Love and Legislation Is All We Need

umguamournersReflecting on Thursday’s shooting in Roseburg, Oregon that took the lives of 10 people, President Obama reminded us that gun violence has numbed the country, especially the decision makers. “This is happening every single day in forgotten neighborhoods around the country,” he said. Truer words have not been spoken.

Oh, except for his earlier statement: “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough.”

Hundreds of families have been wrenched apart by these tragedies that are happening far too often. Last night, instead of having dinner together or chatting about their school days, 10 families looked at empty chairs and silent phones, forced to deal with the shock of “how could this happen?”

We know most of the victims had barely begun their life journey, while some had much experience – 18 year olds Quinn Glen Cooper, Lucas Eibel and Rebecka Ann Carnes; 19-year-old Lucero Alcaraz; 20-year-old Treven Taylor Anspach, 33-year-old Jason Dale Johnson, 44-year-old Serena Dawn Moore, 59-year-old Kim Saltmarsh Dietz and 67-year-old professor Lawrence Levine.

And for those of you who think I may have miscounted, shooter Chris Harper Mercer is included. Can you imagine, just for a moment, the horror and shock that his parents are dealing with? Not only is their child dead, but he most likely brought about the deaths of nine people. That’s a double whammy for which no parent can prepare.

Shootings in the classroom, workplace, church or public gathering places – we stuff the critical information in our collective memories and shuffle on. Thirteen dead in Columbine. 26 in Sandy Hook, 12 in Aurora, 9 in Charleston, 32 at Virginia Tech and two journalists in Virginia. We grieve. We bring in counselors. We build monuments. We promise to hug our loved ones. Then we give up.

Why have we thrown up our hands in helplessness?

The Second Amendment allows us to have guns, stating: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Good words when they were written, but worthy of regulation, such as background checks and waiting periods. I don’t think that stronger gun control would help. Oregon is an open carry state and there was a person in the thick of the action who had his own sidearm and chose not to go after the gunman because responding SWAT team members might have confused him with the actual shooter. More guns are not the answer.

And I’m not naïve enough to think that tighter gun laws would influence people like Mercer who came to the campus intent on killing people. That old “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” principle holds true. Criminals don’t generally obey the law and changing the Constitution is not the answer. I understand why we cherish our right to bear arms, but I cannot fathom why we think we need things like AK47’s that exist for the singular purpose of killing other people. Give those to the military and take them out of civilian hands.

mentalhealthIf the NRA is really supporting responsible gun ownership and safety, why don’t they use their formidable lobbying power to make mental health resources affordable and available to all? Along with strengthening and funding community programs, we need to change our attitudes to remove the stigma of being an outcast if one seeks help.

It all comes down to one simple four-letter word that needs to be addressed: hate. How do we stop the hate?

Rodgers and Hammerstein were criticized for their song “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” from their 1949 musical “South Pacific.” See if you can determine why:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

We really don’t like it when someone holds up a mirror, do we?

We can change this juggernaut of hate. How about starting by squelching partisan politics? How about the name-calling parts, where adults and elected officials become playground bullies in three-piece suits, turning a blind eye at any achievement by individuals of the “other party,” just because it’s popular to discredit and ridicule them?

Where do we cut the vitriol? What kind of example are we setting for our children, and for that matter, our fellow human beings? How do we justify cherry-picking the parts of the Constitution or the Bible to suit our current cause? And when do we stop rewriting the facts to reinforce our hate?

It’s got to stop. The more we operate as if it’s “Us vs. Them,” the bigger the cancer of hate grows.

We allow – and fund – campaigns to undermine each other and drive people to desperation. We disrespect each other routinely. Why are we surprised that these shootings happen so often if we treat our colleagues and constituents with hostility and anger?

Is absorbing this behavior – from Washington and the shooter-of-the-week – really the best response? Where is the outrage? Posting a rant on social media doesn’t count. Contact your elected representatives, tell them you want them to find a solution to making our schools, churches, shopping centers and others public places the safe places they were meant to be and make them listen. Don’t let them just form another blue ribbon committee either. Make them work, and when they don’t, vote them out.

It’s the only way we’re going to start the healing process we so desperately need.Kids_compassion And  one last word from our president:

“When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work together to make mines safer. When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer. When roads are unsafe, we fix them to reduce auto fatalities. We have seatbelt laws because we know it saves lives. So the notion that gun violence is somehow different…doesn’t make sense.

