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The Two-Faced, Sanctimonious, Festering Turd-Of-Hypocrisy I’m Not Strangling

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The real reason behind the total ban on abortion in Alabama and other backward misogynist shithole legislatures states, or so political strategists on both sides of the aisle tell us, is to set up a challenge in SCOTUS for Roe v. Wade. State legislators know their draconian laws will be struck down by state judges as unconstitutional; thus, the hoped-for trip to up the judicial ladder to SCOTUS chambers.

But so-called real reasons often leave real people and their real stories in the dustbin of history.   I will share some of those stories in this post: a series of vignettes, in no particular chronological order, from my time working in women’s reproductive health care. The stories I have from those years are legion; I’ll attempt both restraint and discretion in relating a just few of them.  [1]

The last one still blows my mind, all these years later. If I were to write it up as a short story I’m sure literary journals would reject it (“Contrived plot,” the editor’s notes might read), but trust me, I’m not a skilled enough writer to have made it up. Once again, reality trumps fiction.

TheBackground

 

From the early 1980s – 90’s I worked for a Planned Parenthood (“PP”) clinic in a SoCal county, a private OB-GYN practice in the Bay Area, and Planned Parenthood clinics in a Bay Area county.

PP clinics provided services determined by geographic need.  Example: because there were several other clinics in the county which performed abortions, the SoCal PP clinic provided a range of health care but referred patients seeking an abortion to those other clinics. Because there were few options in that same county for women needing colposcopy exams,  [2] that PP set up a colposcopy clinic, the patients mainly coming via referrals from the county public health system.

The Doctor (“Doc”) at the OB-GYN office where I worked (“The Practice”) shared the practice with a nurse practitioner (“NP”). Their patients ranged from Silicon Valley execs to welfare recipients (but skewed toward the higher end of the economic spectrum). Doc infrequently performed first trimester abortions (~ four per year), at an offsite day surgery center (he was aware that many more of his patients had abortions, but went elsewhere for the procedure). He told me he didn’t like performing them (“It’s a sad situation, all around”), but what he didn’t like even more was the idea of abandoning his patients when they needed help.

The Bay Area county PP had four clinics in the county, three of which offered abortions services, one to three mornings per week. I worked initially at the main site’s STD screening clinic,  [3]  then at their abortion (AB) clinics.

 

 

The Stories

We (The Practice’s Doc, NP, and I) developed a personal relationship  [4]  and had many interesting conversations on issues re women’s health care. Doc and NP were both staunchly pro-choice, Doc in particular due to his knowledge of what things were like before Roe v. Wade.  He told me stories about The Bad Old Days, about how (surprise!) the rich could always get safe care, no matter what. Back in the late 50s – 60s when abortion was illegal, a Japanese airline had a clandestine (but procurable, if you knew the right people) package deal: the fare included flights to and from Tokyo from West Coast airports, overnight lodging in a Tokyo hotel, and the fee for an abortion performed by a Japanese doctor. Sympathetic American doctors whose desperate patients had no safe local alternatives would refer their patients to someone, who would refer them to someone else, who would refer them to….   [5]

One of The Practice’s OB patients, after a routine exam, asked Doc if he ever performed abortions. Although it was none of her %&!$ business (and moiself wanted him to tell her so) he answered honestly, while tactfully letting her know that he would not be steered down the anti-abortion harangue road she was heading for.  After she’d left, Doc signaled to me to follow him to the office’s back room, where old/inactive patient files were kept.

As Doc searched through the files he told me about a former patient of his who’d sought an abortion, back when the procedure was illegal except for “medical reasons.” This woman had to go before a (male, of course) judge to get approval to have an abortion. Her physicians had to testify as to her mental and physical well-being, and they had lots of material: she had chronic health problems; was depressed to the point of suicide; her husband had left her and their three children…. She’d wanted to get her tubes tied after birthing her second child but could not find a doctor to do so – as per the standards of the time, hospitals would not book a sterilization surgery for a woman unless she met this weird algorithm (criteria included her age, the number of children she had, and other factors I can’t recall).  She also needed her husband’s permission for the surgery, which he’d refused.   [6]

The woman won her petition. At this point in the story Doc had found the patient’s chart, and showed me the transcript from her day in court. He snorted with disgust as he recalled how a grown-ass adult woman had to grovel and reveal highly personal information to male strangers who held power over her life.  Doc re-filed the chart, the ever-present twinkle in his eyes absent as he said, “Don’t ever let it go back to that.”

 

*   *   *

The R- PP clinic site (Bay Area) performed abortions on Friday mornings. The R-PP had two recurrent anti-abortion protesters who hung out on the sidewalk by the clinic parking lot. They were an odd pair: an older woman with an imperious air, always impeccably dressed in a woolen suit, designer handbag matching her designer pumps, her chin-length white hair sprayed into a Doris Bay-type bob, and a tall, lanky young man with wild eyes and a shock of Conan O’Brien-ish, unruly red hair. I called them Snow White and Big Red.

Dateline: A Friday am; the clinic had just opened, patients were in the waiting room filling out forms. One of the four clinic aides motioned for me and the other aides to follow her down the hallway. Looking out the clinic’s rear window, we saw “Consuela” outside, approaching Big Red.

Consuela, a native Mexican married to an American, was R-PP’s AB clinic manager. She was committed to providing reproductive care for Latinas, even as she admitted struggling with her work, due to her harsh Catholic upbringing. Consuela was kind and sweet-tempered, admired by PP’s staff and beloved by PP’s Latina patients, about whom she would tolerantly (but never patronizingly) educate us “white girl” clinic aides. She told us about the vagaries of the male-dominated culture Latina women had to endure, and the stories of her patients who’d had a horrifyingly experience common to impoverished Latinas entering the US were truly heartbreaking. The template: a woman’s husband summoned her to join him in the US after he’d found a job. He’d wired money to pay a coyote  [7] to escort her across the border, and during the journey the coyote raped her. Coyotes often assaulted women and girls with impunity and threatened their lives, knowing they’d be too frightened to tell the authorities or their husbands (sadly, Consuela said, even loving husbands were steeped in their culture’s machismo code, which cast a wife’s rape as a stain upon her husband’s honor…or as a cover for an affair).

