Category Archives: social and anti

Of friendship and death

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We are too little moved at parting, blunting our feelings with the expectation that tomorrow will be like today. We will never say goodbye forever, not like this, on a sidewalk without warning. Tomorrow we will meet again, or perhaps the day after. There will be time enough.

Reading of Lincoln’s first meeting with Speed and the quick emphatic friendship that sprang out of that encounter, is full of pleasure to me, but I flinch back when the writer reports theories that they had sex and were lovers. The fact that they shared a bed is given as suspicious. The tone of open tender affection in their correspondence is interpreted as carnal.

I have a different take.

Two things I want to note. Aside from the historical economically enforced intimacy of whole families sharing beds in Lincoln and Speed’s times, (as well as with so many people today, who cannot afford privacy,) we’re looking at the fact that one feels differently in worlds of the past and present, when we know our time is driven by death, and filled with loss. We should know we have no time for dissembling. In Lincoln’s time, ignoring that urgency was an unaffordable luxury.

I remember same sex couples strolling down a village street in Africa arms entwined, fingers interlaced. I think that, yes, there is more than a mere difference in customs displayed. But, sorry, all you curious prurient-minded Americans, it’s not only carnal desire that drives expressions of love. It’s a mistake to reduce this closeness, this passion of feeling for the comrade, the friend, the chum, to an allegation of venereal desire.

In America these days, we feel we can afford to indulge our wish to forget mortality. By comparison the losses a twenty-year old man in Lincoln’s time suffered, I suspect, to be very like in number to the human losses suffered by the young Africans walking, arms entwined. We are talking about brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts dying young, often suddenly. We are talking about lives wrenched by death, a death that triumphs usually without a hospital battle, that springs by surprise out of a fever, an infected cut, a lorry running off the road, or a heart murmur from measles.

Friendship is a bond full of risk, taken at the edge of loss. When the average life-span before the Civil War for a white male was late thirties to mid forties, childhood through young adult mortality ran appallingly high. You found your friends and cleaved to them, because you knew your time was short. The next meeting might not come.

What in these days in this country do we know of death? Who among you readers who live in America have touched your beloved carrion? We have hospitals and nurses, morgues, caskets and the crematoriums to keep our hands clean. Death when it happens, we luxuriously consider an unnatural insult, unless the lost companion happens to be very old indeed. Then, we say it’s natural. That’s a lovely conceit. We all know at some level, our sense of protection isn’t solid at all. We’ve seen the evidence—cancer, automobile accidents, suicide, murder—the young die also.

So perhaps a dear friend may be held all the closer when you know you live under shadow. The rage of protective love might be allowed expression without embarrassment, because of this knowledge. All of us are like soldiers in trenches, death ever hungry, lurking underfoot, within, coming in from the sky, or from a side road. Pay attention. If you will stop looking away from death, it may lead you to share another hug on the street corner, to look with honest love upon a friend’s face, to watch the parting stride— saving images deep in memory long before this meeting is the last.

As for Joshua Fry Speed? He saw his beloved friend buried, years before his time.

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Emergency Response and CERT

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Here’s my graduating class in CERT.

With the fires raging in Northern California and the other recent natural disasters that have affected and afflicted countless people , I hear the questioning rising. Why wasn’t there more help given faster? Why didn’t notifications work better? Whose responsibility are these matters and what do we have a government for, if it has no role in on-the-ground protection of the citizens?

There’s an old tradition lodged in the minds of many Americans, that somehow the organized governmental agencies and their hierarchical structures are somehow less valid and less effective than the Minuteman approach. I think I still hear echoes of this. We certainly hear heart-warning stories mixed in among the tragedies, about untrained souls who rise to the challenge of disaster and save not only themselves but neighbors, or strangers. Wonderful stories to lift us a little in the midst of destruction, suffering and loss.

But what we come back to is that the structures do have a place, the organized, governmental agencies are life-saving. The firefighters who had to spend their time assisting evacuees instead of fighting the fires are to be praised, even if we can also wonder, why wasn’t there another group, more professionals whose job it might be to evacuate while the fire fighters fight flames. We can go in to the economic issues at the heart of this balance, or imbalance, but that’s not where I mean to go right now.

Clearly the systems of notification and spreading the alarm at need aren’t fast enough, or clear enough. Would that we had better tie-ins to satellite imagery so that evacuees don’t get mistaken directions about how to flee. A lot of us have signed up for the local alarms to be sent to our phones, which is a great first step. But what about, as in this case for so much of Santa Rosa, it’s night time and our phones are silenced into sleep mode, or actually turned off? What if we have taken a sleep aid to gain some restful sleep, a dose that will leave us slumbering? Then we depend upon our neighbors, and the night owl who had insomnia and checked her or his phone and read the first outburst of warnings.

I know from anecdotes gleaned from some of our past local fires, that what we expect of government agencies, police, firefighters, and such is often not what they are capable of doing. They cannot reach into every home simultaneously and snatch us to safety. A lot of our alerting system functions by luck.

Could this be addressed? Are there places where a siren should be mounted for such extreme alarms to be sounded? Perhaps. This may be a question for neighborhoods and townships, especially as our global climate shifts and displays a brutal temper.

