Saturday, March 22, 2014

This I Believe

For the past couple of weeks my students and I have been working on persuasive essays.   This was partly to prepare for the writing test all third graders must take this time of year.  But another reason was to help them get in touch with what they believe.  We are calling them our Passion Pieces or our This I Believe pieces because we should all write something we are passionate about.  We should all believe in something.

Deciding on a passion doesn’t come easy for some young ones.  I mean everyone has a favorite toy, movie or video game.  My expectations for this project were a little higher.  So when I explained the project, I front loaded it with, “Let’s not do toys, movies or video games…”  We all took a week to consider. 

While I showed them the old 5 paragraph theme – PARAGRAPH 1) This is what I’m going to tell you,  PARAGRAPH 2-4) Here I am telling you,  PARAGRAPH 5) This is what I’ve just told you – I encouraged my young writers to go beyond that.  These pieces aren’t for the standardized test readers, we are writing for each other.  And in my mind we are writing for ourselves.  It is important for everyone to be passionate about something, to be stimulated by a topic, to feel the need to convince someone of something we feel strongly about. 

And so we wrote.  Here is my little piece about the importance of getting outdoors.

It was a rainy evening as Heidi and I pulled into the driveway of her colleague.  When we went inside people were drying off and socializing, putting away their soggy umbrellas and hugging.  One woman I had never met, a new faculty member, was holding forth about how miserable the hot, wet weather is in South Carolina.  She was just moving down from the North.  After we were introduced, she told me that she never goes outside except when she has to. 

“Really?” I asked, sure that she must have meant that she doesn’t like to go out in the rain, or when it is too hot or there is too much pollen.

“Nope, I don’t go outside at all.  I’m an indoors-kind-of-person.”  She said it so matter-of-factly.  She said it as if most people felt that way.  It rolled off her tongue as easily as if she were saying, “I don’t like brussel sprouts,” or “I never wear plaid.” 

“And I don’t open my windows either.  I stick to heating and air conditioning,” she went on.

While I was intrigued, I ended up sliding into a conversation with someone else I probably had more in common with.  I felt a few things at once.  First, “I’m not a _______ person,” never worked for me.  I am not a morning person, for example, means that you don’t like getting out of bed early.   Who does?  But it isn’t as though one comes hard wired that way. It doesn’t mean that one can’t change into a morning person if one wants to.  We have choices about who we are and who we want to become.  When people say, “I’m not a ________ person,” it’s as though they are boxing themselves into a character trait unnecessarily.   Go ahead, be a _______ person!

Another feeling I had was that this young woman was choosing to miss so much real life, so much adventure, beauty and excitement.  How crazy artificial it is to stay inside all the time.  The air she breathes comes from a vent in the floor or ceiling.  It is heated or air conditioned, filtered and blown by a fan.

What she is missing is air that is blown through leaves or over grassy meadows, or across a lake. She is missing the misty ocean breeze in her face, and the sunlight filtered through low clouds. 

What she smells is the perfumed smell of air “fresheners” and the leftover smells of her own cooking.  What she is missing is the real air freshened by flowers or leaf litter from a forest floor.  She is missing the muggy wetness of a humid summer day, moistening her skin along with her own natural perspiration. 

The temperature she feels all day long, winter, spring, summer or fall is always constant.  No matter what the weather in the real world, she is the same temperature all day and all night long.   What she doesn’t feel is the rain on her skin – or when she does it irritates her.  She doesn’t feel ice crystals bouncing off her jacket, or her hair blowing naturally in a stiff wind.   

What she hears is the sound of the TV or music from her stereo speakers or ear buds.  She hears YouTube on her computer or conversations on her cell phone.  And what she is missing by only staying indoors is the sound of real life, life beyond that created by humans.  She is missing real music: chorus frogs, leaves, crickets, cicadas, mocking birds and mourning doves, the breeze through bare branches, the crashing of waves, the buzz of bees. 

And the sights she chooses to miss by avoiding the real world?  She may see a televised science special on the cosmos, but she doesn’t look up at the night sky.  She might see a sunset at a film in a theater, but that would pale in comparison to being on a sand dune at the end of the day and watching the sun dip below the horizon as the earth turns away in its natural rotation. 

After the party was over it was still raining soft and warm.  And when we left that indoors party, I paused for a moment before getting into the car.  I put my face up to the sky and let that rain silk my skin.  Because I believe in being outside.  I believe in being a part of the real world.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014


How easy would it be to write a piece about Ted Nugent? 

