6.30.2011

Maria J. Jensen Memorial Scholarship



Our family is proud to announce the creation of the Maria J. Jensen Memorial Scholarship at Waukesha County Technical College. The scholarship honors Maria’s enthusiasm for learning, her dedication to success, and her wish to inspire other women to improve themselves through education, no matter what stage of life they are in.

Women over the age of 35 who have financial need and a GPA of 2.0 will be eligible to receive $250 per semester in direct financial support.

Maria enjoyed her time at WCTC so much. She decided to return to school in her 50s to study accounting because she always loved mathematics and handling our family’s finances and investing. During her time at WCTC, she formed strong relationships with her teachers and mentors and forged friendships with students in her classes, even those many years younger than her. She carried a 4.0 GPA in her classes and was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, an achievement we know made her proud for the rest of her life. We have vivid memories of her nights of studying at the dining room table, poring over her notes and textbooks in preparation for her class meetings.

We are grateful to WCTC for the impact it had on Maria’s life and her self-esteem and hope that through this scholarship, we are able to inspire more women to succeed both in education and in the fulfillment of their goals. Thank you for helping us honor her memory and her passion.

To support the scholarship through an online donation, visit this page. Scroll down to “Named Scholarship” and click “Donate.” A new window or tab for PayPal will open. Enter the amount you’d like to give and click “Update Total.” You may be asked to log into PayPal at this point. Once you’ve made it to the “Review Your Donation” page, click on the link that says “Add special instructions to the seller.” Enter “Maria J. Jensen Memorial Fund” in the box that appears and click ahead to complete your transaction.

If you’d prefer to send a check, you can make it payable to “Maria J. Jensen Memorial Fund—WCTC Foundation” and send it to WCTC Foundation, Room C-213, 800 Main St, Pewaukee, WI 53072.

6.24.2011

The Long Goodbye

Four years ago, I sat in a small doctor's office in North Phoenix and listened as my mother's pulmonologist explained to my mother why she was coming down with a persistent cold every few weeks. "Unfortunately, it is cancer," she said. Although she was not a cancer specialist, she estimated my mother was at stage 3B or 4, but that an oncologist would be able to make that determination following additional tests.

She was 63 years old. Earlier that week, during a week of otherwise good health, she'd completed her normal 10-mile bike ride and attended fitness classes at her community's recreation center. This woman had advanced cancer? It seemed unreasonable.

Over the next several weeks, she wavered through treatment plans, including none, holistic, and traditional, finally deciding to go chemo and radiation first. The chemo treatments--demanding 8-hour affairs that required she lay in a recliner covered in blankets while various chemicals dripped into her body through an IV--initially took a huge toll on her. This was the only time I remember her balking at her predicament. "The cure is worse than the disease," she said, her body riddled with stabbing pains.

Fortunately, the treatments began to be less and less difficult, and eventually, she recovered and went back to exercising after just a few days. Throughout her years fighting back, she made fitness her top priority, eating well and doing plenty of aerobics with her core group of "fitness buddies." She golfed, she spent time with her friends, she laughed often. She loved being alive.

She made astounding progress. Initially, her tumors shrank a staggering amount. Doctors, who initially gave her 6 to 9 months, were cautiously optimistic as they moved her to a care plan that would help her maintain her level of health while preventing a backslide. The first pill regimen she was on was great--but gave her bloody noses, mouth sores, and difficulty swallowing. She took it in stride but eventually managed to get into a cancer drug trial.

The drug trial was really effective...but again, had strange side effects. She reluctantly stopped the trial and waited for a new one to open up for her. In the meantime, she was again suffering from a nagging recurring cold...that morphed into pneumonia...that caused a fluid build up in her lungs...that caused her lung to collapse. She went to the emergency room and spent several days in intensive care getting help. This was three and a half years into her fight. A doctor looked over her chart and said, "Maria, I think you only have 6 to 9 months to live." She'd heard it so much by then it didn't even register.

But in the hospital, the drugs they gave her to fight the pneumonia ended up giving her an infection called C-Def, which attacks the intestines and, left untreated, is fatal. A large number of patients who contract this do not survive. But at this point, it was clear my mom was not a typical patient. She took on the treatment program, which caused bouts of debilitating nausea while she suffered from constant digestive problems, and eventually, several weeks later, came out the other side and was cleared by her doctors.

But the pneumonia et al had taken its toll on her body and health. She was done almost 40 pounds from her normal weight and she'd gone several months without cancer treatment. We all knew in the meantime her tumors were growing but we were hopeful she'd get accepted into another drug trial this year. And then, she was. On Tuesday of this week, we took her--weak, but resolved to give it a try--for one more chemo treatment to see if she could tolerate another course of treatment.

It went excellent--she had almost no side effects from the chemo. We think, though, that sometime Wednesday she suffered a mild stroke. For the last 24 hours, she was a little confused about when and where she was, had difficulty speaking clearly, lost the ability to walk and feed herself, and then faded into exhaustion.

By this point, my mother had outlived 95% of the patients who receive the same diagnosis.

