Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Quarantinaversary

 We've had the "quarantini," the "quaranteam," and now the "quarantinaversary," a bittersweet notation of one year in the bored/panicked/sad/hysterical timeframe since COVID first upended our daily lives. For those who have experienced great loss, for whom the time has been purely bitter, I am truly sorry. For the rest of us, who have experienced inconvenience and fear but averted catastrophe, we recognize our fortune while at the same time wrestling with an amorphous sense of loss. 

Our children have lost some of their education as well as socialization skills and abilities. Cherished rites of passage such as baptisms, confirmations, proms, graduations, birthday parties have been moved, removed, or observed in stripped-down, somber variations of the normal. We all miss loved ones, physical contact and a sense of optimism. 

But that optimism is creeping back, sending smoke signals above the horizon, which we might see when we venture out of our homes and bunkers. Many members of my masters swim team have vaccine appointments and on this sunny Saturday morning they compared notes about which vaccine they will receive, and when. My sister got her first vaccine last week, in the nick of time before the kids come back to school. In our district, all of the teachers and staff will be fully vaccinated and safe two weeks before they bring the children back to middle school and high school full time, to finish out the school year with a semblance of normalcy.

So this anniversary marks not only our sorrow at a troubled year but our perseverance in conquering its obstacles. We helped those in our communities, we celebrated health workers who toiled beyond the limits of human endurance to help us, we elected a new administration and embarked on a more hopeful path. Every person reading these words has struggled through difficult days, clawed his/her/their way out of bed when bed seemed like the only safe place, and made the world just a little bit better for those around them.

As we mourn those we've lost, as we recognize the trauma felt by a nation, we can also celebrate our strength and collective determination. We can proceed with caution, with masks and distancing, even as we allow the bubble of hope to swell within us and buoy us through the remaining struggles of the pandemic. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Tears at Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's employees are some of the friendliest folks you will meet in public, especially during the pandemic. The cashiers and baggers never fail to say hello, ask how my day is going, or comment on my food choices. The gluten free chicken tenders always get a comment, I think one young man has told me three times how he likes to eat them in a sandwich with the gluten free waffles.  So I was surprised yesterday when the women checking and bagging my groceries talked furiously to each other and failed to notice me for several minutes.

After filling a bag full, the blonde lady at the cashier looked me straight in the eye and said, "I'm sorry - how is your day going?"

Reassured that our regular programming was now on track, I replied that my day was fine, the weather was lovely, etc.  Then my cashier said, "My youngest son just surprised me in the checkout line."

Her friend, who was bagging the groceries, added, "She didn't know he was coming. He just surprised her with a visit from California - showed up in her line out of the blue."

Blinking back tears, the blonde said, "I haven't seen him in over ten months. He's the baby of the family, and when I first saw him, I almost didn't recognize him. I mean, I wasn't expecting to see him!"

Now all three of us were in tears. I exclaimed over her wonderful surprise and expressed my wonder that she was still at work. Her friend said, "I keep telling her to go home!"

We laughed, wiped our eyes and looked back down at the groceries or payment kiosk.  "I haven't seen my mom in over a year," I said to them. 

"Me either," said the woman putting my bananas on top. 

It's a solemn thing, to tolerate the absence of our loved ones, and a joyous one to reunite. As my family members start to get vaccinated, we all hold on to hopes of a gathering this summer. As my brother says, "I miss us. I need my mom's real hug." I hope we can all feel those arms around us soon.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The 7 P's

 "Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance." - British Army Adage

My dad spent two years in the United States Army and one legacy of his time in the service was his favorite phrase, the "7 P's." Not surprisingly, Dad was a big advocate of proper planning, famous for his organized manila file folders, his predilection for being at the airport at "O dark thirty," and his ability to get five children into the car on time for church, with clean fingernails, no less.

Mom reminded me of the phrase today when we were talking about school districts and their preparation for in-person teaching. Both my sister's district in California and my children's district in Colorado are trying to bring kids back into classroom for more in-person instruction. There are major differences, though, relating to planning and preparation, or lack thereof.

Here in Colorado, kids in K-5 have been in school five days per week since August, with a brief time in remote instruction between Thanksgiving and Christmas when community spread was horrendous. Students in middle and high school have been in person two days per week, except for that same holiday timeframe. The last step, which the administration hopes to take when all teachers and staff have been fully vaccinated, is to bring back the older kids four or five days per week, perhaps for April and May.

Our district did a terrific job of planning. They assessed buildings and revamped HVAC systems in the summer, mandated masks for everyone at all times on all campuses, drafted the cohort policy for the older students, and have basically followed the best science and data at all times, forging a clean pathway when none was provided by the CDC or the U.S. government. Unfortunately, our superstar superintendent will retire after this school year. (Our district will be one of five in the state looking for a new CEO). It's likely that naysayers and negative feedback played a role in his decision, though he's done everything possible to help our kids, teachers and community.

On the other side of the planning process lies my sister's district. None of their kids have been in school all year. To be fair, they adjoin a county that has seen horrendous numbers related to COVID for months. Teachers have done heroic work, shouldering full-time remote learning, emotional support, parental conferences. They learn of shifting criteria and decisions late, or not at all. In some cases, class parents tell my sister about new upcoming developments because parents were emailed before teachers.

I'm bothered by the fact that my sister has not yet had her first shot, and her kids are supposed to come back March 15. The timing is off, and so is the decision to evaluate air quality and circulation at her school just this past week. They learned in February that several of her windows are painted shut. The HVAC hasn't been touched. None of us are sure what the superintendent has been doing since August. Are we at a "piss poor performance" yet?

