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.

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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.

Um….What?

For anyone who’s taken the time to read all of this blog, you will know that much of it has been writings I’ve done about losing several members of my family to cancer in a very short period of time.  Between May of 2010 and September of 2011, I lost my dad, my mom, and my sister.  It was a heck of a time, overlaid with some marriage challenges and general life bumps and bruises.  It took some doing, but I made it through and figured I’d had my time in the ringer.  It’s why my icon on this blog is a Weeble ®.  I may wobble, but I don’t fall down.

The past few months, I’ve spent focusing on my needs – like writing, remodeling, yard work, travel – as well as keeping busy working full time at a fairly demanding job and raising 3 kids.  But I’ve felt like a slug for several months and instead of tackling things after dinner, it was all I could do to stay awake.  That isn’t me.  Three years ago, I did my second triathlon.  OK, it was a sprint triathlon, but it was still a pretty major effort.  Today, I couldn’t imagine doing one.  I am that run down.

First, I thought it was depression.  That seemed somewhat plausible.  Then I figured it was overlaid by age-related issues and hormones in flux.  But enough weird symptoms kept popping up that I decided to list them all out and take them to my doctor and ask him what the hey hey sha na na was going on. I needed to figure out if this was just life as it was going to be or something strange happening to me.

Growing up as one of 5 kids, my mom had her hands full with boo boos and owies and playing nurse to all the scrapes and cuts.  This was back before everything was child-proofed.  We played with knives and climbed metal playground structures over cement.  We had a few bad spills along the way.  My mom didn’t really want to be bothered unless you were REALLY hurt.  I would take my injuries to her and she would tell me it was barely visible.  Imagine that – to me, I was gravely injured and to her, it was a minor mark.  She called me a hypochondriac a couple of times (my mother never believed in talking down to her kids – we all knew really big words early) and I learned not to take every little item to her.  This still lives in my head when it comes time to talk to a doctor.  My list, however, told me that I wasn’t just making stuff up.  There were a lot of odd things at play.

He took my concerns seriously and ran blood tests to see what might be the cause.  I told him about the autoimmune issues in my siblings and he did some special tests to isolate those results.  To make the long story somewhat shorter, after multiple referrals, additional tests, and a biopsy, I now know that I have a reason to be fatigued.  I have both Lupus and a new-to-me autoimmune disease of the liver.  While neither of these is an immediate death sentence, they are both chronic conditions that will stay with me for the rest of my life – and will affect the quality of my life.  What this means to me is still not completely clear.  What I do know is that I need to change many of my lifestyle patterns – I need to minimize stress (no real idea how that’s going to happen…), I need to stop enjoying wine and the occasional cocktail, I need to change my diet to eliminate some bad foods for me, and I need to take medication for the rest of my life.  I’ve gone from being a healthy person to being someone with a “condition”.  Shit.

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I am still processing a lot of this.  I don’t really know how I feel from one moment to the next.  I am sad, fearful, angry, anxious, unsure, optimistic, and back around again as the days go by.  I force myself to look on the bright side, then I want to smack that positive person and say “Stop celebrating something that is ultimately a suck-fest.  This is not a prize!”  So I dwell in the depths for a while and then look for something to take my mind off it.  A drink is no longer an option.

I have had a sense of impermanence since my parents died, and my sister left us when she was only 57.  I know I don’t have forever to be a part of things.  I am counting on at least another 30 years, however.  And I want them to be good years.  Not years of enduring a modified lifestyle that lengthens my time but makes it less enjoyable.  I want to celebrate my children’s milestones – cheer them at graduation, dance at their weddings, hold my grandchildren, toast their successes – and be there for those golden years I’ve heard so much about.

I am struggling with it all, wondering what I might have done to deserve this.  And I realize in asking that question, I am being about as ridiculous as can be.  It is just a function of biology, not divine retribution for anything I might have done or not done.  I am simply the lucky recipient of this particular set of genes with this particular autoimmune combination.

I have a lot to learn about what lies ahead.  I am going to continue to work at optimism, balanced with realism so as to not piss myself off.  I will list all the things I want to do and get busy.  I will take inventory of my life and make sure I am living it with intention and with passion.  I will listen to what I need to do to take care of myself and not burn out.  I will accept that this is what is and no amount of bitching about it will change things.  I will suck it up and get on with living.  In short, after another round of knock down punches, I’m going to have to bounce back up again and be the Weeble ® I know I can be.

But seriously – again?  Really?

I Know the Next Shooter

Sharing another major aspect in the perpetuation of these tragedies. When you combine guns with the saturation effect of the media frenzy and the attention the shooter gets, it is a deadly combination.

