THE ART OF AVOIDING POLITICS by ELLIN CURLEY

I love reading the papers and talking about what’s going on in the world. You used to be able to do that without getting caught up in ‘partisan politics’. By that I mean that there were ‘facts’ about what was happening on a given topic that everyone could agree about. People may have disagreed about how to deal with the problem of, say, increasing crime and declining GDP. But there was at least a consensus that the former was in fact increasing and the latter was in fact declining.

Not so today. Facts have become the meat and potatoes of partisan politics. If you’re a liberal and/or a Democrat you believe that unemployment is down. If you are a conservative and/or Republican you believe that unemployment is up. How can anyone have a rational discussion about a problem if the nature or even the existence of the problem is itself the issue? When people argue whether a ‘fact’ is, in fact, a ‘fact’?

Talk shows and news interviews often devolve into shouting matches about what used to be called empirically proven facts. I don’t want this to happen in my personal life. Therefore, unless I am sure we are in the same ideological camp, I am careful not to talk about anything that could remotely have one liberal and another conservative interpretation. That rules out a wide swath of conversation topics and makes talking to strangers even more difficult for me. I’m not good at small talk under the best of circumstances.

logo-politics1It also presents the problem of how to feel out someone’s political views without bringing up a potentially controversial topic? I had a whole conversation with someone at a party about how much we love following the news. At no point did we reveal which version of the news we espoused. When she said that her husband only watched one channel all day, I surmised it was Fox News and that they were conservative/Republicans. I later had my ‘guess’ confirmed by a mutual friend. I am so relieved that we had not marred our pleasant conversation with the revelation that we were ideological adversaries. We would not have agreed on the statistical reality about almost anything.

This is why even well-meaning, open-minded people like me have become polarized. I am happy to listen to your views and may even be swayed by a good argument. But I will not be open to the idea that the earth is really flat, that evolution isn’t a scientifically proven process or that man-made climate change is not a real ‘thing’. In today’s world, I guess that makes me a closed-minded ideologue. So be it. My political bent nowadays is towards any view that is based on facts that can actually be proven to be true. And I want to see the evidence and decide for myself if your ‘evidence’ actually proves your ‘facts.’

COMPANIONS

Should I talk about the dogs? They are our companions day in, day out. Better friends than most friends, and always right there for us. Or do I talk about Garry, who is my husband, my best friend, the only person who will always put up with me. The proof of this is that he has not yet thrown me from a window or pushed me out of the moving car.

72-kitchen-sun-morning-033016_004

I got up this morning after a long near-nightmare in which we were buying a house. But the house didn’t have a proper bathroom and there were cockroaches seething in what had been a tub which had, somehow, moved into the living room. The living room was big, but completely covered with mirrors– like a dance studio. We had bought it, but I wanted desperately be get rid of it. We’d signed papers, so it wasn’t simple.

I shook off the dream, waking up cranky and headachy. Outside, all I could see are naked oak trees, the leaves having been consumed by our plague of Gypsy Moth caterpillars. I wonder if leaves will grow back. I’m told they will, but it doesn’t look like it right now. It’s a winter view of a summer woods.


“A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again! … With his faithful Indian companion Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early west! ”

Come back, and leave me a silver bullet!


Garry wasn’t up yet, but the dogs were glad to see me. Talk about faithful companions. They were thrilled, jumping up and down with delight. Even though we repeat this same pattern every morning of their lives, minus the few days here and there when we are away from home, they never get tired of it and I never tire of them. I gave them each a greenie. Washed the water bowls. Refilled them. Noticed that somehow, there was peanut butter on the cabinet doors … and washed them, too.

72-Bishop-Bonnie-Yawn-051916_03

Coffee was brewing. I toasted a muffin, observing that there are no more muffins after this. We will have to go shopping. Thus when Garry showed up in the kitchen, I nearly snarled at him. Because I was snarly and he was there.

He didn’t say anything. He looked puzzled, but moved on.

Now that is a truly faithful companion. Even when you have no idea what’s going on, you just let it go because a snarly start does not define the relationship. Personally, I think it’s all about the coffee.

DAILY POST | COMPANION

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM! – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Today is Flag Day for those of a certain age. But in my family, it’s Esther Armstrong’s birthday. Mom has been gone nine years now.

Gone but not forgotten.

