Why I love my daughter

I count it among one of life’s gifts to have a daughter who enjoys doing things with me. Rock concerts. Hiking when we’re on vacation (even if she leaves me in the dust). Shopping.  Enjoying the sights and streets of NYC when she comes back East. But it’s something else, as deep in what it says about character and resilience as it is funny that has me moved to write about her.

Because she lives on the West Coast and I’m in New York, it’s not uncommon for me wake to texts written by her late at night.We’d had more than one conversation about the distressing direction of health care and insurance last week. Hard to offer reassurance when things are so tenuous politically and socially, conservative right-wing Republicans have more power than they deserve, and there’s a psychopath in the White House.  And, yet, when we talk a switch in my brain automatically turns me from worried mode to mama mode, in which I remind her that things are bad, yes, but we have to consider that resistance counts for a lot. After we talk, I send a text.

So when I turned on my phone Friday morning and saw there was text from her, I was so sure it was going to be about John McCain, a villain earlier in the week. Then came Thursday night, the tension, the mystery, the anxiety.  I had trouble falling asleep, I dreaded what Friday would bring in the wake of the Senate debate on the last of the three options to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Here’s the text I woke up to.

I laughed.   Already in a better mood than I thought I’d be because of two persistent women who would not cave to party pressure augmented by a tweeting psychopath, and a man I’ve had mixed feelings about over the years, I reminded myself a small win is still a win.

I reminded myself, too, that my daughter has always been this way.  She unloads, tells me all the troubling things on her mind. Then her own neurological switch kicks in.

Survival strategies take many forms, and humor is one of the best.  Timothy Ferris makes a good case for laughter as a response to stress in an essay in his book, The Mind’s Sky: Human Intelligence in a Cosmic Context. We all need some comic relief.

I thought a little about John McCain, too.  His dramatic return in the throes of a terrible prognosis had so many seeing him as a hero. Humility in the face of death would not be a stretch when trying to understand his thumbs-down moment.  In truth, we all know the vote could have gone either way,

And I thought of two strong, remarkable women, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, who I’m thankful are not getting (too) overshadowed by the vote heard around the world.

Then there’s my daughter. The greed that fuels the climate change deniers, the heartlessness at the heart of attempts to eviscerate Obamacare get her absolutely worked up. Factor in random personal frustrations and you could have a pretty miserable individual.  But a capacity for getting on with things, coupled with a sense of humor and an admirable resilience, always ends up winning the day.

And sometimes all it takes is a puppy or two to make her smile.

Patiently waiting for a Shake Shack poochini 😉

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Nemo and Bambi and all the rest of us

If there’s a thread to my latest blog posts, I have nothing but that mysterious thing we call the unconscious to blame (maybe ‘credit’ is a better word than blame).

The other night I watched Finding Nemo, a refresher of sorts to get me ready for Finding Dory. Like all movies I’ve seen before, it’s the details I forgot, lines striking a fresh note, that ring out:

Fish are friends, not food.

When life gets you down, just keep swimming.

Ironic, indeed, since I recently decided to learn how to swim without feeling dead in the water. You would think that a woman with a longtime exercise regimen that has gone from running (including a marathon) to bicycling/walking/yoga (and now encompasses a combination of it all) would find herself a natural at this thing called swimming.

Doesn’t quite work that way. Sure, I have the endurance, but the coordination required to make staying afloat as pleasurable and seamless as it should be escapes me. Don’t even get me started on my fear of being in deep water. In my world (almost) everything is metaphor, and water has it all. Think about what it means to be in over your head. Buoyancy is never to be taken for granted. Fluidity? That’s just a start.

But thoughts take second place to the act here. I am, in astrological terms, a fire sign (Sagittarius) and even if I count on my other-worldly brother to keep me updated on how the stars are aligning for (or against) me in any given month, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to sense the power of water over fire. So it is with a mix of trepidation and pride that I take this plunge. There’s so much to be learned about myself, how can I help but keep a diary of my weekly lessons? In time, I’ll pull it together into a finely honed piece that has a ring to it: Learning to swim at 66. God is in the details, but I would hate to bore anyone with too many of them.

bambiToday on my morning walk, Bambi looked as if she wanted to run right up to me, but some uncertainty, not to mention the way she sensed Mama cautiously staring my way, stopped her in her tracks. They were both pretty close, and oh-so-trusting.   I would guess that the most threatening thing about me is the baseball cap I wear, a present from my daughter: Women who behave rarely make history.

