All the Good I See

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I thought tensions couldn’t get any worse after last election. I think I deserve an award for my ability to vastly underestimate things. Over half of this country is experiencing emotional distress over the election. This stuff is big, and it’s real, and it’s hurting us all.

As I read the comments (my biggest weakness and the biggest source of my depression and stress) I think, “The goal now is to say the meanest, most hateful things imaginable.” Instead of making a point anymore, everyone’s goal is to hurt. That activity used to be limited to trolls. Now everyone is doing it.

If you’re like me, you tend to read more closely the comments of people who disagree with you. In doing so, you’re going to see some horrific stuff. And in seeing that, it really does seem like one side is evil and one side is good. Here’s the problem with that assessment, if you look more closely, you’ll see the really nasty stuff coming from everyone. This, by the way, is not an invitation to point out that the other side is worse. That isn’t my point. My point is, statistically, it’s pretty impossible for everyone to be evil.

The human response to danger is fight or flight. When fighting for survival, we do whatever we need to, without concern with what will be polite or kind. Online, we are fighting (or flighting) with words. It’s all we have, and it’s what we do.

“But,” we think of our political opposites, “how can you believe that?? You are an idiot! And your idiocy is endangering me and my loved ones!!”

Stop – let’s look at that. “Endangering me and my loved ones.”
Do you believe that? I’ll admit I do. It’s a terrible feeling, the kind of feeling that has me refreshing my news source websites over and over to see what’s going to happen next.

Now…. Can’t you imagine the other side thinks that too? Please stop and try to imagine that. It will help.

“But,” we insist, “they’re WRONG! Look at these facts!”

Here’s the problem with that: Both sides have facts. In this wonderful world of information, every person who has access to the internet has access to the facts they need to back up their beliefs. EVERYONE. The information doesn’t have to be accurate to be frightening and polarizing, it just needs to be convincing. And people who already believe something are very unlikely to look for facts to disprove their beliefs.

So what do we have? Pretty near an entire country of people who believe (based on information they can cite, link to, and have heard trustworthy folks in suits confirm) that they and their loved ones will be in grave danger if their political opponent wins.

This pervasive fear means something, though: No matter what happens, we have all already lost. We are a nation afraid. We are a nation angry and hurting and feeling betrayed by our government and our neighbors. We have lost trust in our friends and lost respect for diverse opinions in our communities. We have been blatantly, and in some cases gleefully, used against one another for political and financial gain. More people watch the news than ever because of the lunacy that has been this election. Ratings mean money.

The morning after the election, both candidates will be fine. Whoever loses will be disappointed but convinced that there was nothing more they could have done. They will assure themselves and their family that the deck was stacked against them. They’ll be prepared to regroup and leverage their nearly successful presidential campaign toward something lucrative.

The rest of us, though, will still be hurting. We’ll either be paralyzed by the fear of the dangers we were promised were sure to come, or we’ll be continuing to harbor distrust. We’ll all be mourning the loss of friendships and the absent goodwill of neighbors. Some will be so angry and in disbelief of the results, they’ll be considering revolution.

It will be hard for us to move past this. I’ve stopped believing that there will be any relief on November 9th when this is all over.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from this election, it’s that there are no words or arguments or explanations that will change anyone’s mind. The only things I have power over are my vote and my attitude.

I’m owning that power.

The fact is, I don’t feel any better distrusting or disliking anyone who disagrees with me politically. Yeah, there are assholes out there, and there are some really evil menaces in our country. But I’ve begun to see that people who don’t share my views are voting for what they see as the safest option. They are trying to mitigate danger and ensure the security of their families based on the information they have. Like me, they are afraid. I may not think they have the facts right, but I can empathize with wanting to protect their loved ones.

Realizing that makes me feel better. Looking for the good in people helps me.

