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The Poop I’m Not Scooping

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Content warning: this is going to be a crappy post.

 

It may even qualify for the coveted Golden Turd award.

 

But first…

*   *   *

Department Of How To Make Your Dentist Guffaw   [1]

Answering truthfully usually works for me.

Dentist: “So, are there any teeth that are bothering you?”

Moiself: (emphatically and enthusiastically) “Yes! The entire Kennedy family – it’s been bothering me for years! What is it with their teeth?! Those massive front incisors – it’s like one of their ancestors mated with a beaver…”

 

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Department Of Calling All Dog Owners – What’s Up With This Shit?

Dateline: last Friday, ~ 8 am. My post on Facebook, along with the following picture.

This dog waste receptacle, provided as a convenience, is filled to the brim, and it is locked. Locked as in, Don’t add any more, there is no room, it needs to be emptied. So what have people done? They’ve continued to leave their dog’s poop bags on top of it and some of the bags fall off and burst open. Dog owners, take your bags home with you. It is *your* dog.
Unbelievable.

 

 

 

What is it with (too many) dog owners?  Yep, I shouldn’t generalize. And I’m fortunate to know kind, responsible and respectful dog owners who are equally angry at/frustrated with capricious pooch poop pitchers who seem more than willing to just drop their doggie’s droppings anywhere and let others deal with it.

A beach friend of mine is a proud and conscientious owner of two cute canine companions. She shared my post on her FB page, commenting that that  (irresponsible canine feces discarding) is one of her pet peeves.   [2]  The post also caught the attention of the Manzanita Visitors Center, which shared it on their FB page…and took it down 20 or so minutes later, after some man made an emotional (and inaccurate) comment about how my original post was typical of “dog haters.”

I didn’t see Emotional Inaccurate Man’s remarks – MH brought it to my attention, and before I could check it out, the Manzanita Visitors Center had removed the post.  Guess they didn’t want to start a comment war?   [3]  Moiself likely would have responded, with something like this:

Dear Emotional Inaccurate Man,

When you come across statements that get your knickers in a knot, you should re-read such statements several times before responding to them.

I am not a “dog hater,” and there is no evidence of such in my post. I do not mention dogs as being accountable in this matter – dogs are not the responsible agents.  When animals gotta go, they gotta go. I do specifically criticize those dog OWNERS who do not properly dispose of their dog’s droppings. So, because I call out the actions of dog owners who are disrespectful of public spaces by fouling said places with their pets’ waste, you make the leap to, I am a dog “hater”?

Re your comments to my post, not only did you resort to using an ad hominem fallacy, you failed basic reading comprehension.

One more thing, Emotional Inaccurate Man. About those “Pet” waste bag receptacles (read: dog waste receptacles – they have a picture of a dog on them, and it’s not like people walk their llamas or cats or ferrets on the beach): they are not a “right,” they are a convenience supplied by the city (or state park or other municipalities). Translation: the bags, disposal containers, and workers who empty and maintain the containers are provided by us, your fellow taxpaying households, only 38% of which own dogs and more than 43%  of which   [4] own no pets at all.  So, how’s about a humble thank you?

If you’re incapable of that acknowledgement, just be responsible for your own shit: take it home with you and put it in your own trash can if you can’t dispose of it properly when you and Fido are outside your home, ok?

 

*   *   *

Department of I’m Not Quite Done with Dung….

Stories, that is.

One of my favorite family stories involves my father’s lifelong war on dog shit – a noxious substance which he (with one notable exception) more genteelly referred to as, “dog dirt.”  Specifically and oh-so-understandably, Chet Parnell could not abide dog dirt that was not from one of our dogs but that somehow ended up on our property. He could not understand how neighbors could let their dogs poop on someone else’s property with impunity.

One day many years ago, when I was visiting my parents at their SoCal home, I asked about the latest neighborhood news. I received the following story, separately, from both Chet (my father) and Marion (my mother).  Their accounts (save for certain exclamations and sound effects) were almost identical.

A bit o’ background: for several months prior to the ensuing narrative, someone had been walking their dog in my parent’s neighborhood and letting it defecate on their property. My father was determined to catch the culprit, but who was it? He’d seen many dog walkers in the ‘hood – some he recognized as living nearby; there were others who probably lived several blocks away but included my parents’ street in their daily walks. Some kept their dogs on a leash, others let their dogs walk off-leash, and my father noticed how the off-leash dogs would walk all over people’s property while their owners just stood by. Chet was a friendly guy; if he was outside he’d greet the dog owner and, depending on the situation, either praise the owner for their handsome, well-mannered dog, or kindly request that they keep their dog on leash and not let it roam on his lawn and under the shrubbery, etc.

But he’d not been able to espy the Phantom Pooper.  My parents’ guess was that it was someone who walked their dog either early in the morning or in the later evening. It seemed to be one specific dog leaving the mess, as the “evidence” was always the same color/size/consistency (my parents expressed regrets for the fact that they had become experts in dog poop identification).  Whatever dog it was, it was obviously a large creature, from whose cavernous rectum would drop massive “links” the size and shape (but, unfortunately, not the consistency) of a bunch of brown bananas.  Chet and Marion had found piles of that distinctive dog-do on their front yard, their side yard, their sidewalk, their driveway, under the trees by the kitchen sink window….  Most egregious of all, one morning when Chet went out to water the new flowers he’d planted in the kitchen sink windowsill flower box, he reached under a hydrangea bush for the hose spigot  and plunged his hand into the pile of freshly “applied” dog poop which covered the garden hose.

 

That illustrates why one must always insist the servants do the gardening.

 

Now Chet was really on the warpath.  He increased his vigilance, and he finally spotted her.  Chet was up early one morning, washing the dishes which were left over from the previous night’s dinner. When he looked out the kitchen sink window (which faced their side yard) he saw a woman walking an enormous dog.

It was a warm SoCal morning; the woman was dressed in pocketless shorts and a tee shirt and carried no purse or any other object in which there might be implements to scoop and contain her dog’s poop. Her dog was on leash, and it sniffed around the sidewalk past my parents’ driveway, then around their birch trees, then led its owner to the grass by the curb, then back to my parent’s lawn, where it paused and assumed the CPE (Canine Poop Ejection) position.

“Hey! Chet pounded on the kitchen window. “Stop that!” he yelled to the woman.

The woman looked around, as if she didn’t know where the voice was coming from.

Chet opened the kitchen window and yelled again.  “Get your dog off our property! Right now!”

The woman just stood there and let her dog continue to do…what it was starting to do.

The commotion attracted the attention of my mother who, still in her nightgown, scurried into the kitchen just as my father ran out the back door which led to the driveway. Looking out the kitchen window, Marion saw her husband stride toward the woman who, frantically pulling on the leash, attempted to drag her dog – still in squat mode and beginning to expel one loop of what was sure to be a massive poop strand – away from our house.

“Lady, you get back here and CLEAN UP YOUR DOG’S SHIT!” Chet snarled.

The woman’s eyes widened at the approach of My Father The Crazed Poop Vigilante . She began to run, dragging her dog with her. The dog continued to drop hunks of poop, leaving a trail from my parent’s lawn to the sidewalk to the street to the house across the street…until the woman and her dog turned the street corner and were out of sight.

Marion was mortified.  [5] She called out through the kitchen window, imploring Chet to come back inside and not chase the woman. “Oh, what will she think of us?” she gasped.

Moiself was bemused by that part of the story, and wondered aloud to my mother why she (or Chet…or anyone) should care about the opinion of a person who flagrantly and repeatedly let their dog crap on someone else’s yard?

As for Chet, he (of course!) got a kick out of telling me that story. He said he wanted that disrespectful person to think that he was a madman, and was proud of the fact that she was apparently so rattled by his confrontation that she altered her dog walking route. My parents never saw her (nor had to clean up her dog’s poop from their yard) again.

 

 

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Department Of Just One More Story And I’m Done With This Shit

Dateline: a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (make that Northern California, 1988). I lived in a rental cottage on one of the residential streets of downtown Palo Alto, just a block away from a street bordering the winding San Francisquito Creek . Another block away from my abode was a high rise condominium building which, at that time, housed wealthy/elderly retirees.

