Trump Fatigue Syndrome

weary

On a recent Facebook post of mine decrying an especially annoying Trump apologist (you know, those weaselly blowhards with no morals or compunctions who twist, spin and defend absolutely everything the man does, no matter how outrageous), a friend of mine commented that she doesn’t know why she even watches cable news any more. I completely understand her sentiment, but it got me thinking . . . this is exactly what Trump wants: for us, the fifty-plus percent of the country that sees the man behind the curtain for exactly who he is – a dictator at heart who’s trying to run the country as if it’s his own private enterprise, all about him – to just give up.

Trump excels at being a media whore, at creating chaos, at throwing a wrench into anything and everything just to get attention and endless press coverage. I don’t think for a minute that he’s smart enough to premeditate and orchestrate all of these shenanigans in his favor – for they often are not – but it is of no consequence. He knows his hypnotized followers (maybe we should call them fans?) will support him no matter what he does – in fact the more unconventional and outrageous, the more many of them like it – so he bulldozes forward, unchecked, shooting from the hip and to hell with the consequences.

And really, what has he got to lose? He’s a septuagenarian billionaire who holds the most powerful job on Earth. He controls a Congress that has abdicated its duty to serve as a vital check on that power. He is therefore free to do as he pleases. Break the law? Who’s going to stop him? And would we really throw a (former) president in jail? Never happen. Nixon was pardoned for the good of the country, and the same courtesy would be extended to Trump (for our benefit, not his – besides, do we really want him all over the media even after he’s out of office?). Even if he ever were charged with a crime, he has the money to litigate and obfuscate the truth until he dies. So if Republicans in Congress won’t put their collective feet down, Democrats must be given the chance to. Someone has to stand up to this man in a way that has real consequence and isn’t just outraged rhetoric.

I’ve said before that we should not take the hard-won freedoms we enjoy in this country for granted. Just because they’ve always been there does not mean they always will. The people who support Trump, whom I still struggle to fully understand, seem to me reckless and extremely short-sighted. Many seem to be the instant-gratification types (witness their rabid reactions at his dictator-style “rallies”), with seemingly limited ability to see, consider or understand the long-term consequences of Trump’s endless need for bucking every tradition, institution and precedent he encounters. There is a reason why commanders-in-chief typically behave with caution, circumspection and decorum – it has kept our democracy relatively stable for over two centuries. And yes, I’m sorry, stability can be boring, but it’s much better than the alternative.

dictator
Did you ever stop to wonder how dictators come to power? Does it happen suddenly, or is it more insidious? How did Hitler get so many otherwise rational people to become so blind, rabid and fanatically loyal? To follow him no matter how outrageous his ideas? To throng to large rallies to listen to him spew patriotism, hate and venom? Remind you of anyone? Why does North Korea worship Kim Jong-un like a god, a man who can do no wrong and whose culture of personality pervades every newspaper, TV channel and political discussion? Sound familiar? The pep rallies, the attacks on the press, the punishing of anyone who criticizes him, the propaganda, the distorting of truth and reality, the abuses of power, the scapegoating of those who are different, the pardoning of supporters and chants to lock up detractors, the total control over an emasculated Congressional majority that is too afraid to speak out against a man that they know to be very dangerous for the country – all dictatorial behaviors with dire long-term consequences. Even a Trump News – I mean Fox News – host erroneously referred to Trump as a dictator. Oops.


Change on a national scale typically happens slowly, but Trump has accelerated all that. Childish and insatiable ego aside, it’s as if he is intentionally disrupting everything that many (including his unwitting supporters) hold dear in this country. Does he do this just for attention, like a two-year old who’s learned a cuss word or who pulls his pants down in front of company? Does he do it for the adulation of his primary base of supporters, the Jerry Springer-NASCAR crash-reality show types who thrive on conflict, spectacle and mayhem? Does he do it to enrich himself and his family? Is he being controlled by a foreign power bent on destroying this country? Is he paranoid? Deranged? Bored? Desperate to be loved? Yes. All of these, and more.

Like my Facebook friend, I sometimes tire of the endless Trump coverage we’ve all been subjected to for eighteen long months now. He’s like an annoying child (in oh so many ways) begging for attention while you’re trying to conduct your life. It’s easy, and tempting, to bury our heads in the sand, to switch from cable news to sitcoms, from the New York Times to an escapist novel. We’re tired of the circus, as entertaining as the clowns may be. We want to just throw our hands up and write off the 45th president of the United States as an anomaly,  a narcissistic buffoon who will never change his ways. Just ignore him. He wants our attention, so let’s not give it to him.


