Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

I was a college student in the early 1970s when the Vietnam War was in full force, as was the resistance against it, especially among people my age. There's a US Army base about 30 minutes from the university I attended, which meant that students and soldiers ran into each other with some frequency.

More often than not, those encounters were less than positive. The students visited their opposition to the war, in insufferably rude ways, upon the people drafted to fight in it. Never mind that the privelege of being in college exempted us, for awhile at least, from mandatory service in those days of the draft.

The soldiers, understandably, did not respond well to such open derision. It was not a proud moment for my generation.

I think about those days now, when our country is again involved in an unpopular war. Despite many opinions about whether the wars of our age are just or necessary, this time we seem generally able to separate our feelings about the war from our feelings about young men and women who are waging it.

At least that's a bit of progress.

My personal behavior back in the day was relatively benign -- singing along to protest songs at coffehouse concerts, mostly. I certainly didn't taunt anyone -- I'm too much of a harmony-seeker for that. But I don't recall standing up for those who were soon to be shipped to a far away place to be shot at or killed. I don't recall even thinking much about what their perspective might have been.

Looking back, I'm shocked at my insensitivity, and I realize that makes me just as culpable as those who were overtly hostile to so many young men who really had no choice in the matter.

So today, I am thinking about those who served - my peers - who fought, who died in that war, while I was free to be bored in geology class and go to Saturday night keggers. I apologize for being a witless snot.

And whatever I think about this war, that war, any war.... I humbly thank anyone who has fought on my behalf so I can sit in my comfortable house and do nothing of remotely similar import.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Guess I Had to Be There

We've been blessed with spendid autumn weather for three weeks running now. My twice-daily walks with Otis are filled with beautiful moments of bright blue skies and leaves turning red, orange and yellow, more crackling underfoot every day.

I've been meaning to bring my camera on one of these walks to capture the scene, but I never seem to remember until I'm a block or two away from home.

Until today, when I realized it was just as well.

There was another time, almost 20 years ago now, when I took a camera everywhere. My kids were in all sorts of school activities -- sports, school plays, music programs -- and I captured all of it on film or videotape. Today I value the photos, the video clips, especially the class videos I assembled for each of them at the end of their 8th grade year.

But in documenting all those activities, in watching their pre-pre-pubescent years through a viewfinder, I kinda missed experiencing them.

So maybe that's why these days I can't seem to remember my camera. Maybe it's better just to be there.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Bully is as bully does

There has been a lot of talk decrying student bullying in the days following the suicide of a young man whose college roomie decided to videotape his private activities and post said video on the world wide web.

Trust me, I'm right there with the anti-bullying crowd. But I think the problem goes way deeper than that. I suspect it was less about bullying, and more about a couple of things I find even more disturbing: Doing unto others what they see modeled for them by the adults in their everyday lives... and plain old stupidity.

What's a kid to think when he or she moves through the day with the likes of Glenn Beck calling for Pelosi to be poisoned, or the literati making equally irresponsible suggestions to solve for Sarah Palin? When a vile Kansas crackpot who gives Christianity a bad name can extend his 15 minutes all the way to the Supreme Court? When the path to national leadership is paved with innuendo and quasi-truth as expressed in attack advertising from left, right and everywhere in between?

As for sheer cluelessness, some wise soul once cautioned us never to attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity. I suspect that's a relevant thought here. One need not venture far into the blogosphere to find evidence that some people seem to literally lose their heads when it's just them and a computer screen.

We may never know what (if anything) was going through the minds of the kids whose unconscionable actions set this tragedy in motion, as their lawyers have surely by now filled them with get-out-of-jail talking points. And maybe they were indeed motivated by hate for a sexual preference other than their own. But I can easily picture them encountering others' private moment, thinking "wow, this is wild!" and pulling out the flip-cam with no greater thought of the consequences than the hope of becoming famous for posting the next multi-million-view YouTube phenomenon.

