ALL THE ANSWERS YOU’LL EVER NEED

We spend too much time trying to figure out what life means. Why bad stuff happens. Whether or not a malevolent deity has it in for us. It’s normal to wonder if the reason you are sick, broke or miserable is the result of something you did or failed to do. To accept the total randomness of events is rough.

Like you, I’ve put a good bit of thought into how come my life keeps falling apart. I know I’m not perfect, but come on! It’s not like I ripped off everyone’s retirement money or slaughtered thousands of people because I think they are ethnically inferior. Whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things.

I was pondering this stuff when I was a teenager, which is why I studied it in college and kept exploring it through the decades since. One day, I woke up and realized I knew the Truth. All had been revealed.

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I Don’t Know Anything. Neither Do You.

Suddenly random happenstance is as meaningful as anything else. What a relief to realize I don’t need an explanation. Stuff happens. I spent years — decades — thinking in circles, but now I am perfectly content displaying my lack of knowledge for all the world to see (and admire).

Just like when I was 12. I’ve been considering founding a church. I could enlist a lot of followers. My church  would require no beliefs. It would need no contributions of time or money. It wouldn’t even require that you show up, unless you happened to feel like it. There would be no rules to follow, no standards to live up to. No angry deity to get pissed off if you behave badly. It would ideally suit the modern lifestyle, don’t you think?

Faith and Proof

Faith is not proof. Faith is opinion in fancy clothing.

You can believe what you want, but you can’t know any more than I do. You take the same leap of faith believing in God or declaring yourself an atheist. Both positions require you take as absolute something for which you have no proof and for which you can never have proof.

If believing in a loving God makes your world feel rational, that’s good. It could be true. If it turns out you’re right, you’ll have backed a winner. If believing there is no God, and science is the path to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re  making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.

As for me, I don’t know. Really. I don’t know and what makes me smarter than you is I know I don’t know.

Tempus Fugit is a frog.

Tempus Fugit is a frog.

Accepting that one knows nothing is a big step, so the next issue to tackle is how can you can cash in on your new understanding. What’s the point in knowing the meaning of life unless you can awe people with your brilliance?

No one will be dazzled unless you know the right words. Terminology is important.

Big words (4 or more syllables) when used in an appropriate setting, can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds indicating their admiration.

Employing big words enhances your likelihood of getting a management position.

You can write important books.Have a blog like me. Big words can take you a long way if you are skilled at deploying them.

Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause unexpected laughter … not good unless you are aiming for a stand-up comedy career.

Epistemology

Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? 

I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything. Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, concepts, and appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical. (Remember infinite sets from college math? It’s like that.)

Phenomenology

On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. Except the same reasoning can prove there is no God. This is the joy of phenomenology.

Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation:

Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.

In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.

Becoming a Fount of Wisdom

You can now explain anything. Everything. You can prove things based on something a couple of friends said years ago while under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. Although others may fault your logic, in the world of academics, everyone disbelieves everyone else unless they are citing them as a source, so you might as well stick your oar in the water.

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There are people who will attack you using faith. Faith is based on itself making it hard to dispute. Not to worry. The only one who is ever fully convinced by faith is the one who holds it. Nor does it really matter how many people believe or disbelieve it.

Having more believers or followers doesn’t transform faith into fact.

If it did, we could achieve some really nifty things. Like, say we all believe in magic and therefore, it exists. Cool.

Thanks for reading. I hope I’ve clarified everything. If not, feel free to have your people call my people. We’ll talk.

WHY TERM LIMITS ARE A TERRIBLE IDEA — AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN

Too many people believe we will get better government by making sure no one in congress gets to stay there for a long time. I don’t know why inexperience would mean better government. In what other field do we prefer raw recruits to veterans? Would you want an inexperienced surgeon? A lawyer fresh out of law school?

Why do you want amateurs making your laws?

Our founding fathers specifically excluded term limits. Their experience under the Articles of Confederation (the document that preceded The Constitution) showed them that good people are not interested in temp jobs for lousy pay in a distant city. Those elected to office walked away from their positions — or never took them up in the first place. There was no future in it.

When the Constitution was drawn, its authors wanted to tempt the best and the brightest to government service. They wanted candidates who would make it a career. They weren’t interested in amateurs and parvenus. The business of governing a nation has a learning curve. It takes years to get the hang of how things work, how a law gets written. How to reach across the aisle and get the opposition to participate.

