America, America…

DISCLAIMER: Not a diary post. Entirely opinion-driven content which some call political but I refer to as WTF is going on? My questions are genuine and knowing the answers would go a long way toward reconciling the collective transmogrification of this era. It’s therapeutic simply to ask.

  1. Which character traits found in Donald J. Trump are the ones that inspire trust, confidence, and loyalty in his followers? What do they hear when he speaks, what do they see as he moves through his world?
  2. Why did safety precautions during a worldwide pandemic become politicized? Why this battle over that situation? Does somebody stand to benefit if more Americans die? Is that why the mounting death toll – now more than the sum of five U.S. wars – is refuted and ignored?
  3. We see fascism encroaching on our now-creaky system of democracy… we’ve been watching its advance for the past four years, and far longer underground. Why are Americans who are anti-fascist, as our parents were, now the enemy? And why is that way of life what Donald Trump’s voters want for America?
  4. Will people really buy into four more years of daily chaos because they care about only one issue? How fairly will fetuses-saved balance viable-lives-lost when the counting’s done? And one last time, why are the unborn the only Americans who qualify for the unassailed right to live?
  5. His rallies never took a break until stopped by the virus. Endless political rallies held by the incumbent, who does that and why?
  6. The rallies consistently attract people who seem primed for confrontation, avid for it. Is the primal desire to inflict damage on liberals a general thing in the GOP now? Is that the emotion that drives the narrative?
  7. Why has the angry, armed white man become an icon in this era? What’s the appeal? Is the typical Trump voter really that base?
  8. What are the tenets and characteristics of today’s GOP that motivate an average citizen to align with it? What is it about the interface, the interaction with the public, the perceptions attached, and their code of ethics that causes people to identify?
  9. A homogenous society, pretty same-same, nobody weird, nobody marching to their own drummer, all pigment and cultural backgrounds tame and non-threatening… that feels like the kind of world conservatives want. Will there ever be real communication on all that and more?
  10. Are Trump’s followers good with a country where everyone except white Republican males is a second-class citizen? Where Black citizens live life from cradle to grave dreading THE MOMENT? Where LGBTQ citizens are gradually, or quickly, re-stripped of the equal rights and protections they’ve won, older people are entirely expendable, and truth is something our grandparents valued?
  11. After standing against Russia’s brand of ethics for generations, why does Trump’s base now want to BE Russia? What changed?
  12. For the evangelical world, which helped put him where he is, are there no lines anymore, no principles that matter beyond their agenda? And does the end ever really justify the means?
  13. What about Donald John Trump says “Jesus the Savior” to evangelicals and others? What are the similarities, the places where their reputed characters align?
  14. How do loyal Trump voters see the world in the next four years? Serene, the opposition vanquished at last, society remade into the conservative mold? No visible differentiations, nothing that marks us as a diverse, free, happy, inventive, creative society with the maturity to give and take? Will every aberrant blip, especially in cities now designated Anarchy Jurisdictions, be dealt with swiftly and forcefully before somebody can incite a neighbor? Is our right of redress against what was representative government already dead?
  15. Will Trump’s people and Republicans in general be happy with the spoils if he wins? Satisfied? In a mood to play nice? Or is this forever now? That’s the answer I want most.

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Bowling for buoyancy… page 95

Day 187 – 09/15/2020

Some days the slog is uphill both ways, through rain, hail, sleet, snow, and broken glass. I wake up and Brain says “Again? Nothing’s changed and you want me to engage with this shit show AGAIN? It’s a freakin’ lot of hours ’til bedtime, chicky.” But… life goes on.

I saved this comment by my Twitter friend Kim – it hits me deep, what with the daily carnage everywhere:

As challenging as this stretch of time has been, I know I would have imploded without the things Kurt Vonnegut recommended to us. It’s just a fact.

