Fire

It’s almost impossible to process what is happening in America. For those of us who grew up asking few questions beyond what we were told in school, the shock of what we are living and experiencing today is kind of mind-blowing.

I didn’t realize that so much of what we were taught in school is the whitewashed version of the truth. And in some cases, outright lies. I often say that our democracy is a fragile beast, and yet I’m not sure that simple description can convey how truly close we have always been to losing it. My friend who teaches tells me that those who attempt to teach the truth are targeted — at least at the high school level — people want the heroes and holidays version of events. They want the story of an all great and all powerful America.

And yet, lies always come back to take you down, to unravel the story you try to weave. Reading Howard Zinn and watching the PBS documentary on Vietnam has shattered my illusions. Here’s what I think: Our government has been gas-lighting us for centuries. Our current president is just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

There are, however, so many things I am grateful for, so many things that are a product of this democracy, of our uniquely American way of life — and these are the things I cling to desperately in my despair. I am grateful that I can speak my mind and not fear a midnight knock on the door. I am grateful that there are good people who run for public office, people who want to be the change for the rest of us. I am grateful that I live in a country where writers, like Zinn, are free to publish and make their books available to those who want to read them. I am grateful for having choices, and opportunities, even if some of those opportunities are theoretical and not actually attainable. I am grateful that our founding fathers had the presence of mind to go their own way, to choose a form of government that despite not being perfect, is better than tyranny and oppression.

I was roughly the same age as my son is today — a little younger, perhaps — during the strong push to end the Vietnam War. I remember watching the body counts on the nightly news. I remember Kent State, and Watergate, and though I was very young at the time, I remember watching Bobby Kennedy’s funeral train on the evening news. But I also remember watching a moon landing on a small black and white TV in my elementary school classroom. And going to a sit-in near the Griffith Park Carousel with my parents. I remember countless moments when the best of us came together to help those in need, when we stepped outside of our differences to actually make a difference.

Someone recently wrote that watching the Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam is helping her to be brave. I get that. I keep thinking that as bad as it is today, as divided as we are, the divisions this country faced in the sixties and seventies were just as wide, if not more so. And yet, it is the fact that so many of those differences remain unresolved that has brought us to this point.

Our current president and his administration of billionaire bullies is what happens when people are so fed up they can’t help but reach for the extreme solution, even if that solution is to set themselves on fire.

 

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Shelter from the storm

I don’t even know what to say anymore. As I scroll through my FB feed and see memes diminishing #takeaknee posted by people I used to know, or used to think I know, I am heartsick. I turn to James and ask how can we ever come back from this? He says, we can’t.

America fights about the meaning of respect while shrugging off decades of institutional racism and social injustice. Three devastating hurricanes, a game of chicken with North Korea, disability activists in wheelchairs literally dragged out of senate hearings, Russia’s quiet but hostile takeover of our social media feed, a new travel ban, and yes, everyone has an opinion, a gripe, a grievance, but to what end? We are not divided; this country has been fed through a shredder, the kind that makes cross-cuts and gleefully devours old credit cards.

I make no secret of where I stand. But I understand that it is so much easier to turn a blind eye. To pretend you don’t see. I’ve done it. We all do it. It would be easier too, not to deal with the issues and problems that bring us to cry out in senate chambers and march in the streets. If only those rabble rousers would be quiet and go home. Who really likes confrontation, anyway? We just want to live our lives, go to work, go to school, come home to a hot meal. If only it were that simple. The hard truth is, that life, whatever it was, is over.

Today was a hard day. It knocked me down.

We’ve been watching the Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam. I don’t want my son to witness the horror of that war, but the way he cries out each time Westmoreland asks for more troops assures me that he sees what needs to be seen. I could say he is too young or too fragile to watch. I could say, when you are older. But there is no shelter from this storm. It seeps in. The despair, the fear, the anxiety. He watches as the bodies pile up, as the men tell their stories, and his shocked reactions strengthen my resolve. I can’t raise him to turn a blind eye. I can only raise him to know, and see, and understand.