The Articles of Confederation contained exactly the ideas people are promulgating today. They failed. Miserably. Do we need to learn the same lesson again?

The absence of term limits in the Constitution is not an oversight. The writers of the Constitution thought long and hard about this problem.

A little more history

Under the Articles of Confederation, our country fell apart. Elected representatives came to the capital (New York), hung around awhile, then went home. Why stay? The job had no future and their salaries didn’t pay enough to cover their costs, much less support families.

Term limits were soundly rejected at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. They were right. The Constitution’s aims to get professionals into government.

Term limits remove any hope of building a career in government. It becomes a very hard temp job with no future.

Myth Busting 101: Congress isn’t overpaid

Maybe they are paid more than you and me, but compared to what they could be earning elsewhere, they are paid poorly. What you cry? How can that be?

Most members of congress are lawyers. The 2011-2012 salary for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate was $174,000 per year. A third year associate at a good law firm will do that well and after six to twelve years (1 – 2 senate terms), a competent attorney in a good market makes much more.

Senators and representatives have to maintain two residences, one in their native state, the other in DC. If you think $174,000 will support two houses and send the kids to college, you are living in a fantasy world. Which is why many members of congress have other income streams.

Curiously, our Founding Fathers expected congressmen, especially senators, to be men of means. They felt only wealthy people would be able to afford government service. And they would be less susceptible to bribery. On the whole, they were right. What they didn’t foresee was how many kinds of corruption would be available. Bribery is the least of our problems.

Skill and experience count

Writing a law that can stand up to scrutiny by the courts and other members of congress takes years. You don’t waltz in from Anywhere, USA and start writing laws. Moreover, great legislators are rare in any generation. A sane electorate doesn’t throw them away.

We are not suffering from an entrenched group of old-time pols stopping the legislative process. We are suffering a dearth of old guard, the folks who understand how to work with the opposition to make the process work. It’s the newly elected morons who are stopping progress. Sadly, our experienced old-timers got old and retired. Or died. They have been replaced by imbeciles.

Above and beyond the skill it take to write legislation, it takes even longer to gain seniority and peer respect. Frank Capra notwithstanding, Mr. Smith doesn’t go to Washington and accomplish miracles. Newly elected congresspeople hope to build a career in politics. With luck, one or two of them will become a great legislator, a Tip O’Neill, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Bob DoleTed Kennedy or another of the giants. Anyone you name connected to important legislation was a multi (many) term representative or senator.

Term limits eliminate all chance of having great legislators

Term limits guarantee a bunch of amateurs — or worse — fumbling their way around congress. As soon as they figure out where the toilets are and get reasonably good at their jobs, they’ll be gone. Does that make sense? Really?

Garry and Tip O’Neill

If you think your congressman or senator is doing a crappy job, replace him or her with someone you believe will do better.

If you don’t elect them, they won’t be in congress

We have term limits. These are called elections. Throw the bums out. Vote for the other guy. Term limits were an awful idea in 1788 and they haven’t improved with time. Among the biggest concerns Democrats had about Barack Obama in 2008 was he didn’t have enough experience, hadn’t been in the senate long enough. With term limits, no one would ever have enough experience. Where would we get candidates suitable to be President?

We don’t need term limits. We need better candidates. We need men and women willing to learn the craft, who have ideas and can work with others to get America’s business done. Our government does not rest on the Presidency. It rests on 435 congressmen and 100 senators.

The President doesn’t run the country

Congress writes legislation and votes it into law. Ultimately, it’s you, me, our friends and neighbors who choose the people to make laws, pass budgets, approve cabinet members and Supreme Court justices.

Whatever is wrong with Congress, it’s OUR fault

The 535 members of congress are chosen by us and if you don’t like one, don’t vote for him or her. If someone gets re-elected over and over, you have to figure that a lot of people vote for that candidate. You may not like him, but other people do. That’s what elections are about. It doesn’t necessarily work out the way you want, but changing the rules won’t solve the problems. Make the job more — not less — attractive so better people will want to go into government. Otherwise, you’re creating a job no one will want.

It’s close to that already. Mention going into politics to an ambitious young person. Watch him or her recoil in horror.

Ultimately, it’s all about America. Partisanship, special interests, regional issues, party politics and personal agendas need to take a back seat to the good of the nation … and we need to agree what that means, at least in broad strokes. Term limits won’t fix the problem, because that’s not what’s broken.

