We are what we repeatedly do

If we say we are a writer, but we do not write every day, we are not a writer.

If we say we are kind, but we treat people thoughtlessly and commit a thousand small, unintentional cruelties, we are not kind.

If we say we are open and honest, but present a glittering facade on social media while we are dying inside, we are not open and honest.

“We are what we repeatedly do,” said Aristotle nearly 2,400 years ago. “Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

I’ve known that quote for a long time, but for some reason, have always focused on the second part of it, excellence as habit. I have worked hard over the years at cultivating good habits – eating well, exercising, doing the dinner dishes before I go to bed, having a system to make sure my bills are paid on time, getting myself and my daughters to the dentist every six months like clockwork, keeping healthy snacks in my purse so I don’t get hungry and cranky.

The first part seems like just another way of saying that excellence is a habit, but when I thought of it today – out of the blue, for some reason – it wasn’t in the context of habit formation, but in the context of character, of what kind of people we are. I know that’s how Aristotle intended it, that he was talking about virtue rather than about good habits like brushing your teeth or making your bed. But that’s the way I’ve grown to think about that quote over the years, as a goad to help me form good habits that would make my busy, demanding life more manageable.

But what about excellence as a habit? Am I an excellent person? Am I virtuous? Kind? Honest? A good mother?

The Greeks and Romans evaluated human character in terms of virtue and vice. You are what you do repeatedly: if you do good, you are good. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, not so much. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me,” laments the author of Psalm 51. Without God’s grace, you can do good all the livelong day, but you’re still an unworthy creature.

Evolutionary biologists come at the question from a different angle, seeing selfishness and altruism as traits that evolved for specific evolutionary reasons, so it’s natural that human behavior would be a tangle of good and evil, fueled by impulses toward altruism and selfishness so deeply embedded in our genes that we are often not conscious of them.

Different philosophies of human nature aside, both religious fundamentalists and evolutionary biologists would probably agree that despite the constraints of our nature (whether God-given or evolved), we can make ourselves better or worse by what we do. Neuroscience confirms it. Kindness and gratitude can actually rewire our brains.

I could have told you that without an fMRI, I can almost hear Aristotle sigh.

When I wrote my last post, on happiness, months ago, I intended to write more on that subject, but life  – the endless minutiae of what I repeatedly do – intervened. It was only when I was ready to hit “publish” but couldn’t find a category for this post that I realized that I was in fact writing about happiness again. The ancient philosophers, particularly the Stoics, believed that virtue makes us happy, and vice makes us miserable. For the most part (depending on whether you define virtue and vice in the Greco-Roman or the Victorian way) I agree.

Are you happy?

The other day I was talking with a friend about the problem of happiness. Not that being happy is a problem. But so many people I know aren’t happy, and that (to them, at least) is a problem. Whether it’s a problem for me, too, depends on whether I choose to make it one. I know it’s co-depedent, but when those we love are unhappy, it’s hard not to let it affect us.

Happiness (and the lack thereof) has recently been the topic of a staggering number of books, articles, podcasts, etc. I’ve read a fair bit of this tidal wave of research, analysis, and opinion. I’ll write about some of it in upcoming posts. Right now, what I’m interested in is you and your happiness, or lack thereof.

If you’re willing, post a comment telling me whether you consider yourself happy.

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you most of the time?
  • Does your mood cycle between joy and misery, or do you sail through life on an even keel?
  • Are you, in general, a glass half full or glass half empty type?
  • Have you always been that way, or have you moved on the optimism-pessimism scale?
  • Do you actively pursue happiness, or consider it a byproduct of a life well lived?
  • Do you believe some people are just lucky and others aren’t, or that we make our own luck?

It can be anonymous (I’m the only one who can see the email address you enter, and you can always put noneofyourbusiness@gmail.com), but I’m curious.

Deadlines and Commitments

Sticking with things is good, except when it isn’t. A soul-killing job, the wrong marriage or relationship, a toxic friendship, etc.

I enjoy blogging, but I have a full life with a lot of other responsibilities, and other creative projects (thanks for the reminder, Alexa Padgett). Posting every day for the first week of the year was the jump start I needed. I don’t need to do it every day for a month. Once a week, more often if I feel like it, seems doable, but still enough to keep me from just letting it go.

The Joy of Pivot Tables

Ah, January. When I have all the previous year’s personal finance data and can spend untold hours allowing my OCD nature to run wild through endless spreadsheets, pivot tables, pie charts and other instruments of analytical torture.

For someone with an income as modest as mine, and as many children as I have, I’m actually pretty proud of the job I do managing money. I spent more than planned in a few categories, but less than planned in others, so that my balance of cash on hand is slightly higher than it was a year ago.

Expenses are going to go up this year because of car insurance with a teen driver (and even more in future years with multiple teen drivers at various times), buying a second car (pre-owned, of course), and paying for a month-long study abroad language immersion program in Spain for one of the girls. No one will need braces this year though, and with a house built in 2011, hopefully I’m still a few years away from a new roof and re-stuccoing.

One of my friends was recently bemoaning the fact that most of us in our generation are financially worse off than our parents were at our age. Her parents were richer than mine. I am better off than my own parents, but have nowhere near the net worth my friend’s mother does – or that my friend herself does. The difference is that she doesn’t feel as though she has enough. Like so many of us, she has a scarcity mentality about money and will never feel financially secure, no matter her net worth.

Not everyone feels this way. Buddhist monks. Some pious Christians I’ve known who say, “The Lord will provide” when what they have (or don’t have) in the bank would have me climbing the walls with anxiety. My dad, who lives modestly and happily on a small pension from his blue collar union job, Social Security, and an occasional supplement from the poker table.

I’m somewhere in the middle between my friend and my dad. I spend hours crunching the numbers from time to time, but most of the time don’t feel resentful that the American “doing better than our parents” trend ended with my generation. I hate the idea of working until I’m in my 70s, which I’ll probably have to do, but it’s the result of my own short-sighted decisions.

Hopefully, as my daughters choose their college majors over the next few years, they can learn from my decisions and make better ones, or at least better informed ones. I have hopes for them, but I won’t try to pressure them. I had my life and made my choices. Now they have theirs.

This was supposed to be a quick, light-hearted post about end-of-year number crunching. The best laid plans…

Snow Day

The concept of the snow day was foreign to me for the first four decades of my life. Snow was, as a coworker from the Philippines said yesterday at the office, something on Christmas cards.

I moved from Los Angeles to Santa Fe in 2006, after years of mild New Mexico winters. The winter of 2006-07 was the first of five with heavy snowfall, winters when my car got stuck in snowdrifts and my kids got to sled down hills in Glorieta.

The kids have the day off school today, but I have to go to work. Snow days make things…interesting, for working parents.

Snow days are one of the many things that reinforce for us, again and again, that life is not predictable, and we are not in control. On the contrary. Life will always throw us curveballs – or snowballs.


When I heard people talk about Timehop, I thought they meant when Facebook greets you with these “x years ago today” memories. Apparently that’s just called Facebook Memories, and Timehop is an app — which I don’t need, since I have Facebook, right?

This “7 years ago today” picture was in my Facebook feed the other day. The baby in the picture is 8 now, and the 8-year-old holding her is 15. My eldest and my youngest are exactly 7 years apart, to the day, so a “7 years ago” picture of the two of them is especially poignant.

Life with teenagers (I have two at the moment) is very different from life with babies. One thing that’s different is that you can blog about babies and post pictures of them on social media without their permission. Even when mine were babies, though, I was cognizant of the fact that they wouldn’t always be, and what parents write about little ones might not sit so well with them later.

Yesterday was a lousy day. I can’t say why here, because the story is not solely mine to tell. It involves one of my daughters. A therapist friend says it shows “good boundaries” that I get the older ones’ permission before posting pictures of them or anything about them on Facebook. Boundaries. Staying in our own lanes. Driving through the emotional wilderness of life.

Seven years from now, my 8-year-old, the baby in this picture, will be 15, driving with a learner’s permit. My 15-year-old will be 22, out of college (hopefully) and…and I have no idea. She’ll be a grown woman, and she’ll be doing whatever she wants to. Seven years after that, they’ll all be between 29 and 22, and I may be a grandmother.

When that day comes, I wonder if there will still be a Facebook to hop back through time and remind me of today. In the meantime, I want to savor each and every one of the years I have left with my girls still at home. Of course, this means enduring not-so-great days like yesterday. But that’s life, whose light we perceive and appreciate only because of its contrast with the shadows. Hopping back is all well and good, but I want to walk forward, through both the light and the shadows.

Once upon a time, I wrote a book

Once upon a time, I wrote a book. Two books, actually. Three, if you count my dissertation, but it’s full of Greek and academese so I probably shouldn’t. Oh, and several screenplays.

By “a book,” I meant a novel, because I’ve only written (finished) one of those. I dusted it off (metaphorically; it only exists electronically) and read it a week or so ago. I did so with trepidation, because I wrote it 20-odd years ago (how can I be old enough to say that?) and who knew what purple prose might lie within?

By the way, please excuse all the parentheses. They tend to crop up like mushrooms on the lawn after a rain (something I never see anymore, in arid New Mexico) when I write quickly in first draft, and get uprooted when I revise. But this being The January Project, there’s no time for that.

Anyway, back to the novel. It was a spy thriller, a genre I used to devour like popcorn at the movies (the bad similes get edited out, too). The reason I dug it out was that I’d just re-read a novel (one that has nothing to do with spies) I started writing in November, 2014, during NaNoWriMo. I bailed barely a week into that literary crucible, so I’d only churned out about 10,000 of the 50,000 page goal, and got up to around 30,000 words over the next few months.

I’m not sure why I always expect things I’ve written to be terrible (most of what I write isn’t terrible, after all) but I do. The half-finished novel wasn’t terrible, but I was stuck, not sure how to write myself out of becalmed patch of plot, which is why I abandoned it in the first place.

Writers who write about writing (at least the ones who write screenplays or genre fiction when they’re not writing about writing) say that crafting fine prose is all well and good but kind of pointless if the fine prose you’re crafting doesn’t tell a good story. I know I can craft fine prose (when I have time to edit out the parentheses and adverbs) but I’m less sure of my storytelling skills.

More to procrastinate than anything else, I read my youthful spy thriller to see how I handled story architecture. I was gratified by its not-terribleness, both in terms of plot and prose. The prose wasn’t as lean and mean as what I write now, but wasn’t cringe-inducing (as in what Elmore Leonard called “novels full of rape and adverbs”). If it had been too good, I’d have been discouraged at not having made progress after  years of practice.

Better still, it was tightly plotted. Twists and turns aplenty. People getting killed often enough to keep things interesting, but not enough to leave you in that post-gore-and-betrayal hangover so many of us felt after the Red Wedding. Some of the characters were wooden, and the premise no longer seemed compelling, but I had plotted the living daylights out of it.

Encouraged, I procrastinated further by reading one of my screenplays, forgetting to expect terribleness. That one was terrible. Just godawful. I thought about reading a second screenplay to see if the terrible one had been a fluke, but fearing the worse, I went back to work on the unfinished novel instead.

Then I remembered my poor, neglected blog, and came up with The January Project. Procrastinatio vincit omnia.

