DO SOMETHING.

According to Social Progress Index, a global report card, out of 163 countries evaluated, the United States, Brazil and Hungary are the only ones in which people are worse off than they were in 2011. You can read the details in this opinion piece by Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times, but one of the factoids that stood out to me: “The United States, despite its immense wealth, military power and cultural influence, ranks 28th — having slipped from 19th in 2011. The index now puts the United States behind significantly poorer countries, including Estonia, Czech Republic, Cyprus and Greece.”

My guess is that no one living through 2020 would argue this point. And although today marks the 19th anniversary of a terrible day in our history, with great loss and human suffering, it’s sobering to realize that 9-11 took approximately 3,000 lives (though the toll continues to rise – particularly amongst first responders who have subsequently contracted all manner of illness and disease including cancer), while nearly 200,000 have died of Covid-19 in our country since March…and counting.

It goes without saying that these are tough times. Many people are suffering whether it’s from job loss and financial strain, concern for elderly parents who are isolated, the struggle to help children learn from home while trying to work, or even worse, the illness or loss of a loved one.

My family is not immune and we have experienced several of the above. But we are among the lucky ones. We have the kind of jobs that have allowed us to work from home. We’re fortunate to have a house with a big backyard and a neighborhood where we can walk. We have the means to order groceries online and our children are grown and no longer in school, so the plight of today’s working parents is no longer one we share.

I know there are many in my neighborhood and in neighborhoods around the country that are the same. And I know that many who live in these neighborhoods are also grateful for what they have and for their comfortable situation, despite the circumstances.

But that’s why those of us who are fortunate enough to be healthy, have jobs or the financial means to sustain us during this time, and to be in positions of relative comfort need to DO SOMETHING. And I’m not simply talking about opening our pocketbooks, though that’s certainly one way to help.

During these unprecedented times, we have an equally unprecedented void in leadership that has exacerbated, rather than helped our country. Not only did the federal government play down and ignore, then mismanage the pandemic response, they’ve added fuel to the fire by failing to continue providing financial and economic relief to those who need it most, by ignoring the threat of interference in our election by foreign adversaries, while at the same time, sowing the seeds of doubt when it comes to mail-in voting and tampering with our US Postal Service – not only hurting our ability to safely vote by mail, but interrupting the delivery of important medications, necessary checks, and other important documents to our citizens. They’ve egged on violence in the largely peaceful protests for racial justice that have taken place – going so far as to actually defend a cold-blooded murderer who stormed into a town in which he didn’t belong with an AR-15 and the purpose of gunning down those exercising their constitutional right to protest. They’ve ignored intelligence that shows Russia placed bounties on our soliders’ heads –failing to even raise the issue with Vladimir Putin, and Trump himself, has said terrible things about our military (anyone who heard with their own ears and saw with their own eyes how he treated the late Senator John McCain knows this to be true). And there’s so much more that I could fill a notebook with the criminality, the cruelty, and the rollbacks of important legislation, like EPA and climate-related laws…just ask anyone inhaling the smoke in California, Oregon or Washington, or towns recovering from flooding and hurricanes how that’s working out for them, especially during this pandemic.

Yes, there are those who still support this President and his administration. I will never, if I live to be a million years old, understand it. But most of you, my fellow Americans, are sane and compassionate and want change as much as I do. So my question for you is this, and I mean it with respect and with the knowledge that I, too, can do more: 

What have you done and what are you doing to help? 

It’s not dramatic to say that saving our country is what’s at stake. Trump’s proclivity for dictators, his questioning of mail-in ballots, and his belief that he and his administration are above the law and not responsible, for the mess in which the country finds itself, are all huge, blinking red flags. “It is what it is,” he famously said about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of our citizens.

So what will you DO?

You may say you’ve given money – and that’s great. But typing in your credit card information on a website takes five minutes and while it’s generous and needed, this is not going to be enough to defeat Trump and save our democracy. I know you will vote. And that’s important. But we have to DO MORE.

I belong to my local Democratic Club and am involved with an organization called Swing Left that is trying hard to both flip the Senate and the Presidency so we can hold this administration accountable for the unprecedented damage done to our country. And through these organizations, I’ve seen many dedicated folks who are working hard for change. But equally, I’ve been rather stunned to see apathy in many corners of my world. “I’m not an activist”, some say. “I don’t have time.” Maybe those of us who live in comfort think it won’t affect us, but even if you’re fortunate enough to have a job or financial security, to have a roof over your head, a well-stocked fridge and a nice backyard, you have already been affected by this pandemic, the economic and social fallout. Maybe you already feel defeated as I sometimes have, watching the Republican party destroy any principles it once claimed, forgoing a party platform and declaring its allegiance only to Trump. Maybe you’re just worried about the sanctity of the election and that your vote won’t count.

But we can’t give up. Each of us has to do more. Now. Today. We can’t resign ourselves to live with this for four more years. We can’t allow this country’s values to be cast aside in favor of allegiance to a narcissist who cares only about enriching himself and his family, who is destroying our democratic way of life right in plain view, in front of us, no matter how many times he tries to say the news is fake and you shouldn’t trust your own eyes, ears and ability to think critically. 

