No Longer The Same

I do everything bass ackward when it comes to love. It seems like maybe I’m the same with loss. We’ll come back to that later. When I was 25 years old, I fell in love with one of those tragicomedy guys. Maybe you aren’t familiar with that particular animal. He’s usually handsome and very intense. He might have permed his hair in the 1980s. He drinks too much, does amusing impressions of current celebrities, gets more than his fair share of feminine attention, and recently suffered a loss. You are somewhat sheltered and naïve, but super pretty. You feel some pity because he is clearly in pain and maybe you can brighten his life. You aren’t really thinking that sex is the way to do it, but he certainly responds well when you kiss him on a whim. Suddenly, your life is intense, and you think you are his confidante. He thinks you are easy to manipulate. Before you know it, you are head over heels and in other interesting positions after the bars close. You might have been called a hood ornament because of an emotional incident involving a Mustang, another girl, and a desperate attempt to keep him from leaving with her. Be that as it may. I fell in love with that guy, but at least my sense of humor improved.

After almost a year of hot and colding, I began to wake up sick to my stomach every day. It was the natural consequence of loving a tragicomedy guy, so get your judging out of the way. I was raised to be a good Catholic girl, and even though I had a rebellious streak a mile wide, I wasn’t keen on abortion. I’m still not, to be honest. But I have pretty complicated views on that topic, and I don’t want them to get in the way of the issue at hand. Eventually, we can have that conversation but not right now. Judge me some more before I continue, as I expect to be judged harshly by either side of the debate. If you are finished for the moment with your internal aspersions cast in my general direction, I will carry on. I remained pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. I had always loved children but was surprised by the pure joy I found as a mother. I named him Daniel and I loved him fiercely.

I had been attending University but dropped out after I found that for me, pregnancy brain was incompatible with academic learning. I was fortunate to have been employed at a job which was easily converted to full-time. I was mature enough to care for a child emotionally, financially, and physically. Daniel was adorable. My family was supportive. Tragicomedy guy was still in the picture, but way out at the edges of the frame. He decided he needed to get help with his drinking, and he went to rehab. I found a good babysitter for Daniel during the hours I needed to be at work. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was sweet.

I was working as a keypunch operator in an office room with perhaps 8 others. Our desks were arranged in two rows, and we faced the opposite operator. We had worked together a little over a year and I felt part of the team.  I felt particularly close to one woman named Patty, who had always been helpful and kind. It was not the most stimulating occupation, but it was a good job with benefits. I got pretty fast, although not up to the speed of those who had been keypunching for many years. We talked while our fingers were flying over the numeric pad on the right side of the keyboard. Sometimes we listened to music or made jokes. It wasn’t a perfect job, but it was solid.

One day while I was at work, the phone rang. The lead keypunch operator picked up the phone and seemed a little tense when she softly said it was for me. I was a bit confused to receive a phone call at work but got up from my desk and walked over to the phone. The babysitter’s husband was on the other end and he said that “something had happened to Daniel” and that I needed to come to the house right away. I asked what had happened and he said he couldn’t tell me over the phone and to come to their house. I was alarmed by the call but thought I was probably over-reacting. Patty suggested she could drive me over. We logged off our workstations and walked to her car a few blocks away from the office.

It was a short drive from the office to the babysitter’s house. When we approached the home, we saw a small firetruck parked by the curb in front. There was a police car behind it. People were standing outside the front door. Patty parked the car and we walked up the driveway. The babysitter’s husband appeared in the driveway. I don’t remember how he got there. Patty took one look at his face and yelled, “No!” I think she started swatting him with her purse but can’t be sure. He must have told us that Daniel was in the house and he was dead because the next thing I knew I was leaning against the porch post. It was the kind of ranch house that has a bit of roof extending over the front door to shield visitors from rain and it had a plain square post off to the side to support the extension. I don’t know if I made any external noise, but at least in my head the echoes of Patty’s “No!” were reverberating. My throat was tight and felt sore from screaming. I just don’t think I really screamed but it’s possible.

I found myself in a quiet bedroom in the babysitter’s house, sitting on the bed and facing away from the crib. I think Daniel was in the crib. People asked me if I wanted to hold him, encouraged me to hold him, told me I should hold him because it would help me to understand what had happened. I refused. I did not want to hold the empty body of my beautiful child who had been so full of life. I couldn’t think of anything more cruel than to feel that sweet child’s form devoid of his spirit. I refused and I feel no regret for the refusal even all these years later. I know that it is often helpful, maybe even critical, for parents to hold their children after they have died. It just wasn’t helpful to me at that time.

