January 30, 2015

Film at Eleven

It's one-thirty a.m. and I hope to find sleep after a strange and unsettling day. (Don't miss my next blog post). You've been there, haven't you? Distant thunder to the northwest announces the arrival of heavy rain pelting the hillside and my windows. Perhaps turning the pillow over one more time will be the trick and sleep will come. But, through the beating rain, I hear a police car siren, then a fire engine, and of course, a Rescue Squad siren's shriek. Here at FoM, a major state highway runs past the mountain but traffic sounds are beyond the forest and the lake and out of my hearing range. Hmm. 

I think: "Already, an accident south of here from the rain." and stay still. 

Then more sirens sound from a different direction and louder. I think: "Really bad accident and the rain's amplifying their sirens." 

But, I'm more awake than before. I hear more sirens and different tones -- one of them sounds like a ladder truck and more and more police sirens. Home invasion? Plane crash? Train derailment? My imagination begins to wake up and fill in all the empty spaces. Can SWAT be far behind? All these possibilities are within two miles of me in different directions.

Suddenly in this ever louder chorus of sirens, I realize that the sirens aren't moving out of range but coming closer. They're stopping. Near me. Yikes. I look at the clock -- two a.m. 

I tell myself: "They're still far away and that closeness is just in your imagination," and finally fall asleep for a few hours.  

This a.m., I checked the local news web sites to see what had happened. 

At 1:30 a.m., a major apartment fire broke out in a twenty-unit building around the next curve on my street. Residents, families and their pets were displaced and no one was hurt. One unit was empty. Wow. Heavy winds fed the fire but firefighters kept the fire from spreading and remained to monitor for hot spots that might be smoldering under the rubble. This complex of apartments has condos, tennis courts, a pool and many buildings. I pass by it all the time on my way to Costco. Due to to copyright protection software in local media's sites, I'm unable to paste a photo here. 

Sometimes things that go bump in the night are real. And, in the afternoon on this sunny, cold Friday, I just heard an explosion that rattled my windows, my kitchen cabinets and my front door. The local news helicopter zoomed south to get complete aerial coverage and has flown north again. 

Seems that neither Dorothy nor I are in Kansas anymore. 

January 17, 2015

FoM North and South

Whenever I go north or south from my new home, my approach is at the base of the ridge line of The Mountain. I have begun to think of it as my own mountain. The ridges on each side suddenly jut upward from the west and the east and gradually slope up to the height of the mountain. The topography here is much different from the River City by the Sea. Most things are different here. But there is a kinship that I feel with this mountain. When I was a young child and surrounded by mountains,  I always wanted to go to the other side. Now I have just this one that marks the location of my home. Oh, sure there are many hills and valleys and curving roads. But, the mountain stands alone in the center of this area. My mountain. 


Netflix series, "Marco Polo." Incredible cinematography, excellent plotline and characters. Well done if not exactly historical but the 1200s in the Far East was not well documented in the West. For those of us who cannot turn ourselves to any other activity, Netflix offers another must-see season of "Doc Martin."

"Downton Abbey." Still the classiest and class conscious soap opera on PBS. 

Regular TV: "State of Affairs "and "Madame Secretary." Both worth your time with production values miles above the usual suspects on network television. 

To all my loyal blog-followers: Thank you for checking back as you do frequently. Another project has captured all my time and attention for a bit. I'm not exactly sure where this new road will take me but when I get a plan, I will take you along as always. Be kind to yourselves, Babies.

December 27, 2014

Dumpster Diving into Social Media

With no pre-set ideas of what people's conversations might involve, I ventured into discussion sites and stayed open to what the experience offered. I did much reading and participated little. Myriad topics were listed and I added info for reference, ah, that's research. On one excursion, a young man from an unknown country wrote to me with an idea about how to make the world more connected. He wanted to know if we divided our online contacts by country, ethnicity, and cultural belief, would/could that make a difference in the harmony of the world? He wanted to codify the connections of humanity through math. Two from column A, etc. Keep his inquiry in mind. 

Enter one Senior and right away, controversy surrounded me.

Aging: Across most cultures, many young people think that persons over fifty are old, useless and not worth anyone's time or resources. Think about that. Carefully. One person wanted to know what older people could do to be 'cool' enough for young people to talk to? What could older people possibly do after retirement? Can old people think? Do they deserve to get old? Scary, isn't it? 