So here is my plea to all of you. DO SOMETHING. And then do something more. Write letters and postcards. Make phone calls and send texts. Join a local or national organization that is getting out the vote or ensuring that voters in poor communities can’t be disenfranchised. Write an op-ed and send it to your local paper. Call your family and friends to make sure they have a solid plan to vote – especially if they feel compelled to go to a polling station. Volunteer to be a poll worker, or if you’re older or higher risk, get your kids to volunteer (it’s a PAID volunteer position). Protest (peacefully and safely). And if you’re not a Democrat, that’s ok – you just need to be an American and a patriot who believes that no one is above the law and the constitution means something. You can join Republicans for Biden. Or support The Lincoln Project

We can all DO SOMETHING. We can all do more. We have less than 8 weeks until the most important election of our lives and our children’s lives. 8 weeks until we know if we’ve done enough to save our country. 8 weeks for you to step up and feel like you tried, you made an effort, you recognized that living your comfortable life isn’t enough anymore and that we all have to be activists if we want change. As Ghandi, said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” 

DO SOMETHING.

Five Things All Social Media Users Should Do

Is it a saving grace for families and friends who can’t connect any other way right now? Or the bane of our existence, giving a platform to bullies, miscreants, and disinformation?

Social media is both. Like any technological development, it brings huge benefits, but has significant downsides and one thing is clear: the platforms may change and evolve, but it’s here to stay.

As someone who works in the marketing and public relations field, social media is an important tool in our arsenal for work, but on a personal level, I’ve also met some wonderful people (largely on Twitter), been able to stay in touch with family who live in different countries and time zones (on Facebook and Instagram), and generally felt the comfort of sharing events – both positive and negative – with people everywhere. But there are some important steps that all of us – and yes, I include myself – can and should take to make social media a better place for everyone. And no, it doesn’t mean you need to refrain from posting news stories and political commentary and limit your posts to puppies and babies. But it does mean you have to take responsibility for what you post.

Here are five things everyone can do to be better social media citizens:

1. READ THE FULL ARTICLE BEFORE REACTING TO THE HEADLINE.

We teach our children that reading and thinking critically are important skills and Spark Notes are no substitute for reading a full article, essay or book. It’s hard: there’s a ton of information out there and it’s overwhelming. And when you see a headline, it’s so tempting to think you know everything you need to know from a few words. But remember that news organizations often create those headlines to gain your emotional reaction, to sensationalize and highlight the best or worst of the findings in the article, and the reporter/author of the piece rarely writes that headline. Very often the headlines are misleading and reading the entire article will make you wonder how that headline got there in the first place. Not only do you owe it to yourself to read a full article to stay informed, you owe it to the rest of your social media audience, not to react to a post before reading the article in full and not to share an article solely based on its headline. Read and think critically about a full article before you post a “like” or a “comment” and most definitely, read and think critically before you share it yourself.

2. TRUTH MATTERS. CHECK BEFORE SHARING.

It takes just a few moments to make sure that what you’re posting is factual. There are many sites where you can quickly check the veracity of everything from those viral “local thief attacking women at gas stations” posts to the memes that tell you a certain celebrity wrote a diatribe on life (they might be nice, but usually not true), to the cooked-up conspiracy theories that, sadly, even our President shares on Twitter. Snopes.com is a good site for the former and Politifact is a good source for the latter. Sadly, in this time of manufactured news, citizen journalism, 24/7 news cycles, opinions masquerading as facts, and the ease with which all of these can be shared with millions of people rapidly, you have to be vigilant and take time to ensure that you’re not an active participant in sharing falsehoods. When you’re reading an article (because – well, we’ve already established you’re now going to read the entire story and not just the headline, right?) be sure to ask yourself if the story is citing proven facts and evidence or opinions and hearsay. We all know (I hope) that there’s a difference between Dr. Anthony Fauci, quoted in a New York Times story, saying “Social distancing will help prevent transmission of coronavirus”, and a meme your uncle posted on Facebook that shows a group of people on a crowded beach with the words “My immune system and my freedom will protect me”. It’s true that those spreading false information are becoming even more clever over time and that’s why number three on this list is so important…

3. SOURCES MATTER. CHECK THEM OUT AND ENSURE THEY ARE CREDIBLE.

If you’re a teacher, you know that students are asked to cite sources when they write papers. And not only are they required to cite those sources, they are asked to ensure that those sources are credible. There’s a reason most teachers don’t allow students to use Wikipedia as a source; it’s a site to which anyone can contribute and no one checks the veracity of the information. So it stands to reason that not all sources of news and information are credible. Ask yourself a few questions when reading – and certainly before posting – an article:

  • Is this story on a site that generally posts real news and information rather than rumors and opinions?
  • Does the site or author of the piece have an agenda or a “side” they are trying to represent in the story?
  • Is the author a journalist – someone who went to school for journalism and is employed as a journalist by a reputable organization?

All of these questions are vital in determining whether you’re reading something written by a credible source with evidence and facts to back up the story, or a poorly-researched and opinionated piece of rhetoric written by, well, anyone.

