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This morning I came across an article about the old Mid-Life Crisis, for our kids’ generation. It’s not what Boomers would consider a crisis – you don’t leave your wife and children, lose 20 pounds and buy a Porsche. It’s a more nuanced place, when today’s 40-50 year old couple hits the pinnacle of their careers, they have two kids and two dogs and maybe a Peloton in the family room. But they wake up one morning wondering if they could have had more, or done something differently.

Taffy Brodesser-Akner writes eloquently about today’s rough patch in her book Fleishman is in Trouble.  https://forge.medium.com/welcome-to-the-new-midlife-crisis-6ad07840a503

“First, the people who reported having an age-related crisis in their forties or fifties were also highly likely to have reported dissatisfaction or anxiety in their younger years as well. If you are besieged with self-doubt at midlife, in other words, it is most likely not your first existential rodeo.

And second, the stereotypical midlife crisis is a luxury. No more than 10% to 20% of middle-aged people go through one,… It takes privilege to chuck everything and start anew.”

I always told Bob he’s not allowed to have a Mid-Life Crisis because he went to Woodstock, and really, enough is enough. We’ve weathered lots of storms, moves to different states, rebellious teens, Bob’s back, shoulder and neck surgeries, and even my bout with West Nile. Talk about an existential crisis.

I had to smile the other night when John Meacham asked a group of scholars “What keeps you up at night?”

“Viruses,” Carl Zimmer said!

Zimmer was the most entertaining panelist, a journalist who writes about science and even has a tapeworm named after him! He has written many books and currently writes the column, “MATTER” for the New York Times.

Bob reminded me, in that Vanderbilt auditorium surrounded by really old people and really, really young students (presumably because mid-lifers were home putting their kids to bed), that Zimmer was the son of a former Representative from our old district in NJ. “Carl Zimmer’s father is Dick Zimmer, a Republican politician from New Jersey, who was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 to 1997.”

I thought about our home in Rumson, NJ, about living on a tributary with a tide ebbing and flowing into our backyard, and mosquitoes. Lots and lots of mosquitoes.

I was writing for The Two River Times then, I was Forty-Something. And if you’ve been following me for awhile you know where this is going.  I like to think my tiny column for the paper helped to unseat the elder Zimmer after he voted to allow the Assault Weapon Ban to expire. I asked my readers how he could look at himself in the mirror every morning.

The Vanderbilt Chancellor’s Lecture Series was addressing, “2020 and Beyond: Tackling Global Issues in the Decades to Come.”  Most of the conversation onstage was about Climate Change. Meacham began with, “Are facts out of fashion?” The other two academics pointed out that OUR very own EPA Climate Change web page has been erased! If you search for it you’ll find a notice that says, “The information you are looking for is not here” and you are directed to the archives!!

How can we address Climate Change or viruses when we have a Climate Denier in the White House? How can we possibly reduce global greenhouse gases by 50% in 15 years?

2020 will be a “Rough Patch” for our country. But I believe in good journalism and our Constitution. Facts are funny things that will take down Republicans seen lying on TV, lying and obfuscating all week at the Impeachment Hearings – “Clouding real facts with a miasma of falsity,” the Vandy Writer-in-Residence said.

George Washington helped us forge this great nation, and Abraham Lincoln helped heal our still seeping wound of slavery. A Leader will appear to guide us through this collective Mid-Life Crisis. I have to believe as Brodesser-Akner said about mid-life:

“To mature is to accept one’s role as both a person with pain and one with strength to endure it. It is the ability to say to oneself or to those we love: I see you. I hear you. I will sit here with you until it passes, as all things must.

The view out my kitchen window of our hawk in the city.

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Today is election day! Here’s something everyone can agree should happen, whether you’re red, blue or purple – it’s time to pass the EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT!

