Sell Crazy Someplace Else

“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” ~1984

The country has gone crazy. Or perhaps some people in our society have. Up is down. Wrong is right. Bad actors are victims. I just can’t anymore. It’s like I’m reading George Orwell’s 1984 again. We have a lot of different opinions and viewpoints in this country, and you should expect that in a nation with a population as varied as ours is. There is now and has always been dissent in the United States. While we don’t all agree on many things, we used to agree that our government and its buildings are sacred and worth protecting. We lost our collective mind when terrorists flew a plane into the Pentagon and then learned they had also planned to take down the Capitol. We were so incensed that we went to war about it. American soldiers died because of it. You don’t mess with our institutions. I used to believe we were all on the same page about this.

On January 6th, I had a television news station on while I was sitting at home doing a puzzle. I expected that there might be some hullaballoo around the certification of the election results, so I was listening to it from the other room because I was curious. All I had planned to do was listen. And then I heard the voice of a news anchor note they had just evacuated Mike Pence from the chamber. That got my attention, so I walked into the living room to see what was going on. For the next five hours, no puzzle pieces were placed. I was glued with rapt attention to the chaos I saw unfolding onscreen. I watched as people beat their way past barricades, used any implement they could find to shatter glass, and then crawled their way in through broken windows into the seat of our government. I stood there, head shaking, incredulous for hours. It felt surreal. Tear gas being unleashed. People climbing the Capitol like it was play equipment in their backyard. I wouldn’t have been any more upset or befuddled or shocked if I had seen wild animals from the African sub-continent barreling their way into that building. I was sad and I was scared, scared for the people inside the building, scared about what it meant about our one nation, supposedly indivisible.

In the days and weeks following the attack, I saw more video footage emerge. I saw footage of a Capitol police officer discharging his weapon as someone attempted to crawl through a broken section of a barricaded door outside the House chamber. I saw footage of a man bragging that he had stolen mail from the desk of Speaker of the House and left her a nasty note. I saw footage of men rifling through pages on desks where our lawmakers had recently been There was footage of congressmen and congresswomen being hastily led down back staircases to avoid the combatants. There was video of members of Congress hiding on the floor in the balcony, gas masks at the ready. There was footage of rioters chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.” Hell, the FBI has a tip page loaded with videos and photos of rioters from that day that you can look at right now. Exactly eight months later, we have a preponderance of video and photographic proof of what unfolded that day. Still, some would have you believe you didn’t see what you did. It was a peaceful protest, they say. There were just a few bad actors. It’s all been blown way out of proportion. Some of these people weren’t even our people, they say, despite a lack of sufficient evidence to back their claim. They say these things and they assume that if they repeat them often enough you will come to believe them, come to question what you know you saw and to accept their alternate version of the truth of what happened before our eyes that day.

And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth.”

In the months since that attack on the Capitol, various rioters have been arrested and charged because of the overwhelming evidence on video footage from that day. Now there is another rally planned for the Capitol, a Justice for J6 rally, on September 18th. There will be a march to the Capitol again. This is not to Stop the Steal, but to seek “justice” for those who viciously beat police officers with flagpoles and hockey sticks, ransacked the Capitol causing over 1.5 million in damage, actively sought to harm members of Congress, the Speaker, and the Vice President, and were then held accountable according to the laws of these United States. You just can’t even. I’m shaking my head again.

And all of this leads me to where I landed tonight after learning more about the next rally at the Capitol. It leads me to the film As Good As It Gets, starring Jack Nicholson, because you just can’t add more crazy to what is already batshit lunacy. If an alien ship were to hover above my house tonight, open its bottom hatch, and turn on its light beam in preparation to suck me into their dimension, I would utter this line from that movie:

“Sell crazy someplace else. We’re all stocked up here.”

Being some of the only truly intelligent life in the universe, they would turn off the light, close the hatch, zip away, and never return. Ain’t nothing to see here, folks.