The Highlight Reel

Yesterday, my wise friend Shelli posted this on Facebook:

[My Facebook] life is my highlight reel. It shows my amazing life. It doesn’t show much of my boring life because, really, who’d want to see that? It shows vacation pics, not because I take grand vacations, but because that’s a highlight. It shows pics when I look good…because who wants to share their awful pics? It tells of successes, but I don’t tend to share my failures with 500 people….The same is true for just about everyone else you follow. Don’t compare your day to day with others’ highlights. They aren’t comparable.

This is true of everyone’s “life” on social media: it’s not their life; it’s what they choose to share of their life. It’s why I wrote a post calling Facebook Maskbook.

Robinson Meyer wrote a piece in The Atlantic last year called The Seven Deadly Social Networks, based on an earlier likening of social media to the Seven Deadly Sins by Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn (Greed). Facebook was Pride in Hoffman’s list, while Pinterest was Envy, but Instagram and Facebook do a pretty good job of fostering envy as well.

That old saying “Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides” predates social media, but it’s particularly apt now.

In Psychology Today, Jesse Fox wrote:

We also have a terrible habit of believing that we apply the right filters to our Facebook use when we really don’t. If you ask a Facebook user directly, “Do you believe that everything you see on someone’s page is accurate?” he or she will inevitably say no. Most users are aware that people’s presentations on Facebook are selectively censored and even inflated. When users actually view and process that content, though, they forget that part of the equation, and tend to react more viscerally and emotionally to content. In that way, we are almost always making upward social comparisons that make us feel badly about ourselves.

Thank you, Shelli, for reminding your Facebook friends of what we know in theory but forget in practice.


The Riddle of the Sphinx

I’m not talking about the riddle Oedipus solved, thereby fulfilling the prophecy he was trying to avoid and giving Freud something to write about. Now everyone knows what walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three in the evening. There’s probably an Instagram meme. I mean who built the ancient limestone creature that has sat placidly before the pyramids at Giza for at least 4,500 years.

Last night my daughter wanted me to watch a documentary about the Sphinx on Netflix, which is why it’s on my mind. In the film, several archaeologists were arguing passionately about which pharaoh had his likeness carved atop the lion’s body. My daughter had watched it before, was in the Khafre camp, and wanted my opinion, since I used to be an ancient historian. But I was a Roman historian, and when Caesar chased Pompey to Egypt 2,158 years ago, the Sphinx and the great pyramids were already some 2,400 years old — ancient history to the subjects of what’s ancient history to me.

These days I can’t get too worked up over who built the Sphinx. Who had it built, I should say, since it was unnamed and unnumbered stonemasons and laborers who actually built it. All the forgotten men toiling in obscurity so a megalomaniac could live forever in the minds of men — or at least in the minds of archaeologists.

Immortality. The elusive dream that mocks us all. The grail at the end of every king’s quest. Eventually, even the mightiest of them end up like Shelley’s Ozymandias:

 I met a Traveler from an antique land,
Who said, “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is OZYMANDIAS, King of Kings.”
Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!
No thing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

My daughter kept poking me to wake me up as I dozed off during the show. Poor old Khafre. Even an ancient historian couldn’t stay awake to ponder his immortality in limestone. It was past my bedtime, but any time one of my kids wants to watch something educational rather than another episode of Bob’s Burgers, I’m all in.

The January Project

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-9-53-47-pmSince I stopped blogging regularly five or six years ago, I’ve written a few posts, but it’s been in fits and starts. Every time I think about starting again, I think, why? Do I have anything of significance to say? I no longer have any interest in writing about politics (though once in a while a fit of madness may seize me and I won’t able to help myself). Are my random musings about life in general worth the bandwidth they take up?

Then I think of a passage from Anne Lamott’s magnificent Bird by Bird that has stayed with me years after I first read it:

…publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do – the actual act of writing – turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. (xxvi)

This blog is my tea ceremony. When I don’t write, something is missing. When I do it every day, it becomes habit, and it nourishes me.

Starting the blog in 2008 meant stepping outside my comfort zone. In the beginning, it was hard to hit publish, but each time it got a bit easier. And doing it led to amazing things, the blog a domino that knocked over another that knocked over another and so on until my life had changed in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

So I’m going to write every day in January, and post it here. Making that commitment publicly is for accountability, but the writing is for me.  It doesn’t matter if it’s significant or meaningful or praiseworthy. It only matters that I do it. Because it’s my tea ceremony, and I need it.

The Morning After

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-6-53-43-amIn the months since Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, Facebook has become a savage place. Friends on both sides have posted ugly, intolerant things. Multiple friends have posted along the lines of “If you’re voting for _________, unfriend me. I don’t want you here.” These come from the left in a ratio of about 5:1. Republicans say this is because liberals are on the whole more intolerant than conservatives; Democrats say it’s because supporting Trump isn’t just political, but also deeply personal, a vote not just for a candidate or a platform, but for Hate with a capital H.

Since 2011, I’ve been silent about politics online: no blogging about it, no social media posts. I stuck my head firmly in the sand just as I used to criticize others for doing when I began this blog during election season 2008. Then, I was a Republican activist supporting John McCain, an honorable man who disappointed me this year by giving his (albeit grudging) support to Trump, only to withdraw it after the Access Hollywood tape was released.

This year of unprecedented political ugliness, I’ve been torn between horror and hopelessness. So many times I composed a post, only to delete. What was the point? Nothing anyone writes  convinces anyone else. People live in their respective echo chambers, filtering events through ideological prisms that lead them to label anyone who disagrees as ignorant, evil, or insane. Jonathan Haidt explains this better than I can in The Righteous Mind (Cliff’s Notes version in his TED talk).

Conversations offline with friends and relatives on both sides of the Trump divide left me exhausted and demoralized. Horrified by Trump, but squeamish about Hillary, I announced months ago that I would vote for Gary Johnson. To this, a Tea Party Republican relative said, “Then you’re voting for Hillary!” while a progressive Democrat relative said, “Then you’re voting for Trump!” A young millennial relative posted on Facebook late last night, “All you third party voting fucks aren’t going to do a damn thing to attempt to change the electoral process after today and you know it. Fuck you.” Last I’d heard, her mother was voting for Gary Johnson.

For the first time in my life, I didn’t know up to the moment I filled in the bubble for whom I would be voting for president. I began at the end of the ballot, with the bond initiatives and smaller races and worked my way up to the top of the ticket. When there was only that one bubble to fill, in I stood there for a long time.

Vote for Gary Johnson to protest the stranglehold two out of touch, corrupt, money-grubbing national party organizations have on American political life? Or vote for Hillary Clinton, with whose policy positions I disagree, but who was the only candidate who could defeat the most loathsome individual ever nominated by any political party in the history of American politics? As a country, we can withstand a presidency of any ideological persuasion. There is room for both a George W. Bush and a Barack Obama in American political life. Trump is different. With him, it’s not about ideology, but basic human decency. He is a crude, amoral narcissist who figured out how to tap into a great swath of working class anger and ride it to victory in the primary. I stood in the voting booth, pen poised above the ballot, thinking about how he had closed the gap recently, and how I would feel the next day if the election were close and I had helped enable him to ride that anger all the way to the White House.

So yes, like former President George H. W. Bush, I voted for Hillary.

Head-in-sand coward that I’ve become in recent years, I was going to keep this to myself, just allow everyone to assume I’d been one of those third party fucks my niece posted about. Why? Because Republicans have been my tribe for a long time, and it’s hard to have your tribe turn against you. The thing is, though, I don’t know if I can go on being a Republican after this. I was going to re-register as independent after Trump clinched the nomination, but all along I assumed he’d lose the general election and all this ugliness would subside, and I could leave my head stuck comfortably in the sand. But I can’t. Why? Not because I think I’m going to convince anyone. No one convinces anyone of anything anymore. All I’m doing is making half of my friends and relatives angry at me. Why then? I suppose because I’m tired of caring so much what other people think of me, and because as we watch President Trump govern out of anger and egotism, I want to be on the record as not being in any way responsible for the train wreck I see coming.

Can you ever go home again?

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 4.42.26 PMThe Greek philosopher Heraclitus said you could never step into the same river twice, since the river ever flowed, and was never the same at any moment as it was at any other. Cities are like that. They grow and decay, decline and gentrify. Their character changes subtly or dramatically as an ever-changing river of humanity flows into, through, and out of them.

I left my home town (town just seems so wrong when applied to the megalopolis that is Los Angeles) nine years ago, after living there for 39 of the previous 41 years of my life. I learned to drive on these freeways, but now, accustomed to the slower pace of Santa Fe, I’m white knuckling it on these interchanges.

Even if I hadn’t moved away, LA wouldn’t be the same city I remembered. When I was in grade school, driving through Orange County on the way to Disneyland meant actually driving through orange groves. But if I’d stayed, the changes would have seemed gradual, and it wouldn’t feel so alien.

We rode the metro from Pasadena to Union Station to meet my dad yesterday. I’ve ridden a lot of metros in a lot of cities, but never the one in my home town. It wasn’t here when I was young, and when the first lines opened, I just never had a reason to ride it. Riding it today drove home the feeling of foreignness my city evokes in me now. Staying in Pasadena does that, too. I was a Westside girl. Anything east of Overland seemed out of the way.

I’m not actually from Los Angeles proper. I was born in Santa Monica and grew up in Culver City. Culver City has changed a lot, too. I haven’t been there on this trip, but two years ago I saw with disbelief just how trendy — trendy seems so wrong juxtaposed with Culver City, but there you go — downtown had become. Who’da thunk it?FullSizeRender-17

Downtown LA has had a radical makeover, too. My dad showed us all his usual haunts today — Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral (with etched glass angels looking over the freeway traffic, at right), the roof garden at the Disney Concert Hall, the restaurant on Grand Ave. where the owner knew my daughter already from pictures Grandpa had shown her, the main library where the young woman at the coffee shop asked if he wanted “the usual” and had also heard all about my daughters and me.

Going to these places regularly helps keep him vital at 74. He eats well and exercises, but perhaps even more important than that, he shaves and dresses nicely every day and goes out to experience life. He walks and takes the train and the bus all over the city. He visits museums and libraries and churches and shops and cafes. He talks to people. He builds relationships.

He even goes to noon mass at the Cathedral on weekdays. I say even because he wasn’t exactly a paragon of churchgoing piety for the five decades that preceded this one. When I was little, his dad, my Grandpa Patrick, came to visit my parents in Los Angeles. When Sunday morning came, everyone got in the car to go to mass, only my dad couldn’t remember where the church was, and kept driving around looking for it. He had told his father that he took his family to mass every Sunday, and as he circled hopelessly looking for a church he had not entered since the day I was baptized, finally Grandpa Patrick put him out of his misery, saying, “It’s okay, Don. Let’s just go home.”

FullSizeRender-16Now, nearly 50 years later, my dad is going to mass because he wants to, not because he wants his father to think he does.  He hasn’t returned to the Church because he knows, but because he doesn’t know. It’s hope more than faith, and I can relate to that. Wandering in my post-divorce spiritual wilderness, I hope, too, even if my faith seems on shakier ground than it once did. I can live with that. With hope, and with the love of my father and my daughters.

