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AN OUNCE OF KINDNESS – PLEASE?

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Today is October 2, 2013. This country is in its second day of a government shutdown because a group of grown individuals, elected to represent the people and uphold the laws of this country, are unable to get beyond the “kindergarten sandbox” politics that adheres to the time-honored tradition  of, if I don’t get my way, I’m going to hold my breath. Well, these people are actually holding the financial breath of us all – they are still getting paid as opposed to the more than a million citizens who are not.

But I am writing to make another point – even as the above has acted as the catalyst for this point.  I have been astounded at the vitriol and mean-spirited attacks by young adults on others less fortunate. A former student set off a FaceBook barrage of meanness when she called individuals on welfare cheats and lazy. There were other choice adjectives thrown in this tirade but one gets the point – even without the expletives. First I have to say this former student is a long-standing hero of mine. She was and remains (for me) the only high school girl to try out for the football team. She fought hard, very hard at the heavily padded sports wall set up between genders. I was privy to some of her thoughts on afternoons when she would stop by my classroom before practice flushed with excitement even as she showed me her bruises up and down her back and rib cage. Initially, like most competitive individuals, she was proud of the black and blue proof of her rugged spirit; this was a test and she was, if not succeeding magnificently, going the distance.  My heart burst with pride for her. She was the daughter I wanted – standing toe-to-toe with the sport-dominant gender and holding her own.  Then one day she came to my room saddened, believing her desire to quit the unnatural abuse that was heaped upon her (I am sure to teach her that her place was on the sidelines and not on the field) meant she had, somehow, betrayed her gender. My heart broke even as we sat and discussed where she might best put her future energies. Girls’ lacrosse became her next goal as she put together a winning team of young women as beautiful and rugged as she. Needless to say, I was surprised to read a post of such insensitivity from her. I made my comments and also responded to another poster who happily spouted astoundingly ugly comments about people forced to live in poverty. I guess my mistake was suggesting this person not call herself a Christian. I was bombarded with her anger and her telling me, “You don’t know me.” She was right; I didn’t know her life – any more than she knew the lives of the majority of people on public assistance – the ones she so blithely castigated.  I sat back and wondered how such meanness could have taken space in the hearts of my s/hero and her friend. Surely it was not learned in any of the literature I selected for students – literature that pointed to the beauty of diversity by showing no one group is ALL anything. Stereotyping is discrimination plain and simple.

Later, I came to realize that what is going on in our nation’s capitol has spread like jelly from a sloppily made sandwich. These young people have bought into the idea that all of their problems begin and end with those whom they accuse of ‘gaming ’ the system.  Oh their qualm is not with those who game the system on the high-end; they are, in fact, the perpetrators of the myth. More money is lobbied and directed into programs that benefit only a few. The one per-cent of this country has never, ever in the history of the republic been richer.  Money makes a formidable opponent. I see evidence of this every day in the front page of the Times. On the other hand, weakness is easier to denigrate and exploit and believing one’s problems lie with those who live in poverty is easier than fighting congress. Poverty makes a sweet target, like hungry children and education.

It seems I have been on a quest the last few years to find the root-source of hatred. No, we are not born hateful, warring, abusive people. These lessons – most under the guise of human Intel – happen by passing on messages that should inform future generations.  From my Brief History of Mankind course I’ve learned that it was man’s ability to hold independent ideas or symbols in his head and discuss things or concepts that could not be touched or seen that moved us to the upper ranks of the food chain. Before this we were running down our food as we needed, feeding, housing, and caring for our clan – ensuring posterity. We had no heft, claws, teeth or venom to protect ourselves.  Initially I assumed opposable thumbs were the reason for human success but today’s caged apes tell a different story.  And the story is the key. The idea of gossip – yes, according to professor Hahrari, it is gossip that saved our bacon. The ability to discuss and create stories of potential allies or enemies along with early man’s propensity for caring for the group, the community – each other – is what helped us mount the ladder of dominance.  Without the kindness of caring – we would not be having this discussion.  I came away from that lesson believing the person who governs the ‘story’ is the one who can, for good or ill, dominate the culture. 

