Greetings of the Season

I am starting on my blog again, posting monthly, and I’m going to do it without reconnecting with Facebook or Twitter. I’ll post them on both my WordPress blog site and my website and the inestimable Richie will put them on his vast social media empire, too. But please, if you like reading my posts, go ahead and press that little “follow” button in order to be notified of my new posts. I really appreciate it and as I do your interest and your support.

So this month’s post falls under the heading of buy my beautiful notecards why don’t you? It is, after all, the season for sending out little cards. Sure, I don’t have theme- specific ones, but you can use your imaginations. I’ve got pears and aren’t there partridges in pear trees for one holiday? I’ve sheep, lots of sheep, and that says to me Thanksgiving, hands-down.

The little landscapy ones can be used for all sorts of themes. I just can’t think of which, exactly, at this moment, but I’m sure you can.

And of course there’s the pigs and the horses. Now that I think of it, the pigs, although I think they are lovely, might be a tad insensitive for, say, Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hannukah. Okay, ixnay on the pigs for the holidays. But the horses would work. You know, “over the river and through the woods to grandmothers house we go, the horse knows the way…” etc. And that Robert Frost poem about stopping in the snowy woods and the pony does that little shake of the harness thing.

So go here and check them out. And thanks.

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The Buddy Capers

 

Buddy went to his first cyclocross race of the season in Rochester, in that lovely Olmstead designed park. Buddy is fond of children, the smaller the better, although I suspect he likes the babies in strollers primarily for the stuffed toys wedged in the stroller with them. He is gentle, though, as he roots out the toys and tugs them from their dark corners. Some babies think this is funny and gurgle with delight as they see their stuffed alligators or teddy bears making their way in Buddy’s careful mouth to the light of day; others become upset as they see their toys changing hands. They are probably future Republicans.

Buddy had satisfying exchanges with three sets of children that weekend. The first was a tiny infant being carried by its mother in a front-harness baby holder. I had Buddy in his own backpack, on my back. In case you haven’t seen it, Buddy sits in the pack with his head and one leg visible, looking like, as someone observed, “a cabby with his arm hanging out.” When the infant saw Buddy on my back, his neutral expression creased into a slow, serene, appreciative smile. Really, it was just like having a Buddhist monk smile at us.

The second was a group of three siblings. They asked (as most children do these days) if they could pet Buddy, who had trotted right up to them. He nestled himself into the center of the three as they crowded around, gently patting and exclaiming about how soft he was.

“I like how his mouth does this,” said the littlest boy and made a small moue.

“I wish we could have a dog. We might get one,” said the middle child, a small boy, with an Arab name.

“We won’t get one,” said his older sister, who had early adolescent pimples and braces but who seemed full of joy. She hadn’t said it to be mean, I could tell. There are disappointments in life, she seemed to know already, and there was no point in pretending otherwise. I really liked those kids.

The third encounter was a little four-or-five-year-old who marched up, and asked to pet Buddy.

“Sure,” I said. “He likes people who are little.”

As soon as I said that, I knew it was wrong and the child set me straight at once.

“I’m not little,” he said without rancor.

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that.”

Facts restored, he proceeded to pet Buddy. “What’s his name?”

“Buddy,” I said.

He paused, his face wrinkled in puzzlement. “What’s his nickname?”

I cracked up. Because, really, he had a point.

“Little potato,” I said, and now the boy cracked up.

An hour or so later, Buddy and I were near the finish line and I heard a shrill, piping

voice behind us, getting louder, “His nickname is little potato.”

I looked around. The not-little kid was ushering a group of friends over.

“His nickname is little potato,” he informed them again, bending down to pet Buddy proprietarily.

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What I Did Inauguration Day

 

 

Not a fan of the inauguration. Not a fan of whining, either. So here’s what I’ve done, to both help and help feel empowered.

I donated to three organizations that will most likely be negatively impacted by the incoming administration.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, for justice for minorities, the National Resources Defense Council, for the environment, and Planned Parenthood, for women’s rights.

Kindness is important.

