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Recently in Catherine Watson: Open Road Category

Thumbnail image for catherine_watson.jpgThe foreign-language section of my memory is more jumbled than usual this spring. It's always been something of a junk drawer, where all the odd remnants of my past linguistic efforts have accumulated.

Like so many drawers in my house, this one makes me regret I didn't keep it organized all along.

I'm about to teach a summer writing workshop in France, for the second time, and this time I vowed I'd be ready. This meant signing up for remedial French in a community education program this winter. Just how remedial, I didn't know.

At first, every sentence I tried to form in French came out in Spanish, the language I started learning in Mexico 40 years ago and am still working on. (I decided long ago that I'd never understand Spanish subjunctive, so I've concentrated on accent and vocabulary, but I cling proudly to those.)

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catherine_watson.jpgWhat does a maverick professor do when he stops teaching? If he's Tom Walz, he keeps right on being a maverick.

It's not just a choice for the former University of Minnesota professor - it's more like a mission. That has made him a powerful influence, a role model, an agent for change and - for many people, including me - a hero.

Walz insists that anything I write about him should focus on what motivates him now - the memory of another maverick hero, a retarded man named Bill Sackter, made famous by a movie starring Mickey Rooney. I'll come back to that.

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catherine_watson.jpgIt was going to be a spring-cleaning double whammy: Rake the garden, tackle the basement. I expected to end up, at the very least, with a pile of mulch and some extra shelf space.

I didn't expect a jolt of déjà-vu, let alone a history lesson. But both were in the first box I opened.
Most of the contents were readership studies from my former employer, the Star Tribune. A generation of readership studies, in fact, all done before the Internet was a gleam in anyone's eye.

All had assessed our audience's reading habits; all suggested ways to improve what we were doing, and all ended on hopeful notes - some so hopeful that they made me smile, given the changes the industry has been suffering through.

Something else in that box, though, gave me a sterner pause: A two-page typed letter of complaint from one of those readers. It had somehow been misfiled, and I couldn't tell when.

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Thumbnail image for catherine_watson.jpgOne of the things I love about travel is the way it shrinks your worries down to what fits in a suitcase. Sometimes it shrinks them a lot more, as I recently had to re-learn.

My pre-trip lists of concerns - "pick up last prescription," "buy extra sox,'' "call the cops and let them know,'' "cancel newspapers," "take one more t-shirt?'' - evaporate as soon as I get on the plane.

That first step into the jetway makes them irrelevant: By then, I have either done those tasks, or staunched those worries, or they involve things I can't do anything about now, anyway.

And I am forced to do what mental-health counselors always recommend: Let go. Be in the moment. Open my soul to the good old here and now.

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Thumbnail image for catherine_watson.jpgIt was the last night of Mexico City's winter festival a year ago, and I'd gone to the Zocalo - the great plaza that has always been the city's heart - for one more glimpse of its giant ice-skating rink and the brilliant tapestries of Christmas lights on the surrounding buildings.

The festival ended with a literal bang - a giant fireworks display with fiery rockets and rainbow-colored stars exploding from the rooftops, followed by thousands of balloons drifting up into the darkness. As they faded, the full moon rose, its light like molten silver.

Thousands of people had watched the finale - teenagers, young couples, whole families from tiny children to grandparents, everybody bundled against the kind of cold weather that any Minnesota would call spring.

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Thumbnail image for catherine_watson.jpgMy younger dog has just decided he can't go down stairs anymore. He runs up them eagerly, just as he has for all of his five-year-old life. But he has stopped believing he can come down again.

My older dog thinks he's a moron. I think he's a metaphor, but I'll come back to that.

The dog in question is a fluffy white Shih-Tzu mix who weighs 20 pounds but is supposed to weigh 16. If you saw the third "Star Wars'' epic, you can picture him: Cubby looks like an Ewok. Just not as brave.

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