Pleasures of the Storm

We just came through a deluge! Was it a whole week of rain? It seemed like a month! Dark skies and precipitation were constants, a sprinkle serving for a break in the weather, a ferocious downpour an awe inspiring twice daily event.

As creeks rose above roads and runoff formed ponds under highway overpasses, some citizens faced flooding in their yards or homes. Those of us, like me, who didn’t need to drive anywhere and don’t have a creek hard by, could just “go with the flow.”

A storm slows my thinking to a snail’s pace, but, now that I abstain from gluten, the crippling migraines that heralded a barometric change are gone! [To those of you who hold this gluten-free business is a passing fad —  be grateful for your ignorance! May you continue to lack first hand experience with IBS or CFIDS/fibro etc.] So I  have learned to take my pleasure as it comes.

It was restful to sit on the screen porch and watch the rain come down. Leaves on the maple tree trembled as the drops hit and slid off. Swirling, muddy water slid by through the drainage ditches beside the black road, off to swell the might James. The noise of the rain varied with the violence of the storm. Our Lab hung close to my heels as the thunder rumbled around us and the lightened cracked overhead.

An additional pleasure was my delight in the overwhelming green of my immediate world. The grass was lush and the leaves on the trees fresh and vibrant. The vegetables and flowers in our raised beds grew even as I watched them. Looking out the windows, I saw the sunflowers and potatoes stretch still taller from hour to hour.

In between downpours, I’d venture out and do a bit of weeding. A careful tug would bring up a whole dandelion, root and all — always a satisfying accomplishment. My hair and shoulders grew damp and then wet as I lingered between the garden beds until the mist went from sprinkle to steady rain and forced me back inside.

Here’s another pleasure: wading in ankle deep water. I was happy to splash through any shallow puddles between the back door and the hen house. A few more steps, justIMG_20180519_164828 through the back gate, the I found the clover submerged in standing water four inches deep. The ground was soft underfoot, the clover floated around my toes, and the water was cool. A sensory delight!

Such unusual, incredible rain created a new, separate world. During those days, we lived outside of sordid politics and gross injustices against humanity. We could even set aside environmental concerns as we* dealt with more immediate problems likely brought on by man-made climate change.

The Long Rain afforded some relief from our usual anxieties and left us a thriving, blossoming, vining garden set in brilliant green from under our feet to way over heads in up-against-the-blue-sky leafy trees. The fresh morning air fills with bird song and the night begins with the high songs of peepers and the deep calls of bull frogs.

War is another kind of storm that can overflow its banks. Inside my dry island on the sofa, while the drainage ditches gurgled and the rain beat down in sheets, I read The Slaves’ War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves. Now that was a storm a long time coming and still not gone. Long after those cannons quit booming, the poisoned waters still trickle through our lands.

Future times may find others looking back at our recent deluge with an understanding I don’t have, just like those enslaved children marveling at the “thunder” echoing over the Georgia hills — and not a cloud in the sky.

 

* By “we”, I mean my husband. He was out in the rain attempting to free a blocked culvert across the street. He also dealt with a failing sump pump in the crawl space under our house.

 

 

 

 

 

Heroes and chores

Sometimes I wonder where my life went. Most days seem to be a series of chores and enough days in a row adds up to a life.

Take my mission this morning, should I choose to accept it. Yes, today’s chore is to separate the wheat from the chaff, the worthy from the no-longer worthy, the just from the unjust! A task for a True Hero! An assignment for the bold and brave!

Well, not exactly. I am planning to sort the medical bills from my husband’s two week hospital stay and seven week home-bound antibiotic treatment. Also, there is a teetering pile of magazines to go through. Not exactly the fifth labor of Hercules but even Hercules probably wondered why he was spending his life cleaning the Augean stables instead of pursuing frolicking wood nymphs. (I’m not interested in wood nymphs myself but there is an entertaining novel waiting for me.)

Both sections of my assignment have pitfalls.

The medical bills are from individual doctors, two hospitals, three medical suppliers, and  labs. No two medical bills are alike. Each provider uses a different form to itemize services, credits, and charges. There are also reports from three insurance companies. I must review each one for duplications and mistakes (like I can remember what procedures were administered to my husband and when — not only was I not with him every minutes but he himself was not a reliable witness and my always compromised self * was next to depleted at the time). So there are many generous opportunities for confusion.