Consuela would be in a certain mood I learned to identify – anger muted by melancholy – after working with a woman impregnated by coyote-rape. I often saw her, as her patient was leaving the clinic, slip the patient some money (“For bus fare,” Consuela would whisper in Spanish).   [8]

Back to the sidewalk: Sweet, warm Consuela was also very, very shy. Thus, we (her fellow clinicians, staring out the window) were amazed to see her approach Big Red, speak to him for a few minutes, return to the clinic…and holy crap, Big Red is leaving the parking lot! When the clinic was finished (~ 1 pm) Consuela told me what she’d said to him (paraphrased here):

I know you are here because you think you are doing good, but there is something you need to know. Three weeks ago, there was a no-show at our clinic – that older Latina woman you thought you had talked out of having an abortion. Actually, she left when you confronted her because she was afraid of you; she speaks only a little English, and didn’t understand everything you had to say, only that you were a stranger, who knew nothing about her, trying to intimidate her into not having an abortion.  She returned last week and had the procedure.

She may be poor and illiterate, but she is not stupid. When a woman makes such an important decision she considers all her options, and when she makes up her mind she is going to do whatever it takes.  All you did was make her wait another two weeks; she had to be sick and stressed and distraught for another two weeks. That may not have been your intention, but that is what happened. You caused even more grief for her.

For several weeks after Consuela spoke to Big Red, Snow White was the lone protester outside the R-PP clinic.

*   *   *

I’m glad those days (when abortion was illegal) are passed. But I fear the younger generations have no memories of what happened and take their rights for granted, and those of us who lived in those times are dying out, and our stories will die with us.
(paraphrased, from a conversation with Samuel Greenberg, M.D., PP-M physician)

Dr. Greenberg was an older gentleman, retired from his longtime OB-GYN practice, who worked several days a week at the PP main site (“PP-M”). “Dr. G” was the doctor I most often worked with at PP, and I came to admire his expertise, experience, humor, and compassion.

We talked often; Dr. G was concerned that when he and his peers died there’d be no one left to tell about The Bad Old Days, and that people might forget….  Sound familiar? Like many Jews of his age, he’d lost loved ones to the WWII concentration camps. His family’s experiences as Jews in non-Jewish cultures was one of the reasons, he said, he felt so strongly about his work at PP  –– he knew first-hand what can happen when people have their rights abridged by those of differing beliefs.

When Dr. G was a young doctor in the 1950s, doing his OB-GYN residency rotations in two different urban Catholic hospitals, he saw and treated many women who showed up in a the hospitals’ ERs, gravely ill and/or dying from botched illegal or self-induced abortions. Yet he never *once* saw the attending physicians list complications from illegal abortion as the cause of death for a patient who had indeed died from that.  On one such occasion, when Dr. G had the unhappy task of writing the “cause of death” on the patient’s chart, he challenged the doctor in charge who’d instructed Dr. G to write that the patient died of sepsis from an incomplete miscarriage. But, that’s a lie! Dr. G protested. – How can we, as doctors, lie about such a thing – people need to know, and the public health statistics will never reflect the reality…

Dr. G’s boss grabbed Dr. G by the elbow and steered him to the ER waiting room, pointing toward a sofa where the dead patient’s bereft husband and children sat.  He then led Dr. G to an empty hallway and spoke to him, privately and sternly, about the hospital’s non-official policy re reporting abortion-related deaths:  This is a Catholic hospital, with a mostly Catholic clientele. The truth will only bring further anguish, and shame, to a grieving family; also, since abortion is illegal, the police will have to be notified, and the hospital does not want its staff to get dragged into criminal investigations….

I will never forget the patience and kindness Dr. G showed toward all of the women we saw in the clinic, but in particular, to one recovering heroin addict.  Like most addicts, she was hypersensitive to pain, and howled as if she’d been stabbed when I did a simple finger prick blood test to check her iron level. She’d asked for additional analgesics for her procedure, which less than 5% of patients requested and which the doctor had to approve and then administer intravenously. Due to her years of junkiedom, Dr. G couldn’t find a usable vein to inject the medication.  I waited with an impatience I tried not to show, thinking thoughts for which I was later ashamed (What a whining wimp – suck it up lady, this is all from your own doing… you’ll be out of here in 10 minutes, and nobody else begs for drugs….), while Dr. G searched and searched, and searched again, and finally found a usable spot between her toes. After her surgery Dr. G spent additional time with her, holding her hand and encouraging her not to get down on herself or let this be another setback on her road to healing and sobriety.

*   *   *

In the PP clinics I saw a variety of women, from a wealthy Señora from Guadalajara whose IUD “slipped” while she and he husband were vacationing in the US, to a mother of four, in her late 40s and going through a bitter divorce (who’d had been told by a doctor that she’d gone through early menopause and couldn’t get pregnant), to the proverbial teenage girls who seem as if they can get pregnant just by standing downwind from a boy.

As per the coyote story,  rape/incest victims were the saddest cases to see. Those included a preteen holding onto her mother with one hand and her stuffed animal with her other hand (accompanied by a police escort, to retrieve “evidence’ of the assault, evidence they hoped to use to prosecute the family member who’d raped the girl); a woman forcibly impregnated by her estranged, abusive husband (she was told  [9] by a police officer that she couldn’t press rape charges because she was still married to her rapist), girls abused by their brothers/cousins/stepfathers/mom’s “new friend”/youth pastors….

And then there were those who’d been assaulted by non-related acquaintances – scenarios given a term I despise for its downplaying of the trauma it inflicts:  Date rape.

During a patient’s intake procedure we reviewed her medical history, and one of the questions we asked was, What kind of contraception were you using when you became pregnant? That question was not posed to known rape victims, and was a particularly cutting one to hear for sexual assault victims who’d not yet told anyone what had happened to them.  One patient, her tough chick attitude failing to mask her nervousness, threw her hands up in the air and laughed bitterly when I asked that question. Nothing; I was using nothing!  Can you believe that the guy my friend set me up with, the guy who choked me until I passed out, didn’t have the decency to put on a condom before he raped me?!   [10] 

*   *   *

Big Bad Wolves are not always so obvious, Little Red Riding Hood.

