Starfish

starfish
One of our family stories from my childhood is about a trip I made to Portland with my dad when I was just a little thing, maybe 3 or 4. I only have fuzzy memories of the trip. What I remember most is the retelling of the tale every time we crossed the Columbia River heading south into Portland.

The way my dad told the story, I was taking swimming lessons at the Y and they’d taught me to float by doing the Starfish. A Starfish was basically a dead man’s float, where you put your arms and legs out and float on top of the water. I was really proud of that accomplishment and I remember feeling competent and very grown up.

While we were going across the river, my dad asked me if I thought I could swim across that large stretch of water. As a fairly serious child, I looked down at it, gauging its size and considering the question. I said I wasn’t sure I could swim it yet, but I was pretty sure I could starfish across it. In my dad’s retelling, he always got a good laugh at my seriousness, my determination, and my strategy for how I would succeed. It made me both proud and a little embarrassed as he chuckled at my 4 year old confidence. To this day, I can’t cross the Columbia River into Oregon without thinking about that story with a smile. It’s a piece of my dad that lives on in my heart.

The other day, as I was determined to do something all by myself, my husband offered to help. I told him I just needed to prove that I could do it alone and he replied, “Of course you do, Starfish.” And I stopped – he’d never called me that before, but somehow, in that moment it fit. And I smiled. And couldn’t stop smiling. It was a link back to that childhood story that had been passed on to our kids, and it made me feel close to my father again.

The truth is, I am still that very determined little girl. I consider my strengths, my options, and my strategy when I take something on. I don’t like to fail (see Random Facts About me here) and being careful about what I take on helps me ensure success. That doesn’t mean I haven’t take a run at some pretty wild things in the past, but for the most part, I utilize my very rational thought process as I approach something that seems to be difficult or unwieldy.

As I look at the future and the challenges ahead, I plan to continue to be a Starfish. It will be my warrior name as I take on the self-imposed role of truth teller, light shiner, and torch bearer for hope. I will be tenacious in my resolve to stand up for what is right, to protect those who need protecting, and to take action instead of being passive. I have been awakened from a state of comfort that I know is not going to return. And I intend to add my voice to the mix whenever I can, speaking up clearly and logically. I will use facts, data, and verifiable sources to ensure I am not a part of sharing propaganda. I will hold myself accountable to do my homework as I expect others to. I will not live in an echo chamber of my own making, but I will seek out information and make my own conclusions. I will Starfish the HELL out this thing and make it through.

I think about that little girl (most likely riding in the front seat with my dad, without a seat belt going 70 miles an hour on the interstate…) and I want to feel that kind of certainty and confidence. I can do this. I’ve always known I am capable and now is the time to practice what I preach and get busy.

Welcome to the Handbasket

“Going to hell in a handbasket”, “going to hell in a handcart”, “going to hell in a handbag” are variations on an American allegorical locution of unclear origin, which describes a situation headed for disaster inescapably or precipitately.

handbasket1

In September, I had lunch with my brother in Denver when I was in town for a conference. After some small talk, he launched into the political situation by asking me “So do you plan to vote for a crook or a liar?” And honestly, I didn’t know which candidate was which – they both qualified for either description.

I will be clear – I voted for Hillary because she represented the status quo and I was OK with that. She was the more tolerant choice, the more progressive choice – the safer choice. When the election results were in, I felt stunned. How could this have happened? How did we elect someone who heretofore seemed to be a joke candidate? This has been a common refrain, given the pre-election polls and predictions. But it did happen. And now we are all in this basket together. I wish I felt like we were headed somewhere good, but my gut (and I have learned to trust it implicitly after 57 years) tells me otherwise.

We are on the road to perdition, people. The highway to hell. The mainline to mayhem. And…we did this to ourselves. Anyone who can observe the actions of the past two weeks and use their critical thinking will see that the path ahead is going to be led by people with an agenda that is radically different than at any other time in America. A man with tight ties to white nationalism is leading the White House strategy, the future Secretary of Defense is a warmonger, the Attorney General selection has been quoted making racist remarks, and the proposed National Security Advisor is an Islamophobe.