Spontaneous Notes On A Free Country

Once upon a time in my life, I penned poetry. It wasn’t necessarily great poetry, but it was a way to work out my thoughts without journaling them or writing them to a friend in a letter (back when people wrote letters). I found this poem today while looking for something else, and it struck me how nearly 30 years later most of it still rings true. This was written on the day the officers were acquitted in the Rodney King trial, April 29, 1992. I was 24.

Not sure where this little meme guy came from, but in our family this is what we text when we are disappointed about something

Spontaneous Notes on a “Free Country”

A black man is beaten senseless
abused beyond reasonable force by
white law officers

A female with an unwanted pregnancy must get 
a man's permission to make choices about
her own body

A homosexual couple must hide their 
love to avoid discrimination
and hatred

The rich get richer
The poor get poorer
The cost of living goes up
No doesn't really mean no
Medical costs are outrageous

I could go on and on eternally and
I'd like to send a message
but it's apparent no one is listening
in the 

Land of the free and the
Home of the dominant white male


 

Patching The Small Hole In My Heart

Car loaded and ready to go

Today was D Day. That is shorthand for Departure Day. Today was the day Joe and I began our trek back to Whitman College so he can begin his first full year. It’s a 16-plus hour drive that we break down into two travel days. Today we headed to Boise. It is my third time this year making this 1,100-mile trek. But I love road trips, and time with Thing 1 is at the top of my list of favorite things.

I won’t lie. I cried a little last night. It’s the weirdest sensation to be so happy for someone and excited to hear how their college experience and life unfolds and at the same time be sad for your loss of their daily presence. I could not be any prouder of or happier for Joe. And I am proud of any action I took that helped him achieve his goal of being college ready and getting accepted to a quality, respected institution of higher learning. But, I will miss him tons.

The other day, during another short pre-departure cry, I told my husband that sometimes parenting hurts so much that I think maybe it would have been easier if I’d never had children. But that is just silly because my sons have been the single greatest joy of my life. I would have missed out on all that love, laughter, and learning if I hadn’t been their mother. They are everything to me, and I would not take back one single moment of the life I have led because of them. Not even the ones that made me cry.

Today during the drive I recalled this story. When Joe was about 7, he had a plethora of Webkinz stuffies. One day he came to me with his stuffed rhinoceros. He pointed out a tiny hole in one of the seams on his furry, light blue body. He was visibly sad. I told him I could fix that small hole and he would be fine. Joe, reflecting on how the hole came about, said “I think I must have loved him too much.” As I was discussing this story with Joe and got weepy again. I told him that this is hard because I guess I love him too much. He told me it is all good and I don’t need to cry because he’s not really going anywhere.

This time, I guess, it was his turn to sew up a hole in the thing he loves.

In the olden days

The Best Views Come After An Uphill Climb

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” ~John Muir

Thing 1 heads back to college next week. In between packing and getting in last-minute visits with high school friends, he’s been trying to fit in as much time in the great Colorado outdoors as possible. This summer he climbed three 14ers, rode his bike over Vail Pass (10k feet), and this past weekend he and his father rode from our house to downtown Denver and back again (56 miles). He and I had discussed going out to climb another 14er today, but decided to sleep in and hike a little closer to home. So this morning we went to Roxborough State Park. It’s one of our favorites and it’s ten minutes from our front door. We’ve been hiking in the summer and snowshoeing in the winter at this park since the boys (I can’t get used to calling them men) were young.

Since the original goal was to climb a 14er, we decided to hike Carpenter Peak, the park’s longest and most strenuous hike. During the past few weeks, Denver has been inundated with smoke from the fires in California; today the skies were crystal clear by comparison. We started hiking around 8, but it was already quite warm. We found ourselves lingering longer in the shady spots than we might normally. Joe was patient, waiting for me when I had to stop to catch my breath. But finally I was spurred on by the rising heat to push for the summit as quickly as possible, and we started making good time. When we finally made it to the top, we were rewarded by being the only ones there and having the clearest views we’ve seen in a while. And when the hike was finished we’d logged over 7 miles and climbed about 123 flights. It was a nice morning workout.