But there are some ways to be prepared, there’s information to be gained and employed, that can at least train you how to be a part of the response, not the problem. What we sometimes forget in our Minuteman zeal is that when professionals are present, part of our best action is to stay out of the way. Too passive a reaction? Then may I suggest CERT training?

About a year ago I heard of an opportunity to take the free CERT course at the nearby University. I signed up and showed up and spent the next few days being informed, learning how to work as a team with strangers, and learning a good deal of humility.

Let’s be honest, I consider myself quick to think, adept at adapting, fairly bossy and pre-apted for command. (Yes, immodest too.) But the lessons put me in a different frame of mind, and made me, I hope, a far better team player, willing to shift my ground to fit what the larger need demands, and what my associates request.

Plus, I had a great time. This class with all of its lessons was fun. The other students had such different backgrounds and strengths. I had to change and think and learn, and we all made mistakes. Some of our mistakes killed imaginary people. Just like a war game, or a computer game– remember the companion cube? Anyway. let me recommend this exercise and the CERT experience. At the end of the day, you will have a better sense of what others can do for you and what you can do for them, and when you are the civilian running for help, you’ll have a far better concept of what help you can hope for, and how to ask in the most clear and speedy fashion. Plus you will also know what kinds of things you may have to fix yourself, so you waste no time waiting for a helping hand.

Even if you have some disability, or like me, are entering the ranks of senior citizens, knowledge is a weapon, a language, a map for your road.

At the end of a bad day, maybe we all need to be ready to be Minutemen.

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Post SBWC 2017

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The above photo represents what I came home to, and with, after the writers conference.

After six days of intense interaction, and staying up late after rising early, I’m back at home feeling rather odd. What happens when you put a collection of mainly introverted writers in small rooms and invite them to help each other? Wonders, that’s what.

Yes, I went through strangely lonely and dark periods during the writers conference. I panicked I’d lost my touch, that I couldn’t see well enough to put one word after another in a worthy fashion. I heard marvelous, apparently perfect works by my fellow writers, and I doubted. I felt out of step, not so much with others, although that happened sometimes, but with my self. I was afraid I’d mislaid or damaged my writing voice. I felt like that person at a party who has no one to talk with, standing not quite part of any group, but trying to pretend he is, who keeps a smile on his lips because to do otherwise is to be pitiful, and to fall that low, is too far.

Terrifying the silence when you finish reading and you hear not a single response. You rearrange the sheets of your paper and all you can hear is them sliding on the polished wood of the conference table. Was I clear, did I commit cliches, or is even the action in my short story so obscure that no one dares begin a critique– oh hell, was I even speaking English? It’s two AM and what do I imagine I’m doing here? That man over there is yawning.

It’s terrifying to feel that other creators are trying to be kind–but they see you haven’t kept and nurtured the gift. It’s horrid to feel they lean over and speak the encouraging word because they are reflecting their own hearts, not any quality of yours.

I have been trying to create my whole life. That’s nice; we all know it’s a long apprenticeship. But what some part of my monkey brain forgot was this– a writer’s conference is never about you. Nor your work. It’s about the community of writers. I didn’t go in to win anything– I did at least understand that, long before the conference began,  but I did go in to regain my footing. That was my error– the wrong goal.

The goal? It’s to engage in the purpose of helping everyone regain his or her footing. I rediscovered that at last. By helping others, I began to see my own way. I started then to really hear what was said and made and shared. There is a rhythm to creation and sharing, and since creativity is meant for communication, there is a need to step deep into that shifting tide. No dabbling at the edge in the froth. For writers and artists there is an infinity ahead of making, and what that takes is humility and hard work together. This is not the time for selfish doubts, for in-turning.

Introverts or not, now, we break barriers. We swim, far out of our depth.

I am swamped with sensations of loneliness and encouragement, with a gratitude to all my fellow travelers that thickens my voice, with a sense of loss, because I now sit alone. But that may be the biggest mistake. I don’t sit alone.

Now to work, while the remembered voices of friends sound in my brain, while their kindness and engagement glow in my mind. Enough light at last, to let me see my way.

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Peace on Earth

So the kid arrived home with her little new dog and this is what happened in the first forty minutes.

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And no, this dog came from the shelter and so far as anyone knows has never socialized with a cat before. And yes, this is our most difficult cat of four, who chummed with no one but his old, and most sadly now deceased friend Porthos, a feral black cat.  This golden tabby cat is Daft Wee Willie Wilberforce and we’ve had him thorough terrible health problems, mainly genetic. We’ve had WWW since he was seven weeks, so we know no dogs were in his past. He was a bullying sort of little friend to Porthos who was older and doted upon him and excused his vagaries. Porthos was a wonderful fellow, he would gaze with melting affection in his big green eyes upon this little kitten in his care and wash the little rascal with tenderness. When Porthos died, WWW became very depressed, so we acquired a five year old male cat, then some months later two bonded kittens.