Painting by Judi Bartnicki

Painting by Judi Bartnicki

Esther Letticia Armstrong was a special woman. Wife of William Benfield Armstrong. Mother of Garry, Bill, and Anton Armstrong. I get top billing because I’m the oldest. Mom and Dad were married 61 years until Dad left us in 2002. They were a handsome couple!

I called my parents Mommy and Daddy for most of my life and it always seemed natural. Even when I was a veteran TV news reporter with decades of experience it seemed natural.

One evening I was preparing to do a live news report in the TV studio. It was the lead story. A big deal. Breaking news! My thoughts were interrupted by a colleague who said I had a phone call. No way. Put it on hold. Garry, it’s your MOTHER!  The newsroom grew silent.

I took the call. The story waited.

75-WEDDING-Garry's Parents

My Mom was a force of nature. I had no sisters, so I learned to do household chores early in life. Whenever I objected, Mom stopped me dead in my tracks with a strong, clear voice. Baseball and other critical things were secondary no matter how strongly I felt about my manhood.

My Mother was always supportive of learning and creativity. We always had books and records. Lots of them. I read books that I wouldn’t fully understand for years. But somehow I felt comfortable with Eric Sevareid’s So Well Remembered.

Decades later, Mr. Sevareid was impressed by my adolescent tackling of his book. The books and music fired my imagination. Mom would smile when I played big band music or vocals by Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Sometimes she would sway in time with the music as if remembering a time when she was dancing.

1988

1988

I was Mom’s favorite movie date. Dad was usually tired. He often worked two jobs and just wanted to rest. So Mom and I went to the movies. Often three times a week. Yes, that’s how my love affair with movies was born and nurtured.

Mom seemed like a different person during our movie dates. She smiled and laughed. Those were the days of Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Gene Kelly and other legends who were still in their prime on the big screen. I remember Mom giggling when we scored big on dish and glass night events at our local movie theater.

I know we tend to look back on our youth with rose-colored glasses. It’s normal. But there were lots of good times.

So, today as I remember Esther Armstrong’s birthday, I wish I could crank up my hearing aids and hear it again …

Garry, your Mother is calling you!

LOOKING BACK ON MY FIRST POST: WITHOUT BENEFIT OF CLERGY:

In a different context, WordPress asked us to share our first post. Well, actually, this isn’t my first post, but it’s the closest thing to the first I’ve retained in archives. Though I started blogging in February 2012, I didn’t really get into it until May. This was published May 22, 2012. It’s too long and rambling, but I’ll let it stand, minus a few typos.

Note that I’m away through tomorrow, so if I don’t answer comments, it’s because I did not bring my computer.


I was Jewish when I married Garry in a Lutheran Church. I said then … and I say now …  any God I might be willing to worship would not care what ritual was used or in what language we spoke our vows. I really believe everyone has the right to live life as they want, to have or not have children. Spend whatever day you consider the Sabbath doing whatever you want.

Travel your path and be glad.

All prayers are good prayers. Goodness is goodness, whether you believe in God or not. Faith is a choice, decency is a requirement. You don’t need a church to know the difference between right and wrong. Some of the worst people I’ve known were ardent church goers and some of the best were skeptics or atheists. I’ll bet that God knows who is who and is not fooled by how often you attend church.

Garry and I were married in his church on Long Island because he had a strong emotional attachment to it. I didn’t have any particular attachment to any religious institution, though still have an attachment to Judaism as a philosophy and as a moral compass. And as an ethnic identity: Yiddishkeit, as it were.

When we renewed our vows the first time, it was in front of a notary, but the next renewal was under the sky in our backyard by a minister of the Christian Reform Church. Maybe we’ll do it again and who knows who will officiate? We intended to renew our vows again for our 20th anniversary, but I was sick that year and I had other things on my mind. Hopefully, we’ll both be available for 25th. That seems like a good number for another renewal.

Marriage is a contract between two adults. It doesn’t require benefit of clergy. Any religion is okay and no religion is okay too. Unless you live in a theocracy and thankfully we do not … yet …you don’t need to believe in anything but your partner to get married.  I hate the theocratic trend this country is taking. I’m baffled as to how God and religion are suddenly the arbiters of what constitutes a family.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness …”

declaration_independence

The bit about pursuing happiness seems to have been lost along the way. Pity because it’s not less important than the rest. It may be the most important. What good is life and liberty if you can’t be happy? Gay, straight, old, young … we deserve the right to marry who we choose and be happy.

