Nothing New Under the Sun

It’s a thought I sometimes find comforting, as with the phases of the moon rolling through each month or the return of spring each year.

But more often it’s disquieting, as in the apparent fact that humankind is stubbornly incapable of learning and seemingly doomed to repeat history’s mistakes.

Over and over.

In the news these days we see the endless repetition of stupidity and lies in the service of money and power. The bigger the lie the better, apparently. Memes and slogans catch fire, while words and ideas have become pretty much meaningless.

Science? No.

Medicine? No.

Reality? No.

Trump is actually more of a tool than anything else in this. He’s a primitive creature who acts and reacts on instinct. And at this point, he appears to be either drug-addled or dementing or both. So he’s not actually planning anything or pulling any strings.

Puppet?

Yeah, Hillary nailed it.

While he’s definitely not a reliable puppet, in the absence of something better he’s apparently a serviceable puppet. Otherwise, you can rest assured that he’d be gone.

It’s others who hold the strings. People (using the term loosely) like Mitch McConnell and Rupert Murdoch. But it’s not like there’s some grand, organized conspiracy. Nothing as monumental as Obamagate or Pizzagate. It’s just the age-old story of elites doing whatever they need to to protect their position and power.

So, here comes the sun…

Right now I’m listening to Trinity by Leon Uris and am reading The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. And in each I’m finding striking similarities to these current times.

Trinity is an historical novel that’s set in Donegal, Ireland. While offering some sweeping glimpses of Irish history, it focuses on the late 19th and early 20th century, prior to World War I.

There in the North of Ireland, we find an entrenched upper class wedded to England and its Church. The privilege of this class of landed gentry is carried on the backs of the Catholics and, to a lesser degree, the working-class Protestants — mostly Presbyterians — who’d emigrated from Scotland.

Over time, and especially as the Catholics begin to gain small bits of political power, the Anglican gentry found ways to incite the Presbyterians against the Catholics. Rumors were started, prejudices amplified, and the have-nots were pitted against the have-nots, while the elites kept their hands clean and their power intact.

Move on to the slave-holding ugliness of The Water Dancer and we see something starkly similar. Here it’s the elite slave-holders inciting the so-called ‘Low Whites’ to do their dirty work. The Low Whites, marginal at best, act as slave-traders and overseers while the elites float above it all, wafting about ethereally on their plantations.

But when the elites feel their position eroding, the Low Whites are enlisted as enforcers. Furious about their debased place in the world, they are horribly brutal enforcers.

Of course, I’m greatly simplifying here.

But writ large doesn’t it look much like what the elites are doing today?

Their puppet Trump with his crazy lies and MAGA rallies inflames this age’s version of the Presbyterians and/or the Low Whites. Meanwhile, Mitch et al pass tax breaks for themselves and their friends. And they pack the courts with judges who will take their side when needed. It’s not about race or religion or patriotism or even money, really. It’s about power.

But then…

…there comes COVID-19, and the divides in this country (and around the world) are amplified. As Charles Blow summarized it in the NY Times recently: “This crisis is exposing the class savagery of American democracy and the economic carnage that it has always countenanced.”

And yet, the virus is no respecter of privilege, either. Even this isn’t something new under the sun.

Remember, the Plague effectively dismantled feudalism when it ravaged Europe in the 14th century. Can’t help but wonder what long-term impact COVID-19 will have on today’s elites and the shameful power inequality they cling to so desperately in this 21st century.

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Fox and Friends

In these days of mask-wearing and social-distancing, I marvel at how the natural world continues on its steady, abiding, sustaining course. Buds burst, bulbs push up through the earth. The sun warms; the rains come; the night wind blows, mysterious as always; and the grass slowly greens up.

It reminds me of times when I’ve experienced a life-changing loss. My world feels shattered. Yet I look around and life carries on around me as if nothing had happened — as if nothing had changed. It’s a jarring experience, and a lonely one.

Here, now we’re in the midst of a shared, human experience of separation, fear, and deep dislocation. It’s at once an individual and a communal experience. All of humankind is touched. And yet the earth and all the rest of her occupants carry on as if nothing has changed. (And yes, the dogs are overjoyed. But the cats are definitely annoyed.)

