STRONG WORDS

Words and Strong Words

Words, Words, Words

My mother used strong words. Some of her tendency to overstate was inherited from her mother, my grandma, who used thrilling expressions like “Bloody murder in the third degree!” As she aged, Mom’s ways of expressing exasperation became increasingly dramatic. Among my personal favorites: “If that plumber doesn’t get here this afternoon, I’m going to (a) Shoot myself in the head! (b) Slit my wrists! (c) Blow my brains out!” If a common word was adequate, a stronger one was always better: “reluctance” morphed into “dread;” “anxious” became “terrified.”   When “I was embarrassed” seemed like an understatement, “I was never so mortified in my entire life” was subbed in.

During the past election cycle, I became fascinated by Donald Trump’s use of strong words: “big league,” “smartest,” “the greatest,” ” the wealthiest,” “a failure,” “a complete disaster,” “not smart,” “dumb,” “a total loser.”

There are important differences between my mother’s words and Donald Trump’s: my mother wasn’t the president-elect, her strong language was directed towards herself and the words weren’t unkind. By this time next week, Trump will be President Trump. His words will spread around the world, affecting economies, governments and our democracy.  It’s hard to believe his behavior or vocabulary will alter for the better, but if it doesn’t, we could be headed for disaster, Big League.

 

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SNOW DAYS AND RESPONSIBILITY

Every Day Can Be a Snow Day

Today is a Snow Day. Until we moved to New England I had never heard of Snow Days, but after my first experience I was hooked. On Snow Days, schools are closed, as are some public agencies and businesses. It is very, very quiet–partly because of the heavy blanket of snow but also because people who don’t absolutely need to be somewhere stay inside.

In the late ‘90’s my then school-age sons loved Snow Days and so did I. We would make hot chocolate and popcorn, rent a movie and settle in, absolved of obligations. The peculiar aspect of this is that I could have made any day a Snow Day because I was no longer working “outside the home.” I could do as I damn well pleased almost any time, except I didn’t. Raised at the altar of Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility, I feel like I should always be doing something like watching movies in the middle of the day. Except on Snow Days.

Seven years ago, I learned to have snowless Snow Days. Kamiko, our only grandchild, was born in California and I traveled there often to see her. That’s when I remembered how slowly a day with a young child passes. The first few visits, I spent Miss K’s sleeping hours fidgeting or (horrors!) washing dishes. As she got older and more wakeful, I could get her to play with me but there was still that nagging feeling that I should be DOING something. That’s when I realized that my visits with Kamiko were Snow Days. There was nothing more important to do than play with her or read Pat the Bunny. We both enjoyed ourselves and no one showed up at the door to tell me that I should be doing something else with my time. Now, whenever I start to feel anxious that I’m not using my time usefully, I think of Snow Days and give myself a break. Or else I emulate my cat.  It’s very satisfying.

 

XXXXXOOOOO

NOTE: Happy Birthday to Janet Compiano Alonso, my friend since grade school and the bravest person I knew then. After a scolding by a very cranky teacher, Janet managed to lick her lips in a way that provided deniability but was clearly a way of sticking her tongue out at Sister Mary. A chill ran down my spine as I watched, but Janet got away with it and earned my permanent respect.

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WORDS MATTER, MY DEAR

In other words, HAPPY NEW YEAR 2017

Words DO matter. There are reminders of the power of words all around us. Think of the way extreme words were slung around during the last election. Or don’t think of it. Let’s start off the new year on a constructive note by changing the words we use to describe older people.

Last week a middle-aged man called me “Dear.” Twice. He let me go ahead of him in the coffee line in a hospital (“After you, Dear.”) and then again when I was leaving (“You have a Happy New Year, Dear.”). I smiled, nodded and wondered what it was that prompted him to call me “Dear.” “Honey” would have been offensive, too, but at least it doesn’t sound like a term reserved for the elderly. I made my way to my sister’s room, where the nurse was calling her “My Dear.” I would like to believe the term is part of the hospital’s employee training program but I doubt it.