And that’s when he’s won. To get us to become so weary of his outrageous behavior that we start normalizing it as “just who he is,” to write off his antics as just another day of bizarre and head-spinning headlines that we’ve seen so many times before. Once we do that, he will be even more emboldened and dangerous than he is now, hard as that may be to imagine. For us to give up and become so disgusted with politics as too rigged, too complex or too corrupt to be effectual is to pave the way for an authoritarian figure like Trump to fill the void, to pull off a coup when everyone is so weary from the battle that no one is paying much attention any more.

My spirits were lifted this week when dozens of former military and intelligence officials spoke out publicly and forcefully to denounce Trump’s vindictive and authoritarian revocation of the security clearance of a man who dared speak out against him. Trump then lied, of course, about why he did it. Par for the course. Yawn. Seen it before. What did you expect from this man, whom the wiser among us could see right through even before he was elected? But unless the Trump-enablers in Congress step up and put what is necessary and right for this country above their own petty concerns, until they speak out like these usually apolitical directors and generals from both parties, then there is no hope for a solution.

Current Republican leaders have shown time and again that they have no stomach for calling Trump out for what he so clearly is, and, even worse, they make excuses for him so that Trump-loving voters don’t turn against them. Maybe it’s something like the fear that leaders in Nazi Germany had of speaking out against Hitler, allowing him to eventually become too powerful to stop. Yes, our leaders bear the responsibility for whatever becomes of our current authoritarian leader even more than Trump does. Since they won’t accept that responsibility, the only solution is at the polls in November – for us to elect farsighted leaders who will finally put a stop to this power-hungry despot. I pray that the more rational and clear-headed among us will prevail, and save the less savvy from themselves. Speak out against Trump while you still can, and look forward to the day when our 46th president declares that “our long national nightmare is over.”

Advertisements

Memory and Music

Music

It fascinates me how music stimulates memory and emotion more powerfully than anything else I know. I often wonder if this is as true for others as it is for me. Generally, when I hear a song from my past, especially one I haven’t heard in a while, I experience a flood of emotion – ever so brief – that brings me back to the feeling state I had when the song originally entered my awareness. Nothing else does this to me in quite the same way – not seeing an old friend, not looking at old photographs, not thinking about the past. Sure, all those things spark some memories, but not nearly as powerfully. Based on these music “flashbacks,” I can often tell you the exact year a song came out or was popular on the charts, because I can equate it to what was going on in my life at the time. Is this normal? Is this more pronounced in introverts, who may pay more attention to such things?

There is one song in particular that affects me in such a profound way that it stops me in my tracks. It was playing at Dunkin’ Donuts today when I entered, and it threw me into a momentary trance. I probably haven’t heard it in a few years, and when I do it’s usually by chance. I know its power, and therefore almost never listen to it intentionally. It’s too special, and I don’t want to weaken its mysterious powers. It whisks me back to a time in my life that was precious, my late teens when I felt more hopeful, powerful, and free than I ever had, or ever would again. The world was mine. There was nothing I couldn’t be, do or achieve. I was fearless. I was trusting. I was optimistic. I was everything that I no longer am. I had just graduated high school, started a business, and fallen in love (well, infatuation) for the first time in my life. Emotions were running wild and everything seemed to finally be going my way. That was before the crash.

It was the spring of 1982, a year that would deliver the best, and worst, emotional experiences of my life, a banner year that has not been equaled to this day. Many Top 40 songs from the period spark memories of that idyllic spring for me, but the song in question reigns supreme. I’m not really sure why. Is it something special about the song itself – the beat, the rhythm, the infectious melody? The vapid words hold no significance to me whatsoever, though the title is oddly appropriate. Did I perhaps hear it at a key moment or thought process? Maybe that’s supposing too much and it just got more radio play than the others. I’ll likely never know. But whatever it does to my brain, my emotions, and my ageing soul is as good as a time machine, as if no years or experiences have passed to soil that distant time and place, to ruin the circumstances that had me feeling so hopeful and alive. Before disappointment, before heartache, before cynicism. Before burgeoning events in my life left my control. Before the pesky intrusion of reality, waving its needle about recklessly to burst my unsustainable bubble.

