Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Joy


Joy is ascendant. It is the other-worldly experience of the dove that appears suddenly, floats down to you and with its beak gently pulls away the bonds that tether you. You feel yourself rise and only then realize you’d been bound.

Joy is transcendent. Whatever else was happening on that day or at that moment falls away. You are transported. You are caught up in this thing, this event, this announcement, this realization, this sight for beleaguered eyes as you feel your heart wrapped in warmth, your face alight with the glow of it.

A colleague I worked with years ago used to say that life, to him, was mostly a series of mundane days filled with work, responsibility, and the cares and problems of the day-to-day routine, with occasional moments of great joy, such as the birth of a child. But these moments, he said, were extremely rare, so we should simply soldier on, getting through life as best we can, grateful for those rare opportunities in which to find happiness—though that happiness was fleeting indeed.

I found his cynicism dismaying in light of the fact that he often reminded his circle of friends that he was a man of God, an evangelical Christian who knew exactly what would happen to him when he died. Then, at that time, he would experience true joy.

Well. I guess he’s more patient than I am.

I’ll take my joy now, thank you very much, in this morning’s slow and steady sunrise that was accompanied by movie-trailer-perfect birdsong which rose to a steady crescendo as Thomas and I stood, looking down to the lake, a great blue heron just waking. The first rays of sun hit his wing feathers and lit the copper highlights there. He was so beautiful I nearly cried.

Last week, as Thomas and I hiked in Bogart Park at the same hour, just after sunrise, we took a left instead of a right on a trail we’ve often walked—and we discovered a new trail we hadn’t tried before, one that led up a ridge, then down into a canyon, then around a large meadow. Wildflowers—blue and yellow and red—dotted the sides of the trail as we walked together. I could have brought home an enormous bouquet… but I let them live, as I was living in that moment, able, still, to walk two miles with my dog at dawn, to breathe deeply, to sense the sun’s warmth on my back through my jacket. On our return, we came upon a small herd of deer. As we strolled silently around a shaded bend in the trail, there they all were, heads up, looking at us as we looked at them. No one moved. The air was still and quiet. Their enormous dark eyes showed only curiosity, not fear, so Thomas and I lingered (as he leaned into my leg, unsure of what these creatures were). Finally, we inched carefully away down the trail, and the deer dropped their heads and went back to grazing.

Thank you, Universe, for the sheer joy in that moment of tranquility.

It has been my experience that these moments of joy are not few and far between. They’re right out there, waiting. We simply have to make ourselves available.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Grief


Grief takes you. It grabs you by the heart, reaching in with long, cold fingers that wrap around your heart and hold, daring you to move or breathe or look away just for a moment. It takes your undivided attention.

And you live like that. Waiting. Waiting for the feeling to pass, the clutch to release even the tiniest bit so you can shift your stance, avert your eyes… see beauty in the world once again.

I have been so, so, so lucky in my life. I was still a teenager when my first child was born, and the others all came along before I’d even reached the age of 30. We’ve had some scares… a few car accidents, a broken arm, always the trips to the E.R. with the youngest boy for stitches. That one surgery on his eye. But I’ve never had to drop to my knees and beg the Universe to please take me instead of my child. I’ve only barely flirted with the horror of what it’s like when a child doesn’t show up, doesn’t arrive home safely.

At the moment I am writing this, all four of my children are well and safe, to the best of my knowledge. Lucky, lucky me.

Because how do you ever get out of bed if you lose a child? I don’t know. I couldn’t.

Before I ever graduated high school, my best friend, who was a year older, was happily on her way to college classes one beautiful spring morning when she was hit by a drunk driver, sustained massive head injuries and died a few days later. That moment. That phone call. Hearing that she was undergoing surgery on her brain, but they didn’t expect her to survive… that’s when I first felt that cold hand of grief on my heart. And it took me. It dragged me around my room, not allowing me to lie down or sit or get comfortable in any way or even kneel. And it taunted me. “You’re losing Becky. She’s dying. She’s leaving. You wanted to be the one to leave, but she talked you out of it, and now you’re staying here and she’s leaving without you.”

Each word was a punch to the gut. And they just kept repeating until my stomach ached and I couldn’t breathe and I was absolutely overwhelmed with the feeling of complete and utter helplessness. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t help her. I couldn’t even sit beside her and hold her hand.