 

She was not my patient; I’d finished my first intake and was on my way to place my patient’s chart in the surgical queue. She stood in the hallway outside the clinic’s bathroom, holding her urine sample cup, fidgeting in a way I’d come to recognize as a woman trying to convince herself to pee when she didn’t have to go. She was dressed like a 1950s secretary, with a pleated plaid skirt and a faded, rose red cardigan sweater. She looked sweetly anachronistic, nervous, and shy.

“Let me guess,” I pointed toward the empty cup she held.  “It seems like you have to go every five minutes, then when you need to go, you can’t?”

Exactly!  She flashed me a puppy-eyed look of gratitude. Kelly, my, uh, intake lady, left me here; she needed to talk with a nurse or something.  It might take awhile before I can… she looked askance at the empty cup in her hand. I shouldn’t have gone at my mom’s, before we came here.

I offered to get her a glass of water, and as I walked her back to her intake room she told me how out of place she felt.  I can tell I’m the oldest girl here. It’s so embarrassing. She lowered her voice. I’m twenty-seven.

“I’m thirty-one,” I said. “I win!”

She blushed, and told me she hadn’t meant the age of the staff, but rather “the girls” she’s seen in the waiting room, whom she assumed were, like her, there for an abortion, but unlike her, were probably not virgins… I mean, were virgins, until….

I stopped before entering the intake room, where her mother sat.  Sweet Twenty-Seven-Year-Old-Former-Virgin looked at me imploringly. Can you come in and talk with me?

I said I’d love to, and asked if it would be okay to talk in front of her mother.  She assured me it was.  I sat down with the two of them, and STSYOFV began to spill her guts. 

STSYOFV had flown out from Kentucky, where she’d gone to college and where she lived now. Her mother was helping out, paying for the abortion –  STSYOFV didn’t want to have it done where she lived, in case any of her friends and especially her church friends found out…well, I  really don’t have any friends besides church friends…

As STSYOFV told it, her  life revolved around an evangelical church where she was a member of the choir. STSYOFV ‘s mother discretely shook her head and gave me a look.

STSYOFV said she loved choral music; her church choir met for practice several times a week…and what they would think of me, if they knew where I was now.  I know what I’m doing is wrong in their sight, but my they’d disown me if I was pregnant out of wedlock and I know all my options and everyone here is so nice about reminding me but I wish they’d stop asking I don’t need adoption or pregnancy referrals I know what I’m doing and I can’t bear being pregnant it would destroy me and how could I be was so stupid and ignorant and naïve to stay a virgin until 27 and then get pregnant the first and only time…I feel felt guilty but I’m going to do it anyways, I tried a few home remedies, even thought if I threw myself down the stairs…

My eyes widened at the remark, and STSYOFV’s mother gasped. STSYOFV assured us both that she’d chickened out; I made her laugh when I told her that a miscarriage caused by falling down the stairs only happens in the movies.

Lawdy, Miss Scarlett!

 

My eyes flitted back and forth, from STSYOFV to her mother, who mostly remained silent while her daughter talked.  The mother’s unwavering love for STSYOFV was evident to me, as was her disapproval of the church her daughter had gotten involved with.

STSYOFV said she hadn’t even intended to have sex… I hope god will forgive me but I am going to do this, or if he can’t forgive me, at least I hope he won’t hate me.   If they only knew…they all think I’m a nice person….

“Then that’s one thing they’re right about – you are a nice person.” I placed my hand over STSYOFV’s. She grasped my hand with both of hers, her eyes moist with gratitude. Although a (closeted, at that time) non-believer, I attended a liberal Christian church, and knew what STSYOFV needed to hear. I assured her that her god, that no one, could ever hate her.

STSYOFV smiled at me through her tears. I wish you would be doing my intake, and be with me during the procedure. Kelly is nice, but she’s so young.

Actually, Kelly is 26, I thought to myself.  I also thought about how STSYOFV, with her gentle, desperate naivete and high voice, seems like a 12 year-old in a 27 year-old’s body.

I told STSYOFV I had another patient to help, but promised I’d check on her after her procedure. She hugged me, and said she’d like that.

STSYOFV was the last patient to see the doctor, and when she was out of the recovery room she, her mother and I had a heartfelt conversation before they left the clinic. I assured STSYOFV re how much she had going for her – she was young, strong- spirited and good-hearted, with a wonderful mother who loved and supported her…

She is the best. STSYOFV gazed lovingly at her mother. And she says she won’t let me pay her back, for lending me money for the plane tickets and everything.

“Speaking of which…” I hesitated. “What about the guy who got you pregnant? Why isn’t he helping you with this, or at least paying?”

Oh, no, that would ruin him. STSYOFV shook her head, sadly yet vehemently.  While her mother’s mama bear eyes blazed with rage on behalf of her daughter, STSYOFV told me that the man who’d seduced her was her choir director. He was older, married and with children, and active in the church’s pro-life demonstrations. When she went to him with news of her pregnancy he warned her to not to tell anyone, and told her to “take care of it,” and so STSYOFV had swallowed her pride and telephoned her mother….

*   *   *

Department Of This One Takes The Cake
Aka If I Hadn’t Seen It With My Own Eyes….

I lost track of how many times an AB clinic patient laughed and said, “Until it happened to me, I was against abortion. That” – the patient would indicate the clinic’s entrance, referring to the protesters outside – “might have been me a couple of months ago.” I’d smile, say, “We hear that a lot,” and do my best not to reveal that I didn’t find her admission – that she’d have supported taking away other women’s autonomy until “it” happened to her –  to be amusing.

