Laughing Through the Storms

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“Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you.”- Langston Hughes

I could be a bit of a stick in the mud when I was a teenager.  I was always so serious about everything and frowned upon dark humor, expecting people to be as serious about life as I was.  Slowly, I developed a sense of humor.

I remember when I started to loosen up.  My mom told me Easter had been canceled.  I asked why?  She replied, “the body was found.”   slowly it dawned on me what that meant and horrified chuckle escaped; from then on I learned to appreciate the power of laughter and levity, especially in times of crisis, when things are serious or emotionally charged.

I think that we sometimes feel when we allow ourselves to see the funny, the absurd, the ironic and the ridiculous in challenging and/or dark times that we judge ourselves, and have perhaps judged others, for their ability to joke, smile, laugh and move on, instead of wallowing, over-emoting, and analyzing everything. Sometimes you need to make the inappropriate comment, share a well-timed expletive and mine the situation you find yourself in for something valuable; shared levity and a sense of “we are all in this together.”

I found this especially so when I started working as a forensic interviewer of children who had been victims of crimes.  Who knew that you could find something humorous in something so awful.  Working with detectives and investigators you learn quickly the importance of levity.

One time, I was interviewing a nine-year-old. He had been kept in a closet for years but was very bright. I went over my expectations for our talk and let him know that I might ask the same question again, and if I did that, that did not mean I wanted him to change his answer, it just meant I forgot.  The child eagerly interrupted me at this point, exclaiming “Oh, do you have Alzheimer’s?  I heard that if you have Alzheimer’s you forget how to go potty.” Suppressing a grin, I explained, that just like him, I just forget things once in awhile.  Later on, while asking him a question, he replied “Is this really any of your business?  I’ll tell you anyway.”

Another time I was interviewing a little girl. As I leaned over she stuck her finger in my shirt and pulled the front down to look at my boobs.  When I took a break to talk to detectives I was asked: “Did she put a dollar in there?”

A detective once made a comment on how maybe a little girl, around seven, could be charged with solicitation when her brother offered to pay her for sexual favors.

Then there was the time I was doing a safe body talk with a teenager.  Who knew, in this day and age, that teenagers can still be shy or uncomfortable about naming private parts?  As a forensic interviewer, you can assume nothing and must use the child’s words so I asked her what the private parts are called on a boy?.  The teen, clearly at unease over the question, replied “a fruit bowl.” Trying to keep a straight face, I asked the teen what part of the fruit bowl is used for going to the bathroom. “The banana.”  I broke down laughing but quickly got myself together.  The teen assured me it was okay to laugh; that it was funny.

Then there was the time I was talking to a teenage boy.  It was a case involving an adult male trying to lure him into sexual touching.  We had a discussion about this and at the end, we talked about something more neutral that he likes to do.  He talked about how he just liked to stay in his room.  I chuckled and said “It sounds like your room is the place to be” and we concluded the interview.  When I went to talk to the detective he laughingly pointed out, that I had just told a teenage boy who had been discussing sexual touching, that his room was the place to be.

I also liked to infuse humor when talking about forensic interviewing.  One time, when speaking with a group of Victim-Witness Advocates along with the Director of the advocacy center, I used Spongebob to help explain rapport building with children.  I told them how I personally, found Spongebob to be creepy but kids just love him and then talked to them about what some of the kids say that is serious but also humorous.  At the end of the talk, my Director turned to me in amazement and exclaimed: “they were laughing.”  I explained that you need to have levity with the dark.  If you just talk about the heavy stuff it is going to be overwhelming but if you use well-placed humor it helps relieve some of the stress from what you are hearing and will make the information you share more memorable.

Humor has been a saving grace for me, whether at work or in my personal life. When my grandmother died, her ashes were placed in a box in a pretty purple bag.  I have often thought what a great gift she would be for a White Elephant gift giving party, like at Christmas.  I can just imagine the look on the person’s face, as they pick the cheerful bag and then look inside.  Do they think the package, labeled “human remains,” is a joke?  Do they try and open it, thinking there must be something really fantastic inside? Just the sheer shock and confusion on their imagined faces gives me a dark little chuckle.

Humor can have health benefits as well.  Have you ever been in a stressful situation and someone said something so absurd or so ironic that you just broke out in belly laughs with tears streaming down your face? Felt good, didn’t it?  You felt lighter, things did not seem as bad.

