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The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Billy Collins was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. This may have been one of our country’s most fragile times, when more people sought peace from poetry. And he is a poet who gets us, and last night Bob and I had the distinct pleasure to listen to him read some of his poems at Salon 615. Everyone of a certain age has picked up a book in rapt anticipation, only to find a few pages down the line that it’s something we’ve read before. I admit it, and Collins makes it bearable in his poem “Forgetfulness.”

Like that moment when he realized he was older than Cheerios, at the age of 70, and so wrote a poem about it. He scatters serious sonnets in among his readings, so last night’s audience gasped and laughed in unison. Because poetry is “…a megaphone.” Because he loves to make up new words, like “azaleate” – which loosely translated means we’ve arrived at a place just before, or after, it’s signature event. Oh, it’s too bad you’ll be missing the peak leaf season here in Vermont, let’s say. Or:

Bob and I azaleated the lavendar blossoming in Provence this year. 

Collins writes about cats and dogs from their point of view. And he even writes about Tennessee Fainting goats! This type of goat freezes and keels over whenever it is startled or feels panic. It’s something I may be catching here in loud and noisy Nashville 🙂

What brought me nearly to tears was Bob’s reaction; he didn’t fidget or head for the bathroom. He actually loved listening to Collins, we poked and prodded each other at yet another small truth that bounced between the two of us. It was like going to Jacob’s Pillow when we were young and discovering that he enjoyed the ballet almost as much as I did!

Then, towards the end of the evening, he turned to that ultimate question all couples must grapple with, “Who will go first?” The universal hope that “…you will bury me.” But is that really true love, to want to go first and save yourself from grieving. Bob has told me so often that due to his genetics he will most likely go first, and I almost believe him.

But what if I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow? A very real possibility in this busy city. He would still buy peanut butter and jelly, he would still drive like someone from NJ. Maybe he wouldn’t search for a beach house, or maybe he would?

Collins recommended a book, one that had inspired him in his youth, by a philosopher named Gaston Bachelard, “The Poetics of Space.” And I remembered the Bride showing us her Public Policy building at Duke, the light pouring in through modern-Gothic arches. And just last year, pointing out her son’s little hidey-hole inside his closet in their new home.

In the first and last days of life, it is the cosmos of the home that takes on the full weight of human habitation, as retreat and space of belonging. Bachelard’s greatest work remains a compelling reflection on the enduring human need to find psychological refuge in familiar places and spaces, though its author admitted that poets and story-tellers got there first. 

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/book-of-a-lifetime-the-poetics-of-space-by-gaston-bachelard-1673212.html

Here he is reading from his book, “The Rain in Portugal.”

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Oktoberfest ended with a little rain and a lot of dachshunds! And since our friend Eli was visiting with her son Leo, we all met the Bride’s family for the Annual Dachshund Derby in Germantown. Leo decided that Nashville should be renamed “Dogland,” since dogs of every variety strolled through the park with their beer drinking masters in lederhosen. Still, watching those wiener dogs race was hilarious. http://thenashvilleoktoberfest.com/dogtoberfest/

Ms Bean was delighted to sit on the front porch and watch the canine parade go by  behind the cover of a maple tree. She has staked out her territory thankfully, and the sidewalk is safe for most breeds. Corgi puppies and Great Danes stroll right by without looking up to see her eyeing them suspiciously. After all, she is a rescue mutt, origins unknown, and she’s proud of it! She doesn’t need some set of AKC papers to know she is a prey-driven lover girl!

Unlike certain people, who require validation in order to feel good about themselves. It’s not enough to be a professional for some, your pedigree must include only “The Best” schools, “The Finest” clerkships or residencies. These are the silent judges in our midst; constantly ranking others according to some inner calculation, one they are only slightly aware of and would never admit. It’s still a Dog and Pony Show world it would seem, no matter where you go.

