Gobsmacked

blasey ford

I just finished watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify.  I was intermittently proud, sympathetic, enraged, and devastated.  I don’t know if I’ll watch Kavanaugh.  Probably.  But here’s some thoughts, in no particular order, that I need to get out there.

Groups of laughing teenage boys are the scariest thing on earth.

Dr. Blasey-Ford said that the most memorable part of her assault was the laughter.  Even if you haven’t suffered sexual assault, I’d be surprised if most women can’t describes events of humiliation at the hands of laughing groups of teenage boys.  Building up their social capital at the expense of women.  It’s gross.   And then those guys get to grow up and cash in on that social capital and forget all about it while we get to develop eating disorders and seek healing through therapy.  Did you catch it?  In an interview afterward, Senator Graham suggested that she should have been doing just that, telling her story to a therapist rather than them.

The criminal justice metaphor doesn’t apply

Just because you want something–a job, a TV show, a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court–doesn’t mean that the only thing standing in your way is a guilty verdict in a criminal trial.  Stop saying things like innocent until proven guilty.  This is a job interview.  If I was interviewing someone for any other job–nanny, CEO, Jiffy Lube employe– the whiff of stink that Kavanaugh leaves in his wake would immediately disqualify that person.  Would you hire this guy to be your nanny?  Would you leave your daughter alone with Trump?  Come on.

They’re going to infantilize the hell out of her

“We should be nice to her.”  That was Grassley’s closing comment before excusing the witness. They’ll say that it doesn’t matter if we believe her or not, poor confused little dear.  We are to pity her, being manipulated by those mean old attorneys and Democrats.  Baloney.

I want better

I’d like those people awarded with the keys to the country to be smarter than me, to be more self-sacrificing than me, to be more noble than I am.  To have never been an egregious, laughing, teenage sycophant.

Dream Big

My 8-year-old has been obsessed with America’s Got Talent.  We were happy that the Asian card trick guy, Shin Lim, won.  He was both of our top choices.  Go watch that link, I still get chills.  I also especially like how he always looks a liiiiiiittle bit constipated during his act.  Keeps Jimmy in business.

She is also now determined to be on AGT some day. She’s currently torn between trying to actually HAVE a super award winning talent, or developing a weird talent that will get her on an early show and then  eliminated.  I pointed out that the former route would involved a lot of practicing and experience performing in front of people. Some of these people might include her class or her school. Well that didn’t sound too good, so she’s currently thinking a lot about how many animal sounds she might be able to realistically master in the next couple of years.  She figures that’s good for an early round.  

Now when I was little?   I wanted to be on Star Search.  And, I’m embarrassed to admit it, I really wanted to be one of the Spokesmodels that Ed McMahon ogled.  They had to have “beauty, poise, and the ability to speak effectively.” Each model had a pre-taped package of them modeling three outfits in fuzzily lit settings, and then the camera cut to them in real life, walking across the stage to Ed and throwing to commercial.  I’ve gone back to check, and the modeling seemed to involve a lot of touching of one’s hair, enormous earrings, enormous-er hair, hose matched to shoe color, and wind machines.  They were also incredibly trashy in a daytime soap opera kind of a way, and I’m not sure how I was allowed to watch these given that I couldn’t watch Three’s Company.

spokesmodel

I know that some people have gone on to actual careers after Star Search–Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Dave Chapelle.  There’s a whole list on Wikipedia. I never heard of any of the season winners of the Spokesmodel competition. But there, buried at the bottom, Sharon Stone actually competed as a Spokesmodel on one episode!  So I don’t know, my daughter might have the right idea–better to just be a flash in the pan on one of these shows that actually win the whole thing.

I still have a little bit of a crush on constipated Shin Lim, though.

 

Sweet Dreams

Apparently I’m stressed about something lately, because I keep having my current stress dream.  The one that my brain defaults to now is this:  I’m somehow called back to my former job as a hospitalist, taking care of sick kids in the hospital along with a team of residents and medical students.  My dream brain somehow knows that I can’t do this job anymore, I don’t currently hold hospital privileges anywhere.  As I maneuver through the complexities of the dream, I’m always slightly worried that someone will figure out that I can’t really be doing this anymore.  But I’m never THAT worried because, hey, it’s their fault for putting me on the schedule!

hospital

Good Lord, they expect me to know what’s going on!