Humor is a survival skill.  It is a healer and shared levity lightens your burdens and helps you cope.  It is good for the heart, soul, and mind.  It keeps you walking thru your challenges and knowing that as dire or sad or scary as something might be, you can face it.  You are not alone. Just don’t look in the purple bag.

 

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Family Tree and Me

The doctor was sure I was going to be a boy.  When I was born he exclaimed, “It’s a tomboy.” I came on an early Sunday afternoon.  Not long after my mom took me back to the farm.  My dad was not in the picture.  They were separated at the time and eventually divorced.

I never had a dad to read to me, play with me, scare off boyfriends.  I never had a dad’s shoulder to cry on or a dad to teach me to drive.  I never had “the dad experience.”  And that’s okay.   A lot of people don’t have the “the dad experience” and I know that I am incredibly blessed, no matter how difficult things can be.  My mom was always there for me.

I always felt there was something missing though.  Empty branches on half of my tree. My mother, who has always had bad health, encouraged me to try and find him.  She didn’t want me to be alone if something happened to her.  I knew that he was living in South Carolina, but that was about it.  I posted on his high school yearbook alumni page.

Time went by and I all but forgot that I had been looking for him.  Then, one day, I received an e-mail.  It was from his wife.  Next was a phone call and I heard his voice for the first time, a heavy Southern twang mixed in with his native Midwest tones.  We talked and talked.  Every few weeks he would call me.  When a couple of my aunts visited friends in the state I live in, they came and visited me too.  I felt like what was missing was filling up.  My tree was full.

 

By Abad Joaquin de Fiore (1135-1202) (Manuscritos en el Tiempo Liber Figurarum Tabla II) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This went on for years.  I could not afford to visit him and I eventually left a good paying job to be my mother’s caregiver.  We were struggling.  I used up my retirement. We had to accept state assistance. I sold many of our treasured items to pay bills and get additional groceries.  I felt it was worth it to be able to take care of my mom and having worked in a job that was emotionally and mentally dangerous (I was a forensic interviewer) I needed time to heal.

Then the 2016 election happened.  My Facebook Feed began to fill with venomous rhetoric, devoid of fact, that had an ugliness that made me feel heartsick.  Jokes about Muslims, hateful comments about Muslims and bizarre conspiracy theories.  My dad and his wife were now unfamiliar to me.  I guess, when you have a distance relationship, you get to imbue someone with attributes and characteristics that are sometimes naive and idealistic.  I was not the ideal daughter (opinionated, liberal in thought and action, my own person.) He was not the dad I hoped for (Atticus Finch, in To Kill a Mockingbird).

I’m okay with differences.  I am not okay with hate and cruelty. I unfriended my dad and his wife.  I was not seeking to sever my relationship but I needed to protect myself from something that I felt was morally wrong.  The next time he and I talked I told him what I did.  He appeared to accept this.

Then Trump came into power.  I was overwhelmed with a sense of dread.  Remember the witches in MacBeth warning “By the prickling of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes?”  That was how I felt.  Fear, anger, a sense that nothing made sense. In December, I got an e-mail from my dad’s wife.

My dad’s wife told me what a disappointment I was.  That I was basically working the system and she had thought so for awhile. Did I mention there had been an increase, before I dropped them, of postings putting down people who need food stamps and help? I confess that there were times I needed help and I did ask a couple of times.  I also tried to trade valuables for things we needed.  But, I was not begging, or using the system or my family.  She ended with telling me that she had not lost any of “her intelligent liberal friends,” and that she was erasing me from my dad’s phone and that if I tried to call, he would not answer because he did not answer numbers he did not know.  She let me know that they loved me and were praying for me. Um…..

I was upset. I contacted my aunt who let my dad know.  He got the number reinstated. The last time we talked, though, was in December of 2016. He did not know everything his wife told me, so I read it to him.  He said he could not make her apologize.  I did not want her to apologize.  I wanted him to care.  He then went on to tell me he worried about my social security.  Huh?  I was paying social security. I was earning income from a caregiver program to take care of my mom.  No empathy, no real attempt to understand.  I thought to myself, later on, “he believes what his wife believes.”