If I feel a little like Nemo, lost in the ocean with his mismatched fins, I can forgive myself the facile analogy. His trial by water, coupled with Bambi’s trial by fire, has me viewing the darkness in Disney/Pixar in a new light.

How do we regain any sense of innocence lost when tragedy continues to bombard us? Nemo’s father does not even want to let him go to school in a movie that predates Sandy Hook by nine years.

Built into the classic hero’s journey are obstacles—how else does she/he learn and grow? But these days have me feeling we’re in a collective trial by fire, on the national and international front. I find myself thinking, a lot, about the brilliance and wit and pathos Frank Capra brought to movies with an undercurrent of troubled times. Meet John Doe is especially on my mind, what with a hero who runs from the media machinations and political connivance that created him, only to find he can’t run from the authentic, galvanizing movement he created.

If movies ostensibly for children strike a chord reminding me (us) that we have to find our own way in the world, could Meet John Doe, with its message of transcending despair, go a long way toward reminding us that we’re really not in this alone?

Everyone has an opinion/we all want to be heard.

A recent piece on Vox by Ezra Klein re: Hillary Clinton made it so clear that one of her strengths is LISTENING to people, and not, like her presumptive opponent, spouting and shooting from the hip. So here’s what I’m thinking: maybe we can shift the political conversation from the demoralizing, nauseating negativity dominating it by sharing talking points that speak to our favorite candidate’s strengths, not the other one’s weaknesses. I’ll begin right here/right now.

Speaking of women making history . . .Baseball cap

 

Fiction Facebook Friendship

Tap your heels together three times, Dorothy.

You always had the power.

To go home.

These days find me longing for some kind of yesterday. Can’t say I loved high school (who really does?) but I can say I remember being enthralled by a book I was supposed to hate if for no other reason than it wasn’t cool to like.

Boring? Maybe to some (most?) of my friends, engrossing to me:

Silas Marner.

Who, as a young teen, could even contemplate a condition known as catalepsy?george eiiot

Then there was Eppie. Innocent if not truly orphaned, when she finds her way to the doorstep of the gentle recluse himself. The bonds of love sometimes have a way of surprising us, even if, in our hearts, we know it couldn’t be any other way.

And the author, a woman with a man’s name.

Middlemarch (not to be confused with Middlesex or Middle Earth) has me in its grip now. The pull of the narrative is immediate, sinewy sentences that require the kind of deep attention that always rewards. No small irony in this time traveling from a world in hyperdrive, more and more on edge by the day, to one that doesn’t seem as old hat as it should in its exploration of marriage, and social mores, and politics in 19th century England. Times change, narrative syntax evolves; but there’s a reason great works of literature, with their timeless perspective on the big themes of life, beg to be read again, and again.

These are horrible, troubling, anxiety-ridden times. Paris . . .Brussels . . . no sane person sees any good there. Cuba? How you feel about it is intrinsically linked to whom you’re rooting for in the Reality TV show known as a presidential election. A wise friend on Facebook puts out a call to hide posts re: the Republication frontrunner (I can’t even say his name without becoming nauseous). A cousin spouts his negative thoughts re: our current president (one of the best ever, to my thinking).

I look for quotes by Rumi to share. Art, poetry, good books that move me. Links to music videos that do what only music can do to the spirit.

Along comes Marlene, a high school friend who connects with me on Facebook. Whatever divergent paths our lives since 1966 have taken us on, we’re here now, real friends in a virtual world. Synchronicity reveals its pretty head: like me, she’s a long-time fan of Leonard Cohen. Bruce Springsteen? Don’t even get us started. Turns out she lives in southern California, and when I tell her that my daughter has an extra pair of tickets to a Springsteen show (that will turn out to be historic as the four-hour finale at the L.A. Sports Arena), it’s a done deal.

In the best of all possible worlds, I’d hop on a plane, take a ticket for myself. It wouldn’t be the first time I flew out to go to a concert with my daughter.

