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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Let Him Go First

I had recorded in my journal last night that the president of the U.S., while numbers of coronavirus cases are still on the rise and we’re nowhere near peak yet, wants to “open up the economy … sooner rather than later,” and I noted that he is "an unstable personality, ruled by ego and impulse." The previous evening, when I had written on the same topic, I referred to “the Economy” sarcastically as “our American god.” As I wrote the words, though, I thought I was probably guilty of hyperbole. Americans do not actually worship “the Economy,” do they? 

Well, now it seems the lieutenant governor of Texas (I mean, wouldn’t you know this idea would come from Texas?), Dan Patrick, age 69, suggests that many grandparents — and he includes himself — would be willing to die in the pandemic so that their children and grandchildren can “keep the America that all America loves,” i.e., the America with the booming economy. Note that this would not be dying for a religious faith or a moral principle or to save a life. He is calling on older Americans to sacrifice their lives, if necessary, in order that the economy can get back to normal.

I too worry about the future for younger generations. I have for decades. But I am convinced that the longstanding economic and corporate rape of nature, including unscrupulous pollution and flagrant mining of water and soil, using everything up as fast as possible with no regard future generations, is a much greater danger to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren's future han a few months of a stagnant economy — and that’s not to minimize the disruption and consequences from it that we will feel perhaps for the rest of our lives. It is a big deal, this shutdown. Perhaps, though, it is Nature’s way of telling us to slow down. We have been overdriving our headlines for as long as I've been alive.

And on that note --

Full disclosure/recommendations: I will be 72 years old in a matter of days and am not ready to be sacrificed on the altar of "the Economy." If Dan Patrick and Donald Trump -- and Mitch McConnell! -- are so willing to sacrifice themselves for future generations, I am willing to see them go to the head of the line. But let the first step not be contracting the virus. Let the first step be resigning from office.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

The President Is Ruining My Life

The president is ruining my life!

-- Egocentric? You think? Well, fundamentally, aren’t we all? But note, I’m not singling out the president on this one: I’m outing myself. 

Because of all the ways the president has been ruining my life, starting from way back before he was in office — before he was even the chosen candidate of his party — what rankles most on a daily basis, repetitively and ad nauseum, is how he has stolen my friends’ attention away from the concerns of my. Own. Personal. Life. 

Do you know what I mean? Have you felt it, too?

Okay, sure, my life is ordinary. I get that. I’m not rich or famous, not a TV reality star or a notorious bankrupt or criminal perpetrator of tax fraud or a bold-faced pathological liar. Nothing in my life warrants headlines. I admit it. 

But aren’t we living in an age of democratic communication, where everyone is the star of his or her own life on social media? And don’t I deserve my three seconds a day like everyone else? 

Instead friends scroll past my most recent (admittedly mundane) posts at breakneck speed, searching for the president’s latest outrageous act or utterance, something someone else has already shared that they can decorate with their own little mad emoji. You know, the red face with steam rising from the head. Well, la-dee-da!

Once in a while someone leaves a comment on one of my posts, but even then they may drag in the president’s name! — though he was in no way connected to my post! He is intruding into my personal space!

It’s so unfair! Very, very unfair, I don’t mind saying, and if there were any justice in the world, this gross injustice would be called out for what it is. Because look. The president lives in the White House; he is surrounded for his protection by Secret Service personnel; he tweets! I don’t; don’t; don’t. He holds all the cards, dagnabit! How can I hope to compete?

Thing is, I know I’m not alone. You are out there, my fellow sufferers, you quietly responsible Americans who vote your consciences, work at your jobs, volunteer for causes you believe in, and long for the days when the people we elected to office would just do their jobs and not consume every available sound byte of global attention! You remember a time when we tuned in for the big events and kept weekly track of ongoing issues and still had time for private lives, our own and those of our friends. We had time to sleep, perhaps to dream -- and our dreams, even when scary, were not political nightmares! Because yes, he has also invaded my nighttime dreamworld. So unfair! Is this a plot concocted in the White House to discourage us from any kind of political action?

Fellow sufferers, I know you exist, and I know you share my resentment, and we all know this is a very, very bad situation. It is very, very unfair, and we all know it. We want America to be America again — and more and better!

So what’re we gonna do? That’s what I want to know. Your ideas?

Friday, March 6, 2020

Mom and Pop Show: Country Mice in Big City Again

Mom: See what I mean? The city is exhausting!

Pop: That's just because we're not used to it.

Mom: Do you think we would get used to it, if we lived here?

Pop: No. Not any more. We're too old.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Distracted and Irritable, With Short Attention Span

I read my books, and passages describing the Arizona world around me leap out, vivid, while another, more faraway world intrudes via the radio, bringing news of sickness and meetings and riots in other physical places, along with surveillance and interference threats in the placeless world made up, astonishingly, of nothing but pluses and minuses — and all of it, the near and the far, seems less than fully real. 

In a hospital waiting room, perhaps more so in a room in a hospice facility, the world shrinks to the size of that room, expanding only at intervals to extend to corridors and nearby areas, and the passage of time is nothing more than the crawling hands of that clock. But when that room exists almost 2,000 miles away, it shifts in and out of focus, becoming now immediate (without warning), now distant and abstract, almost unimaginable against the immensity of limitless physical surroundings, mountains and desert and sky. 