That was the second time recently I’ve been reminded of the words we use for our elders. Friday I met a man—40-something, father of two—who knew my husband’s family. I assumed he was friends with Bill’s sister but it turned out his father was friends with her. I was a generation off. He is my daughter’s contemporary, not mine. It took a while to get over my confusion (“Wait a minute! I could be his mother!”). At least he didn’t call me “Dear.”

When I was a little kid, I spent hours listening to my great aunts talking about how they didn’t feel as old as they were. Looking back, I think they were all in their fifties then. I thought the ancient old dears were deluding themselves. Now I shake my head at how young they were.

In cranky conclusion, 2017 will be a better year in a small way if we think twice before addressing women over 60 as Sweetheart, Ma’am, Honey, My Dear or Dearie.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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MEDITATION, MINDFULNESS AND DISHES

Take a deep breath of mindfulness before you begin.

I am a great fan of Mindfulness though, unfortunately, not a particularly successful practitioner. Nevertheless, I keep trying. While surfing the news for something that wasn’t about politics, technology or economics I recently discovered a New York Times series called “Meditation for Real Life.” Who could be against that? Just last week while stuck in a traffic jam on I-84 with an impatient friend, I suggested that he might want to take up meditation to deal with his obvious irritation. He didn’t; I resolved to be mindful of my own business.

The essay about real-life meditation was called “How to Be Mindful Doing the Dishes.”   Whaaaat???  This is an example of one of the mindfulness guidelines: “Picking up the first dish, handle it with care. Observe its shape. Notice its weight.” As a person who has done the dishes nearly every day of my life since I was tall enough to reach the sink, I don’t give a damn about being mindful while washing dishes. I hate doing the dishes. I have always hated doing the dishes. The only thing I’m mindful of when washing dishes is that it is a seemingly endless chore.

The readers’ comments on the Times essay were fantastic. I encourage you to click the link and read them. This is my favorite, by W. Evans of Pennsylvania:

Take a deep breath before you begin. Exhale through your mouth.
OK, I can do that

  1.  Notice how your body feels, standing at the sink.
    Well, I’m 78 years old, so now that you mention it, the arthritis in my thumb hurts and the polyneuropathy in my right foot means that I can’t feel my right foot – I don’t know if it hurts.
  2.  As you run the warm water, feel it flowing across your hands.
    Our water heater is about 30 feet from the sink, so the water is cold and it’s taking forever to heat up
  3.  Picking up the first dish, handle it with care. Observe its shape. Notice its weight.
    Well, the dish looks just about same as it has looked for the last 10,000  washings. I did weigh one of the bowls once when I was trying to figure out how much cereal I was eating in the morning. (Oops – wandering, see 6 below.)
  4.  Starting to scrub, smell the soap and watch the bubbles foam.
    Well, we have a dish washer, but I do wash the Teflon pan and the copper bottom pan – have to remember to not use steel wool on these. Have to stay focused – don’t think about how warm the water is.
  5.  If you notice that your mind has wandered, bring your attention back to the warmth of the water.
    Please, the only way to get thru this is to let my mind wander. Did you see Brady on Sunday?  How did he ever hit that guy in the end zone?

Have a good week!

 

 

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Testing, testing and more testing

I’m trying to see if my new system works.

This tech part of blogs is as clear as the elephants' mud to me.

This tech part of blogs is as clear as the elephants’ mud to me.

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OMG! FREE CATS!

FREE CATS!

If you clicked on this link, OMG! You are one of millions who click on enticing titles that include words like OMG! in the headline. This stuff really works. NBC and many other sources wrote this week that Macedonian teenagers have been “earning” thousands of dollars by getting people to click on fake news articles at a penny per click. The money-making headlines are called “click bait” and, aside from providing fabulous incomes in a poor country, they also stoke the flames of prejudice and fear in the U.S. and other countries.

When I first began writing this blog, I learned about clickbait, though it was called “Search Engine Optimization,” a kinder, gentler term. The idea is to use words in headlines that would grab more attention (i.e., optimize) from people searching the Internet for entertainment. I learned that any title with numbers in it, such as “5 Ways to a Lose Ten Pounds This Week!” or something heart-wrenching (“You won’t Believe What This Little Boy Did to Save His Dying Mom!”) will get lots of readers. I lost patience trying to concoct headlines that would draw more clicks (forget about money—there’s no money to be made here). The only headlines that have ever drawn quite large responses have included the words “Free” and/or “Cat.”

