POLITICS AND RELATIONSHIPS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently read an autobiography by the Saturday Night Live actress, Rachel Dratch, called “Girl Walks Into A Bar…” I enjoyed the book, particularly the adjustment of a single 44-year-old woman to motherhood, a committed relationship, and co-parenting.

Rachel Dratch

Rachel started a long distance (California to New York) relationship with a lovely guy and after six months, discovered she was pregnant. This was a minor miracle at her age. There was no question that she wanted the baby. The open question was what kind of relationship she would have going forward with the baby’s daddy, John.

This guy sounded like a real gem and was wonderful to Rachel. He even stepped up and moved to New York City to be near Rachel and their unborn son. He wanted an active role in the child’s life once he was born.

My problem with this story is that Rachel is a New York City liberal and Democrat and John was an ‘independent’ who supported George W. Bush and the Republican agenda.

Would he also support Donald Trump today?

I started wondering if I could overlook someone’s political views and have a serious relationship with a Republican in today’s political climate. The answer, for me, is no. During the George W. Bush era, the comedian Janine Garofalo said that being a Republican was no longer just an opinion, but was ‘a character flaw’ which is many times truer today.

The problem I have with Republicans/Trump supporters today is not their ‘political’ positions. I have no issue with someone who has a different view from mine on deficits, trade policy, or interest rates. I’m beginning to question the judgment and relationship to reality of people who still believe in trickle-down economics after so many years of contrary, hard evidence that it does not work. That’s a side issue.

The problem I have with Republicans today is their morals or lack thereof. Anyone who is willing to accept and/or support Trump’s level of lying, corruption, bigotry, venality, narcissism, misogyny, mean-spiritedness, arrogance, ignorance, anti-intellectualism and overall lack of caring about anything or anyone outside of himself is not my kind of person.

Anyone who is willing to look the other way when Trump says there are ‘good’ Nazis, or when he separates immigrant children from their parents because they are seeking asylum in the U.S. has a major ‘character flaw’ in my book.

I can’t accept rationalizations or excuses for Trump’s words or deeds. I have no common values or perspectives with people who share these views– even though I understand that many of them are working with a different set of ‘facts’ than what I get from the mainstream media. If we can’t agree about the facts, there is no basis for discussion or agreement about anything else.

In 2019, who you identify with politically says a lot about who you are as a human being. I have to respect my partner’s mind and character. I don’t respect Republican/Trump supporters. I also need to feel that my partner is a caring, tolerant, compassionate person. There seems to be a compassion gene missing in most Trump supporters.

They have a strong bias in favor of corporate ‘rights’ — greed — at the expense of individuals. They appear to have a need to look down on all sorts of people. Equal treatment and opportunity, fairness, and helping the underprivileged, the sick or the disabled does not seem to even be on their radar. How can I believe in the dignity and rights of every human being if I give aid and comfort to those who want to take that dignity and those rights away?

I admit that Rachel Dratch’s partner, now her husband (I believe) seems to be an involved parent and a decent, supportive partner to her. But what values will he teach their child? What kind of world does he want that child to grow up and live in? I’m suspicious of his emotional makeup if he could ‘exonerate’ Trump’s outrageous behavior and cruel policies.

There is no moral middle ground anymore.

Either you want Americans to have affordable healthcare or you don’t. I have no tolerance for selfish people who don’t care about the quality of life of their fellow humans. I do believe these uncaring SOBs should get healthcare, a living wage, civil rights, equality and the right to make decisions about their own bodies even though they don’t believe that I should have any of these things.

Does that make me a ‘better’ person in my moral universe? Yes, it does.

GIFTS, DREAMS, AND MAKING IT HAPPEN – Marilyn Armstrong

The lie has become so ingrained in our culture that we accept it without question. Today, I question it, its validity and its basis. Just because it has become our national motto doesn’t make it right.

This is the lie we tell ourselves and our children:

“If you want it bad enough and try hard enough, you can achieve anything. If you don’t achieve it, it’s because you gave up, didn’t try hard enough. Not achieving your dreams makes you a failure.”

That is not true.

We cannot achieve anything because we want it. Trying terribly hard can take you only so far. The rest of the distance requires actual ability in that field of endeavor, talent to make a dream come true.