I wonder if the guy has ever said anything that makes sense? 

When I heard about his recent rant where he called Barack Obama a “subhuman mongrel”, I wondered who could listen to him and take him seriously.  I mean doesn’t he have a TV show?  Isn’t he interviewed every day?  Doesn’t he have a devoted following?  Isn’t he rich and famous?

OK, I remember “Cat Scratch Fever” fondly.  The guy had some riffs.  I remember that he was a conservative rocker, kind of rare.  But how have so many Americans followed him into madness?  Seriously. 

Here are a few of his greatest hits…

In 2007 Nugent suggest that (then senator) Barack Obama should “suck my machine gun”.  He called Hillary Clinton a “worthless b%$ch”.

He thought that George Bush mishandled the Iraq war.  He said that, “Our failure was not to Nagasaki them.” 

In 2010 Nugent wrote in the Washington Times about Islam.  Who could consider him prejudiced when he declared, “Not all Muslims are religious whacks who deserve a bullet.”

After Obamacare was declared constitutional by the US Supreme Court, Nugent ranted in the Washington Times, “I’m beginning to wonder if it had been best if the South had won the Civil War.”

In 2012, at the NRA convention, Nugent suggested that conservatives “ride onto that battlefield and chop [Democrats’] heads off in November.”  After these remarks, in a radio interview he said that he was being targeted for his hateful remarks like, “a Black Jew at a Nazi Klan rally… [by] power-abusing, corrupt monsters in our federal government that despise me because I have the audacity to speak the truth."

Yes, the truth.  I do agree with him about the audacious part.

All that was nothing compared to his Twitter implosion after Barack Obama was re-elected. 

Ted Nugent on Obama re election: Pimps, whores and welfare brats have a president politics ted nugent tweets

If you don't have the stomach to watch/listen to Nugent's self-serving entire rant, just start at about 2 minutes and 45 seconds to get the really good stuff in this interview.  If you weren't sure before of how psycho this guy is, you will be after watching this.  He is so delirious that even many Republicans have been backing away from him.  

  • Texas Governor Rick Perry, who Abbott hopes to succeed, said on CNN that Nugent "shouldn't have said that about the President of the United States ... I got a problem calling the president a mongrel. I do have a problem with that. That is an inappropriate thing to say." When CNN host Wolf Blitzer suggested that Nugent should apologize, Perry said, "I'll recommend that he do that."
  • During an interview with CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) repeatedly dodged questions about the Nugent-Abbott controversy, but did acknowledge, "Look, those sentiments there, of course I don't agree with them. You've never heard me say such a thing, nor would I." Cruz alsosaid, "I don't hang out with Ted Nugent," although Nugent has claimed otherwise.
  • Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said on CNN's Piers Morgan Live, "It's a free country but that kind of language really doesn't have any place in our political dialogue. It harms the Republican Party. I'm sure that it harmed that candidate there. And it should be obviously repudiated ... That kind of thing is beyond the pale, and I hope that our candidate down there learned a lesson." McCain said that if he were Abbott he would distance himself completely from Nugent because "I am a severe critic of President Obama particularly on national security, but that kind of language -- he is the President of the United States, he has been elected and reelected, and I believe we should treat him respectfully."
  • Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) tweeted, "Ted Nugent's derogatory description of President Obama is offensive and has no place in politics. He should apologize.
  • CNN host Newt Gingrich disagreed with Wolf Blitzer that Nugent's "subhuman mongrel" comment should cause controversy for Abbott on the February 18 edition of The Situation Room. While Gingrich complained that the media ignores supposedly similar comments from liberal celebrities, he said, "What Ted Nugent said was stupid, I don't support it," and, "I'm not defending Ted Nugent, I think what he said was wrong and he shouldn't have said it."
OK, even the US Army thinks Nugent is unbalanced.  “After learning of opening act Ted Nugent’s recent public comments about the president of the United States, Fort Knox leadership decided to cancel his performance on the installation,” says a message on the Fort Knox Facebook page.

Personally, I can't think of any single individual who does more harm to our country than this guy.  If he still had half a brain, Ted would go back to making music and thank God he lives in a country that allows him the freedom to open his yap and spew any kind of hatred he can think of and get away with it.  

