Monday, September 30, 2013

Marvin the Paranoid Android

Last night Will, Katie, and I watched the movie Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  I noticed during the first scene with Marvin the Paranoid Android Katie was wiggling her eyebrows at Will, her thumb pointed in my direction.  She saw me staring, smiled, and said, "That's you, Mom.  You're Marvin."

"Yeah, I know."  I sighed, but it made me smile too, which made Will and Katie both smile even more.

God, those two get my heart beating.

So does the robot.  I love you, Marvin.  You understand.  And I love that my two favorite people love me for who I am, depressed and all, enough to even tease me about it.

My favorite scene is toward the end of the movie when Marvin saves his friends' lives by shooting the villains with an empathy gun, making them all too depressed to continue fighting.  sigh/smile

When I'm experiencing a relapse of my chronic depression, I turn to art to lift me from the darkness.  It helps to know others know how I feel.

Here's Radiohead's take on Marvin--an amazing rendition of their song, "Paranoid Android":

God, these guys get my heart beating.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cute Katie Quotes: Air and Clouds and Cupid

The other day, seemingly out of nowhere, Katie said, "I wish I was oxygen, because then I could fly."

"Why not wish you were a bird?" I asked.

Katie replied, "Because you can't kill air, Mom."

Then this morning as we walked out the front door to head toward Katie's school, I said, "Oh, look, it's foggy."

"What is fog, Mom?" Katie asked.

"It's a cloud that has come down to earth to hang out for awhile," I said.

Katie was quiet for a moment, and then she said, "I wish the cloud would come down to earth on Valentine's Day."

"Why on Valentine's Day?" I asked.

"Because that's where that baby lives.  You know that baby that shoots arrows at people so they fall in love?" Katie asked.

"Oh, yeah.  You mean Cupid?"

"Yeah.  Cupid.  Cupid can come down to earth with the clouds on Valentine's Day."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Eugenia Martínez Vallejo, "The Monster"

Wow, and I thought fat kids today got bullied.  At least they aren't put on display for the amusement of rich people in power like Eugenia Martínez Vallejo was in 1680's Spain.  Today in the United States, fat kids have Michelle Obama nagging them with her "Let's Move" campaign, but at least she doesn't invite them to the White House to entertain Sasha and Malia like a freak and nickname them "The Monster."

Eugenia Martinez Vallejo. Carrena
"Eugenia Martínez Vallejo, 'The Monster', dressed", 1680
Juan Carreño de Miranda via Wikimedia Commons

From Museo Nacional del Prado:

This work is an example of the Baroque taste for representations of freaks of nature and the attraction of people with some of physical or psychological anomaly. Here it takes the form of a depiction of a girl of extraordinary size, probably due to a hormonal imbalance. Eugenia Martínez was taken to the court in 1680 and her portrait was painted there by Juan Carreño at the direct order of King Carlos II.

The painter depicted her dressed, but also nude, in a companion painting (P2800). In the present work, her deformity is emphasized by the magnificent flowered red dress that drapes over the huge size of her girl's body. Its color makes the nudity of the companion work all the more explicit. The placement of the model over a neutral background follows the tradition of Spanish court portraiture.

La monstrua desnuda (1680), de Juan Carreño de Miranda.
"'The Monster', Nude, or Bacchus", 1680
Juan Carreño de Miranda via Wikimedia Commons

A portrait of Eugenia Martínez Vallejo, nude and adorned with grape leaves and grape clusters, making this an allusion to Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. 

In 1680, this girl was taken to the court to be exhibited because of her extraordinary proportions. Far from its current negative connotations, this must be understood in terms of the taste for freaks of nature passed down from the sixteenth century and still present in the seventeenth, when buffoons and different entertaining personages lived at the Palace in order to amuse the Monarchs and their children. 

I wish that modern-day rich, powerful people like Michelle Obama would realize that by promoting campaigns to "end childhood obesity" you're telling fat kids that they are freaks who don't fit into your narrow definition of what a child should look like.  Fat kids have been around much longer than TV and video games and Twinkies and McDonald's.  Fat kids are nothing new.  What's new is the idea that individuals deserve to be treated with respect and love.  We no longer bring fat kids to court for our amusement.  But we still make them feel like a joke.  We can't say that our goal is to "end" childhood obesity without fat kids feeling like we want to eradicate them.

