Saturday, November 29, 2008

Untitled


Okay, I almost titled today’s post “Norman Rockwell was on Prozac.” Because of that picture over there—the one of the perfect table and the happy people? But while searching for that painting itself, I encountered a lot of his other work, too—and was forced to confront the fact that Rockwell was a genius at portraying every nuance of human expression. To jest about the man himself or his unspeakable talent felt pretty childish and rude. So, I had to readjust the tone of this post a bit, so as to be humble before a master.

Besides—as far as I know, Prozac did not exist in the era when he painted.

Why would such an insolent and drug-related thought even skitter through my brain? Well, it’s the fact that I’ve just finished a bevy of Thanksgiving gatherings, and I know that there were some smiles at the table, but also some other, darker expressions. I’ll never know why Norman R. chose to exclude the antagonistic relative, the young upstart, the whining child, the sibling competition, the fawning over the favorite, or any of the other uglies that turn up when you gather family together to “be thankful.” You’ll find not a trace of any of that very real hideousness within the painting’s beaming countenances.

Since I know the artist is quite capable of showing emotions better than most folks who pick up a brush, I must assume that either a) his family was perfect and got along perfectly, or b) he chose to paint a picture of the gathering as we would all like it to be. I’m betting that the latter assumption is the right one.

(Okay, you people who are reading who really believe that Norman Rockwell got it right and family gatherings are wonderful: you can stop reading. Go call someone you’re related to, and please don’t ever tell me how exemplary your family is.)

Why does my chest get tight as holidays approach? Golly. I couldn’t tell you. I really like holidays, the ideas behind establishing them, the religious celebration and remembrance that accompanies some, the preparations and the anticipation. I love feasting, sneaking cookies before a meal, an excuse to drink wine, and the warm feeling you get when you give a gift that’s truly appreciated. There's a flip side, of course; I’ve already addressed the commercialization of most of our special days, so I won’t belabor the subject here. But family gatherings are part of holidays for most of us. And they’re tough—even when they go well.

Perhaps it’s because expectations are so high; these are people who are supposed to love and accept us without condition. Or so we’ve been led to believe by Hallmark. They may or may not be people who’ve known you for a long time, but most likely they are…so there’s an assumed level of comfort there, a familiarity that should make us feel at ease. (If only that were the case all the time.) We head to gathering with hopes of complete acceptance, support, and kinship...hopes that are quite often unrealized. Hours later, we leave, deflated again.

It may be tied to the fact that family feels perfectly allowed to inquire of attendees whether they are seeing anyone, or why they aren’t married yet, or (after marriage) when they plan to pop out a kid. Or another kid. My heart goes out to all the folks who are getting hit with those questions this season; not fun.

Or, it’s possible that family gatherings are difficult because they happen at sentimental occasions. Think about it: how often do you gather the familial gang together for no apparent reason? Not often. Usually it’s a birthday, or Christmas, or some youngster is graduating. So, people are emotionally messy already, before they even see each other. Nothing good can follow. (The whole issue of sentimentality is even more complicated and frustrating for those of us who just aren’t very. Sentimental, that is. Fodder for another post.)

Maybe it’s simply because I’m a loner. I prefer the term introvert, but the end result is the same—you like people, but they exhaust you in large doses. Maybe it’s just the noise, the general din that breeds confusion as a heap of voices try to exceed each other in volume. Maybe it’s the fact that I can never feel comfortable speaking the absolute truth at any of these gigs; it’s like hanging around with a big gag tied around your face to squelch any honest outbursts. Maybe it’s the fact that I can’t stuff myself with mashed potatoes anymore because they drive up my glucose worse than pumpkin pie does. Maybe it’s because I’m a mom now and I have to stay cognizant of my son’s whereabouts and activities—thus no post-meal napping. Or maybe it’s trying to make multiple appearances and knowing we’re still missing out or hurting someone’s feelings with our absence.