I will miss having Joe around to kick my butt into gear, but maybe I will be able to use today as a springboard. Then when he comes home for Thanksgiving, we can do this hike again and I can show him the progress I’ve made.

I Am The Tortoise In This Scenario

The hare is so much cuter than the tortoise, though

I’ve been in and out of therapy for forever. Okay. Seven years, but it feels like forever. And I’ve been mostly in therapy during those seven years except for a few months when I thought I didn’t need it any longer and turned out to be wrong. Today during my weekly session, I proclaimed once again that I am tired of this process of working to get my head right. I want to be finished. Like yesterday. I declared that I would like to be well-adjusted now, please. My therapist, being the gentle, thoughtful, patient woman she is, reminded me that maybe what I need to focus on again is self-compassion. Recovering from emotional abuse is a process, and I will likely be going through that process for the rest of my life. That is to be expected, and it is okay.

Is it, though? I’m having a rough time swallowing that pill. Although I intellectually understand she is right and even understand that every single person is messed up in their own special way and battling for inner peace along with me, I don’t like this answer. I function best with deadlines, and the notion that perhaps I will be more well adjusted by the time I get to the end of my life, at a time yet to be determined, is a bit too open ended for me as far as deadlines go. I am working on managing expectations because I understand that is a good way to live but, damn, that is also difficult for me. And I work every day to give myself grace as I struggle, knowing that being raised without affection, positive messaging, and unconditional love causes lifelong damage to a person’s psyche. I am defensive, dismissive, and distrusting not because I was born that way but because these were the mechanisms that protected my fragile sense of self and kept me safe. They served a purpose. And now that I understand I am safe and these reactions are no longer needed, I would like to get rid of them sooner rather than later, thank you very much. It’s just not going to happen that way.

So I have been thinking about this all day, and I realize I need to reframe this issue. If I am going to be making slow progress on this, I need to accept it and relax and settle in for the long haul. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. I’m not the hare. I’m the tortoise. In the end, it will all work out. Right now it might feel like I am losing the race, but if I keep plodding along, not taking anything for granted, I will win. Will it happen on my ideal timeline? Apparently not, because if it could happen just by my willing it out of sheer frustration, I would be there already. So a tortoise’s pace it is. I will know I have achieved my goal when I no longer need my protective shell.

The Last First Day Of School

The big blue bear at the Denver Convention Center is one of my favorite sculptures in town

We went downtown tonight for the first time since Mother’s Day to take our rising high school senior to a college fair. It was at the convention center, and they staggered arrival times to keep the crowds down. Everyone was wearing masks. Still, a college fair is a college fair, and it was fun to watch Luke as he interacted with admissions personnel from five different small, liberal arts colleges. Luke has always been ready for this. He famously told us when he was seven that he was, and I quote, “Ready to find a wife, have some kids, and just get on with my life.” He is so ready to start his adventure. And I am almost ready to witness that amazing transformation. I’m a little shocked that we’ve made it to his senior year, but then I still can’t seem to fathom that I’m 53, so there’s that.

I spent part of today washing bedding for Joe to take to his dorm room. I am trying to help him get his head in the game about what he wants to bring with him because I don’t want to be shipping things to him that he should have brought on our thousand-mile voyage to his college. He’s excited about going back. He only had one semester of college last year, so this will be his first full year experience. The sophomore dorm at his school is brand new, though, and quite posh. They have nine section lounges, each with their own full kitchen. The third floor, where he will reside, has a glass-encased meeting room (a fishbowl), a huge room with game tables, and a balcony with a fire pit to make S’mores. He will get a single room with a full-size bed and built-in shelving. He’s already bought wall art and a small, smart projector so he can watch tv and play video games in his room. Now, if he can remember to go to class we’ll be in good shape.

