Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Still Hoping

Four years ago today, I was packing a suitcase, loading the car with bicycles and bottled water, delivering dog medicines to the neighbor, and making a new sign for my yard that read:  "You can steal my sign, but you can't steal my vote!"

I was on my way to the doorsteps of voters in New Mexico, one of the purple states in 2008. We were determined to be moving parts in the machinery working tirelessly to elect Barack Obama.  New Mexico was the closest place to go to make a difference.

We spent four days walking and talking and bicycling up and down the industrial side streets of Clovis. We worked feverishly until the polls closed at 7 PM on Tuesday, November 4...our youngest son's birthday. When the state was declared for Obama shortly before 8 PM in New Mexico, the tiny abandoned insurance office that was packed to the window sills with Obama workers erupted in a kind of joy I had never experienced in my life, and never expect to experience again. 

The 2008 election was big.  Very big. 

Today, four years later, I visited my local Obama office to pick up some buttons and t-shirts and smile and wave guiltily at the people sitting at telephones talking to voters in Florida. 

I straightened my yard sign, which has not been tampered with even once this year. 

I will make a pot of chili and light the jack-o-lantern on the front porch.

I will wait for trick-or-treaters.

And then I will wait for Tuesday. 

The 2012 election is big.  It is very big. 

I cannot imagine changing partners in our dance of hope and change right now. I believe it would be disastrous for the country. Here's how I see it...
Barack Obama has not failed to deliver - he has delivered and delivered and delivered.
His list of promises in 2008 was long. It seems reasonable that 8 years might be needed.

His assumptions about bi-partisan comraderie in Congress were inexperienced.
As my husband is fond of saying, Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want.
Who can doubt the President has experience now?

I have taken a donor's seat this election season.  I have left the door-knocking and phone-calling tasks that stretch me waaaay beyond my comfort zone to others.  But I have not given up hoping and believing in change that really will make this nation lead in the ways of integrity and compassion and peace. 

Four more years.  That's what we need. 
Obama Pumpkin


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ode to McGovern

I can say nothing about George McGovern you might not read elsewhere,  more elegantly and informatively stated.  I will only summarize here by saying  the man was an old school politician and a decorated World War II pilot - a  US Senator of considerable influence for many years who knew the real cost of war. 

He thought the price was too high. 

In November of 1972, I was one of the brand-spanking-new 18-year old voters lining up to exercise my recently ratified right under the 26th amendment to the US Constitution.  I was a sophomore in college.  I had been too young in the late 60s, really, to have understood fully - much less participated in - the Vietnam War, the work of Students for a Democratic Society, or Woodstock

My primary concern in the fall of 1972 was whether or not I had a date on a Saturday night. 

But, I was fired up about voting. 

A new precinct had been added to my college campus.  We enthusiastic 18-year old voters were feeling quite santicmonious.  After all, we spouted with indignation whenever anyone would listen, "If we're old enough to fight - we should be able to vote."   

But there was no 24-hour news cycle or Twitter or online access to the New York Times.  These were the days of the Yellow Dog Democrat majority in Texas - which made me slightly wary of any candidate on that ticket. 

So here's how I decided who to vote for.  I asked my dad.  He told me to vote for Nixon or expect the end of the material world I'd come to know and depend upon. 

And that's what I did.  I voted for Nixon.  Along with 61% of America.  George McGovern won only one state on November 7, 1972. Massachusettes. 

Less than two years later, I sat on a stool in a dark television studio control room, watching the place counter on a two-inch video tape machine.  I was looking for a sound bite to air on the 10 o'clock newscast I produced. Richard Nixon was resigning, in shame, from office.

I decided on that night I would never rely on anyone else to tell me who to vote for.  Ever. 

Are you listening to your own hearts and voices young voters of America?  
It's a secret ballot.
Choose your own candidate. 

Today - 40 years later - I celebrate the man who really spoke my mind in 1972: George McGovern.  May he rest in...


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What a Debate Is...And Isn't

I received an email this afternoon that began like this:

Dear Jan,

Tonight's debate could determine the future of our country.

