Wednesday, June 29, 2016

June 29, 2016

Every generation experiences shifts in attitudes and “sea” changes, the results of which seem, at the time, more than our human spirits can possibly bear. When I was little more than a child, I sat and watched events taking place in Dallas, Texas in 1963 as they unfolded in black and white on television—after having been sent home from my little three-room country school because of the crisis. Yes, here in Southern Ontario, Canada, kids were sent home when President Kennedy was shot.

I can still recall Miss Ritchie, who’d been my teacher from first to fourth grades, in tears, announcing the tragedy. And even though I was only 9, I’d already lost my father just months before, so the death of a man about the same age my dad had been affected me profoundly. I couldn’t at the time articulate it, but I wondered: was this the end of the world?

Just a few years later, two more assassinations rocked my 14-year-old existence. I remember thinking, as I watched the news after Bobby Kennedy was shot, that I would never get married or have kids. What would be the point? The world was too unstable, too fractured, and going to hell in a handbasket (whatever that was). Surely, this was the end of the world.

There’ve been other moments just as traumatic, just as mind boggling, and just as frightening to many of us. The war in Vietnam; Kent State; The Munich Massacre at the 1972 Olympics; and of course, more recently, 9/11. All of these events left some of us feeling as if the world was changing, hurtling toward something even more horrible, and more damning than humanity had ever known. They left us wondering if it was truly the beginning of the end.

My point is, and to put it in the basest of terms: crap keeps happening, and yet humanity is still here.

I know of a lot of people who no longer watch network news. They find it too depressing, too scary or flat out, too disgusting. They figure if it gets bad enough out there, someone will call them and let them know. We do watch some network news, my beloved and I, because we like to be informed. It’s also a good outlet, to be able to shout invectives at the TV. Reduces the stress levels if you don’t carry it too far.

It’s very easy in today’s society to feel hopeless, and fearful. It’s easy to despair that things are never going to be “normal” again. I get that, and the fact that some people do feel that way breaks my heart. Have you noticed that there’s so much anger in the world today? That anger really does seem to be world-wide. I’ve seen it on the nightly news during the primary season in the US, when on-air reporters would talk to “the person on the street”; and I saw that same thing again very recently, during the same type of coverage of the historic vote in Great Britain.

The following is strictly my opinion, for you to take or leave as you will. Here’s the thing: people are good and caring, but they can also be very self-serving. And in any given situation, those who are self-serving will find a way to profit when others are in pain, or in suffering, or are in grief. They will, without hesitation or remorse, exploit the emotions of the people they want to influence. And lately, their tool of choice has been to feed the fear we all experience when our world is in turmoil. Yes, fear is the greatest, and I believe only, real weapon in their arsenal.

I’ve said it before in my column, and I’ll say it again now: Franklin Delano Roosevelt is famously quoted as having said “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” Those were wise words, prophetic words, that speak to us here, more than 80 years later as truly as they spoke to that generation wondering if their world was coming to an end.

There is, in my mind, and in my heart, only one way to combat fear, and that is with another “f” word—faith.

We must believe in the basic desire of most people to strive for excellence, to do that which lifts up, rather than tears down. We must believe in the basic desire for most people to live good, positive lives, in their desire to raise their children and reap the benefits that can be theirs through hard work, and the peaceful yet principled pursuit of the common good. We must not only believe in these things, we must behave as if this was a spiritual law written in stone. We must do good and uplift others and deny the fear mongers our time, and hence their reward.

Despite all appearances to the contrary, there really are more good, decent people in the world than there are rabble-rousing self-serving ones. One person’s efforts to give increase matter.

We just really, really, have to have faith, and then we must act on that faith.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

June 22, 2016

My beloved has been on “holidays” since last Friday at 2:31pm. He’s always called this booked time off work holidays as opposed to vacation. I’m not really sure why. And holidays always begin immediately after the clock has been punched on that final day.

We hadn’t planned to go anywhere this time. He decided to have a “staycation” and that was more than fine with me. I’ve be writing a bit slower than I like lately, and it just so happened that his last day was the same day I learned I had a deadline for submitting my work-in-progress, and that deadline is fast approaching.

David’s ideal staycation consists of completing one, maybe two jobs around the house, having a couple of excursions out, and a whole lot of reading and relaxing. Well, today is hump day, and so far, so good. I can report that we are both reasonably content and happy, which means he’s meeting his objectives and not interfering with mine.