Here we are, father and daughter, at the nearly three-quarter century and half century marks respectively, in the garden of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, hoping.

Road Trip: Part Deux

IMG_0383You’d think the Grand Canyon would be hard to top, but it turned out to be third on Tessie’s list of awesome things on the northern Arizona leg of our road trip.

When we got back to Williams, home base for the Grand Canyon expedition, I got off the freeway one exit too soon, which took us through the main part of town instead of right to our hotel on the outskirts. And what did we pass but a zipline. Daredevil that she is, Tess wanted us to do it. Coward that I am, I refused to do it with her, but didn’t let my squeamishness stand in her way. It looked horrifying, but I’ve seen her ride worse, so I knew she’d be fine.Elvis in Williams

Fine doesn’t begin to capture it. She loved it. It was better than the Grand Canyon. We ended up going back twice more before the day was over. But first, more swimming. And candy, because a mother of four turns into Auntie Mame when she gets to indulge an only child on holiday.

After a second trip to the zipline, we took a walk through the historic part of Williams, which is all about the Route 66 retro theme. There are 50s style diners and restored gas stations and classic cars everywhere. There is even Elvis.

George Dorado BlancoWe visited an art gallery where we met Cuban-born painter George Dorado Blanco, one of whose paintings of the Grand Canyon I would have bought if art was in the road trip budget. He and Tessie talked about art, and he and I talked about Cuba since she’s the artist in the family, not I. I’m just the grammar nazi who knows that “not I” is right even though “not me” sounds like it is. After not buying the painting of Duck Rock which George and Tessie and I all agreed looks nothing like a duck, we set out in search of dinner.
The Pine Country Restaurant lured us away from the diners and steakhouses with the promise of homemade pie. We stepped in for a look at all those pies, row after row of them on shelves behind glass – peach and berry and apple and pecan and chocolate and banana and all manner of less traditional varieties. Road trip food! Better yet, road trip food à la mode. What was that I was saying about carbs the other day?Mike

She liked my dinner better than hers, so I let her eat it. She liked my pie better than hers, too, so I let her eat that. That’s what moms do. Plus, my pie was pecan, and I’d never been able to get any of the girls to try it. Now it’s her new favorite.

As she finished my pie, a wagon pulled by the biggest horse I’d ever seen appeared outside the restaurant. The driver parked it right in the middle of the street, so traffic was blocked. When we went outside – drawn by Tessie’s interest not in the horse but in the dog that sat in the front seat of the wagon – we saw that the street was being blocked for a mock shoot-out performed by people in old west attire using very loud cap guns.

The wagon driver, whose name was Bubba, gave tours of the town. Tessie wanted to take the tour if she could sit next to the dog, whose name was Bandit. Bubba said Bandit always rode shotgun so she’d have to sit up front. I sat in the row behind them as Mike the horse pulled us through town. Mike was a Shire horse, which breed is the largest there is, Bubba said, and the reason the Budweiser Clydesdales are so big is that they were bred with Shire horses. I was going to Google and see if this is so, but I liked Bubba and his stories wanted just to take it on faith the way we used to do before the internet.

DrivingBubba pointed out where the jail used to be and the whorehouse and all the other interesting spots of local color, calling me ma’am about 800 times and letting Tessie take the reins and guide 2,700 pounds of Mike through the car traffic of Williams.

Then sun had set by the time we said good-bye to Bubba and Bandit and Mike, but the zipline was still open, and more crowded than ever. We talked in line with a young couple also on their way to LA, also going to stay in Pasadena, as we are. Small world. She was from LA but living in France; he was French. I hadn’t spoken French in ages, and never imagined I’d have an opportunity to do so in Williams, AZ.Zipline PM

That tiny speck of light near the center of the picture is Tessie at the top of the line, ready to zip down for the third time, having more fun than seeing what the Colorado River had dug out of the ground over the past couple billion years. Driving Mike the Shire horse also beat the Grand Canyon in her calculus of road trip fun, eclipsed only by the zipline. Incroyable.

Road Trip

IMG_0302My 10-year-old daughter and I spent the day at the Grand Canyon, her first trip there and my first time since I was her age. I was a little disappointed when I went as a child, because I expected it to look like it did in all the professional photographs I’d seen, the colors more vibrant and rich than midday summer natural lighting ever produces.

This morning, my expectations were much lower, and I was careful not to build up any for Tessie. Consequently, both of us thought the canyon more impressive than we had expected.

If my 50 years on this earth have taught me anything, it’s that unrealistic expectations are the biggest enemy of human happiness. Expect anything – from any person or any experience – and you’re likely to be disappointed. Once in a while people or things meet or even exceed your expectations, but usually they don’t. Expect nothing, and every pleasure, no matter how small, is a gift for which you can be grateful.

Today’s trip to the Grand Canyon was such a gift. I was fully prepared for my daughter to complain that it was too hot (she did) or that the canyon wasn’t that impressive (she didn’t). We had a wonderful time, as wonderful as I could have hoped for, but if I’d expected it, I don’t think it would have made me as grateful and happy as it did.

When you have four children, spending time with just one child is a gift even when you’re not at one of the natural wonders of the world. I’ve taken road trips with my kids, and gone on trips with just one of my daughters at a time, but this is the first time I’ve taken just on one child on an actual road trip. It’s different. Very different. No one yells. No one says, “She hit me” or “It’s my turn to sit in the front” or “She called me a %!^&$.”

It also means I have to be in the pool all the time she’s in the pool instead of sitting poolside reading or texting while the girls play in the pool together. But now that I don’t color my hair anymore, I don’t mind, and all the swimming helps work off the road trip food.Bacon fries

Speaking of road trip food…

Bacon cheese fries at the Coal Street Pub in Gallup. Hers, not mine. The road trip was only a few hours old, and I was still trying to eat like a normal person (as opposed to a person on a road trip) and had green chile stew. We only ate there because Jerry’s Café, whose stuffed sopaipillas both of us had been dreaming of all week, turned out to be closed on Sundays. What made us unhappy with the meal wasn’t the food we had, but the food we didn’t have – or, more accurately, the food we’d expected to have. So, for the rest of the road trip, I will try to expect nothing, so that I can be grateful for everything.

Slacker Mom’s assault on moral decency and good nutrition

Fall Out BoyThe other night I took my two eldest daughters, 14 and almost 12, to their first concert. Fall Out Boy seemed a safe enough choice. I actually like some of their songs. People my age without kids apparently have never heard of them, though, because a couple of friends who asked who was playing responded when blank stares when I told them. I’m the wrong person to ask about just how famous or not famous a band is. Just because I haven’t heard of them (and I hadn’t heard of Fall Out Boy until about 6 months ago when Cordelia played “Centuries” for me on You Tube) doesn’t mean they’re not über-famous, and just because I have doesn’t mean they are.

They put on a good show, but the opening act…sigh. A good mother would have Googled to find out who/what this person/band she’d never heard of was. But I figured since Fall Out Boy was an unobjectionable rock band, the opening act would be of the same ilk. Right? Wrong. Wiz Khalifa is a rapper who calls himself the King of Weed. Oh, dear.

The girls were impatient for the main act, and complained about the smell of the pot smoke wafting through the air. This warmed my maternal heart, naturally. I was kind of glad (but felt guilty for being glad) that I’d been too much of a slacker mom to Google, since I would have felt obligated to say no to the concert on “it glorifies drug use” grounds, and they would have missed seeing Fall Out Boy.

The girls had a good time, Cordelia because it’s her favorite band and Elizabeth because her best friend came with us. I had a good time because they had a good time (that’s what moms do) even though getting out of the parking lot afterward was as bad as leaving Dodger Stadium when you stay for the bottom of the ninth, and once I got out, I made a wrong turn and had to double back and then the interstate on-ramp was closed and I had to double back again, go south to the next exit to get back on the northbound and finally get back to our hotel past midnight, thankful that I’d decided to stay in Albuquerque rather than driving back to Santa Fe.

When we woke up to the sound of people talking at the pool, which was near our room, my first thought was, “How did they get in there? The pool doesn’t open till 9:00.” Then I looked at my phone. 9:48. Seriously? I don’t think I’ve slept in past 7:30 since I had kids.Sugar

After the girls got out of the pool, we had lunch at the Golden Corral, because the trip was all about them and not about me. I detest buffets. I watch what I eat, avoid carbs, and always opt for quality over quantity. Buffets are all about the quantity. And the carbs. OMG, the carbs.

I found some roast chicken that wasn’t bad, and some asparagus that wasn’t overcooked. The Brussels sprouts were inedible, though, so I used that as an excuse to eat fried okra instead. When in Rome…

I watched people going back again and again for more, more, more food, trying not to think about how many people in this country have diabetes or heart disease because of the appalling way so many of us eat. There I was endorsing it for my kids, of course, by taking them to that temple of processed carbs, but for us it’s a once in a while thing. They eat differently at home, and aren’t overweight.

OMG CarbsStill, look at what one of them brought back from the buffet table. That is just so wrong. And after a healthy meal of carbs with a side of carbs, there was dessert. Oh, the humanity! I wondered how much Wiz Khalifa, who according to Wikipedia spends ten grand a month on weed, could put away at the Golden Corral when a fierce bout of the munchies came on.

When I took Elizabeth’s friend home, her mother had Googled, and knew her daughter had just seen the King of Weed. Awkward. But hey, she Googled after we’d already left, not before she said yes to the invitation, so she couldn’t be too disapproving. I didn’t tell her that her daughter had a spaghetti tostada for lunch. At that point, I just didn’t have the stomach for it.

Reflections on New York

I was in New York last week for the BlogHer conference, the first time I’d been to New York in 20 years. It was exactly 20 years ago, July 1995. I remember because I went with my best friend and we flew there on her birthday. Enraptured by the Greek and Roman collections at the Metropolitan Museum, I canceled my sightseeing plans for the following day to go back and meander amid the broken marble.

This time, I avoided the siren song of the antiquities I can’t find in New Mexico, but there was a giant Venus de Milo across the street from the hotel.

I only had a day for sightseeing this time, and spent most of it walking, which I love to do when I travel. The weather gods smiled on me, because the day was cool and lovely, not hot and muggy the way I remembered from my previous trip, and the way it would be during the conference itself, when I sweated more walking the few blocks to Central Park than I did walking all over lower Manhattan.

The idea of walking long distances on a summer day without needing sunscreen is foreign to me, but in New York, the skyscrapers provide practically continuous shade. I’m originally from LA, but that’s a big city that goes out, not up. And after nine years in the Land of Mañana, the pace at which people and things move in New York seemed even faster than I remembered.

Ellis Island

From the southernmost tip of Manhattan, south of Wall Street, which once marked the boundary between the Dutch and English settlements, I took the Staten Island ferry. It cruises past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where my Irish grandfather first set foot in America in 1929.

Talk about bad timing – arriving in the land of opportunity on the eve of the stock market crash that plunged the nation into the Great Depression. I don’t think that’s exactly what they mean by luck of the Irish.