We had every hope that her symptoms, which we initially chalked up to sleep deprivation and the chemo, would abate and she would bounce back as she always did. Throughout everything, I expected her to recover. Not just to recover, but to thrive. She was that tough. She meant business! By Thursday afternoon, we began to fear the worst and gathered around her in the living room, holding her hand, talking with her, comforting her.

Even as she receded, the core parts of her were still there. If she burped, she politely excused herself. When I complimented her and said, "You're going great, Mom," she smiled and said, "Thank you." And, as she always had my entire life, she raised a hand to her forehead to comb her bangs away with her fingers.

Her mind bounced around for a few hours. Her eyes would glaze over but then become suddenly alert. "I love you guys," she said, her voice slurred by upbeat. "Is this my wedding day?" she asked later, confused. "Your glasses are really in right now," she told me kindly. After some quiet time passed, she told us, "I'm 12 years old," and then "people lie to me a lot--grown up people." (It was when she was 12 her family emigrated from Belgium, initially telling her they were merely taking a vacation.) She moved back further and further until we couldn't reach her anymore, and then we were fortunate enough to get her to Hospice of the Valley, where the staff worked with us to keep her comfortable and provided us with a lot of emotional support.

This morning, my dad called and woke me to say the nurses felt the end was near. I made it to her bedside, where my dad, brother, and I called our immediate family so they could speak to her before she passed. The ending came so quickly. It was too late and too soon. We wanted more time. We wanted more health. We wanted to know she was safe.

We sat in the room with her for a long time afterward. After a while a low flying plane, its engines sighing loudly, broke that silence.

You can read about my mom's experience in her own words by reading her blog.

Thank you to everyone who sent their wishes and thought of us today--we are grateful for your love and support.

6.22.2011

Call for posts

A few nights ago at dinner, a few of us sat around the table talking about music--what was playing over the restaurant-bar's hip stereo, the changes in the way music reaches us (blogs and downloads versus radio and retail), and our favorite albums. We each talked a bit about an album or two that has been significant in our lives, albums we tend to experience only through "sequential listening"--moving track by track, in order, from start to finish, loving every song. We also lamented the shift away from this kind of music consumption via single-track downloads and shuffling. We wondered, do people still love albums?

Can you send me some thoughts on an album you love, one you have to listen to from start to finish? It can be from any era, any style of music, and your writing on it can be essayish, memoirish, lyric--whatever you want. The only stipulation I'm going to lay down is that I'd like it to be prose. No length min/max.

I hope to get a good chunk of responses by June 30. Drop me an email (charles.jensen at gmail dotcom) with your "essay," a little bio, especially one that promotes a project you or your organization is working on (with links), and a photo if you want.

Please feel free to forward this on to anyone you think might want to participate.

6.20.2011

McQueen for a Day



When I was in New York last week, I was happy to be able to make some time to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Savage Beauty exhibit, which explored the work of Alexander McQueen. The retrospective has been so popular that I was encouraged to arrive at the museum before opening in order to get in line.

I got there about an hour early (I am not a subway master yet and wanted to be on the safe side) and enjoyed my morning on the steps (a la Blair Waldorf and Serena van der Woodsen). As promised, a line began to form. It grew and grew and grew until it stretched down the steps and along the sidewalk, prompting museum staff to establish a second line--which, instead of stemming the line, caused the waiting throng of people to seemingly double.

The exhibit itself was fascinating. While it draws from just a snippet of McQueen's work, it seeks to explore the overarching themes and concerns of his designs. It moves essentially chronologically to give visitors a sense of the change in his work over time. For this reason, beginning with selections from his thesis collection, which featured exquisitely tailored pieces on rolling dress forms, situates the viewer in what might become his most conventional take on fashion.

The museum's website for the show features some really wonderful photograph excerpts as well as the corresponding audio tour bits. You can also watch narrated video's of McQueen's shows to get an idea of how he turned the objective viewing of his work into a highly charged, dramatic experience for the audience.

The critics and even McQueen himself, in the quotations and commentary provided, return again and again to the importance of McQueen's training as a Savile Row tailor. McQueen found the most inspiring part of his design work took place on the model as he fit her into the clothes. Fit was everything, and it's clear throughout the collection that the impeccable marriage of clothing and model are at the heart of his accomplishment.

Although Project Runway has legitimized the purpose of the designer-as-tailor, it still feels like McQueen was of a different breed. In the show, he claims to work by hand, often himself, on the garments because he enjoys it, not because it's some kind of statement on fashion. I think this love is present in the work.

The focus on craft is such a good reminder to me as a poet. Craft isn't sexy because at its most accomplished, it becomes invisible. We strive to keep our seams from showing, to keep our reader from stepping out of the movement of the poem (at least on a first read) and down into the nuts and bolts of its language and structure. If language is our thread, the structure of our poems--as diverse among as the words we choose--are our signature stitches.

6.13.2011

Split This Rock

Split This Rock is currently inviting proposals for panel and round table discussions, workshops, and themed group readings for our third national poetry festival, scheduled for March 22-25, 2012, in Washington, DC. The festival will consider the relationship of poets and poetry to power and to the challenges to power. In addition the festival will celebrate the legacy of the late poet-activist June Jordan, as 2012 marks the tenth anniversary of her death.