For example: I’m sure my neighbor Bill and I have political differences. I don’t know him well. We sure don’t talk politics, but I have a hunch we’re not on the same page politically. Bill is a big guy – tall and slightly stooped with a white beard. He usually wears a straw hat and long sleeves, even in the heat. Every day, he walks his tiny dog, taking her patiently to all the paces she wants to go. Sometimes he looks a little tired, like he’s ready to go home, but he waits for her. I like that. I don’t know how he votes, but I think he’s kind.

I have a relative I know believes different things than me. He can be a little gruff about it. But he’s a hard worker who does generous things for his family (which also happens to be my family). He is devoted to his wife and good to animals.

I don’t know what everyone on my fb friends list believes, but I know they are my friends because they are good, honorable people. So there are 118 people who aren’t actually evil jerks, despite what those on opposing political sides would say about them.

At the end of the day, these people –my friends, neighbors and coworkers — all still have to live and work with one another. And honestly, it’s not worth it to me to believe the worst in them.

The American people have already lost this election. We’ve lost so much, and I’m not sure how long it will take us to recover. I have friends who say, “How can I know what these people believe and still have respect for them?”

Maybe we need to be more careful about what we attribute to others, especially ones we know and once respected. A vote for a candidate doesn’t make someone that candidate. Being on one side of an issue doesn’t mean alignment with the fringiest ideas on that side.

But most importantly, it doesn’t do our hearts and souls any good to condemn so many people. I’m so tired and frustrated and scared. I think everyone is. The only way I can move on is to believe in people’s best intentions and look for the good in the folks I see in real life.  And (as always) stay out of the comments sections. When will I learn?

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Foldy Time

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I’m not good with time. Kind of chronically. I’m late a lot. And, for some reason, I think a weekend lasts at least as long as a work week. Sunday evenings are always a disappointed scramble to finish the loads of laundry I thought I had another three days to do.

One thing I notice about time is that it folds over on itself, like the paper fans I used to make when I was little. Second, minute, hour, day, month, year – fold, second minute, hour… When I was a kid, the fold would be on the month, or even the week, or both. I’m probably due for an upgrade any time, and I’ll have my fold on the decade.

When an important event from this year folds on top of a similar important time from the past, a hole is poked into the time between the two events. Then, I can see through it to the event in the past, sort of like brutal, accidental time travel. All that foldy time is jabbed with something sharp and metal, and for some reason, I’m the one bleeding from the puncture.

I suppose it’s not always brutal. Sometimes, it can be a gentle poke and a glimpse into past springs or happy Christmases, or joyous weddings.

But often something has changed, and the difference, good or bad, is painful. Anyone who has suffered loss knows how vicious the jab is between this birthday or holiday and the last happy one with that person. It makes you avoid looking at calendars and keep the shades closed and the lamps lit at all times, so weather changes can’t trick you into stabbing time. None of that matters, because you always know, and it always happens.

My latest time jab was gentler than that, but still brought tears to my eyes. It was just a little day in August when I brought a small boy to kindergarten, poked through to last year in August when he still said “becited and bessert.” And another to the year before in August when he would call, “Wook, Mommy!” And on through diapers and pacifiers. All the way back to when I was a startled, confused and exhausted new mother holding a squirming, befuddling little creature who was so bewitching, I could barely breathe.

It seems like time has folded really quickly since then, and there are a thousand tiny pokes through time to all the little hims he used to be.

But before I get too teary eyed, I remember that these little spots will get folded over again, and before I know it, I’ll get to see all the new little and bigger hims he gets to be. I’m sure curious to meet these hims, but I’m not rushing things. I have a few thousand days left of him in kindergarten, right?

(reposted from last year – but same teary right before school starts)

On the Reality of Magic

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Sunset Magic – photo credit Jan C. Wood

Give me a story where a woman walks out of a cookie-cutter suburban home, steps too forcefully on a cement paver, and bounces onto a sturdy branch of her neighbor’s mulberry tree.

Tell me about a boy who falls asleep in English class and gets in trouble in school because he stays up all night drawing creatures that crawl out of the pages of his sketch pads to steal his socks.

Let me see an insurance adjuster, worried about being laid off, who misdials his business phone and has a tearful conversation with his teenage self.

