Wednesday, October 24, 2012

American Taliban

You have never heard me call George W. Bush a Nazi.  I certainly don’t think the world will end if Mitt Romney is elected President in two weeks.  I have strong political views and just about all of them are well to the Left of President Obama.  Yet I try to maintain a sense of proportion.  I don’t like the hyperbole often employed by the Left when someone on the Right says or does something Liberals find distasteful.  But, in this one case, strong language is justified.

Republican Senate candidate from Indiana Dick Mourdock said yesterday in a debate, “"I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."  His belief in this case is one I disagree with.  I do not believe in a God whose plan would include rape as a tool.  But even this belief is not what pushed me into some extreme language of my own. 

Rather, it is his legislative reaction to this belief this has made me think of the extreme right wing of the Republican Party as the American Taliban.  Do they not see this themselves?  Mr. Mourdock believes that women who have gotten pregnant as a result of rape should not have access to a safe, legal abortion.  His belief that God has planned the pregnancy makes him support a law that women who have been raped MUST have the baby that results.  How is this any different from Sharia law?  I am thankful to men like Mr. Mourdock, Representative Paul Ryan, and Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri for reminding voters of the existence of the Talibanist wing of the Republican Party and its fear of women having any say over their own lives.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

My Earliest Memory

My earliest memory has no plot, no real story behind it.  It is simply an image that lasts only 3 or 4 seconds.  I am sitting on a lap, someone’s arms securing me so I don’t fall off.  I can see out a window and things outside are moving backward.  There are noises.  Suddenly, the window goes black and the noises sound louder, surprising the hell out of me.  After a few seconds, the light comes back.

As an adult I once asked my mom about this memory and she believes it must be from a train trip she took with me to Philadelphia when I was two years old.  I was sitting on her lap as the train entered an underpass.  While I remember the window getting suddenly dark and just as suddenly light, I have no other memories of that trip.  I am not sure why were going to Philly. 

The memory is unmoored.  It exists with no context at all, other than the scant details my mother has been able to fill in.  She thinks maybe we were going to the big Wanamaker’s department store on Market Street in Philadelphia to look at the Christmas decorations, but that is a guess.  Knowing how tricky memory is and how we all fill in the details and change our memories each time we access them, I have worked hard my whole life to keep this first memory as pure as can be.  I don’t want to alter it.  I like it just as it is.

And the reason I like it so much is it still has the power to bring back a bit of the feeling it gave me even then in the moment.  I did not have the words to name the feeling, but that made what I felt even more pure—I wasn’t filtering it through expectation, image management, or intellect.  I was simply feeling something.  And as I got older feeling became something to be avoided, managed, thought about, and, if worse came to worse, simply denied.  My family is not big into feelings. 

But on that day, on that lap, on that train I felt a rush of feeling surge through me when the window went black and then light again.  To help myself understand that surge, I have put some words to it, but please know that these words don’t do the feeling justice.  The mix includes surprise, fear, excitement, pleasure, expectation, and a bit of giddiness.  That first memory—that first feeling—set the template for me.  It gave me an example of what feeling can be.  And when I look back now from the vantage point of somewhere near the midpoint of my life (I hope) I can see that the parts of my life that feel best to me are those that most closely approximate that first memorable feeling.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Fish or Get Off the Pot

Comedian Louis CK has a bit where he talks about boarding a plane, taking his seat in first class, and then seeing a soldier come in the door and head back to coach.  He thinks about giving up his seat to the poor grunt who has probably never once in his life sat in first class.  In the end, Louis CK does not actually give up his seat, but he does give himself credit for even having the idea.  “Wow.  I am such a good person to think about giving up my wide cushy seat like that.”

Lately I have been thinking much about follow-through.  I am increasingly convinced that follow-through is the single most important thing there is.  Like Louis CK, I have spent a lifetime giving myself credit for my good ideas, and, like Louis CK, I generally shouldn’t.  I have not written the novels I planned out, I have not written the parenting book I have in me, I do not start my day with 20 minutes of meditation each morning, I don’t put things where they go when I am done with them, I don’t volunteer in the local soup kitchen, and I certainly don’t commit myself wholly to each conversation I find myself in, even though I DO give myself lots of credit for wanting to do these things.

It has become entirely too clear to me that the only real yardstick I can use from this day forward is “doing” rather than “intending.”  There are plenty of realms where one’s intent matters a lot—in fact, intent can sometimes be the difference between jail time and exoneration or between sympathy and derision.  But, now that I am almost 47 and I have already spent 20+ years in a career, I can no longer go day to day feeling somehow buoyed by all the great things I intended to do.  As my grandpa once said, “it’s time to fish or get off the pot.”

This move has really thrown me for a loop.  The place I loved to work for eight years is gone from my life and nothing has risen up to fill the void.  I have been denying the truth of how important writing is to me for a while and it hit me fully today that writing just might be the thing that becomes the center of my days and my self-worth.  It’s what I like to do, it’s what I have always daydreamed about, and it is the thing I envy most in my friends who have succeeded as writers.  Building a career as a writer is not something that is going to happen TO me.  I need to be at the center, pushing things, getting active, and MAKING it happen.  I need to be willing to fail over and over and I am finally ready to do that.

As long as I never actually gave it a try—as long as writing was something I would do in the future—there was no real cost.  There was no possibility of failure.  Well, it is time for me to quit living in fear of failure and to start doing all the things I have given myself credit for over the years.

The list of things I have always credited myself for is pretty short:  writing, volunteering, really connecting with people. The actual amount of time I have spent doing these things is even shorter.  I always push the actual start date of my commitment to these things back to some near-but-as-yet-undetermined day.  Well, finally this morning I have decided to call “Bullshit” on myself for once and for all and to start doing the things I have already felt good about intending to do for years.  To mark the occasion I found several job postings for freelance writers and I have applied to them this morning.  I have written this blog post.  I have begun to research volunteer possibilities in Ithaca.  And I am going to have some actual conversations with people near me today—about things other than the Orioles and politics. 

Do me a favor?  If you run into me in the next month or two, hold my feet to the fire--ask me how the writing is going.