And the earth herself? Well, she seems to be thriving as human activity has ground to a halt worldwide. Carbon emissions are down but there’s no guarantee they’ll stay that way. In fact, if we look at history, they usually go even higher once whatever has shut them down gets resolved (e.g. WW II). Still, one can see hope here. And with an election coming, there’s the additional hope that we put leaders in place who are capable of long-range thinking about sustainability.

Here in my little world, I was on the edge of my seat watching Maddow while the pink supermoon rose, and the clouds pretty thoroughly diffused its light. The rhubarb churns up through the ground as it always does, looking wild and a bit out of control and also, just so enhuberantly hopeful.

But the very best thing was seeing, on Monday a fox who’s been a frequent visitor, peering around the back corner of the garden shed. She’s a beauty, the color of reddish, sunlit honey with a gloriously bushy tail. As she stepped out into the light we saw, trailing behind her, four (or maybe even five) little earth-toned kits! They tumbled and played in the grass and looked to be about the size of guinea pigs.

Off and on, we watched them through the day. Mama would go off into the underbrush at the edge of the field, or over into the neighbor’s field, hunting for mice (we’re guessing). I had the best view from my room, and was thoroughly distracted, as the little ones gamboled about near the shed and Mama ran back and forth, ever-vigilent.

Yesterday I was at work, but the report was that there were no fox sightings. Now we’re wondering if Monday was a magical aberration, or if we’ll get to watch these kits grow up (as we’d been hoping). Either way, I take the sighting as just one of the strange gifts of this coronavirus era. As our worlds shrink, they also expand in unexpected ways.

Zoom meetings and smiles from strangers help as we navigate our strange new terrain. And ‘fox and friends’ takes on a happy new meaning for me, signifying resilience and hope, even here, even now.

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Freedom

It’s generally not good to act on impulse, but in this case, I think it was a good choice I made, impulsive or not.

Having spent way too much time this past week bot-hunting and/or getting into useless ‘dialogue’ with people posting incredibly hateful things on Twitter, I have deactivated my account.

Already I feel lighter. And the time I was losing? Well, no, I am NOT going to spend it on Facebook! But I’m not going to leave Facebook, either, as it offers a good, quick way to keep in touch with friends and family. It’s more ‘insular’ than Twitter, for sure — but honestly, at this point, I really don’t want or need to see how Obama is to blame for everything.

Phew, I do feel freer!

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Wake Up and Smell the Coffee or Stop and Smell the Roses — Just Smell SOMETHING, Okay?

Whatever your routine is these days, you may want to check to make sure you are still smelling things.

That’s what I’m taking from an interesting article by Roni Caryn Rabin in the NY Times that I read today. Published yesterday, it’s titled Lost Sense of Smell May Be Peculiar Clue to Coronavirus Infection. Hopefully, you’ll be able to read it at the link, since the NY Times is now making its Coronavirus information available for free to everyone. In her article, Ms. Rabin writes:

The American Academy of Otolaryngology on Sunday posted information on its website saying that mounting anecdotal evidence indicates that lost or reduced sense of smell and loss of taste are significant symptoms associated with Covid-19, and that they have been seen in patients who ultimately tested positive with no other symptoms.

NY Times 3/22/20

The evidence is still anecdotal, but, as Henry David Thoreau said, “”Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.”

The article goes on to say:

In the areas of Italy most heavily affected by the virus, doctors say they have concluded that loss of taste and smell is an indication that a person who otherwise seems healthy is in fact carrying the virus and may be spreading it to others.

“Almost everybody who is hospitalized has this same story,” said Dr. Marco Metra, chief of the cardiology department at the main hospital in Brescia, where 700 of 1,200 inpatients have the coronavirus. “You ask about the patient’s wife or husband. And the patient says, ‘My wife has just lost her smell and taste but otherwise she is well.’ So she is likely infected, and she is spreading it with a very mild form.”

A study from South Korea, where widespread testing has been done, found that 30 percent of some 2,000 patients who tested positive for the coronavirus reported experiencing anosmia.

NY Times 3/22/20

So far taste and smell have not abandoned me. But you can rest assured now that each morning when I smell the coffee, I’ll come down the stairs with a little extra spring in my step!

And if you should find yourself worried about your sense of smell (or taste), we have an expert standing by…

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A Timely Question From Aretha Today

That’s it, just this…listen up!

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You'll Poke an Eye Out!

COVID-19 is reminding us all, if we are paying attention, of our vulnerability. If you’re like me and wake up, get coffee, turn on the computer, and immediately check the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Map/Tracker, you’re well aware of how at-risk we are, at least on a rudimentary level.