Figuring out these bills will scramble my poor weakened brain cells until I won’t have the mental energy for anything else today.

Sorting magazines is easier but has its own pitfalls. We have several months’ worth of publications. Usually, I sort them by date and keep the newest, but the New Yorkers are hard to give up. Of course, we’ve read the cartoons and “Shouts and Murmurs” and “Talk of the Town.” But I’m bound to run across an article on Something Fascinating That I Must Learn About but haven’t yet read so maybe I should set that issue aside to read later? But if I haven’t read it after six months am I likely to read it anytime soon?

One must be coldly realistic to sort magazines.

So this paperwork is my assignment this morning. It’s up to me to ensure the bills are addressed in a timely fashion and we aren’t tripping over piles of magazines or mail. (Mail is usually sorted as it comes in — otherwise we’d get lost in our own house.)

Paperwork is a common plague. I like to imagine that universal health care comes without any paperwork to follow the patient home. Maybe that’s a fantasy, but isn’t it a nice one? We’d still have taxes to complain about so life wouldn’t be all roses.

My husband has his own assignments and I don’t want to trade with him, even if I could.  He’s mowing the grass right now. He seems happy enough with his portion of the household burden. But he’s had a meaningful career. There is little status in the homemaking which fell to my lot by default, since I was too sick to do anything else  beyond that. So I am still, in some ways, anticipating a Life and dissatisfied with this Sisyphean procession of chores.

So is this my Life? It seems like I just finished the taxes, which was also a joyless chore, the only satisfaction was the completion of the task. Why is life made up of so much paperwork, record keeping, telephone clarifications, trick questions, excess possessions? Who benefits from all this rigmarole?  I only have a couple of good, clear hours a day. I don’t want to squander them.

Ah, well. Hand me that pitchfork. I’ve got stables to clean.

 

*Due to a stubborn illness — ME or chronic fatigue or CFIDS/fibromyalgia or SEID or whatever label is attached today — I suffer from post-exertional disability. Thinking hard exhausts me. Thinking hard leaves me only well enough to knit and watch cat-videos on YouTube. Or read a romance novel. 

 

 

 

A Scourge Upon the Earth!

A giant bee suspended from the canopy framework drew me into a booth at the botanical center’s plant sale. Inside, I found an education display on pollinators. A young man stepped out of the shade. “Do you have a question for a naturalist?” he asked. He and two other people waited alertly for my reply.

My husband, later, told me I’d missed my cue. According to him, I should have asked, “If you are naturalists, why aren’t you all naked?” It’s probably for the best that I missed that cue.

But I did have a question. “Why is it legal for my neighbor to use poison on her property?” The young man kind of sputtered. Then he said he had an answer to that question but it would be better if he didn’t give it.* (Kind of like me dropping my cue.) The woman beside him told us about a friend of hers whose neighbor sprayed poison on the perimeter of his property and killed her friend’s plants.

The young man began explaining how my beautiful lawn, maintained with safe practices, could set the example for my neighbors. I explained that my lawn wasn’t beautiful to anyone but a rabbit because of all the weeds and clover. This response seemed to make him happy. (My yard undoubtedly makes my house-proud neighbor unhappy. Hers is the ideal smooth, even green. Obviously, we have different ideals, at least where lawns are concerned.)

Then I asked the naturalists about my still dormant passion flower vine and they reminded me it’s still early in the season and I shouldn’t give up hope. They gave me a detailed pamphlet on native and invasive plants and I continued among the other booths looking for heritage tomatoes.

My neighbor with the immaculate lawn employs a mosquito control service to fumigate “her” portion of the outdoors. Not infrequently during the warm season, Other neighbors are out with their own personal tank of poison slung over a shoulder, aiming a spray nozzle at driveway cracks or fence perimeters.

So far this year we see only two bats fluttering among the trees at dusk. Fifteen years ago we could count ten. I have read that birds who also catch their suppers on the fly have decreased populations. Fewer insects means fewer meals.