I cried snotty tears for loves I had lost before. I had been in the vicinity of hysterics over one small thing or another. But until that time, I hadn’t tasted the tears of grief. They seem to trickle down the nasal cavities directly to the back of the throat. And oh, how long they last. It seems like they will never stop. The throat is sore from the drainage and the tightness of trying to maintain some smidgen of control. I mean, you can go on a crying jag from time to time. That’s one thing, and you expect to taste the tears and choke on them. But even when you are doing something mundane like eating what tastes like cardboard or keeping your cool to listen to your father or getting a drink of water, they lurk in the back of the throat somehow. They remind you that you are no longer who you have been.

Danny and Me

When the Big Easy is Hard

I could be wrong about everything but most likely I’m only wrong about some things.  This is sometimes a comforting thought.  Today has been disquieting and unsettling for so many reasons. It started at 6:00 a.m. after I checked my Loyola email and found that classes had been cancelled for the day because Hurricane Harvey (demoted to tropical something or other) was on its way.  As I walked past the concierge desk on my way out of the building at 6:30, I was warned that it would probably flood in the quarter.  When I arrived at the corner of Bourbon and Canal, my manager was relieved because I had arrived.  Other employees had called in because they would not be able to make their shifts.  It was like getting into work during a blizzard on a snow day in Iowa.  The regulars did not appear and I was able to get a lot of cleaning and restocking done.  That is unusual.  Now, today also happened to be the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s deadly strike in New Orleans so those who lived through it were on edge anyway.  The weather was not easy, but it was not as hard as it could be.  We made it another day without large scale flooding.

I learned this morning a little more about the stabbing incident which occurred a half block from where I work.  It was the night before last that a homeless man stabbed two young men at McDonalds, killing both.  The young men had been messing with him so he stabbed them.  They ran from McDonalds past the drugstore, collapsing in front of the windows where I stand each shift.  They lost their lives out there.  There are a number of homeless folks who live on Canal Street.  They usually sleep in doorways and under awnings.  Sometimes their heads are laid on backpacks and they are wrapped up in old blankets or clothes to keep warm.  Most often they have nothing between them and concrete but hair and the clothes on their backs.  It is disturbing to walk past them in the early morning.  You wonder where they came from and where they will end up.  The other day a 36 year old man who told me his name was Orlando was trying to persuade me that we could be a “couple” somehow.  Another asked me if he could touch my butt.  I laughed at them both and said I was old enough to be their mother.  And no, we couldn’t be a couple and he couldn’t touch my butt.  They seemed to take it well and I assume they were drunk and hoping to manipulate me into giving them money but no need to get ugly about it.  But you never know how much to give and how much to hold back because you could get stabbed for messing with someone.  And your criteria for messing with could be completely different than the stabber’s criteria.

Race matters here, just like it matters everywhere.  Sometimes I want to cry because it is so easy to fuck it up.  Today I had a delightful customer who left upset, unbeknownst to me.  We had a greeter today who let me know that the customer was upset when she left and that it was due to the fact that I did not put her change in her hand.  As a cashier I sometimes feel that people put a lot of stock in whether you put the money in their hand or on the counter and usually I am sensitive to that.  But with this woman, I didn’t even notice that I had not put her change in her hand.  Nobody has explained this to me but I think that some folks feel that you don’t respect them if you won’t touch them and this is an easy way for them to test that hypothesis.  I’m afraid this lady thought I believed I was better than her.  Which couldn’t be further from the truth.  I really liked this lady and would have been happy to touch her hand.  She was so pretty and positive and sunny.  It was nice to see some sunshine on a cloudy day.  And the thing is, who am I to think I’m better than anyone I meet as a cashier at a drugstore?  Are there such people – people who think they are better than other people based on some superficial trait like skin color?  Of course there are but I don’t think about them because I don’t have to think about them.  Unlike people of color who find them way more often than they should have to, thereby being forced to think about them.

There was the weather and the stabbing and the touching (AKA white privilege problem).  They all conspired to keep me on edge and doubting myself.  Which I do constantly here.  I’m okay with that because I know change is hard and it never goes the way you think it will.  If you knew how it would go then you wouldn’t have to change in order to evolve.  Right?  But sometimes I get tired of learning hard lessons, of doubting my decisions, of realizing I am a dumb ass like everyone else who is honest.  I have a picture in my mind which I find freeing but which may be wrong (see first statement of this article).  It is of a human buttocks with a piece of toilet paper stuck to it.  It is not soiled or anything (do I hear a groan out there along with a feeling of frustration that I even mentioned soil) – it is more like a cartoon butt.  A color cartoon, not black and white.  No genitalia is involved in this butt situation.  The idea is that we are all human and susceptible to getting pieces of obvious human failing stuck on us as we go about our human lives.  It’s just the way it is.  Hopefully we will wipe it away later.  Or shower.