A recent NPR story reported that researchers have found that nearly half of all Twitter accounts tweeting about coronavirus are likely Bots. They noted:

“Researchers culled through more than 200,000 tweets discussing the virus since January and found that 45% were sent by accounts that behave more like computerized robots than humans.”

What were these accounts tweeting? Be sure to read the full story I’ve linked to, but in short, among the misinformation being spread was 100 false narratives about COVID-19 including conspiracy theories about hospitals being filled with mannequins, or tweets that connected the spread of the virus to 5G.

We know that this is one way Russia interfered in our 2016 election: fake accounts on Facebook and Twitter spreading false information and conspiracy theories. So don’t be the person who reposts or retweets stories and information that are false – particularly those generated from fake accounts. Yes, it takes some vigilance and responsibility, but you can determine fairly easily if an account is fake (check out Botometer on Twitter) and that’s part of being a good social media citizen. And that leads me to number four…

4. BE PART OF THE SOLUTION: REPORT AND ELIMINATE FAKE ACCOUNTS AND FALSE INFORMATION.

Like the “if you see something, say something” signs that we’ve all seen at airports and other places where security is critical, on social media, our ability to sift through the rubbish and find the nuggets of importance and truth depend on everyone being vigilant in the fight against bad information. If you see someone posting information you know to be false, say something (nicely, and if need be, privately). If you find fake accounts on Twitter, report them; Facebook, sadly, seems to take little action on user-reported accounts, and recently, Mark Zuckerberg has said that he doesn’t feel social media platform companies should be held responsible for the content posted on them. That said, they will warn users who have engaged with or reacted to posts that contain misinformation that Facebook believes will cause imminent physical harm. In particular, they’ve applied this to false Coronavirus information circulating on the platform (such as, injecting bleach as a remedy). The hope is that these warnings cause users to stop, read, and make the right decision not to share if the information is deemed false and could cause harm.

The bottom line is that If we’re going to use social media – and remember, we use it for FREE – we need to be active participants in making it a better place to be. Which leads me to my last plea…

5. SUPPORT REAL JOURNALISM

Times are difficult and people are strapped for cash. Not everyone has a job and budgets are being cut.  I get it. Unfortunately, even before this pandemic hit, most of us were used to getting our “information” and “news” for free. The internet is a vast wasteland of free items and we all know the adage “you get what you pay for”. Or in this case, what you don’t pay for. Coronavirus coverage aside – which most reputable publications are offering up to anyone without placing it behind their paywall – good, quality products, made by good, quality people should command a price. This is true in journalism as it is in any other industry.  If you want publications to be able to pay the salaries of top reporters and editors who studied and earned degrees for their craft, you have to be willing to pay for a subscription.  There truly has never been a time in history where good journalism has been so important – even before the pandemic hit and particularly now with the protests happening around our country. Now, more than ever, if you can afford it, please consider supporting valuable publications that employ reputable journalists: NPR, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and more. And while you’re at it, it’s helpful to look outside the U.S. for a global perspective. If you can read the Financial Times, watch BBC News or Al Jazeera, it will open your eyes to how the rest of the world sees issues – and how our own country is viewed by others.

Social media is here to stay and I’ve been just as guilty as the next person of abusing it. But I’m trying hard to practice what I preach every day now: Reading thoroughly and critically, checking sources and facts, pausing before commenting or “liking” a post, ensuring that I not only move away from blatantly false information, but reporting those spreading it – especially those that are clearly fake accounts. And I subscribe to both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, and try to read several other valid news sources weekly. We are all citizens of the world and of social media, and therefore, we all have to take responsibility for making it not just a fun, but safe and informative place to spend time.

 

 

There was Supposed to be a Celebration…

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There was supposed to be a celebration.

Hotel rooms were booked for family flying in. Restaurants were reviewed. Announcements were examined, a cap and gown were on the to-do list.

There was supposed to be a proud walk, across a large stage, students marching up to hear their names called, to hoist a diploma in the air representing four years of hard work. Maybe some caps tossed after the tassels were turned.

There were supposed to be friends, joining in mutual recognition of what has been achieved, of relationships cemented by living and studying together during these past four years.

This strange time in our history has robbed us all of many special events that were on the calendar, but most of all, I am so sorry that it has robbed you, my sweet graduate, of your opportunity to walk across that stage, hoist that diploma, and celebrate your significant accomplishments with family and friends.

I know it may seem of little comfort to you in this moment, but allow me to celebrate you anyway, in this small way, and tell you how very proud I am of you.

Four years ago, you told me and your Dad that you wanted to follow in your sister’s footsteps and swim in college. But of course one that had the right academics and the right “fit” for you, and had football and basketball and all of the other perks of college life. We took some trips and visited some places with and without swim programs, and I’ll confess that I had my doubts about you finding your way onto a Division 1 swim team, as you insisted you could. But like so many times throughout your life, you persisted and proved me wrong, and began your college experience as a D1 student-athlete and journalism major at San Jose State University.

