Taking Charge

…one small step at a time.

Each moment I have an opportunity to be in charge of myself and make choices that each have a part in steering how my day goes.

I know I’m not in charge of what happens to me — the things that come my way. But I am in charge of my responses and my choices.

Do I give myself what I need to thrive? Do I respond with openness and compassion to those who cross my path?

Even on Twitter? (Really? Even on Twitter?!)

What do I feed myself? Both in the kitchen and metaphorically.

Do I seek out positive or negative energy? Do I step into my day with energy? Or do I slide into it without conscious volition or agency?

I remember how I used to feel when I rode my bike to and from work. I did it for years, first in suburban Philly, before I had a car. And later, here in New Hampshire in the late-eighties and into the nineties.

No matter what, when I started my day that way it became a kind of adventure. I’d arrive at work, already feeling accomplished and energized. It was my day and that made a different sort of a day.

So what about now? I am no longer actually going IN to work. And biking to work has long been a thing of the past. But recently I’ve been in the habit of walking in the woods in the morning. And that led me to think about how I bring myself to my at-home work each day.

Working remotely from home has plenty of perks. But one of the downsides is that the boundaries between work and home can easily be obliterated. So I’m starting to think of those morning walks as my commute.

I leave the house when it’s light enough to see the path, and I walk through the woods to work. It helps me ‘leave home’ and bring myself to my workday as mindfully as I can. PLUS I get a good start on my daily steps.

I’m sure I won’t do it in all weathers. But I really like this walking idea. It becomes my gift to myself. Like biking, all those years ago, I’ll do it when I can, and arrive at work feeling accomplished and energized.

And I love how it gives my day a shape and flavor that it wouldn’t otherwise have.

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3 Haiku’s

I’ve set a weekly goal, to reread what I’ve written each week and then concoct a blog post based on that material. But this week, as for so many weeks before, what I was writing about was the angst and dangerous wastefulness born of Trump’s refusal to interact meaningfully with reality.

So, rather than rehash things that we’ve been unhappily dealing with for 4 long years, I’m going to share 3 Haikus that have been percolating for awhile.

Hope you are having a peaceful Sunday…

What Comes with the Task

I’m washing the dishes
Hot water warming my hands
Calm comes with the task

Gathering pine cones
For winter bonfires ahead
Joy comes with the task

And raking acorns
Off hillside trails that we walk
Poems come with the task

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What a Week It Has Been

I feel like a great weight has been lifted. Today just felt palpably different from yesterday. I have relished the simple relief of a Sunday without the worry of what Trump might do.

Of course, that worry is still there for awhile. And it’s not like a miracle. In fact, I suspect as time goes on and we all have more space to reflect, both the communal and the personal toll of these past four years will come to increasing clarity.

But watching Joe and Kamala speak last night I felt like I stopped holding my breath. There were human beings on the stage, and they were going to step into the roles that Trump and Pence have been defiling, each in their own, inimitable ways, these many, many days.

And the people on the stage were smiling and looked like they were truly enjoying themselves and one another. So different from the Stepford family and staff members that have stood at Federal podiums for the past 4 years.

I went to sleep saying to myself, with true and deep relief, “No more Bill Barr, no more Stephen Miller, no more Betsy DeVos,” and on and on and on. There is so much to clean up and so many wrongs to right. Not all of it can be undone easily.

Oh, and in all the angst of the election, that little matter of COVID kind of slipped to a back burner, while the numbers continued to rise.

Yes, though, a great weight has been lifted. I apologize for the image, but my sense is that Trump’s sweaty, smelly, fake-tan-dripping, dough-boy body has been on top of me and everybody else in the country for four years. That’s no longer the case. He’ll flail for awhile, make threats, do the usual. But he’ll lose relevance. The sycophants will peel away. As time passes and self-interest kicks in, that will accelerate.

Meanwhile, isn’t it great just to breathe?

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Here We Are…

Since July I’ve had a writing practice that involves simply writing — about anything at all — for 5-minutes a day. The aim is to just write for 5-minutes, no more and no less. I’ve missed a few days here and there, but mostly I’ve done it.

And going back to read through the snippets is an interesting exercise. Because the writing is fast and not especially self-conscious, it gives me a different window on my life and my thinking than I usually give myself.

So, one thing I notice is how the themes of fear and anger have been a sinister underpinning to everything else that’s happened in my days. Starting in July, they’re a thread running through those brief, 5-minute snippets. And both have loomed larger and larger as the months have passed.