bubble

Memory researchers say that every time we have a memory, it weakens. This is because when we remember something, we’re not remembering the original experience, but rather the last time we remembered it. We’re pulling up a copy of a copy of a copy, degraded by loss of content. So those cherished memories we hold probably aren’t very accurate. Perhaps we’ve embellished them a little; innocently  filled in the gaps, changed a few details to be more to our liking. This is where my song comes in to save the day. Whatever memories it sparks they seem authentic and original, brief and titillating as they may be. They are preserved, intact and unsullied. It is an enticing emotional cocktail, one that makes me every bit as uninhibited and carefree as a real cocktail, a strange mixture of excitement, adventure and despair. Basically, a synthesis of everything I felt that year. But, like trying to recall a dream, I just can’t hold on to the experience, and the longer the song plays the more the images fade. You can’t fool flashbacks.

I suppose I was pretty naive back then, uncharacteristically trusting, and blindly in-the-moment with no concern for the future. These traits aren’t necessarily bad except that they were in the extreme, an extreme that I gradually took to the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Ever since that eventful year, I’ve been on a regressive journey toward pessimism, isolation and distrust. Life isn’t going to catch me with my guard down again.

My challenge is to try to recapture some of the hopeful, naive me who isn’t so sullied by life, who doesn’t think he’s experienced all that he can, who doesn’t know everything. He hides in that seductive song, and I need to find him before he fades away forever into the ephemeral fog of memory.

 

Life, you’re not meeting expectations

I’ve accomplished and experienced much in my life, things that countless others probably never will. I owned my own business for twenty-seven years, from the time I was eighteen years old. I once won a trip to Hawaii, and, another time, ten-thousand dollars on a lottery ticket. A nationally-renowned author personally selected something I wrote in a contest. I’ve watched a performance from the general manager’s box in the best opera house in the world, and stood on its stage. I’ve met three governors, numerous celebrities, and exchanged a personal gesture with the president of the United States. I built a fabulous house in the best neighborhood in town when I was 25, and owned a million-dollar property on Cape Cod. I’ve been on the radio and television, had my picture in a nation-wide newspaper, and an article written about me in a national magazine. I’ve had several brushes with death, but skirted them every time.

When I look back on some of these occurrences, I find it hard to believe they happened to me, an unassuming, introverted bumpkin from the cultural wasteland of Eastern Connecticut who grew up humbly and relatively unambitious. And yet, in spite of my good fortune, I can’t shake a nagging sense that life has failed to live up to my expectations. What kind of an ingrate am I?

Are my expectations unreasonable? Perhaps I measure a rewarding and successful life by some other criteria? To be sure, there have been undesirable occurrences as well: relationship attempts that never made it past limerence; the loss of pets, friendships, and my only sibling; a permanent disability in my left hand; the eventual loss of my house, business and fortune. Easy come, easy go. Everything is temporary anyway, right? My life’s former successes have been on a downward trajectory for years, and the roller coaster has few highs left. Pessimism has spiked as I’ve gotten older, and there’s not much genuine hopefulness left on the horizon. I look forward to little, save the simple, selfish and temporary pleasures of my favorite shows, music and food. My safe places. There may not be anything wrong with this except that I’m fifty-five, not seventy-five, and am already drawing the curtains. Have I experienced too much too early in life? Am I burned-out, jaded, cynical? Am I having a normal mid-life crisis? Can I even name what might make me happy, or dare hope for it if I could?

blogpichuff1647376064.jpg

I might wish for a relationship, but I decided a while back that I’m not cut out for one. All attempts have ended quickly, as I don’t seem to know how to not be so damned independent. I don’t know how to be part of another without losing myself. I don’t know how to trust. I’m too selfish. No one would tolerate me. Oh, there are a million reasons, and it’s always seemed easier to just avoid the whole emotional mess, lonely and unfulfilling as it may be.

Were I in the position I might wish to retire and spend time traveling the country. I used to travel a lot and have visited about twenty states, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. I used to be much more adventurous. I used to dine out a lot, go to the theater, get together frequently with friends. I used to have friends. My excursions out of state and to concerts and operas in recent years have all been done alone (hey, I give myself credit for at least having some adventures, solo or not). I haven’t travelled outside New England in sixteen years. It’s been just as long since I’ve dated anyone. I’ve been stuck in a job for ten years that’s not right for me. I’m in both stasis and solitary confinement, a long-term comfort zone that’s not very comfortable. I’m not sure if I’m punishing or protecting myself, but it’s really no way to live.

