Friday, January 23, 2015

What Really Matters

What am I going to do today?
I could list the necessary stuff, fixing people’s computers, the trivia: laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, checking my email, checking out a few links, and the important stuff: yoga, meditation, drawing, writing, talking with my husband.

Yesterday, I watched the videos on
The folks at Emotional Mojo made a video about end-of-life thoughts, and then they had people get into a casket and watch it.  This page has the video they watched, and a video showing the reactions of their test audience, both inside the casket and out.

What surprised me was how my thoughts of what I consider a good day to be have changed throughout my life.

When I was nine, a good day involved learning something new, playing with my hula hoop, and reading a good book.

In my 20's a good day included political organizing, trying to change the world, side-by-side with my husband, and taking care of my children.

In my 30's and 40's, a good day involved getting my work done, and enjoying my family.

In my 50's and 60's a good day involved learning something new, getting my work done, and enjoying my husband.

I used to fantasize what it would be like to be a grandparent. I imagined a close family, with my children as friends and my grand children helping me explore the changing world.

But when I watched these videos, I thought about the fact that my children don’t live near me, and they don’t much like me anyway. My grandchildren see me as an occasional visitor who cooks with them, or watches them at sports.  Frankly, these days feel like they are lacking something, compared to my fantasies.

The video got me thinking about what really matters to me.  What really matters are my husband, my friends and my stories.  I want to see the world – both in person and online.  If my children and grandchildren don’t share my interests, family is bigger than genetics.  

In my teens and 20's when I was rebelling against my parents, I used to think about my two families: my family of birth and my family of choice.  I didn’t get along well with my family of birth.  And today, with the next two generations in place, that is still true.  But I have always found and enjoyed family of choice. As I have aged, my mother and brother have joined my family of choice. 

There are no limits to my family of choice.  We just have to share common interests, and affections.  I put myself into situations where I can find these people, both in town and on the web.

A woman in my yoga class saw my name on my mat, and asked me, “I know this is an odd question, but do you write children’s stories?”  Surprised, I said, “Yes.”  She said, “You are one of my son’s favorite writers.”   Wow!  My family of choice is finding me.

And that is what I can look forward to, as I continue to age.    

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Making a Difference

When I was in my 20's young men in my community were killed in Vietnam.

Last month, a young man in my community was killed on his own doorstep, by someone who wanted his wallet.

I don’t see any difference among these situations. Whether I knew the deceased, or not. Whether the war was declared by a government, or not. People imagined they were solving their problems with guns.  Somebody insulted their country, their religion, their tax structure, or just had the money they needed to buy drugs.

The impacts of war and crime are the same.

Families and communities receive word that the people they love are dead.

We need to be there to help each other.

And, yes, I have an arbitrary definition of help.  In many cases, we are helpless. And often the best we can do is admit we are helpless and then keep on doing what we can.

Which is the segue into the other half of this topic.  

I started thinking about how I would feel if I thought I were soon to be dead. How would I want to spend my last few minutes, or seconds? What would I want to say to my assailant, if I had the chance to talk?

At that point, is there any sense or value in being afraid or angry?

Is that how I want to spend any of my life? Let alone my last moments?

The anger and fear response is so easy – so ingrained. 

When I look at my life now and I see that anger and fear have been my responses to many minor events. To dinner table arguments, to silly web discussions, even to news stories about people I’ve never met. 

I remember as a teen being proud of myself for standing up for what was right, for being angry.  But all that anger accomplished nothing.

Thus, my next question becomes: how can I behave and think kindly in general?

And my first thought was if my children read this, they’ll be angry with me for all the times I didn’t live up to this ideal in the past. And my gut reaction to this thought is fear of what they will say.

I have to start somewhere. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Who Wants a Clean Room?

I’ve been corresponding with a web-friend who wants her daughters to clean their rooms. 

Here’s my advice.   Feel free to add yours, disagree with mine, or try something new.  I know that there is no evidence that a clean room is better for any activity than a messy one.  But we want what we want – even when it makes no sense to other people.

The first thing that needs cleaning up is the mindset.

What does it mean to have things stay where you put them?  Why is it important?
Is it equally important for everything, or only for some things?

Ultimately messy rooms are messy because the person who made the mess is creating a different type of order. One in which things stay where they are put.

There are several approaches to this type of order.

Some are simple.  

 Hold an item for at least a minute before putting it down. Ask: Where would it be most convenient and useful to find this item again?  Not just in the next day, but over the next month.  Will you want it a month from now?  If you don't know, make a note to ask that question again in a month.

Is this item like other items I want to find again? Where are the other items?  Could these items be grouped? Perhaps in a box, or on a shelf?

Is this item something I could deal with right now and be done with it? Is it worth reorganizing my next hour so I can get this item off my list?  If not, when is a good time to deal with this thing once and for all?

Each item has its own logic, its own story.  Each item has a purpose.   

Cleaning up seems to be a purpose, but it's not truly related to the reason the mess happened in the first place.

once a mess has happened, each item can be reconsidered in its own turn. Pick a location -- say stuff on a dresser top -- there is probably a logic behind why these items were grouped there.  Is each item most useful in  that location?  If not, where would it be more useful?

