Armchair Series – Outdoor

Today I will be sitting in a fine armchair like this to watch the Bainbridge Island Fourth of July parade. The current administration and its congressional minions seem intent on providing a new list of “freedoms” to celebrate: to be sick without the burden of insurance, to enjoy dirty air and water unencumbered by environmental regulation, to deny logic and science, to practice intolerance. The list goes on. But it isn’t who we are or what we celebrate!

A Thank You to Barack Obama

So I have been drawing house moments, chairs and a “settle” and a kitchen dresser, trying to shut out what’s happening, but emotion builds. In part because of the possibilities lost with the loss of the election, and the stark contrast we now face. No grace, no thoughtfulness, no kindness. I don’t even like the present and the future office holders in the same paragraph.

I’m grateful for years of that beautiful smile and sense of humor, for the best example of parenting I could imagine, for being a genuine consoler-in-chief when needed over and awfully over. You can’t delegate compassion and goodness and empathy, you sing “Amazing Grace” at the Charleston church because it’s who you are.

I appreciated not ever doubting that the best interests of the country’s people came first, and that there would be dignity always. President Obama was a grown up (is, it’s only Tuesday), making decisions by listening to the smart, knowledgeable people around him, and then figuring it out with his own set of values, his own formidable intelligence.

A huge part of my gratitude is that because of Barack Obama, we got to know Michelle Obama, that shining star of how to behave in tough, nasty situations and rock a stylish wardrobe, and the only redemption in crying my way through the farewell speech came in realizing he isn’t going away. We won’t have him in charge any more, making White House decisions with calm and reason – but we have him with us politically, to be a citizen as he said, to figure out how to go forward.

Have you seen these photos and captions by the White House photographer Pete Souza? http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2016/11/the-obama-years-through-the-lens-of-white-house-photographer-pete-souza/508052/

Or these:

https://medium.com/the-white-house/behind-the-lens-2016-year-in-photographs-9e2c8733bbb3#.bowsyxffm

Thank you, thank you President Obama from the bottom of my heart.

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Just A Few Days To Go

Emotions fill the holiday season, I know that. But this one is different. I write while preparing for the arrival of our younger son, Sweet Bride, and Sweet Baby – and I recognize the privilege of time and space to make merry. Writing helps me wrestle my thoughts away from the anxiety that much cherished is threatened in the new year.

I had planned to write about Ann Patchett’s new book “Commonwealth,” to say that I read all six hours back and forth to Alaska, finishing as the plane landed in Seattle. In the beginning I was confused, chapters back and forth in time, characters I couldn’t quite keep straight, but by the end it seemed perfect to finish with Christmas and a family cobbled together by love.

I cried watching Patti Smith sing Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A’Gonna Fall” at the Nobel ceremony, and I thought of my blue-eyed sons and wanted to write about them, about how astounded I am by them and how grateful for them. They are accomplished and hardworking, and when I watch them care for their own “darling young ones” or hold their wives’ hands, I am undone.

And then today I read “How Does It Feel” in The New Yorker, the wonderful piece Smith wrote about the Nobel event. The link includes the song, and she tells of how she came to sing it, from artful choices and rehearsals through breakfast the next morning. It all fits together to honor art and science, family and friendship. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/patti-smith-on-singing-at-bob-dylans-nobel-prize-ceremony.

Most of all, at the year’s darkest point in the season of lights, I write to wish you all kindness, beauty in art and nature, and love.

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“Sokay”

I flew to California on an Election Day. On the way to the airport, the taxi driver looked in the rear view mirror and asked me if I had voted, and for whom. He said, “Aah – a little white woman and a big black man, and we stand with Hillary!” He told me he’d think about me that night, and I him. And in a video that day, Lady Baby wore a self-assembled “pantsuit” and chanted “Hill-a-ry, Hill-a-ry.” Sweet Baby learned to say “Hillary” in her little voice, with a smile. Such a hopeful day.

I could list the reasons I feel sad and fearful at the Electoral College result and the dark possibilities this election presents to the majority who voted the other way, but you know them all too well.

So far we have seen a graceful Hillary speak and encourage keeping an open mind, and an eloquent and calm President Obama setting an example for the transition. He wants it to be as peaceful and orderly as it is inevitable. But successful transitions require a responsible person on the other side of the transaction.

I wrote this on the plane returning from Los Angeles to Seattle, the land below me all blue and ready to secede. After boarding, I sat down next to a woman and wondered, what does she think? Is she one of the majority of white women (53% by exit polls) who voted the other way? But I spotted her safety pin, and she mine.

It was good to laugh in our misery and confusion, be invited to join Pantsuit Nation, and enjoy the third woman in our row, our little bubble, as she chimed in with agreement.

Often when I start these posts I know where I want to go, but not how to get there. This time I started with a favorite expression of Sweet Baby, “sokay,” her verbal shorthand for “it’s OK.” I thought if I couldn’t write the exultant, thrilled for my granddaughters (and grandson) post, complete with a Madam President teacup, I might at least write that somehow it would be OK. But if anything I feel worse now than late last Tuesday night.

This is so not my desired outcome that I can’t think of any last paragraph right now that ends with it’s OK.

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When They Go Low

Today, thrown against the house by wind from the south, rain pours down. In the middle of two storm systems, I’m grateful to be home, enjoying each and every lamp lit against the gloom, relishing a warm house, and all the easy comforts of electricity – knowing a power outage could darken us at any time.

