Tuesday, December 29, 2020
Sunday, December 20, 2020
Lloyd Christmas: "I want to ask you a question, straight out, flat out, and I want you to give me the honest answer. What do you think the chances are of a guy like you and a girl like me ending up together?
Mary Swanson: "Well, Lloyd, that's difficult to say. We really don't..."
Lloyd Christmas: "Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! I came a long way just to see you Mary, just... The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?
Mary Swanson: "Not good."
Lloyd Christmas: [gulps, his mouth twitching] "You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?"
Mary Swanson: "I'd say more like one out of a million."
Lloyd Christmas: [long pause while he processes what he's heard] "So you're telling me there's a chance. YEAH."
- From "Dumb and Dumber" with Jim Carrey as Lloyd and Lauren Holly as Mary
I love this scene from "Dumb and Dumber." Lloyd Christmas is the most obtusely optimistic (and aptly named) person I've "met" in film, on the page or in reality. Blind to monumental odds, he seizes on the sliver of hope that's offered. On the last line in this scene of rejection his face virtually lights up with glee.
William was deferred from his reach school, which means that his application will be considered again with tens of thousands of others for the traditional March 31 deadline. After initial disappointment, he responded similarly to Lloyd - he's got a chance. Anything short of outright rejection can be construed as a positive, another opportunity.
I plan to borrow Lloyd's bizarre confidence for this holy week approaching Christmas. We have two vaccines, and it cannot be overstated that their development was miraculous. We are fortunate that friends and family are healthy, and only one month remains of the current administration. Last night we even saw the "super conjunction" of Jupiter and Saturn, and I felt as if the Christmas star was reborn in Denver. For a few days, anyway, I'm going to block out the rest of reality and concentrate on these beams of light, the needles of hope in the haystack of headlines.
Though we will "go" to church in our living room - only the second time I've ever missed church on Christmas or Christmas Eve - though our families will be celebrating at home and apart, we can get to the end zone of this pandemic and we will celebrate with wildly inappropriate dancing. We will face down the naysayers and not even blink at the oddsmakers. If you're telling me there's a chance, I'm going to grab that lifeline, climb that gym rope, and drink all the champagne.
Thursday, December 17, 2020
I opened my text messages this morning and Rob had sent me a Reddit post, a video of an "Ode to Joy" flash mob. Didn't take long before I was weeping and wiping my nose on my sweatshirt, shocking the cats (and ruining the sweatshirt). Beautiful music, pre-pandemic crowds without masks, children clapping hands and climbing lampposts or their father's shoulders to see better - it brought all the feels.
Today is already a red-letter, fragile day. William should find out if he got into his reach college, and I tossed and turned last night worrying about what the email will say to my son and what his reaction will be. This morning, Rob and I were both up at 5:00, turning off our heating blankets and carefully rolling to one side so we didn't disturb the other, though of course we were already disturbed.
My heart feels bruised, pummeled by this week. The one-year anniversary of my father's death was Tuesday, and my family gathered via Zoom to share favorite memories, ask questions, laugh and cry. My mother was a pillar of strength, as she has been for the past year, and led the way in reminiscences and gratitude. It was a gift to be together virtually and to appreciate the fact that we were all able to be at his bedside a year ago to watch his spirit ascend. That is a privilege which has been denied to many in the last nine months.
So joy and pain hold hands and dance across my chest, sometimes in a waltz and sometimes a square dance. My pulse varies with the dance but it has been higher since last weekend, my veneer of control thinner and more fragile, with cracks radiating by the end of each day. Tears pool, ready to spill at the slightest provocation. I can only pray for the strength to handle whatever comes, for trust in the intrinsic goodness and connectedness of the universe, and for the absence of musical flash mobs - at least for today.
Monday, December 14, 2020
I woke before the alarm clock could go off at 5:35 am. The outdoor temperature was 16 degrees Fahrenheit, the world dark and quiet. At the athletic club where I coach Masters, I could see tell-tale banks of steam rising from the parking lot and my heart sank - the covers weren't on the pool. Who knew what the water temperature would be after a frigid night with no protection. The indoor lanes were not an option because COVID restrictions limit us to ten people per area and the indoor pool was already reserved.
Trudging through snow on deck to get to the thermometer, I held my breath for something better than 78 degrees. Victory! It was 80. With my massive college parka, my handwarmers in gloves, my triple layers, I was warm enough to stay on deck for an hour. One by one, my morning crew emerged from the long covered hallway and moved quickly but gingerly over the biting cold concrete. I gave the good news about the temperature and tried to recognize and greet each individual, though it was difficult. Between my fogging glasses and face mask I could see very little. My athletes disappeared into the clouds of steam and started their miles.
One vivid hot-pink sunrise and an hour of cold coaching later, I helped them slide and tip-toe over the skating rink that now covered the pool deck, back into the warm tunnel where their towels waited. Such a hardy crew! We earned the sunrise and the bright blue sky that followed their labors. I heard from the manager that she tried to cover the pool yesterday, but the whole unwieldy apparatus was frozen to the ground. Perhaps it will un-freeze later today as the welcome sun emerges. Watching the sun rise every winter Monday is my favorite part of the workout, a harbinger of good tidings and not bad.
Now home, the hardest - and best - part of my day complete, I slowly warm nose and fingers as I watch the cats drink out of the Christmas tree water. My three boys (one husband and two sons) slouch over coffee and cereal at the kitchen table, and my daughter will not likely emerge from her bedroom until after 10. It's nearly Christmas, and regardless of freezing temps, careless cats or grouchy kids, we're getting in the spirit, finding light in the fog, waiting for sunshine to burn the clouds away.
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
My dreams have been vivid over the last week, involving a diverse array of people from my past. College friends, old co-workers, childhood playmates all come forward and ask me to participate in some activity with fervent desire, wide-eyed need. The activities differ but in every dream there is one constant - no one is wearing a mask. This absence of masks usually dawns on me toward the end of the dream and I wake up in terror, as if from a nightmare. "How could I not wear a mask?" I think, before the rational mind kicks in and reassures me that the event never occurred, that I have not recently gone on a plane, into a competition, or to a hotel without a face mask.
I wonder if this phenomenon affects my friends and neighbors. Impossible to say, as we go about our newly restructured routines, smiling at each other with our eyes, or standing 6 feet apart on the greenbelt catching up on the whereabouts and well-being of our children. I usually exercise to the point of exhaustion so that I can fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow, but it takes a lot less exertion these days to get to that point. My body and mind wake up tired and become more tired as I read the news over coffee. I don't know how doctors, nurses and teachers are managing their jobs, managing the stress. They are heroes.
One thing that inspires me and gives me a boost of energy: our neighborhood Christmas lights. The Willow Creek community usually has a high number of decorators at the holidays - colored lights, white icicles, illuminated reindeer, blow-up Santas - these festive items adorn most properties. This year, it seems that every single house has taken on the job of lighting our December, and I volunteer to do driving errands at night just so I can see the flood of colors, twinkling on fences and even random trees in the greenbelt. Where a month ago we had election signs for Trump or Biden, now we have lights. We even have people volunteering to string lights on communal property (though not while wearing masks). No matter the religion or lack thereof, no matter the political beliefs, we are united in trying to make it through the darkest month as much twinkling hope as we can muster.
Sunday, December 6, 2020
"We said we'd all go down together / Yes we would all go down together." - Lyrics to "Goodnight Saigon" by Billy Joel
"As Theodore Roosevelt put it, 'The fundamental rule in our national life - the rule which underlies all others - is that, on the whole, and in the long run, we shall go up or down together.'" - Roosevelt is quoted in "Why Did Racial Progress Stall in America?" by Shaylyn Romney Garrett and Robert D. Putnam in the New York Times
Last week was hard. My son and his swim teammates had their championship meet cancelled two days before they were set to race. One of my co-workers called in sick and I'm anxiously waiting for her test results. Ironically, we were in contact on the one day I was on-site in the last four weeks. My sister is in lockdown in Los Angeles County and my son and my niece are waiting to hear from their top colleges. No wonder that my teeth hurt from nighttime clenching or that my chest permanently feels compressed - from anxiety, not coronavirus.