Is it possible to love your country but hate what it does? What does it mean to be a patriot? McNamara knew he was wrong. He pushed Johnson to feed the general’s beast. And it is only by the grace of some god that we are here today, fighting amongst ourselves over flags and songs while Rome burns. We are never looking in the right direction.

I didn’t ask for this and yet I feel the weight of it heavy on my heart. I love my country but I am deeply afraid for its future.

I have been watching friends and families divide in my FB feed. Both sides believe they are on the side of patriotism. Honor the flag. Honor thy country. Honor what you know to be morally right. All men are created equal. All men. And just because you don’t like what I have to say doesn’t mean I don’t have a right to say it.

Where does this end? There is a madman at the helm and I have no faith, no trust in our humanity. We have done unspeakable things. Over and over again. And arguing over whether we stand or take a knee, who is a true patriot and who is not, does little more than provide cover for those who want to tear this democracy down.

There is no shelter from this storm. It seeps in. And as difficult and as painful as it is to watch, we cannot turn a blind eye. We have to see each other, and somehow see this through. Or we risk losing this fragile beast, this America we strive to become.

Scenes

I often think it is the men who have fucked things up. I know. But still.

I am the mother of a son dancing awkwardly among other mothers of sons. I wish we knew someone who had daughters, I recently said to a friend. I am compelled to remind my mama-sisters that our sole purpose is to raise these boys to be strong feminists. To teach them that women are equal, that no means no, that honor and respect go hand in hand with just about all things in life.

I wonder aloud if I am doing this: Is my son merely parroting back my beliefs or does he see — really see — the beauty in all of us, in social justice, in saving that which needs to be saved? We build bridges, not walls, I tell him. It really is that simple.

We watch the late night comedians, but we are past the point of shock. Nothing that happens in the world surprises us anymore. And the irony of the humor is that it no longer plays like a fictionalized account of the news. The truth is ironic enough.

At school, my son tells me, there are kids who cheer for the president. They don’t see the irony or or the unbelievable hypocrisy of it all. They feel empowered. There’s an undertone of superiority, a not in my back yard elitist attitude among his peers that troubles me. I wonder if these kids are parroting their parents’ dinner conversations or if they truly believe the words they throw at each other like fastballs from the pitcher’s mound.

I’ve stopped following two of my writing groups on FB. I grew weary of the bickering. Squabbles over race, religion, who is woke and who isn’t. Within these small groups, anger and judgment has taken the place of kindness and sisterhood. Navigating it became a chore. There are better ways I can spend my time.

My son can’t wait for school to be out. There is a smallness to his world. He gravitates toward the few teachers who comment on the lessons hidden between the lines. An acquaintance told me she is thrilled with the direction our country is taking. Close the borders, she cried. Like my son, I can’t wait for school to be out, to escape, run away, even for just a little while.

I go to political meetings. I compose letters for like-minded friends so they can write to their reps in DC. I preach slow and steady progress, the importance of upcoming local elections, the imperative of flipping the house and maybe even the senate in 2018. I see no real end to the nightmare, but I act anyway, I do what I can. I organize and empower and mobilize; I concentrate not on changing hearts and minds, but on giving a voice to those whose hearts and minds are already in the right place — including, even, my son.

In the mornings I walk with a friend, or sometimes alone. I used to listen to Rachel Maddow but grew weary of her sensationalist shock and awe. She is the liberal Fox News. I don’t question her reporting, but I can’t stomach her delivery. Now I listen to Pod Save America and pine for the days when the grownups were in charge.

I never knew I cared this much. For years, I took my beliefs at face value. I felt safe in my small town. I walked through life with the confidence of my freedoms. But I don’t feel safe anymore, and it’s not terrorists who frighten me, but the willingness of so many to chip away at human dignity. To strip away the rights of those who are vulnerable and marginalized. The fear is pervasive.

Yesterday I was texting with a friend about the Paris Climate Agreement. There’s little to say that hasn’t been said. How anyone could think this move is good for the U.S. is beyond me. Even if the details of the accord are worth quibbling over, the symbolism of pulling out, of separating ourselves from the rest of the world, is shameful on every level.

