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A Facebook post I made today in reaction to the Reynolds High School shooting – only about 6 miles from my home:

Facebook friends and family, don’t assume for a moment that there is not a shooter in your neighborhood and/or your school district, thinking that a gun is the answer. One of the reasons you can’t assume this is the prevalence of the mentally ill among us, who have tried to get treatment – or whose family has tried to get them treatment – but can’t, because they have not yet been proven a danger to society. That’s like our age-old problem of not putting a stop sign at an intersection until a child has died there, even though people have said for years that the intersection is unsafe. We never seem to be proactive, to think ahead, to imagine consequences of not acting; we’re always reactive, as if the incident, the thought, the idea, had never occurred to us before. Incredibly naive, if not downright stupid and inexcusable. We need to take care of each other, and we need to care enough to help prevent these shootings. That includes families who own guns keeping them locked up and away from their children – I’m also sick to my stomach reading about little 3-and 4-year-olds finding loaded guns and pulling the trigger. We need to question our own mentality as a country that we have a love affair with guns; that we unhesitatingly watch violence on TV and in the movies, and consider it entertainment; that we somehow STILL manage to think, as some have expressed this morning, “I didn’t think it could happen here.” It can, it does, it will continue – because we, as a country, do not have the will to rise up and stop it. It’s not entirely up to our elected representatives; it’s also up to us. Public opinion can move mountains; I haven’t worked in public relations for over 30 years not to know that.

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A response to Rory McEntyre’s guest opinion column in this morning’s Oregonian, complaining that he can’t get hired because of his facial piercings and tattoos (see   www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/05/portlands_tolerance_is_otheverrat.html#incart_river):

Mr. McEntyre, what you are not recognizing is that your appearance is more important to you than anything else – such as finding a good job.  You don’t want to change your appearance in any way for any reason, yet you berate others who judge you on it.  Well – you can’t have it both ways.  Women the world over can tell you what it’s like to be judged on appearance.  People with physical challenges and deformities can tell you what it’s like to be judged on appearance.  As a very general rule, I think it’s safe to say that most of us try to present an appearance suitable to our jobs and our circumstances, and most of us do not define ourselves solely by our appearance.

You seem to identify yourself solely by your appearance.  It is so important to you, that it doesn’t matter to you that it prevents people from seeing who you might be underneath; yet now you rant about it.  You have it within your control to change it, but you’d rather complain. Those piercings are more important to you than a job.  Believe me, if people born with physical deformities, or people who have gone through horrific life experiences such as a fire which disfigured them, or a war which caused the amputation of a couple of limbs, could look “whole” again, I’ve no doubt they would love it.

But do you realize what a lot of those folks do?  They work super hard to make use of what they cannot change; they work super hard to maintain a good attitude, to have a sense of humor, to develop other skills to compensate for what they lack – and they often outshine the rest of us.  But you?  You have an appearance totally within your control, and you blame others for not accepting you.  Look in your inward mirror; it isn’t other people causing your problem, it’s you.  As someone said in the comments below your article, it’s time to grow up.

Try to look inside yourself and understand why your piercings are more important to you than putting a roof over your head; why your appearance is so extremely important to you that it’s become how you define yourself, instead of any interior qualities or education you may actually have.  I’m so sorry for you; you may be a very gifted man, but you seem to have a compulsion to hide those things and put your appearance first – everything, absolutely everything, revolves around your appearance.  That is the message people are getting when you show up to apply for a job, and that is why they don’t hire you.  You actually don’t want them to see past your appearance – and they can’t.  Their fault?  Don’t think so; the fault, dear Brutus, lies within yourself.

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Somebody on CNN this morning asked if the situation at VA hospitals – waiting months for care and possibly being put on a secret waiting list – is a recent   development, almostCollage2 a singular incident, or if this is a systematic problem.

Oh, it’s more than systematic.  It’s endemic.  It’s embedded in the VA culture. Veterans don’t just wait months for care – they often wait years – and this has been the situation since at least Viet Nam, if not before.

Back in 2000, I started getting involved with the protests against the experimental, highly reactive, and sometimes deadly anthrax vaccine that was being forced on troops deployed to certain areas.  If they didn’t take this experimental drug they could – and usually did – receive a dishonorable discharge.  If they took the vaccine, and thousands upon thousands did, they might develop tumors and cysts, severe bone and joint pain, terrible, ongoing migraines, partial loss of vision or hearing, vertigo, grand mal seizures, sudden blood pressure spikes and drops; the women might hemorrhage and find themselves unable to bear children; the men might lose testosterone permanently.  The list is too long to repeat here.

And that would just be the beginning.  Trying to get medical-boarded out of the service with a reasonable disability rating would always be the first major bureaucratic hurdle.  In those days, the military refused to admit any connection between the vaccine and a service member’s subsequent disability; certainly military doctors didn’t understand or recognize the symptoms at the time. Too often, service members were told that their symptoms – many of which were invisible to an observer – were all in their head; they were told they had mental problems, or were depressed.  After going through months, and sometimes years, of not being believed about their illnesses, of trying to get through each day in terrible pain, I always thought it was perfectly natural for them to become depressed… that was a result of how they were treated, not a cause of their symptoms.

