Thursday, November 24, 2016

It's Thanksgiving: Leave your politics in the driveway. They'll wait.

Twice this daughter could not be with us on Thanksgiving. She's here today, 
thing that is more important than anything - even politics.
Near my computer I keep a doodle page. I decorate it with swirly designs when I'm in thoughtful conversation with someone on the phone. Other times, I write down true, clear things that come from nowhere. 
The other day, I wrote:  
"You can't write with reason and balance about a thing until your passion has been captured by the next thing." 
Since the election, I've been reading stories about relationships – some lifelong – that have ended, or will, over the way people voted  two weeks ago.  
One couple moved their wedding to another country to make it financially out of reach for their family members. 
That sort of thing.   
Those stories of broken relationships captured and saddened me for days. To imagine how friends or family who have known and loved each other forever could estrange over the election was beyond my powers of empathy or imagination. 
Today, it is Thanksgiving. My children are home. It is the next thing, and I am captured again. 
These days are precious to me. We are apart geographically, now, and often too immersed in our own daily lives to catch up. 
And I have missed them.  I have been craving their company, their stories, their voices. I'll get those glimpses of how they've changed since we last gathered, I'll hear of other people they've encountered who changed them, maybe enlightened them. 
Our kids took serious interest in this election, and some of us were immensely disappointed over Hillary's loss. Reflexively, I tried to offer some explanation of why others might not have shared that choice. With one daughter's help,  I realized that everyone deserves to own their  disappointment, however sprawling and angry it gets, and for however long it takes for the next thing to capture them.
But we need Thanksgiving.  Had it been necessary, I would have extracted a promise from every individual to leave their politics in the driveway, because politics won't disappear or run away, while people will if they have to.
I hope others can find a way to do this today.  
Because rage will quell. The craving to lash out will pass. 
And mostly,  next things will continue to happen. 
Our lives will change, end, and begin.
Our elderly will leave us and our babies will arrive. 
We will fall in love, and we will be claimed by illness. 
We will fall into stretches of terrible luck and we will shine with good fortune.
We will drive into telephone poles, lose our homes, get fired, get arrested.
We will get fantastic job offers, become engaged, marry, divorce. 
We will be joyous over bigger wins, and disappointed over bigger losses. 
The longer we live and the more next things that happen to us, the more we will wish to be near the ones who have known and loved us from the start.  
Won't we? 
In my house, and in my world, the next thing is here. It's Thanksgiving today and my kids are home, where they will  forever be more important than anything – even politics – for a few precious days. 
Love to you all. 
I wish you glorious next things, and mostly, loved ones to share them with.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Pet Peeves #5: featuring an overzealous TSA agent

This is not a cartoon of me, and 
my TSA agent was nothing like this one.
Last week, I attended a two day workshop in Dallas which is 1,817 miles away from the loft where I write, listen to classical music and run word choices by my writer-cat, Gus.

Travel for me is two things: Stimulating, because I am fascinated by strangers, and strangers don’t come to my loft. And, anxiety producing, because I couldn’t be more out of my comfort zone if I were to wander into a country music festival and not be able to find a way out. 

But this trip was fortuitous on a couple of levels. It was almost time for Pet Peeves, the chips and dip of my blog offerings, and I needed an opening peeve. I was presented with the perfect contender in an overzealous TSA agent who helped me lighten my bag on the return trip.
My TSA agent was
more like this.

Herewith, Pet Peeves #5

1. Overzealous TSA employees who make your life more difficult than necessary because they can.  When my bag stalled in the danger-tunnel, my TSA made a show of yanking it from the belt, then motioned me over with a jerk of his head and side-eyed me dramatically while he searched my things with a wand. He found a bottle of water I'd forgotten about and some toothpaste. Holding the half-flattened tube aloft he said, "Uh-uh. This won't make it. You have a choice, you can surrender this, or go back out and check your bag. Up to you." 
2. Country music. There are people I love who love country music, and so I have tried to be friends with it. But I struggle. There just are too many recollections of "Ha-skewl" shananigans. Often, women are depicted as treacherous or adorable in their man shirts and ponytails. Very often, men are straight-talking, and whiskey-drinking and prone to getting teary in bars. I haven't been able to evolve beyond Alan Jackson's "Remember When" and I'm told that one isn't even  considered real country music. Last year, when I heard  "Cleaning this Gun," I wanted to flee the way I want to when I am exposed to...

3. Scented candles. Fragrances meant to simulate the actual aroma produced when one bakes cookies, brews herbal tea, or simmers a cinnamon stick never, EVER smell like the real thing. And how did it become a thing to create a fragrance for an experience that doesn't even have a fragrance like a winter day, or a moonlit night, or a joyful ride in the country (without the music)? Not only that, candle fragrance lingers for hours after the candle is snuffed. Who wants to wake up at three in the morning in their man shirt wondering what that experience is that they're smelling?

