I Came Close to Getting Into A Fight On Facebook

An acquaintance posted something about elections that was at odds with the politics of their cohort. Well, the hysterical outpouring of response couldn’t have been greater than if the person in question was threatening kittens, throwing chocolate truffles out the window, or letting a baby play with power tools. This person was wrong wrong wrong.
What strikes me is not the topic, but the impulse to social control. Full disclosure–I don’t care deeply about electoral politics and am a reluctant if dutiful voter. I’m of the power corrupts school of thought, and I can’t really believe that most of our elected officials are ethical in the sense that I’d recognize in daily life. Also, I really try to not allow events beyond my control to dominate my personal actions and pursuit of happiness.
So if you say you might not vote in a particular election I regarded it the way I do folks who say they never volunteer or give philanthropy. I don’t think it is the greatest good, but I assume you have your reasons. Which you are more than entitled to. I’m not against the social contract–please drive the speed limit and get vaccinated (actually both these things might save your own life) but I’m not going to get hysterical if your notion of how to live differs from mine.
The inability to accept views we disagree with is pandemic–and not part of any solution. The idea that certain things are EVIL and that all right minded people agree on a course of action is kind of…fundamentalist…medieval…fanatical…I doubt anyone is going to really argue with me, until I link to Facebook, but thank you for reading!

Time Peace

I recently heard someone make the interesting observation that she was writing out the arc of her life on a big sheet of paper. When I was in residence with the Center for Land Use Interpretation I did the same. In fact I blogged this many years ago when it was in process. Finished, it was published in my memoir GEOGRAPHIC from Casa de Snapdragon Press.
Looking at it today, I realize these are experiences that meant I would never feel the United States of America was a benign liberal place designed for my happiness and security.

Time Peace

April 27, 1954

I am born, by natural childbirth, in Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. My mother delivers me a little after 3 p.m., after the nurse’s shift changes. They are loath to go because they have never seen natural childbirth before.
I am born into a world marked forever by Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Strange how innocent place names can come to speak of universal horror. I am born in upper Manhattan. For my entire life, my dreams will have NY City street signs in them. I will always know the cardinal directions in my dreams.

Manhattan Project, 1942-1946

Robert Oppenheimer and other physicists develop the atom bomb in a remote location in New Mexico–Los Alamos. It is tested in southern New Mexico, in the Jornado del Muerto. As an adult, I visit the Trinity Test Site on one of the two days of the year it is open and buy myself a lavender T-shirt with a blue mushroom cloud on it.
I wear it out.

Cuban Missile Crisis. October, 1962

Our third grade teacher, Mrs. Harvey, is no-nonsense and British. We know she survived the London blitz. She pulls down a map of the world from the blackboard at the front of the class and shows us that Russia practically touches Alaska. They have always been right next door and able to bomb us. For some reason, this banishes my fear.

August 6, 1945

The atom bomb “Little Boy” is dropped on Hiroshima by the U.S. On August 9, “Fat Man” is detonated over Nagasaki.

November 22, 1963

President John F. Kennedy is assassinated. I am in the fourth grade and miss Mrs. Harvey with her great accent.
This may be the first time I realize my family is different than others. The next school day many kids say they saw their fathers cry. My father did not cry, but he did drink a beer in the daytime while watching television–very unusual behavior.
Years later I learned that Fidel Castro remarked–who is this man Johnson and can he handle the CIA?
My father seemed to be asking some sort of similar question.

Autumn, 1905, Russia

A general strike is called throughout the Tsarist Russia–a revolution, really. My grandfather Avrum, who is a short skinny teenager, is lifted up by other men so he can pull the whistle which signals the start of the local protest.

April 4, 1968. Martin Luther King Assassination

The house next to us, which is abandoned, burns. It is a vast house with turrets and follies–we call it the pink castle. My parents are away, and my grandfather Avrum and I sit up all night together watching the firemen and keeping an eye so that the strand of copper beeches between us and the conflagration don’t catch fire.

November 7, 1867

Madame Sklodowska Curie, discoverer of radium, is born. I read her biography, along with those of Harriet Tub-man and Joan of Arc. I will never do what any of them do, but as a girl in the 1950s I take my heroines where I can find them.

November, 1984
I move to Santa Fe, New Mexico a few days after Ronald Reagan wins the election and am amazed to see the lights of Los Alamos twinkling in the northwest. It is as if I did not know it was a real place.

Tisha B’Av, 1492. Jews expelled from Spain

This date, the 9th day of the month of Av, is the least auspicious one on the Hebrew calendar.
The Jews are expelled from Spain, leaving my family with a taste for flamenco and me with the desire to just keep driving south into Mexico.

