Monthly Archives: January 2009

“My Mercedes Is Not For Sale”

A quick summary: a memoir wherein the author, Jeroen Van Bergeijk, drives a Mercedes into West Africa to have a bit of an adventure as well as to turn a profit selling it to an African car dealer, or deserving cabbie, or whoever ends up actually producing the cash in the end.

It may be that in translation, pulled off by one John Antonides, the tight, clever character of the writing was utterly lost. But whatever the reason, a chant of the writer’s commandment to SHOW DON’T TELL grew in volume in my head as I progressed through the book.

Also, I think there is some kind of guideline about not treating your reader like a blockhead. If every time I read an analogy, and three sentences later the only thing I can think is, “DUDE! I get it…” then something needed to be edited, methinks. Let me soften this by saying, I was never actually insulted by the overexplaining; it is not pompous, just annoying.

That said, where else are you going to be able to read about an automobile trek across the Sahara? I’m sure there are other places, but there are enough things in the plus column to warrant joining Van Bergeijk’s trek:

1. It’s a pretty quick read, assuming you don’t have little kids interrupting you for food every couple of minutes.

2. The narrator is successfully presented as somebody you’d actually want to hang out with (even if he is a bit circuitously long winded).

3. He pulls in a lot of references to other relevant texts and some historical facts to illustrate the events and his observations, so you feel like you’re exploring the continent from several angles.

4. It takes a fairly balanced look at Africa – I’ve been studying the continent’s history and art for a few years, so I’m attuned to some of the common pitfalls as far as assumptions and prejudices go. The narrator manages to present his feelings (which tend toward compassion) but makes sure to include enough alternate testimony that you feel you’re getting a sufficiently broad crosscut of various points of view.

In conclusion: it’s worth a go, if the African continent holds any fascination for you.

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There Are Things Worse Than Death

Sometimes the news gives you a story that you just can’t shake.

A woman accused of trying to suffocate her 11 month old.

Not your run of the mill child abuser, though. A loving mother who has cared for her child, born with severe physical defects that she can never hope to recover from. A devoted parent who has had to watch her child suffer her entire life, with no end in sight to the suffering.

Not just suffer, but have to be resuscitated over and over again.

To me this is the deciding factor. This baby’s body has been trying to die. It is done. But our ability to perform medical miracles keeps the poor soul alive to continue its agony.

Why can we not learn to use our skills wisely? Why have we not established a really good process for determining the situations when it is an imperative of humaneness to just let a person go when it is obvious that death would be the best thing?

I’m not talking about euthanasia here, which is what it sounds like this mother was allegedly attempting, perhaps after a mental breakdown. Although I do think there are extremely rare occasions that might call for euthanasia, (I approve of Oregon’s Right to Die Law), I think in this circumstance a more appropriate concept is Do Not Resuscitate.

From what I’ve heard it is even difficult for an old person to have their DNR instructions respected.

There are things worse than death.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favor of our amazing techniques to bring someone back from the brink of death. Had this baby been in a car accident, obviously any extreme measures would be most welcome to keep her alive long enough for her body to heal and regain function.

But this baby’s body is not going to heal. Her brain stem will never grow. It will never function properly, according to the doctors’ own diagnosis. And yet they perpetuate this body’s life.

People comment that it is up to God, not us, to take a body. But God HAS BEEN trying to take her body. I am not saying that our medical abilities exceed the power of God, but if you believe in prayer, then aren’t actions a very concrete expression of our will, what we wish to see happening? Are we very naively asking for a person’s life to continue, and perhaps God is “allowing” our prayer to be answered, the way God “allows” all sorts of horrible things like murder, rape, torture. “Allowing” us to exercise our free will and then deal with the consequences later.

And if found guilty, this mother will have to deal with the consequences of what she’s done, legally and otherwise. I would never attempt to condone or make excuses for her alleged actions, but I also believe that the way a person has lived counts for something. There is ample evidence that she has been a devoted mother to both this baby and her 3 year old son, including this online website that she has maintained. It appears that she herself has suffered through a situation that few of us could handle and come out the other side with our sanity intact.