McD’s Monster Mistake: Who Doesn’t Want to be Batman?

I can’t f-ing believe it.

It is 2015, right?

As I drove through McDonalds to get a Happy Meal – not for a child, but for myself, because it’s a healthier choice, sizewise – I was asked “for a girl or a boy?”

I was momentarily stunned.

“What?” I asked.

“Is this for a boy or a girl?” the voice answered.

“Does it matter?” I responded.

“Yes.”

Silence, tempered with consternation, on my end. The feminist in me was ready to reach through the box and strangle something, but I cooled. Surely this was just a nightmare.

Eventually I said “It doesn’t matter,” as I pulled my car around the corner.

Had I not been in a drive-thru with a car in front of me, I would have just left. But I was stuck. And my curiosity was getting the better of me. What would they choose?

At the window, they handed me my Happy Meal. Just enough cheeseburger, a tiny order of fries (about 10 – perfect), apple slices and milk.

And a pink and black box.

What the hell was Ronald McDonald up to now?

Inside the box was a Monster High Dress Designer Toy, comprised of a plastic standup doll and different pieces of fabric that could be snapped into place over a Monster girl form.UnhappyToy

Essential life skills, McD’s is teaching these young ones. Plaid or metallic?

Other “girl toys” in this line, which was created by McDonalds THIS YEAR, includes a head with hair that can be combed and stickers placed to create the face; a mirror with changing Monster girl figures; a fashion notebook and a bracelet. These toys are part of the “McPlay POWER” campaign, which features “heroic thrills” for boys and “creeperific fun” for girls.

On the “boys toys” side, there is Batman. Boys get two versions of the Batmobile (one pulls back and races, the other fires a weapon), the Joker with a hammer making banging noises, the Joker riding a motorcycle or action figures, including Batman himself.

Somebody in ClownWorld said “Well, there are no girls in Batman comics.”

Really? Please, then, explain Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Batwoman, Black Canary, Huntress, Stephanie Brown, Barbara Gordon, Cassandra Cain, Lady Blackhawk, Dawn Grainger, Renee Montoya and Hawkfire No girls, indeed.

Fools.

Here’s what the McComeback will be: “If you wanted a Batman toy, you can always ask for a boy’s toy.

Not that easy, clown.

With the Batman lineup, behavior like fighting, speeding, launching weapons and saving the world (using their skills of imagination and competition) is reinforced, while the Monster High cadre hones their skills in fashion, beauty, accessories and twisted self-imagery.

Wrong. Just so wrong on so many levels.

I didn’t pick glass shards out of my fists to deal with this idiocy.

McDonalds uses a big ad agency to come up with these campaigns. I guess with the popularity of the show “Mad Men” and its back-to-the-Stone Age-sexism, they thought it would be a great idea to segregate toys. Because an agency that big with a client so huge couldn’t possibly provide children with just toys – something to play with – instead of pigeonholing them like society has done for far too many years.

As a former newspaper columnist, I remember writing about this several years ago – during the last century – and this déjà vu is a sucker punch to the gut.

Quick! Pick out the girl toys and the boy toys!
Quick! Pick out the girl toys and the boy toys!

Target and Walmart, both worthy competitors in mega-consumerism, have eliminated the divisions between girl and boy toys, with no dip in their sales. Recent pressure from the medical community, with concerns for nutritional values, brought about a positive change in the Happy Meal, which used to include a fried sandwich, more fries and a soda. Now, things like yogurt and fruit are available, and even adult meals that come with fries include a choice of salad instead. McDonalds seems willing to step up and make a food change, but continues to practice inexcusable sexism, a fail on the grandest scale.

And for those idiots at the agency who think girls don’t like Batman and Joker, here’s a news flash: girls like comics and superheroes, fighting crime and playing with things that go “POW!” “BAM!” and “BOOM!” – their numbers are growing and you’ve missed a huge national trend.

Are you really getting your money’s worth, Ronnie?

But the saddest thing was when I was handed the Happy Meal by the fast food worker – a teenage girl – I realized that she was being taught that this segregation that is so wrong is what she has to do to keep her job.

All I know is that my granddaughter will never taste a Happy Meal until there’s equality in Gotham City.batwoman

 

Gotta go, the stage is calling

Leave it to the ubiquitous cell phone to put live theater in the headlines recently.

