MUSINGS (just a year's worth here)
Every so often I get a moment to shoot a photo for myself. Taking my beloved and much-used Canon EOS Rebel in hand, I've been capturing a few elements of nature that get curiouser and curiouser the closer I get. Flowers, leaves, bugs, and there's something about seeds in all their weird and wondrous glory (especially given that the plant is making hay for the next generation's door onto the world). I bought myself my macro lens -- Tamron 90mm F2.8 1:1 -- a nice birthday gift if ever there was one. And so... here's looking at things in an intimate way:
I'm one of those stunned and dismayed voters who feels compelled to act out and speak out on issues that are sure to be contentious in the 2017 incoming administration. To that end I've joined up with a group of locals advocating for people to speak, rally, march, research, discuss, and volunteer in ways that feed their hearts and create what we think is a better community. It feels good to not be members of a silent majority who disagree with the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The country has been on this roller coaster ride for a year+ and I'm pretty sure there's so much more to come. No matter your bent, let us all resolve to maintain civility, even as we stand our ground, speak animatedly, and shed our angry tears in private. Let us rise above hatred, bigotry, and poor leadership. Let us act.
Nevada voters have a gun safety measure on the ballot this November. It’s basically about closing the loopholes for gun sales, but seems to include provisions for limiting access by convicted domestic violence offenders and mentally unstable individuals. The subject has been in the local paper lately, with Nevada’s pro-regulation contingent guided by Brady bill organizers and funded with N.Y. money. It’s a response to what seems to be no end to the public slaughtering of others by disaffected, deranged, or religiously mad gunmen. I offer an anecdote based on recollections from my workplace of thirty years ago.
I once had a co-worker, a passive-aggressive sort who “collected” guns. Long guns, hand guns, and he once mentioned an automatic weapon. I thought at the time that announcing purchases of guns may have represented a type of peacock-y behavior because the men in that department seemed to respond with appreciation for the subject. At the same time I wondered whether he thought himself more attractive to the single women who worked there. Or was talk about the newest gun purchase meant as a threat to those he didn’t like (me, for instance)? The threat seemed rather ephemeral because I never saw this person outside of work and didn’t think I deserved being targeted for whatever it was about me that seemed to sometimes set him off (was I too smart, too assertive, too single?). He may have been unhappily married or hated somen. I never figured it out and when I eventually moved on to other kinds of work I was glad not to have such a co-worker. As far as I know the man never murdered his family or neighbors or instigated a standoff at a federal institution, so maybe he was simply a collector of more guns than he could possibly fire at one time. And perhaps he worried that the Feds would send their black helicopters to take over Nevada. I don’t think, though, that the Feds are who we ought to worry about. I think it’s the folks who hold arsenals and conspiracy theories in their minds; and those who are certifiably mentally unstable; and random angry people (perhaps radicals, perhaps passive-aggressive types) who can purchase guns on short notice to take their anger or disillusioned righteousness out on the world’s innocent citizens. We need to stop arming unstable people. Nevada’s Question 1 gets my yes vote.
With all the violence taking place around our country and the world lately, it seems natural to imagine that humans are more prone to violence than other creatures. But just this last week I watched as a pair of robins chased a Cooper's hawk overhead while a small, plaintive cry came from the hawk's claws. The robins called at the tops of their voices with what I imagined were cries of despair. Did they sense they'd never catch that hawk and would fail to retrieve their youngster from a hungry someone who was larger? They themselves would live on to feed their other young and produce more eggs another time, but at that moment, nature seemed both violent and, well, natural. A hawk's gotta eat. And a week before that I witnessed a scrub jay glide on silent wings across our yard to land on something in the rocks that gave a squeak. Sure enough, a jay is a stealthy predator. It wrestled with the mouse a bit, tumbling into some nearby shrubs. Out the other end it came, mouse still in its grip. Then it flew away with its victim, presumably to feed its young. So it seems that humans, who use automatic weapons, bombs, chemical weapons, and various forms of mayhem and terror, have violence in common with animals and other creatures. We're not so evolved, except in our choices, and how we have perfected the art of producing killing marchines. Also violence for violence's sake, to make a point or gain notariety. Perhaps like the great apes might, to posture for dominion over the group. Seems to me that the hawks and jays and great apes won't destroy their own species in the process of living. Humans have shown that they might. What a shame.
