Freedom to Lose Your Religion

The_Reaper,_by_Walter_Crane

What a world we are living in. Everything has been disrupted because of a hidden enemy. The devout might call it the Devil’s work; scientists may call it a submicroscopic infectious agent; everyone else calls it a virus. Regardless, it is putting our collective lives on hold. By necessity, we are reduced to surviving so that we may live again later. As God’s flock, responsible citizens, decent human beings . . . whatever motivates you, we must all do our part in defeating COVID-19.

I planned to start this off with a bit of scripture about sacrifice. So, I did an Internet search, “Bible passages with sacrifice.” As with anything related to religion, the results are dissatisfying.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13. 

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” Luke 9:24 

“To do what is right or just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” Proverbs 21:3

I was really hoping to drive the point home about the importance of sacrifice during this time. Doesn’t religion preach just that? Back in the day, the congregation was expected to empty their pockets into the church offertories if they wanted eternal salvation. Their last coins were tithed to the ferryman who would take them to afterlife. Or something. Isn’t that the very definition of sacrifice? Oh wait, no. That’s just stupidity.

Back to the verses. The aforementioned examples and others like them tell completely different stories. The first two, in particular, resonate with current events. Many conservatives are extremely eager to open up the economy. How does one do that in the midst of a pandemic? How about suggesting elderly people leave their homes and sacrifice themselves on the front lines so that the rest of the ‘healthy’ world can get back to normal? If that doesn’t work out, just keep the basket of vulnerables at home while the rest of the world can live their lives again. Never mind that it is not how communicable contagions operate. As John said, “. . . lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” and Luke echoes that sentiment, “. . . whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” Got that, old folks, and immunocompromised, and cancer survivors, and disabled veterans, and those with co-morbidities? You’ll be saved either way! Win-win!

The third example blurs the lines even more of what sacrifice means. To do what is right or just is more acceptable . . . to the Lord. Does that mean it is right and just to congregate, place your spit on the clergyman’s hand while you eat God’s body, and share the same cup of his blood, all while ignoring the social distancing rules and shelter-in-place mandates? Is the chalice AND wine disinfected after each set of lips touches it? The CDC states that COVID-19 can survive and be transmitted for up to three days on metal surfaces. Not to mention, living in an infectious broth of high-viral-loaded sacrament taken directly into one’s unprotected system before even the smallest immunity can be built up from an incremental or peripheral exposure. You know, how the immune system works.

Perhaps God is battling the actual creator of this virus. Who could that be? In this beautiful world our Lord created. Not the sacrilegious Darwin. Not godless China. The Church Lady knows who I mean. Could it be . . . SATAN? While this fight to the death carries on (probably for the next year), does one have to pray in order to avoid becoming infected? If so, God might be a little tied up for a bit while pulling a rope-a-dope on the Devil. What if one becomes infected? Can prayer heal better than a therapeutic vaccine or treatment made and administered by God’s own children, to God’s own children? What happens if one dies? Can one call in a prayer favor, at least to explain why thou hast forsaken me?

This pandemic must be another one of those WWJD tests. What would Jesus do? He did lose his shit on the merchants and moneychangers in the infamous Cleansing of the Temple. He fashioned a whip and went all Indiana Jones on those greedy motherfuckers. How dare they turn a place of worship into a den of iniquitous profit? (That should only be on designated market days to raise money for new stained glass windows, damn it!) There is some “lost” evidence that Jesus got in a few murders in his profligate “Infancy.” Those tales were conveniently omitted in both testaments, but they are important to observe. Because, that little loophole has been coming in handy.

Like flying a plane into a large, occupied building, it is noble to sacrifice others in order to score points with God. The gullible idiot really took a gamble right there. That is a risky bet for some centuries-old text that has been interpreted in various batshit ways. Whatever gets one to achieve the ultimate reward, am I right? I dare anyone covered in Christ’s blood to jump in a pool of sharks in order to save oneself. Go on, I dare you. Where’s your Messiah now, bitches?

Here’s the thing. This is nothing new. Religion is the scourge that keeps on scourging. It oppressively places its thumb on women, sticks it up their vaginas, and fucks them good and hard. Shockingly, it is not until the past decade that we kinda stopped being okay with that. Even then, we can’t get all women on board to fight that madness, much less men. It doesn’t seem like a highly contagious, non-discriminating virus will be a compelling game-changer. Especially considering the chatter from certain religious figures that, yes, they are going to hold public services during sacred holidays.

I write this in the wake of Easter, as there may be more wakes as a result. The reality is that it won’t be just the religious dissenters who sacrifice; they are taking their fellow humans down with them in Biblical fashion. Why? Because, this will give the virus more reasons to stick around and party on our goblet cells. (How many angels can dance on the headstone of a grave?) It also means that not only will there be more people infected, there will be more deaths. That is devastating enough to give a convincing reason to sit this one out and stay home. In addition, our lives will remain on hold much longer than originally forecasted. We don’t even know what is on the other side of this pandemic. It certainly isn’t a fantasyland complete with pearly gates.

Since we’ve politicized and non-secularized an apolitical and secular pathogen, I find myself reaching to the Constitution for guidance.

Laypeople take the First Amendment’s message quite literally by freely interpreting it. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .” I am not a legal scholar, but I believe it is saying that government should keep its nose out of religion. As well, they will not “abridge[ing] the freedom of speech.” Again, we have the freedom to have our voices heard. Religious freedom, yes! Free speech, boo-yah! Does this mean we can practice our religion to our hearts content, and say whatever we want to?

Apparently not, as the Constitution recognizes that rights end at the tips of our noses. Don’t believe me? One of many examples of First Amendment violations is when speech is an immediate threat that breaches peace. If what you say incites violence, then the right is forfeited. Same goes for religion. If a faith ritualizes sacrificing virgins at the altar, or molesting them behind it, don’t we expect the authorities to put the kibosh on that? Rather than practicing religion in a public gathering during a time that the government has temporarily mandated social distancing for the protection of the greater good, maybe the right thing to do is to sacrifice one’s dogma for something that actually serves the whole of humanity.

Again, if you don’t believe me, I invite you to observe two situations that result in widely accepted abridgment of Constitutional rights.

We have this little thing called, “Felony Disenfranchisement”. Quite simply, if one is convicted of a felony that results in incarceration of more than a year and/or a fine of over $1,000, said convicted felon could lose rights to vote in elections, depending on the will of the jurisdiction. There are gray areas regarding the severity of the crime, but I trust we all agree that we don’t want a murderer or violent abuser the opportunity to elect/reelect a candidate or incumbent we find unpalatable. It doesn’t matter that voting rights are covered in at least four Amendments. If you break the societal covenant, you forfeit some rights as a citizen as punishment.

Still not convinced? The 1968 Gun Control Act Title 18 provides for “prohibit[ing] anyone convicted of a felony and anyone subject to a domestic violence protection order from possessing a firearm.” Not only does a murderer, pedophile, and in this case, a domestic abuser, lose a laundry list of Amendment rights while in prison, they lose their Second Amendment rights in perpetuity. This domestic violence is qualified as “a misdemeanor,” by the way. This means that the Felony Disenfranchisement parameters from above don’t even need to be met. The government can take the firearm away while slapping the hand that held it. It seems extreme, but it does mollify those who prefer that the Second Amendment be stricken from the record.

Therein lies the rub. Gun sales, and attempted ones, are through the roof right now. People just don’t feel safe. We fear the invisible enemy that is COVID-19, and all we can do is wash our hands, wear masks, and stay away from each other. We can’t shoot the virus dead, but we have the right to protect ourselves from those who breach the protective barrier and threaten our safety.

Doesn’t that sound like what religious people who just can’t find the will to stay home are doing? They spread the Word along with the virus, and they assume they have the God-given and Constitutional right to do so. Atheists, agnostics, and intelligent religious people be damned.

First Amendment violation, anyone? Abuse your religious freedom, then see if God shows up on your behalf as a character witness in court. Or, maybe those who put others’ lives at risk should—as felons and domestic abusers do—lose the right that they are abusing.

Twenty Seconds Later

I am not enjoying my life right now.

