Duplicity of Political Parties and Politicians

I decided to stream GAMBIT on Starz. It’s the story of Margaret Mitchell and the Watergate break-in. The acting was excellent but, as the episodes continued, they took on a surreal, almost comic book quality. As a former electoral worker in Cambodia, I witnessed first-hand the destruction wreaked by US B-52s under Nixon’s direction. I believe that Nixon should have been impeached and not allowed to resign. However, to paint all the GAMBIT characters involved with such a hateful brush seemed unnecessary. It felt like retribution and dirty tricks from the other side. In the end, I didn’t enjoy the series.

And then, I learned of two incidents that shocked and dismayed me. Both displayed the lengths to which Democrats and Republicans will go in today’s America for political gain.

  • The Naming Commission is a United States government commission created by the  U.S. Congress in 2021 under Democratic leadership. Its purpose is to rename military assets, which have names associated with the Confederate States of America. The current projected cost for their current proposal is $62 million dollars.
  • Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida legislature allocated $12 million of the state’s budget to transport “illegal migrants” to blue states.

And if you’re not convinced that our two-party political system, both Republicans and Democrats, are working against bringing our country back together, then read this: the 2020 election cost $14.4 billion, the most expensive election ever.

I understand that there are those who are deeply offended that we honored those Confederate persons. But most people, offended or not, would prefer that the sixty-two million dollars be spent to help those in need, to enhance public schools, and to provide affordable medical care and access to housing. They would prefer that the money be allocated to food security, infrastructure, or anything else that can help people today.

Transporting migrants to northern states? Those millions could be used to mitigate the costs of processing people humanely and fairly, as well as enhancing Florida’s schools and public safety. The transporting is a stunt that helps no one but the politicians who do it.

Really, I’m so tired of our lack of credible, honest, practical, and humane politicians. I think I’ve really had enough.

How do we respond? We vote. But we vote for a person, not a political party.

*The photo is outside the museum celebrating the novel, The Master and Margarita, by M. Bulgakov. In it Woland, the devil, and his henchmen play dirty tricks. Its a glorious read.

Papermill Road

You know the kind of gently curving shady boulevard—houses so big they look like hotels or palaces, each one more ostentatious then the next. Some mimic French villas; others have a more English Tudor façade. Lions and griffins stand regally atop stone pillars guarding the long driveways, lush landscaping and manicured lawns with enough attached garages to house a fleet of cars.

Contrast that scene with Gambling Ave. Trees, yes; it’s Georgia after all. But that is where the similarities end. Houses are narrow boxes that look more like trailers than houses. Lawns are mostly weeds littered with flotsam and old cars.

These streets, only minutes apart by car, are oceans apart in terms of lifestyle, income, and health. These streets are a metaphor for America’s caste system. The people living on Gambling Ave. are the working poor. They aren’t looking for a handout, just a fair wage and an affordable education. In a country with this much obvious wealth, why are we still, in the words of the late Barbara Ehrenreich, “Nickel and Diming” Americans into permanent poverty?

We will not realize the American Dream until we rise together. We will not save the planet until we work together. Mansions won’t withstand the ravages of climate change; yachts won’t sail you to safety if nuclear fallout results from the Russian-Ukrainian war; COVID vaccinations won’t protect you from this pandemic or the next until all adhere to safe practices designed to stop the spread.

Together we can.

Confirmation Bias

There is something called confirmation bias. That’s what Google is great for! You can word your search so that you get all kinds of advice that makes you feel supported, right, spot-on. I received notice that I had been exposed to COVID at a recent wellness event. I assumed my source was one of our nurse colleagues who was ill and sent home. I’m in that situation quite often, without notice, since I work in the COVID outreach unit of our local public health department. Fully vaccinated, I have avoided getting the virus. However, a few nights after the exposure, I woke to intense chills and a very unhappy intestine. The coincidence was stunning! At 4:00 a.m., I was on Google looking up chills and stomach distress; the results included anxiety, IBS, a stomach virus—and COVID. It had finally got me!

Convinced I had the virus, I took endless at-home tests, each one with negative results. I stayed home for days, waiting for the next round of symptoms. I went back online to discover (according to one source on Google) that more symptoms could take a few days to manifest. I waited, took more at-home tests, and finally went to get a PCR test. PCR means polymerase chain reaction. The test detects the presence of a virus if you have it at the time of the test. The test can also detect fragments of the virus, even after you are no longer infected. Negative.

While Goggle provided me the evidence to convince myself I had the COVID virus, it also gave me just the ammunition I needed to reduce my anxiety and especially my guilt over an ongoing family drama.