This paints a pretty clear picture of the future and it is grim. The morning after the election, the hallway in my building was being painted and all the overhead light fixtures had paper cones around them. It darkened the path and felt gloomy and dim. It matched my mood and the view I have of the future a little too well. The paper cones have since been removed, but walking down the hallway, I am reminded that we are headed for some dark times ahead.

I’ve heard the reminders to be patient, he’s “not that bad”. I’ve been told to “wait and see.” But my gut (there it goes again, being all judgy) says “hell, no.” By waiting, I am part of the problem. I am accepting this future as a given. I can’t do that, people. I can’t. I have to say “look at the past to predict the future” and any leader with an untamed ego and a hair trigger temper will lead us to danger. Already, he’s showing his temperament over minor slights. He’s continuing to question the news sources and cast aspersions on their ability to report on his administration. This erosion of trust is step one in controlling the news. And by controlling the news to match the perceptions of his truth is step two in compromising the First Amendment. Who out there remembers Pravda? In Russian, Pravda means truth. It was the state owned news outlet following the Russian revolution and was in place for 80 years, until Glasnost came along, changing the Russian landscape. When I see this pattern, I worry. It can happen so gradually that people may not notice the change over time. Take a snapshot now and compare in 6 months – 12 months – and be mindful. When a government seeks to control the dialogue and conversation, truth suffers.

Speaking of hell, one of the things I am most perplexed by is the number of religious groups who supported a man who has:

  1. Been married 3 times and has kids from each marriage
  2. Is a known philanderer who has cheated during his marriages
  3. Has multiple claims of inappropriate conduct from a wide range of women he’s been in contact with
  4. Had a cameo in a porn film only 16 years ago
  5. Openly stated that as a star, he can “do what he wants” to women with no repercussions
  6. Has no consistent pattern of church membership
  7. Treats truth as optional
  8. Was chastised by Pope Francis: “A person who thinks only about building walls—wherever they may be—and not building bridges, is not Christian …”

Considering the scrutiny over our current president’s religious affiliations and the ongoing questioning about his faith, I have to say I am honestly perplexed. All of these things listed above are facts. They are known to be true and voters heard them. Still, the religious right said “He’s our guy”. And the Catholics came through, too. His stand on abortion alone was enough to sway them. And…if you recall, he used very graphic references regarding abortion in the last debate. Graphic and wrong. It was a scare tactic that somehow seemed to work. All the progress over the many years of educating people and now we are facing a complete reversal of thought, with abortions being considered a criminal act.

As a refresher, for those who are religious, here are the 10 Commandments. I’ve commented on those that are in question based on the president-elect’s past:

I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me (Ego and narcissism here)
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image (6 foot painting of himself, his name on everything he owns)
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain (No firsthand experience, so I won’t comment)
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (Nope)
5. Honor thy father and thy mother (He’s probably good here)
6. Thou shalt not kill (Nothing has been reported here)
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery (Yep, Yep, and Yep.)
8. Thou shalt not steal (Yep – basic premise of his business model)
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor (Lies as soon as he breathes)
10. Thou shalt not covet (wives, homes, animals, etc.) (Yep, Yep, and probably)

We are at the top of the bobsled hill, people. We are about to start the one way trip down the slope with a guy at the helm who hasn’t even been on a sled before. I don’t feel safe and I don’t feel hopeful that we will all make it down the hill OK. We have a lot at stake here. And while the right approach for some may be to close your eyes and hope, and for others, it’s to sit up front and revel in the rush, I plan to be one of those who actively tries to slow the damn thing down and wrestle some sort of control back. I didn’t sign up for this ride. I don’t intend to be collateral damage along the way.

Critical Thinking – 5 Easy Steps

think

crit·i·cal think·ing

noun
noun: critical thinking
  1. the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.

Five easy steps to critical thinking and reading critically

Now more than ever, it matters that we all think critically and apply that to what information we ingest. In light of recent exposure of false news being shared that has had an impact on national elections, believing everything we read comes with extreme consequences. To that end, I am more convinced than ever that one thing I can do is to apply what I learned in my schooling about reading critically.