PP-M had a semi-regular group of protesters who demonstrated outside the clinic’s front entrance. (I never saw them; I parked in the employee lot at the back of the clinic and entered and left through the back door.) Other PP-M employees became quite familiar with the protesters, who were part of some Catholic group led by a perky blond in her mid-thirties. The Vice President (“Veep”) of PP-M went out of her way to befriend the protesters. Veep was an ex-Catholic, and would go outside and chat with the protesters during her coffee breaks, sometimes joining them in reciting The Rosary. On sweltering summer days Veep carried cups of water out to the protesters – one day she even brought them lemonade – and on more than one cold winter morning I heard a fellow clinic aide good-naturedly grouse about how She ( meaning, Veep) is out there, serving them hot cocoa, can you believe it?

Dateline: one memorable Monday, ~ 8 am, at the PP-M AB clinic. As I reached for the first chart in the intake pile, “Cindy,” the clinic’s assistant manager, whisked the chart out of my hand. “I don’t believe this,” Cindy hissed. She motioned for me to follow her to the reception office, where she and the receptionist stared through the  bullet-and-sound-proof plate glass window to the waiting room, and traded incredulous remarks back and forth:

I don’t believe it – can you believe it? That can’t be her…no, it is her…this is got to be a joke…a plant…a set up…no – look at the chart, it is!….

I asked, What’s up? Cindy told me that Perky Blonde Anti-Abortion Protest Leader was in the waiting area, with her 15 year old daughter, whom she’d brought in for an abortion.

I am doing this intake,” Cindy announced. As her WTF ?!?!  expression morphed into that of Compassionate Health Care Worker, she opened the door to the waiting area and called PBAAPL and her daughter back to an intake room.

It was a busy morning; I didn’t get to talk with Cindy until after the clinic was over, when all four of us clinic aides gathered around Cindy to ask, What the heck….?  Cindy told us that she’d started the intake as usual – she led PBAAPLW and her daughter back to a private intake room, then asked the daughter to give a urine specimen. While the daughter was in the bathroom, Cindy introduced herself to PBAAPL, and the following conversation (paraphrased) ensued:

Cindy: I need to tell you something. I recognize you, from the protesters outside. If this makes you or your daughter uncomfortable, you can request another…

PBAAPL:  Oh no; thank you. You’ll be fine.

Cindy: Okay. Uh…now I’m speaking for me, personally, not on behalf of Planned Parenthood.  I can’t help but wonder, what are you doing here?

PBAAPL:  Well, my daughter got in trouble, you know?  And you people here are all so nice, I knew you’d take good care of her.

Imagine, if you will, the sound of four jaws simultaneously dropping to the clinic’s tile floor.

PBAAPL skipped the protests for the next two weeks (there were a few demonstrators who showed up, and only for one day, during PBAAPL’s absence). After she brought her daughter in for the girl’s post surgery exam, PBAAPL returned to leading the protests, trying to deny other women’s daughters the “good care” she’d sought for her own.

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Department of Epicurean Excursion   [11]

 The excursion returns next week, having been temporarily grounded this week, due to the appetite-quashing political upheavals which prompted this post.

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Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1]  We didn’t have HIPAA laws then; still, I’ve altered all names and a few geographical details for privacy’s sake.

[2] A colposcopy is a procedure to closely examine a woman’s cervix for signs of disease, using a special instrument (colposcope). The procedure is most often done due to the woman having an abnormal pap smear, and may be followed by a cervical biopsy.

[3] I worked primarily at two PP clinics  in the county, and twice at a third PP clinic.

[4] Which continued after I left the practice and which exists to this day.

[5] I later heard about this same service from another doctor who was Doc’s age.

[6] Yep, that’s right – he knocked her up a third time, and then abandoned her and their children.

[7] A coyote is a man who makes a living smuggling migrants across the US-Mexico border.

[8] Consuela and her husband ( who was still in college) were far from wealthy, and had two children of their own to support. It probably violated some kind of clinic policy to give money, even your own, voluntarily, to patients; I always saw her look around furtively when she did so.

[9] Erroneously, I believe, although I don’t know the status of the marital rape laws in California at that time.

[10] I stopped the intake immediately and got the patient to speak with someone from PP’s counseling/education department. She was over 18; we couldn’t force her to go to the police, and she refused our advice to do so (she said she’d known someone that had the same thing happen and “was raped again by the cops” (i.e. they didn’t believe her ). After her procedure we set her up with referrals for individual counseling and a rape crisis center…I have no idea if she ever followed through with those contacts.

[11] 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.

The Wrong Number I’m Not Answering

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Department Of First Things First

Innumerable thanks to friend MB for sending me this cartoon by the immeasurably spot-on Roz Chast, under the subject of Happy Mother’s Day/Unappreciated Author’s Day:

 

 

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Department Of Wait A Minute – Did He Just Sing That?

One advantage of occasionally listening to an oldies station is occasionally having reminders of how much I loathed the songs of Gary Puckett And The Union Gap.

In the songs GP & TUG which were most known for – “Young Girl,” “Lady Willpower,” and “Woman, Woman” –  lead singer GP expresses a recurrent and overriding concern: girls and women should have sex with him.

 

There’s nothing like pastel, faux-Civil War uniforms to put the ladies in the mood.

 

In Lady Willpower he’s frustrated that Lady W won’t sleep with him. He promises he’ll be nice to her if she does, but warns their relationship will end if she doesn’t.  By Young Girl he’s been so successful in his entreaties that the ladies apparently want them some GP lovin,’ but one in particular…well…he doesn’t want to go to jail for statutory rape. In the power ballad  Woman Woman, GP has gotten at least one woman to sleep with him, only it’s not going the way he planned – he suspects she’s checking out her other options.  Woman Woman‘s claim to The Equal Rights Hall of Shame ® is its third verse, arguably one of the more patronizing misogynist set of lyrics of its time (and that’s saying a lot):

 A woman wears a certain look
when she is on the move
and the man can always tell
what’s on her mind
(lyrics from Woman, Woman , written by Jim Glaser and Jimmy Payne,
recorded by Gary Puckett & The Union Gap)

Of course, the years those songs were popular (late 60’s – early 70’s) was a time when rock music – and just as important, rock radio – was experiencing a new freedom in terms of what bands could sing and DJs could play on the air. Translation: a lot of sexuality, implied and overt, was being expressed – and a lot of it was really good.  Remember subversive delight of listening to the Kink’s Lolaand figuring out what was between the lines, so to speak (and celebrating the face that the Kinks had snuck one past your parents, the radio censors – The Establishment in general)?  In fact, gems like Lola  (along with the saucy dialog from early movies, from Mae West to the Marx Brothers) are one reason I’m in favor of something admittedly controversial – not censorship per se, but certain general “decency” guidelines for art. I truly believe that such lines-not-to-be-crossed inspires or even forces  artists to greater heights of creativity, in that they must  find ways to cross those lines and cleverly imply what they cannot overtly say or show….

