Dear Mr. Outside Magazine Editor

Dear Mr. Outside Editor,

Here’s a concept: Don’t put some teaser on the front of your magazine and then Oops! forget to put a table of contents into your magazine so the person reading the front of the magazine can’t find the article. Even going page by page, which was annoying and made me not want to read your magazine because it was so controlling, I still could not find the article teased on the front cover. Since the issue in question was an “Encyclopedia” I thought perhaps that I missed the point and that I was supposed to go to the “Encyclopedia” to find the article (this in spite of the fact that the article in question could not really have been about gear). Nope. Not there. The teaser in question was “Why Aren’t Millenials Buying Trail Mix.” Trail mix is not in the index to the encyclopedia. Millenials? Nope. (I suppose Millenials really aren’t gear, now are they? (Although I am pretty sure I could make the case that they are or that some of them could be.)) in any case, I still haven’t found it. Still annoyed.

As a reader, it is annoying to:

1. Read a magazine where the table of contents is 30 pages into the magazine, thereby requiring we page through 30 pages of ads and nonsense to get to the content;
2. Read a magazine that hides page numbers when they do bother to publish tables of contents so that again, we have to page through stupid ads to get to the content in the table of contents;
3. Read a teaser on the front of the magazine that is either a) not really there (which appears to be the case in this issue), or b) isn’t really what the teaser led us to believe it was (really annoying).

Since I am ranting about this and rather on a roll, I thought I would include all of these annoyances for you to consider when being a big shot editor. When these annoyances occur, I throw the magazine away (well, recycle it). I am not wasting my time paging through ads that thwart my effort to get to the content for which I bought the magazine. I will not let the advertisers win in this manner. You might have gotten me to purchase the magazine, but since the primary driver of budgets at magazines is ad content, and since advertisers choose magazines because those ads cause the readers to go buy their stuff, it follows that if I don’t read the ads and I don’t buy the stuff that eventually it will all trickle down and you won’t get any ad revenue when I throw my magazine away. SO…may I kindly suggest you make your magazine palatable to readers who actually like to READ your magazine (I happen to be one of those people who reads nearly every single article in a magazine when I am not so irritated by getting to the article that I can’t access it) and stop making your magazine mostly palatable to advertisers? Hmm? Do you think you can do this?

I’m going to give this issue one more chance. I’ll thumb through it one more time in search of the elusive article on why Millenials do not eat trail mix, and if I am not able to find it on this perusal I shall dump this issue in the trash (recycling). Too bad for me, I won’t get to find out what gear you got paid the most to say is the greatest…er, what gear you think I should go buy.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Lara Gardner

Post Script: After sending this letter to Outside Magazine, I received a response back from the editors asking if they could use a line or two from my letter in their online letters. (I gave them permission, but I have no control over whether they will make me look like an ass in their choice of words from my letter.)

In any case, I asked where in the magazine I could find why Millenials don’t buy trail mix, because I had not been able to find it. The editor responded that it was in the encyclopedia under “Y – Youth: The Young and the Tentless” (Outside Magazine, Aug 2015, p. 92). As a commenter to this blog post noted, “the entry explains that very few people under 35 are participating in outdoor sports, beyond a day hike or pitching a tent in the backyard. There is, however, no mention of trail mix whatsoever, nor is there mention of food of any type in the entry.”

Yep. The teaser on the front of the magazine is just that, a teaser, and it is therefore even more annoying.

More Perfect

Nothing can be “more perfect.” Perfection by its very nature cannot be improved upon, so how could something become more of that? If it becomes more, then it wasn’t perfect in the first place, and perhaps when called “more perfect” it becomes perfect; though that is debatable, as I believe there are valuable arguments that perfection is an impossible ideal.

A Nation of Toddlers

America is perhaps the most infantile culture in the world. We are a nation of toddlers shouting “Me first,” and “Mine, mine, mine!” Americans are some of the most spoiled, entitled, selfish humans on the planet. Patience seems not to exist. Sharing, taking turns, putting others in front of the self, these are behaviors of maturity, and our culture regards them with disdain.

Nowhere is this more immediately evident than on the road. Someone inadvertently cuts in front another driver and the person whom they displaced acts as if they grabbed their toy from the sand box and ran with it. You turn on your turn signal to change lanes and the cars beside you speed up to ensure you don’t get in. Everyone is in a race to be first, to be in front, and any action that thwarts this desire is seen as a personal affront.

Rationality is the ability to make rational choices, thinking through the consequences and taking actions that make rational sense. Adults are able to distinguish between the feeling process and the intellectual process and have the ability to choose between having one’s functioning guided by feelings or by thoughts.

People living within a child’s frame of reference often overreact emotionally to events that are insignificant in the overall scheme of their lives, and fail to respond to events that are important or crucial to their well-being.

The life of a child is helpless and powerless. It is a place of inequality, fear, and paranoia. As a child, anyone can control and overrun you. As an adult you own your life and destiny. If you remain a child in your adult life, you look at the world around you as dominating, controlling, and dangerous. America views the world from this childlike view. We are the most militarized nation in the history of the world, seeing everything and everyone as a possible enemy, and every action as a possible threat. (Or at the very least this is the excuse offered to the nation of children by the totalitarian toddlers who seek to amass the greatest pile of toys in the sandbox.)

It is evident in gun culture: I don’t like the way you looked at me, I think you threatened me, I’ll pull out my gun and shoot you, and in many places in the country, this is acceptable.

It is evident in America’s level of debt: I want what I want when I want it, even if I can’t afford it, and the nation itself wants what it wants when it wants it, even if it can’t afford it. It will also spend to maximize the profits of a few while ignoring the needs of the majority.

It is evident in the media that will only tell us the story the tellers want us to hear, like paternalistic parents ensuring we get the story that will not result in a tantrum.

It is evident in our approach to politics. We believe what we want to hear, and accept the tropes of the politicians, believing the speeches and ignoring the actions, constantly seeking that which instantly gratifies us and makes us believe everything is okay even when it is not.

It is evident even in our approach to art and culture. Spectacle wins; quality is meaningless. Americans are like small children witnessing fireworks, completely unable to comprehend an exquisite work of literature or art.

It is evident in our unwillingness to see what is happening across the world as the oceans are acidifying, the poles are melting, the trees are dying, the coral reefs are withering, creatures are becoming extinct at an unparalleled rate, and human populations are increasing to untenable levels. The end is near, but damn, we don’t want to know about it. Turn on the Avengers, the American version of Barney, pull the blanket over your head, stick your thumb in your mouth, and just pretend everything is a-ok.

I could go on and on.

It is as if in gradually finding ways to make life “easier,” in giving up the ability to learn to find and store food, to house and clothe ourselves, to learn to keep warm in the outdoors, and to coexist with the planet on which we were created, we have given up the ability to be fully adult and actually, fully human.

 

I Told Them

This is what I sent to Almond Dream:

My Almond Dream Mint Chocolate Chip non-dairy ice cream had ONE chocolate chip in it. One! The picture of the scoop on the front has a dozen chocolate chips in it. I don’t think you should call it mint chocolate chip unless you’re going to put chips in it. Or maybe the name is literal? Chocolate chip is not plural because there will only be ONE chip in the pint? If that’s the case, the photo should match, and show only one chip rather than 12.

Thank you.

Thickness

I started to write something and forgot what it was. Thick brained. Lately I feel thick brained, thick limbed, just thick. Like I’m moving through goo.

I used to be airier. I felt like I could flit here to there, there to here, flit, flit, flit.

No longer. Somehow my flitting self landed in something like tar, and movement of any kind, whether mental, physical, or spiritual, seems nearly impossible.

What is this thickness? How to move beyond it? I cannot say. I do know that things like typing this and having the cursor suddenly bop to somewhere else on the page makes me feel like finding a cave and crawling in it. It keeps doing that and the annoyance is part of a mountain of similar annoyances that are a part of modern life. I think this modern life is part of the thickness, likely the cause of the thickness.

Somehow I must find a way back to flitting. How to do it living in this world at this time? I have no idea.

Isabel’s Thought for the Morning

This morning I was wiping down the kitchen counters, picking up clutter, moving here and there. Isabel was sitting at the dining table eating her cereal. She turned to me and said, “Maybe our dreams are real life, and real life is our dream.” Yes, Isabel. I’ve considered that myself. I love living with a five year old. They get you out of the space of business as usual and remind you of imaginative possibilities.

January showers bring…February flowers?

Today I drilled holes in pots to make olla pots for my garden to water more efficiently. My greenhouse is THIS close to being done, but there is still a hole on one wall up top and today was windy and stormy, so I climbed up and tacked up a piece of plastic to stop the rain from blowing in. While I was perched precariously on the edge of the fence, small nails held between my lips, a hammer balanced in one hand as I held on and attached the plastic there, I saw a honeybee. It was quivering on top of the greenhouse, doing that weird honeybee dance they do, wiggling its back end. I wasn’t sure what it was doing sitting on top of my greenhouse in the wind and periodic rain drips. No other bees were in sight. There were no flowers near it. It looked fragile, there in the wind in the wrong time of year. It was too warm outside for the time of year. Balmy and weird.

My raspberries are coming up. The tulips and daffodils are fully bloomed. The cherry trees in my yard are bloomed. My lilies are popping little points up through the soil. Usually in February I spray my fruit trees with dormant spray, but you’re supposed to do it when they’re dormant, and little buds were already present, so no dormant spray. They’re young and I’m sure they’ll be fine, but there aren’t many pollinators out in this bizarre weather, which means likely little fruit this year. This is not normal and not a pattern from the past. Humans have caused this and humans want to ignore it in favor of the latest football scores or whatever else that helps us to ignore the obvious right in front of our faces. It’s like we have a tumor on the side of our head and want to just look around it and pretend it’s not there. The spring rhyme goes, “April showers bring May flowers.” It’s not January showers bring February flowers, and these flowers that are here in March were here in February. We don’t give Valentine’s lilies, we give Easter lilies. At Easter. In actual spring. It isn’t spring in the northern hemisphere where I live. We haven’t had the equinox yet. It is still winter here. So many seem to forget this while infatuated with the sunny weather. This isn’t normal.

If your children were in harm’s way, you would try to help them regardless of the outcome because you love them. Shouldn’t it be the same for the Earth, which is us? We are the Earth. We should help her instead of committing slow suicide (though not so slow anymore, it seems).

I’m writing this sitting in warm covers in a snuggly bed. I washed all of my bedding today and it smells fresh and clean, and it’s soft and cozy. I’m so grateful to have a warm bed in a warm house, my dogs snoring softly near me as I write. I’m lucky, and I’m grateful for what I have.

Thank you, Brain

Chocolate BallsSometimes I think our minds just predict what they are going to want in the future and plan accordingly. My brain must have known two weeks ago when it made me buy those dark chocolate caramel balls that none too far in the future, I was going to be weaned off of caffeine, and then the time was going to change, and I would be sitting forlornly in my office wishing I could just go get a jug of coffee and bathe in it. It would know that I would not remember those dark chocolate caramel balls sitting in my drawer. It knew I would open the drawer for some other reason (like to get a cup of herbal, non-caffeinated tea to sort of pretend the warm beverage was caffeinated) and discover, lo and behold! A small baggy of drugs, er, dark chocolate caramel balls and I would just melt with pleasure.

Yes, brain. I thank you. You’ve done me right on this one.

The Customer is Always Replaceable

This is a repost from a blog posting I wrote in 2008. I don’t go to Taco Hell now either, but I like the rant so I’m reposting.

The Customer is Always Right. I used to see this sign in businesses. The theory behind it is a pleasant one, although I usually only saw it invoked as a means for bullies to treat customer service representatives like crap. But today, it seems the idea has gone completely out the window. It’s like stores don’t give a shit anymore if we don’t patronize their businesses; 800 people will be standing in line behind us if we don’t like the service that we get. It’s this way with stores, restaurants, customer call centers, you name it. I don’t eat out much. For one thing, it’s expensive as hell. For another, I heard Portland has had an outbreak of Hepatitis A and that it is often spread by restaurants. Since I had to get a shot in the butt in 1990 for an e-coli outbreak, and the thought of eating someone else’s poo is just more than I can manage, I avoid restaurants.

But sometimes you’re across town and starving as hell and ready to run people over your blood sugar is so low and you’re willing to eat all the things you wouldn’t normally touch from a mile away because you’re that hungry. That was me today. I recognized intellectually that I felt like a wretch and I didn’t care because I needed food.  So I went to Taco Hell. Yeah, I know it’s gross. But it’s cheap and they have this burrito with rice in it and I don’t get cheese so I went. The service was horrendous. The charming “customer service” representative who took my order informed me that the burrito I like “cannot be grilled.”

Huh? I told her when I’ve patronized the Taco Hell by my house they always grill it for me. Well, she sneered, that’s another franchise. Uh, okay. Small problem. When I’m hungry, I don’t care how big a bitch I am, at least when I’m that hungry. And I was that hungry. But I’m working hard on living in the moment and I did not want to be the bully customer who makes a worker feel like shit. I sat there in my car waiting to pull up to the window and thinking how irrelevant all this is and what a waste of my energy, but I was still getting annoyed. So I decided to be calm, but I still wanted to know why can’t they just grill my fucking burrito?

I pulled up and asked the kind lady how come they couldn’t grill my burrito. She said it is just a store policy. I said that isn’t an answer, it doesn’t tell me why the policy is in place. She said she didn’t know. Across the way a man who was probably a higher up manager because he wasn’t wearing the fancy Taco Hell outfit but instead had on a cheap shirt and tie came over and asked the problem. I started to say there wasn’t a problem, I just wanted to know why my burrito couldn’t be grilled. He said they are not allowed to grill them, company policy. I said that I get them grilled at the Taco Hell by my house. He said they aren’t supposed to. Then the girl helping said something to him and he turned to me and said it was a health issue. Huh? I said how in the world is it a health issue? He said it’s like giving them a cup and asking them to fill it. It has my germs on it. I was VERY confused at this point. My lack of blood sugar addled brain couldn’t quite muster what was going on. I said how in the world can it be a health issue to grill a freaking burrito? It’s in the restaurant, you put on all the ingredients. I never touch it. He just walked away.

At this point, I didn’t give a shit if my burrito was grilled or not. I just wanted to eat. I sat and waited until the girl handed me the bag. I asked for my water and drove off. I pulled to the side of the parking lot to eat it and it was grilled. Weird.

The main thing I kept thinking about after all this was that had I threatened to take my business elsewhere, they would have said fine, go ahead. We don’t need your two dollars. Companies have gotten so big that the customer isn’t right anymore. Everyone puts up and shuts up about crappy customer service because there is nowhere else to go where it will be any better. This is another byproduct of our one-size-fits-all one dimensional corporate society. Hate waiting on the phone on hold for 20 minutes when you call the phone company? Fine, go somewhere else. And while you’re at it we’ll charge you $200 because you’re in a lopsided bullshit contract.  Hate the piece of crap you bought at the Dollar Store? Too bad for you. No refunds.  Who cares if the state law allows you to return a defective item to a store with no refunds. You planning to sue us over a dollar? Don’t want to wait in line at a store with no employees? Fine, leave. Better yet, stand in line for 10 minutes, then leave. See if we care. Want your burrito grilled and we won’t do it?  Go fuck yourself. We don’t pay our workers enough to care. We don’t hire enough workers so they’re all pissed off all the time. Go somewhere else. Again, see if we care. That’s capitalism. It leaves no one alive.

I know this is a cynical bitchy rant. I shouldn’t complain without offering some solution. But I don’t know what the solution is. I go out of my way to avoid patronizing monster corporations, but sometimes it’s inevitable.  Sometimes it’s just being so damn hungry I’ll eat a rat in the gutter or Taco Hell. Those are the times those places get my business. I never go to Walmart or McDonald’s ever, and I mean never. They could be the last businesses on earth and I wouldn’t go there. Maybe there isn’t a solution unless enough people say enough, and judging by the lines in SkankDonald’s and Taco Hell or the mass of cars in the SkankMart parking lot, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. In the meantime I guess I’ll rant on my blog.

Ah, yes…

The Quiet Life
by Alexander Pope

Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire;
’Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter, fire.

Blest, who can unconcern’dly find’
Hours, days, and years, slide soft away
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day;

Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mix’d, sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.
[1709]

Our Illusion of Connectivity

Three years ago I wrote a blog post about the illusion of connectivity. It said:

“I go to Facebook. I go to email. I check all the addresses. I go back to Facebook. I check my blog. I go back to Facebook. In all, I find not what I am looking for. It is not satisfying. I see posts I share. I read here and there. On email I get Truthout, read through the articles. Find one that is really interesting. Read to the bottom. Post on Facebook. Go back to email. Go to Facebook. Read Salon, click on the link to “Continue Reading.” Go back to email. Nothing. Something from Powell’s. Something from Bug of the Day. Go back to Facebook. Share a picture of some cute animal or funny thing from George Takei, but overall, no connection. Not really.

To keep reading, please click here.

Would You Change?

Tell me: If you knew for absolute certain that your way of life today was guaranteed to cause the end of life on this planet within a few decades, if it meant this situation could be reversed if you did so, would you stop completely and live an agrarian lifestyle, or would you say To hell with it. I’m here and there are no guarantees, then continue living as you have been?

I truly want to know.

It’s a pretty safe bet based on the science that our demise (and that of all life) is just around the corner. (For excellent scientific citations, see the article here at Nature Bats Last.) So keep ignoring all the evidence and pretend the wannabe “evidence” is better so no changes must be made? Gotta have those plastic easter eggs after all, right? So I want to know, what level of proof would it take to make you change? Would it have to be “beyond a reasonable doubt”? Or “more likely than not”? What level of evidence would it take to make this change, or would you just keep going as you are even if there was absolute certitude of the world’s demise unless we stop living as we have been.

Again, I want to know. Take this poll and tell me:

Cookie Monsters

CookiesI baked cookies for Christmas. Yummy, buttery, sugar filled, high fat content cookies. Basically they were mostly butter, sugar, and flour, and the frosting was straight up butter cream. Yum, yum, yum, but oh, so rich. I could only eat one at a time or I would feel sick.

I gave a bunch of these cookies as gifts to family and friends, but we still had a lot ourselves. I realized shortly after Christmas that I was going to have to give some more away; they were too rich for just me and Isabel to eat, and Milla was in Arizona for another five days. I decided I would take some to some friends at the coffee shop under my office. They were in the cupboard in a bag on top of our dinner plates. I thought of making the gift, but then forgot to take the bag to work with me.

A few days later I was at home putting away the Christmas tree and decorations and remembered the cookies. Ahh, what a perfect way to ring out the holiday season but with a buttery cookie and a cup of tea?

“Isabel?” I asked. “Would you like a Christmas cookie while we put away the decorations?” Isabel loved this idea. (And I should add that my daughter is the best person ever to remove ornaments with. She was extremely quick, careful, and thorough. I couldn’t have had an adult partner who did a better job than this five-year-old. She managed the bottom half of the tree while I did the top half.)

I put on the kettle to heat and opened the cupboard to get a cookie for Isabel and myself, and shock of shocks, the bag was gone! It wasn’t there! I peeked further into the cupboard to see if I was wrong. NO cookies. I looked in all the cupboards. I looked in the drawers. I looked in all of them again, and again. No cookies! I couldn’t figure it. What in the world had happened to them? I wracked my brains, trying to imagine if I had given them away and forgot about it. No. I did not. I could not fathom what in the world had happened to them. I asked Isabel. She was as baffled as I was and looked a little afraid I might not believe her. I gave her a hug and assured her that I knew she had not eaten that bag of cookies. There were a dozen and a half at least. It wouldn’t be possible for her to have, even if she could have gotten up in the cupboard and gotten them down. There weren’t any crumbs anywhere. Plus she’s not the sort to sneak cookies. If she wanted one, she would have asked first and then eaten it right in front of me.

I started to worry. Someone, somehow had come into our house and eaten our cookies. I started to wonder about anything else a thief would want. The bluetooth speaker was playing music in the living room so it wasn’t stolen and neither was the computer playing the music. My camera was in my room. We don’t own much else of value that is the sort of thing a robber would want to steal. I couldn’t imagine anyone would come into our house and steal a bag of cookies and just take that. I was completely baffled, and honestly a little afraid. What in the world had happened to those cookies?

Over the next several days I mulled this over and over. Isabel and I considered all the possibilities, but none were plausible. No one has a key to my house. I have a key hidden outside, and I moved it, just in case someone had found it and stolen the cookies, then returned the key to its hiding place just to trip me out. I don’t really have any trickster friends, but this was weird and I had to consider all options. I considered filing a police report, but just couldn’t bring myself to do so. It would seem much too ridiculous and I thought maybe they would wonder about my sanity.

On Saturday I went to visit my best friend Debbie in Corvallis and told her the story. She too was completely baffled and afraid for me. None of it made any sense. Somehow those cookies were gone and I could not explain their loss.

Today I cleaned house a bit. My dogs had chewed up a pinecone in my room and left little pieces lying everywhere. I dragged the vacuum from its place in the closet and plugged it in. I vacuumed through the main part of the house, the kitchen, the hallway, and my youngest daughter’s room (I don’t go into the teenager’s room–it’s scary in there). Then I headed into my room. Click, click, click, the vacuum sucked up pieces of pinecone. I began vacuuming under the bed. George, my Dachshund, loves dragging his forbidden quarry under the bed. He is constantly grabbing things that aren’t his and heading into his cave. It’s the perfect size for him.

My vacuum is a canister vac, the kind with a head that has it’s own engine apparatus. It almost vacuums itself. As I vacuumed under the bed, I heard a strange flapping sound as the vacuum sucked something funny. I turned off the vacuum and leaned over, peering under the bed. What was that weird thing off toward the wall? I sat up and grabbed my iPhone, scrolled to the flashlight app, and shined it into George’s lair. There, far under the bed, was what appeared to be the chewed remains of the cookie bag.

I called Isabel into the bedroom to have her crawl under the bed and grab the bag. She came immediately as she had been as curious as I in the disappearance of our sweets. I held the iPhone flashlight as she slithered under the bed with ease, retrieving the bag within seconds. It was obviously the cookie bag–there were bits of green frosting remains in the crevices. The mystery was solved.

I realized after this that in considering taking the cookies to my office, I must have removed them from the cupboard, set them on the counter, and then gotten distracted and left them there for the canine thief to steal. He’s done it before, jumped up and taken things off the counter. He might be short, but those squat legs of his are powerful and he can easily jump almost 4 feet in the air. All food goods must be pushed back from the counter’s edge if I’m not in the kitchen to supervise and intervene when George is around.

I am relieved. I’m glad to know that no one broke into my house and stole our cookies. It also explains the obnoxious gas both dogs suffered with for two days, naughty things. In the future I’ll be more mindful, and if and when there is a time in the future when any food goes missing, the obvious place I’ll check for evidence will be under my bed.

Life is Like That Sometimes

I often think of new little products, waiting patiently in their boxes to be used. They’re so new and orderly. Pick me! Their calmness and order seems to say as they lie there, waiting to be chosen. They have been waiting their entire lives for use, and here you are, choosing. Will it be me? Their orderliness seems to ask.

Sometimes when I open a box of something, like Q-tips, and one of them pops out, I wonder if the other Q-tips were being mean to it or something, and it just couldn’t wait to escape. I’ll pour some vitamins in my hand, and one leaps out onto the floor, away from the other vitamins. Or other times it’s the opposite. I try and try to get something out of the box and it won’t come out, like it’s hiding in there, as if it knows that this will be the end in some way.

I wonder whether a pantyliner or other hygiene product really wants to be used. They might think it’s what they want, getting out of that box or off that shelf. A new home! But then they come to realize that their use isn’t necessarily something desired. It results in the trash can or the sewer or the landfill.

I suppose a pantyliner or other hygiene product has no idea that being placed in someone’s crotch or in an armpit or between toes is a bad thing. They have no other existence to compare theirs to. Although the pantyliner might. It meets the underwear and thinks, Oh, a friend. A different sort of friend. Then the pantyliner gets covered in goo and is tossed in the trash, and the underwear gets to stay. It’s not fair on some level, but life is like that. You get to be a professor. She gets to be a mother. He gets to be an electrician. Someone is born and starves in Africa. Another is born and is obese in America. We are all on our different journeys. This really is simply how life is.

Oh Boy!

Oh, boy! 10 readers today. I keep waiting for the day I reach 100,000 total reads. I’m close; less than a thousand to go, and all I want to do is shut this thing down. I don’t write anymore, not really, and especially not on this blog. My posts get shorter and shorter. I used to write pages and pages. Now it’s a paragraph here and there every few weeks. I don’t have any real urge to communicate my thoughts to other people. I don’t care what people think of me. I never thought of myself as egoist, but in having lost the desire to write for an audience, I have realized that I was somewhat of an egoist. Maybe not in a blatant self-promoting sort of way, but it was there. I came up with excuses for my need for an audience. Artists paint for an audience. Dancers dance for one. Why shouldn’t I want to write for one? Not sure, but whatever itch I had has been scratched. Maybe it’s the futility of it all, knowing full well that in the scheme of things I’m the spot on the ass of the flea on the back of the hair on the dog on the bump on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea. But it’s more than that. Something shifted and I really do not desire an audience at all, so really, what is the point of this? There isn’t one. I’ll reach 100,000 views and I won’t even give a shit.

Blogging has changed significantly since I started this. It was more fun back then. People actually communicated with one another via blogs. I met some cool people who commented on my blog and I read and commented on theirs. Now it’s all facebookified, with “likes” and “following,” which is just another marketing tool. I really can’t stand it.

It has passed its prime. Maybe I’ll wait until I pass that mythical 100,000 views, then shut the whole thing down. We shall see.

Creepy Dream

Last night I dreamed I was in a library with the cop who killed Michael Brown. He was there with his new wife. He and the new wife were giggling in the stacks and making sexual comments to one another about what they wanted to do to each other. Other patrons in the library were making concerned faces, but no one was doing anything. I heard them and went to the librarian to explain what was going on. I told him about the sexual nature of what was being said. The librarian seemed very concerned and told me we needed to go and tell someone about it. We got on our coats to leave and were in a lobby of sorts between the main library and the doors. While there, the librarian groped my breast and tried to grab my body. His was the manner of someone who was used to grabbing women and not getting caught. He seemed almost to be daring me to say something to him about it. I walked away over to some other people to get away from him, and then I woke up.

Fool’s Paradise

Illusion: delusion, misapprehension, misconception, false impression; fantasy, fancy, dream, chimera; fool’s paradise, self-deception; false consciousness, appearance, impression, semblance; misperception, false appearance; rare simulacrum, mirage, hallucination, apparition, figment of the imagination, deception, trick; magic, conjuring, sleight of hand, legerdemain.

Disillusionment therefore requires first that there be an illusion and all the lies in perception that go along with it. Illusion precipitates disillusion, and disillusion precipitates truth.

Marveling at the State of the World

As I move through my day, more and more I’m looking around at the world and marveling at human intervention. Humans have taken over everything and they seem to take it completely for granted. In fact they do take it completely for granted. It isn’t even questioned, yet it seems so bizarre to me. I’ll see a lamp post or a sidewalk or a building and think This doesn’t have to be here. But it is and it is because humans have taken over the world.

As we are isn’t natural. We put ourselves in charge when we shouldn’t be. Even this typing and this website isn’t natural; I recognize this. There is so much that humans do and so much time that humans spend that isn’t necessary. We go about our days and live our lives as if any of this is how things are supposed to be, as if it matters more than anything, but it isn’t how things are supposed to be and it doesn’t matter the most. We aren’t supposed to control so much.

More and more lately I catch myself stopping and staring at a thing and amazed that the thing exists, and I realize that the humans who put it there were not thinking how odd it was that they created what they did. Yesterday while using the toilet, I noticed that the buttons on my button-fly jeans said “Loft.” Down each one, Loft, Loft, Loft. Somewhere some human decided that the buttons on pants sold at the Loft need to say Loft on them. That person found someone who could get others to carve this word into these buttons. That person hired others who made the tools to carve the word Loft into those buttons. They hired people to use those tools. They carved the word Loft into thousands and thousands of buttons, popping them out like little coins falling into a bucket, filling a container made through the same process, filling baggies and sending them to the place where jeans are made, sewing them onto those jeans, packaging those, and then mailing them all over the world to sell to the likes of me. Humans set up these immense and complex supply chains. Really, it boggles the mind.

I like my jeans. They’re comfortable enough. They serve their purpose. But seriously, how many people does it take to make a pair of jeans? 800? It seems we have created these immense and complex supply chains to give ourselves some purpose because we’ve lost sight of what our purpose really is. I’m not sure what that purpose was intended to be, but I’m positive that humans taking over the world and making things like buttons with the word Loft on them isn’t it.