In the real world, I smile at the photo an old high school friend has shared with my daughter, who has shared it with me. I may look back with mixed feelings at my high school self, but there’s only delight at the serendipity that has played its hand in reconnecting us, a connection magnified by the power of music. My physical body was (alas) not at that stupendous show, but trust me, I was there.

Bruce2

Talk less, say more

I have a dream . . . in which I’m sitting at a kitchen table with my cousins—very close cousins, whom I love dearly—and we’re reminiscing, schmoozing, laughing about old times at another kitchen table, in a small Brooklyn apartment, as mythical as it was real. We tease each other about the kids we once were. We keep nibbling at whatever food and snacks are within reach.

What makes this a dream is one simple wish: when politics rears its ugly head, and we find ourselves across that nasty divide, we listen—really listen—to each other. All one cousin, staunch Republican that he is, has to say is one word to make me cringe: Yes, Benghazi.

I try, really I do, to put things into perspective. I ask him to look at past administrations, Republican and Democratic alike, to see if we might reach some common ground re: fallibility and accountability on both sides. There’s nothing pretty about politics. At its purest, it’s a rather benign word encompassing the ‘science of government’ or ‘affairs of state,’ rooted in the Greek politikos, meaning ‘of, for, or relating to citizens.’ But even way way back, the ideal vs. the pragmatic and/or power-driven state of governance was teased apart by philosophers. All of which doesn’t do much to mitigate today’s connotation of politics and with it, the encroaching reality that the truth of any situation is hard to come by. We all have mindsets, predispositions, call it what you will. We live in world governed by all the news that’s fit to summarize and spit out to suit a spin mentality that supports those predispositions.

It’s the reason that presidential debates put is into a tailspin or make us fall sleep, and, alas, rarely change our minds.

It’s the reason elections, presidential or otherwise – make everyone I know complain about those hideous placards marring the landscape for weeks and the bombardment of 30-second spots messing with any pleasure I get from watching TV. (Even with DVR capability, allowing me to fast-forward through commercials, I can’t help but feel the offense of it all during the height of election season.) Don’t even get me started on the obscene amount of money that goes into campaigning. All that complaining seems to get us nowhere.

Go ahead, remind me I’m preaching to the choir.

Yes, I take it all too personally. I worry about climate change, terrorism, a woman’s right to choose, the future of the Supreme Court. I worry about people who spout about the right to bear arms without really understanding the nuanced language of the Second Amendment. With cousins living in Ohio, I sometimes imagine myself on the campaign trail, a volunteer. Think of the sense of accomplishment if I could change the mind of just one person, cousin or otherwise, leaning red!   Almost as gratifying would be getting someone to listen—really listen—to the information I’m trying to share. This person, like my cousin, would probably say he’s listening, and, to some degree he is.   But what he’s hearing is something else completely.

He would probably say the same about me.

My brother may be a better (or better yet, more determined) person than I am in his efforts to get my cousin to see the light, to whatever degree possible. I stay away from family dramas on Facebook, but I do read the interactions and sometimes, when I just can’t help myself, I put in my two cents. A few days after the horrendous shooting at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College Campus, my Facebook feed showed me that my cousin had shared a Wired Outdoors link with this message: Making Good People Helpless Won’t Make Bad People Harmless. On their own, the words are hard to argue with. Except that the telling graphic—a rifle underscoring the words—gives a not-so-subliminal spin to it. Wired Outdoors is apparently a hunting TV show, and reducing the complex issue of gun control to a simplistic phrase brought me to a place between rage and tears.

You know the saying: You can choose your friends . . . but family you’re stuck with. Stuck or not, I periodically find myself with a nostalgic longing to be with family, no longer around the proverbial corner. With distance more the norm than the exception these days, family get-togethers take a bit of planning and effort. The alternative—disappearing from each other’s lives completely—is not an option.

There’s nothing original about my scenario, and I know it. Case in point: a good friend tells me about family group emails in which one of her brothers insists on sharing what is now generally understood to be egregiously manipulated Planned Parenthood videos. All efforts at trying to make him see the ruse for what it is are clearly a waste of her time.

But we try . . . and we try . . . and we try. And once in a while, I like to think, we can step outside of ourselves, take the time to listen and read with an open mind.

Like I said, this is a dream.

modern familyAnd even if we can’t cross that political divide, we still manage to sit around a table. And eat.