Which is why I found the op-ed by Garrett and Putnam to be so uplifting. They describe the movement from "I to We to I" over the last 150 years, starting in The Gilded Age of the late 19th century (which looks remarkably similar to our situation at present) and rising toward the "We" movements that equalized the playing field for many in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. Ironically, they note, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s represents the point at which a majority of people had enough of "we" and started the slide back to "I". We seem to be at the height of such egoism now, especially under the non-guidance of our fearful leader, but at least we can hope for the pendulum to swing back to "we" as it has before.
Many American heroes still operate under the system of "we first." Healthcare workers across this country are desperately putting the needs of others before their own, as are first responders and other essential workers. We need to swell their numbers, to put the good of the collective in front of the wealth of the individual, and we need to do it in a hurry. As the virus spreads wildly, I can only hope that one side effect of this pandemic is a movement back to "we," because we all go down - or up - together. Any artificial and hypothetical separation will not withstand the tidal wave of the coming months.
Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Today, December 2nd, we celebrate the 50th birthday of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Tasked with protecting our country’s environment and public health, the agency’s role has never been more important. During the COVID-19 pandemic, disadvantaged communities plagued by dirty air have suffered from coronavirus at disproportionately higher rates.
The EPA is also our country’s best defense against the climate crisis. Since 1970, scientists have proven definitively that climate change is real. We must address it now in order to stave off the worst impacts. Here in Colorado, we’re already seeing its effects, with incidence of deadly forest fires growing more frequent and severe each year. We need an EPA driven by a bold, knowledgeable vision to correct the course.
Under Trump’s EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, who was a coal lobbyist, we had four years of rollbacks which gutted over 100 environmental safeguards. It’s time to put the EPA back on track. President-elect Joe Biden has committed to spending $2 trillion in investments on clean energy infrastructure over the next 4 years. This promises huge benefits to not only the climate, but also public health and the economy - a bold re-start for the EPA just in time to celebrate its 50 years.
Sunday, November 29, 2020
It's a good thing we put our Thanksgiving turkey in an oven bag, because the temperature in the oven refused to go over 275 degrees F. Aden and I kept peering at the display and I wrung my hands frequently as persistent clicks by the oven refused to signify those desperately-needed five-degree jumps. "Don't worry," she said. "The turkey must just be blocking the heat from the thermometer." I prayed she was right; the stuffing and mashed potatoes were done, the boys were starving, and all we needed was the turkey and the gravy.
At the two-and-a-half hour mark, we finally opened the oven door to a decidedly temperate oven. No blast of heat fogged my glasses, and when I looked at the meat thermometer it was barely 150. My cries of despair (and the smell of the turkey) got Rob off the coach and he came to inspect the situation. He switched the oven from convection to conventional, went to the fuse box to play with switches, and then peered intently within. "The bottom element is broken," he finally said. "Did you know about that?"
"No!" I shouted as I tore hair from my head. "We baked three desserts yesterday without a problem, I don't know what happened." At a loss for alternatives, we placed the bird back in the oven and I watched over it for another two hours as it slowly cooked at 275 degrees. Thanks to the oven bag, we finally got the inner temp up to 170 on the meat thermometer and proceeded to tear the bird apart in a graceless display of unskilled carving. The restless natives devoured Thanksgiving dinner approximately three hours later than I had planned.
The following day we bought our big Christmas tree. I already have two artificial trees up and lit, desiring more light for the dark days of Covid winter. The Douglas fir is a lovely eight feet high, and I purchased new white lights to illuminate it. "Trying something new," I told Rob when he raised his eyebrows at the price of the LED strings. "I need more light this year."
Aden helped me string the lights on our tree; we had two 58-foot strands so we managed to place a high density of bulbs on every bough. When we plugged turned the lights on for the big reveal, the resulting pale blue glow nearly blinded us. Dismayed but undeterred, we decorated the rest of the branches with baubles and memorabilia, none of which you can actually see when the lights are on. I took Rob out across the street and we discovered the tree shone brightly through our shuttered front window, illuminating the entire living room and the front yard.
A Griswold start, then, to our holidays, but it's certainly a time for light and laughter. Zoom calls with families, replete with family jokes, contributed to the humor and to the surreal feeling of the end of 2020.
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Aden's Covid test came back negative yesterday so she will come home this afternoon to celebrate Thanksgiving. In a few minutes I will attempt to thaw my small turkey in solidarity with home chefs across the country. We won't be seeing anyone outside of our immediate family unit, so Zoom calls and cooking rituals will have to take the place of in-person connection.
Our family will change our usual dinnertime grace at the Thanksgiving meal to include the following two prayers. My mother sent uplifting verses from Emerson, which I've included first. The second prayer was recommended by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. The "Cadet Prayer" is bracing, fortifying. It raises our awareness and appreciation of the people around the country who are choosing the "harder right instead of the easier wrong." Both leave me feeling grateful for first responders, all healthcare workers, election officials who did their job and stood up to power, and for each of you.
For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
West Point Cadet Prayer
O God, our Father, Thou Searcher of Human hearts, help us to draw near to Thee in sincerity and truth. May our religion be filled with gladness and may our worship of Thee be natural.
Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking, and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretence ever to diminish. Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.
Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.
Guard us against flippancy and irreverance in the sacred things of life. Grant us new ties of friendship and new opportunities of service. Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer.
Help us to maintain the honor of the Corps untarnished and unsullied and to show forth in our lives the ideals of West Point in doing our duty to Thee and to our Country.
All of which we ask in the name of the Great Friend and Master of all.
Monday, November 23, 2020
"As we approach the holidays dominated by losses, uncertainty, and human depravity, we can still be open, in a gentle way, to noticing what is good in our lives, who or what is holding us, a child's smile, a poem, someone's love, perhaps spirit." - Thandiwe Dee Watts-Jones for CNN
"And when the weight of the suffering in the world feels like too heavy a burden -- this world that's so impossibly beautiful and unbelievably sad -- I remember the advice of Edmond Burke. 'Never despair,' he said. 'But if you do, work on in despair.'" - Sy Safransky in a November letter to subscribers of The Sun
Every night, before reading soothing fiction on my Kindle, I write at least five items in my gratitude journal. The number five has some significance, a high enough number to force my brain to recognize good fortune, perhaps. And it works, generally, inducing a surprising sense of well-being before I lose myself in fiction and then dreams. Themes emerge and reappear over the years, gratitude for friends and family, health, children's accomplishments and resulting growth and self-confidence, my husband's equanimity and hard work. I know that I am extremely fortunate, but at times (like the present) my personal stability does not outweigh the cares of my community and country.
The weight of suffering in our poor, mishandled world threatens to sink all those who are paying attention. Health care workers barely have time to breathe or eat, let alone plan a Thanksgiving meal and Zoom with family. Corrupt politicians have lied and misled millions of people into believing an alternate reality, one where the virus doesn't even exist. Perhaps because of these lies, this inability to live in truth, the coronavirus map gets darker by the day as public health officials invent new shades of red or purple to convey the seriousness of the pandemic.
As Sy Safransky noted in his letter to subscribers of The Sun, this world is both "impossibly beautiful and unbelievably sad." This Thanksgiving week as we muster brave smiles for our families, count our individual blessings, and pray for those who need divine assistance, we inhabit both sides - the beautiful and sad - simultaneously. My emotions swoop and dive, my determination to make the holiday special for the children buoys me for a morning of frantic to-do's before I crash and nap to escape the despair that comes on suddenly, like a food coma.
It's not really gratitude vs. despair, not "either/or" but rather "both/and." The emotions run on different tracks at the same time, and I have a foot on each train (a difficult feat for someone lacking in flexibility and coordination). On the gratitude side, I give thanks for every one of you and know you are all so vital in this complicated web, this world that is struggling. We must keep going, working on through despair, taking time for gratitude when we can and believing we can somehow maintain our balance through 2020 and get to the other side.