During my morning walks around the streets by the creek I would often see a certain woman either exiting or entering that condo building. She was waif-like thin, ala Joan Didion…

 

 

…and when I saw Wafer Thin Elderly Woman she would always be walking her equally thin, equally elderly dog, which appeared to be some kind of Chihuahua mix. Every time I saw WTEW she was dressed as if headed for a tea party, wearing nylon stockings and closed-toe heeled pumps, the color of which matched her slender, fitted, pocket-less woolen (winter) or linen (warmer weather) pastel skirt and suit jacket, and carrying a (color-coordinated) petite clutch purse.

One morning I was returning home from my walk when WTEW was beginning hers. Her dog stopped on someone’s lawn, its quavering legs barely holding itself up as it paused to squat.  WTEW carried nothing save for her ubiquitous, teensy, snap-open clutch purse.

 

Similar to this, sans the rhinestone affectation.

 

As I approached I saw no evidence that she carried doggie waste procurement and disposal equipment of any kind.  Oh dear, I fretted to moiself, Am I going to have to shit-shame an old lady?  [6]

WTEW patiently waited for her dog to complete its business. She then opened the snap top of her tiny purse, from which she removed a thin tissue. She leaned down, delicately plucked her dog’s poop balls from the lawn, dropped the tissue and its contents into her purse, snapped the purse shut, and she and her dog continued on their way.

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Department Of, To Use One Of My Father’s Favorite Expressions….

“Well, that’s enough about that.”

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Department of Epicurean Excursion   [7]

Featuring this week’s cookbook, author and recipe(s):

The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent,  by Jessica B. Harris

Recipes:

* Irio (Stewed vegetables – Kenya)

* Mashed Eggplant a la einab (Sudan)

It – both recipes – well, I found them to be just…blah.

My rating:

 

 

 

(See Footnotes for further ratings info  [8]  )

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

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May you appreciate a good dog poop story;
May you never be the subject of someone else’s bad dog poop story;
May you not let successive poop stories ruin your own Epicurean Excursions;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

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[1] Nine out of ten doctors agree: nine out of ten dentists prefer guffawing to laughing, chortling, cackling, tee-heeing or roaring with glee.

[2] Pun oh-so-appreciated, intentional or otherwise, CK!

[3] Or have outsiders think that, gasp, their lovely beach village has a poop problem? Ah, the things that pass for controversy in a small town.

[4] As per the American Veterinary Medical Association, which keeps statistics on such things.

[5] It’s hard for moiself to come up with stories involving my mother’s husband and/or middle daughter that would not include the phrase, Marion Parnell was mortified…”

[6] Good Citizen that I was, I was determined not to let it pass without comment, if she with impunity let what her dog passed remain on someone else’s lawn.

[7] A recurring feature of this blog, since week 2 of April 2019, wherein moiself decided that moiself would go through my cookbooks alphabetically and, one day a week, cook (at least) one recipe from one book.

[8] Recipe Rating Refresher
* Two Thumbs up:  Liked it
* Two Hamster Thumbs Up :  Loved it
* Thumbs Down – Not even Kevin (from The Office) would like this.
* Twiddling Thumbs: I was, in due course, bored by this recipe.
* Thumbscrew: It was torture to make this recipe.
* All Thumbs: Good recipe, but I somehow mucked it up.
* Thumby McThumb Face: This recipe was fun to make.
* Thumbing my nose: Yeah, I made this recipe, but I did not respect it.

The Label I’m Not Understanding

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Department Of Grief And Relief

I’m thinking about my friends, JWW and MW.  MW’s mother, Molly (a lovely Irish name for a lovely Irish-American lady) died last Monday, after a long physical and mental decline.  Molly was never officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but had significant memory and cognitive problems over the past decade. After her husband died she lived with MW’s sister for several years,  then came to stay with MW and JWW.

 

 

Molly was a sweet woman, and maintained her gentle and loving disposition (she was a favorite at the Memory Care center MW & JWW eventually found for her, in a nearby town), and did not seem to descend into the fear and anger that can affect people with memory problems. It was sweet, watching MW and JWW interact with Molly, showing her unqualified patience and love. But as is often the case with an elderly parent who can no longer live independently, love cannot conquer all. MW & JWW realized they could not provide Molly with the safe, 24/7 care she needed, which was made evident to them in many ways over many months, particularly on the day when JWW came downstairs to discover that Molly had removed her favorite polyester shirt from the dryer, put it on, and realized it was still damp. It seemed perfectly reasonable to Molly to finish drying her shirt – while she was wearing it – by holding her arms over an open flame on the stove…which is how JWW found her (fortunately, before Molly set herself on fire).

Now, MW & JWW find themselves in that odd life stage, as I was with the death of my own mother: between grief and relief.  Such a strange feeling, also – to find yourself feeling both sad and somewhat amused by the fact that you feel like an orphan in your 60s.  All the orphans of classic literature were way younger, right?

 

 

 

 

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Department Of Tricky Questions, Trickier Answers

Developmentally delayed.

Dateline: earlier this week, doing an am workout in our family room, listening to a podcast story.  The afore-mentioned description – developmentally delayed  –  was used in the podcast to describe the podcast story narrator’s brother, who had a broad list of cognitive and emotional impediments.  MH entered the room just in time to hear the term DD. He paused for a moment, then posed a question (to the universe, as much as to moiself), “What does that mean?”

He was not exactly being rhetorical.  I knew that he knew what DD meant…then began to think beyond what I thought I knew…and, really, what does it mean?

I told him a few of the emotional and cognitive defects (of the narrator’s brother) which had been mentioned in the podcast ,and offered my opinion that the DD label, in the particular case of that podcast and in what has become its common usage, is it meant to replace an older term which has now entered the retirement home of words-not-to-be-used-due-to-derogatory-potential: “mentally retarded.”

 

 

The concept and label of mental retardation was widely used, by both laypersons and medical professionals, up until relatively recently.   [1]

In the 1950s the word retarded was progressive, an improvement over feebleminded, imbecile, moron. It shares a root with ritardando, a musical term meaning a gradual decrease in tempo. Think: the musicians’ fingers letting the moments stretch between their notes.
To retard, to slow down. As in: Your baby’s growth is retarded.
But retarded soon came to mean dumb or incompetent. As in: I just lost my phone. I’m so retarded.
(from “The R-Word,” by Heather Kirn Lanier, The Sun )

 

MH and I began to wonder aloud with one another (one of our more frequent conversational formats) about the fact that although the term developmentally delayed may be less open to derogatory usage by laypersons, it isn’t very helpful in the way that all terminology is supposed to be: by being specific or descriptive.

Close-to-the-heart example: My friend FP is blind. FP once told me about her scornful objection to the term visually impaired.  In FP’s experience, some Well-Meaning People ®  think the word blind is somehow insulting. One WMP actually corrected FP when FP described herself as blind: “Oh, you mean you’re ‘visually impaired?’ “

 

“Hell no, I mean, I’m BLIND.”

 

To FP, “blind” is merely, vitally factual:  I’m not simply “impaired,” I’m blind, and that is important for people to know. It’s not that I just see things dimly or unclearly – I don’t see them at all, so when I ask for directions to the bathroom and you tell me it’s ten steps ahead but don’t tell me that there is an ottoman in the way I will trip over it and break my #*%!? nose.

Delay, in its various noun/verb/adverb/adjective forms, involves actions or objects that are postponed and hindered. But delay also carries with it the possibility of catching up.  In describing people as having developmental delays, the term is so broad/vague as to provide little functional information: I have heard it applied to a 4th grader with mild dyslexia as well as to a young adult born with such severe brain deficits he has never been able to communicate, much less toilet, feed and care for himself and thus has required 24 hour professional/institutional care since his toddlerhood.

The scope of conditions categorized under the label intellectual disabilities is broad, and with early intervention the outcomes for many developmentally delayed children (who is the past may have been labeled mentally retarded) is much brighter than in decades ago. But it’s not as if, say, the boy with Down Syndrome is merely delayed academically when compared with his older sister, who is taking calculus as a junior in high school.  It’s not as if, Sure, he’s behind now, but he’ll catch up one day and do higher mathematics – it’ll just take him a few years longer.