But our experiences and perceptions of our vulnerability aren’t static. I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed how much this has changed for me as I’ve aged. Thus the title of this post — a warning we probably all heard from a grandparent at one time or another. And now, ironically, it’s a phrase I find myself tempted to utter often. (Some version of it, anyway.)

It’s about consequences, really.

With age, I’ve become more aware of the possible outcomes of actions. And thus, I’ve gotten more cautious about some things. Driving in snowstorms, for example…

It used to be a point of pride for me to get to work no matter what. And I would. Now, I think about the challenge of getting home at the end of the day, or the hassle of having to deal with a fender-bender or, the even more likely, pain-in-the-butt of sliding off the driveway and having to get pulled out by some kind person.

If there’s any possibility of one of those things happening, I’m likely to choose work from home. (And yes, I am SO lucky/grateful to be able to make that choice!)

Looking back with horror…

We all joke, sometimes, about riding bikes without helmets and being unbelted while careening down highways in the 1950’s and ’60’s and ’70’s. AND when I look back at things I’ve done, I can feel quite lucky to be here with mostly all my faculties and with all my limbs intact. I’m thinking of things like:

  • Riding my bike, fast and unhelmeted, in and out of Philly from Havertown many mornings and evenings in the mid-1970’s. Had one person ever opened the door of a parked car while I raced by…well…it’s hard to think about.
  • The way we used to drive around at night, listening to the radio and seeing how fast we could go on the back roads. (Not to mention driving home from parties when we shouldn’t have been…)
  • Or sledding down hills and sliding out onto suburban streets, mostly oblivious to the dire possibilities.
  • Or, yes indeed, running with sticks, and maybe even scissors sometimes!

We just didn’t think about what could happen.

Well, folks, now I do — and the world sure looks different. Holly Cornblog and I are both scared. We pray a lot.

And now we wear helmets pretty much everywhere we go!

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Social Distancing

It’s a very strange place, this world, right now. So much has changed, and so rapidly. Tournaments have been canceled and schools closed. I feel as though something is looming, but what? So much is unknown.

And it’s challenging to know what information is reliable. On Twitter this morning someone quoted the announcement that Trump’s test results showed that he did not have the coronavirus. The tweet went on to say, “That means either he wasn’t tested or he does have the virus.” That’s America today.

And yet, when I look out the window, it’s a clear, sunny day, like any other nice day in March, albeit unseasonably warm. The daffodil bulbs are pushing up through the soil and you can see the buds fattening in the treetops. Vernal pools are melting from their edges in, and posts on Facebook tell me that the bears are waking up.

On the somewhat positive side, for me, I find that the times are normalizing social distancing. It’s been a lifelong practice of mine. And it has always made me feel a little bit odd. Now I find it’s a valued behavior.

Anyone looking for lessons, give me a call.

Or, better yet, send an e-mail. Calling is a little too, you know, close.

😉

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Ruby’s Big Adventure

It started innocently enough. Ruby had finished her dinner on Friday and was pacing around as she often does when she needs to go out.

Ruby, for those who don’t know, is our 15+-year-old Westie. A sweet girl who has lost a good bit of her hearing and eyesight. And we think maybe also a bit of her incisive, Westie clarity.

Some might say, in only the most loving way, that she’s gotten a little ditzy.

So, Ruby was pacing around in her Ruby way and it seemed a no-brainer to let her out. It was getting on toward dusk and probably time for the evening poop, or at least a quick after-dinner pee. But then, what happened was that Ruby stayed out for a long, long time. That’s because the humans in the house forgot that she was out there. And when they remembered and went to let her in, she was nowhere to be found.

Here’s Ruby’s version of what was happening at this point…

I was just sniffin’ and walking around…

For Ruby, it was one of those nights when sniffin’ and walking around was actually fun again. The snow was gone and so was the ice. Ruby was having a time of it.

But apparently, that wasn’t how the humans saw it. They were getting panicky. Caleb was out there, too, and he shares his observations below:

I was out there, too, and things got pretty weird.

So three humans were outside wandering around in the dark with headlamps and flashlights, looking for Ruby. There was no point in calling because they knew Ruby wouldn’t be able to hear. They were getting more and more worried. And meanwhile, Ruby was just sniffin’ and walking around, minding her own business and having a good time.