Thanks, Rich, for allowing this to be shared.

brainsnorts inc.

I know the next shooter.

man-watching-tv-in-darkHe’s white, between 19 and 25.  He is thin and doesn’t do much with his hair.  It usually looks kind of messed, wavy, but he might have a buzzcut now.  It’s hard to say because he doesn’t leave the house much.  I think he’s an only child, not from a big family.  He is known to be very smart, perhaps brilliant, but socially awkward and withdrawn.

He enjoys computers, where a virtual world is more comfortable.  He either has been or is about to begin seeing a therapist, maybe even takes some medications to help him cope.  He either argues with his parents or just seems indifferent to them.  Classmates from high school barely remember him because he did very little to stand out.  He feels ignored, unwanted, and disliked.  Nobody notices him much.  Few remember his name.  He feels insignificant, as if he doesn’t…

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Angry Words

I took the afternoon off to bake cookies for an annual cookie exchange in the neighborhood yesterday.  I worked until about noon and then sat down to lunch before rolling up my sleeves to get busy.  I scanned the headlines while I ate and realized that something bad had happened in Newtown, Connecticut.  As I read more, I felt sick.  Then I felt angry – really, really angry.  It surprised me how strongly I reacted, but then I went back through all the times I have had this same feeling of being sickened by tragedies caused by guns and I know why I’m so pissed off.  It’s because it’s still happening.

I reflected on the all that I’ve done in the past – the times that I have advocated for better gun control laws, for awareness, for legislation.  I’ve supported the Brady Campaign since its inception.  All of this in the past 20 years has changed nothing.  And that makes me really, really, REALLY angry.

How is it possible that we still allow this kind of thing to happen?  Is there any reason that a person needs to have access to guns whose sole purpose is to kill other people?  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating against guns entirely.  I am simply asking if it isn’t time we stop the madness.  An article I read yesterday that really hit home was entitled “Kindergartners and Courage”.  In it, the author asks “How do we find ourselves asking kindergarteners to be more courageous in the face of a gunman than politicians are in the face of the gun lobby?”  And that is really the message here – the innocent victim is left to deal with the fallout and the gun lobbyists and the politicians wail and gnash their teeth bemoaning the tragedy.  But I place the blame squarely on them.  Why is this allowed?  Is this what the founding fathers meant when they crafted the Second Amendment?  Hell no.

While making the cookies, I turned on a Christmas channel for music.  Do you know how many songs are about wanting to be with loved ones for the holiday?  Almost every other song, it seems to me.  And my heart ached, thinking of those families who would be missing someone this Christmas.  Those parents kissed their kids goodbye – babies, really – that morning, never doubting they’d see them again that afternoon.  This is not something that should ever happen in a place that is meant to be safe.  This is not something that should ever happen to little kids.  This is not something that should ever happen. 

Those parents undoubtedly bought some of their Christmas gifts already.  Those reminders of their loss will haunt them, mocking their sense of security. How could they possibly put their kids in harm’s way by sending them to school?  As a parent, how do you reconcile that?  I cannot wrap my head around it.

I have been hit by periods of sadness as we have made our way through the holiday maze this year.  I miss my parents and my sister a lot during this time when families draw close.  I am wistful for their absence and have memories come out of the blue that knock me over.  I get through it and know it’s a part of the process.  Yesterday, I was reminded that my loss is a normal part of life’s patterns.  One’s parents are meant to pass away before them, and a sibling may, as well.  Children?  No.  Not usually.  That loss would be so much harder to bear.  It defies understanding if you’ve not experienced it.

I had some pangs of guilt yesterday after I tweeted something with a really bad word in it.  It came into my head with such force and such clarity that I made the conscious choice to send it out unfiltered.  Those who know me probably would be shocked to hear such bad language but it was heartfelt and it came from a place of true frustration and rage over another senseless tragedy.  I almost went back and deleted it, but I chose to leave it out there.  I have to acknowledge that I am, indeed, really angry.  I can’t change the laws and I can’t fix the problem alone.  I can, however, express my opinion again and again and again, which I will do whenever there is an opportunity.  It doesn’t even come close to being enough.

I finished up the cookies and boxed them in festive holiday packages.  They look lovely and taste delicious.  Sadly, they feel like sawdust in my mouth.  This is a feeling I know well. It is the feeling of loss.  It’s as though I feel guilty about my ability to enjoy a cookie when those who’ve left us are no longer able.  Survivor’s guilt, I guess.

