Precariousness Happens: Autumn, Impeachment, and Anxiety


This happens sometimes, usually in the Autumn when I’ve been cloistered away at my New Hampshire retreat for a time. It starts as a vague feeling of perhaps needing someone to talk to, progresses through the sense that your skin doesn’t fit and you might need to get out of it, and ends with lying awake at dawn wondering what terrible fate is about to befall you. Sometimes cancer, sometimes bankruptcy, sometimes North Korean missiles. You get the picture.

I blame it on the shortening days, the darker nights, and the mood of these northerners who are dreading another long winter of shivering and shoveling. Today I had lunch with a friend at the Badger Balm factory where she works, surrounded by hillsides bursting with near-peak color. As I walked out of the building and into the beauty, the woman following me sighed heavily and said, “It really smells like fall, I guess it had to happen.”

Had to happen??? I just drove ten hours to see this happen! But if you live here, autumn heaviness is apparently part of life. And it might be contagious, even if you don’t live here year-round.

I guess it had to happen


This year the depression/anxiety engulfed me on my first day. It probably had something to do with the fact that our president is quite clearly out of his cotton-pickin’ mind, as my father would say, and also with the fact that my financial planner just really, really screwed up, resulting in a massive tax bill and the possibility of losing my health care.

These two realities staged a fierce competition to see which could wreak more havoc with my brain chemistry during the two-day drive up from Maryland. Although I was listening to an outstanding audiobook (Lab Girl, by geobiologist Hope Jahren), every time I stopped the car, trump was still president and my financial world was still rocking. I had way too much time to cogitate and fret. I watched late-night news in my hotel room, diving ever deeper into the details of impeachment.

Yesterday I spoke to my financial planner over the phone and finally lost it — which I never, ever, do — when she kept telling me how complicated taxes were and how she wouldn’t exactly call this a mistake, more of a “learning experience.” It felt good to yell in the moment, but not so good afterwards. To comfort and numb myself, I spent the day on Twitter. I repeat: to make myself feel BETTER, I spent the day on Twitter. ‘Nuff said.

Hence, my 3 a.m. musings on North Korea’s latest missile launch — from a submarine, mind you, which can cross oceans — which took place while the so-called president was tweeting about his impeachment being BULLSHIT, in all caps in case we missed it. (This was all before he stood before a bank of cameras on the White House lawn this morning and encouraged Communist China to investigate his political opponent.)


Today I have been thinking about the nature of the word “precarious.” It just popped into my head as I was journaling and meditating this morning.

It’s a good word, even better than an onomatopoeia, which merely sounds like the action the word implies, like buzz or hiss. Precarious is more clever than that, kind of sneakily apt. As if you might unwittingly step onto the platform of “pre” and totter at the top of that brief, crisp “c” before tumbling headlong into the “AAAaaaaar-eee-ooouuus” abyss.

It doesn’t sound it, but precarious was a legal term in the 1600s — “held through the favor of another” — from the Latin, meaning “obtained by asking or praying.” This notion of being “dependent on another” led to the broader meaning of risky or dangerous.

So here I sit seeking comfort in language and writing, gazing out the window at the flaming leaves precariously clinging to their branches until the will of a breeze or a rainfall decides otherwise, and feeling grateful for my health, my financial security, and the democracy in which we live. And praying for the favor of God’s protection on all of it.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

– Lady Julian of Norwich, 1342 – circa 1416

A Conversation for 2018


It’s 2018, and America — we need to talk. I know, I know, there has been far too much talking, tweeting, ranting, and raging this past year. Words are flying everywhere, criss-crossing our awareness like the maniacal flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. That isn’t what I’m envisioning.

I mean we need to have a conversation, to communicate. Remember? The part where your lips stop moving and then the other person speaks and you listen to them? Where you aren’t just trying to prove your point, but you are actually vaguely curious about what the other person might have to say?

Yeah. I barely remember it either. That’s why we’re in such a mess.

Conversation seems like a quaint idea, something from a bygone era when we had more time, an era before air conditioning when we sat on our front porches after supper to catch an evening breeze and shoot the breeze with our neighbors. A time when we were a little more interdependent, before we all began carrying around a world of information and opinion in our pockets and no longer needed to actually connect with others.

Still longer ago, in the mid-fourteenth century, the word conversation meant “living together, having dealings with others,” and even more broadly, “a manner of conducting oneself in the world.” I like that. The Latin root meaning “to live with, keep company with” literally means “turn about with,” and an even older language root means “to turn, to bend.”

With this understanding, conversation seems like a dance — the dance of living together, turning and bending to accommodate others, sometimes comfortably, sometimes less comfortably, but still, living life together.