I can’t help but wonder, in the event that this crime really was committed, how her community might also be held responsible: was anyone making sure she got enough sleep, enough to eat? Was anyone making sure she didn’t need some mental health care? Is the medical establishment in any way responsible for having developed the ability to diagnose permanent defects, having developed procedures for keeping humans alive when their bodies are failing, but then refusing to resolve these two aspects so that families do not get caught in a nightmare of suffering?

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Lincoln Inspiring American Heroes

Inspired by President Obama’s admiration of Abraham Lincoln, my daughter and I have been focussing some of our homeschooling efforts on learning about Lincoln’s life and his participation in American history.

This morning we watched “The Real Abraham Lincoln,” which I’d recorded off the National Geographic channel. I highly recommend it. Fascinating and accessible, even for a 6 year old! It helped that we had read a book about him yesterday so she was able to key into facts she recognized, little touchstones along the way.

What struck me today was how this man from humble beginnings made it so far. How he had the courage to face the conflict with the South, not knowing at the outset who might win.

Something I learned today was the context in which he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. As one of the commentating professors explained, this historic act occurred at a moment when Lincoln was freed by a dark hour of the war, when failure seemed a likely outcome. At this moment when there wasn’t much more to lose, he decided to make his boldest move and free the slaves. Apparently it was a “now or never” act, he had been waiting for the right moment and realized that, if the momentum of fate was truly on his side, then he would have to move forward and commit himself and the country to the profound change that he’d always wanted to see happen, to repair one of the glaring errors our founding fathers had neglected to fix, namely, the inhuman treatment and status of a large segment of the American population.

The connections with President Obama’s election are so deep that I can feel history happening now even as I watch how it happened back then. A black man finally residing in the White House. The desire to move towards a new unity, a more complete justice, a further validation of the rights of all citizens. A belief in the value and the dream of the United States of America. A willingness to dedicate one’s public and private life to serving one’s country. All these details link the two presidents by more than just the fact that President Obama studies Lincoln’s life and words.

The commentating professor also stated that one of the most important characteristics of Lincoln that led to his great success was believing in himself. After all, he ran for president directly after having lost two bids for the Illinois senate seat. A powerful reminder to us all that if we don’t stand behind our own dreams with our whole heart, then we are certainly doomed to be drowned in the inevitable, occasional failure that happens even to the greatest people who have ever lived.

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Renaming

My first lesson gleaned from studying Mark Morford‘s columns in the San Francisco Chronicle is how concisely he adds meaning by simply renaming things.

For example, in his column entitled “When History Spanks,” he talks about the Republican campaign team and refers to them once as “vile, cold-blooded tacticians” and then as “these Rove-trained dung-flingers.” Apart from the humorous element, renaming is also a tidy way to cram a lot of opinion into a quick statement. I can see a more clumsy writer saying instead, “The campaign team members, who were trained by Karl Rove to fling dung,…” Doesn’t pack the same punch.

To rename is to cleanly insert ideas and impressions without pausing to go down an explanatory side street.

Naming is a very powerful act. Think of how profoundly important it is to choose the name of a child or to be the first to discover a new species or star and have the honor of establishing its moniker. Imagine the god-like power of the people who “found” certain islands, rivers, mountains, and even though their own name may be forgotten, generations of people have referred to that particular chunk of earth by the title they designated.

To rename is to reclaim this power and use it to your own ends.

Gertrude Stein had this to say about nouns, which represent the basic act of naming: “Things once they are named the name does not go on doing anything so why write in the nouns.” Why, indeed, continue in one’s essay to refer to something or someone by a noun that has become an empty shell, like an anonymous finger pointing. Instead, assume the divine right of a writer to express the world as you see it, which includes the essential job of creating a fresh, revealing name to replace the old lifeless one.

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Top Five: TV Cartoon Characters

Okay, time for something light and silly.

Dig deep into the past, unless perhaps you’ve had free time lately to ingest some animated goofiness, and reveal to the world which cartoon characters have made you really laugh?

Mine:
1. Daffy Duck
2. Bugs Bunny
3. Ren (of “Ren & Stimpy”)
4. Bart Simpson
5. Yosemite Sam

Okay, I’m a little Bugs-heavy, but hey, Mel Blanc was a freakin’ genius. If I could only watch one kind of cartoon ever again, it would definitely be Looney Tunes. (Every Saturday morning as a kid I used to watch the hour-long Looney Tunes cartoon show. Religiously.)