We humans claim to value intelligence but we only value our own. We ignore the conversation of the trees and the communications of the whales. Because we set ourselves outside and above the underlying intelligence, the web of all life, we have only recently begun to see other forms of intelligence. Those populations may well disappear before we ever get a true sense of their extent or qualities. We go about wrecking the environment as if we don’t live here, too.

The tragic part for us humans is that the environment we have constructed for ourselves isn’t even good for us. It’s an economic system which evolved to feed the bloated demands of profit and power. It tramples on the souls of the people who live under it. Toxic food, bad air, polluted water and stress. Money thrives. People and their communities, not necessarily.

There are environmental extremists who view humanity as an evolutionary experiment that failed. These environmentalists look forward to the days when a plague cleanses us humans from the face of the earth so Eden can rise again, a phoenix from the crematorium ashes. Oh! How the beetles and birds and baboons will frolic without the contamination of human kind! Things will be perfect again without us.

In that scenario, my neighbors would no longer spray herbicides around willy-nilly and I wouldn’t be heating my house with fuel oil or polluting the air with my car.

True, the human quest for total world domination is literally killing all of us (except maybe cockroaches), I’d prefer a solution that doesn’t depend on our extermination from it. Other inhabitants of this planet are known to modify their immediate environments to live here. They tunnel, they forage, they eat each other, etc. Other animals also extract and exploit. There are even other species that, left to themselves, run amuk.

“Any time you have non-native species of anything- plants, birds, or animals, there is an inherent risk of devastating damage to the natural environment that may well be non-recoverable.”

If we were half as intelligent as we think we are, we’d learn from our mistakes. Instead, we are inflexible and self-justifying. In other words, not as adaptable as a cockroach.

And, of course, that “we” is a concept that has glaring inaccuracies. “We” can all be wiped out by a pandemic because we are basically physically alike. But “we” don’t all think alike.  “We” don’t all share the same level of suffering from the toxicity “we” create or the same (relatively) short-term benefits “we” gain from exploitation of the natural world and each other.

One does not need to contrast indiginous peoples in the Amazon with the Board of Directors of the World Bank to illustrate this point. Right here in Virginia people are sitting in trees to block pipeline crews with chainsaws. The pipelines would transport fracked oil across the state to the seaport for export, wrecking havoc on the landscape every step of the way — from earthquakes at the drilling site to likely spills on the sea. All for the private profit of an already wealthy “we.”  The wealthy “we” write the laws that favor the interests of profit and the wealthy “we” insure that law enforcement protects their interests. The “we” who sit in the trees are not the same subset of “we” who want to build the pipeline.

The love of money may well be the root of all evil but comfort can devolve to decadence and complacency. Otherwise, at this point, “we”, intelligent beings all, should be sitting in trees, literally or figuratively.

Where is your tree?

 

(*Shouldn’t it be natural for a naturalist to have informed opinions about legislation that affects nature? And to freely share that information at a booth about pollinators? )

An incompetent blog

According to Janet Reid, renowned NYC literary agent/blogger, a.k.a. The Query Shark, I don’t need to write a blog! (And no, she is NOT afraid of the competition.)

I am an unpublished novelist. No one is scanning the web for me. No one is interested in what I might say. Does this fact hurt my feelings? Of course not. This was the case before I started blogging and it remains the case now that I blog.

So why did I ever start a blog?

It was the panelists at a series of James River Writers Shows. They persuaded me. They kept pounding away about “building a platform” via Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler (whatever that is), Snapchat, etc. — but especially — The Blog. This all seemed to me like putting the cart before the horse. You might be curious about your favorite author and follow his/her blog but you are not going to be curious about me, not your favorite author and not published.

Having a Platform, the advice went, will help a writer get a literary agent for a manuscript. The bigger your platform, the more prospective buyers there are for your book. As a blogger, the greater the number of your followers, the greater the interest in any book you might write. Hordes of followers look good to agents, right?

It seems to me it might be easier to Built a Platform for a non-fiction writer with a narrow field of  focus. Writing on a specific topic attracts readers interested in that topic. Spiders or the history of asphalt or the genealogy of prize swine. Or maybe you start out as a blog —  and because you are a clever person with a clever idea — say Noah Scalin — you generate so much interest you turn your blog into a book.