Religion: The most interesting aspect of these exchanges was the listed heading: philosophy. Constant challenges flew about -- What do atheists actively believe? How can they not believe ____? Do they have an atheist handbook? Comments included wanting to know if all atheists are evil, have no morals and what do they think happens to their souls when they die? How can they sleep at night and don't they care what others think of their immorality? Weren't they afraid of God? Many comments from religious folks accused atheists (not doubters, un- or dis-believers but always atheists) of denigrating The Bible as myths and fairy tales. Atheists retorted that nothing can be proven and referred to God with a lower case letter. These exchanges were always vehement and intolerant all around. Many people listed their atheistic or theistic position after their name like a profession and/or sexual orientation. In normal polite society, these topics have generally been off limits and the aggression was startling. 

Although this was "philosophy," only theists (Christian) vs. atheists had exchanges. They referred to each other with designations like they were tribes -- lots of "people like you" from both camps. Other religious designations either were unmentioned or ancient Eastern religious quotes appeared. Some people confined their comments within specific topic streams on one religion. One person wanted to know if more neuroscientists could pinpoint the exact location of God in a brain? The discussions between or among these people were never objective or calm. If they had been in the same location, pushing and shoving were a word away. Exchanges were heated, personal and downright nasty. And philosophy as an exploration of life's meaning, ethical living and other genuinely thoughtful questions? Hard to find. 

The majority of young people were highly educated about technology and pop culture but mostly ignorant about how to live a meaningful life. Futuristic notions about how important Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be in their future popped up frequently. Material success and competition on the job, in school or inside the family were their hallmarks of success. 

Relationships: Twenty- and thirty-something adults who are clueless about fidelity, marriage, unrequited love and family life were prevalent. The most common laments were of losing a boy or girl friend, being bullied or being betrayed when a friend leveraged the girl for himself. These young people trusted "friends" to the point of naiveté. When friends didn't behave as expected, the other was blind sided, devastated. Even after years of Western feminism, old customs still rule in many cultures and even young, educated males still regard young women as inferior possessions. 

Some of the saddest comments came from young women in abusive relationships. They couldn't understand why this person close to them would be cruel, violent or controlling? What could this mean? As a worldwide culture of humans be-ing we have done a poor job of educating ourselves and our children about the nature of being human, what real caring means and how to love each other. 

Many, many comments and discussions about sexual mores, relationships and dating. One that really sticks with me involves a young man with HIV who wanted to know if he had to tell his girl friend? A man wanted to know if he should divorce his wife because, after a year, he no longer thought she was pretty enough. Lies, cheating, deceptions and manipulations in large numbers astonished me. Many people had no notions of privacy and freely shared their past indiscretions.

Past, present and future Chemistry, Biology, Physics: Quantum physics' new popularity included discussion of time travel!, what life on Mars used to be, bionics, and how to live on the moon were among the topics fished for in the homework ocean. Many college and high school students actively searched for homework answers. 

Manners: Why bother with manners? How do I keep someone from sitting on my stuff on an adjacent seat?

Poetry: People wanted to know how to earn a living writing poetry like Robert Frost does? You can figure out the issue here. 

Children: Why would a divorced person want to keep the children? 
Is something wrong with people who don't want children? Is something wrong with people who want children?

Celebrities: The worldwide fascination with celebrities continues. Frequently, someone commented on TV or movie characters and their actions -- Why did they do ? How was it possible that ? was able to do ? this week when they couldn't before? The fusion of reality television and fictional television seems widespread. Do we have a world wide generation who can invent imaginative technology but can't distinguish reality from fantasy?

Health and major illnesses: A young woman wanted to know how to help her mother deal with terminal lung cancer. How long before adhesions appear after surgery? Amazing. Another person was angry because a parent hadn't announced illness?

Literature and books of all types: Some wanted to write a short story or novel one sentence at a time and have each one critiqued and improved by readers. 

Motivation: Most participants here looked for short cuts. How to stay home and work? How to sleep longer and not lose income? 

Brain function: Why don't people in a coma rot like those who are dead? This is one of my favorites. 

Family dynamics: One parent whose adult child had recently announced a transgender surgery wanted to know what did she do now that her son was dead? Another wanted to know why didn't her daughter marry a doctor as she was instructed? 

Grammar: Even though and because the sites are in English, ESL students, and those who are not students, constantly try to pick apart grammar rules. Any ideas of idioms or nuances are frequent sources of misunderstandings. 