Which is a subject worthy of its own day/post.  Digression over. Returning to subject:

GP & TUG were not the only ick offenders;  it (lovelorn/horny guy trying to get his girl to have sex with him) was a popular topic of the times.  Even a group like Bread, known for its soft rock hits (“If,” “Baby I’m-a-Want You,”  [1]  “Everything I Own,”Sweet Surrender,” “Guitar Man”) had a song called “Let Your Love Go,” their all-but-forgotten early hit, which I liked at the time (and still do   [2] ), as its melody and catchy rhythm outweighed (for moiself) the leering silliness of its girl-you-need-to-have-sex-with-me-right-now-trust-me-it’ll-be-good-for-you lyrics. 

 

 

Moiself is aware of the pitfalls judging the art of yesterday by the standards of today, but that’s not what I’m doing here: I strongly remember thinking the GP & TUG songs ick-creepy at the time of their release, no matter what my peers thought.   [3]  Don’t take my word for it, look up the GP & TUG sons yourself, if you have no life the time and are curious. They are unintentionally hilarious in a way that transcends time and social norms. Also, the band’s costumes are just plain goof-worthy.

 

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*   *   *

Department Of My Favorite Wrong Number

I answered our home phone other day and it was a wrong number…which almost never happens anymore. What with the various forms of telephone screening available, I bet that rarely happens to you, either.

Moiself (almost) never picks up the phone if I don’t recognize the number/if caller ID doesn’t tell me who it is. The Other Day ® was one of those occasions that puts the almost in almost never: I was expecting a call from someone and didn’t know how their business might be identified.  Usually when I make that kind of exception – answer the phone even though caller ID can provide no specific information – it turns out to be or one of those annoying sales or political robocalls which somehow managed to attach themselves to a legitimate business number.  [4]   

But the call I received The Other Day ® was an actual wrong number!! Dialed by a Real Live Person ® !!  Whom I got to inform (after asking the number they’d intended to dial) that this was indeed a wrong number as they had transposed two digits in the number they’d intended to dial!!  And for some reason, this made me happy!!

And for some reason translation:  This Brain of Mine ®  reacted to the event by recalling the story of My Favorite Wrong Number.   [5]

 

Please, do tell.

 

One evening, a long time in a galaxy far, far away, [6]  I answered the telephone in the rental house I shared with two other women.  The caller, whose voice indicated she was an elderly woman with a black urban/southern accent, asked to speak with Raymond.  “I’m sorry,” I told her, “There’s no one named Raymond here. You must have dialed a wrong number.”

Instead of apologizing for her misdial, the woman insisted that I put Raymond on the phone. I told her there was no one in the house named Raymond; she refused to believe me.  She had dialed Raymond’s number and wanted to speak with him. This back and forth continued for about four rounds of There is no Raymond here/you dialed the wrong number from me, and This is not the wrong number and I want to speak with Raymond from her. Why did I keep the exchange going? I’m not sure – I do remember getting some petty pleasure from her obstinate refusal to concede her error…or perhaps I just didn’t want to hang up on an old lady. Finally, my amusement faded to annoyance, and the approximate conversation took place:

Moiself:  Okay. Why don’t you tell me the number you meant to dial?

Caller: I know I dialed 415-8671!

Moiself:  Ah, here’s the problem: our number is 415-8617. You transposed the last two digits.

Caller (huffing with indignation): I did no such thing! I’ve been dialing that number for years.

Moiself:  Well, tonight you dialed it wrong.

Neither of us spoke for several seconds, during which I anticipated a sheepish apology followed by a quick hang up from the caller.

Caller (after a dramatic pause): If this is a wrong number, then why did you answer?

For a moment there, she stunned me into silence by the sheer existential WTF-ness of her accusation-framed-as-question.  Yeah…so…why did I answer a wrong number?

Moiself (sputtering with astonishment): Look, lady, you called me!?!?!?

 

*   *   *

Department Of Is CBD A BFD?

Is it just my imagination, or is it inevitable that every store in Oregon,  [7] from those selling hair gels to orthotic shoe inserts, will soon be offering CBD products for sale?

 

 

Nope; looks like it’s not just me:

The flood of CBD products has become so overwhelming that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently stepped into the fray.
The agency has whipped out a flurry of warning letters to companies marketing CBD products, telling them to stop making unfounded health claims for the substance.
Companies have falsely claimed CBD can stop cancer cells, slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, ease nerve pain and fibromyalgia, and curb withdrawal symptoms for people undergoing substance abuse treatment, the FDA letters state.
(The Controversy Over CBD Oil Health Claims, Newsmax Health)

Across the nation there are growing concerns re the overblown claims of the health or medical benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) – which, BTW, due to what medical school professor Marcel-Bonn Miller calls “the legally murky status of marijuana,” is produced without regulation as to strength or quality.  (“It really is the Wild West,” Bonn-Miller said. “Joe Bob who starts up a CBD company could say whatever the hell he wants on a label and sell it to people.”)

When it comes to marijuana-related products there is much exaggeration from all sides, and it is hard to weed out (sorry) the possible help from the probable hype…but most of what I’ve read and seen has raised my instinctive, “miracle cure” antenna. This happened most recently on Tuesday, when I was driving past a pet shop in downtown Hillsboro whose signboard suggested pet owners stop in and check out their “CBD oil for pet pain relief.”

“Say what?”