Pinocchio Comes from Sawdust

I was home for lunch, regaling Katie and Will with my story about cleaning up some patron's vomitus off the carpet at the public library where I work.

Me: "It was the first time in twenty years I got to clean up puke at work!"

Will: "What'd you use to clean it up?"

Me: "You know, that sawdust stuff.  I think it's called Vo-Ban."

Katie: "What's sawdust?"

Will: "It's dust that comes off of wood when you saw it."

Katie: "Did you know that we all come from sawdust?"

Me: "What?  Oh, you mean we all come from stardust?"

Katie, laughing at herself, "Oh, yeah.  We all come from stardust!"

Will: "Well, Pinocchio comes from sawdust."

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Medicaid Expansion Gap Is a Sick Joke

Where the States Stand
Via: The Advisory Board Company

Whose sick joke is this?  The less money you make, the more you have to pay to buy health insurance? Yes, unless your state has decided to expand Medicaid, which many of them have not.

 From's article, "What if my state is not expanding Medicaid?"

"If you live in a state that’s not expanding Medicaid and you don’t qualify for Medicaid under your state’s current rules, one of two situations applies to you: If your income is more than about $11,500 a year as a single person (about $23,500 for a family of 4, or 100% of the federal poverty level), you will be able to buy health insurance in the Marketplace and get lower costs based on your household size and income. If you make less than about $11,500 a year as a single person (about $23,500 for a family of 4), you’ll be able to get insurance in the Marketplace--but you won’t be able to get lower costs based on your income. If you buy insurance in the Marketplace, you will have to pay full price."

Why?  Because of the Medicaid expansion gap.

"When the health care law was passed, it required states to provide Medicaid coverage for adults with low incomes (up to 133% of the federal poverty level), regardless of their health. Under the law, the federal government will pay 100% of the costs for newly eligible people for the first three years. It will pay no less than 90% of the costs in the future. The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled that states could decide not to expand their Medicaid program. Some states are choosing not expanding Medicaid for 2014. This means some low-income people in these states are not eligible for an insurance affordability program in their state -- at least at this time. Their incomes are too high to get Medicaid under their state’s rules but too low to qualify for reduced costs in the Marketplace. States may decide to expand Medicaid at any time."

So the people who need the most help paying for insurance will get the least?  We can do better than that.

Kansas friends, please join me by signing this petition to Gov. Sam Brownback asking him to expand Medicaid in Kansas so people who "make too much but not enough" won't have to pay full price in the health insurance marketplace.  If you'd prefer to contact Gov. Brownback yourself, you can do so here.

If you're not a Kansas resident, you can find out here if your state says it will participate in Medicaid expansion or an alternative model.  If your state hasn't said they will, please contact your governor and ask him or her to make sure your state participates in Medicaid expansion.  Here's a list of states that have not yet said they will participate, along with their contact info:

New Hampshire
North Carolina
South Carolina
South Dakota

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


I feel nauseated.  I can't decide if I caught a bug, or if it's hormonal.  At age 42, by hormonal I could mean either I'm pregnant or perimenopausal.  It's probably neither.  It's probably the usual suspect: my choice in reading material.  Certainly my choice in reading material this week hasn't been helping my condition, whatever it may be.

Trigger warning: if child abuse, sexual abuse, child sexual abuse, rape, powerful people controlling disempowered people, or any type of human mistreatment of other humans makes you want to vomit, congratulations!  You're empathetic!

Here's another warning before you read on.  Time management warning: if you've got shit to do, like, you don't have time to sit around the house and bawl your eyes out for a week or more, you might want to stop reading now.  Certainly skip this news report:

I mean, look at this bullshit:

"Activist groups and politicians are still trying [to] change the law, but more than 100 leading religious clerics have said restricting the age of marriage is 'un-Islamic.'"

Um, I'm no theology expert, but I think raping little girls is un-Islamic too.