He’s counting down the months to retirement. At the end of June, I believe he will be down to 16 months to go. He never believed he’d be looking forward to the end of his career in the aggregate industry this eagerly. I attribute this attitude of his, an attitude of joyful anticipation to being free from the place, to a couple of the “bosses” he’s had in recent years. Not that either of them set out to destroy his ability to draw pleasure from his job. That was just collateral damage caused by having their eyes focused solely on themselves and their own goals, and the very real lack they had when it came to people skills.

I used to get really angry just thinking about that, and what they did so unthinkingly. But I’ve considered the situation over a period of time, and I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re still reasonably young men—and already some future karma bus has their names and numbers and a ride on tap for them. I will leave the anger where it belongs.

The first couple of days of David’s staycation were simply too hot outside for him to do anything. You know, as timing goes with regard to some things, ours is stellar. We’ve lived on this earth for more than 60 years without the luxury of central air. Now we have it, and I thank God for it. Neither of us should venture out when it’s as hot as it has been—him, because of COPD and me because of my ongoing heart issues—not to mention my arthritis.

David has always been good with tools. When cars were less complicated (in the days before computer chips) he could fix our vehicle when necessary, doing everything from changing the oil to replacing the brakes. He has a fair hand as a carpenter, too, and in the last couple of years he’s laid a new floor in the kitchen and in the entrance hallway. Yesterday, because it was cooler out, he built a small deck in the back yard. It’s a simple structure, just a few inches off the ground, and the purpose of it is to keep the outdoor grill off the ground, and to make the area look tidier.

Today’s agenda involves breakfast out. That’s our favorite meal of the day to enjoy at a restaurant. Breakfast is comparatively inexpensive, and breakfast out together gives us a nice start to the day. We don’t do that as much as we used to, a fact I attribute to our getting older. It used to be important to us to eat out on a regular basis. Now, I, for one, could care less. After breakfast, he has an appointment with the people who supply him with his hearing aids, and I have blood work to get done. How typically “old folks” of us! After that we’ll run some other errands, and hopefully be home in time for an afternoon nap.

The dog, of course, has to go to the sitter’s while we’re gone—aka my daughter’s house. No longer able to be left alone as he has severe being-alone anxiety, Tuffy nonetheless enjoys a small break from us every bit as much as we enjoy that break from him. He loves going over to our daughter’s house, because she has Chihuahuas, and they are his great good buddies. He also loves coming home again.

Like us, he will be very happy, once he has returned to our air conditioned house, to indulge in nap time in the big comfy bed.

And since during the last several days he’s had both of us all to himself, he’d likely even agree with his daddy that holiday time is fine time, indeed.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

June 15, 2016

I’m grateful to all of you who by reading these essays, week after week, allow me the freedom to express my opinion. Thank you for understanding that these words come from my head, and they also, very much, come from my heart.

Today my heart is hurting. It’s not about gays, and it’s not about the second amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It’s not about politics, or political correctness, or any number of things I’ve heard spouted lately that pundits say it’s about.

It’s about the basic nature of human beings, and that eternal struggle between good and evil.

Basically, and yes, in my opinion, there are two kinds of human beings. There are leaders, and there are followers. Now, as is typical of creatures who for the most part live in a “herd” or a “pack”, there are far fewer leaders than there are followers.

Most of us are followers. My authority for saying this? Most people are law-abiding. Most of us follow the rules. Most of us may not agree with a law, but we obey it, anyway. A lot of us don’t feel cheerful filing our taxes every April, but most of us do just that, as well. It is the norm. If it weren’t the norm for us to follow the rules, the laws—in short, to follow the leaders, we would constantly be in a state of rebellion, and “they”, the leaders, would not therefore be able to lead us.

So, since we do tend to follow our leaders, that means we take our cues from them. We use them as our examples, and we emulate them. Now, as long as our leaders have our best interests at heart, this is fine. And really, to exist and survive together in modern society, we have to make that assumption, that our leaders have our best interests at heart. That they are motivated by a desire to serve, and they want the world to be a better place for the children, and grandchildren, and unto the third and fourth generations.

But what if our leaders don’t have our best interests at heart? What if instead of serving the greater good, they are only interested in serving themselves?

Because, it’s about the basic nature of human beings, and that eternal struggle between good and evil.

