Category Archives: Quick takes

A November farewell

Nov. 3, 2014

He was here to fill my aching arms after our little son Christopher failed to come home from the hospital. He was here to welcome the next child, Emily, safely into our family. He was here for birthday parties, sleepovers, first days of school, first crushes. He saw our oldest, Katie, grow into a woman, graduate from college and begin her new life. And he was here just this morning, happy to be let out into the glorious sunshine, although he had not quite been himself for the past few days. “You sweet little thing,” I murmured in response to his happy purr. And now, this evening, as gently and peacefully as entered our lives, our beautiful cat has left us. Goodbye, Mozart, and thank you for 18 wonderful years.

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Filed under grief, Quick takes

Thofe Pefky Coffee-Houfes

Coffee HoufesDefarts

 

The original Prohibitionists? In 1674, the Women’s Petition Against Coffee was published in London to protest the sale of this “Heathenish new LIQUOR” because of the effect it was having on their Hufbands. Take a look at their list of complaints.

Well said, ladies.

Because let’s face it. We could tolerate their Goffipping. We could put up with their Impotence, and maybe even endure the occasional Drying of Moifture. But we absolutely cannot, will not, abide thofe deadly Defarts. Now they’ve crossed the line.

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#MyRescueStory

He is balding in many places, and no amount of elaborate combing-over can hide the telltale glow of pink skin underneath. Over the years, his once-musical voice has been reduced to a plaintive croak. If we watch a movie together, he falls asleep and snores so loudly during the most sensitive and touching love scenes I can barely hear the dialogue. His table manners, once so meticulous, have now become truly atrocious, with food scattered willy-nilly in every direction so that it crunches under your feet when you walk through the kitchen.

And let’s not even talk about his bathroom habits, which have grown so shamefully lax I hesitate to invite anyone over any more. It’s too embarrassing to have to explain why my entire house smells of bleach.

Still.

I remember him when he was young and beautiful. I can still vividly remember the day we went to choose him from the animal rescue shelter. He was the prettiest and healthiest kitten at the shelter, snoozing peacefully in his cage with his silky black and white fur highlighting perfect pink ears that flicked gently in the soft Indian-summer air.

We had gone there to ease the heartache of a now-empty nursery that had been intended to welcome home our greatly anticipated second child. Our Christopher died in my arms within minutes of his appearance on earth, and I ached for something small and warm to hold. Although I could not imagine how a small kitten could possibly be expected to fill the void left by a son I had hoped to raise to adulthood, I wanted to demonstrate to Katie, my firstborn, that our lives must keep moving forward, no matter how badly our hearts were broken.

That was more than 18 years ago. In the intervening years, our Mozart has helped us welcome our youngest child into our midst. As far as Emily knows, there has always been a cat who is part of our family. Mozart was here for their first days of school, the endless round of sleepovers and birthday parties, their first crushes. He has seen Katie graduate first from high school, then college. He has seen Emily sail through her entire 10+ years of school with straight A’s. If he continues to hang in there much as he has, he may well see at least one young woman in her wedding gown within the next few years.

And, if our veterinarian has it figured right, he may even still be around to usher in the next generation. At our last well-being checkup, the vet looked into Mozart’s crystal-clear green eyes, nodded, and announced, “Yep. I think this cat’s going to make it to 22.”

As for me, I’m counting on it.

 

 

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Remembering Robin Williams

Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
~ Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2

 

Although the final act by this supremely gifted comic and dramatic actor was a deeply tragic one, for most of us it is not the sum total of his life, not what we will remember as his greatest legacy.

For me, personally, it’s not even the impressive body of funny, moving, profound work he did over a long and productive career … nor even the joy and laughter and hope he brought to untold millions.

In the coming weeks, I am sure that much will be written about those things by people who are far more qualified to analyze them for their lasting impact on us as individuals and on the larger culture. I leave it to the experts to eulogize the invaluable contributions he made to the dramatic arts.

No, for me personally, the totality of his legacy can be summed up in his eyes: blue and gentle, they shone with a lovingkindness that seemed to include everyone in the world, however anonymous or petty or undeserving we might be. It was his eyes that I will remember.

What will you remember him for? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

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A new word enters the lexicon

Look. If Lewis Carroll (the author of the famous Alice in Wonderland books) could invent words such as chortle, galumphing and jabberwocky–words that have now become part of standard everyday usage–then I want my chance at immortality as well.

In that spirit, I offer the following term that evolved naturally out of a conversation with a female friend who is encountering some difficulty in making herself understood. Her opponent in this instance is a particularly implacable and arrogant male authority figure, but in truth this word has many useful applications and could work in any number of contexts.

Here, then, is the new coinage.

Ma-tron-ize |ˈmātrəˌnīz, ˈma-|

verb [requires an obj.]; feminine form of patronize, only better

  1. to treat with an exaggerated kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority
  2. to speak slowly, carefully and in very simple language when conversing with a complete and utter moron
  3. to accomplish the above with queenly dignity, grace and majesty

There’s my contribution to the English language. Long may it live.

