Flowers Are Red

Twin Nephs started first grade on Thursday. They were blithely dismissive of the fact that there must have been some sort of mistake and they must still only be about three years old. They were excited to get school supplies—well, alright, Neph 1 was excited—and bore the burdens of heavy backpacks well on Day One, as evidenced in the photos I received. But along with all this excitement came not only the usual tinge of sadness for us grown-ups, but a little extra kick in the head. And not the way Sinatra would mean it.

Sister 1 took Neph 1 (Neph 2 chose to stay at home) and her mother-in-law to the store to get the supplies listed in the emails the boys’ respective teachers had sent. There was a distinct difference between these lists, I’m told. Neph 2’s teacher requested the usual stuff: four folders, a few sharpened No. 2 pencils (awwww, remember No. 2 pencils?), a pencil box, crayons, markers, paper, etc. Neph 1’s teacher, on the other hand, was much more precise.

  • 12 No 2. pencils, sharpened
  • 12 No. 2 pencils, unsharpened

(“Can I get a pencil sharpener?!” Neph 1 excitedly asked. Sister 1 and her mother-in-law looked at the list.

“Sorry, honey. Not on the list.”

Cue minor dejection.)

  • 1 pencil box, primary color
  • 4 folders: red, green, yellow, blue – no other colors

(“Mom, what about this one?!” asked Neph 1, holding up his favorite color: orange.

Sister 1 checked the list again. “Nope. Can’t be orange. Sorry.”

Cue rolled eyes.)

  • 1 marble composition notebook – black and white only (awww, remember marble composition notebooks?)

(“‘Com…poh…sssih…’ I found a composition notebook, Mom!” exclaimed Neph 1, proudly holding it up. 

Sister 1 wrinkled her nose. “Sorry, buddy. That one’s purple. It has to be black and white.”

“But I like purple!” Neph 1 declared, wide-eyed and smiling with remaining hope.

“I know. Sorry.” My sister frowned for him.

Cue big sigh.

“I hope I wasn’t this tough on my students’ parents,” remarked the mother-in-law, a retired elementary school teacher.)

  • 1 eraser, pink, rectangular
  • 2 1″ binders, black
  • 1 16-pack Crayola crayons, standard colors
  • 1 8-pack regular size (not fat) Crayola markers, primary colors

…et cetera.

Neph 1 was still enthusiastic despite having some creative hopes dashed during the shopping trip. So was Sister 1, who was later photographed sitting at the kitchen table with her label maker, carefully branding all the kids’ stuff with their names. Amazingly, she did not label the kids themselves.

At a family get-together a day or so later, Sister 1 was telling a cousin, Callie, this story. Callie is a third grade teacher. She explained that she bets Neph 1’s teacher is older, more experienced, and more structured, while Neph 2’s teacher is probably younger and less organized. “By the time I get them in my class, I can tell which teacher they had in first grade,” she said. “The kids who had the tougher, structured teachers are more organized by the time they’re in third grade.”

My sister realized she’d forgotten to get Neph 1 the hand sanitizer from the list. Brother-In-Law 1 ran out on a quick trip to grab it, and, since there were no rules listed about what kind of sanitizer it had to be, he grabbed a bottle with an orange cap. It turned out to be peach scented stuff. Which thrilled my nephew. Less so, my brother-in-law.

I called the boys at 7:15 a.m. on their first day. My sister was combing their hair before sending them downstairs to get breakfast. “I’m going to do my hair sideways, because I think my teacher will like it,” said Neph 1. (“Do my hair sideways” means “part it on the side.”) He likes to impress people. He and his brother chatted to me energetically via speakerphone about how they get to ride the bus and how Neph 1 knows one other child in his class already but Neph 2 doesn’t know anybody in his. Neph 1 was giddy as he told me, “I get to have my own hand sanitizer! And it smells like peaches!” I’m telling you, it really doesn’t take a lot to make this kid happy. Realizing that they probably weren’t chewing their nutritious breakfast while they were talking to me, I wrapped up the conversation and let them prep their bellies for a day of learning.

That night, I got a message from my sister. She’d come home from work and asked the boys how their first day of first grade went. Unsurprisingly, my darling, exuberant, people-pleasing, sensitive, curious, purple-and-orange-loving, peach-scented godson piped up first.

“Well, I had a GREAT day!,” he told her. “I only got two time-outs—”

Two time-outs?!” my sister cried. “On the first day?! What did you do?”

Neph 1 screwed up his face in a classic expression he may have inherited from his favorite aunt. “I talked. I talk a lot, Mom.”

He may have inherited that from me, too.

“And do you know what?” he continued with vivacity. “Did you know that you’re not allowed to sing in class?”

He turned and looked sadly out the window.

“Today I learned that you’re not allowed to sing in class,” he finished.

Well. I went all Harry Chapin “Flowers Are Red” about it. Do you know the song? It’s about a little boy who goes to school all excited and starts coloring a picture, and the teacher says, “What are you doing?” and the boy says he’s painting flowers, and the teacher says, “It’s not the time for art, young man. And anyway, flowers are green and red.” She lectures this boy: “Flowers are red, young man. Green leaves are green. There’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always have been seen.”

But the little boy says, “There are so many colors in a rainbow, so many colors in the morning sun, so many colors in a flower, and I see every one!”