Two years in, it turned out swimming was no longer the right path for you. It was hard transitioning from the routine of a student-athlete. But you didn’t dwell on what could have been. You took your college life into your own hands. You joined a sorority. You worked three different jobs. You wrote for the school paper. And you determined that while you liked to write, journalism might not be your calling after all. You changed your major to Public Relations – a surprise to this day that you’d want to do what Mom does for a living.

During this time, you were named a Dean’s Scholar multiple times. You studied abroad in Italy and applied the wonderful lessons of global travel to your resume. This past semester, you landed an internship at a technology company, while continuing to keep your grades high and work a part-time job. And then COVID-19 decided to interfere with all of your best-laid plans.

The way you’ve navigated through this time might make me prouder than almost anything else you’ve accomplished.  After living on your own as an adult these past four years, it was no small feat moving home temporarily to life with Mom and Dad again (although the cooking must have been an improvement!) and you continued your studies and your internship, working from home. You consoled yourself by FaceTiming with friends and doing workouts online and to be completely honest, most of the time you were the one who helped keep our spirits high. And during this difficult economy, you managed to turn your internship into a full-time job.

This time has been tough and continues to be so. You – and all of your fellow graduates – deserve so much better. But I’m so proud of the way you’ve persevered through your entire college career, from start to finish, and through this difficult time, in particular. I’m so proud of how you tackle life itself.

You are a college graduate. And the world will soon take notice, whether we celebrate now or later, of what an exceptional and talented young woman you are.

Congratulations, Clairebear, and Happy Graduation. I am so very proud to call you my daughter.

Daily (ok, Weekly?) Thoughts: April 23, 2020

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Ok, so I’ve skipped a few days. Or weeks. But does anyone really know what day it is anyway? We’re in our SIXTH week of staying at home and social distancing and I don’t know about you, but even though I’m used to working from home, one day just seems like the next.  So, let’s try to stay grateful, engaged and entertained…

Gratitude: I started working from home in 1993 and have never looked back. All those years ago, there was no Zoom or Skype and I was actually glad for that, given one of the huge benefits of working from home is cutting down the commute time to that thirty-second stroll from coffee maker to desk in PJs, sweatpants, workout clothes – whatever – and not having to do the hair, make-up and dress routine.

So I’m grateful that I have a job that can be done from home and that I’m already accustomed to that routine. All that said, I’ve turned on my camera regularly since this pandemic began because there is so much comfort every day in seeing the faces of my team members and all those with whom I work. I guess that means I’m also grateful that technology has progressed and allowed me to do all of these things. But all those folks who are telling you that you have to get up and shower and get dressed for the office in the morning and only work from your designated workspace and so forth…I mean, if that works for you, go for it. For me, I’ll be in my yoga pants and moving around from my desk to the kitchen to the table in the backyard and happy that I can do so.

Related Quarantine Thankfulness:

Thank you to my hairdresser, Randall Koff, for saving my hair. Given I’ve been on camera more during these Zoom calls, it’s inevitable that first-world vanity would return. Specifically, I had to wonder, how did that grey overtake my entire head of hair?! Thanks to the ingenuity of my hairdresser, I solved that problem last weekend. I made a Venmo payment and she dropped off a home color kit on my doorstep, customized with my hair color and containing all of the things I needed – gloves, clips and most of all – instructions – so that I could apply my own color. With a bit of help from my daughter (the back is very tricky), I successfully applied the color and while we missed a few spots, overall, I’d have to say we did a pretty good job. I feel like myself again and I’m so happy to support Randall until she can get back into the salon and begin seeing clients again.

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Thank you, Sara Goldin, one of the excellent Pilates instructors at Club Pilates for saving my broken body. I found out from a couple of friends that Sara, one of my favorite instructors from my Pilates studio, was conducting daily classes via Zoom. I jumped on twice this week and couldn’t believe what an excellent workout she packed into a little less than an hour. I’ll definitely be returning to the mat with Sara many more times so I can get back into my pre-quarantine shape (or at least as close as possible to it).

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Thank you, Staples, Target, Wayfair and a little help from my family members for my reimagined office space. Despite the fact that I’ve been working from home for 20+ years, I never paid much attention to my office space.  It has a desk, it has a window, it has a chair. I guess I didn’t think there was a point to making it pleasant or interesting and once my laptop and mobile phone became my primary tools, I could make the living room, the kitchen or the backyard my office, too. But given I’m connecting much more often via Zoom these days – both for work and for more recreational meetings like virtual book club – it occurred to me that having a more functional and pleasant office might be worthwhile. With a little help from my older daughter’s eye for design and my hubby’s handyman skills, I redesigned my office space. Not only has this given both me and my other Zoom participants nicer digs to view on calls, it has been a fun quarantine project. I ordered a new chair and desk lamp from Staples, some floating shelves and plants from Target, some new pillows and pillow covers from Wayfair, and dug out some of the artwork, photos and certificates that had been sitting in a pile in my closet, just waiting to be hung on the walls – including my cherished collection of framed album covers. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m pretty pleased with the results to date.

And now, for your shelter-in-place pleasure, some entertainment recommendations.

