Search This Blog

Blog Archive

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Riding the Tide

Six to eat one sundae. Perfect.
You know, it wasn’t our choice to spend the last 6 months in Minnesota. It wasn’t part of “the plan.” The first three months in the States—May through July, yes. Three months that were orchestrated precisely to include two visits to Carl’s sisters in Memphis, the second visit for a celebration of the life of Carl’s mom who died last December.  
Celebration of Karen Richards' life, Memphis

We had two weeks in southeastern MN with my six siblings, two weeks in Portland, Oregon with my children, and a week in Chicago with Carl’s son. 

A winery tour south of Portland, OR

We visited friends in Oriental and Raleigh, North Carolina as well as Washington D.C. as we made our way from East Coast to Midwest by car. 
Visiting Jax in D.C.

We saw a group of friends that I worked with in Decorah after graduate school, and with friends I worked with at Gillette Children’s years ago. 
Friends from my years
at Gillette Children's 

We even saw an old friend of Carl’s in Newport, Oregon. and Carl’s high school friends in Memphis. All planned visits. But the last six months? Entirely unplanned.
friends in Newport, OR

However, because we stayed in Minnesota the past six months, we had time to entertain my siblings in Duluth and north in September.  We made it to a surprise birthday party for Carl’s cousin in Detroit; time with old friends in Ann Arbor, MI, Windsor, Ontario and Detroit. 
Ann Arbor friend

We had time for a “lutefisk” dinner with our Duluth Yacht Club racing crew (minus the lutefisk); time with a dear cousin that I hadn’t seen in years in Waukon, Iowa. 
Racing in the Bay, Duluth

Because we were still in Minnesota, we were here to welcome Carl’s daughter back from her Colombian Peace Corps tour in October. We were here when my children came in October for their cousin’s wedding on the North Shore. 
Carl and I with my children and my son's girlfriend, October 

We were still in Minnesota for a leisurely Christmas celebration with both of our daughters, something that hadn’t occurred in three years. And there was so much more.  
Cuz we're Cousins

We enjoyed not one but two trips to Canada with friends for a week at their lovely off-the-grid cabin in Ontario; another visit with friends at a 1930’s rustic cabin in northern Minnesota with other friends; and many, many gatherings in Duluth. 
Friends' cabin in Ontario, accessible by water only

We felt at times like celebrities. It seemed that all of our friends wanted to host a dinner or other gathering at their homes “before you head back to the boat.” Needless to say, we obliged just about every time. 
A masterful paella outdoors
on Barr's Lake

There were gatherings at other locations too—at the new crop of Duluth microbreweries and restaurants that have sprung up during our last four years living on the boat. Carl’s daughter is of the opinion that we have social engagements several times per week. It was nearly an accurate observation.
A Christmas celebration.

Our friends took good care of us these last months. They fed us. They entertained us.  Two of them loaned me their sewing machines to satisfy my sewing obsession; one loaned us a second car to have over the holidays; one stored our car while we flew to Oregon; one is storing our car indoors for the next several months and also housed us for months. 
It's nice to watch the children
of friends grow up

Yesterday, one of them picked us up at the cabin, fed us dinner and brought us to the shuttle which took us to the MSP airport in the middle of the night. 
1930's cabins on Dewey Lake

It’s important to say that we appreciated the expertise and warm humanity of the Mayo Clinic providers in Rochester. We were so thankful to be where we were for Carl’s treatment. We couldn’t be more impressed with them. 
Mayo Clinic

Beyond that, there are so many beautiful moments I can conjure up; moments that I otherwise would not have experienced—an outdoor hot tub in 40 F gazing at a bright, full moon; orange sunsets over the lakes in Ontario and over Island Lake where we stayed the last six months. 
View on side of cabin, Island Lake.  Winter doesn't get much
more beautiful than this!

We saw a heavy snowfall that decorated all the evergreens of northern Minnesota in the most beautiful thick white frosting; and all those times we looked up randomly from our books or computers to find our deer pals peering into the windows at us. “Hey, you guys got anything for us in there today? Seeds? Fruit? We are particularly fond of apples.”