We’re capable of both good and evil. Both can find room to grow within our hearts, but here’s the codicil to that: they can’t both grow there at the same time. It’s true. If your heart is filled with good, you really can’t do evil things; and if your heart is filled with evil, why then, you really can’t do good things.

So on the one hand we have leaders who stand before us, whose words compel us to follow them because they are, or would be, our leaders. And on the other hand, we have this fertile battleground in our hearts, where either seeds of good, of love, or seeds of evil, of hate can grow.

In the sixties and the seventies and the eighties, by and large, while individual people would from time to time feel frustration, and anger, overall, they tended to supress it. They tended to keep on doing what was expected, and what was acceptable, because it was expected and acceptable. They wanted to do good, mostly, because it was good. They wanted to make life better for others, because that was what our leaders, by and large, extolled us to do.

We really are, most of us, followers, but here’s the thing, and it’s absolutely the most important thing of all: we can choose who and what to follow. We can choose good or evil. We can choose whether love grows in our hearts, or hate does.

We are followers by nature, most of us, and we will follow the path that makes us feel good. So if we have ceded our hearts to evil, if we allow those deadly sins, of which anger (wrath) is one, to take root, then we are likely to follow the voices calling out to those ugly and evil attributes within us.

Yes, the choice is ours and the responsibility is ours. It is ours who follow and choose; and it is ours who lead and extol—and also choose. Responsibility lies with our leaders and would-be leaders, whose choice of words and whose message culls the followers that feel good about what they have to say.

Because, you see, at the end of the day, it really is about the basic nature of human beings, and that eternal struggle between good and evil. It’s about which side of that battle we the followers follow. And as to the leaders and would be leaders?

To a certain extent, the blame for the slaughter of the innocents can be laid directly at the feet of every one of them who has, in this century, stood up at the microphone and preached words of hate, who’ve stood in the spotlight and encouraged acts of violence against others. Who by their words, and their acceptance, and their exhortations, tell us that it’s okay to be evil and to hurt others. It’s okay to hate.

But the truth of the matter is, to hate is to be evil, not Godly. Hate is the most prescient form of evil, and it is not okay, it can never be okay.

This is not just my opinion. This is my truth.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

June 8, 2016

When I was a growing up, I would sit down almost every evening with my family, which after my 11th birthday consisted of just my mother, my sister and me, to watch television. I suppose the medium was new enough in those days (1965) that the hobby was considered quality family time. Of course, I watched whatever program my mother wanted to see. There was no choice because she decided the agenda, and that was that. I was her remote control, responsible for changing the channel when she needed it changed, and also for pouring her a fresh cup of coffee as required.

Even if, at the time, I was upstairs in my room, reading.

Most of the programs she watched I enjoyed, too. She was a fan of Raymond Burr, so there was “Perry Mason”, and later, “Ironside”. My mom always put an “s” at the end to that title. There were westerns—“Rawhide”, “Paladin” [the show’s actual name was “Have Gun - Will Travel” but to Mother it was “Paladin”], and “Bat Masterson”. She liked “Star Trek”, and “Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea”, the latter being my favorite show when I was a kid.

My mother didn’t just pick dramas to watch, either. She liked some variety shows—Carol Burnett and before her, Milton Berle. She also loved comedy. Her favorite comedians were Berle, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and Lucille Ball.

 We used to watch episodes of “The Lucy Show”, and I credit that program with helping me to discover something very important about myself: I was capable of being completely mortified on behalf of total strangers. Seriously, there was something about Ball’s comedy that more often than not made me cringe, made me even at times cover my eyes so I didn’t have to see what was happening, or about to happen next. Why? I have no idea. What I can tell you is that I still have that propensity today. I will still feel extreme embarrassment for others—and not just when they’re on a television or movie screen, and not just for comedians, either.

I don’t know what that says about me. You know all those headlines on the Internet such as, “Person X’s most embarrassing moment”, or “Watch what happens when a moment goes horribly wrong”? Yeah, I don’t go there. I really don’t go there.

I suppose having such a highly empathetic sense has been a bonus in my career. I do hear from readers that they always feel as if they’re right there in my books, with my characters. They also tell me, when one of my characters is dealing with a situation that for them hits close to home, that they believe I really get what they’re going through.

I like to think I do, and so I am grateful, even if that sense was developed in part by sitting through some, what was for me, excruciatingly painful early TV shows.

