Politics and other awkward stuff

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Ah, mirrors. Can’t do with ‘em; can’t do without ‘em. Sometimes they’re pretty darn handy when you need a close look at that bump on your chin, pesky roots growing in or a tooth that’s been bugging you. But sometimes, mirrors show a little more than we would like because, unfortunately — they don’t lie.

I can’t say that for a lot of other things today.

The media, even in its earliest form, is a mirror of our lives. Though the first newspaper made its debut in our fledgling country in 1704, it took a few years to for all the colonies to have their own versions of press. Still, it didn’t take long to incite some tension between media and government. In time, Benjamin Franklin published one of the first editorial cartoons, joining other colonial printers and editors who realized early on they held a perfect mirror to criticize the local governers. Of course, the governor then discovered — he could shut down the newspapers. Sound familiar?

“Freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose.”            George Orwell

Early media provided critical news of local happenings, publishing arguments used by the patriots to voice their grievances like “No taxation without representation!”.(Remember that one?) Since the first two political parties were formed in the 1790’s, newspapers lined up on both sides to provide a flow of partisan news and information, sometimes vehemently. At the height of the barb slinging, the Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which included one that made publishing “false, scandalous or malicious writing against the Government of the US with intent to defame” a federal crime. Luckily, that cute McCarthy-ish law expired in 1801.

Yet, editors representing both parties were important political players in their states, stuffing their papers with their party’s major speeches and campaign platforms. Throughout the 1800’s, newspapers proliferated and party lines were behind every line of news copy and editorials. That is until, people like William Randolph Hearst, found he could make more moolah expanding his media’s base by becoming non-partisan. Undeterred, journalists still continued to expose social and political sins of corporate monopolies, crooked political machines, urban poverty, and child labor. Times change but news is still news.

“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in the government”.   Supreme Court Judge Hugo Black

Media is a lot like a mirror, at least when it’s done right. What’s reflected is born of truth, not magic. Sometimes it shows more than we want see but then it’s not a mirror’s job to assure anyone they are “the fairest one of all”. It reflect what’s real, pimples and all – not a photoshopped version. Mirrors reflect who we are, in all our human frailties.

I don’t love mirrors yet my vanity (sounds cringe worthy) table sits in front of my bedroom window lest I get any ‘whoa, there’s a surprise’ when I leave the house. I guess I just like to know what I’m ‘facing’, no pun intended. which is pretty much the same reason I read news and blog posts or watch trusted news stations. Ya just gotta know what’s going on.

“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. That we need the media to hold people like me to account. Power can be very addictive, and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.”   George W. Bush

Like a mirror, the media is only your enemy if what you see or hear isn’t true, not if it’s merely not what you like. Even when they don’t agree with what we believe or want, facts aren’t any less true — unless they aren’t facts. My mother used to say, ‘the truth hurts’ and sometimes it does. I tell my peeps to always tell me the truth, even if I don’t like it. I mean, how else would I know, that all the while I was yucking it up, I have poppy seed in my front teeth? Yes, the truth can hurt but it can also heal. It can make us think, incite us to act, and, at the very least, trip some changes in the way we view things. Continue reading “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall”

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Copy that., View from the Shoe

Listen Up.

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“Are you listening?” That was a pretty reasonable question to ask my 94 year old father who hated his hearing aids.  But when that question is asked of you, it’s time to either check your hearing— or your interest. Not gonna lie – I’ve been guilty as charged many times of being a less than stellar listener, as my daughter would confirm. In my defense, I’m usually hypnotized by two crazy cute grandsons. Still, from time to time, listening is an art-form that we can all use a refresher course in.

Everyone has a story to tell. A story that’s unique and personal to each of us. Sometimes it takes the form of seemingly mundane rants about things that make up daily life. And sometimes it’s about what runs deep beneath the words. But when we express our fears, our confusion, our needs, those words can help us reach a new level of understanding — and entrance into someone’s emotional lock-box. Our reception of the words shows respect and support; the trust it confers in response is priceless.

There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing. G.K. Chesterton

Too often the daily detritus, those things that stroll around in your mind,  plop down, completely uninvited,  into the midst of a conversation. And it’s not pretty. One day, a few years ago, one of my besties called me on it. Busted. To be fair, I was in the midst of a design project when she called, but it was no excuse for being half-present to her. After apologizing, I proposed a fix that I’ve adhered to ever since; something that’s helped ensure our 40 year friendship. If I’m busy when she calls, I fess up and ask if I can call her back when I can give her my full attention. Both of us are heard; both of us are seen.

