;

after cutting off my tongue and eating it;
after hurling handfuls of silence and monosyllables of scorn at my loves;

after forgetting my name
and the name of my birthplace
and the name of my race;

after judging and sentencing myself
to perpetual waiting
and perpetual loneliness, I heard
against the stones of my dungeon of syllogisms

the humid, tender, insistent
onset of spring.

-Octavio Paz

But maybe-

that's Me. 

Maybe that's the answer to the question seldom asked.

"How Are You?"

Grant that I might respond:  "The humid, tender, insistent onset of spring."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

He Ain't Heavy: He's my Brother

Education is our family calling. 
Bred.  To care.  Baptist minister Grandfather. Taught school in a one-roomer and had spirit enough to care about the struggling country children. Long before the Appalachian label. Way before the Kennedy/Shrivers made us documentary barefoot fodder.  Papa Douglas Miller just... cared.   Became sort of a silent icon. Saintly Grandfather Superintendent.

Mom went to school at Eastern when it was a college for young women.  Back in the day when that was what young ladies of a certain age did:  become Teachers.  She and Dad moved to northern Kentucky.  She secured a teaching job. It remains a family mystery what angel must have opened that particular door for an Estill County girl to land a prime job in what was then, and in many ways still is, a rather elitist northern  district. Moving away from the cloudy misty homesafe of Irvine.  It was scandalous at the time, I reckon.  Janice Miller, eldest daughter of a potential oil fortune, moving away and following a dream. (escape?)

Her husband, having failed at regular schooling, procured a Barber College certificate of some sort and opened his own shop up there in the faraway. Dad had a shop within a few months with paying barbers.  Across from Ontario's Department Store and right next to the first Ponderosa Steak House in the region. Prime location. Salad bar!

Within a few years they gave birth to a son.  Me.  My memory of those days is a mixture of the large fish tanks in Dad's barbershop, Mom's particular pride of what I wore to "her" school on the first day, and lots of alone time, as a firstborn child. Alone. Time with myself.  Both parents working in an age when that was rare. There were Froot Loops and Batman. That was plenty.

Tonight, I got a call from my brother.  He is concerned about the test scores that are about to be released at the school where he is now Principal.

Calling me for advice, I suppose.  Or solace.  Or, "Hey Bro, what should I say to my staff when they get the news?"

I didn't have much to say, other than "that failed No Child Left Behind policy is bullcrap".

What I should have said is:

"Education is our family calling.  Tomorrow morning, find the first lonely child fresh off the bus and call her by name.  Ask her to breakfast in your office.  Tell your secretary to hold all calls.  You have a very important meeting with the most important person in the building."

Friday, July 1, 2011

To be of use

"The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls."
-Marge Piercy

On April 15, 2011, I was sent into dallying shallows. 

Almost out of sight.

The official letter, handed over to me in circumstances that I have chosen to get beyond said, simply: "Your services are no longer needed.  You are being dismissed without cause."

The first days weeks of this news were beyond understanding.  A career ended, it seemed.  Decades of dedication to public education erased like blackboards I had washed clean in late afternoons as a young teacher in my very first classroom.  Wanting everything to be fresh for the next day. But now: No dust of chalk. No blackboards. Things, it seemed, had changed. My services were no longer needed.

So. Be. It. 

A few weeks ago, I was contacted out of the blue by an innovative educator.  His vision is to provide direct one-on-one support to principals, teacher leaders, and superintendents in the most struggling schools in our state.  He heard that I was "available" and said to me, "I don't know what happened up there, but you know more about curriculum and teaching than anyone I know.  Folks in eastern Kentucky respect you. They know you are one of them. Would you be interested in working for us?  It would mean a lot to the kids in the region where you grew up. We need you to help make a diffierence." 

I said, "Yes."

And so, this coming school year, I'm going home.  To give what I can to the children of my homeland.

To say I am not terrified by this chance would be profoundly untrue.  Between now and then, I shall swim, read, re-create, and prepare for my recovery from the dallying shallows.

"We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the ones who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear."
-Adrienne Rich

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

i killed my kindle

"I see nobody on the road," said Alice.
"I only wish that I had such eyes," the King remarked in a fretful tone.  "To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance too!  Why, it's as much as I can do to see real people, by this light."

-Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

I killed my Kindle today. 

At the pool

In the middle of a sentence of Karen Russell's brilliant Swamplandia!  I decide to go for a bottled water.  It was so hot.  At the pool.