The serious problem is that clickbait works and it can be used to spread fake news. Last week’s example of that is the man who showed up with a gun at a pizza parlor near Washington, D.C., who had read and believed a fake news article about child sex trafficking at the eatery. There are times, however, when I wish the news was fake. I would have been much happier if a teenaged Macedonian had invented the news in this Fortune Magazine article: “Trump’s Pick for Secretary of Labor: ‘Ugly’ Women Don’t Sell Burgers.”

 

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NEWS WE CAN USE

As the United States prepares for a new president whose word, according to one advisor, “should not be taken literally,” I have been thinking about the news and how events are reported. If the president’s word is not to be taken literally, then whatever he says cannot to be believed and the news business is going to have to change its approach in order to get to the truth.  I suggest a three-part approach, easier to draw than to explain:

HOW NEWS RELATING TO PRESIDENT TRUMP SHOULD BE REPORTED (IMHO

News of President Trump

 

 

 

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THANKSGIVING 2016

This turkey looks as if he/she knows what's coming.

This turkey looks as if he  knows what’s coming.

Thanksgiving 2016 may well be a different version of a favorite national holiday. As a little kid, I used to enjoy bringing up politics at that meal, causing a great uproar among the tipsy Republicans, Democrats and know-nothings in my mother’s extended family. This year there is no need for a mischievous little kid to stir things up. This year, everyone is stirred up, for better or for worse. For this week’s blog, I looked for an apt poem for Thanksgiving; among the sentimental, harsh and inscrutable poems on the internet, I discovered this gem by Alberto Rios, Poet Laureate of Arizona. As with most poems, it can be taken at face value or appreciated as a metaphor for life.

PERFECT FOR ANY OCCASION
A Poem by Alberto Rios

 Pies have a reputation.
And it’s immediate—no talk of potential

 Regarding a pie. It’s good
Or it isn’t, but mostly it is—sweet, very sweet

 Right then, right there, blue and red.
It can’t go to junior college,

 Work hard for the grades,
Work two jobs on the side.

 It can’t slowly build a reputation
And a growing client base.

 A pie gets one chance
And knows it, wearing as makeup

 Those sparkling granules of sugar,
As a collar those diamond cutouts

 Bespeaking Fair Day, felicity, contentment.
I tell you everything is great, says a pie,

 Great, and fun, and fine.
And you smell nice, too, someone says.

 A full pound of round sound, ah ahh, all good.
Pies live a life of applause.

 But then there are the other pies.
The leftover pies. The ones

 Nobody chooses at Thanksgiving.
Mincemeat? What the hell is that? people ask,

 Pointing instead at a double helping of Mr.
“I-can-do-no-wrong” pecan pie.

 But the unchosen pies have a long history, too.
They have plenty of good stories, places they’ve been—

 They were once fun, too—
But nobody wants to listen to them anymore.

 Oh sure, everybody used to love lard,
But things have changed, brother—things have changed.

That’s never the end of the story, of course.
Some pies make a break for it—

 Live underground for a while,
Doing what they can, talking fast,

 Trying to be sweet pizzas, if they’re lucky.
But no good comes of it. Nobody is fooled.

 A pie is a pie for one great day. Last week,
It was Jell-O. Tomorrow, it’ll be cake.

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TESTING, TESTING

Cambodian temple frieze

Cambodian temple frieze

Testing to see if I’ve fixed my blog publishing problem.

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TRUMP, TRAVEL AND TRAVAIL

Young Monk at Siem Reap

Young Monk at Siem Reap

After three weeks of travel in Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, I returned to learn that while we were flying home, Donald Trump became president-elect of the United States.* I make a point of not writing about politics in this blog; there are plenty of people who write thoughtfully about our political situation, so I stick to interests of mine that I think will appeal to my readers. I do, however, care deeply about my country and its future and am trying to foresee what a Trump presidency will mean for our democracy. It’s difficult to be optimistic. In case you missed it, here is a link to Kate McKinnon’s opening to Saturday Night Live.It’s unforgettable. And as she says, “I’m not giving up and neither should you.”

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*We voted via absentee ballot.

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