You can usually sniff them out, the pretentious co-mingling of class and money. It’s a primal thing I suppose, as territorial as Ms Bean and my friendly mailman. Great Grandma Ada would call this person a “Noodge.” ie Someone who is a pest, an annoying critic of your every move. It’s exactly what we are currently trying to teach the Love Bug’s toddler brother to avoid – not to whine! “You’re not whining are you?” I’ll ask him. The etymology is probably Slavic, and:

likely from Yiddish נודיען nudyen ‘to bore, pester’, נודניק nudnik ‘bore, pest’, influenced by English “nudge”  http://www.jewish-languages.org/jewish-english-lexicon/words/417

Some people become lifetime complainers; their shoulders are burdened by a ton of self-generated worry. I’m sure Freud would tell us they got stuck at that two year old developmental stage, but the latest winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics may have a different answer. Richard Thaler started applying smaller psychological theories of human behavior to influence larger changes in public policy with his “Nudge Theory!”

How do we get someone to make good decisions? Bob explained Thaler’s theory to me this way – if his company offered employees the opportunity to sign up for a 401K, he would get a small minority signing up. BUT if he automatically signed everyone up for a 401K, and told them they would have to opt out if they didn’t want to save for retirement, the large majority would participate! I guess the human species is just lazy and we all need a little “nudge” in the right direction, to avoid being a “noodge!”

As for us, the rain dampened the number of people walking into lamp posts and spilling their steins of beer. Bob only had to pick up an occasional St Pauli Girl can every morning off our stoop. Things are getting back to normal in Germantown.

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Let me feel your psyche talk. Reading a recap of the news this morning made me want to break into song, sorry Olivia Newton John. It seems that Mr T is on a Twitter tear, which obviously means he’s not happy, and he’s setting the stage for his United Nation’s address today. What he will say to the General Assembly is anybody’s guess, but one look at his Tweets tells us he’s getting aggressive with the “Rocket Man.” And Nikki Haley’s response?

“He gets emotional.”

Awww. Imagine what would have happened if Hillary Clinton set policy via Tweets creating one scandal after another, and then her Ambassador said she was just being emotional? Imagine President Obama saying just about anything Mr T has said?!! Imagine any US President mock/striking a woman with a GIF of his golf swing! This is our new normal, we have somehow normalized the behavior of a 12 year old boy.

Last night Bob and I drove out to a lake house for dinner with some new friends. We have the shared experience of our daughter’s residency at Vanderbilt. Their doctor-bride-to-be will be married in January, and she is a Pediatric Orthopedist. We met Susan and Tom by chance at the eclipse, and liked them before we found out our girls actually knew each other. We had a lovely time and returned home in time to watch the premiere of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s epic documentary “The Vietnam War.”

I got pretty emotional, because my brothers served in that war.

I had no idea that the eventual leader of the Viet Cong, Ho Chi Minh, had first written to FDR after WWII for help with establishing independence from the French for his country. That letter was never delivered. After the Chinese Revolution, Russia was only too happy to help this nationalist leader fight for a united Vietnam.

I didn’t know a young congressman named John Kennedy saw the futility of this proxy war for the French. And that in 1959, the first two American soldiers were killed as they watched a movie. The incremental lead up to war was chilling, and resonates today with our troubles in North and South Korea. And so much is about the context of our time, and how that shapes our point of view.

In the 1960s, we thought we were fighting for freedom, because we were afraid of Communism. Fear pushed four presidents of both parties to intercede in a bloody civil war for French Indochina – we didn’t see the obvious end of colonialism. Hindsight may hopefully teach us something this time around.

If we can manage to not let our emotions take over; if our President can control his temperamental Twitter tirades; if we don’t turn our backs on history.

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Our new townhouse gets a tiny sliver of light each morning, and the sun streams in again in the late afternoon. Against all odds, I’ve decided to plant a few dish gardens because “Bloom Where You’re Planted” is my mantra. And even though my green thumb has been noticeably absent when it comes to house plants – with the exception of orchids –  I’m determined to turn my horticultural track record around and plant cacti!

After all, who could kill a cactus plant?

They grow in the desert, so water isn’t a problem. I’m really good at forgetting to water things, houseplants are low on my list of priorities falling right after dusting. Gardens, in my opinion, belong outside. But cacti, in or out, do need a fair amount of sun. Therefore I will inch my cactus gardens into that small square foot of sometimes semi/saturated/sun space and hope for the best.