So is there a lesson to be learned? Sure. We must recognize that free and easy access to the tools of communication in the digital age does not necessarily grant us the wisdom to use those tools responsibly. Or put more simply, please, find a brain cell somewhere in your head to engage before your fingers hit the keyboard. Don't be stupid.

And if we wish our young people to behave civilly toward their peers, perhaps we should try it ourselves.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Tale of Two Eras

On this lovely, lazy Saturday evening, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is on the television. I have settled my 50-something body into a comfy chair in my 83-year-old house to watch a 1937 movie with my daughter - 2010 style.

She's sitting in her own house on her own sofa a mile away and we're enjoying the movie together via text message.

"Oh my gosh, the singing is soooo 1930s," I tap into the ether.

"I know!" comes the reply. "And the graphics. Or maybe then it was just called animation."

Indeed. It's difficult to watch this, the first full-length cel-animated color feature movie ever (something I know because I could look it up on Wikipedia from my iPhone) without noticing how much charm and rich detail has been lost in surrendering the painstaking hand of the artist to the efficiency of the computer.

"When we grew up everyone focused on the fairy-tale ending - either saying 'pooh pooh I don't need a prince,' or 'I want a knight in shining armor,' says the next message on the little iPhone screen I hold in my hand, while Otis the dog snores beside me.

"But no one focuses on how sweet and good Snow White is to emulate, or you could be ugly and jealous like the queen. A much better lesson learned, if you ask me."

Interesting point.

"Makes me want to see Bambi, even though it makes me cry," comes her next message, as Snow White makes her way through the forest and encounters woodland creatures that look a lot like characters in that 1942 tear-jerker. Although for my money, nothing draws out the hankies like the scene of Mrs. Jumbo caressing her baby elephant through the bars of lock-up in Dumbo, circa 1941. Both dates drawn from another quick Wiki check.

"They'd never get away with naming a mute character Dopey today," I observe. There is something to be said for progress.

The ending, of course, is preposterous. Felled by the poison apple, Snow White sleeps as snowflakes turn to spring blossoms, awakening only when the visiting prince plants a kiss on her lips. She opens her eyes, stretches, steps out of her glass coffin, hops on the Prince's horse and heads off to happily-ever-after.

No matter that she's had nothing to eat or drink for months. No muscle atrophy. No bedsores. No need for a quick trip to the bathroom or a tooth-brushing. And no idea whatever what this fellow is actually like. Today, we'd suspect he's an internet stalker.

"Good thing it ends here before they both get fat and grouchy," I type.

"You should see the shortened version of the children's book. There they never even met before he came upon her and kissed/fell in love/married," she responds. Fairy-tale meets E-Harmony.

Thus a thoroughly enjoyable 90 minutes with my daughter comes to conclusion.

Not a word spoken, nowhere near each other physically, but comfortably close.

The best of both the old and the new.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


For the last 3 1/2 years, my morning routine has been the same. Up at 5 a.m. Take dog out for a quick pee. Feed the cat. Off to the gym for an hour of torture. Then the reward: a stop on the way back home at the neighborhood coffee shop for a lovely hot latte.

But as of Monday, my routine will be disrupted, because my coffee shop is closing.

It's not a surprise, really. The proprietor and her barista son operated it on their own, offering really good coffee and delectable treats baked fresh every morning. It's a labor-intensive endeavor, and even at $3.50 a latte and $2 a muffin, it would be tough to generate the volume to make the numbers work. Which apparently they didn't.

It's hard to watch someone's dream dismantle, and their routines are clearly far more disrupted than mine.

But still.

I'll miss more than the latte. I'll miss the fact that I never needed to remember "tall skinny grande" whatever. All I had to do was show up and my order was placed. No thinking required.