Rawan, the eight-year-old girl featured in the story, is reportedly dead due to internal bleeding.  From a ruptured uterus.  A few days after her father forced her to marry a forty-year old man.

I say forced because, you know, when I was eight-years-old I could barely make up my mind what I wanted to order off the menu at Ponderosa Steak House in suburban Kansas City, Missouri--fries or a baked potato?  Fries were what I wanted, but I noticed grown-ups eat a lot of baked potatoes and what I wanted more than anything was to be a grown-up, because then, I believed, I'd be in control of my own life.  I say forced because at eight-years-old I did not have the capacity to make up my mind over a potato selection in a timely enough fashion that it ever prevented my father from losing patience and just ordering fries for me, let alone the capacity to decide whether or not I wanted to enter into a marriage contract with a man five times my age.

Rawan, the eight-year-old "child bride" featured in this story is--was--one year older than our daughter, Katie.  Our second-grader who is not yet old enough to walk to school by herself let alone walk down the aisle.  Our sweet, innocent girl who still has trouble keeping her shoes tied let alone keeping a home in order.  Our girl who is so fickle about relationships that she comes home from the playground and announces that So-And-So is her NEW BEST FRIEND! and then the next day she returns again to proclaim that So-And-So is "kinda annoying" and that today she just felt like playing by herself.  Our girl who still sits in her daddy's lap as he reads her stories.  Our girl who still wants me to stay by her side until she falls asleep.  She's barely ready for sleepovers at friends' houses let alone a fucking arranged marriage.

Oh, Dear God, why?

Rawan: I would have loved to have met you some day.  I would have loved to watch you and my daughter play together at the playground.  I would have felt badly if the next day my daughter flaked out on you and wanted to wander off and lie in the grass and look up at the sky by herself instead of playing Ponies or whatever little game you two were playing the day before, but I'm sure you, merely one year older, would understand and you'd run off and find someone else your age to play with.  You know.  Like kids do.

But that's my American fantasy, cultural roadblocks blocking my view of your Yemeni reality.  The fantasies and what-ifs won't bring you back, Rawan.  We must move forward and use your story to help protect other Yemeni girls.

Please, take a stand for these girls.  Join me by signing this petition to President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, explained here on the website and below:


Aged 8, Rawan was sold by her parents, and forced into a marriage with a man five times her age. The injuries her young body sustained from her “wedding night” resulted in her death, and her story has sent shockwaves throughout the world.1

The most shocking thing about Rawan’s story? The fact that to many, her story is not shocking at all. Forced Child Marriage is a form of modern slavery, and in Yemen, there is no law which makes it illegal.

The Yemeni Government has the power to bring an end to Forced Marriage forever; the first step is to ban the marriage of anyone under the age of 18, protecting children from a life of domestic and sexual slavery. 

We know that ending Forced Marriage everywhere poses big obstacles and yet, in the aftermath of Rawan’s death, and with the eyes of the world on Yemen, this may be one of few fleeting moments when we can create change. We’re not going to let down the millions of girls vulnerable to this form of modern slavery. 

Forced Child Marriage is modern slavery and can be stopped. Call on the government of Yemen to ban Forced Child Marriage.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Diplomat Girl

Katie: "Sometimes I pretend I have a superpower."

Me: "Oh yeah?  What's your superpower?"

Katie: "My superpower is I can make people not go to war."

Me: "Wow.  That's an amazing superpower.  How on earth do you do that?"

Katie: "I just talk to them and tell them that killing each other is wrong."

Me: "That's called diplomacy.  Your superpower is diplomacy."

Katie: "What's diplomacy?"

Me: "It's when nations have a conflict but instead of going to war and killing people diplomats get together and talk about what they need to do to end the conflict.  Diplomacy is an awesome superpower to have."

Katie: "Yeah, my superpower is diplomacy."

If John Kerry gets sick of his job, I've got a seven-year-old girl who'd like a stab at it. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Nineteen Smart Words of a Seven-Year-Old Girl

Katie, facing backwards, rocked herself wildly with one knee on the rocker and one foot on the floor.  Her daddy had just gotten home from work and asked how her day was.  As if suddenly uncorking what she'd bottled up for when Will was home to ask that exact question, she stopped rocking, stood strait up and announced, "This morning a girl in my class asked, 'Where did you get your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack?  In the BOYS' department?'"