In the dream I’m taking over a panel of patients that I know absolutely nothing about.  Permutations of the dream involve my never having been to the hospital, not being able to log onto a computer, getting locked in the call room, falling asleep, or sitting down at 8 p.m. and realizing that I haven’t even begun to chart on any of the 32 patients on my service.  Oh wait, that last one is an actual memory, never mind.  Last night’s dream I added in an extra nuance of having to take care of one of my infant patients while working and someone misplacing the patient.  You know, the usual.  Occasionally I’ll have enough dreaming awareness and announce to everyone that I don’t actually work there anymore and walk away.  Thank God for sentient dreaming.

The only other two worry dreams that I still have with any regularity are the “All the teeth have come loose in my jaw and I’m spitting them out like a character on Hee Haw”  and “Back to High School.”  The first one I can’t make sense of, but apparently I’m not the only one who has it.  The second one always has a flavor of my subconscious reconciling the impossibility of that dream with the fact that it’s happening anyway.  I have been sent back to high school because I’d registered for a class that I never bothered showing up for and never dropped, so my high school transcript is “incomplete” and this needs to be rectified.  So I’m my 42 year old self, back in high school.  I have the same locker, and of course most of the dream revolves around not remembering the combination or, if I do get into it, realizing that all of my school supplies aren’t there anymore.  Shocking.

Last night I had a completely new worry dream, and I’m not sure what to make of it.  I’m in a TV cooking show, and I’ve somehow progressed far beyond my abilities.  This is more Top Chef than Worst Cooks in America.  The other contestants are already plating and I haven’t even managed to locate a cutting board.  So I woke up this morning with pressing need to do some relaxation.  And organize the cupboards.

cutting board

Stuff of nightmares

The Ol’ Deer Snare

Last weekend the girls stayed at my mom and dad’s.  Staying at Grandma and Grandpa’s is always an interesting experience.  In addition to the treats that are only available there, being in your parent’s childhood home unaccompanied makes for prime snooping time.  When I was little, overnights meant staying up late to watch bowling over a dish of ice milk.  I could stumble across books my mom read as a child, or toys my dad played with, or leftover adolescent residue in their bedrooms. My own parents have moved from my childhood home, so my and my siblings’ childhood detritus has been neatened up a bit.  Still, the Fischer Price farm set is available for my girls, just as when I was a kid, and the same recycled crafts are dragged out for Grandma’s instruction. This time, the gals and Grandma produced pom poms.

The girls also learned about Davy Crockett;  my parents figured out how to use the DVR.  In addition to catching up on Monk and Gunsmoke, they recorded a couple of the Disney Davy Crockett classics.  Growing up, my entire family was well versed in Davy Crockett, thanks to my brother Pete.  The kid was obsessed.  He had a fake coonskin cap and musket by age four, and was devoted to the movies.  We saw all of them multiple times, having recorded them onto VHS during Sunday night Disney Family Movie time.

Dad chose to introduce the girls to the classic, Davy Crockett and the River Pirates, featuring such seminal scenes as the trick shootout with Davy’s nemesis, Mike Fink, and the battle with the injuns, now shockingly inappropriate.  The best scene, though, is when Mike Fink sings his personal anthem, Mike Fink, King of the River.  Dad queued up the scene, and he and I joined in the singing, much to the girls slack-jawed amazement, complete with saucy hip twitches.

After I’d gone, they must have really dug into the Davy Crockett lore.  Most notably Pete’s penchant for setting deer snares to try and catch my mother.  After supper, while mom cleaned up in the kitchen, Pete donned his coonskin cap and fashioned snares out of jump ropes.  Then he and my dad would give each other the signal–the old hoot owl–and shimmy on their bellies into the kitchen to set the snare behind mom at the sink.  She was required to pretend not to notice the grown man and child slithering loudly on the linoleum behind her.  We girls would have been in the other room, studiously ignoring the proceedings. When the signal was given, mom would somehow step into the jump rope snare, fall dramatically to the floor, and be strung up.  I can’t remember what usually happened after that, but God bless her, right?  I can’t stress enough:  THIS HAPPENED REPEATEDLY!

So this morning, I opened the bathroom door and stepped neatly over the jump rope lying on my bedroom floor.  I’m used to unexpected debris magically appearing in otherwise clean rooms. Then I noticed my 8-year-old attached to the end of the rope, looking at me with a look of malignant disappointment.  Noted.  The ol’ deer snare had been resurrected.

When I came down the stairs I noticed another hot pink loop of rope at the bottom of the stairs.  Shoving aside my thoughts of lunches to be made and time running short, I made my way down, paused dramatically in the snare, and fell victim to the newest iteration of Davy Crockett, kind of the wild frontier.  