 

For a moment, I was tempted to delay my errand, park my car, enter the store, point to the signboard and ask the clerk if their CBD oil would work for reptiles in distress.  You see, RuPaul, my red-tailed boa constrictor, appears to be in pain from an abcessed tooth.  I would wait for the inevitable, “Oh, of course…” sales pitch, which I would interrupt with,

“So, you’re saying you have no qualms about selling me snake oil?”

 

*   *   *

Department of Epicurean Excursion   [8]

Featuring this week’s cookbook, author and recipe:

 At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen by Amy Chaplin

Recipes:

* Creamy Cauliflower and Celery Root Soup With Roasted Shitakes
* Steamed Greens with Zesty Flax Seed Dressing

My ratings:

For the soup: I liked it enough to give it the standard two thumbs up, but the recipe’s addition of a topping of roasted sliced shitakes elevates the rating to:

 

 

For the greens:

 

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

 

Recipe Rating Refresher   [9

          

*   *   *

Department Of Remember This?

Aka Department Of You Can’t Make Up This Shit

Headlines along the lines of, Prolife Congressman Resigns In Disgrace After Revelations He Asked Mistress To Abort Pregnancy had their 15 minutes of media attention ~ 18 months ago, when Pennsylvania Republican congressman Tim Murphy’s text messages with his extramarital lover were leaked, revealing that he’d asked her to “take care of” her pregnancy by him.

A politician actively working to block all women’s access to a medical procedure while he covertly suggests his illicit lover seek out the same procedure? Imagine that.

 

 

Rep. Murphy gave the customary weasel-worded, non-apology resignation statement (my emphases):

“After discussions with my family and staff, I have come to the decision that I will not seek reelection to Congress at the end of my current term.  In the coming weeks I will take personal time to seek help as my family and I continue to work through our personal difficulties and seek healing. I ask you to respect our privacy during this time.”

 

 

I know, I know.

Holy crap – bickering five year olds on the schoolyard playground know the rules. Gee, Congressman Murphy Pecksniff,   [10] let’s make a deal: we’ll respect yours if you’ll respect ours.

How does this lying, cheating, turdsack of hypocrisy have the shriveling oblivious cojones to ask for privacy for himself, when he supports the government having the right to stick its nose in a woman’s uterus very personal healthcare decisions?

I was thinking of the Congressman Murphy stinkbomb as per what’s going on those inbred backwater shithole states – yeah, Alabama, excuse me, TALIBAMA, I’m talkin’ to you –  whose legislatures are working to restrict or ban outright abortion.  This is as much as I have the stomach for right now.  There will be more, yes, much more about this, in next week’s blog.

*   *   *

May you be WTF wary and check the FAQ about the OMG claims of CBD;
May you have a Favorite Wrong Number story (and if you do, share it with moiself);
May our paths never cross at a Gary Puckett and The Union Gap Karaoke Fest;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] I’m a what?

[2] It’s on my Fun Songs playlist.

[3] One male friend said he thought the GP & TUG songs “romantic.”

[4] The most recent one I received, which turned out to be a partisan political survey, was identified on my caller ID as “Hillsboro Clean Water Services,” which is an actual city service.

[5] Real phone numbers disguised to protect…something.

[6] Palo Alto, CA, circa 1987

[7] and the other 29 states which have legalized either recreational or medical marijuana products.

[8] 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.

[9]

* Two Thumbs up:  Liked it

* Two Hamster Thumbs Up :  Loved it

* Thumbs Down – Not even Kevin (a character from The Office who would eat anything) 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.

[10] A slang term for a hypocrite. Is that a great word, or what?

The After-Life I’m Not Discounting

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Dateline: Sunday, May 5. A gusty but magnificent spring afternoon in the Bay Area, on the grounds of the stunning Filoli Gardens . In a gathering which mutual friend MM as so accurately described as “heartbreakingly beautiful,” friends, family, and colleagues gathered to pay tribute Dr. Sarah Elizabeth Hawley.

Heartbreakingly beautifuljust like our memories of Sarah, I thought later.

Sarah is whom I wrote about earlier this year – the “…remarkable young woman whose life was recently and unexpectedly cut short .”   [1]   Iin several posts (including here, here, and here) I mentioned the horror, grief, overwhelming shock, and gob-smacked confusion felt by her friends and family when Sarah was murdered on January 27.

As is my usual policy re this blog, I do not use the full names of people who have not chosen to live their lives in the public eye (e.g., politicians or celebrities).  In previous posts I referred to Sarah using her initials. I will use her name now, because her name and her life – the way Sarah lived, not the way (or the fact that) she died –  deserve to be known.

Filoli Gardens near Woodside, CA

It was difficult to find the right words to compliment Sarah’s family on the memorial gathering they organized for her. Certainly, one’s ability to host any kind of funeral/celebration of life gathering for your loved one is a skill no one wants to employ. Still, it was gracious and lovely event, and a moving tribute to Sarah (as well as, I imagine, an emotionally exhausting – and yet necessary – milestone for her family to have passed).

We gathered to honor and remember Sarah’s life.  The tributes to her, from childhood buddies to medical school friends and colleagues (even the Dean of admissions of her medical school!) were articulate, heartfelt, inspiring, filled with warmth and good humor…and also mind-boggling (for moiself at least), in that they made me consider how Sarah, in her way-too-short lifespan, managed to amass such a large and brilliant group of people who cared so much about her.

Sarah, like her family and mine,   [2] was inspired to do good and walk joyously in this life because of life itself – her worldview was humanity/humanely-based, and religion-free. Sarah believed in living and loving and doing what you can to make life better for others in the here and now, and few people have done it better.  Whether or not you hold ideas/beliefs “going to heaven” or other mythological/supernatural/post-mortality destinations which no one has seen or proved to exist, there is one afterlife we’ve all experienced, whether or not we recognize it as such: how we remember those we know, after they die.

For someone as spirited and beloved as Sarah was – as she IS – her words and deeds live on to impress, refresh, and inspire our lives, and will continue to do so.  Welcome to the after-life, Sarah.

As Sarah herself might have said, with the heel-clicking, jump-in-the-air enthusiasm she was known for…

 

  

Dr. Sarah Hawley was a strong supporter of women’s rights, particularly with regard to health care and reproductive choices. If you’d like to honor Sarah’s life and legacy please consider donating in her memory to the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, here.