I am not that clever, or that focussed, and my doubt about my ability to Build a Platform ahead of possible publication was well founded. There is no public interest in me or my opinions or expertise (if I have any expertise besides knitting socks). Most reasonable people who aren’t public figures — and there are SO many of us — would share this doubt about being up to adding anything substantial to public discourse, let alone to inspiring hordes of loyal followers.

Janet Reid, NYC literary agent, probably does have hordes of loyal followers. But unlike me, Janet Reid can bestow the wit and wisdom of experience and expertise gained from years of focused hard work. She Entertains — Educates —  Engages — Inspires. (Those are bullet points from various instructions on how to write a successful blog.) Earlier this week, Janet Reid magnanimously invited  her readers to submit 15 word elevator pitches for their unpublished manuscripts. She lured her followers in with the promise that she herself, and her other followers, would ruthlessly critique the offerings.

What a hook! As one of the legions of unpublished authors, I wanted to bite, but honestly, FIFTEEN words!? I’m still refining a query letter of 280 words.

Reading the submissions and critiques is truly educational. Also, a bit crushing, as in: OMG! I will NEVER be able to do this! Luckily, I am not standing in an elevator next to the literary agent of my dreams and only have this one chance to pitch my book with the perfect fifteen words. Nor do I anticipate this ever happening.

Janet Reid’s blog may well be an example of The Perfect Blog. She offers something many  people are looking for. Her readers become followers because she delivers expertise. Those among that group wise enough to apply her advice will be better for it.

My blog rambles about all over the place. It tends to bump into different readers as it wanders about, and then, most often, waves good-bye to them as it trudges up the next grassy slope.

So there you have it. An example of an effective blog — Janet Reid’s — and an example of an ineffective blog.  Will my blog become more like Janet Reid’s if my manuscript for Thrift Store Daze ever materializes as a book on the shelves of Barnes & Noble?

Don’t bet on it.

In the meantime, is anyone interested in my thoughts on knitting socks? I can recommend a good blog.

Wrung Out

Ever feel like a limp dishrag?

I feel like I’m turning into one of my knitted cotton dishrags, the original cheery color faded to a uniform blah after years of wiping up coffee stains and tumbling in the washer. I hang there, semi-dry, over the middle of the double sink. Bright sun beams through the kitchen window, making the faucet gleam and the white sink shine — but me? — even in the sunshine I’m just dull and grey.

Yup. That about describes it.

As those of you with first hand experience of CFIDS/fibromyalgia know all too well, many days we are granted only an hour or two of clarity before brain fog creeps in. The thinking brain conks out — overwhelmed by a bit of mental effort, or conversation, or noise, etc. That’s us: no stamina.

My brain is no longer screaming with anxiety now that my husband is clearly on the road to recovery after the sepsis that almost did him in. I’m done wrangling with the IRS forms and our taxes are paid (always taxing, taxes). And I’m even keeping up with the typical (for U.S. citizens, anyway) barrage of paperwork after my husband’s two week hospital stay, two surgeries and multiple consultations with specialists. The paperwork, of course, requires phone calls and being on hold and follow-up letters with corrected insurance information and correspondence and verification etc.

I am still just wrung out and not up to doing much. Done in. Not flat-on-my-back done-in —  just can’t-remember-what-I’m-doing and not-worth-shit done-in. It could be worse. It could be one of my flat-on-my-back, nasty-pain-I-can’t-ignore, short-tempered, the-whole-world-is-mud days. This isn’t one of those days when even my hair hurts.

So I shouldn’t complain.

But sometimes it’s harder to approach able-to-do-something than it is to be flat-out-not-able-to-do-anything. On my worst days, I can give up and just lay around with a romance novel and wait until it’s time to go to bed and hope for sleep (insomnia is a component of chronic fatigue syndrome) without medicinal encouragement and with the expectation of waking up in the morning in better condition.

Which reminds me: This morning I did wake up in better condition than I was in yesterday.

First, I woke up cheerful. And then my early morning piano practice went more smoothly than my fumbles of the day before.