I'll miss the fellow coffee shop congregants, about whom I know both very little and a whole lot. Jeannie, who has a bulldog named Louie, a husband named Randy, a mother with health issues and a left-of-center take on political issues. Eric, principal of an elementary school, and his wife, Marie, who likes her bagel with cream cheese. Susie, who walks for 45 minutes before her daily caffeine fix. Philomena from Ireland.

I don't even know the last names of any of these people but I know intimate details of their lives from the pre-dawn snippets they share as they, too, have made this place part of their daily routines.

Mostly I'll miss the fact that I could count on all of this to be there every day to anchor my morning.

All the coffee shop patrons were there today, the final day of operation, getting one last brew and freshly baked scone or cinnamon roll. Bidding farewell not just to the coffee shop owner and her son, but also to the fleeting yet intimate relationships they, too, have formed over their daily ritual.

How attached we get to people and things that play even a small, but daily, supporting role in our lives. And how disquieting it is when something beyond our control upsets the routine we have come to depend on.

There are other coffee shops in the neighborhood, none so convenient or (in my opinion) to my particular taste. But after awhile, I'll form a new routine, meet a new cast of characters and find comfort in something else I can count on. Until I can't.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Apparently, I'm Not Getting Better

So it's just after 6 a.m. I'm taking Otis for a walk, hoping to get a good 20 minutes in before the sidewalk gets hot enough to fry the soles of my shoes. Walking the dog is always a time to think about the day ahead, notice what's around me and enjoy the moment I'm living.

And what moment is that this morning?

"Hmmm," I say to myself, noticing the sun's not completely up yet, evidence that we're on the far side of the day-lengthening curve. "The days are getting shorter. I'd better start thinking about the theme of this year's Christmas letter."

Wait. This year's Christmas letter?

It's July. There's still 14+ hours of daylight. Today's heat index is predicted to top 100. It's 161 days until Christmas. A Christmas letter theme is not a pressing issue today.

Except to me, perpetually living in any time other than the moment and clearly making no discernable progress toward change.

Now, to be fair (I believe this is called rationalization) I give great thought to the theme of my annual Christmas letter. I know Christmas letters are generally the source of derision, as welcomed at the holidays as fruitcake. But I will not send a Christmas card without a personal note, and I don't have time to think up and hand-write personal notes to all those people. So several years ago I acquiesced to the photocopied personal note aka a Christmas letter.

But mine are not fruitcakes. My Christmas letters are illuminating. Funny on purpose. People eagerly await them. (More rationalization? No. That's delusional....)

Await they do, because I never get it out on time. Illuminating, not so much, but when you don't really have anything new to say from one year to the next, a clever theme is all that stands between my Christmas letter and the recycling bin. Thus, my intense focus on a theme.

Last year with all the hoo-rah about Twitter, I sought to showcase my social media savvy and served up my year in tweets. A Christmas Twetter is a hard act to follow, upping the ante for 2010.

Which is why at 6 a.m. on a sweltering morning in July I'm walking my dog, worrying about a Christmas letter that frankly, doesn't need to occur at all, much less be worried about today.

Otis is not the seize-the-moment force Mr. James is. But stopping to do his business, he did bring me back to the present, at which point I made a conscious choice to stop thinking about the Christmas letter, and pay attention to the pretty blue sky instead.

Besides, I'd already come up with my theme.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Seeking approval

One of my many faults is a bad case of self-doubt. In many cases, it's the penalty for being tuned in to what other people think and feel... a good thing in my job trying to communicate with others, not so good when I want to sell myself or my ideas and I over-empathize with whoever I think doesn't want to hear what I'm saying.

So this post from Seth Godin's blog is a kick in the pants for me. I share it here, with credit to him, in case you need a kick as well.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Killing time last night I was flipping through the tv channels and happened upon an old episode of The Golden Girls.

The show has been in the news of late, with Rue McLanahan's death and Betty White's star turn on Saturday Night Live. So I put down the remote and watched for awhile.