Did I pray? I tried. Back then, I thought I had to work at being a spiritual person. I became proficient at parroting. We would spout off with this rhetoric about God’s will and things happening for a reason, words that roll off the tongue so easily until your best friend has been senselessly run down by a man who’s had several prior DUIs and has once again gotten behind the wheel of a car after spending the night drinking. How is that “God’s will”?

I didn’t know how to reconcile it.

To whom do you go for comfort when the person who has always been the one to comfort you has died?

Grief is relentless and merciless.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Cosby

LORD: I want you to make me an ark.

NOAH: Riiiight. What's an ark?

LORD:  Make the ark out of cubits.

NOAH:  Riiiight. What's a cubit?

From Bill Cosby's comedy routine entitled "Noah."

I have such wonderful memories of sitting on the couch with my kids watching The Cosby Show in the mid 1980's. The kids were young, but they understood most of the humor, and if a one-liner went over their heads, they could at least appreciate the antic faces of Bill Cosby as the loveable Cliff Huxtable. Since a father figure had been missing in our household for some years, we adopted him as our TV dad, and we hung on every word of sage advice he handed down to Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa (and later, even little Rudy), whether his intentions were silly or serious. During those years, my daily schedule was exhausting as I tried to keep up as a full time college student while simultaneously raising four active kids as a single parent. That weekly time on the couch, laughing and nodding with Cliff's wisdom, were a precious respite from the stress of the week. In our house, we loved Cliff Huxtable so much I used to joke that if anything ever happened to Cosby's wife, Camille, I'd be first in line to snatch him up.

Of course, I had fallen in love with his comedy many years before, in the 1960's, when he was a frequent guest on Johnny Carson and other variety shows. His routines were hilarious (you can still find them on YouTube), and I laughed along with my own siblings, just as my children would laugh along in the same way a couple of decades later.

Having said that, I knew in the back of my mind that Mr. Cosby had another side to his personality. In the late 1960's, he played a sidekick character to Robert Culp in a series entitled I Spy. On rare occasions, an episode was written with his character as the lead, and it gave Cosby the opportunity to be more than just the cool guy making wry quips. His serious roles were played with such a hard edge to them it made me wonder, even back then, what this man was truly all about in real life.

I guess we've found out over the past year or so. Last week Cosby was convicted of sexual assault. He is currently wearing an ankle bracelet on house arrest as he awaits sentencing.

At best, this is a cautionary tale. It seems clear from the number of women who have come forward to accuse him--with nothing to gain beyond justice and validation--that his criminal behavior extended back over decades, all the way back to those idyllic days of The Cosby Show. Of course it was his character we loved, not the man himself. We can see that now. But back then... Cosby the man was lauded and applauded, given honors, asked to render up commencement speeches that were hilarious and yet stellar in their sage advice. Even after the show was cancelled, we continued to love the man we saw as the real life personification of Cliff Huxtable. How completely we were blind to the man he truly was. And how disturbing this should be to us.

Just how easy is it for a man to appear upon the stage of life, smiling in a jovial way and saying things that people want to hear, remarks that make audiences feel less fearful about the current world we're living in, only to be, in truth, slowly and deliberately pulling the wool over their eyes?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Prom: Part II

The Granddaughter did not want her nails done for prom ("I can do them myself!"), but she did agree wholeheartedly that having her hair done professionally would be nice, so I asked (via Facebook), "Who does hair locally?" and saw the name Jeff Fredieu at The Wild Hair in Redlands in the comments repeatedly. I got in touch with Jeff weeks before prom day, and we made the appointment.

But then the girl wanted to dye her hair purple. All of it. Deep purple. Oh my.... So we talked that over while eating ice cream (and after I had said, "Hmm, no..." to the five-dollar bottle of purple hair dye). I told her I would consult with Jeff. I called him, and he had the perfect solution. "Well," he said, "I just happen to have a set of blonde hair extensions that someone returned. You can have them at half price, and I'll dye them purple." I had sent him a photo of The Granddaughter so that he could see her beautiful dark chestnut hair. Like me, he hated to see what would happen to her healthy locks after lightening them enough to make them purple. When presented with this alternative, The Granddaughter was all smiles and thumbs up. (For real; no emojis.)

About that beautiful silver dress.... (If you haven't read that story, just scroll down to the post below this one.) The dry cleaners (Eco Cleaners on Oak Valley Parkway--it's a family-run business, and I love them) sent me a text on Thursday to let me know the gown was cleaned and altered and ready for pick-up. When I went to get it the next day and the owner walked out with it all gleaming in its plastic sheath, I thought it was the wrong dress. It had transformed into a bright flashy silver with all the sequins lighting up like tiny stars. Wow! And what do you know, just like the glass slipper on Cinderella, the thing fit absolutely perfectly when The Granddaughter tried it on.