Reassuring words like, “We are all flawed. We should have that at the forefront of our minds when deciding whom to keep in or out of our lives—and how to respond to those who no longer want us in theirs.” And “You can make choices that are right for you, regardless of other people’s opinions (especially other people who have no idea what you’re going through). Giving up on someone doesn’t make you a bad parent or a bad person. In many cases, it’s the only rational thing to do.”

I especially like what Tina Gilbertson, a psychotherapist who specializes in family estrangement quoted on Google, said about this. She said, “When your child gave up connection, he willingly gave up everything connection entails, including mutual celebrations like birthdays and Christmas. It is not up to you to protect him from his decision to cut you off.” (emphasis mine)

I blithely ignored Google responses about forgiveness, reconnection, and other actions that only create more guilt and anxiety, and I only read those that confirmed my decision to move on and leave the drama behind.

Ungraceful Aging

“Diet! You’re 80 for g-d’s sakes. Eat what you want.” My son-in-law managed to give me the look, while still watching the road as we drove home.

“I want to stay with my wardrobe; now’s not the time to buy new clothes,” I responded. However, I buy new clothes all the time, maybe just not as many I think to myself. 

At night, as part of my going to sleep process, I turn off all screens and read a book until my eyes cross and I fall asleep. I try to read something that won’t come back and haunt my dreams. Lately I’ve been reading disc world novels by Terry Pratchett. Subtle satire and weird comedy . . . perfect before bed reading . . .until this passage and the conversation between Death and Miss Flitworth:

“Why don’t you dance?’’

Cos I’m old, that’s why.”

“You are only as old as you think you are.”

“Huh! Yeah? Really? That’s the kind of stupid things people always say. They always say, ‘My word, you’re looking well.’ They say, ‘There’s life in the old dog yet.’ ‘Many a good tune played on an old fiddle.’ That kind of stuff. It’s all stupid. As if being old is something you should be glad about! As if being philosophical about it will earn you marks! My head knows how to think young, but my knees aren’t that good. Or my back. Or my teeth. Try telling my knees they’re as old as they think they are and see what good it does you. Or them.”

I get it. I’m quite young and fit looking for my age. The result of genetics (my mom lived to 99.6) and two very expensive facelifts. I’m also relatively thin, the result of two divorces and a bout of dysentery in Asia when I was working for the United Nations. I don’t turn to food when stressed. Instead, I can barely choke down a bowl of Cream of Wheat.

So, my advice is light reading before sleep, but be wary. You never know when you could be confronted with a universal truism . . . especially when reading Terry Pratchett. You will laugh a lot, but you could cry too.

Shopping, Stereotypes, and the Double Standard

“And we’ve been able to build in at least one shopping day at most visits,” the military director confided, clearly expecting a positive response from the women on the executive committee. I was a member of the Defense Advisory Committee for Women in the Military, DACOWITS. (I was also director of Women’s Studies at my University.) I was annoyed, even a bit insulted, when I heard her speak.

It was 1993. The DACOWITS was a presidential appointed committee under the secretary of defense. The predominantly female membership was made up of political donors or wives of political donors. Not me. I was one of the few military appointments, a representative of the army. Each year the executive committee went on a trip to major overseas military bases–Japan, Italy, Germany etc. The organizers built in a “cultural day” for each installation, except in remote bases like the Eareckson Air Station, on the tip of the Alaskan Aleutian Archipelago.

It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy these cultural/shopping outings. It was that these events trivialized our mission. The military hierarchy, including Dick Cheney and other high ranking civilian and military men, dismissed us as unserious.

Why do I bring this up? Recently, NPR did an interview with Ali Vitali, author of Electable: Why America Hasn’t Put a Woman in the White House… Yet. In her conversation with the reporter, she related an incident that happened in 2020 while on the campaign trail with then presidential candidate Kamala Harris. Vice president Harris had been visiting women owned businesses and at one shop was cajoled into trying on a very sparkly jacket. Reporters tweeted about it and started an avalanche of criticism from male reporters and others, condemning the most recent Vice President, of being unserious.

I personally know that men, on business and political trips to overseas offices, shop. They visit tailors in Asia for one-day suits, Russian stores selling Matryoshka dolls, get massages and facials and eat at exclusive restaurants. No one calls them out.

Vitali attributes this to a double standard, different rules for different genders. I think it is more than just stereotypes. I think it is deeply rooted in human history and religion. Women are girls, unsuitable for leadership, even though they have been great leaders over time. Take for example, Catherine the Great—better known for sleeping with horses than expanding Russia’s borders.

Whether it be 1993, 2020, or 1762, the double standard exists, as does the glass ceiling of power.

Si no hay una cosa, hay otra cosa: Always Something!