4. Emails you receive that are selling things you don't need, or announcing things you don't care about, and which tell you you are receiving them because you asked to, which is not true. It's not true for two reasons. First, nobody asks for the Terminx online newsletter, even if they do feature a "Bug of the Month" column. Second, you've already unsubscribed, several times in fact, each time dedicating so much time to locating that "unsubscribe" link at the bottom in 3 point font you were barely left enough time to view the video someone sent you because now videos come with long, and insufferably loud...

5. that appear before the video. I get it, ads. But more and more, we're sitting through 30 second spots which feature car buyers or women in their man shirts and ponytails using Clorox wipes to clean the counter like they never have before from the look of astonishment on their faces.  There is always a child in a high chair, there is always a sunny day outside the window, and the outfits they wear are the same ones they wore in actual television ads that I used to watch when my now-millennial children were napping and I was on break watching General Hospital. 

Where are the stay-at-home dads in their man shirts?  We have those now.

6. You're not a bad person if you say "equally as," but you're breaking a law somewhere on some level. And if you're adding "very" to stand-alone words like unique or excellent, you are guilty x 2 and in danger of sounding like Donald Trump. 

Wrong:  Donald Trump was equally as shocked as half the country to be elected .

Right:    Half the country was shocked when Donald Trump was elected. Donald Trump was equally shocked. 

Bonus Peeves offered by readers!!

1. People who don't leave a message after the beep but don't hang up either so that you're tricked into listening to the message of nothing, when you could be watching a YouTube video or cleaning the counter in your man-shirt.

2. People who are requested on your outgoing phone message to leave a name and number but instead, leave you a full discussion of their issue, and follow it with a phone number too quickly for you to write it down. You are then left with no choice but to replay the entire message, which is so long you zone out and miss the phone number again. 

Thank you for visiting. It's been yummy. If I've missed anything, send it along for #6.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Improve your parenting: work with teens you didn't raise.

This is not me or a teen I work
 with, but it's what our conversations often
look like. 
I belong to a couple of online communities where (mostly) women discuss their changing relationships with grown children after they leave for college. 

There is worry about staying close, of course, about losing a pulse. There is worry about what we won't know by feel anymore. 

Who will offer all those helpful, crisis-dodging comments that start with  "Why don't you..."?

How will they know if we don't tell them? 

May I offer a little something from my "been there" files?

Distance won't end a healthy parent-child relationship, but distance will grow it into a healthy adult relationship as you lose your opportunities to influence choices, and your son or daughter gains the chance to make decisions. 

Relationships don't stop when that happens. If we let them, relationships evolve like people do. 

We do judge. We have been the boss of them since they were in onesies. We call it other things when they're older - directing, suggesting, coaching - and we know enough to "let them handle" (non-life threatening) matters, but when kids live at home, it is impossible not to know the things they could be doing or doing better to make their lives as good as we would if we were them.  

We change our language, but we tell them still. 

"It's only my opinion, but..."

After our nest emptied, I began to work with teens at our local  Boys and Girls club helping them write their life stories. I love it because the things they share, and say and really want to tell me are not treated or organized to avoid judgment. They want to be heard, I want to know what they think. There is no stake in it beyond that. They don't worry about my opinion of them and I don't worry about their grades.

And, nothing is better than listening to a teen who does not expect to be judged. Indeed, if I had to pick a single moment that makes me look forward to working with these kids every year, it's the one when I say something to a teen that surprises them, and a look crosses their face that makes me know what they looked like when they were four, and they say very slowly, "that is so true."

I remember well, those years when our kids were moving away and I worried that the state of our relationships - up or down - would freeze in place.

Were we really done already, I wondered?

What I know now, what all my new empty-nest friends will  know I hope, is the lovely paradox: that the further apart we allow ourselves to be, the closer we become as we are less guided by our old roles in each other's lives and grow to simply like each other as people.

Today, my relationships with my grown kids are much like those I cherish with the Boys and Girls kids. I want to know what they think, and they want to tell me about their lives and they want to hear about mine.
And even now, every so often, I throw out an observation, and I get this: "That is so true."

And it makes me feel like we all turned out just fine.

What the hell happened.

King of the deplorables
Two years ago, when we had to purchase private health insurance for a brief period, I had my first brush with the Affordable Care Act. I learned that I would be required to purchase a plan swollen with benefits that I wouldn't use. Then I learned that I would pay thousands in monthly premiums and even higher deductibles before I would experience one dime of coverage.

Our alternative while we waited for new employer coverage was to purchase a slimmer, but non-compliant plan, and be taxed 1% of income for each month that we carried it. 