(Sigh.  Heavy, depressed, exhausted sigh.)  Here's what I'd like to say about that.
Dear Writer of Fear Engaging Email,

I am not worried about my candidate tonight.  Nor am I worried the future of our country is going into the tank in 90-minutes this evening while every political wonk in the USA is watching, tweeting, and analyzing.  I am worried about an intellectual economy that places so much currency in the bank of Prime Time Entertainment and Twittered Instant Replays and Pundit Score Cards. 

Really?  The future of our country is going to be determined by one pre-election debate?  Really? 

Is there a nuclear bomb at the ready if Governor Romney out smart-asses the President tonight?  Is Wall Street going dark in the morning if President Obama rips the Governor a new one?  Will our clean water stop running in our sinks, our debit cards fail to work at the grocery store, our schools turn our children away at the door if one man out wits another?  

Surely not. 

Surely the people who care to exercise their constitutional right to cast a vote for the presidential candidate of their choice in 21-days have cared enough to weigh in/read up/pay attention before tonight.  Surely we recognize this Debate Extravaganza as the free advertising it is - for both candidates - and the blood sport that it is for people who make their livings telling us all how we should feel and think and vote. 

Really?  A 90-minute debate is going to turn this election? 
Political scientists don't think so.
I don't think so.
I'm betting TV executives do.

What I think is this: 15-seconds standing alone in a room with a ballot and a pencil sometime between now and November 6 will decide this election...and it will, perhaps, determine the way the breeze blows across the fields that are the future of our country. 

Tonight, the sky is not falling...

No matter who wins or loses.

Let's all pour ourselves a glass of wine, breathe, and enjoy this televised event for what it is: An opportunity to cheer for our candidate. 

It is not the beginning of the end of our future. 


Friday, October 12, 2012

Altered Realities

Mornings have changed at my house. 

I noticed it Monday.  The light and shadows had changed in the kitchen.  For some reason, it reminded me of a winter day, which was odd because here in Texas we are easily three months away from anything that resembles a winter day.  I didn't give it a second thought until Tuesday...which was when I began to wonder if my senses were unusually heightened for some reason, beckoning me to notice a change of seasonal light earlier than I ever had before.  You know...a new superpower or something. 

By Wednesday I had it figured out.

The neighbor behind us had removed two gigantic trees from his yard.  I listened to the chain saws and watched men swing from ropes for three or four days last week.  The next door neighbor and I had puzzled over the work, in fact, wondering together if a pool or sport court might be on the drawing board behind us. Why else would you take out perfectly good trees?  It certainly didn't occur to me to consider the absence of my neighbor's trees as having any noticeable impact on me. 

Until Wednesday.

It felt like winter in my kitchen because those trees that had filtered the day's early light were gone. I was being treated to an early and permanent version of the 6-8 weeks of the year when the trees were leafless. There is now a gaping hole in my morning world.  I would be lying if I said that didn't unsettle me a bit.  I had a real urge to ring my neighbor's doorbell and talk at length about the change his actions had made in my house. I really wanted, no, I needed to know what was behind the decision to fell two beautiful trees and rearrange my morning light. 

I managed to breathe through the urge to impose my tiny whining misery on a perfectly nice neighbor.

Of course this neighbor did not consult me before moving forward on the tree removal is, after all, his yard and they were his trees.  We exchange occasional pleasantries across the back fence, but never discuss much more than the weather.  The tree operation was not my business, really - it was simply an opportunity to adjust my expectations. 

Realizing the powerlessness of my role in this mostly insignificant attack on daily reality took me directly from my cozy, safe, light-altered kitchen to Afghanistan...

Can you imagine waking up in Afghanistan 11 years ago (this week) to find American armies in your backyard for reasons you knew nothing about?  Rather than adjusting to a change in morning light over the years that have passed, you likely would have had to adjust to fewer men and boys in your house, or one less cow to milk for your family's daily sustenance, or the loss of crop fields trampled by boots of marching troops. You might not even have a village anymore.

That's how it's happened for most of the people of Afghanistan, you know. A war they knew nothing about showed up in their morning light one day, and it has stayed eleven years. It is none of their business, really...just an opportunity for them to adjust to a new and lingering reality. 

I'm betting it's been unsettling. 

I'm guessing they'd like to know what was behind the decision to bring so many years of violence and unrest to their country. 