She's been persistent, our new robin friend, coming 'round most days to work on a precarious and doomed nesting site atop the yard lights just outside the door to our deck. First, though, she taps on a window and peers in. She might choose the family room or dining room. I've observed her on the outside ledge of a bedroom window in the lee of an apricot tree, gazing in. It seems to me she wants in. Either that, or she spies a reflection of trees and sky, and perhaps the ghosted version of a female robin whom she intends to run out of town. From inside, her beak on the window makes a hollow, echoey sound. A forlorn sound, I imagine (though I'm given to imaginings).
Her choice of nesting sites was doomed, the lights too offset to hold the grassy threads and twigs she tried to drape there. She was persistent (probably new at the job). Naturally, I tried adding some wire supports to her chosen post, the better for her to build upon. But no. My efforts scared her away. She gave up bringing twigs but came back to the redbrick sill of the family room window, to tap and jump up with wings aflutter, with moves not unlike some circus act.
I hope she keeps coming 'round. Everyone needs a rusty red acrobatic friend.
"When Breath Becomes Air" is a moving memoir written by a young neurosurgeon in the last year or so of his life. His cancer was particularly deadly, and because he'd studied the brain and nervous system and also the nature of what makes a life worth living and also the elements of dying, he felt particularly close to the process. He writes eloquently about his education and the patients it brought him into contact with, patients he learned to take responsibility for, not just treat. Meaning he didn't just doctor their brain tumors or reconstruct their broken bits, but he also cared about what they were experiencing, their fears, their hopes. He honored their lives and their deaths. The memoir makes him sound like someone to know.
So the story has me thinking about the journey my family and I are on with an elder whose health is a conundrum. Is she sicker than she looks? She often acts unwell, reports feeling pain and fatigue and we've only found one doctor so far who has looked in-depth at signs that her body's systems may not be in balance. She resists knowing news about her health or signs it might need attention, and decries one doctor as being prescription-happy (which I have not observed). It seems to me that this elder is regressing to a childlike state regarding certain subjects that she finds distasteful. It's as if someone gave her chores to do, or assigned her more homework and her response is to plug her ears and murmur nah-nah-nah-nah. I am wondering how to channel Paul Kalanithi (above mentioned author) and his respect for patients who resented the bad news he delivered, or else resisted treatment of their diseases or injuries. Did he tend to their medical needs even when they pretended to better health than was the truth? Could he have weathered that sort of perspective in his own family? Is doing so a form of acceptance, and can someone like me master it too?
I've been reading "Mother Earth News," a magazine dedicated to sustainable living, meaning ways to live off the land. Now that I think of it, city living could be sustainable in various ways, but most city people don't grow their own food. We, for instance, have a small garden plot on the south side of our house. Were we to forsake flowering shrubs and a couple of monster-sized shade trees, we could plant even more than the tomatoes, summer squash, and winter squash we specialize in. I grow scallions, too, and a couple of sad asparagus plants that haven't seen enough summers to grow stems larger than fat threads. Some day they'll fatten up, I'm counting on it.
The thing about the magazine's how-to advice and its profiles of folks who have built their homes and gardens, (in many cases off the grid) is that I'm attracted to the processes it explains. When I was younger I fancied how I could have been a pioneer woman, ranching and farming and riding horses, toting water from the well, that sort of thing. Was that unadulterated romanticism? Sure was. As a city girl I had no possible notion of how physically demanding that sort of life would have been. Dangerous, too, in many ways, and riddled with disease. Having visited metropolises like NYC and London in the years since, I've also come to recognize that I'm adaptable to a large-city lifestyle. I could thrive in NYC or London, if I needed to. Admittedly, that doesn't sound as attractive as it once did, but I could. I'd revel in the galleries and museums and music clubs. The city fashions and the swirl of humanity. But when I dream of a different life, it's not the big city that comes to mind. It's the countryside, with zero air pollution and plenty of home-grown vegetables, a few fruit trees and a chicken coop. Maybe that's a young person's life, sustainable country living, as you'd have to be strong enough to chop wood and pluck chickens, milk the cow, that sort of thing, so maybe I'm past my sell-date for all that. Something in between, though, a smaller town with a larger relationship to nature. That still sets my days a'dreaming.
