Thursday, April 25, 2013

After the Storm

In the hours and days after the Boston Marathon bombing, Americans showcased in bloody technicolor the racism, Islamophobia and pure-hate-mongering that are the unfortunate lingering (festering?) by-products of the culture created by the Bush Administration’s handling of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Honestly, I hoped that this time around we might get a glimpse of how different the reaction to a terrorist action might look with the country headed by an administration of markedly different ideology than the previous one.  The Obama Administration did attempt to go on record as cautious, calm and authoritative, but  its stretch toward a thoughtful moral narrative was drowned out—heckled, even—by the Chicken Little school of  reason that was founded by a craven leadership on one fateful September morning, and has been honed and encouraged ever since.
If our national character was not permanently damaged by the Bush Administration’s blatant exploitation of the fear and confusion brought on by 9/11, it suffered a blow so serious that more than a decade later we have recovered neither our courage nor our moral compass.  We still scream fear-inspired epithets at an entire ethnic group, 99.99999% of whom bear no blame for the attacks that have reduced us to a quivering, raving mob. We threaten torture, murder, wholesale deportment and worse to neighbors—some of whose families have been in this country for generations—merely because they practice the same religion as some crazy person who decided his ethnicity provided a convenient excuse for him to carry out his psychopathic craving to murder strangers.
What is wrong with us?
Look back at the aftermath of World War II.  Hitler was Satan incarnate, Mussolini an opportunistic despot.  But for whatever reason, we never held the German or Italian people responsible for the transgressions of their leaders.  Why?  Because they looked like us?  Because they were Lutherans or Catholics?  Because the US has been inextricably connected to Europe since its birth?  Did we believe, on some level, that war is what they DO in Europe, and our role would forever be to muster ourselves across the water to restore order when the conflicts got ugly? 
In spite of Hitler’s and a complicit Europe’s systematic genocide—the truly sick annihilation of nearly six million Europeans of Jewish descent—we gave Europeans a pass.   It was upon the Japanese that we unleashed our hysteria, fear and hatred.  We were much more inclined to hold all Japanese responsible for the actions of their leaders.  It was easy—they did not look like us, they did not share our religious or political history.  We didn’t understand them and we didn’t care to.  It was easy to demonize the entire race; and so we treated Americans of Japanese descent shamefully.  Nearly seventy years after the end of World War II, this failing grade on our national moral report card is a cause of lingering shame and regret. 
And yet, it’s obvious that, as a nation, we do not have the capacity to learn from our own mistakes.
Are we still such a young and callow people?  Where is the wisdom?  Where is the outrage?  Where is the courageous refusal to saddle up the lynch mob and go riding out into the ideological desert to inflict frontier justice on the rest of the world? 
We are better than this. 
We have to be.    

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Ugliness, hatred, greed and aggressive indifference pour out in overwhelming abundance from our various American media every day, but when it finally literally explodes in our faces, we polish our halos, turn innocent eyes to the cameras and wail, “Why?”  Unrestrained rage, racism and verbal violence are anonymously spewed all over internet opinion sites across America; yet we are shocked and outraged when a senseless act of  physical violence occurs in a public place?  While we’re wringing our hands and rending our garments—in that instant before we begin very publicly plotting our revenge—why don’t we indulge in a little “Terrorist Attack Q & A?"  Let’s grab those questions being wrenched from our hearts, and let’s give some real thought to answering them truthfully.
“Who would do such a thing?”  We would.  We would torture, attack, maim, destroy and demoralize anyone to get what we want.  As individuals, millions of us threaten precisely this, mincing no words, in blogs, on Facebook pages, on websites and in comment spaces all over the internet every day.  As a nation, with the legal rationalization of torture and the pre-emptive war on Iraq, we have shown the world that we would.  WE would do such a thing.   
“Why do ‘they’ hate us?”  Because we hate them.  Twenty-first century Americans will say what might have been unspeakable and do what might have been unthinkable twenty years ago.  Egged on by the Rush Limbaughs, Glen Becks, and Ann Coulters of the world—those who would encourage us to give vent to our personal fears and bigotries, the better to politically manipulate us—we cherish and cultivate our hatred.  Compassion, respect and moderation are for losers.          
“How did this person get his hands on this weapon or the means to create this weapon?”  We put them directly into his hands.  Unable (unwilling?) to regulate the unquenchable addiction of “law abiding American citizens” to playthings  that explode or make loud noises or can take many lives in a matter of seconds, we have turned our streets, our schools, our public places, into battlefields.     
“Why didn’t the government protect us?” Because we won’t let it.  The toxic political climate of 21st-century America has fitted us with a government incapable of governing. We’ve exalted partisan politics above all.  Washington is stocked with politicians who will not make a move—right or left, forward or back—if it carries the possibility of alienating a voting bloc.  Politicians who know any action is going to piss off someone, so the safest course is to take no action at all.  Protect us?  Not a chance.  They’re too busy protecting their jobs and covering their own asses.
In the next several weeks, there will be raucous and divisive debate about who to blame for the bombing at the Boston Marathon 2013.  Blame the President.  Blame the Muslims.  Blame the Republicans.  Blame the Democrats.  Blame gay marriage and abortion.  Blame anti-government domestic terrorists.
But those who point fingers can’t put their arms out to carry a wounded man, can’t keep their hands on the wheelbarrow or the broom or the hammer and nail.  Those who blame cannot be part of the solution…so they must be part of the problem.  If you must blame, look in the mirror.  Take five minutes, ten minutes, an hour.  Think honestly and clearly about what YOU might have done to promote the culture of violence and hatred in America today.
Then pick up a shovel or a mop or a blanket or a bandage and help clean up this mess.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Walking For My Life