I'm thinking it's time to build them a pool or a sport court...a hospital or a school...and leave. 



Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Pertinent Question

Today I have come up with the perfect, define-the-candidate question for the next presidential debate. 

Have you ever painted a floor? 

Well.  Have YOU? 

If you have painted a floor, you likely understand the seriousness of the question. 

I have just painted my first floor. Today. And I feel pretty certain a successfully painted floor is no less a feat for a thoughtful, critical thinking, problem solving, patient person than whatever work it takes to earn a Nobel Peace Prize.

Bear with me.

For starters, if you've painted a floor it's likely because you were stuck with a mostly unbearable situation, coupled with some limits on what you could do to make it better.  I mean, why else would a person paint a floor?  Really.  There are contractors who happily come into your home and tear up an ugly floor to replace it with a new one.  But the limits are an issue. A significant one.

So you decide to paint.  The next step is research and advice.  You must plug the factors of your existing floor situation into the DIY equation.  What's the existing surface?  Can it be prepped without unrealistic expense and labor?  Is one solvent/sandpaper/paint/polyurethane better than another?  Is the woman who works the paint counter at the local hardware store as knowledgeable as you are?  When she says, "Well, I can't guarantee the results," do you abandon the project entirely or push on? 

 Once pushing on is chosen, there's the terribly un-fun work of preparation.  First, patching.  Yes, there are holes in the old floor that need to be filled.  Ugh.  Boring.  Perhaps, if you are me, this work is slightly outside your skill set.  But you are determined. 

Then comes mopping with a chemical that requires goggles and gloves, mopping again with water, scraping with a wire brush, mopping again.  (An aside for your amusement:  My bathroom floor has now been mopped more times in 24 hours than it has been in 24 years. I'm pretty sure of this.)  Once the tedious, unglamorous, back breaking work of mopping is finished, some real change begins.


I can't tell you what lengths I usually go to to avoid primer when I'm painting.  It just seems like a completely useless step in the process of changing something from one color to another.  I like quick results.  Primer just delays that satisfaction.  Right?

But this is a floor, for pity's sake.  That means it will endure human foot traffic and human droppage, and perhaps an occasional human mopping.  Primer seems like a reasonable - albeit unsatisfying - step in the process.  Some change is noticeable...but it's not mind blowing.  At priming, we are a long way from the finished product. 

And then, primer must dry.  Completely.  Does the phrase, "as exciting as watching paint dry" conjure up anything for you?  Still, this is a necessary step, I am told, if you want the cure to your previously mentioned unbearable floor situation to stick.  So you open the windows and wait.

The next day is the fun day.  New color on the floor.  You're excited as you pour the beautiful terra cotta paint out of the can and get brushes and rollers ready.  Oh, oops, except it's probably a good idea to tape the edges around the floor so your adjoining almost-new carpet doesn't also end up terra cotta.

Then - finally - the starter's pistol - "Woman, start your painting!"

If you have painted a floor, I'm sure you are laughing now.  You are thinking..."This nut is going to paint herself into a corner, sure as the world." 

Ha!  In fact, the phrase "painting yourself into a corner" is a very recurrent one for a writer of fiction, and I had a plan to avoid it.  My "absolute essentials" had been spirited from this bathroom to another and I had mapped out (during primer phase) the place to start the work and end it so I would not be trapped. 

But execution of the plan is not as easy as you might think.  First, there is paint involved, and paint always has a way of being the boss of the application situation.  There are also doors to consider. should paint behind them before you paint in front of them.  And toilets (if you're painting a bathroom floor). Painting around a toilet requires a generous helping of ambidextrous and head-standing talent when the floor around you is fresh, wet terra cotta.

Then there's the whole squatting/standing thing. Trust me when I tell to beware of getting caught in a tightly painted circle with nothing to grab onto to help yourself stand. Ouch. Who knew yoga would come through so amazingly in the middle of a painting project?

The ultimate goal, of course, is to paint yourself OUT of the room without stepping into anything.  Anything meaning, you know...paint.  Because if you do that, well...everyone will be able to follow your trail of failure for years to come. 

