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#Kindnessis

Out of the blue, my Little Pumpkin asked me yesterday from his car seat if I knew why he didn’t like Donald Trump. I had to ask him to repeat himself because you know, he talks like a three year old, but as soon as I said, “Why?” (why is one of his favorite words actually), he replied just as clear as a bell,

“Because he’s mean.”

So I prattled on about how Mr T is also a narcissist and a bigot, but still it’s not nice to call people names. The world of adults can be very complex. Teaching a child to be polite at the dinner table for instance, while flossing your teeth would be a No. Talking about politics in the car with a toddler who is just out of diapers for naps, probably not a good idea.

And because there is a wall of kindness in my neighborhood – an art installation meant for people to Instagram their ideas of kindness around the world – I’ve been thinking a lot about morality, and plain basic decency lately. How can we teach children to be ethical when it seems like all bets are off in this post-Trump year. Our Grabber-in Chief leads the pack of men behaving badly.

The Republican Senate candidate from AL is being defended by his good ole boys, quoting the Bible. Hitting on teenaged girls it would seem is acceptable, but for Kevin Spacey, hitting on teenaged boys is not. Isn’t being a pedophile a uni-sex situation, universally condemned? The Catholic Church has finally figured it out. This is the murky field of dreams, or nightmares, we seem to be wading through – thank you Harvey Weinstein…

The Love Bug and I watched the artist, who flew to Nashville from the Twin Cities btw, painting her gorgeous bouquet of flowers on the back wall of a restaurant at twilight. She was sitting high up on scaffolding, like Leonardo with floodlights, when I asked our Kindergardener what kindness meant to her. The Love Big said,

“Letting other people go first.”

Now I must admit, she was always a sensitive child. Whenever I would play a game with her, she would purposely try to let me win. And depending on your point of view, that can be a good trait, or a bad one. But for this old feminist, I thought maybe she needs to get a little more pushy, like her Mama at that age who was leading the pack of bad girls in preschool. I remember always pulling her aside to say, “That (behavior) is hurting your friend’s feelings.” Or, “Think about how you would feel if…” As a grandparent, I realize more and more the pull of nature over nurture.

Maybe it’s time we women went first for a change! Teach our girls to fight hard, with their words and maybe even their fists if need be. To push bullies away, to yell when some boy starts behaving badly.

We swept up so many legislative seats last Tuesday, women of all colors and even a transgender woman, who unseated an incumbent conservative in VA, that I came close to crying. Something I won’t do in public. And in MN, a Black transgender woman won a seat on the City Council. So many Democratic women won, I think because of the Women’s March and the “Trump Effect.” Pink pussy hats and all.

The survey found that 70 percent of Democratic women were “appalled” by Trump’s victory, more than two-thirds were “shocked” by it, and more than half reported feeling “angry” and “depressed.” Nearly three-quarters of Democratic women reported “a sick feeling” when they saw Trump on the news. The women with the most visceral reactions were roughly four times as likely to engage politically after Trump’s victory than they were before it. For Democratic women in New Jersey and Virginia, casting a ballot may have represented yet another way to express their displeasure with Trump. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/11/09/in-tuesdays-elections-women-won-big-here-are-three-things-we-learned-about-women-and-politics/?utm_term=.e9aaf4695e2b

So yes my Little Pumpkin, Mr T is mean. But his election may have started a revolution, and like Madame Thérèse Defarge, we women are pretty angry and out for revenge after years of patriarchy and white privilege, with our knitting needles and our vote. And no, my sweet grandchildren, revenge isn’t good per se. #Kindness is listening to everyone’s story, #Kindness is Compassion.

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Raining Shots

On Saturday, Bob and I met the other in-Laws, Grandma Shavaun and Grandpa Mike, at Monells for brunch. We enjoyed a serious, family-style Southern meal that included the Bride, Groom, kiddos and another group at the same table. Lots of biscuits, bacon, chicken, corn pudding and cinnamon rolls were passed along with the requisite eggs and pancakes!

The Groom’s parents had arrived from VA to help celebrate a certain little Pumpkin’s birthday.

On Sunday, the Love Bug’s little brother had his 3rd birthday party at a gymnastics training center with the whole preschool class in attendance. Lots of jumping, swinging, balancing and climbing ensued while parents milled about talking about the latest childhood illness or the best barbecue. Just as I was uploading a picture of my grandson to Instagram, sweaty and smiling, a news alert popped up on my Iphone. Another shooting.