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
"In fact (at the time of publishing), 78,664,742 Americans voted - an unprecedented number - for a duo that aims to represent all people, our democracy, and its potential to serve the common good. What statement of the nation's conscience over the alternative of tyranny, xenophobia, and self-dealing."
- Jen Hoffmann, Americans of Conscience (Newsletter)
"I thought there would be more celebrating."
- Board member of our local Indivisble chapter, November 17, 2020
I am torn between conflicting poles. The first is a desperate desire to retreat and replenish my spiritual and creative energy, to detoxify my brain from the barrage of negative news generated by 45 and his cronies. The second is a driving need to increase my activism and move toward positive change, based on the news and needs of the moment. The election of the Biden - Harris ticket was a good start but we can't wait to capitalize on it.
A yearning to provide my children with a decent planet and positive future generates both desires. I need to act to mitigate this current disaster in our country, but I also need space to imagine positive solutions, move toward utopia rather than slide toward the dystopia we catch glimpses of outside our quarantine windows. How can we find mental energy to dream bigger and imagine better if we are bogged down in current headlines?
My morning reading of the news generates passion and quotes enough to fill several blogs, but leaves me barren in terms of generating alternative solutions. I'm working on a children's book with my mom, set in rural Wyoming in the late 1940's. Unfortunately, with news of Trump's latest mis-deeds scrolling in a perpetual news feed across my brain, I struggle to visualize my characters in northern Wyoming, have a hard time generating dialogue or action that does not relate to our immediate, desperate straits.
And make no mistake, we are still in desperate straits. While encouraged and emboldened by the wonderful results of the presidential election, the current occupant of the White House, our toddler-in-chief, still refuses to concede and begin the important work of transition. Our Arctic is being sold off to oil companies for drilling, senior aides are having to drag Trump back from bombing Iran's nuclear sites, and the coronavirus is causing a humanitarian disaster in our country. Teams from Doctors Without Borders have been deployed to various locations in the United States, a shocking example of how far and fast we have fallen. Instead of donating to their efforts in Africa or Haiti, I find them in the state next door.
So how to manage the dichotomy of engagement and removal? Some friends alternate periods of action with news fasts, yoga and bubble baths. I tried that over the weekend and made some progress, though not enough to generate periods of creativity. It appears that I will have to learn how to manage both sets of train tracks and master switching from one to the other, from ramping up my activism to clearing the mind for creativity, and that the situation may be required for some time. The engineer in my brain must get busy, because failure on either track is not an option.
PS - If you are interested in activism this week, I am including the link to the current Americans of Conscience checklist (here).
Thursday, November 12, 2020
"While the election is behind us, the work continues. Democracy is a daily journey."
- Emily Cherniack, Founder of New Politics (CNN Next Steps)
"Trump is denying reality and impeding a lawful transition in ways that diminish the United States before the world, that make our country less governable and that risk inciting violence. This is presidential vandalism."
- Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, Nov. 12, 2020
When Daniel was a toddler, he was prone to temper tantrums and I was prone to anger as I watched them. On a January day early in 2009, he threw a fit in Macy's as Rob and I attempted to post-Christmas shop at the major markdown sales. Rob was purchasing clothing at a register with William and I told the boys that Aden and I would head out to wait in the car. Daniel had a choice to wait or walk, but chose to do neither. Instead, he came out into the crowded hallway between suits and belts and began to wail as I walked toward the door, throwing his little body down on the linoleum and pounding his tiny fists. What did I do? I walked away, knowing that his father was close by and having no patience for the fit of impotent rage.
Ring any bells? Our democracy is currently being held hostage - and vandalized - by a corrupt and selfish man with the maturity of a two-year-old. With the exception of a slender few, Republicans are failing to confront him with the truth - that he lost. There is no possibility of his lawsuits against the states succeeding and there is no chance that his margins of failure will be decreased by recounts to any significant level. Would that our country's leadership could just walk away from his fury, move on and walk out the door to the future. Instead, many are supporting his futile efforts to establish a alternate reality.
I would like to recognize and congratulate the Republican senators, governors and leaders who have acknowledged Biden as the President-elect - I believe there are four or five out of 50+. The remainder should be forced to resign their office as they are failing to live up to their oath to serve this country and its Constitution. I have Republican heroes, including John McCain and - recently - Mitt Romney, but I swear to you on my life that I will never vote for a Republican again if they don't stand up to the imbecile in office.
Kristof writes in his current article that polls suggest 70% of Republicans don't believe we had a free and fair election. Do you know why? Because alt-right social media, following their so-called leader, purveys untruths day and night, claiming fraud and stolen votes despite a complete lack of evidence. The subject makes me feel more sick than even headlines about the runaway coronavirus. No surprise there - the leaders of our country have left this ship completely rudderless as they deal with untruths, alternative realities and presidential ire.
Democracy will be an ongoing struggle for at least a generation. For those of us who fought for Joe Biden and down-ballot candidates and measures, we are just at the beginning of the fight to uphold the values of the Constitution and America's place in the world. Don't get too comfortable in your easy chair, don't put away your walking shoes or your dialing thumbs. We won this election by five million votes and we may all need to be out in the streets in order to make our victory a reality.
Tuesday, November 10, 2020
"...the reason your mom is laughing so much tonight is because she's drunk, and the reason she's crying is because she's drunk." - Maya Rudolph as Vice President - Elect Kamala Harris on "Saturday Night Live," November 7, 2020
"Pyrrhic victory - a victory that is offset by staggering losses." - Google
"Trump is a demagogue who .... makes people feel proud of things they had been made to feel ashamed of, even if they should have been ashamed." - Bret Stephens, New York Times, Nov 9, 2020
I was in my car when I heard that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had been declared winners of the 2020 presidential election. Tears erupted and my grip on the steering wheel grew shaky as I gasped for air. The tension of last week flowed out with the salt water and when I parked at the grocery store I had to slump over the dash and breathe for a few minutes before I could leave my car.
Dazed and pleasantly shocked, I gathered random groceries; cheese ravioli for a family that can't eat dairy, ground bison, shots of turmeric (to combat the evening alcohol), and chocolate zucchini bread with coconut whipped topping for celebrating. As the Natural Grocers' employee checked my disparate items I whispered, "Did you hear the news?" and when she stared at me blankly I told her that Biden had won. Her eyes widened and smile lines broke out above the mask. "That's the best news I've ever heard," she said, "thank you."
An avalanche of positive texts, fireworks-and-flags gifs, and excited exclamation points filled the rest of the day. Our TV was on CNN - unheard of in our house where we typically eschew all forms of televised news - and we drank champagne during the acceptance speeches, when I cried all over again. The first woman in the white house, the diversity of the first and second families, the happiness of the people, it all overwhelmed me. I was not drunk - at least not on alcohol - but I was laughing, crying and dancing.
And yet there was a dark side to the celebrations. Our lame-duck President, our "dic-tweeter" (as my friend Tim says), is categorically incapable of acknowledging defeat. He cannot admit to being a loser and will never agree to leave office in any sane or rational way. Leading senators are supporting his futile claims of fraud even as all living US Presidents, world leaders and even some admirable congressional Republicans (Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse) congratulate Biden and Harris and prepare for a welcome new chapter.
It's extremely difficult to understand how 70 million Americans could vote for a sociopath, a liar, and a greedy narcissist whose pathetic inability to lead has cost over 230 thousand Americans their lives. He seeks only to enrich his bloated self and his grasping family. Why did this dishonest shyster seem preferable to honest old Joe for such a huge number of our fellow citizens?
One reason, described by Stephens in the NYT, explains how Trump gives people permission to express feelings they have previously been made to feel ashamed of (racism, misogyny, hatred of liberals). I had to look up the word "demagogue," which means someone who "seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument" (Oxford Languages) and certainly Trump is a good example. The freedom to express hatred has, sadly, been liberating for many even as it has hurt, scared or even killed many targets of that hatred.