And the teacher says, “You’re sassy.” And after he argues again, she puts him in a corner, where he gets lonely, and he goes to the teacher and tells her she was right, that flowers are red and green leaves are green, and there’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always have been seen.

Then the boy’s family moves to another town and he goes to a new school and the teacher is smiling and says, “There are so many colors in a flower, so let’s use every one!” But do you know what the little boy does? He paints all the flowers green and red. And when the teacher asks him why, he says, “Flowers are red, and green leaves are green. There’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always have been seen.”

Like lots of other Harry Chapin songs, it means a lot more than a cute story about a fun kid and a dour teacher. It means that kids start out in life all excited and full of joy and natural curiosity and natural creativity, and stupid rules and the way they’re enforced start beating all of those great things out of them starting in first grade.

I read my sister’s story and thought, “That kid is going to get all that precious, wide-eyed excitement and innate joy beaten out of him, starting today.”

I actually cried.

This is another reason I can’t have kids, by the way. I’d be that mom who’s always falling apart at some perceived injustice or another.

Hell, I cried just typing the story out.

I totally get, by the way, why the kid can’t sing in class. I remember first grade, and I don’t recall being scarred by the realization that I wasn’t allowed to sing in class. (I don’t recall getting in trouble for singing, anyway. I recall getting in trouble for talking and being out of my seat without permission. And I recall standing in corners. In fact, I recall a particular moment in second grade when, standing in the corner, I glanced up at the crucifix nailed to the wall above my head, and my teacher saw me and said, “Yeah, you’d better pray!”) I am not psychologically damaged or less creative for these rules. I think Callie is probably right about structured teachers instilling organizational skills and an understanding that there are times and places for behaviors. It’s not the teachers’ fault. You can’t have a kid busting out with a Katy Perry song in the middle of an addition lesson.

Still… I think I might buy Neph 1 a few supplies he can keep at home. Like a purple composition notebook, and an orange folder. Because there are so many colors in a flower. And I want him to see every one.

And I’m glad my brother-in-law accidentally picked up peach-scented hand sanitizer. 

Now on my bookshelf: The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

If I Could Open My Eyes, I Might See the Light At the End of the Tunnel

So, I might hate grad school. Lil bit.

I had a meeting at the end of last month with one of the deans, who happens to be my client. Upon an exchange of pleasantries and my inquiry as to his well-being, he said, “I’m intermittently fine.” I thought that was a genius way to describe my own status and seconded. 

“You’re getting your master’s, right?” he asked.

“Trying to, yes,” I replied, because it was precisely the reason I was only intermittently fine.

“How many classes are you taking this term?”

“Two.”

His eyebrows went up. “Two? That’s a lot, with a full-time job.”

“Turns out!” I replied. 

And then he told me how I might be able to get around taking a 200-level stats course prereq with a bunch of sophomores by taking a special topics course in one of his college’s programs instead. Memo to me: if this works out, buy that man a fine bottle of his favorite liquor.

One of my classes features a six-phase case study. Since it’s done in phases as assigned, you can’t procrastinate and do it all at the back end of the term, which is great… but you also can’t get ahead. Because of that, and the fact that I have to write a 20-30 page research paper for the same class, due the same day as the case study, I decided to knock out the 20-25 page research paper in my other class well ahead of time. I can’t actually even remember when I got that paper done, but I think it was about three weeks ago. Seems like longer. 

Anyway, the case study. Handed in phase one. Aced it. “That’s the hardest part,” said the prof. “The rest is going to be easy.”

The man lied.

Having believed him, I handed in phases two and three on the appropriate date. A week later, he was set to return them. I sat in my tiny little desk like Will Ferrell in the opening scene of “Elf,” listening to him talk about how they were, on the whole, kind of disappointing. I was anxious. My fingers had heartbeats. What if I didn’t do well?

It was worse than I thought.

I didn’t do well. 

I bombed.

“I’m not even going to grade this,” he said. “Just do it over.”

His handwritten notes said, “Wrong,”  “Wrong,” and “This totally misses the mark” in the three sections of the grade sheet.

Do you remember how it felt when you were in high school or college and you got a bad grade on a test or a paper? How the bottom seemed to drop out of your stomach while your throat closed up? Pro tip: happens when you’re 37, too. 

Just do it over, he says.

*whimper* *moan* *sigh*

I had already spent hours – hours and hours – on this case study. And now I had to do these two phases again… and do the next phase. Due in two days.

I had to take a personal day to spend 11 hours working on this thing.

The end of the term is coming. All the stuff is due very, very soon – so soon that I should probably stop spending words on this blog post and write another page or two of a paper, instead. It’s so much harder to write them now! But by the end of this term, I will only have completed three of the 14 courses I need for my degree. The school is only offering one over the summer that can count toward my program. And the no-skin-in-the-game dean says, “Two… that’s a lot with a full-time job.” 

Well, here’s the thing: I don’t do a thesis in my program. I take comprehensive exams. And if I only take one class per term, it will take me 14 terms (4.66 years, assuming I can take a class every summer term) before I graduate. Nine terms (three years – same assumption) before I can take the first comp. I will have forgotten everything from the first classes by then.

Not happening. Gotta double up if they offer two program courses in a term.