Once out of the service, getting treated by the VA was the next major hurdle.  The common rating for disability – if a person didn’t get in and fight it – was 10 percent.  Ten percent!!!  Almost nothing – for someone who could no longer carry out his military duties.  And the waiting period for treatment was usually two years.   — And that was if a service member lived close enough to a VA hospital to get the care needed. 

What happened in the meantime?  These disabled service members were not getting the treatment they needed, or were paying civilian doctors out of their own pockets trying to find answers.  Too often, they were unable to work.  They lost their jobs – they lost their cars – they lost their homes – and their marriages very often broke apart under the strain.  Not a few of them literally went to live in the woods, homeless and alone, and rejected by – us.  Those they serve.

What I’d like to know, Congress is this: why did it take you so damn long to notice?  Where have you been?  You say you support our troops, but after you issued the 1994 Rockefeller Report calling on the military to stop its medical experimentation on our service members – and included the anthrax vaccine in that last – you did nothing to enforce it.  We’re supposed to have civilian oversight of the military in this country, but those civilians we elect to the highest offices in the land do not seem to have spines – or eyes and ears.

So it takes a scandal like a secret list causing veterans to die while they wait before this suddenly becomes an issue.  I’ve got news for you, media people and Congress and Americans: our veterans have been dying for a long, long time waiting for the right care from the VA.  To make matters worse, some of those deaths are suicides – because nobody believed, or helped search for the right treatments.  It’s better to wait for a whole generation to die, we get that.  That’s why it’s only been in the last few years that Agent Orange was recognized as the presumptive cause of severe medical problems for the troops (http://www.banderasnews.com/1004/vl-davidlord05.htm).  Delay payment and responsibility for as long as humanly possible, then say, “Whoops.  We were wrong.”

My cynicism is hard-earned; most of it comes from the veterans themselves.  These problems didn’t just start; this is not a sudden, new development.  It’s been going on for years.  To this day, when veterans write in to us at www.mvrd.org,  we have to counsel them on how to work with, and sometimes fight with, the VA to get the disability ratings and the treatment they need.

Kick out Secretary of Veterans Affairs Shinseki? Accept Dr. Petzel’s resignation? Band-aid measures; these do nothing to address the real problems.  They inherited this mess, they didn’t cause it. The real problems have a lot more to do with how we proudly send our sons and daughters off to war, encouraging them to give all for their country – but don’t want to pay for it when they come back injured, debilitated, depressed, and permanently changed.  It’s part of the cost of war – the fact that our men and women come back disabled, sometimes with illnesses that are not visible.  It’s part of the deal, yet we seem to refuse to step up to the plate in a timely, caring manner. Meanwhile, too many veterans languish in their homes or homeless shelters – or in the woods – unable to continue to fight.

 

We think we support our troops and veterans in this country.  Not by half; not by half.

 

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Nov. 22, 2013 –

Dear President Kennedy,

Very few of the retrospectives playing in all forms of media this week on the 50th anniversary of your death really explain why so many of us feel huge holes in our hearts even now at your absence.

One person thought it was because Americans have suffered a crisis of national identity, not believing that we would ever become a country where violence would overtake the rule of law.  That might be one little piece. One person thought it was because we’ve been so disappointed in our subsequent presidents.  That might be another little piece. People who have been born since your death often wonder why we continue to hold you in such high esteem after all we’ve come to know about you in the years since: your womanizing, some of your crass political moves, the money from your father which seemed to buy your elections, the fact that you were on a huge regiment of drugs to deal with your pain and illness.

But you came along at a time when we were regaining our footing after WWII.  We’d had strong leaders all through the war, and regardless of whether or not any of us thought of Eisenhower as a particularly strong leader, he was still a president who garnered enormous respect.  But he was, indeed, moving past his time on the stage when you came in.

It wasn’t just your youth, or the fact that you and Mrs. Kennedy were such a glamorous couple – although that added to the enjoyment.  It wasn’t even “only” that you called us to a better vision of who we could be, both as individuals and as a nation.  You called us to service in the Peace Corps; you called us to put a man on the moon; you called us to ask what we could do for our country; you confronted the issue of civil rights and authored the Civil Rights Act; and, little remembered today, you instituted a physical fitness program in the schools that we should never, ever have discarded – and that is all the more remarkable considering your life of constant pain and illness.

There is one more layer which explains more about why I miss you:  your leadership had us believing we really could be better people, that we really could blaze trails into the future.  We felt confidence, and we felt hope.  Even as a 14-year-old, I knew that then.  Just barely starting out on my own journey, I still knew.

We no longer work from a basis of hope and confidence, Mr. President.  Everything today is about coping and about survival.  Instead of moving forward together, with the “can-do” sense that we were so well-known for at one time, we have split into angry groups, too often relying on guns to settle our so-called differences.  We have a Congress that has been completely deadlocked for a long, long time.  Some of us think back to Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex, and shake our heads.  We roil in an enormous health care crisis, and nowhere does there seem to be a clear voice holding a clear vision for the future.

