Death to Phobia!

Wait–sorry about that. I meant “Phobia of Death.” I get those mixed up sometimes.

Thanatophobia--know about this? It’s a fear named after the Greek god of death: Thanatos.

Thanatos himself wasn’t so bad. He just had a lousy job. I mean, someone had to do it. But while I might be sympathetic to having a job one doesn’t like, I have no desire to meet the guy.
A stone statue of the winged god kneeling in park

Greek God of Death.

When my Grandma Snow died, I stopped being able to breathe properly. I had just had my first miscarriage and wasn’t dealing well with a double whammy of real and true loss. I was only 30 and had not yet experienced Death up close and personal. So, when ole Thanatos swung by, I ceased correctly inhaling oxygen for about three months. “How is that possible?” you cry. “Breathing is involuntary.” True. But doing it correctly isn’t. Trust me.

Over the next ten years, my husband and I lost all of our grandparents, all with whom we were very close. I haven’t had a decent intake of breath for more than a decade. But worse than that was the reality. Mortality had come home to roost, like Poe’s Raven, like a hulking, heavy dragon, like the proverbial shadow it embodies: you don’t see it until it’s there. It’s one thing being 20 and knowing “we all die.” It’s another thing when you realize as an individual type person that “all” includes you. Specifically.

That’s when I learned I also have anxiety.

It’s been more years since all of those epiphanies. I’ve handled several crises since—that happens in the life of a crisis communicator—and I’ve found my ability to play my role and do my job has helped. I don’t feel any better about my prospects, or anyone else’s, for leaving this planet, but I’ve come to learn to manage the expectations.

Yesterday, I came upon a grueling motorcycle accident. It had just happened on the freeway. No emergency responders were on scene. I would have witnessed it first-hand were it not for a semi in front of me. I had to stop, was compelled. If there was something, anything, I could do to assist the injured person crumpled on the side of the road I was prepared to do it—me, and seven other people. Many, many, many more drove on by. Two who stopped, miraculously, thankfully, were volunteer firemen, each on his way someplace else. The rest of us did what we could: called 911, moved our car to block traffic, tried to comfort the eyewitness and her partner. Then the EMTs got there, then the cop, then the flight for life helicopter. And we all lost.

I was desperate to help. I mourn the loss of a person I didn’t even know. I wish more than anything I could comfort the family, let them know their person was not alone those last minutes, that complete strangers wanted to help, would have done anything to make it better. I also wish that I could say I’m better now and I can finally breathe when I come face-to-face with Thanatos. But when what little function I had to offer was over, my usual reaction returned.

I posted my experience on Facebook (a coping mechanism for we extroverts), received a lot of love and many comments about life-changing experiences. Oh, thank God for friends! I am grateful, but have to disagree to some extent. I love my optimism but the realism of my inner Walt Whitman is burning through. The epiphanies are over. The work remains and when it is complete, we either stagger on a little longer or we don’t.

Alas for the ills we cannot cure, the hurts we cannot heal. We can’t stave off death; we can’t change it when it comes. But we don’t have to deal with it alone. Beauty is in community. I’m glad I have one.

No Gold Watch

I’m not talking about a pocket watch. And this isn’t something like The Watch in the movie Pulp Fiction (although getting to do a scene with Bruce Willis would be some sort of fabulous, I’m sure).

Bruce Willis looks down at a wrist watch in the movie Pulp Fiction.

No, I’m talking about the once-coveted “gold watch,” the reward for loyalty, the recognition of a life’s work, a career of dedication, the old American work ethic “If you stick with something long enough, good things happen.”

Yeah, that’s over.

Those days, that dream, that side of Americana has gone bye-bye. Being steadfast isn’t good enough anymore. This Life is a Highway culture values change. Covets it. And quick.