Stephens and his co-author Gail Collins also explain the votes for Trump through the lens of the urban - rural divide. Collins says "If you look at political divisions that way, they seem more reasonable - less selfish and arbitrary. If you live in an urban area, you're continually reminded of how much we need government to keep order and provide services. If you're rural, everything seems to be put on your own back, and government spending just seems intrusive." (NYT). That rational explanation appeals to the part of my brain that keeps screaming "Why?!"
Lastly, James Hamblin (The Atlantic) explains how Trump sold his failure on the virus response to so many people by illustrating how "when we are sick or threatened by disease, we seem uniquely susceptible to scams." Quacks like Trump offer an easy solution, a comforting - though false - truth that is easier to believe than the cold rationality of scientists and medical professionals. The fact resonates with me. When I was desperately ill with a unique auto-immune problem I tried everything under the sun to heal, including far-fetched modalities such as "tapping" or so-called professionals with ESP who could diagnose and cure me over the phone.
If a charismatic leader sells you his (or her) false truth you are comforted regardless of rationality. People buy into the person of the leader rather than pay attention to the truth (or lack thereof) in what that leader says. Stephens concludes, "orienting your sense of truth around a person can be more comforting than doing so around a nebulous, uncertain, or otherwise threatening reality." It's easier not to think.
So we have 70 million people who have abdicated the need for careful thought revolving around the person of Donald Trump, who refuses to vacate the White House or acknowledge the legitimate victory of his opponent. My brief weekend celebration has faded into memory as headlines once again generate tension and stress. Yesterday the lame duck fired his Secretary of Defense - what will happen today? No one can predict what will occur over the next seven weeks, but it's certain that our work to restore hope, truth, science and empathy is far from over.
Thursday, November 5, 2020
"I suppose we have to believe the arc of history bends towards justice but it certainly takes some incredible hairpin detours."
- Marina Hyde, November 4, 2020 (The Guardian)
At Rob's request, we watched a documentary on UFO sightings and alien encounters a few days ago. I was incredulous at first, but the evidence for alien vehicles and even alien "persons" mounted to such an extent that I had to suspend my disbelief. The climax of the documentary was footage of the Ariel School in Ruwa, Zimbabwe, where a large group of students saw a landed UFO in 1994. Not only did they see a vehicle, but they reported communicating with a strange being. These beings told the students that humans were on the wrong path, that technology was dangerous and that we needed to protect the earth. Then they left.
Bear with me here. In the show, numerous experts made the case that more advanced forms of life had visited our planet many times with the intent of highlighting how foolish and dangerous our nuclear weapons stock was to life, as well as letting us know that we are "on the wrong path." For some reason, that's all I could think of as election results trickled in over the last two days and I watched the divide in our country grow deeper and more treacherous. Where are these advanced life forms now? We are apparently in grave danger as a country and as a planet, wouldn't this be a good time for them to make a pit-stop in a battleground state? They could give us a gentle shove, or violent push, in the right direction.
This idea didn't ring any bells with the checkers at Trader Joe's yesterday, as we mused collectively about the nerve-wracking vote counts. Of course I could only see their eyes over the masks, but there were no sympathetic smile lines or warm chuckles when I finished my (semi-joking) explanation about how the aliens should come save us. They just scanned my cart for alcohol, gave a sigh of relief that the plastic partition separated us, and got me checked out as fast as they could.
I guess we're on our own here, and though the voting and vote-checking process has gone more smoothly than I anticipated, my nerves are shot from watching the endless parade of states that are "too close to call." Marina Hyde of The Guardian mentioned, in the same article referenced above, that Trump had more support in 2020 than he did in 2016 - in counties with the highest number of COVID fatalities. What to make of that?
I can't predict anything in 2020 and it seems that the experts can't, either. In a world where hairpin turns are the norm and unseen dangers lurk behind every flip of the calendar, it seems apropos that we ask for help from aliens. If I just replace my election yard signs with advertisements to use the lawn as a landing strip, we could either get the scoop on how to fix things, or just leave with the little people when they go.
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
Waiting is the worst, especially for those of us cursed by a lack of patience. My stomach jumps every time I see a headline flash on the phone or a text notification from one of my political friends - I wonder what fresh disaster has befallen us now? Today is a big day, but it won't give us the results with finality that we long for. My favorite prayer, from Teresa of Avila, has this line, "Patience attains the goal," and I'm struggling to keep that in mind.
Yesterday I threw myself into volunteering. I distributed literature, monitored polling places from the safety of my car to make sure there were no signs of trouble (there weren't), and spent two hours texting voters in Colorado to make sure they had their ballots in. The text script provided for volunteers started with the cagey line, "Are we still on for tomorrow?" The vast majority of recipients responded with confusion, but one spunky individual responded to the unknown number with this: "We sure are - and I bought a sexy new outfit." I hope she wears it to the polls today.
It's difficult to believe that four years have passed since the shock, anger and despair of the 2016 election. Harder still to grapple with the awareness that today is not the finish line, for any of us. I've made a vow not to post anything on social media for the next month or so, to stay as calm as possible with friends of all beliefs, and to be kind. Parts of that vow will be challenging for me, but our country will have to survive the aftermath of this desperate election year no matter what the result, and now is a good time to start practicing the values that I've been seeking in our elected officials. Good luck to our country, and to us all.
Saturday, October 31, 2020
Goblins, ghouls and evil witches can't hold a candle to the terrors of this election season. It often seems, as I scour the webpages of the nation's biggest newspapers, that there are no treats to be had in American this fall, only tricks. Rumors of election interference and pending violence battle with headlines about the record-breaking number of cases of COVID-19 (99,000+ yesterday) for supremacy. What do we hold onto when the masks don't come off and the full moon can't provide enough light?
I find hope in the stories of grad students who spent hundreds of dollars on a last-minute flight home to vote (Wash Post). Their absentee ballots didn't come in time, so they took matters into their own hands and flew home to stand in line and vote in person. Americans are on track to break 150 million votes cast in the election for the first time, and people are voting as if their lives depend on it (which they do). Our engagement gives me reason to hope.
Brave medical professionals standing up for science also give me hope, from the epidemiologists like Fauci and Birx who will not be silenced to the brave doctors and nurses who are gearing up for battle in the nation's hospitals. Unlike Trump, who believes that medical workers are inflating COVID death tolls for profit (CNN 10/31/2020) we can rationally see that these men and women are taking on high levels of personal risk to their physical and mental health in order to save all of us, from the careful to the careless.
I will put a table at the end of my driveway this evening, fill it with candy and pumpkins for the little ones who walk by, and cheer them on from six feet away. I will be simultaneously cheering on the brave Americans who give me hope in this season of terrors and praying for their success on November third and throughout the rest of the perpetual Halloween that is 2020.
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
"More than 70 million Americans have cast ballots, a pace that suggests highest turnout in a century."
- BBC, October 28, 2020 (BBC.com)
Voting continues apace here in the United States, as people across the country mail in, drop off, or line up to cast ballots. We have already passed half of the turnout in the entire 2016 election and six days remain until November 3rd. That scale of civic engagement is refreshing and hopeful - and worrisome to those of us who care deeply about the results (tens of millions on both sides). Impossible to know how the early voters voted, and which candidates and issues are ahead.
Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans are waging hundreds of legal battles in court to determine whose vote will count. "In almost every instance," says my morning update from the New York Times (NYT, David Leonhardt), "Democrats are trying to make it easier for Americans to cast ballots, and Republicans are trying to make it harder." My coffee boiled anew in my stomach as I read that sentence, and I searched my inbox for more hopeful signs.
Fortunately I came upon a thank you note sent from the folks at Vote Forward. As I wrote several weeks ago, I composed and sent some sixty letters through this organization. The letters were addressed to likely Democrats who had a spotty record of turning out to vote and were sent out en masse on October 17. Vote Forward had some awesome statistics listed in their thank you email:
- 17,562,304 letters written by 184,059 volunteers
- Total value of stamps purchased, supporting the USPS: $9.7 million
- Total estimated words written: 643 million
A tale of successful citizen activism; fingers crossed that the letters, with their impassioned pleas to vote, have found their mark in battleground states across the country. Less than a week to go, time to volunteer wherever you can in order to make this election a success for the majority of Americans.