Yesterday was prom. I made the belle of the ball stand still for a "before" shot (see below), then off to Jeff we went. 


Oh my goodness, this man did magic with her hair! In an hour and a half, he had the extensions in (which matched perfectly with the purple ribbon we'd purchased to replace the dingy gray one on the silver dress) and her hair pulled back and in curls that looked like a cascading waterfall, the purple strands woven in and out throughout. 


Then we jumped back in the truck and headed home, and the rest of the transformation took place. Oh my goodness, look at this grown up young woman!



Then it was time to drop her with her best friend, and off they went.

Did they have a good time? They had "the best" time she said when I picked her up. She had stayed the night with her bestie, and they stayed up until 2:00 chatting all about the wonderfulness of it, most of which (I'm sure not all--winky face emoji here) I heard about on the ride home. And then? Did she want to take a nap?

"I've got homework," she sighed.

Well, I suppose Cinderella did have to get up the next morning after the ball and get to her chores.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Prom Dress Part I

Because I love my granddaughter, and because circumstances warranted it, she is currently staying with me until June, when she will graduate from high school. And in order to make sure that happens, I have been, since January, driving her to school every day, a sixty-mile round trip. And of course I pick her up in the afternoon, so yeah, that's 120 miles a day of freeway driving. (If I could, I would insert the bewildered emoji right there.)

So it's not a stretch to say that this past Saturday, when I woke and realized I didn't have to drive anywhere that day, I was thrilled and grateful. As we shuffled around the kitchen in the morning, making tea and waking up, I told her with resounding enthusiasm, "I'm not driving anywhere today!" (Insert happy-smiling emoji there.) Together, we walked down to the Rec Center here in Plantation and availed ourselves of the monthly breakfast (potatoes and eggs for me, the same plus bacon and a few pastries for The Granddaughter). On our way, she told me excitedly, "I got a text last night from my other nana. They tried to deliver my dress yesterday, but they couldn't find the address, so it's at the post office."

Her dress: The perfect little black dress for her prom, the only school dance she'll attend in her high school career. We've been waiting weeks for her package. Other Nana is in Arizona. She ordered the dress online for The Granddaughter and we've been waiting, waiting, waiting, and getting more concerned as prom draws near. It's this coming Saturday. So now, all we had to do was go get it. Yay!! (Many celebratory emojis.)

After breakfast we got in the truck and drove the few miles downtown to the post office, where we waited in line for 30 minutes. (Since our post office is only open two hours on Saturday and there was only one employee working, the line was out the door.) Finally! Our turn! Hooray! But... the package wasn't there, the very-overwhelmed postal service worker said. She checked. Then she checked again (after I told her, "It's her prom dress. Prom is in one week"). "No," she said, "it's not back there. It was probably returned to sender when they couldn't find your address." The sender... is a merchant in China. "But leave your name and address. I'll ask the carrier about it on Monday...."

Oh, nooooooo!

"What do you want to do?" I asked the sad girl outside. She shrugged and looked away. "Okay," I said, "let's go shopping. Real stores or thrift stores?"

"Oh, thrift stores!" she said, perking up for the first time in over an hour. (That's how this girl rolls. She, her mom and sister have gotten some of their coolest clothes at thrift stores.)

We hit the one in Calimesa first, and there was nothing, to her great disappointment.

"Let's go to Yucaipa," I said, which meant getting on the freeway, but who cares when the happiness of one's granddaughter is at stake.

We found a thrift store where we'd shopped before, and she went to the gowns and began to look. After a second, she pulled one out and held it up. It was a long, sequined, silver gown with a modest neckline and plunging back. I was not impressed--until she tried it on. She opened the door to the fitting room and suddenly my nerdy little gamer girl had become a beautiful young woman. She was dazzling--even though the dress was way too long and a bit big.

"Do you love it?"

She considered. "Not like the little black dress... but I could make it work."

"Okay, we think it over. Let's go look somewhere else." So we jumped in the truck, drove to another thrift store, and looked. Nothing. Back in the truck,  I asked her how much the silver dress was. $15. Yep. "Let's go get it," I said. "If you don't wear it, we'll donate it back. But at least we'll have something to work with."