This is what I tell my son: We are not special. We don’t deserve more or less. As individuals or as a nation. We are not special. But what we had… well, that was something special indeed. Two interesting points: “A constitutional democracy succeeds only if the constitution reflects democratic values alive in the citizenry,” and “Only four presidential democracies have lasted longer than 30 years.” The four? The United States, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Colombia. Think about that. Of those four, go ahead, google Venezuela and Colombia — political overview.

I have taken to calling our democracy fragile, but beautiful. And if you know your world politics, you know that a number of countries have tried to create what our forefathers created. But of those countries, almost all ended in a dictatorship that led to a military coup. Authoritarianism is alive and well. I could speculate endlessly about the cause: lack of education, racism, xenophobia, greed, a breakdown in democratic values?

And yet, I do not believe that the vast majority of Americans are okay with the path we are on. Nor do I believe that there are simple answers to these complex problems. What I do know, without a doubt, is that these are dangerous times. When we elect leaders who have a blatant disregard for the rule of the law, who think they can go rogue, ignore the system designed to curtail their power, well then I think we need to send up flares.

I worry about my son’s generation. Old enough to understand what is played out on the world stage, but too young to have a voice. They will inherit the scorched earth, and yet none of this was their choice. I think about my son’s peers, cheering for a man who makes no sense. I think about all that we hoped to give them.

Someone will inevitably tell me to pray. Give it up to God. If only it were that easy. I read today that one of our politicians — and no, I don’t remember which one — thinks that if things get bad enough here on earth, God will step in and handle it. This news slips in and out of my consciousness. God is who they turn to when they choose not to take responsibility. The atrocities rendered in the name of God are yet another long and complicated history of people simply treating other people like shit.

The scenes of this life dance around me like pollen on the wind. I am a mother, a wife, a pre-existing condition. I have lived a life of privilege. And I have often turned a blind eye to things I cannot control or do not understand. Today I am guilty of all of this, but also of giving up on those who are already gone. I am not trying to change hearts and minds, only to give a voice to those whose hearts and minds are in the right place.

I tell my son we build bridges, not walls. But it is not that simple. I cannot bridge this one gap. I cannot figure out how to speak to those who disagree without losing my mind. Every conversation I have with someone who is undeclared in their beliefs is a study in superficial banter.

Today is hard. Tomorrow will be hard. But I advocate slow and steady progress. The one thing, the only thing, we cannot ever do is give up. I am the mother of a son dancing awkwardly among other mothers of sons. My sole purpose is to raise my boy to be a strong feminist. To teach him that women are equal, that all lives matter, that honor and respect go hand in hand with just about everything in this world. And maybe, just maybe, there are other mothers of sons and daughters out there teaching their children the same thing. Sometimes I believe this is our only hope.

Let the music play

Last night after dinner and a competitive game of Qwirkle, I looked at the rows and rows of vinyl lining the living room walls and asked James, “So what album should we listen to?” Somewhat taken aback (I so rarely express interest in his collection of 8,000 vinyl) he suggested something from his iPod. “No,” I insisted. “What good are all these albums if we never listen to them?”

I’ve been listening to my own playlist of Resistance songs on a virtually endless loop lately. From Bob Dylan’s Hurricane to Pete Seeger’s We Shall Overcome, listening to that playlist of 26 songs has pulled me out of a few dark places in recent months. It reminds me that good eventually trumps evil.

As Linda Ronstadt’s voice filled the room — there really is nothing like the sound of an actual record playing through the stereo system — I closed my eyes and let the music carry me home. Heart Like a Wheel was released in 1974, but I so clearly remember it as a part of the playlist that just a few years later defined my time in high school. There was a great little record store — The Turning Point — close enough to walk to, and we used to spend hours thumbing through the bins. I’m pretty sure it was also a head shop because we’d go there to buy rolling papers and gawk at the enormous bongs in the glass case under the cash register.

