So I haven’t updated this blog in forever, and my subject is precisely the same as the last time.

Came across an old email from a friend who recently died. I had sent her “Hey, fellow cancer survivor. Looks like you’re double-dipping! Fine. If that’s the way you want to be, fine. FINE. Fine.” And a playlist of appropriate music, including “Do That to Me One More Time,” “Ready to Take a Chance Again,” and of course, “Staying Alive.”

She responded “Love it! Made my day. I was hoping I wouldn’t be double-dipping but you gotta take what comes!”

Unfortunately, what came was terminal. I can never delete that email thread, because it’s the last bit of her that I have. Like the last towel or pillowcase they used. A minor, mundane thing, that somehow becomes all the essence that remains.

Rest easy, my friend.

all we are

Finding a text message from someone who has died is like coming across an old beach ball with their breath in it, or an illegible note in their handwriting – a random bit of disembodied yet tangible evidence that they did actively exist. And a reminder that all of us will one day be only memory. Even if we build a bridge, or write a book, or get our names on a fancy plaque on a charity wall, we’ll be lucky to be actually remembered more than a generation after we’re gone. Remembered for our humor, our perspective, our creativity, or whatever the spark is that makes each of us a unique human.

So make lots of memories now. Be kind to strangers. Be nicer to friends. Do things that matter, so that decades from now old men on a bench can reminisce about “that guy who helped my dad” and old women can talk about “that friend of my mom’s that made everyone pee their pants laughing.”

And share the stories of the characters in your own life, especially those long gone, so their memories don’t fade quite so quickly.

That’s all we are, people – a random message, a captured breath, and eventually just a reference. It’s our choice to make it a fond one.

The New Normal

The other day I was in line for a mocha at the hospital. Intent on my 800 calories of wake-me-the-hell-up, I didn’t bat an eye when I heard a common mom/toddler argument.
“Don’t want donut.”
“You asked for the donut, I bought you the donut, and you’re going to eat the donut.”
“Don’t want it.”
“But why not? It’s your favorite. It’s got the chocolate on top. You love the chocolate!”
“No. Don’t want!”

I turned around to smile in sympathy and was jolted into a new reality.

This baby had had a devastating injury or illness. More than half her face was covered in gauze and netting, with a huge pad on her eye and some serious-looking drainage tubes. Lives had been obviously disrupted, and the world was a different place for this family.

And they were arguing about a donut. I did smile, because it was ridiculously funny, and got a smirk and an eyeroll in return.

Totally normal.

A few days ago, I was walking on the main floor and several people in front of me was a guy with a particularly jaunty step. His shoulders were swinging and his head was high as he nearly boogied down the hall. And I was thinking, now THAT’s the kind of perky I need. (I was probably heading for another coffee. I usually am.)

And then the crowd cleared and I saw that he had two artificial legs. His boogie was mechanically based and for him, totally normal.

Kinda makes me feel like a douche for complaining about anything. At all.

Stop it. Just stop it.

Back in the 80s I fought against domestic violence, and abuse against women in general. Not that I thought it was okay to abuse men.

I marched. I protested. I volunteered in shelters and courtrooms. I held candles at vigils and had the wax-burn blisters to prove it. I served on boards and I served meals. I gave rides and watched kids. I hugged and I listened and I supported and I gave what money I could spare.

I may have made a difference in the lives of the few starfish I was able to fling back into the ocean. Collectively, I believe we did make some small changes: Today, fewer doctors say, “you must like it or you would have left him.” Fewer police officers say, “what did you do to make him mad?” Fewer judges say, “it’s a man’s job to discipline his wife.” Fewer presidents say, “rape is just assault with a friendly weapon.”

But I’m still heartbroken at the level of violence against women out there. And at the number of young women who think it’s normal to put up with it. “He was just drunk” is not okay. “I set him off” is not okay. “I shouldn’t have been at the store/on my couch/in my car at 8pm/midnight/2am” is not okay. “Bitch, please” is not okay.

Women who are in abusive relationships are shamed (at least) twice – first by their abuser, and second by people who think they have a lack of character for not standing up to him.

So here’s my story.

At 19, I met an older guy who swept me off my feet. We’ll call him Bob, since that was his name. (I’ve always referred to him as “Bob the Slob,” but his last name was actually different.) He was intense. I thought the intensity was love, but it was merely distilled douchebaggery. I was stupid. Come on, I was 19.

He had some odd behaviors that I could always explain away, if I tried. And I really tried hard. Every time he was caught exposing himself, stealing, doing drugs or committing an act of general malicious idiocy, he had an excuse, and I believed it.