So back we went to the first place, spent $15 of my exiguous fortune, and then headed home, where she tried on the dress again. It really did look marvelous on her. So I had her take it off and put it back on inside out. I pinned up the hem where she wanted it and created darts under her arms to take it in. Then we jumped back in the truck and drove to the dry cleaners in Beaumont.

"Mama," I pleaded with the mother of the business owner, a sweet little woman who does all the alterations, "is there any way you can alter this and clean it by Friday?" She looked at me, looked down at what needed done, looked up again and said, "No. I can't do it. I can't. I have too much work."

I had asked The Granddaughter to stay in the truck while I negotiated inside because I didn't want her to hear if the answer was no. But... I'm a frequent customer and they like me and I was desperate. So I asked again, telling her the story of what happened to the much anticipated little black dress. I will admit, I had tears in my eyes as I told her, "This will be the only school dance she'll ever go to."

She looked at me. Saw the tears. I sniffled. "Okay, okay, I do it," she said. "But you pay cash." I threw in an extra ten bucks and thanked her profusely, of course.

So, yay!! Insert hand clapping emojis here.

But....

After we spent the day looking and drove all over on Saturday to get our Plan B dress, I got a call from the post office on Monday morning: Her package had been found. "We can deliver it tomorrow," the post master said. So on Tuesday after school we stood in the kitchen and I handed The Granddaughter her package.

"It's in a bag?" she said. "It's... really flat."

True.

She opened it, pulling out the dress and the tiny sheer cape that came with it.

"I didn't know that was separate," she said. She shook out the dress and looked it over. "It's really thin...."

True.

I couldn't stand the suspense. "Which one do you think you'll--"

"Oh, I'm wearing the gown," she said.

I can't wait. Stay tuned for Part II, wherein I get all grandparenty and post numerous photos of her in that fifteen-dollar treasure, looking like a million bucks.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

March


It's been one busy week around here, so I've had little time to assemble my photos from the March For Our Lives in Riverside, California last Saturday. The one above is one of my favorites. The gentleman holding the sign was there with his wife and his German Shepherd, Molly. He was a kind, soft-spoken man who agreed readily when I asked if I could photograph him and post the picture online. A Vietnam war veteran, he felt very strongly about gun control.

In addition to Molly, there were quite a few other dogs there with their people. Seeing them was a comfort to me.







And while the march was organized and directed by teens (who presented all the wonderful, passionate speeches), there were people of all ages there, including people of all abilities:




A lot of teachers showed up, though there were people from all walks of life:





I was especially proud of these folks from my alma mater, UC Riverside:


And I was especially proud of the kids who came with their moms or dads or both to march. They get it:



The young man featured above is Ben, who made his signs himself. I love that he was forward-thinking enough to suggest that blasters should also not be present in schools.

The sense of camaraderie at these events is palpable. Seriously, you want to just hug everyone there. All 4,000 of them. (That number was the Press-Enterprise estimate of attendees.) 

As was the case with the March for Women in January of 2017, I really had to push myself out of my comfort zone to make the drive and find parking and wander alone toward the courthouse and stand alone (until Ben and his crew joined me, which was a special blessing) and then walk. I'm not a shouter or chanter. I'm really not much of a verbal person at all, preferring to select my words and construct my sentences with caution and care, which writing allows me to do. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and so we must all stand with, walk with, the children and adults who have survived mass shootings. Change will come, carried along by the fervency of these young people. I want to say I participated, even if it is in the smallest way. #NeverAgain.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Reset

NOTE: Today's post is rated PG due to one word of some very strong language, placed carefully and appropriately for emphasis. (Confucius said, "Always use the right word....")




Everyone is angry these days. Okay, maybe not everyone. The handful of people who are pleased with their income and don't follow politics and get great health care and aren't concerned about Syrian refugees or racism in America or gun violence--those people aren't angry. The rest of us are either simmering or about to boil over. A few have gone over the boiling point. Case in point, a woman I recently encountered in the drive-thru at Starbucks. Here's what happened:

If you look at the photo above, you will see the somewhat faded green arrows indicating the route cars are supposed to follow to access the drive-thru at the Calimesa Starbucks. And if you look closely, you'll also see a long line of cars not entering in the prescribed way but rather from the Walgreens parking lot. Actually, you can't see all of the cars lined up for the drive-thru in this picture, because the dumpster hut blocks the view. But on the day I took this photo, there was a line. (You can trust me; I write stuff, and we all know that if you read something online, it's the absolute truth. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.)