Today’s Tune: It was a  little more than a year ago that Kurt Cobain decided this world was too much for him. What would he have thought today? What kind of music would he be making? Would Dave Grohl still be his band’s drummer or would he and Kurt have battled for the spotlight and would there be a Foo Fighters? We’ll never know, but we can still enjoy their signature song and to be honest, I’m not sure they could have made anything better.

 

Today’s Book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThis book was published back in 2010 and to be honest, I took no notice of it at the time. Left to my own devices, I’m a novel reader. I will always walk past the non-fiction aisle of the bookstore and head straight for fiction. That’s the great thing about being in a book club the past few years – I’m forced to step outside my comfort zone and read things I’d likely never pick up otherwise. Thankfully, someone in my book club pitched this amazing story. It became a made-for-TV-movie because Oprah took a shine to it, but the book is SO much better than that movie. It’s a fascinating look at the ethical and moral issues behind science and research, the suffering of a woman who unwittingly became critical to the future of medicine, and the human tragedy of a family searching for answers long after their loved one was gone. Author Rebecca Skloot won a ton of awards for this compelling story and deservedly so.

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Today’s bingewatch: Little Fires Everywhere on Hulu. Hulu eeked out this series one episode at a time (like the old days!) and that’s how we watched it in my house, but if you’re not on board yet, the full season just completed this week and you can now binge it. And it’s worth it, because it seems like whatever novels Reese Witherspoon touches these days turns to gold (aka, her previous hit, Big Little Lies). I personally think Kerry Washington is guilty of over-acting in this one, but the rest of the cast  – including Reese, who you will alternately love and hate – do a fine job. Hulu has free trials going on right now and apparently, if you’re a Spotify user, you get Hulu (with a few ads here and there) for free (thanks to my younger daughter for the access!).

Daily Thoughts: April 4, 2020

Welcome to Daily Thoughts post number two.  I don’t know if it’s helping any of you, but it’s helping me, so I’m going to keep it going.

Daily Gratitude: Clifford, our five-year old yellow lab, continues to be our comfort dog. He loves us unconditionally and comes and cuddles when he sees we’re sad. He did this during our kitchen renovation, our evacuation during the wildfires and now, again, as we stay at home. Of course, he’s no doubt loving the extra person in the house, the fact that we never leave him and all the extra walks and playtime. But he’s also putting up with us when we get bored and do things like this…

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Today’s Tune: Younger daughter told us she was watching the Hulu series “High Fidelity” and come to find out, she had no clue it was based on both an excellent movie with John Cusack and before that, an excellent book by Nick Hornby. So today’s tune, book and entertainment suggestions are all related.  The closing song of this movie is a great Stevie Wonder tune that will make you remember just how good Stevie Wonder could be (and will hopefully make you forget some of the lesser stuff he pumped out in the 80s like “I Just Called to Say I Love You” – ugh.). This one is a keeper.

 

Today’s Book: So, yeah, today’s book is High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. And then, if you like that, do yourself a favor and read some of Nick’s other excellent books like About a Boy and Juliet, Naked. Movie version of the latter two not quite as good as the first, though.

Today’s Watch: This movie. This movie. I have seen it maybe ten times, and I’d watch it ten more.  Yes, John Cusack and Joan Cusack do a ton of movies together, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, Jack Black plays the same character in every movie. But in this movie you’re gonna love that character. Also Tim Robbins…I can’t even. For anyone who has ever made a mix tape…just watch it. Let me know what you think (unless you don’t like it and then I don’t want to hear it).

Today’s Quote: It may be one that I just stumbled upon and not one that I’ve had in my back pocket all along, but I think this fits the times we’re living in to a tee. Let’s just not make the same mistake in November, folks, ok?

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Daily Thoughts: April 3, 2020

One thing is for certain during this global crisis and our shelter-in-place orders: we have all been given the gift of time – even if this is not how we’d prefer to spend it!

Most of my extra time is on the weekends when I’d normally be going out to dinner with friends, seeing family, attending concerts and sporting events, and running errands. I’m fortunate that my weekday routines haven’t changed much: I’ve been working from home for 20+ years and can still take daily walks with the dog, so the primary change – beyond missing my Pilates studio classes and interactions – is really the mental part of all this, the knowledge that I CAN’T do whatever I want.

So, I’ve decided to jot down some thoughts and recommendations each day, both to chronicle and help pass the time, and maybe provide some outlet for fun and enjoyment during the long days we’re all spending at home. Each day, I’ll post a “gratitude” – something I’m thankful for, a song I love and am listening to, a poem or quote, some recommendations for books and movies/shows to watch, etc… Maybe some cute puppy pics, along the way. If you have some ideas to add, please share and let’s try to make this time a bit more enjoyable.

Daily Gratitude: It’s no longer March! I’m thankful we’ve turned the page on the calendar. I could swear that March had more than 31 days this year…

Today’s tune: In honor of the recently-departed Bill Withers…it’s physically impossible to hear this song and feel sad.

 

Today’s poem:  The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats. I mean it’s good enough for Joan Didion, so it’s good enough for me.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

 

Today’s Book: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips – it’s captivating and beautifully written and lets you disappear into a multitude of interconnected characters’ lives. This NPR review will tell you more. I highly recommend it.