First, Nick Silvestri, attending a performance of “Hand of God” at the Booth Theater in New York with his family, climbed onstage before the show began and tried to plug his cell phone into what he thought was a working electric plug on the show’s set.

cell-phone-movie-theatre-45Then, actor Patti Lupone, who is currently starring in “Shows for Days” on Broadway became so frustrated with audience members’ cell phones going off and in particular, one woman who texted throughout the show’s curtain call, that she grabbed the texter’s cell phone, walked off stage and gave it to the stage manager.

Lupone lamented that she was reconsidering future acting gigs if audience behavior could not be controlled. Most likely hearing the laughter of box office and house managers across the country, she came up with a great second act – a series of rules that theater goers should follow while being entertained.

But first, let’s ponder the idiot whose cell phone was dying. His situation begs the question: have we no respect for each other, yielding all to the electronic gadgets we carry around?

“I was thinking they were probably going to plug something in there on the set and I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal if my phone was up there too,” the 19-year old college student explained.

Hand of GodReally? That could be a testament to the reality of the set design by Beowulf Boritt, who mused to Vanity Fair that this realism didn’t give him a new standard, but would definitely keep him from putting a toilet on stage in future shows.

Silvestri even posed that he helped the show get some attention because his stupidity (oops, my word, not his) earned them hits all over social media and the news.

Don’t flatter yourself, punk. The show is a Tony-nominated heart-felt effort from the writers, director, actors and rest of the company who worked their asses off to perform for you. Next semester, click past the classes on getting laid and being entitled and check out “Respecting Other People’s Work” – you might be surprised at what you find. Oh, and use your Amazon Student account to get a portable phone charger. It’s what normal people do to power-up their phones when they’re not at home.

Now back to fully-charged cell phones operating in the house –

PattiLuponeLupone’s phone grab is something understandable by everyone who has ever performed on a stage, with a caveat. Actors dedicate their entire beings to becoming a character, working hard to memorize lines, remember blocking and choreography and become part of an ensemble that tells stories, only to be derailed by rude people who find it impossible to silence their phones and leave them in purse or pocket.

It is as distracting as someone talking aloud while a gut-wrenching 10-page soliloquy is given onstage. To the actor, this behavior tells them loud and clear that their efforts are for naught, that the audience member does not care for their performance and has absolutely no respect for them.

That is just wrong.

Now the caveat. While I understand Ms. Lupone’s frustration, I do not condone breaking that fourth wall and seizing the evidence. She is justified in being angry at that person and lashing out in revenge and punishment might be tempting, but what about the rest of the audience, the vast majority of people who hadn’t engaged in bad behavior? For them, the magical separation of the story was shattered by her actions. Frustrated or not, she must maintain that wall of separation and not engage.

Besides, only stage and house managers should confiscate phones. It’s my favorite thing to do when I’m in charge.

Lupone is a talented, experienced and seasoned actress who is known to give passionately to her craft. It would be a tremendous loss if she found something else to do with her time instead of thrilling audiences from the stage. It is her credibility on stage that gives weight to her five simple suggestions for audiences, which include….

Respect – the people around you. The theater is a place of wonder for so many, don’t take away a single moment of their enjoyment by talking or doing anything other than watching the magic behind the proscenium.

Power down – Live theater offers an escape, a liberation from our electronic leashes. Take advantage and watch the show.

Eat dinner before the show – Even though the audience section of a theater is called “the house,” it is not your kitchen or couch. Don’t bring food or drink into the theater, (bottled water the only exception) and if you MUST unwrap a candy or cough drop, do it before the curtain rises. It’s easier to hear in the absence of chewing, slurping and crinkling.

It is called the house, not the kitchen or the couch
It is called the house, not the kitchen or the couch. Don’t bring food!

Use judgment – Don’t feel obligated to give everything you see a standing ovation. (This one prompted quite a bit of feedback from fellow thespians.) One should leap to their feet only when they are moved by the actors and writing; seeing you standing and applauding tells the actors that they have done their job of reaching into your hearts and minds and enriching your lives. Simply popping up when the applause begins lessens the value of the enthusiastic Oh-My-God-That-Changed-My-Life response of the truly thrilled.

Prepare for bliss – Come expecting to be transported. This last weekend, I saw a production of Mary Poppins and found myself surrounded by patrons who were clearly taken away by the show – the lady next to me was singing along to familiar melodies and a child behind me was excitedly telling their adult about the magic on stage (not constantly, but enough to let me know that they were enjoying every moment).

the-comedy-and-tragedy-masks-acting-204476_1920_662Live theater recharges the batteries of my soul and fills me with inspiration and appreciation for the talents of so many. It can move us all in ways that no status or video or message ever will.