Willie had difficulties accommodating our new three cats and so when he walked right into the lap that held this little new dog, we held our breaths and wondered if we ought to interfere! Guess not. It’s been about ten days and for all we can fantasize, WWW imagines that the little black dog is some oddly mis-made reincarnation of his dear old friend Porthos. After all, we excuse our dear friends a lot of oddities. Coming back as a dog is okay– the point is you came back….

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An Extra Note: Compostables and Not

Warning– this is a post that includes cleaning, garbage, purity, diapers and a rant. It’s not about Ramsey Canyon and what we saw… I will get to that after the clean up.

We hosted our Earth Sciences Department party yesterday and about seventy people attended. We prepared and cooked racks of ribs, slabs of salmon, fresh breads and vegetarian beans while our guests provided all kinds of vegetable and salad dishes, plus plenty of drinkables. I baked nine pies– apples from our orchard, grapes from our vines for the grape pies, boysenberries from the neighbor’s baked into a pie, and one huge four layer boysenberry filled cake with a cream cheese frosting. I probably should not tell how many packages of cream cheese I peeled for that job!

On such occasions we try to do our bit for sustainability, with designated bins for recyclables, and bins lined with the right type of compostable bag to take the compostable plates and utensils plus food waste, which we will later deliver to the processing center. A separate batch of bins stand ready for the non-compostables– paper napkins and waxed paper goods or whatever plastics people wrapped their contributions in.

So, this is a group of people who have spent their lives being students. Yet despite clear labeling on these bins, every year, the morning after finds me in my much-reused latex gloves sorting the garbage because somehow people can’t read those labels. But this year brought an even more disturbing variant.

I met single-serving squeezable plastic/foil baby food units. All “pure”, “organic” food in plasticized squeeze containers, one serving each. To be precise, plastic-covered foil pouches none of which is recyclable. The plastic lids are very large, and recyclable. I found two of these with their lids deep in our bin labeled ‘Compostables’. If you detect a hint of offense in my tone, you are so correct. I am worried about the parent who chooses to buy pure organic food for his or her baby in such a package. That you might absentmindedly throw it in exactly the wrong container is one of those things that can easily happen by mistake. But you do not choose single serving disposable aluminum and plastic pouches without shelling out a good bit of cash and having some time to select and think. So you want organic purity for your baby? Great. But what’s the impact of this choice? How could this company not have thought further in producing these expensive and wasteful items? Pure, organic and plastic present me with a serious disconnect.

I went to the website for this product and they claim that their containers have recyclable lids– well that’s just great! Indeed, they made the lids bigger in order to make them recyclable! Next, they say the production of one of their containers has a smaller environmental footprint than that of a glass bottle– but you often have the option to choose multiple serving sized glass bottles, which could change that equation. More, I am not sure if they are saying that only the original processing to produce a glass jar is more costly and if they have calculated the incalculable recycling in the lifetime of the glass jar? Or do they mean that the environmental cost of recycling the glass is greater than the environmental cost of production for each of their one-use pouches? With foil involved? This, I doubt. I also note that a glass bottle is composed of the third most common element on our planet — silica makes up ~15% of Earth. If the glass ends up back in the soil, it changes none of the chemistry of that soil. Plastics are manufactured materials that do not readily decompose, and have consequences in their smaller particulate form after years of disaggregation, for all animals, including us.

Yes, I understand that caring for a baby is a lot of work. I did it too, cloth diapers (and a diaper service as much as possible because at the end of the equation – sterilizing and washing all your own is more costly to the environment than using a diaper service.) I made baby food at home, except for times we travelled and I had to use bottled baby food. But the bottles and lids of what I bought were all recyclable. The glass meant a stable container with no risk of container molecules separating into the food, even acidic food.

I know a majority of my audience here is not having babies right now, but this isn’t just about baby food. It’s about thinking. I think that what I want to ask is that we try not to have that single serving plastic disposable choice be every day’s choice. No one likes a sermon much, especially when it asks for something, so I’ll return to my soggy gloves and my garbage sort.

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Listen, and you may hear

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Do I have a tale to tell? Yes I do. But I will vex you with being slow in telling, a quilt pattern rather than a cogent solid story. Teasers, rather than complete essays.

My husband and I picked up the kid in Phoenix where she is in grad school and headed to our first vacation in over twenty years– Ramsey Canyon. I here post a couple of photos, but bear with me… there is more to tell. I have a dinner to cook for October 1 (between 70 and 100 guests and yeah, yet again, I don’t hire caterers.) So be patient, there’s more to come.

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A Brief Episode

We were in a store in the little city when we heard car horns tooting, as though more than one driver might be angry. One of the shop clerks, a skinny young man, hurried outside. When we went out we found three people in the stream of traffic, (and this is a four-lane section of divided city street,) trying to reach and comfort a scared white poodle-type dog. He finally came to ground between the legs of one woman in the street– she and our clerk brought him to the shore, and thence into the store where he could be kept safe until arrangements might be made. Scared middle-sized dog, a couple years old I’d guess, but apparently no collar or identifying materials which makes me fear he was discarded by someone not worthy of the name ‘human’. But the people who stepped into a dangerous situation and controlled it with authority and compassion, and reassured a frightened animal full of panic, deserve all the praise I can give.

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