Things that “make my soul grow” …

Note to me and mine today:

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Time, yeah… page 94

Day 185 – 09/13/2020

I fronted a smooth face to the world for a long time. But now, thanks to the power of genetics, when I look in the mirror I see all my grandmothers looking back at me, and like Nora Ephron I feel bad about my neck, so – SCREW mirrors. The never-ending decade formerly known as 2020 is aging me from the inside out in subtle but irrefutable ways, something I vowed wouldn’t happen. The joke’s on me… life and time run this show and both are brief and merciless.

One truth that’s emerging from the current chaos is that hope keeps us young and if it starts to fade to any quantifiable degree our remaining store of callow youth goes with it… and you can’t get that back. It’s the age-old story… the tree, the fruit, the serpent, the question, the opportunity… and the choice… to know. Once we see behind the curtain the world changes forever, but without truth nothing evolves upward, especially the difficult truths, the ones we try to avoid, so it all has to be faced. There are things I wish I didn’t know about my nation, my neighbors, and the world… but as all the best people are saying, “It is what it is.” Innocence has been deflowered and total adult knowledge and responsibility have landed on our doorstep. Dammit-cwap.

Perhaps I’ll achieve this venerated state of wisdom…

John said something yesterday that will stay with me. He was updating me on friends whose plans for future retirement are altogether lovely but currently almost beyond reach, and when I showed concern that time and circumstances might keep them from realizing their goals, he put it all into perspective with one profound thought… “Sometimes the planning and hoping is the payoff.” That’s so sweetly true. Once in a while when we’re hanging out on the balcony, talking about the price of cotton and how high the river might rise, Kim and I build sand castles out of ways to spend lottery money… the people we’d share with, the promises we’d keep, the possibilities that would suddenly be open to us just for having several million dollars at our disposal. Our plans are always doable and perfectly reasonable, but actually achieving them would be far more time-and-labor-intensive and less-perfect than the dreaming, we know that… so things are totally fine as they are.

We’re here for it, though, if it ever happens – we’d be just darling as bona fide millionaires.

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Happy Days… page 90

Day 180 – 09/08/2020

We’re cliff-diving today… yesterday’s high temp was 96º and today’s will be around 59º with overcast skies, rain, and wind. Capricious Kansas.

Closing out a beautiful weekend with rain couldn’t be more perfect. This may have been the most memorable birthday celebration since my 50th with my sisters in Colorado, for different reasons but with the same sweet vibe, and I came out feeling cherished, something we should all get to experience at least once. I had loving convos with my boys, greetings from enough friends and family to match my age, and a totally-unexpected gift from some of the best friends anyone could ever ask for. This amazing armful of flowers left me speechless and on the verge of tears…

The weekend weather was conducive to staying in until evening balcony drinks, Kim made the food I love, and we spent three days being goofy together and feeling wrapped in cotton. Su-weet.

The sunflowers are in bloom out at Grinter Farms and I’d love to see them this year, but for now a shot that fits the day…

River Photo Credit: Kim Smith

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Is it fall yet? … page 88

Day 173 – 09/01/2020

Yesterday began with increasing darkness after dawn followed by rain into the afternoon, which was heavenly and made everything feel like fall. This morning, despite an 80% chance of showers, it’s overcast but dry with a predicted high of 78º and that only briefly. My heart is ready for autumn with its softer days and crisp nights, long sleeves, and mugs of something hot. I’m not a pumpkin spice fan and I don’t wear socks until the first snow, but fall is my friend.

I’m jonesing for kinder, friendlier days and a stress-vacation. The hours are long, the news is dire, and my psyche responds accordingly, so minute-by-minute reminder to me:

I’m also taking deep breaths and reminding myself that when life’s entirely about the challenges, you have to keep the main thing the main thing at all times…

There’s always a sweeter, more sympathetic side to life if we can remember how to see it, and it makes all the difference. So hello indeed, September – you’re welcome here. 🍂🍁

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And life goes on… page 86

Day 169 – 08/28/2020

Temps have been in the 90s for days with a real-feel of 100+ but tomorrow should see a temporary end to all that and we’re here for it…

