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Heroes or Idiots?

June 12, 2012 4 comments

This morning I posted a video on Facebook that received mixed reviews.

It’s a fairly crude, mocking representation of soldiers doing what some soldiers do to blow off steam in a hot, barren area surrounded by other young people with huge guns and too much time on their hands, fueled by anxiety and Red Bull.

It made me remember back to when I thought to enlist in the military myself, but my dad, a WWII veteran, discouraged me from doing so. Though he was vague about his reasons as they applied to me, he just said that it might be an uncomfortable situation. Dad told many stories over the years about the heroes he’d served with who had sacrificed life an limb for their fellow countrymen. The image he created made me want to be one of those people.

But there is a reality most soldiers don’t talk about that is probably more accurate than the image of the strong, stoic Marine we see in recruiting advertisements. Maybe this is the stuff Dad was talking about.

When thousands of young people, mostly men, are thrown together thousands of miles from home, often with nothing to do and nowhere to go, a certain amount of “idiocy” is bound to occur. These are kids who just a year or two earlier were doing what teenagers do — hanging out with their buddies, driving fast, testing limits — so the fact that they are wearing uniforms and carrying ridiculously powerful weapons around does not mean that they have instantly gained maturity.

I have to wonder if the reason so many soldiers don’t talk about their experiences when they come home has to do not so much with the horrors of battle they’ve seen, but maybe with the struggle to grow up they’ve observed in the face of incredible pressure, realizing that many of them are still just teenaged boys inside. A good many of them have likely been pushed to participate in activities they knew were not acceptable, yet the camaraderie of being part of a group caused them to make decisions they might not otherwise have had to consider.

This year, the suicide rate among soldiers is averaging one per day. Serving one’s country in the military, once considered a rite of passage and an honor,  is causing many to collapse. The pressure of fighting a 10-year war that’s continued purpose is questionable, and coming home to an economy that is having trouble supporting their return is making re-entry into society too difficult for some.

I have no idea what the answer is. I don’t know what should be considered acceptable behavior in the military so that our kids don’t lose their marbles. More discipline?  Less?

All I know is that in an age where videos of every kind of behavior imaginable are available at our fingertips, I have to just SMH (shake my head) and RME (roll my eyes) at some of what I see and be grateful that the creative mind is still alive, regardless of my judgement about the art-worthiness of its output.

I guess, for me, it’s the heroism of the “idiots” who remind those around them that though the situation is deadly serious, moments of ridiculousness do as much to keep them all alive as the automatic weapons they are carrying.

Why Sarah Palin Makes Me Want to Turtle-Up

January 27, 2011 9 comments

Okay, so maybe it’s because I grew up in an atmosphere where humility was the greatest virtue.

Or maybe it’s because I don’t like to fight (much).

Or maybe it’s because Sarah Palin has held up a mirror for me and I don’t like what is reflected.

Whatever the reason, when I hear about the news and views she generates, I feel like hiding. She scares me. I am not comfortable with bombast that encourages people to defeat others with “whatever ya got!” I’m not comfortable with it in sports, or politics, or work. I want to do the best I can but not for the purpose of dominating someone else.

But y’know what’s really true? None of this. I like to win. I don’t play unless I think I can win. I get my energy from the idea that my abilities can kick someone else’s butt. If I get a better offer, I’m outta here.  The only difference between me & SP is that I’m ashamed of it.

I am no different from Sarah Palin.

I surround myself with people who agree with me, whether I’m right or not.

I write a blog full of lovely, fluffy philosophical clap-trap that I expect people to read, whether they give a crap or not. Those who don’t like to fight me read it, sometimes just to humor me (no offense to those whose motives are more pure :)).

I toot my own horn as often as I can (hey, we trumpet players have to keep a “stiff upper lip”, right?). When I do something I think is amazing (like, the kind of thing others do every single day without recognition) I let the world know about it.

I argue just to win. I argue even harder when the other person is right.

I espouse opinions though I have little actual evidence to back them up. I talk too much without researching my facts.

Don’t mistake these admissions for humility — I hate having to make them. The truly humble person does so without need for reward or acceptance. I’m not one of those people.

So maybe I’m just jealous of her.  Maybe I’m more like her than I want to admit, spouting off my limited understanding instead of educating myself about other ideas — but she is making millions doing it.