When I graduated from college a year or two ago (bear with me), new statistics proclaiming the fate of my generation were out: there were few jobs and we were doomed. A girl had good reason to feel anxious. There was no arguing these facts, faithfully reported as they were by Time Magazine–the end-all-to-beat-all before the omniscience of Internet. Time reigned supreme and predicted Generation X would change jobs roughly every five years and, in their lifetime, change careers a minimum of three times.

How shockingly irresponsible! What else could one expect from such a bunch of slackers–which, also according to Time, we all were (until Tianamen Square–but, that’s another blog).

No, back then on the verge of my career, expectations were that those who followed the work ethic of the generation before were “good” and those who didn’t were “slackers.” Not bad, exactly. Just really disappointing.

Then we got Dot Coms.

All of a sudden, the professionalism of American Suburbia burst forth in change. People skipped from office to office like flat rocks on a glassy pond. The more bounces a person’s rock made, the more successful he or she became. It got to the point where those who weren’t in six figures by the year 2000 were viewed as “under performers” or, if you were savvy enough to claim the label, “artistic.”

For we females there was a third option. Flexible family hours came back, thanks in part to the re-recognition of the Family Leave Act. Scheduling got creative. SAHM became a thing. So, if a girl had babies, she at least had an “out.” But not guys: guys got hit even harder and any feller without a job became an automatic “less than.” Ah, karma.

“Hmpf!” scoffs my late Grandma, “About damn time.”

Change was out there. People parleyed “life experience” into career goals. “The next best thing” became not an altruism, but a career path. To not hop within five years or less was a stigma.


What a reversal of fortune. Now in job interviews, one might find herself asked, “Why have you been at this company for over a decade?” In fact, I once had an Administrative Officer confess to me she was worried about one team of engineers. “They’ve been here almost ten years,” she said in a nervous whisper. “What’s wrong with them?!”

“Maybe they’re happy,” I offered. She laughed at me and walked away.

It’s not without a sense of irony I look back on my career. I’m literally between jobs: yesterday I left one; tomorrow I start another. This is something I haven’t done for a really long time. I went directly against the main. I defied the pull of populous doing what none of my compatriots did. I stayed in one job longer than I spent going to college, building a family, or growing up. The job I’m leaving is the longest thing I’ve ever done.

What did that loyalty earn me? Skepticism. There were plenty of interviews between then and now where I was looked at sideways, my choices scrutinized. Why had I stayed put? I could have said I was raising a family, I had young kids, my husband didn’t want to move–all of which were true facts about my lifestyle. But they weren’t the real reason. The truth was what I always answered, “It’s been fascinating with new challenges all the time.”

Change without changing.

But it wasn’t good enough. Push came to shove; my hands went up in surrender. I give. I’m out. It’s over. I have a ton of new stories, knowledge, experience, and excellent friends.

Just no gold watch.

Finding Out What’s Real

I’m just gonna say it: I miss summer. Yes, I know we’re smack dab in the middle of it up here in the northern hemisphere. The season is upon us. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m an adult. I go to work. A lot. I miss summer.

I’m not out and about on a beautiful summer day. Instead, I’m sneaking snaps out the window between stares at a computer screen while Neil Young’s Sugar Mountain is playing on my iPod. Now the lyrics “You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain, though you realize you’re leaving there too soon” make sense.

I remember when I was getting close to graduating high school, I asked my father what it was like being an adult. He told me, “There’s a lot of nostalgia.” For what? I wondered.

Then, several years later, after college and before the eve of my best friend’s wedding, I asked him if he ever realized he was younger on the inside than on the outside. It had begun to occur to me that my inner self was trapped somewhere in the 1980s, although the 1990s were flying by. My dad laughed at the question, so I knew he understood.
“Well,” I pressed. “How old are you inside?’
“17,” he said.

Man, who isn’t?

I’ll never forget that conversation because we were hiking down from the Never Summers. I didn’t miss the irony. Childhood held something special, something soon to be ethereal: a whimsical cloud-shape-finding, long-grass-lying, skateboard-trying effervescence where anything is possible, nothing hurts, and someone has dinner ready when you get home.