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” M. Scott Peck

Really listening is one of the best gifts we can give each other.  When people really listen acutely to another, when you see their essence as well as what they are trying to convey, it is a powerful moment. And one that is priceless to every one of us humans. Continue reading “Listen Up.”

Grief is Grief, View from the Shoe

The Handoff

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My father died last week . . . at 94. His left behind 3 living children, 10 grandchildren, 17 great grandchildren — and a boatload of complicated emotions.

To be honest, this a tough post to write. It’s so much easier to be funny than painfully authentic but writers need to say the hard stuff, too. And what’s harder, more precious, more frustrating and intrinsic to us as humans than family?

Since the night my dad died, people have expressed heartfelt sympathies I felt unworthy to receive. I’ve struggled to reach inside to the depth of grief that losing a parent brings. Maybe losing my still vital husband so suddenly anesthetized me to old age’s inevitable end, even in a parent. Or, just maybe, the empty, numb feeling is self-protection from a hurricane of emotions just waiting to be unleashed when I’m least expecting it.

If that tv sitcom. Leave it to Beaver, (does that make me old?) was truly an icon of a normal family, we’re all screwed. Life out of central casting is not real life, but I suspect we all secretly want a teeny bit of that warm, fuzzy family picture. Instead, we peel through layers of frustration, hurt, love, and longing that surface with a vengeance when the main players of family of origin are gone. We may not recognize those layers as grief, but they can define it just the same.

When my mom was alive, my dad hated talking on the phone but he certainly made up for it, in spades, the last 13 years. Though conversations were rarely about how I or my family was, he was at long last verbal. He now depended on family for needs my mother hovered over and finally seemed to enjoy (tolerate may be a better word) the ‘kids’, including the oldsters who lived 2 hours away. (If there was any doubt that my husband loved me, I have just to remember our bi-monthly parkway pilgrimages. Muttering through road rage, a body protesting often from cancer side effects, he still took on legendary shore traffic – for me. That’s love) After he died, I continued the trip until a police call reporting my dad seeing 9 people dressed in khakis and red shirts (think Jake from Allstate) made it necessary to move him someplace both nearer and safer.

Welcome to assisted living.  Just picturing how I’d feel when it came time to trade my own house and car for a 2-room studio far away from where I called home for the last 20 years, twisted my heart. But having your parent’s care solely on your shoulders is layered with many emotions, even in the happiest, Hallmark families. Out of three kids, I was now the only game in town so, along with being critical dad’s go-to, choosing the right senior living facility was the could best I could do. We were suddenly both stuck and we both struggled to make the best of it.  Like I said, it’s ‘complicated’. Continue reading “The Handoff”

View from the Shoe

Ancestry Addiction

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It all started so innocently. Curiosity is a gateway to becoming a chronic Ancestry addict, chasing down roots and unheard of relatives. If that wasn’t bad enough, along comes DNA testing. Somewhere along the stages of ancestry dependence, circles of people pop up, who may or may not have bloodlines to you. Cool. But I have enough trouble keeping up with relatives I know.

Whoever got me started on this particular obsession, it’s on you.

Then again, DNA reports give a handy heads up about sneaky diseases waiting to snag you. To be fair, there were some scary sounding ones that I may have dodged the bullet on, so there’s that. Anyway, I heard enough commercials and friends’ excitement about the hunt for random family members that I thought I’d give it a shot, so here I am. That was 5 years ago and since then, I’ve dropped in and out, spending hours tooling around the digital ancestor graveyard. Hey, who doesn’t want to know if they should be wearing a kilt or lederhosen, right?

Five days before my husband died, he gave me two birthday gifts, both of which I must have ‘hinted’ about. One was a new iPad to replace my 7 year old model; the other an Ancestry DNA test kit. Unfortunately, by the time I spit in the tube, dropped it in the mail and got back the results — my man was gone. No one would have laughed harder than he when, unlike my lifetime denial that I was anything but Italian (and a tiny bit German), the results showed I was also — Irish. Wait, what?

Once you catch the ancestry bug, it’s hard not to be hooked. Though, to be fair, it’s too pricey for me to be a lifer. I pop in and out, getting a heritage high whenever I find one person who leads to another and another. But, you do need to curb your enthusiasm. In your haste to populate your tree, it’s easy to throw in a few Waldos that don’t belong there. When your tree suddenly blooms like you showered it with Miracle-Gro, there might be a few misfit branches don’t fit the profile. That can take the edge off congratulating your inner detective! Continue reading “Ancestry Addiction”

Politics and other awkward stuff, View from the Shoe

Not In Kansas Anymore

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Boy, has this place changed, Toto. Some days our America seems as unfamiliar as Oz. We’ve seen odd characters with no brain, heart or courage in abundance but enough about politics. We’ve been in twisty, scary situations before. In fact, history is full of times when the red, white and blue was as divided as the Hatfields and McCoys, complete with messy family food fights.