Wouldn’t it be lovely if the state that brought us so many founding fathers/presidents, the state who’s motto is “Virginia is for Lovers,” stood up for all of us and passed this long-suffering amendment to the Constitution? We only need ONE MORE STATE to ratify the ERA! Why do we still need this you may ask:

“Because women don’t currently have equal protection under the United States Constitution. By some estimates, 80 percent of Americans mistakenly believe that women and men are guaranteed equal rights, but the only right the Constitution explicitly extends to both men and women is the right to vote.

The E.R.A., a proposed amendment to the Constitution, would guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. It would also require states to intervene in cases of gender violence, such as domestic violence and sexual harassment; it would guard against pregnancy and motherhood discrimination; and it would federally guarantee equal pay.”

nytimes.com/2019/02/22/us/equal-rights-amendment-what-is-it.html

What? We know domestic abuse is a contributing factor in our country’s gun violence epidemic. Abusers could not escape over state lines. This is also why some work places may only grant very limited “Maternity” leave, and not “Family” leave. This why women, for the most part, make 80 cents to a man’s dollar. And I’ve already reported the case of Trans-women discrimination being considered by SCOTUS right now! https://www.businessinsider.com/gender-wage-pay-gap-charts-2017-3

Even though over half a century ago women were granted the Equal Pay Act, we are far from fulfilling that goal. At least we can still vote thanks to our Suffragette ancestors 100 years ago, when Tennessee was the last state to ratify that amendment, and we’re still bragging about it today!

So, what do you say Virginia? Earn a bit of bragging rights too. The rest of the South looks up to you, and you know it’s the right and proper thing to do! Here is the Bride in the Blue Ridge with her Flower Girl V, who was just visiting us yesterday!

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It’s been a helluva week, played out on the national stage but also on our Music City stage. The body of Debra Johnson was transported back to her home in Nashville yesterday; she was the warden of the state penitentiary, who was raped and murdered in her house on the prison grounds. The manhunt for her killer, Curtis Ray Watson, has been all over the local news for 4 days. He was last seen riding a tractor in her yard – it was a minimum security place and he supposedly had “privileges.”

Only in Tennessee would the getaway vehicle be a tractor.

Since Bob’s been traveling, I’ve been extra cautious walking the dog at night. Our little farmhouse sits on the outskirts of the main drag, away from restaurants and nightlife. But it’s not just wondering where Watson could be hiding, I’ve had some serious social media threats since I posted something about how we might try regulating guns the way our government likes to regulate a woman’s body. Silly, sarcastic me.

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I’ve since been told this was not a Steinem quote, but it should have been! This does not seem like a time to sit on the fence. You are either OK with our country’s fascination with weapons of war, with young white men (for the most part, cause just let a black or a brown guy try that shit) being able to carry these guns all around town showing off their “manhood,” with separating families at our border, keeping people in cages, and raiding their workplace leaving their children waiting at school, wondering if they will ever see them again.

You are either OK with this, or you are not. Silence and indifference is not an option either.

The Bride sent me an article about how more than half of the mass murderers we’ve seen since we started tracking them back in 1966 have basically 2 things in common. You know what the first is – GUNS. But can you guess the second? It’s a hatred, a vile hatred of women. Yessir, misogyny rears its ugly head. “A Common Trait Among Mass Killers: Hatred Toward Women,” by Bosman, Taylor, and Arango.

“The motivations of men who commit mass shootings are often muddled, complex or unknown. But one common thread that connects many of them — other than access to powerful firearms — is a history of hating women, assaulting wives, girlfriends and female family members, or sharing misogynistic views online”

My good friend Bess told me that very thing last year while we were in Italy. She works at a shelter for abused women, and she personally understands how and why a woman might end up fleeing a relationship and fighting for her life.

We both went off to Boston for college in 1966, but she ended up in a cult. The man who persuaded her to sell newspapers on the street eventually ended up controlling every aspect of her life. Bess was my hero in high school, she was the smartest girl in our gang. I never understood how this had happened to her until we talked one night in Tuscany.