While I take my hat off to our district and am deeply grateful for the planning, dedication and thoughtfulness demonstrated at all levels, I am so sad to lose our fabulous superintendent. It's hard to accept that his mastery of the "7 P's" was met with blowback strong enough to force his hand. It's also difficult to accept that the poor planning of my sister's district may put her in dangerous circumstances, that in her district, parent wishes trump teacher safety. And of course, we would all be much better off if the ex-President had demonstrated any knowledge of proper planning and hadn't saddled us with the results of his piss poor performance. Perhaps if he hadn't avoided the Army, he would have known better.




Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Unhelpfulness of Hormones

 I can't decide if it's an indignity or a confirmation of my life force that I still suffer hormonal swings as my fiftieth birthday approaches. Is it bonding or bizarre that my college-age daughter sobs into the phone, "I don't know why I'm crying, but it's probably just hormones" and I have to bite back my own sobs to tell her I'm "right there with you, kiddo"? One wonders just how long the mood swings and acne can continue - isn't (almost) four decades enough?

My answer to this rhetorical question is an assured yes, but I hear from friends who are around the bend of perimenopause that I shouldn't be anxious to venture into that uncharted territory. There lies a world of hormonal replacements and suppositories whose purpose remains shrouded in vagueness. Not better or worse than my current havoc, maybe, just a place with storm clouds and silver linings all its own.

The pandemic renders hormones even more unhelpful. For those of us married couples who have been co-existing in close quarters, wearing the same sweatpants, pullovers and harried expressions for a full year, romance is difficult to fathom. "Mommy porn" fantasies like Bridgerton may serve as temporary replacements for real life, but we all know that Rege-Jean Page will not be appearing on our doorstep in place of the Amazon delivery person. The Saturday Night Live opening last Saturday with Mr. Page explaining "the Duke is just a character, ladies" cuts to the horns of this dilemma.

Mixed metaphors aside, it's not easy for husbands, either. I'm sure Rob would like to get his semi-stable wife back, or at least be allowed to go on a business trip so he could have a few days to miss me before being thrown back into my company. He'd probably also like to throw away the heavily-worn sweat suit I don before bed and wear through the following morning (every morning). The most amorous relationships in our house are between anyone and the cat, who rubs against you and purrs when you feed him.

I'd just like a manual as to what shows are appropriate to watch with my teenagers, and what sentiments I am allowed to express regarding charismatic actors of either gender whose ages fall closer to my children's than my own? How much chocolate must I buy to satisfy the hormonal cravings that perhaps will never end, and when the after-dinner chocolate falls and sticks to the aforementioned sweat suit, how long can it stay before I eat it?




Saturday, February 20, 2021

Pandemic Confusion

I'm not used to constant confusion and I'm not dealing well. Here's what I mean:  

"Cases of the virus have dropped 77% and we're close to herd immunity, so time to lift mask mandates" - state of Montana

"Pockets of COVID have overtaken mountain communities: we're in for another surge due to tourists and skiers bringing in new variants" - Colorado mountain towns

"It's definitely time to double-mask at the grocery store" - random pundit whose name I can't recall

"Double-masking is unnecessary and potentially disrupts the fit of the underlying mask." - random opposing pundit

Now, I'm used to some level of confusion. Every day I wander into a room only to wonder why I walked there so purposefully. The iron law of my life is to write everything down on sticky notes, otherwise I will forget all but the most important information. Each day has its usual chores.

But I'm not used to experts providing diametrically opposed advice (constantly, for the last year). I do like to plan vacations, swim meet schedules and social events, and I usually manage this successfully with the help of my sticky notes. It seems pointless to plan in the present moment, however, because everything I put into the calendar will most likely be moved or deleted. 

We'd like to travel as soon as Rob and I are vaccinated, and I hear vaccines will be available in April - no, July - no, August. Colleges and universities will be more accessible this year due to their financial need for tuition payments - oh, but wait - thousands more students are applying with the same hope of admission and aid. Better luck next year, seniors. Our Masters' championship swim meet will be virtual, or in July, or in October. Our family get-together will be some time over the summer, pending all other events being scheduled.

You're all with me here, I can feel it. Hats off to those who are wading through the murk more successfully than I (99% of you, most likely). I plan to rest in solidarity with the fellow confused parent-planners of the world and ignore all headlines and advice for the weekend. Perhaps that will restore my sanity. It will at least postpone my confusion to Monday, which is my one regularly scheduled day for that mental state.




Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Letting Go, Just a Little Bit

At the dinner table last Thursday, William asked to go skiing with several friends over the long President's Day weekend. My heart dropped into my feet as I mentally covered the list of reasons why the trip was a bad idea: 1. COVID 2. Potential skiing injury 3. Lack of ski gear that fit 4. Loss of upcoming swim season (injury) and 5. COVID. We gave the parental answer equivalent to "I'm temporarily speechless" otherwise known as "maybe."

Over the next two days, William provided details such as the phone number of the adult who was accompanying the teenagers, the link to ski rental, the detailed itinerary and food he would need to bring. His organized mind saw only the plan and its potential, whereas my paranoid brain processed mostly the negative "what ifs." But the plan was ultimately solid and so we let him go, our senior who is almost eighteen but whose freedom has been seriously curtailed by the pandemic. 

We outfitted William with my old snow pants, Rob's ski jacket, helmet, goggles and gloves. It's been several years since he skied, due mostly to swim season as championship meets usually occur in February and March. Our kids learned how to ski when they were little, and as I watched William don the adult gear, my mind swooped back to memories of our six-year-old on short skis, rolling over moguls and diving down "blacks." I hoped he didn't aspire to those feats after such a long layoff with his foot or more of additional height throwing off his center of gravity.

