Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light


Or maybe a better title for this post would be “Mental Anguish in the Time of Trump.”

I love politics. I have been following political news since before the days of Watergate. I’ve always found it fascinating to follow the actions and words of our national leaders. Even when I have vehemently disagreed with a President or Congress, I’ve enjoyed the arguments, the discussions, the matching of wits with those who disagree.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

Now, like so many other Americans, I am overwhelmed with what is happening to my country. I’m anxious, even afraid, for the first time in a very long time. But that’s not all.

I was talking all of this over with my husband, the other day. And I realized that what feels unbearable to me right now is the uncomfortable combination of rage and helplessness that hits me in the face every single day.

Rage.

I am feeling true rage about our President and those fools in Congress. Tearing away every kind of protection that our government has put in place for us. Regulations designed to keep our air and water at least marginally safe? Gone under this administration. I’m old enough to remember when our rivers were on fire and our harbors were so toxic that falling meant an immediate trip to the Emergency Room.

I’m enraged that Donald Trump is sending us back there.

Angry doesn’t begin to describe how I feel about Trump’s one sided assault on our insurance system. Congress couldn’t find a way to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, so Trump is taking a machete to it. It doesn’t matter how many people will lose coverage. It doesn’t matter how many people die.

Trump wants it to happen, so he’s making it happen.

And the list goes on, of course. Impending nuclear war with North Korea threatens the whole world, but Trump just keeps on tweeting. The United States will ignore its allies, pull out of legal treaties, go to war with anyone who annoys the man in the Oval. The NRA will keep its stranglehold on our government and more and more innocent people will die.

And then there are the lies. One after the other, day after day after day. Trump lies, lies, lies and lies some more. EVERYONE knows it. The entire media knows about it, but when they call him out, he screams, “Fake! Fake!” and repeats whatever lie it was.

That’s what brings me to the feeling of helplessness.

I am used to contacting my Congressional Reps. I contact them by mail, by email, by phone, when I think that there is an issue that needs their attention.

But what am I supposed to do now? My Congress people agree with me! They know that Trump is dangerous, unhinged, dishonest, amoral. They’re as scared as I am.

Should I march in the streets, the way I did at the Women’s March in DC and the anti-Nazi march in Boston?

It feels good when we do it, that’s for sure.

But NOTHING seems to change.

When you are living in a country that has suddenly been turned on its head, what do you do? When you find yourself going through your daily life under a President who make up his own facts, threatens the press, mocks his colleagues, admires the worst among us and lies with a completely straight face….Well. What are you supposed to do to ease that sense of fear and rage?

I feel completely helpless.

We are dealing with a completely surreal situation here. Our President wakes up every morning and tells us things that are simply untrue. He’s contradicted by those who know the truth. He repeats his made up facts. And he repeats them again.

Up has become down. The sky is pink. Trump’s agenda is, according to him, “ahead of schedule.” No President in history has been as successful as he is. No President was smarter. Or a better negotiator.

Facts no longer matter. The truth has become as malleable as hot taffy.

What are we to do?

I no longer believe that I can do a single thing to make things better or safer for my family. Now my goal is to find a way to maintain my own mental health as I sit back and watch our leaders fail to cope with the fact that we have elected a madman and he is taking us on a path of destruction.

Rage and helplessness.

Not a good mix. Not a great way to move through middle age.

What do we do? How are you holding onto your fragile sanity in an age of total insanity?

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Oh, But I’m Afraid.


I’m sixty one years old. I’m white. I am happily middle class. I speak English as my first language. I was raised as a Christian. I’m heterosexual.

I have every kind of privilege there is, other than being a man.

There is going to be a big right wing rally in Boston tomorrow. It says it’s about “free speech”, but the speakers are Nazis, white supremacists, racists.

There is going to be a big counter rally nearby, as well as a march to the spot where the alt-right is gathering.

What do I do?

I am so conflicted.

Here is a bit of my thinking.

Don’t go:

• I live an hour and half from Boston

• I’m a 61 year old Grandmother

• There are younger, more fit people who could go.

