Politics and other awkward stuff

When A Shining City — Goes Dark.

Image courtesy of drnadig, iStock Photo

America seems to have lost its way.  At the very least, it forgot its way to the fuse box. Once a beacon for democracy, the last years of batshit crazy political insanity has cause a giant power outage. Suddenly, keeping the lights on in that iconic city on the hill is in serious question.

The last years have dimmed a lot of America’s radiance. Do we shine in our ability to keep our people safe? Nope. In healthcare, we place 170th in infant mortality, spend twice than most developed nations in medical care yet have fewer doctors and fewer hospital beds per capita. We place 125th among nations in literacy, and have the 81st highest murder rate, including the most guns anywhere! We’re number one in debt, in GNP, defense spending, and the economy — but only if you count the illustrious 1%.

“In my mind, it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” Ronald Reagan’s vision of America.

Maybe we were once less than shiny but at least we were uber idealistic. We loved the IDEA that we were better than we are, special, entitled. President Reagan stated that ‘the Shining City Upon a Hill’ was a utopia, divinely bestowed by God on the worthy. The term has been used by presidents and politicians ever since to illustrate their vision of America. We’ve been led to believe that we are on a special mission from God to spread democracy throughout the world, which might be a good plan – if we could practice and hold on to it ourselves.

Though Ronald Reagan didn’t invent the lofty phrase, he did make good use of it. The poetic vision of a radiant city actually originated in a 17th century Puritan sermon by early Boston governor, John Winthrop. His concept was not to taunt Europe with America’s greatness’ but as a na-na-na-nana refute to Catholics about Protestantism. Who knew? To them, it was less a place than an idea regarding Christianity, which morphed through the decades into ethnic exclusion, enslavement and social superiority.

“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people will be upon us.”  John Winthrop, Governor of Boston

Protectors of early democracy were also complicit their carelessness of it. Early settlers were no strangers to slavery, religious intolerance or their own conspiracies. (Do the Salem Witch Trials ring a bell?) Even as we told ourselves we believed the best in each other, we decimated the original American peoples, elbowing them to the side as we made this place our own. And of course we needed help building it, so we shipped in cargos of humans from another continent, excusing our travesty through generations as right and just. Many still do.

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Chick stuff

Common Scents

“Scent is our most potent form of time travel.” Victoria Erickson

iStock photo by fizkes

Isn’t weird how life events are so often indexed by smell? Our noses program us to remember the most offbeat memories by scent. Baby powder transports is back in time to squishy babies, fresh from the bath, deliciously cuddly and dusted with the stuff. The aroma of freshly baked cookies opens a door to just about any time milk and a tasty little ‘somethin-somethin’ made our day.  

Of course, we can’t take all the credit for logging a brainful of aroma information. Like most complex things the human body flawlessly executes, your olfactory senses neatly link smells to situations. Often that process produces a conditioned response, like how just a whiff of a vaguely familiar odor of the dentist office makes us want to walk the other way. Researchers claim that whatever smells a mother favors, while the baby is in utero, infants prefer as they grow. That actually makes perfect sense, considering how I love the smell of garlic and lilac (not in that order). That’s the beauty of the ‘emotional brain’.

Scent is the strongest tie to memory.” Maggie Stiefvaver

Scientists call the way we link scent to experience, an associated learning mechanism, which just means our emotions and sense of smell are hardwired to our brain. Our perceptions of odors not only create an emotional, conditioned response to them, but can even influence how we think and act. That makes perfect sense when you think of places like healthcare facilities, where the fragrance of lavender is used to calm and relax, while often masking other less appealing odors! So often I remember a scent even more than the actual event – or maybe that’s just a side effect of aging!

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Grief is Grief

Camelot . . . Or Something Like It.

Copyright: indegerd

I’m a 60’s kid. I admit to bell-bottoms, Beatles and banana bikes. But the psychedelic flavor of those colorful days also brought the iconic musical Camelot, a romantic tale of knights and maidens, later co-opted by a couple in the White House named Kennedy. Once upon a time, I found my own version of Camelot, or at least as close as I would ever get to it since our story began in the middle. And though we lived the time-honored vows of ‘sickness and health’ in technicolor, I never factored in that happily ever after wasn’t in the cards.  

Then again, Camelot isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

In fact, both in fiction and application to life, the tale was very different than Lerner and Lowe’s magical creation. While, like the mythological King Arthur, beginnings of almost everything are built on the best hopes and ideals, there always seems to be an unseen Merlin, whose machinations run opposite to our best hopes.

“What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes part of us.” Helen Keller

My Camelot came complete with a room full of tiny medieval toy knights, that often threatened to overrun the place. My husband’s affinity for the little suckers necessitated his building carefully crafted castles, drawbridges and moats as strongholds against miniature armies of weapon-wielding knights. Unfortunately, even alligator filled moats are no match for cancer but knowing my funny husband, he would have had a comeback for that.