What would be an alternative, more accurate label: developmentally compromised ?  It doesn’t seem like there could be any term that would be acceptable to all, or even most people   [2] …and maybe that’s the point.  Here’s a realization worthy of a Hallmark Channel movie: treat everyone as individuals; no one label can tell you all of the strengths or disabilities (excuse me, challenges?   [3] ) facing a particular person.

Still…today’s “She has a developmental delay” isn’t ultimately more informative than yesterday’s, “He has a mental retardation.”

And of course, Things Being What They Are ® , MH and moiself both felt somewhat… awkward…even discussing the issue, just the two of us, no language cops in sight.

 

 

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Department Of A Headline That Is So Evocative Why Bother
Reading The Newspaper Article – Just Use Your Imagination
Because Whatever You Come Up With Is Bound To Be As (If Not More)
 Entertaining Than The Real Story

 

“Children Removed From A Facility That Limited Tampons”

(The Oregonian, 3-29-19)

 

This has nothing to do with the headline, but imagine a picture that did?

 

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Department Of No April Foolin’

Yet another story inspired by a story I was listening to – this one on April 1, courtesy of NPR’s All Things Considered:  How Vanity License Plates Are Approved and Denied in California.

Dateline: sometime in 1980; moiself is down in SoCal, visiting my parents. My mother shows me a newspaper clipping, about an employee of the newspaper (The Orange County Register) who had recently won an “argument” with the California DMV.  “Don’t you know this guy?” my mother asks me.

I scan the article. “Peter?!” I burst out laughing. “Yeah, I know that Schmuck.”

 

Peter looks nothing like a baby sloth in pajamas, but I don’t have a recent photo of him.

 

I went to high school with He Who Was To Become sportswriter/columnist Peter Schmuck. He graduated the year before me; we had mutual friends (mostly the high school journalism crew) but didn’t know each other well. Moiself, like some of his peers, I’d guess, initially pitied then almost immediately admired or at least respected Peter, for having to deal with a first-last name combination considered redundant. Many of us who knew him attributed Peter’s sense of humor and in-your-face attitude – a combination of sarcasm and assertiveness sometimes bordering on aggression  [4] – to having grown up with that name.  It seems PS would at least partially agree with that sentiment, as per his interview with fellow journalist Steve Marantz:

“I‘m the only person in the world who thinks it was a big advantage to grow up with the last name Schmuck.. I’m pretty sure the distinctiveness of the name has helped me throughout my career. It also has given me a thicker skin – in a ‘Boy Named Sue’ kind of way – in a business where that isn’t a bad thing to have.”

I am not wandering off on yet another digression. Here comes the newspaper article/DMV story tie-in:

In 1980 Peter (or, his girlfriend at the time, as Peter has said) applied for a vanity license plate with his last name on it. That was the subject of the newspaper article my mother showed me: Peter Schmuck had been denied the vanity plate SCHMUCK because, in a letter the DMV sent to Peter, the DMV claimed schmuck was a Yiddish indecency.

I found that whole incident to be wonderfully WTF-ish to the nth (thank you, NPR, for the memory prod).  I still smile to picture a state government flunkie whose job it was to tell a person that the person’s given/authentic/legal surname was indecent (Dude, you’re the DMV! Look up his driver’s license, IT’S HIS NAME).

As well as his first 15 minutes of fame, Peter Schmuck got his license plate. Yes, the Good Guy prevailed in The Great License Plate Indecency Skirmish. I saw it on Peter’s car (which, if memory serves, he referred to as the Schmuckmobile).  Following his stint at The Register, Peter moved East and landed a long-time gig as a sports reporter and columnist for The Baltimore Sun.  I forgot to ask Peter, when I saw him at a Baltimore Orioles home game oh-so-many years ago, whether he got the state of Maryland to issue him a new plate.

 

Or, in a hitherto unknown (to moiself) assignment, did Peter spend some time covering the great sport of Iditarod?

*   *   *

May you, when it is your turn, find a graceful way to navigate between grief and relief;
May you be careful with your labels and also patient with those who use them;
May your choice of vanity license plates bring joy to the simple-minded masses;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] In 2010 President Barack Obama signed “Rosa’s Bill,” (approved unanimously by Congress), which required the federal government to replace the terms “mental retardation” “and “mentally retarded” with, respectively,  “intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability” in policy documents.

[2] And trust me, when you get rid of “retard/retardation” it is replaced by turning the supposedly gentler term into a pejorative: “What are you, a special needs” kid?” which I heard, pronounced with multisyllabic sarcasm, along with “learning disabled” et al, on my childrens’ school yard playgrounds. Never doubt the ability of a grade schooler to turn the most well-intentioned label into a slur.

[3] Another adjective I’ve heard both embraced and mocked, and by people supposedly on the same side of the disability rights movement.  “Intellectually Challenged” – that’s me, trying to follow a chess match.

[4] Translation:  in high school, I thought him somewhat of an asshole. I figured he likely held the same opinion about me. Later on, I came to be, and still am, quite fond of him.

The List I’m Not Making

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First things First:

Happy 26th bday to son K!

 “K” and his cat, “Tootsie,” a few years back  [1]

You both look a lot younger, eh?

 

*   *   *

Department Of Well Which Is It?

Dateline: Monday 6:45 am. My personal, non-cellular, weather forecast app – opening the front door and sticking my nose outside – is not encouraging.  Seeking confirmation, I check my phone’s weather apps before going for a morning walk. Willy Weather says the temp is 27˚ F but “feels like 17˚ F;AccuWeather says 22˚F but RealFeel ® is 29˚ F.

 

 

How’s about an app that says, Yep, it’s like, Brrrrrrrrr….

 

*   *   *

Department Of I Suppose I Could Have Just Said Thank You

This summer it will have been twenty two years ago that our friend GJ died in a motorcycle accident. GJ left behind a brokenhearted husband and their five bereft children, and numerous grieving friends, family, neighbors, students,  [2]  and colleagues.

The day we learned of her death I did not want to leave the house and certainly had no desire to speak with strangers, but I had two pressing/related tasks to accomplish that evening. After errand #1 my car “blew up” (translation: the battery had a mini explosion when I turned the key in the ignition).

Not a good night, to say the least.

MH came to rescue me; we traded cars and he called AAA for an emergency battery replacement while I attended to task #2, which involved purchasing…something related to the fulfillment of task #1 at a Target-like store.  [3]  After I made my purchase the store’s clerk, a somnolent young woman seemingly operating on autopilot, handed me my item and receipt. In a voice that indicated she was giving an instruction rather than a wish or a suggestion, she told me to Have a nice day.

I took two steps toward the exit door, turned around and said,
“You know, that’s just not gonna happen.

I’ve often thought back on that incident; specifically, wondering what the clerk must have thought about my reply.  [4]  She, of course, had no way of knowing what was going on in my head – no way of understanding that I would take her robotic, store-policy mandated departure phrase as a slap in the face of my sorrow.

 

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Department Of This Is Related To That

Many is the time I’ve seen the various “list“ headlines on Facebook postings, and several times I’ve perused a few of the lists. You might be familiar with them: They take a usually well-meaning – if sometimes vaguely grouchy, know-it-all and/or punitive – tone on advising on how not to be insensitive to people dealing with certain conditions or afflictions:

*What Not To Say To A Pregnant Woman

*What Not To Say To A Person Living With Clinical Depression

*What Not To Say To Parents Of A Stillborn Infant

*What Not To Say To…

– Someone Living With Parkinson’s Disease…A Rape Victim…A Recovering Addict…A Cancer Survivor…Trump Supporters And Others with Cognitive Deficits…

 

 

 

These lists are often compiled by people who’ve had the jaw-clenching experience of being on the wrong end of “well-meaning but clueless”comments and questions about their circumstances, from total strangers to their should-know-better family members.

Regular readers of this blog may recall that several times during the past five weeks I have written in this space about the recent murder of the adult child of my beloved friends. Acquaintances and friends whom I haven’t seen since I received that devastating news have extended the customary inquiry/greeting when they encounter me: Hey, how are you doing – what’s been going on in your life? In some cases I have resisted telling the truth, resorting to the standard American  [5]  brush-off (Fine, thanks, how about you?). Other times I have felt like an open wound and blurt it out – to both friends and strangers (like the clerk at the Subaru Service center – so sorry, dude)…usually prefacing it with a joking, Am I ever gonna make you feel bad for asking!

