POTUS & Archie Bunker’s Toilet

It was a more innocent time, my childhood, when Jane Russell could only display the Platex Cross Your Heart Bra on a mannequin; it was a big deal that we heard the flush of the Bunker’s toilet; when a married couple must be shown to each have one foot on the floor in the marital bedroom (which contained twin beds). Some things were and still are illegal and other things, like underarms and Archie Bunker’s toilet, were considered crude, and either not permitted out of good taste, or played for cheap laughs. Both the extreme opinions of the far-right, bigoted Archie and his equally extreme, but far-left-leaning son-in-law were skewered by brilliant writing week after week; Archie’s toilet was daring for being heard at all, an extended fart joke. A much more innocent time.

Some firsts aren’t groundbreaking, or desired. This morning, mothers watching the news are shielding their children from anchors throwing around the word “shithole” because they are quoting the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Now, I am no prude and anyone who has talked to me for oh, maybe three seconds, knows I can turn the air blue. It’s not the language I object to; it’s who is saying it it, the context within which it was said, and his obvious, willful ignorance of History and breathtaking thoughtlessness of the world-wide implications of his every aside and tweet. How is it he doesn’t get that? Or, as I suspect and worse, he doesn’t care because this is him:  racist, misogynist, xenophobic in the extreme. Every day it is some new, crude, backwards-thinking embarrassment.

I am descended from people who came from places that, at the times they fled them, probably seemed like “shitholes”. But that did not mean my ancestors were ashamed of their origins – how could they be, when those places made them who they were? When those places gave them the very strength upon which America itself is built? People strong enough to leave a hopeless situation, strong enough to build entire new lives and a country, too, strong enough to send into the future tax-paying citizens like me.

I have had the privilege of working with immigrants from Africa, Mexico, South America, Pakistan, Lebanon, Singapore, Jordan, Kuwait, China, and Ireland. All were hard-working, and many were far better educated than I. To insult their homelands is to insult them.

When I look back at the TV of my youth, I am glad that the more ridiculous rules have fallen away; however, we currently have a Chief Executive with none of the governors over his behavior most sane people employ when in society, let alone anything like class or discretion. Every day his boorish, frat-boy behavior brings yet another new low, from bestowing ridiculous nicknames on world leaders, his insistence on propagating conspiracy theories despite empirical evidence disproving them, to the infantile Twitter battles with which he seems to start every day. He diminishes our good name with every waking hour, even as his robber barons strip healthcare  and food stamps from children and re-write tax code to increase their own wealth. Drain the swamp? Puhleeeze. He’s only added alligators.

Like getting spectacularly drunk at the office Christmas party, it is going to take us a long time to live down the embarrassment and regain our reputation. We will have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously after Trump (so for women and people of color, it will be business-as-usual on steroids).

The first place we can make a significant dent in that drunken reputation is this November. We have got to turn the GOP out, and I mean all of us, we can’t just let Black Women carry the weight. White Women: wake up. This POTUS is no good for us or our children. Vote in your best interests, which means can you get healthcare? Can you afford it? Can you afford your birth control?  Go away, Bernie. You’re not helping. Tell your voters to vote for a viable candidate instead of whining and staying home and then complaining when the Village Idiot is elected President.

Democrats need to clear out the Old Guard and yes, Nancy Pelosi, that means you. Let’s hear more from Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Julian Castro. Here in Texas, I am supporting Beto O’Rourke to unseat Ted Cruz.

The GOP owns this President and everything he is destroying in his path, but it is up to all of us, together, to rebuild our Country and our Ideals – this is no less than a battle for the American Soul, American Identity. We must tell our elected representatives this behavior will not stand. Call your representatives today: 202.224.3121, register to vote, and come November, VOTE. It has never been more important. Words matter.

When someone demeans your place of birth as a “shithole,” it is a fair bet he doesn’t think much of you, either. But he misjudges at his peril. Say it with me, like Ned Stark, “November is coming”.

Raison d’etre

Once while driving and listening to NPR (everyone who knows me is collectively saying, “Of course,”) I heard an interview with writer Isabelle Allende in which she said she began writing because she had so many words swirling inside her head she needed to put them down, get them out, lest she go crazy. My mental image of elegant Ms. Allende spilling out all those words from her over-stuffed head, streams of words pouring through her fingertips into the keyboard and rising up on the computer screen, like filling up a word aquarium, always makes me smile. But her reason is not my reason for writing, and I would never compare myself to Isabelle Allende.

I’m a day late with this blog prompt, raison d’etre or, why we write, because I needed some time to ponder this thing I love doing, but of which I gave no thought of why. It’s not like cooking, which I also love doing but which has an immediate, tangible result, one through which I can show love for my people. It’s not like photography, which allows me to capture an instant of beauty in time, or a bloom which will die and never be again, as long as I set the aperture and shutter speed correctly. It’s much harder than either of those and yet I am compelled, even while never satisfied with my product, never quite reaching a moment like the post-Christmas-dinner moment, pushing back my plate and satisfied I got the beef tenderloin perfectly medium rare.