This past winter, I hibernated like a bear.  Well, maybe not like a bear.  I holed up in my cave and didn’t move around too much, for sure.  But while bears spend the winter months sleeping and NOT EATING—living off the fat they packed on before their long nap—I just kept right on feeding my face.  To the tune of—well, I don’t know exactly how many pounds, because I refuse to get on a scale.  But it ain’t pretty, and my wardrobe ain’t happy. 

Midwinter sucks for physical activity in the Pacific Northwest.  It’s cold and dark and rainy.  Going outdoors for exercise is singularly unappealing; even indoors, the short twilit days just make me feel sleepy and sad.  Still, I scored an exercise DVD from Amazon, and tried to force myself through its paces several times a week.  With limited success, but it was better than not making any effort at all.   

But spring is here, though it has been doing its predictable “Now you see me, now you don’t” routine.  Even so, I am inexorably drawn outdoors.  Walking has been my preferred form of exercise since I was a teen-ager.  When I was young and fit I didn’t do it for exercise.  I did it to sap off excess energy.  And to clear my head.  Twenty years later, I walked to work out the kinks from standing on concrete floors all day—one of the less agreeable conditions of my chosen profession.  A decade and a half after that, I “power walked” to lose weight.  Often on a treadmill, no less.

Before we bought the restaurant, dog and I logged many miles up the hills behind the house, down on the dike, round and round the neighborhoods.  Then I signed up to “live the dream,” and for five years, I barely had the mental and physical acuity left to start the car and pilot myself home to bed after a twelve- or fourteen-hour day in the shit-storm.  I continually paid lip service to wanting to walk to work (it was less than a mile and a half one way), but in all those months, I never quite got around to it.  On some level I must have known it was a bad idea, because by the end of the day I would not have had the energy to get more than about a block.  They would have found me crashed on a bench in Veteran’s Park.

I would love to say that immediately upon ditching the restaurant two years ago, I was free to resume the activity I so missed…but I had developed such a terrible case of plantar fasciitis that I couldn’t walk more than about 500 yards without severe pain.  Believe me, I tried.  But it soon became obvious that the only cure for my problem was REST.  I had to give up walking.

Now, many months later, I can walk three or four miles without a lot of pain.  It’s a welcome thing; a wonderful thing.  But as I tie my shoes, shrug into my jacket and step out the front door, I find my approach to walking has changed once again.  Yes, I need the exercise.  But I need so much more as well.  I need the smell of freshly cut field grass.  I need the sight and sound of birds, from the buzzards and osprey far overhead to the quail scooting across a gravel driveway.  I need the gurgle of the creek and the sigh of the wind and the smell of damp fir needles wafting from the dank depths of a treed lot. 