I wonder if the Bride and the Rocker remember me dragging them to a Town Hall meeting with my friend Betsy. Do they think about collecting all those toy guns at the community college, where we handed out teddy bears in exchange for water pistols. I wrote about that Republican congressman in the paper, the one who didn’t want to receive all those toy guns at a Town Hall, because he voted against the assault weapon ban. His incumbency was over at the next election.

Researchers have also examined the laws: a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity magazines was passed in 1994. It was lifted in 2004.
Experts said lifting the ban helped to usher in a new era of mass shootings. With these weapons, individuals could shoot faster and for longer periods of time – and consequently were able to kill more people in their attacks.   http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-41890277

We forget that once upon a time we didn’t sell these deadly Ruger AR-556s. President Bush didn’t exactly lift the ban, he just let it run out. He could have pushed to extend its life, but instead it’s now much easier to mow down a large group of people in a very short amount of time. Killing people is all this rifle is good for, so maybe just maybe soldiers should be carrying them, but Joe the Plumber? http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2017/11/everything_we_know_about_the_sutherland_springs_shooter_an_ar_556.html

America the beautiful, where our health is regulated and our guns receive the finest care.

I felt sick serving birthday cake. It’s hard to explain the combination of helplessness and hopelessness that sinks into one’s soul at the news of another mass shooting in the middle of a 3 year old’s party. But here are some numbers to contemplate:

This particular AR-556 was manufactured in Mayodan, NC after the state that gave us a bathroom bill offered the gun company, Sturm, Ruger, & Co. “…as much as $13.7 million in tax breaks, after a bidding process in which the state raised its offer three times.” The CEO of that company made over 4 Million dollars in 2016. The company employs over 2,000 people in their factory that used to dye yarn for textiles; “At the beginning of October, 11,600 Americans had been killed by gun violence so far in 2017.”

And THREE of our worst mass murders have occurred in the last 16 months thanks in large part to the availability of the AR-556.

  • Pulse Nightclub, Orlando  =  49
  • Las Vegas Concert  =  58
  • Sutherland Springs, TX  =  26

And it’s the mental health of our legislators that I am calling into question. If only Dr Seuss were still alive, he could write a new book. You could be shot here or there, you could be shot anywhere.

The sound of thunder woke me early this morning. Please vote today, vote for your grandchildren. Vote for a sane gun policy. Get out your umbrellas, a little rain shouldn’t stop you.

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An Imperfect Duty

A psychologist friend once told me that 80% of our lives are filled with duties, things we feel obliged to do, like cleaning the kitchen let’s say. Or visiting a sick friend with a pot of soup. This same doctor told me it’s alright to lower that ratio, to do more of what we really really want to do, and less of all that obligatory stuff. Now that’s a hard pill to swallow for a recovering Catholic school girl, but since our move I figured I’d give it a try.

It’s an age old philosophical question, that may inform some of our political divisiveness today. For instance, Kant wrote about ethical dilemmas that were universally accepted. Is it ever OK to lie? Or, by allowing a society to think that lying (alternative truths) is acceptable, don’t we call everything anyone ever says into question?

It’s the credibility factor, this feeling we Americans have of watching our government implode like an episode of Big Brother or Celebrity Apprentice. For Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), a metaphysical philosopher, morality consists of differing layers of duty:

“…a duty is something that we are obligated to by the Categorical Imperative. In other words, it is something that that we can see as a universal rule for all of humanity necessary for a morally just society.” 

…a perfect duty is one which one must always do and an imperfect duty is a duty which one must not ignore but admits of multiple means of fulfillment. Kant specifies two imperfect duties: the duty of self-improvement and the duty to aid others.

So maybe we could try to get our imperfect duties down to 50% self and 50% others?

For Great Grandma Ada, painting is her time for self-improvement and learning, mixed with friends and fun. For me, the practice of writing weekly, attending workshops and authors’ readings are my ways of self-indulgence. For the Bride, keeping up with her continuing ed credits and practicing yoga to prevent burnout help to improve her life. And for the Love Bug? Well just about everything is about learning these days, but she already told me she loves music class!!

Now when it comes to our “duty” to aid others, this is the divide I’ve noticed in our political life. Since the extreme right Tea Party takeover in the late 90s, there’s been less cooperation in government and more castigation. The whole #MAGA movement held a kernel of truth in its inception. Gone are the days when we were the world leader in democracy. Only Mr T hasn’t really been making us great again, he’s been digging our collective grave.