“Marriage has no guarantees. If that’s what you’re looking for, live with a car battery.” Erma Bombeck.

People say a knight in shining armor are often those who never had their mettle tested. I met a few of them; I even dated them. You know, those dudes whose shiny metal suits were actually tin foil. That’s why I almost missed the knight whose armor had as many dings and dents as his car bumper. He was the real deal who fought his share of dragons, especially the most fearsome of all. I witnessed that man’s spirit, self-confidence, courage and self-esteem tried beyond toleration yet, each time, he got back on that horse (actually a green Nissan) to battle another day. Yet, even those who earn their knighthoods, through years of epic battling the two-headed beast, can still be defeated.

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Yes, Kids . . . Your Helicopter’s Here.

istockphoto photo by dorioconnell

Was I a helicopter mom when my kids were baby humans? Hmmmm. Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner! Looking back, there were a few times I just might have qualified. There were the times I urged my pre-teen daughter to let me know she arrived safely at her friend’s house – who lived at the end of our street! Then, there was the cringe worthy moment I ran into the local bank my high school senior daughter worked, begging them to let me take her home before the beginning snow storm took hold. Not one of my finer moments. On the other hand, I never did my kids’ homework or school projects FOR them, so there’s that. Still, doesn’t everyone have a crazy button just waiting to be pushed?

Okay, maybe not.

I’m pleased to say, now that grandchildren are the focus (victims) of my worry, I’ve let up on the controls. Usually. That is except for the times I whisper my over the top concerns about them maybe needing a warmer jacket to which their moms, with practiced eye-rolls, calmly reply “they’re fine, Mom.” Groan.

Being overprotective and over-controlling, while hardly an optimum parenting style, is also not a new idea. A term first used in Dr. Haim Ginott’s 1969 book, “Parents and Teenagers”, helicopter parenting is still alive though maybe not ‘well.’ They’ve just gone 2.0, being dubbed tiger or ‘lawnmower’ parents, mowing down any obstacles in their kids’ way, damn the cost. Some parents, intent on getting their children into the most prestigious nursery schools, begin their helicoptering when the babes are still in the bassinet. There are parents that, out of necessity, like special needs or allergies, have to be more singularly focused on their children. Yet many, even overwhelmed with work, a big household or economic constraints, treat their children more balanced and sanely while conversely, other parents absent themselves completely.

“A lot of parents will do anything for their children except let them be themselves.” Banksy

I’m not proud today of having been a mommy hovercraft. I could blame a lot on my own strict, controlling, appearance-focused parents but that’s just passing the buck. I could say I was the ultimate worry wart but at least I showed unconditional love, something that was elusive to me. I could even wonder if so much of my inordinate worry was based on fear, often unreasonable, that they would be injured or ill, shadowed from the loss of my young brother.

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View from the Shoe

What’s Old — is New Again.

2021 was one hell of a year.  But if you’re waiting for a sparkly new one, well, you might have to wait awhile.

iStock photo by Oatawa

An unrelenting pandemic. Shocking violence in the US Capitol. Devastating forest fires. Desert locusts. Murder hornets and the craziest, scariest year of politics anyone has ever witnessed. No wonder we’re jonesing for whatever will stop our brains from melting! It doesn’t seem to matter what the calendar says. From everything we see and read — Groundhog Day continues.

COVID-19 rages, once again, across the nation, though now disguised as the variant Omicron. Masks and mandates were often ignored or fought against giving the virus a get out jail free card. Our brains were exhausted, often savings were, too and food insecurity was evident in our nation of plenty. In the face of all the grief, confusion, fear and disillusionment, we badly need to find the flip side – and hope it’s a whole lot better.

“What a heavy net is it, indeed, carrying as it does all the births, deaths, tragedies, wars, love stories, inventions, transformations and calamities that are destined for all of us this coming year.” Elizabeth Gilbert

Will 2022 be the turnaround we need or — just another magic trick? In a country where a 2-year pandemic is still a runaway train, every day is a challenge. Vaccines are here, but Omicron proved that our COVID testing supply was caught with its pants down and availability has become more like a stagecoach than an Acela. We are realizing that though this new variant maybe weaker in scope, apparently so were our masks. N95’s are short in stock and high in price gouging. It will take a while, probably quite a while, for us to live ‘normal-ish’ again. And if we continue to set virus forest fires by not adhering to pandemic social distancing, masking, vaccination and a decent helping of common sense, it will set up housekeeping permanently.

We all want our lives back, not just those who strip off masks in hissy fits in Walmart. Until we get the simple fact that what hurts one, hurts all, a spanking brand new COVID free year will be a long time coming.