I’ll just start off with that. Cut to the chase, because, I don’t know how much time I have.

None of us do.

Why waste it with words that, at best, are distracting? Communication is the key; do not mince words, nor leave openings for interpretation, inference, or misinformation. And especially in our fine MAGA country.

That said, this might get wordy.

I started writing this to Radiohead’s best album (in my opinion), A Moon Shaped Pool. The first song, the great “Burn the Witch” has an especially apt line:

“ . . . it’s a low-flying panic attack.”

Yep, that is where I am right now, where millions of people are. Our collective nervous system is working overtime firing off the hormones that stoke the fight, flight, or freeze response. If we stay put, we don’t know the magnitude of the beast we aim to fight. If we choose flight, well, where to go? So, do we do nothing at all?

Ships are not docking. Planes are grounding. Trains might not leave the depot. Public events are being cancelled. Schools, and even the borders, are closing.

And so it goes.

I’m talking about the Coronavirus—specifically, its latest strain, COVID-19. I don’t know about you, but I just call it “The Virus” for brevity.

It’s not like we are being kept completely in the dark. The media is trying their darndest to keep us informed. They are burning the midnight oil to report what this perplexing bug is up to. They turn the mantle over to the scientists to give us the facts while the reported cases increase exponentially, and the mortality rate rises. The statistics are getting more alarming, and all we can be definitively told at this point is to take simple mitigating measures.

Don’t touch your face, disinfect surfaces, cough and sneeze into the crook of your elbow. And the pièce de résistance? Wash your hands frequently for at least twenty seconds. Lather up while singing “Happy Birthday” two times should do the trick. Why not put a cheerful spin on killing the killer before it kills anyone else?

And Twenty Seconds Later . . . I am still freaking the fuck out.

It would be poetic for me to add that I am typing on my keyboard with dried, bloodied hands. That is an exaggeration, as I’ve been wearing nitrile surgical gloves during the day. It is much safer for me to wash gloved hands than furiously scrub my own sensitive skin raw, which would make me more vulnerable to infection. At this point, I don’t care if I look ridiculous.

So, why the panic? The amount of cases as of this writing is only, ONLY in the low six-figures, with several thousand fatalities. That is only, ONLY a bit over 3%. Not too shabby, eh? We’ve encountered worse. More people died from AIDS-related illnesses than will be expected with this virus. Why is COVID-19 getting so much attention, enough to give millions around the globe incentive to modify their daily lives? I can’t speak for other countries, but I certainly can assess the reasons for panic in the U.S. of A.

Stupidity. Incompetence. Avarice. They work together, synergistically. Like Snap, Crackle, and Pop, they are the essential ingredients of the fortified cereal that is a global pandemic.

Stupidity is ignorance with the ability to know better, but ignoring it. A culture should know better than to throw wild animals in cages, stack them on top of each other, and let them fester in their own feces and filth. People should know better than to prepare and consume food around said filth.

Incompetence is just stupidity in practice. And there are many incompetent people. Stupid people who ignore the facts. Stupid people who defend other stupid people. Stupid people who can’t control themselves. Stupid people who can’t be bothered with modifying their behavior, even just temporarily. Stupid people who buy disposable masks en masse hoping it will protect them, despite all the evidence presented to the contrary. Stupid people who build forts with packages of toilet paper.

A government should know better than to punitively silence its experts from voicing the consequences of ignorant acts. A government should know better than to place importance of their party over its people. A government should know better than to feed its citizens falsehoods in the hope that panic will be assuaged and the money will continue to flow into coffers, pockets, and PACs. Avarice “Trumps” ethics.

People should have known better than to vote that government into power in the first place. Yes, I am talking about you, Trump voters.

In fairness, it was either him or the other shitty candidate. Many of the ones who chose death by fried chicken grease are experiencing some serious buyer’s remorse. Good. We all make mistakes, and it is important to acknowledge them. If Mr. POTUS got that memo, he discarded it as he does anything that contains words strung into coherent sentences. It wouldn’t matter since the pathological narcissist is incapable of admitting to anything except how wonderful he is. Who knew our supreme leader is literally Supreme? >>insert sarcastic, long-suffering sigh here<<

In case some of you are still clinging to your party and its specious ideas above all else, allow me to point out a few essential aspects of his leadership style. They might be covered in Art of the Deal, but I would have to read it to confirm. That is a hard pass for me.

Blame everyone but yourself, especially if they don’t worship you. Admittedly, Trump didn’t cause the spread of this virus, but he certainly isn’t contributing to stemming its flow. That would require effort that he just cannot expend. Despite never sleeping, as the force of nature that he is, he just doesn’t have the energy or bandwidth. It would severely cut into his Twitter time and YUUUGE rallies where he can blame Obama, et al, for the policies that make his job so much more difficult.

Throw your minions under the bus, but most importantly, keep your hands clean while you do it. Poor Mike Pence. This is probably not what he signed on for when he agreed to be his Vice President. Why would Trump put a guy in charge who is well known for bungling a major public health crisis as governor? Simple, Trump is smart enough to see we are on the brink of a shit storm, and he needs to put a patsy front and center when it all hits the fan.

The man—VP Pence—leading this charge, does not believe in evolution, the precise theory that explains why this virus is propagating. He is probably silently cursing himself during his nightly self-flagellation, begging his lord and savior for forgiveness because he is helping save his country when it deserves to burn in Hell for allowing vile homosexuals to marry. Prove me wrong. Have you ever seen him without a shirt on? I strongly suspect we’d be greeted to a fleshy canvas of scars and fresh welts. Bet me. Until he disrobes for our country, the state of his torso is the Schrödinger’s Cat of religious mortification.

Remarkably, he is taking his new role under the bus very seriously. It is too soon to say he is doing a heck of a job, Pency, but he actually seems to be putting forth a valiant effort, complete with admitting his own mistakes along the way. Whatever else his motivation, he is pretty intelligent and knows that this is not the hill he wants his political career to die on. We’ll take it. Still, his efforts could be for naught if his boss keeps flapping his gums. Which leads me to the main play in Trump’s rulebook.

Pander to your glassy-eyed base, and by default, lie. The quantity of Trump’s lies during his three years as president are into the five figures. Yes, there are people out there whose job it is to keep a running total. What would motivate him to stop lying now, since it seems to be working for him? The man certainly seems impervious to consequence. Like an orange Energizer bunny, he keeps lying. No matter how many times he’s contradicted and how defiantly he crosses his arms in response, the pattern will continue. And whom do you think his followers believe in the face of all evidence to the contrary?

The virus is a Democrat hoax? Of course! Fake News? Nailed it! It’s just another flu and will die off in the spring? Whew! The virus is contained? Yay! Wishful thinking? Nah! The Emperor has what now? Uhh. . .? We’re blind? Fuck you!

You can’t cure stupid, ignorance is bliss until the truth bites you in the ass, and greed is anything but good.

And so it goes.

If anyone is wondering why there is a panic, it might be because we don’t trust our government. Nor do we trust those who would re-elect that government. Just a thought. Our hope is that there will be light come November. And Trump will go mad, see the error of his ways, and love his other daughter Tiffany. Oh, the audacity.

Until then, I’ll make like Lady MacBeth, and continue to wash my hands of the whole, bloody mess.

Resolve to Resolve Resolutions . . . Resolutely

ResolutionsIt took me most of my 51 years on this earth to realize that resolutions are society’s way of setting us up for failure, or to create a surge in gym membership revenue, at the very least. We’ve all been there, with the same pressure to cease repeating the mistakes of the prior year. We spiritedly bust out of the gate (after nursing the NYE hangover, of course) into the dawn of a new year and all its opportunities. Surrounded by January’s frigid darkness, enthusiasm starts to dwindle as endurance begins to lag, until we slow to a walk through February to catch our breath, only to crawl into March. Or something like that.

Perhaps I should resolve to be more optimistic.

More times than not, I just make mental note of what I want to change, do more or less of, etcetera. Since we ushered in a new decade, it seems fitting to document what I want to achieve. I write this knowing it may turn out to be more of a multi-year plan with no hard finish line. While deadlines can be galvanizing, life sometimes puts up a hurdle or three during the journey to enlightenment. It is easy to venture down that fork in the road called discouragement, the first exit sign an oasis of “I suck” and “why bother?” Hence, the aforementioned failure of resolutions.

