History Lessons 

Twenty years ago I visited Dauchu — the first concentration camp built by the Nazis in an old ammunition plant not far from Munich.

I confess, I didn’t want to go. I knew it would be hard. I knew it would be upsetting. I knew my heart would break.

I was right.

But it’s important to understand history. And there’s no substitute for standing in the very spot where it happened.

Like most Americans, my DNA comes from a lot of different places. But I’m more German than anything.  

As we walked around the grounds, I realized I could have had relatives in this camp.

And then I realized my relatives could have been the Nazis guarding this camp.

That chilled me to the bone.

I wondered, as we walked through the nearby village, if the German people knew what was happening behind these walls. Had they resisted? Had they tried to help?

And I told myself I would have. I was American. We wouldn’t have done this.

Today, my words haunt me. Because today I march against totalitarianism and fascism right here, in my country. In the United States of America.

This election has destroyed my perception of what it means to be American. Everything I learned in history class… in social studies… in political science… about our American beliefs in equality, opportunity and justice lies shattered at my feet.

I see history repeating itself. And it’s my turn to do the right thing.

Today I am that German villager.

So today I march. For my kids. For your kids. For the kids who died at those concentration camps in Europe. For the kids who died in the Japanese internment camps right here in the USA. For the kids dying in Syria right now.

History will judge us. 

Some day, a visitor will come to this country and ask if our people really knew what was happening in 2017. Did we seek justice? Did we take a stand? Did we honor the people who died for our American values over centuries?

I will do something. Today my resistance begins.

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What You Are Really Saying When You Say You’re Tired of Political Correctness 

I wish I had a dime every time I heard this sentence: “I’m so tired of political correctness. What ever happened to freedom of speech in this country?”

Just check out any political news story on the Internet. It won’t take long to find it in the comments.

And because the Internet is such a kind and civilized place (sigh), these comments are usually followed by another comment explaining that your freedom of speech isn’t in jeopardy. Because freedom of speech means the government can’t arrest you for the words that come out of your mouth.

Freedom of speech means that you get to say what you want to say. Like, “I don’t like your idea/opinion/dog.” And I get to say, “You’re an asshole.” And no government official is going to break down the door and take us to prison.

Now, I suspect most of the people who say,”I’m so tired of political correctness,” aren’t really talking about the first ammendment at all. That’s just a convenient sound bite parroted by TV news personalities (irony at its finest).

What they are really saying is they want to say what they want to say, and they don’t want to be judged on those words.

Okay. You don’t want to be judged. I get that. No one does.

The problem is this desire to say what you want to say without repercussions ignores the basics of communication — the power of words.

Anyone who writes for a living knows the struggle to find that one word that expresses the right meaning. It’s the difference between rain and downpour and monsoon. It’s like saying you are angry when it’s more accurate to say you are livid or apoplectic. You feel sexy versus horny or lustful.

Words are powerful. They have meaning and nuance. 

And sometimes those meanings and nuances change.

The purpose of words is to express thoughts and ideas. And learning underlying meanings behind words isn’t really political correctness, it is knowledge.

Let’s look at a classic PC word: Oriental.

This is a word that refers to objects from Asian countries–rugs, art, etc.

Using Oriental when referring to a person isn’t about being politically correct. It’s about being incorrect. Because, quite simply, people are not things.

Now my grandparents have said, “He’s Oriental.” Lots of people did back in the early 1900s.

But it was incorrect. So they stopped.

It’s that simple.

Meanings also change. The word “gay” meant “joyful” only 50 years ago, or so. That’s not what first comes to mind today.

We are constantly revising the meaning of words because our society and our culture is changing. That’s why dictionaries add new words every year. Like “selfie.” And, at one point, “political correctness.”

What our society calls political correctness is actually the evolution of our language. Bemoaning changes in word meanings is not unlike spouting off on the demise of the 8-track tapes in our MP3 world.

Your words are much more than letters on a screen or vibrations in the air. They carry nuances of meaning.

And when those words are received, the reader or listener will assign meaning. 

To deny those meanings is to deny the expression of your true thoughts and ideas. It is to miscommunicate your intentions. 

If you’ve ever tried to learn a new language or communicate with a nonnative speaker, the biggest barrier isn’t the words. It’s the meaning behind the words. It’s knowing the difference between “Como te amo?” and “Como se amo?”

Because that one word changes your meaning.

That meaning may not be what you intended. But the answer is not to bemoan the PC police.

It’s to educate yourself on the meaning of words. And simply do better next time at expressing your true meaning.