I have some guesses about the reasons for my existential decline, for giving up early. Some of them are rooted in my unusual personality type, INTJ, which is rather rigid, narrow and unforgiving (of self and others). Suffice it to say that I used to feel like a success, and no longer do. When I was younger, my intelligence and good grades made me feel worthwhile. After I graduated, my business provided me with much of my identity and sense of self-worth, even if I failed miserably at love and relationships (common INTJ pitfalls). Now, working for others, I feel undervalued, insignificant and unfulfilled – a cog, a drone, a lockstep soldier with no individuality or creativity. My youth and boundless energy has turned grayer, fatter and more sedentary. I’m afraid to take risks. My trust is shaken. My outlook has gone from eternally hopeful to hopefully eternal (by that I mean I contemplate death and decline more often, something I rarely gave a thought to before). At some point I started feeling old and unsuccessful, unable to control my destiny and the vagaries of life. I don’t live up to my own expectations.

Is this how most “old” people feel, I wonder? Am I old? How am I going to come to terms with this stage of my life? How am I going to get out of this funk? Many people didn’t wake up this morning, and I’m having a decade-long pity party. So now I can also beat up on myself for being selfish and ungrateful (I’ve always had healthy doses of both. I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy). If anyone reading this wants to slap some sense into me, I’m right there with you.

Any therapist would likely tell me that, to answer an earlier question, I am both punishing and protecting myself. My rigid isolationist exile protects me from others, and others from me. It’s safe and predictable. There is a limited range of feeling and emotion. Not having friends or significant others prevents loss and disappointment. But does it really? I’m disappointed now.

All I know is the clock is ticking, for all of us, and sitting on the bench is no way to live. As I write this I am reminded of a favorite movie from my youth, Dead Poets Society, which I used to strongly identify with. It’s about friendships. It’s about mentors. It’s about being inspired. It’s about coming out of one’s shell, about living and losing and seizing the day (carpe diem!) It features this quote from Thoreau in a particularly heart-wrenching scene that brings tears to my eyes even now:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Musings on life, and death

no day

Feelings about death are complicated: illogical, guilt-ridden, speculative. We are often shocked by death and deem it unfair, knowing damn well that everyone and everything dies. Nothing is permanent. Look around you. None of what you see will exist forever. Nothing. It goes through constant change, and has a time when it will expire. That change, that progress, cannot be stopped, whether to our bodies or our environment. It is part of evolution, part of the big bang, part of the expansion of the universe. It started long before we got here, and will continue long after we’re gone. Even this planet we inhabit will eventually disappear. Being mindful of this impermanence helps us to appreciate everything more.

When my dog died last week – the third time in my life I’ve been through this trauma – it seemed so sudden, and kind of unfair. After the shock, my first feelings were ones of self-examination. Did I miss warning signs? Should I have done something differently? Did I somehow contribute to his death? We want to stop death, even after it happens. These feelings were piggybacking with ones of intense sorrow for my dog and any suffering he endured. But it went further than this. I felt sorry for him for being dead, which makes no sense since he no longer has a consciousness (well, maybe he does, but if so he’s still not likely to be suffering). He presumably can’t feel anything, so there is no need to torture myself over his absence. It is those left behind, the living, who bear the burden of sorrow and suffering, which is somewhat ironic. The dead have the easy part. The living have the hard part.

leaves

Our wanting to prevent and stop death makes perfect sense – it highlights how much we value life. But life would not be special if it were not for death. Without death, living things would have little challenge, purpose or meaning. Existence must be finite, because we cannot fathom or tolerate the infinite, at least not in our present state. If you knew you were going to live forever in this form, how would you feel about life? Even the optimist may become pessimistic, and the pessimist who used to get up and think “just another day closer to death” may realize that this was actually a good thing. The gradual changes that we and everything around us goes through prepare us for death. Our bodies and faculties start to fail us, and we find that we no longer fit in very well with the world around us. It now belongs to the next generation, and we must move aside for them, just as our ancestors did for us.