• It might be violent. I don’t want to get hurt.

• There are people who depend on me! My children, my grandchildren. They need me to be healthy and whole.

Do go:

• For my entire life, I’ve wondered why more German people didn’t stand up to the Nazis. I assured myself, time and time again, that if I had been there, I would have done something to stop them.

• I’m as safe as anyone can be. White haired, white skinned, pudgy; I make a ridiculous target for anyone who wants to look like a tough guy.

• My grandparents gave up everything they knew…home, language, family, livelihood….so that they could raise their family here in the United States. They came for inclusion, acceptance, safety, prosperity.

•My father and his brothers, first generation Americans, went to war to fight the Nazis. They fought in Germany and even in the homeland of Italy. THEY would certainly march here if they were still alive.

• I was a teacher. I made it my life’s work to support and encourage and nurture children. At no point did I EVER say “but not the black kids” or “not the Jewish kids” or “not the Muslims.” As a teacher, as a nurturer, it is my obligation to stop bullies. Adult bullies, armed to the teeth and ready to murder anyone who isn’t one of their sick group, those are the bullies that I have to Stop. Right. Now. However I can.

• There are people who depend on me. My children, my grandchildren. They need me to be a model of courage in the face of evil.

So I’ll be joining my brave husband, and two of our progressive, courageous friends tomorrow. We will go to Boston. We will do what we can to be really safe and secure.

But we WILL stand up for our Black/gay/Jewish/Muslim/Asian/Latino/trans/disabled/fill-in-the-blank neighbors and fellow citizens.

Honestly, we don’t actually have that much of a choice.

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My name is…


I’ve been thinking about names lately. My daughter and her husband are going to have their second child soon. We know that it will be a little boy, and they have settled on a name for him.

He will be named for a well loved Great Grampa who died a few months ago. It’s perfect, right?

But I’ve been thinking about how names sound, and the impression that they give. I’ve been thinking about names that sound like a person you’d trust. And names that make you shake your head and wonder if those parents hated that kid.

As a confirmed lefty, I’ve been doing my part to support the Our Revolution movement. That’s the next step in the Bernie Sanders movement, if you don’t know. Very vibrant, very interesting group, and I’m happy to help! So I’ve been doing some data entry for them.

Which means that I have been seeing some amazing names.

I won’t use any real ones here, of course, but to young parents everywhere, let me just say that before you slap a monicker on that adorable little bundle, THINK about how that name will read in 30 years when some old lady is putting it into a data base.

Some names inspire trust. I would want my doctor to be named “Michael Hampshire.” Solid, not too flashy, unpretentious. “Jennifer Worth.”  Yup. She can do my cardiac surgery, for sure.

Other names make me want to write a short story that involves a diner, a lonely waitress and a quietly insane fry-cook. “Sarah Bluette” and “Jace Pratchett” fit right in there, don’t you think?

Then there are the names that you know Mom and Dad chose because they were so adorable and original! They did not picture the kids in sixth grade making fun of little “Sharley McRoggle” or “Kerreigh Koyne.”

And some names make me just feel humble. The names that ring of truth and strength. Names that are unapologetically ethnic or racially proud. Names that mean, “I am not going to melt into the pot, no sir. I intend to be the spice in your potato soup.” Names that are spelled originally or names that hark back to older generations. “Karim” is a personal favorite of mine. “Sasha” or “LiYu” or “Epiphania” or “Dougal” or “Shaquan.”

My mom’s name is Vincenza, but she is known as Zena. That’s very cool.

Our names are, in some odd ways, our destiny.

I was aware of this when I was at the Woman’s March in DC not long ago. I was with my High School friend, Karen. As we moved through the surging crowds to get onto the Metro, we heard a voice calling, “Karen! Over here!” We both turned, of course, and we saw a woman our age, waving to her friend.

All the Karens in the US, it seems, were born between 1952 and 1958. You’re not going to find a Karen in kindergarten, although you might very well find a “Helen,” an “Alice” or an “Ed.”