The daily outrages of Donald Trump, his administration, and his enablers in the GOP have been inescapable facts of life in the United States for far too long. Anger and disbelief have been dominant themes for me, since November of 2016. It’s been exhausting.

The fear has been a more recent development. It’s fear of COVID, fear of chaos, fear of violence, fear that ‘the centre cannot hold.’

Trump is despicable, destructive, and out of control. He incites his ‘followers’ to violence, and there’s no telling what may erupt in the coming days and weeks.

And yet, there are aspects of this entire experience that have felt like an unmasking. Yes, The Donald is grotesque. But what about us? What about the myth that is the USA?

The fear and anger I feel as I witness the havoc wreaked by Trump et al is a dim echo of things that people of color in the US have experienced in their everyday life for centuries. What kind of a snowflake am I, that I can’t take 4 years?

And it’s a dim echo of what people all around the world have felt. Fear as we throw our weight around and anger at the self-importance and self-righteousness that the USA sports like a badge of honor, everywhere it goes.

The ugly, unmasked face of American exceptionalism is MAGA.

So, since I mentioned the fear that the centre cannot hold, I’ve got to include Yeats’ beautiful poem. These days it feels like some beast is slouching toward Bethlehem. I just hope that we get to have a humble and redemptive hand in deciding what gets born.

The Second Coming 

William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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I Just Can’t…

I remember when Trump ‘won’ the GOP nomination and how crazy that felt. Then I remember when he ‘won’ the election and how scary and disorienting and crazy THAT felt.

I remember watching his inauguration at work and how surreal it felt. Remember how he talked about ‘American carnage’? Well, it’s absolutely here, now, thanks to this President.

For those of us who didn’t quite recognize the shattered ruins of a once-great country that the president described at the time, it’s now arrived on our doorsteps. Even without the juddering trauma of a coronavirus that has closed streets and schools, and asphyxiated the economy, and killed thousands, the world he painted then ended up becoming our world now, but with his response to this crisis, it’s grown ever worse.

Dahlia Lithwick in Slate — April 2020

At every turn in the road during this #deplorable debacle called the Trump Administration norms that seemed well-established have been trampled. The process had gotten started before Trump’s arrival (thank you Mitch), but since 2016 it’s accelerated, well, like a POTUS on steroids. Every single time I have thought, “It can’t get worse than this,” it has. Every single time I have thought, “Someone will stand up and say no to this. Someone in the GOP will put country above party,” they have not.

It reminds me of a rather insightful if garbled thought that Dubya shared some years ago:

There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.

George W. Bush

Yes, the guy whose standing has been shored up significantly by the orange clown has actually taken some principled stands when it comes to Donnie. But one has to wonder what he would do if he were still in politics. Apparently for everyone in office in the GOP, hanging onto their jobs is job #1. Power is what matters, not governing, and certainly not the Constitution..or, god forbid, the people.

So anyway…

…now Donnie has conquered COVID and masks are absolutely off the table. Forget those rumors about Adderol, now he actually is on ‘roids from his White House doc! His tweets are in all caps, mostly, and his son Eric recently announced that POTUS saved Christianity. (If you listen to the snippet of an interview, there’s also mention of peace in the Middle East. Wonder how Jared feels about that?)

Poor Eric is just trying in his poor Eric way to make his daddy happy. I’m guessing that he went to college somewhere, but I’d be surprised if he gets a lot of mention in the alumni bulletin. Not something you’d probably want to advertise if you were involved in higher education. Unless maybe you were Liberty University.

Anyway, when you live in unreality and things are going bad, really bad, you have to balance it out with things that are really good. So it must be a measure of how very, very bad things actually are if saving Christianity is now on the table. So kudos to you, Eric, because you probably did right the ship for a moment or two.

Bottom line…

Despite the balcony pose, Donald ain’t Evita, as Patti Lupone so wonderfully opined on Twitter yesterday:

We absolutely can’t let this horrible sociopath continue in a position of power. Oh wait, did I just hear that Susan Collins thinks he’s learned his lesson now that he’s had COVID?

NOPE. It’s clear that no one will stop him except us voters. So let’s close this revival by slamming down the curtain HARD on November 3rd!

Vote, folks — and not ‘like’ our lives depend on it.

It can’t get any clearer — all of our lives actually do depend on it.

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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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