So you won’t see me chugging along at an Olympic clip, pumping my arms and chewing up the miles.  I’ll as likely be found pausing to chat with a little flock of sparrows skittering through the blackberries; or tipping my head and turning to triangulate the location of a turkey call and catch a glimpse of the big fowl himself; or slowing to bid good morning to the horses and cows I encounter along the way.

I may not be getting the “aerobic benefit” out of my walks that the health gurus tout as the be-all and end-all of exercise.  But I’m pretty sure that life consists of more than just making sure your heart is beating at a certain optimum rate.  You need to be filling your heart with beautiful things, wondrous things; opening it wide to things of the spirit and things outside yourself.  That is where my walks take me now.  And I’ll bet I’m getting more life out of the exercise than ever.  Certainly more than the gal who just breezed past me; with her sports bra and her pedometer and her ipod plugged into her head…    

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

(West-)Winging Into the Future

I mentioned last Christmas that probably my favorite gift was a boxed set of West Wing DVD’s.  Sometime around mid-January, husband and I cracked open the box and waded into the 47 discs that comprised the seven-season series.  Last night, we watched the last three episodes.    Everything came to a satisfying conclusion: a vigorous young Democrat was duly installed in the White House to take over for the weary, scandal-worn and not altogether successful Jed Bartlett.  The changing of the surrounding guard mingled the mists of nostalgia with high-powered visions for the future.

The West Wing debuted in 1999.  Many of the writers and consultants were fresh from gigs in the Clinton Administration.  The events that would shape American politics for the first decade of the new millennium were still on the horizon.  The 2000 election debacle.  9/11.  Iraq and Afghanistan.  Filibusters.  Sarah Palin.  All the events that pushed many of us to the far left shoulder of the middle of the political road. 

But in 1999, the country was already well on its way to the paralyzing political polarization in place today.  Republicans, stung by Bill Clinton’s ability to emerge victorious in 1992 despite unceasing attacks on his character and business dealings, hounded Clinton throughout his presidency, seriously hampering his ability to govern.  This was especially true during his second term, when the single-minded refusal of congressional Republicans to bow to the will of the American people and play the hand the election had dealt them reached its crescendo in the sensational impeachment saga of 1998-99.

This was perhaps our first real experience of the “new” Republican modus operandi—the policy that  permanently elevated the promotion, the will and the good of the Republican Party over more trivial matters like forming a more perfect union, providing for the common defense, insuring domestic tranquility, and promoting the general welfare.  In those dismal months, government took an ignominious back seat to party politics.  And has remained there ever since.

So Aaron Sorkin had plenty of raw material to work with.   There was enough historical skullduggery and partisan maneuvering imprinted upon the political consciousness to provide us with a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of the highest office in the land. 

What struck me most about those “old” West Wing episodes was the eerie recognition of the absolute topicality of the plotlines.  As if they were ripped right out of the headlines.  Because they were.   More than a decade ago.  The unfortunate truth is, they still are.  Twelve years, and this country is still tossing around the same political footballs.  Abortion.  Equality for women.  Gay marriage.  Medicare reform.  Judicial confirmations.  Gun control.  Budget turmoil.  Illegal immigration and border security. 

Honestly, if I did not KNOW that show was over ten years old, I would have thought it was written last night.  How shameful is it that we can gaze out over the political landscape and see the same legislative turd piles that have been littering the countryside for more than a decade?  Only now they’re bigger and smell a whole lot worse. 

Twelve years.  The Bush Administration managed to spend every minute after the 9/11 attacks, from 2001 to 2008, spinning the terrorist threat into justification to push an agenda that either covertly or blatantly advanced the interests of its deep-pocketed backers.  Leading to, among other things, the ship-wrecking of the American financial system just before GW abandoned ship.  Hard to know whether that was deliberate or accidental.  At any rate, the timing was off…because the economic death-drop seemed to be the determining factor in the Obama victory of 2008.  All the election-tampering and conservative-base-pandering in the world could not blind voters to the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression; not enough to entice them to sanction four more years of the same s**t,  different day.

As we were celebrating the Obama victory, anticipating the return to some version of normalcy in the federal government, Congressional Republicans dug in their heels and declared their primary goal, the one directive that would form their every action from January 20, 2009 until the next presidential election cycle, was to make this president fail.  And another four years swirled down the toilet.    