Cool drink of water.  Sit down.  Refreshing.  Cold, even, on this very hot day.  Put in the iPhone earbugs for some Enrique.  Toes dancing.  God, it's hot.  "You're so damn priiiity.  If I had a type I know it'd be yuuuu...."    Nap.

Later:  Let's see what the Bigtrees are up to.

Reach into the beach bag.  No Kindle. 

I sat on it.  Dead.  I killed my Kindle today.

You learn a lot about yourself in moments like this. My first thought was not that I had killed my Kindle, but that I needed to know what happened to the Bigtree family in Swamplandia! and how they would survive without me knowing. Or without me with them. 

So, I go the the Lexington Central Public Library, wet swimsuit and all (very Swamplandia!, if you are familiar with the mid-chapters) and type in the title.

There is one copy available at the Tates Creek Branch.  The tidy librarian puts it on hold. For me.  Like magic. I drive out and retrieve it.

So, now I have Karen Russell's Swamplandia in hard copy at no charge.  And the Bigtrees can live.

I come home and find my place in the pages.  Kiwi is being shat upon by the pigeons, just like at the Pool, hours earlier.  Just like on Kindle.  But, better?

Holding a book in my hands again.  From a free public library. 

"Laundry is my last priority right now, V."
"Shit, I'd rethink that! Have you smelled you? I will, like sneak your laundry into my house, bro. My mom loves doing laundry, it's like this Immigrant Mother disorder? She uses Lluvia de las Montanas detergent--it's so badass.  You'll smell like Costa Rica!"

-swamplandia, the print edition (and maybe in eBook, i dont know)

Thursday, May 19, 2011


"Oh, thinking about all our younger years,
There was only you and me,
We were young and wild and free."

Today, precisely at nineteen minutes into the treadmill at Jefferson Fitness Center, I was slapped by a loving revelation.  Godsmacked.

I've been finding solace there recently, following my recent dismissal  transition.

I was a member of Jefferson Fitness Center a long time ago.  I would go there after work.  Escape from the stress of my "job".  And "life".  It is now owned by a wonderful woman who bought the place 12 years ago and has made it, once again, the go-to gym/fitness/rehab place in downtown.  No memberships, no commitments, they say.  And they mean it. 

But, there is one commitment I have made to this place:  Sanctuary.

Every single person there is in transition.  Every. Single. Person.

I swim alongside women who could be my Mom, if she were not confined to a nursing home in Richmond. Precious Mermaids, these Golden Girls, in baggy ill-formed swimwear.

I see Dad in every 50-ish man who is working on his weight and on meds that if Dad had access to (and a Holy place like this)  may have lived another decade or so.

And then, there's me.

Awaiting final paperwork for retirement, at age 49.  Blessed beyond belief.  Wondering what's next for me once the cloudy haze of what has happened brings a sunrise that not even Mom and Dad could imagine. 

Transition.  Sanctuary.

So, back to the treadmill revelation:

Pandora iPhone earbugs in.  DJ Sammy.  Closed my eyes and dragged the HELL out of:

"And love is all that I need
And I found it there in your heart.
It isn't too hard to see
We're in Heaven."

Monday, April 25, 2011


"Sir, you nor I speak English, but there are some things that can be said only in English.
My ex-employer the late Mr. Ashok's ex-wife, Pinky Madam, taught me one of these things;  and at 11:32am. today, which was about ten minutes ago, when the lady on All India Radio announced, "Premier Jiambo is coming to Bangalore next week," I said that thing at once.

In fact, each time when great men like you visit our country, I say it."

-The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga, Winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize

This, then, is an update from recent blogposts about events of the past two weeks, for all of you who have cared, asked, wondered, and prayed.  I will, if you will forgive, remain true to the "bullet points" used in the PowerPoint World of the American Education System. 

I have learned:

  • Treat people well, every person. In the work place, on the street, and in your own family, find a wayplace to reward:  a hug, a tear, a card, a prayer. Take a chance and hug someone who may not know how to immediately deal with it.
  • No matter what happens to YOU. Never compromise your beliefs. E.V.E.R.  Never, ever.
  •  Love the people that led you to the place where you are and rely on them to support you in the darkness and brightness of Change. 
  • Surprise yourself with dignity. 
  • When someone says, "What can I do to help?"  Take it.  It will be the best "Thank you." you've ever said.
So many people from work have contacted us.  Longtime heroes.  Worried for me and my Tom.  All of you. People we've met only in the past year or so.  Friends from the recent past, with whom Tom and I have shared disimilar grief.  Old school roomies from college.  My brother and sister who know everything will work out okay, because that is what we Miller's do best: Overcome.