The internet is a source of a lot of information and misinformation. A data point from meetings I attended this week – over 90% of the content that is on the Internet has been created in the past 2 years. It will continue to proliferate and grow, making it harder and harder to filter and fact check. We all want to believe that what we read is true, but that can’t be the case. To quote my mom (and many others), fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me.

Here are my suggestions – I’m sure there are many others, but I wanted to keep this brief. Feel free to add your own to the list.

  1. Read broadly. If you only get your news from a single source, you run the risk of getting tunnel vision.
  2. If a topic or story seems ludicrous, fact check it. Look at other sites to see if they are reporting it as well. Select sites that have conflicting views and see how it’s being reported from their perspective.
  3. Know who is behind your news. Look at who the publishers and editors are – you can very quickly get a sense of bias or point of view by doing this. Many media sources use names in ways that make them seem like other sources – this can be intentional or not, but it is important to understand what you are reading and who is sharing it.
  4. If you find yourself only ever saying “Yeah – that’s my kind of news” you are probably in an echo chamber. News that is based on the basic journalistic principle of “Who, What, Where, Why, and How” will often give you news that makes you uncomfortable because it runs counter to your personal beliefs or bias.
  5. Synthesize what you read – get the various sources, look for themes, and then THINK. I can’t stress this enough. News should not tell you how to think or feel. It should inform and you need to draw your own conclusions. It’s why I stopped watching any local or network news. I can’t abide being told how I should feel or think. I use my brain every day to do this. The minute I stop, I become part of the problem. And that’s not OK with me.

Friday Flash Fiction

Courtesdy of Sandra Crook
Photo Courtesy of Sandra Crook

This rooftop reminded me of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, Moscow.  I’ve been looking at photos from my travels as I put together a photo book, and my thoughts went immediately there. I am certain the election results are shaping my thoughts as I write this. Worry is the word of the day as things change here in the US. I worry about my son, living in the shadow of Russia. I worry about my daughter and the lessons this election has for women. I worry about my son, who is a part of the queer community. And I can’t help but feel sad about what is now at risk.

I apologize to Sandra for taking her happy photo and making it an icon for my angst. Things will get better. I’ll find a way to live in this new world and continue to shine my own light against the darkness.

Word count: 100

Changes

Weak sunlight filtered through the trees, illuminating the mosaic roof. It appeared from nowhere, an omen in this once tranquil village. Townspeople questioned what it signified.

The answer came in the form of an army marching into Lovisa the following morning. The battle was brief, and the message was clear. The west would not know peace – this new order meant change.

Watching from her attic window, Emilia wiped a tear away. The Finnish border had been breached before when she was a girl. As her granddaughter toddled into sight, her heart winced, knowing she could no longer guarantee her future.

To see other stories, please visit the Rochelle Wisoff-Fields site here.
© Erin Leary

Dear Jan

janDear Jan,

You’ve been on my mind lately, flitting about the edges of thought, leaving a trail of light, a little like Tinkerbell. You had that pixie quality about you – but in fact, you were more like Peter Pan than Tinkerbell. A tomboy through and through, until you became a girly girl, determined to acquire boyfriends like some of us collected coins.

My memories of you are suffused with this late September light – golden, warm, with the knowledge that the days are getting shorter. This is my favorite time of year, a time when I feel closest to you. You left us too soon, but we’ve been over all that before. I miss you, but that’s been covered, too. After 5 years, there really isn’t a lot more I can say on that topic that I haven’t already screamed about, cried over, or painfully accepted. You are a missing piece I have to go on without and most of the time, I do just that. But today, on September 27, I get to take that piece out and look at it, marvel at it and remember how well we fit into the picture we’d created together. Me without you is still an equation I can’t solve for – the one algebra problem that has no answer. I’ll have to skip this assignment and take the F. And you know I never like failing.

I talk to you in my head a lot. I have these long conversations with you that are full of deep meaning, then I forget what I was thinking before I can write them down. You are with me when I walk the dog or I need to process something or want to share a thought. You don’t talk back – just so you know, it’s still one-sided – I haven’t gone completely nutso. It’s hard to change a half century of habit just because you’re gone.