So which colorful character gets your funny bone in a spasm?

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Progress?

True to my promise, I have been trying to think of concrete ways that I can participate in this move forward that we as a country are attempting.

One big area that I used to participate in a lot but have lately slacked on severely is taking better care of the environment. I tend to blame my slide away from greenness on where I’m living now, and after my recent attempt to investigate local green possibilities, it does not appear that I will get away from this excuse any time soon.

Cycling – out of the question where we currently live. I’d be run over within a week.

Composting & Gardening – we want to move out of our current house as soon as humanly possible, so there is no point starting anything outside. Plus, there isn’t any room anyway, unless I started digging up the front lawn, which is going to seriously piss off the landlord.

Buying bulk – I used to do this a lot on the West Coast (Santa Cruz and Eugene). Yesterday I went to a local health food store and found pre-packaged bulk items, which kind of defeats the purpose of using re-usable bags to go fetch your bulk grains, flours, etc., which would thus cut down on packaging. It was a small store, so I politely inquired of the three employees standing around chatting in the empty store if they knew of any place locally that had bins where customers could bag their own foodstuffs. They looked at me as though I were insane. So that ain’t gonna happen.

On the brighter side, here are some green things that might work even though I am living in an extremely pale green community:

Cloth grocery bags – I already have three from my previous incarnation as someone who cared about the environment. I’m going to check at Goodwill for old curtains or some other kind of sturdy cloth which I can cut up and make into some more bags.

Produce bags – in the past I’ve made some little mesh bags to carry produce home in (although a lot of things like cucumbers I don’t even put in a bag anyway) so that I won’t have to use any more plastic bags. I will invest in some twine and get on that project.

Homemade foods – I should dedicate more time to making things homemade, such as bread, so that it will reduce the amount of wrappers and containers that must be thrown out. Although, since I can’t find bulk flour, I’m going to have to throw out the paper flour bags anyway… if we had a garden, I could have a burn barrel and use the ashes to cultivate the compost pile…

If, if, if if if ifififififififififi

Hey, it turned into Fifi. Fifi the if-angel, the one that takes all your goofy fleeting fantasies, turns them into chocolate chip cookies and drops them in your lap when you least expect it.

A girl can dream.

Dream green.

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“Baby Food”

I recently found, in the Jan. 19, 2009 issue of The New Yorker, an article entitled, “Baby Food” written by Jill Lepore. I got to this quote and it just about made me cry:

“When the babe, soon after it is born into this cold world, is applied to its mother’s bosom; its sense of perceiving warmth is first agreeably affected; next its sense of smell is delighted with the odour of her milk; then its taste is gratified by the flavour of it; afterwards the appetites of hunger and of thirst afford pleasure by the possession of their objects, and by the subsequent digestion of the aliment; and, lastly, the sense of touch is delighted by the softness and smoothness of the milky fountain, the source of such variety and happiness.”

No offense, I swear I’m not a genderist, but I can’t believe it was written by a man; in 1794, Erasmus Darwin (Charles’ grandpappy) included this passage in his “Zoonomia; or The Laws of Organic Life.” I feel like it so beautifully expresses the whole, multi-layered experience. I realize it is written from the perspective of the child, and I wasn’t ever breastfed, and most of us wouldn’t remember it if we were, but it reflects so well the feeling of total satisfaction and well-being that pervades every aspect of existence when a child nurses.

I really don’t understand bottle feeding.

And the gist of the article is how many women now decide to bottle feed their breast milk. Yes, I know: work, partying, vacation sans enfants. But I’ve had to use a pump (my first baby was premature) and lemme tell ya, it ain’t fun. It is the worst of both worlds.

Whereas, in my opinion, breastfeeding, you know, out of the breast, is the best and easiest.

Anyway, if you have the slightest interest in breastfeeding or children, check out the whole article.

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The inauguration according to e

The kids and I attended the local celebration and it was great. There were three speeches by local school children, a dance performed by children in the local Hmong community and a step dance performed by members of the local Black Youth United group. Plus seeing the inauguration live in such a crowd was overwhelming; an entire auditorium full of people cheering, shouting, expressing great joy at this new beginning.

As a brief aside, about a tenth as big as my happiness was a wave of relief whenever I would see Bush’s face. It. Is. Finally. Over.