And stop blaming political correctness.

Otherwise, you owe me a dime.

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There’s No Cure for the Common A**hole

There’s no cure for the common cold.

I’ve recently realized there’s no cure for the common asshole either.

Man, we are a cranky bunch. By “we,” I mean everyone in the grocery store, on the highway and on social media. Plus a few others over there in Florida.

Insert standard rant about lack of consideration, sense of entitlement (I’m looking at you, asshole in the BMW on the freeway), and basic rudeness. Blah… Blah… Blah.

You know what I mean. Because you feel it too. The assholes are everywhere. And they are breeding.

It’s enough to make you despair for our future.

You see them everywhere. Work. School. Costco. And don’t get me started about Walmart.

And sometimes I see one staring back at me in a mirror.

Yep. I’ll be honest, all of these assholes sometimes get to me, and I act like… well, an asshole.

I can’t control other people, but I can do something about myself.

Here’s what I’m trying to do about it:

  • Say thank you and please. All the time.
  • Tip the barista.
  • Listen. Even when I don’t want to.
  • Distribute compliments.
  • Tell jokes.
  • Laugh as much as possible.
  • Tell people when I’m thinking of them.
  • Saying “no” to stuff that I don’t want to do.
  • Reserving my energy to the people I care about the most.
  • Go outside.
  • Admire art.
  • Send someone a card in the mail.
  • Eat ice cream.
  • Eat chocolate.
  • Let cars out in traffic.
  • Forgive.
  • Read good books.
  • Rest.
  • Talk to real people.
  • Stay off Facebook.
  • Stay off all social media.
  • Take pictures of my kids.
  • Enjoy the food on my plate.
  • Walk.
  • Play fetch with my dog.
  • Buy more vegetables from farmers markets.
  • Eat more of the vegetables I buy.
  • Cut myself some slack when I forget everything on this list.

When you have a cold, there’s no pill to fix it. The doctor tells you every time: rest, fluids, sleep.

It works eventually. The cold is gone, and you feel better.

I strongly suspect it works for assholes too.

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The Postcard Project

I’m coping with the cold weather this year by clearing out my house. This is a painful process for me because I try to be a good global citizen and recycle or donate as much as possible. I don’t like waste, and I hate the idea of stuff sitting in a landfill.

Plus I’m irrationally attached to objects if someone I like gave them to me. And I have a lot of people I like. And they are pretty generous.

But I’m putting on my big girl pants and mucking out the house, one drawer or closet at a time.

This week it was my bedside table, where I store cards and stationary. I found a stack of postcards from all over the world — fun pictures of places I visited. Maybe I meant to mail them to someone and never did. Maybe I just liked the picture.

But they aren’t much use sitting in a drawer for my children to chuck out after I’m gone.

So I’m starting the Postcard Project, where I randomly send postcards from the pile to people I love. No rules except 1) I must use a postcard I’ve already purchased and 2) I must like the person I’m mailing it to.

No reciprocation necessary.

I hope it brings a smile to my friends’ faces.

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Being a Grown Up is Highly Overrated

Percy the Cat

Fibrosarcoma sucks.

This is one of those weeks. You know the ones. Where the tough stuff comes out of the woodwork, and you are spinning around trying to make the right decision, but the right decision isn’t obvious to anyone. Least of all, you.

That’s my week. This week I found out the family cat, Percy, has cancer. Fibrosarcoma, to be specific. A very aggressive and very tough cancer to treat. So far, we’ve spent $1,000 to remove a huge tumor on Percy’s leg. His stitches from the surgery cover nearly half his 12-lb. body.

But it’s not over. In fact, it’s likely it will come back.

We are pet people. We love our pets. Percy ranks near the top of the family in terms of popularity, only challenged by the dog. Far above me, for sure.

We love him. And we are lucky. The huge tumor was big, but it wasn’t deep. We didn’t have to remove his leg to get the cancer. That was a real option, believe it or not.

But we are not wealthy people. We are normal people with two kids and a mortgage and the obligations that come with those things. We don’t have the money for extended cancer treatment, in this case radiation therapy.

What we do have is two kids who love their cat and not a lot of good options. Do we wait and see if the cancer comes back? That is likely only a matter of time. Do we spend another $1,000 on surgery to remove the next tumor that grows? Do we finance radiation therapy and tell the kids that Santa isn’t coming for the next five years and, by the way, we can’t pay college either? Or, perhaps the worst scenario, we spend the money, get the treatment and the cat dies anyway?