I got back the three still-questionable phases of the case study on Monday. Wonder of wonders: I aced them all on the re-do. Now an implementation timeline, a budget, and a package and polish, and that baby is put to bed. I have written seven of the 20 pages required for the research paper. I have bled on the keyboard of this here laptop.

Tonight, I got back the four-question essay exam I had to take in the other class. I had had to completely BS one of the answers; he asked a question about the topic from the only class I’d missed. If I got partial credit, I would have had an 85 and I would have taken it.

I looked at the paper.

95%.

Whoa.

I looked at the question I couldn’t possibly have answered well. “I can tell you read the chapter,” he had written in red, “but be more specific.” And then he went on to talk specifics about the chapter. Which I had, in fact, not read. 

It was the only chapter I had not read, out of 21.

Fooled you, pal.

Maybe I’ll make it to the M.S.

What was that thing I used to do sometimes? Blogging?

A month. A whole entire month since I posted.

That, my (remaining) friends, is the longest I have ever gone. Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of my blog, and this is my gift to those of you who have been here almost all that time. Admittedly, it’s not much of a gift, and all you had to do to open it was click on the headline, but if we’re being honest, that’s all you’ve had to do to get anything from me in that three years.

I have thought of you. Oh, I have. I have thought, “I should write a post about that!” or “It’s been forever since I posted… and I feel like I had an idea… that one day…”

Mostly, though? Life. You know. You’ve had it. Not bad. Not amazingly good. Not whisked-away-to-an-awesome-deserted-island. Just living. Trying to stay above water. Trying to write, in one weekend, despite all best efforts at head starts, two 10+ page papers for grad school when it’s been 14 years since you wrote more than a page and a half. And doing it while possibly also having had a martini.

I swear to God, I wrote five paragraphs I didn’t remember writing. And they were good. The martini was merely average, and I so completely forgot I’d written them that I actually made a note to myself to write about the stuff that, it turned out, I had already written about.

I don’t know if that’s alcohol or age.

Also? It occurs to me that the paragraph up there was eerily disrespectful of the Malaysian Airlines situation right now, with its deserted island and above water references. Except if they’re on a deserted island, it’s probably not awesome.

See? I’m still a bad person. That hasn’t changed.

Speaking of that, though, my new fun game is playing Whack-A-Conspiracy-Theorist. My father thinks the plane was stolen for ransom. I’d like to know where he thinks some asshole landed a 777 full of people without anyone noticing, and how he thinks said asshole was gonna get picked up from wherever that was and delivered to his reward.

I personally am pretty sure it was hijacked, the flight crew was overcome or forced to fly a new route, and then the plane ran out of fuel and is now in the water. Nothing that’s real becomes an ABC series that pisses everyone off in its finale. Mini-series, tops.

You’d think I would have stopped being disrespectful when I actually noted that I was being disrespectful. Huh.

In other news: Bill O’Reilly should go away. Did you see this thing with his simmering disappointment about the president going on Zack Galifiniakis’ web show and degrading the presidency? Like nobody’s ever done that before. I mean I’m pretty sure that breaking into an opposite party’s office to steal stuff during a re-election campaign or getting blown in the hallway outside the Oval or being a general moron “decider” aren’t things that do favors to the institution. You know? But here’s Bill-O, Mr. Falafel, flatly stating about the president’s appearance on the web show that “Abe Lincoln would not have done it.” 

Well, no shit. There are a lot of things Old Abe would not have done. He wouldn’t have tweeted, sent an email, flown in a plane, driven a car, ridden in a car, used a telephone, taken penicillin…

You see where I’m going with this.

…wouldn’t have read “Killing Lincoln” by Bill O’Reilly…

…and not just because he would have to be alive to read it…

I’m saying “Abe Lincoln would not have done it” is not valid unless the “it” was done by James Buchanan or Andrew Johnson. And they were both dull, so there’s a lot of wiggle room there, too.

For those who may be wondering, Liam is presently out of the country on business in Madrid. To be followed by a quick layover in Singapore en route to Sydney. By which I mean there is basically nothing that is “en route” to Sydney, but anyway, that’s the itinerary. We’ve had two dates and a third attempt, thwarted by family obligations on both sides. He’s not back for another week and a half, but he may be in touch before then.

Since I’ve been gone, Shiny New Niece turned a year old and Neph 2 informed me essentially that I suck at Super Mario Brothers. Also I beasted “Killing In the Name” on the easy setting of Guitar Hero and am now seriously thinking about joining a band. Both aforementioned papers were finished, if not good, and I await grades. I enrolled in a summer class, a political science elective about public policy. Oh! And I testified in the senate judiciary committee of my state legislature in favor of a bill my state delegate wrote at my behest, asking that offenders who have violated terms of home detention not be granted eligibility for home detention in the future. It seems like a common sense thing, but the bill isn’t going anywhere. It’s not written well. But that’s okay. We keep on.

I am well.

I hope you are, too.

If not, I hope you’re completely nuts and leave an amusing comment.

Can Someone Just Write This Thing For Me?

Probably I should be writing a 1,000-word-or-less statement for my graduate school application right now, but I’m not. Because I can write anything you ask me to… seriously, pretty much anything, I got this… but a 1,000-word-or-less statement about my academic and professional experience with researching, planning, executing and evaluating communications campaigns? Despite being, you know, what I do for a living? 