Early last week I had two days in a row where, at the end of the day, I realized, Hey my first thought upon waking up this morning was not about ______’s death.  [6]  Then came a setback, also two days in a row.  First on Tuesday and then Wednesday, in separate incidents involving people with whom I have longstanding warm and friendly if professional relationships, I was asked about what was going on in my life.  In each case, the askers also remarked that I seemed somewhat…”subdued?  Down?  Sad?”

I responded with a Reader’s Digest condensed version of what had been occupying my thoughts since the end of January. The askers’ heartfelt expressions of shock and dismay and extensions of condolences on behalf of myself and my friends were comforting to me. They also each proceeded to share horrific stories of the deaths of someone they knew: in one case the suicide of the child of a friend, and in the other, a grandfather and an aunt slain by a mutual acquaintance.

 

 

 

 

My thoughts, not at the time but soon afterward:  Uh…thanks for adding those dreadful images to the ones already in my brain!

Department Of The List I Am Making:

What Not To Say To People After Someone They Loved Has Been Murdered

Here’s the thing: I am not making that list. Because I understand what they tried to do.

I surprised moiself by my reaction, when I realized that although I really could have done without hearing those stories I was not holding ill-will toward the people who told them. They are both kind and compassionate people; I truly felt their concern on my behalf. They were not engaging in Catastrophe One-Upmanship ® (as in, “my tragedy is bigger than yours”).  [7]  Rather, IMHO both of those incidents sprang from all-too-human, sincere attempts at showing me that they understood what it’s like to deal with such heartbreak.

I have been trying to read everything I can stand to read on the subject of bereavement and grief experienced by families of murder victims (one of the better sources, if you’re interested, is A Grief Like No Other).    A common experience reported by the families is that people start avoiding them, or talk obliquely around them and never refer to the situation or their lost loved one, and this hurts the family.  These avoiders don’t mean to compound the families’ grief – they  are so very afraid of “saying the wrong thing“and thereby adding to it that they can’t think of anything to say at all, and don’t take (what they see as) the risk of expressing themselves.

This experience – responding to and caring for friends and family who’ve lost loved ones via murder – is…beyond awkward, to drastically understate it. Most of us never got the memo, so to speak, of how to respond in such circumstances.

What can I speak about, when it involves the unspeakable? Anything I can say might just add to the families’ burden… so I will just not say anything.

And what happens to your relationships with those to whom you fear saying anything substantive? What happens with people when you feel you are unable to talk about the most important issues in their lives? You may start avoiding them, due in large part to your own discomfort.

So, while I was not pleased to have more disturbing stories and images added to my mental file cabinet, I understand the intentions.  And the sharing of both stories served as a powerful illustration of what I’ve been reading: of how homicidal violence has lingering (and in most cases, lifelong) repercussions, affecting people outside the immediate families of the victims. It was obvious that, years after the they incidents recalled to moiself, those two people’s lives were forever altered. And, in both cases, they went on to discuss with moiself the sad fact that there are a growing number of people in this country, across all walks of life, whose strongest (or perhaps only) thing in common is that their lives have been fractured by homicidal violence. Each in their own way, those two people were trying to reassure me that my friend’s family is – and that I am – not alone in this.

 

 

 

 

In the case of the person whose aunt and grandfather were killed, I found myself thinking, It’s like an IED of homicide detonated near her family. Those who survived the explosion are “whole” now, their external injuries long healed, but they carry reminders that most outsiders will never see – pieces of mental and emotional shrapnel remain embedded in their minds and hearts.

So, what’s on the list I’m not making? Nothing…except for the suggestion to keep in mind that you never know.  This is neither new nor profound, but it stands the test of time: try to give people the benefit of doubt. Any person you encounter, from your BFF   [8]  to the stranger on the street – you never fully know what that person is dealing with. The guy who snapped at you seemingly out of nowhere?  He may have just found out that his best friend/twin brother was killed by a stray bullet fired during a convenience story robbery.  Snapper Guy may be having one of The Worst Days Of His Life ®….[9] and you just happened to be in the vicinity.

*   *   *

May you never be so consumed with fear about saying the wrong thing
that you neglect to say anything;
May you stop saying Have a nice day unless you really mean it;
May you not need to consult a list to remember that you should never
ask a “pregnant-looking” woman if she is pregnant;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] So named because she is a polydactyl…and she, like K, is still with us (she’s almost 16 years old).

[2] GJ was an elementary school teacher.

[3] Something about a committee I was serving on. To this day, although the specific moiself-clerk is burned in my brain, I cannot remember what those pressing tasks were, nor what store I went to.

[4] Other than, “Cranky bitch!”

[5] Several times when traveling in Europe and enjoying a discussion with the locals re cultural differences, I’ve had the natives ask me about one of their pet peeves: why it is that Americans use the phrase “How are you?” as a greeting, and not as an evident (to the European mind) inquiry as to their welfare?  When they (the Europeans) take it as a sincere question and actually begin to say how they are doing, the asker seems annoyed. “If they are not really interested in how I am, why did they ask? Can’t they just say, “Hello?”

[6] Ah, but then of course it obviously was one of my last thoughts of the day.

[7] which is a real and really disturbing phenomenon, common to the narcissistic personality.

[8] I really, really hate that acronym. Pretend I didn’t use it.

[9] I can of course only speak for myself regarding the death of ___, and I realize that the sense of loss I am experiencing is peanuts compared to her family’s devastation. And I’m sorry if you who are reading this have a peanut allergy, but I’m sticking with this metaphor.

The Casting Director I’m Not Thanking

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Department Of Putting It Off Until The Last Moment

Last Thursday I checked my list: only Roma and Vice were remaining. I needed to see those two movies in order to have seen every movie nominated for a major 2019 Academy Award.  [1]    And what, you may ask, are the major awards (and who decides such things?). The parenthetical answer is that moiself decides what is a major award, and they are the awards for:

– writing (best original and adapted screenplays)

– acting (best leading and supporting roles)

– best directing

– best picture

Roma was streaming; I watched it at home  last weekend. I had put off going to see Vice and wasn’t sure, until the very moment I was walking toward the theatre, if I was up for it: I didn’t want to subject myself to the images, memories and history of that gang of incompetents and liars, torturers and thieves (Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, ad nauseum), even if their stories were presented satirically, by actors.  Nevertheless, the theater got my money, and I’d say I got my money’s worth.  [2]

 

 

So, the terrorist coddling wimp actually had the cojones to sit through it?

 

Thus, when it came to our annual Movie Awards Dinner party on Sunday (a tradition I’ve written about previously in this space), I had fun watching the telecast, holding my sample Oscar ballot and commenting oh-so-knowingly on the categories (“Well, Sam Elliot gets my vote for best supporting actor, but I think the Academy will go for Mahershala Ali, even though he was nominated in the wrong category   [3]….”) .

I found most of the awards spot on, was disappointed with a few, and was relieved that Roma didn’t win best picture – a category for which I had no personal pick as I deemed them all (except Roma) more or less worthy of the nomination.  [4]   Right up until Julia Roberts made the Best Picture announcement I feared the Academy would do what they have done in the past – choose an “artier” film to show that we here in America can recognize and appreciate Serious Cinema ®. But while I found Roma to be beautifully shot (it won the cinematography award, and also Best Foreign film), it was too languid and plot-meandering for me. It’s like I made myself watch it because it was nominated for several awards and…because I was supposed to watch it.  You know, the cod liver oil criteria? (drink this stuff watch this movie; it’ll be good for you).

*   *   *

Department Of Not That You Asked….

As for the Oscar telecast itself: Yo, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, are you listening?

 

Why, are you someone wealthy or important?

 

 

With the recent unintended [5]-but-successful, host-less telecast, y’all Motion Picture Academians or whatever you are finally appear to be at least trying to get on the right track.  Apparently the show “numbers” you are so concerned about   [6]   improved this year. But you still have some work to do. Like other pressing issues in this world – be they related to human rights, geopolitics, nutrition, [7] space exploration, you name it – things would be so much better if Those In Charge Just Listened To Me ®.