Over breakfast this morning, I read a personal account from Justin Peters, who writes for the Columbia Journalism Review.  He attended the prayer vigil in Newtown last night.  It was heartfelt and touching and brought home again the pain that is felt by so many.  It is pain that could and should have been prevented.

We bond together when things like this touch us.  We find comfort and solace in our shared pain.  I appreciate that, but what I want to see is a rising up of people who say we are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.  One more mass shooting is too many.  How long will we continue to acknowledge the problem but do nothing about it?

For the children and families of Sandy Hook Elementary, it is now too late.  It’s up to the rest of us to make a change. As I recall from my earliest class on Civics, one’s rights extend only to the point at which they infringe on another’s.  I would say this is the ultimate infringement.

To all who have been touched by this tragic event, my heartfelt sympathy and prayers.  To the rest of us, I challenge you to step up and make a difference.  It’s time to put aside politics and do what is right for our children.  Make a stand for real change and reach out to your legislators to let them know that another mass shooting in anyone’s community needs to be prevented.  Let’s get this fixed.   That’s just common sense.

Things can’t get any worse, right?

A year ago I returned from Tucson.  Dad had died and mom was adrift.  It was Mother’s Day and I wanted to spend as much of it as possible with mom, to help her get through the first few days.  I was the last child to leave and I felt like I was leaving a part of me behind.  I knew it wasn’t going to be easy for her – but I was coming back in a week to help with the local memorial event.  It was the first of mom’s baby steps on her own.

My family picked me up at SeaTac and I fell into Laurel’s arms and sobbed.  I suddenly realized that all of this pain wasn’t just mine; it hurt everyone.  It felt good being back while at the same time I felt guilty that mom was alone.  But life – specifically, my life – had to go on.  Sitting with everyone at dinner that night, I was thinking how lucky I was to have them all there for me showing me their love on Mother’s Day.  I was exhausted, sad and happy all at once.  I thought I’d been through the worst.  Turns out, it was just the beginning.

Over the next few weeks, life was a blur or comings and goings.  Seth! was off to Oregon for his cowboy adventure, then I left for Tucson to help mom again.  I returned from that trip only to head to Whidbey Island for a planned weekend with friends.  Seth! left for a conference before I returned and was back the day before we left for Denver for Dad’s main memorial service – poignantly enough, on Memorial Day weekend.  Returning from that trip meant our lives would settle down and things would finally feel normal.  I felt hopeful that would be the case.

Except then, the next worst thing happened.  On June 1, I discovered that my marriage, as I believed it to be, was over.  Throughout all my grieving and during all this travel, Seth! had been involved with an old friend and professed his love for her, all discovered in email on Facebook.  Heartbroken at losing dad, I was already in great pain.  This was like a knife in the heart when I was huddled on the floor in tears.  All that I once thought sacred and true was no longer real to me.  I lost both my dad and my marriage in a matter of weeks.  This had to be the worst.

I’d like to say that each month, things got better.  There were more downs than ups this year. Nothing was clear except I had to stick to what I had laid down as my plan before – separate and work on things apart.  It helped me stay sane to cling to the idea that doing what I said I would was staying true to my core beliefs.  I didn’t need to know more at that point.  I just needed to do that one thing. I felt cheated, though.  From the time of dad’s death to the discovery was only a matter of weeks.  My grieving for dad was stalled as I struggled with this new pain. I still find myself thinking of dad, wistful for his calm presence, and know that I miss him more than is possible to convey in words.

Losing mom in February after a whirlwind diagnosis and decline was the icing on the cake.  It felt too familiar – and scary – to go through that before I knew where things stood in my marriage.  I was afraid to trust any comfort or support, because the last time I had, it ended up being false and bad things happened to me.  I had to be very clear in my own head about what I needed, what I could accept, and how it felt to go through this again so soon.  I’m still not completely sure I know how I feel about losing them both so close together.  I long for a dream with both of them in it, as they once were.  To see them again, and to feel, just for a moment, that we can be with each other would be a comfort.  It would be like a warm embrace from the two people who loved me best.  It seems to me that then, maybe, I’d know I was making progress through my grief.

In the past year, I’ve lost my father, my husband’s faithfulness, and my mother.  I know lesser mortals who might have caved.  I am still standing.  Wounded, scarred, battered and worn thin, I am upright nonetheless.  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  I wouldn’t wish it for myself.  But it wasn’t a choice, and going through the fire was the only way out.

As this year comes to an end, I can only hope that the cosmic circle is coming to a close and each anniversary or milestone date provides healing and a sense of release.  I have felt held hostage by pain the past 12 months and am ready to stop hurting and be free.  I pray it is so.