My favorite part of Obama’s speech was when he said, “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West -know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.” What a statement, one we might all take to heart: focus on constructing a better world, focus on creating, stop with the destructive hatred. I do not oppose criticizing the West, I have a couple of choice comments myself, that’s what freedom of speech is all about. But expressing your criticism through violence is wrong.

Another wonderful part: “The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart – not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.” Altruism is not entirely selfless, charity is not a one-way gift; when we help out those around us, we make our community stronger, and that is good for the giver as well.

I feel quite drained (in a satisfied way) and not able to be very articulate, but I couldn’t wait to add my tired voice to the hopeful throng that spent today in celebration, and now seems poised and ready to take on the future.

I set myself the task of deciding what my part in this great beginning is, how I intend to contribute in concrete ways in whatever areas are within my reach. I will post on this when I have my thoughts together.

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Top Five: Historical Moments

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as the momentous inauguration tomorrow, today’s top five is: in no particular order (unless you wanna), which five events or moments in history strike a chord with you, inspire you, or otherwise give you the warm fuzzies? It has nothing to do with which you feel are most important, because I feel like that judgment would be impossible (for me anyway.)

My top five historical moments:

1. Rosa Parks on the bus- the fact that a regular person did a small act that was also a large, difficult act, reminds me that I, too, should be standing up or sitting down or whatever it takes to point out injustice and make things right.

2. Samantha Smith – In 1982, a 10 year old girl named Samantha Smith from Mancester, Maine wrote a letter to Yuri Andropov expressing her fear that a nuclear war would occur between the Soviet Union and the US. I was about her age and suffered similar nightmares. She was invited to go to the Soviet Union, and hearing about her trip was, seriously, one of the first moments when I realized that citizens of the Soviet Union were not monsters but ate breakfast and stubbed their toes just like Americans. It is also inspirational to me that a little girl could engage in dialogue with a world leader.

3. The invention of the printing press (so many books… so little time…)

4. Development of agriculture – the transition from a nomadic, hunting/gathering/gee-I-wonder-if-we’re-going-to-eat-or-be-eaten kind of community to a settled down, looking-out-over-my-fields-with-a-shotgun kind of life definitely appeals to me. I like me some illusion of security!

5. Obama’s victory – I know it’s not very imaginative, but I would feel dishonest leaving it out. I got a serious jolt of hope out of this past election, and I am eager for the country to get started on the next four years. I think it is a moment reminiscent of the 1960’s when people came together in a wave of energy to make things happen. Not the acid trips or the love fests, I mean the kind of action that came about through the inspiration of Dr. King and Rosa Parks and all the other heroes of the day.

So what moments in history move you?

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Autodidact curriculum

Some folks, after being plied with a couple of brewskis, might shyly admit to having fantasies of being a star quarterback, a rock god or maybe even royalty. My confession: I fantasize of being a syndicated columnist.

My first hero was Molly Ivins, who unfortunately for the world of words and intelligence has passed on.

But I’ve found someone else I’d like to learn from: Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle.

I love to read him for his wit and intelligence, but I hate to read him because he gets away with so many “illegal” writing conventions that come fairly naturally to me (I am NOT saying I can pull them off as well as he can) but that I am told to drop from my writing because “it is not allowed.”

Similar to how, fifteen years before the Harry Potter phenomenon, I was told by my fifth grade creative writing teacher that I shouldn’t continue my story about the magical girl but should focus on “reality.”

One of Morford’s apparently successful infractions: using second person.

I’ll be writing an essay and I’ll want to build an imaginary scenario for the reader. Without making the conscious decision, I find myself talking to the reader, inviting, suggesting, seducing their imagination to follow me down some rabbit hole where we might get a glimpse of a new world, or at least the old world turned on its head. It works so well to say, “You.” But you’re not supposed to.

And yet week after week he uses this tactic, among many others, to great effect.

Though it’s been a couple of years since I took my last class, still I spent enough years being indoctrinated into the scholarly method that I think I will give myself some study materials to figure out what makes Morford’s writing so damn good. I have a pile of his articles that I will inspect, analyze, but above all, enjoy.

I will be writing at least one follow up blog post to let you know what I’ve discovered.