Whatever the reason, it’s not important. I’ve survived another Thanksgiving. I’m relieved, but not relaxed: I know the biggie is still to come. I’m already practicing my deep breaths. In. Out. In. Out.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Opiate for the (financially comfortable and pretty) masses

I went to the mall today.

I’m not a mallrat by any means. Today’s trip was the first visited there in a few months—and today’s mission took place mostly before the stores even opened. It was time to walk indoors on a snowy day, to work harder to fit into my “fat” clothes—fat clothes being the more forgiving portion of every woman’s wardrobe… When the fat clothes no longer fit, then the walking must commence. Hence my mall visit.

I’m always amazed when I’m in a mall; it’s like a whole new world has opened to me. A pretty, bright, fragrant world, with many gadgets and lights and beautiful people. Can this possibly be the same world I inhabit daily? Where are the unattractive people? Where are the foul odors? The noise? The poor? The unhealthy? No sign of them within this well-attended splendour.

It’s especially hard to believe we’re in a recession as I stride through the halls of success. Not even Thanksgiving yet, but every store beckons wallet-bearing passersby with shop-appropriate Christmas carols and d├ęcor. The athletic wear store blares rap Christmas from its entry, while classic jazz Christmas wafts out of the mature women’s clothing lines. Like children staring through a candy store window, eager shoppers line up before the gated entrances, gazing hungrily through the metal bars, mentally organizing their purchases before they even set foot inside.

And the shoppers themselves: Did I ever wear high heels to go shopping? I cannot recall a single occasion. I realize some of the people might have been stopping off en route to another final destination, perhaps work? But the number of women, and not just vain young women, who shop in tiny stilettos always amazes me. It’s 9:30 am and they’re tripping around on just a few square inches, by choice. I’m speechless.

It’s difficult for me not to feel like an alien when trooping through a well-to-do suburban shopping mecca like today’s walking locale. The typical shopper is, quite simply, of a different caliber than I. Well-tailored, well-heeled, mostly older women roam with confidence in this materialistic haven. It is their world, and they know it. They don’t even bother to glance at little old me in her worn sneakers and stretch pants. “Not one of us.” They’re right—I’d never argue.

And everywhere, the message is the same: Spend. Signs outside of kids’ and teens’ shops are especially disturbing: One of them said, “All I want is everything.” What the--?! What kind of message is that? Sometimes I feel genuinely sad for today’s upper-middle-class youth. What a setup we’ve created for them, how we’ve trained them to be consumers but not earners, to recognize brand names instead of character. What a disservice we’ve done them, and are doing to them.

So, I’ll probably be headed back to the mall next week, but only if the snow continues to fly. I don’t really care to see the Tiffany’s that’s nearly ready to open its doors. I don’t want to be forced to consider how many people will still be making purchases with credit cards to keep up the appearance they’ve created. Maybe some of those fashionable, attractive shoppers have the cash to back it up. I hope so. I hate to think that the whole darned thing might just be a competitive illusion. It’s so soothing for me to go somewhere and be assured of my place in the world.

Seriously? My hope is that you’ll never fall prey to commercialism and consumerism, that you’ll spend only what you have in cash, and that you’ll enjoy a good and grateful Thanksgiving holiday. We truly have so, so much to be thankful for. : )

Friday, November 21, 2008

"How can you eat that?!"


Meet Peter the buck. I call him Peter partly as a nod to REM band member Peter Buck, and partly because I photographed him in between bites of our abandoned pumpkin. Get it? Pumpkin eater?

But his name is not important. The important thing is that he is limping a bit these days, and one of his antlers appears to be shorter than the other. It wasn’t shorter a couple of weeks ago when we first spotted him, and we’re pretty certain it’s the same deer. I guess we can’t be absolutely sure… It’s not important. He’s limping a tiny bit, his antler has been broken off. Has he been hit by a car? That’s a very likely possibility, since the pumpkin photograph location is less than 20 feet from a sharp bend on a busy road—and that, of course, is the favored crossing spot of all the deer that hang out in our yard.