When I was naming my own kids, I was careful. Paul and I thought about how the names sounded. We like the ‘th’ sound, it turns out. We have Katharine, Matthew and Timothy in our family. But we were also thinking of nicknames.

Being named Paul and Karen meant that we didn’t have a lot of nicknames. There’s not much you can do with the labels we got at birth.

We wanted our kids to have some flexibility. If they became businesspeople or lawyers or politicians, those full names would work. If they became teachers, or coaches or athletes, they’d have cool nicknames. Katie, Matty, Timmy.

Naturally, all three of them now go by Kate, Matt and Tim.

Still. A lot of thought went into those names. A lot.

Yours truly,

“Boots” aka “Karen” aka Kira aka Karima and now known as Nonni.

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What We Need To Fear


I know that Donald Trump is telling us that the world is crumbling all around us. He paints an apocalyptic picture that goads us into fearing everyone outside of our own circle.

I’m not actually afraid, on a daily basis, of ISIS or of my Muslim neighbors or Mexican rapists.

Here’s what I fear.

The ignorance of far too many of my fellow citizens, that’s what.

Yesterday we woke up to find that our router wasn’t working. We headed off to the nearest coffee shop to use their wifi and cheer up with pumpkin lattes.

The lattes were great, the wifi was spotty. We were talking about our frustration with unreliable internet service when another customer chimed in. He asked if the wifi was up and running, saying that he had planned to get some work done, too.

“The internet everywhere is acting up,” he said. I agreed, thinking about new cable being laid and the recent hacking.

“It’s another Obama move, you know,” the man said. “Another executive order. He turned over control of the internet to the U.N.”

This man was not crazy. He was not a beat up smelly derelict. He was a guy about our age, from our town, drinking coffee and getting some work done.

There was a silence for a few seconds. Then I shook my head. “Uh, no…,” I began. He interrupted me to repeat, “Yes. Obama passed an executive order giving control of the internet to the U.N. It’s all part of the globalization plan.”

Now, my husband is both smart and non-confrontational. He shrugged and said, “Who know. Maybe so.”

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t let that go. I mean, that statement was ignorant on so many levels!

“That’s not true.” I said to the man. “That isn’t even possible.”

“Oh,” the guy said, turning away. “You’re Hillary supporters. OK. I’m for Trump. All about Trump.”

It would be easy to dismiss this guy as an idiot. But I don’t think that’s the problem. What I wanted to do, what I want to do now, is to ask him “Did you check your sources?”

It would be SOOOOO easy to look up “Obama Executive Orders.”  Or to research, “Does Obama control the U.N.?”  It would be a snap to google “Who controls the internet?”

It’s so easy to find out information. Easier than it has ever been.

There is no excuse for ignorance.

That’s what I fear. The ignorant and uninformed.

 

Anne Frank, and history’s lessons


When we were in Germany, we were both struck by how present the past remains. There are images, buildings, museums, memorial to all that happened here in World War II.

Berlin still shows where the wall once stood. There is an entire museum dedicated to recording what happened when the city was cut into pieces by those bricks and that mortar.

The city has a huge, somber, stark memorial to the victims of the holocaust, too. It’s both beautiful and haunting.

They bear the guilt of what was done in their country decades ago. They do not want to forget it. They talk about it often.

Why?

I think because so many people in Germany are afraid to let it happen again.

One thing that we noticed on our trip was how often people asked us about Donald Trump. What was going on in the US, they asked us. Didn’t Americans learn anything from the story of Hitler?

I didn’t have an answer. I never knew what to say.

Now we hear that Anne Frank, the young girl who wrote about the beauty of life while she was hiding in an Amsterdam attic waiting to be murdered, was denied asylum in the United States. Her father, Otto, applied for a refugee visa. He went through his brother in law, who was living in Boston.

The family was highly educated, well connected, ready to come to the US.

Their application was denied.

When I read why, every hair on my arms stood up in horror. It was as if Donald Trump had been in charge of the application.