Totally incapacitating.

Can my 1,000-word-or-less statement be, “I work here. I’m actually your office’s PR and marketing person. If you’d like samples of my work, see every publication you’ve sent out to a prospective student in the last four months. Also the institution’s website. Admit me. Thanks.”  Forty words. Short, sweet, to the point. Here’s my application fee. 

Yeah, one of those sentences isn’t really a complete sentence. Points off for that.

Because don’t make me think about what I do for a living. I’m quite familiar with what I do, but if I have to deconstruct it into all those subcategories and figure out how to apply them directly, I’m going to have writer’s block for days. Which I can’t really afford, because classes start in… soon.

It’s weird, thinking about going back to school. I say “thinking about” because obviously I’ve been lax in getting my application finished. The statement is all that stands in my way right now, but I’m really not in an all-fired hurry. If I don’t get to start in the fall, that’s fine, I’ll save my money for books and fees and start when they let me. Apparently I’m going to be forced to take a statistics course before I can start the M.S., so that’s going to suck, but maybe I could get that out of the way if I don’t get in right this minute.

Or whatever minute I finish the statement.

Which has not yet been started.

That first sentence is so clutch, right? I pick up books and judge them by their first sentence. I really do. And although the first sentence of my blog posts has never been a huge priority for me, I realize this is a different thing. I can’t think of how to start this statement. 

Generally, if I don’t know what the first sentence of something I write should be, I just start writing from whatever point is already worked out in my head and go backward if I have to. But I got nothin’ for this.

I graduated with my B.A. 14 years ago. And I didn’t want to do another minute of school. I didn’t hate it or anything… I just knew I’d had enough of being a ridiculously good student for a while. My father had told me that, if I went for my master’s right then, he and my mother would pay for it. But as much as I appreciated the offer, I couldn’t bring myself to look at one more textbook.

Now I’m not sure they even use textbooks. Does anybody still know how to take notes with their fingers and a pen?

But now, boo-yah Dad: I get to do the degree for free. On account of I work there.

Wooot! Saved you a bunch of cash! You’re welcome.

If it weren’t for the free schooling, I wouldn’t be doing it at all. I love learning new things – hell, there’s so much cool stuff going on at the school, I could audit classes for years just for the sake of learning new stuff. But I wouldn’t pay for a master’s degree because, while I do believe in the value of education, I don’t believe I have any idea whether it would really be helpful to my professional life. I mean… it seems like everybody’s got a master’s degree these days. It just ups the ante, doesn’t it? 

But then I remember that still not everybody has a college education at all. Sure, in a professional capacity, pretty much everyone in my world does. But maybe the master’s does help somehow.

Here’s hoping.

I debated getting my MBA, actually. And then I stopped debating because it would take me another year as a part-time student (three instead of two, year-round) and would involve me being completely bored to terrible, bitter crocodile tears by every single class in the curriculum.

But occasionally I think, “Well… maybe that is what I should do. Because it’s supposedly a universal master’s degree that can work in any professional forum, and if it’s free as long as I work here, maybe it’s better to get the degree I’ll hate getting for free instead of waiting until they realize I clearly have no idea what I’m doing and fire me, and then I have to pay to get a degree it turns out I really do need.

“But wait, maybe not, because if it’s universal then doesn’t that put everyone who has an MBA into the same pot of relative ability and then somebody has to get a doctorate or something?”

And then I stop the whole thing, because wine.

Which, by the way, is also what allows me to continue procrastinating on writing this statement they require. (I had to stop and think about what word I wanted just then before I came up with “procrastinating.”) 

School is going to be much harder now that I’m A) much older; 2) half-crazy; third) a big fan of vino.

The good news is, my friend Angie, who got her master’s at 25, says you get better at writing papers while buzzed as you go. 

It’s weird we didn’t discover that as undergrads.

The Course of Human Events

Social media tends to give those of us who participate in it an interesting glimpse at how people think about Independence Day. Other holidays too, but particularly the patriotic ones. Aside from the lack of creativity (everyone changes their profile photo to a waving-in-the-noble-breeze American flag and says “Happy 4th everyone!”), there’s a lot of thanking the military for upholding and protecting freedom.

I’m down with that.

But there is a forgotten faction of that militia, and I hate for us to misremember the way our independence was declared. It was early in the struggle, just less than two years after the first Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia, that 56 men met and argued for hours and days over exactly what independence would mean for these colonies they had created – colonies which did not always agree and, indeed, often fought openly about the ramifications of their freedom from King George III’s tyranny.

It was this fighting, this conflict, in a hot and airless chamber of a building still standing, that first truly won the nation’s freedom, a freedom signed in ink before blood on July 4, 1776. From this, a purpose for guns and bombs was gelled. The fighting had begun long before, on principle and on blood-stained ground, but it was a loosely-held union that faced the redcoats of the King’s army.

It was the unequaled might of the pen that sealed the bonds against Britain.

We don’t celebrate that much. We manipulate their document and the Constitution that followed to score points against those with whom we disagree, but we don’t often offer proper reverence to the 56 men who were willing to put their lives on the line not in front of rifles and cannons but in front of each other, who left their weary wives and children in Boston, in Wilmington, in Charleston and Atlanta, to travel on horseback for weeks and face the threat of sacrificing their sons for the sake of the shaky ground on which they dared to stand firm.