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Book Review: “The Last Straw”

Hold your applause ’til after the show please, but I, who require a minimum of three months to get through so much as a magazine article, read an entire book this morning!

Okay, it is a kid’s book.  But it does have 217 pages in it!

Fine, most of those pages consist of cartoony drawings.  Nevertheless, it is indisputably a book, and I without a doubt did begin and finish it along with my morning cup of java.  (I have witnesses.)

Making its appearance on the book scene on January 13th, 2009, The Last Straw is the third volume in Jeff Kinney’s series Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  My son discovered the first one when he was about 10, I think, and after he read it everyone in the house passed it around and had a good laugh.  

I get a kick out of the realism; it is fashioned to be an actual kid’s diary, with a font resembling handwritten words on lined paper and cartoon illustrations, drawn at the level of a child’s ability (although still in general better than I could do!), on every page.

The main character is endearing and hilarious in all his vulnerability, crazy assumptions, slapstick mistakes and naive undertakings.  He faces the challenges of childhood with the kind of sloth, paranoia and heartrending hopefulness that we can all relate to.

I highly recommend any of this series of books for you to give as a gift to any funny-bone endowed youngster with an upcoming birthday, or perhaps a late Christmas gift!  Or just because you happened to be at the store buying a world map for your youngest daughter and you noticed that the new book had just come out a couple of days ago.  

But make sure you let the child on the receiving end of your purchase know that you are first in line to read it after them, because that line will get pretty long pretty fast.  

Read it for no other reason than that it WILL make you laugh out loud, and you WILL be able to brag that you finished an entire book in under an hour.  (As long as no one asks the title, you will be hailed as the new superstar of the literate set.)

You may now commence thunderous applause.

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If the events were to be scrambled…

Just hypothetically, because I like the weather out here on a limb…

Say that one heard about the two events yesterday (farewell speech and aviation disaster) and then the extremely cold temperatures made one’s brain short-circuit for a minute and one got a bit muddled in the head…

One might walk away with the befuddled impression that W.’s presidency was a plane crash that we had somehow miraculously survived.

If only he’d had that heroic pilot on his staff…

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Worth the Wait?

I’ve noticed that, in the South, cashiers will chat their hearts out to each customer. Regardless of how many people are in line, the person being rung up is the most important human in the world.

On the West Coast this sort of behavior would get you shot.

But when you stop and think of it, isn’t almost worth the wait to be treated like a neighbor?

I was in this situation today.  With each item the cashier would say some little joke to my 6 year old, who would giggle shyly.  Occasionally I would glance back at the line of four people behind us, watching for things that might be hurled at our heads.  All I saw were polite smiles or spacey faces staring off.  

Reminds me of our trip to Ireland.  I was going through customs in the London airport.  I had a nine month old baby and a four year old with me.  I had a luggage cart piled with three army-sized duffle bags and a suitcase.  I was about the 30th person in a line of about 50 people who had just gotten off the plane and were trying to get through that particular gate.  I had stood there only about two minutes when the customs officer at the front waved me up.  I smiled sheepishly and said, “Oh, I’m okay.”  I glanced nervously around me, hoping no one was cocking back to through a punch.  After all, I hadn’t accepted his unjust offer!

The people were looking at me like I was crazy.  “Go on!” someone said.  “You’ve got children!” someone else reminded me.  I slowly made my way up front.  The guy at the head of the line smiled at me without a shred of hatred as I was let through before him.

It was my first taste of the civilized world.

After five months of that, it was back to life in the Pacific Northwest.  Back to people turning their heads away from someone in need.  Where fairness is based on the mechanized rule of first come first served.  Where the cashiers will hardly ever speak to you, either because it is a culture of “time is money” or because they assume you aren’t cool enough or because the people in line behind you will kill her, or at the very least scream for the manager.

If you’ve never lived on the West Coast, you might think I was exaggerating.  Trust me.  One time in Santa Cruz, California, home of The Enlightened, I was at the bus station at about midnight, coming home from work, and there was a teenage girl sitting on a bench, looking uncomfortable as she actively ignored this drunk old street guy who was standing in front of her, talking to her at high volume.  I watched this for about a minute and then I went over and sat next to her and stared at the guy, repeating, “We’re not interested.  You can leave now,” until he wandered off.  Then I turned to her and rolled my eyes, as if to say, “Weirdos, huh?”  She looked at me and said sternly, “I was fine.  You didn’t have to come over.”