The University of Utah, home of Sarah’s medical residency, has established a memorial fund focusing on Sarah’s interests of women’s health, pediatric care, and wilderness medicine. Donations to the Dr. Sarah Hawley Memorial Fund can be made here.

*   *   *

Department of Epicurean Excursion   [3]

Featuring this week’s cookbook, author and recipe:

Artisan Vegan Cheese, by Miyoko Skinner

 Recipes:

* Meltable Mozzarella
* Eggplant Parmesan (with homemade vegan mozzarella)

Interesting in having to first make a key ingredient (the plant-based mozzarella, to use for the second recipe) several days ahead. 

My rating(s):

For the cheese: taste was good, but texture…(it never quite “jelled.”).  I had to substitute for a main ingredient, which may have been the bugagoo.

 

For the main dish:

 

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Recipe Rating Refresher   [4]

           *   *   *

Department Of Way Too Cool

Dateline: Tacoma, Wednesday and Thursday, visiting daughter Belle, who works at the newly opened McMenamin’s Elk’s Temple. A whirlwind, last minute visit (Wed-Thurs are Belle’s “weekend”), but after the weekend’s memorial trip…I just wanted to see my daughter, you know?

Trust me, y’all gotta get y’alls selves up/down/over/under, whatever direction works for you, and visit this place.  As with all McMenamin’s hotels it is a beautifully restored historical property with the McM magic touch, including at this location a Spanish tapas bar and cafe, a “secret” vault bar, a game room (with pinball!), an amazing ballroom (for concerts – there is music nightly), a doc’s bar, and…wait for it…a tiki bar to die for.  [5]

A much classier venue than the Disney attraction, and you won’t leave it singing
that damned song (unless, of course, you’ve had too many mai tais).

 

*   *   *

May you, again and always, remember to love ’em while you got ’em;
May you persist in making the fun recipe even after you’ve mucked up a key ingredient;
May you remember that there are (arguably) never “too many” mai tais;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

[1] She was twenty-seven when she died.

[2] As in, the “immediate” family consisting of moiself, MH, Belle and K.  My and MH’s our extended families have religious believers  as well as and those who are religion-free among their numbers.

[3] 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.

 [4]

 * Two Thumbs up:  Liked it
* Two Hamster Thumbs Up :  Loved it
* Thumbs Down – Not even Kevin (a character from The Office, who would eat anything) 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.

[5] Just ask the bar’s stuffed cobra and mongoose and hyena, who apparently did so.

The Happiness I’m Not Seeking

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Department Of First Things First

Beware the…you know what.

 

 

 

Happiness is not the station we arrive at but the manner by which we arrive.
(Oliver G. Wilson)

Mary Pipher: …one of the interesting facts about women my age is we’re the happiest demographic in America. In general, people tend to get happier as they age and stay happier right up until the very end. But women tend to be happier than men as they age…

Terry Gross: Why do you think older women are happier when they’re older than they were when they were younger? Is that what you’re saying?

PIPHER: Absolutely. (It’s) statistical fact – I’m not…just hypothesizing.

GROSS: But what accounts for that – ’cause, you know, it seems counterintuitive.

PIPHER: …It really starts with, what do you think the nature of happiness is? And I think happiness is a choice and a set of skills…. After all these years of being a therapist and watching my friends grow and develop and seeing the directions they take and then doing this book where I interviewed so many older women I have a pretty strong sense for what makes people happy. The first part of it is making a choice to be happy – just deciding that that’s a life goal, that I’m going to be happy. I’m going to do everything I can to make my life as good as I can.

And then it’s a set of skills. And one set of skills, for example, is humor and just figuring out how to laugh about things. Another skill is figuring out ways to have meaning and purpose in one’s life. Another skill is the ability to have friends…I call close women friends my mental health insurance policy because they’re so important. Another very important happiness skill is simply having reasonable expectations. My aunt Grace said, I get what I want, but I know what to want.

(excerpts from Fresh Air 2-27-19)

A recent Fresh Air episode, Women and Aging, had host Terry Gross interview clinical psychologist/ author Mary Pipher about Pipher’s new book, Women Rowing NorthWRN expounds on the pluses of changing from middle age to old age. As per the book’s web page, WRN offers “a timely examination of cultural and developmental issues women face as they transition from middle age to old age. In life stage, women contend with ageism, misogyny, and many kinds of loss. Yet, contrary to stereotypes, most older women are deeply happy and filled with gratitude for the gifts of life.”

Moiself is not quite ready to read that book yet, but I enjoyed the podcast. Something said during the interview reminded me of one of the few advantages (other than, not dying) of aging which I have fully embraced:

“At this life stage, women start granting themselves the power of no.”

I see this  – the power to say no –  as related to the fact that I don’t have the proverbial bucket list.  Many a person has regretted asking me what items are on my bucket list because I have (usually) replied honestly:

I don’t have a bucket list; I have a fuck-it list.

My Fuck-it list translates thusly:   I don’t keep any kind of inventory of things I feel I must see and/or accomplish before I die, but as time marches on…

 

Ideally, for me, “time marching on” will include a marching band, with dinosaurs

 

…I find moiself more willing and able to recognize those things/activities which may have been valid, obligatory or called for at one time but which I never want to do again,  and/or those things which, regardless of whether I have done them previously or not, are simply not worthy of wasting the precious resource of dwindling time – time I will never get back – by engaging in them. As Pipher put it, there is the sense that the runway is short, and with what time we have left, we want to deeply savor every experience we have. And I give myself permission to say a graciously but firm No to any invitations to partake in experiences I know I will not savor (committee meetings, anyone?).

The power of no concept was almost a throwaway line, but what Pipher what said about “happiness being a choice” made me almost fall of my Bowflex Max Elliptical trainer.   [1]   I agree with her observations about happiness being more of a choice and a set of skills than an emotional state.  And I have not come by this opinion lightly.