A girl bungee jumps off a bridge to uncertainty

The free fall of summer. Anything can happen.

Decades later, my days of lying in hammocks, biking through the evening screaming the lyrics to U2’s Twilight, stealthily shooting bottle rockets into lakes (it makes the most satisfying sound), river rafting, fair-going, and having no real responsibility whatsoever seem like day-dreams, just something I imagined while expelled from paradise–I mean: sitting at my desk. It’s not helped by the fact that these days when I roll home, my kids are gorked out on cartoons and Bazooka bubble gum, proud of themselves for being the first guys to ever try building a tree house with remnants of fence, or to ever dizzily jump from the highest branch off the rope swing and not fall into the irrigation ditch.

Children, please.

I could be any time in summer: 1976, 1984, 1992. Aside from my height, who would know? Summer is the eternal optimist, the ultimate experience in what is and what should never be. We would carouse all evening, never feeling cold, never needing to go home. We’d bounce house to house, boat to boat (if at the lake), or ride bikes while slightly impaired, a tittering, teetering experience that made a girl feel smart and stupid all at the same time–a common experience with summer, I learned.

The air was always soft. Everyone was always in good humor. Plans just “worked out.” Even thinking about Friday night was exciting because we really didn’t know what was going to happen next. Maybe that night, I would meet some guy and fall head over heels. And then, one year, I did.

But, no point wasting youth on the youthful. One of the first rock lyrics I taught my boys was by Rush, of course: “Though it’s just a memory, Some memories last forever.” It made sense to pass it on down.

I suppose that’s the point, too. I want their summers to be like my summers. I want the glory and the innocence and the unraveling of that innocence to be wrapped up in thunderstorms and lightening, fireworks and campfire, mountain hikes and riding bikes and singing songs together. Swing Life Away, boys. Swing away.

Then, maybe, summer never truly ends.

Curiouser and Curiouser: Me and Guns

Good Lord, my views are changing. True, it’s an evolution, but it’s not been as slow a change as I thought it would be, if I ever saw myself changing at all. Which I hadn’t. At the least,  it’s been preponderant—and it is not over.

I’ll stop beating around the bush. The truth is, I’m becoming more supportive of gun rights. I know, I know: it scares me, too. But I’m also supportive of gun control–I’m adding that post-posting because initially no one said anything and I think this is a big deal. Then I realized: people are afraid of this topic, especially with the recent rash of violence.

Well, I’m not afraid of it anymore. I’ve been thinking a lot about it. I’ve decided: I’m FOR owning guns. I’m also for doing so responsibly. Bring ON gun control. I’m not scared of that either.

But why my change?

Maybe it’s because certain members of my family have been known to make very compelling (and by this I mean well reasoned)  arguments consistently, almost relentlessly. Maybe it’s because I’ve started reading more crime fiction (yes, some of this can be blamed on Steig Larsson).

But I think the main factor in my thinking has more to do with economic class strata. And I had never thought about it that way until this year.

The first thing that happened was a fundamental argument at home over whether or not we should have guns in the house. That was followed by another broader family issue of why bows were okay, but not guns.

Then, I had occasion to take a class back in DC out of Georgetown U on the philosophy framing up the Constitution. We got into Locke, Hobbes, and Cromwell—Oliver Cromwell.


What hangs in the balance? I’m weighing guns and no guns.

That led to an interesting discussion on the British House of Lords, the American Senate, the British House of Commons and the American House of Representatives.

See where I’m going?

The powers that be, mired in their continued strife to counter balance one another, have a stricture that makes American legislative progress very, very slow. The slow pace allows for oodles of influence. In American, heck maybe all cultures, this creates space and time for undue influence from those who have space and time to lobby. The people with that space and time are afforded it by one simple fact: that they can AFFORD it.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Then, there’s the intriguing, albeit it short, paragraph of description and chapters of implication in Steig Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest where he argues that while “not everyone can afford security,” anyone at any time can find herself in need of it.