We spent a wonderful evening this week with Rita and mutual friends, socially-distanced at our fav Mexican restaurant in their big outdoor courtyard, and it was food for the soul. We’ve missed all of that. But hey, the college students are back in town and already nine Greek houses on The Hill are quarantined. I can’t stop looking at this graph… it took us about a month to get the hang of it, but we were stellar until the end of June when our Phase 3 reopening was in progress, and then the chart goes whack and by the first part of August, with the 20k student population moving in… not a happy picture, COVID-wise. The university is the lifeblood of Lawrence, so it’s discouraging to see the trend, and it means that time in the public domain will continue to be at a premium for the foreseeable.

In other news, there’s not much that’s fit to print, and the rest is mundane. We get up every morning and life happens while we do our best to be adult about it, with a fair success rate most days. As someone said recently, It Is What It Is.

It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything’s fine. 💋

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Week’s end … page 84

Day 155 – 08/14/2020

It’s 10:45 and the day already feels endless. I walked before it got hot, came in and iced my hip… and went into neutral. Sometimes I try to remember why it felt like there was more to do in The Before because it wasn’t all that much. But we had lunch out a few days a week… wandered in and out of stores without a second thought… went to KC for this and that… planned short or long trips and took them… saw friends once in a while or had them here… what we thought up to do wasn’t contingent on virus numbers or the necessary restrictions they’ve brought into everyone’s lives.

With the new phase we’re into in the election cycle, birtherism is the Soup of the Day again. And after seeing shots of neighborhood mailboxes – those familiar Dalek-like blue sentinels – being removed and hauled off on trucks in Portland and other cities, the sure knowledge that we’re across the line into authoritarianism can’t be put off any longer. I know, dear Diary, nobody likes it when I talk politics, but it’s just you and me, so I’m going to tell you a secret I discovered this morning – I’m okay with not seeing people anymore if they’re in favor of what’s happening to America, and there’s a certain freedom in that. As Kim always says, “I feel so much better now that I no longer care.”

Welp, when you’re blue, you’re blue, but sometimes you can get glad in the same pants you got sad in, so maybe it’s time for music…

Photo Credit: Kim Smith

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Sweet weather… page 78

Day 146 – 08/05/2020

It was 60º at 7:30 when I went out for a walk and the quiet morning air was sublime. The epidural I had on Monday seems to be doing its thing – I walked for 45 minutes with only a little ache from the steroid, so that’s encouraging. Pain’s such an odd thing… a warning, a message, a universal element of being alive… and it creeps up on you psychologically. After weeks, months, years, it turns you inward and the next crash-and-burn is full-on self-absorption. I was flirting with that state when I ran into a timely mirror the other day, and now I’m gently backing away from the abyss. We absolutely don’t know how we’ll do under compounded stress until we’re there, but the gross stuff we don’t need usually floats right to the top. So score one for the pandemic and train-wreck spines, I guess…

We can hope…
Best Venn diagram ever…

It’s still possible to understand each other as humans, at least on some level, if we’re straight with ourselves and everyone we meet. It’s not half as scary as closing your heart to the world, and I’m glad for this week’s reminder of that.

Photo Credit: Kim Smith – rooftop garden – 08/04/2020

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Becalmed… page 76

Day 140 – 07/30/2020

It’s been rainy for a couple of days, starting with heavy fog this morning and morphing to rainfall once again. We bob along on the surface, trying not to just go through the motions like it’s Groundhog Day ad infinitum, but that’s an increasing challenge for me due to “the life of the mind.” BC [Before Covid], I spent most of my hours right here anyway, thinking thoughts and doing the daily, so the difference DC [During Covid] is in the nature of the thoughts. They’re circular, thus unproductive, and they’re relentless… figure this out, make sense of that, reconcile yourself to one unpalatable truth after another. I try to run them all through the Zen shredder before digesting them, for the sake of gut health, but their very insistence and the dearth of answers make each new 24-hours a maze to navigate from waking to sleeping.