I want stories about things that shouldn’t happen but do. They happen not because it’s a fantasy world, but because someone right here, right now is so happy or sad or angry that the very laws of physics no longer apply.

Why does Magical Realism appeal to me? Not because it’s an escape from the real world but because it’s a reflection of the real world.

Too often, we’re encouraged to find a reasonable explanation for the unreasonable. One day you’re a normal person, and then you fall in love, and the very fabric of reality changes. The air tastes sweet and all the musicians, even the dead ones, have written a song about you. You experience loss, and the actual color disappears from life. All you can see are drab shades of brown and gray, and the only flavors in your food are salt and sour. You have a child, and you have to figure out how to restrain the power inside yourself; you fear and revel in your own potential to be a vicious blood-thirsty monster if some unwary soul threatens your baby.

A boy looks perfectly normal – maybe a little late to speak – and one day, he sits down at a piano and pulls notes from the heavens.

A little girl picks up a paint brush because she can’t keep her hands still, and with small fingers and department store paints, she creates images to make a grown man cry.

Magical Realism is that – it’s acknowledging the inexplicable in the world and electing not to assign a “reasonable explanation” for it. But it does it without untethering everything else from reality. If the woman lives in a world where everyone bounces into trees, or all boys bring hand-drawn creatures to life, or insurance adjusters make daily calls to their past selves, then the story becomes fantasy or even absurdity.

I find a story most compelling when it could happen to you or me, and not in some scientifically advanced future but now, and not in some glittering world accessed through a portal, but here.

It’s compelling because, if we are honest with ourselves, it is the truest reflection of the real world. Because when we try to explain why we fell in love, or why that one guy’s handshake makes us shudder and step away, or why that deep golden too-hot part of a Sunday afternoon brings an ache to our chest, we can’t. We tell ourselves a lie about it that makes sense. We make realistic the magical. And too often, we believe our own mundane explanations.

That’s why I read Magical Realism. That’s why I write it. If I didn’t, it would be at best a missed opportunity and at worst, a lie.

My Magical Realism book, Bright Aster, is available through Amazon.

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This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. Over twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2016) these blogs will be posting about Magical Realism. Please take the time to click on the links below to visit them and remember that links to new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.

An Obvious Miscalculation

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Guy Rose [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“You’re so beautiful,” he says, with a sweet smile.
I love that smile. It’s like a special secret.
I smile back, and I think I even say thank you. This time.

This, the smile back, is honest and so is the appreciation. But…

“You’re so beautiful,” he has said. The same way he has said, contentedly, “I love to hold your hand.” The same voice and the same gentleness, and I know he’s not lying, but it has taken a lot of effort on my part to keep myself from arguing.

“You’re so beautiful,” he would say.
And I would say, “No, I’m not.”
And inside, I would say, “This is ridiculous. Has he not seen the research?!”
And up against the three words from the man I love, who also loves me, is decades of statistical data explaining why, specifically, I am not beautiful. And images of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of models who are our society’s definition of beautiful. And inside me, the certainty that if I stood next to any one of these women, I would be arrested for my ugliness. No, not arrested, probably. Just poofed out of existence.

Sometimes, I would give him specific reasons why he was wrong. “I’m fat…, My hair…, My skin…, Look at what I’m wearing.”

I don’t know when the data collection even started. Was it from the beginning? Or did I hold off until I was a pre-teen? My friend Liz had a subscription to Seventeen, which I think was where I first got the idea that I should be on a diet. No wait… My first diet was before that. When I was fourteen, I think. I got a lot of praise for that diet.

That was when I learned to talk to other girls about myself.
“I’m having a bad hair day!”
“Ugh, I’m so fat, I shouldn’t have eaten that yogurt.”
They would echo back.
“Can you see my zit?”
“My butt looks so big in these jeans.”
Acceptance and understanding. We hate ourselves and the way we look. Or we know we are supposed to. We are all on the same page. Carry on.

But that goes away when girls grow up, right?