You didn’t always make the right decisions, Mr. President – but I, for one, will forever be in awe of the fact that you pulled us back from the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.  That alone speaks to the wisdom of having a president with some military experience: you knew when not to listen to the generals. Your style of decision-making relied more on you as an individual rather than a consensus of people whom you leaned on for advice.  But the plus side of that style was that you weren’t at all afraid to lead; you weren’t afraid to step out there and hold out a better vision of what could be rather than what was expected.  The vision you held out, and the hope and the confidence that went with it, have not been seen in this country since.

A lot of younger people won’t understand this.  It’s one of those things where the only possible reply is, “You just had to be there.”  I wish you were still here, somehow, in some way, to demonstrate that to them.

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Distractions from fear –James Bovard quote

The news has become overwhelming in recent months.  From the mass shootings in our public places to the first notice of a gun created entirely by a 3-D printer; from the tragic plane crash in San Francisco to the horrific loss of 19 Hotshot firefighters in Arizona – all around us, voices tell us to be afraid.  And they’re telling us we should not merely be afraid; we should be terrified — the world around us holds terrors from the minute we wake up in the morning.  I’ve said for many years that the most frequent headline in the media is some version of, “Could THIS happen to YOU?”

While not minimizing the tragedies of life, it seems to me that fear has a contagious hold on our society – but it is a different kind of fear than that rooted in the dangers of an accident or approaching wildfire.  This kind of fear takes root in a virulent way among some of us who have, perhaps, gotten lost in the echo chamber of the Internet or been too captivated by the evening news.  We tend to listen to opinions like our own and stories that feed our fear instead of gathering information and facts from multiple sources.  A young woman recently posted a suggestion on Facebook that we do without a president entirely and see how that works.  I teasingly wrote back and asked her if she was suggesting anarchy, and she wrote back “That’s what we have now.”  I told her if she’d ever been overseas and seen or lived with real anarchy, she wouldn’t say that.  There was no reply.

I felt in ways I was echoing a recent column by Leonard Pitts, Jr., the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who writes for the Miami Herald.  In his May 11, 2013 column, he examined what he aptly called “the great American panic machine,” which he described as “the mechanism by which the extreme right works itself into spasms of apoplectic terror over threats that don’t exist.”  But it’s not only the extreme right that gives into these spasms of terror; I think the phenomenon is widespread throughout our society right now among people of all political and religious persuasions.  Pitts goes on to give some examples:

“‘We’re going to be under shariah law!’

Except, we’re not.

‘We’ve become a socialist county!’

Except we haven’t.

‘There’s a war on Christmas!’

Except there isn’t.

‘They’re trying to take our guns away!’

Except that it is now theoretically possible for a mental patient to manufacture his own gun in the comfort of his aluminum foil-lined basement.”

That’s where the 3-D printer comes in; such a scenario could become quite real. The point that Pitts is making is one that becomes obvious even in this brief excerpt: we are so busy fighting imaginary terrors that we are not prepared for the real threats that do exist.

The media have been complicit in this arrangement for years.  Fear sells; scandal sells.  The unusual has come to be portrayed as the usual.  We have become a society that does not know the difference between news and entertainment, because the media have peddled “infotainment” to us for a long, long time.

We are inundated with scandal, mayhem and murder, natural disasters and more, until we are sure that is the normal run of our daily lives. And we are fascinated; we get to watch a never-ending horror story, and it captivates us.  It also makes us sure that what we are afraid of has taken over.  The old saying that you create what you fear seems all too relevant today.

At last year’s annual conference put on by my professional organization, the Public Relations Society of America, I started hearing a disturbing definition of the news given by some of the country’s most prestigious PR firms.  “News,” several of them said, “is what’s important enough to find me.”

Gulp.  That means news is what I prefer to see and hear, what I prefer to digest, what I find compatible with my values and opinions – or what most entertains me. News is contained in those keywords I enter into search engines to find out what I want to know, not necessarily what I should know.  We – you and I, the audience out there – are in control now.  I tell my students this, particularly when we study social media and what it means for public communication.

Is that healthy for us? To some degree, certainly: we can find information on nearly any subject we want now, and we have a much greater chance to build perspective and garner insight.  In addition, the concept of transparency has taken on a whole new meaning.  For most of us, doing something unethical or even illegal online means we have about 30 seconds of anonymity left – and that’s not always bad.

But in another sense, it’s one of the worst things that could have happened.  We are free to ignore news and opinions that we don’t like or that make us uncomfortable.  We are free to talk only with others who share our beliefs.  We are free to ignore history, to ignore anything we might ever have been taught about civic life or the structure of society in general. We can concentrate on the alarming, the sensational, the scandalous, and all those things which worry us and entertain us on a daily basis.