Sunday, October 25, 2020
"Winter is coming." The tagline from Game of Thrones takes on new meaning these days as a tidal wave of COVID rises over the United States and winter storm warnings dot our phones here in Colorado. The exceptionally warm fall has given way to temperatures in the teens, and we look ahead to long months of weathering the storms inside.
We snuck in an outdoor "Friendsgiving" meal with neighborhood families yesterday, on the one day of sunny, semi-warm weather between cold fronts. Teenage boys gathered in one corner of the yard, college girls in another, and the dads and moms segregated in well-spaced groups of four near the patio. Everyone added coats as the temperature fell and reluctantly called it when the sun started to slip below the hazy horizon.
Add an existential dread around the election to this mix of forecasts and you have a perfect storm of tension and uncertainty. I have little desire to do any of my normal activities and writing has fallen by the wayside. My one imperative is to drive north to Montana and rescue my mom from the snow, dark and cold. She hasn't yet acquiesced to the plan, but Rob and I can't help but feel that she would be safer here in the winter months, and would certainly light up our family as we self-isolate from November until early spring.
From now until daylight hours and spring seeds start to grow we'll have to do the hard work of cultivating hope and finding silver linings. The cold and snow today, for example, could provide a boon to overstressed firefighters by limiting the growth of the wildfires in the mountains near Estes Park. Time indoors and reduced work hours at the club could provide time to write my way into an actual book (instead of just talking about it). If my mother comes, her presence will be an outright gift to all and a boon to the children doing school remotely.
We know that change is a constant, that however dark our winter the spring must eventually come. There will be a vaccine for the virus, there will be a light at the end of our tunnel and even though I'll get tired of pumping the handcart of hope fast and furious along those tracks, I bet we're gonna make it through.
Monday, October 19, 2020
"Life's the movie. God's the director. The history books are the camera. It's live. Be you. Press record. It's on. Go."
Monday, October 5, 2020
Humans tell stories to make meaning of the random, serpentine twists of life. I always wanted my storyline to read “Naïve public school girl graduates from Ivy League School, joins business consulting firm, travels world, becomes famous exec and philanthropist (or maybe college professor). Instead, events swerved from business consultant to mom of three small children has complete autoimmune breakdown, writes her way back to sanity and health, self-publishes two books, builds strong family life with great kids but has no career to speak of.
That second set of plot points is harder to work into a coherent narrative. Until I could craft a positive, meaningful story out of those obstacles I felt lost. I recognize the same lost feeling in our poor, drifting country. What happened to the “greatest country on earth, the land of the free and home of the brave?” Does anyone think that storyline describes our descent into COVID madness, our White House hot-spot of infection or our snarling, divided populace? Lady Liberty’s light has gone out, and we have lost the plot.
Experts agree – there is no going back to “normal.” Until we construct a new narrative we’ll all feel a bit at sea. We don’t yet know the ending, of course; this year alone holds a pandemic, roiled campaigns and already-contested election. But perhaps we can envision the story we want to write. We need a timeout from headlines and deadlines to expand our imagination and write the resolution we want to read.
Mira Ptacin provided a great example of replotting her story in “I am Not a Housewife. I’m a Prepper,” her Op Ed in the New York Times (Ptacin). Ptacin describes giving up her career for the pandemic as – not returning to the 1950’s housewife era – but evolving into a 21st century goddess teaching her children how to grow a garden and raise chickens, buy generators and prepare for any possible calamity.
So if we’ve lost the familiar plot as individuals and/or as a nation. we are free to imagine a new storyline. As a nation we may require new heroes and supporting characters, new tools to triumph at the climax of the action (which I pray is coming soon). As individuals we are the heroes of our own stories, able to vanquish the villain or the inner demon and claim our reward in triumph. We can do the same collectively for our country, imagining a new and better future where the good guys win, at least until the sequel.
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
" 'Hope' is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all - "
- Emily Dickinson, "'Hope' is the Thing with Feathers"
Waking up this morning after a night spent tossing and turning, trying to banish thoughts of the cataclysmically awful presidential debate, I reached desperately for poetry or prayer to hold onto. Dickinson's wonderful lines on hope swam into focus and I repeated them fervently for a few moments as I poured my coffee. A good thing, too, because the morning dealt me two quick kid-crises. First William somehow inhaled a probiotic into his sinus cavity, an activity which resulted in copious amounts of water and snot on floor, counter and ceiling. Second, Aden called in a panic from her apartment in Boulder because she woke up from a deep sleep and "couldn't remember anything."
Overcoming the panic I felt at a 7:15am call from my college student who is under a stay-at-home order in virus-swamped Boulder, I reassured her that her wake-up experience was normal and wished for myself that I had that same experience, especially this morning. Now sitting at my computer, I scan headlines and try to quell my heartburn with more coffee as I review the piteous landscape that is American politics. On the BBC website, headlines read "Trump and Biden duel in chaotic, bitter debate" and "'The loser is us, the American people" and "Childish, grueling and an 'unwatchable fever dream' - how the world saw Tuesday's debate.'"
I can't bear to comment or to analyze more deeply. My one fervent wish is that such a debate never happen again. I pray that Biden's campaign decides to skip on the next two presidential debates. They would be the same, if not worse, and no one needs to re-live that torture.
Turning away from that scarring experience, I have to reach for hope, that elusive winged creature that "never stops - at all-". Dickinson's poem shows her sympathy for those - like me - who wrestle with their demons and strain to find and cling to hope, but also throws down the gauntlet. We can't stop holding on to hope. My family needs me to provide sinus spray and answer early morning phone calls (and who knows what the next crisis will be?) and without those fantastic wings of hope to lift me skyward, I would be flat on the floor this morning.
Thursday, September 24, 2020
Vote - formal expression of one's wish or choice with regard to a proposal, candidate, etc., from Latin votum "a vow, wish, promise to a god, solemn, pledge, dedication" (https://www.etymonline.com/word/vote)
The President will not commit to a peaceful transition if Joe Biden wins. Yesterday he said that the way to ensure peace is to throw the ballots out and have a "continuation" instead of a transition. (CNN) He weighed in with the same sentiments today, saying he wasn't sure the election could be "honest." (nytimes.com). This should ring alarm bells loudly for every American who dissents. But don't let his empty threats discourage you; we need to turn our worries into solemn vows - to vote.
Every vote counts and every electoral representative gathered provides another layer of protection for our democracy. We are in grave danger of losing our beloved democratic experiment to an autocrat and a tyrant who is using fascist tactics straight out of Nazi Germany to discourage his naysayers and incite his followers.
But never think that we're stuck here, because we're certainly not. Trump is not strong, but weak. As Michelle Goldman said in the NY Times, "his strongman threats are scary" (Goldman, NYT) but never forget that he makes these threats because he wants to discourage us from voting. He knows that we can remove him from office, legally and permanently.
Your vote matters! Make a plan as to how and when you will vote, tell at least three other people about your plan and hold yourself to it. In this most important election of our lifetime, you must take a position or forever regret your silence. Consider how close the word "silence" is to "science" - just one letter, an "l" vs a "c" - transforms clarity into confusion, truth into lies. In the same just a few hundred votes can lose an elector, a county, a state.
We are all living on the knife edge between truth and lies, clarity and a muddy future. It will take all of us to tip the election towards the truth. Envision winning in a landslide, envision a year without Trump dominating the airwaves, the Twitterverse, the headlines - then make it happen. You don't need to argue, debate or coerce. We're not trying to win anyone over, we're just trying to win. So vote as if it's your last time, because if you don't make the effort, it may be.
Monday, September 21, 2020
"And when my time is up, have I done enough?
Will they tell your story?"
- "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story" from Hamilton, Lyrics by Lin-manuel Miranda
"Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you."