In the mid-70s, I became obsessed with the Vietnam War. I collected newspaper clippings on POWs and MIAs, and I made my parents buy me a silver POW bracelet. I had nowhere to put the overwhelming sadness or grief, so I tucked those clippings into a drawer, and spent hours sitting on the floor of my room listening to records. But I was a few years too late for that Resistance. Back then pop radio in LA was a mix of Rod Stewart, ABBA, The Eagles, and Frampton Live. There was no Dylan, no Seeger, no Barry McGuire. It wasn’t until years later when those anthems from the late 60s added another layer of truth to my memories.

I remember sitting on the front lawn and talking with friends about a band we knew. They were playing at Gazzarri’s on the Sunset Strip. Some of the older kids were going with their fake IDs and I so desperately wanted to be a part of it. At home, my dad was listening to Led Zeppelin and the Concert for Bangladesh. He served in the Korean War, but was called back in the early 60s to Vietnam. It was a strange time, a time of straddling two worlds. When I graduated high school in 1979, disco was already nearly a thing of the past.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about those years. My dad was a republican and my mother was a democrat. They used to joke that their votes cancelled each other out. Everything about my formative years, the life we lived, the neighborhood I grew up in, the advantages we had, should have led me straight down the path to the Republican party. But what’s supposed to happen so often doesn’t, and when I look back and note that the first vote I cast was for Ronald Reagan, I think maybe somehow that was my turning point. Pulling that lever was one of the last times I blindly followed my dad’s advice.

It’s all so fragile, this beautiful democracy. How did it become nothing more than a plaything for the greedy and the privileged among us? Hate your neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace. Yet when it starts to feel like the world is slipping away from me, when it feels like the very heart of everything I believe in is about to explode, I turn to my soundtrack and I let the music play. I close my eyes, and I’m home.

 

 

Current Events

It never ends, does it? I really don’t understand how anyone can still support this administration. I know many of the headlines are meant to bait us, to solicit an emotional response, but when the Washington Post, the New York Times, NPR and Dan Rather are screaming a collective WTF, you might want to pay close attention.

Just for fun, I decided to document what was in my FB newsfeed this morning. I bypassed all the questionable and flat out fake news sites and put together this:

Is it any wonder we are stressed out and overwhelmed? Short of not paying attention, not reading the news, I don’t know what the solution is. Every single one of these headlines makes me want to push back. Every single one of these headlines demands outrage and counterpoint.

Here’s the thing: whether you are liberal, progressive, or conservative, whether you believe in big government, little government, or no government, the question I have for you is this: do you care about your neighbor? Because if you do, then the path this country is on, the direction this administration is taking, should worry the hell out of you. I’m not going to incite inflammatory rhetoric (though “First they came for…” is on auto-repeat in my head), I’m not going to employ scare tactics, or preach my bleeding heart liberal mantra. I’m simply going to say that if you care about your neighbor, about your fellow man, about the less fortunate among us, then you have to ask yourself, what in the holy hell is going on here?

Random loose ends

Last night I slept with the windows open. And the air coming in, the cool breeze, the fresh clear morning, reminded me that the season is about to change. I love this time of year. I love how fall sneaks in quietly to overtake the last hot humid days of summer. I love how the cooler days feel like treasure waiting to be discovered. It’s still warm — tee shirt weather warm — much of the day, but the nights and early mornings are cool enough to throw on a light sweater.

A week ago I had an MRI which confirmed a diagnosis of adhesive capsulitis in my left shoulder. In layman’s terms, I have a frozen shoulder. A couple days after the MRI, I had a cortisone shot and now, finally, I am starting to feel some incremental relief. I’m no longer in constant pain, and while my range of motion is still severely limited, the no-longer-in-constant-pain part is really key. In a week I can go back to PT and moderate exercise. I’m beyond ready to put this chapter behind me.

I get frustrated with the level of vigilance, the amount of follow-up and ongoing care, my doctors require. My oncologist has been bugging me to get back on track with regular visits to my primary care doctor. I kind of let that slide last year since I was, well, you know, dealing with the cancer and all that. So last week, I went in for my annual physical. The good news is, I’ve lost ten pounds. But the bad news is I’m about an inch and a half shorter than I was before starting the lupron shots and the aromasin. At my age, that’s not really normal or expected, so even though it’s only been about 16 months since my first bone density test (which was normal), I need to have another one. Oh and my A1C number is a little high despite the fact that my fasting glucose level is well within the normal range. I’m not sure which of these two things bugs me more. I wonder what would happen if I just stopped getting tested for things?