These were noble men, great men, brave and strong and carrying the weight of a new way of life on their limited shoulders.

Soldiers are hailed as heroes and often – but not always – deserve to be. Founders are relegated to history as men in funny hats who blew hard, only regarded as Founding Fathers when it’s convenient to rhetoric.

Who really is responsible for America’s freedom? Who really is ennobled by the distinction of setting forth the cause for which all American fighting – some of it misguided – has come since?

John Adams.
Samuel Adams.
Josiah Bartlett.
Carter Braxton.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Samuel Chase.
Abraham Clark.
George Clymer.
William Ellery.
William Floyd.
Benjamin Franklin.
Elbridge Gerry.
Button Gwinnett.
Lyman Hall.
John Hancock.
Benjamin Harrison.
John Hart.
Joseph Hewes.
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
William Hooper.
Stephen Hopkins.
Francis Hopkinson.
Samuel Huntington.
Thomas Jefferson.
Francis Lightfoot Lee.
Richard Henry Lee.
Francis Lewis.
Philip Livingston.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Thomas McKean.
Arthur Middleton.
Lewis Morris.
Robert Morris.
John Morton.
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
William Paca.
Robert Treat Paine.
John Penn.
George Read.
Caesar Rodney.
George Ross.
Dr. Benjamin Rush.
Edward Rutledge.
Roger Sherman.
James Smith.
Richard Stockton.
Thomas Stone.
George Taylor.
Matthew Thornton.
George Walton.
William Whipple.
William Williams.
James Wilson.
John Witherspoon.
Oliver Wolcott.
George Wythe.

Freedom forever to be defended under the flag and the sword – because of these men.

Let us never forget.

Now Is the Time

I need someone to explain to me why we must so diligently defend the right to own a gun.

No, really. Someone please explain it to me. Real reasons.

I confess up-front: I hate guns. They are instruments of death, created only for the purpose of injury or killing. That said, I understand that some people need guns to protect themselves or their families from wild animals. I understand that some people need to hunt in order to eat. I understand that some people live in places where they don’t feel safe unless they have one. I have a bit of trouble with that last part, because I don’t think owning a deadly weapon should be a safety blanket, but I don’t live somewhere where I feel I need a gun, so I won’t claim I understand.

But here is the amendment so many people so vociferously and sometimes ferociously defend:

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Why do we always seem to forget about the first half of that amendment and insist on the second half? A well regulated militia securing a free state. Also known as the military and law enforcement. Not everybody and their brother. Everybody and their brother are not a well regulated militia. 

What has happened so many times in our country is not just about the second amendment. It’s about a lot of things. But it does have a lot to do with guns, because the other potential reasons – the breakdown of family, the secularization of society, generational poverty, lack of opportunity, the glorification of violence in mass media – none of those things cause murder with spoons or sticks. Mental illness is a global problem – it does not discriminate based on age or gender, nationality or creed, geography or income level. I will always, always advocate for the mentally ill. I will always insist that we remove the stigma of those who are unwell. I could and might write a whole separate post about it. But there have always been the mad among us… yet there have not always been these kinds of mad acts. Proof of this exists in the numbers of gun-related deaths around the world. My God, we have so many more. And so, so many unsolved. Welcome to America: you’re free to fire. Wave that flag.

And it’s not that I don’t love my country. In fact, it’s the opposite. I love my country so much that I want to stop proving to the world how much tragedy we allow under the guise of defending words ratified 221 years ago (December 15, 1791), presently pushed in the name of commerce, trade and lobbying. There hasn’t always been easy access to guns. But we’ve already slid down the slippery slope. We already have literally hundreds of millions of guns in this country – I heard one estimate that there’s one for every man, woman and child.

The Constitution, the Bill of Rights – these are not the Bible. These are not the infallible words of God. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written by human beings trying to extricate themselves from a king. They had rifles that had to be loaded through the barrel with a tamp, and pistols that puffed smoke when they fired. Bring back Jefferson, bring back Adams, bring back Hamilton and Franklin and all the undersigned, and I swear to God they would all tell us we’re out of our minds for letting everybody who wants to own a gun do so in these times when we are not trying to beat back Redcoats in front of the farm. I swear to God they would want to know how all the people who walk into gun shows and all the people who thrill at the power of the weapon in their hands constitute a well regulated militia.

We are wrong about the Second Amendment. We. Are. Wrong.

But we have slid down the slope, so I can be reasonable. Can gun rights advocates be reasonable, too? I won’t take away your right to own a handgun or a shotgun. But I for damned sure am done with your supposed right to own anything more, or to own, frankly, more than one or two. I am done with your supposed right to own more than ten rounds of regular, non-armor piercing, non-hollow point ammunition for a handgun, or the average number of shotgun shells needed to bag your family’s dinner for a month. It’s just not reasonable. It’s not. And I declare this forcefully because no one has ever been able to explain to me why it is.

Twenty-eight mass shootings since April 1999 and ColumbineTwenty-eight. And every time, those who advocate for gun rights say “now is not the time… don’t politicize the tragedy… guns don’t kill people – people kill people.” I’m done with it. NOW IS THE TIME. Make it political, because gun rights are political. The NRA can go to hell. Twenty children are dead. 

