Sunday, March 18, 2018

What will we call this time?

One side of my family is from the south, from coastal North Carolina. Among other endeavors, they grew peanuts, and every autumn of my childhood we received a huge bag of raw peanuts, to be roasted and enjoyed. On visits to see these relatives, I also recall being driven at night through the Dismal Swamp, which impressed me as eminently worthy of its name.

Like many of my other family members, those on the North Carolina side could be a bit eccentric. The one who sticks in my mind is Cousin Pearl, who at eighty had glasses like Coke bottles and rode a bike everywhere. In her house there was also a fascinating little room with walls lined from floor to ceiling by little apothecary drawers, in which she claimed to store “this and that. “ To this day, I have never learned their contents. 

Cousin Pearl was a wonderful conversation partner for a young teenager. One topic, though, was off limits: the Civil War. Cousin Pearl mentioned this painful period only once, referring to it as the “Late Unpleasantness.”  Though she was not born until 1880, Pearl had absorbed the anger and shame which must have come with the defeat of the Confederacy. 

Is this how many of us will feel, I wonder, in the aftermath of Trump’s presidency, always assuming we survive it?  Here we have a president with no observable moral compass, under investigation for obstruction of justice, money laundering, and possibly treason. He’s attempting to silence a porn star, lest she tell us the details of their affair. He fires non-political federal employees for political reasons. And he’s become Putin’s lapdog, even as we learn that Russian hackers have penetrated the command and control code of our electrical grid, and are likely once more to attempt to meddle in November’s midterm elections. 

Dear readers, it feels like the sky is falling. And this is only Trump’s first year. 

So what will we call this time? “Dark Ages” has, alas, already been taken. 

I was pondering this last week as I binged on season one of a Hulu series called Hard Sun. The main characters are two British detectives who unwittingly come across the government’s secret information that the sun, within five years, is about to go supernova (or something; it’s never quite clear), frying the earth and all her inhabitants. 

And so the question for the detectives becomes: knowing that the world will soon end, is there any point in worrying about law and order, guilt and innocence, accident or criminal intent? It’s quite an absorbing question, and I find the series riveting. 

And then I wondered: in the U.S. , with so much open corruption on regular view, and with new and fresh examples every day, how long will it be until right action begins to seem optional? Until morality ceases to matter to most people? We see this happening already, on the lunatic fringe, where hate crimes and hate speech are on the rise. 

When we look back on the Trump era, when it is finally over, what mark will it have left on us? What will be the name we call this blot on our national history?

I haven’t got an answer yet. I’d welcome suggestions. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

I seem to have mislaid my waist .......

Yes, that's right. I am in search of my waist. It has gone missing!

I lost quite a bit of weight in my fifties. 18 months of counting points. No ice cream. No peanut butter. So much rabbit food that I nearly grew a cottontail and began hopping around on the lawn at night.

But when I hit my 60s, my body turned on me, like a villain in a cartoon.

And now my waist has disappeared.

It used to be in the normal spot, and I was able to encircle it with belts and skirts. Now the belts just laugh at me. A skirt recently suggested I was ready to try elastic.

Now, I could lament this loss of my waist. I could go on and on about yesteryear, and how I was once a size eight. Or I could resign myself to the loss of my waist, and somehow ... somehow ... go on without it.

I hope it has gone to a good home.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Death of a neighbor

My next-door neighbor, Carolann, was found dead in her home on the 5th of August, when the police, having been requested to do a wellbeing check, broke down her door. They were in her home for quite a while, so we hoped she was simply going to be taken to the hospital again. But no. When the police finally emerged, they informed the small group that had gathered that Carolann had died.

While there was no wailing or gnashing of teeth, we were all sorry to hear this news. We had all had dealings with Carolann's eccentricities over the years, and many of these occasions had me on my last nerve. Recently we let her know that we wanted to remove a dying tree on the edge of our property, to make installing a fence a bit easier. In the end we installed the fence around the tree, since Carolann would not permit our tree removal folks to set foot on her property, and declared that if any branches fell on her bushes, there would be trouble.

In retrospect, these are small matters, and all derived from Carolann's untreated mental illness, which seemed to have started with extreme hoarding, progressing to a paranoid refusal to answer the phone or open the front door.  Carolann had a physical disability, too, which she said prevented her from coming outside. She had been a great gardener, so turning over all her gardening to others must have cut her to the quick.