I’ve thought about that a lot. Most people don’t have elaborate security systems protecting their homes, safe guarding their children. Most of us walk around vaguely aware something bad can happen, but with nothing better to defend self and family than our wits. So, in America, people interested in personal security do what they can afford: they buy guns. Or inherit them. Or share them.

The crux of the philosophical debate in my family has always been: why do you need that level of security? If you want self defense, take a martial arts class, for heaven’s sake.

But, again, it boils down to what an individual person believes. That’s where Locke and Hobbes come in.

If one believes in Locke’s “clean slate” theory, that most people are good, they just get jaded by experience, then it might be easier to accept, as my family long has, that a person doesn’t need a personal protection system. We have a social contract that mandates certain levels of acceptable behavior. Most people subscribe to this. A police force and a judicial system are there for those who don’t.

That makes logical sense to me. And, as I’ve never been seriously injured or attacked by another person on American or any other soils, my experience verifies there’s some truth to this.

Then there’s Hobbes who argued that people are animals who bite and fight and scratch for whatever they can get out of this life. As a result, the American Constitution—and other western systems—include protective measures to guard against the corruptible nature of humanity. I suspect that the oft-debated 2nd Amendment  stems from this politically-philosophic notion that, possibly, as a last resort, the American republic should have the ability to bear arms against the tyranny of the majority—something the Founding Fathers seemed to fear based on the more recent history (in their era) of General Cromwell and the British Crown.

For me, it’s been a lot to think about. (As my thinking simultaneously occurs with my talking, I’ve recently been ranting on Facebook about buying into bought elections and people not thinking for themselves, but more on that later). Weighing the great gun question in my home, I strive to balance it with some sort of consistency: no quick changes, nothing rash. Steady, preponderant and heavy consideration for the pros and cons shall guide my hand.

The debate has waged on for two years. But I feel my view softening, weakening to the point of accepting hard weaponry, at some level.

And the irony of that just kills me.
From a friend’s Facebook page:

Does this bother anyone else?
1) Wednesday, June 4: a shooter in Moncton, Canada:
2) Thursday, June 5: a shooter in Seattle, WA:
3) Friday, June 6: a shooter in Atlanta, GA:
4) Friday, June 6: the beginning of 30 people shot in Chicago, IL:

See More

A gunman opened fire Thursday at Seattle Pacific University, killing one person and wounding two before being tackled by a student security guard, Seattle police said.


Ever Wished That Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson Would Return to the Comics Page? Well, He Just Did.

This made my day, made me happy, and made the past week seem way, way better. Maybe I should start getting a Sunday paper again.

Pearls Before Swine

Bill Watterson is the Bigfoot of cartooning.

He is legendary. He is reclusive. And like Bigfoot, there is really only one photo of him in existence. 

Few in the cartooning world have ever spoken to him. Even fewer have ever met him.

In fact, legend has it that when Steven Spielberg called to see if he wanted to make a movie, Bill wouldn’t even take the call.

So it was with little hope of success that I set out to try and meet him last April.

I was traveling through Cleveland on a book tour, and I knew that he lived somewhere in the area. I also knew that he was working with Washington Post cartoonist Nick Galifianakis on a book about Cul de Sac cartoonist Richard Thompson’s art.

So I took a shot and wrote to Nick. And Nick in turn wrote to Watterson.

And the meeting…

View original post 977 more words

From the Whirlwind

It’s Spring, that time of year with lion and lambs and other goofy analogies that runs rampant for a couple of weeks and then winds up just being hot. In other words, Spring: the hoopla with no “shazam!”

That’s what my life feels like lately. Not to get too personal, or anything. No one wants an over-share in a blog. But this time of year is always ridiculous: lots of travel, lots of red button issues, lots of family goings-on and then all of a sudden June is almost over, it’s summer and there’s nothing left to do but sweat a lot. And turn on the air conditioner. If it’s working.