I digress.

So: A few weeks back, I stopped by this Starbucks for a Skinny Vanilla Latte, following the preferred route. Moments after I pulled up to where the pavement ends and the concrete driveway of the drive-thru begins, a small black car pulled in--from the Walgreens parking lot (so, I guess, going the "wrong" way). The woman in the car made eye contact with me--'I see you, I know you're next, I'll just pull in after you.' Perfect. Except... just then another woman pulled in--the "right" way, behind me. This was a young, attractive blonde woman in a large white SUV. I could see her plainly in my rearview mirror. The problem was, she couldn't see the small dark car that had arrived before her because the dumpster hut blocked her view.

Oh dear. What is the right thing to do here? For a brief moment, I considered actually climbing out of Cloud (my trusty and beloved Ford Ranger) and walking back to White SUV woman to let her know someone she couldn't see was ahead of her in line--but just then the line moved. So I pulled up. And so did the Small Black car, right behind me, before the woman in the White SUV had time to react--which set off a temper tantrum the likes of which I have not seen since my eldest son was a toddler. Blaring her horn, waving her hands and screaming, the woman in the White SUV threw her vehicle in reverse, flying backward, then laid rubber on the asphalt of the parking lot as she sped through it, only to flip a U-turn and come speeding back to park and charge inside the Starbucks. The employee who was by then taking my order at the drive-thru told me "I'm sorry--one moment, please"--only she left her mic on, and I could hear her saying, "I know... it shouldn't be that way... I'm sorry that happened...."

Meanwhile, the woman in the Small Black car simply sat behind me in line, a look of stoic endurance on her face. What happened was not her fault. It was no one's fault, or it was mine, because I could see the problem but I did nothing to alert the woman with anger management issues behind me. It was a situation. It happened. Stuff happens.

Still.... That was one hell of a lot of anger over a Starbucks order. Seriously. The three of us were not refugee women waiting in line with our children for hours to be handed a small bag of rice or millet. (The latter grain, for the uninitiated, is what I happily, abundantly, pour into my bird feeder daily, along with sunflower seeds, to feed my neighborhood birds.)

White SUV woman didn't just sigh in impatient exasperation and resign herself to waiting through one more car to be next in line. She exploded in rage. Over the pricey, high-fat, high-sugar comfort drink she desperately needed, apparently, to make her feel safe in the world.

What the fuck is wrong with us?

By the time I drove up to the window to pay and pick up my stupid, expensive latte, I was experiencing quite a severe episode of anger myself.

So I took a long, deep breath, asked the ancestors for serenity, and, as they sometimes do, they offered a suggestion instead: Pay for the order of the woman behind me in the small black car. So I did. My tab was four bucks. Hers was twelve. Maybe she was buying drinks for friends at work or just getting breakfast. Who knows? Who cares. Her car was twenty years old and had seen a lot of miles. A stranger had screamed and honked in rage at her with very little provocation over the stupidest of things. So I forked over the money, smiled at the young Starbucks employee who was already anticipating getting to tell the next customer her order had been paid for, and I pulled away.

As I drove out slowly through the parking lot, I watched as White SUV woman came charging back out of the Starbucks holding a cardboard carrier with four drinks in it. Maybe she was late for work. Maybe her boss sent her a text and asked for the drinks. Maybe she's been trying to please that boss because she's facing an annual review with the chance of a raise that is critical because she desperately needs to file for divorce from an abusive husband. Again, who knows? The truth is, we never know what others are going through, so we should never judge or return anger for anger... which is always the hardest challenge for me. But... what we needed right then was a reset. I couldn't help the angry woman. I hope I helped the other one.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Dick's et al

At some point in the next week, I will buy something from Dick's Sporting Goods. I'm not sure what I'll get... a new yoga mat, perhaps, or some new sneakers. I would hope anyone who feels passionately about the need for gun control reform will do the same.

If you missed it, in my previous post I suggested that making changes to the gun culture in the United States will be a long and arduous process, but we can bring about those changes, just as we changed the societal norm of smoking a few decades ago. Instead of sweeping legislation (that I would love to see but seems improbable since so many politicians are more concerned with saving their seats instead of saving lives), we can turn the ship around by means of small, incremental steps with the goal in mind of not overturning The Sacred Second Amendment but rather limiting accessibility to mass-kill weapons and accessories and doing more thorough background checks (just for starters).