GRANDMA’S BEST ADVICE

The other day, I had one of the increasingly rare moments alone with my granddaughter. She has been going through a prolonged siege of the teenage girl crazies, a ghastly combination of hormones, boys, high school and high drama.

Clearly, she was in need of the best advice I had to offer, so I gave it to her.

“If you are going to be crazy, be crazy,” I said. “I was a basket case at your age too. Many of us were. It’s a girl thing. But trust me. You really can trust me on this. Everything gets better. Not very long from now, you’ll look back on this time and be embarrassed by some of the stuff you are doing.”

High tension wire, golden maple leaves framed by an azure sky.

And then I gave her the best advice I had: “Be crazy if you must. Just — for God’s sake, don’t put it online. Your great-grandchildren will be finding your Facebook posts and laughing their asses off. Worse, your future possible employers will be finding them too, not to mention your potential life-partners, business associates, friends and co-workers. Be nuts if you must, but shut up about it. Don’t publish it.”

I know it’s the current thing to spill ones guts on the internet. I share too, but only if I can make it reasonably elegant and I don’t mind who knows. Moreover, I’m retired. I will never again have to hunt for a job. I have the only husband I will ever need or want. My friends already know I’m a whack job and they love me anyhow.

But my granddaughter is 17. She’s got a whole life to live, worlds to conquer and all that drama published on the internet can turn into the stuff of nightmares.

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Nothing ever vanishes once it’s “out there” in cyberspace. Everything you ever wrote, ever commented is going to show up on someone’s Google search. It gives friends something to laugh about and you something to blush over … but it’s also something for those who don’t like you to use against you. It provides easy ways for people to hurt you. If you are, as I am, past the age where you give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks or says about you, behave accordingly.

However, if you are still in the job market, still hoping for a career, especially if you are a teacher or any kind of public servant. Or looking for work in finance or something which requires a security clearance … Think carefully before you publish.

Nothing you put on the internet is private, no matter what anyone tells you. I can find posts I wrote that were supposedly private twenty years ago and newspaper articles in which I am mentioned that were published in The Jerusalem Post 30 years ago.

If it goes up on any form of social media or blog? It’s a land mine on which you will eventually step.

So be crazy. Be as crazy as you want. Just don’t publish it. If it’s unpublished, it’s a rumor. Plausible deniability applies. But if it’s published? You’re busted.

STUCK! THEN — HELP ARRIVES!!

The last time Garry could get free of the driveway was last Saturday. Today, as I write this, it’s Thursday. The kids picked up a few things, including dog food — which was getting perilously low — when they were out a few days ago. Otherwise, we are stuck. Our PT Cruiser has been dug out and is actually sitting on bare asphalt, but the driveway is so completely iced over, the car will not go more than a few feet. Then, it just spins its wheels.

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I tried to get a tow, but it’s a front wheel drive car without a tow hitch. Pulling it out from the front … which is the only way it could be done because of the way it’s parked … would tear off the whole front bumper. So the driveway has been plowed twice — for whatever good it did which isn’t much — and our car is still trapped.

Both the yellow car and the silver Cruiser are ours. Mostly, Kaity uses the yellow Sunbird. We use the Cruiser for pretty much everything. For a 2-wheel drive vehicle, it’s been good. Until this winter, which has defeated the snowblower and the car. And the best efforts of everyone in the house.

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Yesterday afternoon it rained. It was in the mid thirties, so I hoped it would at least take the level of ice down, but what it did was convert the last remaining hard-packed snow into solid ice about 3-inches thick. Our neighbor came by early this morning with his tractor … but he said the ice was too hard and too thick.

I called the town, but they had nothing but one (just one!) bucket of sand to offer us. And we’d have to come and get it. I pointed out we are two senior citizens trapped by ice. They suggested we call the police and evacuate to a shelter. Nice to know our tax dollars are so well spent.

AAA say their vehicles don’t have 4-wheel drive, sorry. Good all those years of dues are paying off.

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We are down to our last hope, the neighbor with the tractor who says he’ll try again later. Maybe the ice will have softened a little. I’m not feeling optimistic at this point. But we do have to get out. The Cruiser needs to be inspected before the end of the month. I have a doctor appointment on Monday. I don’t think we’ll run out of food, but I’m running out of time. It’s 13 days until I go into the hospital and there’s much to be done. At this rate, I won’t be able to get to the hospital because I can’t get out of the driveway. Isn’t that a kick in the head.