I’m done.

 

Newtown

I was grumpy today. I didn’t even realize it until I was at the chiropractor and she was being pushy and I didn’t have the grace to entertain it. I was worried about a sudden $1300 medical bill I didn’t expect, and the fact that my washer won’t spin and the clothes have had to be wrung out by hand before I could put them in the dryer.

Then I got a text from my sister, asking if it was really true that 18 kids had been shot to death in a Connecticut elementary school.

I feel many things, like all of us do, but mostly I feel so tired. Enough now. Enough. I have stopped asking why things like these happen. There is no reason. Reason implies logic, and there is nothing logical to mass murder, regardless of the ages of the victims. There may be explanations, and we may learn more as time goes on. We may come to greater understandings about the gunman’s disturbed motivations. And there may be causes. Contributing factors.

But there is no reason.

My nephews are five. That’s how old a lot of the victims were. I can’t even imagine their parents sitting home tonight with Christmas trees sparkling and gifts hidden for a child who won’t open them. An elf perched on a shelf to make sure she doesn’t misbehave. The beginnings of a college fund somewhere in a bank. 

There will be no Christmas in Newtown, Connecticut this year.

What hurts us the most as a society is the innocence of these victims. Too young to have done anything wrong yet. Too small to have harmed a soul. Too sweet, too round-faced, too bright-eyed, too soft.The worst things they’ve done was to kick a sister or color on a wall or break a mother’s heart heading off to school as time requires. No one deserves a day like this. But all of us have things for which we must account when we meet our final judgment. These children had nothing to confess.

Children are the hope of the old, the frightened, the lost, the weary. Children are the hope of nations. The world got dimmer today. The night is not as bright.

The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels.

And there is no reason.

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A Note Before You Vote

You didn’t think you were going to get to Tuesday without another political post from me, did you?

Just a few things to think about before you head to the polls… provided you didn’t vote early.

Who Do You Really Dislike?
Not as in hate. As in, if you have a problem in the political sense, with whom does that problem truly sit? Here’s why I ask: we do a great job making a big deal out of the presidential election. And we should. It’s hugely important. But it’s not the only important thing. There’s also Congress.

Food for thought: Since January 2009 when President Obama was inaugurated, his lowest approval rating was 41% (March 2012). His highest was 57% (May 2011 – right after Osama bin Laden was killed).

Since January 2009, Congress’s lowest approval rating was 10% (August 2012). Its highest was 39% (March 2009).

That means that President Obama’s very lowest approval rating was better than Congress’s very highest. And when the nation was least happy with him, he had still satisfied four times as many people as Congress had.

My point is, a shocking number of people don’t know who represents them in Congress. Given that, they can’t possibly know what that person stands for, how they vote, what positions they take in politically touchy situations, from whom they take money, to whom they’re beholden. So why are we all so angry when they don’t do what we think they should?

The country’s problems are not all about its presidents, and we should pay much more attention to our representatives and senators. If you want to see who your congressperson is, go to www.house.gov/representatives/find/  and you can plug in your zip code to find out. If you want to know how they’ve voted on issues and bills, go to www.opencongress.org. Do it before Tuesday, because they’re all up for re-election. Congressional representatives are elected every two years. If you discover too late that you don’t like what you see, you have two years to keep track of them and get it right next time.

What’s Really A Distraction?
One of the most common refrains this campaign season has been that insert Issue That’s Hurting Party A — here – is a “distraction” put up by Party B. But not everyone finds the same things distracting. In fact, some of us find some of those so-called “distractions” pretty important. There is more than one issue facing this country. It’s not just about the economy. It’s not just about jobs. It’s not just about regulation or deregulation. Or taxes. Or education. Or immigration. Or women’s health. Or abortion. Or federal funding for programs. It’s about all of those things, and to say otherwise is insulting. Don’t dismiss an issue out-of-hand simply because you didn’t feel like listening to the discussion. And don’t allow your leaders to do it, either.

And Speaking Of Self-Interest…
One of the things that disappoints me most about people in general and about American politics specifically is that everything happens because of money. I don’t just mean campaign fundraising or Congressional budgets. Money pushes policy we would otherwise think objectionable on more than one level. I think it’s compromising our (dare I say) moral standard as a union. This is particularly true of political decisions that hurt the communities they affect, rather than helping them. For example: the casino built on the west side of Columbus, Ohio. The west side is poor. The casino is there because the people were powerless to stop it, unlike residents in other parts of the city. And the area around it has only declined. Similar example: Atlantic City. Been there? It’s a hole. The flash of the lights keeps your attention away from the crumbling infrastructure and dilapidated homes. (No jokes about Sandy, please – I have a deep connection to the Jersey Shore, despite my opinion of AC.)

And more and more, we as individuals seem to think only of ourselves. It’s natural to vote one’s interests, but there seems to be a growing insistence that one’s own interests be the only interests one must consider. “Give me everything, or give me death.” Sometimes I find myself wondering whatever happened to the inspiration that came from President Kennedy’s simple call: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Let’s not forget that this is a nation forged in the interest of the greater good, and for everyone’s rights equally. Not just yours.