Thus, here are my suggestions to get a watchable (read: well under three hours) presentation:

* This year’s show proved that no host is necessary. Do not return to the Host format.

* However, do have Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler provide the intro to the show. Every. Single. Time. You simply cannot go wrong with those three.

 

 

I would voluntarily undergo and pay for a root canal sans anesthesia if these three writer/comedian/actors would host the procedure.

 

 

*Combine the presentation of awards with similar categories, saving stage entry/exit time for the presenters (you already did this, in at least two categories, during the recent show. Good on you). Have the same presenters announce all the awards for writing (original & adapted screenplays), “short” subjects (Documentary, short film/live action, short film animated), sound (editing and mixing) and the “staging/production” awards (costume; makeup/hairstyling, etc.)….

* Leave the singing to the Grammies and ditch the live performances of the nominated songs!!!  You don’t have other actors read the soliloquies from best acting award nominations, do you? Simply air a film clip of a snippet of each nominated song, showing where and how it fit into the movie – just as you play a brief (~15 sec) portion of each movie/acting performance nominated.

And about those acceptance speeches:

 

Make it stop!!!!

 

There must be a way to attach some cattle prod to the stage microphone – or give the Academy Award orchestra conductor some kind of fart noise-producing device to use – to humiliate encourage the winners to shorten their acceptance speeches.

I suggest the Academy send, via certified mail requiring a signature of confirmation – a contract to all nominees, informing them of the RULES – NOT SUGGESTIONS for their acceptance speeches, and then go over said rules at the banquet or whatever you throw for the nominees prior to the ceremony:

* Absolutely NO thanking of your agents, managers, accountants – no one who makes money off of you. Your $ucce$$ is thank$$$ enough.

* Also, do not thank your film’s casting agent, director, writer, costume designer, etc.  Not only are these thanks boring and gratuitous (your winning of the award validates their choice to work with you), it also comes off as if you are ass-kissing greasing the wheels in hopes of getting future roles. You may indeed be boundlessly grateful to director Spike Lee and his crew for taking a chance on your bony white ass – that’s great! But tell them privately, after the ceremony, when it will seem more sincere and less self-congratulatory.

* Tailor your time on camera for the audience watching the show – you know, the ones buying the tickets that keep the movie business in business? Say something humble and touching about your friends and family, and/or tell an odd/amusing/self-deprecating and BRIEF anecdote about what got you to where you are today ( anyone else remember composer Marvin Hamlisch thanking Maalox during his acceptance for Best Original Dramatic Score[8]  ) and then GET OFFSTAGE.

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of And I Mean Every One, As In Every Single Fucking Person…

Dateline: riding the Max (light rail) train to Portland, to see the movie Vice.  After I boarded and the train began moving I noticed that everyone in the car (and once I noticed what I was noticing I craned my neck and turned to look forward/sideways/backwards to try to see every person on the train), including the Hillsboro High School wrestling team (on their way to a tournament),  bowed their heads, in unison. Was it respectful meditation time?

 

Yeah, right!

 

 

Really; it was odd. As soon as the train began to move, all aboard (save for moiself) dropped their gaze to their cell phones and/other other electronic devices they held on their laps. Or, perhaps they found their own crotches to be particularly fascinating? Meanwhile, looking out the window, I espied a majestic great blue heron standing in the middle of the field next to one of the train stops – a beautiful sight, oblivious to the crotch-gazers.

Here are just a few of the sights my fellow train light rail passengers missed:

*  a Canadian geese couple (or a couple of Canadian geese – I shouldn’t assume they were a couple; they may have just been good friends, or on a first date) confronting a squirrel over the squirrel’s cache of goodies at the base of a maple tree;

* the afore-mentioned heron;

* two people hoisting a blanket, which was rolled up into a way that made it look as though they were transporting a body in it;

* a rather disaffected-looking young man vigorously picking his nose in the boarding area at the Sunset Transit Center.

But, nooooo. Ig was if aliens had forced everyone’s head down.  For a moment, when the train approached my stop, I thought of throwing a question into the void: Hey folks, are your crotches really that fascinating?   [9]

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of (Yet Another) Podcast You Should Be Listening To
(And Not Looking At Your Cell Phone While Doing So)

Disclaimer: Moiself is not anti-digital technology; I am pro personal interaction.

Most people are familiar with Alan Alda as an actor, but the self-professed science geek hosted Scientific American Frontiers for 12 years. Alda is presently channeling his lifelong interest in getting people – particularly scientists – to communicate clearly by working with the Center for Communicating Science.   [10]  He also hosts a podcast, Clear + Vivid, in which he and his guests explore how to better connect and communicate with others in every aspect of life.

In a recent episode of Clear + Vivid, “… How We’re Losing Touch With One Another and What We Can Do About It,” Alda speaks with MIT professor/clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle, who has spent the last 30 years studying “…mobile technology, social networks, AI, robots…our relationships with our devices and how our constant connectedness isn’t always the best thing for us — and what we can do to disconnect from our technology to reconnect with our humanity.”

While speaking of her research Dr. Turkel made one of the more profound observations about modern/present communication I’ve ever heard. She nailed it, I thought, when she described about what happens between people who are talking face to face (or backseat to front seat) when they are in the same place with one another – what happens when, for example, someone pulls out their cell phone when they are having lunch with a friend or dinner with their family. Whether or not it is their intention, the phone users have removed themselves from the interaction, without having taken a step out of the room:

“…there is that sense of a shared space…one of the things that has come out so poignantly in my research is that when you go to your phone you’re basically saying, ‘I’m leaving the shared space.’  When you take out a phone, you aggressively leave the common space of the people you’re with.

…It has to do with presence. What the phone does at its worst is take us away from – give us an alternative to – presence.”

 

 

 

*   *   *

 

May you realize it’s never too early to start honing your
2020 Academy Awards acceptance speech;
May you consciously endeavor not to be one of the crotch-gazers;
May you, when inhabiting the common space, put down your phone
and actually be where you are;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Confession:  I (along with the majority of movie-goers) missed the one about Vincent Van Gogh that had William Dafoe (nominated in the best Actor category) in it. It was not playing in a nearby theatre and not streaming – there was nowhere for moiself to see it.

[2] In other words, thumbs up…if somewhat painfully.

[3] Ali’s performance in Green Book was a leading role, not a supporting role!

[4]My criteria for best picture includes which one(s) would I be willing to see (and pay to see) again?).  

[5] Comedian Kevin Hart was scheduled to host the telecast, but abruptly backed out in December when past homophobic tweets of his came to light, and the show’s producers could not find a replacement host(s).

[6] That would be, the ratings. The “Oscar” show had had years of declining viewing audience, especially among younger (as in, under age 40) viewers.

[7] Go plant-based, everyone!

[8] For The Way We Were, 1974.

[9] Although, in the case of the wrestling team, which was composed of buff teenage males…you could make an argument for a vigorous and sincere YES MA’AM! answer to that question.

[10] A multidisciplinary organization, the Center for Communicating Science is a cross-disciplinary organization founded in 2009 within Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism (Stony Brook, NY), with the goal of helping scientists learn to communicate more effectively with the public.

The Letter (To The Editor) I’m Not Sending

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Praise Baubo   [1]  for the actions of negligent dim wits, who provided me a temporary, if only temporary, from obsessing re overwhelming recent events.

The letter I am not sending will not go to the Editor of the New York Times, which published an article in their Science section titled, “A Mother Learns the Identity of Her Child’s Grandmother. A Sperm Bank Threatens to Sue. The results of a consumer genetic test identified the mother of the man whose donated sperm was used to conceive Danielle Teuscher’s daughter. Legal warnings soon followed.” (by Jacqueline Mroz,  2-19-19 )

The article begins:

Danielle Teuscher decided to give DNA tests as presents last Christmas to her father, close friends and 5-year-old daughter…..

But the 23andMe test produced an unexpected result. Ms. Teuscher, 30, a nanny in Portland, Ore., said she unintentionally discovered the identity of the sperm donor she had used to conceive her young child.