Psychology: The fascination with this topic often included how to make someone do something, how to diagnose a friend, relative or acquaintance's mental disorder, specifically. Suicide possibilities, Anxiety and/or Depression and how to get away from people with these or how to help them were frequent topics. 

Generally, I found that people want to be seen and heard but are not big on listening. The young man who wanted to create harmony by the numbers will be disappointed because most people are only slightly curious about other other viewpoints and cultures. 

And, scattered among sincere people of all ages are others who want to spread misery and drama. The sites aptly refer to them as "trolls." When I was in high school, I used that term to refer to churlish and stupid boys. You remember the Billy-Goats Gruff and trolls under the bridge? The trolls now live happily online. Their rudeness, hate, aggression, insolence, narrow-mindedness, deliberate dissemination of fake information and untruthful experience take a real toll on sincere discussion. They slide through cyberdom with a metaphorical chip on their unseen shoulders spreading and causing disruption where ever they can. So, Babies, do we let them win or stay and fight? 

Combine one part troll, one part immaturity with one part interesting people and the outcome is a mixed grill of unsettling cuisine. For my part? I have a clearer view of who the inhabitants of this big blue ball are now, what they think about, what they will share, and what matters to them. No, I didn't find 'truth' but instead, I found the loneliness, frustration, and insecurity under-girding people's experience across the globe. 

My take away? Have we as a species become so focused on progress that we have lost our way? The millennial generation knows how to make the world move quicker but not where to go. We now have instant communication via Smart devices that point the way to ever-growing AI. The pity here is that while everyone can talk, text, Skype and Twitter, they usually have nothing of value to say to each other or to the world in general. How much data time do Selfies and "Wht'ups? consume in a world where things that need to go in the trash become a quasi-treasure? 

On the surface, our developed world seems to have abundance while the undeveloped world struggles for sustenance and survival. Abundance is not the issue though. We have too much without value. We Seniors have lived life with changes, struggles and strife. Some think we have seen it all and now is our time to relax and let the next generation work things out. So, here in our older years, Babies, are we going to abdicate to the trolls of the world who dumpster dive in our culture and keep recycling the same old trash?  

December 22, 2014

Off the Chain in Social Media

Do you ever wonder if mainstream media reports have any basis in reality? Do their reports represent the average person's true interests and concerns, up close and personal? I had no idea what I would find and no agenda when I went deeper into social media sites. Like it. Hate it. This was my experience. 

My little basket of curiosity and truths accompanied me into discussion sites with broad, open topics. Two separate explorations, months apart, lasted several months each with duplicate experience. There are at least fifty discussion open sites but I only visited a few English-speaking ones. Because I did come to know some of these people to some degree, I won't disclose the site names. 

So, how do these sites work? Who posts there? 
  • Members supposedly use real names or declare selective anonymity depending on the topic. Some post photos or avatars. 
  • Over one to three million people access on a given day. 
  • The youngest who communicated with me is fourteen and many retirees were on board. 
  • Liberals, Socialists, Conservatives, Capitalists of all degrees and nationalities. No one declared other economic systems.
  • Christian but not by denomination, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Buddhist, and other unspecified beliefs. 
  • Med students, doctors, nurses, dentists, psychologists, attorneys, entrepreneurs, financial consultants, astronauts, writers, actors, musicians, artists, professors, engineers, teachers, unemployed every things, technology-related every things, celebrities, high school/college students. I encountered no declared professional clergy. Tradesman, public service, political and government workers are either undeclared or scant. 
  • Discussing past or current mental health or addiction issues is common. 
  •  I chose settings that allowed "no explicit-adult" feed on my pages. 
  • Ethnicities and geographical locations all over the world. 
  • Scant representation: Middle East, Central America, Far East.
  • Politics: Little interest in local, national, or international relations, countries or politics. 
  • A person's IQ and/or educational level were promoted more than age, culture or country. 
What's the point here? These holy days/new year celebrations touch everyone and messages of fellowship, giving, brotherhood, and tolerance blare across our culture and indeed around the world. But, in reality does good will, peace and hope spin around the globe person to person? Check back tomorrow to see what I found...  

December 21, 2014

Social Media: Over the River and Through the Woods...

In spite of your loyal visits, Babies, I have neglected the blog. I'm going to name my lapse research. When we explore different methods, new ideas and strange cultures, inherent risk travels along on our ventures. Results can be surprising, disappointing or even malevolent. Get a fresh cup of something warm, settle back and come with me on my misadventure into the larger world of social media during the last several months. 