Although I love the REM song I am not a Shiny Happy People person, nor, despite what many people apparently think about moiself, I am not someone who is happy (or even content) all of the time.

 

 

Like Pipher, my extended family tree includes happiness impediments, including mental health/brain disorders, suicide, addiction, chronic disease, tragic deaths and abuse.    [2]  And in thinking about happiness being a life choice and/or skill, I neither ignore nor dismiss nor intend to insult those who might find even the idea of happiness unattainable as they face acute tragedies, or live with chronic contentment-dampening conditions, from clinical depression to progressive illness.  Rather, I was intrigued by Pipher’s interviews and research with older people showing that there is overall tendency over a lifespan to, while facing whatever you have to face, arc toward happiness.

However. I have an issue with her stating happiness as a goal in and of itself.

My view is a little more nuanced in the sense that I think happiness should be a by-product rather than an end-product of life.  I shall try to explain.

 

I’m sure this will be fascinating.

 

When my K and Belle were younger I often heard other parents talking about their hopes and dreams for their own children, which were stated in list format, ending with something along the lines of, “Whatever they do, I just want them to be happy.” I remember thinking to myself – and sometimes vehemently stating out loud – that, au contraire, I don’t just want my kids to be happy.  Because  whenever I pay the slightest attention to Whats Going On Around Me ®  I see a lot of just happy idiots/incompetents/bullies/downright evil people.   [3]

My wish, for both my children and moiself for that matter, is not for us to seek constant and perhaps idealized (and even unreachable) states of happiness. At what I hoped were age-appropriate points in their lives, I engaged K and Belle in conversations about how happiness should be a by-product, not the end-goal, of admirable life choices. I wanted them to lead good lives, question authority,  [4]   use reason and skepticism to evaluate claims, speak truthfully and kindly, and to Do The Right Thing ®.

Lest you think moiself is all serious, do-gooder inclined, I also, of course, want them to have fun. Which involves telling – or at least appreciating – fart jokes whenever possible.

 

 

 

 

Once again, I digress.

As per happiness, living a principled life will, eventually, provide its own gratification, for people with self-knowledge (and an IQ bigger than their belt size).  But when you choose to do the right thing, when you strive to walk lightly and justly in this world, happiness is not always an immediate (nor in some cases, even eventual) byproduct of your actions. And that sucks.

When you stick up for the kid who is  bullied at school you may then yourself become the bullies’ target. When you challenge workplace malfeasance and corruption there will be people, from your bosses to your supposed allies, who will make it their life’s work to make your life miserable –  there’s a reason we have the Whistleblower Protection Act.

Department Of Important Definitions

Pipher does not define happiness as some  state of perpetual joy – more along the lines of contentment, and capacity for appreciation. And she is fully aware of the fact that if you live long enough at some point you will have lost everyone who is important to you.

You know, what frightens me by far the most about aging is losing people I love….(my) brother-in-law of mine died – he was 28 and a soccer player. And he died of brain cancer. And that knocked me out for about a year. And last year, my daughter moved with her family, my two young grandchildren, up to Canada. And it was tremendously difficult for me.

So that is really very difficult for me to think, how will I cope with this continuing string of losses? And the implications of that for me are I need to have my life, which will include a great deal of loss – I mean, at this point in my life, one way or another, I’m going to say goodbye to everybody I know. So the antidote for that, the balancer for that is to have a life as filled with gratitude, fun, appreciation, joy, meaningful work as I can possibly have.

 

 

*   *   *

*   *   *

Department Of Kids Get The Darndest Jobs  [5]

This week was daughter Belle’s first at a new job. After graduating college last May and having a six month internship in the south, she realized the Pacific Northwest is where she wanted to be. She tot he West Coast, rented an apartment in Tacoma, and took the first job she found, at a place I’d heard about for years, from both her and her brother K,  [6] .  It is a classic hangout: a 1940s-50s inspired diner named, “Shake Shake Shake.”  [7]

I offered to bribe pay Belle if she would put a sign reading “your booty” under the name of the diner, but she didn’t seem to think her bosses would appreciate it. Also, moiself  had to explain the KC & the Sunshine Band song reference to her.

Speaking of which, I think we’re all deserving of a Seventies song break:

 

 

You’re welcome.

*   *   *

Department Of “Classic” Books I’m Having A Hard Time Reading

Currently, that would be Tales of the City, Armistead Maupin’s series of novels involving a plethora of characters living in late 70’s – mid 80’s San Francisco. The books’ many protagonists are friends and lovers and husbands and wives and landlords and tenants and coworkers and bosses (and thinly veiled references to real life public figures) of all sexual orientations, whose lives intersect and overlap.

The novels, whose chapters first appeared as regular installments in the San Francisco Chronicle, were beloved by many San Franciscans, and convey the zeitgeist of that time period.  Moiself, I’m finding it hard to follow. There are too many characters competing for chapter space – and the chapters are long on dialogue and short on descriptive prose.  Although the dialogue is witty, I’m having a difficult time keeping track of which character is which: it’s like they all speak in the same voice, with even the straight characters spouting variations of the archetypal, Sassy Gay Best Friend ® sitcom repartee.    [8]

 

 

Ain’t every bitch a critic?

*   *   *

May you need no excuse to blast Shiny Happy People on a regular basis;
May you remember to cultivate your mental health insurance policy – your friends;
May you strive to do the right thing, and also to just have some fun;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

 

*   *   *

 

 

[1] In that it really caught my attention…I was exercising on said machine while listening to the podcast…in case you were wondering if I just tripped over it.

[2] Including sexual abuse/incest.

[3] I didn’t get invited to a lot of Mommy/Baby play groups…which was just fine by moiself.

[4] Except your mother.

[5] Another Old Person Reference ® I will have to explain to Belle and K, who likely aren’t familiar with Art Linkletter’s Kids Say the Darndest Things.

[6] Who graduated from the same college as his sister, only three years earlier.

[7] It has an extensive milkshake menu.

[8] No footnote here.  You checked for nothing – don’t you feel stupid right now?

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.

 

*   *   *

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.

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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!

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[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 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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

 

 

 

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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”)

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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!

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[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.

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