What the hell do we do?

It’s been a week. I don’t have any answers. All I know for sure is being a grown-up is highly overrated.

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This Is What Mother’s Day Should Be Like

Fox cub

Fox cub frolicking around his den.

I’ve posted before about why Mother’s Day isn’t my favorite holiday. This year, I must admit, was a tough one. Nothing major — just one of those days were absolutely nothing went right. By the end of the day, we all sat around and watched movies on TV just so I could make sure no one suffered any more bodily injury.

Fast forward two weeks to a regular Saturday with no holiday overshadowing it. I got up. I made pancakes for my kids. We went strawberry picking at a farm, fed some chickens, met two ducks, visited with friends, ate lunch at a farmer’s market and went to checkout a fox hole where a baby fox was rumored to hang out.

In short, it was a great day. Only minor squabbling from the offspring, and no one was cranky because they felt obligated to be grateful for something that can’t be conveyed with a card or brunch at the Olive Garden.

It’s was the perfect non-Mother’s Day. And best of all, it usually comes more than just once a year.

Take that, Hallmark!

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25 Years Later

25 years ago today, almost to the minute, my mother took her own life.

A therapist once told me that I had live through the worst thing that could happen to me, and I should take comfort in the fact that I survived it. I know that’s not true now. My mother’s suicide was a terrible tragedy, but it’s not the worst thing that could happen. My overactive imagination can come up with numerous things other people have had to survive that are far worse.

So I find it somewhat ironic when people say to me, “I don’t know how you do it. How do you pick up the pieces and go on?”

How indeed.

The truth is there’s no secret map that shows you the way to the day when you wake up and realize your mother has been dead for 25 years.

I did it one day at time.

In fact, sometimes I did it one moment at a time. In the early days, it was that moment before you get out of bed. When you are awake, but still seduced by tendrils of sleep, and you search for a reason to tell your body that it’s time to stand up again.

I won’t say there weren’t days where it was hard to come up with a reason. But eventually I did.

Sometimes the reason was that I really had to pee.

Some days maybe it doesn’t have to be a good reason, just any reason.

And eventually, when you get out of bed enough days in a row, you stop searching for a reason and you just do it.

You get out of bed. You take a shower. You feed yourself. And you do that over and over and over again for a long time.

Then maybe you find a therapist. And maybe a doctor. And you go to your appointments, even though you really don’t want to. And if the first therapist doesn’t really work out, you find another one. And you go to your appointments, even though you really don’t want to.

Then maybe you take your prescription medicine that helps you get up in the morning and go to your appointment. And maybe eventually it feels like it might be helping a little bit.

Just a little bit.

And after you get out of bed and take a shower and feed yourself, you get in the car and you go to work. And you put papers here and forward emails there and answer the phone when it rings.

And then you go back the next day. And the next. And the next. And one day you realize you’ve been doing it for a very long time.

One day you become busy again. Busy with getting out of bed and taking a shower and feeding yourself and moving papers around at work, and you think, “Oh. This feels like it used to.”

Only it doesn’t quite feel the same. Because your mother is still dead.

And maybe one day you get married to someone who loves you. And you get out of bed together, and eventually create a life together that looks nothing like the life you had 25 years ago. Because it is new, it is different and you are still getting out of bed every single day, even if it’s just because you have to pee and your bladder control is not what it used to be.

Only now you take a shower and feed yourself and your two children and your dog and your cat. Then you drive your kids to school, and then you drive yourself to work, and you keep doing that over and over and over again.

And then one day you realize your mother has been gone for 25 years ago. And sometimes it feels like it was yesterday. And other times you don’t recognize yourself because the 17-year-old girl who lost her mother to suicide is not the 42-year-old woman looking back at you in the mirror.

One day you realize you’ve made new friends. People who don’t know about the tragedy in your past because they didn’t know you then. And sometimes there’s a moment where they ask what your mother does or where she lives, and then you have to explain that she doesn’t do anything and she doesn’t live anywhere, because she is dead.

And then you deal with the awkwardness that comes afterwards.

The awkwardness comes when they say, “I don’t know how you do it. How do you pick up the pieces and go on?”

Because they don’t want to hear the real answer. The real answer is there’s nothing special about me, and there’s nothing special about them, and there’s no good reason they couldn’t be dealing with a tragedy in their lives one day. A tragedy that leaves them searching for a good reason to get out of bed.

Because odds are they will survive it just like I did, and they will start by finding a reason to get out of bed.

And if they can’t think of one, eventually they will have to pee.

 

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