Moral of the story: Resolutions can suck it. Still, I need to bone up on my chess game of life, plan my moves so that I can focus on what I should do differently as opposed to giving it a label that dooms me to an inevitable checkmate of despair. At the very least, avoid a stalemate of indecisiveness. Yes, I forced that metaphor. Just like I am forcing myself into accountability for my past failings.

I should probably move past all the negativity and focus on the task at hand. I put my list into three categories: Creative; Professional; Health. Here are my . . . goals? Plans? Ambitions? Objectives? This is what I intend to do.

Creative 

These are general . . . things . . . that require focus to improve my professional life and health.

Write in my blog more often. This isn’t really at the top of my list, but since I just paid my annual renewal fee for this site, it seems a fitting start. It has been at least two years since I posted anything here, so I should make the $18 worth it. And remember my password, while I am at it. Anyway, it is easy to let this fall by the wayside, as my day job and all its documentation requirements and emails result in writing fatigue. I realize that, particularly in my struggle to write this post, this creative muscle has atrophied and needs to be limbered up and exercised more. I don’t have a schedule in mind, but at least once per month is not unreasonable. With this post, January is checked off. See you in February!

Draw the majority of days. I can’t target every day, because it isn’t realistic with the demands of my full-time job. If I drew— even just for five minutes—184 days this (leap) year, that is technically the majority. That is 3.54 days per week. I have my studio space, a litany of ideas, a plethora of projects, multiple sketchbooks, and numerous artist social circles. There is nothing preventing me from just doing it. One can only achieve mastery if one practices, and often. I haven’t reached the proverbial 10,000 hours, but there is only one way to get to Carnegie Hall.

Sing like no one is listening. Here is another atrophied muscle. I don’t sing much for the sheer pleasure of it, much less for practice. When I do, I default to my head voice. Because, it is quieter and safer. It is my mixed and chest voices that need work. When I belt it out, my voice is full and powerful. I own a multi-unit property, so I get self-conscious that my tenants will hear me screwing up and think, “Our landlady has gone off her nut.” In lieu of doing the slumlord squeeze on them, I should just decide to stop caring what other people think. I paraphrase both my husband and a friend who started out as my vocal coach, “Just. Fucking. Sing.” Okay!

Blow the dust off my instruments. I have seven guitars, a banjo, mandolin, violin, ukulele, piano, flute, and various harmonicas. I can’t say I know how to play the winds, but I certainly can manage all the strings and percussion (technically, it’s a clavinova). Even though I gravitate more towards visual art these days, I started out with music. It shouldn’t take much to pick up the guitar and noodle, or play a classical piece on the piano. Why don’t I? Lack of motivation, fear of failure, blah blah blah. I bore myself to tears and make my guitar gently weep from loneliness with the same excuses.

Note to self: I have to change the strings on my Martin. Bah!

Write the songs that make me sing. I generally noodle around with ideas, but haven’t written a new song in at least three years. I know I have talent, and my hiatus is not due to a dearth of ideas. While I am at it, I should record the ones I have written. I have the technological tools, I just have that aforementioned lack of motivation topped with an abundance of fear. No one needs to hear my cacophonous flops, so it should be a safe place to screw up. I trust even Sting has a rubbish heap of bad and rejected ideas. Get over myself!

Professional

I am an accounting manager by day, but it is not my passion. The only goal I have for my day career is to focus on expanding my position in order to rise out of the pit of ennui so that, on some level, I can actually enjoy what I am doing. I’ve been on autopilot for years, and it makes me dread almost a third of my life. Until I can retire, I need to make the most of this.

The professional intentions are focused on my art business, AmaranthiArts. I set up the LLC last year and my accountant will include the expenses (no revenue, sadly), on the 2019 return. I need to get serious, if for no other reason than the IRS generally gives only three years before turning a profit is required. Otherwise, it risks being classified as a hobby; thus, not deductible as a business. Here is a list, in no particular order, of projects that require my diligent attention.

  1. Graphic novel. My husband and I wrote the story back in 2012, and decided in 2014 that it should be illustrated instead of just sold to a magazine for chump change. I bought a dedicated sketchbook last September for the character design, and have filled up four pages. Full disclosure, conceptual work, i.e., from my head to the paper with little to no photo reference, is terrifying to me. Even though I’ve settled on the phenotype of the anti-hero, I still tense up and am insecure when I work on it. That needs to change, and I aim to be finished with my studies so that my husband can design the layout of the book. Can I actually start illustrating this mofo by 2021? We shall see. I have to keep reminding myself that this story needs to be seen. It is just too good to languish.
  2. Comics. I am in the process of inking the third strip of our comic, The Geww, which is inspired by our adorably unique dog. We are deciding if it should be published as a regular web series, and/or compiled into one book. That decision will be made once we get a dozen or so pages under our belts. In addition, there are a couple opportunities to collaborate with other comic artists for other projects, which will get my strong consideration. The more I put out there, the more I might be recognized. Ostensibly.
  3. Faerie mash-ups book. I have a series I am (slowly) creating with mechanical pencil. I made a list of 25 faeries, and have completed four of them. Once I reach the target, they will be compiled into a book. Each pinup will have an accompanying poem, written by yours truly. No, this will not be done in a year. If I could quit my day job. . . . It would be great to aim for one per month, but that still might be ambitious, as they take 15+ hours to draw. Did I mention I am slow?
  4. Faerie series. I’ve had an idea for years, which I will keep under wraps, and only unveil it once it is complete. I am too paranoid that the idea would be taken if I put it out there. Can I create at least one of them this year?
  5. YouTube. Yes, I set up the channel, and just have to start loading it. I should probably record a video while I am at it. Right now, I am working on proof of concept. There will be a lot of work and expenses involved putting the wheels in motion. I would like it to go live this year, but must forgive myself if it doesn’t happen. I can’t expect it will be a big money maker, not to mention that the last I checked, YouTube requires at least a year and thousands of views and subscribers before the channel is considered for monetization. Regardless, the idea I have is too good to pass up. If there is even a pittance at the end of the tunnel, I must explore it.
  6. Conventions. I displayed at my first con last year, and it was a good learning experience. No sales, of course, but it was a small event that gave me room to cut my teeth. Setting up a table at conventions should be a part of doing business as an illustrator, so if I want to be a professional, I need to act like one. Since I did one last year, can I surpass that this year?
  7. Web presence. I am active on social media, but I need to set up a website. There are enough do-it-yourself hosting platforms that make it achievable for minimal costs. I also need to make my work available for purchase, and there are plenty of resources that make it achievable.

Health

Whew! That was exhausting. How can I focus on my health when I am piling so much on my plate? Well, everything is designed to fulfill me. If I don’t focus on myself, particularly my creativity, my emotional, mental, i.e., cognitive, and physical health suffer. If I abandon my creative side for more than a week, I am prone to getting depression and anxiety, which exacerbates insomnia. If I am tired, it is harder to be positive, eat well, and exercise. It is a vicious circle.

Outside of that, I don’t have a specific list in mind besides the usual housekeeping. Basically, the healthy things I do, I need to do more. I will add meditation to that list, even though we have a complicated relationship. I try it for a while, get frustrated with it, then give up. Lather; rinse; repeat. I can’t lean on the lack of time excuse, despite all of it that will be eaten up if I actually keep to everything I listed out on this post. According to Zen, if I don’t have time to meditate for an hour, I should meditate for two hours. Whoa there, Buddha dude. I’ll try five minutes a day, for now.

 

I think that about covers it. Here’s to a productive year, and decade, even. Cheers!

She Was My Sunshine

Sunshine

“I’m sorry, I should have warned you.”

My mother and I walked into my father’s hospice room; the third day of his agonizingly slow descent into eternal rest. I could not reconcile the image of my once stalwart father, who used to carry me around on his shoulders just for the fun of it, withering away slowly on his death bed. He looked so frail, so vulnerable, so . . . not my dad. I staggered to the window seat, dropped down, and cried.