Since our last phone call by life has been hectic, but in some ways good hectic.  I finally found a second job that allows me to work from home and on-line so that my mom is safe and comfortable.  And, I love this job.  It is copyediting study lessons and it is fun. I get to learn and play with words at the same time.

I have come to accept that my dad is not going to be in my life.  And that’s okay.  I don’t need a father to define who I am, to make me feel whole.  I’m glad I was able to fill in the rest of my tree; I have no regrets.  Sometimes people just are not meant to stay in your life. I feel very blessed.  My mom is the only parent I need. She always has been.

 

 

 

 

Sonoran Rain Song

 

 

 

By Collection of Dr. Bill Hooke, NOAA (ret.). (NOAA Photo Library: wea03529) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Gun metal gray and Tyrian purple cumulus nimbus towers embrace the sky, making the thirsty desert, decorated with red plateaus and indigo mountain ranges seem small in comparison.

Arroyos scar the ancient land, dreaming of the rivers they once were as the cicadas, whirring and buzzing in the heat, fill the soupy air with constant sound.  A jackrabbit, his large ears fanning above his inquisitive head, scans for predators from the relative safety of a prickly pear patch, before sprinting to a new hiding spot. Nearby, Gambol’s quail call out to one another.

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The low rumble of thunder shakes the ground.   Lightening slices through the air, a Navajo weaver creating an intricate pattern across the now inky blanket of the sky.

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The wind picks up and a few heavy drops fall.  Then, in a matter of seconds,  all living things are at the mercy of a violent deluge.  The arroyos are no longer dreaming but raging from bank to bank with swift moving water. The thunder gets louder, making the heart skip a beat as it reverberates through your body and you shiver from the delicious coolness of it all.

The intoxicating scent of sage, creosote, earth, and rain fills the air and your spirit, making you feel peaceful and joyful at the same time. Your senses are alive,  as the storm heals your heart and then trails slowly away, the clouds catching the light of the setting sun.

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The sky is painted in blushing peaches and pinks as dusk creeps quietly in and the moon starts to rise, a storyteller surrounded by all her starry children. In the distance, a flash and rumble hint at a nocturnal serenade.

Half-eclipsed super blood moon over the Santa Catalinas, Oro Valley, Arizona

Wonder: It’s Not Just for Kids

As a kid, I liked anything to do with the unexplained or mysterious.  I remember looking up at the night sky and wondering what was really out there.  More than one time I could have sworn I saw a UFO.  One memory that sticks out is standing outside my apartment complex; this was in Santa Fe, NM when I was eight or so. I heard a noise outside and went out, with a number of other people.  Up in the sky, slowly spinning while flying at a low elevation, was a round object, not unlike a toy top, with lights all around it.  As an adult, I have searched on-line to find whether or not this was a recorded event.  So far, no evidence.  But the feeling that I saw something special, something extraordinary, has stayed with me to this day.

My grandmother was my co-conspirator when it came to the supernatural and the unknown.  We would watch shows on UFOs and wonder where they came from and if they would be friendly or not.  We questioned how Big Foot could stay so hidden for so long and relished stories of human/Sasquatch encounters.  We scared ourselves with documentaries on Nostradamus and his predictions and, we were certain,  that one day the Loch Ness Monster would finally be revealed.

I muse about these things still.  At nearly half a century old I can still feel a childlike wonder when watching the sky at night, hoping to catch a meteor shower and a glimpse of something extraterrestrial. There are so many things yet undiscovered or unproven.

Every time a new tomb is discovered in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt I get excited.  Could it be Nefertiti maybe?  What about the lost continent of Atlantis?  Did it exist in what is modern day Santorini if it existed at all? Does the Bermuda Triangle have some sort of weather phenomena that steals planes out of the skies and disappears entire ships or is it something more sinister?  What about ghosts?  Do they exist?  I tend to think they do. But why are they ghosts in the first place?  What really happened to the colony at Roanoke? Also, was King Arthur real or fiction?  I would like to think real. I would also love to find evidence of Robin Hood and Merlin. Are there alternative realities or universes?  What about time-travel? Perhaps there is a real life Dr Who with a Blue Police Box Tardis somewhere out there in need of a companion.   In these unsettled, frightening times I think we all need a little magic, a little mystery, a puzzle if you will, to give ourselves a little escapism and perhaps some hope.