In short, we are free to give in to fear. And we do, regularly – you’ve probably heard about the 7-year-old suspended for gunplay using his hands (http://cbsloc.al/X3PPoT ).  When we give into fear, we also surrender to a sense of helplessness. We have learned that there’s really nothing we can do.  A recent Bill Moyers interview made this point (http://www.prx.org/pieces/99843-moyers-company-show-227-distracted-from-democra#description).   Media scholar Marty Kaplan, head of the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, notes:  “We are paying attention to the wrong things… we are paying attention to infotainment, which is being spoon-fed to us – and sadly, we love the stuff.  The tragedy of journalism now is that it is demand-driven…   we have been taught to be helpless and jaded, rather than to feel empowered… ”

The consequences of giving into this contagion of fear are at least two-fold. First, we become numb to the next warnings coming down the pipeline, and so may ignore the whole issue of whatever is causing the need for an alarm to be sounded in the first place. Secondly, as Leonard Pitts so accurately states, we ignore or simply overlook those things that truly should cause fear in us. The fact that you can now print a gun using a 3D printer should alarm us, no matter which side of the gun control debate we are on; the erosion of our First Amendment rights continues apace; the corruption of our political system is something we look away from, helpless – and jaded.

I hear echoes of 1967, when Timothy Leary’s misunderstood mantra took hold of so many in my generation: “Turn on, tune in, drop out” – but with more literal electronic meanings today.

Is there anything we can do as individuals to make a difference?  My experience tells me there is.  Back in 2000, my son, then in the Air Force, was required to start the series of anthrax vaccine shots.  He and his wife were thoroughly alarmed, and asked me to look into it.  I happened to be visiting them between John’s first and second shots, and so one night I borrowed his computer and spent long hours researching.  At first, everything was reassuring.  However, the more I dug down through the pixels, the more alarmed I became.  Here was a vaccine that was not licensed; that did not have peer-reviewed, published research in back of it; that was causing multiple, severe, life-long health problems including grand mal seizures, complete loss of testosterone, severe hemorrhaging, tumors, cysts, severe bone and joint pain, and more – including death.

Long story short, I joined with others across the nation to protest.  Our protests – which included walking the halls of Congress – stayed largely within the military community.  We realized that it was only when people were personally affected that we would see a change in the civilian population.

Years later, there was a proposal to conduct an anthrax vaccine research program on children – civilian children.  It was soundly defeated.  All our years of trying to get the word out had paid off; people had seen our information online, they’d read the stories in the.  They knew enough to be alarmed – and they said no.

Wherever we are, whatever our interests, we can make a difference. We have to make a difference.  We need to get involved in our own corners of the world because even the smallest of actions can have a ripple effect.  Courage, faith and critical thinking can be just as contagious as fear.  Turn on, tune in – and engage.

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May 12, 2013

Dearest Diana and John,

You know that I have always disliked the platitudes, the clichés, and the overly sentimentalized approach to Mother’s Day. I always want to stand up and shout, “Not everyone had a mother like that! And not everyone could be a mother like that!”

So for many years when you were growing up, the way I celebrated Mother’s Day is the same as what I’m doing right now: thanking you for making me a mother.  A lot of people don’t feel that they want kids; the responsibility is a lot, no question, and the ups and downs of being a parent are … well, you both know, these days!  But for me, I couldn’t imagine a full life without kids.   You two are the best things I’ve ever done.  So I thought on this Mother’s Day, I’ve posted a few of the highlights of our years together.  I never could get the copy to work right with the photos, so for the most part, this is a picture gallery.

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Di,you were just two weeks old here in February, 1970. – Worried!

1970: Your dad, Jack, was stationed with the Air Force in Thailand that year, up on the Laos border.  The day after you arrived, Di, I was able to go down to a small lounge in the maternity ward (Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, Oakland) and call him via a huge patchwork of long-distance phone, ham radio operators, marine radio, and phone again to tell him we had a new baby and her name was Diana, as we’d agreed.  I was shouting into the phone, the connection was so uncertain.  When the call was over, I hung up and started to head back to my room when I heard the applause.  Every single mother in that maternity ward was clapping for us; I was overwhelmed with the show of support from the other military moms, and to this day it remains one of my most cherished memories.

John, you were on the way when we took Diana skiing for the first time at Tahoe in January of 1973. We've always said that when I fell down that day - in deep, soft powder with no hard impact at all - your brains got scrambled! But the truth is that I knew immediately that you were fine - and I did come down off the hill at that point. You made your  appearance 4 months later...

John, you were on the way when we took Diana skiing for the first time at Tahoe in January of ’73. We’ve always said that when I fell down that day – in deep, soft powder with no hard impact at all – your brains got scrambled! But I knew immediately that you were fine – and I did come down off the hill at that point. You made your appearance 4 months later…

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Here you are at two weeks, John; and here Diana is, holding the little dude who became her best buddy!

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Riding Bell, our Shetland pony…

and being pulled on winter sleds behind the tractor, or launching a sailboat on the pond across the road.

Being pulled on winter sleds behind the tractor and launching a sailboat on the pond across the road.

When you were 5, Di, and you were 2, John, we packed up our home in California and moved to southern Oregon, where, for a time, we ran a sheep-and-cattle ranch on 220 acres.  Living on the land was a lot of work but a lot of joy, too!