Getting thrown against the wall was my fault because I missed a sock in the laundry.
Getting slammed into the floor was my fault because I put cheese on the pasta.
Getting backhanded across the face was my fault because he had told me to shut up.

I stood in the yard and cried hysterically because he was getting his gun and he’d promised that if I stayed there he’d just shoot me in the leg, but if I ran he’d shoot me in the head.

He stole and/or destroyed many things that were dear to me and I learned to keep a blank expression as my world fell apart.

And I was so desperately embarrassed that I learned to pretend to the world that all was well when I was living in ugly, ugly chaos.

I was a sucker for a great apology and promises of reformation. Until I wasn’t. And once I wasn’t, I wanted out.

That was the scariest time of all.

Temporary restraining orders were still pretty new back in the late 80s, but you could get one. I did. I worked in superior court, and the judge knew me. He voiced his surprise when I showed up in his courtroom for a protective order, but he granted it.

But while getting one was easy, having it enforced was not. I filed 13 official complaints about answering machine messages, notes on my door, flowers in my house, and most of all, the gigantic rumbling tyrannosaur of the public works county dump truck (which Bob drove) tracking me to work. Every morning. As he screamed epithets out the window.

Thirteen official complaints. Thirteen talks with clerks and officers. Not one speck of enforcement. I was very afraid.

Thank the heavens above and the earth below for my friend Debbie, who worked in municipal court and did a very bad thing. A bad thing that could have cost her her job, and she had three kids to support. Debbie looked into Bob’s criminal record, and found, in a sealed case based on one of his public exposure trials, a suspended sentence.

In essence, it said that if he were arrested for another misdemeanor, he would have to serve time for forcing other women to look at what was truly not worth seeing.

Debbie called in a few favors, and had two officers visit Bob’s truck at the public works yard and kindly explain things to him. They did. And he left me alone, mostly.

Mostly was good enough.

My experience was not happymaking. Living in unrelenting, abject fear for years makes your soul shrivel at the edges. Three decades later, I can’t watch violence on TV or movies unless it’s really cartoony, and even that’s pushing it. I yelp at loud noises, and feel like crying afterward. Hands coming anywhere near my face put me in immediate panic mode. I see subtle clues of relationship abuse that normal people miss and it makes me all trembly and so, so sad.

On the plus side, my experience led me to volunteer at shelters. I met brave women who stood up to patriarchal families and churches to save themselves. I met extraordinary women who had had nearly all their bones broken by the fathers of their children and lived through unimaginable fear to give those kids a better life. I met wives of attorneys and CEOs in bloodied Chanel suits who needed to hide their Mercedes and BMWs or their husbands would find them and “finish the job.”

I thought this was all behind me, behind US as a society. But no. Boys record gang rapes and become internet celebrities with the support of school administrators and town fathers. (Google “Steubenville.”) Family homes are torched in protest of rape and abuse allegations. (Look up “Daisy Coleman.”) And everything is the woman’s fault again. How she was dressed. Where she was. What she drank. What she said or did or didn’t say or do.

People, this has to stop.

It stopped for me when law enforcement finally stepped in.

It stopped for Bob when he went to prison for domestic abuse of another poor soul, but he may well be out again now and finding a few more victims.

It stops for many victims only when they die. And that is not okay.

Please, if you see abuse, call 911. If you have an abused friend, let them know there’s help out there, and that it’s better to be embarrassed and alive than still faking it and dead. When you hear about a woman being attacked, don’t assume it was her fault.

Teach your kids that violence is not the answer.

And if you are being abused, especially by someone who is supposed to love you, know that you don’t deserve this. Your abuser might control your behavior, but he can’t control your heart. Make your plan. Know that you can.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1−800−799−7233.

Be safe.

Twenty-five Musings on my 50th New Year (OMG, some of it might be wisdom.)

Here’s some stuff I’ve learned in my half-century of life. Take what you agree with and ignore the rest (it’s what we all do anyway).