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice
The news of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death was a body blow to me and many others across the United States. On Friday, I sobbed into my spaghetti sauce at the news, received via text from my politically active friends. Reactions ranged from the terribly sad to shocked to horrified at the implications her passing will have for the Supreme Court and for our country. For a brief moment it seemed that all would be lost and visions of Senator McConnell and President Trump gleefully celebrating in some remote office danced in my head.
Sorrow, anger, loss, admiration and envy swam around in my chest. Admiration for an amazing life well-lived and envy that no one could doubt that Madame Ginsburg had done enough with her life. She adjudicated well and fought until the end, until the first day of early voting in four states, the blessed first day of Rosh Hashanah, before she succumbed to the persistent cancer that has dogged her last years. Now, finally, she can rest. Across the country, good people mourned the loss of a civil rights icon and role model, and I mourned along with them, feeling not only the loss of an amazing woman but sorrow and frustration at my lack of agency in this fight.
One grief has the ability to bring back others and, like a magnet, her loss drew feelings of sorrow related to the pandemic as well as to losses of careers and opportunities that have accumulated in my life. If there's no one left to save us but us, will that be enough? When this fight ends, if indeed it ever does, will people be able to say that I did enough? What stories will they tell, what verdict will they render?
It's time to rise to the example set by Ruth Bader Ginsberg, to fight with calm determination and dogged persistence for the rights of all people now and into the future. We are now the leaders and have no time yet to rest or to mourn. I'm grateful for the time for do more and will try to make the most of it, as she did.
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
"Life is a shipwreck,
But we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.
Monday, September 14, 2020
For the last three nights I have been abruptly awakened in darkest hours by a horrific nightmare brought on, I would guess, by virus-related stress and exacerbated by the news out of the fire-stricken West Coast. Old friends and family members in California post pictures of an orange sky, or exclaim about seeing sunshine after a week of blackout smoke. I wake up shouting "NO!" and reaching over the covers for Rob to reassure myself that everything is still (mostly) OK.
On Saturday morning, after one of those broken nights, I sat in my parked car facing out toward Lone Tree Parkway as I waited for Daniel to finish his taekwondo class (masked, of course). An endless parade of pickup trucks boasting huge American flags and "Trump 2020" signs passed in front of me, honking wildly and gathering volume as more vehicles added on to the back of the line. My blood pressure and heart rate rose as I watched my fellow citizens claim the flag for Trump, for his reckless policies that have led to over 190,000 deaths in our country, policies that have rolled back protections for the environment and exacerbated the climate change that is wreaking havoc on the West and Gulf Coasts via fire and hurricanes.
If Trump supporters have claimed the flag and made it their own I have only myself to blame. I am conflict-avoidant and internally focused, an introvert, allergic to phones and to pointless driving. Though I am unlikely to start or participate in a Biden-Harris parade around the neighboring town, I can still 'wake up' from my internal state, shout "NO!" in a voice that can be heard, and make my strong views known.
Those of us in the "silent majority" that Trump claims, but which actually belongs to the nation's moderates on both sides of center, need to re-claim our flag and our nation. We can't avoid vocal displays of patriotism just because they seem connected with the president and his supporters. Election season is growing tense, along with every other situation that has hit us in 2020, and it's time to step up to the plate. In addition to the letter-writing and phone-banking I do at my desk, I need to put out my signs and be visible.
At this tipping point in our nation's history we have to make our voices heard and let our flags fly. Focused action and saying no to people and policies that hurt us might be the only way to vanquish the nightmares.
Friday, September 11, 2020
""When you get those jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game." - Toni Morrison
Starting about a week ago, forecasters for Denver weather made national headlines by predicting a major cold front and storm system would move into the area - extinguishing our early September heat wave and threatening our pipes and plants. The news was not entirely welcome here, our fame for the winter storm warning more annoying than flattering, but the advance notice gave us time to wrap the pipes in towels and garbage bags, unhook the hoses and move our more fragile plants indoors. The preparation saved some minor heartache.
Imagine how much better the country's response to the COVID threat would have been if the president had told the truth and prepared us for the reality of the virus? After reading about the interviews 45 gave to Bob Woodward, and listening to the tapes - which Trump knew were being made - it is obvious that Trump knew the truth about the virus and lied to the American public, ostensibly to avoid panic but really to "protect our shipping industry, our cruise industry, cruise ships, we want to protect our airline industry." Priorities were big industry and the stock market, not human life. (Quote from the NYT, Sept 10, 2020, Michelle Goldberg).
Our current president is obsessed with the idea of his legacy. He willingly gave 18 interviews to famed author Woodward, whose first book about the president was scathing. 45's fascination with the history books and what they will say about him drove him to hide the truth about the virus - that it is much more deadly than the flu, passed on through airborne transmission, and harmful - even deadly - for young people. His misguided belief was that a strong stock market and continued profits in the pockets of rich cronies would somehow protect him from the penetrating regard of historians and future citizens. It's ironic that our country's failure to counter the virus effectively has continued to strangle our economy, as if the invisible market forces recognize the value of human life more than our president.
The president is not the only American who thinks a bank account will be their legacy, who confuses being rich with being important, power with lasting regard. As a country, we seem to prioritize possessions over people, condemn protesters if property is damaged while ignoring the real cost of human life. Human capital is the real prize of any country, the driver of innovative solutions, a network of resources on the ground to grow families, communities and neighborhoods.
As Morrison said to her students, the point of power and freedom are to share them. The legacy of any human life will be shaped by the lives we touch, by how we make people feel, by how we include other people in our own prosperity. The history books will not be kind to our current president or to the movement that supports him. He leaves a legacy of lies that has killed almost 200,000 Americans, beloved mothers, fathers, grandparents, children. How could anyone think that a record stock market could outweigh that human toll, that fleeting economic prosperity could balance out the immense loss of a nation?
Sunday, September 6, 2020
We eyed the ladder set up outside the chain-link fence, wondering whose it was and if it would hold our combined weight. The announcer's voice called the event before William's and we stood on tiptoe, holding the fence just below its menacing barbed wire, scanning the area for our son. Other parents stood at safe distances along the fence, perched on chairs in the back of their trucks or climbing trees, like Daniel, to get a glimpse of their son or daughter preparing to dive into the pool.
While my heart hummed with gratitude just to hear the sounds of a meet - the starter's beep, the cheers of the swimmers, the splash of water at the start - it was difficult to be so close and yet so far. The shallow old 50-meter pool is located on the grounds of a repurposed military base surrounded by dry scrub and dust. At 6:30 pm it was 98 degrees in the shade. Sweat dripped down my legs as I contemplated vaulting over the barbed wire.
But I digress - the point of mentioning the flat, scrubby surrounds was that the pool builders had to construct a four-foot high concrete wall around the pool to keep out trash, leaves, animals, and various other invaders. So we were distanced from the racing by the concrete wall, a wide grassy open space where the swimmers sat in their own deck chairs, and our fence nemesis. In my thirty-six years of swimming I have never seen anything like parents climbing a ladder and holding on between the spikes in barbed wire to watch their kid swim a 50 free. (We never climbed the fence as its popularity shut us out of timely use).
Despite the incongruous location and the heat, the young people swam amazing times. They seized the rare opportunity to compete with other high-caliber swimmers, put on their speed suits and kicked it into gear. We saw two swimmers make Olympic Trials qualifying times, a rare and exciting feat. (When I say "we saw" I mean that we heard it happen in real time). William swam six best times over the course of two days and enjoyed hanging out with his team and with guys from other teams that he only sees at competitions. We recorded the sounds of his walking out to the music as the top heat in the 100 fly, and watched the ten seconds of swimming that we could see from our vantage point.
Swim coaches and staff were amazingly organized and they followed every social distancing rule and requirement - health and temperature checks in the morning, different times for teams to enter and warm up, separate places for swimmers to sit socially distanced on the grass, and masks on deck for all coaches and officials. I'm so proud of our sport, our athletes, coaches and parents. There hasn't been a single instance of a swimmer testing positive for COVID through swimming in our state. My fingers are crossed that the kids can keep practicing even as the weather turns colder and outdoor pools are taken off the table. We parents will watch through windows, fences and live stream if our kids just get a chance to train and compete.