Her daughter Gwen is a talented screenwriter who was returned to her mother after Bess finally fled the cult, at first resenting being separated from the only family she had ever known. Gwen’s movie, “Charlie Says,” about the Manson girls, was released this Spring: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1759744/

Gwen wrote about growing up in a cult for the New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/05/06/my-childhood-in-a-cult

“Where are you from?” For most people, this is a casual social question. For me, it’s an exceptionally loaded one, and demands either a lie or my glossing over facts, because the real answer goes something like this: “I grew up on compounds in Kansas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Martha’s Vineyard, often travelling in five-vehicle caravans across the country from one location to the next. My reality included LSD, government cheese, and a repurposed school bus with the words ‘Venus or Bust’ painted on both sides.” And that, while completely factual, is hard to believe, and sounds like a cry for attention. So I usually just say, “Upstate New York.”

In the spirit of peace and love, and the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, I’d just like to say if you didn’t live through the 60s you may not understand. We young people were embittered and embattled by an unjust war, our leaders were being mowed down by guns, and the second wave of feminism was just getting started. Some of us burned our bras and got birth control. While some of us were trying hard just to tread water while not making any waves.

Guess what?! They caught Curtis Watson today. He was hiding out in Henning, TN near the prison. When the Senate is back in session and they want to talk about anything other than an assault weapon ban, let’s pressure them to talk about red flag laws, and in particular guys who have been arrested or dishonorably discharged because of domestic abuse. “Federal law prohibits people convicted of certain domestic violence crimes, and some abusers who are subject to protective orders, from buying or owning guns. BUT there are many loopholes, and women in relationships who are not married to, do not live with, or have children with their abusers receive no protection. Federal law also does not provide a mechanism for actually removing guns from abusers.” 

Loopholes like the one in the Sutherland Springs massacre, where the Air Force didn’t report the shooter’s domestic violence history. Please read this article, it is eye-opening.

 

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One thing about Nashville, it’s never boring.

It’s been a cold and busy reentry; waiting for Uber at the airport, freezing in a 20 degree wind tunnel wearing a summer dress, should have been my first clue. Getting back to reality would usually take some time, but my island speed shifted into overdrive fast. Our beautiful NC niece Tammy was visiting her Grandmother Ada, so we made some delicious, authentic ravioli for a small dinner party, and yesterday was game day for the Love Bug!

I’m not talking football here, it’s Firely Piggies girls basketball.

They still sometimes head down the court in the wrong direction, pink shirts and pigtails flying. But they won one and lost one, so we all had a blast. And who doesn’t like a concession stand with soda and candy? Still, since the weather here is warming rapidly, I longed for a completely unscheduled day with the Grands. Just some time to sit on the porch, or play “Go Fish,” or even ride around the neighborhood on bikes.

The word “boring” was banned in my house. Whenever the young Bride or Rocker would discover this word I’d immediately put the kibosh on it! “Look around you,” I’d say, “there is so much to do, only boring people get bored!” I was happy to notice this same reaction in my daughter when her children would gaze up at her, in the middle of paradise, and say, “I’m bored Mama.”

We would scoff, they would laugh, and finally she would admonish them. Then off they would go, to create a pretend shelter in their room for homeless people – pillows for beds and seashells for food. Such young altruism made my heart sing.

But I’m afraid parents today feel it’s their duty to keep their children entertained at all times. They have grown up in an age of “stranger danger” meaning only constant vigilance will do; free play time has become an archaic term. My kids rode their bikes to the school bus. Mothers now are being arrested for leaving their child in a car for a few minutes.

Last week, while discussing humbugs, the L’il Pumpkin told me he may have actually seen one, or it might have been his imagination… And this is exactly what I love to encourage – imagination, curiosity, creativity, a sense of wonder! Sometimes I would keep the Rocker home from school and call it a “mental health day.” Children need space to grow and dream.

