Essays From A Dysfunctional Life

Murmurings about life as it is and as it can be.

Their Blood is on Our Hands

“The bloodshed 30 miles south of Houston is the worst mass shooting in America since February, when 17 people were gunned down at a high school in Parkland, Florida, according to a database of shootings maintained by the Washington Post.” (MSNBC 5/18/2018)

Since February.

I am angry. I am angry that there has been another school shooting. I am angry that we can no longer track school shootings by how many years ago the last one occured. We now must track school shootings in days.

It has been 11 days since the school shooting at Highland High School in Palmdale, California. Just 21 days prior to Highland, students were fired on by a fellow student as they engaged in a walkout demonstration against gun violence.

Today, more children are dead and there has been no significant changes in gun legislation.

“Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement: ‘The thoughts and prayers of all Texans are with the people of Santa Fe and those affected by today’s tragic shooting.’”

More thoughts and prayers, but little action to eliminate access to military style weapons. A-15s are still getting into the hands of school shooters. And more children continue to be murdered.

As of today, with the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, there have been 16 school shootings.

Recently I picked up a copy of the book Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings. (K. Newman) It is a difficult read, but sheds light on issues related to mass shooting. According to Newman, school shooters have a number of issues in common:

  • Undiagnosed Mental Illness – Many school shooters have undiagnosed depression or schizophrenia at the time of the shooting.
  • Planning – School shootings do not tend to be random in nature. They are often planned weeks or months prior to the shooting. Often peers or family members are aware of some part of the plan, but may not connect it to a mass shooting event.
  • Family Dysfunction – While school shooters have come from a wide range of socioeconomic statuses, they often experience a high incidence of family problems including divorce, abuse, unstable housing, and low parental involvement.
  • Bullying – Many school shooters are on both the receiving and giving end of bullying, resulting in difficult peer relationships.
  • Access to Guns – Youth continue to have access to guns through family, friends, and blackmarket gun sales.

There are no simple fixes to end mass shootings, but I believe that we can prioritize our actions and make a significant difference:

Get serious about gun control.

  1. School shootings do not occur when guns are not available to children, by removing automatic and semi-automatic weapons from non-military personnel and by requiring routine gun safety education for all gun owners.
  2. Implement routine mental health screenings.
  3. Support students and family members in obtaining access to mental health services to improve early identification and treatment of mental health disorders.
  4. Improve family supports. Increase availability of affordable housing, parenting classes and support groups, and domestic violence supports.
  5. Treat bullying systemically. Bullying is rarely an individual problem in a school and is often one symptom in a dysfunctional system. Bullying campaigns that reach across all ages, genders, racial groups and support healthy relationship development within the school can help reduce the number of angry, marginalized students.

It is time to make the commitment to no more school shootings. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next month. No more children need to die because we lack the courage to insist on making real change to protect our children.

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Homelessness: A Recreational Activity?

A homeless camp has grown in the parking structure near my office. There is garbage and tents and shopping carts filled with the meager personal belongings of those who have made their home in the parking garage.

There is a war on homelessness in this country, and in this small Oregon town. Homelessness makes those with homes feel uncomfortable. They are labeled as “dirty,” “smelly,” “dangerous,” “druggies,” and “crazy.”

There may be some kernel of truth in these statements. It can be difficult to take care of basic hygiene and to wear clean clothes when you don’t have regular access to bathroom or laundry facilities. Many people who experience mental illness can end up on the streets after losing housing due to unpredictable behavior or extended stays in psychiatric hospitals. Too many who are unhoused self-medicate to manage mental illness, physical, and emotional pain.

Recently, our City Council President was quoted as saying: “It’s there for business purposes, not to be a recreational area.” in response to concerns regarding the homeless camping in the parking garage. Recreational area? I don’t believe that a homeless camp constitutes recreational activity.

As a community member, I often choose not to park in the structure due to potential safety concerns in the evening. And, I agree that the parking structure is not designed for use as housing. People should not have to sleep on the pavement in a parking structure to avoid the rain in the winter and the heat in the summer. But seeking shelter away from the elements does not constitute “recreation.” It is reprehensible for anyone to equate obtaining shelter with a weekend fishing trip.