Just remember you read it here first.

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First, let your heart bleed

“If you open your eyes to the world, you feel tremendous sadness. This kind of sadness occurs because your heart is completely exposed. The genuine heart of sadness comes from feeling that your heart is full. You would like to spill your heart’s blood, give your heart to others. For the warrior, this experience of sad and tender heart is what gives birth to fearlessness. Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart.” ~ Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chögyam Trungpa

Today I read these words in a book I checked out of the library. I was seeking some words of wisdom to guide me as I tried to find healing in  a distressing situation that — while not by any measure the worst catastrophe that has ever befallen me — was nonetheless enough of a shock to leave me sad, shaken and depressed.

New words for an abiding truth

In its simplest terms, the above quote sets forth the Buddhist philosophy on sorrow, which counsels that one embrace one’s grief, rather than trying to deny or suppress it.

It’s not really a new idea. I’ve long believed that painful feelings are far better faced and worked through than neatly tucked in, bottled up, or otherwise stifled. Suffice it to say that Trungpa’s words merely put a new wrapper on a familiar concept.

The rhythm of renewal

Still, it never hurts to be reminded that one’s heart can be broken at any age … that we remain vulnerable to people and relationships we thought we had outgrown the need for … that life can blindside and wound us at least as readily as it can surprise and delight us … and that this cycle of heartache and joy is as natural and foreseeable a part of life as the taking in and expiring of breath, as the coming and going of the seasons, as the ebb and flow of the tides. All things in the universe have their expected rise and fall. It is how life continues to renew itself.

Did I say it never hurts to be reminded of these things? Actually, it does hurt. That is precisely the point. It is only in our continued ability to experience the pain of brokenness that we find the suppleness and strength for new growth.

Let the grieving commence

I look forward to the day when this is once again good news. Today, however, it simply hurts. And I’m simply going to have to let it do so.

Svhaha.

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Grammer matter’s bc other country’s know are language better then us*

Here’s a little lesson in humility for the following:

*  Every North American who sees no value in learning our own language well, let alone anyone else’s

*  Every North American who makes fun of people who come from other countries and struggle to live in our country, learn our culture, and speak our language

Over the years, I have led numerous grammar “review” sessions at various colleges and universities where I’ve been a professor. These sessions cover the three major problem areas for most people:

1. Apostrophes
2. Pronouns
3. Irregular verbs, especially transitive and intransitive (the biggies are lie vs. lay)

Did you notice how I put the word review in quotation marks? That’s because, for many of my students, it’s the first time they’ve ever heard it.

Of course there are other trouble spots. These are the main ones that lots of people get wrong, including many “professional” writers. Again, note my use of quotation marks.

In all my years of review sessions with hundreds of students, most of whom have come through our public K-12 schools, I have met only one student who already knew this material thoroughly — knew it so well, in fact, that he was able to stay one step ahead for most of the review session.

One student.

One.

Want to know where he’s from?

Iran.

 

 

*PS:  If you caught all eight errors in my headline, then you are probably either: a) as frustrated as I am at the appalling state of language instruction in the United States; or b) foreign.

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Filed under classroom, education, education, grammar, Quick takes, Uncategorized

In which I confess my shameful drug abuse

This is how a nasty addiction gets started.

The little lies I tell myself. It’s just for today, just to ease the stress a little, just to help get through a patch of bad weather.

I’ll stop as soon as things get back to normal.

They’re only painkillers. The doctor wouldn’t have prescribed them if they were truly dangerous.

Still, he’s only 17 — too innocent, really, to understand the consequences of the choices I am making for him. Too innocent to understand how he might come to crave the hazy euphoria that creeps up on him within seconds of my plunging the syringe deep, deep into his docile, yielding form, while he tries to meet with his trusting eyes my own shifty gaze. And if the demand increases while the supply dwindles, where can he go to get his next fix? To what depths will he sink to score the next hit?

I’m only thinking of him

But hey. What am I going to do? The heat wave of 90-degree-plus temperatures is forecast to hold for several more days, and every time my cat wanders out for even a few moments, he comes back inside crawling with fleas. I swear they must be lying in ambush right by the  door, just waiting to pounce on his  shoulders, where he is unable to reach around and pick them off with his teeth.

Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to insist that he stay indoors until the heat breaks. Maybe by then, the fleas will have given up on Mozart and moved on to some other neighborhood, someplace where pet owners allow their animals to roam a bit more freely.

Still, he would go out, in this heat, fleas or no fleas. He is very insistent about this. He’s even taken to hiding himself under the hutch by the door, poised to make a desperate run for it as soon as one of us opens the door on our way out.

Seventeen years of getting used to things being done a certain way is a lifetime to a cat, and I worry that the sudden change in the order of things might be too stressful for him at his advanced age.

