Tuesday, March 15, 2016

2016 Election Survival Guide

As a student of American government and politics, being pretty darn good at sorting through mountains of information and making up my own mind, and having determined who I'm voting for in the upcoming election, I hereby announce that I'm pulling out of the swirl of stress-inducing crapola being flung around 24/7. To save my mental and physical health, here's my plan for surviving the current political season:
  1. Stop listening to and reading political commentary from family and friends. I love you all, so don't take my hiding of your social media posts, unfollowing you, or running away in sheer terror as anything other than protecting that love and my sanity. You are entitled to your opinions and the airings thereof, but I'm free to ignore - yea, even shun -  them completely. See you after the election.
  2. Avoid all Op/Ed pages, letters to the editor, and social media comments. Yeah, yeah. I understand all sides. I also understand that people are mean and bat-shit crazy. Enough is enough. Movin' on.
  3. Get lots of hugs and kisses and giggles from my grandbabies. Be as completely silly as humanly possible.
  4. Pretend it's Christmas, and watch all the Scrooge movies and It's A Wonderful Life.
  5. Read cozy mysteries, bathroom joke books, and comics. Keep it light.
  6. Take long, fast walks while listening to old rock and roll or show tunes.
  7. Clean out closets. Donate lots of good but no longer useful stuff to worthy charities.
  8. Keep fresh flowers in the house. Because, you know, nature and stuff. 
  9. Buy a new box of crayons and an adult coloring book. Nothing calms the nerves like the smell of Crayolas.
  10. Pray. I suspect the future needs a powerful, omniscient deity to sort out everything. What's going on right now seems bigger than any human can fix. 
  11. Stock up on gin and red wine. Drink a Co-Cola now and then. Eat some fried chicken and plenty of chocolate. You know, in preparation for the coming Apocalypse. 
  12. Go to the symphony, theatre, or a Braves game. Applaud and/or cheer wholeheartedly.
  13. Find the nearest roller coaster. Ride it, screaming wildly, as many times necessary to purge any fear or anger.
  14. Volunteer for something non-political, though I guess it can be argued that everything is political. Perhaps something outdoorsy, like a road-side clean-up. 
  15. Sleep. Gets lots and lots of sleep. Sleep until November 9th, if possible. 
So I'm waving a fond farewell to hate, bigotry, and uncivil behavior rampant at the present time and hoping our better angels show up at the ballot box. In the meantime, I'll cling to my 2016 Election Survival Guide as tightly as possible. Pass me a Co-Cola, will ya'? It's almost time for A Muppets Christmas Carol. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Slow-tal Recall

I played guinea pig today. For three-and-a-half hours, I clicked on pictures and arrows while my head was in an MRI cage, took paper tests, regurgitated lists of words and numbers, and tried to duplicate drawings and images - all this in aid of memory and aging for a study at Georgia Tech.

My mother and her mother had dementia, and I'm more scared of that than of any cancer or physical thing that can be thrown at me. Except being buried alive, which y'all know is my biggest fear - but isn't dementia/Alzheimer's like being buried alive? (So, yeah. I should've never watched Still Alice.) Anyway, when the opportunity to take part in a study for memory and aging came along, I figured I'd jump right in.

First, they taped a vitamin E gel-cap to my head and strapped me into an MRI contraption. I was shown hundreds of pictures and had little clickers to rate each photo on an emotional scale of 1-4 from least intense to most intense. Interspersed with the photos were arrows pointing left or right, and I had to click on which way they were pointing. All of this came at me very quickly, and I spent 90 minutes or so just focusing on the monitor in front of me and clicking as quickly as I could - all while my head was encased in a cage with the usual MRI banging and clanging going on.

Once I finished with the MRI, the vitamin capsule was removed, and I was taken to a computer monitor where I was shown hundreds more pictures and asked to decide whether I had seen them before or not during the MRI. They went by very quickly, so I had to make snap decisions. Oy. Afterwards, I was given a series of written puzzles, visual images to memorize, and lists of words and numbers, some of which I had to recount backwards. We'd often circle back to images, words, or numbers seen or heard earlier, I suppose to test my retention levels.

I wasn't told my results - whether I have severe memory issues or whether I'm a wiz at remembering images, shapes, words, and numbers. They did pay me for my time and give me a disk with an image of my brain. Not sure of what I'm suppose to do with it. Perhaps this year's Christmas card photo? What it did tell me was that I can endure several hours of intense testing without going bat-shit crazy or falling asleep. I'm better at remembering photos than geometric shapes, and better with words than numbers. Not much of a surprise, but good to know.