Yes, Your Vote Does Count
It’s easy to get discouraged when your political leanings are opposite those of your fellow state residents. It’s easy to feel like no one will miss your opinion at the polls. But in a population of 1,000, twenty such opinions can change a race entirely. Yep, just two percent. In 2004, President George W. Bush only got 3,000,176 more votes than John Kerry. Two percent.

But about 21,000,000 registered voters stayed home.

So this is it. I’ve smacked you around with political posts for more than 16 months. I’ve gotten myself worked up. I’ve chased my tail and shaken my head. I’ve done my best (through absolutely no mandate at all from any of you) to share what I hoped were informative and at least mildly entertaining breakdowns. And now we have arrived at the doorstep of yet another moment in American history.

Be part of it.

Vote.

Early Voting: My First Experience

I suppose the second cup of coffee was ill-advised.

I still haven’t closed on the house. To recap: it was set for Tuesday. Then the Atlantic Ocean got all pissed off and the lending banks were like, “Whoa.” Then it was going to be Wednesday. Then it was going to be Thursday. Then it was “looking like” Friday. Then  they said, “it’ll almost definitely be Monday.” Now I’ve just gotten a call saying it’ll probably be Wednesday, because the appraiser insisted on a second look after the storm. Which doesn’t make sense, because shouldn’t that be the inspector?

Fine. Whatever. I just need to lie down.

I had a therapy session with Ali Velshi today, appropriately. I have realized in the last two visits with him that one of the tells of my anxious highs is that I talk a freaking mile a minute. I already talk fast, but whew. My previous therapist (Ali Velshi is my second) used to point it out to me when I was “zooming.” Ali Velshi hasn’t really taken that tack yet, though I did catch him eyeing my foot as I twirled it around and around and around while I talked to him. Unfortunately, what I do for a living and the people I work for are very unforgiving, and that is actually the greater part of the stress. Everyone gets stressed buying a house, and plenty of people have had far worse setbacks than I have. Hell, I could have closed on a house at the Jersey Shore on Friday. It’s work that compounds the problem for me.

Yesterday, after I ran out of boxes and bubble wrap, I turned around in circles in my living room a couple of times before I told myself aloud that I could go vote. And so I did.

What an entertaining hour that was.

It bears noting that this is my first time voting in my particular area, where I’ve only lived for two years. Sadly, this means I have nothing with which to compare the amusement of yesterday’s outing. Usually, I walk in on election day around 9am and it takes all of 15 minutes. Early voting isn’t really my thing – I prefer the patriotic, Sorkinesque rush of the shared First Tuesday In November experience to the wah-wah that it becomes after people have already done their civic duty days or weeks in advance. But alas, since the bank, work, Mother Nature and the universe are conspiring to kill me on or before November 6th, off I went.

If the signage can’t properly direct me to the where I should park for early voting, we’re off to a bad start. Just sayin’.

Eventually, though, I found the appropriate lot, and entered what used to be a school building and is now used for police and fire training to find an environment not unlike what I imagine Soviet Russia to be. Which, you have to grant, is ironic.

Don’t get me wrong. It actually went very smoothly. But first, we were corralled into a former gymnasium full of rows of chairs. Everything was painted cinderblock. Colors were drab. The chairs were Machiavellian. (I’m mixing metaphors. Deal with it.) We all had to sit next to each other – no empty chairs between voters, for the sake of the republic. And I’m fine with that, but not everyone else was. The election officials kept asking, “Is this an empty seat?” as if it were some sort of outrage.

Every so often, they’d take the first row of congregants. The rest of us didn’t know where those people went. It was kind of scary. But when they’d take the first row, then everybody had to get up and move exactly one row up from their previous seated position.

Can I tell you something? It’s troubling that not everyone can handle this kind of “upset.”

The woman next to me was one of those people.

“What?! Oh, hell naw. No. Why it have to be like this?” she wanted to know.

Lady, just effing move up one seat. This is not hard. Do it.

While a small child wailed behind me and her mother continued a conversation on her cell phone, we played the musical chairs game. Sans music. I will admit that my eyes were directed almost entirely upon my phone during this wait, but only because I forgot to bring a book. Then I heard someone saying, “Take care, now,” while the click-clack of her heels reverberated through the room. I looked up.

It was the mayor.

Meh. Back to my phone. Interestingly, though she’s popular and has done a very good job (and is not up for re-election this year), no one jumped up to talk to her or shake her hand. She just walked on through.

She looks good, though. Lost a lot of weight. G’ahead, girl.

Some couple who might have come from an Eastern Bloc country kept trying to jump the line. This nearly caused bedlam. I don’t know if they genuinely didn’t understand the process or what, but I found myself mildly irritated with the people who were unhappy about it. We still all get to vote. Who the hell cares if they vote before you? 

It’s interesting to see the passions ignited at a polling place. Apparently, not only is it essential that we are given our right to vote; it is also essential that we are given our right to vote in the precise order of which we entered the building.

Settle down, y’all. Russia ain’t near closed yet.

Eventually, I was in the front row. When it was time to move me and my compatriots, we went to another holding cell, where a few people got upset about the order in which we were lined up and I remembered that I should probably just sit quietly and not try to fix anything. This is the part where random people started trying to tell the election officials how to do their jobs.

Hold up. You couldn’t handle moving up ah row. You think you can tell an election official how to keep an orderly line? You still get to vote. Even though I’m pretty sure at this point that you probably shouldn’t.

