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End of Summer Ponderings

I write this on Labor Day weekend:  a bittersweet time of year as parents, teachers and students bid a wistful farewell to summer vacation and gear up for another school year.

Dan and I have had a busy summer with home projects and a big birthday bash that I threw myself as I mark another decade of living.  After much labor and check writing our log home is newly scrubbed and stained, and our new deck was in place just in time to celebrate my entry to the old geezer club!

We had a nice turn out of friends and family for my birthday bash; providing a needed and well-time reminder to me of how fortunate I am to have these people in my life.  A few of us lurched around the badmitton court as a sherrif’s car pulled up,looking for someone who had sent out some sort of electronic alarm.  Turns out, they were at the wrong house: but still–our our party was bad-ass enough for the cops to make an appearance!

The end of summer brings the US Open, which this year is missing many of its marquee men (including my petulant fav – Andy Murray) to injuries; leaving the field free for Roger and Rafa to renew their rivalry.  And, OMG – the American women are ROCKING the open!   Even with Serena out (having just given birth to her daughter);  there is a bumper crop of young American women keeping pace with big sis Venus into the second week.

My own tennis season has been frustrating — I have the third set tie-break blues, having lost too many close matches by the narrowest of margins. However, I am thankful to be healthy ‘enough’ to be out on the court swinging away… at my advanced age.

Today Dan and I are going on a sight-seeing airplane ride as my birthday gift:  the next logical follow-up to last year’s hot air balloon ride.  Today I am pondering whether my predilection for motion sickness is something that I have somehow ‘outgrown’ or if it has stuck with me into this new decade of life.  We shall soon find out.

For next year’s birthday, I’m going to ask for jewelry.

Camping Caution

I am prepping to enter Monday’s Moth story slam, with the theme of ‘Caution”.   I will be reminiscing about one of my many adventures with Dan.  This is a preview of my entry.

A few years ago my husband, Dan, started a campaign to get me to like camping.    I’ve had some bad camping experiences before I met him;  and I am a huge fan of indoor plumbing.

Dan wanted to spend a week camping near Lake Superior, So, he decided we should go on a trial weekend camping trip, after which (according to his plan) I would be smitten by the camping bug.  Day 1 went well – but, by evening time, we had 42 mosquito bites, 36 of which were on my ankles.  In addition to being very tasty mosquito meat, I am extremely allergic, and didn’t sleep at all.  Day 2 brought a lot of rain—we quickly decamped and drove home amidst the deluge.

Needless to say, we rented a cabin for our longer vacation near lake Superior–  A beautiful, gorgeous cabin with a flush toilet and a solid roof over our heads.  We did many nature related activities such as hiking, canoeing and eating pasties.

Our canoe trip started out by visiting the canoe ‘guy’…  he had set up shop on the roadside in a trailer home.  In response to our knock on his door, he emerged amid a plume of herbal medicinal smoke—for which he assured us he had a prescription.  We hung out with the canoe dude for a while, before venturing out into the water… in a slightly impaired state.

We had a great time gently paddling through the water admiring the wildlife and beautiful vistas all around us – including a large family of ducks sunning themselves on a log.   We stopped at a sandbar for a rest and some lunch, before heading back down into the water.

We didn’t get far before someone passing us  asked if that was our backpack on the sandbar…. Upon closer inspection we realized we had left our backpack on dry land behind us…. we did the canoe equivalent of a   U-ey and went back to the sandbar.

What happens next is where Dan and I have a different recollection of events.  However, I am the one with the blog, so you will be hearing MY version –although Dan is happy to offer HIS version of events to anyone who asks.

I was at the front of the canoe, and as we arrived at the sandbar I stepped onto land and started heading towards our backpack, when I heard sounds of distress behind me… I turned around to see Dan, who had inexplicably managed to get tangled up in the branches of a dead tree that had fallen into the water near shore;  and he was slowly tipping over in the canoe, while emitting sounds of distress.   As I watched him tip over in slow motion, I yelled out:  “I will jump in and rescue you as soon as I quite laughing”!