The mother of the donor was identified on her daughter’s test results as her grandmother. Excited and curious, Ms. Teuscher decided to reach out.

“I wrote her and said, ‘Hi, I think your son may be my daughter’s donor. I don’t want to invade your privacy, but we’re open to contact with you or your son,’” she recalled. “I thought it was a cool thing.”

 

 

 

Only four paragraphs in and I’m already banging my forehead against the kitchen table.

The letter I am not sending might start out something like this:

Re the “A Mother Learns the Identity of Her Child’s….” article, I was embarrassed by regional association to read that the woman violating the agreement she signed with the sperm bank is from Portland.

Ms. Teuscher is patently too vapid and stupid to raise a child.

She may have “unintentionally” discovered private information, but are we supposed to believe she then “unintentionally” proceeded with an invasion of a stranger’s privacy – what, did her evil, meddlesome doppelganger forced her to write that letter?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fertility industry, like all businesses these days, is facing challenges in adapting, legally and ethically, to new technologies, including those involving genetics. The sperm bank business was founded on the premise that, as the article points out, “…sperm banks can guarantee anonymity to donors, and promised that there wouldn’t be any relationship with offspring unless the donors wanted.”

The sperm bank from which Teuscher purchased the sperm sent her a letter, threatening her with financial penalties for “…flagrantly violating the agreement she’d signed by seeking the identity of the donor and contacting his family,” and stated that they would “…seek a restraining order or injunction if you continue with this course of action in any manner.”

Ms. Teuscher’s reaction? She said she “didn’t remember reading that fine print” when she signed the sperm donation purchase contract, and that she was “devastated” to receive the letter.  “I thought, wow, I just messed this up for my daughter. The letter was awful. I was angry with the bank, and I was upset about the donor.”

 

 

SHE was angry?

 

 

We’re supposed to believe that Ms. Teuscher didn’t recall or understand the basic tenet of ANONYMOUS sperm donation –and that, golly gee, such “fine print” just escaped her memory?  She’s not talking about absent-mindedly checking the  I agree box re the terms of an iTunes update; she is referring to the legal document she signed relating to the circumstances of conceiving her child – of using genetic material from a donor, who as the article states, “…made a donation in reliance upon anonymity.”

The whole article reeks of WTF?!?!?-edness from the mother’s side. Another factor which doesn’t pass the smell test is the dis-ingenuousness of Teuscher’s claim that she doesn’t want to violate anyone’s privacy – which is exactly what she did when she contacted a stranger (the donor’s mother) without her permission!  [2]

What most frosts my butt is how Teuscher attempts to excuse her actions via having a benign intent  – as a “present” for her daughter.

 

 

Your five year old wants this….

 

…or this?

 

 

Ahem. I – along with most people, I’d wager – understand the very human emotion of curiosity.  So why can’t Mrs. Kravitz    [3]  – I mean of course, Ms. Teuscher –  simply admit that she wanted to snoop for information to which she had legally agreed she was not entitled to know?

 

 

 

 

An adult cannot sign away the rights of people who didn’t exist (i.e., a child conceived via donor sperm) when that adult entered a contract.   Thus, Teuscher’s daughter may, when she reaches legal age and if she is interested, search for her biological family information to the best of her ability and within legal bounds.

But, puuuuhleeeeeeeaze,  don’t think for a moment that it sounds reasonable, as the primary motive or as an introductory/aside remark, to imply that a five year old child would want Santa to bring her  a Lego set, a Winnie-the-Pooh book, a Little Pretender Kids Karaoke machine, oh please mamma, some “genetic testing.”

 

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Things That Are Painful To Watch

Dateline: last week, Manzanita Oregon, having a late lunch at a Mexican restaurant. The restaurant is empty, save for moiself and a couple sitting at the table directly in front of mine.  They appear to be in their late 30s – early 40s; the man is seated with his back to me but turns from side to side frequently; I can clearly see the face of the women who is seated across the table from him. I don’t intend to eavesdrop but they are a mere three feet in front of me and, how you say, voices carry (in particular, the woman’s).

From their conversation I deduce that this is a first date,   [4]  arranged after several e-chats via an online dating site.  The man is being polite with his occasional comments, even as his shifting posture and body language betray his discomfort and disinterest when the woman goes on (and on) about her dating history.    [5]

The only time I see the man perk up is when the women talks about a recent rendezvous she had:  her date walked into the coffee shop where they’d agreed to meet, looked around the room, sat down at her table and, after they’d exchanged introductions he told her he wasn’t attracted to her, and left.

The man keeps looking around, as if wishing to signal the waiter for the check. I’ve already paid my tab; as I stand up to put on my coat I hear the woman announce what she tells herself when “things don’t work out” (which I take to mean, dates arranged online):

“I just tell myself, what the heck, you’ve got plenty of time,
there’s no hurry, you’re not that old yet…”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Yet Another Reason To Be Amused In Tacoma

I was in that Fine City ® this past weekend, helping daughter Belle move into her first post-college apartment. While driving from my hotel through a neighborhood to meet Belle for dinner, I passed a white van with the logo, “Christ-based cleaning“ emblazoned on its side doors. I thought it might be a joke, so I did some searching. Apparently “Christ-based cleaning“ is an actual residential maid/cleaning service business, run by a devout – if grammar/spelling/syntax-challenged (as per her Facebook postings)–  Christian.

 

 

Anyway….

Moiself couldn’t help but wonder exactly how a “Christ-based” cleaning service works:

Y’all just sit back and relax and let Jesus take the wheel mop handle!

 

 

Your floors will shine like the divine with my under-the-appliances hook sweeper service!

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Yet Another Reason To Smile

Despite the title Nobody Listens To Paula Poundstone, I tune in regularly to comedian PPs’ weekly podcast.   [6]  One of my favorite episodes was a recent one (Episode 31) in which PP and her cohost Adam Felber followed up on a previous podcast (Episode 27Putting Your Best Face Forward). One of Episode 37’s featured guests was a plastic surgeon who specializes in tattoo removal (“how do you get that anchor removed from your bulging forearm before you apply for that job at the spinach factory?”).

The surgeon said that one of the more common tattoos he is requested to remove is the kind situated on a woman’s lower back. Colloquially referred to as a tramp stamp, that tattoo typically features a design of wings and/or spiky objects spiraling out and up from the point just above the woman’s sacrum and/or lower lumbar vertebrae.

 

 

 

 

Apparently, at least one Sensitive Person ® objected to PP and Felber using the term tramp stamp.  I am every-so-grateful for that objection, because it led to the brief yet amusing discussion between the two hosts re alternative nicknames for that particular tattoo, including Whore Mark  (a nice play on the Hallmark image, methinks), and my favorite, which moiself finds deserving of a special intro:

 

 

 

Ass antlers.

 

*   *   *

 

 

May you understand the difference between your right to curiosity and another person’s right to privacy;
May you never be the impetus for another person’s worst first date story;
May you enjoy imagining every scenario under the sun that comes from hearing the phrase,
ass antlers;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

 

[1] Greek goddess of mirth.

[2] A person who apparently left skidmarks contacting the sperm bank regarding the violation.

[3] Gladys Kravitz, a character from the Bewitched TV show, was the quintessential busybody – a nosy neighbor, peeking through her curtains, convinced that there was something strange going on in the neighborhood….

[4] And my intuition tells me it is also a last date.

[5] She also includes dating stories about her adult daughter, who recently met someone by chance and is now engaged “…so you see there are good people out there even if it seems like you’re the only one….”

[6] And, as Jesse Jackson might assure me, I am somebody!

The Reality I’m Not Denying

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Grief is one of the hardest and most profound emotions humans ever experience. At times, it feels like you are losing your mind and that you will never experience normalcy again….
Humanism provides an excellent framework for coping with grief. It is rational, compassionate and responsible. We accept our grief in the present with the goal of finding a way to live our lives fully despite our loss.
(Intro to “The Humanist Approach to Grief and Grieving – a Rational and Compassionate Approach to Bereavement,” by Jennifer Hancock)

*   *   *

When someone we love dies, it can intensely undermine our sense of stability and safety. Our lives have been changed forever, generally by forces we had no control over and it can feel as if nothing’s in our control. It can feel like the ground under our feet, which we once thought was stable, has suddenly gone soft…

This feeling can be especially strong if the person who died was someone we were exceptionally close with and who had a large presence in our everyday lives, like a spouse or a partner or a child….And it can be especially strong if the death was unexpected, like an accident, a sudden illness, or death by violence.