Lin-Manuel Miranda once credited his “…unattended afternoons with fostering inspiration. “Because there is nothing better to spur creativity than a blank page or an empty bedroom,” he said.  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/02/opinion/sunday/children-bored.html

Maybe growing up an “Only,” with plenty of time on my own, is why the blank page never scared me! I’ll be attending a restorative yoga class this afternoon (thanks MaryAnn), while everyone else is watching Super Bowl Sunday or Puppy Bowl antics. Whatever you’re planning this #SundayFunday, I hope you stay UN-bored y’all.

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It’s been three weeks. The new laundry room door just went up, the vents and smoke detectors are going up as I type, and the painters are touching up all over the place. It will be good to get our house back, but to be honest Ms Bean will miss the constant company. Granted she barks initially, but then she warms up and keeps track of everyone. My little, lazy, adorable mutt transforms into a real watchdog! She wakes every morning with a sense of purpose; sitting in front of the front hall windows and listening for the sound of trucks.

Poor baby, the contractors will be done today, just in time for the Fourth of July Fireworks. Anyone with a pup knows the sounds of summer can drive them to distraction – to hiding in bath tubs and even sometimes running away given half the chance. Great Grandma Ada told me about this article, which I had to read on my phone since I couldn’t find my computer.

By some estimates, at least 40 percent of dogs experience noise anxiety, which is most pronounced in the summer. Animal shelters report that their busiest day for taking in runaway dogs is July 5. Veterinarians tell of dogs who took refuge in hiding places so tight that they got stuck, who gnawed on door handles, who crashed through windows or raced into traffic — all desperate efforts to escape inexplicable collisions of noise and flashing light.                                          http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/06/28/why-thunder-and-fireworks-make-dogs-anxious/?_r=0

It was a rainy, stormy day when the Bride and Groom graduated from medical school. We had a few people staying in our newly built house, and the last one out must not have latched the door. Because when we returned several hours later, the kitchen door was wide open and Buddha Bear came strolling around the corner with an accusatory look in his eyes. As if he was saying, “Where have you guys been?”

He also managed to lock himself in our guest bathroom during a storm. I returned home and called his name so many times my throat was hoarse. Buddha wasn’t a barker. Before I started to panic and jump in my car thinking he must be able to walk through walls, I noticed the bathroom door was shut. He was so big, when he tried getting into the tub he must have accidentally shut the door and he was just waiting patiently for me to free him!

Ms Bean wasn’t anxious in thunderstorms before she watched Buddha’s behavior. Now, she becomes a twitchy, shaking mess stuck permanently to my knee. We stroll into the laundry room and I pull out a dryer sheet, the kind without any perfume. She looks at me longingly and submits to my hand stroking her whole body, head to tail, with the little piece of paper as her body relaxes. Long ago I read that a rubdown with a Bounce sheet would reduce the static electricity on her fur; and now I’m a believer.

I’m not a pill person, but of course in the NYTimes article above there is a new medicine for dog anxiety during storms and fireworks. I’d rather just go into a windowless room with my dryer sheet and comfort Ms Bean. After all, she’s been through alot these past three weeks. She already has to take a pill in order to ride in a car, so I don’t want a loopy puppy in the house all summer. Vets say it’s best to desensitize your dog to noise.

But carpenters hammering the basement ceiling under the floor of our living room was pretty strange, and not soon to be repeated. All the building noises are almost done, so relax Ms Bean for a little while. Your world is safe and secure. Time to get back to lying on the deck and watching for deer and vermin!

Hope y’all have a safe and Happy Fourth and a strees-free summer time with your fur babies! Here is Ms Bean in the Zen shade garden.IMG_4763

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Serenity in a mountain view

August and September are filled with birthdays in my family. The Bride and my sister Kay share back to back birthdays, I call us Virgo/Libra types (you can count me in later this month) – the Christmas party babies! Happy Birthday to them on this glorious weekend.