Pretty sure this is why humans would rather not think about things too much, why comfortably numb is the preferred state of mind when life gets dicey… and life is always dicey. When your inner self gets to do her own thing, she comes up against pieces/parts that don’t fit… then what? If she goes around them, they’ll always be there serving as obstacles to other pieces/parts of life, so the only choice is to deal with them, which usually involves discarding something, and that’s when the fight starts.

Looking out at the mist hanging in the trees, I have one wish… that I had known the pandemic was on its way and would change life irrevocably for all of us. The heaviest shock, beyond the staggering death toll, is how it has separated us politically, intellectually, and spiritually – a virus the whole planet is dealing with but Americans have managed to turn into internecine warfare.

There’s always blue sky somewhere, though, and often it’s right overhead, with the half-moon at its center.

Photo Credits: Kim Smith

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Rainy Monday… page 74

Day 137 – 07/27/2020

For reasons I’m still exploring, I grew up a pleaser and it’s taken me most of my life to shed that tendency, but at this point the people I care about keeping happy are few in number and all the “should” has gone out of my relationships and interactions. “Is it true, is it real, is it right?” If not, our conversations are going to be brief.

The isolation that defines 2020 is showing me that I’m really not all that nice a person and people are likely justified in their relief to be shut of me, at least for the time being. A quick mental inventory of extended family members tells me the gene pool is overweighted by about half toward the conservative-thinking side, and most of those choose to keep me at arm’s length, at the least, for which I can’t blame them since I rarely shut up online. It’s a different story in person… there are days when I don’t say much of anything out loud.

Most of my lifetime has been marked by saying too much, blurting stupid things, irritating friends and family with my penchant for trying too hard, so I love my life in recent years, here in my comfy citadel where I have few opportunities to be overbearing, at least in the flesh… and I’m learning from all of it. I say what seems important to say and a steady sense of detached calm carries me through and over a lot of things… but at its bottom is a loneliness that defies description. It embodies the grief of death and endings, and the nowhere feeling that comes from having no idea what will happen next, where it all goes from here. It sounds like worry when I put it in writing, but it isn’t so much that as the waiting… the heavy sense of quiet outside and in… the tension everywhere… while the fight we can’t do anything about swirls around us.

I just want it over, decided, finished one way or the other. Either full-on fascism will be the victor, everything about America that hasn’t already changed will complete its metamorphosis, and we’ll live with the results or die FROM them… or we’ll get a second chance to make democratic government work. One hundred days is a long time to hold our breath.

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It’s complicated… page 73

Day 136 – 07/26/2020

So what do people do who don’t write? Explode… give up… give in… go batshit unhinged… disappear, what? Clearly there are other channels, reading being one, and it’s looking better on that front the past few days, although I still tend to abandon a chapter and wander off without notice. My safest and best outlet is to write it down – whatever’s eating my lunch – put it out there where I’m accountable for what I’ve said, and let the dice keep rolling. Odds are that at least one other human will read my words and just like that, there I am – a responsible adult saying things out loud and standing behind them.

This so-called responsible adult shows few outward signs of owning the title, all things considered. Most days I sort more detritus out of my life – digital or otherwise – manage a shower, eat stuff, watch TV with some level of engagement, and fill the gaps with whatever I can stay focused on. Hey – it’s a life.

So good thing I did something Grandma… all my grandmas… would have approved of:

He covers a multitude of sins on my part, including that of sloth, and has the grace to give those sins kinder names, thus making me look like a nicer person than I am. And he’s yet to meet a grandma who didn’t like him so I rest my case. 💋 Still celebrating #16…

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Realities… page 71

Day 134 – 07/24/2020

“Every time you argue with reality, you’re going to lose.” Proven fact… want stories? John, in off moments between hospital shifts, has been sending me short self-development videos done by a young Canadian woman who’s fun to listen to and easy to look at, and her delivery is quickly growing on me. One of yesterday’s was called “How to Accept What Causes You Pain” and I found it helpful – simple reality is powerful. Here’s the link if you’re interested. It’s about ten minutes long…

