Monday, December 17, 2012

Sandy Hook--is that all we have to say?

Several days ago a troubled young man shot his way into a grade school and massacred 20 children and 6 adults who tried to protect the children. They were all no match for the high powered rifle that shot 45 rounds in a minute. It's designed to do that--to kill with a ferocity and velocity that far surpasses any need one could have or need in a civilized society. This is not wartime. This is not a third world country under a coup. This is the United States where "in guns we trust" seems to be the new motto.

So now come the requisite "special reports" by the networks, and the required visit of consolation my the President (his fourth in his presidency), the calls for prayers, the vigils, the tears, the one liners on Facebook, the finger pointing, the...on and on and on. And in the end, at least up to this point, nothing changes. We move on, we forget, we tire of the pain and tears, we want to celebrate Christmas with a clear conscience. So life goes on. And this horrific tragedy that is now our American life gets relegated to two words--Sandy Hook. It reminds me of how we refer to hurricanes. Remember Hugo, Katrina, Irene, Sandy, Camille? You may not remember the devastation they wrought if you didn't live there, so all you remember after a while is the name. Just like Columbine. We can't change the weather. We haven't learned to tame hurricanes, we can only prepare better for them. Will we learn anything from the memories of 26 people? Will we change anything? Time will tell. I'm betting I'll be writing another post in the not-too-distant-future about another mass shooting.

It's the guns, people. The guns.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

McCain is an Idiot--Again!!

In the wake on President Obama's re-election, John McCain is beating the war drum for divisivness again. This time he's trying to trump up charges (created by himself) that Obama's administration participated in a coverup regarding the tragedy in Benghazi, where 4 personnel died in an Al Queda attack. There doesn't seem to be much doubt that security issues there were  not adequately handled. But beyond that, does anyone else (besides me?) see this as simply an attempt to pull a "let's impeach Clinton" move against the success of Obama's second term? Shame on McCain and his toady, Lindsey Graham. Shame on them for ginning up this issue for their own political gain! Shame!!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Full Circle

When I was almost 11 years old in 1968, my father packed up the car, the kids and the wife, along with all our hopes and dreams and ripped us out of the womb of LaGrange, Il. He sold us on the "better life" in Virginia with better schools, better people, better job, greener pastures, etc. We bought it. We believed it. We had no choice. We waved good-bye to the 15-20 kids surrounding our Oldsmobile station wagon on Stone Avenue and thought we were off on a great adventure. None of us said it at the time, but I believe every one of us thought this was just like a vacation--a vacation that would end and bring us right back home.

But it didn't end. And the moving on didn't end either. And we never saw the Stone Avenue kids again. I don't recall any of us acknowledging it, but I know we all carried a deep and lasting pain of missing our friends, and our way of life there. And later we would all acknowledge that we always wondered "Did we mean as much to them as they meant to us? Did we MATTER?"

Through the "miracle" of Facebook, we began to reconnect with old names, old friends. We "friended" some of our old buddies, but it felt superficial, a bit contrived. I never found my best friend, Peggy, online and no one seemed to know where she was, other than "California". But then, after much networking by my tenacious sister, Kerry, it all came together.

This year, on the weekend of the LaGrange Pet Parade, most of us reunited. And the last to arrive was Peggy. She didn't know me at first (because she had no expectation that I would be there), but when she realized who I was, she looked stunned, amazed, and very moved. We embraced warmly and she exclaimed proudly "You were my BEST friend." I replied, "You were my best friend!"

It all came together, the 44 years of self doubt, of wondering if we mattered. It was all answered in a simple phrase "You were my best friend!" Validation. Finally. At long last.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The "No Snow" Winter

So it's almost done, this climate changed version of what may pass for a typical winter in the future. Folks around here are still convinced that we'll have another big snow. I've been convinced since our very green Christmas that we weren't going to see snow again until next year. I hate that I might be right about this, because I was so incredibly prepared for this one. I bought everything related to rough winters that one could buy. A brand new snowblower, new XC skis and boots and poles, a heavy duty winter parka. I had salt in heavy supply. Had my snow shoes ready and waiting. Parked my snow shovel at the front door for the first chance to clean off the sidewalk.

And then I waited with nervous anticipation. Man against the elements. I live for this stuff!!

Truth is we did have two snows, one being about 6 inches. My luck? I was out of town for it and it was virtually gone by the end of a long weekend away. The other snow was just enough for me fire up the snowblower and discover how hard it is to run a straight line when you can't see the driveway lines! I spent the next 40 minutes making it all look like I knew what I was doing. I looked forward to the next snow where I could show my power machine prowess. But alas, it was not to be.