Most Seniors I know are proficient online shoppers and reasonably computer literate. We do what we need to do. We read books on our e readers but keep print copies of favorites. We understand that google in lowercase is a verb. Of course, besides online shopping and email, Facebook is a normal part the Senior's world. It's like a small town newspaper in many ways. In another life, I wrote an "Aunt Blabby" column (with thanks to Charley Weaver for the original concept) and FB is a cyber version of AB. We share recipes, welcome new babies, like photos, offer cartoons, read news updates, post small disappointments and celebrate life's victories. We communicate with different degrees of Friends near or far. Sometimes we accept Friends of Friends, FoF, into our base of contacts. Cyber friendship friend requests from people we dislike, don't trust, who bring a "creepiness factor" or people who need to stay in the past don't make the cut. Seniors don't need to re-open a lifetime of mistaken identities on FB. We use instant messaging, IM, as a way to share less public information. We hear horrific tales of Facebook calamities but with restraint and prudence, it's the cyber equivalent of waving at the neighbors. We used to do that when we got the morning paper, but we don't do that much anymore and certainly avoid contact with neighbors if possible. I have been here at FoM for six months and have seen my nearest neighbor once. 

Recommendation: Get savvy with your settings or stay off FB. If you chose to participate, monitor who, what and why any information is online under your name. Period. All the time. That simple like click translates into an algorithm, into data that a company buys. Your cousin Mary Lou isn't the only one who sees what you like.  

I tried Tweeting on Twitter -- isn't that ridiculous? -- and found it stupid. Flat out stupid. I don't care who is #Wow@Starbucks w/u know-feeling sweet. #Seriously? Tweeting is part of the suddenly relevant (?) "now trending" phenomenon of celebrity and news exploitation. Remember the old question of what is the sound of one-hand clapping? Tweets offer even less significance. Tweets can be unforgiving, malicious and leave a digital trail forever. 

Recommendation: Don't waste your time.  

I activated my LinkedIn account and had people from all parts of my past come forth to write recommendations, be a FB friend, send me job descriptions and/or reconnect. 

Recommendation: If you're not looking for a JOB, don't do this. These sites access your address book when you join and quickly reach out to the whole list. Oh, you didn't know that?  

Many Seniors who are uncomfortable with public anything, cringe at being online, decline to participate and keep communications private on smart phones or tablets for email. Of course, those communications may not be private either. Everything we do leaves a digital footprint. In this age of virtual friendship, virtual discussion and virtual reality, any notion of actual privacy disappears into the Cloud of Cyberdom. What we allow online about our lives is solely, absolutely and definitely up to the individual. Or is it? In this age of algorithms, "coding" no longer just means moral codes or secret decoder ring games. Irresponsible, faceless hackers lurk and seek your information to sell. Virtual presence by definition is not exactly the real thing but at the same time, it's genuine enough to count as authentic and legal. Whew! Advanced circular thinking in action. 

Recommendation: Learn incognito search mode online, what secure sites mean and about site certificates. Delete cookies often and don't open email from anyone you don't know. Passwords aren't the only thing you need to protect.  

Nevertheless, and keeping all this in mind, like any innocent, I ventured forth into the belly of the social media beast. More coming up. 

December 2, 2014

Seven Days of Thanksgiving

The holiday season is upon us and the countdown to Black Friday has begun. In a retail world fueled by panic, greed and imitation, one twenty-four hour day isn't enough and Black Friday begins on Thursday. I'm sick of it already and think that the hoopla of the holiday sales extravaganza kicks an important national holiday to the curb before the turkey carcass is cold. Once again, we let the marketplace manipulate us. We rush to be ahead of everyone, to get a thrill from a "bargain" that we probably don't need, and somehow "win." Some shoppers don't buy anything; they just want the excitement of the throng and the chase for something, anything. Along the way, the meaning of yet another cultural marker fades. Would it help if we changed the name of the Last Thursday in November to Thanks-Giving? Nope. It would never catch on because who takes time to be thankful for much these days? "I want mine, yours and theirs and I want it now!!" Don't get trampled or run over out there in the busy world, Babies. 