Excuses, excuses

That was why, today, I gave him a dose of the painkillers the veterinarian prescribed for a dislocated shoulder, even though he is no longer limping. I try to soothe my stinging conscience by reminding myself that, including the dose he got that day, this is only his second. It surely can’t do that much harm. It’s for his own good. It’s to help keep him calm. To get him through a rough couple of days.

Even so, I can’t help thinking that if anyone ever got wind of my behavior, this would all look very, very bad in the tabloids.

And I can only thank my lucky stars that, at least up to this point, Mozart has never shown the slightest interest in penning a tell-all memoir about how I led him to a life of debauchery and ruin. 

If he ever does, I’m in deep, deep doo-doo.

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Filed under Articles, Essays, humor, Quick takes, Uncategorized, violation of trust, writing

Men Who Hate Women. And the therapists who love them.

A few days ago, I went to the library and checked out the book Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them. Partly, I was just curious. Because it has long been considered a groundbreaking work, I figured any modern-day feminist worthy of the name should be well-versed in the relevant literature.

So, I started reading. Susan Forward, the psychologist who wrote the book, had me at the first couple of sentences, in which she described a destructive relationship dominated by a man who systematically destroys the woman’s attempts to assert her right to equal treatment. We’ve all seen relationships like that. Some of us have even been in relationships like that. Dr. Forward hit the nail right on the head.

So far, so good.

Then I come to the chapter in which she describes how men learn to be misogynistic within their families. As she describes the influence of a misogynistic father in shaping his son’s distorted perceptions of women, that too has the ring of authenticity and truth to it. We all know fathers who deliberately indoctrinate their sons in the belief that women are inferior, second-rate, worthy of contempt.

There’s where the problem sets in. After disposing in a few short paragraphs with a toxic father’s impact, she devotes the remainder of the chapter describing in great detail  the damaging effects of the mother-son relationship in response to the father. Page after page sets out the various dysfunctional models for how mothers trapped in marriage to an irredeemable jerk damage their sons. But not one further peep about what the father in all his destructive glory is doing on a daily basis. The daily snickering over the stacks of Playboy magazine hidden in the basement. The constant belittling of his wife in front of their children, relatives, friends, casual acquaintances. The overarching intolerance for anyone’s will but his own. Somehow, none of that is considered nearly as powerful as the mother’s futile attempts to cope with a situation that is completely out of her hands.

Same old same-old.

So in other words, even when the father is a complete and utter swine, it’s still somehow all on the mother’s shoulders if the son winds up damaged.

Doesn’t sound very groundbreaking to me. Sounds like the same old claptrap we’ve been hearing for generations. And the sad fact is, that’s still pretty much the presumption most family therapists are laboring under.

A not-very-modest proposal.

So for the record, bear with me while I make an outrageous, preposterous, revolutionary proposition. I’m just going to go out on a limb here, because someone’s got to do it. I realize this may be the first time anyone has ever dared to suggest such a thing, so you might want to make sure you’re sitting down.

Sometimes–often, in fact–when a man grows up hating women, it was the father who taught him that. Not the mother. And just as often, when a family’s dynamics are pathologically dysfunctional, the problems begin and end with the father. Not the mother.

Ultimately, though, when a man continues into adulthood hating women, there is one person and one person only who is responsible for that.

Him.

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Curvy schmurvy. I prefer well-rounded

Tell me if you see what’s wrong with this picture that was posted on Facebook from the Women’s Rights News web site: a plus-size model clad only in her lingerie, with this blurb emblazoned in all capital letters and vivid purple ink: “There is no such thing as percect (sic). There is just me, and guess what I’m OK with that.”

Underneath that photo is the text line: “Curvy is fine.”

Click here to see the photo:

Leaving aside the poor grammar and spelling in the blurb … and leaving aside, for the moment, the irony that such an act of self-objectification appears on a web site that purports to promote feminist values … I have to wonder if anyone besides me is bothered by the use of the euphemism “curvy” to mean something it doesn’t actually mean. It implies that all women of ample proportions are curvy, and that simply is not the case. It also implies that no slender woman can possibly be curvy. Also not true.

I prefer the term “full-figured,” which is far more accurate without being pejorative. Better yet, how about “intelligent,” or “talented” or even (and I know this is a radical notion) “human”?

But what’s even more troubling to me is the fact that women feel the need to pose in their underwear to prove something. Because frankly, I don’t choose my friends on the basis of how they look in their lingerie. I’m interested in knowing what books they’ve read, or the results of their latest lab experiments, or what they’re doing to eradicate puppy mills.

And if someone is judging me on the basis of how I might theoretically look in my skivvies–especially considering that the vast majority of the population will never in fact see me in them without the proper street attire on top–it’s probably not worth trying to prove anything at all.

Except perhaps how quickly I can move on to a more engaging conversation with a more well-rounded person.

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Filed under Articles, body image, Essays, feminism, friendship, Misogyny, Quick takes, social change, Uncategorized, writing