I never was a regular viewer, but I do recall when the show was in its first run 20 years or so ago, the Girls seemed... well, old. Euphemistically "golden." Funny, sassy, but old.

So imagine my surprise when last night I found them to be quite a bit younger than I remember. Even, maybe, about my age... certainly not old.

Which proves the theory of relativity is really all about the perception of everything from the point of view of yourself....

Monday, May 31, 2010

What else have I been missing?

So I was reading a book last night, enjoying the crisp view of the text on the page thanks to my new eye (with the aid of one of multiple pairs of new reading glasses), looked down at my arm holding the book, and saw snakeskin.

What once -- some decades ago, apparently -- had been smooth and supple, now looked wrinkled and scaly. Like the arm of somebody's very elderly grandmother. Startled and distressed, I closed the left eye with its fine new cataract-free lens, and looked at my arm through the yet-untampered-with right.

Not exactly smooth and supple, but sure enough, no snakeskin, the wrinkles smoothed by the patina of time clouding the lens whose days are numbered.

As I explore the new world that has opened to me through the miracle of cataract surgery, I'm making all sorts of discoveries. I can actually read street signs. I see distinct leaves on trees, not just green blobs, and the petals on flowers. People's faces as they approach me. It's great.

I also see how much gray really is in my hair. The sad state of my neck. The bags and dark circles under my eyes. And snakeskin covering my arms and hands. I'm getting a view of myself as others have been seeing me.

That's less great, if you come from the ignorance-is-bliss school of self-awareness. And for me, valedictorian of the oh-my-god-if-I've-missed-this-what-else-is-wrong College of Worry, troubling indeed, but maybe also a kick in the pants.

I know that just because I can't see or experience things first-hand doesn't mean they don't exist. I accept that dogs hear sound frequencies I cannot detect. I believe it's cold at the south pole even though I've never been there. Anyone who believes in a higher power takes on faith all sorts of truths for which the knowledge is second-hand and the evidence circumstantial.

But my cataract surgery has brought more than flowers and dust formation into clear focus for me. It suggests that the clouded vision that allowed me to believe my hair doesn't show all that much gray, might extend to many other aspects of my relatively comfortable, complacent little life.

Because my clearer new vision will be not be worth much if I don't bring a clearer head into the equation.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The wisdom to know the difference

In the movie One True Thing, a Meryl Streep mother character advises the Renee Zellweger daughter, "It's so much easier to choose to love the things that you have, instead of always yearning for what you're missing."

I love that line. It expresses the essence of living in the moment, a goal toward which I continue to strive.

But what if the missing things you yearn for, you really could have? If what you have has slowly, steadily, imperceptibly eroded without your knowledge - and you could get it back?

As I type this, I am getting acquainted with a new lens inserted yesterday in my left eye, replacing the cataract-ridden model I was born with. The difference is astounding. Colors are vivid. The type on the computer screen is crisp and clear; I can read for the first time the words in the pastel colors youthful web art directors seem to fancy, clueless as to the audience they're turning away. (Or maybe a not-so-clueless geezer repellent - a topic for a different day....)

Through my right eye, I see my world as it was -- hazy, gauzy, yellowish-gray. Through my left, I see an entirely different place: vibrant and alive. Dirtier, too -- walking Otis this morning I saw more gunk on the sidewalk than seemed to be there yesterday. I'm getting up the nerve to go look at my kitchen counter....

The point being, my vision slipped away to yellow-gray slowly, silently, under my personal radar. What deficiency I noticed, I accepted as a penalty of having lived this long. I didn't exactly love the vision I had, and I did indeed yearn for what I was missing, but accepted what I had with appreciation for being able to see at all. I was more or less happily in Meryl Streep's acceptable moment.

Which in fact was not acceptable.

What else have I shrugged off and chosen to accept as it is, that could be better with a little effort (or in this case, a considerable sum of cash)?

What else has slipped away, little by little, without my consciousness, that I could sharpen back up?