Typically, religion teaches us to cope with these feelings by denying them. It tells us that, no matter how insecure we may feel, in reality we’re completely safe. The people who have died aren’t really dead we’ll see them again. Their death hasn’t actually changed our lives permanently. In fact, the next time we see them it’ll be in a blissful place of perfect safety.  [1]

The opposite is true for nonreligious and non-spiritual views of death. Nonbelievers don’t deny this experience of instability. So instead we can try to accept it, and find ways to live with it.

The reality is that safety isn’t an either/or thing. We’re never either entirely safe or entirely unsafe. The ground under our feet is never either totally solid or totally soft. Stability and safety are relative: they’re on a spectrum. We’re more safe, or less safe.

Coping with grief and moving on with it doesn’t mean that the ground feels entirely solid again. It means that the ground feels more solid…. We still understand that things can come out of left field –  terrible things, and wonderful ones.

( “Secular Grief, and the Loss of Stability and Safety,” The Humanist)

*   *   *

 

Department Of Time And Tea

Question: (posed to a British atheist) How do you offer condolences to grieving friends and family?

Answer: By listening. Taking time to talk rather than giving a simple pat phrase.
I offer time and tea.

(Atheists and Grieving, The Guardian, 9-26-13)

 

As previewed in last week’s blog and in light of the recent tragedy of the death of a dear friends’ daughter, moiself is sharing a few quotes and insights about how we who are religion-free   [2] – whether we identify as Atheists, Freethinkers, Brights, Humanists, Skeptics, etc. – view death and grieving.

First off, I should disavow usage of the royal “we,” as there is no dogma/scriptures to which those who hold a naturalistic world view must subscribe. That said, we have much in common with religious believers in that all human beings grieve their losses, with pain proportional to the magnitude of those losses.    [3] 

No one is immune from grief and suffering. The comfort we who are religion-free take in our natural (as opposed to supernatural) worldview is compelling because it requires neither denial of reality nor self-delusion. The comforts of a Humanistic approach to life are grounded in gratitude and wonder at life itself, and of the awareness that life’s cherished moments are made all the more valuable by their impermanence.

 

 

 

(Religious) believers and non-believers have many things in common, and much of what we find comforting during grief is the same – but much of is it seriously different, and even contradictory.

Religious beliefs about death are only comforting if you don’t think about them very carefully — which ultimately makes it not very comforting…. A philosophy that accepts reality is inherently more comforting than a philosophy based on wishful thinking – since it doesn’t involve cognitive dissonance and the unease of self-deception.

I think there are ways to look at death, ways to experience the death of other people and to contemplate our own, that allow us to feel the value of life without denying the finality of death. I can’t make myself believe in things I don’t actually believe — Heaven, or reincarnation, or a greater divine plan for our lives — simply because (we have been told that) believing those things would make death easier to accept. And I don’t think I have to, or that anyone has to. I think there are ways to think about death that are comforting, that give peace and solace, that allow our lives to have meaning and even give us more of that meaning — and that have nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of god, or any kind of afterlife.

( “Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing To Do With God,” Greta Christina)

*   *   *

 

At this point I   [4]  am firmly convinced that a Humanist approach is the best way to deal with grief. Here is why.

1) It is natural. We don’t deny death…. Why is this beneficial? Because when you don’t deny death…you have to deal with it. Grief is so painful that most people will do just about anything to avoid it. But avoiding grief isn’t the same as dealing with grief. A Humanist chooses to deal with grief directly.

2) We have no one to get mad at…. When you have a naturalist approach, you don’t have someone, like a god, who you can blame for causing it. Why is not having someone to get mad at beneficial? Because, displaced anger is very common with grief and it is again a way to avoid grief. It doesn’t help us come to terms with it. It just funnels our grief into an irrational anger.

3) Grief is a natural human response to overwhelming loss or sadness…. We don’t have to be afraid of it, we just have to allow ourselves to experience it.  Why is this better? Because again, people spend so much time trying to avoid grief that they never just allow themselves to experience it and deal with it and move on. Instead, they stay in a sort of grief limbo – too afraid to just experience the emotions so that they can get on with life.

4) Our focus in on the here and now…. There is a tendency among people who believe in an afterlife to put their hopes and dreams into thinking about that after life. After all, when living gets tough, it just seems easier to give up and hope for a better life. The natural approach is better because focusing on and hoping for an afterlife means you are giving up on this one. You aren’t going to try to heal, you are just going to suffer and wait until you die so you can be happy then.

5) We are focused on living. Yeah, we are sad. Possibly overwhelmingly sad…. But again, (we take) a long view of what was happening….  Accepting grief is a necessary first step, but it is only the first step. Then you have to deal with it and learn how to cope with it. Belief in an afterlife hinders that process.

(Natural Grief, a Humanist Perspective)

 

 

 

*   *   *

 

I don’t believe in life after death; I believe in life before death. I believe that the way we live in the here and now has immense and ultimate value, and that the one provable, demonstrable “afterlife” all of us (no matter our religious or world views) will have is in the way our lives have touched others.  We will live on in the legacies we leave to this world – the after-effects of our actions and relationships is what causes our friends and family to remember and honor us long after we are gone.

Three years ago, when MH’s father died from complications of Parkinson’s disease, a friend wondered aloud about how MH’s and my children, Belle and K, were handling this loss. It must be tough for them, she mused, seeing as how this was their first grandparent to die.

“Ah, well, actually…” My stammering reply was interrupted by my friend, who, wide-eyed with shock and embarrassment, sputtered what was to be the first in a series of apologies for her inexcusable (in her view) faux pas, of somehow temporarily forgetting that my beloved father had died seven years earlier:

“It’s just that, the way you always talk about him, it’s as if he’s still here.”

I never held her lapse of memory against her, because it was the impetus for one of the most kind, and ultimately profound, things anyone has ever said to me.

 

 

(Chester Bryan Parnell [8-8-1924 – 2-11-2009] proving art age 51 he could still hoist his “Robbie Doll”)

*   *   *

 

 

May we always remember to love ’em while we’ve got ’em;
May the way we talk about our loved ones keep them “still here;”
May we all offer one another time and tea;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] There are exceptions—e.g., many Buddhist teachings focus on the inherent impermanence of existence.

[2] As is my friend’s family, as well as MH and I and our (young adult) children.

[3] And despite the claims of religious folk who say they find comfort in the thought of an afterlife, I’ve never met a religious believer who was eager to get there, no matter how much they say they believe in/hope for, say, “the better life with Jesus” which supposedly awaits them. They comfort friends and family with platitudes (“god took your mother home; she’s in a better place…”) even as they fight tooth and nail to keep themselves from that “better” place. From what I have seen and read and heard, when it comes down to it, the “faithful” have little faith in their death/after life beliefs, because if they did, they’d gladly die rather than rushing to medical science to keep them from their alleged god/afterlife.  If you really believe that you and your loved ones will have everlasting bliss in heaven together, what are you doing so desperately hanging around on this life on earth? Why are you relying on science to keep you alive (and to prolong the deaths of people you don’t even know and who don’t hold your views, as when religious believers try to stop families who want to remove brain dead relatives from life support) when you get sick?

[4]  The author of the article experienced the death of her child.

The Speculation I’m Not Endorsing

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Department Of The Difference One Word Can Make

Last week I wrote about the death of Dr. SEH, dearly loved daughter of our friends LPH and DH.  Dr. SEH was doing her first year of medical residency in Salt Lake City where, on Sunday evening, January 27, she was murdered by her boyfriend, who then killed himself.

Friends and family and colleagues, we who knew and loved SEH (and if you knew her, you loved her) have been __________ . Get out your thesaurus and fill in the blanks with every emotion involving horror, grief, overwhelming shock, and gob-smacked confusion.

Speaking of filling in the blanks, I understand the temptation to do so with regards to this dreadful tragedy, because our shock/confusion stems from the fact that this came “out of nowhere,” as they say.