In Dan’s version –   as I exited the canoe I pushed it backwards  into the current, carrying him directly into the  ‘punji sticks of death”:  which seems a tad over-dramatic to me.

Eventually, I stopped laughing, and Dan emerged from under the canoe.  We set the canoe upright, retrieved our bag, and headed back into the water;  retrieving more of our items that were now floating IN the water as we went. Once we were recombobulated,  Dan suggested that we go out into Lake Superior… That’s right, Dan wanted to go out into the cold depths of Lake Gitchigoonie…  right after capsizing our canoe in 18 inches of water.    Instead, we decided we’d had enough canoeing for the day – and stopped at a restaurant for a nice duck dinner.

 

As the D Turns

Our current administration is reminiscent of a soap-opera, complete with an ever-changing colorful cast of characters and over-the-top melodrama. The lead actor in this ultimate reality show thrives on the attention and chaos.

However, The D has had a rough couple of weeks.  Despite years of rhetoric blasting the Affordable Care Act, his Republican henchmen have been unable to agree on an alternative.   A bill that is cruel enough to satisfy the hard-core tea-partiers can’t get past the few Republican moderates that still have remnants of a spine.  One of their many kooky schemes was to deliberately pass a horrible bill, with a pre-agreement that the House would shoot it down.  They were going to kick a shit-can of a bill down the road with the hope that Paul Ryan’s House would rise above the stench.

The D’s bizarre policy-by-tweet approach is proving to be unsuccessful with top military brass, who were not consulted prior to The D’s s random tweet banning transgender troops.  The Brass have made it clear that tweets are not a substitute for actual policy, and have (bravely  and wisely) opted to take no action until and unless an actual command or policy emerges. On the bright side– It appears that the whole debacle has raised our awareness of the existence and bravery of our transgender troops.

It would be tough to screw up a speech to a bunch of wholesome Boy Scouts.  Yet, the D managed to blow it–bigly. It was a bizarre, curse-laced political and self-aggrandizing rant.  No merit badge for The D.

We should thank The D for one of the most entertaining episodes of his administration thus far–The Mooch!    Scaramucci’s pugnacious, confrontational  style stood out as over-the-top;  even among the colorful cast at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  Stephen Colbert had a field day with many Mooch quotes, including this “I don’t stab people in the back, I am more of a front-stabber”.

Sadly, for Colbert and his comic colleagues, The Mooch only lasted 10 days before getting ousted.  But stay tuned, who knows what the next episode of “as The D Turns” will bring?

 

Labels are shifty

I recently listened to a TED talk that included a story of a man who pretended to be mentally ill / crazy to get out of a criminal conviction.  The problem was that once he was in a mental institution, he could not convince anyone that he was sane.  Once he had a label of a mental illness, any attempts he made to defend himself were considered as further prove that he was manipulative and dangerous.  It was a vicious cycle.

We’ve probably all had the experience of someone jumping to an incorrect or incomplete conclusion about us –creating a label which becomes very hard to shake.  

When I am being honest with myself (something I frequently avoid), I recognize that I can be quick to label others.  Jumping to conclusions based on the imperfect sorting mechanism in my head is easier than really getting to know someone or having to consider an alternative point of view. 

Once we attribute a negative label to someone,  it can be really difficult to change that perception.  Our biases become self-sustaining as we find further evidence to support our initial conclusions.  Our brains love to accommodate our desire to prove ourselves right!  So — as the ‘crazy’ person desperately tries to prove they are sane — we see their desperation  as more evidence of their craziness.

Labels play out in family groups all the time:  a child may be labelled as a particular ‘type’:  The brain, the screw-up, the clumsy one, the lazy one, etc.   Labels at a young age influence a child’s emerging sense of self–for better or for worse.

From a business lens, these implicit biases result in the continued promotion and hiring of people who look, think and act similarly to existing leadership.   Yet, we know that inclusiveness and diversity make organizations stronger and that companies get stale through in-breeding. Leaders caught in the rip tide of the prevalent corporate culture, fail to recognize their implicit biases and the associated opportunity costs.

