Running in Circles and Running the Country into the Ground

Grrr! Is it just me, or does it rankle everyone that while we face the threat of government slowdown (yet again!), the result of this time’s congressional tantrum will include IOU’s instead of paychecks for military workers and other essential government employees, YET CONGRESS WILL STILL GET PAID! I find this appalling, and urge everyone to contact their congresspersons and senators and rail against the selfish, self-serving congress holding our country hostage because of pig-headed partisan politics.

Today’s Thought

It’s impossible to be a free spirit when you own a dog.

As an only person, when you take on a dog  your life is compressed into short blocks of freedom bounded by walks, feedings, and other attentions. Time away–even job time–is dictated by budget and guilt, while vacations are riddled with separation anxiety. It’s even more intense than having children–if you’re running late, at least your child can carry a key, open the door to get in out of the rain, use the toilet (flushing or not), wash up (you hope), and find the peanut butter. Your dog is dependent on you to keep him from messing on the carpet and chewing up the furniture out of boredom.

It was my own fault. I should not have visited the shelter that day, should not have fallen under the spell of the happy little dog who licked my fingers through the cage wire.When I opted to adopt my furry companion, I chose to forget the wild woman I once aspired to be. I would not be flying to New York or London on whim, dancing until dawn, or working a high-powered job that demanded long hours. I chose to shift my concerns to researching the best dog foods, working my schedule around a daily visit to the dog park, and accepting as vital relationships those established with a reliable dog walker and worthy veterinarian. I made the choice to be tethered to that ball of buff fur curled up under my home desk enjoying a barefoot massage while I work. I chose to exchange my freedom for warmth, appreciation, and a kiss on the nose.

I chose well. Good boy, Obie.

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On Guns

Well, today’s hot topic is gun control. On one side is the argument that a gun in the home will keep the danger out. On the other side is the cry that a gun in the home is the danger. Both arguments have their merits (otherwise there would be no debate), and both have a place in my head and heart.

I was raised with a gun in the home–my father was a farmer, and he kept a little .22 to keep raccoons and skunks from getting our chickens (coyotes had not yet become a problem in our part of the country).  I understood that it was important, that the chickens were our livelihood.  The rifle was kept in my parents’ closet, on the top shelf, supposedly away from a child’s curiosity. But for a child who had climbed to the top of the silo when she was 3, it would have been a simple task to reach that gun, had I been so inclined. Fortunately, whenever I saw him getting it out, I slipped under a bed and stuck my fingers in my ears against the devastating report.

That sound terrified me.

I taught my sons that guns were wrong, never bought them toy guns, never allowed them to watch violent programs. They made guns out of Legos and gleefully shot each other, the victims thrashing about in the childhood delight of pretend agony. I rolled my eyes and considered the argument of gender differences. Yet I knew that if something threatened my sons’ lives, I could easily point a gun and shoot to kill that threat.

That knowledge terrified me.

After I became a widow, my sons, now grown and respectable, suggested I might want to get a gun. I got a dog instead. But despite a home alarm system and an adoring, sharp-toothed ball of fur at my side, night noises can still make my blood flutter, and I know that if I had a gun, I would use it.

And that scares me more than a possible intruder.

Now, with all the recent debate on gun control, I have become more interested in the second amendment. I agree with the idea that we should have the right to protect our homes, but that protection must be modified with strict registration and compliance with training and safety measures. Someone like me, prone to quick panic, should not have any gun at easy access, let alone a semi-automatic weapon that can quickly expel multiple rounds. There is no one outside of the military or police who needs such an assault weapon, maybe with a bayonet mount or grenade launcher. These are the kinds of weapons we’ve seen destroying lives lately in places like Tucson, Aurora, and Sandy Hook. What possible reason could a person have for owning these, the true weapons of mass destruction?

Protection is one thing. Massacre is another. We must stop this love affair with guns. Yes, learn to protect your home. Take classes on safely using and storing guns. Or better yet, get a dog.

They love you back.

The Dichotomy of Worshipping Creativity

Watching the Golden Globes last night, it occurred to me how we Americans worship creativity. We hold elaborate televised parties to celebrate the creative works of everyone from costume designers to lighting technicians, from makeup artists to special effects developers. Our nation honors great contributors to the arts with large medals and an evening of celebration attended by the President.

But most revered, most adored, most worshipped are those who act, direct, sing and dance. One talent is appreciated, but multiple talents make us swoon: Anne Hathaway was respected as an actor, but when it was discovered she also sang like an angel, public adoration skyrocketed.

But those same people who are glued to their TVs, making notes on every gown and placing bets on their favorite performers and directors, are the very same people who are voting to eliminate arts programs in the schools, citing expense as a reason to subvert the very creativity they adore. Ratings for such awards shows as the Golden Globes, People’s Choice, Tonys, Emmys and Oscars indicate that they are being watched by a great many more people than those few who are vocally supporting arts education in our schools.

How can we so revere those (famous, glamorous) creative people even as we stifle the beginnings of that very creativity in our children? What are voters thinking when they demand budget cuts of music and theater teachers?

Where do they think the creativity of future generations will be nurtured and encouraged?

Goodbye, Mr. Bradbury

We grow, we blossom, we achieve, and do we ever really consider those who encouraged and inspired up to become the people we are or aspire to be? Some of them (many of them) are our teachers who see our light and guide us to brightness. For me, that teacher was Judy Dalton, who one day in Freshman English looked up from reading my paper and simply said, “You’re a writer.” From that moment on, I knew that, although I had been a writer all along, this
was my truth and validation—and my future.

But before Judy Dalton, there was Ray Bradbury who lit the fire in my soul, who caused me to write in the first place. He fed me stories that refreshed me, frightened me, surprised me, caused me pain and exhilaration. He turned my simple small-town world upside-down as I learned to question my very instincts, to doubt the obvious, to exult in the everyday—and to write about it all.