Saturday: The crisp morning temperature hovers in the low forties under a clear sky; branches tremble in the light wind. In the bare Yellow Poplar, Sweet Gum and Long leaf pine branches, Grasshopper Sparrows, Flickers, Downy Woodpeckers, Grackles and Wrens hop here and there to feed. Light bounces off the tree trunks and the remaining leaves display remnants of golds and coppers. After nibbling on pine bores and other insects, the birds drink from the little stream that feeds into the lake. When the leaves fell during the last heavy wind cycle, a tiny waterfall became visible deep in the trees and exposed a new element of the lake. The first day I saw the water rushing down the short span, a Great Blue Heron waded up the stream. 

I am grateful that beauty exists even in the midst of decay; I can see it and appreciate how it all works in the larger scheme of things. Unlike the shoppers who try to fill up their emptiness with material things, natural things work just fine for me.   

Sunday: Today at the FoM, rain, wind and darkness create an atmosphere of isolation. Friends from across my whole lifetime who remained or returned to share my journey are special treasures. Their gifts of friendship are as varied as the raindrops that obscure my view of the mountain and the lake today. They offer love, caring, humor, fun and connection to a bigger world and different times. They're all authentic and add texture to my life -- and I am grateful.  

I am also grateful that I do not know the man who has camped in an expensive tent outside a Best Buy for two weeks to be first in line for Black Friday. 

Monday: The temps at FoM today were very warm after a very cold and wet weekend. Today, I am grateful that when I went to a new location, I didn't get lost and even came home via a different route. 

Tuesday: Today, I am grateful for friends who take the time to stay in touch all the time -- not just at holidays. Oh, and that it isn't snowing here at the FoM. 

Wednesday: Today, I am grateful that four dear people called me to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving! and again that it's not snowing here at FoM.

Thursday: Thanksgiving Day here at the FoM and all over the USA is a time for making and recalling traditions. Thanksgiving isn't just the beginning of the holidays or mad holiday shopping. Americans celebrate the day with a holiday meal -- whatever the norm for their own ethnic culture may be or with the mainstream meal, turkey and accompanying delights. The intent of this holiday was to offer thanks for all the good things of life we enjoy as Americans. Part of that is a great meal and family. 

My house smells like turkey that I just took out of the oven. Turkey and salmon are favorites. The smell of the roasted bird evokes many memories -- all different and all somehow related to this holiday. I am grateful for wholesome and nutritious food -- yes, turkey in particular. My list of ideas, things and people I am grateful for is long and meaningful to me. This holiday is full of traditional memories that I cherish and recalls a rite of passage for me to adulthood.

In the early 1950s, we listened to the Detroit Lions on the radio after dinner when they played their annual Thanksgiving Day football game. Macy's held their annual Santa Parade but television sets were mostly in the big cities and not every one's living room. I didn't know anyone who had a TV then. One or two of the larger department stores in the city near my town had a Santa and a Toy Land. Those opened the day after Thanksgiving then too. 

When I was a child, my favorite aunt and uncle and my young cousins had moved far away from the mountains to Connecticut. One Thanksgiving, they traveled all night and into Thanksgiving Day to get to my grandmother's. We had a great family Thanksgiving that year -- the men were home from war and jobs and food were plentiful. We didn't have everything but we had turkey with other things I didn't like -- sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts for example. I didn't like pumpkin pie then nor do I now. But the turkey was great. That Thanksgiving a huge blizzard moved ashore from the Atlantic, crossed the mountains and paralyzed the whole area with snow and ice. My memory is vivid and I wish pictures could be shared with you. 

That winter I learned how bittersweet temporary homecomings could be when my aunt and uncle left to make the long and perilous trip back to Connecticut. I can still see my tow-headed cousin's face in the iced-framed window of that Chevy as they drove away. Her little brother was still a babe in arms and sat on his mother's lap. It took two days to get back to Connecticut and as soon as the spring thaw came, they moved back to the mountains. I watched my cousins grow up and we stayed close. 

Several years ago, my uncle and my female cousin joined those beloved relatives who are no longer alive. Alzheimer's Disease has captured my aunt and my youngest cousin juggles his full plate of life's complications. Sadly, the memories of those we loved and lost to the randomness of the universe have to be enough on holidays now. And, memories, sad or happy, weave themselves into the tapestry of life we are grateful for having. Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday:  The Thanksgiving when I was sixteen, my mother was in the hospital recovering from surgery. Unlike this year, the weather was warm for November and I opened the back door in the kitchen. After a dry summer and fall, small brush fires had simmered on the nearby mountain and an eerie smokiness seemed to return some days. A quince bush grew right by the back steps and it kept its green leaves and little rock-like quinces right past Halloween. That was the year I learned how to make an edible holiday dinner. Like many things to come in my life, I didn't know I couldn't do that, so I did. 