While I was on the phone with my sister yesterday, discussing the rough draft of my book, William Snapchatted me to say that his ski day was over and there had been "no injuries, just lots and lots of fun." I put Karen on speakerphone so I could read his message and text back "hooray, hooray." I'm sure my flood of relief came through the phone and irritated my son to no end, though he responded with a picture of his smiling face.

Just as we're beginning a long-delayed and downsized process of letting go of our senior, I have to start letting go of the book I reviewed with my sister. It requires more editing before I release it to non-family beta readers, but ultimately it has to leave the safety of my hard drive and fly out into the buffeting winds of public opinion. For the first time, I will try to find a "real" publisher for a piece of my longer writing. Having only self-published before, that statement feels like a declaration of war - on my sanity, self-worth and security. But moving forward means letting go, and exploring new terrain, as William did yesterday, on skis in a foot of fresh powder. 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Mother Nature Left the Freezer Door Open

 "Global warming is the long-term heating of Earth's climate system observed since the pre-industrial period (1850-1900) due to human activities, primarily fossil fuel burning." 

"Climate change is a long-term change in the average weather patterns that have come to define Earth's local regional and global climates." - NASA Climate, 2/13/21

"Climate change is no longer considered to accurately reflect the seriousness of the overall situation; use climate emergency or climate crisis instead." - The Guardian, 2/13/21, referring to changing terms in its style guide

It took a while to convince my Masters swimmers and co-coach to cancel Friday morning's 6am practice, despite the fact the temperature was predicted to be 10 degrees F. When I woke up on Friday  the thermometer on my watch said 3 degrees, and I was particularly glad that we had canceled. Did I mention that we swim outside year-round? On the coldest days, water splashed on-deck freezes instantly and people's bare hands freeze to the ladder rails when they climb out. Sliding across a sheet of ice to the building can be precarious even with copious amounts of salt thrown down by coaches in wool socks and boots.

Today the mercury has dropped further, registering a negative 2 degrees at 7am (I sleep in on weekends). My brother in Chicago has similar temps and my mom, in northern Montana, is even colder, at negative 6. The outrageous mood swings of the polar vortex brought freezing temperatures to much of the country, further confusing people who still call the monumental issue of our time "global warming." 

Though the atmosphere is steadily warming due to the emission of greenhouse gases, the changes we see are not always "warm." The current harsh winter conditions are actually caused by increasing temps in the Arctic. "Rising temperatures in the North Pole are causing parts of the polar vortex to split off and move southward, leading to the possibility of a particularly harsh winter in the US, Europe and Asia." (The Hill, 2/13/21.) So while it seems counterintuitive that we're freezing our bottoms off in the lower 48 due to a warming atmosphere, it's true. It's as if God - or Mother Nature - left the freezer door open.

The Guardian also evolved their language in reporting on climate issues because "climate change" is no longer an adequate way to address the seriousness of the situation we're in. They have instituted "climate crisis" or "climate emergency" instead. We should all try to use these terms; it's the only way to raise our collective consciousness. There's no do-over on protecting our livable climate or our planet. When we call something by it's true name, we're more likely to respond with action.  If your child was locked in a car that was rapidly overheating, you would certainly break a window to get her out. That's what people do in emergencies, they call "fire" and they take every available measure to save the situation.


Post Script, 2/19/21 - The situation in Texas has horrified the nation this week as power outages robbed millions of light and heat, and ruptured pipes required additional millions to boil water (or snow) for drinking. The electric grid in Texas fell prey to inadequate preparation and the hazardous weather generated by the climate emergency. Natural gas, particularly, was likely to freeze and remain ineffective for days.  As a nation we must update our power generation and our power grids so that more people aren't caught in suffering. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Texas as things hopefully return to normal this weekend.





Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Bullfrogs & Butterflies

"If  you sing this song ("Bullfrogs & Butterflies") or sing "Have patience, have patience, don't be in such a hurry" you will either see a flash of recognition on a person's face or a really odd look as they choose to ignore your weirdness."  - Robert Brouhard, https://ant-music.livejournal.com/952.html (2/10/21)

What happens when you add existential angst to chronic impatience? Spontaneous combustion, or perhaps just a restless inability to sit still. Neither option is good for a mother or a writer. When I shared my growing frustration with the pandemic at our outdoor Sunday school last week, my fellow adult leader quipped, "The first year is always the worst." Funny, ha ha.

 I expressed my rising angst to my mother and she reminded me to "have patience," quoting a family-famous line from the Christian album "Bullfrogs & Butterflies: God is Great" (link). My younger brother, John, and sister, Karen, and I used to play this album on repeat, dancing around the basement to its lilting tunes. We played the album, and quoted its songs, so often that our visiting cousins were convinced that we were deeply religious. 

They asked me at another brother's wedding - more than twenty years later -  if we were still so connected to our faith, at which point I stared in confusion. "You were always listening to that album," my cousin, Justin, explained. My brow cleared and I assured him that we listened because we liked the catchy tunes, and the related dances were easy to choreograph. While still church-going, we fell short of the faith level he envisioned.

But when I looked up the album, and specifically the song "The fruit of the Spirit: Patience (Herbert the Snail) (link), I was astonished to: 1. find it, and 2. realize that I still knew every word.  We must have played that cassette tape until we broke it, and I'm sure the subliminal messages did sink in, though none of us proselytize in the present day.  Apparently the album was quite popular in the late 1970's and early 1980's. According to Brouhard, some of the albums sold over a million copies and went Platinum.

That means many adults reaching the mid-century mark are familiar with Herbert the snail and his exhortation to have patience. I have to confess that "The Fruit of the Spirit: Patience" was my least favorite song. Having frequently been reminded of the need to have patience does not, in fact, make one patient.