Where's the line between appreciating the moment, and consciously working toward improvement?

I don't have an answer. But I'm not choosing to love the gauzy view from my right eye any more. Surgery to replace that lens will be scheduled at the first possible instant.

And now, about that kitchen counter....

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Take time to smell the lilacs

They're in bloom for such a brief time... it's a moment that mustn't be missed. And I haven't, every day this week taking Otis for a walk.

I don't really need to stop and smell -- their scent fills the air all around them -- but I do anyway.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pain for gain

It was a lousy winter around these parts. There was snow and ice on the ground before Christmas, and it stayed there until President's Day. The sky was a steel gray for days on end, and for awhile there in the depths of January and February, the thermometer struggled to make it into double digits.

Not good for dog-walking to be sure. Okay for gathering 'round the fire and soup or chili suppers for awhile, but by the end of February we were scraping ice off the grill and cooking pork chops in defiance of everything Mother Nature was sending our way. Which even included 10 inches of snow on the first day of Spring.

Definitely a downer for the sociability quotient of the local citizenry. My mood ranged from glum to surly and was matched or exceeded in intensity by many.


Which is why this 70-degree weekend has literally been such a breath of fresh, balmy air. Otis and I took a morning walk, blissfully free of snow boots outfitted with the Yak-Traks that kept me upright through three months of ice-walking. As the sun came up over the trees that show promise of leaves to come, and magnolias, forsythia and redbuds in full bloom, it struck me that my appreciation of this glorious day is all the more intense for the dark gloom that preceded it.

Is my enjoyment of this single weekend worth the weeks on end of unrelenting winter?

Why, yes, I do believe so.

Which is something I should keep in mind more generally. Nothing's perfect all the time, and if it was, I'd take it for granted and fail to appreciate it anyway. So, if I quit-the-bitchin' about the lows, and accept them as the yin that will make the yang all the more gratifying when the highs eventually come, I'll be a whole lot happier.

Or at least a lot more pleasant dog-walker.

Friday, March 5, 2010

With age comes...

... wisdom? knee pain? On the eve of my birthday I'm thinking about what the passage of years has meant to me and what that means to my minute place in the world.

Thus, I present the top 10 things that getting older means to me:

10 - My idea of fun is much less expensive than it once was
9 - The world still doesn't work the way I think it should. But by now I know it isn't going to. I'm over it. Mostly.
8 - Stuff that used to be important isn't any more. (In fact, it never was...)
7 - A dog is a fine solution to the empty nest syndrome.
6 - It's a lot more fun to talk with my kids as interesting, resourceful adults -- however infrequently, given their own busy lives -- than it was to help them with homework. I like this phase better.
5 - I no longer have time to waste on things I think somebody thinks I should do, but I don't want to do.
4 - It's my turn to have walked 20 miles in the snow in my bare feet.
3 - I should never have chuckled at my father reading with a magnifying glass. What goes 'round, comes 'round. Something to remember now when I'm impatient in the grocery line behind the woman in a walker.
2 - I really do have enough. Enjoy it, let the rest go.
1 - You really do catch more flies with honey than vinegar. But if you don't hang with flies you don't need either one.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Something else to feel guilty about

Several years ago we had our ancient house rewired. Some of the work entailed cutting out a piece of ceiling in the entryway for the electrician to reach the wiring to an overhead light fixture. Repairing the ceiling was not part of his work agreement, so we were left with a hole in the ceiling.

Easy enough to fix with a little bit of initiative... which we failed to muster. For more than a year. We just got used to not looking up.

The ceiling is fixed now, but it comes to mind every time I think about this blog. Sitting out here, waiting for me to have something to say, which apparently I don't. So I just don't look up. Or in this case, I don't log on.

One thing I don't need to clutter my moments is another source of guilt. So here's a moment to check in. Say hello. Think about I might have to say that's worth my time or yours.

Nothing tonight. But maybe soon.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why is this a question?