You’re freakin’ welcome.

I think I’ll wait a while longer, here in the South.

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Reason and Imagination

Note: I can no longer make the spaces between the paragraphs, so now it just looks like one big squished text… sigh.  Just thought I’d warn you, dear readers.  If anyone is having this same problem and fixes it, will you let me know how?

He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not is a slave.
  – Sir William Drummond
Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.
  – H. L. Mencken
I like these two quotes next to each other.  
On the one hand, we are reminded of the necessity of thinking.  If we will not or cannot use our human ability to reason then we can never invent anything, we cannot avoid fascism, we cannot solve the daily challenges we face that are overcome with simple logic.
On the other hand, if everything is logical judgment, if every person in our lives must pass through the reasoning machine, then our lives become gray and tiresome.  We need the magic of imagination to get us over those hurdles that cannot be reasoned with.  Why did my loved one die?  Why did my child lie to me?  Why didn’t I get that job?  Sometimes we have to take the leap and forgive, turn off our thinking and just love, even if it is just our own self that needs the loving.
Love can’t be logical; none of us is perfect enough to deserve the adoration that we seek and crave, that drives us mad when we feel ourselves alone in the dark, out of the spotlight of someone’s eyes shining with love for us.  The species would never survive if we did not have enough imagination to see the angelic resemblance on the face of an infant who had just screamed through all our sleeping time, spit sour milk on our best pajamas and caused us to clean up foul excrement.
To love someone unconditionally might be to say: Let us use our reason to resolve a problem one of us has or a conflict between us, and let us use our imagination to build for ourselves that common ground called peace.

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Top Five: Musical Artists

Pretend that you were on your way to be stranded on a desert island forever and you could only take the complete works of five bands or musical artists.  Which would you bring?

 

For me:

1. Aerosmith

2. The Presidents of the United States of America

3. Bob Marley

4. Gypsy Kings

5. Edith Piaf

 

It’s funny, I thought of a couple of my favorite bands of all time, like the Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival, then I realized that I’ve heard their songs so many times I can just close my eyes and ears and replay them perfectly in my mind… so why bother bringing them!

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Regret

When I was a teenager, acutely aware of the life-altering impact of every choice I faced, I adopted a decision-making strategy which, though it has not lessened my anxiety, has nevertheless served me well.

I decided that, when I was paralyzed by indecision and needed to snap out of it, I would imagine myself on my death bed, then look my options squarely in the face and determine which would cause me the least regret from that future position.

This method has mostly caused me to do kind of crazy, out-of-the-box kinds of things: sell all my possessions and move to Ireland with two small children, quit a Master’s program to move across the country, homeschool my kids, sell my car and become a cyclist.  And I regret almost none of them.  As the old song goes, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.”

But it occurs to me that I should have expanded this policy beyond the momentous decisions to include the small habitual choices I make everyday without even thinking about it.  I realized this when I suddenly became aware of how much I regret and will regret all the worrying I’ve done in my life.  I’m not entirely sure that this is a choice, or if I might choose to break the habit and live differently.

But these small acts of extreme stress and discomfort color my life’s journey just as much as a decision to marry or change jobs.  Day after day accepting my tendency to panic and refusing to take on the project of learning a new approach to conflict and challenge is just as essential to forming who I am and what my life is about as moving house or cultivating a friendship.

I choose now to devote time and energy to this goal: of becoming more emotionally stable, of learning to relax and see how small most obstacles truly are in the Big Picture, of finding the fun in a challenge instead of going into fight or flight mode against an insurmountable enemy such as a bank error or burnt toast.  I choose to remember that the attitude I choose to have throughout an average day is just as important a detail of my life as my address or my level of education.

I know that even if I don’t ever totally succeed, at least this is one decision I will never regret.

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Folk Art

Today, touring the Hickory Museum of Art’s Southern Contemporary Folk Art exhibit, I decided that folk art is my favorite flavor.

Two reasons.

First: if I don’t like it, no biggie. Someone was just sitting in their backyard, had a funky inspiration, goofed around for a while with some different materials, colors, forms.  I can get on board with that. Though that particular piece may not be my cup of tea, I can still respect them as a creative individual.