Thoughts on Love’s Executioner – Part 1

I am excited to be heading back to school in less than two weeks.  I ordered my books earlier in the week and they arrived along with the Loyola t-shirts that I had to have for school spirit.  One of my classes listed a book called “Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy” by Irvin D. Yalom as required reading.  I thought I would get a jump on my coursework and started reading it yesterday.  I decided to write my thoughts down as I read each chapter.  I have finished the prologue.

The prologue begins with a request to imagine a scene of 300-400 people, strangers to each other, who are told to pair up and ask their partner one question over and over and over again.  The question is, “What do you want?”  I found this suggestion a little deductive but as I continued to read was moved by the description of the author’s response to witnessing a group exercise such as this.  He describes a lot of pain on the part of group members and this leads to his central premise.  He believes that psychotherapy deals with what he calls existence pain and he describes four “givens” of existence – the inevitability of death, the freedom to fashion our lives, our aloneness and the absence of obvious meaning in life.  Pretty heavy stuff!

While I might have a quibble with three of the four “givens”, there is no denying that our lives end in death.  I also agree with the author’s statement that two beliefs (which he calls delusions) interfere with our ability to realistically acknowledge death.  One is the belief that we are special as individuals.  And I think we are special as individuals, but when looked at as a group we are pretty ordinary – even kings, queens and geniuses.  We all have similar drives, thoughts and feelings but we may have different means of interacting with them.  If you consider the realm of possible things a person could be then you must understand that we are a lot more alike than we are different.  The second belief is of an ultimate rescuer which permits us to feel forever watched and protected by an outside force.  This is sticky for me because I wonder how God or a higher power fits in with the author’s worldview.  For now I will assume that he is not saying that there is no God, rather that we use the concept of God to avoid acknowledging the personal death experience which will inevitably happen to each of us.  I am interested in seeing how my feelings about death will evolve as I read this book.

The freedom to fashion our lives is an interesting topic for many reasons.  It was the acknowledgment of this freedom that allowed me to leave a comfortable job and seek out more challenges in life a few years ago.  I felt stuck and trapped but had to admit that as far as I knew there was only one thing keeping me in the situation and that was me.  I didn’t know if my attempts to free myself would end in tragedy.  I still don’t know.  However, I knew that tragedy could occur even in the comfortable life I was living and in fact had found me many times in my safety zone.  There was nothing for it but to try to reach lifelong goals.  This led to joining the Peace Corps, which was fulfilling and terrifying at the same time.  When I came back to the US, I felt that I needed to do something to continue moving forward so I studied for the GRE (Graduate Records Examination), took the test, visited New Orleans and Loyola University and finally moved to New Orleans.  I didn’t know if I would be accepted into the Masters of Counseling Psychology program when I moved, but thank heavens I was accepted.  I couldn’t find a job in technology while waiting for school to start but that was never the point of the move.  This was all fine for me as I lived in a time and place in which it was possible to make these changes.  But not everyone is that free.  There are so many people who are not that free in this world.  That’s my quibble with this “given” – that there are limits to freedom and much depends on the time and place.

The third “given” is the fact of our aloneness.  I don’t have much of a quibble with this concept.  The only thing is that we are not as alone as we might be, that others lift us up all the time and we don’t even realize it.  But the author distinguishes existential isolation from interpersonal or intrapersonal isolation.  It is an important distinction to make.  I think of the Natasha Bedingfield song, “Feel the Rain” where she sings, “No one else can feel it for you, only you can let it in, no one else, no one else can speak the words on your lips…”  The author mentions a few ways that our attempts to resolve existential isolation which actually sabotage relationships.  One way is using others as a shield against isolation as opposed to relating with or caring for others.  Another bad solution is fusion which is when you try to merge with another person and lose yourself.

The fourth and final “given” is the lack of meaning in life.  This is another given which I don’t quibble much with because the author clarifies that “…meaningfulness is a by-product of engagement and commitment”.  I agree entirely with this concept and find a lot of joy in acknowledging that it is true.  I tried to explain why I joined the Peace Corps by stating that I felt lost and that I noticed that it has been easier to find myself in service to others.  I grew so much and found so much meaning in being a mother, for example.  I also found meaning in my work in Information Technology, but eventually it was stagnant for me and there was nothing else in my life to engage with.  My husband was dead and my children were gone.  I had no energy to search for a new husband and I needed to engage with something bigger than myself.  This concept validates a few new agey sayings like, “It’s the journey, not the destination”.

The end of the prologue is mostly about therapist and patient roles.  I love that he states that we should not be misled by terms like therapist and patient:

“We cannot say to them you and your problems.  Instead, we must speak of us and our problems, because our life, our existence, will always be riveted to death, love to loss, freedom to fear, and growth to separation.  We are, all of us, in this together.”