 

Summer Feet

“They feel too small!” exclaimed my 8 year old, complaining over the gym shoes that were actually a size too large.  “Give me back my sandals. It’s only the first day of school, nobody will care.”

******

Growing up, back to school shoe shopping was a rare treat.  The Bier kids were allotted two pairs of shoes each: a pair of athletic shoes and a pair of “nicer” shoes.  Additional, activity- related shoes were acquired second hand. Some classmates might see an additional pair of shoes or two throughout the year depending on sales and whims.  I, however, knew that those two September pairs were it, so they better be good.

 

As much as I loved those back-to-school shoes, putting them on was a mournful rite.  We spent summers largely barefoot, a pair of flip flops tossed in the heap by the back door.  These were reserved for those occasions when actual footwear was required: church, the once-per-week trip into town to the library, or a visit into the barn.  Otherwise we marauded the yard in barefooted glee. Our feet were uniformly black by the end of those summer days. Mom may not have always had the energy to force full baths on all of us kids, but every summer night concluded with us perched on the side of the bathtub for a footbath, transferring our grime to the black bathwater.  My soles grew tough, and by the end of the summer I was able to run across the gravel driveway without missing a beat. Those free summer feet rebelled against the new, stiff, back-to-school shoes. They were smothering, way too tight. Rest assured there’s no way they were ACTUALLY too tight. Mom made sure we all had a full thumb’s width of space at the toe, all the better to guarantee a full season’s usage on the rapidly growing Bier brood.  

 

 

Hiding away those summer toes might as well have occurred alongside corset application.  My feet felt stiff and choked. After a few days, the feeling of the ground faded away, dampened by thick soles.  My toes got used to their sardine-can existence and stopped straining to stretch. My summer tanned feet began their inexorable slide into the soft, pinkish pallor of February.

Intense, Vivid, Saturated

Main Hall

Lawrence University’s Main Hall, a view on my way to Reunion Convocation

Note:  I was asked to give the toast at my 20 year reunion at Lawrence University this past weekend.  People seemed to enjoy it, so I’ve reprinted the text below.

 

It’s always so magical to get back here and grapple with the simultaneous reality of permanence and change.  I am always happy to be reminded, too, that Lawrence is, at it’s very core, just a place. That is in contrast to the many permutations that Lawrence has taken in my dreaming mind since graduating.  That Lawrence is some sort of Stranger Things Upside Down that I need to get over.  Here are some things that I still have dreams about:

  1. I parked my car somewhere and now can’t remember where I parked it.  It is usually winter. It might be under one of those unidentifiable snowdrifts.  
  2. I forgot to drop a class and have been registered for a mysteriously titled class, usually in Main Hall, the entire term.  The final is tomorrow. I have never attended and don’t even really know how to find the classroom because it’s in Main Hall.
  3. I haven’t checked my mailbox the entire term and can’t actually remember how to open it.  This is a variant on the high school “can’t open the locker” dream
  4. I can’t lock my dorm room and when I come back it’s been
    1. Ransacked
    2. Emptied
    3. Taken over by squatters
  5. My dorm room has a secret annex that I never noticed that includes among other things a small kitchen, deck space, an atrium, and a full appliance package.

 

sage hall

My friend and I chose to stay back on campus for reunion, perhaps adding fuel to the fire of my dorm-related anxiety dreams.

So in my dreaming life, apparently Lawrence serves as little more than a conduit for all of my waking anxieties.  Because these anxieties are numerous, I rotate these Lawrence stress dreams with other favorites, including the one where all of my teeth fall out one by one like one of those Hillbillies on Hee Haw.

 

These weird dreams stand in stark contrast to my actual daytime memories of Lawrence  They’re so very vivid and numerous. Vivid, intense, saturated. I think for most of us gathered here, some of our most purely distilled emotional moments happened on these 88 acres.  My fiercest friendships grew up here. My most mind-blowing realizations. The shell of my small-town existence was chipped and ripped away here. We loved wholeheartedly, idealized unjadedly, grew unrestrainedly.  We have never been so terribly hung-over either before or since. It was intense, vivid, saturated. And so, like you all, I come back to take a restoring sip from the fountain, to bring back into focus the moments from the faded photographs, to make out the echoes of laughter and tears and oratory in these walls.  