I wrote this article, published in LiberalAmerica. I hope you’ll read it. I hope you’ll think about Anne Frank and about her family. I hope you’ll think about all of those modern Germans, asking why Americans have failed to learn from the terrible lessons of Nazi Germany.

I hope you’ll talk about this, pass it around on Facebook, bring it up at your book group.

I hope, most of all, that you will vote. And that you will vote carefully.

Anne Frank’s Tragic Story, and What We Can Learn From History

 

In The Midnight Hour


I am absolutely not a night owl. At all.

I’m also not really a morning person.

What I am, in my best days, is a “sleep late, take a nap, go to bed early” person.

But every once in a while I find myself awake and alert in the midnight hour. Tonight I went out to dinner and a show with my Mom, my sister and some friends. It was wonderful! Musical theater complete with adorable child actors, incredible voices and a gorgeous set. I don’t do this often enough.

We came out of the theater into a hot, steamy night that was lit by a hazy half moon. I said my good nights and hopped into my car for the very long ride home.

And I turned on NPR and heard about the latest horrific terrorist attack in France. I drove through the night, away from the city and home to my woods. I listened to the news and I worried and steamed and grieved and swore and ruminated.

So helpless. We all feel so helpless in the face of such blind hatred. We don’t know what to do.

I wound my way through the mists that rose from the hot and rainy roads. I followed the moon home.

And now I sit, in the midnight hour. Awake, alert, trying not to let my anger take me over.

In two short weeks, Paul and I will fly to Germany to visit our friends. Our very first trip to “the Continent.” Ordinarily, I’d be filled with anxiety about such a big trip, especially with all of the attacks going on.

But you know what?  This time I don’t give a damn. This time I am sitting in my steamy living room, in the middle of the night, watching that hazy moon set over the trees. I’m thinking about the world.

I’m thinking that I go to bed too early most nights. I miss the midnight hour.  I wake up too late; I usually miss the dawn. I live a life of calm in a quiet little town in the pine forest. I miss the wider world.

So I’m going to fly to Berlin to be with my friends. I’m going to see Germany. I’m going to eat in a big city restaurant and swim in the North Sea.

I’m going to stay up very late, and I’m going to look at the moon over Germany.

And I’m going to completely ignore those hate filled, bitter, angry people who think that they’ll find rescue or release in the deaths of innocents. I’m not letting them get in my mind.

I’m an independent, joyful woman. The clock just struck 1 AM, and I am still awake, still looking at that low lying yellow half moon.4443294004_60127f83be_b

A Warm Spring Night


It was a warm, wet, humid spring day today.  There was a low overcast all day. The wind was strong, and the clouds were racing from South to North.  Not a usual New England pattern on April 1st. Not at all.

I took Ellie outside. She sat in her stroller, watching me with her wise dark eyes as I raked up the straw and pine boughs that had covered my perennial beds. The wind blew strong and the pines creaked and moaned. Ellie watched. She watched me stoop and scrape and gather up the winter coat of the garden. She watched the birds darting back and forth and up and down. She tipped her head back and watched the tops of the trees as they swayed back and forth above her.

Tonight, after I had taken Ellie home to her Mom and Dad, I stood on my deck. The night was coming on fast, and rain threatened to fall.  There was thunder in the distance, making my old dog Sadie shiver and quake at my feet.

I looked out, across our property, to the wetlands beyond.  I strained a bit to hear what I so wanted to hear.  And there it was.

The spring song of the “peepers”, the tiny green tree frogs whose voices fill the evening air of New England springtimes.  I smiled, remembering all of the years when my children and I had stood in this same spot, waiting for that springtime call of love and hope.

I thought about Ellie. How funny, I thought to myself.  This is her first spring time!

I thought about the rhythms of life. About Ellie hearing and smelling spring for the very first time in her life. I thought of myself, remembering so many springtimes in the past.  I thought of my Mother, feeling and hearing spring in her 86th year, wondering how many springtimes are still before her.