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
"In every city where the league franchise owns and controls the arena property, team governors will continue to work with local elections officials to convert the facility into a voting location for the 2020 general election to allow for a safe in-person voting options for communities vulnerable to COVID."
- NBA Statement, Friday, August 28, 2020
I chopped vegetables for yesterday's stew with uncommon vigor, as if the blows of my sharp knife could eradicate negative headlines from my mind, or separate certain persons from the White House. The news has been tense over the past few days and I went to meet friends for a walk in a rather uncertain mood.
We began striding down the greenbelt, discussing two COVID cases at the high school, the difficulties of online class days for our seniors, and the harrowing issues arising with voting and the general election. Soon sweaty despite a welcome temperature drop (to the low 50's!), our voices rose as we recounted various challenges coming from defunding of the USPS, Republican efforts to wipe voters off the rolls, the limited number of polling places in certain (Democratic-leaning) areas and the lack of older people wanting to staff election polling places in this season of coronavirus.
Just as our optimism started to lag, one walker dropped an excellent piece of news on us, one that I had not seen posted on my usual sources. The NBA negotiated with the NBPA (National Basketball Players Association) to resume the NBA playoffs after putting in place certain social justice initiatives, which include turning team-owned areans into voter registration and / or polling places. The large size of the areas provides room for voters to line up and process with less fear of contracting COVID-19, and their visibility and fan base should allow them to attract even non-traditional voters.
Here's a list of teams who will offer their arenas for voting as of today (9/1/20, per the NBA website):
- Atlanta Hawks: State Farm Arena
- Detroit Pistons: Henry Ford Pistons Performance Center (practice arena)
- Sacramento Kings: Golden 1 Center
- Charlotte Hornets: Spectrum Center (for early voting)
- Washington Wizards: Capital One Arena
- Houston Rockets: Toyota Center
- Los Angeles Clippers: The Forum
- New York Knicks: Madison Square Garden
- Indiana Pacers: Banker's Life Field House
- Utah Jazz: Vivint Smart Home Arena
- San Antonio Spurs: AT&T Center
- Dallas Maverics: American Airlines Center
- Los Angeles Lakers: Staples Center
- Cleveland Cavaliers: Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse
Amazing that the NBPA has turned into a group of national leaders on social justice policy and action. The stunning halt to playoffs brought about by the Milwaukee Bucks refusal to play - due to the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a police officer in Kenosha, WI - was followed by walkouts of players on every team. They were willing to end this strange basketball season in order to advance their cause.
It's all too rare these days to see protest followed by decisive action, but the NBA / NBPA agreement to provide polling and voter registration venues is both heartening and fortifying. Spurred on by this news, our walking group made plans to support voting efforts here in Arapahoe County, and in swing states where possible. After the walk, texts and emails flew as we searched for ways to support a fair and equitable election.
Working to stay hopeful and inspired by the NBA, I put my knife away and turned my fingers to the keyboard. I applied to serve as an election judge here in town and reached out to local contacts. My friends researched needs of swing states and lists of actions at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU. Strange to find much-needed leadership in the NBA instead of the White House or the CDC, difficult to uncover the good truths often hidden by dark and tragic headlines, but we can do it, whatever it takes.
Saturday, August 29, 2020
My siblings took great joy in sending me texts about Hurricane Laura as the storm grew to monstrous proportions and then sent southern states like Louisiana to the hurt locker. My brother John, in particular, sent sympathetic messages to my husband (copying everyone) saying that Rob knew what the wrath of this particular hurricane felt like. I was actually more relieved than usual when the storm caused less damage, a lower storm surge and a smaller death toll than was predicted. I don't know how Katrinas feel these days but it can't be pleasant to have your name tied to a horrific, record-breaking tragedy.
Which brings me to our family angst over the "Karen" memes because - you guessed it - my younger sister's name is Karen. Our brother James loves to tease her with the latest accusations hurled at Karens, while purporting horror at the damage done to her name. My sister takes it all with a grain of salt, but again, it's not really cool to tie such a burden to the names of innocents.
Next on the list of names to be abused is the nickname of my beloved mother, who has thirteen grandchildren to her name - that's right, tropical storm Nana could be making it's way to a coastal area near you. As my mother said, "What are we coming to?" when forecasters could bestow a grandmotherly moniker on a potentially wrathful storm.
I don't know what we're coming to, but I wish I had the strength of a benevolent hurricane and could flatten obstacles in my path. I was strangely, oddly relieved when Marco was the storm to falter and fall apart while Laura was the storm to gain strength - I didn't want any people to suffer because of my namesake but I envied her power (which I would use for good, of course). I would blow the coronavirus into space, clear out air pollution from the Western wildfires, dampen the fires themselves, and at least temporarily restore some cool temperatures to the states burning up in the dog days of summer.
We all look to the powerful people and movements that are attached to our names and sometimes wish we shared that power. That we could attach only good affect and energy to ourselves and separate ourselves from the bad. But that's not true in real life or in fantasy, and we'll try to accept both good and bad with self-deprecating charm and a little humor. And for now we'll just keep a weather eye on Nana.
Thursday, August 27, 2020
"Shared reality is the experience of having in common with others inner states about the world. Inner states include the perceived relevance of something, as well as feelings, beliefs, or evaluations of something. The experience of having such inner states in common with others fosters the perceived truth of those inner states. Humans are profoundly motivated to create shared realities with others, and in doing so they fulfill their needs to have valid beliefs about the world and to connect with others."
- "Shared Reality: Construct and Mechanisms" Current Opinion in Psychology vol 23 October 2018 Elsevier
"One of the biggest lessons I've learned covering the daily information wars of the Trump era is that a meaningful percentage of Americans live in an alternate reality powered by a completely separate universe of news and information."
- Charlie Warzel, "Welcome to the R.N. C.'s Alternate Universe" August 27, 2020, New York Times
It's no surprise that we have a scientific theory about shared reality, or that the study of shared reality theory has heated up over the past decade. If you watched footage from the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention, you can see that the two parties and their followers are not inhabiting the same reality. Each group clings to their interpretation of facts - or even different subsets of facts - and creates shared interpretations and beliefs while diverging more and more from the reality of the other group.
For example, let's look at just a few diverging messages from the conventions:
DNC - President Trump has failed the American people with a disastrous coronavirus response and many thousands more will die because of his continued ineffective policies.
RNC - President Trump triumphed over the coronavirus and now the pandemic is in our rearview mirror.
DNC - Trump's racist and sexist policies denigrate millions of Americans and are eroding the constitutional rights of women, dark-skinned people, LGBTQ communities and others.
RNC - Trump loves women and all dark-skinned people and can demonstrate this love by having members of diverse groups speak at his convention.
DNC - Police departments need better training and hiring practices and more money should flow to social services than to policing.
RNC - The radical left wants to completely defund the police and allow minorities to bring anarchy to the suburbs.
Take as a given that I am biased toward facts used by the DNC, the evidence supports only those claims. There are no facts (based on my daily reading of five different newspapers) that support any of the RNC's conclusions. But sadly, that does not detract from the reality shared by people watching the RNC. They share their reality with other viewers of FOX News and proponents of conspiracy theories on social media. Warzel, from the NYT article, called this group a "meaningful percentage" of our population.
The realization that our country is split into different human tribes, making sense of the world in different shared realities, makes my stomach ache. The divide seems large when you realize that the person next to you sees what you see but interprets it in radically different ways. I can't bear to watch the RNC as it hurts me to see what I consider to be lies propagated on innocent people. For me, misinformation and misinterpretation of facts threatens not only my family and my country but our entire planet. I don't know what to do about this, except to try my best to defeat Trump in the coming election. Even if we start with that propitious beginning, our work to unite the country will have just begun.
Sunday, August 23, 2020
Don't hope on this side of the grave
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells."