Hearing the drumbeat of my girly soul

huge.10.53466Tribal.

That’s the word that comes to mind when I’m with a group of women doing what we do.

I don’t mean to be late to the Ya-Ya party, but recently – maybe it’s my age and introspective self kicking in – I find time spent with other women to be healing, inspiring, comforting and familiar.

Tribal.

My people. Those who understand me, not that my beloved doesn’t have the decoder ring for my quirks and idiosyncrasies, but women just know.

My tribe is multi-faceted, like the purest diamond in the rough. I have a circle of women friends who perform together, sure of ourselves on stage and willing to have each other’s backs when things get dicey. There is love in the room when we get together and boundless, freeing laughter. I love being with them, even when we get on each other’s nerves. I’m grateful for the feelings and emotions they bring out in me. With them I feel safe.

Tribal. With feathers.

womenholdinghandsAnother group of women are new to me. In my ongoing reinvention, I want to make new friends, hear new opinions and explore new friendships. I joined a group of women recently for a night around the firepit; plied with food and drink, we talked for hours about more topics than I can remember. I knew two women when I walked in, but at midnight, I left with six new friends and an appreciation for their life experiences.

I actually felt some growing pains that night, except they weren’t really pains, they were more like kinks working out of new muscles that were getting some long-overdue use.

Tribal. For good.

A good friend lost her mother the other day and my first reaction was to rush to her side because it was what we do. Men are good company but women have the tribal need to gather, to discuss, to dissect and problem solve. We make coffee, make sure people are fed and people get to where they need to be. We try to provide a protective shield to give our sister time to heal, time to work out the issues pounding in her head, share our common experiences to give her resources, all the while reassuring ourselves that this is part of life and we will be all right, even if the struggle seems overwhelming. We prepare for the backsplash of emotions, we put on the good faces, we are strong for each other and there for each other when we fall apart.

This isn’t meant to go against any of the feminist principles I have embraced all my life, it doesn’t pigeonhole women into a subservient role. But the sisterhood is strong, with the warp and weave of love.

Tribal. Tolerant. True. holding-hands-on-beach-1024x656

No formula for creativity in these boxes

This is how I feel when faced with an excel sheet
This is how I feel when faced with an excel sheet

I don’t do boxes.

There’s a running joke in our family that I do words and my husband does pictures.

I write stories and columns and press releases and articles for nonprofits and clients. He paints pictures and helps find the money that pays the bills.

I do our bills and try desperately to keep us afloat. Being a freelance writer makes that a daunting task, but I make it work.

My desk is covered in scraps of paper with old-fashioned addition, subtraction, division and multiplication. I am putting my grandchildren-to-be on notice right now that NanaRock does not do New Math.

I did have to learn Excel to pass a Statistics class during my recent return to college. God bless the handful of friends who came out of the woodwork from all over the country (no exaggeration here, help came from Virginia, New York, Newhall and Sacramento) to teach me just enough to be dangerous and earn a C in the class.

I knew a little about Excel from some temp jobs in my distant past and have had to use it a bit doing some lists and data management for public relations work.

I even have a copy of Excel 2010 for Dummies on my desk. I swear it has been cracked open, but that program that “everybody loves” is still the six-foot wall I never got over in the police academy.

Recently I was asked to put information that I’ve always put in lists into a spreadsheet.

The mere word gives me the creeps.

AAAAAUGH!!!
AAAAAUGH!!!

Spreadsheet. Numbers. Data. Little boxes in which there is never enough room.

I know, I know, you can make the boxes as big as you need to. What happens then is that you have a spreadsheet (there’s that ugly word again) the size of a set of blueprints. I run out of tape putting them together.

Another task on my plate was to take a sprea- uh, boxy document – that someone had filled out and find missing or additional information.

I marveled at the paper’s variety of colors. I initially appreciated the neat organization of the columns and sections, but was soon overwhelmed by the repetition and brevity.

I had so many questions, but the potential answers hid under earmarks and notes that I couldn’t open.

There are people who have tried to teach me about Excel, but I think I found the problem.

I am wired very differently than those people who zoom through spreadsheets (ick). Like an allergy to peanuts, a gut-slam from gluten, an anaphylactic reaction to stings; I am physically unable to work in the world of boxes.