I stood on my deck, in the damp warm evening. I breathed in the smell of the leaves and the warming smell of the earth. I listened to the peepers in the marsh, seeking love.

Ellie has so much to look forward to in this beautiful life.

Ah, Miss Ellie……


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Rockin’ her Daddy’s hat.

Way, way back, in the dawn of my history, when Paul and I were very young, we used to think about the upcoming weeks and tell ourselves, “I’m glad there is something to look forward to!”

Which means, of course, that there were times when we’d look at each other and think, “Ugh,  there is nothing to look forward to!”

I look back now, at my 22 year old self, and I think, “Are you kidding me? You’re twenty something, and you don’t think you have something to look forward to? You only have your ENTIRE LIFE, you idiot!”

But at 22, I wasn’t thinking that way. I was thinking, “What wonderful adventure is out there for me in the next week?”  I was young. I was foolish.  I didn’t really get it.

And then, at the wise old age of 29, I gave birth to my first child.  My wonderful, beautiful daughter Kate.  And everything changed in an instant.

Suddenly, I knew that I had “something to look forward to” for at least 20 years.  Every morning with my baby was a new beginning.  Every bath time was a treasure. Every meal an adventure.  I was enraptured, enamored, in love, entranced, enthralled.

Life was very, very good.

And then it went on.  Kate’s brothers were born, and the rhythm of my life was set.  I was a happy, busy Momma, and every passing week meant something new to look forward to. There were milestones and holidays and vacations and camping trips.  Birthdays and new schools and sports and plays and music.  Life was one big streak of “something to look forward to”.

And then they all grew up. And they moved away and started their own lives.

There suddenly wasn’t quite so much to look forward to, you know? Life was still happy and full, but the magical moments were gone.

And now, here I am, the full time day care provider for my little Ellie.  Now I am back to the days of making pancakes for someone who will light up with joy at the new taste. I am back to singing brand new songs, and reading exciting new books.

Tonight, when supper was over, I put our leftover coconut rice into a bowl.  I added an egg and some cream and cinnamon. I baked it for 20 minutes.  It smells fantastic.

I will go to bed tonight with something to look forward to.  I will give my beautiful Ellie a bowl of rice pudding for her breakfast tomorrow.

Life is a very beautiful thing.

A Pretty Peaceable Kingdom


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I don’t know why I get such a kick out of watching birds at my feeders, but what can I say? I find them to be funny and charming and tenacious as they cluster around the suet or the seed.  I love watching them swoop in and out.

Of course, it isn’t only chickadees and woodpeckers that come around to eat.  I live at the edge of the forest.  As I have learned in the past two weeks (after hanging out my winter feeders), I also live in the squirrel capital of the world.

My suet feeders are hanging in the branches outside of my house. One hangs in a lilac, the other in a flowering crabapple. I had to wire them shut to stop the squirrels from stealing the yummy, fatty, peanuty goodness right out of them.  My seed feeder, pictured above, is supposedly “squirrel proof”, but all that means is that there is wire around the plastic tube (so that they can’t just chew it to pieces and eat all the seeds) and the metal cover is snapped closed (so that they can’t chew through it or pull it off and eat all the seeds.)

I now know that a “squirrel proof” bird feeder simply means that it takes a  bit longer for the squirrels to scoop the seeds out one handful at a time.

But you know what?

I don’t mind at all! I know that a lot of people throw ice or stones at the squirrels. I know more than one person who shoots them when they get into the bird seed.  But here’s my thought: they don’t actually know that I only want to feed the birds, not the mammals.  How could they?  They must all be up there in their nests, thinking, “Awesome!  The local humans have put out another giant pile of food for us!  You gotta love those guys!”

So when the squirrels swarm over the suet feeder and shove their little noses into the mesh to eat, all I can do is laugh.  The birds have enough to share.  I stand at the window, with Ellie in my arms, and we watch as the birds line up in the blueberry brambles, waiting their turns to rush in for a meal.  If there are squirrels there, the birds either go to another feeder or use the other side of the feeder.