My mom busied herself with opening the draperies to let in the sunlight. The window view was quite idyllic. A mere pane of glass divided two worlds—one full of happiness and life, the other sorrow and death. The beauty of the scene was painful. How can I enjoy it juxtaposed to my reality? I am losing my dad, my hero.

“Why can’t I cry?” my mom asked after I regained composure and stood up.

Huh. Good question. She cried non-stop when our family dog died, and she even cried when I confessed as a young adult that I hated myself. You know I think you’re wonderful, right? Why is it that the prospect of losing her life-partner, her high school sweetheart, doesn’t instill in her the same response?

“Maybe you are in self-preservation mode. You don’t cry because you feel you don’t have time to cry. There’s too much to do, and you have all these responsibilities squarely on your shoulders.” I really wanted to answer her question, and that explanation seemed as plausible as they come. She is a mother, she’s used to being strong.

She silently pondered that. “When this is all over, then, you’ll let yourself cry. I’m sure of it.” She nodded, mollified.

“Come on, ma!” I turned in surprise at the bed. The utterance of exasperation had a familiar note. How many times was I the cause of his annoyance?

“He’s been talking. I don’t know if he’s dreaming, reliving memories, or. . . .” A nurse walked in. “Good morning, Nola! How are you?”

“Oh fine. And yourself?” My mom, always so friendly.

“Good! Rudy’s been active today. I was singing to him earlier, and he sang along with me. Watch this.” She straightened his sheets as she demonstrated.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy, when skies are gray.
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

“. . . sunshine away.” His mouth moved, accompanying her with a childlike lilt on the last line. It was a far cry from his steady baritone he used for singing along with The Blues Brothers soundtrack, as well as hymns at Sunday church services.

“Aww, that is so cute! Okay, I’ll be back in a bit.” The nurse rushed out. How is she able to be so upbeat and bright while working day in and day out in a place people go to die? There are no happy endings in her job.

And why did that song come up, and how did he remember it when the months that led up to his last days in hospice, he was losing his memories, along with his reasons to live? I wasn’t sure he knew I was his daughter towards the end, much less have the ability to remember a country tune from a bygone era.

I don’t know what compelled me, but I wanted that moment with him, too. I leaned over him, and softly sang the chorus in his ear.

“. . . sunshine away.” He didn’t know his daughter, and maybe not even himself, anymore. Yet, I felt closer to him, my stoic, Germanic father, than I ever had.

Mom turned away, and started crying. She grabbed a tissue to wipe her eyes and blow her nose.

“I am so sorry, mom,” I hurried over to her and hugged her as the tears streamed down my face. I inherited my sympathetic crying reflex from her.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you.” I felt selfish for creating that moment with no regard for how it might make her feel, but then found a silver lining. “See, you can cry.”

“I guess I’m normal,” she said as she sniffled and dried her face.

“You always were, mom.”

    *          *          *

My mom died a year after my father; 378 days later, to be exact. I called her to follow up on plans we made for that Saturday. She was in bed, and blamed her shortness of breath and difficulty with talking on pulling a muscle from vomiting. Probably just the flu. Okay, mom. Go to the doctor tomorrow, and I’ll come out this weekend. Oh, that would be great, goodbye.

I didn’t tell her I love her. Four hours later, I got the call from the hospital. It took me over an hour to get there, and I made mental plans during the cab ride to stay at her house and take care of her. They wouldn’t tell me on the phone that she had already died. I guess they don’t do that.

The doctor did not recommend an autopsy. Her age and probable pneumonia led to heart failure, most likely. I want the definitive, not speculation, especially when it involves those I love. I had the feelings of her other children—my sister and brother—to consider besides my own, so, I didn’t push it. To this day, I can’t help but wonder if losing her first and only love, the one she spent nearly 60 years of her life with, had something to do with it. How can a broken heart be detected, much less treated?

She lost her husband long before he was turned into ash. His body deteriorated along with his mind; his death wasn’t a surprise. His suffering was over, as hers should be. This was her time to build a new life, and for the first time, really focus on herself. I thought she was coping well. Her social calendar was full, and she was always ready to talk when I called. She was so hard to get off the phone!

She was such a sincere person that she could never make it as an actress. She put on a brave and happy face, but she fooled no one . . . except me.

I found out afterwards that she seemed profoundly sad, and could not find her place in the world without her husband; a hole which could never be filled again. How did I miss it?

After five years, it does me no good to ponder that question, nor blame myself for her death in any way. As Lucille Ball said, “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.” Sage words.

That said, I don’t regret what I did with my father. In my selfish pursuit for a personal moment with him, I created a deeper bond with my mom. That was a moment we shared that no one else may completely understand. Neither of us could listen to that song without crying. Every time I heard it, I couldn’t wait to tell her. There was sadness, but also joy in the memory that I could relive with her.

I heard it again, just recently. I could feel my throat tighten upon recognition of that familiar I IV V chord progression. I had to leave the room. I didn’t tell anyone about it, until right here.

She was my sunshine, but not my only sunshine. The skies became a bit grayer when her sunshine was taken away.

Even though I didn’t tell her I loved her one last time, I think she knew how much I did.

Sturm und Drang: The Breakfast of Trumpions

 

Faust

I tend to keep a low profile when I walk around the city. I am not a recreational urban stroller. I just want to get to my destination as quickly as possible, unimpeded. But damned if those annoying “you got a minute for ABC . . . XYZ?” kids try to get my attention when I least want it. Every. Time. Nothing I do—or don’t do—dissuades them from their cutesy attempts to squeeze out a minute from me I don’t have (I gave them said minute once; it is more like five). I’ve tried a polite dissent, resting bitch face, or veering not so subtly out of their path. Nothing works.

It happened, yet again, today. As I let the grumbling, snotty response to my cold shoulder fade in my wake, I realized what has been eating at me since November 9, 2016: Liberals are really pissing me off.

What makes this realization noteworthy is that up until after Election Day, I identified as a Liberal. I still do in many ways. I have more than a minute for Gay Rights, Planned Parenthood, et cetera. The crises that make organizations like Human Rights Campaign dump these poor saps onto the streets to obnoxiously beg for support are the things that keep me up at night. I not only give a minute, I devote hours of my day thinking and writing about them. Admittedly, I am just a mere armchair activist, but still, these human rights issues are a large concern. I honestly don’t know what we can do about them outside of continuing to fight for them.

In deference to my Liberal brethren who might be reading and working themselves up into a lather, I assure you, I am with you. Overall, we are on the right side of history. It astounds me how polarized people can be on a simple concept like an individual’s basic humanity. Sadly, the world will remain divided and our efforts will be for naught, particularly if we continue on our current trajectory. What I am suggesting is that there are some things that could use some . . . tweaking, perhaps?

That was my attempt at political correctness—a tactic that makes the left particularly annoying (more on that later). I shall be blunt. Many (not all) Liberals need to get over their sanctimonious martyrdom and actually do something that is substantive. So says the aforementioned armchair activist.

I make this declaration with the acknowledgement that I’ve been guilty of sanctimony and victimhood, as well. I drew on my own “grab ‘em by the pussy” experiences like a baby to her bottle. When Donald Trump was elected, I cried inconsolably. I was prone to acting like what the right refers to as a “Libtard” or “Snowflake.” In turn, I swung my broad, ad hominem brush at “Clownservatives” and “Republicunts” who hate the world, thus making our country anything but great. Logical fallacies aside, there are plenty on both sides of the political aisle that have earned those pejoratives. For the purpose of this article, I focus on Liberals.

These past few months, I’ve taken a step back, or more like, been catapulted to the middle. This change was one of necessity. As I was sobbing while leaving the house the morning after the election, my dear husband with his lovingly brutal honesty, banged on the echo chamber until I crawled out to escape the cacophony. With one pin poke (more like an hour-long lecture) he popped the Liberal bubble that cocooned me for the past decade.

