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.
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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.

Image

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: http://bit.ly/1nnhoKg
2) Thursday, June 5: a shooter in Seattle, WA: http://cnn.it/1mgQ25m
3) Friday, June 6: a shooter in Atlanta, GA: http://yhoo.it/1kfnXdh
4) Friday, June 6: the beginning of 30 people shot in Chicago, IL:http://nbcnews.to/1kUUsUa

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.
CNN|BY RALPH ELLIS AND CHELSEA J. CARTER, CNN

 

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.

Bias, Equality, and the Dumb Stuff We Say

“Hey, Kara, can I talk to you a minute?”

My youngest son examines mannequins at the mall.

My youngest meets mannequins at the mall. We learn our biases early. Some are subtle; others not so much.

I swung 180 degrees from facing the computer to the window in my office. It was still morning. I spun 90 more degrees to look across my desk. Manny sat down opposite me. He looked upset. I guessed I had time.

“Yeah. What’s up?”
“It’s just,” he paused. “Geez. Ya ever get so frustrated with other people?”
I laughed. “All the time.”
“I mean, why do they have to keep bustin’ on me for bein’ Mexican?”
“Oh, man, that sucks. I’m so sorry. That should not happen.”

I felt immediately concerned. I wasn’t a manager or anything, but I certainly had a voice in the organization and I wasn’t going to stand by and let someone be treated unfairly. He had my attention.

“Yeah, it’s okay. I just wish I could get past this,” he said.
“The stereotype?”
“Yeah. I don’t think they know what they’re doin’. They don’t get what it’s like.”
“They think they’re funny?”
He smiled wryly. “They think so.”
“I get it,” I looked him in the eye. “I’m pretty sure I know how you feel.”
“You do? You’re white!”
“True. But I’m also female. Don’t shake your head. I get it. I mean, when’s the last time someone told you you were no good at a sport just because of what you are–not who you are?”
He scoffed. “Never. I was always good at sports.”
I nodded. “Okay. When was the last time someone said, ‘You can’t come with us. No Mexicans allowed.'”
“I’d kick their ass if someone said that to me.”
“Right. As you should–well, not literally.” I smiled again. He didn’t. I wasn’t connecting. I needed a better example.

“Okay, I’m going to tell you something I haven’t told anyone here.” He looked up from his hands to my eyes.
“The first time I hit the glass ceiling, I was only 23,” I explained. “I got told I couldn’t have the next job up; that, in fact, I would never have the next job up because I was a girl. Not a woman, mind you: a ‘girl.’ I was pissed.”
He whistled softly. “No way. Someone said that to you?”
I nodded. “Even worse. The someone who said it to me was my friend. Still is, actually.”
“Why would you still be friends? Why didn’t you bust him on it?”
“It wasn’t like that.”

I paused briefly. I had been like that. What was I trying to say?

“The thing is, I knew my friend, my boss, my mentor, wasn’t trying to be discriminatory. He thought he was just being honest. I worked in comic books at the time. He told me, as a girl, I didn’t know comic books ’cause I hadn’t grown up reading them. As a result, no writer or artist would respect me; so it wouldn’t make sense to make me an editor.”
Manny nodded. “Oh,” he said. “I guess that makes sense then.”

A small volcano started to bubble up in my brain. I breathed in through my nose and exhaled slowly.

“No. It didn’t. It didn’t make sense.”
“But what he said was true. Girls don’t know comic books so no one would respect them if they gave orders about comic books.”
“Manny, that’s like saying Mexicans can’t be managers. Because they’re Mexican. And they didn’t grow up seeing Mexicans in charge, at least not in this country.”
He glared at me. “That’s bullshit! Mexicans can be managers!”
“I KNOW! And girls, women, can learn comic books and become very good at editing them! It’s a dumb-ass stereotype and it sucked. What he should have told me was I lacked experience, which was true, that I should learn more and work up to editor. But he didn’t say that. He said ‘never’ because I was female.”

Manny was still fuming about the ‘Mexicans’-can’t-be-managers’ example, shaking his head from side to side. But, I felt I was getting close, so I pressed on.

“Look, you have a daughter, right?”
“Yeah.”
“How would you feel if someone told her she couldn’t do something just because she’s a Mexican-American–or a girl?”
“That’d piss me off. And I hate the way her teacher talks to my wife. My daughter is frickin’ smart!”
“I know. I’ve met her. I bet your wife feels like I felt when my old boss told me that. Is that how you feel when the guys on the line tell Mexican jokes?”
“Yeah. It’s not okay. I hate that.”

He looked up from his hands, which he had started wringing, absentmindedly. “So, what did you do?”

“I kept talking to him. I didn’t get defensive. I asked if I could gain some more experience, editing some books on my own, just a few. He agreed.”
“And? Did it stop? Did they stop treating you like a girl?”
I rolled my eyes at the irony.

“Well, no, not exactly, but I did kind of get the job, or part of the job. Just not the title or the pay. Any pay.” I laughed. It had been my first “real” job. Like everyone does at the first go-round, I’d worked for peanuts.
“It’s lousy when people are like that.”
“Absolutely, but I did need the experience and it wound up being really good for me. I learned a lot. It’s just, well, the judgement crap sucked and I had to be patient and work with people on it. Still do.”

Manny was bobbing his head up and down. He placed his hands on his knees like he was getting ready to leave. Had I made the connection? Had I related and helped?

“I just wanted you to know that I know how you feel. I get it. As a woman, I get judged on sexism crap all the time.”
He gave me an appraising look. “I didn’t know that stuff still happened for women. I thought it was better.”
“You know, it is in some ways, but that’d be like me saying to you, ‘well, times have changed and people aren’t racist anymore.'”

He scoffed again. I wrapped up. “I just want you to know, you’re not alone and I get it. And I promise I won’t ever do that to you.”
He visibly calmed down as he moved to stand. “Thanks, Kara. And I’m sorry that happened to you, too. I think you’re pretty smart and would make a really good manager.”
“Thanks, Manny!”

At just that moment, a piercing itch at the bottom of my foot radiated up my leg. Immediately, I bent down, slipped off my sandal (it was summer) and scratched ferociously at my heel.

“Whoah!” Manny chuckled uncomfortably. “Don’t go doin’ that! It makes your boobs totally bounce together and is really distracting!” He was standing, looking down at me, kind of laughing.

He winked.

The volcano started boiling again in my brain, an eruption of verbal evisceration about to break the surface.
I sat up.
“Are you for real? GET OUT!” I pointed to the door.
“What?” he shrugged as he left.

I bent back down and kept on scratching.