-Irvin D. Yalom, “Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy”, xxiii

It’s a good start, yeah?  Comments appreciated, as always!


Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum

I’ve been watching the Hulu original series, “The Handmaid’s Tale” with a lot of interest.  I read the novel when it came out in 1985 and it stayed with me over the years.  It is a dystopian story, similar to others I have read such as “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley and “1984” by George Orwell.  Over time, I’ve come to see all dystopian tales as criticisms of culture and the habits of thought such culture promotes.  These stories, although always set in a vague future, aren’t exactly predicting anything.  They are extrapolating from ideas in the times in which they are written.  They are following some concept born of innovation to its logical conclusion.

Aldous Huxley wrote “Brave New World” in 1931, after reading Henry Ford’s autobiography and visiting America.  These two experiences informed his construction of a dystopian society built on the culture of youth, promiscuity, technology, and commercial cheeriness.  George Orwell wrote “1984” in 1948 and was heavily influenced by geographical issues born of the cold war.  He explored how governments can control populations using disinformation and social caste systems and brute force when necessary – but the first two tend to make the last less necessary.  Margaret Atwood wrote “The Handmaid’s Tale” in 1985.  Her inspiration was probably tied to debates about reproductive freedom that took place during the Reagan White House administration.  She calls her work “speculative fiction” as opposed to “science fiction”, arguing that science fiction is about things we can’t do yet while speculative fiction is about things we can do, and maybe are doing already.

I was struck this week while watching Episode 4, titled “Nolite Te Bastardus Carbarundorum”, that I wasn’t just watching an imagined future but was experiencing what women have been subjected to for centuries.  I felt the force of this as a woman who came of age in possibly the most enlightened period for females since pre-historical times.  The weight of the centuries measured against this brief period of time makes the title even more urgent, as “nolite te bastardus carbarundorum” is Latin loosely translated as “don’t let the bastards grind you down”.  The weight of all those centuries of women being chattel, of having no rights outside the ones a man would procure for her, of being kept ignorant like a grinding stone in a mill.  And our small piece of history to this point, as small as a grain of wheat against that stone.

I interviewed for a job this week with a Chinese company who match American English teachers with young Chinese children.  It was stressed in the recruitment literature that they wanted energetic and engaged teachers who used their hands a lot.  I was a bit concerned that I wouldn’t do well because I am not loud and I haven’t had any teaching experience.  However, I have put myself in the position of trying new things.  I did this on purpose because I want to grow.  And I thought maybe I should try to learn to be louder.  I watched a lot of recruitment videos and practiced in front of my camera.  I improved my performance quite a bit.  During the interview, I felt pretty good and while I struggled a bit with the demo class, was glad that I had practiced.  My feedback was abysmal, though.

I experienced a familiar feeling and some negative thoughts during the feedback session such as, “I am not a satisfactory female in China” and “I can see I’m not fitting the role assigned”.  These were my thoughts and not the words of the analyst I was speaking with.  Writing down the thoughts here, I want to laugh because the statements are so meaningless in a lot of ways.  I also want to cry because they are filled with emotional meaning.  I wonder if other people feel this way about their success at gender roles.  It strikes me hard at times, the way I feel that I’m not fitting what is expected.  I feel dejected and I tell myself that everybody is different.  We aren’t made from some mold of the perfect female or male, with only ourselves to blame for wearing off a perfect edge.  I ask myself, “Why is it important?”  And the answer is, of course, that I’ve been told it is very important.

All of my life, the main identifier of me has been related to gender.  I’ve never liked that and it certainly wasn’t self-imposed.  As a child, I was a voracious reader.  I read “Tom Sawyer” several times.  It was written from a male point of view and I identified with that point of view, not because Tom had a penis but because I have similar ideas and interests.  I read a biography of Marie Antoinette and I identified with her plight as an ignorant young woman who was sold to the Dauphin of France as a child, but it had nothing to do with her vagina.  It seemed to me as though thoughts and ideas were genderless.  It still seems that way to me, but I am aware that other people don’t agree.

A few years ago, I met an internet date at a bar.  It turned out that he was still married but was investigating what it would be like to be single.  This freed me from considering him seriously in any way, sexually or romantically.  I had a couple of shots of tequila as he boasted that his son loved playing with toy cars and his daughter preferred dolls and tea sets.  I asked him why it was important.  It was as if he hadn’t heard the question and he simply repeated his statement louder and more rapidly.  In turn, I asked more loudly why this was important to him.  He was taken aback but still had no answer, just a random listing of gender norms to which his children conformed.  I doubt he enjoyed his date with me.