None of us knows, of course, if this is a sign of things to come. I suspect it is. I fear we will all be blindsided by climate events we never anticipated because everyone has been telling us that this change is years away. When they tell you the ocean waters are rising an inch every 5-10 years, you don't exactly lose sleep, ya know? But I don't think anyone anticipated tornadoes in New Hampshire or frigid cold in Europe or floods and droughts in the same year. The lake levels are falling in the Northwoods. Animals aren't migrating anymore. For years we feared that we would kill our planet with nuclear bombs. One big terrible apocalyptic rage that would leave the earth scourged and dead.

It could still happen, no doubt. But it might also be that man will not lose the battle against man, but against Nature. Perhaps she will have the last laugh. Nature always reclaims what is hers. And someday she will tell us it's time to pay.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Old Dog, New Tricks

I am now into the middle of my first series of art classes--4 classes down, 4 to go on drawing. Then I move on to oil painting. And I continue that as long as I want, and as long as I can afford it. At the risk of jinxing myself, I think I'm actually starting to get this creative stuff! Here is a charcoal of a bust I started today, followed by the Venus that I started in the last class and completed today:

I know they are a long way from being "real art", but they tell me that I have an ability to transform something I see into something pleasing on paper. But mostly, I am learning to see things differently, to identify values, shading, composition, and proportion. How cool is that? Woof!!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Very Poor

When Mitt Romney uttered his now infamous line "I'm not concerned about the very poor," he revealed something about the way he sees America and Americans. Recently, the Republican party has accused President Obama of "class warfare" and attempting to divide the country along socioeconomic lines. What exactly did Romney do in his clear proclamation of how he sees the country? He said first that he was concerned about Americans and then he proceeded to divide them into 3 categories. If this is not classism, or identification of a caste system, then what is it? What's more striking (and disturbing) about it for me is that he also seems to be describing people as if they are fixed entities in these different classes. It is as if he is describing the "very poor" as a class of people who should be satisfied with their position in life and secure with their trusty government safety net. It is as if he is suggesting that these people do not deserve concern because, after all, this is their lot in life. He is referring to poor people as if they are not deserving of the same attention and concern simply by virtue of having LESS. As if they are undeserving of concern because they should not want for MORE, or do not want for MORE! He is implying that this is a class of Americans who do not seek the American dream, who do not strive to be a part of the middle class.

Yes, we can all argue that we know what Mitt really meant--he really meant that he wants to return the American middle class to its place of prominance in our society, the bedrock on which American productivity and manufacturing are built, the quintessential American dream. But that's not what he said. He said--he emphasized--I am not concerned about the very poor.

If he isn't concerned about them now, when are they deserving of his concern? What does a poor person have to do to garner attention from the would-be President? Does one have to fight and claw and become a part of the shrinking middle class in order to be a blip on his radar?

A government of the people, by the people, for the people. Do we really need to add "ALL of the people"?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Too Timid

I started taking an art class recently. It is something I have been interested in for a long time, but never had the opportunity or inclination until now. If all goes well, I will be oil painting in a month or so. But for now I am focused on using charcoal and learning how to convert squares, triangles and circles into wine bottles, apples, pears, etc. The substitute instructor we had the first two weeks was impatient with my lack of experience, and when I asked her for her assessment of my first effort, she replied, "Too timid," and walked on. I was a bit deflated, but in the spirit of trying to be open to learning, I thought long and hard about her words: too timid.

It made me think about how I used to color. Most kids either press hard and get bright colors between the lines, or scribble indiscriminately in the general vicinity of the space they're trying to color. But not me. I was not one of those kids. I was the kid who meticulously placed a hard, dark outline around the area to be colored, and then finished with a perfectly light shade of pastel inside the lines. It was all so perfect, so nearly invisible, so understated. So timid.

I realize that I have been living much of my life this way. I was shy and quiet in grade school (earning the end of the year, tongue in cheek award of "biggest talker"), shy and reserved in social situations in college, and as an adult, always willing to go along with whatever my best friend or partner wanted to do. The only time I have felt authentically me is when I have been in the woods or on my bike, or outside somewhere in nature. That is the only time I feel completely free, willing to grab life and embrace it fully.