The homeless in our community have already been banned from the downtown area, pushed out of churches by neighbors who say “not in my neighborhood,” and expelled from local parks for vagrancy. So what is left? Those with cars or campers, park on city and neighborhood streets inciting rage and those who don’t have the luxury of a vehicle, camp in wooded lots and city parking structures.

Not everyone wants to be housed, but for those who do there is limited affordable housing in our community. Between local college students who fill available units most of the year and the hospitality industry which is voraciously consuming housing and creating vacation rentals, housing becomes more and more limited each year.

The solution to homelessness is complicated. It is more than just finding a home. The solution includes providing access to health care services including physical and mental health. It includes employment support. For some it includes drug and alcohol treatment. And, it includes giving people a hand.

Lifting up instead of pushing away.

Healing rather than rejection.

Offering compassion.

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Celebrating Mothers with a Big “M” and a Little “m”

Happy Mother’s Day…

Seeking Greener Pastures

Mother’s Day honors the mothers who cared for us and nurtured us as we grew.

Many celebrate with the mother they call Mom. This is the big “M” mom. The one who kissed wounds and gave hugs; the one who dried our tears and encouraged us.

But today we also celebrate the little “m” moms. These are the women who were likely not there for our births. They walked alongside us, often not even realizing the gifts of mothering they gave us. They are neighbors, teachers, aunts, coaches, counselors, and more. Like Mom, these moms tended and encouraged us.

So today, I give thanks for the Mom who loved me but left this life too soon. And I thank all the moms who bridged the gap.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Do You Nanowrimo?

 

Nanowrimo, aka National Novel Writing Month, occurs every November. I’ve participated since 2010. The challenge is to write 50,000 words, a novella actually, in 30 days.

 

I’ve come close many times, but have never finished. Somewhere around Thanksgiving, I get sidetracked. I begin to focus on turkeys, pumpkin pies, and Christmas shopping. I am busy packing for Thanksgiving at the lake and making plans for the rest of the holiday season.

Yet I keep at it. Writing tends to be a solitary activity With the exception of my monthly writing workshop, Nanowrimo is one of the few times that my extroverted self connects with writers locally and around the world.

And so I have begun prepping, for Nanowrimo 2017, NOT the Zombie Apocolypse. I have a plan, I have a schedule, and I have words. Lots and lots of words.

So, I’m penciling in my daily writig goals and leaping into the fray. My only remaining question is, “Do YOU Nanowrimo?”

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7 Things I Learned While In Scotland

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Recently I returned from my first trip to Scotland. Although I learned a lot about history, it was the unexpected cultural learning that really made the trip. So, dinna fash yerself, and read on.

  1. Kindness has no cost.

With only one or two exceptions, each person I met in Scotland was warm, friendly, and genuine. People routinely apologized for the wet weather, which was particularly funny since I live in what can be affectionately referred to as “the Great Pacific NorthWET.”

  1. People with gluten intolerances or allergies have it much easier in the UK.

Gluten free options are available everywhere, and I was never charged an extra fee for requesting gluten free bread. Not once. Gluten free high tea? Not a problem. Gluten free groceries. Asda, Morrisons, and Tesco all had entire aisles of “Free From” foods where amazing things like gluten free crumpets and tea cakes lived. Oh, the delight!

  1. You can walk almost anywhere. Where you can’t, you can take the bus.

Cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh as well as small villages encourage walking by making it simple to get around. Small grocers and shops are tucked into urban areas so that city dwellers can pop down to the corner for a loaf of bread or jam. Small villages often had sections of their downtown which was pedestrian only, providing the opportunity to walk to the butcher shop, bakery, and veg shop before strolling to the bookstore and stopping for tea. Can’t find what you need within walking distance? Public transportation was simple to figure out and busses ran regularly allowing ease of movement throughout the larger cities.

  1. The beach is everywhere.

Okay. I know that this might seem silly, after all Scotland is on an island. However, the coastline of Scotland has many inlets, bays, and peninsulas as well a whole host of smaller islands with their own coastlines. As if that wasn’t enough, there is an estimated 31,460 freshwater lakes (known as lochs) in Scotland.