The hotel was conveniently located, but I don’t like Hiltons. The federal program I used to administer had its two annual conferences at Hiltons, which tends to nickel and dime you to death on everything. The chain hit a new low at midtown Manhattan though, not even providing coffee makers in the rooms. I haven’t seen that anywhere except Vegas, where they want to keep you out of your room and in the casino at all costs.

Best coffee of the trip was from a donut vendor on Little Brazil Street, 140-somethingth, between 5th and 6th Avenues. It only cost a dollar. That was hands down the best bargain of the trip, though the $5 gyro from one of those food carts was a close second.

Parking bargain, NY styleIn general, Manhattan isn’t a place to look for bargains. I took this picture of a parking “special” because $10.14 a half hour – a half hour, which is $20.28 an hour, more than most workers here in New Mexico get paid – for parking didn’t seem like much of a deal. I reconsidered later when all the other signs said more than $13 or $14 a half hour.

One of the differences between traveling when I was young and didn’t have much money and traveling now that I’m middle aged and don’t have much money is that when I was young, I always wanted to eat at the Plaza Hotel or Tavern on the Green or some other place I couldn’t afford. After some flush years in my 30s and 40s, I learned that eating in expensive restaurants and shopping at expensive stores doesn’t make you happier than gyros from street vendors and treasure hunting in consignment shops.

Considering the money I’ve spent over the course of my life, I regret money spent on things but not on experiences. I’m grateful to have the memory of every trip I’ve ever taken, including this one. When I was young, eating in fancy restaurants seemed more like an experience than a thing, but now that I’ve BTDT, paying $50 for a steak I could grill just as well at home isn’t the kind of experience that’s memorable in a good way.

The conference itself was an experience worth the cost. I may not have started blogging here again if I hadn’t gone. The prospect of mortification at showing up there with nothing new on my site drove me to post, and talking with so many other writers motivated me to keep writing, both on the blog and on other projects.

Those writers’ cards form a small mountain on my desk, and I look forward to exploring their sites and linking to their posts over the next few days. I’ve started reading some of them, but am being careful not to let exploring Undiscovered Blog Country derail me from my own writing – which is exactly what I would have done last week. Hopefully the post-conference anti-procrastination inoculation will remain in effect for a while. If so, Manhattan will have been a bargain after all.

Welcome to my midlife crisis

midlife-crisisWhat I now recognize as my midlife crisis began about five years ago. I was a stay at home mom, married, a practicing Catholic. I was putting the finishing touches on a book that a publisher had expressed interest in after seeing a chapter and outline. Life was good, or so it seemed.

I never sent the book to the publisher, first because I took on another project which sucked up all my free time, and later because my midlife crisis so changed me that what I had written in it was no longer what I believed.

The project, running for political office, which I wrote about it here, took me out of my comfort zone and into the public eye. In retrospect, I can see the repercussions of that choice like ripples spreading out from a stone dropped into a pond, disturbing the glassy surface and exposing the murky waters beneath.

Carl Jung was the first to write about the idea of the midlife crisis. He didn’t use that term, which wasn’t coined until the 1960s, but the idea was his. Basically, Jung said people spend the first half of their lives creating their ego, the face they want to show the world, and stuffing everything they don’t like about themselves into a sort of shadow self. We like to pretend this shadow self doesn’t exist, but it erupts at inconvenient times, causing those moments when we do something embarrassing and are left wondering, how on earth could I have done that? You (your ego) didn’t; your shadow did.

The shadow shows its dark and dangerous face occasionally throughout our lives, making us sabotage ourselves, but at midlife the eruptions become extreme: the model husband has an affair, the successful attorney abandons the law to write a novel, the televangelist gets caught with a transvestite prostitute, the social drinker becomes an alcoholic, the Episcopalian becomes a Buddhist, the atheist becomes a Catholic, the good wife wants a divorce.

The stereotype of the midlife crisis is the forty-something guy who dyes his thinning hair, buys a convertible and starts screwing his secretary. The reality of midlife crisis is more than a bad comb-over joke. Jung saw the midlife crisis as an opportunity to assimilate the shadow into the ego and live a more authentic life.

The ego I carefully nurtured during my first forty-odd years on this earth was, in retrospect, kind of insufferable. As a child, I was the good girl who did everything she was supposed to. I was sort of a party girl in high school and college, but was discrete enough never to have the reputation of one. I was a faithful wife who didn’t nag or buy too many shoes. I kept my figure, even after all those babies. I went to mass every week and confession every month. I paid my taxes and my bills on time. I said please and thank you. I was, in short, an accident waiting to happen.

The divorce undermined the foundation of my faith, and my ecclesiastical house of cards came tumbling down. I wallowed in guilt, cycling between agnosticism, hope, and dread. I’ve wrestled for years with what St. John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Soul. Whether I’ll emerge again into the light of faith – and how Catholic, as opposed to catholic – that faith may be, I still don’t know.

The good thing about a midlife crisis is that, if we pick up the challenge and look into our own shadow instead of stuffing it back down with anger or alcohol or a renewed burst of control-freak perfectionism, we can learn a lot about ourselves.

The picture of the midlife crisis equation is from a post at Tolerant People whose author lists 34 symptoms of midlife crisis and finds she has 24 of them. I had 20, though I haven’t shaved my head or taken up sky diving.

One thing I have done is read a lot psychology. I’ve read about Buddhism, which used to seem way too Lola Granola for me (since I knew everything and had all the answers) but which has a lot of insights that have helped me. What has really helped is reading memoirs, whether books or shorter autobiographical writing in print or blogs or other online sources. Reading other people’s stories has helped me to have more empathy for other people, for myself, and for my children.

Finally, I decided to take a sabbatical. I had been a single mother with a demanding job for long enough that it became the new normal, but it was twisting me into someone I didn’t want to be, someone about whom I was starting to get really worried. I needed to step back, figure out what comes next, whether that’s freelance writing, consulting, or just a regular “Mommy Track” job that I can leave at the office when I go home. Or maybe it will be a job like the kind I’ve had, but which will seem more manageable after some time to regroup and reconnect with my daughters.

A retired therapist friend recently recommended I read Transitions by William Bridges. Now I see why. He describes a three-step process of transition: an ending, a new beginning, but in between them what he calls the neutral zone (I had to force myself not to think of Romulans), a chaotic, formless and deeply disturbing state:

The lost, confused, don’t-know-where-I-am feeling that deepens as we become disengaged, disidentified, and disenchanted, the old sense of life as going somewhere breaks down and we feel like shipwrecked sailors on some existential atoll. In such a setting and state of mind it was meant to create, you would be, in the words of Robert Frost, lost enough to find yourself. (p. 122)

Bridges contends that we mustn’t try to back out of this uncomfortable place, or fast-forward through it, because the process of transformation is a essentially a death and rebirth process, a disintegration and reintegration that is the source of renewal. The emptiness between the stages of life provides access to an angle of vision that one can get nowhere else, he writes, and it is a succession of such views over a lifetime that produces wisdom.

Or if that sounds like too much trouble, you could just dye your hair and buy a convertible.



What am I afraid of?

Pale green pantsI must have read What Was I Scared Of? a thousand times over the years as one after another of my children passed in and then out of that stage when they wanted to hear the same book again and again. When it was Dr. Seuss, I didn’t mind so much, in part because of his charming pentameter (or is it tetrameter?) and in part because they taught my children about things like pride (The Zax) and prejudice (The Sneetches) without preaching.

What Was I Scared Of? is about fear. Crippling, paralyzing, irrational terror. In this case, the dread of the protagonist (a creature of uncertain genus and species) for a pair of spooky, empty pale green pants with nobody inside.

My pale green pants are other people’s judgments. I tell myself they don’t matter, that I shouldn’t care. I know that. You know that. Everybody knows that. How not to give a fuck has become its own genre on the internet (see here, here, here, here, and here).

I know it, and yet it’s why I don’t blog anymore. It’s been nearly six months since I’ve written on this blog. Before that post, it was over a year. When I began writing it seven years ago, I used to post several times a week. The archives list includes every month from May 2008 to March 2010, after which there are gaps, which grew steadily bigger.

When I started blogging I was a stay at home mom to three girls, all under the age of 7. I was pregnant with my fourth daughter, who is now 7, traditionally considered the age of reason for children. She’s getting to that lean, lanky stage, most of the baby fat gone. She talks about more interesting things, and I don’t have to watch her like a hawk the way I used to. Those exhausting, nerve-wracking years as the mother of little children are behind me.

So are my years as a SAHM. I went to work in 2011, after I got divorced. That’s why this blog has been dying a slow, lingering death. Partly it was that writing seemed safer when I was at home, since out in the professional world, people judge and gossip and you can’t hide from it as easily. But mostly it was because I got divorced. I know, half of America gets divorced. But not half of conservative, Catholic America. Irrational or not, I felt guilty and ashamed, and it was easier just to go dark on the blog and lie low for a while.

Earlier this year, when I was writing about New Mexico politics for Watchdog.org, I decided to go to the BlogHer conference in New York. It would be good networking for my political journalism, plus it would be an incentive to start writing on this blog again. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but somehow I couldn’t quite make myself post anything here. Now, with the conference looming, the pressure is on.

Back in the early years, my blog was a mix of personal and political posts. Now, I have no desire to blog about politics. I may again someday, but right now I’m just demoralized by the state of utter paralysis in the American body politic. The fundamentalists on both sides stay ensconced in their echo chambers, lobbing accusations of heresy at anyone who consorts with the enemy, a practice formerly known as compromise. The rest of the country is more interested in the Kardashians than the Clintons.

That leaves the personal, and that’s the scary part.

“Write like your parents are dead,” urged Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird, one of my favorite books on writing. Why can’t I? After all, I don’t even have to write like both parents are dead, since I have no problem with my dad reading anything I write. But my mother? My ex-husband? My daughters? Various other people whose opinions matter for one reason or another? My fingers freeze, hovering over the keyboard.

Fear. It’s the root of everything that keeps us in pain. Resentment, anger, envy, insecurity, perfectionism, materialism, avarice, hunger for approval – they all derive ultimately from fear. And the only way you get past fear is by pushing past it, forcing yourself to get out of your comfort zone and face it.Pale green pants 2

That is, ultimately, the purpose of this post – forcing me to face my fear of writing without self-censorship, to turn the pale green pants of other people’s judgments from a frightening specter into just another part of everyday life.

Why I Hate Valentine’s Day

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 5.54.32 AMDon’t happy people in love have enough days to celebrate? Their anniversary, the day they met, his birthday, her birthday, random romantic vacations… So many days to post pictures of the roses he sent, or the ocean view from the balcony of the hotel room they can’t tear themselves away from, even with the beach or the Louvre beckoning.

Do we really need a special Love Holiday to torture the not-cool kids in high school? The fat girls, the closeted gay guys, the legions of kids with normal teen angst who have to walk past the homecoming queen making out with her boyfriend on the way to their locker?

Before I got married, I usually seemed to manage not to be with someone on Valentine’s Day. Then, my grandmother died on Valentine’s Day two months before I got married, so I didn’t exactly feel all hearts and roses on February 14 even when I was a newlywed.