Last weekend, MetLife, a company that offers life insurance and other financial products, was the first to come forward and say, "We will no longer offer discounts to NRA members." Company executives stated that this policy change was made because "We value all our customers" (emphasis mine). Aaaaand BOOM, just like that, within 24 hours, a long list of companies followed, including major airlines, car rental companies, software companies, and so on. When I travel to Missouri in June, I will be reviewing that list of companies to find the airline and car rental agency I will patronize as a way of supporting their courage to do something, however small.

This morning, the CEO of Dick's Sporting Goods made an appearance on Good Morning America to announce that the company will no longer sell assault style rifles or high capacity magazines, nor will they sell a firearm to persons under the age of 21. Bravo. And so to support the company's brave step (because, yep, they know it will--at least temporarily while some folks throw temper tantrums at not being able to purchase all the pretty shiny destructive toys they want--reduce sales and result in a decrease in stock value), I will be buying something—anything—from the Dick's in Upland, California when I head out that way later this week.

Small steps... these are small steps. But they are similar to decisions made by owners of chain and independent restaurants a few decades ago that banned smoking inside the restaurant. Everyone said those businesses would lose business. In fact, studies have shown that restaurants and bars that have banned smoking (in some states, you can still light up inside your local pub) have not seen any decrease in revenue.

I imagine Dick's will see a small blip in sales... maybe... but maybe good-hearted folks around the country will do as I am doing, decide the kids need new sneakers this month or some cleats for Little League coming up in the spring or a really nice hoodie from The North Face or Field and Stream. Spread the word. Maybe we can make that happen, and maybe Dick's will see, in its next quarter financial report, that sales actually increased after this critically important, potentially life-saving decision.

Wouldn't that be cool? 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Smokescreen


When I was a kid, everybody smoked. If you're my age, you remember. Mom, Dad, Grandma all sat on the couch puffing away. When my sister and I were charged with cleaning the living room, we had to empty the ash trays. Remember that? Every home had ash trays. Every business had ash trays, too—tall, industrial size metal cans. At the bank. At the post office. At the library. At church....

People smoked in restaurants, too. It never bothered my mom at all—until she stopped smoking. "I can't believe they're smoking in here. It smells terrible," she would grumble, sotto voce, to make sure the person heard her. Of course, that was much later. After she'd smoked for 35 years.

In junior high and high school, I learned "the dangers of smoking," as every student did. But for most kids, those lessons fell on deaf ears. Because everyone smoked. It was part of the culture. If I suggested to my mother that she quit, she would smirk and say, "My mother has smoked all her life, and she's still alive."

See, there were studies that indicated smoking contributed to all kinds of evil in our bodies. But the idea of everyone quitting smoking was met with derision. Cries of, "It's my constitutional right to do what I want with my body!" were heard, and "The government's not gonna take my cigarettes away!" and "This is America; we're free to do as we choose here!"

If this rhetoric sounds familiar, it may be because we began to hear similar outcries in the wake of the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida.

This week, as some of us were pleading for tighter controls on the dissemination of guns across the country, others were clenching their fingers tighter around their assault weapons and parroting Charlton Heston: "...from my cold dead hands."

The difficulty here is multi-layered. Clearly, it won't be enough to simply tighten up some of the pre-existing gun laws. We can raise the age of majority to 21, but that wouldn't have stopped the Las Vegas shooter who killed 58 and wounded 851. We can make it illegal to own certain types of weapons such as the AR-15 (the semi-automatic rifle Nikolaus Cruz used to kill 17 people in the Parkland mass shooting), but opponents argue that "criminals will find a way to get them anyway." We can arm teachers—okay, no, not really, not realistically, oh my lord the thought of some teachers I've worked with having a gun in the closet—just NO.

But something has to be done. Something has to be done NOW.

Here is what my friend Doug Brooks had to say on his Facebook page about this issue:

The fact that anyone is surprised at the violence constantly being played out across our country is in itself a surprise to me. For several decades, we have been programming our youth for just this outcome. This programming has been achieved through what we call "entertainment." There has been a complete lack of any kind of moral compass in television, movies, and video games. Graphic violence in entertainment has become a "normal" part of our children's lives. Have you seen the first person shooter video games that children play every day? Our society is reaping exactly what we have sowed. This is not a gun control issue. It is a mind control issue. The United States of America was established to ensure and protect an individual's right to be "free." However, this freedom, without a strong ethical and moral base, ends up as chaos. And that, my fellow Americans, is where we seem to be heading....