What do we do in the meantime when often the smallest positivity can be a heavy lift? I find myself swinging from yearning for family hug marathons to being resigned to the admittedly comfy nest of my house. What if we did committed to a reset, something out of the box and outside of ourselves? How about a little New Year Nengajo? Cousin to our Christmas cards, this Japanese custom is a nifty new year way to show gratitude to friends and family who’ve looked out for us, were kind and helped us during the shitshow year we just put to bed.

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Chick stuff

But First . . . Tea.

Quarantine. Climate. Political insanity. A short commercial break with a cup of tea may not be the craziest idea.

Pink still life with cup of tea

Starbucks diva. Yeah, no. I’m not the cool chick who nonchalantly orders a Double Mocha Grande, extra whip Macchiato. (Is that a thing?) You can tell I’m not a coffee maven. Though the heady aroma of a steaming cuppa-joe will always be enticing, my belly says otherwise. To this queenager, tea has never been coffee’s poor relation but a pretty badass elixer.

For as long as I can remember, tea has been my drink of choice. Though I ditched cream and sugar a long time ago, I grew up watching my parents sweeten their cups of tea with mounds of the stuff. Through the years, tea has been my go-to with friends, family and anyone who needs a little somethin-somethin. Steeped in aromatic little gossamer bags, tea has absorbed too many stories, laughter and tears to count. It’s been background music through years of kid playdates, grief shared and friend connection. Steaming cups of tea have held secrets, belly laughs, copious tears and advice, both given and taken, making apt the term, Tea and Sympathy.

You can’t buy happiness but you can buy tea — and that’s sort of the same thing.

My life is steeped in tea. It begins my day, and accompanies me throughout its hours. Tea is a grounding, a connection to nature, the proverbial cup of life. Herbal is my thing, though I admit the decadent Chai Latte, a tea equivalent of a venti caramel frappucino with a double shot of espresso, is my guilty pleasure. Sometimes ya just gotta go with it.

Politics and other awkward stuff

Red is Not My Color

A timely repost of this blog since, it proves once again, that truth is stranger than fiction and that patriarchal politics is working overtime. Enacting policies meant to rob women of their autonomy, we are on the road to making yesterday’s misogynistic vision of dystopian ‘great again’.

Image by Christopher Mineses

Jazzy red cloak. Wacky white bonnet. The perfect outfit for women in jeopardy. As political climate in the realm of reproductive heats up — again, The Handmaids Tale is becoming a little too close for comfort. Margaret Atwood’s book was dystopian fiction; real life is often much, much stranger. Inspired by the sociopolitical issues of 1970 and ’80s America, as well as a little-known a 17th century woman, I’m sure Atwood never imagined it could become a playbook for current events. But for years, politically and religiously radical movements have been brewing a perfect storm.

The surreal fiction of The Handmaids Tale depicted women in reproductive slavery. They were forced to bear the children of the elite, where their scarlet cloaks and crisp bonnets underlined their subservience. Most of the unlucky women had become infertile due to environmental toxins (yikes) except for a very few, like the iconic protagonist, Offred.

Atwood wrote that “the heavy-handed theocracy of 17th century Puritan New England, with its marked bias against women, would need only a period of social chaos to reassert itself”. Chilling? Well, grab your sweater because politics has woven its way to the bedroom once again. Legislating women’s innate rights has become less rhetoric and more budding, backwards policy. Its sanctimonious fervor has gotten teeth and bitten into state rulings, deciding, by male jury, what is best for women’s bodies.

Newsflash. Getting pregnant is generally not a solo activity. Even if you hail from Gilead, it still takes two. Perhaps men need to be reminded, before they rule on what a woman can do with her own body, how procreation works in the first place. Unfortunately, like in Gilead, women are considered responsible for whatever happens to them and men are free – to judge.

“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance; you have to work at it.”  The Handmaid’s Tale

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Politics and other awkward stuff

Groundhog day — for gun violence

The American nation mourns .

Another day; another mass shooting. This week, San Jose was the site where a resentful, ex-employee opened fire on his coworkers, something that’s become far too common in our country. It illustrated, once again, that we never know what hides beneath the surface of anyone. We rarely notice the anger, depression, resentment, embedded racism or religious bias behind a neighborhood teen’s grin or that ‘harmless’ crank’s frown. And we seldom can predict what eventually propels a person to grab a gun and take target practice on unsuspecting other humans — until it’s too late.

You just don’t know.