  1. You may have to drive on the left, but you can park anyway you want.

I must admit that I did not drive in Scotland. I was fortunate to have a designated driver. However, as a passenger in a car that seems to be consistently on the wrong side of the road, things can get a little hairy in traffic. And that’s without the sheep and hairy coos interrupting the flow of traffic. The one thing I had difficulty getting used to, yet decided that I love, is that the Scots park any direction they want. Basically if you can squeeze your car into a space, then it doesn’t seem to matter which way the car is facing. More than one residential street looked as though a massive game of Tenzi was going on.

  1. Old things are amazing.

Every corner of Scotland had churches, libraries, homes, cobblestone streets older than the United States. Walking through the countryside or through a close and you feel grounded. You are linked to history nearly everywhere. Standing in the courtyard outside the Edinburgh Writer’s Museum, I could feel the depth of all that had come before.

  1. Great words and expressions go a long way.

English is spoken in Scotland. Just not American English. Nor British English, sometimes. The Scots just have their own way of expressing themselves.  Some of my favorite word include tattie (potato), chips (french fries) and of course, crisps (potato chips). I am particularly enamored with the phrase “wee little.” You can take a “wee little rest,” have a “wee little snack,” or even buy a “wee little gift” at the shops. Of which I did all three.

Cheers!

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In the Twilight of the Morning

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This morning, millions of people gathered to witness a moment of astronomical history, a total solar eclipse.

I gathered on the top level of our downtown parking structure along with other downtown and government workers. Prior to totality, the rooftop had the air of a tailgate party with people sitting in truck beds or up on cement columns. Laughter and conversations floated on the morning breeze.

The sky began to darken and the street lights below us came on, a testament to the event taking place. Voices became more hushed and soft “oohs” and “ahhs” slipped out as we watched the moon slowly cover the sun, leaving only a beautiful crown of light dancing around its edges.

The air had cooled and we stood together in silence for nearly a minute when the sun began to push its way out from under the shadow of the moon.

“Put your glasses back on!” A voice carried from across the parking garage. A flutter erupted as cardboard eclipse glasses settled back on the faces of those watching the show.

As the moon passed, glasses came off again and in near silence people began to make their way down the stairs and back towards offices and stores. As I walked the short distance back to my office, I was struck by the softness of the light. Shadows of leaves and flowers were temporary works of art.

And I am thankful for the opportunity to experience this brief event.

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Battling Perfectionism One Minimalist Theory at a Time

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There is a battle in my life. And in my house. And in my desk. The battle has been going on for eons. The combatants are my mind and perfectionism.

In my mind, I picture my house as cool and inviting. A few juried objects d’art sprinkled across wide open vistas of tables and bookshelves. In this world that lives in my mind, everything has a home, and it magically returns there after use. The desk is orderly with labeled folders for current bills, writing projects, and community activities.

Then reality appears. My style of decorating is known in the design world as “eclectic.” I prefer to refer to it as “it followed me home and stayed… isn’t it cute?” I’m a bit of a collector, not of priceless paintings, but of all things “interesting” and “unique.”

Reality also uses my creativity as its greatest weapon. There are art supplies, fabrics, sewing notions, yarn, and knitting needles tucked into every nook which is not already been taken over by books. Oh, the books. Creative energy lured home the great 1930s club chair that needs to be completely reupholstered, where it has remained unfinished in the living room for four years.

At the beginning of the year, I accepted the challenge to complete 17 UFOs in 2017. I have completed one. However, I have gathered the supplies tor work on other projects. For example, I now have the foam and fabric to make new cushions for the great purple metal bench in the garden area. I am officially two steps closer to finishing the project that I took on two years ago.

In my attempts to overcome the reality of my “method,” I have read numerous blogs and listened to hours of podcasts extolling the virtues of minimalism. I tried to develop a deep and lasting relationship with Marie Kondo of the KonMari Method of organizing and decluttering. Marie moved on after depositing every shoe I owned in the middle of the floor. She left me with the task of deciding which ones brought me joy. The answer I found was all of them. Eat your heart out Imelda Marcos!