Google headlines: SF, NY declare health emergencies over monkeypox outbreak. More people are wearing masks again, hoping to protect against the newest COVID variant, BA.5, as others start lining up for monkeypox vaccinations. Frustrated, hot, angry at gas pump prices and a radical right Supreme Court, as well as appalled over a seemingly endless war in the Ukraine, has put many Americans back on edge. Not all of them, and certainly not enough to get the U.S. and/or the world to change its reckless behavior.

The only good news I have heard lately is that Attorney General Merrick Garland is investigating Trump and his connection to the January 6 attack on the Capitol building. Unfortunately, Mr. Garland’s investigation will not be like Mr. Mueller’s investigation of previous Trump malfeasance, which amounted to no substantial consequences for anyone, and it took forever to conclude.

Friends trying to live their lives find themselves turned around by an unexpected serious fall, or a case of COVID while on a long awaited family vacation. I call that an unexpected left turn. Life tends to be full of them, and they can really derail a person’s ability to function and/or cope with our world today. I generally lose a few pounds since my go-to crazed behavior is to stop eating, but then I tend to right myself and sail on. How long we, or the planet, can weather the oncoming storms remains to be seen.

Developing resilience may be at least part of the answer. According to www.mindtools.com, legend has it that Thomas Edison made thousands of prototypes of the incandescent light bulb before he finally got it right. And, since the prolific inventor was awarded more than 1,000 patents, it’s easy to imagine him failing on a daily basis in his lab at Menlo Park. Also, a Google search results in links that claim that you can develop resilience by having a good sleep routine, trying out a new exercise, or using physical relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation. The Mindtools site claims that by practicing thought awareness, resilient people don’t let negative thoughts derail their efforts. Instead, they consistently practice positive thinking and take positive action.

On Linked in I found an image which referred to resilience as the rubber ball factor. “Life is not about how fast you run, how much money you earn or how many levels you rise up the ladder – but about how well you bounce.” https://www.linkedin.com

Bounce on!

Warm Springs, Georgia

My friend Anne drove down from Richmond for a long weekend visit. I took off work to enjoy her company. Similar in age and worldview, Anne is always a treat. We are both academics, both well- traveled, and both have an obsession to create.

Our plan was to drive to Warm Springs., eat fried green tomatoes at the Bulloch buffet, and tour President Roosevelt’s surprisingly modest little white house and museum. The museum, filled with memorabilia of both FDR and Eleanor, focused heavily on his disability from polio. Warm Springs had long provided relief from the pain for sufferers and offered a respite for Roosevelt as well.

How ironic that on the same day as our road trip, the headlines in the New York Times about poliovirus, the virus that causes paralytic polio, was detected in sewage “suggesting likely local circulation of the virus.”

Readers my age remember iron lungs, braces and polio vaccinations provided in schools before they became mandated as a condition of attendance. Like measles, polio is preventable via vaccination. Why would anyone risk the lives of their children when the science and our experience are irrefutable?

The juxtaposition of my visit to Warm Springs and the headlines in the news underscored for me the connection between events in my life and the current events. We are affected by the world around us. We are responsible for what is happening and for being part of the solution.

Let’s not let the past become our tomorrow.

Journeys End

The phone rang and a few moments later my daughter was tapping my shoulder softly but insistently. The window was dark save for a thin magenta line stretching across the horizon. I had been waiting for the call.

“It was Uncle David. GG is gone.”

“Okay, I’ll book the airline tickets,” I grunted, turned over and pulled the cover back over my head.

She was struggling to push down the handle of the small red suitcase so that she could stuff it under the seat in front of her. The woman standing in the aisle tapped her foot impatiently, waiting to take her seat. But Gertrude was nervous and focused on her task. Finally, the handle down, she shoved the bag with her feet until it fit snugly and tightly. She didn’t want the flight attendant fussing at her if it stuck out in the aisle.

            Gert turned and smiled up at the impatient woman who, with an unnecessarily loud sigh, collapsed into her seat with a soft thud. They tussled a bit to find the right seat belts and then settled down to hear the safety briefing. Gert especially liked, “Put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others.” She thought that was good advice for living life.

Her attention turned to her surroundings. She noted with satisfaction the extra leg room, the video console above the closed lunch tray, and a recent People magazine rather than a boring in-flight publication. Gert also noticed the little red bag peeking out from under the row in front of her. The bag had gone along with her on many travels—to the Himalayas, the Near East, the Far East, the Middle East, and even to Africa and the Galapagos Islands. It always contained her medications, fiber for travelers’ constipation, a clean pair of undies and a spare pair of glasses, as well as a book or two. Her great-grandkids always recognized it when she came to visit; after all, it was a kids-size suitcase, which made them giggle. Gert really liked it, and the bag made her feel independent because she could take it anywhere without any help. Her favorite travel motto was: Don’t take more than you can carry.