If I could attach a sense of humility to any of this, it’s the recognition that I am no better than she is; I just see things from a different angle. I can’t simply make fun of her because she is willing to cheer for “her side” without admitting that I do the same for mine, if not quite so aggressively. Perhaps I look just as ridiculous to her as she does to me.

Gosh bless/darn the Internet for making it so easy for us to voice every opinion we have, knowing full well we’ll probably be singing a different tune tomorrow.

Where’s my shell???

My Quivering Bosom

November 10, 2010 5 comments

Did you make an appointment yet?

Geez, people!! If one more person asks me that I’m gonna bust! And a CERTIFIED reminder letter? Really???

Okay, I’ll admit it. I told them I was not going to get a biopsy just because they saw something that “could eventually turn into cancer” on my mammogram. Just to get them off my case, I agreed to come back in 6 months for another screening to see if the suspicious micro-calcifications were still there.

Being the procrastinator I am, 6 months, 7 months, 8 months came and went. A year later I had everyone who’s ever prodded any of my genetically female parts banging on my door. So one day I took off my shirt and examined my left boob, still appearing as incongruous an appendage on me as ever, and asked it “Are we okay?” Aside from being a little achy like it had been a year ago, all was still status quo. The right boob whispered jealously to me, “Pay no attention to her. She’s a total whiner.”

It’s not that I had any fear about going back for a follow-up. Even when the matronly tech at that first screening came out into the waiting room and put her arm around me explaining that “there’s nothing to be alarmed about but the pathologist would like you to have a biopsy,” I was only slightly fazed.

NOTHING TO BE ALARMED ABOUT !?!!


The words biopsy and alarm are about as separate as church and state! My inclination was to laugh, maybe nervously, maybe sardonically, thinking that these ridiculous breasts that I never wanted in the first place, that I used to tie down with a skinny piece of string when I was the only girl playing Little League in 6th grade, that have never served their intended purpose of nurturing life into the world, could possibly turn on me. “Use ’em or lose ’em!”, the saying goes. Fine. Take ’em. It’s not like I’m using them.

So with great bravado and an attitude of nothing to lose but something I never wanted anyway, I finally made the follow-up appointment and with all the dignity of a cow locked in a stanchion having its teats manipulated to release their stored milk, I subjected my “whiner” to the plexiglass press, first this way, then that way, then yet another two ways. I felt like yelling at the tech, “Don’t bother telling me to hold my breath again — I’ve been holding it since I got in here!!” Nothing quite like smashing an already tender boobie on purpose to inspire a permanent gasp and wince.

I glanced over at the computer printout where I saw what looked ironically like the Milky Way right where I had been feeling the pain. The five little stars they’d seen previously were obscured by clouds of white. Uh-oh, I thought… that can’t be good. She sent me back to the waiting room to give the pathologist time to look at the results. Not two minutes later, the escort lady came out and beckoned me over to the dressing room. I took a deep breath into my no longer confined chest and thought, isn’t it bad when the jury comes back with the verdict right away?

“You’re good to go. We’ll see you again in a year.”

WHAT ????


Last year you were ready to cut me open “just in case” and now you’re saying it was nothing??? What kind of place IS this???

Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve known several women who have had breast cancer detected early and have made full recoveries. But I’ve also heard it said that our bodies develop cancers throughout our lives but our immune systems correct them when we are younger and healthier. Last year, the conventional recommendation that all women over age 40 should have mammograms done annually was changed to age 50, partly for this reason.

So I’m on the fence. At 46, I’m somewhere in between and probably shouldn’t be playing rouellette with my health, especially considering that my parents endowed me with an average life expectancy of 54 years and the fact that those of us who don’t use ’em are at higher risk for losing ’em. But I am also of the opinion that just because it is medically possible to detect diseases early, doesn’t necessarily mean we should try. By golly, if one were to do exploratory surgery on any of us throughout our lives, we probably wouldn’t make it past 30 without finding SOMEthing suspicious.

Yes, I realize I’ll catch a lot of flack for this attitude but I’m growing weary of having almost every woman I know return from an exam eliciting “suspicious results” with a look of terror on her face, only to have a biopsy find out it was nothing after all. Meanwhile, studies have shown that the poking and prodding may actually play a part in future problems.