I Don’t Know How People Bear it

I just have to wonder whether the constant noise and barrage of images everywhere one goes doesn’t serve as a giant iron blanket covering the consciousness of everyone subjected to its invasive and overwhelming pervasiveness. I can barely stand to shop in stores blaring music and advertising and televisions, all beaming down on us under cold fluorescent lights. My body reacts just sitting here thinking of it. Most corporate chain restaurants seem hell bent on ensuring their patrons cannot converse with the person across from them. Maybe they’re worried these patrons will be discussing the wretchedness of the edible food-like substances on their menus.

I rarely, rarely venture into these establishments, but the other day I was in a long outdoor strip mall waiting for my dog to finish getting his hair cut. I was with my 5 year old. When she lay on the floor and kicked her feet at a toy store because I wouldn’t buy some trinket or other, I knew she was hungry. She only acts like that when she’s hungry. I had fed her lunch, but she seems to be going through a growth spurt because she’s been needing to eat every two hours lately. Shame on me for forgetting snacks.

Unfortunately the only options were corporate chains, and not many of them. An IHOP sat across the street. On our side of the road was a Red Robin. Egads. I couldn’t very well feed us dog treats from the pet store. I didn’t think I would want to eat anything in either of them, and I knew Red Robin blared music so loud, one couldn’t think. The last time I was in one of these places was several years ago. My daughter’s grandparents wanted to treat us to lunch and took us to a Red Robin. We could not converse, it was so loud. I vowed then and there never to return, but desperate circumstances require desperate acts.

The onslaught of noise upon entering was instantaneous and complete. There could be no thoughts beyond those being imposed by the bland, repetitive sound in the place. It was like walking into a block of it. I tried drifting over toward the hallway toward the restrooms while we waited for the hostess to notice us. No relief. I moved back toward the door, hoping as other patrons entered I could grasp some of the quiet outside. I turned to my daughter in order to tell her we were going to have to find somewhere else to go, but just at that moment the hostess came to seat us. I thought perhaps once we entered the cavernous expanse of the place the sound would dissipate somewhat, and it seemed to.

Unfortunately, relief was short-lived. The lull was caused by a change in songs, the second as bad as the first. A busser stopped by our table to ask us something. What? What? DO YOU WANT ANYTHING TO DRINK? Yes. Silence, please. Do you have that? She looked at me blankly.

It didn’t help that the music was bloody awful. I don’t imagine there is anyone in the world who purposely chooses to listen to the noises they were playing. I considered whether I could have stood its volume had it been something I enjoyed. I doubted it. It was simply too loud.

How is it people stand this? The place was pretty full for a Sunday afternoon. I don’t get it. Not only is the food terrible, one cannot hear oneself think, let alone carry on a conversation with another person. I had to yell for my daughter to hear me. The waiter had to bend over near my face to hear our order. It seems like a work hazard on some level.

I finally got to the place where I couldn’t take it anymore. When our waiter brought over our food, I asked him if the music was always so deafening. He said sometimes, and then asked if I wanted it turned down. Do I breathe? Yes. A few minutes later it was still loud but I didn’t have to yell for my daughter to hear me.

What is it with businesses that create an atmosphere that is intolerable? Am I the only one who can hear? Do most people want their senses obliterated with too much input? I don’t get it, I really don’t. It’s like people don’t want to participate in life or something. I don’t know how they can think clearly. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, or maybe a significant segment of the population is shut down. Maybe both? I do know that I was right when I remembered that Red Robin isn’t a place I want to frequent. The food is terrible and the atmosphere is worse. Why go there? I’d rather eat dog treats at the pet store.

How to Be Dumb Like Me

Here’s how to be dumb like me:  Get invited to a Halloween party via text from a friend. Pencil the party in your brain’s calendar, but don’t put it in any other type of calendar. Keep it there for weeks. Get an idea for a costume. Buy a mask and body suit to go with your blue wig to be a blue-haired cat. Place suit in closet and mask on top of the refrigerator. Ask someone to go to the party with you. Get that person to get a costume. Plan for that Sunday to go to the party. Saturday the night before, hang out with your children and go to the grocery store late. While at the grocery store, stare stupidly at your phone when a text comes in asking why you’re not at the party. Go back through old texts from friend. Find text sent several weeks ago inviting you to the party on the Saturday before Halloween, which it is. Slap head. On the Sunday when you planned to be at a party, go bowling instead. Leave costume on top of refrigerator and in the closet.

My good little plan

I can’t sleep so I’ll just pretend I’m on the east coast and I won’t be up too early. 3 or 4 in the morning is 6 or 7 there. Better yet, I’ll be on Europe time so it’s like I slept in. Now I’m hungry. I can have my brunch in bed in France or the Netherlands. Maybe if I Skype to my friend Anne in the Hague, she’ll actually be awake.

I thought I cured my insomnia, and mostly I have, but sometimes when my mind won’t quiet, it comes back. Thank goodness it doesn’t last for weeks on end like it used to before the cell phone turn off. Yet there are moments, like lately, where quieting the mind isn’t so easy. I stumble and trip through the items undone on the todo list, or mull over relationships, or wonder about the state of the planet. Worry, that pointless pastime rears its ugly head. I could write an Everywoman story where on the journey my hero wanders through thick, muddy fields of worry. Each time she thinks she has slayed that dragon, another rises to take its place, each more gargantuan, deeper, and more insidious than before. How will my Everywoman conquer her worries? When will she learn the dragons are not dragons at all, but hunks of mud, dirt, and water?

I don’t know the answer to that. I do have to say though that I’m tired again and ready to come back to my own time zone and perhaps grab a few more moments of sleep.

Adieu.

Business Plan

I’ve decided I’m going to start my own corporation to operate in competition with Monsanto. I’m going to hire a bunch of scientists and get them to patent dogs and cats. Then when people try to breed them, I’m going to sue their asses off. Of course this will be after I’ve harassed them and terrified them, taking photos of them out walking the puppies and cuddling the kittens. I’ll have a field day with those idiots who are stupid enough to post a video of themselves on YouTube. How dare these people interfere with my right to own life? I’ll also go after anyone who buys the puppies or kittens unaltered. If they think they are going to let those animals breed without my getting paid for it, they have another thing coming.

The Weather

Is it possible that if I did not have sunny hair that others could suppose that the sun is not usually here to warm the inside of me? If my hair were the color of coal or bark would it be easier to perceive the isolation always hovering like an alligator hiding beneath a stream waiting to drag me under?

Epiphany

I find it remarkable that something that seems so obvious upon its discernment took years to achieve realization. One simple phrase in an unrelated conversation and a little gear in the brain goes Click! Suddenly there is understanding. A true epiphany.

I’ve pondered and sweated and rolled over and over in my mind this one issue. It is at the forefront of my thinking for at least a few minutes on most days. Then yesterday I got it, just like that. Perhaps the years of pondering greased the wheels to make the understanding easier. In fact I’m sure of it.

Now I just have to figure out what to do with what I know.

Masking the truth

It is so bizarre that humans create amorphous entities to disguise what are essentially groups of humans usually controlling other humans. The state isn’t a thing; the state is a group of humans making other humans behave a certain way. The corporation isn’t a thing; it’s a group of humans stealing from other humans. Okay, I know. Not all corporations are that. But still. It’s weird. These are masks, masking the truth.

Doubt

Doubt is like a leak in the wall. It gets in and under and around. At first, you’re not even sure it’s there. But then you realize a dampness has spread like a cancer into all the tissues. If you’re not careful, the foundation will be shot and it will all have to be replaced. Three weeks from enthusiasm to doubt. I suppose it’s better to get to doubt sooner rather than later, before having invested much.

I have decided to give up trying to stay in bed and sleep when I awaken too early. I will sit and stare at the wall rather than lying and staring at the backs of my eyelids.

Dear Shaun T

Dear Shaun T,

I can’t say if I’m getting ripped. I look the same to me. (Body dysmorphia, much? Nah, I just can’t tell close up.) First I did your Insanity workout and I truly thought it was IN-sane. Now I’m in the Beta phase of T-25, and all I can say is that it kicks my ass to insanity and beyond. I thought 25 minute workouts would be a cakewalk after Insanity. Hell, most of the time those workouts near the end were a full hour. What I didn’t realize was that all those breaks in Insanity are a Godsend and the lack of breaks in T-25 is cruel and unusual punishment. My forearms are quivering as I write this and sweat is dripping down my ribs. My headband is soaked. I feel like I’ve been beat up a little.

I hope to hell I’m getting fit, that’s all I can say. Not because I want some ripped body everyone will envy, but because I want to be strong to live long for my daughters. Arghhh!

Ack

I’m sitting in a cafe waiting for a hearing and there is a radio playing. The DJ said, “It’s 1982 and THIS is on the radio.” It then proceeded to play something bloody awful and I have to wonder Why? Why is it we are listening to something that was on the radio on 1982 and should not have been? It shouldn’t have been then and it shouldn’t now. It is invasive. It’s unpleasant to listen to. It’s making my insides crawl. It’s still going on right now. I will be so glad when it is over because I still have an hour before my hearing and I need to stay in this coffee shop a bit longer.

Asses

I used to write all of my thoughts down. I don’t write all of my thoughts anymore.

Tonight I crossed a street, and then crossed a parking lot. Two men were walking up the sidewalk when I entered the parking lot. Halfway across one of the men shouted at me, “You have a nice ass!” I said low and to myself, “No I don’t.” Then I got to thinking about the concept of a nice ass and observed that having a nice or not nice ass is a weird construct, but I also thought that the man who said that probably didn’t think it was a weird construct. He probably just had some idea of the way asses look and determined that some ways are nice. I suppose this is the way most people who think about asses being nice or not thinks about them. But I find it odd that we determine that certain shapes of body parts are nice or not. I know there is some biological basis to finding certain features attractive, that it seeks out opposite and healthy genes, and youthful characteristics that are likely to increase the success of child bearing. However, I’m not sure I see where asses fit into that and I wonder how it is that our society has developed into one where we make judgments about body parts. Actually, I don’t really wonder about it. I can ascertain how we got to this place. I just wish we hadn’t, that’s all. Not because I’m offended when someone yells about my butt, but because we are where we are now and that we are headed where we are and it’s not pretty.

I spend much too much time alone. And it’s probably a good thing I don’t write my thoughts down anymore.

When Ice is Fire

Humans, humans. Going about their business. Living their lives. Making their sounds. Taking up more than their share of space everywhere. Assuming they are the center of everything. Ignoring the meteor heading right toward Earth.

Ah, there she goes again, getting all caught up in that climate change hype again.

Yeah, that’s me. Certain our future at this point is a ball of fire headed in a trajectory straight toward the center of the planet. I keep leaning toward the possibility of something else, then turn my face toward the sky and see that meteor hell bound for us and feel that reality forcing me to acknowledge its existence. I feel that meteor’s heat upon my skin. I see the path it is burning and it is impossible not to feel a little frightened, not to feel overwhelmed by the probability of it all, not to feel ashamed for my race, not to feel desperate to do something, anything besides sit back and let it happen.

A huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting a glacially slow, unstoppable collapse. Alarmed scientists say this means even more sea level rise than previously expected.

Genius, humanity. Good for you.

I’m Glad I’m not from a Crime Syndicate Family

I’m so glad I wasn’t born into a crime syndicate family.  I suppose had I been born into a crime syndicate family that perhaps I might not be aware how much the stress of the violence and constant disruption was harming me

I’m sitting here typing this and it sounds like a cat is growling outside my window.  However I got up (got cold) and went and stood out there, but couldn’t hear anything.  I leaned over to determine whether the moaning sounds might be some kind of deep whistle emanating from Isabel in her sleep, but it wasn’t.  No.  Definitely sounds like cat moan.  I have no idea what it could be that I can hear it in my house and not outside, which is where it would have to be.  I even checked upstairs and in the basement.  Silence.  Distraction.

My primary point isn’t the cat moan.  It is supposed to be my gratitude that I’m not from a crime syndicate family.  My family had enough problems without adding the stress of constant crime and murder and disappearing relatives and all that.  I’ve spent most of my adult life reconnecting the disconnected parts of myself, becoming whole, examining patterns from the past and working to change blind spot reactions and all that.  The result is that I’m beginning to see the splits all around me.  If I had been born into a crime syndicate family (I’m going to call it a CSF for short), I likely would not have these insights without having experienced some incredible trauma, and even then, it would have been really difficult.  In this regard, I’m so grateful to my family for only traumatizing me a little bit, in their own blind-spot way.

If I had been born into a CSF, I probably would have had to go live in Australia or some kind of witness protection program.  That would be rough in any circumstance, but imagine it from the perspective of a person who grew up in a CSF.  You have no normal moral compass.  You realize something is wrong, turn against the family, and have to be put into witness protection, whereby you are forced to live in some other place with strangers, etc., and act like a normal person, only you aren’t.  You’re used to seeing people handle problems with revenge and whatnot. Someone cuts in front of you in line at the grocery and you want to knock them in the head and throw them in the trunk, but you can’t, or you might get put in jail, whereupon the family would have you killed for turning snitch. Or the head hitting and trunking might end up on the news, at which point your protection isn’t so secret anymore.  Being in witness protection as one raised in a CSF is simply fraught with peril.  Perhaps there is some moral code if you grew up with the boss, and could see when the boss was lenient or whatever.  But what if you grew up in one of the lesser families, one where revenge and drug use were rampant.  Maybe because you were allowed to watch movies or something and you could see that others weren’t like your family.  Or maybe because a school teacher or counselor was kind to you, you figured out there was an alternative, but really you have no idea.  Or worse, you just turn against the family to save your own ass from jail.  Real issues there.  And then you get to go into witness protection.  That would be tough. It really isn’t something I would want in my life, that’s for sure.

I got this all typed up and then I was typing up the tags and picked “Crime syndicate family,” but I’ll bet I’m the only person with that tag on any posts.  That would be cool.  The only person in the whole wide world with CSF for a tag.  Awesome.

Privatized Suffering

This excerpt comes from the John Steppling blog. Disheartening as it is, this is truth.

Privatized Suffering
by John Steppling

“The white liberals today are defending Obama and Hillary because they don’t recognize their own dead zone and because they really don’t care about the poor anymore than the ruling 1% do. They don’t care about the targeted abuse of the poor, especially black and brown, and they are able to provide expensive education for their own children, so they don’t care about the absence of education for marginal classes. And that same expensive education is the one that trains people for shopping, for compliance to authority, and to think just like they think. The reproduction of a dead *now* is by design. Liberals are not in conflict with Reagan values, they only tell themselves they are. This is intellectual three card Monte.”

Keep reading here…

Every Day is Earth Day, or Should Be

On Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, children wonder why there isn’t a Children’s Day. Their parents tell them Every day is Children’s Day. Perhaps this is true. What isn’t true, but should be, is that every day is Earth Day, and having a small number of people trying to get the rest of the world to focus on it for one small day is not enough, not even close. Earth Day is like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and all the other holidays rolled into one. The Earth is our life giver. We should be celebrating her because she is us and we are her.

Yet as has been the case since humans decided they should be at the top of a triangle instead of flowing in a circle with the rest of the Earth, we have taken steps to dissociate from that connection and now here we are, in a place where we believe the planet revolves around us and the result is that the planet and everything on it is dying. Many respected climatologists believe we can turn this around. I’m a bit more pessimistic, but I certainly don’t believe we should not try. Earth isn’t Earth anymore. As Bill McKibben so eloquently stated in his book by the same name, Earth is now Eaarth, a different place than any of us were raised. We’ve interfered and taken it beyond recognition. Yet, this doesn’t mean we should not take care of what is left. We are Eaarth and Eaarth is us. We owe it to everything, not just ourselves and our children, to wake up and turn things around.

Every day is Eaarth Day, or it should be. Wake up humanity, or it will be too late.

Generational Differences

This essay was published on Huffington Post, and can be seen here.

When I was a child, we played outside, rode bikes without helmets, we rode in cars without booster seats, and our parents didn’t organize and supervise play dates.

This is a popular meme making the rounds on social media. It’s usually accompanied by a photo of some kid jumping something enormous on a Big Wheel with no helmet, hair flying maniacally, face full of joy. The implication of course is that today’s children are too coddled. The Atlantic just did a big article on this subject (See here). The article was good. It focused on helicopter parents and people who won’t let their children do anything with risk.

But I think it’s a mistake to revere the way things used to be. When I was a child…keep reading by clicking here.

That’s so Gross, Mom

This is how conversations go in our house:

My oldest daughter was singing “Can’t go to bed ’til you’re legally wed, you can’t you’re Sandra DEE!” I said, “You can’t even go to bed after your legally wed. Just don’t go to bed at all. Or wait. You can go to bed after you’ve been wed for ten years.”

“That’s so gross, Mom.”

Then I amended and told her seriously, “Aw well, someday you’ll go to bed. Just don’t do it too soon, and don’t do it with too many people, and use protection.”

“That’s so gross, Mom.”

Then I said, “If you’re with a guy and he says he wants to have sex and you don’t want to have sex, and he says not having sex will cause his penis to shrivel up and fall off, or his testicles will explode, don’t believe it.”

“Wow, Mom. No one would say that. That’s so gross.”

“No. It’s true. It’s been said. But don’t believe it because it’s a lie.” I said this with assurance, just in case she was thinking of believing some lie about a shriveled up man part.

“It sounds fake. I would never believe anything as stupid as that.”

Good thing, daughter of mine.

Multidimensional and Pining

I remind myself of the Laura Linney character in Love Actually. Except not at work. Just her pining. I am oh so boringly pining.

Sometimes my job doesn’t offer all the answers. I don’t like this. I want to be able to help. I get it that it’s not possible to help everyone all the time, but my poor bleeding heart wants to and is disappointed when it can’t.

I don’t want to live in this flat world. I want to live in a multidimensional soft world. I want to go live in a small space among growing things and make the world a better place. I do not want to run and run and run and realize I have gone nowhere. I do not want to wake up on my deathbed and realize it is all gone. How to be present in a world that longs to flatten us?

I’m Boring

My god, I’m such a cliché. I have been so busy with nonsense for weeks and weeks on end, I can’t even remember life with pauses. I don’t want a life running. I like the pauses, but circumstances haven’t worked in my favor.

There is a problem with sliding through life like it’s a giant luge. Time passes more quickly. I don’t want to get to the end yet; I want to experience now and not get whiplash watching it disappear in a blur as I pass it by (could one sentence be filled with more clichés, just like me?).

One consequence of this Speedy Gonzalez existence is the same byproduct I’ve lamented in many posts. No writing here. I have even considered just shutting it down, but even that takes time I don’t want to spend that way. So here I am again, saying nothing and the same thing. BORRRRRING.

Good Adult Crush Ideas

I read an article that said adult crushes can be more difficult than adolescent crushes because you can’t give your best friend a note to hand to the guy in 4th period and my immediate thought was, “Why not?” Maybe you can’t do it in 4th period, but you could get your best friend to hand the guy a note somewhere else, like perhaps the water cooler at work if the guy you have a crush on is at work, or perhaps on the playground if the guy you have a crush on is another parent. Maybe you could pass a note via car windshield wipers. Just leave a note that says, I ❤ U. Maybe he’ll have a crush too and wonder if it was you that left it (or he could think he has a weird stalker, but just pretend that isn’t a possibility). You’ll just know it was him when you get the note back with a “2” written after the U. Plus there is no reason you couldn’t get your friend to leave the note. This might help prevent any stalker suspicion as well, especially if you have lots of good friends who could do this for you. And you could also do all those crush things you did as an adolescent like “accidentally” waiting for a drink at the water fountain. This works especially well at work with the water cooler. You just saunter over casually with your cup and get some water when he does. If he’s liking you and he’s sauntering over to the water cooler too, then you’ll both end up drinking a lot of water and this could result in a lot of bathroom trips at the same time and maybe, just maybe, you might bump each other on the way. Squeee!!! Isn’t the thought just too much?!?!?

This has real potential. I have to disagree with the author of that article. She didn’t have enough imagination about this. She probably doesn’t really have any crush as an adult. She’s probably married already and doesn’t need a crush. Her editor told her to write an article on adult crushes and she couldn’t think of anything to say except boring things like passing notes in 4th period. That editor should give me the assignment. I could come up with some really great adult crush ideas that aren’t difficult at all. I just know it.

Bully Nation

Bully Nation  (Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission)
by By Yale Magrass and Charles Derber, Truthout | Op-Ed

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has appropriately been called a bully. This has implications well beyond Christie. His calling out has the potential to shift the growing public conversation about bullying from a psychological narrative about abusive individuals to a new discourse on institutionalized bullying, carried out by ruling institutions and elites.

The current focus on bullying – like much of the discussion about guns and gun violence – has tended to focus on individuals and mental health. It is a therapeutic narrative. Bullying is seen primarily as a psychological problem of individuals. The victim needs therapy, better communication or adaptation skills. Bullies are characterologically flawed and need therapy or perhaps legal punishment.

But there is little or no discussion of larger social or cultural forces in the United States and the American institutions or leaders who bully other countries or workers and citizens at home. Institutionalized bullying is endemic to a capitalist hegemonic nation like the United States and creates death and suffering on a far greater scale than personal, everyday bullying, as important and toxic as the latter might be.

Moreover, much of the everyday bullying that is the current media focus must be understood as the inevitable consequence of a militarized corporate system that requires a popular mind-set of bullying to produce profit and power. The individual bully is the creation of the bully nation.

The United States openly views itself as the world police force, a benign hegemon morally ordained to impose its interests and values on the rest of the world and justified in the name of freedom, human rights and antiterrorism to do to weaker countries what it wants. It spends more on weapons than its next 20 largest competitors combined. President Obama proclaimed “[S]o long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will sustain the strongest military the world has ever known.” To peasants living in small countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia – where the United States has sent armed forces, used drones to bomb, and often overthrown the government – polls show that a majority of people see the United States as the greatest threat to their security, and fear it. Hegemony here seamlessly unfolds as morally sanctioned, institutionalized bullying.

America makes heroes of bomber pilots like John McCain and offers them as role models for children and adolescents to emulate. They see the media applaud the bullying behavior of their own government that dispatches police, soldiers, FBI and CIA agents into foreign nations to kill and wreak havoc – from Afghanistan to Somalia to Columbia. If you kill enough, whether in a just war or not, you may win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

If bullying brings esteem to a nation, then surely that is a behavior to strive for. Potential recruits for an aggressive military need to be immunized against scruples over violence and bullying. This becomes an implicit part of their education, whether or not it is ever publicly admitted. Accordingly, schools and adult authorities often turn a blind eye toward bullying. After two world wars, the Army lamented that a majority of combat soldiers never fired a weapon. They called for a change in the training of soldiers and the education and upbringing of children to correct that. By that measure, they have been successful. In Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, the majority of combat soldiers killed.

Sports has played a vital part in preparing children for institutionalized aggression, bullying and combat. In football, the goal is to attack the opponent and knock them down, a hard hit that keeps the opponent dazed on the ground is sometimes encouraged by coaches and cheered by the crowd. In schools and campuses, the athletes are often the popular heroes and also the bullies, involved too often in sexual violence or drinking binges in bars that lead to fights or crimes.

Only recently would they expect sanctions against bullying. Indeed, the more they bullied, the more popular they would be. Even before World War I, President Theodore Roosevelt insisted that elite universities like Harvard would have to enhance their football teams if America were to dominate the world. He declared: “We cannot afford to turn out college men who shrink from physical effort or a little physical pain.” For the nation needed men with “the courage that will fight valiantly against the foes of the soul and the foes of the body.”

The aggression and competitiveness of bullying pervades civilian life as well as military. As the beacon for the rest of the world to emulate, the culture the United States wishes to export is capitalism. Capitalism’s staunchest defenders proclaim competition to be its fundamental operating principle. The monopolistic corporations and the wealthiest 1% have been the most aggressive, bullying anyone who stood in their way by outsourcing their jobs, lowering wages, stripping away benefits and firing those seeking to organize unions.

The bully demonizes their victim. In American capitalism, elites have long defined the losers in the competitive struggle with the words used by Mitt Romney to defame the 47%: undeserving “moochers.” They are weak and lazy and don’t have the stuff to prevail. As victims, they deserve their fate and must submit to the triumphant. Those, like the wolves on Wall Street who bully their way to the top, should be there; those who couldn’t or don’t, belong where they are.

Bullying is the means through which the corporate empires were built. Carnegie and Rockefeller intimidated and threatened their rival capitalists to cede them an ever-larger share of the market. They brought in Pinkerton goons to beat striking workers into submission. Workers were forced to either sign “yellow dog” contracts and pledge not to join unions, or be thrown into the street. Similar bullying practices continue today. Corporations warn entire communities they will shut down factories and undermine the local economy if they do not accept low wages and minimal regulations. Banks entice consumers to borrow through predatory loans and then raise interest rates and threaten foreclosure. The corporations are clear they have the power and will not tolerate challenges from weaklings who fail to know their place.

Bullying enhances the ideology that the strong are strong and the weak are weak, and each deserves to be where they are. This attitude pervades America’s culture, government, military, corporations, media, schools, entertainment, athletics and everyday life. The first step to a solution is shifting the conversation to institutional bullying, moving beyond simply a therapeutic narrative to a political one aiming toward transformative social change. As long as the United States embraces militarism and aggressive capitalism, systemic bullying and all its impacts – abroad and at home – will persist as a major crisis.

We’re Killing our Planet

We are killing our planet, and while it might be the tiny fragment who benefit in the short term monetarily, it is anyone who refuses to acknowledge or stop the problem who is equally complicit. I start to list all of the things we are doing to this earth, most of which is done in the name of increasing short-term wealth for a very few, but much of which increases conveniences for a lot of us, and the list grows too big to write out in a blog post. There are books listing all we are doing and what could and should be done (Eaarth by Bill McKibben is a favorite), so I don’t really need to list out all of it anyway. Sometimes it is just hearing about a couple of these things within the same two hours that gets my stomach rolling. Today in Master Gardener class we discussed the multiple assaults that are decimating the bee populations. This was followed closely by the big money, big oil bullshit report by the USDA on the Keystone XL pipeline. Most Americans aren’t following this, and of those who are, many don’t realize that those who wrote the report were hand-picked by big oil interests. Gads, when are people going to realize that we are being railroaded on every front? How bad does it have to get?

Herein lies another part of why I rarely write here anymore is because it all just seems too big and too insurmountable. I am simply one tiny voice not being heard. This is not sour grapes; it is reality. I have thought and analyzed and considered and wondered, and then thought about it all again, what is the purpose in my writing here? The conclusion I continually draw is that if I’m trying to get some message out about what we are doing to this earth, this blog adds very little to the conversation, and so I don’t write, not much anyway, because it is so overwhelming.

We have to save our planet. People have got to start caring and doing more than separating their trash into piles that can be recycled versus those that can’t. It is going to take something bigger from each and every one of us. In the meantime, the planet will never be the same. It can’t. We can only hope to make it a place that we can live on for more than a few more decades. We have got to see past this minute and understand our long term actions. We have got to be mindful in every single thing that we do, because it has an impact. We ALL have an impact. Go buy some plastic contrivance for your child’s birthday? Recognize that the plastic contrivance has a long-term impact, then ask whether it is worth the trade off. I cannot imagine anyone who really understands this ever believing that whatever they gain from the plastic contrivance will outweigh the life of our earth. Because it is that important. Every tiny decision adds to the mass that makes everything a very, big deal. It does overwhelm me because it really is that big and because we have chosen not to pay attention, now we will be forced to take action as we are bombarded by climate event after climate event, and lose species after species after species.

I really believe if we are to survive, and honestly I’m not sure I would want to be a part of an earth populated only with humans, we have got to change. We have to stop participating in a system that doesn’t work. We have got to stop polarizing and warring. It will only happen through peace and love, if we can actually get there. I see glimmers of hope, interspersed with stories about the bees and the Keystone XL, but sometimes it is really difficult to maintain equanimity.

The Bratty Puppy

Tonight my daughter, while studying for finals this week, was cuddling in her bed with George the puppy, work splayed out about her. George was under the covers sound asleep. Milla needed to go to the bathroom. She rose, set her papers aside, went upstairs and used the facilities, after which she returned to her room.

On the surface, it appeared nothing had changed. However, when she sat down, she could not locate her algebra study sheet anywhere. Finally, after searching futilely for several minutes, she discovered the sheet shredded under her bed cover, George snoozing soundly next to it.

For real. The dog ate her homework. I saw the shreds. He got up while she was gone for three minutes, shredded the damn thing, then curled up and went back to sleep.

Remarkable.

Winged Gods and Goddesses

I published a story on Huffington Post. It can be found here.

Winged Gods and Goddesses
Little girls and horses. I think part of why girls fall in love with horses is to have someone big on their side, someone on whom they can fly. I fell in love with horses before I had a logical brain, then they just lodged there, between the myelin bulges. Later when I actually acquired a horse, they were my escape from a reality that was less than. Horses were my winged gods and goddesses, flying on four legs. I was naive, silly, and fearful, but with a horse I could forget all that and imagine anything. And I did.

Before a real horse actually came to live with me…click here to continue reading.