Premature death is another matter. When one dies early in their lifespan, we feel they have been cheated. Maybe so, maybe not – it depends on what comes after death. I’ve always thought that those who believe in a glorious afterlife should celebrate death, not mourn it. If nothing happens after death, then yes, you could argue that those who don’t live a full lifespan were cheated, but in this particular instance they no longer have a consciousness and aren’t at all aware or affected by this unfairness. If there is consciousness after life, then they weren’t really cheated at all. We were, of having them around. So when someone dies, are we sorry for them, or ourselves? Usually both, but the sorrow for ourselves makes much more sense. But to dwell on “what ifs” and painful moments leading up to a death is unproductive, and a futile attempt by our minds to cheat or reverse death. In some cases death may be delayed, but it cannot be cheated, it cannot be stopped, it cannot be changed, no matter what we do. To have an awareness of missing the deceased because of what they meant to us is much more productive.

borders

This is where others can step in to fill the void. Perhaps the animal or person who has passed on has given us new insight, a new outlook, a new opportunity with their passing to make new connections with others. Maybe we take the best in them and incorporate it into ourselves. Maybe we have more patience with the living. Maybe we have a greater appreciation for life in whatever time we have left.

So when you do anything in life – listen to music, converse with a friend, go to your job, clean the house, or take out the dog – be mindful of impermanence, and the fact that whatever you’re doing will have an endpoint. If you experience a “bad” thing, know your feelings about it will end, and be glad. If it’s a “good” thing, know the same and thereby appreciate it more. Not taking things for granted will help you be more grounded and live in the moment. Nothing is forever – even grief.

The most lovable pain in the butt I ever knew

IMG_20160615_155911005

I started the car, day one of my suddenly altered life. I no longer had to lower the volume on the stereo to keep from blasting Rufus out of the back seat. There was no need for that second trip to the driveway when I got home, to carry him inside. I noted the sudden uselessness of the tie-out chain as I climbed the porch stairs, empty-handed, and the unnecessary gate blocking his entry to the broken-fenced backyard. The newly prominent food and water bowls no longer serve any purpose, nor the three beds in the living room, nor two in the bedroom (he slept in more beds than George Washington).

No one followed me when I went upstairs to change, or came to stare at me when I sat down to have a midnight snack, hoping he’d get some (he usually did). There was no need to prepare his nightly pill regimen, or to let him out, usually twice, before bedtime. The bedroom door could remain open, and I didn’t have to be sensitive to my laughter during the Big Bang Theory, thinking it might disturb his sleep. I could even have a yogurt while watching TV without him getting up after he had finally settled in, to lick the container. This new-found freedom is both liberating and awful, a constant reminder of how things are different now.

The canine supplements I ordered can be sent back to Amazon when they intrusively arrive later this week. No such luck on the giant bag of new dog food I just switched Rufus to yesterday. At least he liked it, I console myself, and for unknown reason I had even added some wet food, something he loved but rarely got (too fattening). He scarfed it down eagerly, both of us unaware that it was his last meal.

I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye, but I know that wouldn’t have made this any easier. These things always feel sudden and unfair, no matter the prep time. I had left him hurriedly this morning after serving his meds in a peanut-buttered piece of bread, and oddly can’t remember what I said to him when I left – or leaving him at all. He had a follow-up appointment at the vet’s in the afternoon, which my parents, who have helped me care for him for five years now, brought him to while I was at work. I knew he didn’t seem well the past few days, but he’d had some off and on health issues and I figured he was just suffering the unkind ravages of old age. I left a note to let them and the vet know what I’d observed, in case it was important, and left him alone in the kitchen. The last thing I expected was that I’d never see him again.

IMG_20170401_231608648

In late afternoon I was going to check in with my folks to see how Rufus made out, but had gotten endlessly sidetracked at work. Shortly afterward, there was a call for me on 101 – no doubt an employee or a customer with a problem. It was the vet. The vet never called me at work. Initially there was talk of sending him to a specialty care facility out of state, but when my mom got on the phone, crying, I was confused. Apparently, the specialty facility was grasping at straws. His organs had started to fail, and she revealed the awful reality – they were also suggesting putting him down.