I have been a writer for too many years to compartmentalize. I practice penmanship and write thank you notes. Why do I want to put names, addresses and zip codes in boxes if I’m going to handwrite – or at least type – a personal letter? There is no warmth in merging columns, but there is in a well-written sentiment.

I am at the age where I want to spend the rest of my time playing in my word garden. Learning them, using them, introducing new ones to the world. Taunting, teasing, tempting readers with promises of interesting verbiage and honest emotion.

I’m too warm and fuzzy for a (choke) spreadsheet.

Seriously, my eyes start to glaze over and my brain, which is usually rational, despite random musical numbers and grand ponderances wandering through, hurts. Physically hurts.

I got through college because I endeavored to persevere, not because I was good at boxes. If I was anything, I was creative. Outside of people like Bernie Madoff, I don’t think anyone is really creative when they work with numbers in boxes, let alone words in them.

One of my mantras is accepting everyone for their own personal strengths. Those people who whip around a spreadsheet at the speed of light I hold in high esteem. Most of them can’t write their way out of a paper bag. That’s my superpower.

So don’t be surprised when the call goes out to assemble, this avenger will show up with a notebook and a pen.

regular or decaf

Resetting my title waves with a day at the beach

Overcast, unremarkable surf, in other words, the PERFECT day at the beach
Overcast, unremarkable surf, in other words, the PERFECT day at the beach

Writers need the beach.

When I posted a picture of the ocean from my beach chair on Facebook, nearly 100 people chimed in with their envy or witty comeback to my simple description: “Today’s office.”

The temperature was at least 20 degrees higher at home. We could have probably dined on a burger as tasty as the one we found at an old, established hangout just feet from the sand closer to home and I could have easily read magazines curled up in a chair in the air conditioning.

But I needed the ocean.

I didn’t even bring my bathing suit, content in my sundress, watching a handful of kids dragging boogie boards through the mild surf. Sitting in my Costco Tommy Bahama chair, I watched a man closer to my age try to go out a little further and ride his surfboard on the swells. I noted that the Shore Patrol boats were making regular back-and-forth trips just past the people in the water.

I didn’t want to know why.

Sometimes you have to be physically removed from the writing chair to get your priorities straight...
Sometimes you have to be physically removed from the writing chair to get your priorities straight…

Writers have pinball brains, which go along naturally with having the attention span of a grapefruit. Either there are one or a dozen stories tripping over each other in our heads to get out, or we’re desperately trying to make sense of the snippets of those peeking around our mental corners just to tease us and leave us empty-fingered at the keyboard.

If it seems we’re off to the Bahamas, we’re not ignoring you, we’re absorbing so much that the little black and yellow figures upstairs (yes, my childlike imagination can picture them) are scrambling to make sure all the things don’t fall off the desk in our brain before we have a chance to put them down in words. There’s not a lot of space upstairs because we’re notorious mental collectors, one magazine copy away from cerebral hoarders.

We’re in constant motion, even when it looks like we’re sitting still. Life changes – the biggest ones to the seemingly insignificant – affect us differently because we’re always looking for framing. When something happens, we bear that unseen yoke of being the message bearers, the people who put things in perspective or spinning them in a favorable or less-than-stellar direction for the rest of the world.

Writers are often excited, ebullient and exhausted, all at once.

Which is why we need the ocean.

I’d been trying to get to the beach for a long time, but life kept getting in the way. My greatest fantasy is to live there, not in a palatial glass-walled mansion, but a little house with shells on the porch, colorful flags and flowers, a couple of sitting chairs and a window or two to the constant coming and going of rhythms governed by a much larger force than silly humans.

To me, going to the beach is like going to the clockmaker to get my watch back into cadence, to hear and see and smell and feel the earth’s rhythm and allow my soul to relax and follow along gently.

I love to watch the way the water comes to shore, crashing, creeping, sweeping back with a rush or an amble, sometimes going back in rivulets, other times with strong undertow. When I’m feeling adventurous, I like to stand ankle-deep in the sand and feel a power much stronger than mine shake me up a bit, then smooth me out as the waters calm.

Grains of sand under the microscope and lend of Dr. Gary Greenberg
Grains of sand under the microscope and camera lens of Dr. Gary Greenberg

Standing on the sand grounds me, especially when I consider the composition of what’s beneath my toes – miniaturized bits and pieces of sea creatures, shells, sponges, rocks, sea glass and other detritus, all smashed together over and over and over, polished and reshaped endlessly by the tides and presenting themselves anew with every wave.