But we do have one piece of good news as a family that I can sit with today: my Bullfrogs - procuring mom receives her first vaccination shot! She will finally join the ranks of the protected few and be able to venture into her local Super One without trepidation, though still double-masked and eyewear-protected. The news makes me want to sing and dance around the basement to "This is the Day," giving thanks for this special bit of progress, and for discovering our childhood soundtrack.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Wills, Wine and Wind

 Chronicle of Life in a Pandemic: Day 322

Inspired by the thought of our imminent demise, Rob and I recently updated our wills and power of attorney. Working virtually with a lawyer, we have ensured the safety of our offspring and our assets in the event that COVID carries us off. To conclude the process, we had a few friends over to witness and notarize the stack of documents. Blessed with Colorado sunshine, we planned to meet on the back porch around the fire pit, with beer, wine and White Claw on standby. 

The weather had other ideas, throwing 20 mph wind gusts into the mix. For the record, wind and will-signings are incompatible. Hastily reconsidering our process, we removed the cars from the garage and set up shop in that more protected environment, dragging lawn chairs and plastic tables into formation. Social distance was observed, and less alcohol consumed than one might think.

A White Claw was required after I followed procedure and explained to my close friends and witnesses that I do not care to have any extreme measures employed to save my life, insisting that I was in sound mind and able to make such a judgment. Rob mumbled something under his breath which may have expressed doubt in my sanity, but my friends blithely put pen to paper and all loose ends were tied with a bow.  As wind gusts buffeted our gate and sent gales of dust through the garage, we had a thoughtful discussion about where we wanted our ashes to be scattered.

That gathering was followed up by a Super Bowl pre-party on Zoom with my mom, siblings and their families. We played Super Bowl Jeopardy, procured and MC'd by my sister, a fourth-grade teacher now incredibly adept at Zoom and Google meeting technologies. Toasts were made, beverages virtually clinked, and questions answered. 

After such festivities, the Super Bowl itself was underwhelming. We watched people in the stands and in the streets of Tampa Bay and prayed that none were infectious. We marveled at Tom Brady's longevity and went to bed praying for our own, wills and trusts be damned.


Thursday, February 4, 2021

"Words with Friends" as Metaphor

 I only play "Words with Friends" with a few people: my aunt, two brothers (off and on), my sister and my good friend from high school, Mike.* Mike has three degrees from MIT, and generally kicks my ass in "Words." Surprisingly, the game demands not only a wide range of obscure vocabulary but also mastery of geometry, a spatial awareness of how to extract the most points from the board's special tiles. My occasional wins over Mike mark red-letter days when my ego can temporarily stand up straight and take a deep breath.

Today is not one of those days. Mike has deployed the Z, J, K and X (highest point letters) in our current game, surpassing my point total by nearly one hundred. He has nailed every "triple word" box but one, which remains unusable due to its position after the word "QIS." I'm drowning in his flood of high-point-words, which included "wahoo" for a staggering 54. My mind freezes when confronted by the limited usability of my remaining letters: I, T, T, R L.  Despite my competitive nature, I may have to deploy a pathetic word like "lit" just to end this torture. We can always start a new game with greater hope.

And, just like that, "Words" becomes a metaphor for my week. (I know you could see that coming from a mile away). I've been dragging my heels while spinning my wheels, working hard and hardly working. I did manage to finish a chapter in the book I'm writing with my mom, but otherwise I've been in a slump. The ego hides in a corner, the withering energy looks to chocolate and coffee.  

But there's always tomorrow (or next week, tomorrow's coming awfully quick). A fresh game board with new letters and the chance to play a Z, J or X, the option to merge luck and opportunity.  I will inevitably accept Mike's invitation to play again - and one day my optimism will unfurl from this cold winter ground, alive to new possibilities. New words to play, new games to win (or lose), a calendar open to chance. Wahoo!

*Mom, if you're reading this, I would be playing with you, too,  but I can't find your name on the 'Friends' page. Did you delete yourself?? Also, I apologize for the three-letter word. It had to be said.



Tuesday, February 2, 2021

A Good Cry

 "Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts."  - Charles Dickens

I am addicted to Call the Midwife on Netflix. Over the past four months, I have journeyed from episode 1 through season 7, transfixed by the births, deaths, and life trauma visited on its ever-changing cast members. Nearly every episode brings me to tears, and that's probably why I feel better after watching. The events of the past eleven months have so harrowed our souls that grief must line the folds of every organ, and yet we adults have few outlets for our sorrow. My Midwife - induced tears provide some relief for the pent-up angst.

Usually I turn my grief into rage, it's easier to manage and venting is more socially acceptable than weeping. The children don't want to catch me in tears, but they're accustomed to my frustration and anger, at least when it's directed at someone or something other than them.  But they know to avoid me when I'm watching my show, and they pretend not to notice the used tissues on the floor or my faintly red eyes. 

Expectations that 2021 would usher in more positive outlooks and events have certainly been adjusted, if not shattered, by the events of our over-long January. I daresay we're all exhausted. How can regular adults rally to perform our roles when even Saturday Night Live actors are "over it."  The Atlantic's culture writer David Sims wrote on Sunday that "the show's first episode back after a chaotic six weeks in American politics was the equivalent of a giant shrug." (The Atlantic 1/31/21). The show makes its living on political turmoil, and even they can't rustle up the energy to duly comment on our times.

Health care workers and essential workers must experience this phenomenon ten-fold,  working tirelessly and desperately to save people afflicted by the virus. Some of my tears are for them. Some are for our children, struggling to carry out each day's strange tasks in a time of masks, social isolation and hybrid school. Some for teachers and for older adults, some for political leaders around the world who strain to do the right thing. There are plenty of reasons to cry, if we can only allow ourselves the outlet. When my show ends after a cathartic fifty minutes, it's time to stop the waterworks and get on with life, but I know there's another episode tomorrow, a sacred time when I can allow my heart to soften and my tears to erase some of the blinding dust of our time.


Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Evolution Moves Faster than Politicians

"They're known as pizzlies or grolars, and they're a fusion of the Arctic white bear and their brown cousins." Love in the Time of Climate Change

 "Evolution is moving faster than our politicians."  - Cesar Aguirre, of the Central California Environmental Justice Network 

"Winning slowly is another way of losing." - Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org

As fast as the departure of the holidays left gaps in my calendar, I have plugged them with Zoom calls on battling the climate emergency. My fascination with climate change began in the late 1990s, when Rob and I went on a Thanksgiving trip to Hawaii. I followed a majestic sea turtle on its underwater peregrinations, and when I resurfaced the balance of my world had tilted. Since then I obtained a degree in Environmental Studies, taught, communicated and organized around climate action. My children's first protest action was a rally for climate.  During the last four years, however,  I largely plunged my head back into the metaphorical sand out of despair at Trump's reckless abuse of environmental laws. 

Biden's budding presidency has already changed the momentum and the sentiment for climate groups in this country and around the world. Each Zoom call feels propelled by the possibilities of gaining traction against the problem of fossil fuel use, of species extinction, of creating a sustainable economy. A sense of urgency dominates the dialogue: we have no time to lose. Goals need to be big, timelines shortened, government actions bold. As Cesar Aguirre said on last night's call, "our voices are loud because our demands are urgent."

Nature herself makes this argument constantly. In fact, evolution appears to be moving faster than our politicians. As Biden battles against Trump's opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, polar bears have started mating with grizzly bears. This has been observed outside of Barrow, Alaska, where eight pizzly, or grolar bears have been killed or live-captured by hunters. The writing is on the wall for the polar bears, and they see it better than we do. Last year was the hottest on record, capping the hottest decade on record.

But there is great hope. President Biden tore up the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office, and he has pledged to overhaul the federal fleet of vehicles, making them all electric. His procurement policy claims that this could create between 900,000 and 1,000,000 jobs. Investment companies like BlackRock are demanding that CEO's demonstrate progress toward  net zero (carbon emissions) by 2050. Wind and solar are now cheaper than almost all coal, and could replace 86% of the US coal fleet with lower cost electricity by 2025 (The Guardian).

So what do we do to help the climate change politicians, the CEO's, the local commissions and air quality boards? We need to call, write, demonstrate and engage to demand tangible goals, penalties for those who avoid progress, and rapid change on a grand scale. We fight to #BuildBackFossilFree, a way of meeting the Biden team's campaign slogan with the pressing need to leave poisonous and deadly fossil fuels in the ground. We demand rights for the sacrificed communities where black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) live, where water and air are routinely poisoned by pipelines and chemical plants. If we're lucky enough to invest, we invest in sustainably oriented companies or funds. I have listed some organizations and movements below, but there are many more to choose from. Get involved, get inspired, go fast. 

https://buildbackfossilfree.org/#about

Sierra Club Campaigns

350.org

Stop the Money Pipeline



Monday, January 25, 2021

A Winter Reflection

 "Snow: / years of anger following / hours that float idly down - / the blizzard / drifts its weight / deeper and deeper for three days / or sixty years, eh? Then / the sun! a clutter of / yellow and blue flakes - / Hairy looking trees stand out / in long alleys / over a wild solitude. / The man turns and there - / his solitary track stretched out / upon the world."

- "Blizzard" by William Carlos Williams

"What we call the beginning is often the end / And to make an end is to make a beginning. / The end is where we start from..."

- From "Little Gidding" by T.S. Eliot

In this, the winter of the world's discontent, we rise on cold mornings and greet the headlines of the fresh administration with either relief or trepidation, depending on our news sources and political orientations. For those eighty million of us who voted for Biden, Harris and their diverse cabinet, the ending of the Trump era signifies the beginning of hope, a starting place for progress. Our nights are filled with more peaceful dreams, our dreams themselves more resonant with possibility.

And yet the cold winter wind still bites, as I was reminded on the pool deck today at 6am. My watch said 23 degrees and the billows of steam rising off the chlorinated water put me in mind of a giant cauldron, over which I might cast a spell of my liking. Surely if I had been able to wield any magic* I would have multiplied all available vaccines and wished into being a flawless delivery mechanism for their protection. 

The billows of steam passed me by, offering a whisper of warmth as they flew but no magic. I cast salt on the ground to prevent the concrete from freezing under my boots and watched my swimmers in their solitary tracks up and down the lanes. What's next? whispered the wind, and my fingers slowly froze around the empty coffee mug. Our story is yet unwritten, it's plot-points dependent on the caution and restraint we exercise this winter, and the bold action we plan for the warmer, sunnier months to come.

*Yes, I'm still re-reading the Deborah Harkness trilogy.



Thursday, January 21, 2021

Stay Uncomfortable

 "We've learned that quiet isn't always peace, and the norms and notions of what "just is" isn't always justice."  - Amanda Gorman, "The Hill We Climb"

"Relieved - but vigilant."  Colorado Governor Jared Polis in an update email, 1/20/21

"The word 'democracy' stems from two roots: "power" and "the people." A true democracy is built around the needs and priorities of its citizens, not those with the greatest wealth....As  Americans of Conscience, we take action to protect freedoms under threat and uphold collaborative democracy as a viable form of government."   - Jen Hoffman, Americans of Conscience Instagram post, 1/20/21

In my online workout classes, the teachers exhort me to "get uncomfortable," because "that's where the growth happens." If we stay in our comfort zones, we're never stretched, we never break down muscle fibers that build back better. Easy for them to say, as they glisten with sweat-gleam, their perfect ponytails bobbing in time to the music. But as an athlete, I know they're right. Progress is incompatible with the status quo.