Reenacting her role in the conflict, Katie demonstrated how she swung her head around dramatically, looked the girl straight in the eye, and said, hand-on-hip, "I got it at Target.  In the BACKPACK department.  Where they have backpacks for BOYS and GIRLS and EVERYONE."

Will and I looked at each other and smiled.  I turned to Katie and asked, "What did the girl say after that?"

Katie dropped her hand from her hip, then flung it into the air, open-palm-up.  "Nothing," Katie said, smiling wide.  "She had nothing to say after that."

A moment of sexism and bullying, swiftly destroyed by the nineteen smart words of a seven-year-old girl with a flair for fabulous gesticulations.

Beautifully Blasé

School picture day was coming up and Katie's hair was overgrown.  I asked if she'd like to go to the salon and get a proper cut instead of relying on my chopping away at it like normal.  She said sure.  As if I'd asked her if she wanted to tag along with me to the grocery store.  Something different to do to get out of the house.

I asked how she'd like to get it cut.  Katie thought about it for like two seconds and then, running a pretend hairbrush over the back of her hair, she said, "I'd like it cut shorter so I don't have so much to brush in the morning."

I love Katie's utilitarian view of her hair.  I've made a conscious effort not to overemphasis our daughter's looks and instead focus on her character whenever paying her a compliment.  I want her self-esteem to come from the inside, not the outside.  I don't want her to grow up to be the kind of person whose whole day is ruined over a bad hair day.  I want her to know she is valued for far more than her ability to conform to society's beauty standards.

The problem is, the kid has freaking gorgeous hair.  Yeah, yeah, we're all beautiful in our own way.  I know that.  But this kid has extraordinarily luscious locks.  It's hard not to comment.  I couldn't help myself when we stepped out of these salon.

Katie's new 'do: side-view

Katie's new 'do: back

"Oh, Punk!  I love your new hair cut.  You have such gorgeous hair!" I gushed.  Give me a break.  It's not going to turn her into a snob to hear how beautiful she is every once in a while.

Katie smiled, then contorted her lips to puff some air up toward her bangs to blow them out of her eyes and said, "Thanks, Mom" in a tone that sounded more like "Yeah, yeah.  I know.  Who cares?"

Being blasé about her external beauty makes her all the more beautiful on the inside.    

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Platoon Soundtrack

Today's word of the day is diplomacy.

From CNN:

"Facing the threat of a U.S. military strike, the country's leaders Tuesday reportedly accepted a Russian proposal to turn over its chemical weapons. The development, reported by Syrian state television and Russia's Interfax news agency, came a day after the idea bubbled up in the wake of what appeared to be a gaffe by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry."

Do you think it was a gaffe or a brilliant plan all along?  And if it was a brilliant plan all along, whose plan was it?

I read this article suggesting that Obama and Putin had discussed this diplomatic solution during last week's summit.  This article suggests the plan might have been the work of President Obama all along:

"If Obama is the mastermind behind a complicated chess game that ends with a viable political/diplomatic solution, rather than a military one, he may — at long last — have earned his Nobel Peace Prize."

I hope that's the case, that our president is that good at foreign policy, but I'm skeptical.  I think more people deserve credit for this plan than just President Obama.

I say good work, Secretary of State Kerry.

I got to see Kerry in person give an anti-Iraq War speech at Union Station in Kansas City back in 2004 when he ran against Bush.  I voted for him.  He was the anti-war candidate.  He's this guy:

"On April 22, 1971, Kerry became the first Vietnam veteran to testify before Congress about the war, when he appeared before a Senate committee hearing on proposals relating to ending the war. He was still a member of the United States Navy Reserve, holding the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade."