Today, we are living in a culture dominated by meanness. We vicariously root for the anti-hero in our stories because he is given something to hate, avenge and destroy. Meanness is good as long as it’s directed at _____________ (fill in the blank).  Today’s politicians have masterfully promoted the story of meanness – a story even they would have to admit, on their kindest day, (in church maybe?) has no validity. And while the heads of those young adults who buy into the ‘story’ are turned away in a manufactured self-righteousness, they are being robbed of something so very dear and yet so simple as to be overlooked. They are being robbed of opportunity to witness caring for others and their future.  Our future.

My young friend messaged me this morning (this second day of this government shutdown) apologizing for the storm caused by her post. I had to remind her that I too was once young and rigid. I told my friend of the time I was complaining about poor people on the streets of Los Angeles and how they “smell.”  My gentle, southern-born grandmother held up a preemptive hand – cutting me off with an unusual sternness, saying, “There but for the Grace of God go I.”    

Of Pumpkins and Parenting

 bunior_croppedIt is Labor Day and as I start to work in the pumpkin field – old times come flooding back. These memories speak of times when all the acreage across the road was full of the bright orange orbs and working out in the slight change of season was a welcome event. This was before parenthood and woodchucks found my husband and me I can’t remember when we decided to not sell pumpkins anymore. It could have been when the huge Amish family moved in six miles down the road and put in a crop. And with their low overhead and penchant for incredibly hard work, it was an easy decision to make. By then though, our place was known as the pumpkin house – even today I am reminded of this when I give out my address “Oh, you live in the pumpkin house. We took a field trip to your pumpkin patch in 4th grade.”  Even as I write this I am forced to smile. I’ve always loved pumpkins; bright orange orbs of pleated happiness. Planting, weeding, curing and harvesting have given me good foundation in teaching and parenting. I have learned that the huge, bright orange ball in the center of the field – the one that screams perfection causing me to run headlong to the field’s center is, more often than not, hiding something that could rot the entire endeavor if left unchecked. I know too not to ignore the ones that stay green longer than their neighbors – even those sprouting from the same hill. No two are alike – ever. I am smiling too at the memory of my son – a baby still, not quite a year bundled and propped up between two pumpkins about his size and weight as he sucks happily on a bottle. By his second year he is out in the field with us, his wagon wheels dragging the entangled vines that somehow do not trip him as he attempts to lift (always) the biggest pumpkin he could get his young arms around.

We used to take our bright orange product into town and Wegman’s supermarket that took everything we could get to them but we stopped after one year. An anti-capitalist move I suppose but nothing, nothing could be worth the smile on the face of the two-old girl working her little fingers around two smaller pumpkins. “If she can carry them she can have them –said her mother,” Or my seven-year-old son proudly sitting atop a pile of orange beauties he and his dad brought to the sorting area. It was easier to put our own signs up – one and two dollar piles – three- dollars for the giants. Many a weekend writing time was spent listening to the trill of the valley’s young forever in search of the perfect pumpkin. And perfection in pumpkins, as in children, is relative. Yes, there may be a few woodchuck bites but with a bit of artistic nurturing (carving?) these scars can harden into a  creative   scar tissue that in adulthood will be called wisdom.  It has been almost 20 years since our last serious pumpkin crop and today the bright orange beauty screaming perfection from the center of the field does not seduce me. History tells a different truth.  And by the time I’ve moved to the center, cutting and setting encouraging pumpkins to the side, I can see the gaping hole in what had, earlier, shrieked for my attention.