A “real artist,” on the other hand, is not allowed to produce things I don’t like and get paid handsomely for it. They don’t get to have all this respect and fame when that “thing” they churned out is a bit of moronic rubbish. I’ll not stand for it!

Since my only choice is to hold them in the most foul and begrudging contempt, then the whole thing ends up getting ugly.

A folk artist, being a far more humble creature, can get away with anything.

And if I do happen to like what the folk artist has produced, then I can stand back and marvel. Wow, a regular person like me created this artistic miracle, this shining proof of the greatness of the human spirit, this indisputable evidence of the vision we are all capable of.

If a “real artist” pulls off the same stunt, I’m like, well yeah, you’re supposed to be making good art, whaddya want… a medal?

 

I cannot be held responsible for the content of this post.  Mostly because it is a treatise on a subjective subject that is beyond the stifling rules of objectivity which state that one must give everything a fair shake and argue one’s point logically and not just whip out flagrant opinions willy-nilly.  On the subject of art, I reserve the right to will and nill to my little heart’s desire.

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Another intimate tidbit…

There was a 15 year span in my adult life during which I did not shave my legs.  Ever.

I had spent the previous seven or so years of my life shaving my adolescent legs, because “we have to.”  I hated every wasted minute, every painful red rash bump, every time the stupid guy who sat in front of me in history class would reach back and caress my shin and say either, “Ooo, smooth, who are you trying to seduce?” or “Oh, stubble, time to shave!”  In the way the a lot of teenage girls do not question cultural assumptions or the asinine way that people communicate them, I would inevitably feel alternately whorish or ugly.  And I continued to scrape the sharp metal against my skin.

Until I moved to Oregon in my early twenties.

Now, I know, there is electrolysis, hair removing cream, waxing, and a myriad of other methods.  BUT WHY?  Why do we continue to adhere to the purely vain idea that women must spend time, money and energy regressing to a prepubescent body by removing the natural covering of half their bodies?

Well I wasn’t going to do it anymore.

For those of you who have not had the singular experience of living in an area inhabited by a significant population of freaks, you will not understand the ease with which this decision is made.  You can walk down the street in shorts, leg hair flapping in the breeze (and to impress  you further, my skin is quite pale and my body hair, minus the grey on my head, is quite dark), and no one will bat an eye.  When you are surrounded by folks with their entire faces tattooed, by young people, white and black, with their hair in long scroungy dreads, by piercings and earhole-widening plugs and green spiked hair, the most likely reaction to a woman whose sole foray out of the norm is her hairy legs will be, “Geez, why are you such a square?!”

Thus, 15 blissful years.  

Granted, it took me a while to overcome my cultural training and stop being repulsed by the sight of my own bare legs.  It helped that I saw others similar to me.  I always wanted to high five these women, thank them for being a weirdo like me, but I thought it might progress the cause further if I just acted cool, as though saying “What’s the big deal?” might make it so for the rest of the world.  

I also had, about five years into this experiment, what might be considered a healing dream of sorts: I was sitting in a circle of men, all of us in shorts, our legs casually stretched out toward the middle of the circle so that when you looked down you couldn’t tell us apart.  It fit so satisfyingly into my gender ideal, which is that each person be seen for who they are as an individual and not be immediately put into a box based on the type of genitals they (presumably) possessed.

It was a habit that would be called into question when I met the man who is now my husband.

He is far too kind and understanding to have demanded or even suggested that I shave.  But I knew.  I could tell by those subtle clues that one must use with those selflessly thoughtful people to find out what they really think.  So I began to shave occasionally, usually just up to my knees.  Heck, I supposed that in doing so I was meeting him halfway.  Seemed fair.

And now?  Well, dear readers, I am currently living in the South.  The days of freakdom have (temporarily?) come to a close and I suspect that a stroll down the avenue with gorilla limbs would not be well received.

But I still hate it.  My poor gams are stinging as we speak.  I wonder if they might be willing to walk all the way back to the Land of the Weird and reclaim their right to be shaggy.