Her lawn and garden were maintained for a low fee by an old friend, but the rest of the house featured peeling paint and a tarp on one corner of the roof, which she could not afford to have fixed. I understand the inside of the house was stuffed full of whatever people hoard. No doubt some vermin had also found a home there as well.

After the discovery of the body, a lieutenant showed up to direct the removal. When another neighbor asked if he knew the cause of death, the lieutenant replied, "Failure to thrive." This is a term I have heard applied only to elderly people in nursing homes. Carolann was only a year older than I am. I knew her church was delivering regular bags of groceries, but the lieutenant remarked that these were all hoarded inside the front door. He found loaves of bread from 2013. Carolann hoarded the food instead of eating it, and essentially starved to death amid the bounty.

Mental illness can be lethal. In suburban communities like mine, it typically is treated quietly by professionals, and usually does not become obvious. But in Carolann's case, the lieutenant claimed, no legal intervention was possible. Carolann was neither overtly suicidal, nor a threat to others. She refused all the social services to which she was entitled. Help could not be forced on her.

Still, the little voice in the back of my mind says, Still, there must have been something you could have done.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Free at last!

Well, I did it! My last day at work was Friday, June 30th.

For all my sentimental readers, I'd like to tell you that I woke up on July 1st and felt like I was dangling over the void. That the future stretches out before me like an undifferentiated, gray plain, wandered aimlessly by folk who have lost their reason for living. That I miss all the productive, life-saving work that I did in the law library.

But I would never lie to you. I now feel like I can leap tall buildings, scale rocky heights (well, short rocky heights). And I can count with no hands the lives I saved over my career.

Now I have time to read the morning office on my sunny front porch. Time to tackle little projects I have put off. Time to spend with my dogs and my husband (none of us is getting any younger). And I have volunteer work in a hospice facility that I find deeply satisfying.

So don't hesitate. Jump! Why work one more second, unless you love your job? Take that leap!

There's life on the other side. I promise!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


I'll admit it: Despite having been born in 1953, I was one of those kids who knew nothing about the old, original Cold War. We had no family bomb shelter, and as far as I can recall, none of our neighbors had one, either. We had no food saved, except in the very small chest freezer. Water? If it didn't come from the tap, we wouldn't have had any. Moreover, the Bomb was never a topic of discussion at our house. At least, not in my presence.

I did take part in Civil Defense drills in elementary school, of course. Depending on the location of the classroom, we either hid beneath our desks, doing the ole duck-and-cover, or we did the same thing out in the hall, with our heads up against the row of lockers. But I don't remember the Civil Defense drills being explicitly about the Bomb. I wonder if my classmates knew why we were doing this? I remember absolutely no discussion about it in the classroom, before the drill or afterward.
I did realize the Soviet Union was full of bad guys, of course. But these purported bad guys had nothing to do with me.

Boy, was I ever naive! Either my parents purposely kept me in the dark, or we were sheltered by our school system, or both. In adulthood, when I asked my mom about this, she simply said the Bomb hadn't been worth talking about -- we lived near a few likely targets -- we would be dead anyway. Moreover, she had no interest in surviving a nuclear war, since life afterward would be unimaginably different and difficult.

And so the idea of a nuclear war never really fixed itself in my mind. Until now, of course.

I am not used to being afraid of too much, but I am afraid of this. I get up every morning and turn on CNN with a feeling of pure dread -- what will I hear? Will the little psychopath in North Korea have fired off a nuclear-warhead-bearing ICBM towards Japan? Towards Seoul? Towards Seattle? And if he does, what will the response of the taller psychopath in Washington be? And ... where will this lead?

Gallows humor is not unheard-of at our house, but has really emerged from the shadows lately. Last Saturday night, J. suggested we watch a movie on-demand, "assuming we have time to finish before the war." As I saw him off to work this morning, he let me know he might be later than usual tonight. "Try to get home before the war," I answered, only half-kidding.

Can we really be normalizing this? Trivializing it, reducing it to the level of witty repartee? Nuclear war? At least I don't have to be careful to keep it from the children, who are adults now. I simply can't really admit to myself that this is real.

How it it all playing out at your house? I'd love to know!