Today’s Binge-watch: Season 3 of Ozark is amazing. And, of course, if you haven’t already watched Seasons 1 and 2, do that STAT! Season 3 has the twists and turns of previous seasons, and all of the excellent writing and acting that this show has displayed from the start. And if you think staying home is boring, you can live vicariously through Marty Byrd and family since their situation is never boring.

Writing, I’ve Missed You

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I know that I abandoned you for a time.

I’m not sure why. I could use the usual excuses. I was busy with work. I was busy with family. I was busy with household chores. Someone once told me those were good excuses, but excuses nevertheless.

It’s funny to look back now and realize that one of my most productive periods with you was during the busiest time of my life. How did I find the time? If you want something done, they say, ask a busy person.

Now, it seems I have time to spare, time that drags on, hours and days and weeks, counting the time until I can be busy and fill my calendar again. So I’ve returned to you. Because you’ve always been there in good times and bad, in difficult moments, and in cherished ones, to bring me solace, to help me understand, to express what I cannot otherwise articulate.

When I was a child, I found my voice through you. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I needed you as much as I needed food and water. Uprooted and moved from Birmingham to Dallas to Kansas City to Atlanta to San Rafael, back to Birmingham, to La Jolla to Houston, to Palos Verdes and back to San Diego (and I have lost track even now of some of the stops), I found solace in my Dear Diary, my steadfast companion. I wanted normalcy and stability and you heard me, loud and clear, in words I screamed out to the pages within.

While separated by some of these moves, my best friend and I kept our friendship intact by creating magazines for each other. I looked forward to receiving hers in the mail, and even more so, to writing and creating one for her. They extended a necessary lifeline in a chaotic storm.

Through junior high heartbreaks and mean girls and friendships and crushes, I confided in you.  Teachers along the way encouraged and praised, so I began to write stories, but just for me. In high school, I joined the newspaper and for the first time tested the experience of writing for my peers’ eyes to read. It was the most frightening chasm to cross – allowing others to view my words, letting them stand bare on a page for all to judge and critique, but, perhaps, also to enjoy and empathize. Either way, I couldn’t quit you. To write was as natural as breathing by then.

Though there were essays upon essays about English literature in college, I still found time for you, logging pages about the highs and lows, the adventures, the sadness, the heady moments of joy. I still wrote stories, though for no one’s eyes but my own.

Then, a long period of time went by without you. I don’t know how it happened. I married. I had children. I had a thriving business. I was happy. You seemed unnecessary or at least, for a time, unimportant. Days were filled with children’s laughter and crying, work deadlines, and so many activities, and most nights consisted of falling into bed, exhausted, barely able to read a few pages in a book, much less put my own words onto a page.

And then I suddenly needed you – desperately – but I didn’t know it.

Traveling often for work, I suddenly became terrified of flying. Anxiety rocked me weeks before a trip. Terror filled me the night before, so I could not sleep. I would sit on a flight, head leaning against the window on take-off, hiding my face so no one could see my discomfort and tears. Even while on land or in a car, the sight of a plane overhead could elicit panic. It was exhausting and painful both physically and mentally and I didn’t know what to do. The lack of control over my phobia – especially for an admitted control freak – was overwhelming at times.

A family member convinced me to see a hypnotherapist. I was skeptical, of course. But I went. It was entirely different from what I’d expected. The first half hour was an ordinary therapy discussion, followed by a half hour of actual hypnosis. During the first half hour, the therapist asked about my life, my job, and more importantly this:

What have you not done in your life that you’ve always wanted to do?

I had to think long and hard. I acknowledged that I’d always thought I’d be a writer. And that I’d write novels. And clearly, I hadn’t done that.

Why haven’t you done that? 

I don’t know.

Are you writing now? 

No, not really. (Truth was, not at all, except for work)

And why not? 

Because, I explained, I have two young kids, and I’m juggling my family with my business, and my kids’ activities, and I write for work and that takes so much out of me, and oh, I teach aerobics three times a week on top of that, and I just can’t fit anything else into my schedule.

Those are all good excuses. But excuses nevertheless.

After he allowed me to ponder this, he told me that when he put me under hypnosis, he wanted to give me a suggestion to begin writing again. To come back to you. I didn’t understand, but I said that was fine. I didn’t believe him. Even after he successfully hypnotized me, even after I came out of his office feeling as though I’d had the best sleep of my life, I didn’t understand how this could have anything to do with overcoming my fear of flying.

I never went back to hypnotherapy, but over the next three months, something startling happened. I returned to you. I signed up for creative writing extension classes at my alma mater. I wrote short stories – one of which was published. I wrote a novel (still unpublished, but completed, nevertheless). I journaled. I blogged. And something even more amazing happened over the next year – my fear of flying dissipated.

It may be dramatic to say that, at times, you saved my life, but you’ve certainly helped in times of crisis, in times of despair and confusion. And so, I have returned to you.

The words may not be perfect. They may be awkwardly strung together and not form the most cohesive and beautiful sentences. But they are here on the page. Those writing muscles are rusty and soft and altogether underutilized, but they are still here.