Would that my inner scribe could absorb their stories and blend them into mine.

Photo by Dr. Gary Greenberg from “A Grain of Sand: Nature’s Secret Wonder,” http://www.amazon.com/Grain-Sand-Natures-Secret-Wonder/dp/0760331987

Teachers, mentors and investing in the future with somebody else’s money

College is expensive. Doing my best to help...
College is expensive. Doing my best to help…

I gave away thousands of dollars in the last two nights. Felt real good, too.

Gonna give away a little more next week. This could become a habit.
Of course, it’s not my money. I’m just doing my part with the local scholarship foundation. I help them evaluate applications and they found out I liked to talk in front of people, so Bazinga! – I became a presenter.
Having sent three kids through the school system and trying to help a couple of them find money to go to college, I remember the uphill struggle. College is expensive – make that EXPENSIVE.
Back in the day when I started my higher education, I was lucky enough to earn a scholarship that paid for classes, books and some of my housing. I went to a state college (now a university), got a whopping $1,800 per year that covered my tuition and books and had money left over.
These days, California state colleges are no longer the cheap alternative. The average undergrad pays more than $6,500 a year, not counting books or auxiliary class charges. Graduate school is even more. Ivy League schools are over the top; parents of students at these schools are basically buying the equivalent of a new car every year, just to keep their child on track for higher education.
So every little bit helps.
Part of the backstory to the scholarship granting process is reading applications. They both inspire you and break your heart. It also brought out my multiple personalities. The writer in me looked for style. The skeptic in me looked for holes in their stories. The supervisor in me looked for reasons to promote each student. The teacher in me looked for lessons they had learned. The mother in me looked for ways to help every single one.

The writer herself back in, well, the Nixon Administration
The writer herself back in, well, the Nixon Administration

And as someone who went through the college experience twice – once when I left high school during the Nixon Administration and again a couple of years age after raising my three children and deciding I really wanted to take “finish college” off my bucket list – I wanted to help each and every applicant have that experience.
The money we gave away came from fundraisers, appeals, memorial contributions; all donations from a supportive community. We wanted to give as many students we could a little bit of help, and those who needed a little more, enough to get them on the path to changing their lives and reaching at least some of their dreams. Not everyone who applied earned a reward, but I hope they learned from the attempt and will be determined to keep asking the world around them not for a handout, but for guidance and support to keep them going.
I got involved with the scholarship group because one of my mentors asked me if I would. Scholarships may be scarce, but mentors are all around us. Mentors can help us no matter where we are in our lifelong education process. I shared my feelings about mentors with the students, asking them to not only find them, but respect them and become mentors themselves.
Mentor is another word for teacher. When kids are small, it’s easy to point to the people who give them knowledge and skills as teachers. When you’re older and out of school, the process changes slightly and fate drops in people here and there to give you more tools and help you mold the way you approach things like working, parenting, growing and succeeding.

But when we’re older, working, removed from school and just keeping up with the band called Life, they become “mentors.” And when we become mentors, we gain the satisfaction that we’re paying back some cosmic debt. I wished I had a chance to tell the students how many times mentors have changed my life for the better. Look for them, I should have advised. They’re kind of like angels, you don’t always know they’re there to guide you until it’s too late.

My alma mater, Washington High School, circa 2011. It's been around since 1891; the facade was rebuilt to mimic the style of the original after it was severely damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Photo by  Whitelily519(AmeliaChu)
My alma mater, Washington High School, circa 2011. It’s been around since 1891; the facade was rebuilt to mimic the style of the original after it was severely damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Photo by
Whitelily519(AmeliaChu)

When you invite the world to your door, expect traffic

Amgen 2015, courtesy of up and coming media star Austin Dave of Signal Multimedia
Amgen 2015, courtesy of up and coming media star Austin Dave of Signal Multimedia

I live in a pretty cool place in California. I have everything I need, a constantly-changing variety of new things to experience and opportunities to expand my horizons. Until my beach house becomes a reality, this is where I’m going to work on the butt grooves of my writing chair.

When my sweetheart first talked me into visiting this little berg, there were hitching posts in the downtown area. Seriously. For horses. They became central to my argument against settling here, but lucky for me, my sweetie was more persuasive. The hitching posts were removed shortly after we bought our house and I began to appreciate my new surroundings.