So I guess I’ll just be grateful I’m doing as well as I am today and quit complaining

Three time’s a charm

I am not superstitious but my mother always said things come in threes. If Mama broke a glass or spilled the clothespins, she might say “That’s once!” or “That’s twice!” followed by a deep sigh and “What next?” And something always was next, if you were looking for it. My formative years I watched her looking for it.

In the last few weeks, we’ve escaped the Grim Reaper twice — slipped right through his boney fingers.

Lord preserve us from #3.

The first time we gave him the slip, we were out in our all-around-great “new” car. We were just coming into an intersection when a solid wall of metal and glass materialized in front of us. BAM! The next thing I remember was opening the car door to let out the white smoke. Exploded air bags, it turns out, stink like burning plastic.

You could say, as our daughter did, that government regulation saved our lives — the mandatory seat belts and air bags. And the two nice young men (17) in the other car were also unhurt, though the responding police officer could not convince the driver that a blinking yellow light did not grant him the right-of-way. (“I’ll let the judge explain it to you,” he had to tell him.)

After the initial shock, we were simply thrilled to be alive and whole and find each other also still alive and whole beside us. Every shining leaf on every tree and bush was a miracle. Life was glorious!

In a few days, though, we were sad about the loss of our good car. And, of course, dealing with tight-fisted insurance companies is enough to dampen anyone’s mood.

Two weeks after that accident (“That’s once!” SIGH), my husband came down with flu and sciatica, self-diagnosed as many of us will do in these situations. After five days of worsening symptoms, I dragged the man to a doc-in-the-box where we were quickly sent on to the ER. The “flu and sciatica” was bacteria in the blood from an infected abscess in his back. My big, strong, healthy husband was under the scythe — but the hospital pulled him back  before The Reaper could swing his blade. It was a near thing.

He’s recovering at home now. He has a PICC line for six weeks of intravenous antibiotics and also a wound vac for the incision at the base of his spine. Everywhere he goes, he is accompanied by one erratically gurgling medical device and another occasionally beeping device, each enclosed in its own personal black shoulder bag.* My husband is pretty much himself again, except he tires easily. He is a little stronger each day. And, once again, we are relieved to both be still alive and together.

Whew!

But: “That’s twice.” SIGH!

My mother also used to say that new shoes on the table were bad luck. We don’t have any new shoes to put on the table so we can’t stop putting them on the table to prevent bad luck. Garlic is supposed to deter vampires but I’ve never heard anyone claim it works on Old Man Death. Eventually, the Grim Reaper calls on us all.

There might be another way to look at this. Maybe I can finagle this 1-2-3- into infections of paperwork? The car accident generated it’s own paperwork: reports and claims and counter claims (we are still working to get fair compensation for our car). The life-threatening illness itself is spontaneously generating paperwork and there are sure to be mess-ups in the insurance filings creating even more paperwork. And — Behold! Number #3! — deadlines for income taxes are coming up fast! (We haven’t started yet.)

Death and Taxes! That old duo!

Taxes roll around each year and the Grim Reaper is always waiting in the wings. I’ll try to keep up with the paperwork and I hope I have time enough to take care of it all. As we were just so clearly reminded — twice! — we aren’t guaranteed another day.

But –please! —  if you don’t mind, we’ll happily pass on another glimpse of that fellow in the black robes. We don’t want to see him again for a good long time!

 

*(At first, these esoteric, computerized devices upset us. What if we pressed the wrong button? What if we tied a knot in the tubing? But now that we’ve become better acquainted with them, we can sleep through their usual noises though they aren’t the kind of  friends we can take to Quaker meeting. They gurgle and chirp 24/7.)

 

The Necessity of Levity

My usual stay-at-home garb is paint spattered, ink stained denim. But, a few weeks ago, when I had somewhere to go, I donned a brown skirt and white ribbed sweater and red knee socks festooned with frolicking sock monkeys. I topped off my outfit with red polka-dotted glasses.

I went to a demonstration. No one at this demonstration [For clean water. Why do we need to stand up in favor of clean water? Isn’t this, like, a no brainer?) noticed my sock monkey socks or my polka dotted glasses. Or if they did, they didn’t say anything to me.