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Altered States

Sometimes I feel the need to make sense of our society’s drug policy.  For a brief moment in the ’60s (or so I’ve heard, having not made my entrance into this world until 1970) there was a subculture of people experimenting with altered states of consciousness, often induced chemically.  But besides that, we have all kinds of factions fighting against each other, none of them going anywhere except to hell in a handbasket: the “cool” drug counterculture, the illegal drug making/selling economy, the drug war economy, the poor souls fighting addiction, the puritan idealism that inevitably adopts a hypocritical position of condemning some chemicals utterly while accepting others without question, the pharmaceutical industry, the food industry, the tobacco industry, the alcohol industry, etc.

Okay, well, the legalized industries are doing fine.  But we often excuse their products as harmless, though in the last few decades we have been leaning the other way with alcohol and tobacco.

But we still allow people, including children, to walk around souped up on caffeine and sugar and few of us recognize these effects as altered states.  (I don’t know about you, but the most positive and productive I am all day is the hour or so when I’m flying on my morning caffeine fix.) We are only  just beginning to see them as powerful.  And our inevitable response seems to be to condemn them.

Are we capable of a more intelligent handling of the issue?

No matter where we stand on whatever drug issue, legal or otherwise, we all seem to be operating under the same common assumption: altered states are secretly fun, to some degree dangerous and always carry at least a small stigma of shamefulness.   Even with coffee, aren’t we addicts all at least a little sheepish when admitting our fixation?  Sobriety is held as the ultimate righteous state.

But might altered consciousness be something humans need?  Is it ever beneficial?  We might admire a Native American peyote ceremony for the soul searching and mystical insight it provides, but none of us is allowed to do it.  How would someone’s reputation change in your eyes if you found out they’d done acid?  

We allow, “I was just experimenting in college” and “I didn’t inhale.”  We’ve gotten to where we allow people to be reformed users, like George W., for example.

But for someone to be a respected member of mainstream society who proves their worth on a daily basis and is also a known pot smoker?  Nope.

We all have understandable fears based on anecdotal evidence of some type of chemical destroying someone we know and/or love.  We may even decide to buck the present trend and be against alcohol consumption.  But cars and motorcycles maim and kill lots of people, and isn’t that an altered state for a lot of people?  The power, speed, independence, road rage, status symbol possession… Most of the time we drive in a fairly sober, utilitarian manner, but who among us doesn’t ever floor it or take that corner just a little faster than necessary?  We definitely are not in our natural state, feet on the ground, head surrounded by sky.  Our heavy metal boxes put us in a certain frame of mind.

But we would never dream of outlawing them.

Our tv watching puts us in an altered state, a passive, drooling spectatorship.  How are the hours wasted and life energy atrophied away any different in front of the tube than passed out with painkillers?

Okay.  Granted they are different.  I’m just being dramatic in an attempt to make the point that we try to avoid sobriety in many different ways, some of them demonized as too dangerous and others labeled as simply “entertainment” or “transportation” or “java” some other moniker that makes them untouchable.

What would happen if we said, yes, we need to escape.  Yes, grownups are going to be allowed to choose their method of altering with no legislating and then they will be held responsible for any consequences of their choices.  The pluses and minuses of every method could be discussed freely.  We could openly admit that lots of things we do everyday, even something so innocuous as having a drama queen fit, are forays out of our “right minds.”  We could talk without shame about what we are looking for outside of our sobriety, about what we find there.

Or should we just continue to behave as though stone cold sobriety were the only way to be, ever.  That there is no time or place for getting out of your head or your day to day perspective, unless perhaps you choose Zen meditation, prayer, yogic breathing.  Newsflash — these things are seen as a little bit crazy, too.  Innocuously so, but nevertheless.

I hope this article did not induce any sort of altering in the reader’s awareness of reality as they’ve always assumed it to be — any effects of change in point of view, feelings of lightheadedness or hallucinations were purely unintentional.  Unless you go for that sort of thing.  In which case, you’re welcome. 

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Top Five: Worst Fears

Since we’ve gotten a jolt of positive energy off the New Year, maybe it’s time to look at the dark side for a moment.
My top five worst fears:
  1. My kids being in pain.
  2. Me being in pain.
  3. Having my dearest possessions stolen… I only have a couple really dear things, such as my laptop, but if it were to be gone… 😦  
  4. Having people see me as useless, worthless, annoying, self-deluded, in general not worth the space I take up on the planet
  5. Suffocating to death (in the literal sense)
If you feel up to talking about it, what makes you shake in your boots?

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