1.    “Common Sense” is neither common nor necessarily sensible. “Common Sense” is a euphemism for what you believe to be right and moral. For some people, that means not sneezing on the salad bar. For others, it means a visceral hatred of people who are different. Both groups cannot comprehend why everyone else doesn’t feel the same, because it’s common sense.
2.    “God never gives you more than you can handle” is crap. Otherwise, why suicide? While some people who say this are well meaning, most are just poo-pooing your problems, or worse, reminding you that God clearly loves them more.
3.    I’m never going to change the world. I’m never going to be in history books, or make the tiniest dent in the world’s problems. I can’t stop war, I can’t cure disease, I can’t deflect asteroids. What I can do is make people a little more comfortable in my own community – supporting local arts, food banks, kids’ groups, etc. And making some people laugh. Laughing is good. So I’ll do that.
4.    There will always be regrets. What if I’d gone to a different college, not married that dude, taken that one-time-only chance? No longer an option, of course, but what ifs can easily cause some serious 2am melancholy. I just always imagine my what-if life ends with a car crash or dread disease. Makes me feel better about the path I ended up on.
5.    “No one can make you feel bad without your consent” or whatever that quote is is only somewhat true. You are in charge of your reactions to things, yes. But some people will try really, really hard and use totally unfair ammo to pierce your composure. Until you can buy a Kevlar heart, some of that crap is going to get through. So don’t feel bad about feeling bad. Mean people suck.
6.    Twisting other peoples’ words is fun. Just realize that you’re doing it, and don’t believe your own bullshit.
7.    The “good old days” never were. Those halcyon eras of perfection never existed. Ever. Life was never simpler – you just didn’t know better. In every day of history in every corner of the world there has been horrible unfairness, suffering, conflict and violence. There has also been beauty, empathy, love and joy. Choose which to celebrate, but always know the other side was there, too.
8.    We all depend on others to make our lives work. I can’t build my own car or pave my own road. I also can’t make my own Big Mac in under two minutes or manufacture toilet paper that my butt would find satisfactory. I am very appreciative of the unsung heroes who make all these things possible.
9.    Some rich people are really lazy and some poor people work really hard. And vice versa. The money a person has is no indication of the content of their character, or for that matter, the correctness of their religion.
10. Never loan money to a wealthy person. They won’t pay you back. Because that $50 that was all you had until payday is a pittance to someone accustomed to much more.
11. Go ahead and loan money to someone who really needs it. But never more than you can afford to lose. There are so many times in my life when not having $20 meant no food that weekend, or $400 meant additional weeks of agony with an abscessed tooth. Being poor is really hard. Deciding between your rent and a new clutch for the limping car that takes you to work is hard. Having someone judge you for spending $3 on a beer because you are desperate to forget for a few minutes that you don’t have the $300 for the clutch is hard. Having a friend who can front you a hundred bucks, maybe forever, can be the difference between utter despair and hanging on until payday.
12. Mediocrity is okay. You don’t have to be the best at everything. Heck, you don’t have to be the best at anything. Just be reasonably decent at what makes you happy, or if you’re not even reasonably decent at it, just enjoy the ride.
13. Time goes faster and faster the older you get. Maybe it’s because each day is a smaller percentage of your whole life. But whatever the reason, days, weeks and months go whizzing by, and you will find yourself thinking in the middle of winter that summer was just yesterday.
14. You will never look any younger than you do today. Even if you get plastic surgery, you won’t look younger – you’ll just look different. And in some cases, not quite human. If your self-esteem is really wrapped up in your appearance to the extent that you’re willing to have someone cut into your flesh, I can only assume that you’re judging the worth of others based solely on their appearance as well. And that’s kinda sad, really.
15. Candy Crush is seriously addictive. If you’re not already playing, don’t start. If you are already playing, please friend me because I need more lives. I’ve already completed all the levels – now going back for three-star scores on every level. Because it is a sickness.
16. I’m never going to finish writing a novel. Truthfully, it hasn’t happened in 35 years of trying, and now I have more distractions than ever. Like Candy Crush. I do have hundreds of snippets, scenes and conversations that make me very happy to read, so maybe someday I’ll cobble together a short story.
17. Reality TV isn’t real. I’m sorry I even have to say this, but some people don’t seem to know. Fakity fake fakeness. Even the “competition” shows that may have some legitimate footage are still highly augmented – imagine condensing your own 12-hour day into 45 minutes of airtime. Now multiply that by how many people are on the show. Editing is everything, and heroes and villains are created by the producers. You see only what a very few people want you to see – and those people are trying to sell you something.
18. Outrage sells. Angry people are spenders. They’ll give more money to their churches to eliminate the scourge of (insert deviance here). They’ll contribute to their elected officials to keep (insert evildoers here) out of power. They’ll buy whatever the advertisers on (insert polemicist program here) are selling, to ensure that those divisive, angry-making views will stay on the air. Indignation is a very comforting emotion. It says “not only am I right, but I’m persecuted; therefore I am smarter and more moral than everyone else and only a lesser, evil person would try to change my mind.”
19. Salmon sushi is delicious. Even if it is in the Midwest. And farm-raised and chock-full of tasty toxins. And I lovelovelove the Happy Roll at Ichi Tokyo and the Asian Kitchen in Rochester, Minn. I have posted more photos of sushi than of my family.
20. There is no such thing as a comfortable bra with an F cup. The best you can hope for is “not actively painful,” and I am exceedingly grateful that I have found some of those.
21. If I had been born a century ago, I would have already died. And not from old age. I’ve had organs removed that had diseases and infections that really wanted to kill me. Without modern medical science, I’d be a corpse.
22. A lot of what I know is old and useless. Who’d have thought that Gilligan’s Island references would ever be passé? But all you’ll get is blank looks from a college student. I’m so old now that even intentionally younger references – like X-Files quotes or Power Rangers cracks – are incomprehensible to anyone under 30.
23. I have been extremely lucky to see the world change. I remember not just MY first PC, but THE first home computers. Ditto with microwave ovens, CD players, supermarket scanners and Kraft Easy Mac. I got to see Neil Armstrong land on the fricking MOON, people! The MOON!
24. I get to choose what to pay attention to. For decades I’ve tried to keep up with everything, and I’m officially giving up. Even the subjects I adore will never be fully explored, because there is too much information out there. Every subject is like a giant Mandelbrot fractal with burgeoning detail wherever you look. I have neither the time nor focus to follow anything to its ultimate conclusion.
25. Facing death can be pretty cool. It’s freeing, really. Especially when you come to the realization that if you had a set time to live, you’d do pretty much what you’re doing: playing stupid games, reading romance novels and laughing at ridiculousness. Even your own.