Tom and I are doing okay.  Treating each other well and working through this.  Thank you for your ongoing thoughts and prayers.

"Not the least of my problems is that I can hardly even imagine what kind of an experience a geniune, self-authenticating religious experience would be.  Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt?  If there were no room for doubt,
there would be no room for me." 
-Frederick Buechner

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Too Much Power, Too Little Knowledge

"Effective close of business April 15, 2011, your services as a KBE/KDE Division Director are no longer needed by the Kentucky Department of Education."
-Education Letterhead
Steven L. Beshear, Governor
Terry Holiday, Ph. D., Commissioner of Education

"To my grandson, Michael J. Miller, who is a good teacher, an outstanding actor, and an excellent dancer.  He can go to the top if given the chance.  My hope and prayer for Michael is that the Movie industry or television systems or both will find him and give him a chance to show his talents to the world."
-Autographed Copy
Douglas F. Miller, Rain in the Lyle Hollow, his first published work
Superintendent of Estill County Schools for eighteen years
Community Leader of America Award, 1968
Integrity Award from Eastern Kentucky University
Special Recognition from the Crippled Children's Association for fifteen years of continuous service

As I transition from my now former position as a leader in public education at the state level for decades, I think I'll choose my late Grandfather's wisdom and choose to carry with me in a very weather-tight tote. And the overwhelming support of parents, students, family members and colleagues I have had the priviledge to serve with and alongside along the way.

Kentucky was, and will again be, a great place to teach and learn alongside our most precious resource:  the children.... of coal miners, immigrant workers, suburban soccer dads, NextGen families, homeless cramped victims of the American dream who want nothing less but the same opportunities that should be the birthright of every human being in a free society:  the will and support to question, learn, and explore the secrets of the future we adults preparing for their future cannot yet know.

"The trouble was the familiar one: too much power, too little knowledge.  The fault was mine."
-Wendell Berry, Damages

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Born Again This Way

"Contemporary Christians tend to avoid complexity as being hazardous to their faith, and are thus unprepared to cope with complexity when it confronts them."

-Peter J. Gomes, Preacher to Harvard University

The recent passing of Peter Gomes left me empty. He was my never-met-in-person Brother-in-Arms.  During this season of Lent, I especially will miss his freshly-written "living" words, but need to share them with you, readers, as you see fit to find his compassionate, intellectual, freedom-speaking challenge.

"Treasure is knowing that you belong to God; treasure is knowing that therefore you are not alone.  You are not isolated, and you are not alone.  Treasure is in knowing that you are loved and that you love because you are loved, and that knowledge of self and relationship and purpose is what treasure is all about.  So that when you leave "everything," as we all most certainly will leave everything, you can take "it" with you, for it is the only thing you ever truly had, and that is the love of God."

As I write this, thousands of hungry parishioners have entered the Yum! Center in Louisville, bowing before the egg of Lady GaGa. Awaiting redemption and joyously dancing in the aisles to the latest anthem, Born This Way. 

Behind my house on Merino Street, a similarly numbered multitude stand on their broken, whitebread feet and raise hands in praise to the strains of Jesus Freak Rock. Even the most acidically broken among us cannot deny its power to bring joy.

I saw Les Miserables in Louisville today, reminded that a soaring production of a Broadway musical can often be more church than church itself.

Hear this:  Jesus Freaks, LittleGaGa Monsters, LesMiserites:  Rejoice!

"Treasure is in knowing that you are not alone."

Monday, March 7, 2011

To Do: Justice

Not much is known about the prophet Micah. 

To my knowledge, my Church of the Nazarene mother nor Southern Baptist father named me in his honor.  That missing "h" after the "c".  The "e" after the "a".  The "l" before the "h".  

Reborn into the spirit of understanding truth and welcomed questions of adulthood Micah has become my namesake.  I am not St. Michael.  I want to be Micah. I want to live Micah.

"Micah understood his task to be a preacher of truth- to expose injustice and inequity, to offer a word of hope and salvation, and to make known a vision of a new and transformed way of life for his community and his world."  - Harper's Study Bible

It would probably be easier to be Michael.  You know, Archangel and all. Superhero. Movie Deals!

I choose Micah.  He was the first to let me in.  As a freshly abused gay Southern Baptist, I discovered:

"What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."

I love the "with" part by the way.  Hand in hand. 

Blessed Lenten journey travels, readers.

Don't require of yourselves any more than Micah's Lord.  That will be.  Enough.