I started blogging on another, now defunct site when I began working in Education. Maybe it was a little like Ms. Allende’s reason – everything I was experiencing was so beautiful and horrible, so frustrating and rewarding, I needed some place to put it all.

A love of words and facility with language have always been with me; I don’t remember learning to read, it’s like I just always could, and did, voraciously, often at the expense of actual school work. How clearly I remember evil Mrs. McNair with the horrifying metallic green eye shadow, explaining my poor grade to my mother, “Anyone who can sit at the back of the classroom turning as many pages of a book as she does is certainly capable of far better work than she turns in, at the last minute and clearly rushed through”.

Books were a great escape from the dysfunction of my family. As my father’s business failed, so did my parents’ marriage and while their fights were ugly and frequent, I could tune it out by closing my bedroom door and disappearing between the pages of a book.

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Proof of my one glorious moment

Writing came easily at first; I actually won the District award for best short story in 6th grade. It was the first time I thought maybe the praise given me over the years in this area might be real, not just smoke blown, the things adults say to children to motivate them. In some box stashed in my closet lives a bronze-colored medal on a ribbon, given me the night I read my story to an auditorium full of classmates, our parents, and District personnel. In the wake of Watergate, I’d written a story about the First Robotic President (having recently discovered Ray Bradbury), and everyone laughed in all the right places. Like many a child frequently laughed at, I learned being funny was a way of beating the bullies at their own game, and also useful in deflecting the pain. I hadn’t realized until that night I could do it in a planned manner, nor the more important lesson that “dying is easy; comedy is hard”.

Our words can bring trouble, too, as I learned within two years of my glorious, award-winning night when, coming through the front door one afternoon I met my mother descending the stairs, my diary in her hands. A precocious twelve or thirteen, with the confusion of my younger years now giving way to that clarity of vision, especially regarding all their parents’ faults, peculiar to the teenager. Add an emotionally unstable mother into the mix and a toxic situation is bound to unfold, and it did. My very thoughts were wrong, I was wrong, evil, and ungrateful. Also grounded, the period of time “… until I think you’ve learned your lesson…”. In time as we know it, this is several months with no telephone, no friends over, no visiting friends, back and forth to school only, completely isolated from my peers, just at the time peers were becoming all-important. It was the first of several such groundings, for everything from sassing and rolling my eyes to getting a “B” on my report card. Since my thoughts and feelings were so dangerous to my personal liberty, I stopped putting them on paper. I locked them up, where she couldn’t see and punish me with them.

God has a stealthy way of caring for us, visible generally only in retrospect: my crazy, glamorous High school English teacher, Mrs. Huff, hounding me into taking her Advanced Creative Writing class; unwittingly forging a reputation in my company for the best emails anyone received, the ones they read all the way through; a secretarial job that turned into writing legal documents; returning to college and having my British Lit professor say, “I saved your paper for last, because I knew it would be good”; a psychologist who understood and challenged me, taught me that feelings themselves aren’t the dangerous things, it’s what you do with them.

It is perhaps the feelings that drove me to blogging. You can’t work in Education and not have a lot of strong feelings or you shouldn’t anyway. If, in High school you’d told me that working on a High school campus and dealing with hormonal teenagers every day, all day, would be the job I loved the most I would have laughed and laughed and called the men with the white coats to come take you away. But it turned out to be the best. Also the worst. I found I was continually horrified by the stupidity of our system, and amazed, brought to tears, filled with admiration for those brave souls who answer the call to Teach. I felt so much, I had to put it somewhere external, like running a game that requires so much resource you need an external hard drive just to play. Writing provides a place to think things out, arrange the words until I can say, yes, that’s pretty close to what I felt at that moment, or, that looks close to what my heart feels.

In time, it evolved and there were connections made with other bloggers. And there it is, so many paragraphs later: connection. Writers write, this writer writes to connect. Sometimes, I swing and miss. Ever so rarely, I hit one over the fence. But always it is the desire to connect, to talk about things with my fellow man. Some writers connect through time, as Marcus Aurelius has with me and many others; the Brontes, my beloved Jane Austen, Walt Whitman, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, Confucius, Mohammed, all the writers known and unknown of the Old Testament and the New. They connect through time and show us what their world is, was, or could be, through truth and Truth, fact and fiction.

In the year of Our Lord, two thousand sixteen, the miracle of the Internet connects humans all over the world instantaneously through their keyboards and all the millions of miles of fiber cable encircling our globe thus, I am eagerly looking forward to trying a recipe posted by a blogger from Norway, I read inspiring poetry from a Texan, keep up with the sacred and sometimes profane doings of my beloved RevGals wherever they are, and laugh over the nerdy adventures of a family in North Carolina. Through our writing we are our most human, vulnerable, and we connect.