I was twenty-six when I stopped measuring my right to exist (to have a voice, to be seen, to believe I was allowed to be considered) based on anything but my looks. That I know specifically. That was the year my first husband’s cancer spread. That was the year I pulled all-nighters measuring out pain medications, emptying catheter bags, checking IV sites. And that was the year I saw someone I love suffer and die. I didn’t think about being beautiful once that year. I learned how unimportant it really was.

But

I still live in a society based on beauty and thinness, and those judgments creep back in. I have to remind myself.

When I was twenty-seven, I met my friend Tricia.
I tried to talk to her the way I talked to other females.
“Ugh, I look so terrible.”
And she just blinked at me. “Garnett,” (That’s what she calls me), “be nice to yourself.”
I didn’t know what to do with that, but it felt like the inkling of some kind of scary freedom. “Oh, we don’t hate ourselves here?” I thought. And still when I remember that day, my heart feels the same weird-good way.

Later, she told me this story a friend of hers told her. She, the friend, was in law school and was talking to a bunch of other female students.
“You know,” she said, “the only thing straight women ever talk about is their weight.”
“Oh, I KNOW!” said the only straight woman in the group. “I have gained five pounds this term!”

I think about that story all the time. I try to make it remind me to talk to my straight women friends about things other than hating our looks. I let it scold me when I fail. Societally, that is our language.

Now I am edging my way toward forty-three.
I’m old enough to feel silly when I want to argue with the man I love about whether or not I am, objectively, beautiful.
I’m smart enough not to judge myself when insecurities creep in, because there are a whole lot of years of bad lessons to unlearn.
And just recently, I’m wise enough and compassionate enough toward myself to smile and say thank you.
Because, this is the man who loves me most in the world, the one who has seen me cry and rage and laugh ‘til I snort
The man who has watched me watch our little boy with eyes so full of love they overflow with it
And, just maybe, this guy knows what he’s talking about when he says I’m beautiful.

I Don’t Think We Can Be Friends

“You’ve changed,” I said, wiping tears from my eyes.

I’ve seen it coming for a while, but I can no longer deny it. The time has come to break up.

In the beginning, things were so good. Fun, exciting, interesting. It was like the world was opening up to me. There were so many connections. Of course it didn’t stay like that. What could?

There was a long time where I was complacent and everything was a little dull. But now it’s moved beyond boring. Now things are dark. I feel bad a lot, and it took me a long time to realize why.

“I can’t do this anymore.” I said.

No answer. Just the cold apathy I’d expect from a computer program.

Which is, of course, all Facebook is.

It’s just a computer program. And yes, I absolutely feel silly for letting it affect me so much. But, I don’t really think I’m alone.

It’s a computer program that allows me to connect with friends and family and co-workers and causes. It is effective because so many people are addicted to it, like I am. And it is addictive because it’s effective.

Through it, I’ve reconnected with aunts, uncles, cousins and friends — people I would literally never speak with otherwise. I’ve gained support and comfort. I’ve met writers, and learned about publishing, blogging and marketing. I’ve found a safe space to discuss topics that are important to me. And I have met some incredible people I would not have met if not for Facebook. I have laughed, tons. And I have cried a lot, in a good way.

But lately, it’s kind of become a bad-news machine. An ugly news-factory. A bad-feeling proliferator.

Being a cold machine, it’s always had its problems. Like how every year on May 10th, people who have been prompted to do so, wish my friend Kevin a happy birthday. They ask why they haven’t heard from him in a while and express hopes that he is well. I hope he’s well, too, of course, wherever he is. But he’s been dead for over three years. I know this, because we have real life friends in common. But Kevin was reclusive and had many internet-only friends. I would post on his wall to tell folks the sad news. But Kevin’s quirky, and I know he’d get a kick out of knowing people were still trying to quasi-chat with him three years gone.

To be honest, though, this is the kind of stuff you’d expect from AI. It’s doing the best it can, and it makes mistakes. The other stuff is more intentional. These are the “you might also be interested in” algorithms. They offer me options based on something a friend shared that I liked. Did you like the heartwarming tale of a cute puppy overcoming adversity? You might ALSO like this story about a mutilated dog.

