Friday, July 30, 2010

WTF?

That's a general question, directed not only at myself (for not having posted in three months), but also at the state of our country, and the state of the Earth as a whole.

What (TF) are we DOING?

Seriously, it feels as though we are losing our sanity and that up is now down and black is now white (literally and figuratively, given the astoundingly ballsy claims of "racism" against black people by white people who obviously do not have "racial harmony" as one of their top concerns - indeed, quite the opposite).

Just look at the recent totally manufactured controversy over Shirley Sherrod.  Personally, I don't know which is worse:  the manipulation of 25 year old videotape to create a "story" designed to punish the NAACP for suggesting that the Tea Party should distance itself from the "fringe" of that group who spew racism at every turn (and coincidentally ruin an innocent and honorable woman's reputation - oh well, guess that's just collateral damage...) or the Obama Administration's astounding deference to those who shouted this "story" from the rooftops (or their tv and radio stations), without checking the veracity of the underlying facts.

Seriously, why-oh-why does the Administration feed into the far-right's daily hyperventilations, which are almost always skewed and misrepresentative of the facts, if not outright lies?  And while I'm at it, why are people so afraid of calling a lie a lie?  Or a liar a liar?  The best I can come up with in understanding this is that people now say, "Well, we don't know whether the person (who obviously just lied their ass off) believed what they said or not."  Huh?

I was astounded that Shirley Sherrod was so quickly and unceremoniously thrown under the bus (query: is that worse than being made to sit at the back of said bus?) by both the Administration for whom she works AND the NAACP - and here's the salient point:  without even being given an opportunity to defend herself

What ever happened to the idea of not playing into the hands of those who want to bring you down, or make a fool of you, no matter what tactics they employ?  What is the current state of our society teaching our children?

I am being serious here.  Over the years, my husband and I have tried to give our sons an honest assessment of and pragmatic approach to handling the occasional nasty people and situations that come up in life.  You know - how to deal with the people who cross our paths who generate the occasional rumor, perpetrate an outrageous slight, exclude us from the "popular" clique, or just treat us unkindly for no apparent reason.  Often these people act out of jealousy or just plain surly attitudes.  We've actually tried to get our kids to see things from their point of view, or perhaps even consider that their taunters may not have things quite as good as we do; that they may live in an environment where their parents blame other people for their misery or treat their kids in the same mean, surly manner.  But we've never, ever suggested that our kids change who they were to avoid being picked on. 

It is one thing to try to understand where a mean person is coming from and to have compassion for their (obvious) misery.  It is quite another, though, to allow those miserable people to change our behavior or perspective.  If trying to deal with the situation through good humor or pretending the hurts don't, well, hurt doesn't work, then the next line of defense needs to be deployed:  outright ignoring them, which can often drive bullies out of their minds or at least cause them to cast their "Eye of Sauron" misery elsewhere.

Yes, the ignoring option does have its potential downsides, such as causing one to be perceived as weak or unwittingly encouraging the bullies and liars to crank it up a notch or ten.  This is true for the local zoning hearing board to the POTUS every bit as much as it is true for grades K through 12.  And when push comes to shove, when you've dealt with the bullies and the liars via every civil means you can think of (or that your mother taught you) and still find them to be relentlessly peddling their nastiness to whomever will listen, then you need to speak up.  You need to demand accountability. 

Which leads me to yet another example of our society's current up is down, right is wrong, night is day "reality."

I don't know if anyone else heard about the latest scary and deeply troubling act spawned by a devotee of hate radio, but just last week, a man in California was stopped by police for drunk driving while literally on his way, replete with body armor and a pickup truck filled with guns and ammunition, to snuff out the lives of some employees of the Tides Foundation, ostensibly in the hopes that his act of "valor" would spur a political revolution.  Haven't heard of the Tides Foundation?  It's a relatively small public charity devoted to promoting social justice, or as their mission is succinctly stated on their website:  "Tides Foundation partners with donors to increase and organize resources for positive social change.  We believe healthy societies rely fundamentally on respect for human rights, the vitality of communities, and a celebration of diversity."