Watch his speech here:

This is my favorite part, where he speaks favorably of anti-war protesters, or "misfits":

"In 1970 at West Point, Vice President Agnew said that 'some glamorize the criminal misfits of society while our best men die in Asian rice paddies to preserve the freedoms which those misfits abuse.'  And this was used as a rallying point for our effort in Vietnam.  But for us, his 'Boys in Asia' whom the country was supposed to support, his statement is a terrible distortion from which we can only draw a very deep sense of revulsion.  And hence the anger of some of the men who are here in Washington today.  It's a distortion because we in no way considered ourselves the best men of this country.  Because those he calls misfits were standing up for us in a way that nobody else in this country dared to.  Because so many who have died would have returned to this country to join the misfits in their efforts to ask for an immediate withdrawal from South Vietnam.  Because so many of those best men have returned as quadriplegics and amputees and they lie forgotten in veterans administrations' hospitals in this country which fly the flag which so many have chosen as their own personal symbol.  And we cannot consider ourselves America's best men when we were ashamed of and hated what we were called on to do in Southeast Asia.  In our opinion and from our experience there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America.  And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy.  And it's that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart."

--John Kerry April 22, 1971, before Congress

Kerry's speech came at a time when many people didn't know about the atrocities.  I mean, how would we know?  There were no good movies out yet about Vietnam.  In 1971 Americans were busy watching pretty people on the big screen say ridiculous things about how love means not having to say I'm sorry.  This was fifteen years before the mesmerizing anti-war film, "Platoon," came out.  It was that film, which I saw when I was fifteen, that helped turn me into a pacifist hippie.  Like most Americans, I base my opinions about our nation's foreign policy mostly on what Hollywood manufactures.  Damn, did you see that scene where Willem Defoe dies and Barber's "Adagio" is playing and it rips your guts out so much you can feel his pain?  Powerful stuff.  How could you watch that and not start wearing daisies in your hair?

Because of my dovish ways, I have been disappointed lately in Secretary of State Kerry, all hawked-out like his position in life had changed his mind about the brutality of war.  I understand his desire to help the Syrian people, the victims of their sociopathic leader, but there are more humanitarian ways to do that than to bomb the fuck out of their country, certainly creating civilian casualties.

This news today of our world leaders talking about diplomacy over military action makes me feel hopeful once again.  I think I'll go listen to the "Platoon" Soundtrack.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Relaxing Reading Day

It was a hot day.  Too hot for even Katie to want to play outside.  She complained it made her feel tired.  I suspected her fatigue also had to do with the near constant activity she's been involved in since school started back up.  We've been invited to parties for family and friends every weekend of this last month, and it's been a blast, but all the social energy had been drained from our little butterfly.  It was time to wrap herself in our air-conditioned cocoon and enjoy a quiet day at home. 

Physically quite the lazy bones, Katie's brain remained active doing her favorite alone time things.  She watched her favorite Scooby-Doo video.  Twice.  She drew pictures.  She played with her toys.  And she read.  208 pages in one day.  Short stories from a book we own called Disney Friendship Stories. 

Hooray for good stories on a relaxing Sunday at home.


While out for my afternoon walking break, I saw a black cricket on its back along the sidewalk.  Its legs were flailing around.  It was unable to flip itself over.  I walked on by.  It's just a cricket.  I only have a fifteen minute break.  Then, not a moment later, it struck me: I suddenly I felt compelled to help.  I interrupted my pace and came to a halt, turned around and walked back to the tiny black bug.

I'd just had a busy, nerve-racking couple of hours while working at the library.  I had to escort a mother and her disabled child from the building because the child was screaming uncontrollably, running wild, throwing his toy truck at her as she attempted to get him to leave with her.  If he were a small toddler the mother could have easily swept him up and physically removed him from the scene.  But this boy is almost as big as his mother.  I felt so sorry for both of them.  The mother, the target of horrible glares and impatient words from strangers.  The child, confused and frightened, societal expectations heaped upon him, but lacking the proper neural synapses to understand.

I wanted to wrap my arms around both of them and hug them.  But I am not a preacher or a hippie cult leader or their friend.  I am a librarian.  I'm expected to control the building.