All of this got me thinking about how back to school used to be for me and what it is now. It used to consist of buying school supplies and a couple new outfits for them, taking a photo on the first day, and then relishing the peace and quiet at home. Things have changed. Now I will drive Joe out to Washington while Steve stays home to get Luke settled into his senior experience. Steve is still not back in the office, so even when Joe is gone and Luke is at school for the day, I will not be alone at home. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s how to be flexible and adapt. So, I should be totally ready to deal with the chaos next year when both boys are heading off to college at the same time. I’ve been training for this.

Do I miss the days when I dropped them off together for the first day of school, filled with anticipation about the year ahead? Maybe a little. But I’m finding that each new stage is replete with its own excitement and challenges. College is a short four years, nothing like the first twelve years of schooling. I am certain that by the time I get this adjustment worked out and am functioning like a well-oiled machine, Luke will be graduating. They already told me I can’t take first-day-of-school photos of them, so I will just have to make sure to get in an extra hug before I send them off into their futures.

The only question that remains is what will I do with mine?

This Wouldn’t Have Happened If A Mom Had Been In Charge

A mom would get everyone their own easy-to-spot but still coordinated luggage

A couple weeks ago, I was watching MSNBC and saw an interview with Marine Corps Major Thomas Schueman and the young Afghan interpreter who had worked with him when he was commanding troops in Afghanistan. Major Schueman has spent years keeping in touch with Zak (code name), trying to make sure he would get the US visa he was promised in exchange for his putting his life on the line to aid and protect American troops. Major Schueman said Zak had saved his life several times. Zak spoke on camera from behind a mask. He was in hiding after he had recently received a letter from the Taliban reminding him that they knew his whereabouts and would be coming for him shortly. Zak sounded terrified, and for good reason. He and his wife have four children under the age of 5. Zak knew they would not survive if Afghanistan fell and the Taliban took power. And then this week they did.

As good journalism will do to a person, I became invested in Zak’s story and the thought that there are thousands upon thousands of Zaks in Afghanistan who helped us and deserve their shot at freedom. When Kabul fell, the impending doom for these interpreters became palpable. Tonight Rachel had Major Schueman on again. He has spent the past couple days trying desperately trying to get Zak and his family out of the country. Texting Zak and his contacts in Afghanistan, Schueman tried to coordinate an escape for the young family. Twice he got close, but no go. Then finally today Zak and his family were able to board a plane out of Afghanistan. Major Schueman isn’t sure where they are headed, but they are safe. Zak might at last get the freedom for which he risked his life.

I write about this tonight for two reasons. One: It’s crucial that we as a country remember those who help us and that we honor our word to them. It’s the right thing to do. The interpreters left behind will be killed by the Taliban if they are unable to escape. That is unacceptable. And that is on us as a nation. Period. Two: This story has a happy ending for Zak and his family, and there isn’t enough good news in the news lately.

Beyond this, though, I’ve been thinking about what an absolute mess our withdrawal from Afghanistan has been. And this is what I have decided. There are not enough women involved in these types of decisions and operations. Fine. We needed to get out of Afghanistan after 20 years. It is unlikely that staying there longer or investing more money would have changed anything. But, the timing and planning for our withdrawal seem haphazard at best. I mean, even if Afghanistan fell to the Taliban at a rate far quicker than most experts imagined it would, why hadn’t we planned better how to remove the over 15k American citizens still there and why hadn’t we done more to secure the safety of our friends, the interpreters who risked their lives to save American ones? We’re the United States, goddammit. We have resources and money and trained professionals. There’s no excuse for this crap.