Where did this guy get the idea to lay waste to innocent employees of an organization dedicated to making our world a more peaceful, socially-responsible place?  Gee, I don't know.  Ask Glenn Beck.  He was apparently crowing on his radio show just this past Monday that he is the savior of all that is good in the world by "shining the light of day" on the Tides Foundation (and ostensibly revealing that it is engaged in some nefarious plot to destroy democracy in America).  Apparently he's been hammering home his bizarre, history-and-fact-ignoring fantasies and highlighting the Tides Foundation on his "blackboard" since the inception of his television show in 2009.

Tell me his behavior is not tantamount to inciting a riot?  What is the difference between this type of hyperbolic, inflammatory provocation to "defend" one's country (drummed into the ears of those who feel lost and disenfranchised and - ironically - would probably be some of the most likely in our country to benefit from the good will and best intentions of groups like the the Tides Foundation) and the act of yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater?

Tell me.  Did you hear about this thwarted plot to massacre Tides Foundation employees?  Did you hear that this drunken, gun-toting, anti-government "defender of our country's values" was in a gun fight with the police who stopped him, wounding two of them?  I didn't.  Not until I read the article to which I linked a few paragraphs above.

Where is the accountability in our society?  WTF?  There has to be a reasonable and reasoned response to the flagrant lying, bullying, and misinformation being conveyed over the airwaves, and this response must come soon - before the tragedies that are certain to occur if it is not stopped.  (And that does not even count the lives lost already in acts that stem from this provocative inflammation, such as the plane deliberately crashed into the IRS building, or the guard who was shot at the Smithsonian Institute, to name only a few recent examples.)

Instead of the Obama Administration rushing to fire Shirley Sherrod before a videotape of allegedly racist statements (made 25 years ago and which were, in context, a tale of redemption and transformation) were to be featured on Glenn Beck's program that evening, how refreshing would it have been if the Administration had listened to Ms. Sherrod, realized the outrageous distortions that were going to be aired, and countered that smear with wall-to-wall coverage of how that video was actually an example of hate-fueled distortions?

Perhaps the Administration should have stood in their truth.  Perhaps they should have asked themselves why they care about the trash spewed on Beck's show anyway?  And finally, perhaps they should ask what the ramifications must be for the day in and day out lies and distortions saturating our airwaves and inciting people to violence.  Distortions that we all know, in our hearts, prey on the fears of those who think they are going to be treated the way many of them have been taught to treat those "less than" themselves.

No wonder these bullies are fearful.  But the irony is, if Shirley Sherrod is an example of those who were once perceived to be "less than," but are now rising to places of power, her story - when clearly and fully told - shows that fear to be baseless.  In point of fact, her story was that she realized there was no place in her heart to treat others the way she'd been treated (or her father, who was murdered by a white farmer who was never indicted).

And finally, if we are ever to counter the blatant fear-mongering and bullying rampant upon our airwaves, perhaps our country needs to ask itself why the Fairness Doctrine should not be reinstated immediately.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"...as long as the earth is contaminated"

Well, OK then.  I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that's a quote we only expected to read in science fiction novels or hear in movies that gratuitously exploit fears of 2012-related apocalypses.
Yet this is actually a quote from an Icelandic dairy farmer, Berglind Hilmarsdottir, who is trying to figure out ways to keep her 120-head dairy herd alive and healthy while volcanic ash rains from the sky and piles up like some poisonous, gray snowfall on pasture, roads, houses...everything in sight. 