And then there's more waiting for paint to dry.  Which gives you waaaay too much time to think:

What if it doesn't dry?
What if it comes up with the tape?
What if it really can't stand up to the dripping water from the shower door?
What if my husband hates it?
Is painting a floor the stupidest thing anyone has ever done?
What if the woman at Lowes was right?
Yikes! How do I get to my clothes in the closet on the other side of the sticky floor? 

If you have painted a floor successfully - I applaud you and bow to your ingenuity and celebrate your genius.  You used limited resources to solve an unbearable problem.  I will assume you are walking on the floor, spilling things and mopping them up, and receiving lovely comments about your artistry, your industriousness, your patience. 

The jury is still out on mine. 

What about Governor Romney?  President Obama?  Do you think either man has tested his problem solving skills with a brush, a roller, and a gallon of thick, sticky goo?

Hmmmm.  Surely being President for three and a half years gives a person some floor painting cred. 

Still...a good question.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Extra Innings

Okay. I won't hide today. I won't throw you a tender piece about my growing children, or wax on about the lovely locally grown produce in my fridge, or jump across continents and oceans to Syria to ponder a revolution in trouble.  I'll sit right here and say it:  Our guy did not shine last night. 

He was given opportunity upon opportunity to lean onto his elbows, look across the gap that was designated-debate-space and say, "Really?" or "Are you kidding me?" or "Bullshit!"  Instead he smiled and scanned his notes, which I am imagining had big highlighted red letters that said: DON'T REACT or STAY CALM or DON'T SWING AT THOSE PITCHES. 

Which, of course, didn't make it much of a ballgame. 

It was not a runaway game, to say the least...but Governor Romney definitely managed some base hits.  And he threw at least one of his curve ball zingers across the plate: 

Mr. can have your own house.  You can have your own plane.  But you cannot have your own facts. 

Couldn't the President have managed a simple back atcha! on that one?

(My other fave was, I have five sons, so I'm used to dealing with liars. Oh. My. Awful.)

I console myself today with yesterday when we were all saying: It is Obama's to lose...All he has to do is not mess up.

He did not mess up.  He didn't stutter or swear or sweat.  He didn't insult Christians or Muslims or his own children. 

What he did do was miss closing the game with a fastball thrown undeniably in the strike zone. 

I'm not much of a baseball fan, but I am an American.  I know the meaning of a full count in the bottom of the 9th with a runner on 3rd ready to head for home plate and extra innings.

My team's pitcher walked the batter last night. What we have today is an extra inning.

Romney kept his team in the game, somehow...and that's just the truth. 

So, President Obama, have no fear.  We have not left the ballfield.  We're still here cheering you on and we'll stay for as many innings as you play.  But please don't miss the ump's next call your direction...

Batter up!

Political Cartoon by R. J. Matson, The New York Observer.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Sweet Debate Treats

Round 1.  It's ON. 

The first presidential debate: The defining moment. The separating of a sheep from a goat...a man from a Superman....a professor/business professional from a president.

For Republicans, it is the hoped for reenactment of October 28, 1980, when Ronald Reagan snatched victory from the pollsters, who had incumbent Jimmy Carter cruising to re-election.

It's the day Mitt Romney hopes the big, leaky ship that is his transportation to the White House will right itself and head full steam ahead. 

And here's how he plans to do that:
Mr. Romney’s team has concluded that debates are about creating moments and has equipped him with a series of zingers that he has memorized and has been practicing on aides since August. His strategy includes luring the president into appearing smug or evasive about his responsibility for the economy.

Really? I am so embarrassed for the GOP.  The party's language has been course, its strategy has been weak, the in-fighting all too entertaining.  If Mitt Romney CAN pull this campaign out of the circular path around the drain - well, maybe he can also work some kind of unknowable magic from the oval office. 

He is on his own tonight.  Thank God. 

I am so weary of the machine that works the hands and mouths from the backs of Republican candidates, I could cry.  Perhaps Mitt Romney will come to the stage tonight with a resolve to be Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  It would serve him well.  He will be nose to nose with the President of the United States...a man who stands before the people packaged in a four year record with a focused resolve to move forward, not as someone dressed in the pokings and proddings of small thinkers with big checkbooks. 

Honestly, Mr. Romney has to be hoping for an Obama fumble.  Which, of course, only works in his favor if he's quick enough to recover the ball and dart in the direction of the end zone. 