You can’t be a blind artist. You can’t be a tone-deaf musician. You can’t write when you’ve no gift for words. You can’t be physicist if you find mathematics incomprehensible. You can’t be a carpenter or an engineer if you cannot visualize in three-dimensions. You can’t take pictures if you don’t see them in your mind’s eye. That’s not defeatism. It’s reality.

I don’t know when being a pragmatist became synonymous with defeatism. It infuriates me when someone tells me I shouldn’t give up on a dream because if I keep trying, I will succeed.

No, I won’t. It isn’t going to happen. It was never possible. I know what I can do. I know what I can’t do. Being told that I should never give up my dreams makes me want to whack the speaker of this un-wisdom upside the head.

I’m in favor of dreams as long as you know the difference between a dream and an expectation. I’m in favor of knowing who you are, evaluating your talents, recognizing your abilities. Everyone has dreams. Everyone has gifts. Sometimes the two coincide so that you can ride your dreams into a golden future. This outcome is not in everyone’s cards.

I wanted to be a musician. It wasn’t an outlandish dream. I had started piano when I was only four. I continued with it all through my school years and was in college, just one credit shy of completing my B.A. in Music when a professor took me aside for a chat.

He said: “You do well in your courses. You get As in everything, so there’s no problem with grades. Except I see you. Your heart isn’t in it, not the way it needs to be. Music requires total commitment. Maybe you would be happier doing something else. Keep music as a hobby. Do something you’re really good at, really passionate about. Being a second-rate musician won’t make you happy.”

Piano lessons

I was mortified. Crushed. I played pretty well. I suffered from terminal stage fright, but I had a good ear and I loved music. I still do. Yet when I gave it serious thought, I knew the truth. I would never fully commit to music. It was not the right path for me.

My real talent lay in words. I could write as soon as I could read. It was as natural to me as breathing and I never even thought of it as a gift because it was so easy. I just figured anyone could do it. I had to do some major rethinking and revise my self-image. It was painful and difficult. I never gave up playing the piano, but it stopped being my professional goal. As a bonus, when I stopped trying to become a professional musician, I began to enjoy music more.

I refocused my energy on writing and immediately, life turned around. I stopped plodding and began to fly. I never took a writing class. I just started working as a professional writer from my first job after college and never did anything else professionally for the next 40 years.

If Dr. Deutsch (thank you, Herb, you really gave me a push in the right direction) had not sat me down and told me the truth as he saw it, I’d probably have continued down a road that would have led me nowhere I really wanted to go. He didn’t buy the lie and refused to let me buy it.

No one can create talent. That’s why talents are called gifts. You get them free of charge along with the breath of life. Yet we keep hearing that lie — try hard and you can make it happen. We waste years trying to achieve the impossible while dismissing the achievable. We neglect real gifts in favor of magical thinking. What a waste!

Dreams are not the goal. Creating a good and satisfying career and life should be the goal. We all need to take stock of ourselves, look hard at what we do well, focus on our strengths, hone our talents, and plan a future that works.

The freedom you gain when you stop trying to do the impossible and put your whole heart into using your abilities is inestimable. You stop feeling like a failure. You get to love your work. You can dump the dead weight of dreams as well as the guilt and frustration of not fulfilling them. Just because you can’t be a ballerina doesn’t make you a failure. Being a lousy dancer when you could have been a great something else IS a failure  … a lose-lose for you and society.

Distinguishing dreams from reality is a winning strategy. Like it or not, we live in the real world. Dreams are not real.

Don’t buy the lie.

EVERYTHING. NOTHING. WHAT DOES IT MEAN? – Marilyn Armstrong

I’m always glad to have a reason to pull this out of my archives and dust it off. It represents years of thought, night-long discussions in college, several obscure philosophy courses and at least one 40-page research paper.

How bizarre that now, at long last, I live in a world where everything means nothing. This used to be humor, of a sort. These days, it’s not quite as funny as it used to be but to be fair, nothing is as funny as it used to be. The world is a lot more bizarre without being truly funny. As a result, we laugh as much as we can, but it’s not nearly enough.

Who knows when they will take that away, too?

