A Theme Song for 2019

My end-of-the-year horoscope says I need a theme song for the coming year. Though I’ve never heard of such a thing, I’m game. Anything that will get me through the winter doldrums.

The horoscope tells how scientists at a London university did quite an extensive study to determine what is the catchiest pop song ever recorded. After evaluating a wide array of factors and many songs, they’ve decided that Queen’s “We Are the Champions” is the song that, more than any other, people love to sing.

I had a flashback recalling twenty or so years ago when a local high school graduating class wanted that song to be their theme. Such an uproar. Finally, the school board voted no because the song represented a negative lifestyle. You know. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. My, how times change.

Reading further into the horoscope, I’m being directed to learn the lyrics and sing “We Are The Champions” every day. This will help “build on the confidence-building influences that will be streaming into your life in the coming year.” Horoscope writers have such a unique way of saying things.

This seems fortuitous. A couple of weeks ago I went to see the movie Bohemian Rhapsody. It is the true story behind the myth of this ground-breaking rock band.  Poignant story, great music.

I came home and dug through my pile of CDs. Yes, some of us still get our music from them. I found Queen’s Greatest Hits and next time I went to my car, I put it in the CD player. Since then, I’ve been riding around listening to Queen.

I laugh thinking what people next to me at a stoplight must think: look at that old woman swinging and swaying away to classic rock music. Who cares! I’m loving letting those confidence-building influences stream into my life.

 

 

 

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Finding That Just Right Part-Time Job

Retirement is great, but I need something to fill in the idle hours.  Not anything too challenging. Or not where what I do might have long term consequences. After much searching, I think I’ve found just the thing.  My resume has been submitted and I’m anxiously awaiting a call.

The job is White House Chief of Staff. What could be so hard about that? After all, I’ve heard the boss watches TV most of the day and is otherwise occupied with endless tweets that only he can edit (I could have saved him from the “smocking gun” debacle). I know it can be hard to work for someone who knows everything and wants to be completely in charge but I’m resourceful and can find other things to do.

Perhaps I could help Stephen Miller draft even crueler immigration policy. Or maybe I could help Mike Pence find his voice. I’ll bet Ivanka needs my imagination to bring that Moscow tower project back to life. Or Melania could use me to smack down (or is it smock down?) all the bullies in her life.  Circumventing the Mueller probe is just the thing for my sophisticated legal mind. From helping Steve Mnuchin balance the books to crafting a fool-proof denuclearization plan for Pompeo, there is just no end to the opportunities.

I was on the short list for UN Ambassador, but lost out to someone blonde.  So close. Not to worry. I’ll keep looking until I find just the right position that will make the most of  my highly developed management skills. If I get desperate, I could always take on the Head Coach for the Green Bay Packers. Are they as desperate as the West Wing?  We’ll see.

 

 

For a Moment, America Shines

On December 5, 2018, the real America was out there for the whole world to see.  The funeral of George H. W. Bush displayed American values that have been not so visible for the last two years. H. W. was a dedicated public servant of the old school. The school of honor and devotion to the many offices he held. A man who made the fateful decision to raise taxes that cost him an election but that he knew was best for the country. This makes me regret not voting for him.

The highly trained precision of the military, the heartfelt eulogies beginning with Jon Meacham and ending with his son, a former president, highlighted the life of a man who had served his country and brought about significant accomplishments. Those achievements will, as time goes by, only enhance his legacy. It’s funny how history sorts it all out, in time.

Most important was the realization that this country is strong and can withstand the challenges it is facing today. The first-row presence of all living Presidents pointed out a few things. The discomfort, maybe even boredom, of the bull in the china shop of the White House was apparent. Perhaps uncomfortable that the speeches could be taken as a tutorial for him, a lesson in how it’s done.

This is how a real leader governs. This is how what is best for the country is put ahead of personal ambitions. This is how people are treated with kindness even when we don’t agree on solutions. This is how humor is used to enhance relationships. These are the results of collaboration, how to cross the aisle and still stand for what you believe in. Though perhaps lost on its intended target, these are lessons for all Americans to ponder.

The pageantry on display is our typical response. We lionize and then a week later it’s back to the day-to-day. But what voters can glean is that today is a small moment in time.   Our country with its rich history has weathered such times before and has returned to what works in the long run. I have to believe this will happen again.

In the Beginning

Everyone’s seen those books written by survivors of Catholic school. Well, I could write one. And my time spent in Catholic school would be only the beginning of my very long and winding sojourn to where I am today. But let me start at the beginning.