Sometimes we have 5 or 6 deer at once. Mostly doe—the two buck we’ve seen rarely hang with the babes, at least not when we’re looking. But they’re all regulars at our “club.” Why? They probably ran out of space, quite frankly. Plus, they know there’s easy pickin’s in our neighborhood (my animal-loving neighbor feeds them, so even when gardens aren’t blooming they have reason to pass through).

The point is, we humans are crowding them out with all our pretty little suburban neighborhoods. We’re driving big, heavy, metal killing machines across all their favorite pathways. And a lot of them are getting hit, maimed, or killed. I won’t lie: I feel really bad about that, about all the shrinking habitats of all the beautiful wildlife around us. The last time I saw an injured doe lying in the street, I was literally sick to my stomach as I called the game warden; it’s a horrible sight, the flailing limbs, the fruitless attempts to lift the head…just sickening.

But as bad as I feel, it will not keep me from eating venison. That’s right, deer flesh. I eat it. I’ve eaten it since I was a kid.

Before you slap a “barbarian” label on my forehead, let me explain myself a bit. If you’re a vegetarian and you’re reading this, I honestly have no qualms with your non-meat choices. I am pretty certain that the original, Garden-of-Eden diet did not include animal flesh. It wasn’t needed. That came around after we got kicked out of there. With some research and attention, a person can live a meatless life and be much healthier than most of us jowly, restaurant-abusing Americans. I was getting pretty good at going meatless until I got married (man want meat); plus, the whole diabetic issue isn’t helping—I’ve found very few foods that have the same hold-me-over power as meat—but I’m sure if I had limitless funds and my own dietitian, I could be meatless. I’d miss meat, especially as a cook, but it could be done. And that would be my individual choice, as it should be.

However, for the meat-eaters out there who dare to ask me the question that titles this post, I say, My dear carniverous hypocrite, have you ever ordered veal or lamb in a fancy restaurant, never giving a second thought to the fuzzy, adorable creature that your meal was in life? Have you ever stuffed a big, fat burger into your face or carved a ham at Christmas or Easter? Enjoyed a steak or a turkey dinner? Because if you have, then you cannot make comments about the barbarism of eating deer meat. I have never walked through a butcher’s workspace, nor seen a cow or pig taken in for slaughter, but how could it be any less awful than watching a deer be gutted prior to transport? Death is death; killing is killing.

And think about this: there’s my little Peter in the back yard, munching on rotten pumpkin and dying grass and relishing the memory of our pole beans from a few months back. If some lucky hunter takes him during season (which is unlikely since he’s in such a protected area), that hunter will get a more-than-half-rack to brag about and a freezer full of whatever meat forms he chooses, and it’ll be lean, healthy meat—no hormones, no chance of mad deer disease, no genetic alterations other than what God himself ordained. Sounds pretty safe, eh? Compare it to your faceless, nameless slab o’ beef (you have to assume they’re telling you the truth about the source animal, right?) that may or may not have been vacuum packed in carbon monoxide in order to keep its fresh color longer than it should…

I ponder at this time every year why some people feel righteously justified in turning their noses up at me. I think it’s founded in our complete separation of man from his food sources. It’s easy to badmouth game-eaters if you’ve never been hungry for a day in your life; honestly, how do any of us truly know what we're capable of eating? Have you ever really suffered from lack of food? I haven't. And how simple to slip into superiority about not eating wild animals when you never have to be confronted with the “civilized” (cough, cough) killing of animals raised purely for meat sales. Honestly, I think most folks would want to throw up after visiting a big, smelly egg farm, right? But those nice, white, clean eggs in their spotless cases are so removed from a chicken’s bottom that no one thinks much about it.

Well, we need to think about it. We need to grow more food in soil that we turn and weed. We need to learn more about what goes into all the ready-to-eat stuff that we consume daily without question. We need to be more responsible eaters in general. And we, as a society, need to stop vilifying the people who consume hunted game—especially when you consider that the naysayers are just as likely to be the very folks who are directly or indirectly responsible for Peter the buck’s shrinking habitat injuries. There’s a very good chance that because he’s injured and there’s limited land for him and his cronies, he won’t make it through the winter.