So while I'm relieved to my core that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are safely installed in their new positions, thrilled to have a serious and professional government again, I will not mistake the installment of their administration for the finish line. I erred in that direction before, when Obama won once and then twice. I relaxed, took a break from civic and political pursuits, under the mistaken impression that America had turned the page on racism and nativism, that the politics of fear had been tossed for the politics of hope. 

We know how that turned out. As the youth poet laureate, Amanda Gorman, said in her astonishing recitation of her poem "The Hill We Climb,"  an uneasy quiet does not equal peace, a tentative stalemate equates not with the establishment of justice. Like approximately eighty million of my fellow citizens, I have been profoundly uncomfortable over the past four years as the forces that would destroy our country and deny our multicultural democracy gathered, swelled and broke over the Capitol.

So of course we want to rest now, secure in the knowledge that a sane and reasonable adult has power over the nuclear football, that our new president has a 200-page strategy for the pandemic response that we've been missing since March 2020. We prayed along with our new president, and I wiped tears from my eyes as a National Guard trooper in the perimeter bowed his head and made the sign of the cross. 

We can breathe easier, sleep better. But we can't rest for long and we can never stop. Over seventy million Americans voted against this administration for a myriad of reasons, the worst of which because they don't want a functioning federal government, don't want policies that work. The performances of A-listers and a spectacular fireworks display will not have changed their minds.

I plan to continue my civic efforts, supporting city and state officials who will move our localities forward, staying in touch with my federal representatives, reaching out to neighbors and continuing to have difficult conversations. Our multi-racial, multi-cultural democracy is a fragile new baby, built on the sloping shoulders of those in power who did not trust us to think for ourselves. We must protect our infant coalition, remain vigilant against those who would threaten it. In the inimitable words of Amanda Gorman, "There is always light, / If only we're brave enough to see it. / If only we're brave enough to be it."



 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Pre-Inauguration, or Head in the Clouds

 "The present is too much for the senses, too crowding, too confusing, too present to imagine."  - Robert Frost, "Carpe Diem"

"Se souvenir du passe, et qu'il ya un avenir. Remember the past, and that there is a future."  - Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches

Over the past week and a half, I have transitioned from righteous rage to radical optimism to head-in-the-clouds denial. Despite the fact that this is Trump's last full day in office, that Biden's accomplished, experienced and dedicated team looks to hit the ground running tomorrow, I am scared. Perhaps because these headlines are - for once in the past twelve months - too good to be true. Perhaps because the jealous fates hover over Washington eager to snatch any joy from downtrodden Americans,  heartsick and weary of their country in disarray. 

Regardless (or "irregardless" as Senator Hawley would say) of reason, I am struggling to get my head out of the clouds this week.  In my usual weekend retreat from the news, I buried myself in a new show, "A Discovery of Witches" on Sundance. The series is faithfully based on the Lost Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, and season one focuses specifically on her first novel by the same name. I envision Diana (lead witch) in the Bodleian Library at Oxford and magically, my troubles disappear.

Daemons, witches, and vampires are oddly reassuring characters in this strange time and I find comfort in imagining that such creatures are responsible for the tumult in the United States. Donald Trump could easily be a tormented, warped daemon whose absent Twitter powers goad him further into insanity. Melania is obviously a vampire, and Pence is a human overwhelmed by creature influence. Let's hope the good guys are bringing in a whole host of brilliant, principled creatures whose super-powers include writing and passing legislation at lightning speed and influencing humans to seek and believe truth instead of lies.

Surely it's time for the good guys to get a win, for a good witch like Diana to save the day with powers not seen in centuries. Perhaps Kamala Harris....?  But seriously now, I will breathe more easily when tomorrow is over and our new president and vice-president confirmed without one security glitch. Then it's time for all of us to dust off our own superpowers and - feet on the ground - figure out how we can use them to re-set our country.  Praying for you, Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris, and summoning any witchcrafty magic that resides in my body to protect you during tomorrow's inauguration.




Friday, January 15, 2021

Radical Optimism, Anyone?

 "I believe this radical optimism is the good news of the gospel and I propose that we take it seriously...Optimism, like pessimism, tends to be a self-justifying outlook. The more pessimistic you are, the more you are likely to fail and thus justify your pessimism. And similarly, the more optimistic you are, the more apt you are to succeed and justify your optimism." - Beatrice Bruteau, in Radical Optimism

If the title of this blog startles you, it's perhaps because the events of the previous week. the previous ten months or even the past four years have laid the table for a meal of doubt and serious concern, rather than for radical optimism. And yet, we have to start telling ourselves a new story, one with heroes as well as anti-heroes, with inspiring winning as well as dastardly doings. 

For me, two Congressional heroes emerged from the chaos of insurrection events on January 6. First, my own Congressional Representative, Jason Crow, who was trapped in the gallery with several dozen other representatives, reporters and capitol police who could not make it out of the chamber in the initial escape. Congressman Crow, an Army veteran, crouched low and went to help his fellows fit their gas masks, and urge them to safety when an escape route was finally found. He was the last person in the chamber, insisting that others leave before him.

Congressman Crow held a telephone town hall last night, which I listened to. He described the events of the insurrection calmly and without drama, full of resolve to investigate the security lapses and the alleged participation of certain police force members and even Congresspeople. He is also full of resolve to work with his fellow representatives to help rebuild this country, to conquer the virus and take back or economy. This includes members who denied the results of the election, who did not support the insurrection but believed the lies that generated it. He said  the only way the disparate sections of our society can come together is to work together, and - when this pandemic is over- to share a beer or a coffee together.