These two share more than a couple of dates on the calendar. Kay introduced the Bride to art in her New York City apartment. My sister studied at the Art Student’s League and she also helped to illustrate many medical books during her years working at Mt Sinai Hospital and producing graphic art for the Medical School. With sun pouring through her beautiful Upper East Side window overlooking a garden, the young Bride was given a pencil and a blank canvas along with the love and encouragement of her Aunt Kay.

Painting has been a common thread throughout both their lives. After a long high school day filled with too many AP classes, the Bride would settle into her art class and paint along with beautiful music.  My home is filled with drawings from those days. And Kay’s renditions of our farmhouse in the Berkshires, and our beautiful Welsh Corgis will always decorate our walls.

This meditative time, setting up the instruments of art, the pencils or delicate brushes and turpentine, the smells, the easel outdoors, the time alone to ponder and really see – to see their way into a subject – this bit of creation helped them deal with the everyday stress of school and work. It helped them to slow down.

The Bride sent me an article this week about being busy. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/?_r=1&

Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.’s  make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications. I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.

The author, Tim Kreider, calls this addiction to busyness a kind of hedge against emptiness, an “existential reassurance.”  We impose it on ourselves and it makes us feel important. After all, if we’re always so busy, how can we ever take time off for self-awareness. He posits that you don’t hear people holding down two jobs with four kids complaining about being too busy, because they’re just plain exhausted. Interesting stuff, this monkey brain!

Surprisingly an old friend simultaneously posted an article about being a distracted parent, about always saying, “Hurry up!” to her child. And I could see how this attraction to being busy can get its start. The child who likes to dawdle, who stops to talk with strangers, who wants to engage with her environment soon learns to make a goal and stick to a time schedule. And if she or he doesn’t, they may be labeled “special” in school…instead of “artist.”

The Love Bug likes to stop for ice cream with her parents. Slowing down is something children can either help us to do, or we can teach them how to be anxious. We’re the adult in this equation, it’s our choice.  photo

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Yesterday was a busy day. It was also the second day of absolutely glorious weather, a day I’d rather have been enjoying outside instead of waiting in an endless waiting room.

While driving to said room, I was listening to an NPR author interview of Douglas Rushkoff who wrote Present Shock, the modern edition of future shock. He was talking about living in a digital age; about the constant pinging of tweets and Facebook messages that serve only to distance us from real time, face to face contact. We get a distorted feeling of connection; we are caught in an elusive virtual present. http://www.upworthy.com/loneliness-illustrated-so-beautifully-you-will-need-to-tell-someone?c=ufb1

The heroine in my current book is certainly not caught in her present. She’s a time traveler, sailing through the buildup to WWII, the 1980s and the flu epidemic of 1918. The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells is a wonderful ride for a summer read. The NYTimes calls it “Elegiac in tone,” full of intrigue brought on by an elusive doctor treating her for depression. Will Greta take a lover in this life? Will her philandering husband return to her in another? Is her twin brother really dead?

It seems Madonna has optioned the film rights to Andrew Sean Greer’s time traveling book!   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/31/madonna-the-impossible-lives-of-greta-wells_n_3683830.html

“I got a phone call last week. … I think it’s fine,” Greer said. ” … From a celebrity who read the book and loved it so much she called me up personally to talk to me about it. I thought it was going to be one of her assistants who was like, loved your book, she’s interested. Right. She didn’t read it. But oh no, no, no. She called me. She read it. She totally got it. There were a couple other people interested and they sort of all made a deal together, and she’s optioned the rights to it. We’ll see what happens. But it’s fun because it was Madonna.”

Yesterday, I was ready to complain about killing time in a doctor’s office. But my very own Dr MacDreamy saw me right away…so I had to switch my first few sentences above out of the present tense and into the past. And I awoke this morning to another glorious day, one day closer to a certain someone’s first birthday. If only we could slow time down just a little.

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