For the next ten minutes I negotiated some torturous and unwelcome decisions while stupefied, trying to keep it together enough to even speak (I was taking the call in public, at the front registers). I tried to interpret the true meaning of the vet’s delicately rendered options. There was so much to consider: his quiet suffering; my folks’ hapless position; my demanding schedule and the approaching weekend; the cost of specialty emergency care that may be of little help; whether I wanted to be there; whether to opt for an injection that might keep him stable through the night, buying me some time, and, just as importantly, allowing me to selfishly see him once more. But what an awful night that would be for both of us. No, last night, when we shared a banana yogurt together, was to be our last – and I’m very glad I didn’t know that.

I made the gravest decision anyone can make and gave the irrevocable approval to end his life. I hung up the phone and headed for the privacy of the office with a look on my face that I’m sure my service clerk had never seen on me before. Thirty miles away, a candle was being lit in the waiting room of All Friends Animal Hospital as all present were asked to observe a moment of silence for my dog.

img_20161217_225915360.jpg

In the end, the guilt is the worst. I had been frustrated with Rufus of late as he became increasingly high maintenance. I’m not particularly well-suited to being a caretaker. I don’t have the patience. I got annoyed when he wouldn’t come inside, when he would just stand sheepishly and stare, when he’d be overly willful. It got tiresome taking him out to pee so often (he drank tons of water, probably due to the meds he was on), especially after a long day at work when the introvert in me demanded some down time. But I didn’t know how bad he was feeling, and he couldn’t tell me. I wish I had been more understanding, but in truth, I probably had the patience of a saint with him. How could you not when he was so damn cute?

Overall, was I a good master? I rarely took him for walks, though his Grampa did, and he loved it. I was pretty selfish by nature, yet he always licked my face when I carried him, upside-down and cradled in my arms, into the house every night and whispered in his ear. It was our daily bonding moment. I had adopted him five years ago when he was ten, an aging rescue dog who I figured would be fairly lethargic and generally low-maintenance. Instead, he was relatively active and craved constant companionship. Since I live alone and work full-time, this was a problem. However, thanks to my retired parents, he was very rarely by himself. So I know we gave him a good life, even if I didn’t particularly like walking around the neighborhood as much as he did. I compromised by fencing in the yard for him, and he loved to lay out on the deck in the sunshine and survey his adopted domain. Maybe this new guy’s alright, he seemed to be thinking. I’m think I’m going to like it here.

Rufus bandana lying

The house screams with stillness tonight, and everything looks different. The dog paraphernalia seems to be everywhere, and nothing else holds any meaning. His absence transforms the place from being a home to just a house, a building filled with stuff. It was only me and him here, and my daily routine (and that of my folks) revolved around him heavily. Every day I dropped him off at day care before work (their house), and then picked him up again at night. On my ten-hour days this was not always convenient, yet it was hours after his death before I even realized that this was no longer a stop I had to make. There would be no sleepy dog to help in to the back seat of the car any longer.

The pill bottles. The toys he rarely played with but that I kept buying him anyway. His pictures covering the refrigerator door. The empty yogurt container on the bedroom floor. The echoes of my long-suffering companion’s existence shout from every corner. I can’t yet bring myself to read the many caring condolences of friends on Facebook, where Rufus had his own page and would make wry doggie observations from time to time. When I posted the news of his passing on my own page – probably the hardest thing I did all day – I said that there were no words to express my feelings. Turns out, I had that backwards. Rufus is the one who expressed his feelings without words, often in the appreciative fashion shown below.

IMG_20160615_175624311_HDR

Whoever invented the gun should be shot

2ndamendment

So here we are again, in October of 2017, with another mass shooting in America and another great loss of life. Sad to say, it will happen again. And again. Don’t blame the guns, the gun lovers say. Well, why not? Were it not for his 23 guns, this man could not have carried out his heinous mission. Without guns, there is no way he could have killed so many people so quickly.  Without guns, he likely would not have had the courage, or even the idea, to do what he did. Oh yes, the guns are culpable alright, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The guns greatly facilitated the killing and the murderous intent, making it quite effortless and efficient. Brutally engineered “improvements” and increases in a gun’s killing power over the years make it all so very easy. Does anyone really believe that the normalization and glamorization of gun culture is not a lure for wannabe killers?

And please tell me, why does any private individual need to own an automatic weapon? For protection? From what, and whom? We have a military and police forces for such protection (I know, you don’t trust them, or anyone. See next paragraph). I don’t hear many stories where an automatic weapon in the hands of a private individual saved an innocent, or innocents, from harm. I do hear lots of stories where they cause harm – and great harm. And even if there are cases where they have saved lives, is it really worth the other side of the coin? The side where some whack-job takes out a whole movie theater full of people, or school full of children, or night club full of dancers, or arena full of teenagers?