Personally, I think we spend far much time trying to figure out what life means while spending too little time doing things we enjoy. I suppose it’s normal to wonder if the reason you’re sick, broke, or miserable is because of something you did, should have done, meant to do but forgot. I suppose it’s normal for we sort-of-normal people, but completely out-of-the-box for a lot of folks who are (apparently) running the world.

As far as I can figure it, they are the way they are because (a) they know they are going to hell, but a deal is a deal, or (b) they’ve never wasted a brain cell on thought.

Regardless, brooding about eternity is a huge waste of time and energy. More so, because I’m going to explain it all — right here. You will never have to wonder again.

Meaning of life


RANDOMNESS

Learning to accept the randomness of stuff that happens is tough. We want life to make sense. We want organization and order. We want our messes and disasters to be important, meaningful. We need to learn from them because someone told us that God gives us hard times so we will grow and learn from it.

Are we learning? Is the world teaching everybody something?

I’ve put a good bit of thought into why my life has fallen apart so many times over the years. I know I’m imperfect, but whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s small potatoes in the greater scheme of things. Even in my darkest moments, I doubt I’m bad enough for The Big Guy to have it in for me.

Then I had an epiphany.

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

If believing in a loving God makes you feel good, believe it. 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 only path (and is antithetical to God — a position with which I disagree) to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.

Personally, I don’t know. But not knowing might make me smarter than most people because I know I don’t know.


I KNOW NOTHING. NEITHER DO YOU.

Accepting you know nothing is a big step, so take a deep breath. Your next challenge will be how you can cash in on this new knowledge. What’s the point unless you can awe people with your brilliance — and make a few bucks?


IT’S ALL ABOUT THE WORDING.

You need the right lingo to dazzle your audience. Big words (4 or more syllables) used in the right context can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds to show their admiration.

meaning-of-life3

Big words enhance your likelihood of getting a management position. You can write important books. Have a blog like me and I know you want to be just 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 laughter which isn’t usually the outcome you were looking for.


EPISTEMOLOGY – IT’S All ABOUT KNOWING

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, software, concepts, and kitchen appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical.


PHENOMENOLOGY IS THE NEW FAITH

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. The same reasoning also proves there is no God. Ah, the joy of it.

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.

As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure that almost everything our current administration has said fits neatly into phenomenology. Since the only thing that matters in phenomenology is someones’ experience, you don’t need facts. Figures. Statistics. You don’t need anything but “I believe it, so it must be true.” Or, conversely, “I don’t believe it, so it can’t be true.”

Fortunately, I don’t believe it. Any of it.


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.

meanin-of-life-snoopy

There are people who will attack you using faith. Faith is based on itself which makes it hard to dispute. The only person who is ever convinced by faith is the he/she 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. For that matter, we could believe Star Trek is real and any day now, the ship will beam us up.

HOWEVER – This doesn’t mean that there aren’t an awful lot of people roaming the earth who believe the damnedest things. Flat Earthers. Republicans. People who believe Fox News is the only real news. Unlike me, they know something. Ask them. They will be delighted to tell you.

Me? I know nothing and these days, it seems like the perfect thing in which to believe. It is my mental sweet spot in this best of all possible worlds.

WORDS ARE WEAPONS – Marilyn Armstrong

 


“Sticks and stones can break my bones,
but names can never hurt me.”


It’s an old childhood chant, a miserably inadequate defense against bullies and bigots when one is small and powerless. It was oft-repeated, not only by us, the little victims but by parents, teachers and other wise counselors. It was supposed to comfort us.

It didn’t because we all knew it was untrue.

Names can and do hurt. The hurt caused by a cruel name goes deeper than any mere cut or bruise to the body. Psyches heal, but slowly. Sometimes they never heal.

Horrible words. Can you still tell me — with a straight face — that names can’t hurt? Will you give me all your arguments that “political correctness” is stupid? That anything which makes it illegal or socially unacceptable to spew hate is too restrictive of free speech? Really? Your free speech? It’s not my free speech. I don’t talk that way and I don’t hang around anyone who does.

Do you actually believe it? Or did you read it as part of some rant on Facebook?

Of course, names hurt. They’re intended to hurt. Such words, hateful words have no other purpose but to cause pain. These words carry with them the ugliness of generations of haters.