 

So, with that common, perhaps terribly sentimental thought in mind, let’s all raise our glasses:  

 

May our lives continue to be blessed with intense loves and vivid moments.  May our lives be saturated with Light, More Light!\

Veritas Est Lux

Nostalgia for the Present

nos·tal·gia
näˈstaljə,nəˈstaljə
noun
  1. a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

The word nostalgia is learned formation of a Greek compound, consisting of νόστος(nóstos), meaning “homecoming” and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning “pain” or “ache”, and was coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home.

 

So-this-is-my-life.-And-I-want-you-to-know-that-I-am-both-happy-and-sad-and-Im-still-trying-to-figure-out-how-that-could-be.

 

Today is the last day of elementary school for my oldest daughter.  My social media feeds are swamped with “look back” photos.  The teachers sent out an album and video last night.  I looked at the pictures;  a bunch were of the gang from Kindergarten.  I went back to Facebook.  People are doing the “first day of Kindergarten / last day of sixth grade” thing.  I’m a mess.  I’m afraid to even OPEN the teachers’ video, because I know what it will be.  A series of charming pictures that might push me over the edge in the static form.  But set them to music and gently dissolve between shots?  I will be rendered a hopeless mass.

Some of this is clearly plain old nostalgia for the past.  The platitudes are so universal at this point that they are almost meaningless:  blink and they’re 16!  slow down, time!  boom, they’re graduating!  I wonder if the ease and ubiquitous nature of photos these days makes these comparisons almost too easy.  It only took me about 30 seconds to locate the picture of her starting Kindergarten.  Slap it next to this morning’s picture and I have a recipe for parental nostalgia.

Does everyone suffer this way?  I really don’t deal well with the passage of time.  I’ve written about it before, and practically every days affords me an opportunity to be ripped from the moment and reminded that this, too, is fleeting.  As I attempted to recover from my Facebook reading this morning, I settled on a phrase that I think captures this particular affliction well:  nostalgia for the present.

Lo and behold, a simple search of this phrase reveals I’m not alone in my pathology.  Sia’s first tour was named “Nostalgia for the Present.”  It’s been used as a title for a book on postmodernism and a Berber village.  It is the subject of thoughtful essays on digital media and modern life.  Apparently this is even a field of study in the social sciences where it is termed “anticipatory nostalgia.”

In an attempt to wrench myself from a sobbing fetal position, I read a review article by Krystine I. Bacho, PhD,   It’s titled “Missing the Present Before It’s Gone,” and it did a good job helping me to unpack my feelings this morning.  She talks about work on people, apparently there are more like me, who suffer this affliction.

Recent research suggests that people who have a greater need to belong and less assurance of social acceptance are more prone to anticipatory nostalgia.  It isn’t clear whether a tendency to consider the future can mentally distance a person from ongoing social interactions or whether feeling less integrated encourages one to consider the future.  According to current research, anticipatory nostalgia is neither dissatisfaction with the present nor a gloomy view of the future, but a reluctance to let go of the present.  -Bacho, Psych. Today, 2016

 

Check, check, and….check.  “A reluctance to let go of the present.”  I clutch fiercely to those moments that, as I experience them, I know they will be the snapshots that comprise the flipbook of my life.  The CliffsNotes version of the full story.  The only bits of the constant thrum of daily life that I’ll even be able to recall at the end of it all.  How can I not miss them before they are finished?  Who doesn’t mourn a good book when you arrive at the last chapter?  The last morning of vacation?  The first day of summer?  The good stuff is still happening, but the shutter is clicking.

The writer of this article touches on whether this nostalgia for the present is, essentially, a good thing or a bad thing.  Does it help one in the present, or prevent one from truly experiencing it at all?  All I know is my own experience.  If it weren’t for this heartbreaking affliction, there’s no way I would be able to write.  It stinks to always be a little bit melancholy, but I suppose it’s the trade off for whatever bit of an artist’s eye that I have.

Thank God for poetry.  My searches also led me to a poem by Jorge Luis Borge, a fully fledged, similarly afflicted soul.  It’s so comforting when someone can disassemble your current state, identify its constituent parts, polish them and render them precious, and assemble them into something greater and more universal.  Perhaps you fellow parents suffering from both nostalgia for the past and nostalgia for the present can find solace in his words as well:

Nostalgia for the present

At that very instant:
Oh, what I would not give for the joy
of being at your side in Iceland
inside the great unmoving daytime
and of sharing this now
the way one shares music
or the taste of fruit.
At that very instant
the man was at her side in Iceland.

-Jorge Luis Borges (from the Spanish)

 

Oh well.  If that doesn’t work, I’m pretty sure that’s also why they invented wine.