But I was amused. And, Lord knows, we can all use a bit of light-hearted nonsense once in a while. Or, in my case, regular doses throughout the day.

Take that demonstration. Listening to heart-broken people describe their homes and bodies poisoned by coal ash pools leaking into the well water — that’s enough to make me cry. And it did.

Corruption is no laugher matter — and there’s so much of it! Is there really more than ever? It seems like it these days. To paraphrase comedian Jonathan Winters’ observation on little green men: “It’s everywhere! It’s everywhere!”

We are drowning in bad news. Venality chokes us, and waves of corruption pound us and toss us up onto cold, gritty sand, disheartened and desolate.* Where can we find the get-up-and-go-and-keep-going to oppose all this vileness? We need energy to stay sharp, to march and demonstrate, to write effective letters, to make phone calls, to organize and publicize, etc. —  but are we too demoralized from a daily barrage of awful news to stand up? Flattened  by despair, how are we to pick ourselves up get going again?

There’s plenty of advice out there about nurturing mental health: good food and good fellowship; fresh air and exercise; a dog or a cat or a loving spouse; sleep, meditation and music (maybe in reverse order?); gratitude and a sense of community. But following this good advice requires initiative I just may not have when I’m depressed by events in the wider world. And as a person with CFIDS/Fibromyalgia, my tank is never full anyway so I’m easy to knock down.

Levity lightens the gloom! For me, a little bit of silly is not a distraction from the serious side of life, but a figurative Chinese gong reverberating through my body to call me to attention.  Ask not for whom the cuckoo bird cuckoos! It cuckoos for thee and for me — to make us look up from the muck at our feet and gaze upon the blue sky. (Here I refer to a real cuckoo clock hanging on my own dining room wall and real muckety-muck bullshit.)

There is also a solar powered crystal rainbow maker in my south facing kitchen window.  On a sunny day, I can look up from the headlines on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and find brilliant snippets of color circling the room, a mess of little nudges to remind me to laugh and loosen up.

Somewhere in this house two plastic parakeets are clipped to light fixtures or curtain rods or a chandelier. They move around. The sight of one of these silly lime-green things can be another little reminder not to take life too seriously. Our book shelves support some heavy non-fiction but there’s a joke book on the back of the toilet and happily-ever-after romance novels on my Kindle. I always read the cartoons in the New Yorker before the features and the comics in the Richmond Times-Dispatch before looking at the editorial page. (Some of the letters-to-the-editor are funny if you forget that the writer probably didn’t think so).

Our yard sports a few ridiculous touches, too.

DSCN5903

A dose of levity can bring me around. I am serious because a joyful life is worth fighting for and I need to laugh because it’s the only way to stay serious and keep fighting for a joyful life.

What keeps you going?

(* Please scorn/chuckle at this purple prose.)

Step by Step

Yesterday, a friend called me to ask if I wanted to carpool to the demonstration downtown today. I said, no, my husband and I  plan to go to a different demonstration on Monday, in front of a different building downtown. This the third time since January that I’ve turned down a friend’s invitation to one demonstration because I had another demonstration lined up. These days, there is no way I can attend them all.

And how did you react to Donald Trump’s presidential election victory?

A handful of my relatives and close neighbors were jubilant — but not my Quaker meeting. We are deliberately non-partisan, but we are liberal. Inside our clear windows and plain grey walls there were tears, wails and the gnashing of teeth. (This is not totally an exaggeration.) Meeting might have reached unity on draping our front doors with black crepe swags if our clerk had proposed it.

We were gobsmacked! Corporately and individually we had been knocked off-center. We thought we were striding onward and upward toward (our vision of) a better world when suddenly the whole country took a detour! How did this happen? Why didn’t we see this coming?

In hindsight, it is obvious we were infected with complacency. Progress, it seems, is not inevitable. Those of us vulnerable in any way now know fresh fear.

But for most of us in our Quaker meeting, cocooned in relative comfort and security and our white skins, we didn’t grasp the depth of insecurity, fear, frustration, homophobia and racism running through a broad swath of our fellow citizens. We just weren’t looking for a resurgence of hate and discrimination. Who voted for Trump, anyway?

