Drawing of word "meme"


I have never gotten a clear definition of “meme,” though the word gets used a lot. Everyone has a slightly different take on it when I ask, usually involving incoherence and a lot of “you knows.” If I knew, I wouldn’t ask.

Here’s the clearest definition I could find (from Wikipedia):  “A meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture….Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures. There is much more written about memes but most of it is incomprehensible. One could waste a lot of time surfing meme websites such as Know Your Meme, which calls itself a website dedicated to documenting Internet phenomena.

I wasn’t surprised to learn from Know Your Meme that I am completely ignorant of current memes, except one: the widely viewed photo of Donald Trump’s rump. I heard about the pic from my sister Chris, searched “Donald Trump big ass,” and there it was! You can see it here or you can take my word that it is a truly unflattering photo, taken from below in a high wind, showing our president’s weird hair flying and flapping suit coat revealing what is usually, mercifully, concealed. This photo mutated via Reddit photoshopping into Trump riding a broomstick and other inappropriate versions that in turn led to photos of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s backside, which prompted a separate meme and “Twitterstorm.” (Spoiler alert: it’s no contest.) Just like the definition said: the photo was replicated, mutated and went viral.

Not everyone will think that the Trump rump meme is funny. It almost makes me feel a little sorry for our president, a man who is so vain. It’s not easy to come to terms with aging, hair loss and weight gain no matter how much money you have. At least most of us aren’t public figures and thus not targets for embarrassing photos. But, come to think of it, there are family-generated memes that my kids post on Facebook (think dreadful 1980’s big hair, big shoulders, big sneakers). Excuse me while I un-tag myself. And have a good week.

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Don’t boss me around!

I have never liked being bossed around. Extreme bossiness is one of the irritations of the TSA lines at airports: “Take off your shoes!” “Belts and keys in the bin!” And on and on. Likewise, Facebook encourages a certain amount of bossiness in postings that my friends “share” on my page. They are good friends, which makes it all the more difficult not to comply with their commands. In the past 24 hours, I have been exhorted to:

“Share this to say, ‘Your sacrifice is not forgotten.’” (regarding dead Vietnam vets)
Of course I haven’t forgotten the people killed in Vietnam but do I have to declare it?

“Watch and share their precious moments together with your friends and family!” (video about love between a dog and a baby)
I am a sucker for babies, dogs and just about any animal doing something cute but if I shared all these adorable videos with my friends and family they’d “unfriend” me immediately.

“Type ‘Yes’ if you agree.” (about treating a janitor and a CEO with the same respect)
Who would disagree with this? And what difference would it make if I type “Yes”?

“If you love horses, type ‘Yes’ and share this video.” (Video of running horses.)
Oh, for god’s sake!

And the ever-popular:
“Pass it on if you agree.”
“LIKE if you agree!”
“TYPE ‘YES’ if you are with me.”
“Type ‘Yes’ if you agree.” (4 of these)

There was a canned post making the rounds a year or so ago about separating the posting person’s “true friends” from, well, I don’t quite know what—false friends? Despite the threat that only the “true friends” who responded as such would be retained, I stuck to my convictions and didn’t respond. And some people actually dropped me! So much for Facebook friendships.

If you are my friend and want to remain so, please don’t boss me around.

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Good or Bad? Not a useful distinction.

Last week I heard the President of the United States vow to “get rid of the really bad dudes in this country.” While it’s true that Donald Trump has a small vocabulary weighted towards extreme adjectives (“big league—or bigly,” “disaster,” “dangerous,” “huge,” “tremendous”), the use of “bad dudes” hit a new low.

Yes, “bad dudes” is a ridiculous description.  But rather than focussing on how Trump said it, let’s consider the real problem:  the assertion that our country is divided between “good” and “bad” people. It isn’t useful to look at each other Trump’s way.  I did not vote for Donald Trump but I know many reasonable people who did. I don’t agree with them but I understand why they voted for him and I can empathize with their concerns.  More important is while we may have been divide regarding voting, let’s not let Trump divide us as a country.

I like to think of myself as an empathetic person, but now I’ve learned that it isn’t that simple. This week I came upon an article in The Atlantic by Paul Bloom, author of “Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion.” How could anyone be against empathy? “Empathy is biased,” Bloom writes, “pushing us in the direction of parochialism and racism.” And there’s more (and this I DO understand): “Our empathy for those close to us is a powerful force for war and atrocity toward others.” The tendency when something terrible happens  (Muslims with visas turned away at airports) is to be relieved that it didn’t happen to us. That’s how we become divided.

How about looking at our society a different way? In his 1961 inaugural address, John F. Kennedy requested that we “Ask not what our country can do for you. Ask what you can do for our country.”  Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, why not do something to make our country better?  And I don’t mean just by voting; I mean by action—even small actions. There are lots of useful steps we can take from calling our legislators daily, weekly or monthly to give them our opinions (People magazine online has a current list of all 535 members of Congress and their phone numbers here) or by joining a #Resist Meetup group in your area (there are 1,000+ around the country). Don’t just be disgruntled. Do something for our country.  Good, Bad, or Bigly, we are all in this together, friends.


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I regret to inform you that on Saturday we went from here:

On the beach at San Pedro,
Ambergris Caye, Belize

To here:

Connecticut snowstorm (photo by Pam Verney)

Ambergris Caye, Belize or Hartford, Connecticut after a snowstorm? Hmmm. Well, we’re back and trying to prepare for another six weeks or so of cold weather—or at least what feels like cold after ten heavenly days in Central America. In keeping with the pleasant effects of sun, sand, rum punch and the company of Ben and Joanna Popik and brother Mark and wife Pam, I am going to continue relaxing and post only photos this week. (At least there are no selfies or photos of Mar-a-Lago.)