Stylish Writing

Last night I read through that little gem, The Elements of Style. Updated, its core nonetheless remains as sound as a ninety-year-old yogi.

In today’s children and young adult books, there is a fixation on “voice.” “Voice” is what is most often referenced when agents are asked what they look for when reading a manuscript. “A fresh voice” they say, whatever that means. Based on the books I review, “a fresh voice” is often on par with the flat, loud volume of commercials or the exaggerated drama of reality shows. It exhausts the reader with its neediness.

Here, by calming contrast, is Strunk and White’s advice in the chapter titled “An Approach to Style.” 

Place yourself in the background. Write in a way that draws the reader’s attention to the sense and substance of the writing, rather than to the mood and temper of the author.

If the writing is solid and good, the mood and temper of the writer will eventually be revealed and not at the expense of the work. Therefore, the first piece of advice is this: to achieve style, begin by affecting none—that is, place yourself in the background.

A careful and honest writer does not need to worry about style. As you become proficient in the use of language, your style will emerge, because you yourself will emerge, and when this happens you will find it increasingly easy to break through the barriers that separate you from other minds, other hearts—which is, of course, the purpose of writing, as well as its principal reward.

Fortunately, the act of composition, or creation, disciplines the mind; writing is one way to go about thinking, and the practice and habit of writing not only drain the mind but supply it, too.

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TMI

I’ve taken myself off Facebook and twitter, not that hardly anyone would notice. Except of course, me, which was the point.

I have shut the door to the party. Once, when I was a teenager, my mother and I were driving into Hartford and we passed by the huge brick Aetna building, I said to her: “I would like to live there so that I could have a party in this part—“ I indicated the vast right-hand wing, “but my room would be here—“ I indicated the equally vast left hand-wing “so I could be alone.” Naturally, she looked at me oddly. But what I was trying to say was that I love people and I love doing things to make them happy, but I find them overwhelming.

So that’s that. Despite FB telling me that so-and-so really misses hearing from me (doubt it) I’m sticking to my decision. Fact is, I don’t miss the party. I do wonder slightly if I am like the ostrich, but then again, I do my bit in my own way, so I feel okay about that.

Interestingly, E.B. White felt the same way about the effect of television: “When I was a child,” he wrote in One Man’s Meat, his book of essays published in 1938, “people simply looked about them and were moderately happy. Nowadays they peer across the seven seas, bury themselves waist deep in tidings, and by and large what they see and hear makes them unutterably sad.”

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Moving Along

 

I thought I’d tell you about how my life has changed since the election outcome. First, the good news for me, is that I’m white, albeit female so a certain part of my anatomy is apparently up for grabs, but at least I don’t have to worry about Neanderthal types yelling racial slurs or hitting me. So that’s good. But what’s bad is that I am stunned we humans are so tribal, so ignorant, and so full of base hatred for The Other. So I have to try to reconcile that.

But a very good thing has also happened, and it is that I feel united with the majority and I feel a sobering awareness to use my white privilege to stand up for the vulnerable. My sister-in-law told me, “My headscarf is ready if they start registering Muslims.” She is Jewish. But how wonderful to contemplate one hundred million people registering as Muslims in the United States.

There is a power in behaving with decency that is less obvious than the shock-value of barbaric outrageousness, but decency is the far stronger power, since it is based on values that enrich the soul, rather than corrode it.

“Against eternal injustice, man must assert justice, and to protest against the universe of grief, he must create happiness.” –Albert Camus

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There is Still Beauty

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This morning I watched two squirrels go back and forth, back and forth, leaping from branch to branch with mouthfuls of leaves, dressing up their nest. Yesterday I walked with a friend along the winter beach; the sun sparkled against the dark water, the sandpipers clustered, the marsh hawk silently soaring and the colors of rust, yellow, purple blending into a song of November.

There is still beauty. We humans are love and hate, kindness and cruelty. But the natural world—the natural world just is. And there is a great peace in that.

…Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled–
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing–
that the light is everything–that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

Excerpted from The Ponds, by Mary Oliver

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Mary Oliver Reminds Us in These Harsh Times

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I thought it might be time for something beautiful.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the trees
and the black river of loss
whose other side
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Mary Oliver

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Manners, People. Manners

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Yesterday, Richie and I were in Rockport, Massachusetts, a picturesque little town on Cape Ann. There, we got into conversation with a resident. He talked about his work (owning and managing apartments) and how much he missed his wife of fifty-eight years who had recently died. We were three humans, connecting. Then I looked up and saw in his window, a sign: “Proud to be a member of the basket of deplorables.” Oh dear, I thought, a trump supporter. {Still!} We carried on talking in our friendly way and Richie mentioned that we were here for the Gran Prix Cyclocross race. I could feel the man pull back, in much the same way I had when I read his sign. Oh dear, his body language said, one of them. (The Gran Prix is not liked by residents because it tears up the park—although the race hires landscapers to repair it afterwards.) But we continued talking, continued connecting, because we are well-mannered people.

Currently, within the United States manners have been, by some, derided as “political correctness.” They’re not. They are an essential survival tool for a society. When manners go, society goes. Good manners towards another human indicates respect. No, you needn’t agree with their positions on things, but your display of good manners confers to them the respect due to another member of your society and by doing so—and this is key—you also establish to them, your own sense of self respect.

Invariably, rude people are unsecure people. As President Obama recently observed about a certain someone who most decidedly lacks good manners, “he pumps himself up by pushing others down.” When we feel threatened—insecure—our instinct is to hit back to force our threatener to feel worse than we do. Ergo, we are not at the bottom anymore!

Manners prevent us from lashing out destructively while we (ideally) work out within ourselves that which is making us feel insecure. The process of working it out is self-responsibility. Accepting self-responsibility is growth. Growth feeds self-respect.

Courage: grace manners under pressure.

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No More Misogynist Feminists

 

The title of this blog post is thanks to Madonna, who tweeted out same recently.

It took me a long time, I am embarrassed to say, to understand Madonna. I thought her in-your-face sexuality was a cave-in, a return to the subjection of women by sexualizing them. When, of course in fact, she was taking charge of it. Her “Boy Toy” belt buckle particularly rankled me. But just like the LGBTQ community co-opted “queer” to become a statement of power and ownership, Madonna co-opted and empowered her own sexuality by taking ownership of it.

Now Madonna has, in a succinct sentence, captured what I feel about women who aren’t voting for Hillary because they find her “untrustworthy.” Oh for God’s sake. Hillary has devoted her life to public service, her every move is scrutinized. I find it trust-inducing that the only thing her detractors can find to detract is missing emails that have not resulted in anything detrimental happening to our country–unlike the propaganda of WMD that led to the Iraq war, or the deliberate dishonesty that led to the housing bubble meltdown. . . Oh, the Clinton Foundation? The donation detractors point to was signed off by nine separate government agencies, not Hillary.

Ladies, tell me what it is about having a woman in the highest office in the country—a women who is more prepared to do the job than anyone in recent memory—that you just can’t abide. Perhaps it will be the illuminating of women’s rights—just like President Obama’s terms have illuminated the rights of Blacks—that you find disturbing. Equal pay for equal work, the right to decide what to do with one’s own reproductive system, the exposure of the casual, insidious sexism all women live with—these will naturally rise to the surface when a woman is President.

If you say you “distrust” Hillary, please form a thorough, coherent, fact-filled argument as to why. Vague intimations about her “corruption” or “untrustworthiness” are not facts. And when you’ve gotten your argument down and you think it’s a solid one then do a little more thinking and determine why this makes her uniquely unqualified to lead. Unlike, say, the generations of men in government, whose lives, when the rug has been lifted, have been rife with mistakes, corruption, and cronyism. I believe Hillary’s life of service is more committed, honest, and authentic than her peers. I believe she is more intelligent and prepared than anyone else has been for the job. If all you can muster against her is “untrustworthy” then your attitude is misogyny, plain and simple.

 

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