Our sales policy too has changed; we will not be putting out the old coffee cans suggesting a dependence on the honor of strangers. In fact that last year we sold pumpkins was the first year we had to use a locked box – anchored to a table. Up to that point it had been eight years of honest human interaction.  Did everyone always pay? No. But I still have the notes from those of reduced circumstances conferring blessings and good karma upon us and our household for providing pumpkins. One event that stands out occurred on a Friday evening just before Halloween – a young father knocked on our front door wanting to know if we had any pumpkins left.  He had been driving by our house all week, to and from work, hoping there would pumpkins left on this, his payday. That year we sold out early – (even the blemished ones) and my heart sank when I looked at the empty side lawn and the thought of his sad six-year-old at home just waiting for a pumpkin to carve. I left the young father at the door to collect two pumpkins from our personal carving stash on the back deck. I handed him the two pumpkins and refused his money. This much happiness should not be for sale.

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So, I anticipate another four to six weeks of pumpkin moving – this activity will certainly offset the zumba lessons I had promised to attend. In the past, moving, and handling pumpkins, I have on average lifted about   1000 to 1500 pounds in a good crop year. This season, maybe I’ll average a third of that  – the labor of the woodchucks seems to have blessed me so.

THE STORY OF US

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I awake most mornings to a sense of deficiency; my mind is hard to move forward – like an old car with a slipping clutch. And I can’t sit in front of my computer anymore, put on my favorite music, and write down my heart. My words fail me – flooded as they are with anger derived from a Facebook stupidity or the NYT headlines. I know, I open that door every morning  – I walk in thinking somehow things will be different, someone will upload some piece of information that does not require a fear of going to hell or total annihilation to act upon.  It would be promising to see Times headlines speaking of peace in the Middle East, a true and peaceful blossoming Arab Spring. But no, truth is painful and  half -truths are doubly painful. I am retired, five years now – and I am prepared to quit my part-time adjunct position at the local community college – a job only meant to ease my transition from 24 years of high school teaching. It has done its job.  I sit on my deck now and watch the apples ripen on the ancient tree in the side yard – no it’s not like watching grass grow or paint dry because the growth of the apples signal a freshening of sorts, an advancing – of the deer and fall. It is unchanging – this seasonal slippage. It happens with no coaxing or caffeine induced rage. Unlike human nature, nature is separate – slipping the bounds of discovery and design. It is what it is – no more no less.  My knees and back ache. Yes, you could say it is simply age but I like to think these aches come from years of struggling under the weight of why.

  This week I began an online class offered by Coursera –  A Brief History of Human Kind by professor Yuval Noah Harari  who beams his talks from a chair in Israel to people as close as his Palestinian neighbors to hundreds if not thousands of students worldwide wanting to know the history of us. I’ve just completed session 1 which has moved me from why to how:  If we spent so many thousands of years being hunted and eaten just how did we maintain our grasp (however slippery) on that middle link of survival only to move to the top of that monstrous food chain? As my professor said, we had no physical strength or size, no great teeth, claws or tough hide to protect us and yet here we are – god of all creatures great and small.  I’m left thinking this accident of ascendance is because we are genetically wired to wage war and kill in mass quantities for purposes other than food. Maybe something as simple as thumbs…? – But the great apes are equipped with such – they can still be captured and enslaved. So, thumbs are out. Maybe we began using our brains – proportionally larger than other beasts – to better advantage. Whatever the case, I agreed with my professor that man was (and remains, in my view) ill equipped for his role at the top of the food chain.

 So, after my first week of study, I’ve learned that cooperation within the species holds more weight than the phrase “survival of the fittest.” Indeed, according to professor Harari, because we have ascended so rapidly to the top of the food chain, we remain weak and vulnerable. So much so, we have the all-consuming need (for survival?) to fortify ourselves for protection (the fittest?). Harari likened early sapiens to ascendant albeit frightened lambs nervously scanning a shortened horizon for a leader. This suggests we are not really armed wolves fighting to survive but something far more dangerous – armed sheep.    