Today, while I was working on shading one of my still lifes in art class, I took the charcoal pencil and made a bold stroke to show shade. The effect was quite dramatic! Not only did the picture look more realistic, but I felt more confident, more alive, more like an artist. It wasn't exactly transformative, but it felt like the beginning of something.

So think about how you're living your life. Are you a spectator? Someone who makes commentary but never fully commits to the act of living? Timid, fearful, looking for a contented life versus a full life? Or are you one of those who lives by the command Carpe Diem? Perhaps it is recognizing that there are fewer days ahead than there are behind me that has caused me to stop and assess. Maybe I'm just finally recognizing that there is no negative consequence to being true to myself. I for one am grateful to the impatient art instructor who made such an astute, albeit blunt, observation. Here's to the end of timidity!Here's to a life fully lived!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Preserve Your Memories, They're All That's Left You

I have entered that age when days turn into months turn into years, and suddenly the person you meant to call or visit is 5 years older and you wonder where the time went. You know where it went--into meaningless hours at work or watching TV or writing email. Or maybe it went into meaningful things, like visits with family and great adventures and new challenges and new friends. We all discover at some point that we cannot and will not do all the things we want to do or talk about doing.

Such was a conversation I had a few years back with my oldest, best friend from high school, Pat Walters. She had moved to Alabama, then Georgia. I had moved all over the Chicagoland area. Somehow we found each other again, and exchanged several letters and one phone call. She still had her joyful country twang and told me all about her new life and her daughter. I remember being so excited and nervous talking to her after all the years, that I think I didn't express sufficient happiness for her life, especially her daughter. It all registered later, after I had time to digest what had just happened. We ended the call with promises to speak again, for me to take a road trip to Alabama to see her and her parents. It all sounded so good, so possible. It sounded as promising as every dream we ever expressed to each other when we were 16 and our whole lives stood ahead of us.

Of course, you know what happened--years slipped by, as they are wont to do, when left unattended. We didn't write or call or stay in touch. And then Facebook came along and I found her again. Her profile picture showed her much as I remembered her, but her daughter was older, quickly leaving toddlerhood. I sent her a "friend request", which seemed an odd thing to have to do, but did it nonetheless. And then I waited. And waited. She didn't accept it and didn't respond. I began to wonder if I had somehow offended her in our phone call. Did I say or do something wrong? I waited several months, and finally withdrew the request. I felt sad, hurt, maybe even a little angry at the apparent rejection. And then one day, I decided to look on FB again and couldn't find her listed. I assumed she was never very active, and had cancelled her account, as some will do.

Months passed. My life went into a huge upheaval that claimed all of my waking hours attention for months. When things finally settled down, I started looking for her again, with no luck. And then finally, recently, I stumbled upon a blog post that had her married name in it: Pat Walters McCuiston. And there it was--the words I couldn't even imagine being associated with her name. She had died. She had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and died 5 weeks after her diagnosis. The following picture was attached to the post:

I cannot express adequately in words how deeply I grieve the loss of my friend. She was the epitome of hope and joy and she housed so many of my hopes and dreams for so many special years. To imagine that we will never sit on a porch somewhere on a warm Alabama summer day and reminisce about our youth is inconceivable to me. It was always going to be that way. We were always going to be there for each other even if we didn't talk for years. And yet, in the end, I feel I failed her. I was not there for her and I cannot undo that. How do you say good-bye to someone who is already gone? What do you do with all the memories shared, the secrets never told, the private moments known only by two?

"Time it was and what a time it was. It was a time of innocence, a time of confidences. Long ago it must be, I have a photograph. Preserve your memories. They're all that's left you."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Old Friends

I spent the past weekend with 4 of the 5 women I very fondly know as The Joyner Girls. We know each other by this name and we are proud of it. We all met over 30 years ago at Joyner Dorm at UNC-Chapel Hill. We were fond buddies then, we are steadfast, lifetime friends now. As one of them said last year, "Ya'll are part of my retirement plan!" The meaning being, we will be there for each other--always.

I went to be with them because we had a chance to all be together, but I also went there because I needed a reminder that I am loved and valued by others. And they did that. They always do. I had started to doubt recently that I was of much value to the person I had allowed to be close to me, after she had started to take me for granted. It is a sad thing to open your heart to someone else, only to find that you are nothing so special to that person after all.

So it was off to North Carolina for some cold beer and some healing. It amazes me still that we Joyner girls can see each other only a few times a year and pick up conversations as if we had just gotten interrupted a moment before. That is the mark of true friends.