Under My Skin

What you discover when you finally venture out of your comfort zone, is that the new place isn’t much different than the last. Each of us in our neighborhoods is operating pretty much as everyone else is operating in their neighborhoods. It is an illusion of difference.

Fear, fear, fear. It is paralyzing. I don’t like how it makes me feel. I get we are supposed to root it out, but other than feeling it, I’m not sure how to go about this in a way that isn’t too painful, and yes, I’m human enough to want to avoid pain. I know somehow it will be love, but to get there, I’ve got to figure out the misdirected beliefs and guide them in the right direction. It sounds so easy…

Maybe Pre-Dawn

My mind fills with so many thoughts I want to write down, need to write down, but then I’m sitting in the car or on the way to work or bathing the child or running or grocery shopping and then it’s the end of the day and I have not played my cello or practiced my language lesson, and most certainly I have not written down those thoughts and then they just fritter away. The difference between a real writer and me is that they find the time, make the time, take the time to sit and write the thoughts. I’m filled with story ideas, then consider the prospect of finding the time to write them and my mind nearly implodes. I don’t want to be this, but I feel nearly powerless to change it. Holiday season almost makes it worse. I don’t watch television and I wonder how anyone could have time to do so, even if there were something on that I would want to see, which there isn’t. I do read and read and read and read, in bits and snippets and pieces. Sometimes the New Yorker is folded open to an article for weeks until I finally finish it…Ah, it’s done. I could write during that time if I could get into the focus and get it done as quickly as I can with reading. Then I run across nights like tonight where the small child falls asleep early and the older child is entertaining herself and I could actually do it, could actually focus on writing, but I’m so out of practice I don’t even know where to begin, and so I end up here, jotting down nonsense and going nowhere. I have got to carve time for this, got to find some way to make it a habit again, but I just don’t know how or when. Maybe pre-dawn. That might work.

I can imagine getting to the end of my life and looking back and seeing all the time I could have done it but didn’t. Or living through a near-death experience and seeing those frittered moments. In this, I see the forest and not the trees, quite the opposite of how I am usually. I also used to be able to drop into focus immediately. I haven’t been able to do this for years now, not since I was pregnant with Isabel. That pregnancy sucked out my brains and they never came back. Isabel is extremely bright, maybe she got them.

Today I got some chocolates from another lawyer in my community. It was a little 6-pack of See’s. The funny thing is that it arrived in a box 16″ x 10″ filled to the brim with packing peanuts. All that to send a bitty box of chocolates. Silliness.

My Sad, Broken Heart

Today would have been the fifth birthday of my dear little dog, Ava. I miss her so much sometimes, I just ache. We risk so much pain when we love, that’s the crux of it. I loved that little creature so much. She meant the world to me. I still cannot believe she isn’t here and won’t be. I have horrifying thoughts at times, thinking about pieces of her at the bottom of the lake. There must be nothing left but bones. Maybe her microchip. I’m grateful in a funny way that we had removed her collar for swimming so I have it.

She gave me so much. She doesn’t even know what she was to me. Her timing coming into my life could not be more fortuitous. I cannot see anything fortuitous in her loss. If I could have one wish it would be to go back to the moment before she jumped and pick her up.

My heart is still broken.

Ibuprofen is My New Best Friend

Ambivalence is not always a useful thing.

That’s an aside. Here’s the real story:

My oldest daughter is in Arizona visiting her dad. This can make running difficult because I also have a 4 year old. Usually I leave the 4 year old home with her sister while I run. But sister isn’t here, so if the 4 year old is not interested in going running with me in the jogging stroller, I don’t get to run. Yesterday, my 4 year old did not want to run with Mama, so I decided to do some of my strength training exercises instead. I went through the routine, then felt really pumped up and wanted to do more, so what did I choose? Squats. I used to do a lot of squats every other day. Then my dog died and the whole routine went out the window (and running too, for a bit there). Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that yesterday I decided to do squats.

Did I mention that when I do strength training I use a Tabata timer so I can do more? What’s a Tabata timer you say? It’s this handy device that measures time increments. 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, for a total of 8 intervals. The idea is that you work out really hard and fast during the 20 second interval, then rest 10 seconds, then another 20 second workout, then another rest, and on and on until the 8 are done. Doing this increases the overall total of really hard and fast exercise. It works great. I can knock out 100 situps in 4 minutes, as opposed to about 70 in that same amount of time without rests.

So…back to yesterday. I got the genius idea to add squats back in using the Tabata timer. I was pumped up. I was ready to go. It’s only been 3 months since I did some. What could a few squats hurt? I did at least 120 of them. I was doing 15 a set and felt great. A little wobbly at the end, but great.

I forgot something when I did this. I forgot that I was going to jump a horse over a fence today. When I got up this morning and felt my thighs give a little shriek, I wondered how this would go because riding horses over fences requires a bit of thigh work. Let’s just say I did not plan well in this. I should have thought things through and not been so caught up in the gungho minute. I should have realized the impact my actions would have on my overall body. I should have considered the feelings of my thighs. I did not do this, and here we are now, 8 hours later, and  my thighs are quite upset with me.  They are not allowing me to make simple movements, like sitting. They are telling me that I am a mean person and that what I did was cruel. I agree with them. I will never do this to them again. I promise.

I am going to take some Ibuprofen now. In the various classes of NSAIDs, Ibuprofen works best for me. For some it’s Aspirin, for others Naproxen. For me, Ibuprofen. I will be taking it and hopefully tomorrow my thighs will have forgiven me. I can certainly hope.

Pointless Commentary of the Morning

It will become apparent by the end of the day who had to go cook a dinner and run around all over the place and who got to relax and waste time online. I think this is hilarious. I can tell already who is busy and who is wasting time by the Facebook. I’ve posted more on the Facebook in the last 3 hours than in the last 3 weeks. Last year I declared I was done with the Facebook and actually managed to stay off for months and months. Then I “just checked,” and then did it again, and then again, and here I am, not nearly so prolific in my sharing of political and social perspectives, but still there. I’m such a cliche’. C’est la vie.

The other evidence of my lack of any real TG work are the posts on here. See? I get time, I write nonsense. I also gave Isabel a bath slowly, and dressed her, and combed her hair, and fed her breakfast, and we did it all so slowly and with ease. I love this. Many mornings it’s rush, rush, here, put this on! Handing Isabel cereal to eat in the car, urging Milla to wear something warmer as we rush out the door. It’s either that or get up earlier, and god forbid we do that. I wonder why this day is any different. Maybe because there isn’t anywhere open so we couldn’t do anything “productive” anyway.

I’m quite excited that a whole bunch of new movies are out that I actually want to see. For weeks its been Thor, and Homefront, and Jackass Bad Grampa, and no plot, blowing up apocalypse or no character development teen zombie movies. These films make me want to run screaming into the night. And my favorite theater has had one movie there for FIVE MONTHS. They finally gave it one tiny time slot at the end of the day and opened things up to other fare. Thank goodness! I love movies too much. So much a lover of stories. Where does it get me? Occupying my head for a couple of hours. (Finish the screenplay, stupid! Jeez.)

I actually have been invited to dinner with friends at their friend’s. This is exactly what I have wanted to do for years, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

Time to go do situps and feel my abs scream in pain and torture. This is like an extra long, self-absorbed Facebook post. It’s all about me. Gads, self absorption makes me cringe. Oh well. I’m posting it anyway.

My little girl just climbed in my lap and is hugging me. This really is a great morning.

Thanksgiving Sonnet

It’s my annual posting of the sonnet I wrote in college about turkey murder on our holiday.  I’ve gone back and tried again and again to get the exact syllabic format for a completely proper sonnet, but could not find words to replace those here that would maintain the imagery and metaphoric content that I want, so it stays the same.

Thanksgiving Sonnet
Turgid turkeys, strained into rickety wooden coffins, exit four-by-four from a ten-ton hearse. Into the turkey mill: mutilation, holocaust.

Perspiring hormones, Tom Turkey stares with one sad eye at a crumbling chimney tower belching death in putrid smoke, blackening holiday skies. Annihilating light.

Bodies, bones. None remain unfrozen. With elaborate precision he’s taken apart; neck, gizzards tied in a bag between his ribs, head ground neatly into pink hot dog slabs.

Holiday skies are crowded with turkey souls, ascending to heaven like deflated balloons.

Still Missing Ava

A friend has a dog who is sick. She apologized for feeling her dog was her child. Oh, don’t apologize! I know how you feel. I sent her a few of the posts I have written over the years about my dogs. The one below made me weep. I wrote it in July 2012. I would have to amend the end to add that now Ava is gone too, and silly Oliver and floppy George live with us today. This is how life goes with them, I suppose. They offer us some of the greatest love, and heart wrenching grief when they’re gone.

In honor of Autumn, and Ava, and all the dogs I have loved…

In Honor of Autumn, Dogs I Have Loved
Seven years ago today, I lost my first child. I chose Autumn the day she was born from a litter of twelve. For the next 11 years and 11 months, she was by my side through travels across country, marriage and divorce, and the birth of a new human baby. In honor and remembrance of our lives together, I am posting a piece of the book I wrote about her.  I miss my dear friend, my love.

The day Autumn died, I woke up and did not immediately know this would be the day. She was lying in the living room, half on the hardwood floors and halfway on the rug. She barely looked up to acknowledge my entering the room, a sure sign something was off, but she had been listless for days because of the unusual heat.

The night before, she had been so hot. So hot that after I removed her from the tiles on the bathroom floor and placed her in a cold bath, the place where her tummy had been touching the floor remained warm for hours. Literally hours. A sick and dreadful feeling filled my stomach when I walked into that bathroom so long after putting her in that bath and could feel the warmth in the floor where she had been.

The heat of those summer days finished her off, I have no doubt of it. She could not withstand the hundred degree temperatures. The last few days before she died, I would come home and find her inert with exhaustion. She would not move. Her stomach would feel like an iron. I would then run a bath of cool water and lay her in it. This perked her up because she needed that cooling off. I don’t know whether her body was incapable of regulating its temperature anymore. The diabetes did so much else to her body; I could see it killing her thermometer too.

That morning, she was lying there and I didn’t immediately register how badly she was doing. I began to get ready for work, roused Milla out of bed, was busily doing my thing, when I made a horrific discovery.

Neon green ooze had leaked of Autumn. It looked like she had peed and was lying in it, but it was not yellow. The color was not anything I had seen from a living thing before, the color of a summer lime popsicle. My entire body went cold upon seeing that ooze. I carefully cleaned it up and moved Autumn into the kitchen. She was more listless than ever. She could barely stand. My throat was tight. It was beginning to dawn that she would not reach her twelfth birthday.

What was that, the desire for her to reach another birthday? All along while dealing with this wretched disease, I had wanted her to reach another birthday. After her initial diabetic episode, I was not sure she would ever reach her eleventh birthday. Then it was Christmas. Then I began to think maybe she would just keep living through a few birthdays, just looking like a skeleton.

I realize now she was gradually worsening, but having her there with me every day I did not notice the decline. Up until three weeks before her death she still liked chasing things. She couldn’t see while she was chasing things, so we had to accommodate, but she still liked doing it. She even seemed to enjoy looking for the ball or stick or toy she could not see.

That’s the trouble with living with a degenerative disease; you don’t notice the degeneration because you’re so busy managing it. And when the good days completely outweigh the bad, which Autumn’s did, it is easy to forget that the one you’re taking care of is on her way out of this world.

And for some reason I had arbitrarily decided that Autumn had to make it to August 16 and her twelfth birthday. It was like that day could save her somehow, even though I knew in my gut it was not true.

While lying in the kitchen, more neon green ooze came out and she just laid in it. It was this that made it clear to me that Autumn was finally really dying. I gave her an insulin shot. I tried to feed her, but she would not eat. She would not even eat wet food. More dread. More tightening in the throat and drying in the mouth.

I knew.

I debated taking her to work with me, initially deciding against it. Then as I bustled about, fitting into the routine that made forgetting easier for the moment, I realized that if I did not take her to work with me I would not see her this last day and I could not do that.

I worried about the office, whether anyone would care that I dragged in my skeleton dog. I worried about her needing to go potty. I finally decided to bring a towel and tell anyone who cared that this child of mine, my first baby I picked out the day she was born, was dying and if that person was heartless enough to tell me to take her away I would tell them to go to hell, but no one did. No one said a word. If I hadn’t had clients, I would not have gone, but I’ve figured out working on my own that I am the only backup, the biggest drawback to self-employment.  The clients who came to see me that day were extremely sympathetic.  One woman who came in shared a similar story of losing her own beloved pet.

I still have the bowl Autumn drank from the day she died. I cannot bear to put it back in the office kitchen. The day I returned to the office after she died I bawled when I saw that bowl. I had heard people speak of feeling “raw” and I now know what they meant. I felt absolutely exposed those first days after she was gone, like nothing was protecting me. Vulnerable. Words I had heard and sort of experienced, but not like this. No, this was worse.

Watching someone gradually die is the epitome of the expression a blessing and a curse. You are blessed with having your loved one there with you, but you are cursed with their disease. One minute you are wishing they would just finally go, the next minute you are thrashing yourself for the thought, the guilt a cloak you wear constantly. When they finally go, those moments creep up on you, those moments when you had ardently wished the afflicted would die, and you curse yourself, wondering whether your wishes contributed to their demise, knowing intellectually this is not possible, then reasoning emotionally that perhaps the dying one felt your anger and this brought their death sooner. Guilt:  a horrible, ugly poison.

I know guilt is not one of the traditional stages of grieving, but they ought to add it to the list for those of us who have lived with someone who has a degenerative illness. It has to be there for all of us. I cannot imagine anyone being a one-hundred percent perfect nurse to a degenerative patient, and those moments when you are not perfect come back to haunt you. Maybe only a little bit, but they are there. I like to think I’m an emotionally healthy person. I’ve managed to talk myself out of those moments, but they came up nonetheless and they can be brutal during the first days after the loved one dies. Like little bits of acid spray on the raw wound of grief.

Mostly though, I remember Autumn with tenderness and affection. Her body was so decrepit in the end, such a mess. A few months after her death, I watched a video I took of her two weeks before that day and her body was an emaciated skeleton. So sad. I took the video that morning because I thought that was her last day, rather than the day she actually died.

Throughout her life Autumn followed me wherever I would go, no matter how trivial or short the trip. Going into the kitchen for a glass of water?  There was Autumn, at my side. Going for a short visit to the toilet?  Autumn would rise from wherever she had been lying, follow me in, sighing heavily as she laid down next to me, then rising again thirty seconds later to follow me back to wherever I had been.

On that last day, when work was over, I picked Milla up from school and we headed south out of town for Dr. Fletcher’s in Albany. Debbie and Robert maintained a phone link, planning to be there for me in the end. I called Dr. Fletcher as well, to let him know we were on our way.

It was a warm day, hot and yellow. Autumn lay on the front seat, curled up. I kept petting her and sobbing. During those moments I kept thinking to myself that in an hour and a half, she would not be there anymore, that I would drive home without her, that I would never see her again. Ever. The finality was like a cement brick to the head. I could barely drive through my tears.

When Autumn was little and she rode in the car with me, she would lay her head across my forearm as I held the gear shift. As we drove, I placed my arm on the seat next to her and she rested her head there, our last moment a microcosm of our life together, our last hour.

The sun was still fairly high when we arrived at Dr. Fletcher’s near 6:00 that evening. The air outside the car was hot, so I left Autumn in the air-conditioning while I went inside to let Dr. Fletcher know that we had arrived. Debbie and Robert had already arrived and were waiting for us.

It’s odd. Since that evening, I’ve had many moments of extreme stress where my body felt like it could barely handle taking another step, but my mind knew it had to and forced it to keep going, but that night I had not experienced anything like that in my life before, and it felt overwhelming, that forcing myself to go when I did not want to.

I returned to the car and carefully lifted Autumn from the seat. I held her close and walked over to a grassy spot next to the parking lot. She was so light, barely fur and bones. I held her closely in my lap. She did not lift her head or try to walk around as she had the many times she’d been there before. I just held her, and pet her, and told her how much I loved her. Milla crouched at my side, her hand on Autumn’s neck. Autumn had been a part of her life since birth. Debbie and Robert stood next to us, and Robert snapped a couple of photos.

Dr. Fletcher held a large syringe filled with pink liquid as he walked from his office and across the lot to us. He did not say anything, he just walked up and put the needle in her forearm, then whispered to me to talk to her.

She died almost immediately. I pictured her spirit fleeing that prison of a body, flying off into the ether, she left so fast.

Earlier that year, my mom had to put her dog to sleep. It took him several minutes to die. Autumn died so quickly, it just seemed like an escape. I truly imagined her flying away.

Dr. Fletcher helped me to place her body in the wooden box I had brought to bury her in. It’s a strange experience, carrying a box with you to hold the body of someone who is alive when you start out, but whom you know will be dead, so you carry a place to put them when it’s over.

I buried her in Debbie’s back yard. I wanted her in a place I knew I could come to for as long as I lived. I wrapped her in a special blanket and covered her with a shirt of mine. She looked curled up, like she was sleeping. I have seen a dead human once; that person did not look asleep to me, but very dead. Autumn was not like this. I know it sounds almost trite, but she just looked peaceful, resting. Useful words to describe how it is.

It took a long time to dig the hole, longer than I expected, plus it was hot and the ground was really hard. I had to pick with a pickaxe, then dig with a shovel, then pick again. It was after dark by the time the digging was complete.

Before I lowered the box into the hole, I opened it, and pet and kissed Autumn goodbye, even though she was not really there. I knew once she went into the ground, I would never, ever see her body again. Months later I would imagine losing control and going there, digging up the grave, and opening the box, just so that the last time I saw her wouldn’t have to be.

I found a perfect chunk of stone to place at the head of her grave. I surrounded it with bricks. A couple of weeks later, I came back and planted flowers all over the spot, a floral island in Debbie and Robert’s weedy back landscape.

When I visited the grave the following spring ten months later, the yard was full of wild and brown grass and weeds. Yet Autumn’s grave was covered with green, a grass that was a foot taller than the rest of the grass in the yard. It was a soft, green rhombus, Autumn’s little bed in the middle of the field.

Autumn was the first major death in my life that I actually remembered.  My grandma died when I was two, and apparently I missed her, but obviously a death at that age is nothing like death as an adult, or even as an older child.  The only other death I have experienced since Autumn is Robert’s, which broke my heart.  He died five years after she did, nearly to the day, of complications due to kidney failure.

Having now experienced the death of a close human, I can honestly say that Autumn’s loss was no less for me, and in many ways even more.  I grieved her closely for years.  Eight months after she died, I wrote in my journal that I was still mourning:

I ask myself why this grief can return so fresh eight months after her death. Then I realize that if she had been human, no one would begrudge my feeling this way, and I’m questioning the depth of my feelings because she was a dog.

I sat on the floor last evening near the couch and thought of Autumn and realized again that she will never be here. Ever. I hate the finality of that. I hate missing her so much. I hate the way it makes my heart hurt. I hate that I’m not allowed to feel this much pain because she is a dog and not a human. I loved her so much. I loved her more than any human until Milla was born. She was my first child. Of course I grieve. And I should not question that it has been eight months, or that she was a dog.

The idea for a book about her life tickled my brain shortly after she left me, and so I wrote down my memories of her death and illness while the pain was still fresh so I would not forget.  Then I had to put the book aside.  I could not write about her as a puppy without crying so profusely that I could not continue. Every so often I would remember something and take a note:  Don’t forget this about her! the note would read, whether it was the way she hopped up and down when I toweled her dry after a bath, or how she liked to hunt beetles. Autumn, killer of domestic bugs.

Autumn’s death was the first in a series of life events that nearly brought me to my knees, metaphorically speaking. Sad but true, the timing of her death in relation to everything else was actually fortuitous. Things went rather south with Bjorn once he entered a new relationship, and we suffered a rather protracted court battle for the better part of a year. During that time, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Bjorn’s new partner filed a bar complaint against me that lasted nearly a year. The area of law I practice changed drastically and my earnings plummeted to zero. Rather than lose the lovely little house into which I had poured so much of my energy, I sold it shortly before the economy crashed.

I am not so sure I could have managed Autumn’s illness while handling so many difficulties of my own. Yet perhaps I underestimate myself. It is amazing what one can endure when one has to, simply by placing one foot in front of the other, from one day to the next. Perhaps too, in living with her various degenerative ailments, I acquired the discipline necessary to meet further challenges.

Two months before Autumn died, I adopted an older greyhound. Her name was Edna, and surprisingly, she was a source of comfort in the months after Autumn’s death. She came to us having spent the bulk of her life in a kennel on racetracks. She had raced eight times and failed miserably at it, whereupon she was turned into a breeding dog. Edna had no idea how to traverse stairs or eat anything but kibble in a bowl. Teaching her these things and watching her make new discoveries was an utter delight. She brought us joy during those sorrowful days after Autumn’s death.

In April 2009 Molly suffered a severe seizure. The seizure was horrible. When I woke to her twisted body writhing on the floor, her eyes rolling in two different directions, feces and urine everywhere, I thought for sure she was dead. But she did not die. Three hours later, to the surprise of everyone who had seen her, especially the vet, Molly was 95% better. And she stayed better. The vet warned me that more seizures were to come, that she likely had a brain tumor and would continue to seize until one of them killed her, but that never happened. She never had another seizure.

Then four months later, Molly seemed to deteriorate before our eyes. She fell down the stairs to my then-boyfriend’s basement. She had been having difficulty with stability on slippery floors for some time and those stairs were covered in linoleum. She stopped wanting to eat. We thought maybe hard kibble was bothering her so we bought wet food for her. Molly gobbled that up like a starving beast and we thought things would improve, only the next day she did not want to eat wet food either. We fed her some by hand and she ate that, but the next day she wanted even less. Two days later when we took her outside to go to the bathroom, she slipped and fell going up the back porch steps, and the next day when she went out to go to the bathroom, she urinated, then lay in it.  Clearly something was dreadfully wrong. My dear, sweet, fastidious dog would never go anywhere near her urine if she could help it. We bathed her and I made an appointment with our vet.

Molly died the next morning. The vet said she had a large tumor in her spleen that had burst and her belly was full of blood. She said we could operate to remove the tumor, but Molly would likely not survive any surgery — there would have been no benefit in trying to save her life. She was fourteen years old.  Her body was old and worn out. Trying to keep her alive would have been selfish and cruel.

I am so blessed this creature was a part of my life for almost twelve years. She was always there, quietly in the background. Molly loved a lot of people. She was always so excited to see my mom or my good friends. She loved my boyfriend and enjoyed his company, following him around the house for a snack or to have her rear end scratched. She took a bit of time to warm up to a person, almost like she was sizing them up to determine whether they were worth her friendship. Yet once she decided she liked you, she always liked you and would remember someone after months or even years of an absence.

Upon hearing of her death, a close friend of mine said to me, “She was such a good friend and such a polite and gentle dog. What a blessing to have had her for so long – she loved you all dearly.”  These words were simply true. I am grateful Molly came to us. In her quiet way she was a fixture in my life for over a decade. Of the hundreds of dogs I could have chosen from the humane society that cold, winter day, I am so thankful I chose her.

In winter of 2009 I moved to New York. I had been telling Milla for months that after school let out for the summer, I would get her a small dog of her own. During the school year, we would prowl shelters and pet stores, seeing what was out there, looking for a new friend.

One afternoon in April, we stopped in a dog store after going out to a movie. While there, a small, impish, white maltipoo greeted me with enthusiasm and delight. She climbed up on the railing to the display area, hanging over the bars begging me to pet her.  She was utterly charming.

The store owners brought the little dog into a fenced area in the middle of the store so we could play with her. Milla and I sat and enjoyed her company for a half an hour before she wore herself out and settled in for a nap. As we rose to leave, I reached over the bars and lay my hand on her side. Something traveled between us in that moment. I felt her entire body relax beneath my fingers. She sighed and stretched her legs. I fell in love.

After we left I could not get the little dog out of my head. She was ridiculously expensive and I had determined we would be adopting a shelter dog. However, I kept thinking of her and early the next morning, which was Easter, I decided that I would call the pet store. If they were open, I would offer them less than half their asking price for her, the same price I would pay to adopt a dog in New York. If they accepted, I would go and get her. I called the store, they were open, and they accepted my price immediately.  Milla and I rode the subway north to Washington Heights and brought her home with us. I named her Ava.

I was already in love with this delightful creature. There are some just dog things, such as the way they trot in front of you with their ears back, heading where you’re heading, that I adore in this dog of mine. I love how wherever I go in the house she follows me, like Autumn did. It was one of the hardest things to lose when she died.

Ava also has her own unique quirks that I specially love about her. She sits on my feet. If I am in a place and standing and talking or sitting and talking to someone else, she perches on my foot. She will do this when I am saying goodbye to Milla as she leaves the house to go do something and I am staying home. Ava sits there on my foot, as if to say I am staying here with herYou go have fun. We will be here when you get back. Then as I move into the house to do whatever, she follows me. She likes to sit on the corner of my bed look out the window or watch me while I’m sitting at my desk. She hovers with her paws over the edge of the bed frame, her head rested on them, looking at me.

Ava makes distinct faces all her own. The most common is what I call her happy face, her mouth slightly open, tongue out, eyes bright, often one ear cocked. She’ll turn her head slightly as if to ask Do you want to play? In these moments I stop what I’m doing and play with her. In the morning, when she wakes up, she has the most incredible bed head. Her eyes are all sleepy, her hairs all akimbo. She’ll crawl to the top of the bed, as if the effort is more than she can bear, then sigh and relax as we snuggle and pet her.

Later, wild dog comes out, chasing bears and fozzies, rattling them mightily from side to side until they are dead. Sometimes she brings them to us and requests that we throw them. We do, because watching her little sheep butt run away to get them is one of life’s greatest joys. She does not like these stuffed creatures to see anything. Within a half an hour of getting a new stuffed toy she removes its eyes. Perhaps she does not want it to see her remove all its innards piece by piece. More likely she loves that the pieces are hard and fun to chew.

After Ava has a bath she runs through the house like she’s on fire, ears back, bolting from room to room. What is that, dogs running after baths? I understand their desire to rub themselves dry on the floor, but the running around after, I wonder why.  Almost every dog I have ever owned has gone running after getting a bath. However, none of them have run like Ava does. The others have all just gone for their run to dive into their rubs. This one just runs like a bat out of hell from room to room, then comes and stares at me with the happy face, tongue lolling out, eyes bright. Then off she goes again to make another round.  It’s hilarious.

Ava isn’t thrilled with the bath itself. She is actually one of the more obnoxious dogs I have had to bathe. It’s a good thing she is small and easy to hold down because she really hates it and tries to escape. Yet she is intrigued by the bathtub, or rather, people showering or bathing. When Milla takes a shower, it is a guarantee that Ava will be in the bathroom standing on the edge of the tub, peeking around the shower curtain, her little sheep butt wagging its mini tail. When either of us bathe, she comes and stands and looks in. Maybe she is curious why we would want to do something so hideously awful. Or perhaps she just wants our company. Maybe it’s a little of both.

Ava truly loves to snuggle. She is thrilled at her ability to jump on the bed. She could not always do it by herself, but she grew and figured it out, and now seems to take great pleasure in both jumping on and jumping off. I can jump on the bed!  I can jump off the bed!  See?  I launch myself many feet past the bed!  Aren’t I skilled?

She will jump on the bed if I am lying there and come and lie across my neck and sigh. She’s my little doggie stole. She’ll snuggle there a while and get kisses from me, and strokes and rubs. She knows I do not like her to lick me. She does not even try anymore.  My ex-boyfriend lets her kiss him — I think it’s gross — but Ava knows he doesn’t mind so she licks him all over. The only time she licks me is when I get out of the shower. She will come in and lick the water off of my feet  until I dry them.

This dog makes me happy. That’s the simple fact of it. She came along when I was very sad. There were so many reasons, many of them huge, for my sadness. One the biggest was grief over the loss of the dogs who had lived with me. I would have dreams about them, dreams they were still alive or still lived with me. Vivid dreams. Then this little dog came to live with me and I suddenly felt the desire to laugh again. I laugh every day living with her. She’s a happy, wonderful little spirit. Frankly, I’m completely smitten.

Years and years ago, I may not have even been out of my teens, I read The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. I don’t remember much of it at all. I read it because it was a bestseller, and I don’t even recall its premise beyond the title.

However, I remember one thing vividly. Peck argued that humans can never really love a dog, or any other animal, because to love as he defined it requires reciprocation in kind. My feelings in response to his position are unchanged: I wholeheartedly disagree.  Life is full of different kinds of love. Some loves are equally reciprocal, usually with the person we choose as a mate, but also with certain friends or even family members. By Peck’s definition, I could not truly love an infant or a small child or someone who does not love me back in the same way and with the same articulation.

What a limiting view of human capacity. I absolutely loved my dog. It did not matter that her adoration of me was different. My love for her was there, and it still is. Autumn was a gift and I will love her forever. She helped to teach me selflessness. She brought me joy. She increased my humanity. For this and so much more, I will be forever grateful.