I can't figure out what the vitamin E capsule was supposed to do, but I'm considering taping one to my head for memory's sake. I did, however, remember to reward myself with a hot fudge sundae afterwards, so my memory can't be completely shot, eh?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

From the Heart

I haven't been a fan of Valentine's Day since I was 11 years old, the last year of elementary school Valentine's Day parties. The world turned red and white and pink for a few days, as I decorated my shoebox with hearts and curlicues in preparation for the flood of little valentines that would find their way inside at the party. And maybe, just maybe, Mother had bought or made me a special red and white dress for the occasion - perhaps velvet or taffeta, with little flocked hearts. Maybe.

When it came time for the party, we set all the decorated shoeboxes around the room, and with our little sweaty fists full of punch-out valentine cards, make the rounds, stuffing a card in each box. The room mothers set out pink and red cupcakes, cookies, or little cups of candy hearts. And then, time for the opening of the festooned boxes, followed by lots of giggling over silly cards, who gave who what, trying to decipher any secret meanings. Ah, Valentine's Day.

That was when I was 11. Since then, meh. Some good, some bad, most not worth remembering. Like New Year's Eve, a lot is expected, and it never quite lives up to whatever has been built up in your head. But I'm all for love. If this is the one day of the year to express it - it's not, by the way - then I'm happy to jump right in.

The first box I stuff my silly valentine into is the one marked FAMILY, decorated over the years with hearts and hurts, wild crazy celebrations and somber sad remembrances, hugs, recipes, stories, and old photographs. I love my family. With all my heart. I'm blessed with a large one that includes branches shooting off in all directions - cousins, second- third- fourth-removed ones, in-laws, ex-in-laws, ex-in-laws families, a mess of old folks, young families, teenagers, and little ones. I love 'em all. Even the bat-shit-crazy ones. Even the rascally ones. Even the ones I don't see very often,  Happy Valentine's Day, Family!

Here's a big old crazy one for the box marked FRIENDS - old friends who've known me since the days of those school parties, new ones who have no idea what they've gotten themselves into, and all those true friends in between. You know who you are. You've put up with a lot over the years. Believe me, it's only going to get harder from here on out. I hope you appreciate the jokes, puns, and innuendos on this friend-valentine. Valentine hugs and kisses to you, Dear Friends.

My biggest valentine is for the battered box labeled HURTING ONES. Those who are grieving, invisible, too visible, on the move, stuck, angry, sick, scared, scarred, hopeless, helpless. A fancy card and loving thoughts aren't enough, I know. You need action. You need answers. You need just a little light at the end of the tunnel. And I don't even know where to start because that starting line keeps shifting.

For hurting family and friends, here I am. Let me know what you need me to do or not do. But for the hurting ones I don't know, you who are all over the face of the planet, living - or barely living - a life so different from my own that I can't pretend to walk a mile, an inch, in your shoes, my valentine for you is pretty weak.

My valentine to the hurting ones contains promises to think, remember, pray, and act. To refrain from and stand up to thoughtless comments laced with unfounded bias, bigotry, fear of the other, and hatred. To open my ears, heart, and mind to what you have to say, to really listen to how you need me to build relationship bridges, how to help, or at least do no harm. My valentine is an extended hand. Teach me.

To family, friends, and hurting ones, I fling out my valentines in the hope that you feel the love attached. I just wish I had enough pink-and-red frosted cupcakes for everyone of you.

Happy Valentine's Day. From the heart.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

No Promises

No promises
to lose weight
or run a marathon
or stick to a daily spiritual practice
to read more high-falutin' non-fiction
or send hand-written notes just because
to keep my baseboards and blinds dust-free
or organize and file weekly, instead of building random paper towers on my desk
to take better care of my nails
to pay attention to things that just suck the life out of me
or pay cash for everything
to be less sarcastic
to study Latin and physics
to turn out the light at 11pm, no matter how engrossed I am in that book
or stop making completely irrational life-choices.

I fully accept a lifetime of those promise-failures.

I'll stick to the sure things like
Getting up every morning, usually filled with more light than dark
Being the best mama and GrandMary I can be (and sometimes that may not be much)
Loving my family and friends, even the ones who are bat-shit crazier than I am
Doing my job to the best of my ability
Reading whatever the hell I want.