We all adapt to our environment. I’ve gone from living on the edge of a bird sanctuary in Massachusetts, to the Jersey suburbs, to the mountains of Virginia. And now I’m sitting here, in the alcove of our “open plan” Living/Dining/Kitchen room in the middle of a big city. Ms Bean has adapted to a collar and leash; and Bob has changed in his own way, he’s enamored of Uber, forsaking driving, and has just walked in from his daily bike ride!

City life is looking better and better. I’m about to meet the Bride for another look at the fashions of Downton Abbey before the Cheekwood exhibit closes.

I learned a few things from my last visit to “Dressing Downton; Changing Fashion for Changing Times.” For instance, skirts began to shorten during WWI, as nurses on the front lines shortened their hemlines to avoid mud and blood. Hence the Flappers of the early 1920s. Fashion was adapting to the pragmatic needs of working women. Corsets became unnecessary, along with bustles. Eventually, women started riding horses astride in pants, they gave up the ritualized riding costume to ride like a man!

I recently found out a food blogger I follow from Charlottesville, Kathy Younger of KERF, made up with a particularly nasty troll of hers who had created a synchronous, satiric website for two and a half years. One of the many cruel and snarky comments on this other site had said that I looked like a man in my Downton Abbey-type hat. Those of you who know me know I wouldn’t really care, but what was interesting was that this troll took the commenter to task, telling them my website MountainMornings.net was actually well written and interesting!

The funniest thing is I thought the troll was a man. Why? I’m not exactly sure, the writing was sharp and witty, but Tina Fey is sharp and witty. Maybe I just couldn’t imagine a woman cutting down another woman like that. It turns out her troll was a 20 something young woman from LA, one with her own issues, and she wanted to make amends. https://www.katheats.com/i-befriended-my-troll#Z2pOl6ZWizcpyJbw.01

What I wanted to know was who was paying for this troll to write her miserable copy almost every single day? I haven’t quite adapted to the business side of the internet yet, but Kath said there “…are huge networks like Google Ads and they run all over the internet, so you can’t really pinpoint single businesses. They run on so many sites that they probably don’t even know they’re on a troll site.”

Well shame on these advertisers! And just in case you think the White Supremacists marching in Cville shouting “Jews will not replace us” – which no Jew I know would want to do in the first place – was a fluke, Facebook has just announced it will trim its targeting system for advertisers. Yep, it will no longer search for people to target in ads who are self-proclaimed “Jew haters!” I kid you not… They said they are “…building “guardrails” into its processes to stop offensive self-reported profile traits being used as ad categories.” http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-41278800

Did you know that a Jew born in Israel is called a “Sabra?” The name came from a kind of succulent that grows wild and free on the coastal areas, like a prickly pear. I’ve become rather proud of my bleeding post-potting fingers.

I hope that more platforms like Facebook and Google adapt to the troll and racist/anti-Semitic sites that pop up in the wild west of wifi, because free speech is becoming a synonym for spew all the hate you can, and we better learn how to handle this new territory.

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My very first job as a preschool teacher in the federal housing projects of Jersey City, NJ was very enlightening. I had a classroom of four year olds who only wanted to sit on my lap and stroke my long, blonde hair when we first met and that was ok with me. I taught them about sharing by breaking popsicles in two. When we had free play time in the classroom, I noticed how the girls immediately gravitated to the mini-kitchen area to play “house,” while the boys all started building with the big wooden blocks and trucks.

I was a new feminist, still feeling my wings after college and a starter marriage. This little example of playing house was not quite as important to me in the 1970s. I was more interested in getting my children ready to learn, ready for Kindergarten before there was a pre-K, by teaching them about language and math concepts through movement and singing and play. I was intent on breaking a cycle of poverty; I still thought I could save the world.

But now that I’m nearing 70 myself, that first Head Start classroom seems prescient. We still don’t tell our young boys that they will make great fathers one day. We figured out we need to tell our young girls they can be anything they want to be, but most of us still forget to tell our young boys they will make wonderful daddys in the future! In fact, it was surprising to the Bride, when her nanny bought our little guy a baby doll last year for his second birthday, that so many people wondered if that was OK with her?