So it appears our intrepid elected officials have devised a way to permanently derail the wheels of progress in America.  The issues of real importance, the problems that need to be solved, only get trotted out as hot-button issues at election time (which seems to be ALL the time, these days…) or any time it appears that calm and rationality might try for a serious comeback.  And of course, if we actually addressed these issues and solved the problems, what would be left to throw out there every two years to rile up the base?  No doubt about it.  Our government is Oh. So. Broken.

This is where I fervently wish that life could imitate art.  Because in those final episodes of the West Wing, two presidential candidates who embodied a return to the political center duked it out in the election of 2006 (the fictional election cycle was two years off of the actual…) The candidates actually agreed on many key issues.  Each honored a tacit agreement to reject negative campaigning.  They met in a televised debate that truly was a debate—(that meant-to-be-edgy “live” episode that showcased, among other things, the Democratic candidate’s vigorous defense of the word “liberal.”) 

What rather sappily played as “hopeful” and “visionary” seven years ago, comes off as pure laughable fantasy today—as embarrassingly simplistic as the “morality play” of any sixties sit-com.  We have left centrism so far behind that we couldn’t find our political center with a map and a sextant.

Government—actual legislation—has not been the focus in Washington for a long time.  Almost too long for many people to remember.  I know I’m older than dirt, but as I write this, I think to myself, “Who am I talking to here?  Everybody knows these things.  We all lived through the same past twelve years.”  In reality, if you pay attention to today’s political discourse, it’s as if the world began no more than a couple of years ago and anything prior to that is incomprehensible primordial muck.  The word on the streets is that everything was going along fine until Barack Obama came along with his deficits and his wars and his bailouts that have sent the country to the brink of ruin. 

Even so, at the end of last year, in spite of yet another ugly campaign designed to demonize the president coupled with concerted efforts to disenfranchise voters who might lean in his direction, Obama won again.  The Republican Party was handed its head in an election that was not nearly as close as was stubbornly broadcast up to the minute its candidate was declared the loser on national television.  For about ninety seconds, we cherished a glimmer of hope that this fact might actually inspire the party to put its failed obstructionist policies in the past and go back to the business of governing.

The first action of the Republican controlled House of Representatives was to trot out a budget plan that had been proposed (and rejected!) by the losing vice-presidential candidate.  “You have to show the people what you believe in!” they asserted, as they invested the first weeks of the tenure of the new Congress into an empty political gesture.  

The “Sequester” became fiscal reality after no compromise between the executive and legislative branches would be reached to circumvent it. 

The Senate recently returned from its Spring break so it can use the filibuster to prevent gun legislation from coming to a vote. 

Not looking too good, is it?

Governing?  Meh.  Bring back  Matt Santos and Arnie Vinick. 

Cross posted at Women On...

Friday, April 5, 2013

Not-So-Creative Ramblings

Creativity—artistry—is a common thread woven through my life.  I have always loved color and design, words, melodies…beauty in every form.    This has been my joy as well as my cross.  Because I fear I have lived the misspent life of the artist with no real talent.  Though beauty gives me great joy, it is joy tinged with sadness, because I cannot create it.  I so want to express myself beautifully.  But my efforts consistently fall short of my ideals. 

In high school, once I got all the technical requirements out of the way —math and science and driver education— I spent my Senior year immersed in artistic endeavors.  I was enrolled in three art classes and four different English classes.  Even at that young age, convinced that I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, I acted upon my innate love of the liberal arts.  But I “knew” there was no money in an art or English degree, so I could not rationalize the concept of going to college.  The point that had been most drummed into my young brain about college was not that it was the social experience of a lifetime, or an undreamed of educational opportunity, or that it might lead to life choices of which I could not conceive as a seventeen-year-old suburban Baby Boomer.  No…the gospel according to our family was that college was expensive.  That it would be a hardship on the family purse.  And if we chose that route, we could never  rest assured that the money would continue to flow from orientation through to graduation.

We grew up imprinted with a sort of “cost/benefit” view of everything.  If something—like an education or travel or a hobby—was going to “cost,” it had better result in an equal or greater “benefit.”  And that benefit would have to be something tangible or material—like money, or an opportunity to get money.  Having fun, exposing oneself to mind-expanding experience or pursuing a fulfilling though not necessarily lucrative endeavor did not enter into the equation.  One did not spend thousands of dollars—and one especially did not go into debt—for the intangible rewards of “fulfillment,” or knowledge for its own sake.