Beyond that, no promises.
Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Un-Scrooging Christmas

It's that time of year. Time for all the Debbie Downers to crawl out and beat their old familiar carols on their downer-drums: Christmas is too commercial. Too stressful. Too not-the-reason-for-the-season. Too selfish. Too wasteful. And those are just the tunes on Downer Carols, Volume I.

Ignore 'em.

Lose yourself in the chaos of a children's Christmas pageant or concert. String some colorful lights around your bookshelf. Bake cookies, eat oranges and peppermint, and forget to count calories. Go to church and sing real loud. Or just sing real loud in your own living room to Bing or Perry or Barbra or Rosemary. Grab a good anthology of Christmas mysteries and settle in with a cuppa cocoa or tea. Watch It's A Wonderful Life and any one of the renditions of A Christmas Carol. Treasure whatever cards and gifts you receive, even if you don't send any - no guilt.

But for heaven's sake, refuse to get sucked into the seasonal nay-sayers.

I've had sad Christmases, stressful Christmases, hard-candy Christmases, fearful Christmases. As I think back on each of them, however, I can honestly say I've never had a bad Christmas. Memories of happier times, calmer times, more plentiful, safer times kindled a little glow of peace and hope, even in sadness, while I was clinging for dear life to the knowledge that life changes and the future can hold lovely things. (While this is true for me, it's not for everyone. I hold those folks in my thoughts.)

But I will deck my halls with fat old multi-colored lights, kid art, and ornaments from across time. Only Christmas movies and Christmas music are allowed between Thanksgiving and December 31. I will eat whatever is put before me and give thanks for the hands that made it. I will read and sleep and hug and sing and remember. I will love. Because I can't think of a better way to honor the Christ Child.

And I will watch every version of A Christmas Carol I can get my hands on, reminding myself to be the Scrooge Transformed, not the Scrooge Unchanged. God bless us, every one.

"Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world."

Monday, December 07, 2015

Waxing Philosockiphal

In search of a pair of dark brown socks. 
Open the scary sock drawer.
Rummage. Rummage. Rummage.
Is that a dark brown or navy? 
A black or charcoal?

Finally, one brown sock. Where's its mate?
Rummage. Rummage. Rummage. 
No mate in site. 
Put lone brown sock back in drawer. 
The other sock may turn up. 

Next day, repeat quest.
A week later, repeat quest.
A year later, repeat quest.
Always put lone sock back in drawer.
The other sock may turn up.

Fact: If I throw the loner out, the other one will turn up.
Fact: If I keep the loner, the other one will never turn up.

Is my sock-reconciliation doomed?
Can I cheat the Sock-God?
If I pretend to throw out the lone sock, will its mate then turn up?
Or does the Sock-God see all, know all?

Am I physically capable of throwing away a perfectly good sock?
Sinful? Wasteful? Over-thinking one of the cosmos's great mysteries?

After all, the other sock may turn up. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

One Tin Soldier

Throughout all this sadness for Paris and Beirut and all the downright meanness toward refugees, the lyric to an old anti-war song keeps running through my head:
Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven, you can justify it in the end.
There won't be any trumpets blowing come the Judgment Day.
On the bloody morning after, one tin soldier rides away.

Late 60's protest crap? Perhaps, if that's the way you want to look at it. But, boy, with every hateful news story and social media post, I find myself singing that chorus. Go ahead and hate your neighbor . . . Do it in the name of Heaven.

The One Tin Soldier story tells of mountain people who have a treasure that the valley people want. The valley-folk demand it of the mountain-folk, and the mountain-folk say they will gladly share their treasure. Not good enough for the valley-peeps, so they storm the mountain and kill all the mountain-peeps for the treasure. They roll the stone over, expecting some kind of monetary treasure, but instead find Peace on Earth written on the stone. So now all the peaceful, generous mountain-folk are dead and the mean, religious killing machines are left feeling bad (we hope). And one tin soldier rides away.

Now, lots of folks will argue that we're the mountain folks and Middle Eastern terrorists are the valley folks. Fine. I'd love for that to be the case, but I'm seeing no treasure of Peace on Earth or the generosity to share it from us mountain folks. I'm not really seeing very many mountain people at all  in the current situation. And let's face it, in the end all the peaceful mountain folks are slaughtered, so what's the point of siding with that bunch of losers?