Sadly, for the GOP candidate, the folks standing along the sidelines cheering him on seem to point every direction but the right one.  For all they know, the way to score is to run the ball to the concession stand. 

I can hardly wait to see what happens.

Meanwhile, I'm off to find some Hostess treats to offer up tonight over debate watching. 
Serving Zingers, re-election style.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Fears Not Years

“It's paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn't appeal to anyone.”  - Andy Rooney
My mother says it often.  Aging is not for sissies.  She is 81 - still lives a lovely life in her own beautifully decorated home, still remembers the name and birthday of everyone in the whole wide world...including her favorite cashier at the grocery store, and still makes the most coveted pan of brownies in the entire state of Texas.  I keep telling her she has set the bar fairly high for growing old with style.  She keeps reminding me that all I need to know is that aging is not for the faint of heart. 
In our beauty-obsessed culture, most of us hear complaints about growing old in the context of a fading brilliance in front of the mirror:  Oh, the graying hairs, the wrinkling brows, the sagging chins, the blocky mid-sections.  If we think much beyond that point in our 50s and 60s, it is probably to fear for our ability to remember people and places and important words, because we believe it is already happening to us. 
But I have seen the true late afternoon of life this weekend, in the home of our beautiful friends Bruce and Anna Marie, and I am here to report there is something important to be said about going into the last of life's day with no fear. 
Bruce is 97, Anna Marie is 95.  When we met this beautiful pair in 1983 they were 68 and 66, the oldest but most vibrant members of the circle of friends who became like family to a couple of brand new parents wandering the near soullessness that is/was suburban Dallas.  Our oldest son latched onto them, and they to him...we really had no choice in the matter. Never doubt a 2-year old's assessment of a person's character...that's what we learned from that experience. 
Bruce & Anna Marie with our young son.  1986
These are two of the most magnificent humans who have ever walked the planet.  Their stories are inspiring to the point of celebration - which I am happy to say has recently happened in their Dallas faith community, and also with a story in The Dallas Voice.  (It would not waste your time to hear/read the tales of this lovely couple.)  But our visit with them yesterday, in the home they have lived in for 49 years, may be the most critical piece of their work in the Circle of Life for me. 
They have been fearlessly ageless for so long.  Never afraid to befriend someone outside their own generation, always eager to change if change was called for, open to new ideas (four years ago, Anna Marie insisted we buy her her first margarita!) and cultures, music and thoughts. But now the simple accumulation of calendar years seems to be eclipsing Bruce and Anna Marie's will to stay young.  They are mostly home bound, somewhat confused about who and what and where, and dependent upon others for nearly every human need. 
Even so - they seem completely fearless. 
Bruce, who just 18 months ago was still articulating with eloquence and great clarity his enormous disappointment with the way the Church has excluded homosexuals from full fellowship was - yesterday - almost completely mute during our visit.  He spoke a short prayer over our lunch, but that was it.  There was never any real recognition on his face while we were there - strangers is what we were.  But somehow he welcomed us with a conveyed grace that was unafraid, even as he sat in the company of strangers.
Anna Marie was ebullient and very present, but quick to admit that she didn't really remember much of anything anymore - not her years in Louisiana, not her trips to Japan, not even her broken hip two years ago.  "I know those things happened," she told me while we filled glasses with ice and set the table for lunch, "But I don't remember any of it." 
"What about Bruce?" I asked.  "Do you miss the old Bruce?" 
"Oh," she said, laughing. "He seems the same to me." 
Bruce & Anna Marie in their home.  2012
 As the Day of our Lives begins to fade to night, isn't it wonderful to picture it as a time of stillness and ease and appreciation for the moment that is.  It is as if Anna Marie and Bruce are sitting on the shore of an expansive lake watching the sunset.  The memory of the day's brilliant sun and busy activities seems unimportant in the gentleness and quiet wonder that is the magic of reflected colors on water, slight breezes, cooling temperatures. 
In such a moment, all you need is someone to turn to to say "Wow!" 
“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.”  - Robert Frost

We may as well, then, live by the words of my old boss, R. B. McAlister...television station owner, state representative, sage:
Fears, not years, make men (& women) old.