This makes me wonder what it means, then, when she suggests keeping up such a routine "as long as the earth is contaminated."  How long will that be?  And how long is it possible to keep all the windows in her barn blocked and engage in the arduous work of bringing the beasts clean food and water?  And even if it is possible for this lone dairy farmer to engage in these life-saving strategies for days, weeks, and even, perhaps, months - is it reasonable to expect others will be as resilient?
And just what does it mean when Hilmarsdottir says, "...as long as the earth is contaminated?"  How will the Icelanders rehabilitate the earth, particularly when so much is coated with this poisonous paste?  And where will the rest of it, the stuff currently polluting the air aloft above all of northern Europe, end up landing? 
Let's face it:  the impact upon the Icelandic folk who live in the shadows of volcanoes and glaciers are the least of the world's worries.  What's totally blowing everyone's collective mind is the impact the huge cloud of volcanic ash is having on the world's air traffic, and by extension, travel and commerce.  Not only that, but possibly worse: the uncertainty of it all.  Well, look at that - Mother Earth has fooled us all.  
Many have assumed that we would (or still will) suffer the consequences of climate change: melting ice floes, concomitant rising sea levels destroying coastal cities, rainforests becoming defoliated and arid, and temperate zones becoming anything but temperate, if we fail to act decisively and quickly to reduce carbon in our atmosphere and implement sustainable ways of living on this planet.  
Many have been unsurprised by the spate of earthquakes devastating the poorest among us and rattling the nerves of those living in areas where money has wisely been spent (due to regulations encouraging - through threat of sanctions - such wise spending, by the way) to erect buildings that have (so far) been able to withstand similar quakes.  
But a volcanic eruption on Iceland taking out international travel and commerce in a potentially devastating manner?  Can it conceivably be true that Eyjafjallaj√∂kull might continue erupting for another year, as it did in 1821?  
The irony of the effects of such ongoing eruptions and the consequent fallout impacting the world through the vagaries of "which way the wind blows" makes my shamanically-trained self laugh.  Oh, the hubris of humanity.  We think we're so smart.  We think we have it all figured out.  
Yes, we "think" we have harnessed Mother Nature.  And yet when it all comes down to it, she can take us out by just shifting the direction of the wind.  

So, maybe we need to start paying attention.  Maybe, instead of thinking we know it all, we should try listening with our hearts, stop our bullshit, and start acting as if we care about the Earth.  I'm not suggesting we sacrifice some virgins to the volcano.  I am suggesting, however, that we begin realizing our place in the grand scheme of things and start paying attention to our Mother.  She's getting pissed and, sooner or later, she's going to demonstrate even more obviously just how easy it is to show us who's boss.  Maybe we need to truly begin listening, put sustainability and ecological awareness at the top of our list of priorities, and realize that we're a part of this world - not the rulers of it...





Monday, March 22, 2010

Call...and response

I just wanted to post an update to my last entry (Spring Hurdles) which, to me, only reinforces the concept that I was addressing  in my earlier entry, "Receiving."

Let me set the scene:  I wrote "Spring Hurdles" late last Thursday night, indeed, not actually completing and posting it until something like 1:30 a.m. Friday morning.

Imagine my surprise, then, on Saturday afternoon, when I randomly checked my email via my cell phone (something I very rarely do) and saw that I'd received an email from a dear friend of my son, with the words "Karl Called!" in the subject line. 

Yes, I'd been given an exquisite gift: knowledge that my son is alive.  Affirmation that he is OK, that he is doing what he wants to do and experiencing what he needs to experience.  Perhaps she was being kind; I don't know for sure.  But she made sure to tell him that he's loved and missed and he responded (at least according to her) that he loves us as well.

It's amazing to me that our lives have reached a point where the simple act of discovering that my son is alive and "OK" can make my heart swell and the day's sunshine glow with even greater brilliance and warmth.  But that's my reality.  And you know?  I can barely express the the depth of my gratitude to the Universe, to Spirit, to Whatever or Whomever (including Karl, for "hearing" my call), for giving me this gift, for allaying my fear of having lost forever the chance to maybe, just maybe, see and hug my son and look into his brilliant, mischievous blue eyes one more time.

How cool is it that I received a response to my heart's call so quickly? 

My thanks to all of you who felt my pain and sent your love and compassion to Karl, to me, and to the rest of my family...



 

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring Hurdles

With brilliant sunshine warming the entire East Coast the past few days, especially after this particularly snowy Winter season, I found the subject of Spring not only lurking at the back of my mind as a potential blogging subject, but also front and center in my consciousness, an inescapable, "Pay attention to me!" from Mother Nature herself.  But what to write about?  The peepers that began crawling out of their muddy birth pools just this Monday, chirping and gwokking their joy to be in the world?  (Yes, there are two distinct calls, vastly different from each other, emanating from the mud that is home to these creatures.  It's almost unsettling to imagine what they really look like; you know, when they think we're not looking.)   