Did I resent this requirement? I did. Did I resent the ACA? I did. Did I offset the feeling of having something forced down my throat with gratitude for the sake of others who would not otherwise be covered? Eventually. Not at first, I didn't. 

When Trump came along and said that five minutes after taking office he'd dump the ACA, did I vote for him?

I did not.

My disgust with Trump's mindset, temperament, attitude toward anyone not like him, poor self-control and frat-boy maturity reminded me of my compassion for others who struggle, which was greater than my disgust at being forced to purchase something I didn't need.  

I went to bed on election night before Trump won, but not before I saw Hillary lose the election one state at a time, and realized that we were seeing for the first time, the real number of Americans who had found some voice in Trump's.

At 5:40 yesterday morning, before I read a text, a tweet, an email or column, I pulled up the Washington Post for the headline, and there it was: 


I expected that at least some of this would be laid at the feet of FBI director James Comey. It was.

I expected the population that voted for Trump would be eviscerated in the media. It was.

Finally, now, one day and a better night's sleep later, we appear to be shutting up long enough to understand what we've done to create the population we didn't see coming.

We could have seen it coming back in September, when Hillary Clinton, face and voice of the liberal elite, made her "deplorables" comment, a horribly considered, "them and us" message meant to liken those drawn to any part of Trump's message to the worst of his supporters. 

If Trump did irreparable damage to his campaign with his raunchy Access Hollywood expose, Hillary did maybe as much when she characterized the dilemma of people not like her in such dismissive terms. 

Her followers included fence-walkers – the once-loyal but now conflicted Obama supporter, crushed by economic strain, unwilling to look away from a Clinton presidency quite yet, but repelled by the elitist rhetoric. She could have alienated more people with that comment only if she'd pushed them off the fence herself. 

Right out loud, I said, "Oh God, you shouldn't have said that." Because while I hated Trump's comments, I wasn't surprised by them. But that spray of bullets from Hillary, was more than upsetting, it was honest, and not in a good way. 

I felt manipulated and used by the ACA. Was I a "deplorable"? No, but did any campaign language from that side try hard enough to make the distinction?

When you screw with people's money or futures or economic viability or feeling of safety and assume they will continue to be other-focused, and not self-preserving in their ideals, you get unhappily surprised when the way to protect their interests presents itself on election day. .

What's more, I don't think Trump, in the beginning even expected to do more than make a point. I think he stumbled upon his base of frustrated, marginalized, fed-up Americans more than he cultivated it. But there they were, all those "deplorables," misunderstood and forgotten by everyone and what Trump, king of the deplorables did about this was say, "Hand me that ladle and bullhorn."

Stir the pot he did, enraging his supporters – from the infantile to the mature – with his own big fat messages of "them and us": 

"We're losing our homes, our identity, our jobs, our country. Are we going to let them get away with that?" 

Storms of outrage and  ridicule rained down on Trump and his supporters, and he only dug in further. His signature bombast became dangerous, his polarizing style threatening.  He had his gang, and his gang had gangs and they powered through, not only willing  to offend protesters, but delighting in it when they did.

There were comparisons to Hitler. There were seething characterizations of Trump supporters that only drew them closer to their leader for solace. They were all in it together. 

On Tuesday night, "they" hopped into their camo-wear and pick up trucks, and plowed through "us." 

Except that they didn't. 

A bunch of profane, crass guys with obscene t-shirts and guts and mud flaps with pole dancers on them didn't do this to us. 

We did this to us. 

We loathed a public Trump, vocally, viciously, but we ignored that many, many people were in the kind of straits that would allow them to find agreement with the softer ideas of a dialed-down Trump.

And as we've seen, in the minds of some deplorables, Hillary's transgressions were as morally difficult to reconcile as Trump's comments about women were sickening to listen to.  

I know that most of us had no question about the candidate who was best for us. I didn't reject Hillary for her flaws, nor did I give her my vote because I thought it was expected of me as an "adorable." I voted for Hillary because I wanted a kick-ass, competent, savvy woman in the white house, AND because I loathed Donald Trump for the truly awful things he's said, and has said he'd do.

I agree with those who have attributed this wildly unexpected turn to the Trumpets Anonymous, shamed away from showing themselves in the pre-election numbers, but who quietly closed the curtain, took out their anonymity, and voted against Hillary. 

If that's true, and it was certainly true when we elected cowboy George, what does it say about us, that we intimidate others or are intimidated by them into hiding our politics? 

Trump didn't win the people as much as he carried their bullhorn. It was loud enough to be heard through that closet door, where the other Trump supporters gathered, to choose the best of the bad. 

I can  soothe my soul by remembering in the future: while we differ out loud, we often agree in the privacy of our hearts. May all our hearts open to the possibility of a presidency that will not hurt us, but unite us. We have that one thing to hope for, in common, finally.

May that be what the hell happens now.