Child-rearing practices vary widely across different cultures, and views about gender differences change over time, but there do seem to be some clear consistencies in the way boys and girls are treated, especially during the first few years of life. According to Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory of gender development, parents often have clear gender stereotypes about “appropriate” behavior for different genders and rely on punishment and rewards to ensure that their children abide by these expectations. Boys are often discouraged from playing with dolls or acting “effeminately,” while girls are often prevented from doing any physically risky activities. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/media-spotlight/201706/do-fathers-treat-their-sons-and-daughters-differently

Yesterday was a twelve hour Nana day for me since Bob is back in Cville getting the house ready for our closing. Because the Love Bug spent the morning in Kindergarten, I had some special time with our little 2 1/2 year old grandson. We cleared off his train table and built some new tracks, we built a tower with the wooden blocks his Great Grandpa Hudson carved for his Mother. And we played “pretend,” where he was the daddy and I was the mommy. Sometimes a monster truck was the baby, and sometimes it was a stuffed animal or a doll. Every single time he was as sweet as sugar.

Last night I watched his big sister practice a forward somersault over and over again, taking a running start and jumping headlong into some bean bags, stretching herself tall with a very self-satisfied “Ta Da!” at the end. It never occurred to me that this might be risky, or that I should curtail such a fun and exhilarating activity. In fact, I filmed her with my iPhone and sent it to her parents at their hospitals! The Bride sent back a few hand clapping emojis 🙂

And in another bit of TN news, a House member from Memphis has decided he’s done with Mr T “playing” at being the President. Memphis Democrat US Rep Steve Cohen is filing articles of impeachment today against Mr T largely as a result of his reaction to Charlottesville. Maybe more House members will stop playing at their jobs on the Hill, we can only hope.

President Trump has failed the presidential test of moral leadership. No moral president would ever shy away from outright condemning hate, intolerance and bigotry. No moral president would ever question the values of Americans protesting in opposition of such actions, one of whom was murdered by one of the white nationalists. … If the President can’t recognize the difference between these domestic terrorists and the people who oppose their anti-American attitudes, then he cannot defend us. …http://www.nashvillepost.com/politics/federal-government/article/20972898/cohen-files-to-impeach-trump

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My MIL Ada likes to listen to Rachel Maddow before falling asleep, and as much as I love Rachel myself, I just can’t do it. She would keep me awake all night with worry. I much prefer reading fiction until my eyes are crossed and I can’t remember one sentence from the next. But since Charlottesville was invaded by Neo-Nazis, I can’t resist the news, even at night.

Last night I caught a snippet of Rachel discussing the social media campaign to “out” the men (and they were mostly men) who showed up in golfing attire with helmets and assault weapons. It seems the KKK types no longer feel the need to hide behind hoods and masks. Still, I felt slightly queasy, because it’s so easy to host a website that “names and blames” the people who attended that white nationalist/supremacist rally.

These men are now losing their jobs.

It’s like being put on a sexual predator list, only instead of thinking a pervert lives next door, they think a racist bigot is mowing the lawn. “Hi, how’s the weather?” And it reminds me why I don’t like being put on any list.

The Nazis in Germany made lists of Jews and anyone else that opposed their propaganda.

The radical Christian right made lists of abortion providers.

I’d rather we discuss why those men from Pennsylvania and Ohio and North Carolina, those weekend “Warriors for Christ” as one proclaimed himself to be, were better armed than the police sent to guard everyone. And even though a car was used to kill Heather Hyer, a peaceful counter-demonstrator, a modern day abolitionist fighter, and two VA State Troopers died while on duty protecting everyone in Cville, that scene was potentially a powder keg for an all out riot with guns blazing and many more lives lost.

When Bob and I were fairly new to Cville, we attended a Bonnie Raitt concert on the Historic Downtown Mall. Before entering the Pavilion, I was frisked, my bag was searched, and I was told I could not bring my camera into the venue. My CAMERA. It was a small digital camera and we both looked shocked and said, “What do you suggest we do with it?”

At that time I was using my camera to take pictures for my blog, so it was always on me. Meanwhile everyone else was streaming past us with their cell phones! We mentioned this fact to the official screener, “You know, every cell phone has a camera, right…?” She just shrugged her shoulders. Inside the open-air concert, the first band was warming up as Bob walked back to his car in a parking lot on the other side of the Mall with my camera.