So, the next time that my loud-mouth, trouble-making co-worker gets on my nerves… I will ask him (or her) to go to lunch and talk about what is on their mind.  Maybe, just maybe, we will both be pleasantly surprised.

Our National Shame

Today I watched the chilling dash cam video of the Philandro Castile shooting.   I will be haunted for a long time by the image of his girlfriend’s young daughter slowly emerging from that car after seeing Philandro shot 7 times.  He was shot as he reached into his pocket to retrieve his driver’s license, per the police officer’s request.  While he was en route to the hospital, where he would die of his injuries; his girlfriend was (unbelievably) put into handcuffs and held in the back of a squad car.

Last week the jury acquitted the police officer, just as juries have acquitted a long sequence of police officers  for killing black men  and women.  But, This happened in Minnesota, not Missouri or Alabama. Minnesota for god’s sake.  It makes me ashamed.

Black. Lives. Matter.  As a white woman, I hesitate to co-opt that phrase; but I do so respectfully, to make the point that we are all diminished when men like Philandro Castile are executed for what appears to be ‘the crime’ of being black in America.  The history of race in America is incredibly complex–but there can be no doubt that implicit bias is alive and well in every state of the union, not ‘just’ the south.

Black and brown mothers and fathers all over American face the challenge of sitting their children down to have THE talk; a talk I didn’t need to have with MY children; THE talk about being deferential to the police at all times–how to speak (politely) and how to move (slowly); knowing the likelihood of a brown or black child being stopped and questioned is much higher than that of their white friends; and knowing that sometimes, even if their child does nothing wrong, the result can still be tragic.

Racism in America is one of our greatest national shames, manifesting itself in large and small ways in the pattern of our lives.  I see it at work, with a striking imbalance between the demographics of our technical teams and the all-white faces at the leadership level.  My home state of Wisconsin has one of the biggest (if not the biggest) gaps in high school graduation between black and white students.

In her excellent book, The New Jim Crow,  Michelle Alexander demonstrates that, by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. This effectively strips the right to vote from a large percentage of African Americans, who have been convicted of even minor drug charges.

I had hoped that having a black president for 8 years would have made a difference, but I was naive. Our current administration is a backlash –from those who felt threatened and disenfranchised by that very hope.  Make America Great Again is a thinly veiled slogan for white supremacy, contributing to a culture of white entitlement and acceptance of violence against minorities.

America cannot be truly great unless and until we address the blight of racism.

Lordy, I hope there are tapes

We are living in surreal times, where truth is treated as a variable and negotiable commodity. The D is unable to distinguish between what he believes (and wishes) to be true, and what is factually and historically accurate.  Unfortunately, his version of the truth is given credence by the gravitas of his position,  and by sheer hubris.  Our communication landscape is shifting:  He that dominates the conversation tends to be most effective, regardless of logic or facts.

I recently read an excellent  VOX Post that posits that the problem is NOT that Trump is lying (although he is); but that he is crowding out the truth by dominating and driving the conversation.   The article explains that liars try to replace the truth, which is hard; whereas bullshitters have the easier task of drawing so much attention to themselves that the truth becomes a backstory.  The media is forced to focus on the bullshit, and the truth is drowned out.  

This rings true, and is dismaying for those of us that grew up with a certain sense of fairness and justice– that working hard, doing your homework and being ‘right’ matters.  Today, the bullies are in control , and we  seem to have shifted to a new level of intellectual laziness from which we may never recover.  We hear and heed the loudest  and most belligerent voices: voices that drown out those of the more well-informed nerds, scientists and rule-followers, who have done their homework and anchor their arguments to facts.

This shift of attention from facts to belligerent bullshit is particularly detrimental  and disenfranchising to women.  It is virtually impossible for a woman to be assertive, let alone dominate a conversation, without being shut down and/or tagged with any one of the many derogatory labels we have for strong women (relatively kind examples are ‘bossy’, ‘nasty’ or ‘unlikable’).   Nevertheless, we persist.