Speed bump, Belize-style. It’s a rope, not a snake.

Beautiful Mayan Temple–one of many on the mainland.

Ben fending off one of the Ambergris Caye’s vicious dogs.

Trivia Night at Ben and Jo’s Truck Stop.  Our team lost.

I stole the title of this blog, “Unbelizable!” from Daton Ramos, our very knowledgeable guide on the Belize mainland.

Have a warm week.

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There are many ways to give comfort.

The most comforting words I’ve heard in a long time are, “I will be right there with you for all my remaining days.” That was what President Obama promised in his farewell speech. Politics aside (and how I’d like to put them aside!), the promise that someone will be beside us brings such comfort and sense of peace because it fills a basic human need: not to be alone in times of trouble.

My husband Bill is a doctor. One day I was waiting for him to finish up with his patients so we could go to lunch, wishing he would hurry, I had things to do, etc., etc.   His private study was next to one of the exam rooms and I could overhear him telling a male patient that he needed a rather serious operation, one performed by a surgeon specialist. I could hear the man crying and then Bill told him, “I’ll be there with you and see you through this.” This was true. Bill would assist in the surgery and afterwards continue to be his doctor. The man calmed down and they began to discuss the details. My first thought  was “Wow!” All I needed was to hurry up and get some lunch. The guy on the other side of the door had an uncertain future but he felt better because he wasn’t going to be alone.

As I write this, Bill and I are on our sixth Jazz Cruise (hang in—there’s a point coming soon) and like most cruises, many of the passengers are elderly. We’ve watched them for six years and there are more canes, walkers and wheelchairs every time. This is sad, but the comforting aspect is that everyone has someone with them to help—a spouse, a friend or even strangers like us.  As we bump along in these uncertain times, remember that we are all in this together, right beside each other for all our days.


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The biggest gathering of my cousins circa 1976.  It’s a bad photo but a good group.

“Cousins are a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.”
Marion C. Garretty

I learned last week that one of my aunts on my father’s side of the family died. The information came from my cousin Jerry, via my brother, whose e-mail was the only one Jerry had. My sisters and I wrote back to Jerry’s group email, as did other cousins. It took the passing of Aunt Alice, the last of our parents’ generation, to bring us back together.

As a child, I used to spend a week every summer at my cousin Janet’s house in Mountain View, California. She lived in an apricot orchard on El Camino Real (yes, there were orchards there then) and between her house and the road were flats of halved apricots drying in the sun. My grandparents lived next door in a house I thought was a palace (it had TWO bathrooms!). It was all very exotic compared to our little house in a new post-war development in Stockton.

When I was a kid, the family gatherings were the fun times. I don’t remember being a particularly happy child otherwise. I am the oldest child and felt a great weight of responsibility and, of course, there was the psychological damage inflicted by the nuns at Catholic school—but I digress. Let’s just agree that I thought my life was grim and now I understand that even then I was making up stories in my head. Here’s an alternative view of my family life from two cousins’ letters that made me rethink those days:

From my cousin Janet: It’s fun to reconnect with everyone, especially you.  I loved going out to visit you and your lovely family as a kid.  Living in our house, in the orchard, I was so isolated socially.  And…your house always had so much fun stuff happening. 

And my cousin Katie: My memory of Uncle Vince and Aunt Doreen and all you kids was that it was like watching a Doris Day movie.  There was nothing better than going to visit you.  It was summer camp, pure joy–everybody fit in, could relax and play, laugh out loud, and most of all—unrehearsed, with no fear, no one to worry about pleasing or being concerned with propriety.  

What really struck me during the flurry of notes is that my cousins are like other close friends who, though we’ve been apart for years, instantly connect as if no time has passed. They were never lost, just missing for a while.

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Alexis and Heidi in our “pussy hats.”

This past Saturday, January 21, more than 1 million people across the United States and the rest of the world marched in protest of policies President Trump is vowing to put in place. It has been 30 years since I’ve attended a demonstration but I think protecting the rights and freedoms that are the basis of our democracy is crucial, so I roused myself and decided to go to the Boston Women’s March with a friend. I even knitted pink “pussy hats” at the urging of my nieces and brought them along—reluctantly. I don’t like pink, I don’t like the word “pussy” and I don’t like feeling ridiculous.

Pussy Hats Galore

On the train
The first surprise was finding that the MBTA train in Lakeville, Massachusetts was packed with people of all ages heading for Boston. As we pulled in to South Station, my friend Heidi and I decided to put on our pink hats while others unrolled signs they had brought and passed around photos to hold up during the march. Boston Common, which is surrounded by a beautiful wrought iron fence, was packed with people—175,000 people. It was comforting to know that so many others cared about the future of our country and wanted to stand together to let our president and Congress to know that. What it is impossible to know is what will come of all the protests. Where do we go from here?

The funniest sign, in my opinion.

What next?
Today I read a meditation written by a friend, Nick Browning, M.D., on the meaning of the Boston march. He and his wife had also been there and he left wondering, as I did, what will happen next.  Here’s an excerpt from what Dr. Browning wrote: “Maybe we [are] facing something more ominous even than an unqualified man: a system that could no longer work as it should….Are our apprehensions real or imagined? And if they are real, what are we to do? Marches, after all, will not save us. Deeply thoughtful reflection and remarkable wisdom are needed to bring us to a better place. Wisdom’s voice, unfortunately, is often soft and not easily heard. We had better listen for it very carefully in the next several years.”

Part of the Boston Women’s March crowd.

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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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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.



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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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.


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