It goes without saying that you just can’t plan everything in life. Oh, you can try, but in the end, things are going to happen and all you can do is ride along with the tides. You can fight the waves, but you won’t win. You don’t always get what you want but often times, I think that the best things happen outside of “the plan.” 
George played and I sang for
residents at Marywood after Christmas

I can’t imagine any better experience than being warmly welcomed back into the fold of our community of friends. As if we’d never left. As if in our absence, we have learned to love each of them more. As if we have become, in their eyes, more wonderful, more precious than we were before. 
My family of origin and spouses, Spring
Grove, Minnesota

I’m sure we would have enjoyed returning to our home on the water six months ago, but really, would that have made our lives any richer than the unplanned six months in northern Minnesota? I am certain it would not. 
A Christmas gathering that has become tradition
with friends from St. Mary's Hospital

Thursday, December 6, 2018

When "Fake News" is not Fake

I am sick to death of hearing the words “fake news.” I admit I have been for some time now.  I do not like to be asked to believe that “fake news” is routinely reported by previously well-respected, professional investigative journalists.  It seems that when the WHO (White House Occupant) is involved, the journalists just never get the story right. 

For the most part, we Americans are pretty happy with our fake stuff; fake nails, fake hair and teeth, fake smiles and fake boobs.  Except for the boobs, they’re easily detected, and nobody thinks a thing of it. I can imagine this American billboard: Fake is Fine.  Naturally TV and movie sets use fake backdrops; the stunt men perform fake fist fights; gunfighters use fake bullets and blood and we pay good money to see all of those things. We enjoy reading The Enquirer knowing full well that the stories are not true, but they’re so titillating. It’s entertaining. Likewise, fake wrestling with well planned feints, pins and trampling.  Fans are quite willing to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the spectacle of it—the cheering and the hooting. And who doesn’t thrill to see a magician saw a girl in half? Perhaps our ordinary diet of fake stuff inures us to the possibility that when bad stuff happens, it unfortunately, is most often true.

In my work life, I met people who stated with certainty that “stories about dinosaurs and evolution are just that—stories—dinosaur and humanoid ancestor bones were created and placed in the ground by the Creator in order to test our faith in the true Creation story.” Maybe some of those nonbelievers are the same folks that insist that humans have not affected our climate. The assertion is that climate changes are entirely naturally occurring—humans have nothing to do with the degradation of our environment.  Scientific research is meaningless. Discounting science may be popular in some groups, but if that same group would heed the National Hurricane  Center order to evacuate ahead of a monster hurricane, I’m going to suggest that they’re just picking and choosing which sciences are convenient at any given time.

I was with a roomful of people, all of us glued to the TV immediately following the crash of the first airplane into the World Trade Center.  It was not until the second plane struck that we accepted that this was not just a horrible accident. Our first response to tragedy is often disbelief. When we are informed that someone close to us has died unexpectedly, we sometimes say, “No, that can’t be—I just saw him.” Of course, that response makes no sense in retrospect, but it is our first response to tragedy. We deny the reality of it. We would prefer it to be fake news.
One of the most horrible, egregious events in history that many people said was not true, could NOT be true was the Holocaust. Ghastly photos proved what we didn’t want to believe. To acknowledge as truth the extermination of 6 million Jews and other non-Aryans is to understand, truly understand that evil can and does run amok on the earth. With the unforgivable collaboration of the population of an entire nation, families were rounded up all across Europe, children separated from their parents never to see them again, incarcerated behind wire and walls, used and abused, raped, shot, starved, experimented upon, poisoned, worked to death, buried and incinerated. 

We cannot deny that mankind has willfully created hell on earth for others. We might claim that we had nothing to do with those particular events. If we accept some culpability, such acts can challenge our very beliefs in what it means to be human. These acts challenge our religions beliefs, our philosophy, our teachings from childhood. How can we tolerate living in our own skins while truly understanding what we are capable of doing?