In third grade, my family had moved yet again to a new city due to Dad’s promotion; Mom enrolled me and my sister  in a Catholic school. Prior to this, religion hadn’t made much of an impact on me. But once immersed in the daily rituals and strong discipline, religion was suddenly a big part of my life. This was in Fond du Lac at St. Joseph’s School.

Monsignor Riordon ran a tight ship, as they say. He was an elderly, somewhat obese gray-haired man who visited our classroom regularly; we were all nerves when he showed up decked out in all his priestly regalia. He performed our daily Mass, the Stations of the Cross and the rosary.

I had early doubts about some things the Monsignor said and did. One for the first was his rule about interaction with the children who attended the Lutheran school across the street. I don’t recall how me and my friends ended up in a sidewalk discussion with several of them one day. But I thought they were nice.

Soon an edict came down from on high. The Monsignor said we could not talk to or play with the children across the street. They are damned, he said, because the Catholic church is the one and only true religion and everyone else is damned to the fires of hell. That just didn’t seem right but what could I do.

I recall the big deal about making our first confession. After the Monsignor’s tutoring we lined up outside the confessional and nervously waited our turn. The Monsignor had insisted that everyone commits certain sins and he expected us to confess them. We all fight with our brothers and sisters. We all forget our morning and evening prayers. So, each time I went to confession I had to lie. It only took me once to see the folly of this exercise. My doubts grew.

Once my friend, Faith, (what a perfect name for a good Catholic girl!) was seen riding on the handle bars of a boy’s bicycle. The Monsignor’s punishment was for her to walk the porch after school; this was a well-known punishment that we all dreaded and did all we could to avoid. What made it the worst was it was so visible. Those Catholics are really good at shame and guilt. And the Monsignor was a pro.

The porch was long and open, running along the entire side of the rectory. My friends and I giggled as we gossiped (sinfully) hearing that Faith’s parents called the rectory long after dark that night. Where was Faith, her parents wanted to know. Well, there she was in the dark still walking around in a circle. I recall it was quite a while before another student was seen out there walking the porch.

Any survivor of Catholic school has a vivid memory of that especially cantankerous nun. Sister Patrice was mine. Besides all the minor day to day insults and recriminations she meted out, I especially recall how she shamed me and my friend, Ruth Ann, for our performance at the all school talent show.

Ruth Ann and I had worked hard on our skit, a pantomime of a Broadway song. My mother helped with our costumes and our complicated choreography. Even though my very Catholic mother saw nothing wrong with our skit, Sister Patrice did.

When we gleefully responded to the applause and calls for an encore, Sister Patrice stopped us before we could begin the second number. She pulled the curtain closed and told us in front of the whole school that we should be ashamed of what we had done. The compliments from students throughout the rest of the day and reassurances from my mom, did little to take away the sting of Sister Patrice’s harsh words.

In ninth grade I began to babysit. One of my regular customers was a family with two small children who lived across the street. Imagine my shock when during the Monsignor’s Sunday sermon, he called out this woman by name. He said she was damned, would burn in the fires of hell, because she had gotten divorced and was now remarried to a non-Catholic and no longer coming to church.

How could God, I wondered, allow someone to act and talk like that. Why would God have people as mean as the Monsignor and Sister Patrice teach in a school. I felt guilty for having such feelings but could not deny them.

Mother tells me I was very upset when we didn’t have the money for me to go to the Catholic high school. I’m sure it was that I’d be losing touch with all my friends. I had little faith left by that time.

Mom also told me that two weeks into public high school, I thanked her for not sending me to the Catholic high school. Now I could talk to all kinds of kids whether they were damned or not.

 

damned or not.

On Being Played

We are being played. The citizens. The Congress. The press. The whole world. All that individual who resides in the White House has to do is call a press conference which is really just the next episode in a reality TV show. Or hold a rally which is really just a meeting with a hand-picked audience instructed to stand behind him and simulate energy and excitement. Or make an unannounced appearance on the White House lawn to decry the fact that he can’t appoint his daughter to a high post due to nepotism.

Holding court makes him feel powerful and popular. Encourages him to make another faux pa which he considers a profound declaration from a stable genius.  Why feed his narcissism and negative tendencies?  I have a solution. Or maybe it’s just a way to take back our own sanity.