In a general interest magazine for the older set I came across an article that posited how social media postings might some day constitute the memories of a particular person, or family, or era. No need to leave love letters for future generations to peruse, or to pass photo albums down to the grandkids; Facebook and Twitter posts will last virtually forever and encapsulate glimpses of those previous times. That, of course, suggests that at some future point a niece of mine might want to revisit all the drinking pictures she's posted, or her references to friends who turned out to be unfaithful.
I can imagine the photos of beach scenes and ballgames triggering happy memories at some future point. Or the photos of our towheaded nephew. Those would be worth saving. Presumably they're also on the next gen's phones, although there they might vie for an inch of space and attention among the hundreds or thousands that get snapped in a single year, let alone throughout multiple years. The eternal lifespan of social media posts might require that in five years' time, the old stuff lies languishing in the blinking-light brain of a server designed not to crash from the weight of all the posts of all the people who post drinking photos and artful repasts and girls in S.F. Giants hats. If the servers somehow overloaded, or blew away with rooftops during a tornado, or turned mutinous at last because of being used but never properly respected... perhaps people's brains would have to resume recalling the important bits (which might not turn out to include all those sweating glasses of beer).
That article I read went on to mention some brain science that's looking into the unlocking of memory/memories, the notion being that if a brain could be preserved just so (presumably outside its original body), future tinkerers might unlock that brain's memories, and therefore its cognition. I'm not sure about that last part; I include it because it seems to fit. I remember therefore I am, or some such.
My mother sounds like Donald Trump. This month we moved my mother into our home. One of the many challenges we now face is that she speaks her mind a lot like the Big D. You know--open mouth, say whatever strikes you. You might be insulting someone. You might be angry that your daughter (that's me) has suggested it's time for a shower and hair scrub. You might be afraid that your grown son hasn't checked in with you in a couple of days and he's been over in California getting some medical appointments satisfied and that means driving on the highway and being out of your grasp. There's a reason for my mother's lapses in civil discourse--she has dementia and has experienced a stroke this year. When the brain loses blood flow (and therefore oxygen), it loses certain functions, one being the filter that keeps people communicating civilly. I've seen her MRI results and the diagnosis provided with her dopler carotid artery scan. I know she's regressing, returning to a child's sensibilities in some ways, acting pissy when frustrated over losing her purse in her bedroom drawer. Not being able to open a can of soda. Having trouble with the TV remote. Resorting to sarcasm when she doesn't get her way. Numbers fail to make sense, she has difficulty with the cycles of night and day and exhibits some paranoia. She's sure she's in charge and capable when she is not any longer in charge, and not very capable. She has a brain disease, which explains what's up with her. I get that part. What I'm trying to figure out is how come those same characteristics apply to The Donald.
Such a wordfight over the issue of fetal tissue donated by female clients of Planned Parenthood. Semantics, some of it, and always the political play on people's emotions instead of their intellect. An unfortunate turn of events (as Lemony S might say) because where would the health of humanity lie were it not for animals and people playing a role in medical research. I, for one, appreciate the research on Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and other maladies that benefit from human tissue donations. What difference does it make if it's fetal tissue or my grandmother's body donated to science? Lets get real. Do we want progress, or not? I sure do. I'd like to think that while I contribute mostly tax dollars to cancer and other types of research, I may someday benefit from progress being made today through contributions by others, large and small. And while we're getting real--but unreal, because this will happen when I am queen: Each family or couple who protests against women's rights regarding abortion should/shall sign up for the 8-12 week foster care training, with concentration on staying sober and clean. They'll bring their homes up to foster code and perhaps train to parent special needs children. They'll each foster a child with the intent to adopt. When each has adopted a needy child or sibling group, thereby reducing the number of children languishing in foster care, THEN they may vote to limit a woman's right to choose whether or not to bear a child. Only then.