But if not living in the real world, where do we reside? Humans do make mistakes; sometimes really big mistakes. We want what we want. And we have messy emotions. I read a book about a study not long ago that was done to identify the essential, uniquely human qualities that separate us from animals. I thought I knew what the results were going to be before I started, but I was wrong. I read that the unique quality wasn’t the ability to use tools; primates use sticks to get at grubs. It wasn’t the use of language; several species have been shown to communicate quite clearly among themselves. It wasn’t the devotion to parenting; parents in many species will sacrifice themselves to save their offspring. And it certainly wasn’t sexual behavior; there are several species that are more monogamous than humans. The only quality that could be identified as distinctly unique to humans and that therefore separates us from all other species is the practice of killing our own kind. 

We hurt each other and we kill each other for reasons that defy explanation; one victim at a time, multiple victims in mass shootings, and in wars that destroy civilians, soldiers and often the very civilization itself of the nation where the battles take place. Wars are endorsed and orchestrated by us, by our governments, and with the righteous belief that might is right. When we have harmed and continue to harm each other so atrociously, how can we pretend that bad news isn’t right there in front of us? When we rush to agree that bad news is fake news, I believe we risk becoming automatons, beings without feeling, without conscience, or compassion, without intellect—without the urge to become better than we are or have been.

Yes, I understand that believing without question that an official’s statement of “fake news” is sometimes the easier route. If disastrous things are “fake news” it becomes easier to go on with our lives with a good conscience. We tire of being pummeled by bad news. We become worn down and exhausted. We want to tell ourselves that we are inherently good people and that we can trust people in positions of authority that we have placed there.  We want to and sometimes need to believe that we have done the Right thing when casting our ballots.

When news reports point out that someone has lied to us, wouldn’t it just be nicer if it simply was “fake news”? When the news is about victims that have been damaged in our society, or maybe elsewhere in the world too, wouldn’t it be nice if what happened wasn’t anything that had anything to do with our decisions. Perhaps it’s easier to think that the reporter got it wrong, or that the victims “deserved” what happened to them anyway. They were someplace they should not have been, their skin was the wrong color, they should have worked harder so they wouldn’t need help, they should have fixed the problems in their own country instead of asking for asylum here. When we deny the validity of “bad” news we increase our culpability. 

Listening to and reading the news isn’t as easy as choosing your “good guy” to believe and identifying the “bad guy” so that you know where to place your anger.  Leaders will all tell us what they want us to know; they encourage us to see the world as they do. But when they insist that we forego reasoning for ourselves and just accept the statement that bad news is “fake news,” they take advantage of us. They take advantage of our inherent desire to deny bad news. That is exactly when we must dig in deeper, and stay in the real world. To think harder. 

Faced with the choice between critical thinking based upon input from investigative reporters versus accepting blanket assertions of “fake news” from elected leaders, I will take critical thinking every time.  In my fantasy world, there is an Amendment to that effect—  The responsibilities and duties of a Voting Citizen of the United States shall not be considered discharged upon exiting the voting booth. It remains the obligation of each Citizen to critically assess the veracity of all those serving in elected and appointed positions for it is They Who Speak for Us. 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

What Sexual Assault Is Not About

This is a difficult topic to discuss.  However, it's certainly a whole lot easier to talk about than to endure, and so for all the folks I know that have endured sexual assault, and those who, unfortunately, will in the future, I want to speak out.  

We know that most of the men, women and children that have been assaulted don’t talk about those moments, or hours, of assault. There’s nothing new in the world about sexual assault; it’s been around for as long as the human race and I’m of the opinion that it’s about time we attempt to get real about it.

To begin, I hope to make sure we are on the same page and reading from the same playbook about sexual assault. I am writing today to emphasize just four main points, simple though they be.

First of all, no one is exempt from sexual assault. Neither race nor socioeconomic status, age, disability, nor one’s sex can provide immunity from being the object of sexual assault. As distasteful as this is to think about, this includes children. As a child protection worker, I met children as young as 4 years that had been victims. Later, while working with elderly, I met people as old as 85 that had been victimized. Most of my life as a medical social worker has been spent working with children and adults with disabilities. Sexual assaults occurred in those persons’ lives too. In fact, research suggests that people with disabilities are twice as likely to have been victims of sexual abuse as able bodied folks.