Another hero who emerged from the chaos is Representative Andy Kim , a second-term Democrat of New Jersey. Representative Kim returned to the Capitol building after the certifying vote  and viewed the destruction in the rotunda with horror and dismay. He began to clean the floor of glass, debris and personal belongings, at times alone and on his knees, hard at work until 3 am. He was photographed  hard at work and the image, a beacon of hope, went viral.

We do have heroes fighting for us. One might say that the ten Republican congresspeople who voted to impeach Donald Trump were heroic, standing against the tide of their party and the influence of millions of voters.  President-elect Biden is heroic, standing above the pandemonium incited by Trump and proposing a bold new plan to fight the pandemic and rebuild the economy. And we each have the opportunity to act heroically every day. We aren't followed by photographers and we may be isolated in our homes, but through our attitudes, our words, our interactions, we can begin to generate the fire of radical optimism and show it's warmth to the world. For me, this post represents my rubbing the first two sticks together and I will try to keep that spark glowing.



Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Thugs in Sharp Suits

 "A thug in a sharp suit with an Ivy League degree is still a thug." - Mimi Swartz, "Never Forget What Ted Cruz Did" New York Times, 1/11/21

What a week. Have you recovered? I haven't. The world watches in horror as our democracy wavers. Repercussions slowly emerge. Business groups and corporate donors have condemned both last week's violence and the rejection of confirmed election results on the part of certain Congress members. Some corporations have asked for their money back or threatened to withhold all donations for the coming year. The Harvard Institute of Politics removed Representative Elise Stefanik (R - NY) from its Senior Advisory Committee after her repeated (unsubstantiated) claims of voter fraud.

The Harvard Institute of Politics is associated with the Kennedy School of Government and was created "to serve as a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy" (Wikipedia). Remembering Kennedy's exhortation "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country," it  appears that Rep. Stefanik's efforts to undermine a free and fair election significantly depart from the Institute's mission. Kennedy School's dean, Douglas Elmendorf, issued a statement that read (in part): "Elise has made public assertions about voter fraud in November's presidential election that have no basis in evidence, and she has made public statements about court actions related to the election that are incorrect." (Politico) Dean Elmendorf initially asked Rep. Stefanik to resign, and when she refused, he removed her.

I applaud the Dean's action. Intelligence does not equal conscience and an Ivy League degree doesn't ensure a principled response. I saw this as a student at Harvard and I see it now in the examples of Stefanik, as well as Senators Josh Hawley (R - MO) and Ted Cruz (R - TX), who continue to insist the 2020 election results were fraudulent. When confronted with their repeated untruths, these three (and others like them) only assert that the "woke Left" is trying to erode their freedom of speech, their diversity of opinion. A lie is not a "diverse opinion," it is a lie. These individuals understand the difference.

They cannot claim lack of intelligence or education as a basis for their faulty reasoning. Stefanik graduated from Harvard College in 2006. Ted Cruz attended Princeton undergrad and went to Harvard Law School, and Josh Hawley attended Stanford and then Yale Law School. After years of legal study, they do understand that the election was fair and the results were accurate, but they have chosen to evade the truth and insist otherwise. Why? Hawley and Cruz have presidential ambitions and covet Trump's tens of millions of voters. I don't know the reasoning behind Stefanik's messaging. Usually the degradation comes down to money or power, an old but true story.

My years at Harvard introduced me to many different types of intelligent people.  As someone who grew up middle class and ignorant of anything outside my narrow stripe of experience, I would guess that most of my classmates were more wealthy than I. Certainly those who had spent four years at an expensive prep school were on a different plane. It was shocking to find that intelligent people make bad decisions, can be as cruel or cold as any uneducated individual (if not moreso). Credentials do not equal conscience; that became apparent as I learned about social justice.

Harvard introduced me to issues of social justice and inspired a need to act. I took a class with Robert Coles, the eminent child psychiatrist, on moral development. Coles highlighted the racial and socioeconomic inequalities that plague our society and disproportionately affect children, and in my section of the class I visited the projects of Cambridge and a hotel on the edge of Boston where families without homes paid day-to-day. Prior to taking Coles' class I was as ignorant of those living situations and inequalities as I was about wealth. At Harvard I met both the wealthy and powerful and those our nation had sacrificed in pursuit of those same false gods. 

There were many examples of good work. I coordinated the Big Brother - Big Sister program in Quincy House and observed as one of my housemates became a true big brother to his assigned "little brother." They have celebrated all major life events together for the past thirty years. Many of my class became public servants: doctors, nurses, teachers, professors, journalists, authors, scientists and parents who seek to improve our society, our country. Like most Americans, we wrestled with the hard truths and tried to avoid the easy lie.

The purpose of this blog is not to condemn myself, my classmates or anyone who has obtained an Ivy League or other college degree. But it's worth pointing out that many of the politicians currently trying to co-opt President Trump's populist base are not "of the people," but of the credentialed elite. Their intelligence renders this hypocrisy "breathtaking," to borrow a phrase from Mimi Swartz. These individuals know the election was fair and the results were accurate, but they do not care - they want the following that comes from "standing up to the elites" and they hope that voters forget their own highly credentialed (and expensive) backgrounds. I suspect they missed Coles' class on moral development.