In all the years we have both lived in New England, never have we been trapped like this. Garry’s lived here since 1970 and me since 1987. We’ve had bad winters, but never have we been marooned. I really don’t know what is going to happen. Or when.

- – - – -

And then … the tractor arrived! Good neighbor Burt and the green miracle machine and suddenly, we can see pavement! That’s right. Asphalt! It’s been more than a month since we’ve seen it and now … it’s back. Owen is helping, shuffling cars … and of course Bishop is helping by barking continuously, with occasional input from Bonnie. Nan barks too, but stays inside while lending moral support to the outside dogs. It’s amazing!! It’s … a neighbor. A member of our church’s congregation — an elder, actually.

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Because in the end, the reality of the valley and perhaps of rural life in general — you need your neighbors. They are the ones who have trucks and tractors, who will bring you a cooked meal when you are sick, do your shopping when you’re laid up. You meet your neighbors, not over the fence but in church. Believe what you like, but join a church regardless because the heart and soul of relationships in rural New England begin in churches.

WHEN A WINDOW OPENS

Every time I hear “God opens a window when he closes a door,” “God will take care of it,” ” Have faith, God will save you” I wonder if we are so helpless we can’t, in the face of difficulties, do anything more than pray for help. 

75-RoxburyWindow-NIK-1Why should helplessness be comforting?

What makes you think God closed that door? Maybe the wind blew it shut. Maybe some passerby gave it a push.

God may take care of you in a spiritual sense, but practically speaking, for every person I know who feels God saved them, there are many more who didn’t survive. I prefer “God helps them who help themselves.” Because it suggests we have the equipment to survive. that we are not entirely at the mercy of forces beyond our control.

So when that door closes, walk over, brace yourself, and open the window. You don’t need to ask God to do what you can do yourself.

I believe with free will comes responsibility. If scripture means anything, God gave us gifts — intelligence, reason, creativity. We know right from wrong, understand good and evil.

I don’t believe clouds have silver linings, but I believe storms are okay. We need rain and wind. It’s part of life, the normal ups and downs. Rain is not worse or less valuable than sunshine, only different. You may not like rain, but the earth loves it.

There are many things over which we have no control. The road we travel is unmapped and full of potholes. We can’t fix all the broken things and death is the only certainty. And those pesky taxes.

But while we have life, we have choices to make and responsibilities to meet. If we can’t make everything go as we want, we can do the best we can to take care of ourselves and each other, do the best we can with what we have. Pick good occupations and partners. Make friends who will support us through good times and bad. Look for solutions to problems and treatment for illness.

We don’t have to wait for a higher power to take care of us. We are grown ups. Expecting God to take care of every boo-boo is infantile.

Do I think prayers get answered? Uh huh. But sometimes the answer is “No.”  No one — mortal or deity — promised to make all the bad stuff go away or said life would be easy. So, I’ll continue do my best to take care of me and mine as long as I’m able. Because I think that’s what I’m supposed to do.

LIFE IN REAL TIME

When I was little, I had imaginary playmates. I talked to them. They followed me around. I was never bored because I had friends who really understood me. After I started school, my shadow friends left, never to return. Instead, I got a narrator who has been my lifetime companion. Whatever has gone wrong in my life, I suggest you blame in on the narrator. It’s all his fault.

“Narrator?” you ask. Before you decide I’m schizophrenic, a lot of writers have one or more narrators. I understand the narrator is my voice. He has just one story to tell. Mine. My job is to live. His is to tell the tale. His is the eye that sees all but isn’t involved. He witnesses — but causes nothing, changes nothing, makes no suggestions except to correct grammar. I wish he were a better proofreader.

stone church window

My narrator does not instruct, chastise or judge. He records, remembers and fills in the back story. I’m in charge except I can’t get him to shut up. He gives me a third person perspective on my life. I’m so used to hearing the running commentary, I don’t know how else I could see the world. I’ve grown fond of the old guy.

There are narrators and then, there are narrators. You can get into serious trouble if you forget the narrator is you, not an “other” entity. Should you find yourself listening to a narrator who is telling you to blow things up or kill anyone, you might want to drop by someone’s office for a little chat. Just saying. Of course if you know it’s God talking to you, who am I to interfere?