So I chose work.  Being employed.  At the first thing that popped up on my radar.  Got that job at the local pizza parlor and stuck to that line of work for thirty years.  Got good at it, even.   But, I think I was fooling myself for all those years.  I certainly discovered, when I finally made the choice to sink all my life energy into that work, that it was not the channel through which I was destined to achieve success, much less fulfillment.  And now that I have finally walked away from that (and, to some extent, recovered from the experience) I understand that the jobs at which I have been employed were simply ways to mark time, make a living, and keep me away from the place where I could despair about my lack of talent for the things I really wanted to do.

My nearly forty years in the workplace have been marked by “between jobs” intervals.  And my history has been such that, in those times of enforced idleness, I have thrown myself headlong into a frenzy of creative projects.  In 1986, whiling away the weeks between an icky job and my dream job, I set up a table in my living room and immersed myself in hand-making sequined and beaded Christmas ornaments.  In the 90’s, my employment ups and downs resulted in a gardening frenzy that enhanced the curb-appeal of three different homes.  In 2001, I poured myself into home redecorating on a shoestring budget.  Also in the 2000’s, advances in digital photography nurtured my love of photography. 

And in 2003, I believed I had found the love of my life:

“Coming to Terms…”

Though I have always loved writing, and fancied myself somewhat good at it, I had never had the opportunity to revel in it.  To use it as more than a self-analytical tool.   Then the world of blogging fell into my lap, quite out of the blue, and I was smitten.  I have had unimagined success and developed more passion and clarity in my writing between  September 2003 and today than in all the previous four decades combined.  Blogging provided me with the only thing that really matters to an artist; the grow-light under which we develop and mature: an audience.  And I blossomed accordingly.

But if I have learned one thing in my life—and it has been a hard lesson for me in particular—it’s that nothing stays the same.  Life is a journey.  You never stop for long.  And even if you try to stay in a place, the place will change.  Most times, this is a wonderful thing; sometimes it sucks.  But it is what it is.

Blogging has changed.  It is not the same place, the same experience it was ten years ago.  Not remarkable, really, considering the rate at which 21st century technology explodes and decays.  But it has left me in a creative vacuum when I am more in need of an artistic outlet than at any other time in my life.  In the past, I’ve negotiated smooth-ish transitions from one creative endeavor to the next.  But I’m finding it very hard to put my blog in the past.   

I don’t want “Coming to Terms…” to be a keepsake that I keep in a box on my dressing table.  I don’t want to see it fade from a passionate, living thing to an album of discolored photographs and yellowing pages of writing that used to matter.   I’ve tried to revive and re-imagine it, but I can’t get it right.

I can’t seem to come up with  a definition for it—however temporary or evolving—that fits the genre of blogging as it is now defined, that fits comfortably into my life today, that allows it to mean something different than it did in the days when I first fell in love with it and still inspire the passion and the joy to which I became addicted.  I visit “Coming to Terms…” at least once a day.  I click on the icon, look at the entries, poise my fingers above the keys…and nothing happens.  “What should I write about?”  “How do I begin?”  “Do I really want to share what I’m feeling/thinking about today?”  “Who is going to read this, and will they understand or care?”   The questions rise from my soul like a mist.  The answers…don’t come.

I made myself sit down and write this today.  It’s pointless and vague and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  But I had to try to put it into words…distill it into some kind of recognizable language.  Try to understand why I…just can’t write, these days.  I hate it.  It makes me sad and frustrated; makes me want to take the whole damn thing and send it sailing out the window with a satisfying crash.   

So I’ve unearthed a few new creative hobbies.  I have been trying my hand at jewelry-making.  Doing some ceramic tile projects; playing with my pictures in Photoshop.  But my efforts in those directions feel half-assed and disposable.  Because I can’t turn completely away from the thing I’ve loved for the past ten years.  I can’t.  I’ve lost too many things these past several months.  I can’t lose this…this thing that saved me from the losses I had racked up before I stumbled into it.   

I don’t know who I am, right now.  I don’t know what I’m doing.  I don’t know what I love, or what I hate.  I have this sense of the finiteness of the time left to me, and that I’m not honoring it at all with any worthwhile endeavor. 

And not being able to write about it has robbed me of the one thing that has kept me sane for the past ten years.