Thank you for coming back to me now, in this scary and anxious time, when it’s so hard to make sense of what’s happening in this world. Thank you for, once again, being my companion in fear, anger, sadness, joy, and belief. It’s true, I abandoned you. Yet you have never once abandoned me.

 

It’s Not Just Politics 2: Good People Don’t Continue to Support Bad People

unknownIn 2016, right after the presidential election, I wrote a blog called “”. I was dumbfounded, shocked, and utterly despondent that our country could elect such a terrible human being to the highest office of our land. I heard people who either voted for Trump, didn’t vote at all, or who casted a protest vote for a third party nominee they knew couldn’t win, saying “just give him a chance” and “he can’t be that bad” and “I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for Hillary”. I wanted to try. I wanted to believe he couldn’t be that bad. Really, I did.

Three years later, it’s crystal clear that they were all wrong. Trump is ten times worse than I could have ever imagined. And our country – and real people the world over – are suffering as a result. We’ve rarely had a single hour – much less a single day – without an assault of “what did he do?” or “what did he tweet?” or “oh no, how could he say that?”. It has been a constant barrage of awful – and I’m utterly exhausted from it. And I know I’m not alone.

Now, on the brink of another election that may not even be valid because of the Republican leadership’s refusal to put in place any safeguards against interference (which we know for a fact happened last time), an election that is likely to be full of anger and protests because our country is more divided than ever, I want to ask those same people who either voted for him – or couldn’t bring themselves to vote for – GASP – a Democrat, exactly how bad does it have to get before you stand up for your country, our democracy and most of all, DECENCY?

One argument I hear is “yeah, he’s an idiot, but I like his policies”. Never mind that you’re on board with allowing a terrible and wholly unqualified human being to hold the highest office in our land – one who cheats, lies, lines his own pockets with taxpayer money, refuses to show his tax returns, and demonstrates racism, misogyny and constant signs of utter dim-wittedness on a myriad of issues – I can’t get past that, of course – but let’s talk about those policies you like so much (and do check my hyperlinks for factual back-up of all of these points, in case you’re inclined to do as Trump does and question the legitimacy of a free press in a Democratic society).

Do you like his idea that he can order American businesses to do what he says? You used to call that “socialism” (though most of you don’t even know what socialism actually means nor have you ever lived in a country that practices it) and you railed against it constantly when Obama was president. But I guess you’ve decided you like it now?

Are you a fan of the tariffs and trade wars he has initiated that are causing rising prices and damaging our economy? Funny, I thought you conservatives would never want to do anything to harm farmers, businesses, the American consumer and the precious economy, but I guess you’ve changed your mind.

Perhaps you fiscal conservatives are fond of the record deficit that this White House occupant has driven up during his past three years in office? You complained continually that we had no money to pay for education, infrastructure, healthcare and other priorities that might help America lead in the 21stcentury because you said they would cost too much. But the tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% were cool and so is funding all those Mar-a-Lago and Trump resort trips and don’t forget that border wall that Mexico was going to pay for! $1.067 trillion in debt – the highest the debt has been since 2012, in the aftermath of the financial crisis? I guess you must have changed your mind on those fiscal policies you claimed to favor.

I’m guessing you must be a big fan of the idea to hold secret meetings with the Taliban – a terrorist organization that harbored and helped the people responsible for 9/11 – on U.S. soil?And the timing – just before 9/11- was impeccable, right? Remember when some of you called Obama a Muslim and thought he was in bed with the radical extremists? Even finally doing what the Bush administration couldn’t and killing Bin Laden wasn’t enough to convince you that Obama had America’s best interests at heart, but I guess Trump convinced you that he did when he ignored the pleading of his third and now departed National Security Adviser, his Vice President and I’m guessing nearly everyone else who tries their best to advise the unadvisable, and invited the Taliban to a little get-together on American soil…then tweeted out his cancellation of the meeting. Maybe you ought to start reading something into the fact that this administration has had a record number of job-holders vacate their positions just three years in? Maybe you should also take a look at how many of these folks related to the Trump campaign and administration have been indicted – by Robert Mueller…a Republican. Perhaps you should also remember that the only reason Trump wasn’t? Because Mueller and his team came to the conclusion that a sitting president cannot be indicted. They never said he wasn’t guilty.

I guess like most conservatives (and – you’d be surprised – a lot of liberals), you think that we need to reform immigration policy. But I guess if you like Trump’s policies, you’re in favor of separating young children from their parents, putting them in terrible conditions that will undoubtedly affect them not just physically, but mentally, for years to come – something other countries have clearly called out as a human rights violation – and doing so indefinitely. Yeah, big fan of cruel and unusual punishment to helpless children, myself…

Perhaps you like the shifting of $3.6 billion in military construction initiatives towards building that border wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for? Oh, I know, you’d be out in the fields picking strawberries, doing your own damn gardening and sending your housekeeper on her way if it wasn’t for all those Mexicans taking those jobs you so want for yourself. But do you really believe building a wall that requires taking away land from private citizens and will only be possible if we take funding from the military that conservatives profess to love so very much is a good policy? I guess you aren’t convinced that this is a supremely bad idea – not even after the U.S. Air Force report that shows that diverting funding from the 51 targeted projects will actually pose national security risks? I guess not.