Now, divorced going on four years, I still think more of my grandmother than of loves gone wrong on this day, but for a lot of people, the day is painful. As I scroll through my Facebook news feed, I think of all the friends who have no cause to celebrate today.

One is going through a divorce after her husband cheated on her repeatedly, flagrantly and unrepentantly. Another is a widow whose husband died almost ten years ago, but the wound is still raw, and her blog posts about missing him are both heartbreaking and beautiful. Another shows the Facebook world a blissful face that is a mockery of the barren emotional wasteland that is her marriage.

People in love are happy enough. They don’t need a special day to celebrate it, because every day they are together is a celebration. They don’t need a Hallmark card or flowers or a romantic dinner to make them feel loved. Those things are mere baubles to to people truly in love, and society’s expectation that men buy them and women receive them only serves to make a lot of men feel pressured and a lot of women feel disappointed.

When someone loves you, you don’t need a national holiday to show it off. You feel it in the very core of your being. Love is its own reward.

When life and comedy and scripture collide

Morgan Freeman GodThe last couple of weeks have felt kind of like a test. So many things have gone awry, so many little and medium-sized challenges and annoyances and unexpected expenses and repairs and things not working as they should.  I have taken some of them in stride, and others, not so much.

By coincidence, the movie that made its way to the top of my Netflix queue recently was Bruce Almighty, in which I watched Jim Carrey make an ungrateful ass of himself railing at God about all the things that were going wrong in his life before the predictable, but still moving, character arc.

The other day, as I dealt calmly with yet another medium-sized domestic dysfunction, the connection between the movie and my life came to me in an epiphany of sorts, and I could almost see Morgan Freeman smiling benevolently at me.  As I was congratulating myself for keeping it together during all this, and wondering if locusts were next, but if they were, I was ready, bring it on, it occurred to me that I was turning forbearance and patience into yet another perfectionistic quest, feeling a little too proud of my conquest of the drama queen within.

The point of the Book of Job, which I hated and didn’t understand for decades, was submission. As long as Job kept fighting, and thinking he was in control, God kept messing with him, in order to show him he wasn’t. I am never going to be in control, no matter hard I try. God or the Furies or the random accidents of life are going to keep on messing with me, and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it except try to deal with things as best I can.

If I work at it, I will take most of them in stride, but I won’t always. There will be times when those locusts catch me in moments of weakness and I will melt down, though I hope I don’t act like quite as big a jackass as Bruce screaming at God in a lunatic meltdown of self-pity and rage.  The real test is not dealing with the crisis of the moment, but after I’ve dealt with a problem less than calmly, it is in avoiding the futile and destructive emotional self-flagellation we perfectionists seem to get off on.  It is in showing self-compassion once the frustration has passed, accepting that we all act like jackasses sometimes, and moving on.

Happy New Year

New Years Eve 2013

Two years ago, on New Year’s Day 2012, I wrote this post.  The photo on the post was of a woman’s hand holding a champagne glass.  It wasn’t my hand, just some random picture I had found on the internet.  The woman’s hands were lovely, as hand models’ hands are, and her long nails were painted dark red.  At the time, my nails were short and unpainted.  Now, after more than a decade of being too serious and practical for such things, I’m back to the long painted nails of my youth, today even adorned with flowers.

In the two years since writing that post, I’ve learned a few lessons, among them that we need to enjoy life more.  We need to have fun with our kids.  We need to spend time with our friends.  We need to watch movies that make us laugh.  We need to get hot pink manicures.  We need to drink the champagne.

The champagne to which I refer is a bottle of Dom Perignon that a friend of mine has kept in the refrigerator for something like 15 years, waiting for the right occasion to drink it.  The champagne glass in the picture reminded me of it, and it struck me as a fitting metaphor for the way we so often live our lives. We don’t drink that champagne or use that gift certificate or wear that dress because we’re saving it for a special occasion…until the champagne goes bad, the gift certificate expires, and the dress doesn’t fit or goes out of style.

On New Year’s we make resolutions, mainly of the variety that require a great deal of self-discipline and bring us little enjoyment.  I used to make them, too, but not anymore.  Not this year, not last year.  The year before, I made two, about which I wrote on this blog:

For 2012, I have only two resolutions.  The first is to try to respond to the failings of others – my children, family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and strangers – with empathy rather than anger…. My second resolution is to respond to my own failings in the same way.  This one will be harder to keep, because I have always been a perfectionist, demanding of myself standards that no one could meet, and which I would never dream of demanding of others.

I was right; the second one was harder.   I have made progress on both of these, and continue to work on them.   They were, upon reflection, the best resolutions I ever made, and the only ones that ever made a real difference in my life.

So I offer a toast to freedom from gratuitous, oppressive New Year’s resolutions.  The dawn of a new year is a time to celebrate what we have achieved (including the lessons learned from what we have failed to achieve) and look forward to that which we hope to achieve.


Back when I used to be a blogger

Hyperbole and a HalfBack when I used to be a blogger — a real blogger, who posted at least 3 or 4 times a week, sometimes more — there is no way on earth I would have not heard of a blog that had 395,975 likes on Facebook, a blog that was turned into a book that, only 18 days after being published, is #8 on Amazon, with 316 reviews already and an average of 5 stars.  No way.  No.  [Unladylike expletive deleted].  Way.

But here I sit, procrastinating from doing the things on my To Do List by browsing Amazon’s biographies and memoirs category, and I see this crudely drawn, brightly colored cover of the #2 selection.  In part because hyperbole is one of my favorite words and you don’t often see it printed in childlike all caps above a cartoon drawing of a dog and a….human (?) with a yellow cone on its head, but mostly because I wasn’t ready to stop procrastinating, I clicked on the book, and then visited the blog. internet forever

The newest post was about a four-year-old (presumably the author, Allie Brosh, at four?) and a dinosaur costume that caused untold mayhem when worn.  It was entertaining.  Not enough to get me to buy the book, but enough to check out the favorite posts links on the sidebar, where I found This isWhy I’ll Never be an Adult, to which I could relate all too well.  Imagine:  stumbling onto a blog post about cyber-procrastination while you are cyber-procrastinating.  Oh, the exquisite irony!

In the post, Ms. Brosh (or should I say Allie, since she will never be an adult?) describes how she periodically decides she is going to be mature and efficient and starts doing everything she is supposed to do, but then gets burned out and ends up melting down and then back on the internet wasting time again, all illustrated with her crudely (intentionally crudely, and skillfully) drawn illustrations.  I particularly liked the chart showing the interrelationship of productivity and responsibility:


Yeah.  I totally get that.  I know that when I try to do too many things, I don’t do any of them well.  I know I need to prioritize,  fight the tendency to perfectionism, stop trying to be Supermom.  Maybe making that chart my desktop background will help.

I’m starting to get those Amazon numbers now.  Some of her posts are cute and un-serious, like the dinosaur costume one, some are funny but also perceptive and insightful, like the procrastination one, while others really cut to the bone, like Adventures in Depression, in which she writes:

Slowly, my feelings started to shrivel up. The few that managed to survive the constant beatings staggered around like wounded baby deer, just biding their time until they could die and join all the other carcasses strewn across the wasteland of my soul.

The effect of such lyrical prose, juxtaposed with the childlike cartoon images, is powerful.  Her succinct analogy of the impotence of shame as a motivating force, or force of will in the face of something stronger than will, is apt:

But trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back.

I have never suffered clinical depression myself, but someone close to me has, and this analogy seemed to capture the powerlessness of it pretty well.  The “Come on, suck it up” approach isn’t really effective with genuine depression, as opposed to garden variety sadness or self-pity, but most of us who have not suffered it or watched someone else suffer it do not fully comprehend the difference, and it doesn’t help that we overuse the term, saying “I’m so depressed” when we mean “I am sad,” just as we overuse the term addiction.  The post ends rather abruptly, not with therapy or medication, but with the implication that she was suddenly okay again.

Only she wasn’t, as a post from more than six months later makes manifest.  This one describes her struggle with suicidal thoughts, the difficulty of trying to make a terrible situation less terrible for those who loved her, how she finally went to a doctor and got on medication, and the light at the end of the tunnel.

I think I’ll buy the book.



The Test of Time


You never know how long things will last.  These four daisies, for instance.  They were part of an arrangement I got more than a month ago, and as I picked the others out one by one as they withered and died, these somehow kept their youthful vigor – if youthful vigor is the appropriate term for plants.

The longevity of flowers led me to ponder the longevity of relationships.  I think about the friends to whom I was closest when I was 19, 29, 39, and now 49.   I think of how bleak my life would have been without the close friendships I have enjoyed over the years, how bleak it would be now.  I would have my children, yes, and they are more precious to me than any other person could ever be, and yet there is a lack of reciprocity in the parent-child relationship.  The parent always loves more, and the child always moves on, grows up, stakes out an independent place in the world of adults.

Friends stay with us.  Not all of them, and not always.  But the ones who do are pearls without price, and we ought never to take them for granted, whether they are with us only a short time, like the hibiscus, for longer, like the daisies, or for a lifetime, like the redwoods of the California coast.  For all of the varieties of friends I have had in this very rich life of mine, I am grateful.


Carnival MaskThe other day, I was talking on the phone with a friend I hadn’t spoken to for a while and she said, you are always so positive on Facebook. She meant it as a compliment, because she was telling me about another of her friends is  negative on Facebook and she finds it demoralizing. I told her that my Facebook persona is not an accurate reflection of my life. I share the positive things because I realize that people don’t go on Facebook to hear other people complain.  On Facebook or in the rest of life, people don’t generally like to hear other people complain.

But that is only part of it. The other part is that I don’t want to show people the negative parts of my life because, well, don’t we all want to appear better than we are to others? Don’t we all want to put on a good show? Don’t we all want to appear that we have it all together?

Over the past month, three of my friends told me about terrible problems they are enduring. To look at their Facebook pages or their Twitter feeds, you would never know their lives were not perfect. They all seem to have things together.  All happily married, apparently.  All with successful and impressive careers. All with beautiful, intelligent and talented children. And all living with pain I can only imagine.

The problems these three friends are dealing with are all different.  They are male and female, different ages, living in different regions of the country.  But they are alike in that they keep their struggles private. Keep the circle of those who know small. I do the same thing with my problems.

I did the same thing during the final months of my marriage. I never mentioned anything about my impending divorce to most of the people I knew, and certainly never mentioned it on Facebook. After the divorce was final, I did not change my relationship status on Facebook; I just removed that section from my page entirely. Because I did not change my name back to my maiden name, a lot of people didn’t know for months that I had gotten divorced. I remember the first time one of my status posts contained something that people could read between the lines and figure it out; I got emails and texts from old friends I had not spoken with in a while who had seen it and realized only then.

Maskbook.  That is what Facebook is. You read about your friends’ exotic vacations and gourmet meals and the cute things their kids do. You think their lives are wonderful. Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t.  I do not write this to hint that there is some great tragedy in my life. I have problems, but they are not fodder for Greek tragedy.  I write it because I do not want those of you do have some terrible tragedy in your life, one that you are hiding from the rest of the world, to feel as though you are the only one. To feel as though everyone else has it together and you’re the only one doesn’t.

They don’t. We don’t. I don’t.