As news coverage of the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti continues, several of the national news organizations have sent their "medical correspondents" (like Nancy Snyderman, talking head for NBC, and Richard Besser for ABC) to report from the scene.

Upon encountering so many in need of medical care, some have put reporting duties aside to set bones, treat lacerations, deliver babies. This has caused some wringing of hands in the Fourth Estate about the ethics of reporters, medically trained or not, becoming part of the story.

The complaints center around three themes

1) Journalists are there to find facts, gather points of view and show/tell us what's happening. When they participate in what's happening, they change the events they're covering.

2) Becoming involved with subjects of the story compromises the reporter's ability to report objectively.

3) TV doctor/reporters will choose the most telegenic patients to help, diverting resources from those who may have greater need.

Here's what I think about that:

1) The mere presence of cameras changes what's happening, a fact that every public protestor and kid waving "Hi Mom!" from the crowd in front of the camera, knows full well. In a public emergency, why not just go with it and use what's happening anyway for good?

2) Objectivity in news reporting died when Walter Cronkite retired and Barbie/Ken-esque news personalities stepped in. I wish it weren't so, and if Nancy Snyderman not treating patients would bring back an expectation of objectivity, I'd be all for it. But it won't. Might as well make some sort of purse out of this ugly sow's ear. Especially if the purse might save a life.

3) This may well be true, and I agree that's neither fair nor desirable. But here are the choices. Tele-Doc on assignment stands in front of hundreds of sick people and blabbers for the camera about the horrible scene. Or she puts the microphone down and splints a beautiful wide-eyed child's broken leg. To my mind, that's one less patient for overtaxed medical personnel without a tv gig to attend to, and one more human getting help.

News organizations have way bigger ethical issues to consider. Focus on those, and in the meantime, if somebody on the news payroll has expertise to meet a need more urgent than tonight's soundbite from the scene, get on with it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

On the ground in Haiti

A blog post from the young woman noted in my previous post. Here's the link, it speaks for itself.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Okay, I get it now

The daughter of a family friend lives and works in Haiti with her husband and a sweet little toddler they are in the process of adopting. Her blog, No Frills in Haiti ( is a beautifully expressed journal of their lives in that hot, beautiful, desperately poor -- and today, it appears, ruined -- country.

I first learned about the earthquake last night not from news reports, but through my friend's Facebook status update, which noted that they'd not yet received word from their daughter. I awoke this morning to news of the devastation on my trusty clock radio tuned to NPR, and my alarm intensified. But before I headed off to my morning appointment with misery at the gym, I checked my Facebook page on my iPhone recharging by the bed and saw that minutes earlier our friend had sent another status update with the happy news that all three of them were alive and together.

Such relief. Followed, of course, by more concern -- the aftermath of such an event can be as wrenching as the event itself, and if I know anything about these angels of mercy, they will be in the midst of it working tirelessly to help so many injured and homeless.

But for now, as of this morning, they're safe.

I've complained aplenty about the fact that the rise of the internet allows anyone who can type or push buttons on a flip cam to be a "journalist" and the disintegration of the mainstream media. In my view, we're hurtling toward a world in which we each can live in our own little bubbles, getting our news from only those places that match our world view without distraction from dissenting ideas or opposing views - some of which might have merit. That troubles me. A lot.

But in knowing that in a horrific night of worry my friend could turn to Facebook to keep a broad network of friends and acquaintences apprised - and engage that broad network in fervent prayer, positive energy and support -I now fully get, and very much appreciate, the up-side of our changing media habits.

Take care, Kim. I will be thinking about you every day until you are able to share what you can of these experiences. Until then, I'll be checking your mom's Facebook status updates and thanking heaven for the forward march of technology.

P.S. A news report about them:

Friday, January 1, 2010

To ring in the new year, a guest blogger...

... myself! From another blog, about our annual New Year's Eve food-fest that represents much more than the start of a new year to us.