The weight of all those centuries of women being chattel, of having no rights outside the ones a man would procure for her, of being kept ignorant like a grinding stone in a mill.  And our small piece of history to this point, as small as a grain of wheat against that stone.  This must be the reason, so nolite te bastardus carbarundorum, bitches.  Be hard as a diamond against that stone.


I Am Woman, Hear Me Whine

Haha, made you look.  This is not really about whiney women or about how women should do anything in particular.  We are individuals and we get to have our own opinions on everything under the sun.  Because in addition to being individuals we are human beings  with varying interests and intellects and bodies and families and life experiences.  I thought it went without saying but it seems like every time I turn around someone is complaining about how some dumb thing doesn’t represent their viewpoint as a woman so it is somehow not fair.

As a woman on International Woman’s Day, I am taking this opportunity to change the world into the image of my own thoughts – but just in this blog.  I know that they are not the thoughts of all women and that some readers, regardless of gender, will disagree with all or part of my point of view.  I am okay with that; in fact it is excellent.  If I meet you in person I will still argue for my position even though I am thrilled that you disagree with me and will argue your own.

In this imaginary world (or is it?) everyone has lived a life that is different than mine.  They like shopping or hate baseball or love to flirt online.  They have a happy marriage or never married or remained in a loveless marriage.  Meanwhile, I am a two-time loser with a good third marriage that ended because of a heart attack.  They didn’t go to college at all or went and didn’t finish or went and got an associate’s degree or got graduate degrees.  They are shorter than me or taller than me or thinner than me or fatter than me.  The point is not that one thing is better than another.  The point is that it is different and it makes a difference in how they think about life.  And that is awesome!

Because no matter how long I live or how hard I try, there is no way that I can see life from all those different points of view.  I have my own experiences and my own physicality and my own preferences and my own dislikes.  I think it is good to know who you are AND it is good to think about how other people experience life.  I think it is good to know it is a fact that there is far more to life than what you personally experience.

I support “A Day Without A Woman” and other “Women’s” marches because I don’t think women are valued as much as men in our society.  There is still a wage gap and there are still gender stereotypes that are less than positive.  I am not doing anything other than writing this puny blog for the day but that is because I’m not married to that particular cause.  I think it is great if others want to put in the time and effort, though.  I don’t feel personally insulted that people other than me are doing more.

I support public demonstrations about all manner of things.  I didn’t feel personally insulted when the Tea Party people did their stuff.  I thought about their point of view because they demonstrated.  I didn’t agree with them but I tried to understand what the hell was going on.  There are probably people who didn’t care and people who didn’t know and people who were personally insulted.  I bet some of them were Republicans.  That’s how it goes.

So in this world of my thoughts I don’t understand why people would object to other people objecting to stuff.  How else do you say what you want if you don’t state it?  What would you recommend?  Are you really saying sit down and shut up because I don’t agree with your worldview?  Really?  That just can’t be it.

Bon Temps

I love New Orleans for so many reasons – culture, cuisine and community to name a few.  I was a little surprised I would love it for Mardi Gras, too.  I thought the parades were touristy things to draw people and cash, and I guess they are.  But they are also a way of strengthening community spirit.

People dress up in outlandish costumes at Mardi Gras.  It was fun to see the pleather and the feathers and the pink pigtails.  My favorite costume adorned a tall African American man who sported a red and black leather suit and a red and black mask.  He was in perfect physical shape and that suit fit him like a glove.  I also liked the older woman in her fifties who dressed as Olive Oyl in a silver bathing suit with pearl fringe.  I feel better about the time I mowed my lawn in my swimsuit two years ago – I’ve wondered about the appropriateness of that choice from time to time.  There were many people who chose to wear spandex leggings in metallic colors.  And of course there were those decorated in purple, green and gold harlequin patterns with a fleur de lis or two scattered about their persons.

People are sweet at Mardi Gras.  I was told I was beautiful several times by very respectful young men.  This contrasted sharply with the older man from Tennessee two weeks ago who told me I should wear a wig to enhance my appearance.  In general, older women are admired in this city and it is very refreshing to feel included and worthy of praise.  It’s no wonder Blanche DuBois rode her streetcar named Desire in this town.  Not that I have anything in common with Blanche, or even really like her as a character.  Anywho, when I went to the parade all by my lonesome I was greeted by others at the barriers.  I conversed with a few other ladies who were all smiles and graciousness.  The security guards were helpful and made sure that I was comfortable, too.