The woman in the next seat sighed again, so Gert offered her a tic-tac from the little plastic case she took from her purse. The woman accepted, putting the small candy between her two pudgy fingers and giving Gert a small smile to match the size of the mint. But Gert considered this a positive sign and leaned in to speak.

“This journey has taken me a lifetime,” she confided. The woman sighed yet again, although her smile was slightly warmer. They traveled side-by-side for the rest of the flight in silence.

Gert fell into step with the throngs of passengers filing out of the plane and began the long walk toward the exit. Ignoring the people lined up along the route, Gert walked on—her shoes clicking softly beneath her, her little red bag rolling behind her.

Always hoping but never really expecting it, she heard a familiar voice calling her name. It was familiar in that odd kind of way that you recognize but haven’t heard for a long, long time. She heard it again: “Gert.” And then, stronger and more insistent, “Gerty!” She definitely knew that voice. She looked up at the crowd of people lining the path to the exit and there he was—with his arms outstretched, looking just like he did when they had been in their prime of life before she had lost him to heart failure all those forty-five years ago.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” he said as he took her hand in his. “Our hearts never failed each other.” Then he took the little red suitcase in his other hand, “And you won’t need this anymore.”

The sun streaming brightly through my window woke me the second time that morning. My mother, GG, was dead at ninety-nine years of age. She was on her last journey and it was okay.

From The Fourth Moment Get it on Amazon

Searching for a Publisher in the Time of COVID

We all have stories to tell. Some stories become novels; others are turned into plays or blogs. It used to be up to an agent or publisher to decide what goes to print, appears in books or magazines, and is placed on store shelves.  However, much has changed. For one, print books have given way to digital and audio versions. Agents and publishers are less plentiful and accessible. They appear to be  interested only in famous persons or known authors. People have turned to self-publishing, but marketing is a huge challenge for the individual writer. The current era of COVID that resulted in confinement motivated many people to try their hand at writing and publishing.

There is a glut!

Last year, I wrote a children’s early reader and a pre-K board book. A friend illustrated it using beautiful watercolors. I can’t find an agent, so I decided to share the board book version with you.

The Christmas Nest

 “Oh dear,” thought Momma Bird as she flew low over the ground.  

“A nest, a nest—I must build a nest. For my eggs, it must be the best,” she chirped.

“Soon I will lay sky-blue eggs, and they will hatch into hungry baby birds. I will need a

safe, cozy home for my new family.” 

Momma Bird flew and flew, looking for just the right twigs, leaves, and grass.

Alas, after flying for many miles, she did not see anything she liked. 

Momma Bird gave up and landed high in a tall tree behind a bright red barn to rest for  

the night.

Yawning, Momma Bird woke up, shook her feathers, and looked for a nice, juicy worm for breakfast.

Instead, she saw something twinkling. She saw long, shiny, silver grass.

Momma Bird flapped her wings in excitement and flew down to get a closer look[LW1] .

“Perfect,” she chirped excitedly. “This is the perfect grass for building my beautiful

nest.”

She pulled the strings one by one. She wove the silver strings together and added a bit

of mud and some strong twigs.

When she finished, no bird had a nest more beautiful than Momma Bird’s. 

If you listen, you can hear the baby birds chirping.

If you look up in the big tree, you can see a shiny silver nest—a nest made of silver grass.

NO, not grass but tinsel—Christmas tinsel. 

Mommy Bird was usually too busy with her hatchlings to pay attention to children

looking up at her nest.

When the nestlings were quiet, she would sit on a branch, puff out her breast, and

admire her beautiful Christmas nest. 

Author: Carole Garrison

Illustrator: Debbie Leoni


Always Optimistic

She’s not a behemoth like her brothers. Instead, Maggie, the runt of her litter, is a relatively slender Great Dane  who likes to lean on you and give hugs by tucking her giant head in the crook of your neck. It’s disconcerting—albeit sweet. Her companion, Lucy, a teapot Yorkie, makes up the duo of doggies I am in charge of when my children travel. I just finished a 10-day stint as their caretaker.

As dog owners might recognize, animals on a scheduled feeding know exactly when 5:00 p.m. rolls around—dinner time. However, they also seem to be endlessly optimistic that food will be waiting every time they come in from a potty break in the back yard. I suspect a Pavlovian syndrome at play here: go outside, come in, and eat rather than follow some internal clock that announces breakfast or dinner. The cat, Murphy, seems to possess an inner food clock, as she has no comparable routine.

Never mind the science or psychology behind their behavior. I thoroughly enjoy their faces and sounds as they look up to me, full of expectation and optimism that I will provide an additional snack. In a lot of ways, they remind me of our own species. We keep making planet- killing decisions, devastating countries and people, fighting pandemics (or not), and still we remain optimistic that life will continue and that we will be untouched by the damage we have wrought.