Most schools have a no-tolerance approach to bullying, but those policies aren’t effective if the principal is the biggest bully on campus.  It begs the question: How do we wrestle the microphone away from the bully-in-chief?

Even if the White House DOES turn over tapes of The D’s conversations in the Oval Office; and even if those tapes paint him as a huge liar – will it matter?  Lordy, I hope so. 

A New Venture

A few months ago I wrote that we have an empty nest.  Having a 16.5 year gap between my oldest and youngest child has resulted in a longer-than-usual child rearing time-frame.  Daughter #2, aka Guzzy, moved out last October, and has not (yet) returned.

So – we did the logical thing, and rented out her room.  We dipped our toes slowly into the AirBnB waters… and now we regularly host a variety of guests who temporarily share our rustic (with A/C and other amenities) log home in the woods.   There is a young couple ‘napping’ (or whatever) in the room even as I write this.

It has been really interesting.  In the few months since we’ve been renting the room, we’ve hosted people from many states and countries of various races and multiple generations.  This experience has turned our home into a mini melting pot.

A few weeks ago we hosted a charming young man and his mom, on her very first visit to the States from China,  to see him graduate from the UW.  She spoke no English, yet her pride was obvious and it was endearing to see the young man dote on his mom.

Early one Saturday morning, we had a young and adorable Asian couple in residence.  After returning from taking Cleo from a walk, I heard a surprised squeal from the bedroom–the cause of which was immediately apparent.  Cleo had interpreted the sightly ajar bedroom door as an invitation to go in and ‘nose’ the young woman awake.  I sheepishly retrieved our overly friendly hound and shut their door firmly behind me.    Most of our guests really enjoy Cleo–but this couple did not appreciate her early wake-up call.

Another interesting couple spent several days with us exploring the area.  They live continents apart from each other;  but they regularly meet up at various locations in the US to explore together.   He was a talker!   We’ve had a model stay with us while she had a photo shoot in town (she was absolutely lovely — her legs came up to my armpits) and a surprising number of people stay with us for a one night stop-over in their travels.

Dan is an amazing host, and is generally more engaging with the guests than I am.  I tend to show them the basics and then retreat into areas of the house that are off limits to our guests, such as our den, which is where I am now.  We try to give our guests space, even as we share a space; and some prefer more conversation than others.  Dan tends to be more gregarious than me, and (unlike myself) he has the amazing ability to stay awake after 9:30 pm;  whereas, I am better suited for early morning conversation and engagement.

The extra cleaning and laundry is a bit of a hassle though.  Last night Guzzy spent the  night – but she had to sleep on the couch, because I had already prepped the room/bed for tonight’s guests. Of course, she is always welcome here — but she just might need to make a reservation ahead of time if she wants to stay in her (former) bedroom.

Circle Breathing

I had coffee with a friend last weekend.  We compared notes regarding our respective acts of rabble-rousing and resistance. My friend is a mostly-retired psychiatrist (in other words, she is WAY smarter than me); who had not been expecting to expend her early retirement energy in active political resistance; yet, here she is.  Here we are.

She and I are aligned in philosophies and have a shared sense of dread, grief, and horror regarding the current administration.   For us, this sensation is both a catalyst to action and a burden–a burden that often takes residence in our guts and minds, like an OCD virus that threatens our sense of inner peace and causes bouts of crankiness that are sometimes directed at innocent nearby targets, such as our husbands.

The past couple weeks have been a good opportunity to take a mental break.  The D is doing an excellent job of exposing his own incompetence and blinding narcissism–without any help from myself, his many detractors or the ‘fake’ media.   In my friend’s words:  “he is doing our job for us”.

The D’s  firing of FBI Director Comey is a clear obstruction of justice; the initial reason given was Comey’s revelation of newly discovered Hillary emails in the late days of the 2016 campaign; a laughable and ironic justification from The D regarding an act that he previously praised, and one that most likely tilted the balance of election in his direction.  On the heels of that debacle, The D shared classified intelligence with his Russian BFFs during a cozy photo op (for Russian press only). That may be one traitorous act too many, even in the eyes of Republican cronies — time will tell.