I already know I’m going in the right direction. Most of my health news is good, and the not-so-good things are fixable. Except, of course, the shrinking. Pretty sure I can’t un-shrink. When I consider where I am, where I’ve been and how far I have come, I know I’m in a good place. I have a lot of people in my corner, and I have so very much to be thankful for. Somehow that makes the annoying and the crazy and the frustrating a little easier to take.

Just enough

I’ve decided to take a little break from Facebook this summer. In fact, I logged out about three weeks ago and haven’t looked back. I won’t lie, there are things about it that I miss. But I feel like the experiment has left me more present in my actual life. I’m no longer scrolling through my newsfeed every time I think I might be bored or whenever I’m caught waiting for something. And in so many ways, it’s a relief. My head is no longer swimming with everyone else’s thoughts, it’s quieter inside my head and I like that.

Because I’m not posting on FB, I’ve been papering my Instagram feed with photos. I’ve always loved Instagram and my circle there is relatively small. Family and a few close friends. It feels more intimate, better suited for the visual expression of our days here in California.

And our days have been lovely. Exactly what we need and exactly what I’ve hoped for. After dinner last night we drove up into the hills above Burbank looking for the perfect spot to watch the fireworks show from the Starlight Bowl. Cars and people lined the twisting streets, and we worried we were too late to get a spot even though the sun was just beginning to set. We turned a corner and squeezed into a parking space. I rolled down the window to ask the family camped on the curb if they knew their vantage point was a good one. “We’ve never done this before, but the iPhone seems to think so,” the royal blue-haired dad replied. Fireworks via GPS navigation. He wrapped his kids in strings of glow lights and as the sky darkened and the rockets lit the night above us, I thought about how much his toddlers looked like flashing robots, all lit up for the Fourth.

There was a time I would have rushed to FB, anxious to see what the world is up to and how my friends are spending their days. But there’s something about the quiet that seems right this summer. Text, email, Instagram… it’s enough for now. I want to savor the moments I’m in. The fireworks in the sky and the flashing neon lights on the ground. If you need me, that’s where I’ll be. I’ll make my way back to the mother of all social media some day. I’m not looking for a permanent delete, just a temporary pause — enough to catch my breath and reset.

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Something

I wonder how I came to be someone who sits on the edge of an exam table once every few weeks wearing nothing but socks and a flimsy cotton gown. There are reasons to follow up, to be responsible about my care, but it’s still weird to be this person I never thought I would be.

There was an issue with a medical bill, one that ended up in collections by mistake. I have tracked this bill and documented every call, every effort to clear up the error for well over a year now. A couple days ago, I spoke again with hospital billing. Yes, the nice man told me, I see that it’s a mistake. I’ll take care of it right away. Countless times I have been promised  the same and still the threatening letters come.

None of it seems real. The last year. The surgeries, the tests, the small procedures. I feel like it all happened to someone else. The scars are real, though. I can’t escape those. The physical scars — maybe even the emotional ones too — are not fading as fast as I thought they would. Today I looked down after my shower and thought again about the weirdness of making a three-dimensional nipple out of a flat, skin-grafted circle.

I worry that I’ve been sitting too much. I’ve had so much work, and there are days where I am frantically writing and researching and sitting. But I’m not motivated to move. I’ve made huge sweeping changes with my diet, but I can’t get out of my chair. I am stuck. And I wonder if it’s some kind of metaphor for something I haven’t quite figured out yet.

I’m being swept along by the tide, by the appointments that must be kept, the chores that must be done, and the deadlines that need to be met. I’m feeling a lot less anchored these days, unsure of where I want my life to take me, unsure what my plans should be. I don’t know what I expect, but I feel like something needs to happen. I just wish I knew what.