After the divorce, I moved us to Eugene so that I could attend the Univ. of Oregon and finish getting a degree, with an eye toward being able to support you both in a reasonable way.   Eugene brought a new life and all kinds of different activities.

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Remember the dog house we built for Puppy? And how we nailed the shingles on upside-down?

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Somehow or another, my car got hijacked to Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon, every single road trip we made to see the families in California. Every time.      
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We had really fun Thanksgiving potlucks on the Oregon Coast with our single parents group, and for this one, my cousin Christie joined us (back row, far left).

Gymnastics, Brownies, sailing on Fern Ridge Lake.

Gymnastics, Brownies, sailing on Fern Ridge Lake.

Finally it was graduation day!  June, 1980.

Finally it was graduation day! June, 1980.

Diana went to visit her Aunt Shari in Estes Park, CO.,after graduation, but John and I headed to Tahoe - where we rafted down the Truckee River until our raft developed a leak and slowly sank!

Diana went to visit her Aunt Shari in Estes Park, CO.,after graduation, and after other plans fell through,  John and I headed to Tahoe – where we rafted down the Truckee River until our raft developed a leak and slowly sank!

At the BART station in Lafayette, just before moving to Montana 1984.

At the BART station in Lafayette, just before moving to Montana 1984.

Touring with the wonderful Fenix Jazz Band of Argentina, summer, 1986.... with a last stop at Disneyland!

Touring with the wonderful Fenix Jazz Band of Argentina, summer, 1986…. with a last stop at Disneyland!

Diana, left; John and me - after a long absence, 1991, California

Diana, left; John and me – after a long absence, 1991, California

Brother and sister, always there for each other.

Brother and sister, always there for each other. John was home on leave from the Air Force.

Bob, John, me, Angela, Diana, and in front, Christopher and Brandon - upon John's return from Saudi Arabia

Bob, John, me, Angela, Diana, and in front, Christopher and Brandon – upon John’s return from Saudi Arabia.

John and Diana,  may you always know the blessing of being in each other's lives and giving each other unending friendship! At Diana and Bob's wedding, 2003.

John and Diana, you have been there for each other from toddler-hood on, and as adults, through weddings and the arrival of all your lovely children as well as through some difficult times.  May you always know the blessing of being in each other’s lives and giving each other unending friendship! At Diana and Bob’s wedding, 2003.

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???????????????????????????????Feb. 23, 2013 – I can’t help but reflect on that song today, since it’s my 64th birthday.  In my generation, we all sang that song when we were young – say, 40 or 50 years ago – and the age of 64 seemed so far off as to be unimaginable.  It seems appropriate to reflect today on what I know, what still seem to be mysteries of the universe, and whether or not I think anyone still needs me or is willing to feed me… so here we go:

1)  I know that I still hate my neighbors seeing what I look like first thing in the morning when I go out to get the paper, but that I will never give up my morning ritual of a hot cup of tea and the funnies.  It helps to see my neighbors go out to get their papers in just about the same frame of mind, bathrobes and all.

2)  I know that this stage of life is one of adjusting to increased losses.  For several years now, the obituaries have brought startling, saddening news; each loss feels like a rent in the fabric of our lives.  The loss of my beloved dog, BearBear,  this past November seems to have left a permanent hole in my heart.  Friends and relatives have gone through devastating illnesses and tragedies, and sometimes all you can do is just be there in silence; you can’t really take any kind of action.  As Robin Roberts said about her difficult struggle with MDS, you learn to breathe; you learn that it’s left foot, right foot, breathe.  You learn that life is today: as long as you’re still on the right side of the grass, as the saying goes, you’re doing alright.  It’s a gift to be here.

 3)  I remain mystified as to why the time between Christmases gets shorter and shorter; I think it’s down to just about a day.  On the good side, that means I should be able to meet great-grandchildren anytime now; on the downside, that might pass me by before I’ve had a moment to recognize the moment!

4)  I’ve learned that you have to adjust your dreams as you get older; put some dreams aside, because they aren’t going to happen – but adopt new dreams to keep moving forward.  I dreamed for many years of spending another four-month term on Docked at Freeport, Grand Bahama Island Semester at Sea, but found out during a brief reunion cruise to the Bahamas a few years ago that my system seems to have changed, and it’s now entirely possible for me to get seasick.  Geez, I never got seasick at 19 – what gives?

I never originally dreamed of going to graduate school, but just before Mom died in 2003, I made up my mind that even if I had to sell my house to afford the tuition, I would go.  I felt a deep need for change and a new challenge in my life; I think that was my mid-life crisis, at the age of 54.  Mom passed away just a few months later, and the money she left enabled me to go to graduate school and still keep my house.  Her last gift to me was an enormous, wonderful gift; and thank you, Syracuse!