I can't speak for all religious people whatever their faith or denomination, but as a follower of the teachings of Jesus, I'm completely dumbfounded by the "Christian" response to Syrian refugees. "What Would Jesus Do" friends who rail against sexual orientation (of which Jesus said not one word) are turning their backs on all of the many Biblical teachings, including those of Jesus, about welcoming the refugee or stranger, serving the "least of these," supporting the persecuted, and on and on. Jesus was a Middle Eastern refugee himself, considered a huge danger to the state even as a baby. Yeah, it's easy to follow these teachings when they line up with your personal or political beliefs, ain't it? But it gets hard when those words clash with what you really want to do.

Oh, and Jesus never said one word about putting "personal safety" over "doing the right thing." In fact, he constantly put himself and his followers in danger. Lots of 'em died doing the right thing. Shoot, he died doing the right thing. Be not afraid. Love your God. Love your neighbor (including crazy dangerous people). Be not afraid. That's what Jesus taught. You either get it or you don't, I don't care how many times you read the Bible or go to church.

So go ahead and hate your neighbor, but I hope and pray that I am one of the mountain people, whatever the dangers or outcomes. Be not afraid.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Grieving is Not a Competition

In the wake of last Friday's attack on Paris, I admit to being somewhat troubled by folks criticizing or downright guilt-tripping other folks for showing grief and solidarity with the French, while not expressing the same feelings for the Lebanese. Or Japanese. Or Syrians. Or any of the other people in the world experiencing some kind of horror.

It's not a competition.

When something horrible happens to someone close to you, it's natural for your focus, your sense of duty, your prayers, to shift to that person. Whatever horrible things are happening to people you don't know, your tears and support are channeled to the family member or friend in times of trouble. For good or for ill, those of us who are products of Western Civilization - whatever our race, religion, or nationality - feel a deep connection with Paris (or London or New York or Rome), and when something awful happens in one of our sister cities, it affects us as family.

Maybe we know someone or someone's kid who lives in Paris. Maybe we studied there. Maybe we have great memories of a vacation or a love for French art and literature. There are lots of reasons why we are making a big deal out of it on social media and in the press. It hits close to home in lots of tangible and intangible ways, which is why, I assume, that western media is paying so much attention to Paris and not Beirut. (By the way, I do wonder how the media in the Middle East are covering Beirut vs. Paris.)

It's not a competition.

The thing is, it doesn't have to be an either/or; it can be a both/and. One is not worse - or a more noble tragedy - than the other. We can have all of it on our radar. But family is family. Long, strong relationships rise to the top at times like this. No one should be trying to make anyone feel bad for focusing on Paris and not all the other places of conflict in the world. Sometimes we humans can only handle so much at one time. Grieve however and for whomever you want, and leave others to do the same.

The world is a hurting place. Always has been. And grief is not a competition.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Generation Wars: What’s the Matter with Kids Today?

Stop it. Right now. I’m not sure we can put an end to the political vitriol that is paralyzing our country and our collective well-being, but we can stop this silly business of pitting generation against generation.

Not a day goes by that the media, political gurus, and psycho-professionals don’t trumpet the laziness of Millennials or the greediness of the Baby Boomers. I cannot fathom what possible good this does - all the finger-pointing, all the division, all the us-against-them.

The truth is that every generation is 90% exactly alike. It’s not a generational thing, it’s an age thing.  From the perspective of older generations, little kids have forever been pampered, snot-nosed little smart asses, too energetic/too lazy, and/or whiny. Teenagers have forever been pampered, snot-nosed pimple-faced smart asses, too energetic/too lazy, and/or whiny. College kids have forever been pampered, know-it-all smart asses, too lazy, and/or whiny. Young adults in their 20’s have forever been pampered, know-it-all smart asses, too lazy/no work ethic, and/or hating the generation that immediately came before them.

Don’t believe me? Pick up a book. For young folks in the 1920s, try Frederick Lewis Allen’s Only Yesterday, D.J. Taylor’s Bright Young Things, or anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald or Evelyn Waugh. For 1950’s and 1960s, try Kerouac’s On The Road, Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Goldman’s Boys And Girls Together, Farina’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me, or any late 60’s-70s S.E. Hinton novel.

Or watch an old movie (it may be in black-and-white, horrors!): Reefer Madness (1936), Andy Hardy movies from the 1940s, Rebel Without A Cause or Blackboard Jungle (1955), Peyton Place (1957), Bye Bye Birdie (1961), any Bikini Beach/Annette movie from the 1960s, Logan’s Run (1976), and all those 1980s Molly Ringwald movies. Same old story across the years.