Sometime in mid-June, perfectionism took the battle to the next level. I began to anguish over each item I brought into my house, having been convinced by the minimalists and organizers of the world that I could obtain control by faithfully evicting at least one item for every one that followed me home.

By the time the smell of sulphur from the Independence Day fireworks had faded away, I was declaring: Freedom!

In the past month, I have written more than I had in months, began knitting a new hat with fabulous yarn from my stash, and have luxuriated in watching movies with those who are near and dear to me. The books are still cattywampus and there is still a pile of shoes that need to be returned to the closet upstairs.

And Perfectionism? Well, it thought it won the war, but I think I heard it whimper as it slunk away at the sight of Creativity holding the most beautiful pair of Rainbow Wood knitting needles.

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The Hurrier I Go…

 

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… the behinder I get.

In this video a man runs out onto the tarmac to catch his plane. As the saying goes, he was “a day late and a dollar short.” This was almost me.

 

I recently had the privilege of attending a conference in Vail, Colorado. I was amazed by the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. In between workshops and meetings, I soaked up the late spring sunshine in the thin air of Vail. I discovered an amazing restaurant with the best gluten free crepes that I’ve ever had and ate deliciously prepared trout while soaking up the Vail ambiance at umbrella topped outdoor tables.

But eventually, all things come to an end and it is time to go home. My companion and I packed up our rental car and hopped on Interstate 70 towards Denver and the airport. The curvy steep roads were packed with outdoor enthusiasts who were traveling through the mountains to hike, golf, and raft. Semi-trucks filled the roads, riding their brakes down steep grades. An accident on the highway slowed traffic to 25 mph for a time. And the slower the car went, the faster our heart rates climbed. Google Maps updated our arrival time, creeping closer and closer to our flight’s departure time.

And so, I found myself acting out a scene from a B movie. We grabbed bags as we flung paperwork in the direction of the car rental employees and ran for the shuttle. The doors to the shuttle barely opened before we were sprinting across the Denver airport towards security. Thankfully we had been gifted with TSA PreCheck which had approximately 20 people in line compared to the HUNDREDS who were in the standard line.

Bags were scanned and then searched. A forgotten water bottle and can of cold brew were relinquished to the TSA agent and we were on the run again. Had we had a video camera, we could have remade the cult classic “Planes, Trains & Automobiles.”

We reached the concourse as the airline began announcing our names over the intercom. A final sprint and boarding pass scan then we slid down the jetway and finally land in our assigned seats as the flight attendants prepare for departure.

Our “Amazing Race” style marathon could have ended disastrously with a missed flight and subsequent missed connections. However, along the way we were blessed by the kindness of strangers.

Thank you to the Alaska Airlines representative who encouraged us to keep going.

Thank you to the elderly woman in a wheelchair in the TSA Precheck line who encouraged us to go ahead of her. I hope her visit with her daughter and grandchildren is all that she hopes it to be.

Thank you to the airport staff who gave us directions for the shortest route to our gate.

And most of all, thank you to my travelling companion who laughed riotously with me as we landed in our seats, Thelma and Louise style!

Oh, and next time I am in Vail, I will probably still stop to get one more crepe at Crespelle even if I have to run for my plane to make up for it!

 

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17 UFOs in ’17: Finishing What I Started

I’ve been following Nothing But Knit’s posts on her challenge to resolve 17 UFOs, unfinished objects not flying saucers, in 2017 and have felt inspired to jump on the bandwagon and begin checking things off of my list.

As a relatively new knitter, I am sure that I don’t have 17 unfinished knitting projects laying about.  However, there are endless numbers of projects that have been left unfinished due to time, frustration and sometimes, lack of motivation.

So, I jumped right in and decided that I should finish a small afghan that was in a project bag in the corner of the living room where it had been sitting for nearly two years. To both my pleasure and dismay, I discovered that i had exactly one row to complete the blanket.

And so UFO # 1 has now become a finished project. It doesn’t look that much different from the “before,” but it is done!

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