5)  Speaking of Mom – I’ve realized we don’t really know our parents at all.  (That’s Mom and Dad in Feb. 1970 with baby Diana, their first grandchild and my first child.) PMom and Dad with Diana Feb 1970erhaps we only truly begin to understand after we have lost them, and we can see them from a distance without all the emotional entanglements between parents and children.  When they no longer have emotional, financial, or physical power over us it is easier to see their true intentions and their good attempts to do their best; it is easier to appreciate the genuine gifts they gave at the time and might have given even unto death. In my case, that includes (but is not limited to) music – travel – education – a certain joie de vivre injected into even the most mundane of things; and my Dad’s oft-repeated refrain, “I just want you to learn how to think.”  My students hear echoes of that today.

6)   Yet I wish my parents had told us their true stories.  Perhaps they couldnPapa stagecoach 4’t.  But our heritage was richer, deeper, and more layered than we knew.  Can I be authentic enough to write the stories for my children and grandchildren?  That is one of the tasks of this stage of life as well.  As I become more transparent to myself, how transparent am I willing to be to my family?

7)      I’ve come to understand that a cup of tomato soup, a grilled cheese sandwich, and a few saltine crackers still make up  just about the best meal on the planet – diet or no diet.

8)      I am no longer in the acquisition stage of life.  I don’t need more stuff.  What I need are friends, family – and great adventures.  I need more flowers in my garden; I need more books to read; I need more reasons to join someone at a local café or pub and lift a glass.  I always need great music; I always need long walks.  I need to look at the tide coming in; and, back in Montana, I need to know that Going to the Sun Road is still there, that the camas flowers still bloom at Packers Meadow up near Lolo Pass.

9)      It remains a mystery to me as to why people think that what they own defines their identities.  I’m much more a believer in the saying that “What you own, owns you.”

10)   Maybe it’s because I’ve been divorced for so very long, but I thought about growing old long before most people do.  I’ve learned that it was more than worth planning for this stage of life; that was one of the best things I’ve ever done.  I was burned out from running a business, and went to graduate school in the hopes of teaching public relations at the university level and of making time to write.  I figured age discrimination would probably not affect either a writing or teaching career – and that was spot-on.  I am doing the things I love, the things I have a passion for, as I get older; now that other responsibilities are over, here is this gift of following my passions – this blessing.  Thanks for helping me realize my dream, Marylhurst University and the University of Montana!

11)   I have learned that the day that each grandchild is born is – astoundingly – full of the exact same depth of amazing Baby Andrewjoy as the day that each child was born in the first place.  I never thought to know such joy again  as the nights my children were born.  I truly felt each of those nights as though I was somehow chosen to help God bring forth this little baby into the world.  I used to look, first at my daughter, and then my son, in their tender first weeks, and wonder where they had come from – it seemed they must have come from another world, another mystery, another universe, to arrive here, and I had somehow had the privilege of enabling their journey.  They didn’t feel mine so much as they felt on loan.  When each of my grandchildren was born and I saw those little faces for the first time, the feeling was the same; the mystery was the same, the joy was the same.  Such gifts in the world.

12)   I have learned that, through all the difficult times of my life – times of physical and emotional violence; times of long, debilitating illness; times of estrangement from those I love dearly; times of not being sure I could feed my  children; times of the incredible, dark shadow of guilt that all working single mothers know; times of isolation and IMGP0245fighting off depression – the one thing I can control is my attitude.  If I don’t have an attitude of gratitude, then I have lost a sense of the gifts in my life.  I have learned I can lose everything, but as long as I still have faith then a better day will come. I have learned that if I ever stop being able to see beauty around me, then I am in real trouble.  I have learned that reaching the bottom of the well is not such a bad thing, because then the only way you can go is up.

13)   I have learned that when you live in a rain-soaked region of the country, and the sun comes out for a few minutes, it’s a wise idea – if you can – to drop what you’re doing and take a walk.  Your whole day will be better.

14)   I have learned that if someone truly loves another person – whether a romantic love, a friend, or a family member – then that person will make time for the relationship even when it’s not convenient.  I have learned that all relationships need nurturing, and they all need time, and that if you are the one creating the time for the nurturing and the other person is not – you should pay attention to that.  I have learned that, in fact, we are all disposable at work; someone else can take over our jobs for a day, or a week – or even permanently, should we make that kind of decision.  But no one can take our places in the lives of those we love and who love us.  I have a sign up in my kitchen:  “Making a living is not the same thing as making a life.”

My friend CarKathy, Gaylene, Carol at Tahoeol wanted to know what I was doing for my birthday today, because if I didn’t have plans, she would drive two hours north and take me out to dinner.  That offer was one of the best presents I could ever have had; it moves me no end.

15)   I’ve learned that taking a picture or video of an event is not the same thing as being present at the event.

16)   I have learned that self-discipline is even more important as I move into these decades.  It’s harder to exercise now; old bone injuries flare up, arthritis sets in, and old bouts of fatigue reappear at the most inappropriate times.  But it has to be done.  I feel less and less like doing the housework now.  But it has to be done; a sense of order in my life means more now than it did before.  I have learned that I am quite delighted to be at the age of “What you see is what you get,” without all the pressure traditionally put on women to look good, to look younger, to dress just so.  But keeping up my appearance – for my own spirit and self-respect, but also for others to respect me.  I have learned that I never quite feel like setting aside time to reflect or to meditate – but it has to be done if I am not to lose touch with myself.  I have learned that it takes much more energy to go out and socialize than it used to; but it has to be done, so that I don’t become self-enclosed.