Now, who’s the barbarian again?

Monday, November 17, 2008

The little plant that could


I've never had a green thumb—only black,
To nurture plants? A skill I truly lack.
My family knows this; even so, they share
The little plants and blooms for which they care.

A shamrock made its way into my rooms—
A pretty plant with many sweet, small blooms,
And it was doing so well, I took it out
So it could thrive with other plants about.

It grew and flourished in our humble yard,
Drank dew and raindrops, some of which fell hard!
Yet shamrock bloomed, such tiny flow'rs of white
One could not gaze upon them and feel spite.

My guard was down, my black thumb loomed again...
A cold front came—a FROST—oh NO! And then,
'Twas too late for the shamrock. There she lay,
The leaves, the blooms, all frozen and asplay.

I bowed my head in shame, felt melancholy.
I'd done it yet again. Plant death: my folly.
But hope lived still within my sad, cold heart.
What if a bit of life might just restart?

I carried shamrock inside, let her warm,
Then watered her (a tad! no, not a storm!)
And left her sitting in a window's light.
I said a prayer: may she survive her blight.

And lo, within a few days, she lived on!
A tiny pale green shoot! Hurray! New dawn!
The God who made this fragile, lovely life
Was oh, so wise, and made it strong in strife.

Friday, November 14, 2008

If you can’t beat ‘em, kill ‘em all...?


My little boy started sniffling a tad on Monday night, and by Tuesday morning he was lackluster and sporting some green goo in one nostril. I kept him home from preschool, hoping that whatever it was would be short-lived. Sadly, the unidentifiable viral manifestation seems to have established itself pretty effectively in the child; goo continues to leak, the weariness and crabbiness persist, and more school and activities have been missed. And I’ve lost a little bit of my sanity, it’s true—you just don’t realize how much you come to rely on those few isolated hours of time to for a thought or spend as you wish. Combine that lost sanity with an unceasing flood from my child’s nose, sprinkle in very little sleep for all of us because of his coughing and misery—and shake it all up: you have a generally cantankerous household.

So, I’m not myself—no one in our home is right now. But I never thought I’d turn into a germophobe. I mean, I’m not a complete slob, I try to wash my hands frequently and not leave food lying around begging for infestation, I remind my kid not to rub his nose or eyes at the public library, we don’t share toothbrushes or anything like that. But still, I never got too uptight about germs. I assumed they were everywhere, and some were rather hateful and insidious, but I could take ‘em so no big deal. The same was true for bacteria, with the added complication that some bacteria was good, even necessary. I felt it best to leave the unseen world of infestation alone, and it would hopefully leave me alone.

Now? I can clearly picture that place and its disgusting tiny inhabitants. Everywhere. Is it motherhood that’s engendered this heightened sense of germ perception? Is it older age, the growing nagging yearly confrontation with my own life’s calendar? Is it the fear of super-germs that defy all attempts to eradicate them? Whatever the cause, I “see” these nasties all over the place. My child sneezes or coughs on me, and I watch the little thugs clear as day in my mind’s eye, flying out from his face and clinging desperately to my own. Other people that I observe suddenly seem obsessed with rubbing their faces, their hair, wiping their noses in what they think are unobtrusive ways… and each time I witness these daily habits of my fellow humans, now those habits are accompanied in my mind by the horrific distribution of miniscule monsters. The tricky little devils plant themselves in new hosts through unguarded moments like friendly hugs and handshakes, through shared contact via a computer mouse or keyboard, even by means of the lowly but deadly pen.