After another waiting period, we got to move into the actual voting area. There: more line issues. Apparently it’s difficult to form a line. This is the part where I started worrying about the entire voting process and wondering if dictatorship wasn’t really the best way to go. But the election official easily found me in the list of city residents and handed me my electronic card. Then I joined another line (all lines were marked by – of course- gray tape) and waited for a Trapper-Keepered voting machine to become available.

If you’re a regular reader, you know I’ve done my homework, so actually voting didn’t take long. There were no glitches with technology. All went well. I handed in my electronic card and left the building.

Some people in the parking lot tried to drive out the wrong way. I briefly pondered whether the police directing traffic should find out their names, go back inside, find their voting cards and pull them due to a total lack of intelligence.

But no. That’s not how this country works. Never has. It does not matter whether you are smart or not. Frankly, not everyone is blessed with the same degree of sense, common or otherwise. But everyone is granted the right to vote.

God bless America.

And I mean that.

******
PS. Know what I did while I waited to vote? Joined Twitter. Grudgingly. Follow me over on the right where you see the little birdie.

 

The Lost Art of Campaigning

As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.

Something profound has happened in American history. Oh, we’ve seen the signs since the country was founded – campaigns have always been ugly… brutal, even… lies spread every which way about every candidate in every form of communication. That part isn’t new.

What’s new is the lies now spread about the American people.

It’s insidious. Even as much as I follow politics, I didn’t see it clearly until now.

Somewhere along the way, presidents and presidential candidates have forgotten that, in the White House, they must be the president of everyone, not just of the people who voted for them. They have become willing to throw entire groups of people away, to offend their sensibilities, their beliefs and their convictions, for the sake of currying favor with those other Americans who hold opposing views.

Elections have become less about pitting one candidate against the other and more about pitting one group of Americans against another in the name of a candidate. We’ve heard it called “the politics of fear,” and that’s accurate, but it’s usually a phrase flung forward by a candidate using it to scare their supporters away from their opponent. We’ve heard it called “class warfare” – a term that amuses me, since the last uncounted years demonstrate that class warfare has always been waged – but usually on the poor instead of the rich.

We are now in a time when greatly offensive words uttered in private fundraisers and recorded are called “inelegant” instead of what they really are: the truth of a candidate’s feelings accidentally spoken aloud. It is as true of then-candidate Obama’s “guns and religion” as it is of Mitt Romney’s “victims.” That these things were said doesn’t surprise me. Both comments offended me. In campaigning, I’m willing to call it a wash. But in the intent to govern the American people, what it truly is is a name-calling. A categorization of some Americans into “those people.”

And so when it happens, a candidate or a president has two choices: stand by it and essentially claim it as your true feeling, or back off from it and apologize for offense. Mr. Romney has done the former; the president, the latter. I don’t know which one is more sincere or more admirable, but I do know which one acknowledges offense and error (albeit after the fact).

It is no coincidence that these uncovered utterances happen at private fundraisers. It is, after all, money that is king in a republic meant not to have one. It is in front of $30,000-a-plate diners that candidates are willing to make those less elegant feelings known, so they can gather funds from the people who agree. Until they’re in office, they speak only to friendly audiences.

But of course, all candidates, all people, have their biases. We’ve heard it in decades-old tapes of Presidents Nixon and Johnson in the Oval Office. It is the information age, the age of global media and the internet, that have laid those biases bare in campaigns in recent years. Maybe nothing has really changed at all, and it’s just that we know about it all now. But the Observer Effect tells us that the act of observing a phenomenon or event changes the phenomenon or event. So the fact that the American people can now hear and see these biases will change the way campaigns are run, the way we vote, and the way we are governed.

It was the Great Communicator, the Republicans’ sainted and oft-invoked Ronald Reagan, who first understood that we were coming into a global media atmosphere. His speeches stirred the masses because they found them inspiring. Are we inspired now by the messages we hear? And if so, what are we inspired to do? Are we inspired to support a candidate because he reinforces our distrust of a group we consider opposed to us?

If so, that’s the wrong way to be inspired. On either side. And it is our responsibility to be aware of that.

Somewhere in the fairly recent past, politicians came to believe that the key to getting elected is to make us distrustful of one another. It’s what spurred the sea change of the 2010 congressional elections. It is what’s driving this presidential campaign. It is an engine of its own, churning so mightily in Congress that it is propelling those who used to be moderates either out to the margins or out of their offices voluntarily, if not by elective force. Politicians believe that this is what we want.

And we’re proving it, every time we vote a moderate out of office. It may be the single greatest unintended consequence of American government: the sacrifice of our government’s ability to work together.

I didn’t divulge the name of the person I quoted at the beginning of this post for a reason. He was a contentious figure, one regarded as vitriolically partisan. And he was not a politician. I didn’t divulge his name because I wanted to see how many people who might philosophically disagree with him would in fact agree with at least this statement, without knowing the speaker’s leanings. Sometimes I think we could use more of that kind of decision-making – the kind that eliminates party or platform, that takes “those people” out of the message and speaks simply to common sense, even though common sense can differ.

It was common sense, and a common goal of independence and the betterment of man, that created this country.

Perhaps that is what we need to sustain it.