He has a point.

I walked past my granddaughter's room one day to find her sprawled on the floor in the position of a military sniper, holding her game controller. On the monitor before her, the point of view was down the barrel of an assault rifle. My first--but non-verbal--response was 'holy shit.' My first verbal response was to ask about the "game." She explained that yes, she was killing people, but that "we're the good guys." So that made it okay.

That is not okay, at least not with me.

But she's 18. She can choose for herself--in the same way that she could choose to take up smoking if she so desired. "But," she told me (later, after the Parkland shooting) when we discussed whether playing violent video games contributed to the likelihood of someone shooting up a school, "I would never go crazy and start shooting anyone." No. She wouldn't. But... I have also seen my nephew, when he was 15, playing a far more violent video game. This is a young man with profound anxiety and mental health issues. He also has a severely violent temper and has threatened his own mother with bodily harm while enraged. (Before you panic, there are no guns in their home. He has never been around guns. Of course, that doesn't mean he couldn't easily get one, the way things are right now. Because now he's over 18. He's actually over 21, so even if the age of majority is raised, he can still get a gun if he wants one.

If you believe that it's okay for that young man to own an assault rifle because "it's his right as an American under the Second Amendment," I would have to question whether you are capable of thinking rationally. If you agree with me that no, he should not have access to any kind of weapon, nor should others like him, then we're taking a small step in the right direction.

And that's what it's going to take to turn this ship around--many, many small adjustments in the way we do things, the way we think about things, including the culture of gun ownership and availability in the United States. The process will be slow and arduous and, for some, painful (as was quitting smoking for so many people). Is it worth it, though? Oh, hell yes it is.

We need to bring about change that is substantial and far-reaching, just as we ultimately accomplished with smoking. Back then, some said it would be impossible to shake ourselves free of the spell the tobacco industry had cast upon us. Remember the Marlboro Man? He was so handsome, so cool. Until he was diagnosed with cancer....

Our culture is suffering from its own form of cancer currently. But we can beat it. One step at a time.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Recovery



For those of you who are less than super-tech-savvy, I often include links to more information on certain topics in my posts. When a word or a phrase is in purplish-blue instead of black, that indicates a link (which you can click on) to read more information about the subject of that word or phrase. 🙂


If you haven't read my previous post, you might not know that I've been putting up with a tiny bit of illness since mid-November.

I'm better now. Much better. A week ago I saw Stephanie, a Physical Therapist at Kaiser Redlands (who is terrific, by the way—kind, patient, empathetic and a great teacher). She did some evaluation, told me she suspected I have Cervicogenic Dizziness, and gave me some exercises that are classified as Vestibular Therapy to unlock the stiffness in my neck (which I will discuss further in a sec—keep reading because that's the human interest part).

It was a lot to take in, but I will tell you I was literally sitting on the edge of my chair as I listened to her, and I was so relieved when she said, "Oh yeah, I think we can relieve your symptoms" that I had to will myself not to start crying. ("Focus, Kay, focus," said the rational part of my brain.) Even as she demonstrated and had me do the exercises, I began to feel a bit of relief from the constant wooziness. Now, one week later, I am immensely improved—so much so that I think after another few weeks of doing the exercises I will feel better than I have in years in terms of the chronic neck pain I've had forever. (Well, not literally "forever," but you know what I mean. I haven't even been alive for "forever." Kinda feels like it sometimes, though.)

Two funny bits to share (and this is where the human interest part comes in):

My crush in the sixth grade was Ricky Smith. He liked me, too, and he came over to the house a few times, took me square dancing and gave me a St. Christopher medallion. After school one day, he mentioned that I should relax more, telling me, "You walk around school with your shoulders all hunched up." Oh my Buddha! How embarrassing that he noticed! Yet... how true. At eleven years old, I had already experienced enough in life to keep me in a state of constant cringing. So add all that neck tension to the injuries I sustained to my head and neck around the same time (from getting tossed off horses), and you have the makings of chronic neck pain.

Also: Kudos to my bestie Donna who had read my previous post, so when I told her about the cervicogenic dizziness diagnosis she was able to link the onset of it with that two-hour stint in the dentist chair for the crown. (Her super-power is analytical reasoning.) I don't think I've mentioned on the blog before that my childhood dentist was a sadist. No, I mean, he actually was a sadist. For thirty years, I have seen my dentists twice a year, but it still triggers profound anxiety.