So, I started thinking that maybe we need more moms involved in planning the actions of our government. Moms plan for contingencies. Moms think of everything. I guarantee that you have seen this in action. You have been on a picnic where utensils were forgotten and your mom conjured up six sets of plasticware with napkins from the depths of her car. Or you’ve been to the pool and your kid got a scrape and a mom who was sitting nearby pulled a bandaid and Bactine from her purse. Or you’ve been in a parking lot before a concert and you realize your beer is not a twist-top bottle and you have no bottle opener, and your wife grabs the bottle from you and removes the cap using the door catch on her car. Women are amazing that way. We’re undaunted and resourceful. It’s the reason we’re often the last one out of the house before a family trip. We’re thinking about disasters and contingency plans. We consider potential rainfall or diaper blowouts or sunburns and we turn around to grab the plastic ponchos, clean onesies, and sunscreen. With women, it’s not just leave no one behind but also leave nothing to chance by making assumptions. So, should we have had a momma bear or six involved in preparations for our withdrawal from Afghanistan? Definitely. We’d have had Plans A through Z lined up and ready to knock down. And we probably would have had snacks and matching luggage too.

Flag Fantasy

We took a different route on our dog walk tonight. We usually walk the same way, the same distance, but we were strapped for time and cut off a street earlier than we usually do. On our nightly walks, we see a number of houses with American flags. Some of the houses have two US flags. Some of them have US flags and flag banners. And tonight we saw a house with light strips under the eaves over their garages. The light strips alternated between red, white, and blue.

Red, white, and blue palooza

In the past five years, I have seen more flags (US, Donald Trump, Blue Lives Matter, Don’t Tread On Me, Confederate, etc.) and patriotic displays than I saw in total for the 48 previous years of my life. I can’t drive anywhere without seeing at least one pick up truck, its bed filled with between 2-4 flags in any combination of the choices listed above. My response is the same every time. I shake my head.

Displaying your patriotism is a good thing. I think a home should fly the American flag on each and every federal holiday, the way people used to when I was a kid. On July 4th, it’s completely appropriate to festoon your house with all manner of flag paraphernalia. If you’re hosting a holiday barbecue on the 4th, by all means, put out paper plates and napkins emblazoned with the flag. Wear the flag all over your body. Eat red, white, and blue jello. Whatever floats your boat. On the nation’s birthday, it makes sense to throw an over-the-top birthday party. Every American should also visit a cemetery and place flags on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. We should make an effort to remember and honor those who fought and died safeguarding our freedoms. It’s part of being a good citizen and recognizing with gratitude the privilege of living here.

I just don’t understand why suddenly some people feel the need to go overboard. Is there some sort of competition I missed a memo on? Like if you fly just one American flag at your house, you’re not as American as the guy next door flying two flags? If you have two American flags in the bed of your truck, you’re not as American as the guy with four flags flapping their way, tattered to shreds, down the highway? If your neighbor has a flag up and you put up light strips that cycle through the red, white, and blue all night long, you clearly must be more patriotic, right? This is the only rationale I can discern for this behavior. It appears to be all about one-upmanship and a prideful sense of superiority.

We fly the American flag here at our house on federal holidays and sometimes just because we feel like it. The rest of the time we fly our Colorado flag. This past June we flew our pride flag. I’m certain there are people who feel our displays are not enough (or, in the case of the pride flag, are perhaps too much). But it’s not up to anyone else to judge our level of patriotism. Patriotism isn’t determined by how many flags you fly or where you fly them or how tall your damn flag pole is. Honestly, the constant flag waving by my neighbors doesn’t make me feel less patriotic, nor does it impress me that they are more patriotic. It’s just flag waving. Patriotism isn’t about the flag. It’s about loving your country through the good and the bad. It’s about striving to become a more perfect union, not saying that we are already perfect. Flying multiple flags doesn’t mean you’ve cornered the market on being American. It just means you spent more money on flags. While I’m not a constitutional scholar, I don’t believe there is anything in that amazing document that says you aren’t American if you don’t have an American flag flying in your truck bed.

I know it’s your right to fly as many flags as you want. It is a free country, after all. I just want you to know that I don’t for one second believe you are a better, more worthy, or more honorable or patriotic American than I am. If all your flags make you feel more secure about that, though, knock yourself out.