It has been argued by otherwise respected bloggers that if a member of a minority (in your opinion) does you wrong, you have every right to strike back any way you can.

I disagree. Racial and ethnic name-calling epithets are never justified. By anything. Is it the word or its intent that hurts so much? I think both. Words have power.


“The pen is mightier than the sword.”


But wait a minute. I thought words could never hurt me? It’s a lie. Yes, words can hurt you, hurt me, hurt any of us.

Words bring with them the weight of history. A hated word carries the ugliness of everyone who has spoken it. Each time these words fly into the air, their potency is renewed and reinforced.

It’s time to stop forgiving bigots. We have to stop letting them off the hook. Those hate-filled monologues by drugged and drunken celebrities were not slips of the tongue. They were not the result of drugs or drink.

In vino veritas! Also written as in “uino ueritas,” is a Latin phrase that means “in wine lies the truth.” It suggests a person under the influence of alcohol (and in modern terms, also drugs) is more likely to speak his or her hidden thoughts and desires. (West German, Talmudic comment)

You could fill me with all the drugs and booze in the world and you’d never hear that from me. Because it’s not in me to say it. I don’t have a hidden pocket of hate waiting for drugs or booze to unlock it. But many do. And now, they seem to have been given permission to shout it to the world.



We are currently watching a Netflix production called “Five Came Back” about five internationally famous directors who went into World War II and created an amazing set of films. John Ford, William Wyler, John Capra, John Huston, and George Stevens created the war. Not a Hollywood war. The real war.

I look at it and I see tens of thousands of Germans shouting “Heil Hitler.” Trump may have his adherents, but they haven’t grown in number. They are not taking over our world. There are no brown shirts beating up minorities. They may want to, but most Americans draw that line. Whatever they believe, they do not believe it’s okay to form groups of bullies and beat down the rest of the population. It’s an important distinction.

People who talk hatred never do it by accident. It isn’t because of their environment, upbringing, or environment. It’s a choice they made. They know exactly what they are saying and why they are saying it.

It isn’t a joke. It isn’t funny. And most importantly, it isn’t okay.

Excuses are not enough. Phony repentance is not enough

Don’t give bigots and haters another chance.

IMMORTALITY AND AGING – Marilyn Armstrong

I am not sure I ever believed I was immortal, most likely because I didn’t think about it. Until sometime during college, when my various courses forced me to ponder the nature of life and death. College was the peak time for existential mental muck-raking. Being young makes these subjects philosophical.

Was this the result of too many hallucinogenic drugs? No. It was the lectures and classes. It was the books. Too many books.

College can’t hurt you if all you do is hang out on the quad or wander around looking for a bridge game where they need a fourth. I actually went to class.

I took courses like  “The Philosophy of Religion” and “Phenomenology.”

I always had a steady list of existential books I needed to read for classes, in English and French. Sartre, Camus, Lawrence Durrell, et al.

It was deep stuff and is the literature I won’t read today.

That this hyper-intellectual phase of my life coincided nicely with my first actual near-death experience was pure chance. It cured me of pondering the meaning of life and death and aimed me more in the direction of staying alive.

Nothing is more aggravating than college students pondering the philosophical meaning of death who suddenly make a realization.

“Hey, I could really DIE.”

It takes the fun and philosophy out of the experience and adds a hard edge of fear. I’m pretty sure we all thought we were smart and had a solid grip on the life and death stuff.

I was so wrong.

As I got older, I knew people who died. There was nothing philosophical about it. A couple of suicidal friends. Aging family members. The odd car skidding down the edge of a mountain.

Now that I’m a senior citizen, I know I’m very mortal. One of these days, it will be a certainty.

I’ll get back to you on that.

GREAT, GREATER, GREATEST – Marilyn Armstrong

Kind of reminds me of the old talkin’ blues — “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like!”

I don’t know — or care — if the blogs I follow are great, greater or greatest. It’s entirely subjective. Great for who? Me? You? Everybody on the web? I doubt there is any such blog. If there were, we’d never agree on it, so the real question is what do I like and why?

I’m pretty sure this chickadee could talk., but he can’t type so he doesn’t comment.