Still playing with my new headphones and tracking down music on Pandora. So far this morning I’ve listened to Sam Smith’s “Fire On Fire” three times, Elton & Leon’s “Never Too Old to Hold Somebody” twice, and I revisited Dire Straits “Money for Nothing” just for old times’ sake. Speaking of old… Joe Cocker’s cover of “I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends” is staying on my playlist. But “The Union” is the album that’s putting wind in my sails just as the doldrums have settled on us in earnest, and I’ve discovered that I can match tones again, with the music directly in my head… although I only sing along when Kim’s out.

Notes on the ties between Elton John and Leon Russell:

“At the time of their first meeting, on August 26, 1970 at the Troubadour nightclub in Los Angeles when Leon was in the audience during Elton’s United States debut, one of the two pianists had already written two hit songs, played on over a dozen Top 40 records, and was at the beginning of a six-year run where ten of his albums appeared on the Billboard Top 100 charts – including one live album and one greatest hits collection.

“And the other one was Elton John.

“Leon had a four-decade-wide dovetail relationship with Elton. In the 1970s, the pianist and singer from Oklahoma was a major influence on John’s early piano-playing style and song-writing. In 2010, Elton used his passion for his early mentor to record an album together [at a barebones low point in Leon’s life] and get his name back into the music lexicon, saying at the time, “If Leon can get the accolades he deserves and be financially O.K. for the rest of his life, I will have done something decent with my music,” and their collaboration eventually resulted in a Top Five album and Leon’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In Mr. Russell’s words, “Johnny found me by the side of the road and picked me up.”

In the documentary of The Union album, Leon does a run-through of “In the Hands of Angels” and Elton John breaks down in sobs against a door frame. “When he played that, we just lost it. No one has ever written me a song before. He said, ‘I want to thank you for saving my life,’ and I just burst into tears. It was the most magical of times because here was my idol accepting me. Actually, he could eat me for breakfast at playing piano.

The Union is a seminal work full of pain and promise and I can’t get enough of it in this new age of detached living.

The album came out in 2010 and Leon died six years later at age 74, releasing several more albums during that time. Thank you, Elton John, for those extra years you gifted to him and to us.

Leon Russell and Johnny …

I rode to the farm with Kim on Wednesday for pool maintenance and when we got back to town he drove me around to point out changes since the last time I stuck my nose out. We used to do that with my mother-in-law, he and I, and I sounded just like she used to… “Oh my, when did they redo THAT?” “THEY closed? Really?” “Wow, THAT’s totally different!” I love our space, the quiet, the insulation from chaos, but if we’re forced by misguided egocentric fellow citizens to remain in this state of limbo for another year to 18 months, it won’t always feel so Zen, especially when we look around at how other first-world countries have managed the pandemic – resentment is a totally human emotion and no respecter of persons. From the tone and nature of online comments, I know that people my age group and up are expendable, as are children, so home continues to be okay with me for now. Case numbers in Douglas County are over 500, with two deaths and a predominance of recoveries, so we know it’s being managed about as well as possible, but there’s just nothing I miss enough to mingle. And I could take myself for a drive any day of the week if Kim didn’t tote me along… I obviously haven’t been sufficiently motivated yet.

Past a certain age, people start to become invisible to the energetic viable world, but “Remember: when they look right through you, you’re still there.” – Guante

A tacked-on thought after an hour of internet reading: I wish people would leave Harry and Meghan alone. Love is hard. Life is hard. Relationships are hard work – let them breathe.

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And Tuesdays, too… page 69

Day 131 – 07/21/2020

That reprieve we needed… it’s here, as of yesterday evening, and it’s pretty sweet. Temp of 72º this morning, and the only reason the humidity is in the upper 90s is that it’s still raining a little. We asked, we received, it feels like a benediction.