Through the years, the narrator has filled the holes in my life story, adding “He said, she said,” describing action and scenery, “novelizing” reality. I have grown fond of my narrator and wish he could type. It would save me so much work. A couple of years ago, the narrator left for a while. It was a particularly turbulent period, so maybe the noise in my head was too loud and I couldn’t hear him. Eventually, he came back. There a correlation between when I’m writing and the narrator. If he’s gone, so is my creativity.

The narrator is distracting and I have had to learn to not let him derail me. He does not respect the moment. A running commentary in one’s head during sex makes it difficult to focus. Men take this personally and trying to explain always makes it worse. They then think you are not merely disinterested, but also nuts.

A narrator can take the fun out of parties. You have to make an effort to participate, not just observe. With the narrator describing the surroundings and each person, occasionally arguing with other narrators (sometimes I have more than one), it’s tricky to connect with people. When narrators argue, I have to step in, settle the dispute, tell all but one to shut up. Problem is, there’s more than one way to see stuff and when a lot of points of view clamor for attention, it gets noisy in the brain-space. It can keep you up at night. It can keep your partner awake too

I’ve learned a lot from my narrator. I’ve learned to see life as an endless story with chapters, back stories, weird incidental characters, tragedy, romance, hope and despair. My job is to live it and not forget to write it down. And fix the typos.

AND THEN I SAID BAH HUMBUG!

What is your least favorite personal quality in others? Extra points for sharing your least favorite personal quality in yourself.

I really hate ignorance, bigotry and stupidity. Even more? Self-righteousness and people who judge others — while oddly enough, never judging their own behavior.

Me? I wish I were less impatient with ignorance, bigotry and stupidity and less likely to try to tear out the throats of those self-righteous twerps. Probably I’m guilty of the same behavior from a different perspective, (Begin irony.) but that’s different. Because I’m right. How do I know? I just do. Trust me. (End irony.)

TapeI don’t really want to do violence. I just want to tape some collective jaws shut. With gaffer’s tape. Or whatever it is they use in packing departments that I can’t open without a machete. That would make me smile. Thinking about it makes me feel good. Happy. Downright seasonally joyful.

Can I tape up all the commentators on Fox News? Puleeze?

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DON’T PRINT THE LEGEND

Dusty Streets of Tombstone

I love westerns. I hate westerns. I grew up wanting to be a western hero, maybe the Lone Ranger. Never mind the gender issue. I knew by the time I was 5 that boys get to do a lot more stuff than girls, so I wanted to be one.

When I was a kid I didn’t know much. I didn’t count bullets and wonder how come they didn’t reload. I had no idea how many bullets there ought to be. I didn’t notice prejudice, bigotry and the near-genocide of Native Americans … hey, I was a kid. But I’m not a kid now. I know what it means when someone says “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

I understand westerns are not historical documents and I don’t need them to be. I’m used to historical manipulation, ignoring facts to make a story work. But I can’t seem to ignore cruelty, mass murder and the adulation of psychopaths. The claims of heroism for what are really acts of malice, stupidity and greed. It doesn’t roll off me.

Big things bother me a lot while small things bother me proportionately less — like an itch I can’t scratch. “Print the legend” does not work for me. I can’t wrap my head around the myth. There are exceptions of course … but mostly … westerns have become painful to watch. New-style and cynical — or old-fashioned and racist — it’s the same. The only difference is style. For me, it’s no longer entertainment.

It just hurts.

Afternoon walk - Tombstone

GUNS PROTECTING GUNS

Red Ryder BB gun

Our family weapon. It’s a classic.

When I see a story about folks who’ve gotten busted for having an arsenal and because, as my husband puts it, “they have toys in the attic,” I notice most of them are poor. Really poor. Living in squalor.

They live in trailer parts, rural shacks or crumbling buildings in cities. Or in a perfectly regular house in some suburb, maybe right next door. They don’t have much else, but by golly — they have guns. Lots of guns. Maybe if they didn’t spend all their money on guns, they might be able afford furniture and a bit more food in the fridge.