We all want to look for reasons to explain the unreasonable…we are all looking for clues, and so far, as of this writing, there are none.  Thus, my irritation at a Well-Meaning Person, ®  one whose well-meaning quote (my emphasis) made me want to swing a sack of Well-Meaning Potatoes at her head.

‘It’s just crushing … to know that she must have been struggling.’
(“Vigil Planned In California For Doctor Killed In Sugar House Domestic Violence Slaying,” Salt Lake Tribune story 1-28-19)

 

And your evidence for this would be…?

Here is what frosts my butt: as of the time that quote was given – a mere one day after SEH’s death – [1] no one knew that SEH “must have been struggling.”  No one knew anything; thus, our previously mentioned overwhelming shock and confusion.  Well-Meaning Person presumed SEH had been struggling, as in, with a “domestic violence” situation.  And still, as of this writing, no one knows that for certain.

Yes, many times when women are killed by their partners there has been an ongoing/ escalating pattern of abuse and violence. And other times, it comes out of the proverbial blue. Either way, from what we knew then – at the time that person made that statement – and from what we know now…what we know is that we just don’t know.

We lack that pesky little thing called evidence. The killer left no note; neither the victim nor the killer had communicated to anyone – family, friends, colleagues – that there was trouble in the relationship. Family, friends, colleagues, neighbors – all thought and experienced them as a happy couple. There had been no calls to police or domestic violence counseling centers or hotlines or campus police or SEH’s residency supervisors, either from the couple or about them (i.e. neighbors reporting arguments) until moments before the actual murder/suicide.   [2]  There were no witnesses; no hidden cameras or recordings; the killer had no history of mental illness….

From all appearances, SEH’s first hint that her boyfriend was capable of such a thing was when he killed her.

What we don’t know at this point would fill the Grand Canyon   [3] of speculation.  Autopsies and toxicology tests will be performed, and can take anywhere from four to six weeks to get results. But the results can only provide possible whats, and not whys.

So. To repeat moiself: We all seek reasons to explain the unreasonable.  We are all capable of doing that privately. But to see such speculation in print is…not helpful, to put it mildly.

*   *   *

“So senseless and sad, two completely devastated and bewildered families.”

This was my younger sister’s reaction, after reading an article which contained an interview with the killer’s father and also a statement from SEH’s family.  My response to her, in part:

“… (the emotion of) bewilderment is, in some ways, almost up there with the sadness and devastation, and the “why”s will likely never be answered. I thought the father in the article did well, and I do try to remember that there are two grieving families involved (even though I no longer speak his- the killer’s – name). In some ways their burden may be ultimately harder than (SEH’s parents), as in, being the parents of a murderer, they will not have the same emotional support.  As far as I know, there is no POPWMOPC – Parents of People Who Murder Other People’s Children – support group.”

And yet, from that same article (link provided below), a Utah domestic violence worker disputes the “out of nowhere” and “he must have just snapped” characterization of the murder-suicide:

But Jenn Oxborrow, director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, said research shows random outbursts of domestic violence almost never happen. “People do not just snap,” she said.
Oxborrow said that even in relationships where there aren’t glaring red flags, some kind of abuse — such as power or control issues — typically becomes evident after a tragedy.

Sometimes the warning signs can be a partner having sole control of finances, or an otherwise loving relationship where there isn’t trust — where one partner is always looking through the other’s phone, for example, or where a partner isolates the other.
Studies have also shown that when a gun is present in a home and there is any sort of history of domestic violence, a woman is about five times more likely to die by that firearm, Oxborrow said.
(excerpt from “How can it end like this?’ After a man shot and killed his girlfriend and himself in their Sugar House home, two families grapple with how they died,”
The Salt Lake Tribune, 2-2-19)

*   *   *

I don’t know.

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.
I don’t know.

For now, I will hold on to what we do know:

The family’s statement said a friend of SEH had described her best, quoting the friend as saying, “SEH was unfailingly kind, fun, hilarious, brilliant, and one of the most supportive friends anyone could ever have. She had the strongest work ethic of anyone I’ve seen and she was so driven to help people. She never met a challenge she couldn’t overcome, and she made all the people around her feel unstoppable and bold.”
… a family friend…named as a spokesman, said in his own comments, “SEH was one of those unique people that had all the smarts, perseverance and drive to succeed at whatever she set her mind to, but also the gifts of compassion and empathy to help other people in need.” She was close with her family, he added. “All of which makes the loss of her precious life the more difficult to bear for those who knew and loved her.”

MH and I were concerned about DH, SEH’s father, who had gone to Salt Lake City to meet with police, gather his daughter’s effects, and take care of the other unthinkable “tasks” which accompany such a tragedy.  When MH  [4] asked DH how he was doing.  DH responded:

Thank you. It seems SEH created groups of amazing supportive friends everywhere she went so I’ve been taken care of here.

Indeed. I know she did, and I know where SEH got that ability: from her mind-boggling marvelous mother, LPH.

During that devastating phone call in which LPH told me about her daughter’s death, LPH and I reminisced about how I was one of the first people, other than immediate family, to hear SEH”s voice: the doctor and nurse practitioner who lovingly cared for LPH during her pregnancy and then delivered the baby were my former employers and cherished friends, DWB and PHB, and they telephoned me from the delivery room just as SEH made her way into this world.

We who knew SEH were awed by what she experienced in her life, and especially, by what she made with those experiences.  Intelligent and determined, despite the many grueling surgeries she underwent due to her Stickler syndrome and the loss of sight in one eye, SEH remained a top student in her classes, skied and river rafted, and persisted in pursuing her goals, becoming the medical doctor that some people told her was out of her reach.

She was also beautiful, charming, witty, caring, and adored her family – she and her brother were literally best friends…and I can’t imagine a person who didn’t love and admire her after knowing her.

“Sarah Elizabeth” English tea rose

 

*   *   *

Department Of Preview Of Coming Attractions:
How the Religion-Free Think About Death & Grief

Here is (an excerpt of) what a religion-free [5]  journalist wrote to a (religious) friend who had recently suffered the loss of her father. This friend asked him to tell her what he thought was the “next step,” and to “please lie to make it more interesting” if his answer might not suit her.

You asked me what I think is the next step.
Well, no one has reported back from the other side, none of us who are alive have been to the other side, and we don’t have any factual evidence supporting a life (as we know it) after we die.
To me, believing what I want to be true can be very comforting (like my unshakable belief that Jessica Alba wants all my babies), but that doesn’t make it true.
I find more comfort in what I know to be true. For the things I don’t know, I prefer saying just that — I don’t know — instead of entertaining supernatural guesses or made-up answers from a time when humans didn’t know about the carbon cycle or the structure of the DNA that your father passed on to you, his living, breathing daughter.
You said that if I didn’t have the answers, I should “lie to make it more interesting.” But I have always found things most interesting when I didn’t have to lie. That is why I am an atheist.
Admitting ignorance is humbling. It reminds us that as fleeting inhabitants of this vast universe, we are part of something much bigger. It forms a foundation  for the curiosity that defines us as human beings, that drives us to contemplate our existence, educate ourselves, and to grow and evolve as individuals and as a species.
To lose that is a much worse death than physical death.
I wish you the strength and resolve to cope with your loss. Mourn his death, but also celebrate the life that he helped give you. That’s what he would have wanted.
(“Grief Without Belief – How Do Atheists Deal With Death,”
Huffington Post, 10-22-13,
By Ali A. Rizvi, Pakistani-Canadian author of The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason)

*   *   *

May we all be taken care of, wherever our “here” is;
May we readily admit what we do not know;
May we find comfort in what we know to be true;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *


[1] Given by the dean of the medical school where SEH got her M.D.

[2] When the person who lived in the basement below the couple heard what she thought was a home invasion going on upstairs, and fled through a basement window and ran a block to safety before calling the police.

[3] Where MH and our son K did a river rafting trip with SHE and her family, last spring. The last time we saw her.

[4] Regular readers know that I use the blogonym “MH” to refer to My Husband.

[5]  A freethinker is a person who forms opinions on the basis of reason, independent of authority or tradition, especially a person whose religious opinions differ from established belief.

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