To be fair, I had already previously been laying the groundwork for the transformation into an Independent butterfly. I was just in serious denial. I suspected Trump—once a moderate—was pulling a long, elaborate con. I abandoned it without doing my homework. Quite frankly, the pack, us-versus-them mentality made it much easier to just hate the man and see Hillary Clinton as the better candidate, while secretly wishing something would happen to both of them so that Bernie Sanders could saunter in and save the day. I held my nose when I voted for Clinton; I just couldn’t join the fray and be #imwithher. Yet, I thought she was at least the lesser of evils. With that, I’ll start with Lesson 1.

The Drumpfer has some clothes

My darling husband showed me what he’d been researching the past year. Aha! It makes sense now. Trump has been planning this most of his career. Even just ten years ago, he cozied up to the Democrats and made contributions to the DNC, Planned Parenthood, et cetera. He was chummy with the Clintons, in fact. When the Democrats didn’t take him seriously for his Presidential aspirations, he played the Republican and flimflammed the alt-right while galvanizing disenfranchised, rural Americans. He did whatever it took to get elected. He is determined to be the BEST President, so he throws the GOP parties to make them drunk with their majority power. He’ll punish the Democrats for a while until he needs them for his agenda. Then the Republicans may well be nursing their hangovers while he butchers some of their sacred cows. Yay! It is all just bread and circuses, faking us out until we are all forced to eat our spinach because our own divine bovines died off. Classic narcissistic businessman, him.

Try telling that to Liberals. “Oh, tsk tsk, Diane. You give him too much credit. He’s a moron, insane, and didn’t even want the job. He is going to destroy us. You’ll learn.” I’m not ready to abandon the Long Con theory, but I admit it is being thrown into question. Quite frankly, he’s doing some very scary things right out of the gate. We must keep a watchful eye on his administration, and always be vigilant. What I ask is that Liberals do not succumb to what Conservatives so maddeningly did with Obama: don’t hate everything Trump does because of his vexing skin color, no offense to orangutans. There is more to it than that, of course. We can disagree with his agenda, but not throw the baby (hands) out with the bathwater. Look back at old footage of him; he was quite fluent and astute. The way he speaks and carries on these days is a tactic to get attention, and demonstrates his low opinion of our country’s collective intelligence. We all seize voraciously on every little tweet, word, and action, so his disdain is not without merit.

Democrats have been screwed over twice because of the Electoral College. I understand the frustration, but am not inclined to move to abolish something just because I didn’t get what I want. Our Forefathers set us up as a Constitutional Republic, not a pure Democracy. Why? Because it elects representatives to protect our collective Constitutional rights and interests. Electing the candidate with the popular vote sounds simple and fair, but it isn’t. He won, based on the Republic vote. It is a mystery how he was viewed as being in the best interests of the majority of the population, but there you have it. Let’s look at our own party’s hubris for selling their souls in blind desire to elect the first woman President and getting the Clintons back in the White House, and our own over-confidence that there was no way she could lose to Trump. She did, so Liberals, including myself, are to blame for that. We sowed, therefore we must reap.

There are still many arguments supporting that he should not be in the White House, and he’s already wrought considerable havoc. Not to mention he set a dangerous precedent with his con job, one that surpasses the usual empty promises that abound in politics. Is it that easy to get elected? The validity of Hitler comparisons is debatable, but with our gullibility, we could actually elect a malevolent primary psychopath who is astute enough to follow the pathway that Trump paved, and take us down it to a much worse Hell than is histrionically being railed about now.

Regardless, Trump is our President; give it time. The Democrats will get their party. Between the short times either party is pleased, both Republicans and Democrats will share a discontent with their “esteemed” leader who dares to give us our democracy, good and hard. What brings rivals together for a mutual cause? The enemy of my enemy. We actually may cross party lines and work together. Won’t that be swell?

That is the last you’ll hear from me about this particular topic, except if/when I can deliver between mouthfuls of spinach, a richly deserved, “I told you so.” That is, if he doesn’t get impeached or kicked out of office first.

Shot through the bleeding heart

This is a topic that has stuck in my craw for several years. There are many Liberals, such as the wonderful Dan Savage, who believe that the Second Amendment should be abolished. I used to be anti-gun, and still am afraid of them. When mass shootings started getting more bandwidth (they were always there, but are covered more now because of the instant and powerful reach of the Internet), I realized I needed to educate myself on guns and actually decide what my view on them should be. I didn’t land where I expected.

Guns are bad and need to be controlled because they lead to gun violence. This mantra begs the question, as it is fundamentally flawed for several reasons. First off, it is like saying marijuana is a gateway drug. Demonizing guns speaks to a complete lack of understanding why our Forefather’s wrote the Second Amendment. The intent was to give the citizens of our Republic—again, not Democracy, Republic—the right to protect themselves. It isn’t to shoot each other willy-nilly, nor even to make machinegun bacon, but to protect the people from all threats that menace them, especially a tyrannical government.

Second, referring to the problem as “gun violence” muddies the water the same way as calling all pit bulls vicious. Criminals abuse guns to the point that they’ve lost that Constitutional right to keep and bear them, and that is a problem. The thing about rights is that they are there until they are abused, and because of that, do not extend beyond our noses. We have the right to our nose, but not if we chop it off. It will in turn spite our face. Criminals infringe on our rights, but reactionary obtuseness results in everyone losing out. How can we rightfully protect ourselves from harm when everyone is disarmed except for those who are out to hurt us? The answer is, we can’t.

Third, anything we try to attack and control through restriction, like the War on Drugs, is bound to backfire and lead to more violent responses. Think of it as homeopathy: Like heals like. The more law-abiding citizens that are responsibly armed, i.e., with proper training, the bigger deterrent for criminals to, well, fuck with us. Make sense?

Fourth, the foundation of the anti-gun view was built with a double standard. If the Second Amendment is bad, then the other 26 should be thrown into question. Are you ready for that? As a recent example, the GOP voted to remove the requirement of the Social Security Administration to provide to the NICS database the list of people who require a caretaker of their finances, so that those recipients of aid for their fiduciary well being are prohibited from obtaining firearms. The left claims it will arm severely mentally ill people, which will lead to shootouts in “crazy town.” This is reactionary, as it assumes the worst intentions of the “evil party.” While there may be financial incentives from the NRA, the spirit of it is to allow the people, who’ve done nothing to lose their rights, due process like everyone else. The ACLU agrees, and thus is ironically on the same side. Isn’t that covered in the Fifth Amendment, due process and all? If not, then look at the all-encompassing Ninth that covers any rights not otherwise specified.

It is interesting—by interesting, I mean hypocritical—that those who rally against stigmatizing mental health stop short when it comes to owning a firearm. The same goes for military Veterans, who were identically affected by a similarly disarming mandate. The government readily armed them to fight for our country, but that would make it near impossible for them to protect themselves in their own homes, simply because they chose to seek out someone to help them pay their bills accurately. It is a smoking bullet hole stigmata right in the middle of the forehead.

Who claims to have a reasonable approach to “sensible gun laws” but has been rightfully accused of wanting to restrict Second Amendment rights? Hillary Clinton, and it is what makes her appealing to the left. However, she is a hated, targeted woman by many. How do you think the Secret Service protects her, with their fists? Of course not. Does anyone see her complaining about that? Of course not. More hypocrisy.

Unfortunately, these points hit a dense, peace-loving hemp wall. Anti-gun Liberals should direct their fear to where it belongs, which is to the drain they are going down along with their stubborn, circular arguments.

I will end it with this. Trump is pro-Second Amendment, but his abuse of every piece of the First Amendment is in a word, frightening. The defense of the First Amendment is predicated on our rights in the Second Amendment. We can’t defend ourselves with words and signs if we are silenced. Buck up, Liberals, and stop shooting yourself in the foot. If there is ever a time that we need to ensure the government fears its people, it is now.

Protest the protester

Our First Amendment rights allow for protest, and Dems and Libs are exercising that right, most definitely of late. Protests are a way to get our collective voice heard, and our Forefathers were right in including that as a respected way to get the attention of our government.

The obvious challenge is keeping it peaceful. The larger the crowd, the greater chance of it getting out of hand. Did you know the majority of violent protests come from Liberal/left-wing causes? Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, as well as numerous other rallies against unjustified shootings, collapsed in on itself. Threats, fights, shootings, and rape, all happened on the supposedly anti-violent left’s watch. Why is it acceptable for Liberals to rip off their tie-dye peace and love shirts and become Social Justice Warriors, but not Conservatives? Feeling justified doesn’t cut it. It is subjective, especially from the perspective of those who don’t agree with you. Last anyone checked in the Constitution, nothing but peaceful assembly is protected.