It’s hilarious to watch!  The nuthatches are smart: if there is a squirrel, they land in the grass under the feeder, and eat the crumbs that fall. The woodpeckers wait, very patiently, on the sides of the pine trees, until the squirrels leave to bring goodies up to their nests.  Then the woodies fly in and attack the suet with a singleminded ferocity that reminds me of teenaged boys around a hot pizza.  The beautiful cardinals are skittish, waiting until the coast is perfectly clear to make an attempt at lunch.

And then there are the chickadees, who are my favorites. Fearless and unyielding, they seem unaware of their relative drabness in comparison to more beautiful birds. They fear no squirrel as they swarm the feeder, but they yield to each other as each one grabs a bite and then flies off to eat it.

I can watch this drama for hours, I really can.  The squirrels on the tree trunk, hanging upside down to plunder the feeder. The birds darting in and out, fearless or cautious, getting whatever they can.  Chipmunks moving around in the leaves under the trees, catching crumbs and cleaning up.

And the other day a group of turkeys joined the throng.  Big, loud, awkward creatures that they are, they scared the squirrels back into the branches of the pines, where they stood and squawked in outrage.  The little birds flew in and out, but the turkeys were oblivious.  They pecked at the ground for three full hours, getting every speck of corn, of sunflower seed, of dropped suet.  They clustered together, mumbling and bumping each other, their ugly bald heads bobbing up and down.

Ellie and I watched them on and off all day.  It was a beautiful, funny, awkwardly peaceable little kingdom out there.  No fights, no killing, no attacks.  Just a lot of eating and a lot of chirping, gobbling and squawking.

Its worth the cost of the food just to see that some species  on this beautiful earth can actually  manage to share the resources and respect each other’s differences.

And another thing….


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I’ve been talking to some very smart, very thoughtful people lately who just happen to be gun owners.  And I have had to adjust some of my thinking a bit.

That’s good, though, right?   I complain so often about those who are closed minded.  I don’t want to think of myself as one of them.

Here is one thought, from my very reasonable, thoughtful nephew Jon.  He grew up with guns, and is totally comfortable with them. He’s a hunter. He comes from a rural setting and he pointed out that some of my anti-gun thinking stems from a lack of knowledge. I’m afraid of guns. He says that some of my fear comes from lack of education.  He’s right.

He also says that a big part of our issue in this country is attitude. We need to learn that guns must be respected. They have to be treated with great care.

I’m with him on that!

But the conversation also covered the desire of so many people to own guns in order to protect themselves.  As I said in my last post, I understand the impulse.  But there are facts that get in the way of that thinking.

I’ve already talked about the statistics, all of which show that owning a gun makes you less safe, not more safe.  That’s just a fact, but people who are afraid are moved more by feelings than by logic.

So I turn to these two questions for those who keep a gun by the bedside in case of an intruder:

  1. If we didn’t have so many guns in this country, would you still feel the need to own one? If you didn’t feel that every one out there was armed and dangerous, would you still need to protect yourself with a gun?
  2. What do you own that is worth more than a human life?  I mean, if it was me, and someone came in to rob me, I would hand them the laptop and the wallet and say “good luck.”  I don’t own anything that valuable.  I am also not above running like hell right out the back door.  I can’t imagine how it would feel to shoot at another human being, even one who was trying to find oxycontin in my house.  If I somehow managed to kill a human, I don’t think I’d ever be the same again.

I think that Americans watch way too many episodes of NCIS and Bluebloods and Homeland.  We have an image of inner city gang members and terrorists storming into our suburban neighborhoods.  The truth is, where I live at least, the most likely intruder would be a young man with a huge drug problem, looking for medicine or money.  If one of them came in my front door, I’d be scared out of my mind, and traumatized for sure.

But not as traumatized as I would be if I fired a gun and had to watch that man bleed to death on my kitchen floor.

I understand the desire to protect ourselves. I do.  But for me, the most compelling desire is to protect myself from become just another killer in a land where there are already too many.