Blessings to those of you who have received treatment and recovered due to early detection. I don’t want to take anything away from your courageous journey. But when I see football players wearing pink in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (does anyone else find it hinky that they have such an investment in saving the tatas?), or am enticed to buy potato chips (which encourage overall health HOW??)  packaged in a pink bag, or any number of other goods and services that are cashing in on my mammary health, I have to wonder if we haven’t turned some ethical corner in the race to save women from their ticking time-boobs. I mean time-BOMBS !!

Hershey’s vs. Reese’s

November 1, 2010 4 comments

“Do you prefer Hershey’s or Reese’s?”, my neighbor asked each trick-or-treater as they approached her bowl of candy. She likes to maintain her reputation of giving out full-sized candy bars to her Halloween clientele despite her inability to get the usual 2-for-1 deal at the grocery store this year.

“Hershey’s!” was the overwhelming response.

WHAT??? Who would want a plain old chocolate bar when you could have TWO giant peanut butter cups??

I watched this scene unfold over and over again, from the  early-comers who showed up while it was still light out to the last sweep of “tall” kids who, when asked, replied that they were dressed up as “Ummm… teenage boys?” At the end of the night, a good 25% of the 72 Reese’s packages were still left after the Hershey’s had been wiped out an hour before.

“What do you think this is about?” I asked the neighbor. She shrugged her shoulders so high they almost touched the brim of her spangly pink cowgirl hat. “I don’t know. Peanut allergies maybe?”

That was the very fuel I needed for this blog post. It illustrated this year’s political environment perfectly.

Whether or not there was any truth to the peanut allergy idea keeping kids from choosing the Reese’s cups, there is a certain reality to the fact that people have become so aware of the existence of this sensitivity that it has taken on a life of its own. And so, builds the political wave of apprehension in this country.

I was witnessing a new generation of Americans being taught to fear. I don’t discount the fact that there are people who suffer legitimately from this anaphylactic anxiety and have thus petitioned schools to not allow peanut products on their premises, but there are many more who create opposition to a questionable threat. They think it’s better to simply avoid any possibility of trouble than to challenge the conventional wisdom and step boldly forward armed with knowledge and maybe EpiPens.

Tomorrow, we will vote between the seemingly safe “Hershey party” and that other one that just can’t seem to keep from pushing its more adventurous but possibly harmful agenda on us.

If my unscientific polling bears any truth, it seems clear which way the bureaucratic palate is trending. Looks like the “Reese’s party” and its peanut gallery have some serious re-educating to do before the next election. Or maybe they just need better commercials….

Ideological Hoarding

April 2, 2010 1 comment

I’m not a fan of reality shows. In fact, I really hate ’em…. Especially the ones with half-naked people performing pointless tasks like drinking gross stuff mixed up in a blender or bouncing off giant inflatables, or singing and dancing not nearly as well as people who have been doing it without much recognition for years — all for the sake of TV ratings.

Recently, though, I happened on a fairly new show called “Hoarders” on A&E. This program follows people whose inability to part with “stuff” has actually been classified as a mental disorder. Their homes have become firetraps and health hazards and their pathology has invaded other aspects of their lives as they hold onto bits of string, broken motor parts, old magazines, and any number of things that they “might need someday” even though they can’t possibly find them if they do. An organizational therapist comes in to work with the person and with the help of volunteers, they attempt to help dig through the clutter to find some semblance of order and help the person part with items that have begun to bury them alive.

It soon becomes apparent that despite the well-intentioned help of friends and family, the pace of the adjustment is too much. The hoarder desperately attempts to hang on to these items of comfort that no longer serve — they wind up right back where they were. The same phenomenon happens with obese people who lose weight and then gain it all back — and then some. But that’s a whole other story…

When the therapist asked what kept them from throwing things out and getting organized, the hoarders explained that they sought perfection in all of their efforts. It they couldn’t arrange things just so, they didn’t want to attempt it. They’d rather leave it until later when they felt assured that they could complete the task perfectly. Intellectually, they knew that there was no such thing as perfection but they couldn’t convince their brains that middle ground was acceptable.

As I watched these scenes unfold, I began to replace in my mind the circumstances and players with the current political atmosphere in our country, and I wondered if there is such a thing as “ideological hoarding”…

I’ve heard it said that our country is as politically polarized right now as it has probably ever been. Why is this? What cataclysm has happened to drive us so fearfully away from each other? In the past it seems that despite tensions on either end of the divide, there was still a strong middle keeping the rope from breaking. But now it seems the rope is unraveling a strand at a time and few of us can articulate why.