If we start defining the meaning of marriage, if we declare that marriage is sacred and exists entirely  for the creation of children, what about people who don’t want children? Are they the next group not allowed to marry? How about people who are too old to make babies? Can they marry? For too many years in a lot of states, people of different races were forbidden to marry … was that okay? They said that it was God’s decree too. Funny how it’s always God’s plan … no individual ever seems to be responsible.

You can interpret “God’s teaching” however you like, but if it’s so clear what God wants, why all the religious debate — not to mention wars — for thousands of years?

Gay, straight, or not entirely clear on the issue, marry if you want to. Or not. Be happy.

I have no opinion on an afterlife. I don’t know.  Neither do you. You can believe what you like but you don’t know anything because God doesn’t talk to you. Or me. Make this life a good one. It’s the only one you know for certain you’ve got.

Carpe diem, my friends. Carpe with both hands and don’t let go until you’ve squeezed that last bit of joy from your world!

I LOVE YOU

No You Don’t, by Rich Paschall


In his early adult life, George was a rather active young man.  He kept a moderate social schedule.  He met with friends, did a little volunteer work and even joined a bowling team for a few years.  As the years wore on, George became less active, saw less of his friends and was mostly invisible to the neighborhood.

As he passed fifty years of age, he kept to himself and seldom visited friends and family.  There was little family left actually, and the cousins seemed to have forgotten about old George.  This is not to say that George was totally inactive, for that was not the case at all.  He did a lot of maintenance on the old house.  He spent plenty of time doing gardening in the spring and summer.  He even tried to learn a new language online.

He signed up for a language site that had a social component.  On the site you could help someone learn your language and someone else could help you learn theirs.  The site gave learners the opportunity to ask others for a chat in the language they were learning.  Since this was all anonymous, you could decline to chat.

George was not bold enough to ask anyone to chat with him live, but others contacted him when they saw an English speaker on-line and he would always accept.  Some visitors came and went quickly but a few became friends as George explained life in his city and heard about theirs.  It was all very exciting for the older, single gentleman to be talking with young people around the world.  George had a friend in France, Egypt, Russia and Brazil.  He also had a friend in another South American country who liked George a lot.

In South America

In South America

Soon George and Jonathon were friends on Facebook, hanging out on Google+ and talking on Messenger and Skype.  They chatted about their countries, cities, jobs.  After a while, they were talking everyday, even if only briefly.  Both loved the attention they were getting from the other.

When they were nearing the end of a year of friendship in December, George was surprised to learn he could not roll over his remaining four vacation days to the following year.  Jon, of course, felt that George should come to South America and spend some time with him.  Jon was not originally from the big city where he lived, so he had few friends and no family there.  He was excited at the thought that George would visit.

Aside from never having met Jon in person, George felt that the 30 year age difference would mean they would soon be bored with one another.  Besides, George never had a desire to go to South America or just about any place else any longer.  But Jon was persistent and George decided to be adventurous.

True to his word, Jon was waiting at the airport.  He greeted George like a long-lost friend.  He spent every minute with him for four days.  They traveled around the city like tourists.  They spent an evening in the street watching an important soccer match and celebrating with the locals.  They spent another evening at something that was like a Christmas market.  There they had local beer and too much guava liquor, frequently ordered by one of Jon’s friends.

An impulsive visit to South America

An impulsive visit to South America

The weather was perfect the entire time. Jon was nicer than George could ever imagine.  He was a good cook and excellent host.  The last-minute vacation was one of the best ever.

Upon his return home, Jon called or wrote every day.  George thought that when they met in person Jon would see that he was a lot older and the friendship would die down, but in truth the opposite happened.  Jon enthusiasm for the impulsive visit did not wane.

Not knowing what to make of this friendship, George called on Arthur, an old friend, to discuss the matter.  They met at local inn and George proceeded to explain the whole story.  He told how they met, how the friendship developed over the year and that he impulsively went to visit.  George had never mentioned Jon to anyone before.  Now he was telling the entire history.

“By the way,” George said, “he does not want me to mention that we met on the internet because people might get the wrong idea.”

“What idea is that?” Arthur asked.

“I don’t know,” George exclaimed.

“So what’s the problem?” Arthur wanted to know after listening to over 45 minutes about some South American guy he had never met or seen.

“He calls every day or leaves a message to say he loves me and misses me!”

“So?”