August 19-21, 1991. Fall of Soviet Union

The coup against Michael Gorbachev fails. During the two days of the attempt, my parents are huddled in the basement of their beach house because a hurricane is devastating the island of Martha’s Vineyard.
Periodically my father braves the wind and threat of broken glass to run up the stairs to the kitchen where he can get good radio reception to find out what is happening in Russia.

9th of Av, 70 A.C.E.

The destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. It is commemorated by the Romans on a triumphal arch, still
in Rome. The arch of Titus shows the plundered menorah carried off by soldiers. The start of the Jewish diaspora.

November, 2010. Wendover, Utah
Desert dawn, azure sky. Venus hangs over the guard tower. The lights of the casinos blink reflected in the windows of the Enola Gay hangar. I drink a cup of coffee by myself.

Veteran’s Day Revisited by Devon Miller-Duggan

I know I’m supposed to be tougher. I also know that it’s been the week of Veterans Day, not Memorial Day, and I know the difference between them. I know that the hundreds of small American flags planted on the mall of my University (we’re officially supposed to call it “The Green,” but until it has sheep or swans and a mill stream running through it, I’m sticking to “The Mall”) are supposed to make me feel things, and the recent pair of excellent articles in our student-run newspaper on the difficulties Vets face on a campus of not-Vets were meant to wake readers up to the fragilities and extraordinary strengths of those folks.

I also know that it’s been 8 years since my god-son died on the parched ground of Helmand Province and that I am very easily emotional these days because I am taking an aromatase inhibitor to prevent recurrence of my recent breast cancer (those drugs are not for the faint of heart—or more specifically, of mind, joints, sleep). But when I left my smack-in-the-middle-of-the-campus building to go next door to the Chemistry Building to teach Poetry Writing to a group of dazzling young humans who are (mostly) using their Advanced class to write through their own remarkably varied traumas and ran smack into the sight of all those flags, it damn-near brought me to my knees.
I am not prone to displays of patriotism (agreeing with Ben Franklin that it is too often the last refuge of the scoundrel) and (yeah, I know, grumpy liberal) generally find random flag-waving (cars, houses, car dealerships’ football-field-sized flappers) a little stupid more often than not. I know perfectly well where I live and of which country I am a citizen. But the flags that go up in November and late May, those are never not going to hurt, which is probably okay, probably good.
I’m a pacifist and I think territorial expansion is a sin. I think there are cases in which a people has been robbed of a homeland and then abused by their multiple “host” nations, and those cases are a good reason for everyone to grow the heck up and give up some land so that people can have a home and govern themselves, but otherwise, nations need to settle down, and borders need to be both permanent and porous. I think there’s no piece of cloth on the planet worth dying or killing for, and flags are dangerous because people mistake them for something they aren’t.
But I also have profound respect for those who serve, by choice, or by draft, whether or not they are all stellar humans. Their countries owe it to them to be terribly careful of their lives, before, during, and after. And while I did not give birth to “my” Marine, I have been closer to the consequences of stupid wars’ carelessness with the lives of military personnel than most people in my demographic. So those flags, even if I am less hair-trigger emotional after my 5 years on the drug are over, will always call up the war (WWI) that gave the day its birth, and every stupid or necessary, but always wrong and vile battle since. We need to grow beyond this. His name was Sgt. William Chapman Stacey. Google him. Find the cost of our increasingly fragile, frangible freedom. He was, in the words from Raymond Carver that are on his marker in Arlington, “beloved on the earth.” Those who came home and are among us should be, too. Not thanked reflexively, decently cared for, beloved on the earth.

Autumn…news from

I survived a three day period this October which marks the anniversaries of the death of two friends and of my first husband. Leaves fall. I move the herbs into the study and it warms up again. My grand-daughter is moving along in ways that can be described as very very close to crawling and pulls herself up to standing, mostly by using the nearest grown-up. Hickox Street has been widened as it turns into St. Francis, maybe in response to a terrible fatal accident last spring. I ate a glazed doughnut, and felt no regrets.
Then the car lights came on in the middle of the night. That really scared me!
Backstory–a recall, an adjustment to the brake lights, failure of that adjustment. Drained battery, engine light icons…trying to put it all together. Until at 2 am the driveway lit up red. I ran out and tried different things. Fortunately, but who knows why, the lights went off and I limped it to the dealer next day.
Now it is “fixed.” How many times have I tried to do the right thing, only to have it lead to something problematic and unexpected. Outside the laundromat a woman was crying in her green car. I told myself that if she was still crying when I came out I’d check on her. She wasn’t crying by then.
We realized the baby–like many of her relatives–has a bad case of FOMO–fear of missing out. She’ll fight sleep to stay where the action is. I personally don’t really have that any more. Autumn comes to me no matter what I do.