contemplating mortality. for no particular reason.

I watch a lot of science shows.  I’m fascinated by things like nebulae, pulsars, comets, gas giants, brown dwarves and black holes as well as plate tectonics, volcanoes, tsunamis and earthquakes.

What all this casual study has led to is a realization of our own miniscuality. MInisculeness? Minisculism?

Whatever. We’re TINY.

Our galaxy is a tiny speck in the universe. Our solar system is a tiny speck on our galaxy. Our earth is a tiny speck in our solar system. And we are tiny specks on the earth.

We are tiny specks in the size of things, and our lives our tiny specks in the time of things.

Which all means we have a very short time and a very small radius in which to make a difference.  Our individual influence won’t last long, and it won’t go far.  No one looks into a “Who’s Who” book two weeks after it’s published, much less in 500 years or on another planet. No one is going to memorialize our collections of clothes, toys, books or guns, except as a momentary headline forgotten in a day, or a complaint to their own grandkids about the mess they had to clean up when we died.

Our best hope as typical tiny specks is to make a difference in the lives close to us, whether that closeness is geographical, genetic or attitudinal.

Part of a smart person’s recent Facebook post reminded me that feelings only matter to the person feeling them: only behavior makes a difference to everyone else. So be generous.

Be generous with yourself. You are only a tiny speck. But even tiny specks deserve time and care.

Be generous with your creativity. Make something of yourself in the truest sense of the phrase. Let the world see what you can do.

Be generous with your knowledge. Teach someone something. Show them an easier way.

Be generous with your humor. Make someone laugh. The world is a seriously hilarious place.

Be generous with your generosity. Reduce someone’s misery with a donation to the local food bank, homeless shelter or humane society. Increase someone’s joy with a donation to the local community band, school group or senior home.

Don’t go to the grave without anyone knowing who you were or what you loved. Earn the right to be missed. That’s quite a legacy for a tiny speck.

on the eve of forty-nine

On the eve of forty-nine, I’m moved to pen some rhyming lines

That show, before the year has turned, a few small things that I have learned.

 

No one needs a hoard of stuff. Life is simpler with enough.

If it doesn’t make you smile, toss it in the garbage pile,

Or give it to a Goodwill store. Someone there will love it more.

 

Also, chuck your lesser fears and go explore some new frontiers.

Sing in public. Learn to dance. Wear some really ugly pants.

No one cares. They’re more concerned with all those judging them in turn.

Do yourself a giant favor: act like you’re a little braver.

 

Don’t surround yourself with pain. “Happy” can’t survive the strain.

People who can’t stop complaining just aren’t very entertaining.

Trade them in for those whose brighter outlook makes your soul feel lighter.

 

 

So there’s a bit of common sense that something forced me to dispense.

I hope that I will still be here at this time in another year,

Looking fifty up the nose and wearing much, much smaller clothes.

 

 

I’ll say goodnight and leave you with some final words of Barb-ly wisdom:

Use your gifts, your heart, your grace to make the world a better place.

Remember that sincere compassion isn’t ever out of fashion.