Changing the Name

I no longer want my blog to be Lara Gardner’s Weblog. I want a new name. I don’t want it to be my name anymore. I am going to change it.

I have lost my writing habit, and writing is a habit. The more habitual one is in it, the easier it is to answer the call of the discipline of writing. All of my habits came crashing to a halt the day Ava died and I have been struggling to regain them. I ran religiously every other day and it’s been like moving through cement to reform that habit. This was the first week since her death I was able to do it as before. I would regularly cook a soup on the weekend, ensuring lunches to last the week long. I’ve cooked three since her death, one this week. On and on, daily life changed and I haven’t been able to solidly regain my footing. I keep thinking of her. She comes to me at odd moments. I think of that exact minute and force my mind away.

But this wasn’t to be a post about Ava dying. It is about wanting to change the name of my blog. There are many reasons for this. Too many acquaintances think it is who I am, and it’s not, and this frustrates me. Perhaps if its name is not mine, this will lessen. Also its purpose has shifted. It used to catch the random bits, force me to build and maintain the writing habit, but I’ve moved that habit on to specific projects. It also began as a need to work through life’s lessons, a place I would mull over what I was experiencing and work out what it all meant. Over time, my boundaries shifted and I no longer desired to put most of those thoughts in a public sphere. Most of those posts have been made private and I keep a journal for them that is not on the internet. Finally, I’m bored with it. It isn’t what it was. It used to be a redesign gave it a charge when it felt sloggy, but this doesn’t work any longer either.

It might go through several incarnations. I can’t say for sure. All I know is that the name will change. Soon.

Dear New Seasons

Dear Mr. Deli Man at New Seasons:  I know it’s late and the time changed, so it feels later in your body than it really is, but could you please be a little more attentive and properly put the chicken in the plastic bag rather than getting only its hindquarters in, thereby leaving the remaining chicken in the paper bag that isn’t designed to hold a greasy glob of cooked meat? Thank you.

Dear New Seasons:  Thank you very much for installing toilet tissue holders that actually turn easily when one pulls tissue off them. I can’t tell you how much this thrills me. So many stores are stingy and obnoxious with their tissue. It’s a real drag to have to pull one square, have the roller catch so the square tears off, then the roller rolls backwards so that the edge that just tore is in the back, leaving you to then scratch and pull to get that edge to the front, only to repeat the process 10 times in order to get enough tissue to do your business. I don’t want to wipe with my fingertips; that’s nasty. New Seasons, your generous tissue holders make me grateful to you every time I’m forced to use them. Thank you.

Dear Carrot Buyer at New Seasons:  Are you a new employee? Are you a particularly gargantuan human? I have to ask because the carrots you’ve chosen this week are enormous! I could have used one for a bat. Maybe you aren’t actually large, but a sports fanatic, and you would just LOVE it if someone used one of your ginormous carrots and a potato to start an impromptu game of baseball right there in the produce section. I could see it! Thank you though. I only needed to buy two of the things to make my soup, which is easier to carry without a bag than more carrots would have been. I don’t like getting bags in the produce section. They’re plastic and not good for the environment or wild animals, so I definitely prefer skipping the bag. The giant carrots made this more possible.

Dear New Seasons Stuffed Animal Pricer:  I get it that stuffed animals at the grocery store are a pure profit item for you. Who buys stuffed animals at the grocery store anyway (people who forget to buy gifts for small children at a regular store and are up against a deadline possibly?). What I would like to know though, is why you have to charge so danged much for them. Maybe you know purchasers of stuffies at the grocery store are in a last minute kind of thing position, and you are therefore taking advantage of our having not planned better. I would like to suggest you don’t take advantage of us. We’re already feeling precarious, having waited until the last minute and all. Maybe you could lower the price just a teensy, weensy bit? Please? For me? Thank you.

Dear New Seasons:  I would like to suggest that if you run out of whole cooked chickens in your deli section that you allow those of us who wanted one to purchase a whole uncooked chicken for the same price. The reason I make this suggestion is that, surprisingly enough, chickens from New Seasons that are uncooked cost MORE than chickens that have been slow-roasted in that cool turning thingamajig that leaves the meat falling off the bone. The cooked ones are way easier for us buyers, which seems to me to make them a premium item. Raw chickens are way more work. Shouldn’t the higher premium chickens cost more? Or at least the same? But they don’t. And some of your delis are not hip to the cooked chicken demand. The location by my house is AWESOME. They rarely run out of cooked chickens. The one by my old house, not so awesome. They ran out all the time and never seemed stocked like the one by my house now. But either way, making the raw chickens the same price would be oh, so very helpful. Thank you.

Dear New Seasons:  I checked out the Green Zebra. It’s so dang small, you can’t pass another shopping cart when you’re pushing one. And pricey! I’ll keep going to you, so whew!, right?

Dear New Seasons:  I am a loyal customer. New Seasons is always my first choice for food from a grocery store. I have to confess though, that I’m going to be stepping out at another store in the future because they have local, organic fuji apples for half the price of yours. They also have organic, steel-cut oats for a dollar a pound less. On many items, you’re actually cheaper than a lot of the stores people think are cheaper, like Fred Meyer. Fred Meyer is a joke. So is Albertson’s, and Thriftway, and Safeway. I hate all these stores. They are over-priced and have way too much processed and non-organic crap. Plus, they’re REALLY expensive. Arborio Rice at these stores, same brand, same size, costs over $2.00 more a container than the same arborio rice at New Seasons. And they can’t even compare when it comes to produce and meat products. But New Seasons, Sheridan Fruit Company has you beat on a lot of things, and I’m just going to have to buy there more often. I’m sorry.

Dear New Seasons:  You sell Gin Gins, my all-time favorite treat, for $3.99 for 3 ounces. This works out to be $15.96 per pound. I was able to locate Gin Gins on the internet in bulk:  Eleven pounds for $62.00, and shipping is free! Don’t ask me why the sell lots of eleven pounds instead of some more round number like say, ten, but that’s how they sell them. That works out to be $5.64 per pound. Even when you had them on sale at 3 ounces for $2.50, they were still $10 per pound. The bulk price is better, so I bought eleven pounds of the things. I admit it. That bag should last a while. Sorry, New Seasons. stepping out on you for the Gin Gins too.

Dear New Seasons:  Final letter of the night, I promise. I just wanted to say that I love going to your store. Everyone is always nice, even when they’re putting the chicken halfway in the plastic bag. All the workers seem not to mind being at work. The customers even seem happy. You help the local food scene. You buy meats that came from humanely raised critters. You’re a bit overpriced on some things (like fuji apples), but I can deal with that. Sometimes when I’m feeling down, I’ll go to a New Seasons just to get a pick me up. I like you, just the way you are. Too bad you’re not a man because I’d date you in a minute.

A Bee in My Bonnet

So do you ever feel like you have a bee in your bonnet, Mister or Miss Universal you? I have one in there at the moment, buzzing around and making me want to take a bat and whack something. I need a good solid run, but I am home alone with my dear daughter and she is sleeping, and the older one is out, so running is out, and thereby I am out. Of sorts that is. I’ll have to wait until the morning, I suppose. I am hoping this bee finds its way out of my ear and gone. I feel like slapping something. Actually, I feel like slapping someone specific, but that isn’t any way to be, now is it? I’d also like to slap Trimet, the useless public transport company that gave raises to their executives while simultaneously cutting services, cutting benefits for drivers, and raising prices on everyone. Fuckers have more trip interruptions these days than electricity has interruptions by Enron. Excuse the f-word there, but that’s the only word I could come up with on the fly. It’s that damn bee, you see. (Again you, the universal). Tonight my eldest needed a ride home from her school play on the damn train. We checked trip alerts. No interruptions. Did that stop the bastards (Oh, another nice word!) from interrupting service? Hell no. She’s standing with a group of strangers at the rose quarter while I sit and type this. The dear baby is sleeping. She needs to sleep until tomorrow. It’s late enough that if she rises now, she will not go back to sleep until midnight, handily, and we can’t really have that, and so that leaves the eldest standing with strangers at a train stop a couple of miles away. If it weren’t so dark I’d tell her to walk, but I don’t want her to take that chance, not at this hour.

This truly is a stream of consciousness bunch of nonsense, now isn’t it?

Delusions

I had a friend who I thought was one of my bestest friends in the whole wide world. I have a couple of other bestests who fit into this category, but there are some topics that are simply not discussed with them. One is not interested in hearing about my lack of love travails. The other really could care less about anything about spiritual growth or any of that.

Yet I could discuss anything this friend who I thought was one of my bestest. Even when we hadn’t seen one another in weeks or months or years, which could happen because we didn’t live close, we could pick right up and begin again. A couple of years ago, we made a decision to try and visit one another more because we were both lonely for a bestest friend we could see more often.

Then last year she decided not to be friends with me. Stupid facebook. It posts everything you do on all your friends’ pages and all they say back and on and on. All of it was about politics. I am drifting too much left for her (or many friends, actually), and I knew she didn’t like that. She didn’t like what my other friends said so she cut me off, then sent me a message telling me as much, then that was it. I never heard from her again. Phone calls unreturned. No more emails. I knew it was final when the birthday passed without so much as a whisper because she’s always sent a card at the very least.

It’s been a life lesson that I’ve chosen to replicate my family dynamic (I am a cliche’ of the highest order). I get it now. I’ve spent three years of work with a woman who is like an old medicine woman in her capacity to heal old wounds, plus a good year and a half checking in with her now and then. Years with counselors before never even got me in the same healing ballpark that this woman did. She is amazing. In any case, I understand it was my dynamic to choose people to love who didn’t love me back quite as much or at all. I make different choices in how I pick people now, but it’s slow going sometimes.

I never considered this friend whom I have known for nearly 20 years to fall into that category, yet I have gradually realized that she did. I look back and see the signs. They were there. They were sometimes right in my face, but no, I didn’t see it. How blind we can be sometimes when we don’t want to see something. She meant more to me than I did to her. It’s as simple as that, and as painful.

I’m thinking of this now and writing about it because I miss her. I haven’t spoken to her in almost a year and I miss her sometimes so much it hurts. I want her to be my bestest again, even if she never really was because I can be such a deluded fool sometimes.

Ah well. Sunny days will come again? Maybe…

Dancing Like a Sugarplum Inside my Head

Where did it come from? Why is it there? It came from nowhere and hung in my mind billowing like clothes on the line, the words playing over and over,

a ripe jolly old elf, and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself. …a ripe jolly old elf, and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself. …a ripe jolly old elf, and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself. …a ripe jolly old elf, and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.

…the fragment just plays, wispy and light, over and over as I take a shower, as I blow my hair, as I feed the dog, as I clean the microwave.

It isn’t Christmas. I haven’t even thought of Christmas. I even remembered my dream right before waking and it wasn’t about Christmas. I have not listened to or read the Night Before Christmas.

So can someone tell me why the right jolly old elf is ripe and why he’s dancing like a sugarplum inside my head?

A Possible Cure for Insomnia

This piece was published on Huffington Post.

A Possible Cure for Insomnia

I have figured out one possible cure for insomnia.

I started having insomnia in the mid-1990s. Mine is the sort that wakes me up at night, my little brain buzzing like an electrical transmission tower, thoughts of work, thoughts of family, song worms, you name it.

To keep reading, click here.

Just Stop Already!

Three and a half weeks ago my dog died a horrible, violent death that did NOT involve a car, and left nothing of her body. Our family has been reeling and grieving this loss, trying to come to terms with it. She was a part of our family, present at the birth of my youngest daughter (who was born at home), and important to all of us.

Why am I bringing this up? Because I can’t stand how many people are asking me when I’m going to get another dog, or telling me we should get another dog. It’s obnoxious. It hasn’t even been a month yet, for Christ’s sake! Some people asked me 2 DAYS after she died!

For the record, we have another dog. He’s helped somewhat, primarily because we love him so much, we can focus on that love instead of our hurting, which helps with any loss, I know. Heck, I got Ava the day after the death of another dog I lived with. How is that different? I can hear some people say. For one thing, that dog was my boyfriend’s. I loved her, but I had only lived with her a few months and she was attached to him. She was a dear, and my heart broke losing her. But there were many other, much worse situations going on in my life at the time that did not involve the death of any loved ones that led me to get Ava. It was the combination of these things that led to the decision to bring home a puppy to love.

The thing about pain, grieving, and loss is though, that you can’t bandaid them away. If you do, these emotions will come back to get you in other ways, and it will all probably be worse and prolonged. I knew this when I brought Ava home. And for the record, I was also seeing a therapist for all the other stuff going on.

The questions about getting a new dog bug me the most primarily because they seem to imply that dogs are simply replaceable. They’re all four-legged furry things that have to be taught to potty outside and behave appropriately. They live relatively short lives. They can be left at home all day without much trouble (most of the time, anyway).

Yet the implication belies the individuality of each animal. I’ve lived with lots of animals in my life, and just like people, every one of them was different. Each one had its own personality. Each one touched my life in different ways. To presume that Ava could simply be replaced, like a pair of shoes or a car, shows such a lack of . . . something, I can’t even find a word to express it.

I get it that I view animals differently than most people. I do not think people are more important than animals; humans are animals who happened to develop brains that gave us the capacities we have. Ultimately though, we are all equal lives in my mind.  This belief system is perhaps part of the difference between myself and those who think Ava can simply be replaced. Others think of animals as things, as property. Even our legal system reflects this, and I’m not naive enough to hope the rest of the population agrees with me.

But shit, show a little sensitivity folks. Would you tell someone who lost their husband to go get married again? Lost their child, go have a baby again? Obviously, the depth of emotion we feel for a human is much more intense than that for a dog. I would not have been able to leave that place alive if it had been Isabel or Milla instead of Ava who had been killed, I truly believe that. I could survive the loss of a spouse, but I’m not sure I could the loss of a child.

Yet for me, the sentiment on some level is the same. Ava was an individual. She was a part of our family. She wasn’t a couch, or a car, or a rug. She was special to us and to a lot of other people as well. She can’t be replaced. Someday when I’m feeling up to it, we may invite another creature to come and live with us, but for now, I wish people would just stop telling me to get another dog.

Ava: December 3, 2008 — August 23, 2013

Every Friday since August 23, I have noticed and looked at the clock at 11:45 a.m. and thought of Ava. It has only been three weeks, so it’s likely this will stop soon. Then one Friday afternoon I’ll look at a clock at 12:30, or 2:00 and realize I didn’t notice and tears will form. It isn’t because I’m a bad person, but because I’m a normal one, and in order to go on in life, I can’t be looking at a clock every week remembering the moment she died.

I wish I knew the time of the day I first met her. It was some time in the afternoon on April 11, 2009. We had been to a movie at a theater next door. We played with her and several other puppies, then zeroed in on her. After 45 minutes, she needed her puppy nap and we needed to go to dinner with friends. As she lay on her side on the floor inside her puppy kennel, I reached in and put my hand on her side and she sighed. I felt complete love in that moment.

Then we left. I did not expect to see her ever again. I did not know that when we returned home at 11 that night our dog would die within 10 minutes of our arrival. When I woke up at 3 heartbroken and lost at everything that had happened that week culminating in the death of our dog, I knew my daughter was leaving to go to her father the following day, Easter. I knew after everything I could not come home to an empty house and all the grief that was a part of my soul. I remembered that puppy, remembered the moment that passed between us when my hand covered her heart, felt something immediate and visceral and complete, something other than grief and loss.

I decided lying there that I would call the store in the morning and offer them less than half the asking price for her. If they were open on Easter and they would take my offer, I would go and buy that puppy. I have never paid for a puppy in a pet store before.  I don’t really believe in it, considering all the unwanted animals up for adoption. But at that moment, I did not care.  In this decision in the pre-dawn hours, I was finally able to sleep.

First thing the following morning, I awakened feeling like I had a hangover. The morning was damp, classically spring-like. I told Milla my plan. I searched online for the number of the pet store using google maps to find the movie theater, then street view to find the name of the pet store, then googling the name to find the number. Together we called them. At 9:30, they answered. When I described who I was and made my offer, there was no hesitancy. They accepted on the spot.

Walking from the subway in Washington Heights to the pet store later that morning, as we paused on a curb to cross the street, my ex asked me whether we should name her Ava or Gloria. In unison, Milla and I said, “Ava.” It wasn’t until days later that I got it. My last name is Gardner. His is Gaynor. Ava Gardner or Gloria Gaynor. It was a joke, but it became Ava’s name and we never considered another.

My puppy baby.

My puppy baby.

I loved Ava from the moment I knew her. I loved her before I knew she would be mine. I loved her completely and fully and this love got me through the lowest point in my life. I credit her with saving my life, I was that low. Love will do that for you, give you the gift of life when you’re sure you can’t make it through. Even after Isabel was born, I kept loving Ava and kept her close. She was present for Isabel’s birth. She was a little light in all of our lives.

Back in May of this year when Ava was poisoned and almost died. I went there in my mind and imagined the possibility and could not bear it. After that incident, Ava stopped running away. She used to like to leave for 20 minutes or a half hour and roam the neighborhood. It only happened a handful of times, but one of our neighbors really hated this, even though she didn’t do anything. After the poisoning, even if she wasn’t tied up, she would not leave. I don’t know what changed for her — did she understand how close she came to death? I did not know, but I was grateful for the change.

Now she is gone and I wonder if Death felt thwarted back in May. Determined to do its deed, it took her from us when we least expected it, leaving us all reeling. Isabel lost a member of her family. She is only now getting her rhythm back. She doesn’t get it. Out of the blue in the car yesterday she said, “When we die, our bodies become the earth. Is Ava now a part of the earth again?” She has asked multiple times if the fish are going to send Ava back to us. I have tried to explain, but she doesn’t understand. Milla seemed fine within a few days, then last week I found her sobbing at the bottom of the stairs. “I miss Ava,” she cried. I held her and cried too. We all do.

It gradually recedes. I have to fight the guilt at not grieving 24 hours a day, but we can’t live like that. If Ava could have understood such things, I cannot imagine she would have ever expected us to stop our lives at this loss. Most of the time I want to crawl into bed and stay there all day, but I can’t, and really, if she could understand such things, would she want me too? I think not.

I miss you Ava. Your life was too short, but you brought me hope and love. Thank you, little friend.

See also: Reduced, More Ava, Just Stop Already!, Still Missing Ava, My Sad Broken Heart, Incomprehensible,

Lead Me From the River of Woe

If we wish to turn away from that which torments us, do we also turn away from that which inspires us?

I am concluding that some of our deepest compassion comes from our deepest suffering, yet we must survive the desolation in order to make it through to compassion, and sometimes this can feel impossible.

Some days, in order to turn away from the shadows, I bask in the simple light of my little girl. I’m like a fucking Hallmark greeting card. She glows and I glow in return. She radiates divinity. It is impossible to remain in dark places when my focus is on her.

Do I lose artistry in leaving the banks of Acheron to turn toward my Venusian angel?

Tenuous Connection

This article was published on Huffington Post and can be seen here. Regular readers of my blog will recognize it as part of what I wrote yesterday.

Tenuous Connection

How will you and I connect if there is no electricity? How will you and I connect if there are no phones? How will a world made of 9 billion people exist when the only means of communication is the same as that which was available in 1850 (or 1750, when there was no postal service)? What if we no longer have motorized transport in most of the world? We would be stuck with our legs, or bicycles. Where would all of this leave us, back in some-distant-past BC because so few people know how to ride horses or use animals to pull wagons? In this, the third world has already outpaced us. How quickly the strands of our amorphously tangled web of connection would fall away if there was nothing to give us the power to connect with one other as we do in the modern world.

Human “leaders” seem hell bent on war and destruction, and it is not implausible their actions could lead to nuclear war. Fukishima is leaking and we can’t stop it. Weather patterns have changed so drastically it is not just possible, but highly probable that many major catastrophic weather events will occur in the near future.

Finish this article by clicking here.

Reduced

My daughters sleep with me. The 3-year-old has slept with me since she was born and will as long as she needs to. The 14-year-old sleeps with me when she wants to, which isn’t often lately. Whenever the 14-year-old sleeps with me, the dogs do too. I used to lie with all of them in my bed and feel so safe and cozy. “Everyone I love the very most is here in bed with me,” I would think. I would reach out and touch each of them, feeling completely blessed we were all in one place.

Every morning this week I have awakened too early. I’m suffering a different sort of insomnia than that which I think I may have cured. This is grief-induced insomnia. The last couple of nights were better than the night before because I googled “How to stop PTSD flashbacks.” Several sites advised grounding and mindfulness. Take the mind away from the place in the flashback and bring it to the present. Feel something with your body. Open your eyes and look around. Touch the place you are and ground yourself in the present.

Each time the horrifying incident attempted to replay in my head, I did this, just reached out and ran my fingers along the covers. Moved my foot back and forth. Put myself here instead of there. This did reduce the flashbacks that played that first night over and over like a torture video on the back of my eyelids.

Each time I realized that my safe little nest is missing one, my heart would ache and head for a memory and I would reach out and touch something to bring me back here, to this smaller family. I want to keep them all with me at all seconds, as if being with me will make them somehow safer. It didn’t on Friday. My same little pod was with me then when one of them was killed.

Why is it life seems determined to remind me that we have no control? I am not a control freak. I know how tenuous a grasp on life all of us really have. My only gratitude in this loss is that I told Ava every day how much I loved her. Moments before she died, she sat on my lap, I stroked the silky, wispy fur on her head and told her how much I loved her. I felt my love for her in my belly; am reminded of it now, sitting here.

I have learned to ignore the small irritations because you never know when one you love will be snatched away, and for this I am grateful. So many times she would do some little thing and I would say, “Oh, Woofer. Don’t do that!” Instead of yelling and scolding. Oh, the small gratitude among the pain.

Incomprehensible

It’s incomprehensible. I cannot wrap my brain around this, any of it, the loss, the accident, that this is how life is now.

Unbidden, memories escape and with each new memory comes more heartache. No more snuggling under covers. No more sliding down slides. No more sitting, sitting, sitting on the edge hoping, hoping, hoping that one tiny little bite might fall to the floor. No more jumping in to catch those nibbles that fall to the floor.  No more curly, silky fur. No more warm, brown eyes. No more drowned rat in the bath. No more warm, winter coat. No more licking. No more “Ava, stop licking!” No more brushes after bath. No more running like a wild banshee after a bath. She was present when Isabel was born. She gave me something to love when I was pregnant.

The day I met her, I held her and played with her, and watched her climb the side of the kennel where she played with her puppy friends. I thought she was sweet, a dear little thing. An imp, a scamp, too smart for her own good.

It wasn’t until later, later when she was put back in her own kennel to sleep after a playful afternoon, she lay on her side ready to nap. I reached over the fence and laid my hand on her side and she breathed, deeply and completely, fully content with my touch. A part of her traveled to me in that moment and she was a part of my heart. I did not know then that in under 24 hours she would be home with me, but we were still connected. Love. It was love. I felt it then and still feel it now, and my poor, uncomprehending heart is so broken I cannot imagine a moment when it will not hurt this way.

If we choose to participate in life, if we choose to love, we choose to take the risk that we will feel that which is incomprehensible, that we will feel pain. That is the trade-off for getting to love, which is even more of a gift than getting it. I know this sounds sappy and sentimental, but it is true. Loving her saved my life once. Loving her brought me joy. Even moments before her death, I felt pure love holding her and kissing the top of her silky, white head.

Riding back to the marina, the wind whipping tendrils of my hair into my face, my youngest wrapped in my arms as I knelt on the deck of the pontoon boat that killed her, I felt for a moment Ava was with me, and then the moment was gone. She was gone. My heart will never be the same.

We Have No More Passion

This is what modern life is:  All relationships are via some electronic device, or they do not exist at all. Meeting face to face is a rare occurrence except in the workplace, and if you work alone, woe be to you. If you want to find out what is happening in a friend’s life, you have to use some version of social media to discover it, because it will not be found out through real conversation. Even the phone has gone by the wayside and telephone conversations are rare. Everyone is too busy to connect with real humans that have any meaning to them unless those humans happen to live in the same house, and even then, it won’t be the sort of connection time and reflection bring, but the rushed and desperate connection of going to and fro. If there is a misunderstanding via electronic device which lacks the nuance of face to face connection, it is quite possible the relationship will end, regardless of how long you have known one another because with electronic misunderstandings comes the possibility of projection of whatever the person who misunderstands chooses to perceive, whether or not there is any basis in reality. Even when you do meet your friends in person, this is no guarantee you will actually connect with them. The devices are there too, intercepting. Faces don’t turn toward one another, but toward little screens, lighting the visage with cold, blue light.

These are the lives we have created for ourselves. In exchange for products that can do everything for us and do do everything for us, we have given up human connection, human passion. Maybe it isn’t such a travesty that we seem on the trajectory to self-destruction.

My Statistically Improbable Pets

I have a little bullseye on my head, up on top where God can see it. It’s so God knows I am here and can send me pets with the rarest disorders so I can care for them. Maybe God knows I will treat them and care for them, and not put them to sleep or ignore their ailments. That has to be the reason. I think statistically I have got to be a the far end of the range, not only for the dogs I have had with rare disorders, but also for the fact that I have had more than one of them.

The first was Autumn. If you are interested, you can read her entire story beginning here. Or you can read an elegy of Autumn, as well as some of my other canine friends (living and dead) here. Autumn had something wrong with her adrenal gland. We didn’t really figure that out completely until years after her death when studies began to link the issues she had with that gland. I suspected it during her life, but we were never able to confirm Cushings, the most likely suspect. She lived with interstitial cystitis, an ailment so rare it wasn’t diagnosed until after I read an article about a human suffering the same condition in a woman’s magazine, mainly because no one even knew what it was. Then she got Diabetes Mellitus (sugar diabetes) and everything that goes along with that. It was just one thing after another.

I also had Poppy, a Jack Russell terrier who was allergic to just about everything, but particularly grass seed. I live in the Willamette Valley, the grass seed growing capital of the world, so life was rough for Poppy. She would develop fungal infections and scratch herself silly. I was constantly having to change the round of allergy shots to account for new allergens. It was frustrating and expensive.

Now I have Oliver. I love my little Oliver. It’s a good thing he’s such a funny, dear little angel, otherwise it would be difficult to tolerate the fact that he drinks about a gallon of water a day and subsequently pees as much. He leaves little puddles on top of the grass. He will pee for a full two minutes, which is a LONG time for someone to pee.

Did I mention Oliver weighs 8 pounds? Imagine it:  This tiny sprite of a dog drinks so much water that he can stand and pee for 2 minutes solid. I have no idea where in his body the water fits. His waist isn’t distended, but he’s got to have the stretchiest damn bladder on the planet.

Oliver came to live with us in late May. His previous owner lived on social security and could not find a place he could afford to live that would take pets. He mentioned that Oliver drank a lot. After several visits to the vet, I contacted this man and asked if he knew what was wrong with Oliver. I told him it didn’t matter what it was, I would never get rid of him, but trying to make the determination was killing me financially. He said nothing was wrong, Oliver just drank a lot. I hate to break it to you Guy, but dogs of 8 pounds do not drink a gallon a day and Oliver drinks a gallon a day. I know. I measured.

In any case, we started with all the usual tests, expecting Diabetes Mellitus (sugar diabetes) or some bladder ailment. Those tests went nowhere. Then Addision’s. Nowhere. Then Cushings. I KNEW he did not have Cushings. Autumn was cushinoid. Oliver was not cushinoid. For one thing, he’s the pickiest eater in the world. He eats like a teenage girl afraid of getting fat. He turns up his nose at raw turkey. He turns it up at cooked turkey. He turns it up at about 10 brands of the most expensive canned dog food in the world. I have finally gotten him to eat the Steve’s Real Food I feed Ava. It took two months to get him there. What he really wants is food I won’t let my children eat:  potato chips, french fries, junk. Anything junk food, Oliver is all over it. Good, healthy food? No, thanks. He also has beautiful, thick fur. Cushinoid dogs have thin, dry fur that looks awful. They also have sway backs. If anything, Oliver’s back is humped.

The point is that I was spending a fortune and finding nothing wrong with this little guy. We even did a test to see if it was psychosomatic, meaning he was drinking compulsively because of a behavior issue, but that failed as well. You can’t fake urine concentration, and Oliver’s urine would not concentrate.

Then one of the vets described Diabetes Insipidus (water diabetes) and it fit. I knew this was what Oliver had. The specialist I was seeing wanted me to spend a bunch more money that I didn’t have to rule out every other cause, but none of those other causes fit, not even close. And I could not afford it. There is a simple test that can be done for Diabetes Insipidus, but they wouldn’t do it without running through these other damn tests, so I called in the big guns. Ah, not really. I called a friend who is a vet, but doesn’t live near me. He has a vet friend who works near me. He said she would do the test and she did.

In a normal dog, the body has a complex system for balancing the volume and composition of body fluids. The kidneys remove extra body fluids from the bloodstream. These fluids are stored in the bladder as urine. If the fluid regulation system is working properly, the kidneys make less urine to conserve fluid when water intake is decreased or water is lost, for example, through sweating or diarrhea. The kidneys also make less urine at night when the body’s metabolic processes are slower.