There was a time when Garry and I talked about getting hand guns. He was working all kinds of hours in dangerous places. I was coming home from work alone, in the dark. So we checked out what a decent handgun — one that won’t blow up in your hand and will hit a target when aimed — costs. More than 20 years ago, a moderately good handgun from a legitimate manufacturer cost a thousand dollars or more. Maybe you could do better at a gun show or pawn shop, but we don’t know enough about guns to buy that way. So how do all those street thugs and wackos manage to accumulate so many weapons? We couldn’t afford them even when both of us were working and earning good money. I suppose it’s a matter of priorities and what is really important in your life.

lotsa guns

It seems to me — correct me if I’m wrong — that these people are passionate about their right to protect their stuff and feel they need an arsenal with which to do it. But the only thing they have that’s worth protecting are guns. So they need guns to protect themselves from people would otherwise steal their guns. Have I gotten that correct?

They have guns to protect their guns because everything else they own is trash.

I know there are lots of legitimate gun owners. Folks who hunt, eat what they kill. Compete in gun-related sporting activities and don’t spend every penny they get on more guns. You know, normal people who also own a gun or three. Those aren’t the people I’m talking about.

I worry about that special breed, the Arsenal People, the folks whose motto is  “You can’t have too many guns.” (I think you can have too many guns, but I’m not one of Those People.)

These nut cases and whack jobs abound in every area of the country. In rural villages, big cities and suburbs. They look normal. There’s nothing — except money, which they always have enough of for more guns — to control how many and what kinds of weapons they own.

There are far too many of them for my comfort. Both the people and their guns.

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FEEDING THE HUNGRY – UNSUNG HEROES

Community Food Bank_0There are still some heroes in our midst, many of whom work at local food banks. In big cities and rural villages, they do their best to feed the hungrySupported by religious organizations of every denomination, with help from local groceries, businesses and private citizens who don’t want their neighbors to go hungry, they provide food for people who otherwise might not eat.

Food banks operate quietly in almost every community. These are the places that make it possible to not send the kids to bed hungry. They give food without requiring a lot of paperwork. They help while trying to let those they help maintain their dignity. They do not judge. They are friendly, smiling, and act like what they do is no big deal. Think nothing of it, they say. Being poor is not shameful in their eyes.

There is nothing scarier than knowing there is nothing to eat and no money to buy food. Poverty is painful, humiliating, and frightening. The big bad wolf is not merely at the door, he’s in the house.

Poverty isn’t limited to the lazy, drug users, or any particular group or class. It is part of the daily lives of the elderly, a familiar companion to anyone on a fixed income. It haunts the working poor, the disabled, and many who have been hit by “life accidents” from the closing of the plant where they used to work, to illness, fire, flood, or other calamity.

What all these people have in common is they have been assaulted and beaten by events over which they had no control. Government agencies are not user-friendly and frequently so rules-bound it’s impossible to live long enough to get help, even if you theoretically qualify.

The people who run food banks — the staff, organizers, local businesses and plain folk who work to make food available to those who need it — are unsung heroes. I would just like to thank you. You have kept many of us going when we had nowhere else to turn.

You’re the good guys and we need more of you in our world.

DAILY PROMPT: FEAR FACTOR – EEK!

I’m afraid of spiders. Not because they are dangerous, though some are. Not because of the potential toxicity. I’m afraid of spiders because they are creepy, make my skin crawl, and make me scream like a little girl.

Carolina wolf spider with spiderlings, large

EEK, I shriek and jump straight out of my chair with my heart pounding like a trip hammer. The loudness of my EEK and the hysterical pounding in my chest is in direct proportion to the blackness and largeness of the spider. Bigger is scarier. Big, black and hairy might actually kill me from sheer panic and irrational terror.

A friend of mine was attacked by a wolf spider while sun bathing on her patio in Arizona. The thing was the size of a small dinner plate (dessert plate?) and landed on her breast, then proceeded to take a chunk out of her. The pain was one thing. The fear was so intense she promptly sold her house and moved to a place where there are no wolf spiders. I’m with her.

Big Hairy Spider

But today, I am a warrior. I have power. I do not go EEK!

I went into my bedroom to change my clothing this afternoon. There, in the middle of my white blanketed bed was a medium-sized black garden spider. Did I scream in panic? Did I even go EEK? NO! I rallied my womanly strength, balled up my clean pink tee-shirt that I had just taken from my cupboard and squashed it. Kept squashing until it was nothing but a black smear of used-to-be-a-spider. Then, I put the tee-shirt on.

I went and told my husband. He gave me a proud thumb’s up.

I wear dead spider proudly. I am woman. Hear me roar.

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WHY DID YOU TAKE THAT PICTURE?