From a hoarding perspective, it seems we have devolved from a healthy sense of values and morality in our own lives to becoming pathologically worried about everyone else’s. The distances that used to divide us are gone and we are in each other’s faces 24/7. China is as close as Tennessee and I can talk to people in Australia more easy than I can talk to my own mother. We’ve adopted an “objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear” mentality, certain that our enemies are breathing down our necks at all times.

In order to cope with this panic, some turn to the comfort of thinking that there ever has been a time of perfection in this country. They are tempted to see the people, ideas, and objects of the past as somehow ideal when in reality, there was often more to fear then than there is now.

So they’re grasping at and gathering up all their ideas of what safety is, what prosperity is, and mindlessly hoping that being surrounded by these obsolete representations of comfort will make them happy. They are so irrationally certain that someone is out to take their stuff away that they simply gather more and more and more. They become blinded with rage that someone is questioning their reasons to have allegiance to their stuff that they become even more committed to it. They begin to hoard their beliefs.

On some level, we all do this. Our lifetimes of learning and world views established by our circumstances have left each of us with our own expectations of how things should be. We think that unless we convince everyone else that our way is the right way, we won’t have accomplished anything.

Yet it is in letting go of our ratty security blankets, allowing the spaces in our “mental homes” to open up and let the moving air dry up the toxic molds and send the asthma-producing dust bunnies on their way, that we create an atmosphere for growth. We need never forget the times and places in our lives that gave us comfort. We need simply to believe that all things are perfect just as they are.

If we could have it all cleared away — our memories, our learning, our lifetime experiences and expectations and those of others that we’ve taken on for ourselves — what would we have left? What would we seek out to hold onto? Would we find freedom in the wide-open spaces of our psyches or would we again seek to bury ourselves in repetitive habits and ideas that send us right back where we were?

For me, I will question myself each day to see if I am irrationally holding onto things that anesthetize me yet hold no real value. I will go through my boxes of memories and fondly place the items in the scrapbook of my soul then send them on their way. From this unobstructed place I’ve created I will look at the world around me and attempt to mold a new ideology that allows me to keep only what is necessary and discard the rest. I’ll not fall so deeply in love with my own things and ideas that I don’t recognize the need to give them up for the sake of someone else.

But don’t anybody else try to throw my stuff away…. I’LL DO IT MYSELF!!! Really, I will, just as soon as I make sure there’s nothing that I might need to keep in case I decide to build that thing that I was thinking of  that will make me a million bucks so that I can save all the starving people in Africa because they’re counting on me to get it just right and… (trails off mumbling to herself as she starts creating a new box to put all the pieces of loose string, etc….)

Angry Christmas

December 7, 2009 3 comments

Yesterday, Mama Nance leaned over from the seat right next to me at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, and in her loudest voice yelled right into my ear, “This doesn’t sound like holiday music to me — it sounds like ANGRY CHRISTMAS!!”

I don’t know where I got the idea that the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is nice holiday music. I don’t know where half the audience got that idea either, because there were young kids in attendance with their Christmas sweaters and Santa hats on, covering their tender ears. If I was confused about the intent of the program, it must have been completely beyond them.

The seizure-inspiring laser show and hell-fire pyrotechnics were about as far from Christmas as I’ve ever imagined. Mid-stream, a new piece from their latest album featured helicopters on 20 different monitors blowing things up as the fire machines on the stage gushed flames as from the mouths of dragons. The temperature in the arena (gratefully) rose about 20 degrees by the time the song was over.

I’ve never been a heavy metal fan though I know there are plenty in my age group who are. For those in the audience who like it, I’m sure it was a great show, but now I understand why half my peers can’t hear a word I say most of the time.

If I look at this more symbolically, it does represent something deeper this year.

I looked around at the mostly middle-aged audience, drinking beer and snapping pictures with their camera phones, some subtly doing head-banging movements with their scalps now shaved short to disguise the lack of hair that probably went through a stage of being at least shoulder-length at one time. Gyrating beside their little mouth-breathers, rock’n’roll dreams danced like sugar plums in their eyes as they tried to pass on a tradition to their children that once meant so much to them.

Maybe I was just born old or maybe I was raised to eschew this sort of display of “music”, but a small part of me thinks that perhaps I missed something in never having learned to appreciate the raw connection this sound makes with my very innards, shaking and rattling them with sonic force, appealing so violently to every sense that I could almost forget that all my pieces were integrated in one body.