To keep the volume and composition of body fluids balanced, the rate of fluid intake is governed by thirst, and the rate of excretion is governed by the production of antidiuretic hormone (ADH), also called vasopressin. This hormone is made in the hypothalamus, a small gland located in the brain. ADH is stored in the nearby pituitary gland and released into the bloodstream when necessary. When ADH reaches the kidneys, it directs them to concentrate the urine by reabsorbing some of the filtered water to the bloodstream and therefore making less urine. With Diabetes Insipidus, either the hormone isn’t produced (rare) or the kidneys don’t have the receptors to receive the signal from the hormone (really rare). There is a test that can be done where the dog is given reduced amounts of water over time at the same time it is given the hormone. If they have the type where the hormone isn’t produced, there will be improvement and the kidneys will concentrate the urine.

In Oliver, he had improvement, but his urine didn’t concentrate. This baffled me. I’m not a vet, but I understand biologically what is going on. How could he drink and pee less, but his urine still not concentrate? Apparently, there is a combination version that is even rarer than the other two, and it appears from all observation that this is the version Oliver has.  Why, oh why? Oh right. It’s that damn bullseye on my head. So now Oliver has to take medicine, but he also has to keep wearing diapers and we have to be more sure than the average doggy that he has lots of fresh water around him all the time. He can’t go all day like other dogs. He has to have a special waterer in his kennel during the day when we’re gone. He gets up at night to drink and pees in his diaper. Good times.

Ava has an issue too. Hers isn’t rare though, but I had not heard of it. It’s actually quite common in girly dogs. Considering all of the dogs I have ever had except for two have been females, I’m lucky I haven’t gotten it. I get dogs with problems I’m statistically not supposed to encounter and don’t get the problems I statistically should have encountered. Go figure.

Ava’s is kind of funny. It isn’t funny for her, but it is still a funny disorder. Her little vulva gets sore because her chubby legs rub together and cause it to become ouchy. She then licks it which makes it more sore and inflamed. Because it is sore and inflamed., the chubby legs cause more discomfort, which leads to more licking, and on and on. Poor little thing. Her chubby butt causes vulvar inflammation. Who woulda thought?

 

Toilet Needs a New Home

I posted this ad on Craigslist a few years ago. A friend of mine asked me to repost it on the blog, so here it is:

It is time that Toilet parted ways with our family. It has been in this house for longer than we’ve been here. When we arrived, the home inspector informed us that this toilet was “top of the line” in Europe and ordered by all the best home designers in the US. “Pozzi Gnorri,” he said. “Go look them up on the internet. They’re one of the best companies in the world for bathroom fixtures.” So I did and was duly impressed. However, I had to wonder what a toilet of this caliber was doing in my little bungalow in Portland. But hey, some of us get riches to rags instead of the other way around, so who was I to question things or to remind Toilet of its brilliant beginnings? I could make Toilet sad thinking that way.

Toilet was lovely; a deep, thoughtful blue, with a white lid. And the flusher was in its top! My 8 year old loved that. Look Mom, you pull this button on top rather than pushing down on a handle! Fancy! Toilet matched the deep blue sink base.

To keep reading, click HERE.

McMeanamin’s

If any person I know is ever with me when I consider going into a McMenamin’s again, please stop me. Just don’t let me do it. It won’t take much prodding. The only reason I would be considering such torture would be because I was on the verge of passing out from hunger, but even then, encourage me to find some ants or flies to tide me over. It’s not worth it. Remind me that no matter which location I go to or what time of day, the service will be so abysmal that I will want to leave something vile for the server, like a gutted chicken filled with maggots, to let them know just how rotten their service was, and that I won’t be able to do it and will end up tipping 10% or something anyway and then feel grave resentment for having done so. Let me know that the server might just as likely see a gutted, maggot-filled chicken as evidence of my love because the server is quite likely a Satan worshipper. Not much else could explain their nastiness. Maybe it’s working at McMenamin’s, but I’ve never gotten the vibe that the servers suck because of their employer. They don’t seem harried and rushed because of some evil manager or cook hiding in the back flogging them on, pushing them to move faster and thus turn over the tables more quickly. Rather, servers seem proud of their odious attitudes, conspicuous indifference, and reprehensible lack of courtesy. It’s like a badge of honor there. We customers should be grateful they bothered to meander by and notice us. We should thank our lucky stars that grease-spotted menus were left on the tables, and that if we are extra, extra nice, we might get some food-like substances tossed our way. Don’t bother asking to have it prepared as we like it, that’s not the McMenamin’s way. And definitely, definitely, definitely do not go there if you are in any semblance of a hurry. Better yet, order and drink alcohol so you won’t notice just how disgusting the food really is, covered in grease and sauce and too much cheese and peppercorn. Maybe that’s their tactic to sell alcohol. They should call the place McMeanamin’s. I can’t think of a name that adequately describes their awful bar food, but it doesn’t matter because awful bar food isn’t what makes the place special. It’s their amaranthine capacity for treating customers like shit that is McMeanamin’s real badge of honor. Any location. Any day. Any time. Expect the worst service, then multiply it by 14, and you’re about there.

In any case, please. If I won’t listen, show me this post and remind me. I beg you.

My Thrilling Coffee Shop Visit

So for some reason I can’t fathom, the coffee shop where I like to go has decided to play the same damn 80s tape over and over and over. No matter when I come in, early morning, late afternoon, midday, there it is, belting out Michael Jackson or Madonna or Bob Marley or one of several one-hit-wonder songs from the era that, if heard, will stick in one’s brain for HOURS and DAYS after. This has been going on for weeks. What happened, did they lose their iPod? They should run across the street to the little used shop and buy something else. Anything. Even a different 80s tape. Please?

I don’t miss Papa Don’t Preach. I don’t. I heard it enough in the 80s. Madonna can sort of rhyme. Preach. Deep. I get it.

I don’t mind Thriller so much. In fact, I really kind of like Michael Jackson, freak show that he was, but I keep wanting to claw the air when I hear it, and I’m afraid the rest of the coffee shop won’t dance with me if I start, so…

Prince’s girl doesn’t have to be rich or cool to be his girl. She just has to leave it all up to him and give him a kiss. He also doesn’t want her to act her shoe size. I have a question about this. If your age is 3 and your shoe size is 10, like my daughter, does this advice still apply? I think maybe he would rather she act her shoe size in this case. Also, is there a point at which age and shoe size align? Maybe an 8 year old would wear size 8 ladies, but she would sure have some really big feet. I’ll have to mull that one over.

As an aside, there are two years out of every decade where birth year juxtaposes with graduation year: 1946 and 1964 and 1968 and 1986. That’s it. There aren’t any others.

The Thompson Twins. Yeah, well. I admit it. I had their tape. I played it a lot until one part got too thin and finally broke. I had to pull the little parts out, cut the thin part away, and tape it. Then the song skipped. You can’t do anything like this with CDs. I tried. I had a CD with a deep scratch that just would not play, so I used one of those CD repair kits that is supposed to fill in the groove. It didn’t work — it broke my CD player. I don’t recommend it. Tapes weren’t great because you had to fast forward or rewind or turn over to get where you wanted on the song, but you could keep taping them together forever if you wanted. My patience for whatever they played wore out before they ever did.

Another aside, did you know drinking blackberry juice will stop diarrhea? Yep. Seems counterintuitive, but it works.

I wish my coffee shop would change the music and that when it does, it would turn down the volume. I can’t think when the music is too loud, even when I like it.

Ooh. Something not 80s. Marvin Gaye. I have a thing for Marvin Gaye. So hot, and that voice, that amazing, delicious voice… Okay. I’ll stop.

I Hate Coughing

I have had a cough that has been a real trial. I finally gave in and went to the doctor because, after nearly 3 weeks with it, I was completely worn out. I’m still worn out. The cough medicine with codeine that was prescribed has not been working. I coughed and coughed and coughed using it the last 2 nights. For some reason it hasn’t drugged me like it usually does, little waves of sleep rolling across the back of my brain, forcing me into slumber. Oh, I am so desperate for that feeling! I wonder if the dose I got is expired or something. I’m taking double what doctor prescribed me, and still, nothing. Ah well.

The doctor did say that if it wasn’t gone in 4 more weeks to come back in. Who is she kidding? Does she think I won’t have jumped off a bridge by then? Cough, cough, cough. I just coughed a whole bunch.

I’ve learned more about coughing from this. At the beginning, when it was in the viral stage, the menthol/eucalyptus on the wrists was working pretty well. Then it stopped. I finally gave in and bought Dextromethorphan. Also didn’t work. Started taking Ibuprofen all the time too. Helped with the sore throat caused by coughing, but that was about it. My voice has disappeared for 2 days twice now.

The doctor said that when the virus came along, the cough was the blood in the neck. But as I coughed and coughed and coughed, my little lung sacs got all inflamed. This caused tickling, which led to further coughing. This is why the wrist remedy wasn’t working anymore. Dang it.

You learn something new all the time. All I can say is that I’ve reached the zombie point now. I have no intelligent thought. I can’t respond quickly or even slightly quickly to anything. I’m numb. Cough, cough, cough.

It’s winning. Ack.

The Crazy Train

I need to find some way of unclogging words. Words used to flow from my fingertips. No longer. I sit down to write and nothing comes out. Oh, I have ideas, but I don’t have the time to write them. I’m too over-scheduled with nothing. It’s all like yesterday, driving and driving. I drive to work, then drive to here to get a check, then drive to the bank, then drive back here, then drive to the pool, then drive here, then drive to the ice skating rink, and anytime I stop here in the middle I collapse on my bed. My poor children. They’re only going to know me horizontally.

My mom had a stroke on Sunday. Such a weird thing to have happen. Not so much I suppose, but I spent 2 days saying the words out loud to try and make them sink in. Really? She had a stroke? My mom is officially old. It sneaks up on you, this aging thing.

The stroke has brought enormous stresses because my parents are dysfunctional in the extreme, particularly my step-father. He brings criminals and misfits home to live with them because of some delusional, misguided fantasy of recreating his delusional, misguided childhood. He does not ask my mother. He is like an addict in his behavior, filling up on drama. He used to drink, but quit during my teens, trading the booze for chaos. I will get drunk on that instead, his mind seems to say.

My mother is the long-suffering wife who is not asked permission and does not insist on it. She has stayed in this misbegotten union, the first excuse being that she stayed for the sake of my brother when he was growing up, the second being that she did not want to give up their beautiful land. Neither is a valid excuse or a real one. Both are destroyed as a result of this hapless pairing. No two people are more ill-suited to one another than these two and together only bad things happen.

These two people (ages 68 and 69) are also raising my brother’s child, a 6 year old girl, taken from her drug addict, ex-con mother after she was abused violently as a toddler while my brother was in prison. My niece is better off with my parents than she would be with her mother, but that is not saying much. They are too old and neither has strong parenting skills. Even without the crazy criminal running around, I have been gunning in the background for a change for her. I think the best option at this point is for her to live with my sister. My sister may be a fundamentalist Christian who raises her children to smile even when they feel sad, but this is far preferable to the situation the child is in now.

My parents live on a farm. They have cows. A month and a half ago, a cow who was protecting her calf gored my step-father in the stomach. (Yes, cows have horns. It seems to be the first thing everyone says, that they thought only bulls had horns.) It was the most bizarre situation. The horn did not break the skin, not one bit. Yet after the goring, there was clearly damage. He was taken to the hospital where exploratory surgery revealed that the horn had split the muscles lining his gut like a scalpel. The 8 inch slice went clear through, and his intestines were poking out. Yet the skin was fully intact. The doctors had never seen anything like it. They cut the skin open, poked the intestines back in, and sewed him back up. The point of this story, here in the middle of all this other chaos? The cow has chased my father again. She is dangerous, pure and simple.

And finally, the latest ex-con, drug addict my step-father dragged home has been stealing from them and has threatened their safety. My dad has been parking his car at the end of their driveway (the fabled driveway I walked down as a child in rain or snow or sleet), sleeping in it with a gun to protect his precious stuff from the lunatic. I have to wonder whether the label has not been comprehensively applied.

Toss into this salad of insanity a stroke. I have little doubt the stroke was induced by the stress of bull goring, the out-of-control 6 year old, and the crazy criminal drug addict causing all sorts of drama and disharmony.

Tests revealed that my mother’s carotid artery was filled with plaque. For as long as I can remember, my mother has worried about her cholesterol. She is one of those people for whom eating is a chore because she is counting calories and examining labels and worrying and fretting over this cholesterol level. It always seemed to me if she would just eat actual food, stuff that grew out of the ground or walked on the earth, and then tossed in a bit of exercise, she would be fine. But it hasn’t been as simple as that for my mom. She still eats things that have an ingredients list, always tries to fit in substitutes for real food, and does not exercise at all.

Because of the plaque, Mom’s brain has not been getting enough oxygen, which explains her increasing confusion. Because of the stroke, she got surgery to remove this plaque, and will get medicine to keep it at bay. Her brain is now filled with the blood it was so desperately lacking. The doctors can’t do anything about the enormous stress, however. That change is up to her. And us, I imagine.

At the hospital the day before surgery, my sister and I staged an intervention of sorts. We brought in hospital staff to help us explain to my mother that she and our niece are are first priority and that neither can go back to the insanity that has been their life. It cannot happen.  There is too much risk, the obviousness of which cannot be overstated.

Someone asked me the other day if I date. I laughed. Right. When? When would that happen? And who? If I had time, which I don’t. If I had interest, which I don’t. And I would be almost embarrassed to have to explain my family to a normal person. I do not participate much in the drama train. I moved away a looong time ago. I get most of my information about these situations second-hand. Whenever I visit, it’s enough to keep me away for months again at a time. It frightens me. It frustrates me. I don’t want my children exposed to it. My children have such a different experience than I had that they are confused by the chaos there. I have not been able to change it; that’s their job. Growing up, I was the black sheep Cassandra who spoke out against it and was punished for it. I’ve come to terms with this, grieved it, accepted it, forgiven it, and moved on. How else could I ensure that I did not pass the insanity on to my own children? I decided long ago, long before a child should ever have to make such a decision, that my children would experience a different reality.

Yet here it is again, the crazy train. I guess I’m glad that I don’t bring my own emotional upheaval to the mix in trying to deal with it. If I were still angry, if I had not worked through all those old feelings, I don’t know how I would have reacted to all this. But it’s weird. Every time we think we’ve escaped, it seeps back into our lives. You can never completely get away.

This is why the words don’t come. My attention is directed in too many directions. I have so little time. I only managed this because I can’t sleep in the light, even if it’s light peeking around light-blocking shades, and I can’t sleep after I have risen, even if it’s at 5:34 a.m. My bladder wakes up with the sun and forces me out of bed, and I can’t go back to sleep. So today I got up, picked up the computer, and wrote this. Sleep would have been more satisfying for me, but oh well. Maybe someday life will free itself and the words will come again. I genuinely hope so.

This is Completely Bizarre

My friend and I were fooling around on Meetup. I would put in a term to search for groups and see what Meetup came up with. I put in the term Sociopath. Meetup came up saying, “There aren’t any sociopath meet ups near Portland just yet.” Meetup then offered some alternatives that are slightly close and might suit me. Note what choices it offered:

Screen shot

It offered Investment EducationWealth CreationBusiness Strategy and Networking, and Professional Networking. Isn’t it ironic that Meetup thinks a sociopath group would fit with these business groups?

Musings

Dans La Maison is soooo good.

Seat C4. Why didn’t I do anything? I should have at least looked up at the bathroom window wall, dang it.

I love Isabel.

It’s cold today.

My jeans, the ones I wanted to wear, had a smear of chocolate on the front. How did it get there? Oh, I know. I was sneaking pieces of dark chocolate in the movie theater the other night and must have spilled. So now they are in the dryer, after first being in the washer.

I still call the refrigerator icebox although I don’t believe we ever had a real icebox. Actually, my grampa might have and I spent summers with him and the uncles and aunt. They would tickle me until I peed. My mom was oldest, and they were teens when I was a child.

Baby is crying. Time to go.

My Own Little Conspiracy Theory

I honest to God believe Obama was planned. The nasty plutocrats got together at some Skull and Bones meeting and decided to find some desperate, power hungry guy who would look good to liberals and get him to run for President on a platform of change, tell them everything they wanted to hear, knowing full well they would embrace him and ignore the signs that were there all along. In public, the neocons fought him, created the tea party to hate him, riled up everyone to think they were against him, then laughed all the way to the bank. He’s been worse than Bush on just about everything except maybe gay marriage, but because of issues like gay marriage and the fact he told us all what we wanted to hear, we let him get away with it. This is what choosing the lesser of two evils looks like, folks. Get used to it. We were played and from this vantage point, they won.

Have a brain. Will write.

So since I haven’t been writing, does this mean I have no brain? I’m not sure the two are converse, but it’s possible.

My brain has been full. It’s constantly worrying, which is a useless and futile task, I know. If you’re worrying, it’s not happening, I like to say. However, what if what you’re worrying about is how to try to do something?

I don’t know the answer to this.

Some random thoughts:

The US has the highest infant mortality rate of all the other industrialized nations combined! (See the info on the statistics here.) This does not surprise me because birth in this country is done like a business, not like something to create new life. I am a fan of the movie The Business of Being Born. It’s a great film and compiles a lot of data. As with most things in this rotten stank of a nation, money rules.

I have 40 hours of video lectures on permaculture. This is great. Oops. I just realized I forgot to turn off the water on my plants in the backyard. Quick break…

Now my Isabel is home so enough rambling.

How to Stop Coughing

For those of you who know I am a fan of Vicks™ on the feet, and think that this post is going to reiterate that, think again. I have something better that works like a charm. It seems magic, it works so well. It works for adults as well as children.

A couple of years ago during a particularly bad cold where I could not stop coughing no matter what, I wanted to determine what a cough was exactly so that perhaps I could then figure out how to stop it. I had been coughing for days, couldn’t sleep, and was sick to death of the constant tickling in my throat and ache in my head from coughing and coughing and coughing.

I figured out that a lot of cough is a reflex designed to prevent pulmonary aspiration, promote the movement of cilia in the lungs, and to clear airway debris. The reflex is partially triggered by blood in the throat. The purpose behind plasters (covering the chest or feet with different ingredients) to stop coughs is to pull blood away from the vessels into the throat. The point then, of putting Vicks™ or its equivalent on the chest or feet is to draw blood away from the throat, thereby relieving the cough.

I became a major fan of the Vicks™ approach because it worked so well on my baby daughter, who was age one at the time. I figured this out and was suffering mightily from a cold as well. I had given her the children’s version of cough medicine and it wasn’t working any better than the adult version was working for me. My research also brought up medical study after medical study showing how ineffective cough medicine really is. When I put Vicks on my baby’s feet, her coughs would stop within a minute. It was miraculous. She would be sleeping peacefully within minutes.

Yet the Vicks™ approach did not always work so well for me during a particularly bad cold this fall. I have a friend who complained it did not work for her at all. Lying awake coughing one night, I pondered this. Why would it work so well for small children and not adults? The answer it seemed to me was that the soles of the feet of adults are thicker than those of small children. One part of the Vicks™ on the feet approach that I did not like was that I had to spread it on really thick and cover my feet with socks, otherwise the sheets would get covered in petroleum jelly, the ingredient in Vicks™ that holds it together. I scanned my body, considering all the places where blood vessels would be near the surface that would take blood away from the neck. I realized that the wrists are just about perfect. The veins are right there near the surface of the skin, and wrists are far away from the neck.

I started putting Vicks™ on my wrists. It worked much better than feet. However, there was still the issue of petroleum jelly getting all over everything and leaving an oily residue, even after washing. The ingredients in Vicks are camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus. (Incidentally, I never actually used the Vicks™ brand because it is stupidly expensive and the generic version is exactly the same thing.)

Then one afternoon my teenage daughter pointed out that the ingredients in pain relieving cream (aka BenGay™, Icy Hot™, Mentholatum Deep Heat™, and the lot) are virtually identical, except without the petroleum jelly. We had a couple of tubes of generic pain relieving cream. The next time Milla had a cold, she used this on her wrists and claimed it worked better than anything we had used to date. The ingredients are camphor, menthol, and methyl salicylate, which is essentially wintergreen oil. The best part about this stuff is that it is extremely cheap (I paid $2.39 for a 4 ounce tube), and because the veins in the wrist are so close to the surface of the skin, you do not need much to get a result. The cream is not greasy and doesn’t leave any residue on the clothes. Plus the wintergreen smells good. I was also able to purchase a menthol stick designed for sore muscles, which is the best approach of all. Menthol has become our new coughing charm.

My 5-year-old has had a cold for about a week. She sleeps with me and started coughing several nights ago. I keep a stick of menthol rub on the bedside table. She coughs, I rub a small amount on her wrists, the coughing stops in under 20 seconds and she stays asleep for several hours. It’s miraculous. One night, I felt a tickle in my throat that kept on long enough I thought it would erupt in a huge cough. I rubbed on a small amount of menthol. The tickle disappeared. We are both getting sleep, and sleep is the best remedy to cure the cold that causes the cough in the first place.

One small caution: menthol is painful if you get it in your eyes. Be sure to wear long sleeves and cover your wrists after applying so that if your arm is up near your face, you don’t get it in your eyes. I’ve applied it to the inside of the elbow with the same success as the wrists, but with less risk of getting the menthol into the membranes of the eyes.

This works. I can’t recommend it enough. Want to stop a cough? Put menthol on your wrists or anywhere else you see veins near the surface of your skin. It works.

Interestingly, over the summer, we spent a weekend at the coast. I’d had a bit of a niggling cough off and on. Nothing major, but irritating periodically. I did not bring any sort of menthol to the beach with us. Lying there awake with the niggling cough, I considered what else might work. I had read that toothpaste has menthol in it, and it certainly has peppermint oil, which is the original ingredient in menthol. Worn out I figured, why not? I got up, got the travel toothpaste, and smeared some on my wrists. The cough ceased. Both nights we were there it worked. I slept and the cough was never able to really take hold.

One thing to note, if your cough is caused by inflamed lungs, smoking, or something more chronic, this won’t work. This is for the cough that is caused by blood in the blood vessels of the throat. If the cough is caused by something other than blood in the blood vessels in the throat, this is not the remedy.

If you try this, let me know how it worked for you in the comments section. I’m sure others would love to hear of your experience as well.

Craigslist Ad for the Misogynistic Lawnmower I Needed to Get Rid Of

Craigslist Ad for the Misogynistic Lawnmower I Needed to Get Rid Of.

Wearing its Wifebeater T-Shirt

I have an evil lawnmower that needs a new home. It is possessed by a demon, so the new owner would need strong exorcism tendencies. It does not like women, so the new owner would best be male. In the alternative, a female who can seriously kick its ass would also work. I’ve tried. I’m done. I bought it brand new from Sears. Paid like 400 bucks or some ridiculous amount. Says right on top, EASY START. Well, I can tell you that unless you are a man, that is a bunch of shit. It has a mean streak, for sure. I bring it out to mow. I push that little red button three times that brings the gas up from its bowels. I wait a bit. Then I pull the string. Do you think the bastard easy starts? No. Of course not. Then the nice male neighbor across the street, or my brother, or the other neighbor down the road happens to notice my kicking and screaming at the useless misogynistic piece of crap and offers to help. One pull. One damn pull and the fucker starts right up. I’ve tried being nice. I go out there and promise I will not get mad, I will not get mad. I bought it nice new spark plugs. I changed its oil. I give it fresh gasoline. But does that work? Noooooo, of course not. I’ve had it with it. Years of this. Years! I can’t stand it anymore. I would like to sell it and buy another, more woman friendly lawnmower, one that does not take pleasure in making me look like a helpless female. Or I would like to get one that doesn’t use gas or electric, one of those old-fashioned push along mowers that just clips the grass. I don’t mind raking clippings. That would take less time than I already spend trying to get the current evil piece of spiteful junk to start. In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that the plastic cover thing on the outside does have a crack in it. That is because I kicked the shit out of it one time when it would not start. This does not affect its running capability, but it does give it a scarred look. Makes it more manly, I think. So if you’re interested, and want to give the evil thing a whirl, email me and we’ll set something up. Make an offer on the price. Like I said, I just want to get something that doesn’t make mowing the lawn an angry experience.

It’s About Winning

This article has been published at the Huffington Post and can be seen here.

What I realized yesterday after I saw the cover of a newspaper filled with cheering American faces at the capture of the Boston suspect is that the reason these crimes are ignored and expanded is that Americans as a whole (for the most part, minus some small dissent) agree with the policies. Ours is a bloodthirsty, punitive, and judgmental nation. Full of hypocrisy, we pound our chests in glory at the murder of those we feel have sinned against us, while concurrently seeking to murder ourselves, using revenge as justification, regardless whether there is accuracy in those beliefs, and in spite of our own atrocities against other nations. Our leaders are simply symbols for all of us.

To keep reading, click here.

Loneliness

Gads, I’m lonely. Oh, I’ve done this before. Wrote about my lonely heart and wishing for a boyfriend, then getting all the well-meaning advice to love myself and love will come. Blah blah. I’ve done the work. I’ve done the therapy and finally completely understand the choices I made about men in the past that didn’t work. And now that I get it, I never meet anyone remotely available.

C’est la vie.

America’s Grave Double Standard

If 3 Americans are killed in a sporting event, it is an act of terrorism. The US kills children with drones, and it is collateral damage. Our country MURDERS CHILDREN! I am not a wingnut conspiracy theorist. This is a fact. We, the unholy abusers, scream so foul when anyone dares harm an American, but we have no problem killing the children of brown people in nations where we have the holier than thou audacity to decide it is okay to MURDER CHILDREN, claiming somehow it is justified in our “war on terror.” WE are the terrorists!

How would you feel if some country came and killed your child? Some country that doesn’t even have the guts to allow an actual human to place that child in its sights? Instead we let some “soldier” sit in an air-conditioned room and murder children from afar, kind of like a video game. How would you feel? No wonder people in these countries want to terrorize us. I understand their sentiments. It isn’t Islam, it’s humanity. If someone killed my child for some fucked up, power grab, political reason, I would want to destroy them. Let’s just maintain the war machine. Killing their children ensures their rage, ensures new terrorists, keeps the war machine growing.

I admit it. I don’t want to be a part of this country, the greatest abusers on earth. We should be ashamed. We should all be ashamed of the terror we inflict on innocent people so that a few plutocrats can buy some more yachts. In our complicity, we are responsible. Letting this happen and refusing to speak out makes us accomplices.

If you can stand to look at the sad picture of a toddler lying dead in the sand, read THIS ARTICLE. I have taken from it the names, ages, and genders of children killed by the United States. It should turn your stomach. Is it okay to kill a child of 2 if her last name is Mohammed, is that it? Is it okay because she is brown? What is your justification? I don’t have a justification, you might say. It isn’t me! But if you support our military, if you support our government, if you support OBAMA, you must somehow justify this murder. Read these names. Read their ages. Then ask yourself if any of it is okay. If your answer is yes, at least be honest and admit it that you support murder.