People bring families to Mardi Gras.  With typical Iowan skepticism, I thought Mardi Gras was all about drinking and partying and being wild.  While all of those things occur during Mardi Gras there are also many opportunities to have wholesome family fun.  I grew up in Ames, Iowa and saw many more parades than I wanted to see.  But I made sure to take my kids to at least one Veisha parade because that is what you do.  I probably didn’t take them to more than one, but it seems like I was able to let them go with a friend.  It’s hard to manage three kids so close in age at a parade.  Standing at the barriers on Lundi Gras, which is advertised as a family friendly day and means Fat Monday, I watched the kids playing in the street and felt a tug on my heart strings.  It reminded me of warm summer evenings when, as children, my brothers and sister would play in the streets during block parties.  The evening wind was warm and anticipation ran high.

People make a mess at Mardi Gras.  Yesterday I wanted to run an errand in the French Quarter.  I waited to leave my apartment until mid-afternoon, thinking that the big parades would be finished and I could cross St. Charles Avenue.  I didn’t know about the truck parade.  If you want stuff like beads and plush animals, just go to St. Charles Avenue and stand there for the many hours the truck parade occurs.  You will get stuff.  If you want to go to the French Quarter and you live west of St. Charles and south of Canal Street, you have to find a place where the barriers have been parted and then wait until you can safely cross between trucks.  I walked Canal east-ish of St. Charles and it was pretty amazing.  That guy who made the plastic bag video in “American Beauty” would have had a field day.  There were plastic bags and plastic bottles and who knows what all so thick that it was like it had snowed plastic.  But there are no cars so it is easy to cross Canal for a change.  Normally Canal Street has tons of traffic.

With the costumes, sweetness, familial spirit and messiness you have got a firm sense of community.  It is amazing that cohesion can come out of such inclusiveness but it does.  Maybe I’m just a transplant but I came away from the carnival season feeling like I belong here.  It is no longer a “what-if-I-move-to-New-Orleans” thing.  It’s the real deal and I love it.


Stuck In The Middle With You

Do you ever feel like you have to keep your opinions on the down low on social media?  You might click the “Like” or “Haha” or “Sad” or “Anger” buttons on other people’s posts but you are wary of what you share or post of your own?  Does commenting on a political post seem like a virtual minefield to you?  When you do comment or post are you careful not to say too much?  If so, you are probably stuck in the middle with me.

I believe in diversity.  While I could be generally labeled a liberal, I have always believed that conservatives have a lot to offer.  That belief has been tested quite a bit over the past decade, and tested strongly over the past year.  But I still believe that a country is best when it has lots of different voices and ideas competing with each other.  I believe that is what America is all about.  I don’t want everyone to say the same thing.  Not only is it boring for everyone to say the same thing but it makes a society weaker and less able to solve problems.

My week began with discord from the conservative side and it ended with discord from the liberal side.  A friend posted congratulations to Betsy DeVos on her appointment as Secretary of Education.  I was not particularly distraught by this post, although I don’t think she will make a good Secretary.  In fact, it did not surprise me in the least.  What did surprise me was the extent to which the original poster made fun of those who commented on his post because they did not agree with the appointment.  He bragged about upsetting liberals and said he enjoyed it.  He wondered if they ever smiled.  I ended up commenting in a sarcastic manner in order to reflect back his attitude to him.  Needless to say, he didn’t like that very much.  Which was kinda my point.

Another friend shared a post about the current president which I agreed with.  I added a silly comment as well as supporting a statement that not all Republicans are like that.  I was quite surprised to be taken to task by another commenter (not my friend but someone else) for thinking that Republicans can have good qualities.  I was told that anyone who voted for the current president is racist, sexist and has no good in them.  I can only say that as much as I dislike our current president and his policies, I know lots of Republicans and am familiar with many good qualities that they display on a regular basis.

I have rarely, if ever, received unanimous support for my opinions – whether political, personal, or business opinions.  I’ve spent most of my professional life looking for the loophole in an argument, a way that I might be wrong or how a conclusion could be reached incorrectly.  I expected the programmers I worked with to engage in discussion with me over minute details in order to avoid logic errors.  It is a good thing to debate, to share ideas and to be wrong on occasion.  I seriously think that is why we have three branches of government and at least a two party system.  These concepts ensure that debate occurs.  However, it seems like vilification has become the order of the day rather than debate.

It may surprise some of us when we think we have picked a side to feel attacked by the side we thought we picked.  I’m old enough to expect it.  It is the main reason that I always maintain that I’m pretty middle of the road.  If you have picked a side, chances are you don’t always agree with everyone who has also picked that side.  Heck, it is pretty rare to always agree with a spouse so forget about always agreeing with a bunch of strangers.  Regardless of the side you picked, please feel comfortable with your own opinions.  It is good (unless you want to break laws, stuff and people then not good) to disagree sometimes with your own side.