I want to extend giant hugs to all my friends, family members and blog readers who prayed for/chanted for/sent energy to me plus all those who continued behind the scenes to make suggestions as to what might be the cause. I love all of you, and thanks so much for your support through these weeks. You kept me on the sunny side of life while I was slogging away with the docs, trying to find a resolution.

Life is good! (Hence the smiley seal pictured above.)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Madness Dancing

Since mid-November, I have been, er, under the weather. Ill in some way, certainly, but not exactly "sick," as I would characterize it. The week before this malady began, I had some dental work (a crown), and I had a flu shot. Three days after the shot, I woke feeling dizzy, achy and with a mild headache. I took a nap that day—and slept three hours. Despite having slept eight hours the night before, I was still so sleepy after three hours of napping it was all I could do to get up and take Thomas out. It was chilly in the house, but I woke feeling clammy, as if I'd been sweating.

"Dang," I thought, "this is quite the reaction to that damn flu shot. Thank goodness it will go away in a couple of days."

But it didn't. After the symptoms persisted for four weeks (cold sweats, daily dizziness, headaches and a profound need to sleep excessively—rivaling the number of hours I slept when I was pregnant), I made an appointment to see my doctor. By the time I saw her, I'd narrowed my own diagnosis down to either Lyme disease or a brain tumor.

Dr. V. ordered a CT scan, so no, I don't have a brain tumor. I do have a brain that shows "no abnormalities." (Comment on that as you will.)



After a second appointment, here's what I know:

I don't have BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo) or at least it doesn't seem so.
This is not a neurological problem—or at least it doesn't seem so.
This is not West Nile Virus—or at least the doc doesn't think so.
It's not got to do with my hypo-thyroidism.
There's no infection in my system, apparently (according to blood tests).
I probably don't have cancer. (Yay!)
I don't need new glasses (as Harry R. suggested).
This probably won't go away if I "relax enough" (as Harry C. suggested).
I'm not dehydrated.
The symptoms worsen dramatically when I don't nap or if I become overly fatigued.

I'm only posting all that so that the sleuths among you can get busy thinking and come to some conclusion that would be a possible diagnosis. (Go ahead. Have at it. Please click on "comments" below to offer your two cents.)

Anyway, my life has gone on unabated—thank the Universe. I'm still walking my dog (though I try not to get too far out in the boonies lest I keel over and Thomas has to find his way home alone), still writing, still feeling blessed for having the ability to sing (but not dance because, yeah, too dizzy).

And today I transplanted a tree. A week ago I mowed the lawn, a chore that hadn't been done in many weeks as I just didn't trust my body with the task. Today I felt good enough (albeit somewhat dizzy) to dig up the orange tree that the previous owner had planted on the shady side of the house. Now it will have more sun and more love and some prayers that it will re-root itself and finally grow some oranges. If nothing else, it will give all my little backyard birds a place to sit while they're taking turns at the feeder.



Since my days of wooziness began, I've had a song off Rick Shea's new album ("The Town Where I Live") stuck in my head: "Trouble Like This." It's a catchy tune, but I think it's been on repeat in my mind because these multiple doctor visits with no resolution remind me of the fall of 2012; it took three months before my bronchiectasis was diagnosed. (And that only happened because I insisted that my doctor order an MRI of my lungs. "Okay," she said, throwing up her hands, "if that's what you want." Yes, humor me, please. And what do you know? The MRI revealed the holes in my lungs.)

Rick Shea at a recent concert.

Today, though, my brain worm switched from Rick's song to a song by Bob Bennett, "Madness Dancing," from his "Matters of the Heart" album. Lordy, I love this song! And I have for nearly forty years. Consider these lyrics:

In the middle of this madness I am dancing
Though I'm not sure why just now
I tried to be sober, tried to be logical
But I could not stop my feet.

I know I haven't turned off my mind...
I know there's evil all around
But for now it's outside, and I am in my room
Joy is like a crashing tide.

I don't wanna burn no books
Don't wanna argue rock 'n roll
I don't wanna shoot anyone with my high-powered doctrine gun....

That's pretty non-judgmental for a man who professes to be an evangelical Christian.

At any rate, it's the crashing tide of joy and the madness of dancing despite all the dire woes in life that make me love this song and sing it again and again. Especially right now. I may not be in top form physically, but I am still so blessed to be alive—whether I can dance right now or not.