PAKISTAN

Noor Aziz, age 8, male
Abdul Wasit, age 17, male
Noor Syed, age 8, male
Wajid Noor, age 9, male
Syed Wali Shah, age 7, male
Ayeesha, age 3, female
Qari Alamzeb, age 14, male
Shoaib, age 8, male
Hayatullah KhaMohammad, age 16, male
Tariq Aziz, age 16, male
Sanaullah Jan, age 17, male
Maezol Khan, age 8, female
Nasir Khan, male
Naeem Khan, male
Naeemullah, male
Mohammad Tahir, age 16, male
Azizul Wahab, age 15, male
Fazal Wahab, age 16, male
Ziauddin, age 16, male
Mohammad Yunus, age 16, male
Fazal Hakim, age 19, male
Ilyas, age 13, male
Sohail, age 7, male
Asadullah, age 9, male
khalilullah, age 9, male
Noor Mohammad, age 8, male
Khalid, age 12, male
Saifullah, age 9, male
Mashooq Jan, age 15, male
Nawab, age 17, male
Sultanat Khan, age 16, male
Ziaur Rahman, age 13, male
Noor Mohammad, age 15, male
Mohammad Yaas Khan, age 16, male
Qari Alamzeb, age 14, male
Ziaur Rahman, age 17, male
Abdullah, age 18, male
Ikramullah Zada, age 17, male
Inayatur Rehman, age 16, male
Shahbuddin, age 15, male
Yahya Khan, age 16 |male
Rahatullah, age 17, male
Mohammad Salim, age 11, male
Shahjehan, age 15, male
Gul Sher Khan, age 15, male
Bakht Muneer, age 14, male
Numair, age 14, male
Mashooq Khan, age 16, male
Ihsanullah, age 16, male
Luqman, age 12, male
Jannatullah, age 13, male
Ismail, age 12, male
Taseel Khan, age 18, male
Zaheeruddin, age 16, male
Qari Ishaq, age 19, male
Jamshed Khan, age 14, male
Alam Nabi, age 11, male
Qari Abdul Karim, age 19, male
Rahmatullah, age 14, male
Abdus Samad, age 17, male
Siraj, age 16, male
Saeedullah, age 17, male
Abdul Waris, age 16, male
Darvesh, age 13, male
Ameer Said, age 15, male
Shaukat, age 14, male
Inayatur Rahman, age 17, male
Salman, age 12, male
Fazal Wahab, age 18, male
Baacha Rahman, age 13, male
Wali-ur-Rahman, age 17, male
Iftikhar, age 17, male
Inayatullah, age 15, male
Mashooq Khan, age 16, male
Ihsanullah, age 16, male
Luqman, age 12, male
Jannatullah, age 13, male
Ismail, age 12, male
Abdul Waris, age 16, male
Darvesh, age 13, male
Ameer Said, age 15, male
Shaukat, age 14, male
Inayatur Rahman, age 17, male
Adnan, age 16, male
Najibullah, age 13, male
Naeemullah, age 17, male
Hizbullah, age 10, male
Kitab Gul, age 12, male
Wilayat Khan, age 11, male
Zabihullah, age 16, male
Shehzad Gul, age 11, male
Shabir, age 15, male
Qari Sharifullah, age 17, male
Shafiullah, age 16, male
Nimatullah, age 14, male
Shakirullah, age 16, male
Talha, age 8, male

YEMEN

Afrah Ali Mohammed Nasser, age 9, female
Zayda Ali Mohammed Nasser, age 7, female
Hoda Ali Mohammed Nasser, age 5, female
Sheikha Ali Mohammed Nasser, age 4, female
Ibrahim Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 13, male
Asmaa Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 9, male
Salma Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 4, female
Fatima Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 3, female
Khadije Ali Mokbel Louqye, age 1, female
Hanaa Ali Mokbel Louqye, age 6, female
Mohammed Ali Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 4, male
Jawass Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 15, female
Maryam Hussein Abdullah Awad, age 2, female
Shafiq Hussein Abdullah Awad, age 1, female
Sheikha Nasser Mahdi Ahmad Bouh, age 3, female
Maha Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, age 12, male
Soumaya Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, age 9, female
Shafika Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, age 4, female
Shafiq Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, age 2, male
Mabrook Mouqbal Al Qadari, age 13, male
Daolah Nasser 10 years, age 10, female
AbedalGhani Mohammed Mabkhout, age 12, male
Abdel- Rahman Anwar al Awlaki, age 16, male
Abdel-Rahman al-Awlaki, age 17, male
Nasser Salim, age 19

Tired, Tired, Tired, Tired

My insomnia is chronic. I wanted to say my insomnia is more than chronic, but it isn’t. Chronic is chronic; something can’t be more than that. Chronic is just one of those overused words. Acute? Unabating? Ceaseless? Persistent? Severe? Okay. I’m sounding like a thesaurus. That’s me. The 2 a.m thesaurus. Come to me for all your thesaural needs. Thesaural. Now there’s a word. I made that one up. I like it. I like it a lot. I can put it in my wallet and take it with me. I’m soooo tired. It must be apparent from what I’m typing here. I have dabbled off and on with morning pages.I don’t keep up with them, for two main reasons. First, the chronic, acute, unabating, ceaseless, persistent, and severe insomnia. Once I actually fall back asleep, I want to assure as many precious minutes of the stuff as I can. This means that consistently rising 10 or 20 minutes earlier is not going to happen on any sort of regular basis. The other reason is that most of what I write is silly nonsense. Silly, silly, silly. Foolish, stupid, unintelligent, idiotic,brainless, mindless, witless, imbecilic, doltish; imprudent, scatterbrained, featherbrained; frivolous, giddy, vacuous,inane, immature, childish, dotty, scatty, loopy, wingy, ditzy, screwy, thick, thickheaded, birdbrained, pea-brained, dopey, dim, dimwitted, halfwitted, dippy, blockheaded, boneheaded,and lamebrained. That time I did consult a thesaurus, as I think is evident. Because my brain is all of these things without sleep, I would not be able to compile such a list on my own. I might not even be able to during my sharpest hours, which really are rather dull these days because of the interruptions in my sleep. It’s amazing I can type. Or spell. My fingers do have an automatic bent to them when it comes to typing. They even know when I type a typo before I do and go back and fix it hardly before I have had a chance to notice anything is awry. Oh, and back to morning pages… I guess there isn’t anything more to say about morning pages, except I rarely write them, blasted insomnia being a big reason why.

I guess I should try to go back to sleep. It’s not yet 3, but heading there. For the longest time I thought I woke up at 4 or 5, but lately, I’ve decided to look at the clock and have determined that it is much earlier than I suspected. I also think I must lie awake longer, because light is usually creeping around my light-blocking shades and I’m still lying there awake. No wonder I’m so freaking tired all the time.

Being an insomniac and writing this in the middle of the night will probably not stop the immediate liker from a blog that isn’t really a blog. I swear, these sites must set up some computer to like stuff automatically. I’m not sure the benefit to it. Maybe they think I’ll click back to buyabigscreentv.wordpress.com. The likers and followers have gotten increasingly more commercial of late. I don’t like the whole like and follow thing anyway. I prefer the way it used to be when people mostly actually commented. But everyone is facebooking everything. Gag. Anyway, there is no way some of these sites could have had a human read what I say and like it as fast as they show up. I hit publish, and simultaneously I get an email telling me some advertising site liked me. Oh, boy! They liked me, they really liked me!! Whatever. I won’t click on a blog with a name that is obviously selling some crap and isn’t a person. Also there seems to be a proliferation lately of sites claiming one can make a million sitting at home typing stupid crap on their computer. Sure, right. Tell me some more whoppers. I’m gullible. I don’t sleep. Bring it on. Just wait until I nap.

Law School is a Sham — Salon.com

This article was shared from Salon.com and can be found here.

Law school is a sham

Excerpted from “The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession In Crisis”

“In the spring of 1974 — purely speculatively, I told myself — I took the Law School Admissions Test.
— Scott Turow, “One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School”

Unlike Scott Turow, I always wanted to be a lawyer. Once I entered law school in 1976, it never occurred to me that using my JD to earn a living would be a significant challenge, or that my student loans from college and law school—roughly $50,000 in 2012 dollars—would be anything other than a minor inconvenience. I’d heard stories about unemployed lawyers driving taxicabs, but they were irrelevant to the life I’d planned. In that respect, I was similar to most of today’s prelaw students, who are convinced that bad things happen only to someone else. The difference is that the current prospects for law graduates are far worse than my contemporaries’ and mine ever were. Over the past two decades, the situation has deteriorated as student enrollments have grown to outpace the number of available new legal jobs by almost two to one. Deans who are determined to fill their classrooms have exploited prospective students who depend on federal student loan money to pay tuition. The result has been an unsustainable bubble.

Law school applicants continue to overwhelm the number of places available for them, ignoring data that on their face should propel most aspiring attorneys away from a legal career. Only about half of today’s graduates can expect to find a full-time position requiring a legal degree. Meanwhile, law schools have grown in number and size to accommodate demand without regard to whether there will be jobs for their graduates. The first part of the equation— student demand—is the product of media images projecting the glamour of attorneys’ lives, the perception that a legal degree ensures financial security, and law school’s status as the traditional default option for students with no idea what to do with their lives. The second part of the equation—the increase in law school supply—was made possible by a revolutionary change in the method of legal education more than a century ago. It gave educators an easy way to transform law schools into profit centers for their universities. Decades later, student loans would provide the funding.

Today there’s a lawyer for every 265 Americans—more than twice the per capita number in 1970—but for future attorneys, there won’t be enough legal jobs for more than half of them. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that for the ten-year period ending in 2018, the economy would produce an additional 98,500 legal jobs. In 2012, after the Great Recession decimated the market for attorneys, the BLS revised that estimate downward, to 73,600 openings from 2010 through 2020. Another prediction considered attrition in combination with the number of anticipated new attorneys on a state-by-state basis and concluded that through 2015 the number of new attorneys passing the bar exam would be more than twice the expected number of openings. Whichever of these statistics turns out to be closest, there’s little doubt that law graduates are already feeling the crunch. Fewer than half of 2011 graduates found jobs in private practice. Nine months after graduation, only 55 percent held full-time, long-term positions requiring a legal degree.

Along with their degrees and dubious job prospects, 85 percent of 2010 graduates from ABA-accredited law schools carried debt, and the average debt load was almost $100,000. Average law school debt for the graduating class of 2011 broke six figures, and that number has been growing in tandem with unemployment rates for new graduates. Even if a career in law turns out to be the right path, the financial burden can be staggering. If the law ends up being the wrong path, then debt becomes the rock that Sisyphus had to push uphill for the rest of his life.

* * *

For most lawyers, the idea of pursuing a legal career comes early in life. One-third of respondents to a survey of recent applicants said that they had wanted to attend law school since childhood and, while still in high school, made the decision to apply after college. Another third made the decision as undergraduates, in either their freshman or sophomore year. One reason for this phenomenon is the media: popular images make a legal career look attractive to young people long before they get to college. Any middle school student who reads “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1960) or “Inherit the Wind” (1955) takes in an image of the admirable lawyer-statesman. Recent portrayals include the CBS hit series “The Good Wife,” which continues a legacy of noble lawyers in television dating back to Perry Mason and proceeding through “The Defenders,” “L.A. Law,” “Law & Order,” and others. Every week, an episode of “The Good Wife” focuses on junior associate Alicia Florrick, a single mom who was raising two teenagers by herself until her philandering husband, a former state’s attorney, got out of jail near the end of the first season. Regularly she finds herself in tense courtroom scenes cross-examining key witnesses in high-stakes trials. While making a lot of money, she finds clever ways to unearth critical facts, reveal truth, and vindicate clients. Then she goes home every evening in time for dinner with her kids.

There are negative images out there, too, most notably in the work of John Grisham. For example, no pre-law student should want to emulate the crooked attorneys in “The Firm,” his 1991 best seller about lawyers who operate their enterprise as a front for the mob. But they also should be wary of identifying with the novel’s protagonist, Mitch McDeere. He follows the very track to which most of them aspire: he graduates from a top law school and joins a high-paying law firm to earn big money. However, he gets swept away by the billable-hour culture, which deprives him of sleep and a home life, and his marriage deteriorates. These pressures, which nearly destroy him, are wholly apart from the underlying criminality that his firm’s partners pursue.

Yet most pre-law students ignore the persistent warnings. Somehow those negative images can’t compete with the positive ones. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel Prize in economics, may have a partial explanation. Kahneman researches and writes about a universal human characteristic: clinging to preconceived notions, even as contrary information and unambiguous data undermine them. The phenomenon is a variant of confirmation bias, the tendency to credit information that comports with established beliefs and jettison anything that doesn’t. In the context of the legal profession, most prelaw students think they’ll be the exceptions—the traps that ensnare people like Mitch McDeere won’t get them.

* * *

Another reason that people become lawyers is to make money. But if prospective lawyers allow themselves to be dazzled by headlines about the wealthiest attorneys, such as the partner who recently left one big firm to join another where he’d earn a reported $5 million a year, they’re making a mistake. Nine months after graduation, members of the law school class of 2009 fortunate enough to have any full-time job had a median salary of $72,000, comparable in buying power to the $50,000 median salary for new lawyers in 1990. That may not sound bad, but even that number is misleadingly high, as it masks a skewed income distribution. Each year 10 to 15 percent of graduates get jobs in big law firms, where the starting salary can be as high as $160,000. But those firms constitute only a tiny slice of the profession, and it’s shrinking. Furthermore, the median salary has been falling. For all law firms, the median starting salary for the class of 2011 was $85,000; for all lawyers who graduated that year, it was $60,000 (a 17 percent drop compared to the $72,000 median starting salary for the class of 2009). Even those numbers overstate new graduates’ financial reality for another reason: they’re based solely on salary information for the 65 percent of graduates reported to be working full-time in a position lasting at least a year.

For most employed lawyers, the money gets better. The median annual income of all practicing lawyers in 2010 was $112,000—double that of all US households. The nagging problem is that the seemingly decent (but shrinking) payoff usually isn’t sufficient to justify the enormous investment in time and money. Professor Herwig Schlunk of Vanderbilt University Law School calculates that for the vast majority of graduates, getting a legal degree will never yield a return equal to the financial cost of becoming a lawyer.

* * *

Some people go to law school because it’s the last resort of the liberal arts major who doesn’t know what to do next. In that respect, the decision to enroll has long resulted from a process of elimination that proceeds something like this: being a member of a profession is the ultimate achievement, but medical school requires science-oriented interests and talents that don’t fit most students in the humanities; postgraduate degrees in history, philosophy, English, and the social sciences are for future professors; business school is for those whose principal ambition is to make lots of money. That leaves law school, which offers students a three-year reprieve from the world while they pursue a noble course that presumably creates even more options. Sometimes that plan works out okay; for too many others, it leads to a place where dreams go to die.

Proof that law school is a default solution for the undecided lies everywhere, even in newspapers’ sports pages. In the fall of 2011, twenty-six-year-old infielder Josh Satin made his major league debut for the New York Mets. An article about him included this line: “After graduating as a political science major from Cal, Satin was selected by the Mets in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. And like any number of 20-somethings with a liberal arts degree and nebulous career prospects, he kept law school applications at the ready.”

* * *

On the supply side of the lawyer bubble, some of the necessary conditions for its creation date to a nineteenth-century innovation in legal education—the case method. Credit for that development goes to former Harvard Law School dean Christopher Columbus Langdell. Prior to 1890, no other law school used the case method of instruction that he pioneered; today it’s pervasive.

Langdell didn’t set out to create what became an essential basis for the current mass production model of legal education. Rather, he was simply pursuing his penchant for thoroughness. He viewed the law as a science and believed that its ultimate truths could be discovered through the study of primary specimens, namely, the decisions of appellate court judges. Law students could divine general principles that, once mastered, would enable a graduate to practice anywhere. As Langdell saw it, differences in state law were inconsequential to the overall jurisprudential picture.

The large body of common law itself created a challenge for Langdell’s approach. No student could read every reported decision going back to Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, an eighteenth-century treatise that first summarized the English common law as part of a unified system. For his Harvard contracts course, Langdell instead collected a selection of reported cases (there were more than two thousand at the time) from which an entire classroom of students could induce general legal principles.

The Langdell case method was a radical departure. Previously, prospective attorneys had learned the law from secondary sources as rules to memorize and skills to hone before engaging in one-on-one apprenticeships. For example, after a year of study consisting of the traditional lecture and drilling at the University of Michigan in the 1870s, Clarence Darrow received on-the-job legal training while working for an attorney in rural Ohio. He then proved his competence to a few lawyers before whom he literally sat to be examined for the bar. Darrow passed. A system that required students to learn specific legal rules and then receive training with practicing attorneys constrained the number of new lawyers admitted to the bar each year.

Langdell changed that model with what he regarded as a noble aim. Practical aspects—simply learning the rules—weren’t the key. Instead, a true lawyer’s most important work was to understand the governing principles so as to “be able to apply them with consistent facility and certainty to the ever-tangled skein of human affairs.” One by-product of the approach was that large groups of students could receive simultaneous legal training from a handful of instructors. The system became an early building block in the current business model of legal education.

Langdell’s new teaching protocol didn’t create the current lawyer bubble, but it provided an essential foundation that facilitated the mass production of attorneys. From 1890 to 1916, the number of law schools doubled from 61 to 139, but the schools themselves became larger, so the number of law students increased fivefold—from 4,500 to almost 23,000. As recently as 1963, there were still only 135 law schools, but total JD enrollment had doubled to 47,000 students.

During the next decade, baby boomers made their way into higher education as the Vietnam War popularized three-year law school deferments from the draft. Enrollment doubled again to 100,000 by 1972, but there were still fewer than 150 law schools. As the last of the boomers made their way through law school, enrollment leveled off, hovering around 127,000 through the 1990s. On a per capita basis, the United States had 1.58 lawyers per 1,000 citizens in 1960; by 1980, the number had grown to 2.38 lawyers per 1,000. But that was only the beginning.

In the 1990s, U.S. News & World Report’s law school rankings began to gain in popularity and became a key element in the competition for new students. Meanwhile, as applications to first-year classes rose generally, universities increasingly saw law schools as profit centers worth expanding. Recently the Maryland Department of Legislative Services concluded that the University of Baltimore School of Law sent 31 percent of its 2010 revenue back into the general university budget. For private schools the data are difficult to uncover, but the University of Baltimore report corroborates a widely held view that universities in general impose a “tax” amounting to between 20 and 25 percent of their law schools’ gross revenues.

Law school enrollments climbed even as tuition rose faster than at undergraduate colleges. In 2003, there were more than ninety-eight thousand applicants to the first-year class that enrolled about forty-eight thousand students nationwide. Average annual tuition for private law schools was $26,000. By 2010, it had increased to more than $37,000. Even as law school applications declined sharply after 2010, private law school tuition went up annually by 4 percent—more than twice the rate of inflation—to an average of $40,585 per year in 2012. Public law schools have followed an even steeper curve: for in-state residents, average tuition doubled from $11,860 in 2003 to $23,590. In 2012 alone, it went up by more than 6 percent.

When U.S. News published its first rankings in 1987, total law school enrollment in the 175 ABA-accredited institutions had remained around 120,000 for a decade. Since then, twenty-five more law schools have come on line and enrollments have steadily risen to more than 145,000. By 2010, there were more than 1.2 million lawyers in the United States—almost 4 for every 1,000 citizens. In the United Kingdom, the comparable number is about 2.5 per 1,000; in Germany, it’s slightly more than 1.5.

* * *

Law school deans defended the growth and proliferation of law schools after 2000 as a market reaction to student demand. After all, an excess of applicants over available spots sent an unambiguous signal: consumers wanted more openings in law schools. Anyone running a business would respond as most deans did: raise tuition, increase profits, and add capacity. Wrapping themselves in the rhetoric of free markets and individual choice, even deans at some of the best law schools avoided important disclosures, including meaningful employment and salary data for their recent graduates. After all, better information about the limited opportunities actually available to new attorneys might reduce student demand.

Of course, some of the widespread career dissatisfaction among attorneys is the fault of college students making shortsighted and unsound judgments about their future. But bad information shares the blame for what turned out to be a poor career choice for many of them. Law schools operating on the outer perimeter of candor to fill their classrooms worsened the problem. But without free-flowing student loan money for which law school deans never have to account, the entire system would look much different.

The law school business model permitted (and still permits) a perverse market response—increasing tuition in the face of declining demand for lawyers—for two reasons: student demand for law school still exceeds supply, and students have little difficulty borrowing whatever they need to cover the cost of a degree. For decades, lenders faced no risk of default because the federal government guaranteed the loans.

Then in 2008, out of concern that the credit market freeze would leave insufficient financing for student loans, the government essentially took over most such lending directly. Two years later, it completed the transition from insuring all loans to issuing the vast majority of them. Meanwhile, revisions to the bankruptcy laws essentially bar students from ever discharging public or private educational debt. In its totality, the current regime insulates law schools from the problem of graduates who can’t find jobs needed to repay their student loans, while giving schools no incentive to control tuition costs. Of the various parties involved—students, government, private lenders, and law schools—only the students and, to a growing extent under new income-based repayment programs, the federal treasury bear any significant risk that such borrowing might turn out to have been imprudent.

The combination of irresponsible lending and inadequate law school accountability has been deadly for many attorneys and the profession. It’s a story of good intentions gone awry.

The origins of the government student loan program generally date to 1958, when Congress followed the recommendation of economist Milton Friedman in creating a system of direct federal loans for higher education. When it expanded the program in 1965, existing federal budget accounting rules required booking direct student loans as total losses in the year made, regardless of whether they would be repaid in full with interest. But the rules also provided that a loan guarantee didn’t count as a federal budget cost item—not a penny. At the urging of economists, Congress finally revised the budget rules in 1990, but the most important feature remained: federal guarantees of all private and public student loans.

For lenders, such guarantees mean no risk of nonrepayment because the government picks up the tab for any shortfall. For students, they mean the growth of another industry that will chase them forever: debt collectors. When someone defaults on a student loan, the government turns it over to private collection agencies. In 2011, the US Department of Education paid more than $1.4 billion to such companies. Summarizing that industry’s attitude, a business consultant described his thoughts in 2011 as he watched Occupy protesters at New York University wearing T-shirts with the amounts of their student debt scribbled across the front: “I couldn’t believe the accumulated wealth they represent—for our industry. It was lip-smacking.” His article included a picture of some students in their T-shirts, including one with “the fine sum of $90,000” and another with “a really attractive $120,000.” Another consultant suggested that student loans might be the accounts receivable industry’s “new oil well.” Something is terribly amiss in a society where policies and incentive structures make debt collection a growth business.

In addition to government guarantees, private lenders gained another layer of protection against losses from their student loan portfolios. As noted previously, today such debt almost always survives a young lawyer’s bankruptcy filing. The cumulative impact of these policies is becoming clearer. As one recent graduate observed, a federally guaranteed student loan may be “the closest thing to debtor prison that there is on this earth.”

It wasn’t always so. In the early 1970s, the federal student loan program was still relatively new and the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare sought to avoid any negative public image that might tarnish the young system. The agency proposed making government student loans nondischargeable in bankruptcy unless a borrower had been in default for at least five years or could prove “undue hardship.” Enacted in 1976, the undue-hardship requirement placed student loans in the same category as child support, alimony, court restitution orders, criminal fines, and certain taxes. No data supported the suggestion of a student loan default problem, but anecdotal media reports of isolated abuse carried the day.

The concern was moral hazard—the fear that graduates on the verge of lucrative careers would avoid responsibility for the federal educational loans that had made those careers possible. But as the legislative history makes clear, the basis for such concerns was “more myth and media hype than reality.” A lead editorial in the July 25, 2012, edition of the Wall Street Journal reveals the enduring power of that myth thirty-five years later: “After a surge in former students declaring bankruptcy to avoid repaying their loans, Congress acted to protect lenders beginning in 1977.” That’s simply not true. Although a House of Representatives report and analysis from the General Accounting Office had confirmed that abuse was “virtually non-existent,” the provision found its way into the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978.

In 1990, Congress extended the requisite five-year default period, requiring a seven-year wait as a precondition to relief from educational debt. In 1997, the Bankruptcy Reform Commission found no evidence to support claims of earlier systematic abuse. Even so, in 1998 Congress amended the statute to provide that no amount of time would render federal educational debt dischargeable in bankruptcy. In 2005, Congress extended nondischargeabilty to private lenders as well, although, as Senator Dick Durbin asked in 2012, “How in the world did that provision get into the law? It was a mystery amendment. We can’t find out who offered it.” A fruitful place to begin the search might be with lobbyists for the banking industry.

Apart from the unwillingness of any legislator to claim responsibility for the now orphaned provision, there was little factual justification for it or the earlier revisions that eliminated bankruptcy relief from federal loans in the first place. Nonfederal loans accounted for only 7 percent of all student borrowing in the 2010–2011 academic year. Repeated legislative inquiry yielded no empirical evidence to validate stated fears about systemic abuse for either private or government loans. But now that the limitations are in place, some have theorized that returning even to pre-2005 rules could lead to a parade of horribles, including higher interest rates for all students, reduced affordability, and tighter credit requirements throughout the system.

Two recent examples of the undue-hardship requirement illustrate the daunting task facing a debtor who seeks relief from educational debt today. In May 2012, a sixty-three-year-old Maryland woman had more than $330,000 in school loans dating back to her enrollment at the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1992. She didn’t graduate. Later, she received a master’s degree from Towson University and a PhD from an unaccredited online school. The judge decided that the debtor’s Asperger’s syndrome qualified her for relief from student loan debt. Expecting that she could “ever break the grip of autism and meaningfully channel her energies toward tasks that are not in some way either dictated, or circumscribed, by the demands of her disorder would be to dream the impossible dream.” Even the debtor’s attorney expressed surprise that his client had succeeded in discharging her debt under the demanding undue-hardship standard.

In July 2012, a sixty-four-year-old woman who had worked on an assembly line earning $11 an hour until she received a layoff notice obtained discharge of loans she had first taken on in 1981, when she was thirty-three and enrolled in Canisius College. After pursuing a five-year partial repayment plan under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code, she’d whittled only $2,400 from her loan balance and still owed more than $56,000, most of which was accrued interest on her original $17,000 loan. The court concluded that the debtor was “at the end of her ‘rope’ at age sixty-four, facing job loss and no prospects other than Social Security,” and ordered her loans discharged.

Such cases in which students get relief from burdensome student loan debt are unusual. In fact, the applicable legal standard for discharge isn’t even consistent across the federal circuits. Some appellate courts require judges to predict the future and conclude, as a prerequisite to discharge, that a debtor will never be able to repay the loans—that is, the “certainty of hopelessness.” One attorney described how he jokes about the absurdity of the standard: “What I say to the judge is that as long as we’ve got a lottery, there is no certainty of hopelessness. They smile, and then they rule against you.”

More attorneys are finding themselves in plights similar to that of the thirty-four-year-old lawyer with more than $200,000 in school loans and a job that would never pay enough to retire them: “It’s a noose around my neck that I see no way out of.” It takes little imagination to foresee the domino effects as she and similarly situated others become unable to fund their children’s higher education. The accumulating social costs over generations could haunt America for a long time.

* * *

As a consequence of these dynamics, some not-so-funny things happen to many of those who choose law school for the wrong reasons—or for no particularly good reason. The promise of a secure future at a well-paying job is often illusory. The persistent problem of lawyer oversupply rose to crisis level, and the market for new talent has remained weak. Compounding the difficulties with which they began law school, newly minted, less-than-passionate, and deeply indebted lawyers are now having trouble finding the secure, well-paying, and exciting work they thought would be waiting for them when they graduated. For most of the nation’s forty-four thousand annual graduates today, those positions were never there at all.

Because students rely on rankings to choose a school, such listings are now a critical element in the prevailing law school business model. U.S. News & World Report publishes what everyone regards as the gold standard. As a consequence, deans use its methodological criteria to run their institutions. Single-minded self-interest in selling a law school education—and the failure of colleges and law schools to offer a competing perspective that challenges students’ assumptions about most lawyers’ actual lives—has disserved many graduates and damaged the profession. But try telling that to deans who pander to the annual U.S. News rankings.

Excerpted with permission from “The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession In Crisis” by Steven J. Harper. Available from Basic Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group.  Copyright © 2013.

De Facto Abusers

 

A couple of weeks ago, The New Yorker ran an article (see it here) detailing alleged sex abuse at Horace Mann, an elite boys school in the Bronx. It should come as no surprise that nearly institutional abuse at Horace Mann was uncovered. Like so many cases before it, from the Catholic church, to Jerry Sandusky, to Robert Berman, and on and on, the problem lies less with the abuser than those who would do nothing to stop him. These abuses proliferate because the people who have the ability to stop the harm are more concerned about their own reputations than protecting innocents. They are willing to sacrifice the truth and integrity in order to maintain the status quo for themselves. They lie and tell these children who come to them to keep things quiet and not “make waves” because it won’t stop the abuser. They refuse to speak out because to do so might bring shame upon themselves. In their cowardice they maintain the status quo in order to remain anodyne, leaving their images intact and their lives unruffled. No matter if other’s lives are destroyed in the process. We need a means to hold these souls accountable for doing nothing, saying nothing, turning the other way as the accounts multiplied. They are equally wicked accomplices because in doing nothing, they consent.

 

Boiling Frogs

The problem with these tissue-thin t-shirts and other items of clothing being manufactured these days is that they’re pure crap. The retailers claim they make them this way to layer, but that is a lie. They make them that way because first, you do need to layer so no one can see through them, thereby requiring one to purchase two shirts instead of one, and second, because these items of clothing disintegrate at a much faster rate than their thicker cousins, thereby requiring us to purchase new items much sooner and also keeping us from reselling them because they’re too junky to last long. I won’t even get into how ridiculous layering multiple shirts looks past the age of 20.

We’ve all been boiling frogs on this. Fabrics have gradually gotten thinner and thinner, while the price has crept ever northward. I keep clothes I like forever. I dug out an old t-shirt I bought 20 odd years ago. It isn’t anything special, it had just gotten stuffed into a box of keepsake things during a move years ago, and I hadn’t seen it in forever. The thing is THICK. You can’t see a hint of light through it. It’s solid and well-made. And it probably cost me 20 bucks in the early 90s. You can’t even find t-shirts like this now. Even the high-end retailers sell these tissue-thin shirts that last maybe two years with regular wearing.

Nuts. Why don’t we all rebel?

Global tax dodgers exposed — Salon.com

Shared post from Salon.com can be seen here.