Major donors and the business community as a whole seem to recognize this base hypocrisy and the dangerous and destabilizing violence that it presages. It's now obvious that a fair number of our elected officials would risk destroying our country if they got to rule over its ashes. Some Trump voters ignore the fact that inequalities would deepen in those ashes, that lives would certainly change, but not for the better. It's time for those of us who know the truth to declare it. The First Amendment is not an excuse to spray untruths, threats, and planned violence across our country, and a thug in a sharp suit with an Ivy League degree is still a thug.




Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Capitol is Breached

Yesterday's blog post about sedition was both prescient and completely ignorant of the true danger escalating in Washington DC. After a morning rally in which 45 incited his followers to march on the Capitol, they did exactly that while he slunk away to hide safely in the White House. Four people died as the mob attacked the Capitol building, breaking windows, vandalizing offices, posing for selfies in the Senate chamber, and attempting to frighten our Congressional Representatives into failing to certify the 2020 election results for Biden.

Let's ponder that again: four people died. They died because our president is deranged, focused solely on the "impossible" fact the he lost the election. Sixty court cases, numerous recounts, and endless conversations have proven the legitimacy of the election results, but this narcissistic sociopath cannot believe the truth. His refusal to accept it, his promulgation of endless lies claiming fraud, claiming victory, lead directly to the loss of life yesterday. He should be removed from office under the 25th amendment to the Constitution, or - failing that - he should be impeached so that he can never run for office again.

There are many questions in the minds of Americans today. How were the Capitol police and the National Guard not prepared for the riot and the violence that was predicted, even promised, on social media? Why were troops in battle gear stationed on the Capitol steps for the Black Lives Matter protests but nowhere to be found during the riot of a (mostly white) mob of armed and armored Trumpists? Were they simply unprepared, did Trump and his minions refuse to protect the Capitol, were there insiders on the force? Certainly no one has been arrested, no charges leveled, no consequences given. The coup attempt is both unbelievable and completely predictable, based on Trump's endless assaults on our democracy.

Congress went back to work last night after the chambers of both Houses were cleaned, and we hope, sanitized. They voted to confirm the election results and declare Biden - Harris the incoming president and vice-president. Though leadership of both Houses claimed unity and urged unanimity, still six senators protested the vote counts. They are: Tommy Tuberville (AL), Roger Marshall (KS), John Kennedy (LA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS), Josh Hawley (MO), and Ted Cruz (the embarassment of Harvard University), from Texas. Remember their names, remember their cowardly, treasonous actions in supporting a president who cares nothing for our government or for us. There were also 121 representatives who objected to the results, and a complete list is here. They should be reprimanded, even expelled, as they failed to uphold their constitutional responsibilities and pandered to Trump's base for their own self-interest.

We must rally in support of our incoming administration and fight back against the selfish and corrupt play for power by Trump and his mob. Be vigilant, be strong, be aware of what transpires in the people's House, in the people's government. We ask our elected officials to correct the wrongs levied by Trump and his minions and to stand strong against the conspiracy theories generated by forces of hate and ignorance, and we stand behind them.

*Update on January 8: A Capitol police officer has died from wounds inflicted by rioters, bringing the total death toll to five. US Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund has resigned, as has Sergeant at Arms of the Senate, Michael Stenger. The FBI are seeking help from social media and from citizens to identify rioters from photos, as many were allowed to leave the scene.


Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Acts of Sedition

 "Sedition - crime against the state. Though sedition may have the same ultimate effect as treason, it is generally limited to the offense of organizing or encouraging opposition to government in a manner (such as in speech or writing) that falls short of the more dangerous offenses constituting treason."

-Britannica.com

I woke up today to the sound of our cat leaping at the door handle, followed shortly by Rob's welcome announcement (from his early-morning reading of the I-Pad) that Raphael Warnock had won his Senate run-off race in Georgia and that Jon Ossoff leads David Perdue in the other race. If both seats go to the Democrats, President-elect Biden and his administration will have a chance to get more done,  right the wrongs of the Trump administration and bail out our sinking ship of democracy.

The headlines have made me so nauseous recently that my screen time went down 28% last week; I was avoiding the news. Twelve Republican senators and a handful of House Republicans plan to object to the results of the 2020 election in a floor hearing today. This is futile as the results have been certified by the Electoral College and Congress has no authority over these results. None. The members of Congress who protest the will of the American people and the process outlined in the Constitution are seditious and they should lose their jobs for words and actions opposing the legitimately elected government. In effect, they are attempting to stage a coup.

These actions threaten our democracy. What occurs if no side is ever willing to lose an election? If every contest is protested by the losing side until we are at a continual stalemate the government will be inept and non-functioning (as it is now). Critics of modern parenting say that my generation has awarded too many participation prizes to its children, has raised a cadre of young people who are afraid too lose. This is what I see in the seditious words and proposed actions of certain elected Republican officials (though they are much older than the children of gen X), a childish and unrealistic resistance to the truth of loss, the sting of defeat.

Loss is a fact of life, as 350,000 families will tell you after they lost a family member to COVID. The death of a loved one far outweighs the pain of a lost election, and yet losses of life continue to mount as Trump loyalists - and the President himself - continue to throw temper tantrums and fixate on overturning reality. Our country dances perilously close to a cliff-face. If we waltz off the solid ground of reality into the thin air of Republicans' fantasies our form of government will crash and crumble.

We do have heroes emerging from the chaos. Brad Raffensperger, Georgia's Secretary of State, calmly rebuffed a hysterical and desperate President who begged him to "find the votes" to overturn that state's election of Joe Biden. We have Stacey Abrams, a voting rights activist and lawyer, who lead people of all colors in Georgia to the vote and fought back against voter suppression in that state. We have the voters of Georgia themselves, who turned out in record numbers for the Senate run-off races that are normally an afterthought. So many positive examples of leadership and representation, which show the tarnished and dishonorable actions of the few in an even brighter light.