Fuck you, Facebook! No I wouldn’t. And you know what? If I did, that is NOT something your clever little algorithms should be encouraging. Holy hell.

It was one of these stories — the “You might also be interested in,” ones — that had me on the sofa crying and sick to my stomach. I’m not going to tell you specifics. I will only say that it involved a kid, and there is nobody on this planet who is better for knowing about it.

Maybe if the sharing of it was honorable in some way. Maybe if it could have helped her or others like her. But it was too late to help her. The perpetrator is awaiting trial. This is not a fucking cautionary tale. It is an abomination. And it was suggested to me as a piece of light reading. Here, Jen. Here’s something you might want to check out between a friend’s Time-hop and 30 second video of a recipe using canned dough and cheese sticks. Just a quick little real-life horror story. A little proof that pure evil exists. Come on. Click it. If you do, we get money.

See? That sensational story was trending and viral and important. Important, not to tell her story, but to help someone’s bottom line. Someone made money off of her tragedy.

I know. I know. That’s what news is. That is how things have always been. A sensational story used to sell newspapers and ads, and now it sells “Likes.” For whatever they’re worth.

Here’s the thing, though. I didn’t join Facebook for the news. I joined because I wanted to see pictures of my cousins’ kids. I wanted to say hi to my childhood friend. I wanted to hear about my coworkers’ vacations. I never wanted Facebook to be my news source. I have always had very strict rules about where I get my news, particularly during election years: The Onion, and the Daily Show. That’s it. That’s more than enough.

Since Facebook added “Trending” (a “feature” you can’t turn off), I know way too much about everything.

Did you hear about ___? Yup
Did you know ___ ? Yeah
Hey, what do you know about ____? Every DAMN thing there is to know. Including how other people feel about it.

I don’t need this. More than not needing it, it’s harming me.

I need the world to keep some secrets from me.

For something to “trend,” there has to be a new secret, a different kind of shock. Our psyches need to be cut deep enough to make an impression in the scar tissue that keeps forming over the most recent wounds.

I know, as well, that my emotional exhaustion or even scarring isn’t Facebook’s fault. It didn’t make me join, or visit so often, or click on things I shouldn’t click on. That’s me and my addictive nature. That’s me being part of the “trend.”

What? Like I think the people who make a story go viral are vastly different from me? Yeah right. I may not like the same things everyone likes, but I like the same things a lot of people like.

I can’t even be mad at Facebook. The reason I’ve come to rely on it so much as a source of entertainment and connection is because so much good has come out of it for me. Through it, I’ve had constant updates about a family member’s health struggles. I’ve seen my nephew grow up. I’ve met my writing tribe. And I’ve made a dear and cherished friend who brightens my life daily. I am grateful.

So what to do now? Can we still be friends, FB? Can I check in with you now and again, and ask about your mom? Or do we need a clean break? Can I even quit you if I want to? If I do, which of us gets to keep the CDs?

It’s Time to Cut the Crap

<Repost ‘cuz it’s still super accurate>

living a lie

We are all living a lie, and I’m not going to be quiet about it any more. This week, I was asked to do something unconscionable, and I wasn’t alone. Everyone in the U.S., except the residents of Arizona, is complicit.

We unquestioningly moved our clocks forward and handed a precious hour of sleep over to some dated convention. Something about crops and light conservation — look, I don’t know, I’m tired, don’t bug me about the facts.

For those of you saying, “Oh, but we’ll get it back in the fall!” Piss off. I don’t want it back in the fall, I want it now. I want that hour and all the other ones I’ve given up over the years.

I am not a morning person. The fact that so much grown-up life stuff happens in the morning is, in my estimation, one of the biggest bummers of adulthood. I work in an office, and we have electricy, folks! I don’t need to be up with the sun. On the list of things that make it sucky for me to be an adult, it easily beats menstruation and the fact that candy is unhealthy. (It ties with the rescinding of summer vacation; holy hell was I unprepared for that.)