Although we may tend to think of women and girls first, when we talk about sexual assault, we know that boys are also victimized. Stories from the Catholic church have shown us that boys have long been abused, too. And unlike Jacob Wetterling’s story of kidnapping, assault and death, most victims do know their perpetrators. The vast majority of perpetrators are never punished or even charged with assault. And If we, the rest of us, cannot accept the truth that sexual assault exists, not as a rarity but a frequent occurrence, how are we ever going to be able to talk about sexual assault. And if it’s something that cannot be spoken of, then, I contend that silence makes perfect victims of us all. And tacit accomplices.

My second point is this. Many people reading this will tell themselves that they do not personally know anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You are undoubtably incorrect in that belief. I don’t care who you are—unless you have been living as a hermit in a cave, you do know someone who has been sexually assaulted, whether you realize this or not. I ask you to think carefully. Think of your immediate family members. Think of your aunts, cousins, your nieces, nephews, grandmother, your brother and sisters and your own parents. Think of all the people you have known in your lifetime. There are stories there that you have likely never heard. People that we know and know well have been scarred by sexual assault at some time during their lives though we may not ever hear their story from their own lips.

Over the years, my mental health clients have told me in anguishing fits and starts, their stories of sexual assault; whether as children in their own homes or churches, as adolescents at a party, or with romantic encounters gone south. They came to therapy with memories that still plagued them years after the events occurred They came surprised to find themselves with feelings and fears that they had thought were successfully shoved aside years earlier. They came reporting that old memories had been resurrected along with milestones in their lives— moving away to college, starting a new relationship. the death of a parent or the abuser, the birthday of their own child, or a new sexual partner, to name a few.

They often came weighted down with the burden of having protected the identity of the abuser for years--the college student whose father was a pastor back home, the young woman with mild cerebral palsy who believed that she was selected for assault by her teacher because of her disability, the young man who was assaulted by his middle-school track coach, the middle-aged woman who because of chronic back pain stood throughout hours of therapy and all but shrank into the wall as she wept through the telling of her story. The tears aren’t all about the incident of assault itself, but about the current inability to trust another person. They often report they cannot allow themselves to relax their guard enough to be intimate with another person. They report feelings of deep inadequacy, of loneliness, of living outside the circle of “ordinary” people.

Thirdly, if there is only one thing that you take away from this narrative, let it be this. Sexual assault is not about the sex act. Sexual assault is not about enjoying one’s sexuality. It is about power. It is about one (or more) person(s) of greater size, strength, authority, or mental capacity taking advantage of someone possessing less of one or all of the above. It's about having control of someone else. It's about using that size or strength, authority or mental capacity to do with that person's body as desired, without the permission of the other, without regard for the impact on the other. Sexual assault is an avenue to assert dominance, to massage a bruised ego, to prove superiority, to demonstrate hatred for the female gender, to cause another pain as retribution, to establish social standing within a peer group, to control the behavior of another person. It is a way to exact fear and compliance in another person or group.
Sexual assault does not occur because the victim “dressed too provocatively”, nor because mixed signals were given or she “changed her mind.” It’s not about the perpetrator being "oversexed," having too much of a sex drive, nor being too drunk to know better. And it is certainly not about “boys will be boys.” Those are all excuses that have been offered to justify behavior after the fact. Those are all ways in which we have collectively attempted, unwittingly or not, to place blame upon victims for bad things happening to them.

My fourth point, sexual assault does not require that intercourse have taken place. So, does this mean that having your butt slapped, or being rubbed up against (frotterage) in a crowd, or being “felt up”, pawed, grabbed, pinched, kissed, bitten, restrained, mouth gagged, neck squeezed, lewd things muttered into your ear, threatened, clothing torn, undergarments snapped--that all of these are sexual assaults? Yes, that is exactly what that means. Sexual assault also includes being forced to watch or to participate in sexual gratification of another, whether by physical force or by coercion through threats of harm or humiliation. These are all sexual assaults.