Global tax dodgers exposed

UPDATED: Tax havens of oligarchs, politicians and the wealthy unveiled by largest file leak ever

BY 

Updated, 12:15 p.m.: ICIJ pointed out that many of the world’s major banks – including UBS, Clariden and Deutsche Bank – have aggressively worked to provide their customers with secrecy-cloaked companies in the British Virgin Islands and other offshore hideaways:

Documents obtained by ICIJ show how two top Swiss banks, UBS and Clariden, worked with TrustNet to provide their customers with secrecy-shielded companies in the BVI and other offshore centers.

Clariden, owned by Credit Suisse, sought such high levels of confidentiality for some clients, the records show, that a TrustNet official described the bank’s request as “the Holy Grail” of offshore entities — a company so anonymous that police and regulators would be “met with a blank wall” if they tried to discover the owners’ identities.

Clariden declined to answer questions about its relationship with TrustNet.

“Because of Swiss banking secrecy laws, we are not allowed to provide any information about existing or supposed accountholders,” the bank said. “As a general rule, Credit Suisse and its related companies respect all the laws and regulations in the countries in which they are involved.”

A spokesperson for UBS said the bank applies “the highest international standards” to fight money laundering, and that TrustNet “is one of over 800 service providers globally which UBS clients choose to work with to provide for their wealth and succession planning needs. These service providers are also used by clients of other banks.”

Updated, 11: 40 a.m.: And here are some more notable individuals found by theGuardian/ICIJ investigation to be hiding funds in offshore accounts:

  • Jean-Jacques Augier, France’s François Hollande’s 2012 election campaign co-treasurer, launched a Caymans-based distributor in China with a 25 percent partner in a BVI company. Augier says his partner was Xi Shu, a Chinese businessman.
  • Mongolia’s former finance minister. Bayartsogt Sangajav set up “Legend Plus Capital Ltd” with a Swiss bank account, while he served as finance minister of the impoverished state from 2008 to 2012. He says it was “a mistake” not to declare it, and says “I probably should consider resigning from my position”.
  • The president of Azerbaijan and his family. A local construction magnate, Hassan Gozal, controls entities set up in the names of President Ilham Aliyev’s two daughters.
  • A senator’s husband in Canada. Lawyer Tony Merchant deposited more than US$800,000 into an offshore trust.
  • Spain’s wealthiest art collector, Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, a former beauty queen and widow of a Thyssen steel billionaire, who uses offshore entities to buy art.

Updated, 11: 20 a.m.: Nominee directors, military and intelligence links: As was original highlighted by the Guardian/ICIJ last year, a number of so-called nominee directors of companies registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) have connections to military or intelligence activities.

Notably Gamma Group — the firm that develops surveillance software that (as noted here) has been used by oppressive regimes against activists including in Bahrain — was found to have offshore funds in the BVI:

Louthean Nelson owns the Gamma Group, a controversial computer surveillance firmemploying ex-military personnel. It sells bugging technology to Middle East and south-east Asian governments.

Nelson owns a BVI offshore arm, Gamma Group International Ltd.

Martin Muench, who has a 15 per cent share in the company’s German subsidiary, said he was the group’s sole press spokesman, and told us: “Louthean Nelson is not associated with any company by the name of Gamma Group International Ltd. If by chance you are referring to any other Gamma company, then the explanation is the same for each and every one of them.”

After he was confronted with evidence obtained by the ICIJ/Guardian investigation, Muench changed his position. He told us: “You are absolutely right, apparently there is a Gamma Group International Ltd.”

The ICIJ also notes a “sham” director who is U.K.-based operative working to hide money for the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line –  a firm the E.U., the U.N. and the U.S. have accused IRISL of aiding Iran’s nuclear-development program. Under the front name “Tamalaris Consolidated Limited,” the company registered in the BVI with the British-based operative named as director.

Updated, 10.50 a.m.: Sham directors: The Guardian, whose investigative journalists collaborated with ICIJ in the tax haven project, highlights a list of “sham directors” uncovered in the leaked files. These individuals “appear on official records as directors of companies while acting only on the instructions of its real owners, who stay invisible and off-the-books.”

Over 22,000 companies use this network of 0nly 28 sham directors — some with over 700 companies to their names with offshore account holdings. See here for a full table of these sham directors.

Original post: A trove of leaked documents 160 times the size of Wikileaks’ cache reveals the vast global web of tax havens in which the world’s wealthiest hide their fortunes. A 15-month investigation carried out by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which involved dozens of reporters sifting through thousands of leaked files from offshore companies and trusts, highlights the dirty dealings between politicians and the mega-rich involved in tax evasion.

“The leaked files provide facts and figures — cash transfers, incorporation dates, links between companies and individuals — that illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy and the well-connected to dodge taxes and fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations alike,” noted ICIJ on the investigation’s publication.

The trove of data — believed to be the largest leak in history — exposes some 120,000 letterbox entities, offshore accounts and other nefarious deals in more than 170 countries, alongside the names of 140,000 individuals alleged to have placed their money in known tax havens.

The investigation found high profile individuals from around the world — from oligarchs to the family members of dictators, to wealthy American financiers and professionals — engaged in efforts to dodge fiscal authorities. Individuals and groups found to be part of the tax evasion web include (via ICIJ):

  • Individuals and companies linked to Russia’s Magnitsky Affair, a tax fraud scandal that has strained U.S.-Russia relations and led to a ban on Americans adopting Russian orphans.
  • A Venezuelan deal maker accused of using offshore entities to bankroll a U.S.-based Ponzi scheme and funneling millions of dollars in bribes to a Venezuelan government official.
  • A corporate mogul who won billions of dollars in contracts amid Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s massive construction boom even as he served as a director of secrecy-shrouded offshore companies owned by the president’s daughters.
  • Indonesian billionaires with ties to the late dictator Suharto, who enriched a circle of elites during his decades in power.
  • The eldest daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, found to be a beneficiary of a British Virgin Islands (BVI) trust. (Philippine officials said they were eager to find out whether any assets in the trust are part of the estimated $5 billion her father amassed through corruption.)
  • The wife of Russia’s deputy prime minister, Igor Shuvalov, and two top executives with Gazprom, the Russian government-owned corporate behemoth that is the world’s largest extractor of natural gas, identified in offshore data.
  • Among nearly 4,000 American names is Denise Rich, a Grammy-nominated songwriter whose ex-husband was at the center of an American pardon scandal that erupted as President Bill Clinton left office.

We will continue to update this post once more details from the extensive tax evasion leaks emerge.

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

My Crush on Oliver Burkeman

It’s sad but true. I have a crush on a celebrity. Well, not really a celebrity, but someone slightly famous. Well, maybe not famous. I don’t know what to call him. I would not have a crush on him or even know who he is if he had not published a book and I had not fallen in love with the book and then gone and read everything he ever wrote or watched all videos of him speaking about his book. So he is somewhat celebrated and somewhat famous, but not like a rock star or A-list actor or something. He’s an author and investigative journalist and he’s simply dreamy and his writing is the perfect balance of intelligence and wit. His name is Oliver Burkeman.

I met him once. He gave a reading at Powell’s. I had basically seen the entire thing due to my internet stalking of him, but I didn’t care. I got to see him up close and personal. He looked exactly like his photos and videos, handsome and balding. I don’t have a special bald fetish, I just think he’s too adorable for words. His ridiculously perfect sense of humor doesn’t hurt. (An example of this: in his book he discusses buying a giant pubic louse from a museum. He says, I guess now is as good as any time to bring up my pubic louse. I about died laughing.)

I also sent him an email. I have never, ever sent anyone like him any sort of fan mail before. He actually responded personally a day later. I still have it. I know. Sad, huh? Anyway, in my personal email he said to mention myself at the upcoming reading, so I did. He remembered, signed my book politely, and was done. I had waited to be last in line just in case he fell madly in love with me immediately upon sight and wanted to go on a date. Never mind that he has a girlfriend. I’m a lunatic. Or at least I have a lunatic imagination.

These days I am left to swoon over his Guardian posts. (Did I mention he is a reporter for the Guardian?) I’ll have to wait until he writes another book to go to another reading to see him again. What a thing to look forward to.

I can’t imagine sexualizing either of my daughters like this. Disgusting indeed.

Rev. Evan M. Dolive

An open letter to Victoria’s Secret regarding their choice to make an underwear line aimed at young teenagers. (Read about it here)


Dear Victoria’s Secret,

I am a father of a three year old girl. She loves princesses, Dora the Explorer, Doc McStuffins and drawing pictures for people. Her favorite foods are peanut butter and jelly, cheese and pistachios.

Even though she is only three, as a parent I have had those thoughts of my daughter growing up and not being the little girl she is now. It is true what they say about kids, they grow up fast. No matter how hard I try I know that she will not be the little ball of energy she is now; one day she will be a rebellious teenager that will more than likely think her dad is a total goof ball and would want to distance herself from my…

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This Punitive Society

I want to be on the stand and say to them: What did she do? What did she do wrong? She chose the wrong men, and for this you want to punish her, as our society punishes women who let men abuse them, as if it was a choice. We forgive the wrongdoer and attack the victim, because we hate victims, even as we are victims. You should have known better! You should have made a better choice! Your choice was wrong, and we as judges, juries, and executioners know this! You should not have made these mistakes and for this, we judge you. For this, we sentence you and punish you for your sins, for your flaws. You were a good mother, but that is not good enough because you never would have been a mother if you had not chosen men who would abuse you. Of course, this line of reasoning falls apart because she could very well have been a mother if she had not chosen these men. But of course she would not have these children. These children will be harmed because of her choices. These children will be harmed too because of their abusive fathers, but we don’t hold the fathers accountable, only the mothers. These abusive men didn’t know any better, but she did. She knew and she chose wrong and for this, she shall pay with their loss. Their pains are her pains. She will suffer for her sins and so will they.

This society is so fucking fucked and fucked up. I can hardly bear it. We are so punitive, so judgmental, so holier-than-thou, such critics.  Critics. We all sit and judge. Our whole culture. We love to annihilate victims for having been victims. In doing so we can ignore the victims in ourselves. We get to be the rescuer in our judiciousness. I will save you from your victimhood, you fool.

It all just makes me want to scream.

Clouds

If there are no extra pieces in the universe, there must be a place for me somewhere. I just haven’t found it yet. Maybe I never will. My optimism is flagging. I feel isolated and friendless. Oh, I have several people whom I consider friends, people I can call now and then, or with whom I can go to lunch or coffee, but I have no friends who really get me and want me. Except for one, I lack any true, deep, honest friendships. My one friend is often so buried in her own dismay at the state of the world that I feel unwilling to burden her with my own clouds.

I’m immersed in a cloud. I’ve always been the sort of person who loves learning. I loved school. I was energized by it. Today I was looking through the Coursera offerings and could not find even one class out of thousands that interested me. None of it. There is a little cloud surrounding me that depletes my interest in anything.

I hate the business of my work. If all I had to do was serve my clients, I wouldn’t mind it so much. I like helping them. But I have to bring in business and think about and worry about and concern myself with all those little parts of getting business, and the thought of it makes me physically ill. I can’t sleep with it. I’ll lose this cloud in the sunlight of my daughter’s smile or the actual sun shining in the sky, and the cloud will catch me again, unaware. Oh, it says. You stopped thinking about marketing and now you suddenly did! And the feeling of nausea overwhelms me. The cloud descends. My stomach tightens. I feel trapped. I can’t escape it. It is misery and I have worn myself thin trying to come up with alternatives and cannot do it. There are no alternatives except perhaps homelessness, which is no alternative when one has children. I have to bring in money to pay for food and a roof over our heads. No one will hire me. I’ve tried and tried and tried until I’m blue in the face to find alternate employment to no avail. No wonder the long-term jobless feel flattened. It is demoralizing to try and try and try and never succeed. You start to wonder what is the point and this wondering leaks over into everything else you do, including enjoying learning, enjoying anything.

Plod, plod, plod. This is what my life is. It is what it has been for so long, I can no longer envision an alternative. Every attempt at an alternative has been a failure. I no longer even want to try. This is my cloud.

My Public Service Announcement for the Day

I have figured something out about blow driers. You know how when you go to the hairdresser and they blow out your hair and it has this amazing texture? I figured out today that it is the blow drier. Blow driers have these nets that catch the dust from the air circulating through them. The dustier they get, the worse the blowing. Apparently, the worse the blowing, the worse the texture of your hair too, because mine was looking and feeling seriously shabby. Today I couldn’t stand that it was taking me twice as long as it should to blow dry, and I got the clue that I hadn’t cleaned the dust thing in months and months, so I cleaned it. Voila! Not only did my hair dry quickly again, but my hair had that texture I get at the hairdresser, a texture I have been only intermittently able to achieve at home. Well, duh. It’s the blow drier. Now I know and if you’re reading this, so do you. Clean the lint trap on your blow drier, experience a new level of great hair texture at home.

Overwhelmed

I have for most of my life had the unerring sense that things in this world would turn out all right. There would be moments when certain events would not be okay, but generally overall I did not view this as the way of things.

Then today I realized that I quite the contrary, that the opposite is true, that in my heart I do not believe that things are not going to turn out fine. The rich are winning. People who cause harm continue to cause harm and are not stopped. Patriarchy is winning. The world over, men and women and children and the planet suffers.

I do not know how to regain my optimism. It all feels so overwhelming.

My Own Personal Lonely-Hearts Club

I have a crush on my acupuncture doctor. From the moment I met him, I felt an instant liking of the man. He placed his hands on the small of my back and urged me to relax the muscles there. I breathed out and ahhh, I felt them give way, I felt the warmth of his hands.

He isn’t the sort of man I’m usually attracted to, physically anyway. He is barely taller than I am, and I like men taller than me. I even had impure thoughts, wondering if his, um…parts were smaller too. This is a terrible thing to think, I know, but the thought was there.

I dreamed about him. Actually I have dreamed about him a couple of times. Not impure thoughts dreams, but vivid nonetheless. In one, he was not an acupuncture doctor, but was working doing something else. Now I don’t remember what. We were just there together in the dream. In another, he was standing and talking to me, wearing his white lab coat, his name embroidered over his heart. These dreams are always in color.

Last night I dreamed that first, Jeff Goldblum, the actor, was interested in me. He reminded me that we had gone to see the movie The Fly together. I was attracted to him in the dream. In real life, I am not attracted to him. I also did not like the movie The Fly. Later, Josh Duhamel was interested in me. Well, it wasn’t actually Josh Duhamel in the dream, but the body was Josh Duhamel’s. I was extremely attracted to him, but we could not get away from other people. There were a group of women who were interested in him. One was practically climbing up his front. He stood there, ignoring her, and just looking at me, his brown eyes focused completely on me. I would glance away, embarrassed, but when I looked back, he was still looking at me. I woke up during this part.

I could start my own lonely-hearts club. It’s pitiful. My ex has had 3 girlfriends since we split up 3 years ago. I have had no boyfriends. I have had about 7 dates. Well, I’ve dated 6 men once each, and went on 3 dates with another man. Obviously, none went anywhere. Admittedly, I’m picky. I refuse to make the same mistakes I have made before, and rushing in has been one of those mistakes. But I’m not even meeting anyone to rush in with. I fear I will end up dying and my ex will be the last person I slept with, which I find pathetic. I do not want him to have been the last person I slept with. That said, I do not want to go sleep with someone just for the hell of it. I am not capable of casual sex. I get attached, even when I don’t want too.

I like the doctor. He’s got good energy. He has kind and warm hands. I guess for now I will just have to resort to dreaming.

Summer Shoe Longing

I went in my closet to find some longjohns to put under my overalls so I can work outside on the yard. I bent down to grab them from under a pile of work clothes (you know, the stuff you don’t care if it gets paint or caulk on it) and a pair of summer shoes caught my eye. They are these gorgeous navy heels with white piping trim. There are two leather straps that start up near the toes, criss-cross and curve back. Another strap goes around the ankle and buckles.

Oh I long for warm enough weather to wear those sexy ass shoes. I love those shoes. I love having pretty toenails peeking out from the criss-crossing straps. I love how they make my legs look long and thin. I love the way the weather has to be to wear those shoes. Makes me long for sun. Makes me long for wispy skirts and tank tops. Mmmmmmm….yummy!

I’m sitting here in a heavy sweater, my paint-splattered overalls lumpy with the longjohns underneath, and while it’s difficult to imagine, I am going to San Diego in 3 weeks and all I can hope is that there will be one day warm enough to wear those shoes.  Maybe I need to schedule a manicure…

Maldives Girl to Get 100 Lashes for Pre-Marital Rape

This story is simply horrifying. We have got to rebalance the imbalance between the masculine and feminine in this world.

See this story here.

Maldives girl to get 100 lashes for pre-marital sex

By Olivia Lang
BBC News

A 15-year-old rape victim has been sentenced to 100 lashes for engaging in premarital sex, court officials said.

The charges against the girl were brought against her last year after police investigated accusations that her stepfather had raped her and killed their baby. He is still to face trial.

Prosecutors said her conviction did not relate to the rape case.

Amnesty International condemned the punishment as “cruel, degrading and inhumane”.

The government said it did not agree with the punishment and that it would look into changing the law.

Baby death

Zaima Nasheed, a spokesperson for the juvenile court, said the girl was also ordered to remain under house arrest at a children’s home for eight months.

She defended the punishment, saying the girl had willingly committed an act outside of the law.

Officials said she would receive the punishment when she turns 18, unless she requested it earlier.

The case was sent for prosecution after police were called to investigate a dead baby buried on the island of Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll, in the north of the country.

Her stepfather was accused of raping her and impregnating her before killing the baby. The girl’s mother also faces charges for failing to report the abuse to the authorities.

The legal system of the Maldives, an Islamic archipelago with a population of some 400,000, has elements of Islamic law (Sharia) as well as English common law.

Ahmed Faiz, a researcher with Amnesty International, said flogging was “cruel, degrading and inhumane” and urged the authorities to abolish it.

“We are very surprised that the government is not doing anything to stop this punishment – to remove it altogether from the statute books.”

“This is not the only case. It is happening frequently – only last month there was another girl who was sexually abused and sentenced to lashes.”

He said he did not know when the punishment was last carried out as people were not willing to discuss it openly.

My Little Ferdinand

My daughter plays an instrument in our city orchestra. There are essentially four main levels. She is in the second to the bottom level. This group played with the top level. In the program was a girl who won a competition in the orchestra. She plays the piano and the cello. She speaks four languages. She is in the same grade as my daughter.

In spite of myself, I felt disappointment in my own child. Her motivation to play waxes and wanes. When she is wanting to play and is practicing, as should be expected, she improves considerably. But the times between when she isn’t so interested are frequent. I thought I had let go of any ego related to this, yet in my envy of this other child, and disappointment in my own, I realize that I have most certainly not let go of ego related to this.

On the one hand I feel almost sorry for these dog and pony show children, like those of that Tiger Mom woman. Gag. We push our children toward our cultural versions of success so early. What do they gain? Do we really buy them security? Do we hand them happiness? I can’t say for sure, only in my heart I doubt it. I have purposefully tried to guide my older daughter without pushing, but she generally lacks motivation to do much except infrequently. The best descriptor of my daughter is that she is Ferdinand the Bull. She would be happiest sitting in a field chewing clover flowers and sniffing the wind. She is not Type A. She is not much motivated. She would like to knit and sing and play horse games on her phone. She is like a little fairy. She is not an engine striving striving striving for the top awards, playing two instruments while learning multiple languages. She has never been that child; she will never be that person. And I’m cool with it. I love how she is. I love who she is. Yes, she drives me batty sometimes when she is languishing about when things really do have to be done, but I believe in the long run she will be the happier person.

So why is it that I felt that twinge of disappointment? Has my culture seeped so far into my bones that even when I can say without equivocation that the western Type A version of success is not what I want for anyone in my family, I would still be disappointed in my little Ferdinand?

I don’t know the answer to this. I have no clue. It just is what it is, I guess.

Beets Turn Urine Pink

I don’t love beets. I love most vegetables, including many that others don’t generally like, but not beets. It is because of this that I have not eaten many beets in my life and I did not know that eating beets could turn one’s urine pink or red. I had no clue. Last Friday, when my 3 year old went potty and her poop and pee was red, I assumed she had blood in her stool, freaked, and called her doctor. The advice nurse asked a bunch of questions, but not whether she had eaten beets, and then said I should take her to urgent care the next morning (this was because it was after hours on Friday).

Four hours later, my daughter went potty again. This time she only peed and it was red. Further freaking, as this meant the redness came from pee and not poop, and could thus be related to kidneys and whatnot. Again a call. This time, advice nurse advised we go to urgent care that night. As it was 9:30, the only urgent care in our network was a half hour drive away. Yowza.

We all bundled into the car (we all being me, Milla, and Isabel) and headed out to the middle of nowhere to sit in a waiting room. We were finally escorted back and Isabel was urged to pee. She could not. They gave her apple juice. She peed. They tested it. No more pink and no issues. They could not find anything. Finally, someone asked if she had eaten beets. Well, I did not know. She had been to preschool earlier in the day. Although they were not normally on the Friday, perhaps she had eaten beets. The doctor sent us home with 2 prescriptions for bottom cream and a directive to go to our primary doctor as soon as possible during the regular week.

The next morning I called her preschool and left a message asking if she had eaten beets. We were not able to get into the doctor until Wednesday. In the meantime, no more pink pee and preschool did not return my call (she told me later while apologizing for not calling back that she rarely checks her home line messages–oops!). On Wednesday, while waiting for our dear doctor, I decided to call preschool again, this time the owner’s mobile phone. Lo and behold, it turned out that my darling daughter had indeed eaten beets.

In case you didn’t know it, eating beets turns one’s pee and poop pink or red. This is my public service announcement for the day (or maybe it is a pubic service announcement, but that is a really bad pun).

The United States of Aftermath

The United States of Aftermath.

Shared from Truth-Out, by William Rivers Pitt.

It’s hard to say grace and to sit in the place
Of someone missing at the table
Mom’s hair sprayed tight
And her face in her hands
Watching TV for answers to me
After all she’s only human
And she’s trying to find her own way home, boys
She’s trying to find her own way home

My legs ache
My heart is sore
The well is full of pennies

– Tom Waits

Ten years ago on this day, my life was a blur of frantic activity. The week before, tens of millions of people had taken to the streets in more than 600 cities around the world to protest the looming invasion of Iraq, an attack that had been pursued with single-minded ferocity by the administration of George W. Bush. As the author of the book “War on Iraq”, which had been published in October and argued Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction or al Qaeda connections to the September 11 attacks, I was one of the voices crying out in the wilderness of the “mainstream” news media trying to make it clear that the whole thing was a sham, and a disaster in the making. I did as many television, radio and print interviews as I could – at one point, CNN interviewed me in the gymnasium of the high school where I was still teaching, because that was the only time I had available – in an attempt to halt the calamity in its tracks.

One month later, I and every other person who tried to stop it encompassed the totality of our collective failure as we watched huge swaths of Baghdad be incinerated by the “Shock and Awe” bombing campaign that heralded the opening festivities of America’s nine-year debacle in Iraq.

As the ten-year anniversary of the invasion approaches, all the news networks will carve out some time to report on the decade of war endured by the people of Iraq and the people of America. Rachel Maddow recently broadcast an hour-long documentary on the selling of the war by the Bush administration. Maddow’s program began with the attacks of September 11 as the reason for the Iraq invasion, a starting point that in all probability will be repeated by the other networks, but that starting point is not factually correct. The roots of the Iraq war trace back to the founding in 1997 of a Washington DC think-tank called The Project for a New American Century (PNAC).

The core mission of PNAC was to establish what they called “Pax Americana” across the globe. Essentially, their goal was to transform America, the sole remaining superpower, into a planetary empire by force of arms. A report released by PNAC in September of 2000 entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” codified this plan. Author Norman Podhoretz, a PNAC signatory, quantified the other aspect of the PNAC plan in the September 2002 issue of his journal, “Commentary.” In it, Podhoretz noted that the Mideast regimes “that richly deserve to be overthrown and replaced, are not confined to the three singled-out members of the axis of evil. At a minimum, the axis should extend to Syria and Lebanon and Libya, as well as ‘friends’ of America like the Saudi royal family and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, along with the Palestinian Authority, whether headed by Arafat or one of his henchmen.” At bottom, according to Podhoretz, war against Iraq was about “the long-overdue internal reform and modernization of Islam.”

PNAC was the driving force behind the drafting and passage of the Iraqi Liberation Act in 1998, a bill that essentially turned their desire for war into American law. PNAC funneled millions of taxpayer dollars to a group called the Iraqi National Congress, and to the man they intended to be Iraq’s heir-apparent, Ahmed Chalabi, despite the fact that Chalabi was sentenced in absentia by a Jordanian court to 22 years in prison on 31 counts of bank fraud. Chalabi and the INC gathered support for their cause by promising oil contracts to anyone who would help overthrow Saddam Hussein and put them into power in Iraq.

After the Supreme Court gifted the presidency to George W. Bush in December of 2000, the members of PNAC – once on the outside looking in – soon found themselves walking the halls of power and holding positions of enormous influence. Among these members were Vice President Dick Cheney; Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; National Security Council member Eliot Abrams; Undersecretary of State John Bolton, who also served as America’s ambassador to the UN; and Richard Perle, chairman of the powerful Defense Policy Board.

On September 11, 2001, as America and the world watched in horror, these men went to work implementing their plans for war against Iraq. That day presented, for them, the opportunity of a lifetime, and they wasted not a moment. Within a year after the 9/11 attacks, Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith had established the Office of Special Plans (OSP) in the Pentagon, ostensibly to deal with raw intelligence on the state of Iraq’s armaments. In truth, OSP’s main task was to manipulate that evidence to exacerbate the threat posed by Iraq, and to quash any information that augured against the necessity for war. Those who spoke out against this manipulation of evidence were dealt with harshly; former ambassador Joseph Wilson penned an editorial in the New York Times trashing the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq had sought “yellow cake” uranium from Niger. Soon after, the Bush administration retaliated by blowing the cover of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA operative tasked with tracking weapons of mass destruction, ending her career.

George W. Bush, during his State of the Union address in January of 2003, looked solemnly into the television cameras and told the American people that Iraq was most assuredly in possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 30,000 munitions to deliver the stuff, mobile biological weapons labs, and uranium from Niger for use in their “robust” nuclear weapons programs. One month later, Colin Powell stood before the United Nations and fleshed out these claims in an address that will go down in history as one of the biggest bag-jobs ever perpetrated by anyone, ever.

A year after the attacks of September 11, Osama bin Laden had gone from being enemy #1 to being Mr. Who Cares About Him, and six months after that, “Shock and Awe” was unleashed. Maddow and her friends in the “news” media will, in the coming weeks, give us their various interpretations on how it came to happen, but none of them will bother to delve into the question of why it happened. The answer to that is too simple, and cuts too close to the bone: the war in Iraq cost more than three trillion dollars ($3,000,000,000,000.00) to execute. Every bullet fired, every bomb dropped, every MRE eaten, every helicopter shot down, every missile fired, every truck destroyed by an IED, every oil well guarded, every uniform worn, and every body bag filled translated into a slice of that money going to a company connected to the PNAC members of the Bush administration, who lied us into that war as an expression of their personal principles and in fulfillment of their dreams. Halliburton, KBR, United Defense, the Carlyle Group, independent military contractors like Blackwater and a crowd of American oil companies are still counting the riches they earned from their participation in the carnage.

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The profit motive behind why the war happened is not limited to the corporations that directly cashed in on the conflict. The “mainstream” media went along for the Bush administration ride with a bull-throated roar, pitching everything the administration was selling with graphics and music, gleefully aware of the money they were making thanks to increased viewership, and be damned to contrarian voices. Phil Donahue’s show on MSNBC came and went like a summer storm entirely because his pre-war contrarian views cut against the network’s martial grain. I summarized the reality of America’s pre-war media landscape in an October 2002 article titled, “I See Four Lights”:

One of the main reasons the dismal truths of business and economy in present-day America go unreported is the fact that we have us a war coming on. CNN, MSNBC and Fox have crafted various permutations of a ‘SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ’ graphic, coupled with suitably dramatic music. This is a boon to the media – stories of financial ruin and stock schemes that bilked investors of billions are complicated. Compared to grainy images of explosions, fluttering American flags, and stalwart American troops preparing to step into harm’s way, the economic news is plain boring. People were changing the channel back in July and August because it was too painful, and because it was not sexy. Now, with the war graphics in full cry, they are back. CNN’s viewership increased by 500% after September 11th, and you can bet the executives down in Atlanta noted that well. War is good for the media business.

Over the last few years, MSNBC refashioned itself as the progressive news alternative to networks like Fox and CNN by giving Keith Olbermann an opportunity to do actual journalism on television for a few years, and by putting people like Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz front and center. Even Chris Matthews, the human weathervane, appears to have gotten the memo. But I remember a phone call I got from an MSNBC producer in February of 2003. Hans Blix and his weapons inspectors had not been in Iraq for 100 hours when this woman called me on my cell, told me she’d read my book, and asked me to appear on the network. There was, however, one caveat: she told me I was expected to argue that Blix and the inspectors were doing a terrible job and should be ignored, which just happened to be the exact line being peddled at the time by the Bush administration. I told the producer that I did not agree, that the inspectors needed to be given time to do their jobs, and that undermining them might lead to a devastating war. The MSNBC producer chuffed a cigarette-roughened laugh into my phone and hung up on me.