From El Paso to Dayton, Newtown to Orlando, mass shootings are part of the American gun culture. In 2020 alone, 611 mass shooting events occurred in a year when a pandemic was raging. They say the flip side of anger is fear and COVID-19 certainly was a year for that. Even so, it’s hard to imagine such calculated, heinous acts of violence incited bye the scared and afraid. Yet, terrorists are definitely frightened, just not in the way you think. You see, for them the bogeyman is not something that goes bump in the night but fear of poverty, of being passed over or being unseen or unloved. It’s also the ‘tired, hungry, and poor’ bogeymen that giant green lady in the NY harbor welcomes — the ‘other’. And, because not everyone who is prejudiced, scared or feeling helpless becomes a mass shooter, mental illness if often the root cause. After all, no one who purposefully commits mass murder is in their ‘right mind’.

I’m often afraid, too, and I know I’m not alone. I’m afraid, not of immigrants but of ‘shadow’ Americans, of homies who are religious fanatics and sycophant politicians, who’ve rained hateful diatribes like confetti grenades. I’m afraid of walking into a Dairy Queen or a shopping mall to see cocky, right-to-carry assault rifles worn ‘just because’ . Or people claiming to be patriots, ‘good guys with guns’, who wave the flag with one hand, just ready to be triggered. That scares me.

I have grandsons – 5 of them. I know all about the sometimes crazy video games (though my kids keep tight rein on what the nuggets can play). But to blame mass shootings on those games is both absurd and short-sighted. When I was a kid, my brothers played with cap guns and toy rifles, pretending to be soldiers, cops or bad guys. To my knowledge, my remaining brother never grew an interest in shooting up a theater.

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Regrets. I’ve Had (more than) a Few.

” ‘If only’ must be the two saddest words in the world.” Mercedes Lockey

Image CanStockPhotos

When I hear people say ‘I have no regrets’, my first thought is “I’ll have what they’re having”. Living a life that gathers no regrets is something we all want, but as years, events, experiences pile up, it’s harder to to come by — at least with a straight face. The truth is, we each have our own vision of how we wanted our lives to be and how they actually unfolded. As years add up, so do regrets. Whether they are productive or unhealthy often is not the point. Yet, they still have a way of elbowing into your consciousness, invited or not. They become like an accusatory Jack-in the Box, gleefully popping up with a laundry list of things you did or didn’t do and once it starts, it’s hard to shut up.

One of the biggest regrets of life, I think is a sense of having gone on the trip, but missed the adventure. Gary Haugen

The complicated, worrisome year we’ve all lived through is cause enough for mental review. More than ever, we realized just how precious life is — and how short. The obvious fragility of life was a newsreel re-run over and over through months of a pandemic. I suspect many of us, seeing very real mortality all around us, were treated to inadvertent flashbacks of our lives, enabling regrets to saddle up for rando visits. I’m that kid who, instead of pressing ESC, say ‘hold my beer’ (as if I actually drank), and settle in for masochistic doomscrolling of all my failures.

Recently, I was treated to an insomniac night of life review on an endless loop. I saw a 19 year old girl supporting a husband through college instead of fighting for art school, obviously not the smartest decision I ever made on many levels. As years spin by, I saw relationships I should have run from with my hair on fire, or left long before their expiration date. I’m a slow learner. I was starkly reminded of how parents’ threats of distancing and disapproval shaped my life as well as any confidence or idea of myself long into adulthood. I saw all the chances I didn’t take, in living color. All the places I never saw, risks I never took and the chicken-little fear that controlled it all.

Living in regret will become your biggest regret.  Bill Johnson

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View from the Shoe

LIFE AS A COMMA

Photo by Shutterstock

How many times in our lives has something happened to stop us in our tracks? How often does a sudden illness, death of someone we love or loss of a job or home, kneecap us at the most basic level? Those events often put the brakes on our ideas of what the future should be – or if it even can be. That’s where the comma comes in.

Events come along in everyone’s life, both good and bad, that feel monumental. We fall in love, get the perfect job, get married, lose loved ones, get promoted, get divorced, have kids, move to a new home, get fired… the list goes on and on. These occasions can seem like mistakes or miracles, but no matter how they are received, they make us pause and consider.

“Life is a series of commas, not periods.” Matthew McConaughey

Experiences are all personal. What feels huge to us, may be business as usual for someone else. What might drop us like a rock, can be just a blip in the life of another. Depending on the circumstance, the event can feel like an ending, a bleak finality or a turning point where we are forced to move in another direction. We are either stuck, feeling that things will forever exist in this new context or find challenge to look outward, hopefully to find a new meaning to the story. If I have a choice between period and comma, I choose a comma.

Life is about change. It’s fluid, unpredictable and sometimes, even batshit crazy. Like a basket of fruit, even the best of times can turn but, conversely, bad stuff will usually get better. Okay, it may not get better the way we chose when we put in our order. But, as I told my kids when they were little, if Santa doesn’t get you what was on your list, he probably knew of something even better. If you’ve lived through wish lists spawned by Sears Christmas Toy catalogs, you know exactly what I mean.

“There comes a time when you have to choose between turning the page — and closing the book” Josh Jameson

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