There's a phrase that I’ve heard used sometimes which actually diminishes the victims' authority to label a sexual assault for what it is. The phrase sounds innocent enough but it masks the reality of what occurred. The phrase goes something like this, ”He (or she) tried to... (take advantage of, feel her up, get in her pants, etc.)” Do you see? When we say "tried to" when what we really mean is that the perpetrator did do some of those things, we are diminishing the reality of an experience that was traumatic, or at the very least was frightening, humiliating or anger producing.

I do not mean to imply that I an an expert in the field of sexual assault and treatment. But I do mean to imply that I don’t have to be, nor do you, in order to be able to hear and to believe the reality of assaults. I beg you, if/when you hear of a person’s story of assault, do not automatically go to that suspicious place in your head where you immediately wonder if the victim is telling the truth. Please, please do not add more onto the assault. Please.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

First Amendment: A Right and a Responsibility

Freedom of Speech. Hmm. A long time ago, we declared ourselves to have the right to express ourselves without fear of reprisal, a monumental improvement over life under the British monarchy, when saying the wrong thing about the King could lead to shackles or worse. There are a few caveats, of course. We can’t shout “Fire” when there is none, or terrorize others by claiming to have planted a bomb, nor threaten to kill. Freedom of Speech does not extend to inciting violence. Well and good.
Farmer's Market, Memphis.

Personal slander and lies, however, are more difficult utterances to police. Although the U.S. is one of the most litigious nations in the world, most of the time we don’t bother to sue others who slander us. Case in point: someone calls me a “dufus.” And although I would beg to differ, there’s no point in making a big deal of it. We tend to count on the ability of reasonable people to recognize that the slanderous person’s statements are without merit. It’s pragmatic.
"A reasonable person would recognize 
that I am not a dufus."

So since we are free to say what we like, where is Honesty in all of this? The First Amendment is the basis for many of our laws. But, Honesty, that takes us into the realm of morality. Laws and Morality. Apples and oranges—not the same but both in the same fruit bowl. The two ought to be able to cohabit the same space without bruising one another. Wouldn’t you think?

We claim to be a nation of morals—Honesty, being one of them, yes? Historically, we pride our American selves on possessing a higher level of morals than many nations of the world. (Especially if we set aside for the moment, our history of slavery, internment camps and forced boarding schools for Native children). We like to see ourselves as beacons of fairness on the world stage. We believe we are the “good guys.”

An unexpected oversize "sign" in the
Upper Peninsula of Michigan

So, does Honesty make up one of the rungs on our ladder of American Morality? Do we believe in it? Right along with Justice and Equality? Is it something we value? The past couple of years have been particularly tough for me in this regard….

“Nobody has greater respect for women than me.” Pres. Trump (Excuse me, but just writing that quote makes me guffaw).

"In another moment, I'm going to split a
gut laughing. Then I'll cry."

“There were good people on both sides of the Charlottesville thing.” Pres. Trump

“The President did not say that. What I can tell you is that the President has the highest regard for (…women.. children…victims of hurricanes… people of color…etc.)” White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders Huckabee.

"Who you gonna trust in this town?  A guy with bad hair,
or me, a Border Collie with a nose for Truth."

“Well, that’s not at all what happened…..I know the history of this. I’ve spent a lot of time on this throughout my career.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to John Dickerson, speaking on his decision to block Obama’s choice for SCOTUS, Merrick Garland. McConnell claimed that it was justified to block a nominee when the White House and Congress were of different parties.

“Under my Administration, we have accomplished in two years more than almost any administration in the history of our country.” Pres. Trump’s speech to 100+ world leaders, ambassadors and dignitaries at the UN which prompted audience laughter. Trump later said that he had been “meant to get laughter.”

“We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” Dept of Homeland Security (DHS) Sec. Kjirsten Nielsen. As of June 19, 2018 2,342 children have been separated from their parents.

“Everybody knows that I’ve got what it takes. Because of what’s up here.” (pointing to his head) Pres. Trump in interview. (Clearly this is untrue because I, for one, do NOT know that he has what it takes).