As college-age Baby Boomers, we railed against Social Security (“we pay into it, but we’ll never get anything out of it”), money-hungry corporations, lack of meaningful employment right after college (inflation, hiring freezes, gas wars), and politicians who imposed heavy, deferred debts on our generation. So see? Yes, same stuff 40 years later.

That said, there are differences that each generation faces or benefits from. The “Greatest Generation” and “Silent Generation” faced Depression and WW2, but they benefited from the GI Bill and post-war economic boom; the Baby Boomers faced the constant threat of nuclear annihilation (talk about messing with your young psyche!) and the Vietnam War/military draft, but got low-cost college educations and a lot of attention from marketers; Generation X had to suffer through weird new-agey education stuff and really awful 1980s fashions (oh, the hair!), but could fly under the radar and do their own thing since we Boomers and the Silents were making so much noise with the much ballyhooed “greed is good” kick. And the Millennials? Well, they have the double-edged sword of Boomer or Gen X parents and the completely outrageous, sinful cost of higher education and subsequent college debt, but are well-traveled, well-computered, and well-(but expensively)educated.

Of course there’s more to it than that; I’m coming at it from an old middle class white lady’s point of view. Race and socio-economic class skew a lot of this stuff. But elders of all races and classes always have, always will, shake a fist at the youngsters’ music, work habits, and morals. Youngsters of all races and classes always have, always will, raise a fist against the power, foibles, and mistakes of their elders.

My point is that there is no “greatest” or “greediest” or “laziest” generation. You’re born into the time you’re born into. You live with what ya’ got. A lot of things are out of your control. But every generation produces geniuses that change the world for good and evil bastards that make the world unsafe.

Please, please stop the generation wars. We’re all in this together. Try your best to make the world a better place. Now, go hug someone from another generation.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Setting the Watchman

OK. I've finished reading Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, and here's my take on it. I'll try to avoid any spoilers for those of you who haven't read it. And honestly, I didn't pay much attention to the writing. If the story is good - and I think this one mostly is - and if there's nothing appallingly horrible in the writing - which there isn't in this case, I don't read as a literary critic. So I ignored what criticism's I read beforehand.

The whole Atticus brouhaha didn't impact what I felt was the truth of the book or how I read it, because Scout is my Mockingbird hero, not her daddy. Knowing Scout/Jean Louise as a little girl made me curious about a grown-up Scout/Jean Louise, and for the most part she didn't disappoint me in Watchman. She's still feisty and bull-headed, kicking against the pricks but mostly in a good, brave way. She's not perfect, though. Some of the stuff toward the end made me cringe, because she says and thinks some disturbing stuff. I had to keep reminding myself of the time and setting. I still love her.

The big question that kept popping into my head was why didn't Lee's editors want this story told in 1960? Why did they want the 1930's backstory instead of this far more timely tale (for then and now) of a small Southern town coming to grips with the Supreme Court's decision on Brown v. The Board of Education and the rise of the Citizens Counsels? Was it too controversial? A little incendiary for the times, especially coming from an Alabama girl?

Let's face it, the brilliant editor of Mockingbird could've worked his magic on the truth of Watchman just as easily. I guess we wouldn't have wonderful Mockingbird if they'd stuck with Watchman, and that would be a loss, but still. Why the more nostalgic, distant tale instead of the happenin'-right-now one? Just wondering.

I have no idea if Nelle Harper Lee wanted Watchman published. I hope she's OK with it. In any case,  she has her brilliant, beloved Mockingbird. But I'm glad this first effort was published. I like getting to know Scout/Jean Louise as a 26-year-old who lives in New York City and isn't afraid to say what she thinks. And I mostly understand Atticus - he was a man of his time (pre-Greatest Generation) and place. Like most folks, he had heroic moments and he had his cowardly moments. Sad about Jem. Sad about the relationship with Calpurnia. But it ain't 1930-whatever anymore.

Go Set A Watchman is not To Kill A Mockingbird, but the gift of this book is not its literary genius. The gift is the story told in the late 1950s by a young Southern woman about the impact of changing attitudes on a small Southern town and on an entire country. It's a Black and White story, an Old versus New story, Childhood Beliefs versus Grown-up Reality story. And, boy, it's pretty darn relevant in 2015.