Did you know we moved? I sent change of address notes, but didn’t have a place to send yours. We completely disrupted our family by selling our home. It felt like the right thing to do and most of the time, I’m still sure. But I wanted to talk to you or mom or dad about it many times, to be reassured I was making a good decision, but I had to pull myself up by my own bootstraps and soldier on. There’s nothing like really feeling you are the grown up when your backup team is gone.. I still miss hearing you tell me you are sure I’m doing the right thing. You made me feel invincible and brave and capable, like I had superpowers. I need to go cape shopping, I guess, because I still feel like the little sister who wants approval.

Sometimes I worry that I’ve forgotten where your final resting place is. I know I have it somewhere, but I worry I’ve lost you beyond the metaphysical loss. It’s funny how these details come back and haunt me in a way you never do. You are everywhere and nowhere – you are a philosophy, a memory, a way of being. You are the dappled light I dance in on the water’s edge, the nutmeg aroma that means something delicious is baking, the smile from a stranger that makes my heart full.

I’ve lived longer than you now. I guess that makes me the older sister, doesn’t it? I passed you on April 1. I really intend to make every day count, but some days, I’m just a lump on a couch being lazy. I hope you understand – while I appreciate each day, I’m just not tearing things up all the time. Let’s pretend I’m thinking deep thoughts while I sit there. That might make me feel better.

I miss you, Jannie. Thanks for being my sister, my friend, my confidante, and my cheerleader.  You will be in my heart until my last breath.

Your sis,

Erin

jankeverin

Friday Flash Fiction

Photo Courtesy of Sandra Crook

Photo Courtesy of Sandra Crook

My mom had an old Singer sewing machine that had the knee activated treadle. It was quite a sight – she’d sit and sew, needle clicking through the fabric evenly as she made clothes for all of us kids.

I learned to sew early, making my own clothes to stretch my allowance further. I can remember the time I started to see clothes being sold for cheaper than I could ever make and sewing became a thing of the past. I never made any clothes for my own kids – blankets, maybe, but why bother when you can buy clothes ready-made for less?

I donated my sewing machine to a charity when I moved last month. It sat in a closet for 20 years, only being pulled out to hem something or fix a seam. It felt like a betrayal of my past, leaving behind a skill that was no longer necessary, something passed down from mother to daughter for generations.

Word count: 100

A Stitch in Time

Time was, I sewed clothes to save money, a skill I learned from my mama on a machine like this one here. Now they’re all made for me, cheaper than buying the yardage even. Disposable world we live in – nothing made to last.

Mama’s machine served her to the end, no need for an electrical one or fancy stitches. Just her foot steady on the treadle and the patience to stitch straight.

Feeling disposable myself these days, waiting out death in the home. Maybe my kids’ll come today. Been a few weeks, but patience was never my strongest virtue.

To see other stories, please visit the Rochelle Wisoff-Fields site here.
© Erin Leary

Friday Flash Fiction

Adam Ickes

Photo Courtesy of Adam Ickes

A boardwalk to some destination, floating above the reedy water…A summer day, but with dark clouds hovering just above the horizon…what story does this picture tell? And where the heck have I been all summer? Busy, busy, busy.  If you need to know more about my summer vacation, read here.  Good to be back – I’ll buckle down and write more often.

Adam, this one is for you.  Enjoy.

Word count: 100

Full Circle

Every step was an effort, Adam’s feet scraping the boardwalk. Mindlessly, he shuffled forward, unsure what drew him on.

His last memory – a pop, then searing pain, then nothing. Trying to piece together more, it was as though his past had vanished.

A red drop hit the wood, a shimmering dot. Adam felt nothing, only knew he had to reach the end. After what felt like years or maybe no time at all, he arrived at the red awning. “Styx Shuttle” was stenciled on the boat that awaited. Adam knew then this was his final trip. He’d come full circle.

To see other stories, please visit the Rochelle Wisoff-Fields site here.
© Erin Leary