We put on our masks update our status posts to suggest that we do. We tell ourselves that we do it because we want to be upbeat and positive and not bum our friends and family out by complaining on Facebook. And that’s true. But we also don’t want to show people what lies behind our masks.

Recently, a friend send me a link to a blog post about the masks we wear, and seeing behind them.  The blogger shares my first  name, but with the D everyone keeps putting in mine despite the fact it doesn’t belong there.   I’ve read a number of her other posts, and I admire her for being able to be real and honest about her feelings in a way I can’t.  Reading her blog reminded me how much I miss reading blogs, how I used to follow links from one to another, discovering hidden treasures and random pearls of wisdom.  I miss reading other people’s blogs, and miss writing my own.  So here’s my first post in 10 months.


The Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time: A Comedy in Three Acts

Setting:  The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, in the City of the Holy Faith.

Act I

Portia, Cordelia and Tess and Mom wait for mass to begin.  Tess sits with arms crossed in stone-faced silence as her ploy to skip mass by faking sick has failed.  Elizabeth is in the ladies room to minimize the time she will have to sit at the far end of the pew pretending she’s never seen these people before.

Portia (loud):  I want to go to the restaurant!

Cordelia:  [giggles]

Mom:  Ssshhh.

Portia (whispers):  I want to go to the restaurant.

Cordelia (whispers):  I want to go to the restaurant, too.

Tess:  [silence, still mad]

Mom (under breath):  I want to go to the bar.

Portia (loud):  I want to go to the bar, too!

Cordelia:  [giggles]

People in nearby pews:  [some stone-faced stares and some smiles]

Entrance procession starts.

Tess (no longer mad):  How long till it’s over?

Mom:  [sighs]

Act II

The reading, gratias deo, is about blind Bartimeus being restored to sight rather than “wives be submissive” or “if a woman divorces her husband and takes another, she commits adultery” or others of that ilk that have been featured lately.  Portia has stopped asking to go to the restaurant but is pretending to poke Tess in the eye.

Mom (whispers):  Please don’t blind Tess.  Jesus used to restore people’s sight in the old days, but lately, not so much.

Cordelia:  [rolls eyes and giggles]

Tess:  [giggles uncontrollably]

Elizabeth:  [moves even farther toward the end of the pew in vain attempt to appear never to have laid eyes on any of these people]

Priest:  What did Jesus do for Bartimaeus?

Mom (whispers to Cordelia):  Restored his sight so he could find the restaurant.

Cordelia:  [smiles]


Light at the end of the tunnel.  Mass is almost over, and Portia appears to have forgotten about both the restaurant and blinding Tess, but is fidgeting.  Mom has not forgotten about the bar.

Mom (whispers):  You’re being really good, Portia.  It’s almost over.

Deacon:  The mass is ended.  Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

Congregation:  Thanks be to God.

Mom:  Thanks be to God indeed!  Portia, you did it!  You made it all the way through a whole mass!

Sisters:  Good job, Portia!

Mom (awestruck):  She actually sat through A WHOLE MASS!  Not one trip to the bathroom.  Not one excursion to the maze.  She sat through the whole hour and fifteen minutes.

Cordelia:  I did that when I was two.

Elizabeth and Tess (long since weary of tales of Cordelia’s precocity):  [roll eyes]

Mom:  Better late than never, baby.  Better late than never.

Angels play harps and trumpets and sing alleluia.


New Years Resolutions

I’ve always been ambivalent about New Year’s resolutions.  Some years I’ve made them, some years not.  Rarely do people keep them.  In tongue in cheek recognition of this, my friend Bob Cornelius wrote on Facebook last night:

1st Resolution: Go to the gym every day. 2nd: Feel guilty for not going. 3rd: Pie & ice cream!

Denial of food and imposition of exercise are probably the most commonly made – and broken – resolutions in our society, given that two thirds of Americans are overweight, and half of those are morbidly obese.  I used to make those diet and exercise resolutions when I was young and vain.  Now that I’m middle aged and vain, I no longer do, because I already eat well, exercise often, and wear the size I want to wear.

For 2012, I have only two resolutions.  The first is to try to respond to the failings of others – my children, family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and strangers – with empathy rather than anger.  When I snap at my daughters, they’re not the only ones who feel bad; it makes me feel terrible afterward.  When, on the other hand, I handle a difficult situation with patience, common sense and compassion, the feeling of satisfaction and well-being persists long after.  It is easy to be annoyed at people when they cause us inconvenience or embarrassment or pain, but we all fail, again and again, as we  stumble through the obstacle course that is life.

Recently, I tripped over one of those obstacles and took a pretty bad fall, one that pulled a friend down with me.  Instead of being angry and making me feel worse than I already did (which was really, really awful) she responded with compassion and forgiveness – not the “Oh, it’s all right, forget it,” said with a martyred sigh and rolled eyes kind of feigned forgiveness we see so often, but the real deal.  That is how I want to treat others – the way my friend treated me, the way we all want to be treated, the way that would make the world a better place if more of us did it more often.

My second resolution  is to respond to my own failings in the same way.  This one will be harder to keep, because I have always been a perfectionist, demanding of myself standards that no one could meet, and which I would never dream of demanding of others.  Since earliest childhood, whenever I did something wrong, I would relive the moment again and again, mortified, thinking of all the ways I could have avoided doing it, what I should have done instead, demanding of myself how I could have possibly done such a stupid thing, and vowing never to make a mistake like that again.

None of this ever helped me to avoid making more mistakes, of course.  I will go on making them, just as we all do.  We usually think of vanity in relation to physical attractiveness, but thinking that one can live an error-free life is the ultimate vanity.  And just as people who make unrealistic resolutions about eating 800 calories a day and going to the gym 7 days a week set themselves up for failure, so do people who demand perfection of themselves.  It amazes me that it took until this late in life for me to realize that.  I learned to put aside perfectionism and unrealistic demands about food and exercise many years ago, which is probably why I’m not part of the overweight two thirds who make and break diet resolutions every January 1, then make a bee-line for the pie and ice cream on January 15.

If I can make progress – not triumph, not resounding success, but real progress – this year toward putting aside perfectionism and unrealistic demands about myself and others, then it will be a year well spent.


Today I read a New York Times column that made my blood run cold. It was from two days ago, written by Emily Rapp, a woman who happens to live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as I do. A woman who is a mother, as I am. A woman who has faced pain I cannot even begin to imagine.

She writes:

MY son, Ronan, looks at me and raises one eyebrow. His eyes are bright and focused. Ronan means “little seal” in Irish and it suits him.

I want to stop here, before the dreadful hitch: my son is 18 months old and will likely die before his third birthday. Ronan was born with Tay-Sachs, a rare genetic disorder. He is slowly regressing into a vegetative state. He’ll become paralyzed, experience seizures, lose all of his senses before he dies. There is no treatment and no cure.

How do you parent without a net, without a future, knowing that you will lose your child, bit by torturous bit?

I stopped cold when I read those words. I have four healthy daughters, and I can still find things in my life to complain about? I have four daughters who are beautiful, intelligent and above all alive, and I, ungrateful wretch that I am, can still think that any of the petty troubles of my life can be called pain?

When my eldest daughter was an infant, I used to have nightmares that she was dying or had died, and I would wake, gasping for breath, choked with tears, and rush to her bassinet to make sure she was still alive.  Having my first child at an age where I had given up hope of having one, having miscarried two, I never took Elizabeth for granted, and counted my blessings every day.   As time passed, and despite my age I had three more children, I stopped being so fearful, so grateful, and began to take my blessings for granted, as human beings are wont to do.

Even if Emily Rapp has three more children, she will never take them quite as much for granted as I take mine.   When I Googled Emily Rapp, I learned on her website that her life of pain did not begin with her son’s fatal illness.  Kirkus Reviews writes of Rapp’s book, Poster Child:

Born with a congenital bone and tissue disorder, the author had her left foot amputated when she was four and was fitted with an expensive, ugly prosthesis; at eight, after several operations, her entire left leg was removed. Rapp devoted her childhood to excelling, to being brave and smart…She loved being told that she was an “inspiration.” But as she entered adolescence, Rapp became more self-conscious. In particular, she worried that she would never catch a man. (She writes with elegance of losing her virginity.) Granted, she had good material to work with. Most people just have to grapple with getting the condom packet open; she had to decide whether or not to remove her leg. During college, her stoicism began to fray, and she wavered under the burden of her own attempts at perfection.

My attempts at perfection involve petty things things like trying to regain six-pack abs after four c-sections. I am humbled and ashamed by my own shallowness as I contemplate what Rapp has endured. And yet, despite the knowledge that others have suffered so much more than I, that I ought to be grateful for my two legs and four children, I am still capable of feeling my own insignificant troubles as tragedies.

For that is the way of mankind. We can tell ourselves that we are fortunate, that we ought to be grateful not to be amputees or terminally ill with cancer or political prisoners tortured by third-world tyrants. We can tell ourselves that our problems are small ones, that we should be grateful not to have real problems like Emily Rapp and the soldiers getting body parts blown off in Iraq and Afghanistan, but somehow those traffic jams and home repairs and bratty kids annoy us anyway. Even with the thought of Emily Rapp fresh in my mind, I could still get irritated today when my daughter Tess threw her ponytail holder out the car window and her ballet teacher wouldn’t let her come to lesson with hair down. My wasted money on Tessie’s ballet lesson was so trivial, in the larger scheme of things, and yet it still rankled.

Pain is integral to the human condition, and when we don’t have the real deal, we manufacture it, from the Penitentes of northern New Mexico to young people covering their bodies in tattoos to women who love the wrong kind of man, time after time.

Love and pain walk hand in hand, for Emily Rapp would feel no pain over her son if she did not love him.  Without the risk of pain, there can be no love.  If I had not loved Elizabeth, I would not have wept at the thought of losing her.  Whether a parent’s or a lover’s, there is no love without risk of pain.

For a mother, is it better to have felt the suffocating, all-consuming love for a child that I felt for my infant daughters and Emily Rapp feels for her infant son, and then to suffer the heart-wrenching loss I have known only in nightmares, than to have never known the joy of motherhood?  For a lover, is it, as Alfred Lord Tennyson said, better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?  Or is it better never to have felt that exquisite ecstasy than to have felt and then lost it, feeling as though your heart has been torn out of your chest still beating?

It has been more than half a year since I’ve written a blog post, for both professional and personal reasons.  Professionally and politically, I cannot imagine that anyone could object to this one.  Personally, I have been reluctant to write anything at all since my divorce earlier this year.   When you’re a church-going, Roman Catholic, conservative Republican, you’re expected to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.  I have felt as though my divorce made me a hypocrite, unworthy of talking the talk, or blogging the blog.

Emily Rapp gave me the courage to break my silence.  If she can bear the pain of losing a leg and losing her son, surely I can bear the shame of failing to live up to my ideals.

New Mexico in Focus

I’ll be a panelist on The Line this afternoon, the talking heads portion of New Mexico in Focus, a public television show taped at KNME in Albuquerque.    The show airs on Channel 5 (if you have Comcast) Friday at 7:00 pm and Sunday at 6:30 a.m., but if you’re like me and watch pretty much everything at your convenience on the computer, you can see it here.