To My Journalism Students: On the Subject of Truth

  Revamped repost

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She walked along the moon-lit shore

And said her name was Truth

She fell from lips of every bore

Uncomfortable in hearts uncouth

 

Her mistake was simply looking back

To gather facts from the root

But

Gaining hard from tail of the pack

Greed fought to neutralize truth

 

Dressed in cloth so tailored and fine

He put his minions just so

Greed flashed his smile oh quite divine

Promising power and gold

 

Pledging power from uncommon seed 

Promises to evil flows

Liquid influence; oh sweet mead

The returns unchecked – grows

 

Did greed succeed – making Truth moot?

I for one won’t abide

His forcible rend by nail and tooth

Believing Truth is forced to hide

 

I believe she’s on some inland street

Barren of youth and sound

Where life is sold to make ends meet

Truth, not easily found

 

Not in the burbs? Maybe in town

Hiding in campaign lore

Alley dirty, slogans all ‘round

By what was a General Store

 

I see her

 

Dress in tatters, no sun-lit shore

Can Truth hold strength to greed?

Slipped the lips of too many bores

Liberty, country called as creed

 

 

“*How strange is the lot of … mortals”

Each life, a single sojourn

Dragging Truth through hideous portals

Awaiting their gold – in return

 

Where’s the country to shelter Truth?

To wait Her patient assay

Who sees Her rape as vile, uncouth?

Beautiful mouths; adorned decay

 

Oh for the day when Truth will rein…

But truth’s always been a tool

To tease and dig the lie’s huge skein

Speaking power to those in rule

 

Truth will remain abused and lost

If we fail to sow her seed

Grab our shovels and dirt be tossed

Upon the grave of greed

THE BOOK OF TRUTHS PAST

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Oh that there were a book

With no question to its accuracy

Where one could only look

And see mistakes of history

Learning would be inherent

No shadow of greed to fall

Across the heart the parent

Not young enough to know it all

The book would stand tall behind

The door of every man

A shotgun of knowledge kind

And aimed with a steady hand

The book would flow torrential

Facts and historical drama

No skimming of great potential

Or dreams of instant karma

Book: A dramatic monologue

Proving Adler’s aggressions

Book: The human travelogue

Of our material obsessions

A book impossible to read

Through rose tinted lens

Reality’s ugliest seed

Blooms real and honest gems

This  bible of truths past

Will center all ceremony

And anchor our future fast

Outruling hate and acrimony

Twist the question marks of life

To laws inherent day-to-day

Book of past truths will be rife

With lessons to show the way

A  dictionary to live and sleep

Between the sheets of truth

With rent my room and board my keep

And honesty for my roof

Who will the first page start

Tempting suspicion of cynics

Dare a brave message from the heart

And peacefully slay the mimics

TEACHING THE UNPOETIC HEART

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Next week I begin my poetry unit

New students –  new approach

But what?

Only a few will admit

casual hook-ups with the art-form

Will my desire be enough

for those hearts who fail
to see the ‘blues’ in a Stormy Monday?

Do I want them to see me anguished & pounding

words into order

solidifying my life in

confessional meter?

Do I let them in on my secret

crazy spinning tie-dye history?

A history I have yet to mourn

Do I say my poetry

is simply my ‘other’ novel

or desire

repurposed?

Do I want them to hear my

cursing the last tea bag on this

cold March morning and the tiny

hole that allows Earl Grey to escape

into my oversized mug

 Warming my cold hands

this last cup – confirming

a short unit

POWER TO THE WORD

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I stand before my class struggling

For the forty-dollar word to replace

The two-dollar one

That inadvertently slipped my lips

You know –

Those words that tell

The skeptical you’ve been there

Done that

Read that and

Know that

The words that have worn smooth

My rugged road from Compton

Words that speak in a sub-text of

Silhouetted meanings

Engendering the dreaded

Compliment “articulate”