Lately though, I’ve had that sense of wanting to hide my face again as I catch some news clips involving certain political candidates. I honestly don’t believe that some people actually willingly flirt with personal humiliation they way they do, but it’s true. Sometimes, lately, it’s been very cringe-worthy.

Maybe that’s just a sign that I’m getting older.

For good or bad, my television viewing habits were formed early and played a role in my character development. So it’s no surprise that when our kids were smaller, we watched television nearly every single night, just as I had done growing up. The major source of family entertainment for us and our kids, in those days, was our VCR and movie rentals. Some weekends saw us rent as many as three or four movies, which we would then sit down with the kids to watch Friday and Saturday nights.

There wasn’t a lot of communication between us as the movies played, true. But there was something to be said for the time we spent together. And I do believe there was a connection between Friday and Saturday movie nights, and Sunday mornings spent reading and snuggling and hanging out together in Mom and Dad’s bed—all five of us.

Sometimes I miss the good old days—when TV was free, popcorn was cheap, and the open discourse of our leaders, and would-be leaders, was civil and quote-worthy, not cringe-worthy.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

June 1, 2016

It’s that time of year when flowers abound—especially at the Ashbury’s. You may recall that after several years of pleading for some blooms, my beloved, our daughter and our son finally got the message, so that I now have gardens once more. I can’t tell you how much this means to me. Of all the things I can no longer manage to do, gardening is the thing I miss the most. Something as simple as no longer being able to get down on the ground and back up again without help has had a tremendous impact on my life. And while I still do a lot around the house, that whole up and down thing you do when you garden isn’t one of them.

I wanted perennials, because this property as a whole is a challenge. If you stand at the very back of our lot, you are actually on the same level as the top of our roof. That “hill” takes up the lion share of our land. That part of our property has been inaccessible to me for ten years, and just lately, has become that way to my husband as well. The best we can do there is have our youngest grandson cut the grass, keeping it neat.

Our tiny front yard is very uneven for walking on, and not very wide from the edge of our front porch to the sidewalk. However, we have spring bulbs planted along the walkway and in front of the porch. We also have a couple of peonies, two lilacs that are very slow growing, and a smattering of lilies-of-the-valley. This year along with the hanging baskets our kids gave me on Mother’s Day, we have not three, but five oblong flower boxes hanging in two tiers off the porch itself. These are filled with pansies. We’ve put a few annuals along the walkway, and once the tulips and narcissi die out, we’ll put some asters there as well. And that rose bush my husband gave me three years ago is still alive, and currently in bud, outside my bedroom window.

But there is one area of our property that we can work with, and that we really have improved upon from a few years ago, and that is our small, fenced-in and relatively flat back yard. My beloved admits that small area is really the most he can manage on his own anymore. He cuts the grass—the lawn is an area not even ten square feet. He’s planted various annuals that we picked up on the Victoria Day Weekend in an ell-shaped garden along two sides of the yard. That same weekend he also planted some perennials: two trilliums that I searched and searched to find, and about 8 gladiola bulbs. He resurrected our gazebo, and put the table and chairs out beneath it.

He’s even wired the gazebo for electricity so we could have a light at night, and so that, if the day is not too hot, I can take my laptop out and write in the fresh air amid nature’s beauty. We also have a barbecue in this small back yard, perfect for those “family dinners” our second daughter loves so well.

I think back to the days when we were starting out, when we lived in the house that had been my mother’s, out in a rural area. We had tree-quarters of an acre, with a couple of dozen trees, big flower beds in the front, and a veggie garden big enough that the neighboring farmer came in the spring with his tractor to plow and then disc it for us.

I miss that place, sentimentally. I miss the umbrella-like canopy of the weeping willow, the sound of the breeze rustling the poplar leaves, and the sight of my laundry stretched out on the clothes lines secured on the poles driven into the very flat land. I miss going out to that veggie garden and plucking a luscious tomato to make a sandwich for lunch, or harvesting fresh beans for supper.

I miss the perennials—daffodils, narcissi, and tulips, the lilacs and the lilies-of-the-valley that grew in such rich abundance that when the breeze came from the north in the spring you could step out onto the verandah and inhale that marvelous bouquet. I miss the tiger lilies and the smoke bush that my mother planted, and the flowering crabs we’d bought her one long ago Mother’s Day.

I miss all that keenly—but it wouldn’t be the same, even if we could go back to that place, because we’re not the same.

So in reality, what we have now is better than those memories. Because what we have now is real, it’s here, and it’s what we can manage.