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“Why did you take that picture?” I was startled. No one ever asked me before. Photographers instinctively know the answer; non-photographers don’t normally think to ask. It gave me pause.

To me, it’s obvious why any picture was taken: the photographer saw something. Light, shadow, image, color. Abstract or representational, something about the image appealed to the photographer’s inner eye.

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I don’t need a reason to take a picture, though I may have one. I don’t take pictures of churches for religious reasons. I like the architecture or how the light plays on the steeple or reflects in the windows. If I think it will make an interesting composition, I’ll take pictures of my feet. I have taken pictures of my feet, with and without shoes.

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I think if anyone asks such a question, one of two things is true. The photographer has failed to convey his or her vision. Or the viewer doesn’t understand art or artists. Either way, it’s a failure to communicate. You can’t explain art. You get it or not. It speaks to you or not. No amount of studying will make art comprehensible if you don’t have a fundamental sympathy for it.

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I know I’m going against the current mantra that “If you try hard enough, you can learn anything.” I don’t believe it applies to the arts or other things, such as sports. Or mathematics.

If you have no eye, no course will give you one. It would be like trying to cure color blindness. If you are tone-deaf, you won’t be a musician. No matter how many lessons you take or how many hours you practice. If you have no gift for putting words together, you will not be a writer. Not everyone is equally talented, even within the arts … but anyone earning a living in the arts has some talent. Some natural gift.

It’s cruel to tell kids they can be whatever they want merely by working harder. Because it’s not true. We should try to find out what our kids are good at and encourage them to go in directions in which they have some reasonable chance of success. Not everyone has talent for art … but everyone has a talent for something. The challenge is determining what it is.

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TURN WHERE? WHEN? WHY?

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Red says stop, or does it?

I am always lost. Sometimes a lot lost. Other times, fully turned around. Surely driving through our little town should not add to my confusion … yet it does.

Which light is for going straight? Is this lane stopped? Turning? Tell me, I don’t know! What? How? Red, yellow, green … Why do we need so many lights for a single, small intersection?

I’m confused. Life is confusing. Which doctor should I be seeing? How many of which pill for what? I’m tired of being lost. Lost in life, lost in traffic.

Lost o lost and by the wind grieved … Thanks Thomas Wolfe.

Is that a policeman? “Officer, did I do something wrong? I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. Is there a manual for this intersection?” Is there a manual for life?

Green is for going.

Green is for going.

GOOGLE SHMOOGLE OBIGAZOODLE

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What’s Google good for?

Need to know the latest headline news? The weather in Boca Raton? A quick answer to a simple question, like: “Hey, who won the Best Actor Oscar in 1997?”

Need a picture of someone famous to put in your post? You’ll find it on Google, no problem. Need a portrait of an actor or politician? Need a painting of a giant cockroach cooking dinner? Google it! Google will give you lots of choices, a few of which are presumably not copyright infringements.

Need to get some information about an obscure medical condition? Want to know which hospital has the most up-to-date treatment for it? Google may have the answer. It’s not a substitute for a diagnosis, but it’s a jumping off place. Want to know the side effects of your new medication? Google will to give you more information than you really wanted. You probably won’t like most of it.

What else is Google good for? If you believe a lot of recent blogs, you’d think Google is  the route to all knowledge, the all-purpose cure-all for every question, every problem. Recipes, diets, travel, reviews, buying, selling … you name it, you can do it on Google. Or can you? Really?

Google can help you get a good idea where to look for more serious information. If you are serious about learning and want to do more than scratch the surface, Google is the place where you line up your water fowl and figure out which are geese and swans versus the real ducks. After that?

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I look for books to buy. For example, you cannot learn anything of value about ancient Chinese porcelain on Google. All you can find are additional sources which might lead to better material.

You can learn the rules of baseball by Googling it, but if you want to play the game, you’ll have join a team. Some things, you’re better off asking someone. “Grandma? Could you show me how to crochet?” Or take a class.

You are not going to really learn a language on line, not well enough to really communicate, but you might find out who gives courses or where to find a tutor.

History? Ornithology? Identifying wild flowers or butterflies? Buy a couple of books or borrow them from a library. Anyone who is even slightly serious about drilling deep into a subject knows  Google is the where you commence the search. It isn’t where you end it.

Google is intrusive, ubiquitous, careless of privacy and copyrights. It is many other bad things. But when you need basic information pronto, Google is the best way to get going.