That said, props for keeping the Women’s March reasonably civilized. It didn’t cause substantive change—yet—but the overwhelming turnout and solidarity sent a powerful warning shot across the bow: We are here, and we aren’t going away.

That’s the spirit! Keep it up. Commitment and tenacity are needed during these uncertain times. Just don’t overdo it. Think before you pick up that protest sign, lest it amount to nothing but tuned out cries of wolf. In addition, be selective on the where and when. It can backfire and cause a lot of resentment.

Yes, it rather sucks that Trump is our President. Millions of people were heartbroken, as well as outraged. Citizens swarmed city streets post-Election Day, delivering a loud and clear message: Not Our President. That’s great; the Administration-elect and possibly, those who voted for him heard them, also loud and clear. That includes the people who were stuck in their cars while thwarted from their commute home. I wonder how many of them voted for Clinton. Does it matter? They were thrust in the middle of the protest, whether they wanted to be or not.

The plea from the Hamilton cast to Mike Pence is another example. It was a great message, but delivered under poor, unfair circumstances. I hate Pence, too, but he was there on a night off to enjoy theatre. He handled it with aplomb (unlike his boss), but do you really think he changed his view? The people who should heed the cry, didn’t. When I tried to explain that to Liberals, I was attacked for it. Therein lies the rub: If you constantly eat your own, chewing them up and spitting them out because they don’t believe exactly as you do, you’re going to be on your own.

The problem is that, outside of the emotional catharsis, many protests do nothing to benefit the greater good. Those who need to listen to what is said under these circumstances, don’t. That is where the title of this treatise comes in. All this Storm and Stress, all the complaining, does little benefit outside of feed the people who really hate this peace, love, and acceptance thing and want to vilify it. We piss in their cornflakes, and they eat it up.

Behind the veil

The largest, long-term threat is Climate Change. The science is in on that. Why can’t the right see that? It is because they are willfully stupid and ignorant about it, be it for religious or financial reasons. They will be the death of us.

How do you think they feel when it comes to Islamic Terrorism? It must be maddening that Liberals refuse to even call it that, much less fully acknowledge that it is the largest, immediate threat. How can we even have a dialectic on something when we won’t agree what to call it? Blame the left and their insane drive to be politically correct. They will be the death of us. Sound familiar?

But no! Islam is a peaceful religion. How dare you?

That’s the thing. Crack open a Koran, it is none-too peaceful. That is where the Conservatives are correct. Where they are terribly mistaken, and hypocritical even, is claiming that Catholicism and Christianity are above reproach. There is rampant child molestation, not to mention historical corruption in the Papacy. As for Christianity, check out Revelations, and if you have the urge, read the Lost Books of the Bible. Jesus had quite the itchy trigger finger.

Incidentally, if the Jesus that Conservatives know and love were alive today, they’d hate his Liberal, possibly schizophrenic, tree-hugging, toga-wearing, (and probably pot-smoking) hippy ass. I digress.

As an atheist, I believe religion is a scourge on the world, and the salt of the earth are salting the earth as long as they hold onto these specious belief systems. It causes more problems than it platitudinously claims to solve. That said, our Forefathers’ aimed to protect the people from the government establishing or infringing upon religion. Having friends from many faiths, while I don’t agree with them, I will defend their right to do whatever makes them happy. If they don’t interfere with my right to not practice religion, I certainly will not interfere with their right to practice religion.

The extreme view looks to violate Muslims’ rights in order to protect their own interests. I am not talking about those from other countries. If they are not U.S. citizens, they do not have Constitutional rights, much less claim to the First Amendment. Our country is not obligated to let anyone in, even if under duress, we just do because it was established as “The American Way.” In many circumstances, aiding others is the right thing to do; there is great disagreement on how that should be accomplished. The prejudice against Islamic Americans who are on our side and our way of life, regardless if they immigrated legally or were born here, is detrimental. It is up to everyone, not just Liberals, to protect them. They are our allies against terrorism. Memo: Please see earlier section on ways to protect our rights, re: Second Amendment.

The cultures from which most Muslims arise put women beneath them and persecute homosexuals; violence against them is part of Sharia law. Who leaps over eggshells to defend them, despite their culture’s tendency towards shaming women, destroying them with honor killings, and throwing homosexuals off rooftops? The same Liberals who protest for women’s and LGBTQ equal rights. Oh moral and cultural relativism, they are such sticky wickets.

The other side of the Liberty coin is that there are many people who are part of larger groups that want to destroy us. They aren’t just in other countries; they are hiding in plain sight on our homeland. We must look out for ourselves. That does not mean that we should fear offending anyone. Just like domestic terrorists can refer to themselves as Christians doing God’s work, groups like ISIL can claim the same for Allah. It really doesn’t discredit the respective religions; religion does a bang-up job of that just by merely existing.

Again, for the most part, Liberals are on the right side of history. We should love and accept everyone who is just trying to be themselves. Therein lies another rub: Not everyone will return the gesture. It is naïve to think otherwise.

It could be argued that the travel ban protests might have been more than cathartic. The courts overruled the ban. I suspect they were going in that direction anyway; the people just got there first. I’ll give the spirit of those protests kudos, with exceptions.

“We are all Muslims now!” read some protest signs. Really? No, we aren’t. Once again, Liberals overstate by co-opting victimhood along with those who really can lay claim to the abuse. There are many ways to get the point across without striking a Jesus Christ pose (apologies to Soundgarden). No need for melodrama.

Then, there is the photograph of Muslims praying on makeshift mats from signs picketers placed on the floor for them. That is laying it on a wee bit thick, don’t you think? Would Christians protect atheists’ rights by offering their Bibles so that they can intellectually eviscerate them, in support of their lack of faith? I think not. Don’t try so hard to appear to be all-accepting; there is always going to be something that you won’t find acceptable.

We can be together, but still apart. That goes for race, gender, or sexual orientation. Religion. Politics! We all have noses with which to measure the extent of our rights. Don’t block, unfriend, or demand to be unfriended on social media. That is silly at best, and definitely divisive. Don’t claim the moral or ethical high ground. Look for news that upsets confirmation bias. Bust out of that echo chamber. Listen, learn, just as you expect the same in return. As Bruce Lee said in the Tao of Jeet Kune Do, “Take everything in, extract what is useful, discard what is not.” Success in that hinges on discarding the assumption that everything you believe in is useful.

We Can Be Zeroes

Now it’s time to close our eyes
Now it’s time to say goodbye
Now it’s time to face the lie
That we’d never cry
David Bowie, “What’s Really Happening?”

The unexpected death of the iconic David Bowie on January 10, 2016 was a shocking blow to much of the world. More than a week has passed, yet news and social media sites are still flooded with eulogies, tributes, and other commemorative pieces about the legendary artist.

Amidst all the tragedy and death in the world, this one seems more difficult to accept. Many of us were born when Bowie already released his classic, Space Oddity. It is hard to comprehend he is gone when he was always there. Truth be told, imagining a world without him in it is a challenge, because a small part of us assumed he was immortal.

His death reminds us that even appearing bigger than life, he is just like us—a mere speck of dust in endless void of space. It is a sobering thought. We get solace from having heroes, ones we can revere and rely upon. We could look up to the heavens, and the Starman would be there. How can such a dynamic force that had such a positive impact on the world just one day cease to be? Simply, we are all mortal. In an Orwellian way, some of us are “more mortal” than others.

Bowie

Bowie, Colored Pencil on toned paper, by Diane Bushemi 1/17/16

I am comforted by the collective sorrow. Misery loves company, after all. More to the point, I am less embarrassed that I cried for the passing of someone I never met, because I am not alone in my feelings. Still, my response is surprising to me. Even though I am a fan and as an artist and musician myself, greatly appreciate his unique genius. However, he was never my favorite. I always assumed I would reserve this type of emotional investment for my songwriting heroes—Neil Young, Sting, Joni Mitchell, Shawn Phillips, and Tori Amos. My connection is strong with them for various reasons, and, they have helped shape me into the artist I am and still am striving to be.