- Seamus Heaney, "The Cure at Troy"
When I was a junior at Harvard, Seamus Heaney was my poetry professor. I had no idea then how influential Heaney was as a poet and how his far-reaching verses would echo through the years in the words of world leaders. Their emergence in Joe Biden's acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, as Biden finally accepted his party's nomination for president, took my breath away. The verse "and hope and history rhyme" put my own earlier words about escape plans to shame and prompted me to quickly re-evaluate both my current attitude and my prospective actions.
The seeds of a solution have been planted in the soil of America's discontent, and we pray for a light to penetrate the darkness even as we must be the hands that water and cultivate the soil. I signed up to write get-out-the-vote (GOTV) letters to voters in a swing state. Urging the recipients only to vote and not whom to vote for, the stack of letters is piling up on the side of my desk, waiting until late October when I'm due to send them out.
I've emailed the US Postal Service Board of Governors several times to demand a repeal of the removal of mailboxes and sorting machines, reached out to my congressional representatives to ensure a fair vote. We have donated to campaigns both national and local, pledged to write personal postcards to swing voters in Colorado. I will help people get to drop boxes at the November election, help at the polls if necessary, and continue writing letters to voters.
The United States moves now like a heavily-freighted cargo ship through stormy seas. The ponderous forward motion belies a hefty momentum that will make it hard - but not impossible - for us to change course. Some of the containers we carry hold weighty mass like pride, grievances, anger, blame. We may have to off-load some of this cargo before we can slowly begin to turn our massive ship and avoid the obstacles that now line our path.
I owe a debt of thanks to Biden and Seamus Heaney for plugging me into a hopeful energy that will be necessary in the coming months. While I was too late to understand the greatness of my poetry professor in time to relish his physical presence, I won't be late to recognize the precious - and precarious - nature of our democracy and my role in preserving it.
Thursday, August 20, 2020
"My fortune told me I'm on the wrong road
"Well life's a game, yeah I need the cheat codes
And I hate the snow
But I think I'll dye my hair and I'll move to Alaska.
Last couple of months kinda been a disaster
Tell all my friends I'm asleep if they ask ya
Sorry I had to move to Alaska."
- From lyrics to "Alaska" by Little Hurt
It's been faintly apocalyptic out here in Colorado over the past week in a state besieged by fires and the resulting smoky haze which renders sunrises and sunsets spectacular but prohibits comfortable outdoor breathing. Worries over the safety of firefighters and displaced people leads to worries about the coronavirus in crowded shelters. California has over 300 fires burning and I read their authorities have asked the entire population of the state to be ready to evacuate. The entire state? Where would they go?
Everywhere I look people are designing escape plans for themselves and their families. We made one with our college sophomore daughter, whose backup plan is our basement. She's now moved into her apartment in Boulder, meeting with friends and trying to navigate an impossible line between being social and being safe. She got her two free masks from CU and is planning a meeting with her two roommates to discuss their rules around visitors.
Can you hang out in a friend's open garage without a mask and still be allowed in your boyfriend's rental house the next day? How many unmasked friends do you allow in your own apartment? Somewhere between zero and five people, perhaps? If the answer is none, it's a lonely existence in the heat of summer or the cold of winter. But fear creeps in. CU Boulder has already had 11 positive tests for COVID-19 among the first-years moving in. Colorado College, down the road in Colorado Springs, has had to quarantine 155 young people due to the erratic actions of one individual who tested positive and exposed most of the dorm. It's been over 93 degrees here for ten days and next week holds more of the same; not a fun time to be quarantined in an apartment or dorm without air conditioning.
I heard Little Hurt's song, "Alaska," on the radio this week and grabbed on to it for a hot minute, formulating my own escape plan. "Yes," I thought, "let's move to Alaska." Previously I had my hopes set on New Zealand, but they don't want us and are now fighting a new outbreak of the virus, so perhaps Alaska instead? Shortly after fixing on my new and entirely unrealistic design (I have seasonal affectedness disorder and could never stand the dark of an Alaskan winter), I heard that our current administration plans to drill in the Arctic. There goes another paradise.
It didn't help my mood that William hung out with friends last Friday and found out the next day that one of his buddies had a 103-degree temperature. The friend's fever and aches lasted all weekend and while we waited for the results of his COVID test William quarantined to his room over the garage. It's a big room, so not a bad escape, except that it doesn't have its own bathroom. We got to see William only briefly as he stealth "shopped" in the kitchen with a mask on or dined with us on the porch at a healthy distance. Thank goodness the test came back negative, and William got to go to his first day of senior year, but the worry takes a toll.
And yet, a few moments of joy highlighted the week. Daniel's first day of freshman year went smoothly, and he's already completed his algebra homework for the week. William got to swim in a small competition last night and did well - and I got called in as a volunteer so I watched him swim his 100 fly and 200 IM - a joy for me. The speeches at the Democratic Convention have been good, though sobering, and I finally have time to write some letters to get out the vote. I am grasping at one thread after another these days, feeling my way forward by the Braille of hope, moving not toward Alaska or New Zealand but to some future where we won't all need an escape plan.
Thursday, August 13, 2020
"Now I'm thinkin' about her everyday,
On my mind atypical way
Are you a life force?
Thinking about her everyday
On my mind atypical way
Are you a life force?"
-Lyrics to "By & By" by Caamp
We had a wild few days in the Colorado mountains.. Between Friday and Sunday we camped with five families up at Burning Bear campground, sleeping, hiking and dining at 9600 feet. Lying in our tent in the early morning I could see the pine trees energetically thrusting their way skyward, reaching toward the blue heights remarkably unmarred by clouds. Chipmunks and squirrels chirped and scolded us throughout the day as they plotted to dive into our bread bags and garbage. The warm sunshine baked pine needles and released that irresistible scent which always moves me to go into the woods.
Evenings rendered spectacular starlit skies and low temperatures. Twenty or so people sat around the campfire, tended by one of our Eagle Scouts, and hung their heads back over the edge of camp chairs, looking for shooting stars and marveling at the Milky Way. As the mercury dropped, we lost a little of our social distance, edging our chairs ever-closer to the warmth of the fire and putting out embers that shot high and landed on our fleeces or long pants. Old camping memories were re-told and new memories shaped in games of twilight corn hole and flashlight tag high up on the dark rocks of the mountain.
On Tuesday, having barely unpacked the car and restocked our hiking gear, Aden, William, Sean and I rose at 3:15am and drove back up past Burning Bear to the Mosquito Range, where we climbed four linked mountain peaks over 14,000 feet. We hit the top of Democrat as the sun rose, casting a bright light on rock surfaces and warming our bones a little in the 40 degree temps. We left that summit before 8am and pushed on to the next three, Cameron, Lincoln and Bross. Finished with our top of the world roaming, we started descending on the sliding, shifting terrain of Bross by 10:15am.
Our descent was highlighted by the appearance of two jet fighter planes which swung in a loop over Democrat, higher than the peak but so near to us that I crouched down and held onto the rocks where I stood to watch safely. The boom of the sound barrier's breaking roared immensely large in the open space we occupied, and we cast our eyes for miles in all directions, thrilling to the immensity and beauty of the Colorado mountains.
Headlines and horror stories were far below us, covered by forest fire haze or just erased by the magic of mountains, the beauty of space mostly untouched by humanity. I say mostly because Coloradans are a hardy bunch and even at 5:45 am there were many cars parked on the rutted dirt road at the base of the trail, and a steady supply of hikers mounted the rocks behind us as we hiked. William even ran into two former CCHS swim teammates as we all rested in the saddle below Democrat.
When I heard the song "By & By" on the radio yesterday, the line "are you a life force?" resonated with me, especially strong in the aftermath of our Rocky Mountain adventures. There's an aphrodisiac associated with physical effort and open spaces, the removal of technology and the presence of good friends. Being close to the life force present in mountains, trees, running water and social bonds - all so necessary now to fight back against the depression and exhaustion that goes with the ongoing pandemic - has fueled my tanks and buoyed my hope. Now we're ready for whatever new adventure comes our way.