There is a rumor that several Republican’s are considering withdrawing support from The D  in a belated attempt to restore their integrity–or at least a facade of integrity.  This may be a window of opportunity for them to actually hear what their constituents are saying during the current Congressional break.

Ultimately, The D’s cluelessness and blinding narcissism will be the primary reasons for his seemingly inevitable downfall.  The House of Cards is starting to crumble; the cracks in the orange veneer are getting more obvious.  As much as I’ve enjoyed a week or two ‘off’, watching events play out; I/we cannot return to the not-my-problem complacency that allowed the D to be elected in the first place.

I used to sing in a choir.  For long-sustained notes, we used a technique called ‘circle-breathing’: each chorister sneaks a breath at a different time, so that the audience hears one seamless long-sustained note, without a perceptable break.  Circle-breathing depends on teamwork, recognizing that each individual needs to occasionally catch their breath.

To my persistent friends–take a breath when you need to and protest loudly when you are able.  Collectively, our voice is unbroken and undeterred.

 

 

 

Spiraling

Well, well.  We may finally be getting an answer to the question I posed just a few days ago: Is there any act that is too outrageous, unlawful, unconstitutional, self-serving, embarrassing or cruel  for Trump to be held accountable by the Republican’ts?

Given recent events, we are seeing the faintest glimmer of hope that a few Republican’s are being reintroduced to their spines:  the edges of the dark cloak of loyalty are starting to fray.   Mere obstruction of justice (firing of Comey) wasn’t compelling enough:  But–the casual sharing of highly classified information, for purposes of self-aggrandizement, to his Russian buddies just may just have crossed a line that even the Republicans won’t (or can’t) defend.

This post is short – by the time I press publish, there will no doubt be new plot twists and revelations to consider.  You just can’t make this stuff up.

 

Tweeter in Chief

The latest SNL Skit nailed it.   Alec Baldwin, as Trump, freely admits he fired former FBI Director, James Comey, because of the Russian Thing.  The interviewer looks surprised and asks as an aside: ‘Wait, did I finally ‘get’ him on flagrant obstruction of justice’?  Only to realize:  “No, it doesn’t matter – nothing matters anymore”.  Trump/Baldwin then further demonstrates his absolute power by beckoning his lapdog, Paul Ryan, with a little bell to serve him ice cream.  Unfortunately, The parody is spot-on.

The Republican majority has given Trump a blank check to run roughshod over our Democracy.  There appears to be no act that is too outrageous, unlawful, unconstitutional, self-serving, embarrassing or cruel  for Trump to be held accountable by the Republican’ts.  

Trump has been given free reign to spew his incendiary lies and tweets; to obstruct justice; to use his position for profit; and to flaunt his outright contempt for our Constitution, our laws, the media, the judiciary and civil rights.  We tell our children that actions have consequences;  yet that is clearly not true for our Tweeter-in-Chief.

Democrats, and much of America;  are relegated to the role of bystanders watching a catastrophic runaway train wreck playing out in front of us in slow motion.  Despite our screaming and waving our arms, donations, appearing at town halls, signing petitions and other energetic forms of resistance–the casualties continue to pile up, and the stench increases.

I was a teenager during Watergate.  While I had little political consciousness at that time;  I remember being affected by the message that even the President has limits to his/her (still hopeful) power; no one is above the law or the Constitution.  We are now at an equally critical crossroads in our democracy.  Is our democracy still stronger than a corrupt President?  Will checks and balances finally kick in–or will we continue our slide down a dystopian slope?

While we don’t know yet how this will end; We do know that without an active, engaged and vocal resistance, things will get far worse.  While it sometimes feels like spitting into the wind, we  must continue to fight — putting up as many roadblocks as possible against the runaway Trump train.

Trump must be stopped.  Our Democracy and way of life depends on it.