As if I could speak

Any other way

But, it appears I can

With a way of words plentiful

The two-dollar variety

Like my cheap shoes

Supporting me in the beautiful

Velvet (mom-made) dress

Of childhood

My two-dollar words

Work (happily) in poetic dungeons

Fooling no one

Hooded in simplicity

Laboring, as they do,

Under the

Trappist Creed:

Give up everything

Give up everything

True That: 2012 – Year in Review

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I predict: It will be our behavior, not our shining possessions, that will define us when that “revolution” comes and all that we love has been consigned to the heap of the archaic. What will future beings think (for surely they will want to know how life was lived in 2012) about us – Hawaii and the lower 48? Alaska has already defined itself for all time.  Will our behavior be dissected by state? Bisected by regional boundaries? Investigated via intellect? Separated by GPA and SAT scores?  For now it is certain that the 47%  and the infamous 53% will both have their day of judgment – a gift to the future – like the fruitcake you opened on the 25th of last month as you smiled, thinking  about its 50 year half-life that will allow for re-gifting – God willing.

Today, January 6, 2013, I sit at a table overlooking southern Florida’s Newfound Harbor Channel – beautiful and strong in its ability to lull me into believing the Florida Keys will escape the upcoming harsh judgment by virtue of its natural beauty. But this is pre-coffee illusion. By the time I finish my first cup I know (from the 12/29/12 headlines of the local Keynoter weekly and the Associated Press) the entire state of Florida will rank high as a potential headliner for the list titled, Thonged Throngs of Thieves and Throwbacks. It is a list that will make future forensic anthropologists scratch their heads in total wonder at how the species as a whole managed to survive.

So I ask you to imagine yourself far into the future, sitting before a wall-screen picking/clicking through the emotional and physical detritus that will forever be associated with the Sunshine State.

True:  From the files of Private companies are people too!

Only in Florida could a lifeguard be fired for doing the job they were hired to do – saving a life. The lifeguard apparently crossed the boundary – into privately protected beach waters to save a drowning man. The private protection company claimed the lifeguard put them at risk. There is now one more unemployed lifeguard in a state with  8,436 miles of coastline. I include  all tidal and marsh areas because (when faced with too much water) there are those in Florida who would certainly not have the presence of mind to simply stand up.

True: From the files of  what part of SOCIAL MEDIA don’t you understand?

And yes, Facebook is available in Florida.  A mother and daughter were sentenced to two months in the pokey for contributing to the delinquency of their dogs. It appears they used their dogs to kill their farm-raised pig in the backyard – and facebooked the entire event. There’s the old ‘pig-in-poke’ analogy here somewhere but I fear for the dogs – seriously.

Called for jury duty, a Sarasota county man received the old swift kick off the panel after sending the defendant a Facebook friend request.  The judge in the case was further ticked off by the ex-juror’s bragging on FB about his courthouse prowess. The judge, in an effort to help the ex-juror make new friends, sentenced him to three days in jail.

There was the Manatee County schoolteacher who said an  eight-year-old student of hers was the missing evolutionary link  between orangutans and humans. Not sure where she had this epiphany but she did herself no favor by posting it on facebook. She got a verbal warning for this. This is an adult with a few missing links herself. I’m not sure she should be teaching – anywhere in the universe.

And, speaking of teachers, a high school teacher had to explain why she put the cone-shaped dog collar (her cone of shame) on students to, I guess, teach them a lesson – a lesson she shared on FB.  All I can say here is this woman was apparently teaching at the wrong high school. There is no way in hell she would have gotten close to any student with that thing – not in the high school I attended nor in the high school at which I taught for 22 years.  This hurts me – on so many levels.

True: From the stupid files: (teachers get equal time here too)

And somewhere in a city (in Florida) far, far away, a teacher hired a hit-man to kill another teacher he suspected of spreading rumors about him.  This is Florida for heaven’s sake – how bad could those rumors have been? Every teacher who has spent more than five minutes in a faculty room needs to check for their name on Craig’s list “hit man for hire” column.