Balance–Life Practice or Pipe Dream?

I live with someone who values balance. Rich seems naturally drawn to the classical Greek ideals of harmony in life. He is neither ascetic nor self indulgent. It’s part of a peaceful attitude towards the world and all its tumult. I’ve benefited, and enjoyed it
But am I cut out for balance?
Several friends–separately–recently poo-poohed balance as any kind of ideal. Impossible, they said. It’s unrealistic to even try and achieve it. Yet another friend (I’ve been asking around) said she thought it was mostly a matter of personality–some people crave it, some don’t. We all know artists who have no use for balance–it’s straight up obsessive dedication all the time. The same might be true of some scientists, or even athletes and musicians. One thing is paramount. One thing IS life.
I do prefer balance here. Rest and activity. Sociability and solitude. Intellect and feeling. I have a short attention span–not exactly the same thing but connected. I’m not obsessive. I care about some things more than others–clothes more than cooking, reading more than crossword puzzles–but that’s about all.
So I guess I am seeking harmony. What’s your experience and opinion?

Do Whatever You Want and The Devil Take the Hindmost

I’m getting old. Old enough for Medicare, old enough just to do whatever I want. Let me say that I’m ethical enough–and yes, old enough–that this most likely does not involve inflicting any real harm on others. But it might involve the rudeness of truth, and the chaos of spontaneity.
For example, when I hear bad news about or from other people I no longer try and “understand.” Or mirror things back. Or be soothing. I’m much more likely to say–that is fucking terrible, and I’m really really sorry to hear it. If I care deeply, I’ll probably just burst into tears and curse more.
No one has ever accused me of being too suave, too reserved, too controlled. I often have sharp penetrating insight into situations–and now I’m more willing to share that. Is all this insight true? I don’t care. It’s what I see–and I’m happy to start talking about it. Right now.
What it boils down to is that I realize I can’t do much about anything–not for myself, not for others. I can keep a person company, and I know I’m pretty good at that. Some of this is because I’m now a grandmother. I can’t make the world safe. I can’t learn to walk or talk for the baby. I see her–a lively active seven month old–wild with frustration because she can’t walk on her own. I’m certainly not offering sympathy or advice to a baby. I’m singing a lot of show tunes, often from Guys and Dolls, and embarrassingly “Hey Big Spender” from Sweet Charity. I figure we’ve just got to pass the time until her brain is developed enough to figure it out.
I’m kind of applying this to myself as well. My fear of death, my creative process, my sometimes tangled relationships…I’m just killing time until I understand. Or not.

Why Is The Baby Crying?

When my daughter Isabel was an infant, someone asked me that. I remember thinking, heck, if I knew I’d write a book called “Why Your Baby Is Crying” and retire on the money. Babies cry, scream, and howl. Unexplained crying is called colic–and I know parents who regard their lovely grown offspring with a certain horror left over from those months when the baby never slept and cried ALL THE TIME. In Bali, during evening crying, people say, “the baby is talking” and there is some truth–and solace–in that.
My 4 1/2 month old grand-daughter Grainne is interesting to watch. A premie, she seems to still be in a rush. She flips herself over, squirms, almost crawls. This took a lot of work, and hours and hours of kicking. She coos and vocalizes, looks in my eyes as if she adores me, looks at the pattern on my blouse and the ceiling fan like her new best friends, smiles, giggles…and then, for no discernible reason, starts yowling, goes rigid as a board, is 100% misery. Usually feeding her puts her right to sleep at this point until she wakes up and starts all over. But sometimes she yowls for quite a bit.
She is a really good baby by her parent’s estimation because she sleeps through the night, eats heartily, and is incredibly cute. But good or not, she is a baby. I try to enter her mind. What if I screamed every time I felt faintly burpy, frustrated, or confused? I play this little game with myself.
I’m hungry, sort of.
What I really want is a cafe au lait and a muffin from Counterculture.
But I have to drive down Baca Street, and it’s hot out.
I feel faintly conflicted.
BUT if I was a baby, I figure I’d be shrieking by now.
However, I have a car, cash, and volition. So I go to Counterculture instead. The muffin is excellent. I finish it, but could use a little more. If I was a baby, I’d start shrieking…Now I realize it was too much coffee for my reflux…But since I’m not a baby I just live with it.
Let’s be honest–sometimes I do yell, and curse. At those I love but temporarily hate, at health insurance providers who are lying to me, etc. etc.
But it is good it is infrequent because I’m not as cute as a baby.