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Laughing Through Tears

I remember when my dad was dying; my family and I were just about all there at Christmas time.  He only had a few weeks to live.  While we all were terribly sad, in the depths of despair really, we continued to make each other laugh.  I know it sounds weird, but we did.  He was in on it too. 

There was this card game at the dining room table.  He was there with that silly Irish grin on his face, wearing this frumpy looking Irish hat with a floppy brim.  We poked fun at each other, and outdid each other’s jokes, one-upping to the point of hysteria. 

Next to him, attached with an intravenous tube, was a cart with fluids dripping constantly into his arm.

One of the last nights I ever saw him, we watched a funny movie together.  “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” with John Candy and Steve Martin.  My big brother Pat was snoozing loudly in my dad’s easy chair – where my father would have normally been, but he was in bed.  I lay on the floor next to him, close enough to hear every laugh and snigger. 

We lost ourselves to the silly movie.  We laughed more than we would have in other circumstances I think.  We needed to laugh.  We needed normal right then.  Reality came crashing back in soon after.  But those laughs were so right, so real, just what the doctor should have ordered.

When my mom was languishing at my sister Ruthie’s in New Mexico a couple years ago, we played a word game together, just a few nights before she passed on.  And we laughed until our faces hurt.  All of us did.  And when she was too weak to walk to the dinner table we wheeled her in a desk chair for her last few meals.  And at those dinners we laughed.  It’s not like we avoided the inevitable.  We just laughed because that what we do.  And we needed those laughs, for those moments of levity helped us to endure the sadness that was upon us.  The grief that lie ahead.

Today I read Leonard Pitts latest piece in the Miami Herald.  I’ll put a link here so you can read the whole thing.  In it he talked of comic Laurie Kilmartin who tweeted all these funny bits as her dad lay dying in a hospital bed next to her.  So I checked our her tweets.  And they are hilarious.  And I cried like a baby. 

I’ll copy a few. 

Good luck getting an answer to the question, "Did I give you too much morphine?"

And yet, life goes on. Mom just began a sentence (whose 2nd half we all ignored) with her fav clause, "I don't mean to be critical, but..."

"OH LOOK HE'S FINALLY SLEEPING," my mom says, waking him up.

Heads up, new followers. After my Dad passes on, I'm going on a dick joke cleanse.

Mom just told Dad, "I love you, hon" while stepping on and cutting off his oxygen supply. This is their marriage in a nutshell.

More unfortunate phrasing. Mom to Dad, re: the reclining hospice bed, "Should we put you down?"

Unnamed family FARTER thinks Dad's flowers and lavender will cover her tracks. Despicable.

Three visitors in a row left Dad's bedside in tears. Pussies.

HAPPENING NOW: Dad doesn't like the way I hold the glass of water to his mouth; I don't like the way he spills the water all over himself.

Mom just told me to put on a bra because the priest will be here in 5 minutes.

The priest is an hour late. I'm going to beat his knuckles with a ruler.

Told Dad it is an honor to tend to his needs these final days. Told mom to invest in long term care.

Fear my Dad will die if I leave his bedside, fear my mother will die if I don't.* *I might murder her.

Pretending to Dad right now that I believe in the afterlife. But I think he knows I'm lying and appreciates my effort. We're cool like that.

This pain my Dad is in I would totally wish on my worst enemy.

After Dad took his last breath, I looked up. Either I gave Dad's soul a final heartfelt message, or the ceiling now thinks that I love it.

After he passed, Mom laid next to his body and gave him one final, "Ron, make these girls stop being mean to me."

Some people think that we may laugh in stressful situations because of adrenaline - some kind of pre-flight or fight situation. Or we laugh to change our stress into an artificial euphoria or to mask our emotions. It seems to me that we laugh to embrace our emotions. Laughing is just so human. When it's my time to check out, I want people around to help me to find the humor in the situation. I want to watch a funny movie, read a funny book, listen to some good jokes. I want to poke fun and riff on people and one-up jokes until they become ridiculous. I want people to riff on me. I want to laugh and smile until my face hurts. Does that sound weird?

A day after her dad died, Laurie Kilmartin tweeted "Do they fact check obits? I want to say my dad played bass for the Stones."

At the end of the Leonard Pitts piece he wrote, "Yes, sometimes things hurt too much for laughing. But sometimes they hurt too much not to." I am not going to have a tomb stone. But if I did... that would be a pretty cool epitaph.