If we’re going to buy into the argument that people have a right to defend themselves with ever-more destructive weapons, then where does it end? Do we eventually allow private citizens to own nuclear weapons? Absurd, you say? Well, if it is absurd, then you must believe there is a limit. So where is it? The NRA seems to think it’s OK for people to own increasingly, ridiculously lethal weapons with enough firepower to decimate scores of people in one fell swoop. Does that indefensible stance really make sense to anyone? It’s a private-level arms race, a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, a rationale that the private citizen needs weapons on par with those the government and the military use, to protect themselves from that same government and military. All I can say to that is this: if the government or military is coming for you, there’s nothing you or your paranoid arsenal can do to stop them. So, what was your argument again?

And if people really want to kill each other, make them do it the hard, old-fashioned way – with clubs and knives, or maybe even hand to hand combat. Make them work for it. Make them get their hands dirty instead of hiding comfortably in a hotel room far from the carnage. Make them see, up close, the horror they’re causing, the bloodshed, the pain. Make them be a part of it, not apart from it. Make them settle their blood lust conventionally, one person at a time, and give the people they’re attacking a fighting chance to defend themselves. Do you think some of the overcompensating misfits currently hiding behind their assault rifles would perhaps think twice? Maybe find an outlet for their powerlessness other than the one that uncontrolled firepower conveniently lays at their feet?

Guns are a cowardly way to kill people, and even more so animals, which is what these mass killers seem to be treating people as (hunting is another reason the gun lobby likes to cite as justification for assault weapons, as if deer are such a threat). To call hunting, of animals or people, a “sport” is laughable. Where’s the sport in gunning down defenseless and unsuspecting prey? I’m reminded of a great scene in the movie Crocodile Dundee where a gang of hoods who were shooting innocent kangaroos are suddenly pursued by a kangaroo with a gun (with a little help from the movie’s namesake). Ah, if the tables were only turned, maybe it would be the gun owners who would be crying for armistice.

My condolences, thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by today’s mass shooting, and all mass shootings. I wish I could say it would never happen again. I wish I could say we are learning from these tragedies.

Five books a year

IMG_20170210_165516353

I’ve spent half a lifetime accumulating books (anyone who’s helped me move will attest to this). I’ve been fascinated by them since high school, even though I didn’t particularly like being forced to read things that didn’t engage my interests at the time (does Beowulf engage anyone’s interests?). I recall being assigned Return of the Native, Pride and Prejudice, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and the like, none of which I’ve read to this day (thank God for Cliff Notes, the Wikipedia of the seventies). I did like Shakespeare, however, mostly the poetic Elizabethan sentences, and also Homer’s great adventure The Odyssey,  but it was still torture to get me through a whole book. Forcing someone to do something isn’t a good way to win an adherent, but I also had the added struggle of trying to focus my daydream-prone attention (oddly enough I was an honors student, so my focusing must have been selective). In today’s multi-tasking world, where myriad demands needle our frazzled attention spans, focusing is even more of a challenge. Nevertheless, I am more successful with my reading regimen today than I have ever been. Let me explain how this miracle happened.

The first book I remember reading to completion – I have a great habit of starting, but not finishing, books – is Stephen King’s The Stand, which I read during one of my high school summers. Without being forced. A paperback, no less (how quaint!) It was hardly a piece of literature, but I loved it and I felt good about finishing it (it’s a long book). It was a page turner, and King is, of course, an excellent writer.

Soon after graduating, I started collecting fine leather volumes from Easton Press. First I subscribed to their “Library of the Presidents” (a biography on each chief executive), and then to the “100 Greatest Books Ever Written.” They were beautiful books, and looked quite impressive in my oak bookcases with their gold-stamped, raised-hub spines and leathery smell. They also made me look quite erudite to visitors, even though I had hardly read any of them. Who has that kind of time? (the typical American supposedly reads five books a year. Yeah, I find that hard to believe, too. The typical American lies).  I was running my own business at the time and worked sixty-hour weeks, plus I’m a terribly slow reader. The writer in me mulls passages over in my mind and ruminates on them, marveling at their poetic structure or philosophical brilliance, which doesn’t lead to the page being turned very quickly. I daydream, I get sleepy, and before you know it, it’s lights out. So my beautiful books mostly sat and collected dust, moving with me from place to place (to place) while I promised to get to them, someday (retirement? The Old Folks’ Home?) After ten years or more of collecting, I had a good 200 volumes.