Among the topics to be discussed is how legislative efforts to streamline our state government have failed. Capitol Report New Mexico ran a story last year featuring the organizational chart that shows the structure of NM state government.  As the story indicates, Capitol Report managing editor Rob Nikolewski originally found the chart on my Facebook page when I was running for state representative.  The original source is at the NM Legislature’s website.

While I was working at the legislature this past session, I used to stop and look at the wall chart version (3 feet high and nearly 7 feet long) that hung in the House Minority office, and never ceased to be amazed at it.  I actually thought about getting a copy for myself from Legislative Council Services, but decided not to since a) that’s pretty geeky, and b) it might be outdated after the Legislature followed all those Government Restructuring Task Force recommendations and streamlined it.

I should have known better.

Life after the legislative session

At long last, I’m writing again.

Not that I haven’t been writing, of course. For the past two months, as an analyst at the New Mexico House of Representatives, I did a great deal of writing, but writing analysis of proposed legislation is a very different business from blogging.   At least it was until the final week of session, when I was tired and occasionally let a little editorializing creep in.

Falling somewhere in between the highly structured and disciplined practice of bill analysis and the stream-of-consciousness anything-goes-ness of blogging is political punditry, and I’m back at that as well.  My first two post-legislative session columns at Capitol Report New Mexico are up:  What’s wrong with the New Mexico Legislature, Part I, and a new one today about Susana Martinez’s planned veto of a tax increase.

I meant to write the first one the day after the session ended, but I couldn’t seem to get enough sleep those first few days after all that I’d missed.  The daylight hours were devoted first to the girls in attempted expiation for having been an absentee mother, and second to exercise, since working 14 hour days was inducing endorphin withdrawal and incipient obesity (I may never again think of the Roundhouse without a double-entendre).

The picture is apropos of nothing.  I just like the New Mexico sky when it looks like this, and for too many weeks I was indoors during the daylight hours and missed seeing it.

On liberty, civility, and the lessons of history

My latest column at Capitol Report New Mexico is up.

I’ll be on the radio on KSNM at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow (Wed., Jan. 26).  My regular time will be Tuesdays at 7:00, but this week had to reschedule to Wednesday.  Schedule of the show’s other interesting New Mexico guests is in the right column here.

Youngest blogger in Santa Fe?

My 7-year-old daughter wants to start a blog. Yes, really.  She writes long stories for her sisters and friends already (she’s the one who started reading when she was 3) so I know she’s serious.

She’s has had a g-mail account for a long time, so setting up a blog for her on Blogger will be easy. I’m just not sure about safety issues. I think they have a feature where the blog can be kept private, so friends and family can read it but not the entire population of the World Wide Web, but I’ll have to check.

I knew I wouldn’t be the only writer and blogger in the family forever.  I just didn’t think it would happen so soon.

The earnestness of being important

My fellow Capitol Report New Mexico columnist, former State Sen. John Grubesic, observes in today’s column:

Ninety-five percent of the people in that building think that they are the most important people in New Mexico (myself included).

Ninety-six percent of the people outside of that building would have a tough time naming who represents them in Santa Fe and 97 percent don’t care.

As a citizen and political activist, that depresses me, but as a brand new (temporary) state employee spending more waking hours at the Roundhouse than at my house, I am most amused.

News New Mexico

I was on News New Mexico with Jim Spence and Dr. Michael Swickard on KSNM 570 this morning, and am going to be a weekly contributor to the show.  Once we pick a regular time, I’ll post it.

The show airs from Las Cruces, NM, but they have a very user-friendly podcast. There is also a blog that goes along with the show. This morning I was on for the last fifteen minutes of Hour 1.

My new jobs

This is my new office.  Yes, it’s the Roundhouse, home of the New Mexico State Legislature.  No, they didn’t do a recount and discover I’d won the election after all.  I’m working as a bill analyst, poring over every piece of proposed education legislation proposed in the House and producing analyses for the Republican members.

The Democrats have their own analysts – yes, that’s analysts plural.  Because they’re in the majority, they get two analysts to go over education bills, while the minority Republicans get no one but me. Just in case you were worried that enough of your tax dollars weren’t being spent on this, rest assured that there are also analysts that work for the House committee as a whole as well (hired by the Democratic majority, naturally).   Now multiply this by every committee in the House (you can see the committees here once the assignments are published to the website, probably tomorrow).  And then — what, you thought I was finished? — there’s the same exact set-up over on the senate side.

A hundred years ago, the men who wrote the Constitution of the State of New Mexico set up a part-time, unpaid citizen legislature.  They figured the lawmakers would come to Santa Fe for a month or two, pass a budget, introduce and vote on a couple of laws most of them agreed were necessary, and then go back to their farms and ranches and mines and shops.  They figured the lawmakers would write their own bills and read each others’ bills without the assistance of an army of analysts.

The more things change, the more they…change, in this case.  Life has gotten complicated over the past century, and government even more so.  It’s something our Founding Fathers saw coming more than two centuries ago.  As James Madison wrote in Federalist 62,

It will be of little avail to the people that the laws be made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.

If I sound as though I’m biting that hand that feeds me, albeit temporarily (my position is only for the 60 days of the legislative session), I’m only trying to be honest.  The fact is, the NM legislative machinery has become so cumbersome that the legislators can’t get along without analysts, secretaries and all manner of other support staff.

Without this army of state employees, they’d have to stop passing so many laws, and such complicated laws.  That would mean drastically streamlining the state government, since the bureaucratic behemoth with which we are presently saddled could not function without those laws.  This is all completely hypothetical, of course, since we all know something like that is even more unlikely than getting a new Speaker of the House.

I briefly discussed the explosion of legislation this week in the course of my other new endeavor, writing a weekly column for Capitol Report New Mexico.

Reflections on the campaign

The election is over, at long last.  I didn’t win, but with only 16% of the voters in the district being Republican, that wasn’t entirely a surprise.  I hope to be blogging regularly again as soon as the dust settles.  In the meantime, here’s a piece I wrote for Capitol Report New Mexico, one of my favorite NM political news sites — and not just because they invited me to share with their readers what I learned on the campaign trail.

I miss my blog

Several people have told me over the last few months that they miss my blog. I miss it, too. I knew it had been a long time since I’d written, but when I looked today and saw that my last post was in May, I was stunned. I hadn’t realized it had been that long.

Part of why I haven’t posted lately is simply that I’m too busy because of my campaign.  But part of it is that, as a candidate, I can’t seem to write as freely as I used to.  It’s made me more reticent on Facebook as well.  I used to have just 75 or so close personal friends and relatives on Facebook, but now my friends list contains all sorts of people I know through politics — including journalists.

I’m not the only candidate who feels constrained by the perception of living in a glass house.  Bob Cornelius, who lost the Republican primary to Matt Rush in the race for New Mexico Land Commissioner this past June, was nothing short of hilarious on Facebook in the weeks after the primary, at last able to cut loose from his political straitjacket and be the really funny guy he is.

Adam Kokesh, who lost the New Mexico 3rd Congressional primary to Tom Mullins, has been far more outspoken since the end of his candidacy.   You can hear some of Adam’s irreverance on his radio show, Adam vs. the Man, which I actually co-hosted (but was quite the restrained and proper candidate) last week.   The You Tube videos of my stint on the show are here, They’ll be up on my campaign website in the next couple of days, along with my appearance on a local TV show, Living Santa Fe.

I can’t promise many more posts before the election, but I’ll try.

Rally at the Roundhouse

Tomorrow morning  I’ll be at a rally for Republican Candidate for Governor, Susana Martinez

Friday, May 28, 2010 at 10:00 am
At the Front of the State Capitol Building
490 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, New Mexico

If you’re there, please introduce yourself. I’ll be the one with all the kids.

My daughters’ political ad debut

The Russell girls, in a tiny but spectacular portion of Adam Kokesh’s ad:

Kokesh for Congress Ad

Projections…and projection

Joe Monahan writes about the New Mexico governor’s race,

[S]ome of our analysts see a developing problem for Susana [Martinez] — the strength of GOP lieutenant governor candidate John Sanchez. He is spending heavily on TV and is the favorite to take the prize over Brian Moore and Kent Cravens. But will many GOP voters want to balance their ticket by voting for an Anglo governor candidate and therefore shy away from Martinez? It’s a possibility, but there’s little she can do about it.

I don’t know any Republicans who would have a problem with a Martinez-Sanchez ticket on ethnic grounds.  The people I know who are supporting Weh, Turner, Arnold-Jones, Domenici, Cravens or Moore are not doing so out of the desire for some sort of ethnically balanced ticket.

The idea that any of my fellow Republicans would decide not to vote for a ticket that contained two candidates committed to reining in the out-of-control growth of government that is crippling our state, just because both of those candidates happened to have Spanish surnames, is absurd.

If Democrats really think Republicans are such bigots that we’d rather have more of the Richardson-Denish politics as usual than have a Republican governor and lieutenant governor who share our values and our priorities, then they are simply projecting their own race-obsessed political sensibilities onto us.

Michelle Malkin vs. Adam Kokesh

Adam Kokesh is a candidate in the Republican primary for a New Mexico Congressional seat that Republicans virtually never win.  Third District GOP candidates rarely make it onto the radar screens of the Big Guns of the national political scene.  To be sure, Michelle Malkin is one of those Big Guns, and the day before yesterday, she fixed her cross-hairs on Adam Kokesh.

Congratulations, Adam.  When Michelle Malkin picks on you, you’ve hit big time.

Malkin calls Kokesh “an anti-war smear merchant in GOP clothing” and urges her readers who have friends and family in New Mexico to “make sure they know who the real Adam Kokesh is.”

Does Ms. Malkin, I wonder, know who “the real Adam Kokesh” is?  I’m  not sure, but I’d guess she doesn’t know Mr. Kokesh personally.  When I see Adam at the New Mexico State GOP Convention tomorrow, I’ll ask him.  Because, you see, I do know Adam Kokesh.

Michelle Malkin has no doubt read the anti-Kokesh smears circulating on Free Republic, and has seen photos of him at anti-war protests, and believes that he dishonors the U.S. Marine Corps uniform he once wore by his anti-war activism.  I believe, on the other hand, that when Adam Kokesh volunteered as a Marine and then risked life and limb serving in Iraq, he earned the right to say whatever he damn well pleases about that war.  I may disagree with him about whether the U.S. should immediately pull all of our troops out of Iraq, but I would never presume to call a man who fought in that war unpatriotic.

What Michelle Malkin has not seen is Adam Kokesh driving up and down the highways of New Mexico building a grassroots campaign organization that is stronger than that any other Republican has built in our 3rd district in recent memory.  She has not seen him at high schools and colleges and Indian reservations and VFW meetings and Republican county meetings and candidate forums and Tea Parties and just about anyplace else New Mexicans gather.  I have seen Adam at more Santa Fe political events than any other candidate who is running for state or national office this year.  I can’t imagine how he keeps up the pace, but keep it up he does.