I am writing this hoping that Americans can come together again.  It feels like a hope with faint promise of being realized right now.  Please recognize that different opinions can solve big problems because they grind away the lies on each side of the argument while simultaneously shining up the truth.  Vilifying others with a different opinion can only lead to more lies, can only lead to the downfall of a great nation.  Try to express opinions with respect.  If you find that you cannot express an opinion with respect, recognize that you have bought into a bogus philosophy.  Good arguments do not require disrespect.

You already know all this, though.  I know you do.  Because I’m stuck in the middle with you.  Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor?


Finding Julie

When I was sixteen years old, I knew everything.  I was going to finish high school, get married and have babies.  I was convinced that divorce was simply a failure to love properly and that I could avoid that failure very easily.  By the time I was twenty, my convictions had been shattered.  I finished high school and I got married, but my partner had a different idea of what love was.  It didn’t match mine, in fact it was a good deal uglier than I could have imagined.  I got divorced.  Still, I felt that I had merely miscalculated and that everything I thought at sixteen just needed tweaking.

When I was 20 years old, I knew everything.  All men may be equal under the eyes of the law, but not in anything else.  Therefore, it was important to make sure that the one you loved was compatible.  A similar faith background would be helpful and he should be the same degree of good-looking.  Since I was a very young divorcee I should also be looking for someone who was divorced.  This meant I had a lot of time to meander while the rest of my age cohort got married.  I worked during the day for a government agency and at night I was a deejay at local clubs.  Eventually, I went to college and renewed my love of learning.

When I was 26 years old, I knew everything.  I knew that love was not a matter of willpower or background.  I knew it was a commitment and I knew that it could end without discussion or input of any kind.  I knew death was one-sided and irrevocable.  I knew the joy of motherhood only to know the tragedy of loss.  I knew that pride and fear were useless.  I knew that there is no such thing as a waste of time.  I was getting closer.

When I was 32 years old, I knew everything.  I knew that all human beings are children, just like the children I was fortunate enough to bring into the world.  I knew that encouraging them, holding them, caring for them was healing for me.  I found joy in their smiles and wisdom in their small worlds.  I stopped worrying about my lack of travel and started focusing on the little wonders each day brings.  Lazy summer days with high pitched happy sounds and cozy winter nights bundled up beside a sleeping baby enriched my life exponentially.  I still wanted a partner who could share in these miracles, but I didn’t have one.

When I was 37 years old, I knew everything.  I had everything.  A husband, children, home, career and fulfillment.  Each day was a light-hearted adventure; each night a sweet dream.  The secrets of the universe were revealed to me and I took them in with confidence.  Money didn’t buy happiness, love is the light of the world, teamwork didn’t need an I, family reveals your truth, meaningful work allows you to shine and God is present in the blades of grass stuck on your lawn mower.  Closer still.

I suppose 37 was the pinnacle, or maybe it was the three years between 37 and 40.  When I was 40 I knew less.  I had less in a way.  My husband was gone and the days and nights less enchanted.  Still, I know that many of the secrets of the universe are true and they don’t fade.  It is in mid-life that you are closest to these secrets, as a parent and as a worker.  I could type in a bunch of adjectives which describe me and they would be accurate.  I know that I have more to discover.  No matter how old you are, there are life lessons which will define you in the moment, for a year or for your lifetime.

It’s not a bad idea to pay attention.  I’m looking forward to the discoveries.

Karma and Words

This week has been difficult because of the inauguration of President Trump, the Women’s Marches all over the world and the words of friends and family.  I realize that my problem is with the way that our world has changed us in conversation.  We have become more crass in how we refer to others, especially when we refer to people we don’t know.

I am not a Donald Trump supporter and have referred to him as “the orange buffoon”.  It made me laugh to say this and I think part of it was nervous laughter due to fear.  I also think that it made me look smart and humorous, but now I think I was out of line.  I am afraid of what Trump will do to our country.  His actions as President so far have been anathema to me.  He appears to be a tyrant.  But even so, my joking about him in a personal way is not appropriate.  I should not have referred to his skin color or the things about him which appear foolish to me.

Some people on the internet say that they felt the same way about Obama at the beginning of his Presidency.  I find it hard to understand why they would feel that way.  I won’t speculate but the arguments put forward by these people confound me.  He didn’t take away guns, he kept us from going into a depression, he lowered unemployment, he raised the number of people who had health insurance, kept insurance costs lower than they would have been and was civil to his tormentors.  I personally felt that Obama was pretty soft on his opposition and I would not have objected if he had been stern with the Republicans who swore to oppose him in all he tried to do.  But the thing is, I really don’t know why anyone felt threatened by Obama.  It still puzzles me.