It’s not that we weren’t aware of the other people around us. But ours is a stratified society with neighborhoods and schools determined by income. Even our meeting membership is, to some extent, limited in class diversity. We who are comfortable are never forced to mingle with the hungry. We take up collections for food banks and we do charitable works. We know the statistics and support legislation to alleviate poverty.   Daily frustration and hopelessness isn’t ours.

But Trump’s strongest support came from people with annual incomes of about $70,000. For most of us, neither racism nor homophobia is a daily insult. But racism and homophobia and misogamy lurk all around us and are breaking the bonds of inhibition  loosened by leaders like Trump with no compassion or shame. Even worse, some ministers reinforce these messages.

Quakers revere their more famous members of the past who were on the right side of history. And we are justly proud of the American Friends Service Committee and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (to name just two Quaker groups out in the world doing good). One day future generations may even revere a few of us current Quakers who are made of the same stalwart stuff as those abolitionists, suffragettes, and civil rights workers.

But most Friends are like most other people. We aren’t heroes. We aren’t activists. We don’t like to rock any boats or cross any lines. We think we know the difference between right and wrong and we vote accordingly. Besides, when Obama was president, we believed, the country was in good hands. We didn’t have to worry.

Then we wake up one morning and Donald Trump is president. We are in shock!

After a great deal of moaning and commiseration, we begin to climb out of this deep pit of despair. For the first weeks and months following the election, we administered self-care: prayer, readings, journaling, music. As a meeting, we decide to hold a retreat on Responding to Challenging Times. We calm down. We see that the sun still rises. Now we are ready to face reality.

There is some recognition that the problem is not Donald Trump. The problems were there all along — even while Obama was president — and Donald Trump is just a manifestation.

Now, along with millions of other people, we are paying more attention. We are swept up in that wave of others rising to assert decency and tolerance. We have our senators on speed dial. We subscribe to email newsletters chock full of alerts on committee hearings,

Pete Seeger

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notices of demonstrations, talking points to share with our legislators. We write to the editor, pressure lawmakers with phone calls and letters. We are energized around common concerns. We hit the streets (peacefully, of course). We send post cards and make phone calls to other voters. We canvas. We hang signs and share Facebook messages. We not only vote — we get-out-the-vote.

VOTE
Collage postcard to encourage voting

IMG_20171026_001709.jpg Remember when we flooded town halls, demanding answers from our elected representatives? And when we were shut out of  the those town halls, new groups (run predominately by women) organized their own town halls with local experts to examine social issues and look at possible solutions. Grass roots efforts found candidates and supported them with time and money.

Here in Virginia, these efforts have paid off in the midterm elections. In spite of  gerrymandered districts that heavily favor Republicans, Democrats tossed out incumbents and took seats all over the state. They won in districts the party itself gave up on. And those new delegates are more beholden to the voters than they are to the Democratic party. (May we hold their feet to the fire.)

Ten months into Trump’s administration we are sticking it out. We persist.

But “Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty” is a tall order. How long can we keep this up? Will we slip back into our old patterns and trust Democrats to take care of our interests?

Blind trust didn’t work the last time. It brought us Donald Trump — and the continuation and expansion of endless war and income iniquities and the occasional child dead of a toothache through lack of health insurance and too many children hungry while their parents work hard at jobs that keep them poor. Even if Hillary Clinton had won the election, to what degree would that have changed? Would we have paid as close attention? Would we have witnessed and acted — or blindly trusted that Things Would Get Better?

We citizens have begun to feel the power we have. Will we use it? How will we use it? Or will we elect a few good people and go back to thinking elections are enough to fix everything?

Take heart. Take heart.

Persist.

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A short and helpful guide book for navigating our alarming political climate.

 

 

A rude reader

There are times when words swim away from each other as I read them, refusing to hold formation and carry the author’s intent. I have to set aside serious reading and pick up light fiction. This malfunctioning of my mind can plague me for long, tedious stretches, and is accompanied by physical lassitude. All I do, for hours and hours, is lay on my back and read.