It's the absolute worst part of my job.  I hate asking people to leave.  But when their behavior is disruptive to other patrons, I must suck it up.  I must be the authority figure.  My inner-rebellious-anti-authority-teenager flips me the bird and tells me to go fuck myself, but she doesn't understand that sometimes someone has to take charge, even if they feel like they have no fucking clue what's the right thing to do.

The only way I know how to go about my daily life and still feel good about myself is to treat other people the way I want to be treated.  What works for Jesus (and many other peace leaders) works for me.  It's called the Golden Rule but it's an imperfect guide--everyone is different so how I want you to act might be different than how you want me to act, so if I treat you the way I want to be treated it might not be how you want to be treated--but it's the best guide I know.

As we walked toward the exit, I used the words I would want someone in authority to say to me if I were the mother or the child.

When the mother cried, "I'm sorry.  He has a disability," I said, "Don't worry about it.  I understand."

When the boy kept screaming, I looked into his eyes and lowered my voice so he had to quiet himself to hear me and said, "It's OK.  We want you to come back to the library when you've calmed down.  We love when you come to the library.  We just need you to be calm.  Please come back and see us again when you feel calm, OK?"

He didn't say "OK" or anything at all.  He may or may not have understood a word I said to him.  But he did stop screaming, and he did allow his mother to hold his hand and walk him out the door.

Even though inside I felt like I was gonna barf, I also felt an overwhelming sense of relief knowing I had tried to make the best out of a bad situation.  It's all I can do.  I rewarded my efforts with a walking break around the park behind the library.

The cricket might eventually get eaten by a bird or a frog.  It could easily get stepped on by someone else's walking shoes.  It's probably sick and dying and it'll perish in the sun after all.  But I couldn't stand to walk by and watch the little black cricket struggle.  I picked a stick off the ground and poked the little bugger gently until it was on its feet again.  It didn't move.  It's probably a goner.  Or maybe I just stunned it.  I schooched it onto the stick and laid it in the grass.  As I wiped sweat from my brow, I found a leaf and propped it up like a bug-size patio umbrella.  Feeling satisfied and full of anthropomorphic love, I returned to my walk.

When I got home from work I told Will and Katie the story, both stories, about the mother and the boy and about the cricket.  Will recalled the time recently when he helped get a drowning beetle out of the fountain by his work.  Some people get turned on by big burly men who like to go out and shoot big animals and bring home the bacon and defend their territory and all that macho, uber-manly stuff.  And that's fine.  Whatever floats your love boat.  But I love my man who is the lifeguard to a drowning beetle.

We were all in the car on the way to our friend's birthday party.  Another friend of ours rode with us, so he and Will were in the front, and I sat in the back seat with Katie.  We'd stopped at a gas station to get supplies for the party.  While paying for our goods I overheard Katie say something about wanting a piece of the beef jerky Will was buying, but I didn't pay too much attention since I think beef jerky is disgusting and I try not to think of my pure, sweet child loving the taste of dried cow muscles.

After a few miles back on the road, Will crumpled up the small, now empty, package of beef jerky and threw it on the floor.  Katie complained, "Daddy!  I wanted a bite of beef jerky!"

Will said he was sorry.  That he hadn't heard her say she wanted some.  He handed her some M&Ms to placate his Katie Bug and that was that.  As far a Will was concerned, it was a parental win.

I, the great and wise one I too often think I am, decided to make a lesson out of it.  I decided to use reverse psychology on our seven-year-old child, to try to get her to not even want the beef jerky.

"Don't worry about it.  Beef jerky is disgusting!" I said.

Everyone else in the car in unison, loudly: "NO IT'S NOT!"

"Ugh.  It's so weird how people like different things.  I can't stand beef jerky and you think it's delicious," I said, looking over at Katie in her pink booster seat.  She's not quite tall enough to ride in the car without it.  "But I love guacamole and you think it's disgusting."

"Yeah!" Katie agreed, emphatically.

"I mean, I'm not saying I wouldn't eat beef jerky if I were starving to death.  If I hadn't eaten for days and it was the only thing available, I'd eat beef jerky.  I would eat a lot of things if I were starving.  Probably not rodents.  But just about anything else.  People get desperate when they're starving," I rambled.