Women’s Rights: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

I watched the devastating footage from Kabul today. I found myself crying, afraid for those left behind. I especially have concerns for the interpreters who worked with the United States during the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and beyond. It wrecks me to think that people who risked everything to help us will be left behind to certain death. There is no easy way to exit a war that cannot be won, but what we saw today was heartbreaking, desperate people clinging to their last bit of hope as it rolled down a runway.

I spent a fair part of my day stuck on thoughts of the women of Afghanistan, women who for the past 20 years have felt something of a taste of freedom. Young women, who have never known life under Taliban rule, are watching the futures they had hoped to imagine slip away. In all the footage today, I noticed there were no women in the streets. The women were home, hiding from the horror of their future. This will sadly become their new normal.

The United States currently ranks 20th in women’s rights. I am disappointed by how far behind other nations we are in terms of equal pay, maternity leave, and personal freedoms. But when I think about the Afghan women, I am incredibly grateful for the freedoms I have known by grace of having been born a woman in the United States and not in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, or Yemen. The United States might not be the best, but we’re far from the worst.

This world can be too much for my heart. Many days I struggle to find a smidgen of internal peace despite the tumult on the planet. Today was definitely one of those days. I dig myself out of this depression by focusing on gratitude. I had nothing to do with being born here. I, quite simply, lucked out. I may whine on my blog and in my life about my minuscule struggles, but I know how fortunate I am. If you can’t be born a white woman in Scandinavia, Canada, or Switzerland, the United States is still a lucky draw. I have been given a gift I didn’t earn.

I will hold the women of Afghanistan in my heart as I go about my daily life, a life any of them would be grateful to inhabit. They deserve more, and it breaks my heart they will now have so much less.

Treat Your Thoughts Like Clouds

Art credit to @phoebenewyork, photo by Elizabeth Schoettle

A friend posted this artwork to her Instagram this morning. This art piece sums up what I am working to achieve for myself through therapy and meditation. I strive to get to a place where I am able to put space between my thoughts about reality and reality itself. The thing about being a thought-filled introvert is that I spend a lot of time in my brain. My brain, unfortunately, was wired from a young age to view pretty much anything having to do with my appearance, my personality, my choices, and my desires negatively. I am working hard to acknowledge that my thoughts can be like a funhouse mirror, distorting reality and leaving me feeling horrible about myself without sufficient evidence to back up that view. So, the idea of treating my thoughts as clouds, recognizing that they come and go and take shape and lose shape because they are fluid and not at all concrete, is genius.

Like many people, for most of my life I have let my thoughts run away with me without understanding I can control them. When a negative or fearful or self-defeating thought pops into my head, what happens to it depends on my reaction to it. Say I look into a mirror and think, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, you look like hell,” I have a choice how I react to that thought. I can let that thought define me and spend the rest of my day self-conscious and sad, with that thought gaining more weight and getting heavier the more I pay attention to it, so that by the end of the day that cloud says, “Your best days are over. You should just go crawl in a hole where no one has to look at you.” I do have another option, though, which is to do some cloud busting. I can reply to that funhouse thought with a hearty “No one believes that, and neither should you,” and move on with my day unencumbered by that knee-jerk, knuckle-headed self talk.

My attitude towards my thoughts creates the difference between a quiet, sunny day with light cirrus clouds and a tumultuous, dark day punctuated by growing cumulonimbus storm clouds. So my task is to put some air space between myself and my thought clouds and to accept that my thoughts don’t always know what they are saying. Many times my thoughts are way off base. The faster I am able to acknowledge that my negative thoughts are just thoughts and not necessarily reflective of reality, the better job I can do clearing them from my head and making room for better thoughts, creative thoughts, thoughts filled with self-love.

Eventually, I hope to become a more effective cloud buster. I would love to be able to set my thought griefcase down and work on sunnier self-reflections.