Few countries look anymore to Trump’s America as a global exemplar, the “city upon a hill” Reagan spoke of in his farewell address to the nation. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel is routinely described as the leader of the free world, the moniker bestowed on the US president since the days of FDR.
The Economist, which trolls Trump almost weekly, has described Chinese President Xi Jinping as the most powerful man in the world. American exceptionalism is now commonly viewed as a negative construct. “Only in America” is a term of derision. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-41826022

And partially this fall from grace is due to a new GOP philosophy of individualism – that Ayn Rand sector of old white men. Ronald Reagan wouldn’t recognize it. It’s “all for one” and no one for all. Of course they want to abolish taxes for their richest 1% of donors, and they don’t care about millions losing their health insurance. They’ve become callous pioneers of a myth they’ve sold middle America.

Lately I’ve heard that many of my VA friends, who are self-employed, are losing their Anthem coverage. These people are certainly not impoverished, but they may be if they have to quadruple their health insurance payments. Now they didn’t vote for Mr T, but I wonder what his followers are thinking. It’s funny how the word “entitlement” only applies to others, to “socialists,” until they reach age 65, or have their insurance companies pull the rug out from under them.

If the White House has truly become an “Adult Day Care Center,” we can only hope that Mueller finishes his investigation soon, and that Republicans with a conscience stop quitting politics altogether and step up to the madness before it becomes an existential crisis. I’d like my 5 year old grand daughter to have more days filled with music, and less active shooter drills.

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PC Boo

Who will you be tonight for Halloween? Do you continue to dress up, as a family, in a creative coordinated way and prowl the neighborhood? Or do you sit in your doorway with some Snickers? One for you, two for me! It’s been many years since we’ve had any Trick or Treaters at all, so tonight our candy pumpkin will be full and standing at attention by the door. Ms Bean will be barking her head off at all the ghosts and goblins.

I have to think Nell’s family may have actually known some gypsies back in Czechoslovakia, because my only memory of wearing a costume is sitting on Daddy Jim’s lap as a gypsy. It’s probably because that’s the one Halloween picture that survived my foster care years, and I look pretty happy in my black mask, long skirt and bangles. When did we think it was OK to dress up like slut-scary working girls of the night with short skirts, teased hair and theatrical make-up?

But enough about sexualizing naughty nurse costumes for women, Bob and I were tasked to find a wig for our grand baby boy. You’ve probably guessed that the Love Bug will be going out tonight as Moana – her very favorite Disney Princess…so naturally her little brother wanted to be Maui! AKA the Demi-God Rock, a big, beautiful, strong Polynesian guy covered in tattoos! Why he’s a modern day Popeye, a super hero of sorts with a large personality and a big heart.

Only our almost 3 year old guy has glorious strawberry red hair and Maui has long brown dreadlocks. And finding a Maui wig was no easy task, even in Nashville where they have an actual Disney store. Bob and I were surprised to learn that though Moana outfits were sold everywhere, including in Target, a Maui outfit (with or without a wig) is non-existant. I was glad I’d ordered him Maui PJs for the Love Bug’s birthday, but surprised to hear the reason Disney Doesn’t Do Maui.  

The outfit had caused disquiet among the Polynesian community.

Hawaiian Chelsie Haunani Fairchild said it was offputting to have a child wear the skin of another race.

“Polyface is Disney’s new version of blackface. Let’s call it like it is, people,” Fairchild said. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/sep/22/disney-pulls-maui-childrens-costume-amid-claims-it-is-offensive

The salesperson at Party City told us they didn’t get any Maui costumes or wigs. Now granted, Bob and I are certainly more liberal than most and pretty sensitive to stereotyping, but we were floored. Our little guy can’t emulate his favorite cartoon character because he’s not Polynesian, only part Jewish, Irish and German – and mostly full American?

There’s a difference between an adult Prince Harry dressing up like a Nazi and a 3 year old kid in PJs!

Can kids dress up like cowboys and Native Americans anymore? Am I starting to sound like my Mother? Hope my little story didn’t offend any people of Southeast Asian descent, and if it did, I apologize in advance.

Now go out there and scare some people! Happy Halloween! BOO!!

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Poetic Justice

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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Sorry to be quoting a Russian, but we spent a recent evening at an art show to benefit the Love Bug’s school. And because we had a mini-tour the day before with Nancy and Great Grandma Ada, who has converted her family room into an art studio, we had a long conversation with one of the Lost Boys from South Sudan. James Makuac paints memories from his dreams of Africa. They are bright, vivid colors, and some are not for the faint of heart. http://jameskuolmakuac.tumblr.com

His work is about resilience, about people fleeing their homes in the midst of war, walking through rain with the ubiquitous yellow water barrel on a woman’s head.