And maybe this is a good representation of what the world is like right now. There is so much anger and disappointment floating around this Christmas, disconnection from the comfortable sense of integration we are used to, and the relief is in exploiting this powerful feeling of  powerlessness — letting go for an afternoon, releasing the need to acknowledge the holidays as something lovely and heart-warming. For some people, it’s simply not this year and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra knows how to musically illustrate the discomfort with their over-the-top performances.

The only other place I can imagine being as dark, loud, and full of fire is a place most fear spending eternity. But yesterday, we got to experience it and still walk away, our body parts surprisingly intact. Maybe this is how we’ll feel next Christmas when we re-emerge from the place we are in this year.

I probably wouldn’t have said so yesterday, but there was value in experiencing a TSO concert. But next time I’ll remember to wear earplugs!

Do I Suck at Being an American or Am I Just Like Everyone Else?

September 21, 2009 4 comments

kidding1I’m thinking about having a Tea Party. Not the kind that has become so popular lately, where rage-filled people gather to protest and metaphorically “throw the tea overboard” like the days of old in Boston Harbor….

I’m talking about a real tea party with little china cups, tea of all varieties, and a group of people from all walks of American life simply sitting down on comfortable chairs and pillows and talking about our various perceptions of what’s going on and trying to find our connections again.

My psyche feels overwhelmed by the hostility in our country. Even if not expressed openly, it feels like it’s hiding just below the surface ready to burst open like a pus-filled infection. Sorry for the gross simile, but it seems to be getting worse with each passing day and our health care system has mysteriously mutated into this psychic maze that we can’t seem find our way through to get an antibiotic to treat it. It feels like a self-induced anxiety nightmare.

And I have no idea where I stand. Am I alone in feeling this?

An old friend and I had a slightly heated exchange over an ostensibly patriotic email she sent a while back that just rubbed me the wrong way. The most difficult part for me was that I didn’t disagree with the intent, but rather, the presentation. Basically, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us…” It made patriotism a partisan concept.

My friend responded, telling me that she grew up with strong work values, and though she is not a church-goer, she was raised with “Christian” principles. I already knew this about her, yet these days the rhetoric that goes along with such admirable ethics clangs like a gong in my brain and drowns out what I know to be good and pure and gracious about my fellow countrypeople.

This morning when I received my application to become a part of the:

DISADVANTAGED MINORITY/DISADVANTAGED WOMEN
BUSINESS ENTERPRISE PROGRAM

I found myself in a different consciousness: that of my more conservative self.

This program would qualify me to bid on mural painting jobs within the local school system but with an unfair advantage. Even though I am only one person (sometimes two, if Nancy helps) I qualify as a woman-owned business and that gives me minority status.

WHAT?? How does the fact that I am a woman put me at a disadvantage as an artist? Why should anything but my merits count toward my qualifications? Why don’t you look at my portfolio and see what I’ve done and THEN decide whether you want to give me the job or not instead of letting me cut in line?

But then, doesn’t that logic put me in line with the liberal feminists? Equal pay for equal work?

And then there’s the paperwork. In order for me to doodle on the walls of an elementary school hallway, I must provide reams of bureaucratic information in order for the government to investigate whether I am worthy.

Doesn’t that put me in line with the conservatives who want less government interference?

I am reminded of the time I walked into my local bank in Vermont where I’d been personally depositing my paychecks every week for years. I enjoyed going in and chatting up the tellers on a Friday afternoon. They had just built a big new bank building and decided they now needed to start checking IDs every time someone came in to make a transaction. Tellers who’d waited on me forever suddenly claimed not to recognize me when I failed to produce my license, which I rarely carried with me. I was LIVID and fired off a 3-page letter to the bank president.

Maybe that’s what’s going on here. Maybe, like me, people are starting to feel cut off from a society that once recognized them, that slapped them on the back and gave a big handshake when they showed up in the bank lobby to contribute to the local lending institution so their neighbors could build their lives and find reason to get up each day in order to honor their debts. A small town where everybody knew who the plumber was, the veterinarian, the pharmacist… They didn’t really know anybody’s background and didn’t really care. They simply trusted each other’s integrity.

That’s why I’m having a tea party. The world has become too big and unmanageable for my mind to comprehend. I need to reconnect with the strong values I know to be so deeply held by my friends and neighbors.

Mostly, I need to rediscover my own. Chamomile, anyone?

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