The arrival of the peepers was a definite possibility as a subject, as was the joy I saw reflected in the faces of almost everyone I encountered this week.  Their giddiness at being able to walk outside without having to don layer upon layer, and boots to boot, was palpable.

But then, as I jumped in the car this afternoon to drive to my youngest son, Sage's, high school track meet, it hit me:  what signifies Spring to me?  Track.  Spring track, to be exact.

My love for track meets was nurtured early in life, as my father had been a collegiate track star in his day, becoming the New England Mile Champion back in '37 while attending MIT.  He loved track meets himself, and my mother and closest sister and I would drive the two and a half hour drive to Philadelphia for the Penn Relays every year, despite the fact that we never knew anyone running in them.  I was on the track team in high school, as was my husband Karl, but truth be told, there's nothing to write about there (for either of us).

So, when our eldest son, Karl, began running in middle school, and then going out for the high school team in 9th grade, we began creating what has become both a Spring tradition in our household and the source of some of my most cherished memories.

Not only did Karl run; he ran the hurdles.  That takes a special strand of guts.  And ran them he did, even in 9th grade, qualifying, to his surprise and ours, for Districts that very first year.  His form at first belied his future promise.  He plowed through those hurdles, occasionally tripping or nicking his shins, rarely falling, mostly flattening the hurdles themselves as he drove forward in his determination to get to the finish line.

By 10th grade, he knew he could be really good, and he was.  He came through.  He made it to Districts again; he even made it to States.  The same held true for his junior year, only this time he became District champion and yes, his senior year as well.

It was tough, those years that Karl was running track in the Spring.  I'd have to leave my office and whatever I was doing and drive like a madwoman to get to the meets, always worried I'd be just a hair late and miss his race in the 110 high hurdles - the sprint - his forte, because the hurdles were the very first race of the meet.  (He also ran the 300 intermediate hurdles, which take place much later in the meet, but which never seemed to yield the intensity or satisfaction of the high hurdles.)

I would inevitably arrive at the meet, wherever it was, and find my heart beating palpably in my throat, or fluttering madly right in the center of my chest.  I consciously tried to take on any excess nervousness he might be feeling - take it from him so that he could run his race with the perfect balance of adrenalin and excitement that would allow him to do what he did so well:  skim seamlessly over the hurdles, leading leg - toe pointed - extended straight as an arrow just a hair's breadth over the top of the hurdle, his trailing leg flexed at the hip and the knee so that his knee - and foot, too - cleared each hurdle and allowed him to - step, step - meet the next without missing a beat.

His photo graced many a sports page in both of the major newspapers that covered our League's meets over those years.  Always, there was a look of determination and will seared onto his face, his body displaying sinewy grace and agility.

Honestly, I wasn't thinking about any of this as I drove to Sage's meet today.  At most, I had the brief thought that I was glad that Sage's events, the 4 x 800 relay and the mile, aren't the first events.  I didn't quite feel that old familiar need to stand on my gas pedal in order to get to the meet precisely as it started, and that felt good.  I was, as I drove, contemplating these track meets as a Rite of Passage each year, realizing that I'd been going to them for nearly 12 years (our sons are 28, 22, and 16, and Maximus, our middle son, also ran track, the hurdles, even!.  It was then that I realized, for me at least, Spring = Track.

But then I arrived at the meet, still subconsciously glad that I'd missed the earliest races.  I climbed into the stands, going further and further up, until I had a bird's eye view of the entire stadium, with the start and finish lines directly below me, settling into my "usual" spot.

And then my skin got a little prickly as I realized that the hurdles were being set up on the track.  Now.  Right then.  I watched nonchalantly as the girls raced their heats.  Indeed, I even wrote a few sentences in my journal, feigning indifference to the race to come.  And then I saw the boys getting into their starting blocks.  I heard the starter yell, "S-e-t!"  And when his gun went off, my heart jumped right into that old familiar constriction...except this time, tears began to roll down my face and I heard myself breathing in a weird, almost asthmatic way, trying to breathe, trying to breathe.

Shit, I thought to myself.  I didn't want to sit through this.  I didn't want to see this race.  I don't want to watch this; I don't, I don't.

Until that very moment, I hadn't even realized I'd been avoiding it.