Then why did his death cause me so much distress? Like with all celebrity deaths, we make it about ourselves. From water cooler conversations to social media postings, it is about our own responses. It is a way to connect to someone we don’t know and to something we have yet to experience for ourselves. The mere concept of death is terrifying to us. There is a mystery in the unknown, of course. Even more so, there is that fear we would be gone and promptly forgotten. It is troubling enough to acknowledge that we are mortal in body, but we cannot accept that we could be mortal in influence, as well. Celebrities are immortalized in a way most of us can’t be through memories, photographs, film, et cetera. Canonizing the dead is a natural impulse, even more so when someone in the public eye dies. We want immortality to be true, any way we can get it. We can’t help ourselves.

That said, it isn’t the main reason Bowie’s death causes me so much dissonance. I had to take a long, brutal look at myself and figure out why this death affected me and was distinctly about me.

Bowie died of liver cancer. I am a cancer survivor. Pluck! There’s a succulent piece of low-hanging fruit from that Tree of Knowledge. I could accept that obvious connection, nosh on the apple, and leave it at that. Of course it upsets me, I know what he went through because I experienced it myself. I empathize.

If only it were that easy. It is one component, yes, but not the core reason. Get it? Apple—core. Anyway, here goes.

The past two years, starting with my entry into the mid-forties demographic, I’ve looked back on my life a lot, even more so than looking around in the present or to the future. Like the various Dickensian ghosts, it is all scary. For the sake of brevity, I will just say that I am filled with regret. Regret that I didn’t travel more, make more friends, and basically lived too safely. I avoided the path I was drawn to because it was intimidating. Why should I risk trying and failing at being a professional musician when the four-year college with a degree in accounting is right there? Since Bowie released his first album in his early twenties, he eschewed conservative ideals and did what he wanted to do during his formative years—ones that have long passed me by.

I can say with utmost certainty that regret, like jealousy, is a useless waste of energy. Just learn from past mistakes, live in the present, and keep your eye on the future. Right? It is easier said than done. The challenge with me is that my resolve is in short supply. I am a sprinter. I get an idea and take off with it, but run out of gas very shortly before I can achieve much. I don’t have the endurance for a marathon, literally and figuratively. My successes are small and far between, because I use up the majority of my reserves trying to keep myself motivated. Do you know who probably had plenty of resolve and motivation, considering how prolific and successful he was? Bowie.

I started the New Year recovering from an injury. A bulging disc in my neck caused incapacitating pain for several weeks. I was miserable. I couldn’t work out, draw, paint, play guitar, or write. I could do none of the things that I enjoyed. The two weeks for holiday that I reserved to accomplish so much were a complete bust. At least, I was willing to accept that I was physically unable to do anything productive. I wonder if Bowie ever experienced something similar to that.

I was equally unproductive during my battle with cancer. I did two quick drawings, and that was it. I didn’t write, and barely played any music. What did I do with those four months off from work while at home, day in and day out? There is no point in listing specifics. I was fighting for my life; I had no energy to focus on building a body of work for some legacy that no one would see anyway.

Do you know who co-wrote a musical, wrote, and recorded an album, all while battling cancer and accepting that he would ultimately lose that fight?

Damn it, Ziggy. Damn you to space! You make me look and feel bad for myself. I am the Zero to your Hero. How dare you?

Is it possible to be so in command of your life that despite the odds, you still write your own ending? I didn’t think it was possible, yet, Bowie showed that it is. He took something that was out of his control—terminal cancer—and like the maestro he was, orchestrated his dwindling time on Earth brilliantly. From the release of his album on his birthday to his peaceful death two days later, Major Tom was not only the pilot of his rocket ship; he was “Ground Control.”

This isn’t a life-changing revelation. I almost died, damn it. If that didn’t galvanize me, what would? I could carry a lightning bolt as my talisman and focus the rest of my life on becoming immortal in whatever way possible. Or . . . not.

This is not a closed-ended treatise. I have a long road ahead of me still. Not as long as I want it to be, given I am ostensibly halfway through my life already. I trust I will continue to stumble along the way, just like I always do. I hope I will leave more indelible footprints in my path. Until I shuffle off this mortal coil, I still might compose my own symphony that will resonate and continue to be heard when my voice is forever silenced.

I’ll end this with another lyric from his song, What’s Really Happening? I’ve had it on a loop the past week. It seems fitting.

All the clouds are made of glass
And they’re slowly sinking
Falling like the shattered past
Were we built to last?

Canny Granny

Canny Granny

Waste not want not. Everyone knows that. Not everyone knows the original proverb from which it evolved. “Willful waste makes woeful want.”

Grandma would know that. She knew a lot of things. Just like she knew the word “gadfly” when she played it for the win in Scrabble.

She could shoo away an annoying insect while she industriously toiled away in any part of the house needing her careful attention. Nothing could disrupt her rhythm.

Nothing. Not even if a new roll of Scott Towels fell into the sink full of fresh, soapy dishwater.

She could have lifted the roll out, shaken off the excess water, and chucked the sodden pulp in the refuse.

Not this granny.

She’d follow the first two steps, then do what only a resourceful woman during the Depression era would.

Several minutes later, her modestly sized kitchen would be decorated with 1,000 sheets of disposable paper.

She’d vacuum and dust other rooms while the towels air-dried. There was no sitting around idly whiling away time in Grandma’s world.

Hours later, they’d be rolled up and as good as new, ready to clean every surface of her humble home.

Grandma was willful. But she was definitely not wasteful.

Summer Soulless in China

I wish I didn’t know this exists. But, it does.

I wish it didn’t keep me up at night. But, it has.

I wish I could protect all animals from this horrible fate. But, I can’t.

Despite amassing millions of signatures globally for a petition to the President of the People’s Republic of China to ban it, the Yulin Dogmeat Festival to celebrate the summer solstice happened again yesterday, or whenever the fuck China’s time zone rang in June 21st.

Oh, it is happening right now? As I write this? No wonder I am in a shitty mood. I thought it was the dark, rainy weather in Chicago today.

I know, we are all part of the food chain. I am fully aware of that, and even defended the right of Asian countries to open slaughter houses for dogs. We shouldn’t think it is wrong just because we identify the animal as Fido. Pigs can be pets, and some may consider a cow or chicken as one. Yet, we consume them on a grand scale. I argued this years ago when I was a vegan, no less.

What makes the Yulin Dogmeat Festival different?

If a subculture of China considers eating dog meat an appropriate way to celebrate the start of summer, then so be it. It is a puzzling choice considering how often dogs are portrayed—usually in a positive way—in Chinese mythology. I thought they would be revered, not consumed. But, I will set that aside. As long as the animal is respected and fully used, i.e., little to no waste, then there should be no real issue here.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. In order to accumulate the 10,000 dogs demanded for this festival, many are stolen off the streets, from backyards, and even from private homes. Dogs are shipped to restaurants in this small town still wearing the collars their humans put on them to declare ownership of and ostensibly, to protect them.

Cultural relativism be damned, those dogs are stolen “property” (as they are considered) and thus, illegally acquired. It should automatically put an end to this event. It does not. Apparently, the Yulin government turns a blind eye to this, even though many of China’s own citizens are against it, as well.

It does not stop there. The dogs are not only slaughtered, they are treated horribly. Not only are they crammed in cages or stuffed to bursting in nets, they are tortured to death because . . . wait for it . . . it is determined to make the meat taste better.

I would not have believed it, much less known about this horror, if it weren’t for Ricky Gervais. I like his Facebook page not only because he is one of my favorite comedians and a fellow atheist, he is also a huge animal lover. I look forward to seeing a post from him in my newsfeed of an adorable animal picture or video. It makes me smile.

With such good I must take the bad. He posts his outrage over hunters smiling with their fresh kills. It makes my blood boil as well, but I get some solace out of seeing so many people gather to share in his disgust. When I see that, I know there is light. There is hope for this world.