My raison d’etre: I write to connect.


Semantics: Because Words Matter

My friend Cynde had a genius Facebook status the other day, one which sparked good conversation and got me thinking – she really helped crystallize something in my head which has been swirling around for a long time, specifically, what we call something, the words we use, make a difference in how we feel about them.

Cynde declared war on “tolerance,” likening tolerating human beings as taking the same attitude as tolerating lima beans in her soup, or nuts in brownies, that tolerance of fellow humans was akin to holding one’s nose and eating the spinach, but complaining about it later. Her brilliant, simple assessment flipped on the light in my head, and I realized what’s been troubling me about tolerance: it’s not the same as respect, not by a long shot. I told you – she’s a genius!

It was the lima bean reference that put the point on it for me. Flash back a million years or so when I was a child and eating a big bowl of my mother’s chili (which I loved, by the by). It was thick and rich and yes, it had beans but it also had squishy stewed tomatoes, which I loathed. As a child I disliked all tomatoes on principle because the seeds look vaguely larval, and never mind that tomatoes were the basis of so many things I loved, like spaghetti, pizza, and Campbell’s tomato soup (with grilled cheese sandwiches, of course). So I’d bitch and moan and ceremoniously fish those stewed-tomato particles out of my chili, depositing them with a great deal of attitude and flair, into my mother’s bowl. She could eat them if she liked them so much. As a teenager, the rough side of my mother’s tongue and wicked-fast backhand taught me to shut up and tolerate them, so I no longer fished them out of my bowl but rather pointedly left them there after all else was eaten, or gagged them back with a grimace and undoubtedly some vigorous eye-rolling.

But a funny thing happened on the way to maturity: somewhere down the line I gave tomatoes a chance, probably when I encountered a farm-fresh or home-grown one, ripe and juicy and delicious all on its own. I moved from tolerating them, with the underlying resentment of their very presence, into respecting them, and finally liking them a whole bunch.

What Cynde helped me realize is that when we say we tolerate a person or people whom we deem “other,” what we’re really doing is holding our noses and deigning to permit their co-existence in our sphere without bitching about it to their faces. And that’s kind of condescending and icky, really, because of the implicit, if not explicit resentment that comes with it. Respect is different; respect carries no resentment, respect says “You’re different than me but that’s ok because we both bring gifts and value to this thing called Life, and that’s cool.” It’s my opinion that if we stop tolerating the folks who are “other” in our minds and work towards respecting them, we’ll flush out and banish a lot of hidden resentment and anger in our collective life.

There are other words and phrases grating on me, and which I believe make our lives unnecessarily difficult or sometimes purposefully obfuscated, like Human Resources. Once upon a time large businesses had a Personnel Department, and it dealt with People. Somewhere down the corporate road, I suspect hand-in-hand with lay-offs and outsourcing and maximizing efficiencies, humans became commodities, just like copper, pork bellies, or frozen concentrated orange juice futures. It’s so much easier to lay off 20,000 faceless human resources in order to maximize efficencies and guarantee stockholders a fat dividend check, than 20,000 actual personnel with faces, families, and lives.

Lately I hear the term “Food Insecurity” being bandied about. Meaning hunger, right? Children living with food insecurity are hungry. I know this, because I’ve actually met them, the kids who don’t qualify for Free and Reduced lunch, but who’s cafeteria account runs dry about three days before their mom gets paid. When they came into my office looking for snacks, those children were hungry. Saying children are food insecure is somehow less scary than saying, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, that they are hungry. What I’d like to hear someone say is why the hell are they hungry? followed closely by, how do we immediately ensure they are no longer hungry?

Perhaps it is part of whatever societal infection has everyone insulted all the time. We’ve become such delicate little flowers we can’t stand to hear something called by it’s name. It’s like political rhetoric, how they string together a lot of nice-sounding words that, when analyzed, really have no meaning. “Make America Great Again” –  what the actual fuck does that even mean? But the crowd roars and applauds, never questioning, buoyed by their collective anger and turning it on anyone who appears “other”. I find it all extremely worrying.

I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been told I could have phrased something better, made some ugly truth somehow more palatable to the ear. But I was the kid who ripped the band-aid off quick, who jumped into the water all at once rather than bit by bit. At times of crisis in my family, I was the truth teller to my mother’s fantasy-spinner. She hid from the horrible reality of things, while I preferred to look the enemy in the eye, stand and fight, but I’ve always hated the judgment of others when I do. I guess at my advanced age it’s just time to own being the person who calls ’em likes I sees ’em, and stop being so worried about what others think of me.

Cynde, loins girded and sword drawn, I will fight by your side any day, challenging all purveyors of obfuscation, bullshit, and meaningless rhetoric, beginning with myself because I’m sure I’m full of tolerance where respect would serve better.