“He wants to come here and be with me.  He says he will be my prince.”

“Oh,” Arthur responded as if the light bulb just went on.

George went on to detail his responses.  “I explained I was not rich and he would have to get a job.  Despite my efforts, his English still sucks and he would have to improve.  The weather here is very different from his homeland, and he knows no one else here”

“What does he say to all these points,” Arthur inquired.

“I love you!  What kind of response is that?  Besides, I am too old for him, but he just says we will be together as long as God wills.”  George took a deep breath and continued

“So, I told him he just says that because he wants to come to America.  Since I like him very much I offered that he could come and stay and I would introduce him around and take him to places where he can meet other young people.”

“And?” Arthur prompted.

“And he said he does not want to meet others, he just wants to be with me.  I don’t know what’s wrong with the young man.”

“There is one distinct possibility,” Arthur said with a knowing tone to his comment.

“What?”

“He really loves you,” Arthur said simply.

George looked as his as if he did not understand the words Arthur just said.  After a long pause, George finally spoke.

“What?”

WISHES WERE HORSES … CEE’S SHARE YOUR WORLD

SHARE YOUR WORLD – 2016 WEEK 10

What would you ask for if a genie granted you three wishes?

genie

Health for me and those I love. And universal health care for absolutely everyone.

Wealth sufficient to live comfortably without a constant struggle.

Wisdom to understand what it’s all about. All of it. Everything.

What experiences are most meaningful to you?

Everything is experience. Everything has meaning and value. Every breath is an experience. As you age, it’s hard to remember the details of what happened along the way, even when it seemed terribly important at the time. If nothing else, age puts everything into perspective. Even perspective.

I don’t believe any single life experience is the “aha” moment.

72-Snowy River-032015_02

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

  1. I wanted to be a cowboy, but I lacked a horse. And to be fair, there’s not a lot of positions open for girls from Queens.
  2. I yearned to be a ballerina, but I was a klutz.
  3. I thought I could be writer because even when I was very young, I was writing stories and stuff. Writing won the toss. It was the right call.

A life path is not exclusively about what one wants. It’s also what you’ve got to work with. Like talent. Creative vision. Ambition and drive to succeed. Plus so many other qualities you never know about — until you need them.

Complete this sentence: The best day of my life was … I have no idea. Really. I don’t. I can tell you my favorite year (1969). But best day? No clue. At this point, the best day is probably tomorrow.

72-New Day Dawn-030116_003

HEAR NO EVIL

Photographs by Garry Armstrong

I hate eavesdroppers and eavesdropping.

72-Desert-New-GAR-Sunday-011016_878

It’s been a real issue in my world, because for most of my life, I’ve shared my home with others. Sometimes family or friends. Often whoever needed a place to stay. Which means privacy has often been at a premium. Avoiding eavesdropping has required dedication — a conscious effort to not listen, even when I can. But, the thing is, I don’t listen.

Here’s why.

72-BW-GAR-SAGURO-011016_0064

It’s a terrible thing. Intrusive. Mean-spirited. Just like blackmail, but with no payoff.

Eavesdroppers are usually gossips too. And paranoid. Maybe they don’t start off paranoid, but eavesdropping distorts reality. You hear a snippet, think you know the story. But you don’t. Really. You don’t.

72-Desert-New-GAR-Sunday-011016_1017

The fundamental problem with eavesdropping is you never hear a whole story. Moreover, whatever you hear is without context. Pieces, fragments, bits. Which inevitably don’t mean what you think.

72-Desert-New-GAR-Sunday-011016_814

If I accidentally stumble into someone else’s conversation, especially if I think it might concern me, I cover my ears and run. I do not want to hear it. Maybe they’re telling each other what a great person I am and how much they admire me. The odds are against it.

I think it’s a Murphy’s Law because eavesdroppers only overhear negative stuff — or, at least, what sounds negative. Overheard snippets grow like poison mushrooms in the dark. Those words stay locked in your brain, possibly for a lifetime.

72-Almost Sunset-Scorpion-Gulch-New-GAR-011016_455

Eavesdropping will make you miserable. It will destroy your relationships, make you doubt yourself and distrust everyone.

No one hears anything positive when eavesdropping.

72-Desert-GAR-Sunday-011016_565

So, should you find yourself within earshot of someone else’s private communications? Block your ears. Turn up the music or TV. Flee the scene.

You’ll be glad you did.