With tremendous reluctance, Gervais posted a few pictures in his campaign to raise awareness about this practice. I just cannot unsee them. One dog is lowered with large, metal tongs into a vat of boiling water; another dog is bound and muzzled with wire while a flamethrower is applied to his lower body; a cat is trying to climb a fence in terror. Yes, cats are on the menu. Perhaps as an appetizer?

In addition, many are skinned alive because, again, the meat is more flavorful and tender. Imagine if that were done to you. Believe it, the animals feel it just as acutely. The difference is that they have no idea why they are being treated so cruelly. Is ignorance bliss?

When animals are tortured, chemicals are released, including adrenaline. Perhaps that is the flavor these sub-humans crave. Apparently, topping meat from animals slaughtered humanely with a special adrenal sauce is not enough. They must suffer for the pleasure of the superior animal.

Ricky Gervais deserves many kudos for being so outspoken about animal rights. This campaign is much stronger and more likely to eventually succeed because of his global influence. It was not enough to stop it this year, but maybe it will work to put an end to it next year.

For anyone who thinks atheists are evil and taking away religious freedoms, think of all the animals whose freedoms are not even considered for a second. Then, look who is brave enough to expose himself to the ugly truth in order to use his celebrity to defend those without a voice. Until then, shut the hell up.

This is where my own conflict causes me additional unrest. What can I do? I can barely emotionally handle these awful truths. I wish I hadn’t seen those pictures, but how else can the point be driven home? There is merit to shock value, as it is sometimes needed to galvanize people into action. Yet, I am left with my hands in the air, not knowing what I could do.

I look at my sweet, adorable pitbull mix and my heart feels like it will burst with love. I’d do anything to protect him. I was already paranoid about his safety before I knew about the Yulin festival. Dog fighting is still a problem in the U.S., and often dogs are obtained illegally. What would I do if my baby was stolen and found out later he was turned into a fighting dog, his loving personality violently destroyed along with his body? What if he was used as bait? What could I do except let a piece of me die?

I look at the pictures, and fantasize about what I would do at the festival. If I saw that flamethrower in action, I’d knock the abuser’s knee out, pull the flamethrower out of his hand, and set fire to him. I would then leap upon his writhing body and gouge his eyes out. I am convinced that would be my impulse response in that situation. I hate that I can feel a darkness like that. It isn’t a part of me. I shouldn’t have room for such violent hatred with all the love I have to give. They did this to me, those horrible beasts.

I feel so helpless. What can I do but cry, be angry, lose sleep, or write in my blog? I am not Ricky Gervais. I will never have that power, nor the bravery to face what scares and horrifies me. I don’t care if I am being a sycophant, I am grateful for people like him who can walk the walk while people like me talk the talk.

Since I do not have the means to end animal suffering worldwide, I must focus on my own home.

Geww at the Hospital 1

I don’t have a flamethrower, but I have enough fire in my belly to rain Hell down upon you if you try to harm my baby.

Let Us Eat Cake

I spent most of my formative years defying my father. I was not a troublemaker, per se. I was a good student, honest, and never smoked or did drugs. No, that was not my form of rebellion.

I defied my father in the only way a do-gooder could—passive-aggressively.

I inherited his height, so I slouched. He gave me his temper, so I threw it back at him. No matter how solid I felt my argument was, he always won our verbal sparring matches. It frustrated me to no end. It triggered the irresistible urge towards defiance just so I could achieve some balance in my immature universe.

We both loved the color red, so I made that small concession in the father-daughter war. Color preference is not a choice, I figured. He never fought me for the red game pieces in Parcheesi, so he must not have adored the color as much as I did, anyway.

He was very organized and precise. How could I be anything but the opposite? From folding blankets a certain way to making Cocoa Wheats without lumps, I did none of it his way. I did not care to be micromanaged.

Then, there was cake.

“Never waste food. You can pick up the crumbs by pushing your fork on them,” he said while he demonstrated the technique. He proudly showed me the crumbs between the tines, and the resulting clean plate. “See?”

Yes, I did see. Still do, every time I eat cake.

Red plate

Dust and Detritus

Blowing dust

It has been over a year since I’ve written anything, much less posted something on The Purple Pedant. September 24th, 2013, to be precise, was the last entry. Why is that? I could leave that as a rhetorical question. But, I’ve been ushered into the “late 40’s” demographic in the past year, which has made these questions harder to resist, yet more challenging and painful to answer.

First off, when I stated that I haven’t written, that means anything I wasn’t required to write. I’ve been writing theater and concert reviews for the past year. I write policies and procedures at my job. I suppose even emails would count as writing; not all are required. Nor are all the status updates and comments I made and continue to make on Facebook. I believe I just canceled out the first sentence of this paragraph.

Rewrite: I haven’t written anything for the pure joy of it in over a year.

That leaves me with the aforementioned question dangling over my head like a Sword of Damocles. Nothing I say or don’t say will justify my word drought. I could make up something like an impressive story or alibi, but disingenuousness accomplishes nothing. In other words, I am damned either way.

Yet, I am writing now. Why should I complain or hem and haw as I look over my shoulder? Just focus on the present and future. Right? I could most certainly view it that way. But, those who ignore history and all that. It may seem like a melodramatic analogy, but it is an apt one. By all means, keep moving forward, but leave a trail of popcorn just in case you have to backtrack to see whence you came.

I spoke recently to a group of women about motivation. It is a word that vexes me. I am pulled prematurely out of sleep to the sound of its alarm every morning, and lie awake at night with a droning reminder that I ignored it for a good part of the day. It is a maddening tinnitus buzzing deep in my eardrums that won’t let up until I vow to pay proper heed to it tomorrow. Motivation is a harsh mistress; it kept me up most of the night so that I am too tired from lack of sleep to make good on my promise. And so the vicious circle continues.

The intent of volunteering to talk in front of a crowd wasn’t to find a convenient platform to whine and vent. I actually discovered several things about myself in the process. I went up on stage without a script. It wasn’t because I wanted to be real and off-the-cuff, it was because I wasn’t motivated to actually write down what I wanted to say. Not even talking about motivation could motivate me. The irony did not escape me. I had to admit that if I was to get anything productive out of this endeavor. Revelation One.

All my life, I’ve been plagued by depression, anxiety, and lack of motivation. It doesn’t matter which came first—the chicken, egg, or . . . sperm. They all feed off each other. I get depressed, which saps my motivation. Once I emerge from the darkness, I get anxiety from not accomplishing anything. I lose sleep due to the anxiety and get depressed from fatigue . . . and so it keeps going, like a holy trinity of neurosis. Revelation Two.

I am also introverted by nature. This translates to internalizing everything, including motivation. I am bursting with ambition and have the loftiest of goals . . . in my head. It is externalizing them, i.e., being extroverted, that stymies me. I can tell people what I want to do, but I don’t do what I want to do. Revelation Three. There is no denying the fact that I am middle-aged. Ugh. That hurts to admit, and is also terrifying. Which brings me to Revelation Four.

There is nothing so galvanizing for me than negative reinforcement. I make mistakes that bite me, thus, I am motivated to not repeat them (until I slack off and repeat them). I have more years behind me than ahead of me, and the ones I’ve lived are salted with regret. It is a terrifying prospect of not achieving what I desire and not living this life like I never want to leave it. Why can’t I just bring my passion with me instead of chasing it down like a moving bus that I missed by mere seconds? Sometimes, that is enough to get me going. Sometimes.

Quite simply, I need to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. The path I want to take won’t get forged if I just stand there staring at the map. And sometimes, it is okay to stop someone for help and ask for directions. The other thing that holds me back is my fear of what other people think of me, as well as being perceived as living a fantasy. She wants to be an artist? A musician? A WRITER? No one makes a living that way, much less someone as mediocre and untalented as she is. Diane is an Accountant. That is a realistic profession for an introvert. It is safe.

However, it is desperately boring and stifling, and I need to break free from it. My right brain is elbowing my left brain and jockeying for more space. There is that negative reinforcement again.

I have finally gotten to the point where it doesn’t matter what everyone wants for me. It only matters what I want for me. My closing thought to the Q&A session of my speech was ineloquent but memorable:

The older I get, the less fucks I have to give.

Onward.