Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

First, the Good News

 "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

 "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

Escape to Moab and Arches

 "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."

- Matthew McConaughey in People, October 26, 2020


We escaped Colorado's Front Range to the magical valley and city of Moab, Utah, last week during the high schoolers' fall break. Leaving later than anticipated due to William's swim meet, we braved 50 - 60 mph headwinds and a freak snowstorm to drive through the Rockies west on I-70. By the time we arrived in Moab, the temperature had risen from 28 to 54 and we had left gale-force winds, forest fire smoke and daily routines far behind.

Waking up the next morning to a desert landscape we had driven through in the dark, we experienced Christmassy joy. Blue skies, bright sunshine and startling red and pink rock formations met us on hikes leading up from a Colorado River lined with golden cottonwoods. Hikers are a friendly bunch, and I marveled over how easily I could interact with strangers on a trail when politics stayed behind at home and the sunshine broke through the morning chill. Despite the expected complaints about hiking from our 14-year-old, the boys and I had a terrific day outside while Aden finished a final and a presentation online at the rented condo.

Aden's presence was a blessing as we never know how many family vacations we have left in the bank. She needed to escape the smoky air and draconian COVID-19 restrictions in Boulder, and we were delighted to scoop her up from the apartment and bring her with us, especially since she drove at least half of the trip. I love co-piloting with Aden and we relived many driving adventures from road trips past. A favorite memory from our endless drive through unpopulated Nevada kept us in giggles: the highlight of 200 miles of road was the big road sign that read "Trash Can, 100 yards" followed by the aforementioned can, rusted and tipsy but still proudly present.

Seeing a new place for the first time always strikes a bright note of adventure and freedom for me. That's why I put McConaughey's quote above this entry. Being alive means being "live" - the tape is rolling and we don't get any rewinds. The old normal isn't coming back, but we can still be true to ourselves and tackle the things we want to do, the efforts we want to be our legacy. I hope that road trips have become part of our family's DNA, that new adventures and places always call to the children, reminding them that even in a pandemic in this strange year of 2020 we can drive and hike through uncharted territory, explore new examples of Nature's prowess, and find eternal sources of joy and contentment.
 

Monday, October 5, 2020

We've Lost the Plot

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.