The whole world is crawling. How did I miss it all those years? I'm compelled to wash every cloth item I can reach, to start spraying diluted bleach everywhere—it's all contaminated, nothing's safe. Yet I also struggle to hold fast to my unsanitized world. I’ve read those reports—I know that sanitizer abuse will be our undoing. Put down that bottle, people! Step away from the antibacterial everything! It will kill the good stuff, too! Still, I’ve found myself eyeing bottles of Purell. Someone showed up at the craft store with a tiny container of it attached to a keychain, and I felt a pang of envy before I made myself turn away.

Must. Remain. Normal. Must not kill all germs and bacteria. Must allow nature to take its course.

My throat feels scratchy, and I think I’m getting a fever. Those little bastids.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The clear ear

I’ve written before about singing, here—and I’ve already confessed that I’m no singer. I mean, I sing at church and around the house and some Christmas carols and such…but I’m not the person whom others recognize as “a singer.” And honestly, I’m mostly at peace with that. I am pretty pleased to simply be afforded the chance to sing in this life at all, especially because the whole diversion is a pretty recent venture and not something I ever envisioned myself doing—in other words, it's been a really nice surprise.

The problem is that I have a pretty good ear. I can hear when another person is singing right in key, can detect a nasally delivery within a measure or two, can even pick out the sharp or flat voice among a gathering of voices. I know it’s not just my egotistical imagination, because I was the unofficial “tuner” for my classmates all those years in band. My ear has been proven.

And therein lies the problem. I can read the music, even imagine the way it should sound by rehearsing it in my head sometimes… but when the sound issues forth from my lungs, it’s far inferior to that pretty preview that existed in my mind. Because I have the ear, I can clearly hear that I usually don’t have the voice. I am fully aware that my range is quite limited, that I sometimes sound foggy and strained. I know that I am vocally mediocre, possibly even challenged. And every now and then, I have a little pity party about it. (Don’t pretend you don’t do that too sometimes. ; )

I was singing in the car recently (don’t worry, I dropped the kid at preschool first so he wouldn’t be punished) and as I struggled to hit some notes, I was pondering—with a little bit of relief, and a touch of sadness—that I will likely never be asked to sing a solo. Anywhere. For any reason. (Karaoke doesn't count.) And a thought came into my head quickly and with certainty. It didn’t feel like my own thought, and here it is: “You sing best when you sing to Me. And each time you sing to Me, it’s a solo. No matter what’s going on around you. A solo for man is just that.”

And it’s true, that thought—it made me feel so much better. If I crave the approval of man, in any setting and for any reason, then I’ll get it—and that’s likely all I’ll get. But when I sing to that audience of One, I become a chorus of one as well. I can speak, and sing, only for myself—and that is all I need do. It’s been a very comforting thought for me, in light of some of what I suspect are politically-fueled weirdnesses in my church home. It’s nice to realize that I don’t need to be hindered by any of that, just like I never need to worry about not having a “solo.” He knows my every thought, He hears my every note—and if my purpose is genuine, then it's a sweet sound.

So, while my musical ear reveals my vocal shortcomings, it provides me with that true standard that I can work toward attaining; I know what I want to sound like. It’s kind of like the Holy Spirit in us. We need that “good ear,” that moral compass, because even while we fall short daily, we still know how our lives should look—we are fully aware of the potential for achievement. And every time we do something unto God, even something humble or small or seemingly unimportant, we sing a little solo of praise.

Sing to him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts.
-Psalm 105:2

Sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious!
-Psalm 66:2

Friday, November 7, 2008

Gettin' on with it

Well, I’ve had a couple of days for the election results to sink in. I’m feeling slightly better. Not recovered, but less ill in general.

I hate that anyone has to lose. I feel the same way in sports; we’ll be watching our team kick some other team’s hind end, and as the game wears on I begin to feel sorry for the losers. The cameras will close in tightly on a player’s face, the misty eyes, the twisted mouth… Sometimes they’ll capture an unsavory word slipping out of that mouth, or a furrowed brow and scowl, and those aren’t as pitiful. But the resigned loser always gets me.

I have to remind myself, in these days, that every single time a leader is elected, there are many who are not elected. I have to remember that in nearly every casting of votes, from the first to this one and beyond, there have been people who celebrated the results, and also people who shook their heads and frowned. Every time the procedure runs its course, there must be a winner—and losers.