“Oh, but mornings are beautiful,” you might say. (Who are you, anyway? Why do you keep interrupting my blog post? Crazy morning person.) Look, I’ll admit the fresh, cool air and the sun’s golden glow sparkling on dewy blades of grass is lovely, but only when experienced rarely, once a year or so…ideally when I’m on my way back to bed.

It already should be illegal for me to operate heavy machinery (like a Scion) without proper caffeination. I should have one of those breathalyzers that won’t let me start my car until I’ve blown at least a 3.0 blood caffeine level (or whatever my safe minimum is determined to be). And now I have to start an hour earlier? This is a safety issue.

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If time is arbitrary, as this sadistic convention suggests, why can’t those of us who aren’t morning people set our clocks back a couple of hours and call “morning” that glorious time when the sun is in the dead center of the sky? “Look at that beautiful sunrose,” we might be heard to say, shading our eyes against the glare.

You morning people can make it whatever time you want. It can be like time zones for individuals. We already do it for you lazy Californians who don’t get up until 3 hours after those of us on the East Coast.

I’ll get a petition going first thing in the morning: 9 A.M. Night-Owl Time (Noon Morning-Person Time)

Now, for putting up with my rant, I give you:

Coffee Porn

Source: Imgur

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This one has muffins

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Predictabilitrix

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I am a redoer. A rereader, rewatcher, relistener. You pretty much have to trick me to get me to experience something new. Honestly, I don’t know how I ever did anything the first time. Maybe it was in my wild youth. Maybe I tried stuff willy-nilly. At some point, though, I found what I liked and said, “This is good. Really good!”

Once I love something, I love it to death. I wear it out with my love. I roll in it and make it threadbare. I love how things become softer the more they are enjoyed. Pages of books, images in film, my blanky.

When Jeff and I were first together, he used to ask me when I was going to get sick of him. I said, “I’ve slept under the same quilt for over a decade. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me.” Sadly, that quilt finally fell apart from rewashing a few years back, and I have yet to find one I love enough to replace it. (Thankfully, Jeff still has plenty of washings left in him).

Many people would be horrified by this way of living. I believe it would make them feel trapped and bored to the point of madness. These folks feast on adventure and need the new and different to keep them feeling alive.

I imagine them shuddering and saying, “I could never do that! I would be too afraid of missing something.”

Aha!

Me too!
That is exactly why I do what I do.

What if I miss a cool transition or a secret little lyric slipped into my favorite songs? What if I miss the chance to belt out the words (with authority) and feel like I’m right there with the band? What if I miss a clever joke or camera trick in a movie or show?

And books. Oh man.

As an author, I’m my own worst customer. We need people who read lots and lots of books to keep us in ink and paper. If everyone was like me, the business would go belly up.

But I like to think my beloved authors would appreciate the way I read all the same. First, I read the story. If it captures me the right way, I go back. What did I miss about these characters? Ahhh… Don’t I just love her. Okay, brace myself, here comes the scene where my heart gets ripped out. But now, weeee! here comes that part where we all fall in love. Wait – go back again. Hey! There’s a tiny tie-in from chapter 4 to chapter 34. That sentence. Can I just look at that sentence again? She could have picked any word to go there, but that one was just magic. Well, of course, I have to read it again.

Every few seasons, I’ll take inventory of my hoarded beloveds and make adjustments. “Ok,” I’ll assure something, “I will always love you, but you need a rest.” And I’ll set it aside to (tentatively) try some new stuff. I always feel a little panicky when I find something new to love.

“Dammit!” I said, with my eyes glued to Sherlock. “Where am I going to find a month to rewatch this forty times??”

I used to be sheepish about this aspect of me. I suppose I am a little still. I know there’s so much out there to discover. Shouldn’t I feel a little ashamed for not wanting to get out there? But mostly I’m fine with it. There is also so much right here to discover. I think it just makes me feel like part of a world team. Some of us see the most stuff. Some of us see stuff the most. Let’s work together so we don’t miss anything.