That happened – I remember the details not only because of how gruesome the conversation was, but because when she hung up on me, I almost lost control of my car and nearly wound up in the Charles River – and the fact of it tells you everything you need to know about MSNBC and the rest of the alphabet-soup cohort that is America’s “mainstream” news media. I did not do what that MSNBC producer asked me to, but you can bet all the money you have that she found someone who would a few phone calls later. You might have even seen it on TV.

MSNBC and the rest of the “news” networks can level a finger of blame at the Bush administration until the sun burns out, but the rock-bottom fact of the matter is that every one of those networks are equally to blame for the catastrophe that was, and remains, the war. No questions were asked, no push-back was offered; when the war cry went up, they made that cry their own, and they have as much blood on their hands as Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of that PNAC crew.

The war against Iraq, in the end, was nothing more or less than a massive money-laundering operation that took American taxpayer dollars, soaked them in blood, and redirected them to Certain Friends In High Places. It was, as I said years ago, a smash-and-grab robbery writ large, aided and abetted by an American “news” media which had its own profit motive, and which made a nifty sum off the whole deal. Even better for them, today they get to enjoy the ratings and advertising dollars to come when they broadcast their somber “documentaries” about how terrible it all was, how many lies were told, how many mistakes were made, and all without ever looking inward at their own enormous complicity.

They say the war is over now, but Halliburton is still getting paid to “rebuild” Iraq, the military contractors are still there, bombs are still going off all over the country, the hundreds of thousands of civilians who were killed are still dead, the hundreds of thousands of civilians who were wounded and maimed are still scarred, and many of the millions who were displaced are still not home. Almost 5,000 American soldiers are still dead, nearly 40,000 more are still scarred, and the VA is utterly incapable of dealing with the aftermath.

Three trillion dollars of taxpayer money was laundered away, and today we have squadrons of politicians who voted for the war and made sure it happened now talking about cutting Medicare, about cutting Social Security, about how we can’t afford decent health care or the United States Post Office, without even a blink of acknowledgement toward their own overwhelming share of blame for what has happened to the nation.

Ten years ago, they used 9/11 against us, with the happy help of the “news” media, to unleash butchery for a payday, and broke the country in the process.

So you remember, so you never, ever forget, this is how they did it.

“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”
– Dick Cheney, Vice President
Speech to VFW National Convention
8/26/2002

“There is already a mountain of evidence that Saddam Hussein is gathering weapons for the purpose of using them. And adding additional information is like adding a foot to Mount Everest.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Response to Question From the Press
9/6/2002

“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
– Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Adviser
CNN Late Edition
9/8/2002

“Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.”
– George W. Bush, President
Speech to the UN General Assembly
9/12/2002

“Iraq has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons, and is rebuilding the facilities used to make more of those weapons. We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons – the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have.”
– George W. Bush, President
Radio Address
10/5/2002

“The Iraqi regime … possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas.”
– George W. Bush, President
Cincinnati, Ohio, Speech
10/7/2002

“And surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.”
– George W. Bush, President
Cincinnati, Ohio, Speech
10/7/2002

“After 11 years during which we have tried containment, sanctions, inspections, even selected military action, the end result is that Saddam Hussein still has chemical and biological weapons and is increasing his capabilities to make more. And he is moving ever closer to developing a nuclear weapon.”
– George W. Bush, President
Cincinnati, Ohio, Speech
10/7/2002

“We’ve also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.”
– George W. Bush, President
Cincinnati, Ohio, Speech
10/7/2002

“Iraq, despite UN sanctions, maintains an aggressive program to rebuild the infrastructure for its nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile programs. In each instance, Iraq’s procurement agents are actively working to obtain both weapons-specific and dual-use materials and technologies critical to their rebuilding and expansion efforts, using front companies and whatever illicit means are at hand.”
– John Bolton, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control
Speech to the Hudson Institute
11/1/2002

“Iraq could decide on any given day to provide biological or chemical weapons to a terrorist group or to individual terrorists … The war on terror will not be won until Iraq is completely and verifiably deprived of weapons of mass destruction.”
– Dick Cheney, Vice President
Denver, Address to the Air National Guard
12/1/2002

“If he declares he has none, then we will know that Saddam Hussein is once again misleading the world.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
12/2/2002

“The president of the United States and the secretary of defense would not assert as plainly and bluntly as they have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction if it was not true, and if they did not have a solid basis for saying it.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Response to Question From the Press
12/4/2002

“We know for a fact that there are weapons there.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
1/9/2003

“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.”
– George W. Bush, President
State of the Union Address
1/28/2003

“Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.”
– George W. Bush, President
State of the Union Address
1/28/2003

“We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Remarks to the UN Security Council
2/5/2003

“There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more. And he has the ability to dispense these lethal poisons and diseases in ways that can cause massive death and destruction. If biological weapons seem too terrible to contemplate, chemical weapons are equally chilling.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Address to the UN Security Council
2/5/2003

“In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world – and we will not allow it.”
– George W. Bush, President
Speech to the American Enterprise Institute
2/26/2003

“So has the strategic decision been made to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction by the leadership in Baghdad? I think our judgment has to be clearly not.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Remarks to the UN Security Council
3/7/2003

“Let’s talk about the nuclear proposition for a minute. We know that, based on intelligence, that has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. He’s had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”
– Dick Cheney, Vice President
“Meet the Press”
3/16/2003

“Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”
– George W. Bush, President
Address to the Nation
3/17/2003

“Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly … all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
3/21/2003

“One of our top objectives is to find and destroy the WMD. There are a number of sites.”
– Victoria Clark, Pentagon Spokeswoman
Press Briefing
3/22/2003

“I have no doubt we’re going to find big stores of weapons of mass destruction.”
– Kenneth Adelman, Defense Policy Board Member
Washington Post, p. A27
3/23/2003

“We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
ABC Interview
3/30/2003

“We still need to find and secure Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities and secure Iraq’s borders so we can prevent the flow of weapons of mass destruction materials and senior regime officials out of the country.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Press Conference
4/9/2003

“You bet we’re concerned about it. And one of the reasons it’s important is because the nexus between terrorist states with weapons of mass destruction … and terrorist groups – networks – is a critical link. And the thought that … some of those materials could leave the country and in the hands of terrorist networks would be a very unhappy prospect. So it is important to us to see that that doesn’t happen.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Press Conference
4/9/2003

“But make no mistake – as I said earlier – we have high confidence that they have weapons of mass destruction. That is what this war was about and it is about. And we have high confidence it will be found.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
4/10/2003

“Were not going to find anything until we find people who tell us where the things are. And we have that very high on our priority list, to find the people who know. And when we do, then well learn precisely where things were and what was done.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
“Meet the Press”
4/13/2003

“We are learning more as we interrogate or have discussions with Iraqi scientists and people within the Iraqi structure, that perhaps he destroyed some, perhaps he dispersed some. And so we will find them.”
– George W. Bush, President
NBC Interview
4/24/2003

“We’ll find them. It’ll be a matter of time to do so.”
– George W. Bush, President
Remarks to Reporters
5/3/2003

“I’m absolutely sure that there are weapons of mass destruction there and the evidence will be forthcoming. We’re just getting it just now.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Remarks to Reporters
5/4/2003

“We never believed that we’d just tumble over weapons of mass destruction in that country.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Fox News Interview
5/4/2003

“I’m not surprised if we begin to uncover the weapons program of Saddam Hussein – because he had a weapons program.”
– George W. Bush, President
Remarks to Reporters
5/6/2003

“U.S. officials never expected that ‘we were going to open garages and find’ weapons of mass destruction.”
– Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Adviser
Reuters Interview
5/12/2003

“We said all along that we will never get to the bottom of the Iraqi WMD program simply by going and searching specific sites, that you’d have to be able to get people who know about the programs to talk to you.”
– Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense
Interview with Australian Broadcasting
5/13/2003

“It’s going to take time to find them, but we know he had them. And whether he destroyed them, moved them or hid them, we’re going to find out the truth. One thing is for certain: Saddam Hussein no longer threatens America with weapons of mass destruction.”
– George W. Bush, President
Speech at a Weapons Factory in Ohio
5/25/2003

“They may have had time to destroy them, and I don’t know the answer.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations
5/27/2003

“For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction (as justification for invading Iraq) because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.”
– Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense
Vanity Fair Interview
5/28/2003

“The President is indeed satisfied with the intelligence that he received. And I think that’s borne out by the fact that, just as Secretary Powell described at the United Nations, we have found the bio trucks that can be used only for the purpose of producing biological weapons. That’s proof-perfect that the intelligence in that regard was right on target.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
5/29/2003

“We have teams of people that are out looking. They’ve investigated a number of sites. And within the last week or two, they have in fact captured and have in custody two of the mobile trailers that Secretary Powell talked about at the United Nations as being biological weapons laboratories.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Infinity Radio Interview
5/30/2003

“But for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong, we found them.”
– George W. Bush, President
Interview With TVP Poland
5/30/2003

“You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons … They’re illegal. They’re against the United Nations resolutions, and we’ve so far discovered two … And we’ll find more weapons as time goes on.”
– George W. Bush, President
Press Briefing
5/30/2003

“This wasn’t material I was making up, it came from the intelligence community.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Press Briefing
6/2/2003

“We recently found two mobile biological weapons facilities which were capable of producing biological agents. This is the man who spent decades hiding tools of mass murder. He knew the inspectors were looking for them. You know better than me he’s got a big country in which to hide them. We’re on the look. We’ll reveal the truth.”
– George W. Bush, President
Camp Sayliya, Qatar
6/5/2003

“I would put before you Exhibit A, the mobile biological labs that we have found. People are saying, ‘Well, are they truly mobile biological labs?’ Yes, they are. And the DCI, George Tenet, Director of Central Intelligence, stands behind that assessment.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Fox News Interview
6/8/2003

“No one ever said that we knew precisely where all of these agents were, where they were stored.”
– Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Adviser
“Meet the Press”
6/8/2003

“What the president has said is because it’s been the long-standing view of numerous people, not only in this country, not only in this administration, but around the world, including at the United Nations, who came to those conclusions … And the president is not going to engage in the rewriting of history that others may be trying to engage in.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Response to Question From the Press

“Iraq had a weapons program … Intelligence throughout the decade showed they had a weapons program. I am absolutely convinced with time we’ll find out they did have a weapons program.”
– George W. Bush, President
Comment to Reporters
6/9/2003

“The biological weapons labs that we believe strongly are biological weapons labs, we didn’t find any biological weapons with those labs. But should that give us any comfort? Not at all. Those were labs that could produce biological weapons whenever Saddam Hussein might have wanted to have a biological weapons inventory.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Associated Press Interview
6/12/2003

“My personal view is that their intelligence has been, I’m sure, imperfect, but good. In other words, I think the intelligence was correct in general, and that you always will find out precisely what it was once you get on the ground and have a chance to talk to people and explore it, and I think that will happen.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Press Briefing
6/18/2003

“I have reason, every reason, to believe that the intelligence that we were operating off was correct and that we will, in fact, find weapons or evidence of weapons, programs, that are conclusive. But that’s just a matter of time … It’s now less than eight weeks since the end of major combat in Iraq and I believe that patience will prove to be a virtue.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Pentagon Media Briefing
6/24/2003

“I think the burden is on those people who think he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction to tell the world where they are.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
7/9/2003

I Can’t Do This

Evening arrives and I have the time to write, but all the words fly away. They have been bumping the walls inside my skull all day, but now my energy is sapped and I can’t think of anything.

If a male reads this and isn’t interested, so sorry, but women might understand. My breasts have been looking so large lately. I thought it was the nursing. I haven’t liked it. I do not like to look large chested as it makes me look large trunked, and I don’t want to look large trunked. So today I went to the store and tried on a smaller bra because my bras have been looking too large as well. I thought perhaps I would buy one. I have four decent bras, two in black and two in nude. Enough to have one to wear while the other is being washed in each color. However all of my bras are the same style and from the same store. (If I like underwear, whether it is socks, panties, or bras, I get enough of it to wear if I like a certain style.) The one thing I don’t like about the bras I have been wearing is that the designers covered the straps with fabric and the fabric twists, making the strap dig into my shoulders. It makes me nuts. I have to take off the bra and fidget with the strap to make the fabric lie flat. It’s not ideal. It’s a middle class complaint. I get it.

In any case, I tried on a new bra, one with normal straps. It was a size smaller than I have been wearing. Voilà! I had a smaller chest. I suddenly didn’t look so large up top. It was the ginormous bras. I ended up buying four. The store was having a buy 3 get 1 free sale, so it works. I like having my chest appear smaller again.

I think I might change my name to Lila. I hate the name Lara, but haven’t been able to think of a new name I like. I have to keep Gardner because it is Isabel’s last name, but I could change the first name. Lila is close to Lara, but better. I’m not sure. I will think about it.

I can’t write. I’m too tired. I’m going to go running and go to sleep.

Mulling

Losing a friend, or realizing that you are not to a friend what she is to you, feels as lousy as a breakup. It is essentially the same thing. You walk around dazed for a while thinking of all the times you thought things were one way when they obviously were not. You think of ways to make things different, then you realize there is not a damn thing you can do about any of it. At least that is how it is for me. It has taken me decades for me to understand that I have, for as long as I can remember, chosen friends and boyfriends who are not nearly as devoted to me as I am to them. I have maybe 2 friendships where this isn’t the case, but they are certainly the exception. And this person, this one I thought was a bestie. Shows what I know.

I don’t know how to be different.

Leaning

I should just admit I’m powerless and stay the hell out of Powell’s. My aversion to corporate conglomerates protects me when I go somewhere like Barnes and Noble, which I only walk through on the way to taking daughters to ice skating lessons, but resistance is futile at Powell’s. It’s organized. It’s got that smell. I bought a book there tonight with that perfect ink and paper smell, an older book with crinklish pages. I opened it and put my nose in the center and breathed in. I can almost feel it sitting here. There is a pile next to me of four books. That is how many I bought. There is a book in my purse I bought on a recent visit. I bought two books last Wednesday. I’m an addict.

I have experienced a number of situations recently that could elicit complaints, but I have zero desire to complain. I will note, however, that I was quite disappointed in myself while reading an earlier post of mine to discover that I had used the word peek when I meant peak. Aghast, I changed it immediately, but it has been out there for many weeks. I guess it is a good thing I have low readership.

I think I’m getting sick. I have been tired like a pregnant woman, but there is no possibility of that. Tonight I don’t even think I can go running. I just can’t. I’m so exhausted. Plus there is a tickle in the back of my throat. And a cough. And another cough. One here. One there. These are indicators that something ugly might be looming on the horizon. Both daughters had a nasty head virus a week or so back. I didn’t. I thought perhaps I had developed an immunity at some earlier point in my history. Now I’m not so sure.

I’m bending, my life is anyway. It’s bending in its direction, and I have no ability to aim it in any way that I feel I can control. I’m isolated. I am like a single tree in a meadow, leaning toward the sun, but the sun moves, and so I just hang there. I’m watching people fall away. I missed something somehow. I do not know how to be. Mainly, I just want to go to bed.

Februas

February, named for the ancient purifying carnivals in Rome. Virile young men ran naked through the city, carrying strips of bloody goat flesh. As they ran they would pass royal ladies and slap them with the bloody strips, imparting fertility. Ostensibly, the women were joyous at the lashings, believing they would help them become pregnant. The straps were called februas, the source of the name of the month.

How ironic it is that ancient peoples sought so much to increase fertility and create new life, while in this time entire relationships shudder at its possibility.

drugsandotherthings

Why the ‘Citizen Militia’ Theory Is the Worst Pro-Gun Argument Ever – The Atlantic.

The notion that an individual right to bear arms guarantees the American people against government tyranny is of course an old one. Given its apparent validation in the Second Amendment of the Constitution itself, it’s not surprising that the notion has survived in some way through to the 21st century. Given its defiance of history and common sense, though, what should be surprising is that it’s survived to remain so widespread.

If America experienced a widespread political uprising today, it would bear little resemblance to Lexington and Concord in 1775, with well-disciplined minutemen assembling on the town square to defend liberty against the redcoats. It would more likely be a larger scale reenactment of the “Bleeding Kansas” revolt of 1854 to 1861, when small bands of armed zealots unleashed an orgy of inter-communal violence, unbounded…

View original post 1,565 more words

Raw Sewage

I genuinely cannot explain it. For some reason, every time I sit down or even think about sitting down and writing something, an overwhelming fatigue overcomes me and I just don’t want to do it. This is not something I’ve experienced before. I’m not sure what is going on.

I have for several weeks now been practicing doing things even when I don’t want to or when doing something would be unpleasant. I have concluded that I have gradually become so accustomed to avoiding discomfort to the point that I wasn’t doing much of anything at all. I could not point to the reason behind my apathy, then while reading a book on mindfulness and meditation and connecting emotion to the body, etc., I realized that this is what I had been doing, avoiding discomfort. And so, in an effort to beat back this pattern, I am making an effort to proceed with whatever I must do, whether it is unpleasant or not. I observe the unpleasantness and proceed anyway. I have been running so regularly that I can’t help but notice the increase in my stamina. I have never, even when I was competitive, been so regular about running in my life. When it comes time to run, no matter how tired I feel, or how much I don’t want to do it, I simply observe that I am feeling this way and then do it anyway. Quite a useful tool. And this writing now is an extension of that. For whatever reason, the thought of writing has been bogging me down rather than lifting me up and so I haven’t done it. Then I caught myself and now here I am.

So last Wednesday our basement floor drain filled with water.  Then it filled even more. There was a quite large puddle and it was taking up a good deal of space around the washer and dryer. I called a plumber who, based on my description of things, thought it would be a simple matter of snaking the drain. He came out to snake the drain. In the meantime, I had given my 3-year-old a bath. This had caused the puddle to increase further, heading into danger territory towards carpets and whatnots. The increase in water caused the plumber consternation. It should not have been happening. It was going to require some water removal. It was going to cost more.

His partner showed up to help and the two of them began working. They started snaking the drain where it seemed at first that the clog was located. This did not work. They ran the snake out as far as it would go. Nothing. They then went to the line that fed into the main sewer line. This caused me further consternation because my sewer line is new; it was just replaced in June last summer. It should not have problems of this magnitude.

As he began to snake the line, the water began to rise. My dismay increased. The water was nasty. It smelled. It was straight from the sewer. My daughter’s room is on the other side of the wall of the laundry room. I went in and observed just how much junk she had shoved against the wall. I called her and told her to help evacuate.

The plumbers had to run the snake line out fifty feet to hit anything. The snake dragged back some weird rags, the likes of which the plumber claimed he had never seen in two decades of plumbing. Out with the snake, up went the water, back with the snake covered in greasy rags. As the water rose, so did my dismay, but there was nothing I could do except watch.

“This is vandalism,” the plumber told me. “There is no explanation for this. Do you have any enemies?” No, I really don’t. There is no one I can think of who would vandalize me. He told me stories of things he had seen, told me what you can do to someone you really want to hurt. I had no idea. Revenge is such a primitive desire, one that serves so little a purpose except perhaps a fleeting feeling of retribution, but then what?

The plumber advised I call my homeowner’s insurance. I went upstairs. I made the call. I didn’t know anything yet, but they gave me a claim number. I puttered around. I could not wash dishes. I couldn’t focus on my book. Isabel came down to see, then went back upstairs to nap. I kept the dog from running down to wade in the cesspool.

It wasn’t until the eighth run that the water began to recede. They snaked again, and again, ten times total. They explained mitigation. They called the number for someone to come and clean. They gave me a very large bill, a very, very large bill. Even discounted $100 because he felt really bad about what was happening, the bill was still enormous.

Shortly after the plumber left, the mitigator came. He explained how they would remove part of the carpet, tear up the walls that were damaged, clean everything to standards set by the Center for Disease Control. Our basement was crawling in sewage. Nasty, toxic, bacteria filled the bottom of our home. They would need a day to clean it all. He bagged up the worst of the carpet, then set up machines to suck moisture. A long tube ran from Milla’s room, across the basement, and back to the now empty drain. Until today, this machine kept pumping water. The following day another man came to clean and move and tear apart, then set up massive drying fans that will probably cost me a fortune in electricity.

This was nearly a week ago. Then yesterday at work, my daughter called me in a panic. She was home from school sick, and water was coming up the drain again. Water and tissue. Oh holy fuck. Seriously?

I called the plumber again. His wife told me I needed to have it scoped. They could come snake again, but I had to figure out what was going on. To do this, a camera would be shoved down the sewer line and hopefully see what was going on. I called the camera company. They arranged to come today, bright and early. At 7:50 Tuesday morning, a man knocked on my door. I was busy getting ready for work, getting baby ready to go to see her daddy, hollering at Milla to get her bottom moving. After fifteen minutes the man had a verdict: the line was clogged on the city’s side. It was their responsibility.

This means, I suppose, that my pockets should be relined again with the large sums of money that have been removed. This would be nice. What a long, exhausting week. In addition to the sewage backup, both girls had colds with fevers. No fun, but life isn’t always fun. In fact I think life mostly isn’t fun, interspersed with occasional fun. C’est la vie. That is how it is.

Mato's Blog

The following text started as a reply to a comment and as it grew and grew I decided to publish it as a blog post.

Dear Pamela, thank you for your comment!

I completely agree with your citation of “noli illegitimi carborundum” (don’t let the bastards grind you down), but I don’t share your opinion that it doesn’t matter how much we simplify our lives and that it doesn’t matter how little we have chosen to consume.

It is correct that the idiots who continue to waste the dwindling resources will not be impressed by examples of a modest and sustainable lifestyle. But they are depending on various social, political, economic networks and distribution systems which only function when a certain part of the population is willing to participate.

If enough people drop out of these systems and create their own local organizations the old economic, political, and…

View original post 1,303 more words

Undergoing Modification

I made Christmas presents this year. This is not unusual for me; I’ve made them for the last 8 or 9 years at least. There are many reasons for this. First and foremost is that I want to get off the consumer merry-go-round that are western holidays. I also want to raise my children to understand the meaning behind the holidays, that it is about the connection with friends and loved ones rather than rampant shopping and spending. I want them to realize there is much more satisfaction in giving a gift that you spent time creating, putting in that time, and then having it come together, than there is wandering fluorescent aisles searching for something made in China along with a million other somethings made there. Finally, it does help to save somewhat, although the materials for everything I have ever made have not been cheap.

Over the years we have made many gifts. A couple of years ago we made candles. This was a great project to share with Milla. She loved improving her candle-making skills. We spent time together over several days crafting a variety of candles out of beeswax. It was a lot of work. Other years we have made candy and baked goods. We have made soap, and bottled bath oils. That was fun. Once the presents are made, I love wrapping them up in tissue and ribbon, presenting them beautifully.

This year I decided I would make scarves. Milla and I went together to the fabric store and chose some lovely crushed velvet in a variety of colors. For some, we chose some embellishments for the ends of the scarves to jazz them up. Milla really enjoyed this part of it. She likes decorating things. The two of us worked hard on the scarves. Milla helped a lot, and also made choices about which scarves should have decorations on them. Some of them had such beautiful fabric that any froufrou would have taken away from the scarves themselves. Milla loved having the sewing machine running all the time. She also made some incredibly beautiful little satin tie bags. I was impressed with her abilities. She has been taking sewing in school and I had no idea how much she had learned.

Then we gave the gifts. The anti-climax. The grave disappointment.

Gradually over the last several years, I have felt increasingly disenchanted with the reception our gifts have received. One friend in particular seems almost offended that we give her a handmade gift. In return one year she gave me an item she had obviously received for free at some sort of employer function. Amazingly, almost none of the recipients thank us. This year only one showed any real gratitude and commented on how difficult it must have been to make her scarf.

I haven’t been making these gifts hoping for gushing gratitude and admiration. In fact, such platitudes would make me very uncomfortable. But it is so disappointing when the receivers are offended or completely indifferent, especially when, like these scarves, I honestly chose to make a gift I thought they would enjoy. After so many years of the reactions we have gotten, I tried to make gifts that I really thought they would like. I chose colors I knew each person loved. I chose styles that matched them. After their reactions, it makes me wonder why I should even bother. (I can write all of this without impunity or concern that these people will see this as digging for compliments because none of my friends read my blog.)

I have been embarking on a transformation of sorts over the last few years. One thing I have come to understand about myself is that I have consistently chosen non-reciprocal relationships, not only love relationships, but friendships too. In the past I have chosen people who don’t want me as much as I want them. This was the dynamic in my family and I repeated it. I’m such a cliche’ and I get it. Interestingly, as I have realized this about myself, I have made different choices, and I’m managing to develop some friendships that are not like this. But it is hard. Finding new friends is not easy. To alleviate this, I’m actively seeking out activities where I might meet other people. I read once that our peak opportunities for making friends are in school and when our children are little. I’m past school. Isabel is still little so I suppose there is still that possibility once she goes to school.

In any case, I want something to be different. It is hugely disappointing to spend hours making a gift for someone only to have it received with absolute indifference. Maybe I need to make friends who also make their gifts, and for the same reason. Really I want something different in more than just this, and I’m getting there. Sometimes I wish it would happen just a little sooner, that’s all.

Can Someone Please Help Me With This Letter?

Dear Ms. Gardner,
We regret to inform you that, despite our previous assurances to the contrary, we will not be able to return your brain.  Unfortunately, your brain was part of a shipment of brains that was lost at sea over the Bermuda Triangle, a region of the northwestern Atlantic Ocean in which a number of aircraft and surface vessels have disappeared in what are said to be circumstances that fall beyond the boundaries of human error or acts of nature.  As you may know, some of these disappearances have been attributed to the paranormal, a suspension of the laws of physics, or activity by extraterrestrial beings.  Although substantial documentation exists showing numerous incidents to have been inaccurately reported or embellished by later authors, there is no doubt that many ships and airplanes have been lost in the area.

As is often the case in the place just described, the plane carrying your brain simply disappeared off any radar.  Despite extensive searches and radio calls, we have been unable to make contact with the aircraft, its crew, or the items on board.  In fact, one search plane was also lost in the process.

We sincerely apologize for this egregious error.  We realize now that in attempting to save time by crossing this area of the Atlantic Ocean in order to decrease costs and thereby increase profits, we have created a huge liability for ourselves.  Our only hope is that because it was your brain that was lost, you will now lack the intelligence to realize the error was ours (despite this letter) and do nothing against us in retaliation or to mitigate your loss.  We also offer our condolences; a deficit of this magnitude must be quite distressing.  We certainly understand how you must be feeling right now, even without your limbic system.  There must be some awareness on your part that something is, well, missing.

As evidence of our sincerest and deepest sympathy, we would like to offer you this $10 gift certificate to Amazon.com.  It is our hope that you will be able to locate a nice children’s book or some other fine gift befitting the current state of your intelligence.  Perhaps a book on the alphabet or counting will allow you to find work at a telephone control center or at customer service for a credit card company.  In fact, we would be willing to put you in touch with our affiliates in these areas should you require assistance in becoming gainfully employed.  Additionally, we would also like to provide you with this gift of a handsome wallet for your identification and in some cases, pizza.

Again, please accept our apologies.  And have a happy holiday.  Thank you so much.

Sincerely,

Brain Restoration Services, LLC

Dear Brain Restoration Services, LLC;
I so much appreciated your letter.  Your kindness in letting me know that my brain had been lost in the Bermuda Triangle, and then your further kindness in offering me the $10 gift certificate and possible assistance with employment were both truly above and beyond the call of duty.  I accept the Amazon certificate, by the way, and look forward to locating a book I can now read (as reading has become somewhat difficult in the weeks since losing my brain).  I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who have been helping me in all areas, including reading, feeding, and wiping drool from my chin.  Without you I may actually have drowned.  Much gratitude also to my cousin for typing this letter on my behalf.

I would beg your further kindness, if at all possible.  Unfortunately, Amazon does not carry drool rags.  I searched their site high and low (again with the assistance of friends and family) and was unable to locate one in my price range.  I did locate a towel designed by a famous designer (his name escapes me at the moment–a not uncommon occurrence these days), only this towel was both quite large and quite expensive.  It was not really suitable for my needs.  I would prefer something absorbent that will withstand frequent washings.  Actually, two or three would be most suitable so I have something to use whilst my soiled rags are being laundered.

I also would like to inquire whether you are aware if others who lost their brains in this unfortunate incident might like to get together, not for a support group, but to play.  I think it would be quite enjoyable to build things with blocks or stack plastic rings with one another.  Our caretakers may even be able to trade ideas on dealing with the excess drool and, um, issues surrounding personal hygiene.  I have been made to understand that diaper changing on adults is rather difficult, as you may imagine.

Again, I so appreciate your thoughtfulness and hope this letter finds you well.  I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours sincerely,

Lara Gardner