In a move dripping with irony, a couple of decades after putting down roots here, I served on a civic committee that worked to put hitching posts back into the downtown area, this time to attract tourists. Not that we tie them up there, but to make people remember when we had them for horses.

Our area attracts a lot of different people, activities and special events. We host a generous visitation of singing cowboys and cowgirls every spring, our aquatic center accommodates Olympic-style competitions, there is an annual PowWow that teaches us about Native Americans and our Fourth of July parade is passionately patriotic. We have a performing arts center that attracts some amazing entertainers and I can guarantee that you’ve seen our city in commercials, TV shows and movies.

My lovely daughter, Casey, writing a tribute to our dear friend Shirley Joyce. This was when Lance was still Live Strong...
My lovely daughter, Casey, writing a tribute to our dear friend Shirley Joyce. This was when Lance was still Live Strong…

One of the events we hold here is the Amgen Tour of California. It’s a world-class cycling event that attracts a following of visitors eager to watch the colorful blur go by and drink in some of the excitement that accompanies the race. I’m the kind of cycling fan you could classify as “curious” – I’ve seen the race several times and covered it as a reporter a few times as well. It’s not my cup of tea, but variety is the spice of life and I appreciate that my city officials invite the cyclists to zip through town for those who do enjoy the sport.

In other words, it’s not all about me.

Cycling is a sport with incredible health benefits. Their cardio is off the charts, spandex sales are expanding and it’s a great way to get outdoors and enjoy the scenery. Coming out of their cubicles or homes to watch the riders might be the only time some people get out for some fresh air. And it is awe-inspiring to see how these riders are disciplined and dedicated to their sport. Today, they rode in the rain, a special event in and of itself in this parched state of California.

Why would anyone complain about this world-class, put-us-on-the-map, exercise-inspiring event coming to town?

Sadly, social media – and in the past, letters to the editors of various media outlets – have been flooded with people who were slightly inconvenienced by traffic because roads were temporarily blocked to accommodate the race. You would think we were forcing them to sit naked in a puddle of toxic waste the way some of them bitched and moaned. Some claimed to have been delayed HOURS (I call bullshit on that one), their children scarred for life because they failed to plan an alternate route. Some people were mystified as to the reason for the snarled traffic – despite the city’s extensive efforts to publicize the closures (seriously, I’ve seen it everywhere).

In other words, some people truly believe it is all about them.

I am convinced blinders have been handed out at every Starbucks (the only place or event that is universally known) that keeps people from being aware of their surroundings. The phrase “I never knew” seems to be the mantra. Ignorance seems to be epidemic, but most of the victims are Teflon. I know we’re a busy community, but seriously?

Think of how boring life would be if our routines were never disrupted, the ennui of daily life a never-changing horizon. Do people really want that? And I suspect that some – if not most – of the complainers have been part of a traffic problem themselves at a different time. (School drop-off, or Target parking lot during the holidays, anyone?) Some people just love to be miserable or as my mom used to say “you’d complain if someone hung you with a new rope.”

Don’t worry, it didn’t make sense then either, but it does offer perspective.

All these complainers seem to forget that they enjoy the benefits of what our municipal agencies provide. Sadly, a sense of entitlement oozes out of doorways and comprises the exhaust of their vehicles that fight over parking spaces at the mall, clouding their ability to see that what pays for our more than adequate public safety, professional city staff, abundance of parks and well-maintained roads might just be those “events” that are such an inconvenience.

Did anyone notice that those cyclists attracted hundreds of spectators? Are they all locals? No. Many of them – including some of the competitors who are sleeping here overnight – are visitors who are spending money on hotels, restaurants, souvenirs and other ways of investing in OUR local economy. We benefit from that, every complainer and fan alike.

That investment comes back to our city in its ability to finance a better quality of life that everyone takes for granted and –perhaps to a greater measure – enriches the cultural atmosphere that we all enjoy. Anyone like sports? Performing arts? History? Youth activities? Supporting worthy charities? (Heads up, people, the second largest Relay for Life in the state will take place at Central Park this weekend. It might affect traffic, but I’ll take the delay if it offers hope and help in the fight against cancer). It’s the circle of life (Amgen pun intended) on a fiscal plain.