Katie nodded her head, still listening.  I continued, "I read this book one time.  Grandma Bev recommended it to me when I was in high school.  It's called The Good Earth by Pearl Buck.  And in this story these people live in China a long time ago and they are very poor and they are starving.  They are so starving that they literally go outside and start eating dirt!"  I briefly looked away from Katie as I looked out the window at the huge corn field we were passing by.  "I mean, dirt!  Can you imagine?  Filling your tummy with dirt because you are so starv---"

I stopped talking when I turned back and saw tears spilling from Katie's eyes, leaving tracks down her chocolate smudged face.  For a moment I saw a little Chinese girl with tears leaving tracks on her dirt-stained face.

"Oh, Honey!  It's OK," I said.  I didn't know what else to say.  I'd made my poor, sweet, compassionate child cry by telling her a story!

What a shitty mother I am.  What a shitty librarian I am.

"It's fiction!  It's not a true story," I assured her.  I didn't mention it's historical fiction based on a true story.

I nodded my head at her and raised my eyebrows like, "OK?"

She nodded her head and raised her eyebrows and tried to smile, but it was totally fake.

Dammit, I don't want her to feel bad about crying.

"It's OK, Sweetie.  It's OK to cry about sad things.  It's a horrible thing to think of people being so hungry they eat dirt.  It's very sad."  We met eyes again and I could feel my own getting glassy.  We dropped it.

Later that night I came in to check on Katie in bed.  She was already asleep.  She may or may not have been able to hear me or understand what I was saying to her in her subconscious state, but I felt compelled to say it anyway.

I nudged my head into her neck and whispered into her ear, "It's wonderful you care so much about people you don't even know.  It's wonderful that you're such a loving, compassionate person.  I'm so proud of my Katie Bug."

She stirred a little, but her breath sounded more like dreams than wakefulness.

Uncertainty is part of life, and I hate it, but I'll take it in trade for these beautiful moments when my body bursts with pride over giving parenting my best shot, when my heart swells with love for our girl.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

George Carlin: "We Like War"

Twenty-one years have passed since the inimitable George Carlin did his bit, "We Like War".  George Carlin is dead, and that war in the Persian Gulf he's referring to in this clip is over, but what he says pretty much sums up how I feel about the current situation our nation faces in our decision whether or not to bomb Syria.

Here's my favorite quote:

"My mind doesn't work that way.  I got this real moron thing I do.  It's called thinking.  And I'm not a very good American because I like to form my own opinions."

Do you agree with Carlin that "good Americans" don't think for themselves?  What do you think we should do about our current conflict with Syria?  What sources of news and information do you use to form your opinions about the issue?  Do you agree with Carlin that the mainstream media is no more than unpaid employees of the Department of Defense?


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Three Voices on a Cassette Tape

I had the honor of talking to one of my literary heroes, Frank McCourt, on a call-in talk-radio show.  It was "The Walt Bodine Show" on Kansas City's public radio station KCUR.  It was September 22, 1997.  I was twenty-six years old.  I had no idea one day I'd share my stories publicly on this blog.  The word blog had not yet been coined.

Around this time I'd recently moved into my own apartment where, while unpacking, I discovered the cloth-bound journal I'd kept during my teenage years.  I opened it up and began reading about unrequited love and all this ridiculous angsty crap and, without a thought, threw it into the dumpster in the parking lot of my new apartment where I would live alone for the first time in my life.  I was getting my shit together.  I was choosing a solitary life to save my sanity.  I needed myself.  I needed no reminding of past struggles, I thought.

Now how I wish I had kept it.  Now I am a happily married, middle aged woman.  In a much better place than I was when I was twenty-six and getting my shit together.  My crappily written sappy stories no longer embarrass me like they once did.  I love to revisit the past.  I've lived through it and survived it.  Instead of embarrassment, I feel pride when I reflect upon who I once was.