What happened next was very emotional for the humans. Ruby was discovered over in the field, pretty far from the house, past the grape arbors and heading toward the woods. She wasn’t at the edge of the deep, dark woods yet, but that’s where her paws appeared to be taking her. The humans were SO relieved and happy.

And for Ruby, well, here’s the rest of the story, from Ruby’s perspective…

That was the end of Ruby’s big adventure. The humans agree that it was SO lucky that Ruby was found before she wandered into the woods. And meanwhile, the dogs agree that human behavior is sometimes just weird.

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My Father’s Voice

Early this morning, while it was still dark outside, I was awakened by my father’s voice calling my name. Coming suddenly full awake I was disoriented. What had just happened? What had I just heard?

It was definitely his voice and definitely my name — just the single word — nothing more.

Some history.

Dad got us up in the morning. Mom kept us awake at night. That was just the way it was. The older I got, the more resistant I was to the whole morning process. I’d answer and go back to sleep.

So the process evolved. By high school days, when Dad called my name, it wasn’t enough to just acknowledge that I’d heard. No, he insisted that I get out of bed and look down our stairwell. He, on the first floor, needed to see me on the third floor, peering sleepily down on him. That reassured him that I was actually up and awake. I hated it.

Then he’d leave for work.

And as I thought about this just now, I wondered what it felt like for him to complete this daily ritual. What worries prompted his calling out. Clearly, he saw it as his responsibility to make sure that we were starting our day before he left.

And he cared.

Oh, and just as clearly, he knew that Mom wasn’t up to that task. Anyway, his voice, back in the day, became like the buzz of an alarm clock. It was irritating as hell.

And now I see that the sound offered some normalcy as the new day started. No matter what had happened the night before, you could count on it.

Politics…

Last night before going to bed, I watched a bit of MSNBC. There was Amy Klobuchar endorsing Joe Biden. Then came Beto O’Rourke. Joe spoke and then I went to bed.

Next thing I remember is Dad’s voice waking me in the dark.

These last three years have been a stressful and chaotic hell. And I don’t use that word lightly. I long ago made the connection between the crazed Trump presidency and the dysfunction that I grew up with. There’s a straight line from the orange miasma to sleep disturbance and elevated blood pressure. And I’m sure that’s true for lots and lots of folks in this country and around the world.

The personal is political, yes, AND the political is personal.

And then there was my father’s voice this morning. Another straight line, I’m thinking. This one runs directly from Joe Biden to the small spark of steadiness and normalcy that kept us all afloat through the 1950’s and ’60’s.

I’m not talking about promises or policies or values or electability. And I’m definitely not talking about nostalgia for ‘simpler times.’ Nothing MAGA here. No, it’s something more elemental and personal than that.

My father’s voice offered a toehold in a new day. That’s really all. And on an emotional level, that’s where Joe comes in for me.

Nothing big and nothing magical.

Back on Park Road in the 1960’s I climbed out of whatever craziness the night had held and did what I needed to do. It was often grudging and seldom very pretty. And no matter what happened during the day, there was still and always a lot of chaos to contend with back at home.

But there was also Dad’s voice, calling me. An annoying-and-ultimately-appreciated constant in my life, insisting that I get up and peer over the banister so he’d know I was awake.

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One More Time, With Feeling

I just published a draft post that had been sitting untended on my dashboard since November, and am now gearing up to get back into this game, encouraged by my kind blogger friend over at The Cozy Burrow. (Alice, I think you’d enjoy this blog.)

I seem to have lost some confidence, either in my writing skills or my ability to have original thoughts, somewhere along the line. The onslaught of terrible news, coupled with the degradation of our common language (and mine right along with it), has contributed to my discouraged silence.

To regain my footing, I’ve been doing more pen and paper writing over this recent period of time, and it has helped. There’s no doubt that writing takes practice, as does thinking. And I had been digging myself some pretty deep ruts, especially on the thinking front over these recent months.

My thinking, over time, had pretty much devolved to “Fuck you!” There was some satisfaction in tweeting that to Trump back in 2017. But more recently I find that I need to step away from that rut and find a different path and a different frame for hopefulness.

So now, as the days lengthen and there’s room to stretch and expand a bit, I want to give this another try. I’ll aim to start small and proceed from there.

And I know I’ve lied to you before. Not sure what I can say about that, except sorry!

Oh, and by the way I did finish Blowout and Jayber Crow — both excellent books that I recommend highly.

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