It’s a lot of construction, but no building. A lot of writing, but no novel. And the best part is, it will all repeat next year–although that’s another issue in-and-of-itself. It’s like watching an action movie and getting all amped up and excited until the credits, when there is nothing better to do than get in the car and drive home.

When home is swirling as much as work, which is the case most any Spring, I long for that long drive off into the suburbs. But once I’m in the car again, well, I miss the spinning.

Chasing the dust devil in a desert somewhere

The whirlwind of my life: the dust devil.

And I don’t get that. Oh, intellectually I suppose I understand. Empirically, busy is a sign of life. Being alive is good. But when the whirlwind is so consuming, when time is so short, when things are barely getting done, the stress is constant and the relief seldom–why would any person in her right mind want that back?

Maybe it’s the test, the challenge. Maybe it’s the “work hard” portion that balances the “play hard” in the popular equation of American culture. I don’t know the answer to this; I just know that we girls always want what we don’t have. When things are slow, I want them busy. When things are busy, I’d give anything for them to slow down. Fair enough, I guess.

But what really trips me up is that when the downtime does come:  that brief interlude of a good jazz CD sound-scaped to a slightly cloudy afternoon overlaid on a religious holiday that zaps everyone’s energy right down to nap time, except mine; that one moment of space and time where a working mom like me can sit down and finally get all the things sacred to herself out in the open, or down on paper, or any of it, whatever it is, could be, should have been, that moment of Now, the time for what was dwelling under the surface to finally, FINALLY rise to the top…

…I’ve got nothing. Not even a long drive home.

It’s All About You–I Mean Me

It’s a funny thing when you stop writing. It’s also a funny thing to write in second person, but I’ve managed to do both.

How do you simultaneously stop writing and write in second person? It seems like a logical oddity, a riddle, a paradox. But, turns out it’s none of that. You just do it in your head.

You start by simply questioning those around you, albeit silently.
“Why are you driving like an asshole?”
“Really, you can’t help me with my mailing?”
“Are you certain you should tell me that you stayed up past midnight playing on your phone?”

Granted, that’s not writing. It’s snotty sarcasm aping as internal monologue. But, it’s habit forming. So, when something really worth writing does come around the bend, you find yourself ranting off all sorts of emotive poetry, hyperbole, and whimsical observation from deep inside your brain—none of which you, or anyone else, get to read.

And that part sucks. Some of my best writing is still in my head somewhere. Honestly, where else do you keep it?

Truth: the second person bit is the real challenge. When’s the last time you tried it? Probably about that time your advanced comp teacher told you you were being lazy and yelled that you should learn to find your objectivity and remove yourself from the story—yet still have a voice: “It’s not all about you!”

Whatever. I beg to differ.

It doesn’t even matter what person you’re writing in as long as you’re writing to somebody. That’s the big point, right, making sure you actually have an audience?

Which brings you to my very first point: not writing at all. Stopping. Ceasing. Not knowing what to write because you don’t know who the audience will be. Even in blogs this is important because, face it, not everyone always wants to read what you’re going through or what it is you think you have to say.

A 3-year old boy dressed as a cowboy on his dedicated steed, er, Australian Shepherd mix.

Thursday, the best dog ever, died on Valentines Day. He was 16. We “assisted.” Worst. Feeling. Ever.

That’s how I felt three weeks ago when I finally, excruciatingly and with full-tilt melancholia, made the “let me stick hot wax in my eyeballs” decision to put my dog down. I would have rather laid on a bed of glass. Really, and I’m not bullshitting you with hyperbole.

Sure, I tried a few lines when I was and wasn’t crying:
–treading water in the wake of death
–wind chimes, ocean buoys, and grieving for dogs: i.e. things that moan.

But it didn’t go anywhere. Who wants to read that? You want to laugh, be moved, relate—and when you’re bouncing back and forth between despondent and completely agitated, you just can’t come up with decent metaphors suited for anyone’s consumption.

So you rant. In your brain. Alone: where the best and most acute suffering seems to happen.

Ironically, my non-writing is probably also my best writing. But now you’ll never know.