Doing the Hard Thing

2024-06-30T16:47:47-07:00Categories: creative aging, featured posts, featured posts, politics|Tags: , , , , |

One minute you’re hanging by your knees from your neighbors’ swing set, and the next minute you’re on the ground and your arm is hurting a whole lot more than your average bumped elbow or skinned knee. “Better go home and show your mom,” the neighbor kids tell you, so you do, and her answer, which is not surprising to you, is, “I’m sure it will feel all better in the morning.” But it doesn’t. And it doesn’t feel better the next morning either, or the morning after that. So your mom finally takes you to the doctor and he says you’ve got a fractured wrist. Just a hairline fracture, he calls it, as he washes up and starts wrapping your arm like he’s doing a papier maché project at school. You feel pretty special, until he tells you the bad news: no swimming for six weeks. Six weeks?! Is he kidding? No, apparently not. Doesn’t he know it’s summertime, and you may be only seven, but you’re on the swim team? Yes, he does know it’s summertime, and he commends you for being on the team. But, he says, this is what you have to do when you’ve got a broken wrist. Fast forward sixty years, and you’re on the storied Spider Meadow Trail in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, with a pack on your back. You’re feeling pretty good, because the hike up went well, you and your husband spent a lovely June night in the meadow, watching the long light fade over the mountains, [...]

The Poets and the Helpers

2024-01-26T07:43:43-08:00Categories: arts, Creative, featured posts, featured posts, nature, politics|Tags: , , |

We were practicing small talk. “What is your favorite season?” was one of the questions on our worksheet. When the teacher asked me—her once-a-week classroom helper—what I  wanted to say was “all the seasons, every one of them,” but for the sake of demonstrating to English language learners how small talk typically goes, I said “Summer.” And smiled. And on this cold, gray January morning, everyone in the classroom sighed, because just by saying the word out loud—summer­­—I had brought summer into all of our minds for about one second. I felt like a poet, who had just recited a one-word poem. Short though it was, it needed no other words. I felt like a helper, who had just taken a classroom of refugees, exhausted by the daunting task of learning English, on a one-second vacation. As we plunge into this fraught year, I’ve been thinking about Mr. Rogers’ oft-quoted advice—“Look for the helpers”—and pondering why this simple phrase has had such a comforting, calming effect on so many millions of people, myself included. I came across a 2018 essay in the Atlantic by Ian Bogost in which he chastised adults like myself who have clung naïvely to this advice intended for children. “Ironically,” Bogost wrote, “when adults cite ‘Look for the helpers,’ they are saying something tragic, not hopeful: Grown-ups now feel so disenfranchised that they implicitly self-identify as young children.” But I disagree. Adults understand nuance. We know the helpers can’t make everything better. But we also understand that it is essential to know they [...]

Soft Target

2023-05-08T15:56:46-07:00Categories: featured posts, featured posts, gun control, nature|Tags: , , , , , |

Soft target. Am I a soft target? Are you? And what exactly is a soft target, as opposed to a hard target? Does a soft target mean someone who is not carrying a gun? Does it mean someone who is not wearing body armor? Does “soft” mean expendable? And what does “hard” mean? Does “hard” mean Important? Must be Defended? One recent morning, after the latest somber news, I listened to the band Cowboy Nation’s mournful rendition of “Shenandoah.” I had always thought the song was about a traveler making his way west, across the wide Missouri, as he pined for the river valley he left behind in Virginia. But no: turns out he may have been pining for the daughter of Shenandoah, the great Oneida Chief. Legend has it the Shenandoah River was named in honor of Chief Shenandoah by George Washington, in gratitude for the support of Shenandoah and his hundreds of warriors who fought alongside Washington’s troops on the frontier and who sent corn to the starving Colonial soldiers during the brutal winter at Valley Forge. “Shenandoah” was a song that went down the Missouri and the Mississippi and around the world in the 19th Century, sung by voyageurs and river boatmen and ocean-going sailors from the South Pacific to Scotland, but known to all as an American tune, a story of American-style craving and longing. Away, we’re bound away. We crave adventure. But we long, we pine, for home and family. And safety. It’s the American dream, right? Or more accurately, the [...]

Sixty-six

2023-02-14T16:33:28-08:00Categories: brain, creative aging, dementia, featured posts, health & medicine, memoir, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , , |

“Good evening,” said a silver-haired woman in creamy linen, as she floated past me with her dapper husband towards the veranda of the El Mirador restaurant. They had a dinner reservation; several waiters hurried to greet and seat them. Another waiter, just as gracious, seated my husband and me with the slightly reduced amount of pomp accorded to the drinks-only crowd. But every table at El Mirador was positioned to take in the show: sunset over the Pacific Ocean, high above the curvaceous Baja coast, backed by a chorus line of frilly clouds and kicked off by a surprise opening act: one  spouting whale. We sipped our drinks and savored our appetizer, a burrata and roasted tomato mélange almost too pretty to eat. We snapped photos, along with everyone else, and marveled that this elegant place existed, at the end of a dusty, bumpy, unpaved road. Sunset. How we humans love it! The young woman in satin pants and an off-the-shoulder, pink maribou sweater, the mom in shorts with a wiggly seven-year-old, the glamorous  older couple, the table full of young men who looked like they might’ve flown in that day from Silicon Valley. We gasp at the sun’s grand finale, we toast it, we take photos and then sigh that they don’t do it justice. And yet: if our lives were a day, sunset is not where we would choose to be. And yet: wouldn’t you rather dwell in the sunset, than go right from noon to midnight? Am I really embarking on “an old [...]

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