I once read that before indoor electric lights people weren't as concerned with how filthy their homes were, but once the interiors where they spent the majority of their time were well lit, housewives felt compelled to clean more thoroughly than when they lived daily in dim light.  Over the weekend our power was out for ten hours.  Will was at work, so it was just Katie and me at home, twiddling our thumbs, wondering what to do.  At first we read by candlelight.  As the storm passed and the sun began to shine, I opened our blinds and let in some natural light.  I coughed and waved at the dust particles spewing from the blinds.  I looked around the room.  Still now power.  Without power I couldn't write.  I mean I could write, long-hand on a piece of paper, but I knew that would be a big time suck since I type so much faster than I write with a pen, and I'd want to get my words onto my blog which would mean hand-writing it and then typing it over.  Ugh.  I looked around the room at all the dust and dog hair.  Everywhere.  I'd rather clean the house than write inefficiently.

Without an electric-powered screen in front of my face to blind me, I saw our filthy home in the same way people long ago must have seen their homes when they first switched on their new electric lights.

Yuck.  Get the broom and dust pan!

In the far corner of the master bedroom I picked up an empty box, well, it would have been empty except for the clumps of dust and dog hair it contained.  Under the box was an old wooden clementines box that stores some of my old cassette tapes.  I picked one up, blew off three inches of detritus, and discovered I had unearthed gold: the cassette I had recorded off the radio that day back in the fall of 1997 when I got to ask Frank McCourt about the difficulties of memoir writing.  Back when I aspired to be a writer someday.

I'm a writer now.  Though I'm not too tech savvy.  Despite my Luddite tendencies, I wanted a digital copy to store online, thinking one of these days the dust mites are going to eat through the cassette tape or gum up my boom box so I will no longer be able to listen to this relic.  So when the power came back on I recorded a video of my boom box playing the cassette tape.  Yes, it's like you're right there, standing in my kitchen with me.  Yes, it's 2013 and I still have a working boom box that plays cassette tapes.

Here's a partial transcript:

Becky Carleton: "Did you find it difficult to write about real-life people without feeling like you might be, you know, hurting their feelings or sharing things that they might not want you to---"

Walt Bodine: "--Yeah.  I wonder how many people would write memoirs if they, if, uh, certain people were still alive?"

Frank McCourt: "Since my father and my mother are dead...I couldn't have written this while my mother was alive."

Frank McCourt is now dead.  So is Walt Bodine.  Of the three voices on that cassette tape mine is the only one that belongs to a body that is still alive.  My body is the only one that still has time to tell stories.  I must be brave if I wish to be honest, and I must be honest if I wish to be sane.

Why is it so difficult to communicate face-to-face?  Why is it sometimes easier to write a story for the whole world to read after the main character in the story has died than it is to talk directly to that character before he became a character and was instead a living, breathing, listening, speaking human being?

I couldn't talk about my sexual abuse openly while my brother who abused me was still alive.  No matter what kind of hurt he did to me I did not want to further the hurt of sharing our secret with others who would no doubt judge him and confront him.  I was afraid that would just make him feel worse about it.  I only shared our secret with people I knew would understand the complexity of it.

I didn't want to hurt his feelings.  It's hard to explain but in so many ways my brother was wonderful.  He really was.  He was a fucked up kid who had a horrible childhood (abused by his father, his grandmother, his step-father) and he did fucked up things to me when he was young and I was very young.  What he did to me caused trauma and it is the direct cause of many of the anxieties I deal with daily even now, but still I forgive him.  Because I am brave enough to look, I see that my brother was a good person who did a horrible thing a long time ago, and so many good things afterward.  I don't believe he meant to hurt me.  Hurt people hurt people, as the bumper sticker psychologists say.  I hurt less when I speak openly of our secret.  I heal more when I forgive him.

I couldn't ever tell him face to face that I forgive him.  I could never talk to him about it at all while he was still alive.  It's easier to tell you, random internet reader, this story than it was to talk about it with my brother.  It's hard to talk face-to-face about abuse and forgiveness in the same story, but somehow, when I write it out and share it with the world, it makes more sense.

I'm glad I got to speak to Frank McCourt so he could assure me it's OK to wait to tell your story til the time is right.  And there's no shame in preferring to write it out rather than talk it out.  Getting it out is what's important so it doesn't fester and cause more harm.