IMG_20170105_165446837

My “100 Greatest Books Ever Written” bookcase

Fast forward a decade, when I decided to complete a degree in English Literature, finally and formally pursuing my interest in all things literary at the ripe age of fifty. Surprisingly, even in this course of study I didn’t have to read many complete novels. It takes much too long, and the curriculum would rather expose you to a wide variety of writers and has only a finite amount of time in which to do so. So while I did read Madame Bovary, Othello, To Kill a Mockingbird, and shorter writings of numerous and varied authors, I was still largely ignorant of many of the classics. This bothered me. How could I claim to be an English Lit major when I hadn’t even read Moby Dick to completion?

Electronic books were becoming increasingly popular at this time, and I started amassing them. They may not impress anyone on a bookshelf, but I could store thousands of these babies on one little device! If I wasn’t overwhelmed before, I sure was then. It was a hoarder’s – I mean collector’s – dream! I could start-and-not-finish books to my heart’s content! I bought each successive incarnation of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, which kept improving, and when they released one with a back-light I began reading in bed at night. This became a ritual, with the side benefit of making me tired and directing my thoughts just before sleep. I’d developed a new habit, one that I stuck with. Reading in bed became something I looked forward to at the end of the day, a luxury I had never really indulged in before (it was something about the lights being on, I’m sure. My dog would give me dirty looks).

Thanks to the e-reader’s versatility I can read several books at once, but I limit myself to just one chapter from each (lots of the classics have deliciously short, distinct chapters, because they were originally published in serial form). This method keeps my interest alive if one book is getting dull, and even if it is, it helps to know that I’m only committed to one chapter. It gets me through the rough spots. Occasionally, I’ll like a book so much that I’ll violate my rule and read two chapters (yeah, I can be a little wild at times), but if I get too hung up on one book and neglect the others, I end up forgetting their plots and characters (who is Starbuck again?). I’m actually in this predicament right now. I’m currently reading (or re-reading – and you know you love an author’s writing when you want to read their book again, even though you already know what happens) The Count of Monte Cristo, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, War and Peace, Frankenstein, Don Quixote, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Picture of Dorian Gray, King Lear, and biographies on Washington, Lincoln and Nixon (I guess I’ll be forgiven if I confuse Nixon and King Lear). Please, don’t mention another classic to me or I’ll start reading it, too. I need an intervention! It doesn’t help that many of these books are in the public domain and are therefore free to download – a major advantage over printed tomes.

Amazon_Kindle_Paperwhite_2013_35827154_12

I know there’s still a lively debate over physical books versus electronic ones. As much as I salivate over a finely designed and crafted physical book, I have to admit that the electronic ones are much more convenient. For one thing, the next time I move, my helpers will be bowing down to the Kindle gods in gratitude. But aside from this physical practicality, you can’t beat the ability to store hundreds of books in the space of one, to switch among them at will, to read conveniently with the lights off, to hold the device effortlessly with one hand, to look up unfamiliar words with one click, to highlight favorite passages at length and collect them in one spot, to share passages on social media without leaving the page, to pull up the first mention of a character whom you’ve forgotten, and to have the device keep track of where you left off and pick right up from there, even if it’s on another device (your phone, your tablet). In fact, because of this marvelous invention I’ve started selling all my fine leather volumes. As nice as they are to look at and behold, they are just tying up money and space, two things that tend to dwindle as you get older. I do keep the ones I’m fondest of*, and you still can’t beat a physical book if there are lots of pictures inside. I also own an 1850 illustrated copy of my favorite book, David Copperfield, the year it was first published. It’s a bit musty and yellowed, but knowing it was printed shortly after Dickens wrote it rather fascinates me.

My 1850 David Copperfield

So even though I’ve overwhelmed myself with reading material, I am confident that, by the end of the year, I’ll have finished more (electronic) books than I ever have before – just as I promised their leather-bound cousins. I’ll probably even surpass the national average of five, which will make up for someone else who’s slacking. Or lying.

* You can read my thoughts on some of my favorite novels and passages here.