I like the idea that there are still things out there that we have not discovered, that are still unknown.  For some reason, I find it comforting. I may not find the answers but I will certainly have fun looking for them.

DysTrumpian Kleptocracy

(Watching Rachel Maddow show today, 3/13/2017, and she talked about the Russian kleptocracy, describing it as a government of thieves.  Seemed appropriate to re-post this given the timeliness.)

Placing “dys” before a noun indicates something is “bad.”  Think dysfunction or dystopian. A  kleptocracy is a form of government that involves the exploitation and stealing of resources. You probably have an idea of where I am headed with this.  We are now entering the Era of DysTrumpian Kleptocracy.  Sounds kinda pretentious, I know, but it seems the best way of describing the smarmy group of sycophants permeating the new government.

Our alternatively sane president has appointed a cabinet of robber barons who will use and abuse their positions for their own gain, whether it be monetary or the seductive siren call of power and influence.  Our nation’s safety and security has been egregiously compromised by Russian incursions into our elections and apparently our White House too.  It feels as if we have fallen thru the Looking Glass and are now living in an alternative reality.  A suffocating state of anxiety smothers those of us who saw what was coming; we live with fear and apprehension of what will happen to our country, our way of life.

Marches are becoming the new norm.  Protests erupt across the nation from the largest of cities to the smallest of towns as a resistance gains momentum and members. The term “awoke” is often invoked to describe those who had never protested, who had never made a phone call to a representative/senator, who had never been part of a marginalized group or ever had their right’s threatened.  But now they have awoken to the very real threat that this hybrid Dr. Frankenstein’s monster of a government, put together by a seriously flawed, amoral man, who appears to have no inner moral compass, poses.  A man whose personal advisors have entanglements with Vladimir Putin that go deep and who promote a white nationalist, bigoted, xenophobic agenda that will make us, for all intents and purposes, a satellite of Russia.

We have heard this story before, it is not a new one.  Fascism, the Third Reich, and Communism are some of the most recent incarnations from the last century, but will not, unfortunately, be the last of their kind. Never the less, we must stay awake, we must resist.  We are still in the early days and have the opportunity to express with our collective voices that we are all one, that we are a crazy quilt of a country that celebrates our differences while at the same time embracing our sameness.  We can resist the agenda of the DysTrumpian Kleptocracy and peacefully demand that the United States Constitution is the law of the land, that we have a Bill of Rights that needs to be respected and that rule of the wealthy, by the wealthy, for the wealthy is an anathema to all that this nation has stood for.

We cannot normalize this.  We are better than this.  The world is watching.  History is watching.  We make the choice of what will be recorded at some future date on whether or not the United States remains a Republic or falls into irretrievable disrepair, a once grand experiment now no more than some fractured Banana Republic.

Conscience In Action

Nationalism is an infantile disease.  It is the measles of mankind.” Albert Einstein

From a very young age, I was taught to be accepting of those different from me.  At five my mother and I moved to New Mexico and I encountered many cultures and points of view.  I attended colorful parades and fiestas, admired the pretty turquoise, coral, malachite and silver jewelry splayed out on blankets by native artists, watched Zozobra, “Old Man Gloom” burn away the year’s sorrows and disappointments.  I sat in a smoke filled tepee and was asked if I could see the “beaver “in the fire, and learned Spanish slang that was not to be repeated in polite company.  No one was an “other” to me.

My mom, a Viking in miniature, made sure that I did not see myself as any better or any worse than anyone else.  She fed me books to expand my imagination and knowledge and to expose me to ideas and people that I might not otherwise encounter outside of a book cover.  Books that would entertain, make me think, make me feel and most importantly make me question the world around me.