-- anyway these are approaches I think are worth considering.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Soap Thieves of Guatemala

I thought I had the travel baggage inspection figured out.

First of all, I travel with only my book-sized backpack. A few changes of clothes and laundry washing make this possible. I’ve even found solid equivalents for most liquids.  Powdered toothpaste, powdered soap, B1 patches instead of bug repellant.

TSA rarely questions anything I bring any more.  I make them read the two page instruction sheet before they pat me down when my artificial hip triggers their metal detector alarm.

So, I was surprised but not concerned when the Guatemala Airport Baggage Inspectors pulled my back pack out for inspection.

I’d brought a bar of soap in case our hotel had perfumed soaps for guests.   I hadn’t needed to use it.  In fact, I was bringing their used bar home to recycle.  I make new bars from old used ones.  The Guatemala agent opened my new soap package.  I told her it was soap. I demonstrated by miming washing my hands.  She took it.

She said it is illegal to remove soap from Guatemala.  So, I gave her the used bar, too.  She made a face as if she didn’t want it.  She looked covetously at the plastic box I’d been keeping the used bar in, but the bar was in a shower cap and the box was dry, so she couldn’t claim even a soap film remained.  She let me keep the box. And let me get away with an officious speech about how soap was a safety hazard.

It sounded suspiciously like American TSA claiming that water is dangerous. But something in her voice tone told me that she wasn’t going to put my soap in the trash. She was going to sell it.

I wish she’d just said, “What a pretty bar of soap. May I have it?”  I’d have been happy to make her a gift of it.

I checked on the web and soap stealing is a common problem when leaving Guatemala, so either they have this law, or they have a lot of underpaid baggage inspectors.

I wrote the Government of Guatemala and asked them if they have a law making it illegal to remove soap from Guatemala.  And I suggested that if they don’t, they should be aware that their airport baggage inspectors are taking passengers’ soap.  I suggested they should give these employees raises so they don’t feel the need to steal soap.   And I pointed out that taking soap away from people who are ending a tour of Guatemala leaves an unpleasant thought about the country as the last thing a visitor experiences – not a good way to get more tourism.

Friday, December 12, 2014

What's the Appeal of Rudolph?

I think I figured out Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

I was looking for a place to market my revolutionary Thanksgiving story.  Spider looked like it might be a good choice, so I read the sample issue online.

It featured a frog version of Rudolph.  A little frog with short legs can’t hop and dance like the regular frogs, so they leave her home when they rehearse their show.  

But one day, the frogs get in trouble, and the short-legged one can help them out with her big ideas.

As a red-nosed short-legged wombat myself, I’ve always sided with Rudolph.  Who are these other creatures who seem to run the world?  Why do they get to reject me?  And then, why-oh-why do they think I should help them out on the rare occasion when they think I might be useful?

And why-oh-why do I comply?

I thought this story was written for the oddball child.

Then it occurred to me.  Most children aren’t oddballs.

This story would have a minuscule market if it was aimed at the oddballs.

This story is written for the normals –the creatures who run the world.  It says to this majority – this ruling class – it’s okay to exclude and insult the oddball.  And if you ever should need the red-nose short-legged one, s/he’ll help you out. S/he’ll be thrilled to do so. And afterwards you can go back to ignoring him or her.

Sure, you have to be nice while you are being helped, but it won’t last long and soon your problem will be over and you can go back to normal.

So, no, Spider isn’t the right magazine for my story.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Don't Give the Police an Excuse

Here I was – sounding off about how Michael Brown was unarmed and the only crime the police officer knew about was jaywalking – and then he shot him dead – emptied his gun into him.

A police officer explained to me that I was couch quarterbacking something I knew nothing about.

When a police officer, or anybody else is trained to use a gun for self-defense, the training includes -- don’t start shooting unless you feel threatened, but if you do feel threatened, – if you start shooting -- you keep shooting until the gun is empty. 

This makes sense. In a stressful situation, simple instructions are the easiest to follow.  

I get it.  Almost every day, a white police officer kills an African-American male. I get it. About 30% of African-American males are convicted felons.  I get it – drugs should be legal. I get it, prisons should not be run for profit.  I get it – there is tons wrong with our legal system.

But, being a police officer in a country where guns are easy to get is a dangerous job.  The purpose of guns is to kill.  Mistakes in judgement happen.

I’m a white female.   I was trained as a child – if the police ask you to do something – even something unreasonable – you do it – unless it is something illegal or something that could get you in more trouble later – for example, if a police officer asks you to pick up something that isn’t yours – don’t do it – don’t get your fingerprints on possible evidence.  Expect that the officer may hit you, but that’s better than doing jail time.

Apparently Michael Brown was not trained this way.   Jaywalking is not a lethal offense. Disobeying a legal request of a police officer is a lethal offense, especially if you are an African American male.

I’d like to start by making guns harder to get.  I’d like to start by making sure that everybody gets trained the way I was trained – do what the police say, unless it is illegal.

Vote.  Make sure that the police force in your city or town has representatives from all the races, ethnic groups, and economic groups.  Ferguson has an all white police force, and an all white government.  But the city is 64% African-American. 

And make sure that everybody knows – police are trained to empty their guns if they start shooting. Don’t give them an excuse to start.