Imperfect it may be, but there isn’t a better way. Or even a reasonable alternative.

FREE OR AT LEAST VERY CHEAP

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The best thing about retirement is not working. It may sound obvious, but not as much as you think. Not these days when many people either start a new career when they “retire,” or need to take some kind of crappy job to supplement social security which isn’t enough to live on.

There are plenty of other life changes that come with retirement. Not working is only one of them, but it’s my favorite. Pity it means giving up a steady paycheck, but if you can do it … not working is wonderful. It’s particularly wonderful for those of us who have hobbies and never had the time to pursue them while we worked.

After you stop working, you never know what you will be doing in the future, but you know what you won’t be doing.

You won’t be slaving long hours for an unappreciative boss.Getting up at the crack of dawn to scrape ice from the windshield. Driving 60 miles through bumper-to-bumper traffic to be restless and bored for 10 hours. Then getting back in the car and driving another sixty miles in the other direction in the dark when you’re already beat. You may well be perpetually short of money, but you won’t be fighting traffic or grinding your teeth wondering if you’re going to get dumped for a younger, cheaper worker. Discover your job’s been eliminated to improve someone’s bottom line.

You never have to call in sick again, not because you are really sick or if you need a day to take care of a child, business, or just a day off.

Ever learn you’ve lost your job by reading the headlines in the newspaper? I did. Twice. It takes the savor out of that morning brew.

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Retirement is the good part of being older. It’s the payoff. You get to own your life. For most of us, it’s the first time we’ve been free.

When you’re a child, everyone owns you. Parents, teachers, strangers. You have to be clever, sneaky and lucky to get to do what you want. Then you go to college and work — often both at the same time — and your boss and professors own you. Deadlines, time clocks and ambition drive you  onward to goals you believe will make you happy. Maybe they will — for a while. Then again, maybe not as much as you thought or hoped.

You marry. Have children. And find yourself treading water in an ocean of obligations and responsibility. Children are a lifelong committment. Long after your legal responsibility ends, your emotional responsibility continues. You want to be there for your kids, then your grandkids. That’s the way it should be.

If you don’t have to work while you do it? It’s better. Much better. Did you know half the kids in the U.S. are being raised by grandparents? Parents are busy with work or whatever — unable, unwilling or unfit — to raise their own.  There are lots worse things that can happen to a kid than being raised by gramps and gran, but many of us find ourselves reliving the parenting years just when we though we’d finished with all that. Being retired makes parenting much less stressful.  You get to stay home. You aren’t imprisoned by commuting and The Schedule. You can finally take a trip to the zoo, help with homework. Play a game, talk about life. There’s time for fun, not just work.

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If you aren’t taking care of grandchildren? You have the gift of time and it’s no small thing. Be a blogger. Be a photographer. Sleep late. Stay up till the wee hours watching movies, reading, writing the novel you always wanted to write but never had time. Rediscover music. Join a choir. Retired people are busy people. I’ve been retired for quite a while and I have yet to be bored.

Do I miss work?

I miss the salary. Every once in a while, I miss the camaraderie of a good office environment. But most offices weren’t all that great. Many were thoroughly unpleasant.

I served my time. Whatever I have left, long or short, belongs to me and mine.

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Daily Prompt: RELEASE ME? FEAR THEN NOTHING MUCH

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Right before I released a long, heartfelt piece in support of the right of women to choose abortion — early in the ongoing War Against Women being waged by the GOP in Texas — I got a bit nervous. I’m not afraid of controversy, but abortion is such a visceral, hot-button issue. No one seems to be able to deal with it rationally. Including me.

So I did something I never do: I asked Garry to read it and tell me if he thought I or it was over the top.

Was I going to be getting hate mail and death threats? He thought it was well-written and not at all crazy.

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As for hate mail and death threats? “The crazies are always out there,” he said. You can’t let them tell you what you can or can’t write.”

So I published it.

Controversy? I don’t think anyone read or commented on it. It was humbling and funny. Here was probably the most “dangerous” topic about which I’d ever written … and no one noticed. It lingered around then disappeared without a trace beneath a pile of other blogs.

So much for fear! I’ve never worried about releasing anything since. It reminded me I’m just not that influential or important. I can try, but that doesn’t mean anyone is paying attention or cares about my opinion one way or the other. Sometimes, it’s healthy to be put in one’s place. Puts everything into perspective.