17)   I’ve learned that even as my body, most days, has to be talked into working the way it’s supposed to, my mind and heart are in the best working order of my life.

18)   I remain mystified as to why women think it’s a good thing to walk in 6” spike heels – or even in 3” or 4” heels, for that matter.  I’m completely aware that when a woman’s body is thrown out of alignment so that her rear extends, her bust is moved forward, her hips have more of a sway when she walks, it’s all very sexy to men.  But it’s that “thrown out of alignment” part that women still don’t seem to get; that part where the knees, hips and back are off kilter, and are accumulating some serious joint damage.  And all that before we even mention the pain in the feet that accompanies every step.  I’m waiting to see how those women feel when they’re 64.

19)   I’ve learned that old people have the best stories to tell – precisely because they are old.

20)   I’ve learned that students say thank you.  This is perhaps one of the greatest lessons and greatest gifts of all, here in my seventh decade (remember that the first decade is like the first century; the 20th century was the 1900s, and so forth.).   “I want to keep taking classes from you,” one student told me last week.  “Thank you so much for understanding,” said another.  “I really appreciate the feedback,” said a third.  What’s better than having the people you are committing so much time and energy to express so much appreciation for your efforts?  What a late-in-life love fest!

Someone still needs me; friends will still feed me – now that I’m 64!

Thank you, Paul McCartney (from http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/When-I%27m-Sixty-Four-lyrics-The-Beatles/925C6BF15FAC44F048256BC20013EBF7 ):

“When I get older losing my hair,
Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine?

If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oooo
You’ll be older too, (ah ah ah ah ah)
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you.

I could be handy mending a fuse
When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride.

Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?

Every summer we can rent a cottage
In the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck, and Dave

 Send me a postcard, drop me a line,
Stating point of view.
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, Wasting Away.

Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?

Whoo!”

 

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I’m a news junkie – no question about it.  I’m sure it started just before I went to journalism school back in the late ’70s, when I was writing for a tiny weekly newspaper in southern Oregon.  As I moved into my public relations career, it became a growing addiction.  I have to monitor the news, I often said during my years in Montana. I hate to wake up and find a client on the front page for the wrong reason.  That had some validity to it at the time.

But then I started teaching at the university level, and it all got worse.  I have to monitor it, I say, because I have to know what’s going on in order to give my student real-world lessons and help them see the changes in our society.  That has some validity to it, too.

But still, I think all that news watching and monitoring may be doing me in.  Most of the so-called news is nothing I can do anything about – yet the news is presented in such a way that I actually find myself asking if I have an obligation to care.  There are a couple of pieces of news this week that may (or may not) affect my life and that have my attention: there’s a former teacher, into child porn,who has escaped prison and appears to be wandering around in the next town over.  There’s a new school bond issue coming up, and I should probably go to one of the informational meetings about it.  It looks like it’ll stop raining by the weekend and I can get out and get more yard work done.

Here the things I’ve learned from the news this morning, however:

  1. Donald Trump has no sense of humor.  That’s actually not news.
  2. If I have a hankering to visit Acapulco, it’s probably best to postpone.
  3. This person named Arias, who has admitted to killing her boyfriend, or fiance, or whoever he was?  Why do we need to be subjected to her entire sex life?
  4.  More and more people are being brought up on sex charges – or sexting charges.  Senators.  Teachers.  A police chief.    A prison guard.  This is new?  Or are we just now obsessed with it?
  5. Our military is going to have a decreased level of readiness because of budget cuts.  They haven’t paid our troops well in years; many enlisted families use food stamps and live in substandard housing.  Who’s the decider on this one?
  6. Hollywood celebrities apparently have great sway with Congress when it comes to gun control.  Either that, or our esteemed Senators and representatives want to see what they look like without makeup.
  7. Japan and China continue to edge closer to war over those tiny islands.  Uninhabited, I believe.  And Korea threatens to launch a missile that will reach those of us here on the left coast.  These things feel like trying to be prepared for an earthquake; I’ve got my supplies stashed in an outbuilding, but should I wander around in constant fear?
  8. Across the (Columbia) river in Washington state, an accidentally released inmate is now back in jail.  Not the first time; won’t be the last.  We jail more people per capita than any other country in the world.  Are staff shortages the real problem?
  9. Diets are bad for you.  Not dieting could risk your health.  Soft drinks are bad for you.  Caffeine may actually be a boon to your health.  Is there an IV nearby?  One that will make these decisions for me?
  10. The game of Monopoly seems to have gotten rid of the wrong piece.  Does that mean the game I keep for guests at my summer cottage is now completely out of date?

I think I’m going to be glad when the post office stops delivering Saturday mail.  I can postpone a whole batch of useless information and bills until Monday.  Meantime, registering as someone with chronic depression brought on by the daily news has crossed my mind. I’m wondering if there’s an app for that.