Meanwhile, in my heart and mind I am neither fully here nor there … do not silence notifications on my cell phone, having told my son to call or text me at any time … pass along bulletins to my sisters as soon as they reach me....

I remember long ago — I was 14 — when a friend’s father died. Her mother, stunned with grief, was also irritable in a way I could not understand at the time. Her house was full of people, all trying to find ways to comfort her, but the loss could not yet have been fully real to her, and while still in shock she had to juggle parental and hostess duties, surrounded by well-meaning neighbors, because whatever happens, life goes on. Meals, errands, sleep (or attempts to sleep) all demand their time. Of course, it all might have been harder without those people there. Who knows? We do not live parallel comparative lives: our personal experience is absolute, the only experience we have. Not better or worse, easier or harder, just what is.

There are stretches of life when minds cannot remain in a single place and when there are few if any comfortable places for them to rest. I am grateful that my son is able to be with his father and others in a calm hospice setting. For myself, a drive up into the mountains gave me brief respite from sadness and confusion.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Clarification For My Unhappy Liberal Friend

Recently when I posted a few sentences on Facebook voicing disappointment and discouragement at seeing so much public name-calling there, particularly coming from liberal friends (I mean that I find it particularly disappointing and discouraging from these people, not that they are doing more of it than the opposition), those people whose general politics are in line with my own, one friend commented that he didn’t understand me at all. Was he advocating that we only talk sweetness and light? How can we voice opposition, make political points and arguments, and state strong positions without being all namby-pamby and fake-“nice”? In particular, how can he express his opposition without name-calling?

Let me say first, that yes, we have freedom of speech and are absolutely free to rage and whine, complain and blame, and to call our political opponents vile names. Examples of that kind of speech are before us daily, coming from the highest office in the land. But that very kind of talk is one thing (although minor compared with far more damaging executive assaults on environmental and worker and consumer protections) my friends and I strongly detest in the current national administration, so why would we let ourselves fall into similar inarticulate rants? 

If someone claims to despise incivility and then engages in it, what am I supposed to make of the claim? It’s bad if someone I don’t like does it, okay if I do it? 

Sorry, but that’s another attitude coming out of Washington that we have no ground to gain by imitating! If, in criticizing certain kinds of behavior and speech, I use the same kinds of behavior and speech myself, I destroy the very basis of my position. There are other ways to make objections. That is my point.

So how can I criticize without name-calling? 

(1) Name the behavior. Instead of calling a job applicant a “filthy liar,” say “He misrepresented his experience. His resume listed positions he never held.” 

Okay, you’re thinking, but this is just plain boring! Where is the outlet for my cleverness? For my astonishing rapier wit? 

(2) The argument called reductio ad absurdum was famously used by Jonathan Swift in his satiric essay titled “A Modest Proposal,” and if you’ve never read the essay, do that now, and learn that, contrary to current practice, truly effective (3) satire is much more than just saying mean things about someone. 

And really, the most biting satire these days often consists of not much more than (4) reportage. I wish I could find again one cartoon I saw. Six panels quoted Republican defenses, in chronological order, coming out of the impeachment hearings and Senate trial. That was the whole thing — nothing added. Cartoons are great, aren’t they? 

(5) Quote what you want to criticize! The stock phrase for a State of the Union address is a president’s statement that “The state of our union is strong.” We heard it again last week, and I’m afraid I can’t find a way to criticize the statement in any way that would make it amusing, but I do have to ask — "Union? Strong? Have the meanings of those words been turned on their heads since I last looked? I don't think this country was as divided during the Vietnam era as it is today." There, no name-calling.

I do not oppose strong criticism! See this post for evidence. Again, though, I repeat, (1) — the behavior, not the person.

Does this help?

Saturday, February 1, 2020

No Wasted Time

Years ago, when I first read Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards, I became convinced that I -- even I -- could learn to draw under the tutelage of a teacher using the methods described in the book. I was not confident enough to try to teach myself, and it was years before I heard the name Elizabeth Abeel, and several years after that that Elizabeth finally offered a summer evening class in drawing. It was wonderful! A dream come true! For a couple years, pen or pencil in hand, I was losing myself faithfully and contentedly almost every day, and the record of those happy hours is with me still, in the pages of my sketchbooks of all sizes.

Now I am getting back into that meditative practice, which is what drawing is for me. In the photograph of a sketchbook page above, the top image is called a blind contour drawing. I begin by putting my pen on the paper and then, looking up at my subject (in this case, a pine tree across the street from where our car is parked), I look only at the subject while my hand and eye simultaneously trace its outline. No looking at the paper at all. The drawing below is a modified contour drawing, and for that I took up a pencil in place of the pen. Looking is permitted with the modified contour, attention alternating between subject and paper.

The object for me is not to "make art" but to quiet the talking voice in my head, focus my attention out upon an aspect of the world, and keep my mind out, peacefully, there for a while. Working in my sketchbook while waiting in the car as the Artist visits with a friend for 30 minutes to an hour is also a way of making the most of that time.

Thursday, January 16, 2020


Could a Catholic ever be elected president in the United States of America? Not until John Kennedy.

Could a divorced man win the U.S. presidency? Not until Ronald Reagan.

Could a black man become president of our country? Not until Barack Obama won -- two consecutive terms!

When a woman wins the presidency, we will have a woman president. Nothing, it seems, is possible until it happens -- and then, clearly, it happened because it could.