(Once, an ignorant person said to  me, “I wish I had as much time to read as you do.” God bless them. May they never have first hand knowledge of this disorder or watch it overtake someone they love. )

When I feel that lethargy creeping up on me, I load up on fiction, usually historical romances. I don’t even have to expend the energy to get dressed and drive to the library. I can log onto my local e-library from home and download books to my Kindle. Or I can buy the latest volume from a favorite author through Amazon and be reading it within minutes. Instant gratification! (Not perhaps, my first choice, but I can’t have world peace or better health so I’ll just  be happy with what I get.) Unlimited, entertaining, easy-to-follow fiction is just a few clicks away. All praise to the writers toiling away in attics who make my existence tolerable.

I want only to pass my unproductive hours carried along by a pleasant story. (My husband asks me how I am. “Worthless,” I say, as I look up from the text of yet another bodice buster.) I don’t want to ever read a paragraph twice trying to understand it, or be sidetracked by poorly placed flashbacks. Humor is welcome, but please — no serious threats to the main character. It helps if the heroine is insulated from sordid toil and care by obscene wealth, but the author must never trip up and somehow remind me that obscene wealth is usually accumulated by someone else’s toil and suffering. Please, authors, don’t pop the bubble of my belief prematurely. It will disintegrate all on its own  after I finish the book.

When my primary “activity” is reading, my conversation suffers. My poor husband listens patiently while I outline plots of books he would never crack open in a million years. I don’t have much to say about the books I like. But when a book fails me, I can go on for awhile. Here are a couple that failed me.

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Winner of BEST HORROR NOVEL (August Derleth Award) at British Fantasy Awards 2016

The Girl from Rawblood

This novel was not for me. It’s not even a genre I usually enjoy. I downloaded it anyway because the blurb was intriguing and the action is rooted in the love of a house. I can identify with attachment to a family home and a particular place. Amazon rates the book 3.5 stars and the first reviewers are convincing in their praise. Maybe a well person would not have struggled, as I did, over the frequent time shifts. Maybe regular readers of the genre would not have been flummoxed by the circular plot, a chicken-and-egg quandary. Or how the terrible curse passed down through countless generations culminates (sort of) in one who is not actually a blood relation. Exactly how does that work?

Though there were some boring sections and at least one dry-as-dust character, over all the writing was masterful. There were descriptions of Italian and English countryside that almost had me smelling the seasons; intimate, historically accurate renderings of settings for three generations of the haunted family; and subtle moral parallels between vivisection and lobotomies. But I did not like this book. I only finished it to see if the author pulled the material together. I don’t think she did.

This book was not for me. Maybe it is for you.

The Indigo Girl

Amazon rates this book 4.5 stars. This book promised to be the story of a 16 year old girl

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A deeply-researched work of historical fiction, based on the untold story of Eliza Lucas, an extraordinary sixteen-year-old girl in Colonial-era South Carolina, whose actions were before their time.

left in charge of a small plantation when he father leaves. She never sees him again.

I only got a few pages into the novel before I deleted the book from my Kindle. I took irrational exception to the first person narrator repeatedly referring to her enslaved persons as “Negroes” and “Negro ladies” or “field hands” or “the driver,” all in tones of respect. Yet, in that first chapter, without a hint of irony, Eliza Lucas tells us that “A fantasy of mine . . .  (is). . . To be not owned as chattel by a father or one day a husband.”

In these times of bans on Mark Twain for using the N-word, how does an author stay true to a historical setting without making a reader cringe? How does an author present a slave owner as a sympathetic character?

It might be that Natasha Boyd worked both those tricks and I just didn’t stick with her long enough to find out. It looks like a good book. You read it and let me know.

 

The Revelation of Beatrice Darby

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How much courage does it take to be yourself? In a decade when good girls conform to strict expectations, Beatrice Darby is about to find out.

Now here’s a third, perfectly good book that I didn’t like. Like the other two, the cover appeals to me. This one promised to be an coming-of-age story. I thought the writing was clunky. I didn’t make it through thirty pages.

It has 5 stars on Amazon (but only 15 reviews).

Give it a try! You might like it.

 

Someone — a whole group of someones — worked hard to write, edit, and publish these books. I feel guilty when I don’t like a book. It is a rejection of someone’s hard work and therefore unkind. I don’t want to be unkind. So please — read these books and make up for my rudeness in rejecting them.