It’s been said this past election didn’t divide America – it revealed it. Racism and xenophobia are hardly new; they are just more butt naked than we’ve seen them for awhile. Did we think political paranoia left the building when Joe McCarthy did? Ha! We might have been a teeny bit convinced that we made healthy improvements in womens’ rights and sexual choice tolerance, but no. And immigrants? Fear of the ‘other’ is stoked daily, as you wait. Every culture has gone through a purgatory of prejudice and alienation when they arrive on our shores, but, these days, the Statue of Liberty hides her face in utter shame.

For 243 years, America has invented, innovated, inspired and banded together for better. We’ve dominated both outer and cyberspace. Baseball, blue jeans, jazz and rock ‘n roll are as American as too many guns, slavery and the atomic bomb. Everything is big in America – buildings, landscapes, cars, business – and dreams. To many, their dream is elusive along their respective Yellow Brick Roads.

But few things in life are linear – and history isn’t neat.

Over the decades we’ve seen riots, scandals, assassinations, world wars and cold wars. We’ve struggled with healthcare, financial reform, racial strife, taxes and political mayhem. There’s little we haven’t seen. When elections were over, protests were heard, amendments enacted, and we usually went back to business as usual. No matter how politics, cultural roots or societal platforms differed, we united as AMERICA, not a polarized land of misfit toys. Continue reading “Not In Kansas Anymore”

Copy that.

I. See. You.

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Three little words – that speak everything. When that Pandora heroine in Avatar says to her human, “I see you” it’s a pretty ‘awwwwww’ moment. But, beyond warm and fuzzy, what do those words really mean? I’d like to think they are a personal text to your soul, assuring that “I know you exist, I see your essence and I get you.”  It says that someone sees us for who we are, what we can become, and that they have a backpack ready for whatever journey is on your horizon.

Such small words yet, what is more profound than feeling we are accepted, validated and embraced? The first time these words touched me was during dinner with a dear (much younger) friend of mine. We’ve shared a long friendship and a lot of life experiences, though each from our own different plane. Yet, I saw that night that the ability to understand, with such interest and caring, can forge a connection that transcends generation. That connection allows us to see, in one another, inner spirits that aren’t all that different.

Never confuse “I see you” with  “I hear ya’. Nope. That’s a whole other aspect of understanding, and a pretty casual one at that. Really ‘seeing’ someone x-rays the person beneath loneliness, grief, even the smiles we wear before the world. It sees beneath the MEH shrug about really hating our job, the emptiness of not being understood, or the pressure to keep up. It also bypasses feelings of not being good or pretty or rich enough. That kind of ‘seeing’ accepts our regrets, and fears, along with all the goodness we keep locked up, tight as a drum. Continue reading “I. See. You.”

Chick stuff

Ode To Joe’s

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How do I love Trader Joe’s? Let me count the ways.

I hate grocery shopping. As a new bride, supporting my then husband through school, I budgeted groceries for two through a nefarious envelope system. There were the years I shopped with one babe on my hip and one attempting his escape out of the cart. There were years adolescents begged for snacks they knew were not on approved list of mom’s good-for-you eats —through every aisle of temptations.  When all the birdies flew the nest, grocery shopping became an even more irritating chore. My late husband, however, oddly enjoyed the food shopping gig and happily took over the the gritty household item list, knowing he could also drop in treats that weren’t on HIS healthy list. The upside was, that also left me with grocery nirvana – Trader Joe’s.

Disclaimer:  Before you think this is merely a PR shill for the store, no groceries have been harmed in the writing of this blog; nor has Trader Joe’s contributed to my advertising earnings. (Damn it) Any words of praise were simply written as an ode to grocery shopping done right – in my humble opinion.

People’s shopping preferences are as different as tomato/potato.  As for me, there’s nothing like picking up ‘just two things’ (hah!) in the welcoming aisles of Trader Giotto’s. If you’ve never been, it’s hard to articulate the contrasting experiences of weekly foraging. Maybe it’s TJ’s mellow-yellow vibe, where flower children of the 60’s can subtly dance with their grocery carts to reminiscent funky tunes or maybe it’s the Haight-Ashbury playlist. Either way, I’m totally cool with it. Continue reading “Ode To Joe’s”