Decatur Man and I exchanged quick humor bytes this morning before he texted this in response to my question about his schedule:

“I’m in Covidland today.
I got floated here yesterday, and the unit manager, who’s a friend of mine, was crying because she’s so overwhelmed. 
So I picked up an extra shift today
(12-hr shifts), along with 2 of my 4200 (Oncology unit) buds. 
It’s terrible here these days.”

At this point, any united effort to halt the spread of the virus would be a godsend. Anything, any level of genuine concern, any solid indication that the naysayers are at least trying not to make it worse. It seems somehow unAmerican that the helpers are fair game and entirely expendable – our teachers, healthcare workers, and the countless others who keep the great world humming. I dislike the fact that everyone’s chances of survival seem to be linked to the common sense of others – the odds are not in our favor.

But Pool Man will be home soon from the Ponderosa and he’ll probably stay tucked in with me until the skies clear – he’ll have to get out and ride his bike or walk at some point, rainfall permitting. Life continues to be a desirable thing… irreplaceable and worth defending for everyone I love, however long it takes, so no whining here about anything but the flies in the honey.

Showers bring flowers. Reminds me of my grandma’s house.

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Sunday… page 67

Day 129 – 07/19/2020

The joy of reading has eluded me this year, a true frustration. I’ve finished a handful of books, but have yet to find the one I couldn’t put down, good as they were. A few sentences in, my mind runs off on its own and I end up reading the same paragraph three times before I give up. I have literary riches at hand… it’s all the not knowing that keeps me off balance and unable to concentrate. I started a book yesterday, though, that might be the one… hope so.

I’m good with fairly mindless tasks like dumping computer files and email. I walk. I watch TV with the sound off while I rearrange my virtual world ever more to my liking. My life isn’t so very different from The Before, except that I leave the house about once a month just for the heck of it, and the vibe is so changed. We miss the sounds of life around us – kids running down the street, laughing and yelling; a band warming up somewhere in the neighborhood; our parking lot full on Farmers’ Market mornings; the buzz of daily living.

The atmosphere outside has been ponderous for the past few days – we need rain again to break the heat and humidity, which was in the high 80s this morning when Kim walked. The picture up top is his, taken in South Park at sunrise. He said the blooms are big as dinner plates.

So, yeah… we’ll have our omelets in a bit and then… maybe I’ll read for a while.

So she DID!

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Here for the duration… page 66

Day 128 – 07/18/2020

It’s hot. Damn hot. The days are full of stretchy hours – when it’s three in the afternoon it feels like ten in the morning and takes forever to get to five o’clock. Rita’s busy with vital things, Susan is long hours away, John’s working his butt off at the hospital, my friends are all immersed in day-to-day survival… so Kim’s stuck with my company full time and I’m a quiet date these days. My brain doesn’t shut off, even in my dreams, but it’s too much to talk about so all I can do is direct it in ways that don’t take a toll on my body… that’s the plan.

This is the long hot summer Kim predicted last winter, with blood in the streets by August. He was only three months off, the streets of our cities were red before May was done. America has seen its full measure of brother slaying brother but it never ends. These are extraordinary times, and as during the Civil War the future of this democratic republic hangs in the balance – will we emerge intact as a nation, still under the constitution, with freedom valued and afforded to all? Or will we fall under the rule of one man and his enablers, and then the next in line, who will undoubtedly be smarter than Donald J Trump and thus able to capitalize on the foundation that’s been laid? Will the 4-headed monster – racism, pandemic, money, and moral rot – end us, or will we kick fascism in the teeth again and start rebuilding? Inquiring minds desperately want to know.

This is our 19th weekend since we chose to stay out of the public fray, which doesn’t even seem real, and with the lack of intention on the part of so many to help end the virus, we’ll spend a lot more weekends to ourselves before it all finally winds down somehow. This is the way it is and I’m mos def not complaining in the face of so much illness and death… it would simply be easier if everyone was pulling in the same direction.

Appreciate… notice… the minutes and what they hold.

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