And then there’s the doting dad who showed up at kindergarten to retrieve the contents left in his son’s backpack. 1. One bag of marijuana – check. 2. One scale for measuring item 1. – check.  Ahh, those father and son homework bonding experiences. – I would think the boy would get to the weights and measures unit in fourth grade math but…

This from the 18-year-old dope smoker who was charged with DUI and possession three times in  three weeks. The last two times were consecutive days!  Apparently she had been staring at the sun far too long.

Don’t look now, but there is a Flagler county man whose eyesight apparently failed him as he shot his girlfriend in the leg – said she started looking like a wild hog to him.  There is no date attached to this story so I’m not sure if it was close to some holiday that would have called for a big meal.

True: from the files of drunk riding

An intoxicated man thought it would be fun to lead the police on a half-hour chase – he on a horse and the police on – it doesn’t say. But, I’m sure, his capture came down to just who had the most horse-power.

Then there was the 52-year-old woman whose photographs of her riding a manatee got her arrested.  Not sure what the issue is here.  Was she arrested for simply riding a friendly manatee or for being 52 years old?

True: From the files of, nail everything down a Floridian is in the house!   

One woman said thieves stole her Thanksgiving turkey from the garage freezer! Should they have stolen the turkey from the oven?

A Lakeland man was charged with stealing two swan eggs from their nest and cooked them. Over easy or scrambled? Didn’t say. Penalty? I vote digit removal  – seriously!

One man had 500 canaries stolen from his home. Begs the question – what the hell does one do with 500 canaries anyway? Freedom’s just another word for….

And then there’s the person who stole 150,000 baby clams.  Good thing they were babies – otherwise the person would be fairly easy to spot.

If you need further proof that thieves in Florida will steal anything, a woman arrived home to find someone had stolen her driveway – all 300 square feet of brick pavers! What did she expect? They weren’t nailed down.

True:  From the file of – Homeless & crazy (like a fox)!  

And here’s proof that Florida judges take theft seriously. A judge in Ocala sentenced a homeless man to 180 days in jail and fined him $500 for stealing $2 worth of candy. One less homeless man – for 180 days he’s got four squares, air conditioning, a proper toilet and medical attention. There’s a crime here but the homeless guy didn’t commit it.

True:  From the files of “Does anyone know the number for 911?”

A man repeatedly called 911 asking the female operator for sex

True: From the storage wars file

A man won an auction for the contents of a Pensacola storage unit only to find he was the new owner of dozens of jars of preserved human brains, hearts, lungs and other organs that had been collected by the previous owner – a former medial examiner. I’m hoping there was a brain there he could use.

True: from the gator files

A Florida airboat captain was showing a mid-west family around the Everglades. When he showed them how to feed the alligators a 9 foot gator lunged then bit the guide’s hand off.  Authorities later charged the captain (Hook) with illegal feeding of the alligators.

True: from the too much sun files

A man, looking to repay a debt of $400 took a taxi into town to the bank – robbed the bank then took the taxi back to his apartment.  When the police caught up with him, he had changed into women’s clothes.  A man in pantyhose can’t be arrested – can he?

True: from the revenge is (crunchy) if not sweet files

A man, having just won a cockroach eating contest, dropped dead when the body parts of the dozens of roaches he had eaten blocked his air passages. I’m sure it was written that this man must not burden the future with any genetic exchanges.

True: From the this is Florida and none of the above should be a surprise file

The sunshine state’s Governor Rick Scott, in an effort to promote a meningitis hot-line, gave the media the number of a phone-sex business. Big oops here!  (I’m wondering  if Minnie’s Mobile Sex Hotline is not misplaced  in the Gov’s cell phone contacts  – hmmm?)

I leave you with the words of Ben Franklin – In the new  year  may you  “Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better [hu] man.

Happy 2013  🙂