New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District is generally considered a lost cause for Republicans, and it is difficult to get good candidates to spend their time and money running for a seat that they have historically had little hope of winning.  Bill  Redmond did it in the special election of 1997 due to a lucky confluence of circumstances, but he was promptly ousted the next year by Democrat Tom Udall.  When Udall left the seat to run successfully for the U.S. Senate, Democrat Ben Ray Luján, who had little to recommend him as a candidate, beat Republican Dan East handily, even with liberal independent candidate Carol Miller siphoning off some of his votes.

Perhaps Michelle Malkin doesn’t mind if Ben Ray Luján, who has voted in perfect lock-step with President Obama’s leftist agenda,  is re-elected to the seat this November.  But I’m a New Mexican, and I do mind.  For the first time since 1997, this district actually has a viable Republican candidate, a candidate who works like I’ve never seen a candidate work, and has built one of the best campaign organizations I’ve ever seen.

Malkin calls his anti-war activism unpatriotic, but it is precisely his anti-war credentials that just may win over enough liberals in this district to elect him.   Northern New Mexico is dominated by Santa Fe, “the City Different,” which is as left-wing as Berkeley or Santa Monica, California.  A Congressional candidate who echoes Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh on every issue doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected here.  Adam Kokesh does.

Why I don’t blog much these days (part 3)

This is Cordelia at the ice rink, where the three big girls and I have been spending quite a bit of our time lately. Skating is great exercise, and great fun, but it eats into my writing time.

As if I didn’t have time management problems enough, my husband and I are going to take up racquetball again, which we haven’t played since the dark ages before we were married.

Being physically fit feels wonderful, but it was a heck of a lot easier when I was younger and had fewer responsibilities.

Why I don’t blog much these days (part 2)

At the moment, I can be thin or I can be interesting, but I cannot possibly be both.

Why I don’t blog much these days (part 1)

This is Portia’s new hobby.

It’s only fun if she has on her clothes and, ideally, her shoes as well.

Therefore, anytime I fill or drain the bathtub, I need to stay in the room, or post a guard.

Regrettably, the guards (the older girls) are the sort that would get themselves and their fellow soldiers killed if they were on real guard duty in a real army.

Why I am so clever

The post title is pinched from a chapter title in one of Friedrich Nietzsche’s books.  I cannot remember which one, because I had time either to look it up or pinch and upload a picture of philosophy’s bad boy, but not both, so I chose the latter.

And yes, that means that I can now insert photos into my blog whenever and wherever I want, thanks to a very nice and very competent web designer named Canton Becker, whose services I cannot recommend highly enough if you happen to live in or around Santa Fe and need a website built or repaired.

Thanks to Mr. Becker, I am now also happily upgraded to WordPress 2.9, the brand new version, which is better than the old in myriad ways.

Life is good, even if the country is going to hell in a handbasket.

So you think I’m too young to use a knife?

Go ahead and try to take it…out of my cold, dead hands.

Obviously, I figured out how to get a new photo onto the blog, since Portia was a little bitty baby when my technical difficulties began.  I still can’t upload pictures to the blog, but I can upload them to Flickr or Picasa and then paste the photo URL into the post.

Well, I could when I put this picture in, but I can’t anymore.   I did that with a couple of test photos, and then that application (is that what you call it?) started to malfunction as well, and now I can’t even get pictures in that way anymore.  I am really at a loss to explain this.

But there is light at the end of the Technical Difficulties Tunnel.  I have found a consultant in Santa Fe who knows far more about WordPress than I do, and we have an appointment for the Monday after Christmas.  So get ready to go back to the good old days of Blogging with Pictures.  I can’t promise to produce photo essay after photo essay like my friend MIT Mommy, but at least Moralia will not be a monochrome world anymore…except of course when the right picture is black and white.

Am I blue

You’ve seen this picture before.  You’re not seeing a new one because I have been unable to upload new images to my blog for many, many months now, and it’s really got me, well, blue.

It used to be so easy.  I’d press the “insert an image” icon, and then click the “Choose files to upload” button and choose whichever of my many JPEGs struck my fancy.  Now, I click the “Choose files to upload” button and nothing happens.  Nothing at all.

Obviously, I can still use previously uploaded photos, and since the monochromatic monotony of my blog was starting to get to me, I thought I’d re-use a couple of my favorites while I try to figure out how to upload some new ones.

For you young folks, the post title is the name of a very old song.  Please excuse the poor sound quality — not to mention the politically incorrect costuming and props — but Ethel Waters sure can sing.

How the other half lives

Not the rich other half, or the poor other half, but the other half that has two children.  What’s the average for American couples now?  2.1 children?  1.9?  Something like that.  This week, I have 2.0 because 2.0 of my 4.0 are in California with my husband.  The house is quieter.  The laundry doesn’t pile up as fast.  Meal planning is easier.  But I sure do miss them.

My 8-year-old and 4-year-old are the ones on holiday, getting to eat a dazzling array of sweets and watch appalling amounts of telly at their grandmother’s house, and my 6-year-old and 1-year-old are home with me.

Here on the home front, baby Portia is on a campaign of devastation that reminds me of the credit card commercial where the Vikings (or was it the Mongols?) are trashing a department store Portia, battle-axe in hand, is making like a Valkyrie and my house is an Irish monastery.

Cordelia, my 6-year-old, is wonderfully helpful, as she always has been, but she’s also been expecting to be treated like a pampered only child in her sisters’ absence, so yesterday after I took her and Portia to the top of the Sandia Mountains on the tram, then to lunch at the restaurant of her choice, then to the public indoor pool (Portia was with the babysitter for that) where she went down the water slide about a hundred times and played “Drown Mommy” to her heart’s content, she wanted to know, “Okay, where are we going now?”

I guess maybe the other half works hard, too.

Take two aspirin and call me when you’re terminal

First we heard that 40-something women like myself no longer need to have mammograms, and women over 50 don’t need them annually.  Now we get to cut back on Pap smears to test for cervical cancer as well.

Over the next week or so, presumably, we can expect to hear that prostate screenings can be pushed back to every 5 years over age 70, and colonoscopies…well, why not just get rid of those nasty things altogether?

Well baby visits for infants will be scaled back to a newborn check in the hospital (an outpatient stay, if possible) and a check-up on the first birthday.  After that, it’s see you when you need to get birth control pills or have an abortion if you’re a girl and, I guess, see you whenever if you’re a boy.  What about vaccinations, you’re thinking.  Well, since all the Lola Granola moms insist they have so much mercury in them that they do more harm than good, why not just dispense with them altogether?

Maybe if we get rid of all that costly, unnecessary diagnostic testing and preventative medicine, we’ll be able to afford nationalized health care after all.  I mean, if we’re all dead before we’re old enough to need nursing home care, paying for it will be a breeze.  Besides, think of the savings to Social Security.  Too bad W. didn’t think of something as beautifully simple as killing off all the old people when he tried so hard to reform Social Security.  Who needs death panels when we can just let everybody die of benign neglect?

Or maybe you think I’m being paranoid?  The New York Times does:

Arriving on the heels of hotly disputed guidelines calling for less use of mammography, the new recommendations might seem like part of a larger plan to slash cancer screening for women. But the timing was coincidental, said Dr. Cheryl B. Iglesia, the chairwoman of a panel in the obstetricians’ group that developed the Pap smear guidelines. The group updates its advice regularly based on new medical information, and Dr. Iglesia said the latest recommendations had been in the works for several years, “long before the Obama health plan came into existence.”

She called the timing crazy, uncanny and “an unfortunate perfect storm,” adding, “There’s no political agenda with regard to these recommendations.”

Thank God.  It’s all just a big, incredible coincidence.  Don’t I feel silly.

Transparency in action: your tax dollars into the abyss

Jim Scarantino of the New Mexico Watchdog reports that $6.4 billion in federal stimulus dollars has gone to non-existent congressional districts.  Yes, you read that right:  non-existent districts.

Ed Pound at the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, blamed the apparent disbursement of your tax dollars into non-existent congressional districts

on the recipients not knowing in which congressional districts they live. He said recovery.gov did nothing wrong, because it reported incorrect information correctly. “Our job is data integrity, not data quality,” he said.

Data integrity, not data quality.  Ah, I see.  The quality of data is irrelevant to the guys at the Accountability and Transparency board.  Well, that’s some transparency and accountabilty, all right.  I wonder what the IRS would say if I showed up at an audit with a bunch of receipts from non-existent businesses, and told them I had reported incorrect information correctly.

I’m getting to this story a bit late, as Jim writes on his Facebook page that Drudge, Limbaugh and even the Washington Post have already picked up the story.  I just checked Drudge, and sure enough, the story is the top headline, though it links the ABC story rather than the NM Watchdog’s.

I have an idea the New Mexico Watchdog is going to become one those websites that well informed people cannot afford to miss reading.  Maybe you didn’t hear it here first, because I’m sure a lot of other people are saying the same thing, but you did hear it here.

A post, finally, amid snow flurries, typing lessons and sneaky back-door tax increase elections

Just a quick note to let my readers know I haven’t taken leave of the land of the living.  It’s been a very busy couple of weeks.  I’ve done some reassessment of priorities, and have really focused on getting our schooing routine in order and, to a lesser extent, getting my exercise regimen going again.  Just keeping up with the everyday things has left me with less computer time than usual, and when I’m here, I’m usually getting caught up on the news rather than commenting on it.  I don’t have time for both, and one can’t do the latter without first doing the former.

It snowed last night and this morning, the second or maybe the third time this fall.  Or is it winter now?  With snow on the ground, it’s sort of hard to think of it as autumn still, but I suppose it is.  This will be my fourth winter in Santa Fe, and snow is finally starting to seem like a normal part of life.

Today was a busy day.  Religious ed for the girls in the morning, and for me one of those parent classes Catholic churches make us take when our kids are preparing for sacraments (Elizabeth will make her first confession and first communion this year).  Keeping Portia relatively calm while being taught things I already know left me tired.

Then it was off to lunch (the pizza place which Portia trashed by throwing all her food on the floor) and then the babysitter’s to leave the kids while I went to the GOP phone bank and made a lot of calls about the election this Tuesday to increase the Santa Fe County sales tax.  I convinced two people who were planning to vote yes to vote no instead, and informed quite a few people who hadn’t heard there was even going to be an election (it’s a single-issue ballot and the sneaky bastards know people don’t pay attention when it’s not a presidential or gubernatorial election) when and where they should vote.  That was tiring, too, but worth doing.

The little girls are in bed but the big girls are up way past their bedtime, transfixed by Typing Instructor for Kids, which my friend and fellow homeshooling mom Lisa recommended, and for which I thank her profusely.  I’ve been wanting to teach them to type properly, using the correct fingers, for ages, but just couldn’t seem to get around to finding the right program.  Thanks to Lisa, we found it, and the girls love it and are really doing well.  We’ve only just started using it, but so far I’m very impressed.

Meanwhile, around the blogosphere, my friend MIT Mommy is having fun and being very silly in Japan.  Anne, the Palm Tree Pundit, gave me a quote of the day post, an honor which I share with Mark Steyn.  It’s not every day I’m placed in such august company.  Mahalo, Anne.  Pauline is writing her post titles in Polish again.  Patrick is reading his fellow Hawaiian (that’s the President for the non-birthers among us) the riot act again.