What if the press banded together and sent only one representative and one camera to the so-called press room. What if when he walked out onto the west lawn of the White House he’d find one reporter and one camera. No more shouting of questions and answers.  One reporter can spread the story to all outlets. We’d still get the news.

Take when his top adviser on prison reform came to lunch in the oval office wearing a MAGA hat, spouting his own mental health history, spewing his unusual opinions on racism and his outright, unabashed love for the host. I was aghast at the number of reporters and other observers busily snapping their cameras and taking copious notes.

What if there had been one reporter and one camera there. Imagine what could be done if all the manpower now expended in covering his fake news were put into reporting in depth the issues behind that hyperbole. Maybe educating the populace on basic civics which is no longer taught in school. How many were reporting on the hurricane or the possible kidnapping and murder of a journalist that day?

Should this happen it would be a challenge for the White House interloper; he’d turn this around to someone else’s fault, probably the press or those mob democrats. My hope is that it might erode his oh so fragile confidence. He’d be frustrated that he’s no longer getting so much of the spotlight. He’d equate it to poor ratings and have deja vu dreams recalling the collapse of the Apprentice. Perhaps, like bullies at the playground who don’t get their way, he’d pack up his toys and go home. I can only dream.

The Suchness of my Muchness

Third place in 2018 non-fiction category of the WWA Jade Ring writing contest and published in Creative Wisconsin Anthology: 2018 Jade Ring Winners

What do the Mad Hatter, Buddhism and Shakespeare have to do with my most recent worries about why I am the way I am? That was only reinforced when reading my horoscope from Shepherd Express, an alternative and entertainment newspaper I pick up at the grocery store.

I don’t put much stock in astrology and read it for what it is, a thought of the day and sometimes a good laugh. Pisces that I am, I was informed that in the next nine months, I’ll encounter brave souls who will be able to handle my muchness. The column included a poem:

I have a deep fear of being too much. That one day
I will find my someone, and they will realize that I am
a hurricane. That they will step back and be intimidated
by my muchness……..
― Michelle K., Rumbles From My Head, Jul 10 2013

Intrigued, I googled and found Michelle K.’s poem has revived an old word that has a fascinating history. The dictionary definition says muchness is a state of being great in quantity, extent, or degree. Shakespeare who coined such words as ‘silliness’, ‘tardiness’ and many others is thought to have invented the form. But those wanting to give him all the credit need to get real; the actual word ‘muchness’ was first used in the 1400’s, predating Shakespeare by more than a century.

Then, the Shakespearian sounding phrase ‘much of a muchness’ appeared considerably later, 1728, in the play The Provok’d Husband, a collaboration of John VanBrugh and Colley Cibber . Lewis Carroll picked up on that when, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), the Mad Hatter worried that Alice was losing her muchness, that she’d been   “much muchier” in the past.

In a casual lunch conversation, I mentioned the horoscope message involving muchness and this led to a comment about “suchness” as it relates to Buddhism. Back to google, of course. Tathata, which means suchness is a word used primarily in Mahayana Buddhism to mean reality, or the way things really are.

The Buddhist emphasis, of course is on reality right now. It’s always changing, but at this moment, the suchness of this moment, is just the way it is. The thinking mind has to stop and listen. Then you will be relating to the suchness of the moment.  Deep!

I’ve decided everyone has muchness. Some have more and some have less. We’ve all known people who are a bit much. Think Joan Rivers. Think Zsa Zsa Gabor. Think that high maintenance friend or relative whose oddness never surprises us.

Yes, I have muchness. Being an oldest child, I was used to being in charge and having to get the job done. At work I’d been told more than once that I was intimidating. At book club, I’d been told I have a strong personality.  An ex-husband once told me to stop lecturing him like a school teacher. But I can also think of times when I didn’t have much muchness. That three years when I was navigating a divorce, retirement and a major move all at the same time, my muchness was at low ebb.

Now that time has passed and I’m settled in, my muchness is just fine. Retirement has brought calmness and peace. While I certainly don’t think too much of myself, I have come to appreciate some of my muchness. I’m probably still a little over-organized and not shy about my opinions. That’s just how I am.

Then there’s the muchness of others. After all, everyone has some. No doubt, sometimes the mucniness of others can be a bother; but then, maybe I bother them too. So it was the final sentence of the horoscope that made me feel hopeful:

“I suspect the odds will be higher than usual that you’ll encounter brave souls who’ll be able to handle your muchness……I suggest you welcome them as they are with all their muchness.”  Touché!

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