"Seriously?  You want me to believe that?"

“We did an outstanding job in Puerto Rico. There were not 3,000 deaths. They added those on later.” Pres. Trump

“Fake news People. Everybody knows it. You’re printing fake news, as usual. Please correct your facts.” Pres. Trump on Twitter, on a routine basis.

“I have good chemistry with Kim Jong-un. We had a very nice meeting. We have an understanding.” Pres. Trump explains why it was unnecessary to have anything in writing about their “understanding” on nuclear proliferation.

"Here's the thing....blub,blub,blub....
Putin is my best bud."

“He says he did not have anything to do with influencing our 2016 elections, and he said it very strongly, and so I think it’s true.” Pres. Trump after meeting in private with Putin. (As if truth were relevant? Curiously, this statement stands beside his other assertion which was that our own Intelligence was not believable.)
"I guess an American president would know what's best for Europe, huh? Munch, munch."

“Immigration is changing the culture of Europe and they had better watch themselves.” Pres. Trump has advice for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“Germany will become totally dependent on Russian energy if it does not immediately change course.” Pres. Trump’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly which brought about smirks among the Germans. (I would love to have overheard their dinner conversation that evening).

“The Mueller investigation is a witch hunt.” Pres. Trump, on Twitter and to news reporters, repeatedly.

"I've studied the ocean and there are no whales.
Ignore the four whales below and behind me---
move along people. Nothing to see here."

“I did not limit the investigation of the FBI in any way.” Trump’s assertion that the FBI investigation intended to address specific allegations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh was not limited by him. FBI Director Christopher Wray later testified under oath that the Pres. did limit the breadth of the investigation.
.  “It’s a bad time for men. You can get accused of anything and then your life is over.” “It’s a great time for women. A great time!” President Trump’s analysis after the Kavanaugh hearings.

“We need Saudia Arabia.” (The $115 billion arms deal) “would produce 500,000 jobs.” “They are an ally.” Pres. Trump on the likely murder of the journalist living in America, Jamal Khashoggi, and the president’s desire to continue pursuit of an arms deal with Saudia Arabia. The claim of 500,000 new American jobs is unsubstantiated.

So, here it is then— our American Honesty displayed for the World to see. Maybe our Freedom of Speech gives us the right to speak nonsense? Is that it? We have all the rights of Free Speech and no responsibility associated with it? Sometimes it feels that way.

Everyone that I call “friend” was taught about Honesty in childhood. Do we not still teach our children to be truthful? In my childhood home, lying was just about the worst thing I could do. A liar could never be trusted.

Teenagers hanging out in a live oak on
Cumberland Island, Georgia.
Were you encouraged as children to win at any cost? I doubt that is what most of us were taught. Playing fairly and playing well with others were, and are still praised, are they not? Winning, by means of cheating, whether in a game or in academics, is nothing to be proud of.

And there’s this other really hard one that I believe we still promote—we still try to teach our children to understand that they are no more important or more worthy than other children in the world. We want to lead them away from an attitude of entitlement. Most of you reading this will, I think, say that no, we do not want to raise the next generation to believe they are entitled. We want a generation that does not believe in taking advantage of those less fortunate. We can be a much greater nation than that.

I would like to believe that most of us were taught to value Honesty. Although our 1st Amendment does not say, “You must be Honest in your Free Speech,” do we not want to pair up Honesty with Free Speech? Put that Apple right there next to the Orange and encourage them to get along together. We ALL own the 1st Amendment. It is ours and we need to demand our right to it in order to keep it. But Freedom of Speech is not only an American right; it is an American responsibility.


We are responsible for speaking out; and to speak out loudly to support those with the smallest and weakest of voices in America. We bear the responsibility to point out dishonesty, scheming and trickery when we see it. If we shall have any hope of restoring Honesty in our nation we shall have to demand it. We must vote for Honesty. Honesty rather than flashy rhetoric. Plain old ordinary Honesty, without glamor, without catchy phrases, and we’re going to need lots more Honesty in our national conversations. Vote for Honesty! Please! Let’s give Honesty a new life in America.