Maybe your favorite policy is the introduction of that rule that says those serving in our military – serving our country and living on military bases abroad –  now cannot guarantee U.S. citizenship for any children born to them abroad? Because you’re a patriot and you stand behind our military, don’t you? So you’re certainly on board with taking away their rights as citizens of the U.S. when they’re – you know – serving the U.S. interests abroad.

Maybe you’re just a big NRA fan and not part of the 90% of Americans who are tired of watching mass shooting after mass shooting take innocent lives and want better background checks and gun controlI can certainly understand that you like the Trump policy of doing whatever the NRA tells him to do. And you probably forgot that even under your conservative hero, Ronald Reagan, we enacted gun legislation that worked.

Speaking of Reagan, who must be rolling in his grave at this point, you must have forgotten that he was actually quite an environmentalist because it seems you’re in favor of all those Trump roll-backs of anything Obama’s EPA did to ensure our water and air stays clean, that polluters are punished, and that we try to move into the 21stcentury by using things like energy-efficient lightbulbs. Well, but he has such a good argument, that you’re surely in favor of, right? The lightbulbs “make him” orange, after all, and well, if Obama did it, it must be bad. I guess you think policies should be based on good reasons like this and we should enact them via tweets.

Do tell which of these policies exactly allow you to continue to put blinders on when faced with the despicable behavior of a man that – if you’re honest – you would NEVER associate with in your everyday life. Had your sister met this guy in high school, you would have, as Joe Biden says, taken him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him. If your brother was friends with this guy, you would have gone right to your parents to let them know that you were worried about the crowd your sibling was hanging around. If your parents said they were thinking about going into business with this guy – a guy that has bankrupted nearly all of his endeavors – you’d tell them they were crazy and to stay away from the con man. The guy has been married three times, dumping his previous wives for the one that came after, he has paid off porn stars, and there is video evidence of him saying horrifyingly sexist and misogynistic things. He has called Nazis “fine people” while refusing to call out white supremacy. He has told more than 12,000 lies or misleading claims since taking office. But I get it. Those policies you love are worth having this guy lead and represent our country and be a role model to young children across the country. After all, you’re for family values and boy does Trump model them like no other, right? The saddest thing – I’m how many pages in? And I have barely scratched the surface of the awful things Trump has done in just three years.

Let’s be honest: both the man and the policies stink and you’re afraid to put aside your partisan views and vote for your country, its democracy and ideals first. Stop telling us the lies about loving his policies. You didn’t love them before. You don’t love them now. You only love the idea of blind loyalty to a party and hatred for the one that opposes it.

I’m a life-long Democrat and liberal (though I have voted for a Republican before because, when faced with a bad person, I vote for the good one). I didn’t vote for Nixon, Bush the first, Reagan, or Bush the second. But I lived through them. And I’m no worse off today because of any of them. And while I vehemently disagreed with many of their policies, I never for a second doubted that they loved their country and had its best interests at heart. You know that’s the same for you with Carter, Clinton and Obama whether you voted for them or not, whether you liked or hated them, whether you want to admit it or stubbornly refuse to do so.

I don’t know how much worse it has to get before good people (or what I thought were good people) decide that a very bad man should not be allowed to sit in the highest office of our land and represent our country on the world stage. I don’t know how much worse it has to get before these good people recognize that no policy is worth allowing a liar and a cheat who demeans people constantly, to get richer and more powerful at our expense. I don’t know how much worse it has to get before these same people admit that they were wrong, that they’re just clinging to a party-first mindset and ignoring the fact that none of these policies are actually things they want or agree with. And I don’t know how long before they will see that by accepting this man, these policies, they are allowing our country to lose its way, allowing our democracy to be threatened, and our place in the world to be diminished, and that these things pose real danger for real people everywhere. I don’t know how long before good people realize that history will look back on them some day with shock and horror that they allowed a criminal to sit in the White House and spread corruption across our Nation.

Good people make mistakes. But if they are truly good people, they are big enough to admit them and do all they can to correct them. If you’re one of these people, and faced with all that we’ve seen in the past three years, still can’t bring yourself to vote for anyone who runs against this corruption and criminality, then I have to say, I just don’t know how long I can call you “good people” anymore.

You Don’t Know How it Feels…Or Maybe You Do.

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I had last seen Tom Petty in 1981. I wasn’t about to miss what was billed as his 40th anniversary tour with the Heartbreakers and what he, himself, said might be his last tour. And turns out, sadly, he was right about that “last” bit.

Well, it was nearly Summer as we sat on your roof
Yeah, we smoked cigarettes and we stared at the moon
And I showed you stars you never could see
It couldn’t have been that easy to forget about me

It seemed an eternity between the time I bought the tickets – as soon as they went on sale – and the night we finally walked up the familiar path to the Hollywood Bowl. Side note: you haven’t really lived until you’ve experienced the magic of the Bowl in the waning days of summer. Or in Los Angeles, well into September, during what…

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