When I agreed that sure, I could make the dinner, I was clueless about how to do that. Somehow, a little turkey was in the refrigerator, along with Pillsbury Crescent rolls, fresh green beans in a brown paper bag and a can of jellied cranberry sauce. After a phone discussion with my mother about 'turkey things,' I began preparations about 9:30 or so. I recall washing out the inside of the turkey under the faucet! and pulling out the giblets. Thick coarse pinfeathers had to be removed with pliers back then. My step dad was patient and reminded me of things that needed doing and he removed the pinfeathers. 

The turkey cooked, browned and I didn't drop it when I opened the oven to baste it. In a few hours, the house smelled wonderful. I cleaned the green beans and cooked them in a pressure cooker with two slices of chopped bacon and a bit of water. When the turkey came out, the rolls went in and while they cooked, I set the table, discovered how to open both ends of the cranberry can to release the sauce and sweetened the iced tea. I can guarantee that I did not make a stock, gravy, stuffing or potatoes. We may have had canned sweet potatoes but my hands stirred no gravy and I had never heard of a roux back then. My family ate our little meal and then went to see our mother who came home the next week. 

So what's the big deal about this? Cooking that dinner was a rite of passage for me. Somehow, it affirmed a confidence that I only hoped I possessed and I had something to build on the rest of the year. In the next few years before I left home, I cooked many, many meals and became an accomplished home cook. Across my life, I've cooked holiday dinners for large groups and tiny ones. When large groups gathered around my table, I christened the meal: The Feast of the Beast.

Sharing food with family and friends is central to holidays and other fun times. Food is important across our culture as a way to share in the process of be-ing. I began my cooking experiences as a "pinch of this and that" cook, became a semi-homemade type of cook, and gradually turned to more complicated dishes of all kinds. I did learn how to make several kinds of roux! 

Cooking and feeding people is a way of nurturing more than their appetites if we do it right. Cooking for other people was always my favorite time in the kitchen and the part I remain most grateful for -- I don't do that much now but will any chance I have. As we get older, our stamina for cooking big meals lessens but our desire to nurture burns just as brightly. 

November 24, 2014

Gypsy Myths

Last week in a retail store, I saw four individuals who rubber-banded my thinking back to childhood. The younger, heavier man in sandals and bright orange knee socks with plaid shorts snagged my attention. The weather that day was cold and most people wore sweaters or jackets. The other man had on a zipped jacket and a bright plaid cap; his neck had a long tattoo. His smile was of the Cheshire cat variety and his hands were in his pockets. Two women completed the crew but one was the central figure and wore a leotard with layers of gossamer scarves of different colors and lengths around her waist. All four wore excessive and large jewelry and moved through the store in a wedge, elbows out, without respect for any one's boundaries. I saw them as a gestalt: many different parts in one integrated picture. And for one split second, I almost held my breath like a five-year-old facing dangerous ... Gypsies!! 

Each of us carry myths our families told us. These myths may have a kernel of truth or be blatant lies; both kinds can be buried deep in our psyche. Myths were stories told over and over to children with hopes that the stories would make everything fine for everyone. Or at least for the day. Over time and with repetition, the stories took on a life of their own and intense meaning. Children often overhear adult conversations and arguments and integrate them as truth. 
  • Good people know that a man like you is no good. 
  • Women in our family are submissive to men so they will stay. 
  • You're just like your dumb Aunt Jean.
  • Women in our family are privileged. 
  • We don't associate with those people.
  • We never talk about the family to outsiders. 
  • We came from royalty and don't take help from anyone. 
  • Santa is everywhere and watches your every move. 
And so it goes. Many children of my generation learned malignant, toxic myths, took them into adulthood and screwed up their own lives and those around them. Psychologists and psychiatrists enjoy profitable practices unraveling the messes these myths made. Today's parents join with the media and feed a toxic blend of princess/ superhero myths to keep children happy and compliant. Do six-year-olds need smart phones or laptop computers with fairy glitter on the case? How adults who grow up with this mythic blend of unreality will develop remains a future mystery. 

Familial myths may stay hidden for years like an IED until something triggers a neural connection: we are suddenly five years old again and hearing an adult voice telling us the myth. When I was a child, many myths came my way, most are funny now and few survived into my adulthood. I was a skeptical child and the phrase that got me into the most trouble with adults was the infamous, "Why is that?" Grownups came up with big myths simply to shut me up.