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It seems to me that, as this excellent article from CNN suggests – http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/31/politics/gun-language/index.html?hpt=hp_c1  – the heart of the gun control/gun rights argument might lie in the issues of whether or not we have control over our own lives.  As the article correctly points out, our individual rights are something that we cherish as Americans.

However, I have to wonder – again, in keeping with the article’s focus on the power of words – if the issue of control is interpreted very differently for some of us than it is for others.  I’m specifically thinking that, as a woman, control over my own life involves a whole different set of decisions than it may involve for men.  Many, many years ago – decades ago – I was in a highly restrictive marriage, where I was literally told, in these specific words, “What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine,” and “I don’t like you seeing those people; you need to stop.”  One evening when a girlfriend and I got adventurous and cut my long hair to chin length, the reaction was complete disapproval because, after all, he said, “I’m the one who has to look at you.”

So control over my own life, to me, has meant the ability to make personal choices about my life.  It’s meant being able to support myself (and for several years in there, my children) and control my own finances; it’s meant choosing when and where I go out, and with whom I will associate; it’s meant following my own career path because it’s fun and I enjoy it; it’s meant being able to go to a movie or the symphony or some other spare-time activity without risking stern disapproval.

Then there are the larger issues for all women: do I take the chance of having a great time with friends in a bistro or a bar until 2 a.m. when it closes, and walking even a block down a darkened street at that time of night?  Do I take the risk of meeting a stranger online and agreeing to a date?  I am certainly more afraid of the violence some men show toward women than I am of guns.

The CNN article says, “…Americans don’t like the idea of the government ‘controlling’ many of their decisions.”  In my life, as woman, the government hasn’t been the main problem.

However, it is for men.  I believe (you may disagree, of course) that men’s need to control comes partly through biology – they are, after all, hard-wired for some of this – as well as the roles we have assigned them in most societies of being providers and protectors.  I also believe that many men feel out of control a great deal of the time by the forces governing their lives, and that they might trace many of those forces back to the government (correctly or not).  Losing a job during this long recession, for example, has made many a man feel helpless and inadequate when it comes to providing for his family.  Many young men in the urban areas of our country feel helpless when it comes to needing a sense of home, a sense of belonging, a sense of community – and they therefore turn to gangs and to guns as a way of being in control.

There is also another anthropological point of view I hold about this, which we almost never talk about: while it’s completely obvious when a girl becomes a woman – her biology tells her so – it’s not so obvious when a boy becomes a man.  In many, many other societies, there are traditions of initiating young boys into manhood.  They are often very harsh traditions involving the ability to endure pain as well as the development of skills for hunting and the like.  But once initiated, a boy is celebrated as a man.

We have nothing in this country that celebrates our boys becoming men; we don’t even celebrate what it is to be a man, unless it’s on the violence of the football field (I watch the game, too, but you have to admit it’s violent) or through the violence of war.  That’s how we seem to define and celebrate manhood in this country.

Young boys and young men need strong physical activity; they are hard-wired for that, too.  I raised one son and I have four grandsons.  We know this; we know it’s why young boys are “fidget midgets” in elementary school and can barely sit still.  We know they need to test themselves; we know they need to be supported and celebrated and to have a strong definition of what it is to be a man – a definition that means something besides violence.

Why don’t we do this?  Why do we then wonder why so many young men feel so out of control?  Why aren’t we celebrating men’s special mental, emotional and physical strengths, their special goodness, and their special kindness?  Why are we constantly viewing television commercials that portray men as the biggest dumbbells who ever walked the planet?

We have a lot of growing up to do as a society, and it seems to me that one of the key places to start is in creating a path to manhood for our boys, celebrating and welcoming them when they get there.  Perhaps one of the consequences will be far less need for the false sense of control that guns provide; perhaps the right to own a gun will become much more proportionate to the right we all have to live in a society that has not become an armed camp.

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I really liked Fareed Zakaria’s show last night about fixing the economy.  His GPS Job Special: Putting American to Work  http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/23/gps-job-special-putting-america-to-work/ was excellent.  One of the aspects of it that struck me was the emphasis in countries like Germany and Denmark in making sure people were mentored, trained and cross-trained for a lifetime in the work force.  Here in the U.S., we’ve been saying for a long time now that loyalty between company and employee has disappeared.  It’s extremely rare for an employee to spend 30 years working for one company anymore, where it used to be the norm; at the same time, it’s extremely rare for a company to shepherd employees through to a long-term commitment.

Now, as a university instructor, I try to make sure my students have enough skills in verbal and written communication that they could go just about anywhere.  But wouldn’t it be lovely if I could open doors for them by working in conjunction with employers who would give more than an internship or an entry-level job?  I know when I ran my own public relations firm how expensive it was to experience turnover and to train new people.   And I know that working in and around media means that people will keep gravitating toward the larger media markets; that’s where all the action is.  This is an understandable and accepted practice, particularly for journalists and public relations practitioners.

Still, I can’t help but stand back and admire those people who stay long enough to really know their communities in depth; who understand the local values and priorities; who have developed a particular skill at  translating the issues of the day to and from their particular audiences.   Their careers aren’t stalled; they just run deeper than most.

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