Virginia is an open-carry state. That’s why all those white militia men waltzed around looking like Rambo out for a stroll. Whatever your politics, allowing the NRA to make public policy that would endanger all our citizens, including the police, is madness.

I don’t care how long it took our little potentate to respond to Charlottesville. His true nature is making itself clear. I do care about our country, and I want that pendulum to swing back quickly. We must start passing common sense gun laws and stop trying to take health care away from millions. The vitriol must stop, we cannot let anger and hate win. Naming every single one of those vile men who chose to carry weapons into my adopted hometown is going low, and I ‘d rather be like Michelle, and go high.

Yesterday, we visited Parnassus, my favorite book store in Nashville after Kindergarten. Let’s remember, we teach our children how to hate and fear “the other,” but it’s never too late to teach them how to be kind, how to love.

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People are always asking Bob what’s retirement like; do you miss doctoring, what do you do all day? For an old codger he remains pretty busy. He just started flying again, and will have to study and practice to get his instrument rating up to date. After all, who doesn’t want to fly through clouds? And he packed up a U-Haul truck with some of our furniture, drove it over 500 miles to Nashville, and is currently reupholstering some chairs!

Now, if you were to ask ME what his retirement is like, you might get another story. A therapist once told me that he explains it this way to the men he counsels: “Imagine you’re still working, and your wife comes into your office and sits down by your desk every day. And never leaves.”

Is that transparent enough?

The first time I heard the word transparent to describe people and not paper, or windows, was from my psychologist brother, Dr Jim’s lips. Years ago he was talking about people from California, because he’d married Anita in Big Sur and chose to live and work there among the tomato and wine vineyards. In general, he was describing  someone who is happy in their own skin, who is not guarded.

Think of Woody Allen movies, where the lighting is so scorchingly bright on the West Coast, and diffuse and dark on the East.

The next time I heard about transparency was while writing for The Berkshire Eagle. I learned that reporters could access any and all public records. You may not remember this, but back in the day when women had to be married to get birth control and credit cards, many records were sealed, including our own medical records! And then we the people passed “Sunshine Laws!”

Through sunshine laws, administrative agencies are required to do their work in public, and as a result, the process is sometimes called “government in the sunshine.” A law that requires open meetings ordinarily specifies the only instances when a meeting can be closed to the public and mandates that certain procedures be followed before a particular meeting is closed. The Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C.A. § 552) requires agencies to share information they have obtained with the public. Exceptions are permitted, in general, in the interest of national security or to safeguard the privacy of businesses. http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Sunshine+Law

The Freedom of Information Act was passed by Congress in 1966 and not surprisingly was spearheaded by California Congressman John Moss. If you’d like to look up a Citizen’s Guide to Using the Freedom of Information Act and the amended Privacy Act of 1974, you will find the following quote from our 4th President who lived right over the hill at Montpelier:

“A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”  James Madison

So we should arm ourselves with knowledge. That. Bears. Repeating. I’ve been thinking alot lately about how this Russian thing is a “Prologue to a Farce,” or perhaps even a tragedy in the form of treason.

Now the third time I thought about transparency was after being elected to a school board. Because it really wasn’t until I found myself on the other side of the table, the side that held closed meetings to discuss policy and personnel, that I realized there is a Yin and Yang, a dark and a light side to everything. Of course we didn’t want to disclose “on the record” why a teacher wasn’t getting tenure, and of course that teacher’s union could appeal to an administrative law judge, but in reality Due Process takes time…

These are the times that try our souls. Mr T has been celebrating Bastille Day, which is like our Fourth of July, in Paris. He was parading around, shaking hands a little less forcefully, while still defending his dear boy Donald Jr from the “Witch Hunt” of “Fake News.” One glaringly inappropriate, if not sexist, remark to Brigette Macron, the First Lady of France, stands out. Looking her up and down he said:

“You’re in such great shape,” then Mr T turned to her husband Emmanuel Macron, nodding approval and delivered one word, “Beautiful.”

Maybe he hasn’t seen many 60+ year old women in his tower, after all he’s traded in trophy wives a few times. We have a lecherous ex-Miss Universe owner for a President who is running our country like a reality show. To quote Olivia, “Let’s get physical, let’s get into physical. Let me hear your body talk.” Is that transparent enough?

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