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The two people on the left have attended every Amgen Tour; Parks Commissioner Duane Harte who is a real man of the people and cares about every event the city sponsors and Cathy Martin, who has actually traveled to FRANCE and invested in their economy to ride along with and watch the Tour de France. They’re hanging out with some itinerant reporter and alleged VIP

 

And for those of you who notice that I have not named my beloved city, it was on purpose. These blinders are typical in many communities. I’m encouraging people all over the country to get out and appreciate the beauty around us every day. Even if we’re sitting in stopped traffic, we can notice birds or flowers, or people on the street, new businesses opening or restaurants we’d like to try. It’s much healthier to set an example of gratitude than entitlement.

 

Radio in the USA: High Noon A Good Time To Wave

Country music flagDriving to lunch today with the hubby, we heard an a cappella group singing the National Anthem on the radio. I glanced at the clock on the front of the real estate office we were passing and noticed it was noon – exactly when the country radio stations in our market play “The Star Spangled Banner” every single day.

When I worked at a radio station a few years ago – not a country station – I can honestly say that, unless we were jumping on a patriotic bandwagon on the Fourth of July or commemoration of some national disaster, I never heard the National Anthem played on our airwaves.

Never heard it on oldies stations or rock ‘n roll stations either. I don’t listen to talk radio, so I can’t speak for them, but the country stations I bounce between in my car always show their red, white and blue roots at midday.

I wonder what would happen if the noontime slot of every radio station were to become the Star Spangled Banner slot. It used to be how TV stations signed off at the end of programming (remember when TV actually went off the air?) and it starts every sports game and many community events. What if we made it a song we heard every day – and not because we had to, but because we wanted to?

We might find ourselves unconsciously humming “and the rocket’s red glare” while we pour our coffee or as we drum our fingers on the steering wheel waiting at a light.

We might even remember why it was written; what it stands for and the sacrifices in the light of those bombs bursting midair.

Brad Paisley - Photo by Jon Currier for CountryMusicRocks.net
Brad Paisley – Photo by Jon Currier for CountryMusicRocks.net

Or we might simply find it to be a unifying, feel-good song that reminds us we get to play any song we want, anytime we want, anywhere we want because we live in a free country.

I’m not trying to get too sappy patriotic here, although anyone who knows me knows I puddle up at many flag-waving events. I am the proud daughter of a Navy veteran who fought in World War II and the proud mother of an Army veteran who fought in Iraq.

Just one song where everyone knows the words, played to remind us that we are pretty darn lucky to live in the land of the free. I kind of like that.

Speaking of the land of the free and the people who serve, I have to do some proud mama bragging. Today, my son and two of his friends (also veterans) joined legislators in Washington D.C. to promote improved veteran health benefits. They met with decision makers, made their case for those who serve and spoke up for many others who could not be there in person. They made connections that may improve the situation for our veterans now and in the long run. What they did today may change people’s lives for the better.

I get a lot of emails from petition sites that ask for my signature to support a variety of causes. Other emails and Facebook pleas ask me to come to a meeting or write a letter or speak up to encourage or stop or revise a plan or movement. With only 24 hours a day and no expansion plan in the near future, I have to pick and choose which I support. Those that reflect my beliefs the best get a signature, a donation or some time and talent.

Judging from my philanthropic and volunteer activity, I am against hunger, breed-specific legislation and the oppression of women and for marriage equality, veterans’ rights, historic preservation, support of the arts and the Cowboy Way. I serve on a local scholarship granting committee because we all need to help those who helped our children.

But I also spend a lot of time on social media, watching and sometimes participating in discussions about our quirky community. There are several people – some, but not all of them gadflies – who take the time to research and express their opinions to elected officials in the hope that things will change for the better. Sometimes they are loud, sometimes they are subtle, but to their very core they are all passionate. And I think we’re lucky to have them, even though they sometimes drive us crazy.

It’s complacency that should really set us off.

It’s far too easy to stay in our comfort zones and hope that things will always go our way. We are damn lucky that some people are willing to step up to the podium to keep important issues at the forefront, to rouse the rabble and make sure politicians pay attention. The result may not always be the one we wanted, but they remind us that we are guaranteed a chance to speak up.

Kind of like those rights guaranteed by the people and events Francis Scott Key wrote about so many years ago. They’re well worth a daily reminder.

The actual flag flown over Ft. McHenry in 1814 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star Spangled Banner." The flag has been preserved and is now one of the most treasured artifacts in the collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.
The actual flag flown over Ft. McHenry in 1814 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star Spangled Banner.” The flag has been preserved and is now one of the most treasured artifacts in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.