Common themes of humanity and resistance, of groups and individuals who walked thru fire and learned to not lose their humanity or conscience, but to put conscience into action, were peppered throughout the novels I read. The novelist Leon Uris was first introduced to me around 13 or 14.  My mother wanted me to have a full understanding of what hatred, prejudice, and intolerance can do, and what it was to stand up to such evil, so I read Exodus and Mila 18.  In school, Night, by Elie Wiesel and The Diary of Anne Frank supplemented my mother’s efforts to educate my mind and heart.  In high school, I also read Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Houston and James D. Houston, and Hiroshima by John Hersey.  One of my teachers, Mrs. Argersinger, had my class keep a Holocaust Journal in which we wrote about the atrocities and the injustices of World War ll, including that of the United States.  I have kept this journal to this day. On January 20th, 1985, I wrote in this journal “People should never have to live with this again but I know that it will more than likely because history has a habit of repeating itself and if you listen to the news you know it is so.”  Mrs. Argersinger replied in writing “Unfortunate but apparently so.”

Today we are seeing a resurgence of nationalist ideologies and beliefs that made the world dark and confusing during the first half of the 20th Century.  We now need our collective conscience’s manifested into action, into resistance to prevent another Warsaw Ghetto, another Manzanar (Japanese Internment Camp) another Auschwitz or Trail of Tears.  We are in grave danger of losing our Republic to those who would turn this country into an isolationist, ethnocentric, bigoted bastion of nationalism, with a “me first” mentality that in the long run, will lead, as it has countless times in history, to destruction.

Muslims, Jews, the LGBTQ community, Hispanics, Blacks and other people of color, as well as women, have seen a frightening uptick in violence and venomous hate speech since the presidential campaign and eventual election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency. This is happening in a country that once prided itself on its multi-hued tapestry of diversity.  Now, it seems, that much of this was superficial as many people have dropped any facade of civility and decency and engage increasingly in open attacks on those they perceive as different or foreign.

Swastikas have materialized on trains, spray painted on walls and defacing other public spaces. Vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and bomb threats have assailed many Jewish institutions.  The Hispanic community is being terrorized by deportations of undocumented migrants, many of whom have lived here most of their lives, their only crime trying to take care of their families.  Sexism, xenophobia, homophobia seem to be everywhere.  But so is the resistance.

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Elie Wiesel  

Some may not learn or want to learn the lessons of history but there are many who have and are willing to walk the walk, to stand and ally themselves with the oppressed.  They are the candles lighting the path during this nighttime of social instability. We must not lose sight that the issues we face are not that of a political nature but that of a moral nature.  We must call and write our representatives and senators, we must have peaceful rallies and marches.  We must record what we see and hear and share it so that we can encourage and strengthen one another.  WE MUST NOT BE SILENT.

Vintage Dreams

What would you do, where would you go, if you could travel into the past?  I like to imagine what it would be like to go to the places on my vintage postcards, a kind of poor person’s time-traveling that allows me to visit and experience a time and place that is now out of reach.

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Just think what it would have been like to explore during the golden age of travel when the nascent field of archaeology began to bear the fruits of a rich, tapestried past in Egypt. I would go on early morning rides on camels to the pyramids of Giza prior to the stifling heat of the day and climb as high as I could the large mason stones so expertly cut and fitted to this 7th Wonder of the World. In the afternoon, I would have tea at Shephard’s Hotel in Cairo followed by an excursion into the colorful market of the suk with vendors hawking wares from fake scarabs to copper tea kettles to severed mummy hands, the smell of incense hanging in the air competing with that of the hookahs.The call of the muezzin to evening prayers for the faithful would give way to an evening of music and gossip in the coffee shops and cafes,  patrons spilling out onto verandahs and outdoor tables.

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I would also take a dahabiya (houseboat) down the river of life that is the Nile.  I would visit Luxor and Thebes and explore the Valley of the Kings which would gain worldwide attention with the discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb by Howard Carter in 1922. I would happily climb into tombs to revel in the incredible art and hieroglyphics that would tell the story of the owner and their perilous journey to the underworld where Anubis would weigh the heart of the deceased against a feather to decide whether or not they deserved to enter into the afterlife.  Woe to those whose heart was heavier than the feather for they would be devoured by a monster and cease to exist for all time.

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I would walk along the Nile in the evening, smelling the cooking fires as the feluccas sailed home with their daily catch, a blushing sunset kissing their sails. I would eat with the fellaheen and learn to converse in Arabic. As twilight set in, I would close my eyes and listen to the river as the sounds of the night came alive with the chirruping of insects. When the constellations peeked out of their velvety blanket above, I would look for Osiris striding across the sky, his wife Isis faithfully following her husband.

This is one of my vintage dreams. What about you?