I read about Madonna and her statement about her fears of the new administration.  I watched the video to see what she said.  She mentioned considering treason but went on to say that it would not have accomplished anything.  I haven’t considered treason.  I rarely (if ever) think of violence as a solution to any problem.  But I have heard from many people I know and love that they do fantasize about physically hurting others when they are angry.  It seemed to me as though that was what Madonna was talking about – a fantasy – and she rejected it immediately.  I didn’t really have a problem with how she expressed her feelings.  But a lot of other people did and some of what they said about her was not fair.  They referenced her age in kind of cruel ways.

Gene Simmons, of the group “Kiss”, stated that artists should not comment on politics and should focus all energy on their art.  I disagree with that sentiment because everybody else is commenting on politics.  I don’t agree with Ted Nugent or Don King, but I think they get to announce their opinion if someone wants to report it.  In a way, I kind of like knowing who I agree with or disagree with.  At any rate, I think if someone is brave enough to give their opinion publicly then let them do it.  I’m doing it, all my friends are doing it, and celebrities should be able to do it, too.

I suggest that we go ahead and express our opinions but that we do so without mentioning someone’s age, career, skin color, weight, or IQ in a derogatory way.  It might sound difficult, but I managed to do it in this blog.  I began by describing how I have participated in the crass discourse because I wanted to demonstrate that I am a part of the problem.  Ad hominem attacks have become commonplace and anyone who respects logic and discussion knows that they are just a distraction from real issues.  Our country has real issues that will not be solved by calling people names.  I get it now.  I’m going to try to keep getting it.

I read two other pieces this week which disturbed me.  One was on how you can’t be pro-life and a feminist.  The idea was that having the power to determine what happens in your body is a basic right that women must have in order to be equal.  Yeah, that seems true to me.  But if you believe in feminism and that life begins at conception it seems like you just have an opinion and you should get to be a feminist.  Because it is a good thing to be.

The second article that has stayed with me is not actually an article but the comments regarding the article.  It described something Trump had done and some of the comments were about opposing everything Trump tries to do.  One person said that he was not a Trump supporter but that he will support the President if he is going to do something he agrees with.  This caused a comment-storm with arguments that Trump will not get the message that people disagree with him unless everyone is consistent.  Maybe this argument is part of the reason we have this President now, though.  So I can’t get on board that train.

Anywho, probably nobody will read this blog or comment on it so it is unlikely that I will experience a comment-storm.  But as long as you keep age, career, skin color, weight and IQ out of it please comment.  Thanks!

The Lightning Rod

Benjamin Franklin famously invented the lightning rod.  It is a device attached to a structure to conduct electrical current to the ground, saving said structure from a conflagration from potential lightning strikes.  It takes one for the team, in a way.  There are people who act as lightning rods in our lives, too.  They suffer a misfortune and hope that it will shield their friends and loved ones from suffering a similar fate, at least for the foreseeable future.  They know that misfortune comes for everyone eventually.  Parents die, spouses cheat, careers don’t work out, and children struggle.  Misfortune will make an appearance in everybody’s life.  But the lightning rod faces the misfortune that he or she encounters, rues it, hates it and hopes it does not spread.

I wonder how many people are lightning rods.  I was watching a documentary today about the 1980s.  In one episode, the AIDS epidemic was explored and the story of Ryan White was told.  Ryan White was a child who suffered from hemophilia and who contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion.  He was blocked from attending school because people were confused about how the disease spread.  The fear and paranoia about HIV and AIDS was high at the time, so it was not surprising that people lost their minds.  The experts had told the school that his health was of minimal risk to other kids and the residents of the town of Kokomo didn’t believe them.  But Ryan and his mother, Jeannie, battled the school system and he was finally admitted to the school.  That school didn’t work out for Ryan and he moved to another school district which welcomed him with open arms.  In the documentary, Ryan was quoted as saying that while he hated the disease, he had the disease so that others wouldn’t have it and so that he could help raise awareness.  Ryan White was a lightning rod.

I suspect that most people who have faced misfortune hope that they handle it with dignity and grace, try to minimize its spread and never think to talk about their troubles beyond a complaint here or there.  They don’t have a newsworthy story or a soapbox to stand on.  They might not wish to draw attention to themselves – after all they have drawn the fire of the gods so why would they want to draw anything more.  It is important to think about their courage and compassion, even if we don’t name them or know them.  It is civil to allow the thought into our minds of our fellow humans suffering in silence so that we suffer less.

Civility might be known as political correctness, or bleeding heart liberalism or any number of derogatory terms invented by people who have a vested interest in eradicating knowledge of our fellow man.  I write today as a reminder that there are some who still see virtue in finding common cause with friends as well as with the “other”.  In my experience, the “other” is usually just me in a different gender, color or religion.  I pray that you will come to see it that way too.  If not, I will draw your fire.