You see, right now, at this moment, I do not know where Karl is.  To be completely honest, I do not even know if he's alive.  I worry about him every day.  Every night, too - especially when I awaken at 4:00 a.m. with him in my thoughts, in my dreams...  Our last telephone conversation, months ago, was scathing and horrible.  And everything I know, every fiber in my being, tells me he's lost.

Spring.  Track.  Hurdles.  Some hurdles, like those set up on the track, look so hard to overcome, but are cleared effortlessly.  Others, the inner ones that no one truly knows we face except ourselves, sometimes feel - and then become - insurmountable.

I guess all I can hope is that Spring means Karl clearing some hurdles again - even if it's ugly at first, I know he'll clear them (with grace), if he just tries.  But that's what I'm afraid of:  Will he ever try again?

P.S.:  *Let me add that none of these feelings in any way interfered with my full-throated exuberance for Sage and his teammates as they ran their races and jumped their jumps, creating more Spring track memories to celebrate and cherish.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Receiving

I found myself writing the following note to a dear friend (and relative - how lucky am I?) this morning:  "Want to know something amusing?  I've been itching to write another blog entry since Monday, but suddenly find myself without a topic.  Every time I think of something, I dismiss it as too boring or cliche or, well, stupid.  I'm simply amazed at how my perspective has shifted since actually deciding to LAUNCH this blog.  Before I actually took the plunge, or made the commitment, if you will, I had ideas flitting around in my head what felt like all the time."

Quite honestly, I started lamenting my decision to "commit" the very next day.  In my journal on Tuesday, March 9, 2010, after writing out my usual basic information on where I am, what time it is, and other stuff that just serves to get my hand moving across the paper (my journals continue to be hand-written in inexpensive spiral notebooks), I started in on the fact that I'd begun this process and was now faced with the daunting prospect of finding topics on a regular basis.  I wrote:

"OK, so maybe what I'm asking for now is some fun kind of generator of ideas that I can turn to each day for inspiration.  There may be days when I know what I want to write about (something specific has ruffled my feathers).  But for the most part, I'm thinking it might be fun to just have some random font of topics...

Well, I've put it out there.  Now let's see if I receive an answer."

 Then this morning, while reading an article on AOL, I noticed that at the end of the article, the italicized comment suggested that more of the author's work could be read at Red Room and in his book.  Intrigued, and in a move that is pretty uncommon for me as I do not tend to surf the web much, I followed the link to Red Room.

I was amazed!  What a neat place.  A community of writers.  In fact, the tag line on the site is "Red Room: where the writers are."  Not a big "joiner," though, I only hesitatingly explored the site.  It felt good, though.  It piqued my interest!  And there were so many genres of writers represented!  Wow.

One of the menu headings on the Red Room homepage is entitled "Blogs."  Naturally, I took a peek in there, and one thing led to another until I noticed that they actually have a "Blog Topic of the Week." They throw out a suggested topic and invite any of their member writers to blog about the subject.  Then they choose their favorite ones each week and post them (providing links to the authors' blogs).  That seemed like a neat idea, too.  Ugh oh, I actually started feeling like it might be fun to join this new group.

But I had to run out to get my oil changed, so I put off that decision for another time and put a link to it in my "Favorites."  While at the service station, though, I began writing in my journal and I started to describe this interesting "place" I'd discovered - quite by happenstance - on the web.

And then it hit me.  I quickly turned back a couple of pages in my journal to verify that I really had made a specific request for an ongoing source of topics, just in case I came up short.  And there it was.  In black and white.  "Well, I've put it out there.  Now let's see if I receive an answer."

So how cool is that?  Within 48 hours, I received a perfect response to my "request" for a generator of ideas...a random font of topics!


Welcome to my world. 

Monday, March 8, 2010

And so it begins...

I suppose the best topic to start with would be an explanation of the title of this blog: Ruffled Feathers. Or, as you may have noticed if you looked at (or typed) the actual address of this blog: Feathers Ruffled (www.feathersruffled.blogspot.com).

It would seem that the Internet Faeries definitely had their hands in this whole affair (especially the selection of a name), as I initially hoped to simply name it "Ruffled Feathers." This title felt like an excellent tie-in to my website, Owl Medicine, which was launched in November 2009.