And I thought of all the artwork my Sister-in-Law Anita collected over the years. She left my brother Dr Jim surrounded with bright California images and fragile pieces of art glass. He loved her with all his heart, their last years together spent tenderly caring for each other, collecting Amish quilts on sunny rides through the country. And as we tried to organize, to make sense of her collections, it dawned on me that she too was trying to recapture her home. To bring the Northern California aesthetic into her Twin City life.

And I wondered yet again, what will my children do with the things I leave behind? Will they find them beautiful, or will they be a burden?

One night, in the midst of my visit to Dr Jim’s MN home, we watched the Minimalism documentary on Netflix. It opens with the abundance of cheap stuff people fight over the day after Thanksgiving. And the take-away is that we should:

“Use things, and Love people!”

The Bride had wanted me to see the film, because she thought Bob and I are heading in that minimalist direction, divesting of “stuff” and living a simpler life in our two bedroom town home. And it is somehow freeing, to put out on a table or up on a wall only those things I love, that bring me joy.

For instance, I have an Irish ceramic vase that had lived its life on display in my VA guest bedroom, one of four bedrooms. It is now happily holding utensils on my small kitchen counter. I couldn’t part with it because it had been a gift from my Irish cousins, but I also loved its line. To me, it is beautiful.

Fyodor Dostoevsky said, “The world will be saved by beauty.” He also said

By interpreting freedom as the propagation and immediate gratification of needs, people distort their own nature, for they engender in themselves a multitude of pointless and foolish desires, habits, and incongruous stratagems. Their lives are motivated only by mutual envy, sensuality, and ostentation.

Maybe our country needs to adopt a new interpretation of freedom, because the American dream, like all dreams, is changing. We need to stop loving cheap shiny objects that appear at Walmart and on our Twitter feed, and make a point of listening to the people we love. Finding the truth in another’s story. Understanding why we are in Niger. Stop fighting proxy wars, and search for beauty in the world, and not on Google.

Painting by James Makuac

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It’s pumpkin patch fever in Nashville. The Farmer’s Market is filled with mums of every color and you can walk through an actual pumpkin house at Cheekwood Gardens. Tomorrow they will host the Halloween Pooch Parade! But yesterday, since Great Grandma Ada is visiting with cousin Nancy, we loaded up the grandkids and a wheelchair to stroll along the serpentine path of unique scarecrows as the sun descended through cypress trees. https://cheekwood.org

One scarecrow was dressed entirely in plastic water bottles, another was dressed like William Shakespeare covered with some of his famous quotes! One had a skirt made from crayons, and next to it stood an imposing black crow. One urged us to be the change we wanted to see in the world!

Civic organizations throughout the county sponsored each art installation, and I could imagine an Impressionist painter capturing the afternoon scene of families weaving through scarecrows in dappled light.

Late last night I foolishly wanted to catch up with the news I’d been missing since my travels to Minnesota. General Kelly’s speech, in defense of Mr T, was front and center and actually made my stomach churn. Making calls to Gold Star families is not something presidents should be doing. And why on earth would Congresswoman Frederica Wilson listen in on such a conversation? He was blaming the messenger, calling this Black woman who is a friend of the family, an “empty barrel.” We heard nothing about Niger and why these brave soldiers died in the first place. http://www.newsweek.com/niger-trumps-benghazi-four-us-soldiers-died-and-it-took-him-12-days-respond-688082

The soldiers killed in Niger were part of a 12-man team of Green Berets, training Nigerian soldiers in a remote part of the country. These soldiers belonged to the Third Special Forces group based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

As they were leaving a meeting with local community leaders on October 4, they were ambushed by roughly 50 fighters believed to be linked to ISIS (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, is also active in the surrounding region).

The soldiers were driving unarmored pickup trucks and immediately returned fire. The firefight reportedly lasted roughly 30 minutes. It was eventually broken up via French air support and the soldiers were evacuated with helicopters.

At first only three soldiers were reported killed in action. One was separated from the group and found two days after the ambush by Nigerian forces. The Pentagon isn’t talking about this, the talk is all about how Mr T frames his Twitter feed. How he points his little finger at President Obama. How these soldiers knew what they were signing up for….

Sometimes I feel like I am walking through a nightmare of scarecrows, only they are real men, dressed in suits and trotted out to defend the indefensible.

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