I like humor. If you make me laugh, you own me. I am perhaps overly invested in wordplay and wit. I like photography, so if you post astounding pictures — or just pretty ones — I’m in for that too. I appreciate thoughtful posts on subjects ranging from ancient history to the meaning of life. If you combine them all, even better.

I adore authors and try to support them, even if what they write isn’t my favorite stuff. I’m a gadget freak and faithfully follow blogs that delve into hardware and software. I read movie reviews, book reviews, product reviews. I trust my fellow bloggers. From your blogs, I’ve discovered books, authors, movies, cameras, lenses, software, and accessories. I don’t know where I got information before I found you all!

Metropolitan Museum of Art – The fighting Unicorn

I follow many blogs for many reasons. Some are written better than others. Some photographers are more skilled than others, but I don’t count typos or ignore less than perfect pictures. Many people lack technical finesse, yet have true vision and thoughts worth hearing. I’m egalitarian by principle and inclination.

I love animals. Dogs, cats, horses, birds and everything else. Wild animals and pets. But not insects. Sorry bugs, I just can’t love you. I’ve tried. Maybe in my next incarnation.

I hate haters. I admire kindness and generosity especially because I’m not as good as I want to be. I don’t think cruelty is funny. Even when deserved, suffering makes me wince, not laugh.

I’m interested in God, religion, and faith — but can’t stomach being bullied to believe a particular dogma. One size never fits all, not in philosophy, religion, political system, technology or clothing. I read blogs by ministers and other religious people. I want to know what they think and why, how they made their “leap of faith.” Seeking is good.

Then there’s information, ideas, useful hints, suggestions on how to do things differently. I love learning new stuff. Don’t we all?

I don’t read everyone every day. There isn’t enough time, even if I did nothing but read other blogs. And then, I’d never get to write one or take a few pictures. I do try to peek at everyone, even when I’m a couple of days late.

Personally, I think you are all great.

We are great because we care about something that is not “us.” We share ourselves, our knowledge, our hopes, our dreams. Whether we want to change the world or make someone smile, help with a problem, teach a new way to do an old thing, offer a different way to look at the world, we don’t just talk.

We don’t have the power we wish we had, but we do the best we can and that’s a big deal. Especially today. There are problems way beyond our ability to help fix them, but I think we all, in our own way, try.

Greatness is in the eye of the beholder. I behold you all and thank you. You’re the greatest.

DEFINITELY YOUR FAULT – Marilyn Armstrong

Brought to you by the heartland of the Internet: Facebook

So much of Facebook is made up of irresponsible bullshit written or “sponsored” by people who figure they have the right to shoot off their mouths, write drivel on public forums, and yet bear no responsibility for the results of their actions. These are the same people who would probably think that shouting “fire” in a theater was funny. If people were panicked, injured or killed? It’s not their fault.

So whose fault is it?

Here’s what I think. You are responsible for what you say and for making sure you are understood. You are responsible for what you write and how you write it.

William Strunk Jr. was a professor of English at Cornell University and, together with E.B. White, author of The Elements of Style (1918).

You are morally required to make a good faith effort to speak and write the truth in such a way that others can understand it. You need to be sure what you say makes sense. If you aren’t responsible, who is? If you write a pack of lies, or half-truths, or rumors — exactly who is responsible but you for whatever misunderstanding will inevitably result?

Everyone is responsible. You may not be able to 100% control how others understand, but you can make your best effort, to be honest, to double-check facts, and explain what you mean as clearly as possible.

The casual, widespread attitude that it’s okay to say or do anything and if other people don’t like it or “get it,” too bad for them. This is the definition of how we got where we are. It didn’t happen from nothing and nowhere. We did not act irresponsibly. We refused to admit mistakes. We blamed everyone else for the problems we caused, then wondered why we can’t trust anyone.

If all of us refuse to accept responsibility for our own actions and statements, why should anyone be more trustworthy than we are?  If “it’s not my fault” — or worse yet, “it’s your fault” — is going to be our national motto, when you hear a loud flapping noise, it’s your chickens coming home to roost. The result will be that we will live in a world where nothing anyone says or does can be trusted because honesty has been replaced by bullshit.

It really is the writer or speaker’s responsibility to communicate. It is not the responsibility of your listener to decipher your poorly written and badly expressed language.

It’s not a heartwarming thought.