Yesterday, having business on Bainbridge, (last Thursday by the time this reaches “Her spirits rose…,”) I left home early and spent the day in the car listening to the news cycle, and found myself in tears more than once.

That morning’s announcement of the death of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol colored my thoughts. I knew the Sweet Bride would be so sad, I kept thinking how she, and even her mother, had known this good king their entire lives. As I drove, BBC told stories of his benevolence and concern for his people, a kind and respectful leader.

And then closer to home, the ongoing, orange-tinged insanity continued. Offensive is much too mild a word to describe the disrespectful spewings of venom toward other human beings by the Republican nominee. We have endured this for months, but this day reached the nadir with revelations by his victims.

By midday, bits and pieces of Michelle Obama’s heartfelt, furious speech began to be broadcast. I want to link the whole thing here, because Michelle put into words what we felt, both her disgust at what’s happened and her belief that “real men, strong men” don’t do this. FLOTUS’s speech in New Hampshire.

Listening to the whole speech, I realized that even in her anger, she left me with hope as she described her involvement in the U.S. Government’s initiative to insure education for adolescent girls around the world – “Let Girls Learn.”

I keep picturing Michelle at the podium literally pushing up the sleeves of her navy-blue sweater as she spoke of her hopes for young women (some of their smiling young faces in the audience) – making us want to protect them (and all children) and help them, never, ever disrespect them.

The Nobel Committee also lifted me up that day. The car echoed with the music and memories stirred by the selection of Bob Dylan to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature!

The honorable King Bhumibol, Dylan, and Michelle Obama. I want to fill my mind with their lessons, encouraging us always to “Go High”!

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How About Your Personal Projects?

The Cambridge Research professor Brian R. Little, author of “Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being” asks about our personal projects – how many we have and what they are.

Since the 1980s, Little has studied “trait psychology,” which looks at patterns of behavior, thought, and emotion, and he specifically peers through a lens of personal projects. For him these projects must have “personal saliency” – be significant for the individual. He finds people “typically report that they are pursuing about 15 personal projects at any one time.”

I read about Little’s book in connection with creativity, and was curious about his use of projects to define us. His book sometimes employs obscure (to me) words where simpler ones might do, but I reread and made notes to try to comprehend the chapter “Personal Projects: The Happiness of Pursuit.”

Little writes: “Personal projects are the things we are doing or planning on doing in our everyday lives. Personal projects can range from routine acts (e.g. ‘put out the cat’) to the overarching commitments of a lifetime (e.g. ‘liberate my people’). They may be solo pursuits or communal ventures, self-initiated or thrust upon us, deeply pleasurable or the bane of our existence. As our personal projects go, so does our sense of well-being.”

This might fall into the category of “duh” – that modern catch-all for the obvious (yes we do feel better when we get something done), but his ideas expand my list of core (really important to me) projects to include things I wouldn’t have thought of as projects. People differ in their reaction to the word “project,” but it’s interesting to think about what affects our sense of well-being.

My husband and I had a good time comparing lists when we went out to dinner the other night. Because Little devotes a chapter to personality and environmental preferences, I was curious about where my husband needed to live to support his core list. And, while making my list, I realized lists change over time, 10 years ago mine was very different.

The meaningful project and the easily done project have different effects – the latter alone is insufficient to assure well-being (too bad given how often I let the cat out), and meaningful projects tend to be complicated and harder to complete. Not surprisingly, Little says, “Well-being is enhanced when both efficacy and meaning are experienced within the same projects.”

Tangling with Little’s book is a project – but a rewarding one.

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If She Does Or If She Doesn’t

Hillary – she’s damned either way. In a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece, David Brooks explored why Hillary’s numbers in the “dislike” column continue to creep upward (her orange-tinged adversary has similarly high dislike numbers, but we know painfully well what causes those).

While not politically in step with Brooks, I did write about his book, “The Social Animal” (to the horror of a progressive reader). But in this Op-Ed Brooks asks the same question I wonder about all the time. How did we get to this vicious place where so much venom pours on the head of a woman who has devoted her life to public service, performed with grace and calm in trying situations, possesses the experience and knowledge to sort through our problems, and is respected around the world?

Brooks avoids the gender elephant, but posits the dislike is driven by Hillary Clinton’s failure to reveal herself as a person with interests beyond policy and government. She’s seen as someone who works too much and is overly serious. Though praised as warm and loving by people who really know her, Brooks says that the public knows nothing about Hillary’s free time activities. (Given how desperate this election is, what free time I wonder).

Golf or basketball games (anything involving balls either manipulated or watched) seem legitimate for the free time of other public figures, but a little yoga, a walk in a garden, FaceTime with a granddaughter, figuring out a present for a special person would surely draw ridicule as too feminine or too something negative. Apparently the fact that Hillary revealed she eats a hot red pepper each day to ward off colds was mocked as phony.

A therapist once told us that we like people for their flaws. But even if Hillary got self-deprecating and told stories about her flaws – and you know she has them – that would somehow backfire.

I hope she has a secret vice – watches “Nashville” or “The Good Wife” late at night to escape the relentlessness of this campaign. But if she reads briefings in bed, that’s OK with me.

It must lift her spirits when she receives photos of her granddaughter from her daughter, she seems to relish being a granny. And who better to care about where the nation goes (for people on the left), specially when that loving mother and granny is a respected senator, successful Secretary of State, and an incredibly hard working, smart, experienced liberal (she seems to recognize more than some these days that change takes time and negotiation to accomplish).

I don’t know how she keeps it up, but I wish her well – all the way to the White House!

H for Hillary