Maybe that’s why I’m not good at sports. Aside from my complete lack of coordination, I have too much trouble remaining polarized. I always, eventually, begin to realize that the other side is not so different, really. They want to win, too. They’ve been practicing, too. Without major conditioning and mental training, I’d make a crappy soldier. I’ve never been very competitive, and I like to think that perhaps, it isn’t just because I hate losing; maybe it’s because I hate that there has to be a loser at all.

I especially hate it at this time, in this particular “sport”—which is easily the most violent and heartless available to the viewing public—because this time, the loser was my guy. And his vice-gal.

I think about Sarah Palin, back at home, all the hubbub dying down, normality resuming…and I wonder what in the world she is thinking. Is she secretly relieved? Does she wonder what tornado hit in these last few months? Is she sorry she’s been traveling so much? Sorry she missed time with her littlest son? Sorry she hasn’t been able to spend time picking out nursery colors with her daughter? I have to think she must feel rather blind-sided. (Although not too blind-sided, since she’s sort of left that door open for four years in the future…)

And McCain himself. What’s on his mind? Does he regret running? All that time, and money, and effort. Those countless appearances, speeches, debates… Would he do it over again? Would he think about trying again in the future, if he were a younger man? I didn’t hear his concession speech, but not surprisingly, the few comments I encountered about it were flattering. He’s a classy guy, in my opinion, and I believe he’ll prove that many more times in the days to come. He’ll be okay; he’s dealt with far worse than this. But still.

I didn’t vote for Obama. A lot of other people did—people who believed all his promises, and more. I will admit that I’m taking some solace in the thought that he is probably feeling a bit of panic; you really have to wonder whether he’s as cool about all the activity as he seems. There has to be some level of frenzied realization under that calm demeanor; if there isn’t, there will be. The job he’s “won” is not an enviable position; I’m frankly amazed that people keep trying to obtain it. I feel certain, in my gut, that there will be many days when he feels completely overwhelmed. I know he asked for it, and I’m not going to go so far as to say I’m feeling sorry for him. That would be untrue. He is a human, though—and he’s got a long, ugly road ahead of him.

I heard a joke that this election might be the only one in which the winner asked for a recount. And I laughed—and nodded vigorously in agreement.

BO is our president-elect now, and I will be a level-headed American and accept the clear results of this election. But just as I embrace the "trust God and lock your doors" mantra, we'll be stockpiling some extra ammo and fuel, and praying daily: Lord, help us all.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Change, change, blah, blah, blah

Well. Today marks a time for "change," or so I've heard. Repeatedly. What IS the change? Hmmmm. Wish I knew. I suspect it is not at all what the misled masses are expecting, but time will tell. I'm hoping I'm wrong about what the future holds for this country. The problem is this: in the matter of dire predictions, history has proven that I'm often dead-on.

Since other people can sometimes say it better than I can, I'll leave the rest of this post to a master. (I know, as a Christian I should find something hopeful from the Bible--and I will. Just not now. Permit me a cynical, disheartened moment, please. The next post will be more optimistic and inspiring.)

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.
-George Orwell

Mel's translation: "We the American people will not have to pay higher taxes, but we will somehow, inexplicably, be afforded better or free healthcare, financial benefits, handouts, cushy retirements, etc."


That's only one of many—I found a wealth of quotes from the wise and bitter George Orwell. Here are some more gems:
Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.
George Orwell

Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
-George Orwell

In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.
-George Orwell

Most people get a fair amount of fun out of their lives, but on balance life is suffering, and only the very young or the very foolish imagine otherwise.
-George Orwell

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.
-George Orwell

The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it.
-George Orwell


In the interest of keeping my chin up, I saved this quote for last:

Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.
-George Orwell

Take that, all you celebratory socialists! You won't rule forever! I just hope there's something worth salvaging in this country by the time you've been tossed aside.