I've been procrastinating on creating this blog since the website's launch, despite my promise that I would have one up and running "very soon." But I have this love/hate relationship with writing and publishing, as many writers do, and thus I've put my clients, my children, my husband, my dogs, my cats, my taxes, and yes, even my yoga class ahead of creating this blog. Thank goodness I didn't hold out for a root canal.

When I finally allowed myself to start noodling around blogspot to see if I could create a blog with my chosen name, of course it got bounced, announcing to me that the name was taken (unfortunately by someone who only posted once or twice back in 2006). Scoffing at the computer-generated "suggested alternatives," I started playing with words myself. Most of the obvious ones, such as owlmedicine (oh how easy that would have made things), were also taken.

Undaunted now that I'd actually begun the process, I kept playing with combinations and actually got a few "hits" on names that I could grow to love. Instead of just seizing the moment and running with it, I lapsed into another lull of procrastination and started writing a list of the potential winners in my Day-timer for the next day under the heading: "Discuss with Karl."

(Side note: Karl is my husband. He will undoubtedly figure in many of my posts, if only tangentially at times, as he is the one who tends to be my centering post. My eldest son's name is also Karl, although he has a different middle name than my husband, and thus is not a "junior." He (Karl-the-son) may also figure in my posts from time to time, but probably less frequently. Then again, maybe not.)

There was a niggling little voice in the back of my head asking, "WHY? Why do you need to 'discuss with Karl' when you know he won't care that much and you know you're just delaying the inevitable!?" I shushed the voice, telling it to be happy I was at least on the blogspot site and researching potential names. Good Goddess, it'd taken me four months just to get this far!

After amassing a list of at least five or six names with reasonable potential (you know, people only read a blog because it has a catchy, clever name), the thought of inverting the title I'd chosen blinked into my mind. I typed it in and hit enter, just as I'd done at least a dozen times so far that evening. Nothing happened. I hit enter again. Up popped some gobbledygook that said two requests for access were being fielded at once or some such nonsense and I had to go back to the previous screen and try again.

I was getting irritated. Time had flown and it was after midnight. My bleary eyes were starting to close and it was time to go to bed. And I had to get up early tomorrow to discuss this urgent naming opportunity with Karl! Re-entering the potential moniker "feathersruffled," I stabbed the enter button one more time, only to have a message appear declaring that name now unavailable as well.

"What? That's bulls*%!" I exclaimed to Sheila, my Boston Terrier, who was snoring loudly at my side. "Tell me someone else just claimed that name?!"

I whipped into hunt mode and looked up this stealth blogger who'd stolen my name. Given that I was indeed tired, it took me a moment to realize that the goosebumps that arose involuntarily when I saw that this person had actually named the blog "Ruffled Feathers" - and the blogger's name was "Lisa" (how weird is that, I asked myself incredulously) were unnecessary. Taking a breath, I realized that this person had not yet posted anything. Odd. And look at that! The blog had only been created in...hmm...February, 2010! (OK, OK, I confess. This all occurred last week and it's taken me this long to write my first post.)

Yeah, duh. I'd created the blog with this name. Another way of looking at it (and which feels much more accurate) is that Spirit gave me a good smack for finding yet another way to procrastinate and just took matters into its own, well...hands, and made the choice for me. No talking to Karl about it tomorrow morning and mulling it over for another couple of days or weeks. Just name the stupid blog and get going!

So here I am, writing my first entry in what I hope will be an entertaining, thought-provoking, and at least occasionally insightful blog. I hope to tackle subjects ranging from assorted activist issues (for which I have a passion) to spirituality (shamanism being my approach to the world), with an occasional political observation thrown in just to add a little danger. Then again, maybe this blog will take on a completely different personality and serve a completely different purpose than I'm even suspecting at the moment.

Finally, over the last week I've come to appreciate the fact that my blog's name is both Ruffled Feathers and Feathers Ruffled. Why? Because sometimes I'll be writing about things that have MY feathers in a ruffle. And sometimes the musings I post will ruffle the feathers of those who read them. (Or at least I hope they will.) (In a good way, of course.)

Thanks for reading. I hope you'll come back.