One big myth was that gypsies stole children, especially those who questioned what they were told. Said Gypsies roamed the countryside stealing chickens, laundry from clotheslines and naughty children which they sold like the chickens. Once a summer or so, bands of Gypsies looking for odd jobs did come along in rattletrap trucks with rusty trailers attached. Gypsies were real and their appearance now and again was enough to scare me into acceptable behavior like a dog on an irregular feeding schedule. If my behavior and questions were too bothersome, the adults threatened to give me to the Gypsies and not wait for them to steal me. Hard times indeed. 

As I crossed the parking lot a bit later that afternoon,  the Gypsies rolled past me in a new black car with arms holding cigarettes out all four open windows -- no funny smells were welcome in the new car, obviously. The car had an antenna for On Star. I somehow never thought of Gypsies needing directions. Funny what we survive and what survives in us.

October 31, 2014

Free Falling

Fall changed the world around me. Because I remain hopelessly naive about some things, I expected the leaves to turn red and gold and orange on my mountain. They did not. No dazzling display under a porcelain blue sky. No crinkling under light breezes. Now and again, one single leaf caught a draft, floated briefly, then fell by the lake. Colors were hard to find until this week when half-hearted hues in surrender-mode fell quickly. Tonight is Halloween, tomorrow is All Saints' Day and Daylight Savings Time ends. The calendar mood is heavy like the weather. 

Weather forecasters predict 40 mph wind gusts and rain possibly changing to snow flurries before morning with real snow in higher elevations. Rain arrived a few hours ago in sheets of cold. Seriously? Babies, I'm not in Florida anymore -- that's like Midwestern weather. 

Halloween has never been high on my holiday list. Life is scary enough without intentionally frightening people. When I was a young child, living in the mountains, Halloween vandalism was a sport. Older teens and young adults delighted in setting little nasty fires with foul animal droppings on porches and overturning outhouses, occupied ones were a bonus. Blocking roads, especially with fire? They loved it. Blocking a railroad track or crossing. Yee Ha.

As a newly registered voter in my new state, I made a point of early voting today. The line was out the door and a young, rosy-cheeked county deputy kept the peace. The weather was brisk and people were friendly. Along the state highway on the way to the polling place, a tall homeless man pushed a shopping cart overloaded with white plastic bags. He fretted with the unstable bags as they shifted from his brisk pace. His long beard and layers of clothing seemed to foreshadow the harsher weather and shorter days to come. Did he know about voting? About Daylight Savings Time? I'm sure he knows it's Halloween in our commercialized life of merchandise. Where is he tonight in all this cold wind and rain? He headed north away from the city, into less populated rougher terrain, into the storm, vulnerable and outside of community. 
Later at the grocery store, a man wore a surgical mask as he shopped and warily watched those about him. He too is vulnerable and outside of community. Life is scary for each of us in our own way. 

The Fall season initiates indications of winter here at FoM and the rain and snow make a mess. The rain beats on my windows. The CSX train heading north and the Fed Ex plane to Nashville remain right on time tonight. Tomorrow, beef stew will simmer and fill my house with comforting smells, I will continue to work on the new book and remember to set my clocks back. You will stay warm, cozy and especially, Inside, won't you, Babies? 

October 20, 2014

Fishing Lessons

Today, National Geographic's TV Channel ran episodes and the finale of "Wicked Tuna: North and South." Commercial fishermen with small boats and sparse crew venture into the Atlantic off the Outer Banks of North Carolina hunting Bluefin Tuna. Many times, I thought of Hemingway and his serious fight against the Big Fish. These men are passionate, raw, rugged, authentic and fascinating to watch and hear in all types of weather and struggles for their survival and livelihood. Robert Bly's "The Sea" captures the essence of these fishermen and their lives. They respect the fish and refer to them as "her" or, later when the very limited Bluefin fishing season draws shorter, tellingly as "him." Many times sharks steal their bait and other times the huge Bluefin slip the hook or break the line and escape. 

Several years ago, I wrote a series of  fables for grownups and included The Existential Fish. I found so much truth in that little piece that it inspired a novel which is in progress. [I listened to my editor and it has a different name.] I took the fables off the blog some time ago for inclusion into a non fiction book that I decided not to write. However, the fables are still valid and invite me to address many meanings in them. The fable of The Existential Fish follows. 

