Trying to Avoid Despair

A Letter to My Grandson, December 3, 2015

Yesterday your mother called me, and we talked about how terrible this mass shooting in San Bernardino made her feel—almost hopeless and despairing, much because of her love for you. Then she said she remembered her father talking about how people have persisted through the terrible history of tragedies wrought on humans by other humans.

I was born in June, 1943. That month, three major race riots occurred, two were white against black and one was white against hispanic. The Allies made major advances in Europe and the Pacific arena, while Nazis continued to wipe out whole populations by sending them to death camps. That war ended in 1945.

When I was 7, the Korean War began in 1950, and “ended” when I was 10, with more than 4 million dead and missing on both sides (give or take a few thousand here and there).

In elementary school, we practiced hiding under our desks to protect ourselves if a nuclear bomb struck during the Cold War. In high school, we learned that would be useless and we should just pray. In college, I watched John Kennedy on TV bring us to the brink of nuclear destruction with his ultimatum over the “Cuban Crisis.”

Pop and I have lived through the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, as well as race riots and police dropping an actual bomb on a house in Philadelphia.

When I became pregnant with your mother, the Viet Nam war was still going on, ending in 1975 with 3 million people dead from 7 million tons of bombs and 2 billion bucks spent for everything. I know many people whose lives were impacted terribly by that war, including my brother Joe’s.

So while we have not been physically injured by violence, we have seen it again and again and were scared. Scared we would be hurt, or our kids, or you. Scared by all the angry people who believe there is only one way to live or one kind of people who should be allowed to live. Scared by people who believe that even more guns are the solution to violence. And especially scared for people who want to give up, who think life is worthless because they think the violence will never stop.

As a species, we have prevailed despite this violence against ourselves. We took a long time to evolve into a species that can think beyond the simple imperative of “fight or flight” to survive, a species that can imagine a future beyond terror. John Steinbeck in his novel, The Grapes of Wrath, wrote:

“Man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, and emerges ahead of his accomplishments.”

So believe, Odin, in yourself, and in the power of compassion.


All my love to you.


You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

     I discovered this song on November 9, the day that Leonard Cohen, and my hopes for the presidential election of 2016, died. It was so difficult to believe that so many people could vote for the lies, mysogny, and racism of Trump. Of course, the volumes that have been and will be written about it will slide toward infinity.

I cannot spend more time or energy thinking about it, except to say that this odd little song gives me hope. I remember seeing the movie Sansom and Delilah when I was a kid, and how, after realizing she had betrayed him, he found enough strength to pull down the palace around him. What a funny, silly movie, but Victure Mature, his muscles straining, was magnificent to my young mind. Yes, I thought. Yes.

So, even if it all falls down around us, if it all goes to shit, I can still find room to say I did my best, it wasn’t much and that is why I can stand and say Hallelujah, for myself and for those I love.

Thanks Leonarda-sansom

Story Telling

Last year I was astonished to see how many blogs I frequent gave synopses and/or critiques of Game of Thrones. Then I noticed how many referred to the story lines of Breaking Bad and Walking Dead, with further comments about how the show’s writers were going with the story line. As if they were movie reviews. Or, god help us, book reviews. Surveys of viewer reactions. Social commentary.


Then I saw how some of my “friends” on Facebook said they were binging on certain series with streaming subscriptions. How my husband, once we got Apple TV and Netflix and HBO and shut down cable TV, watched every episode of Sopranos. I’m not innocent either—I binge-watched Carnivale because I could never it figure out when we sporadically rented episodes on DVD.


I binge-listen to audiobooks. I love the performance values, the writing, the stories. I have listened to every recorded episode of the Cadfael books by Ellis Peters; Gabriel Allon by Daniel Silva; Cork O’Conner by William Kent Krueger; The Camel Club, Will Robie, and King and Maxwell series by David Baldacci; Amelia Peabody by Elizabeth Peters; Lewis Trilogy, Enzo, and Chinese Thrillers by Peter May; Shardlake by C.J. Sansom; Tony Hill by Val McDermid; The Saxon Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell; and Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I’ve also subscribed to the streaming series of Outlander on STARZ.


So rather than waiting for the weekly episodes of I Love Lucy or Maude, among so many hundreds of others, we can now watch as stories develop in one continuous framework or listen to multiple book releases. Again and again.


Why is story telling important to us? I think it is very simple: story telling connects us to other human beings. We might, in the end, be described as no more than a few minerals floating in a bag of fluids, but that “bag” is a singular intellect, always seeking how to proceed in the world, how to put life in context to make sense of the past and to hope in the future. A story  not only entertains us, but gives us information and an emotional  connection outside our skin, beyond touch or voice. It’s who we are and who we want to be. We experience through another’s experience, which consolidates learning far more effectively than mere rote memorization of facts. It’s why story tellers have been revered or despised throughout human history from its beginnings. Why we spend so many hours around the “fires” of our screens every day and night, listening.


Ownership Rites

“Hillary Clinton is responsible for her husband cheating; if he received at home what he needed to satisfy his needs he would not slept with all those woman. She is fair game to be asked these questions.”


I saw this on Facebook. While a politician’s infidelity in this strange country besotted with Puritan hypocrisy is often an issue in elections, this is probably the first time the efficacy of a politician in meeting his or her partner’s sexual needs has become a criterion for executive leadership. I would love to see how a vetting committee would compose this question—or score it.


The original notion, of course, implies that a wife is obligated to meet her husband’s sexual needs. Does he have a similar obligation? Does marriage erase the ability of either partner to consent to the timing and the manner of engaging in sexual intercourse?


There was a time when married women were considered the property of their husbands. He had total control of her finances, her possessions, her body, and her children’s bodies. She had control of absolutely nothing. She was not an individual but a “thing” that could actually be “put by” or discarded for any number of infractions. We see this today in cultures where a husband is free to murder a daughter or wife for tarnishing his honor. Women who have been raped are considered adulterers, and stoned to death.


Ownership, of course, is the means by which patrimony and patriarchal entities thrive. A way, perhaps, of preserving a man’s genetic line. The need for sexual possession, in a herd or a house, is perhaps an instinct, although much of human evolution veers away from dependence on mere instinct in favor of reasoning. I am not a cow and you are not a bull, neither literally or figuratively.


In popular romance tales, the woman melts when he grabs her and says, “Mine! You are mine!” This, dear reader, is figurative. In actual love, she is his as much as he is her’s.


And of men’s needs, so a woman has needs—biological, emotional, intellectual. You do not die if you do not have sexual intercourse. That is a biological truth.


Bill Clinton committed adultery. That has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton’s adequacy as a presidential candidate. That topic is offered as a smokescreen to avoid intelligent civil discourse. And to further a mindset that relegates women to the bedroom and the kitchen.


A married woman has a right to say “no” to her husband. A married man has the right to say “no” to his wife.


Get sexual innuendo and gender bias out of the conversation.