Although I never met him, he was my mentor, and I struggled to emulate him, writing fiction, essays, movie scripts, TV pilots, anything that had words and meaning. I marveled at his staggering amount of publications, his ability to write anything, any style, any format, and have it all sound original, fresh, and
personal. His works focused on story and meaning, encouraging me to do the same. Though I could never catch up, I knew he would expect me to try. I can
give no better tribute than to say that with his passing, the world is a lesser place.

Thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for the inspiration and the aspiration.

Shameless self-promotion

The goal of writers (well, most writers), aside from producing life-changing ideas and dizzying prose is to be published. It used to be we had to type out a clean copy (probably with onionskin copies) and go through the tedious process of correct binding, correct envelope, correct postage, of standing in line at the post office for correct postage, and then waiting the six months or more for a possible response, usually a small memo saying “Thanks but no thanks.” Then, because simultaneous submissions were verboten, we’d start the process all over again, maybe with rewrites, maybe not (after all, one editor might like what another one rejected).

Computers and the world of cyberspace has made the submission process much easier, but that is a double-edged sword, because now there is no deterrent to the hack writer who can easily send material everywhere with the click of a button.

So an acceptance is doubly appreciated and celebrated. And that is my roundabout way of announcing that, yes, my story “Mikvah” was a finalist in the Escape Into Life contest, which was judged by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler. The story will be published on the Web site www.escapeintolife.com sometime in May and can be read there.

I am heartened.

Goodbye, Whitney

I am writing this through angry tears.

Whitney Houston is dead, leaving a hole in the world.

The tears are natural–hers was perhaps the purest, most unique voice of a generation, a powerful, soaring, free sound that could lift you to the clouds. When she sang, she sang directly to your heart, creating an intimate connection, a hypnotic cocoon that sealed out personal troubles for a while. Her range was tremendous, her tone perfection, her control effortless. Her Black soul was unquestionable, yet she touched peoplea across cultures, spoke to anyone who understood and felt the power of music.

My anger comes from the waste–the erosion of her voice and final death through drug additction and poor life choices. I used to–still do–long for that vocal quality, that ability to pull music from a bottomless well of purity and emotion. That a person could possess that gift and waste it is unfationable to me.

But, as I have learned so often in my life, one never knows what is in another’s heart or home. I don’t know the demons that drove her to drugs, don’t understand how she came to live such a tumultuous personal life. The operant words here are “I don’t know.” All I can say now is I hope she is at peace, and say I will mourn that gentle touch, that soul-soothing sound.

I am sad and angry.

And bereft.

I Hate Politics!

I normally shy away from politics, but the recent situation in Washington has
caused me great anxiety, and more, embarrassment. With all the backbiting and
infighting between Democrats and Republicans (all branches) more befitting a
tacky reality show than a governing body, our rulers appear as simply rival
gangs engaged in a turf war, and the results could be devastating. The most
recent and, I think, most alarming, example is the upcoming presidential speech
on employment. We all know we re in a dire jobs situation, and the President
will present a major plan to get us out of this fix. However, his speech was
scheduled for the same day the Republicans were holding an election debate.
They whined, and THE PRESIDENT BACKED DOWN, changing the date of his speech. By
doing that, he gave up much of his power, as he practically admitted that their
debate was more important than his speech. Wrong move. Mr. President, we need a
leader—a Michael Douglas to stand at the presidential podium and declare with
steely gaze, “I am the President.” Conciliation is no longer effective. Please,
Sir, take command and lead us.

Quick writing update

Got a story coming out!  Always exciting–“The Gift” will be in the July/August issue of Cicada magazine. It’s a literary magazine for young people, and can be found at booksellers like Barnes and Noble. This is the company that puts out children’s magazines like Cricket and Ladybug. They’re really nice, and the quality of their magazines is top-notch.

You go, Wisconsin teachers!

It’s been interesting watching the recent demonstrations both by and against teachers. Yes, against teachers. People have been wielding signs suggesting that teachers have it pretty great, and why should they be able to negotiate better conditions. There seems to be a misconception about teachers—that their jobs are a breeze, they get summers off, paid a lot, and basically have a smooth ride.

Let me offer some illumination: I was a teacher in Wisconsin, and left because I was burned out and tired of spending every waking hour outside of the classroom either grading papers, attending meetings, or developing plans for parents. After listening to people who begrudge the people who raise their children a decent living or the chance to negotiate for it, I have the perfect solution.

Let’s eliminate teachers and schools completely.

Instead, we will shift the raising and educating of our children back where it belongs: on their parents, making parents responsible for their kids’ studies. They would be required to track their kids on a regular basis with the state, submitting lesson plans and progress reports, working to state standards and being responsible for test scores. Let the parents teach the kids social skills, and deal with inattention and recalcitrance. Of course, the parents would be required to rack up continuing education credits (at their own expense), and pay for materials out of their own pockets. For this, the state would provide a stipend for each child at the level accepted by the state legislature, requiring from the parents a detailed listing of how the funds were used (with receipts attached). For that, the state would provide health insurance (with a large co-pay and deductible required). This would be considerably less expensive than having all those greedy teachers and their exorbitant salaries!

Of course, if both parents work, they would have to figure out how to fit in the students’ time. Maybe one could work third shift, and teach during the day? (I know teachers who have a second job at night to make ends meet.) Hey, piece of cake, right? After all, how hard can it be to teach a child not only academic courses but citizenship, manners, cooperation, and tolerance?

After all, that’s what teachers do. And their reward? A salary that’s a third of what they might make applying their skills and intelligence in the private sector. And the “appreciation” of the parents who think they have it so easy. So let the parents do it. I dare them.

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