"This is a fish story, an existentialist fish story but still a fish story.
Once upon a time, a noble fish, who loved being a fish, swam with vigor and passion and explored the great seas of the world. In very deep water, he discovered an elegant, plump worm and bit into the worm with delight. Of course, the worm was not food but a lure, a bait, with a concealed barbed hook. The hook dug deep into the soft flesh in the fish’s mouth when he pulled against its sharp edges. He struggled with the same degree of passion he brought to everything else. The more the fish struggled, the deeper the hook set. He thrashed and twisted but the hook held him. The fish grew weary in his struggle with the deep-set hook. The pain was intense and the fish felt his passion for life waning. After a brave fight, the fish stopped struggling. Over time, he embraced the futility of his plight and the hook dug no deeper into his flesh. He found swimming toward the line made it less taut. The hook did not hurt so much. As the line fell looser, the fish saw the line dangled from a tiny boat anchored in the water. The fish swam back and forth over the anchor until it cut the line. The hook remained in his mouth, but eventually, new growth enclosed the hook and made a deep scar in the tender part of his gullet. Every time he ate, his food had to pass over the scar and the hook. The hook remained part of him for all of his days. He still felt pain but he was free. We are all the fish."

Some time ago, a friend and I talked of old times and shared stories of people passing through our lives. She reminded me that "We teach people how to treat us." I had forgotten that little truth that I learned long ago. Sometimes in the hustle and push of life, we need to relearn a truth. Even as we get older or perhaps because we get older, the truth is still fresh and needs to be heard. I think that continuing to seek and share truth is something older people need to do. Our integrity depends on it. Truth isn't just the facts or the verbs of the matter but the meaning of it too. The Bluefin Tuna and the fishermen teach each other this every time they meet, don't they?  

October 15, 2014

Bureaucrat Boogie

Relocation to a different state includes a long, long list of "personal" changes and driver's license and car registration are just two of these. I was lucky to be born in the USA, to live in many states and to secure a driver's license where I lived. Here at the FoM, documentation requirements to acquire a driver's license turned out to be surreal. 

Day one: One must have a local driver's license before one may register a car and get a tag. This fact isn't listed on the web site. I finally found the tag office and discovered this information. So ..... I boogied off to the DMV next.  

Still day one: Business hours posted on the DMV site were incorrect so when I showed up during posted business hours? They were closed for the day.  

Day two, trip one: I re-appeared at the DMV with all my required documents: valid out of state driver's license; original birth certificate; social security card with my complete legal name; two (that's two!) different utility bills mailed to my new address. I was turned away because I had no single document that declared "a what/when legal change" of my birth certificate name. 

Day two, trip two: This time I took all the above documents plus several proof of marriage documents that showed my maiden name and who, what, why, how and where the new name originated. Still, a supervisor! had to be called to review my documents, administer an eye test, collect the fee and grant a temporary license. Copies of all my documents were made and kept for their use. My old license got shredded. 

Day two, trip three: With my temp license, old car registration, a fat fee, huge Ca-Ching!! tax payment, proof of insurance (which didn't count as proof of anything at the DMV) and original car title, I finally got my new state tag which is only good for a few months until my next birthday when we can do that all again -- by mail. 

I guess in the scheme of relocation requirements this isn't so unreasonable, or is it?

On July 31, 2014 one of my favorite papers, The Wall Street Journal, ran an outside column story on page A2 (a page location with some serious clout in newspaper real estate), "Immigrants Rush to Get Licenses to Drive." The long story reported, "Eleven states and Washington, D.C., have laws permitting undocumented immigrants to get ... driver's licenses or permit (s)...." So that means no Green Card, no passport, nada comprende?

Seriously? I generally don't get involved in political matters in the blog but -- people show up in those states, with no documentation of who they are, where they were born or lived previously, without proof of address or utility services, neither a social security card nor a birth certificate, no documentation of legal name much less name changes, write down some name and drive away in one trip, legally? 

Does this mean that those states require no identification or verification of anything? Hmmm. How many "Puddin' Tanes" or "Mary-Mary Quite Contrarys" are driving around the country? Oh, those are fairy tale names, aren't they? 

What is the point of all the documentation in one state while right next door, none is required? What does anything mean anymore? Others with no documentation enjoy the same freedom I must justify, testify, qualify and codify to have -- where's the equality in that brand of freedom? Just what's the point -- if freedom is free for undocumented people, what freedoms distinguish citizenship these days? The driver's licenses are equally valid in all the states and the District of Columbia. Hmm. Voom, Voom!