These days conversation isn’t a dance, it’s a battle. You can’t really even call it conversation. It’s just a torrent of words, evil monkeys descending from dark skies, stomping on us, tearing us limb from limb and leaving us lying flattened, like Dorothy’s unfortunate scarecrow.

Evil Words

Our so-called “national conversation” is used to divide and conquer, not to find common ground. There’s no gentle bending or turning involved. It’s wrenching and even fatal for people living in poverty, without healthcare, or in cities where police brutality is the norm. My God, our very planet is at stake but if you mention climate change you’re accused of politicizing tragedies like hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. 

Make no mistake — there is evil afoot in America. The man-child currently in the White House is the most egregious example, of course. He absolutely glories in causing pain and division, using words as weapons and firing off twitter tirades like some twisted middle-schooler whose parents are secretly worried he might get his hands on a gun.

He is a sick, sick human, and most of us know that by now.

That does not mean that the rest of us have to live in his madness for another year. We have a responsibility to remember a time when America was a lot greater. To the extent that we safely can, we (and I’m talking to myself here) must learn to ignore the invective spewing from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Let’s leave him ranting in the kitchen while we adults head to the front porch to have a conversation about values and meaning and truth. 

I wish you many edifying conversations in 2018!

Happy New Year!

Thanks for the WordPress word prompt: conversation.

Digressions from Democracy



In the Pink

My mother used to use the phrase “in the pink.” I like it. It conjures up chubby chortling pink babies with kicky legs. It’s a happy, healthy phrase that’s defined as “being in robust good health and spirits; physically and emotionally well.”

The phrase actually isn’t cute at all. It comes from the cruel tradition of English foxhunting. The hunters wear scarlet jackets, the color of fox’s blood, and they are called pinks. So being in the pink means that you are about to gallop across your estate and kill hapless creatures. (Though banned, the “sport” continues in England.)

Not surprisingly, given the coarseness of our society, “in the pink” has also come to mean something sexual and demeaning to women. But I’ll leave those references to the boys in the middle school locker room.

Speaking of President Tweet, I am beginning to suspect that he is not ‘in the pink.” Obviously he is a heart attack waiting to happen, despite his golfing (which I wish liberals would quit complaining about — democracy is safer when he is distracted). But I’m talking about his mental health. The golfing therapy doesn’t seem to lessen the man-child’s obsessive paranoia and vindictive, impulsive furies one bit.

Orange Lava

By overeating, drinking wine, and doing crossword puzzles, I have managed to stay in denial about the imminent threat of nuclear war with North Korea and the even larger threat of climate protection programs being dismantled.

Sometimes I go to a march and wave a sign. That helps. I think I might survive until the impeachment.

But then every once in a while, the man-child’s whacko behavior erupts in such a way that his toxic orange lava from hell spews into my consciousness and scares the bejesus outta of me, as my father used to say.

Most recently, his petulant fury led him to fire FBI Director Comey for refusing to confirm Tweet’s paranoid wiretapping fantasies and for trying to protect the country from a foreign government’s interference. Pizza and a crossword won’t make that go away.

Beyond the Pale

Tweet’s personality disorder(s) have now taken our nation entirely “beyond the pale” — another phrase coined by the British and meaning “unacceptable; outside agreed standards of decency.”

The phrase “beyond the pale” comes from the common disease of de-humanizing other people and erecting fences to keep them away. (Fortunately, we in America are over that.) A pale is a fence post, and Catherine the Great built a pale fence in Russia to keep the Jews away from “decent” Russian people, and pales were used to drive away undesirables in Ireland and France as well. The phrase first showed up in a British poem in 1657 where young lovers wandered beyond the fence and were murdered. No doubt by “illegal aliens.”

But I digress. Actually I don’t digress. I’m not at all sure what this post is about.

Watergate Memories

I think it might be about the fact that our democracy is in grave danger. My ADD mind is just flitting about, lighting on fun phrases and researching etymology, trying desperately to escape the obvious: either the president goes or our democracy goes.

I remember this gut-churning feeling from Watergate days, and coming to the realization that it’s either him or us. I am not being hyperbolic.

Incidentally, isn’t hyperbole a great word? It comes from the 15th century and means “obvious exaggeration in rhetoric” — which brings me back to the White House.

Didn’t you love the part where Press Secretary Sean Spicer was hiding in the bushes the night Director Comey was fired, refusing to talk to reporters until they turned off their lights and cameras? His talking points only worked for FOX News, and he had already given them their marching orders.

I also liked the FOX headline, “Comey Resigns.” Alternative facts.

And boy is it good to see Kelly Anne Conway back in the mix! Saturday Night Live has missed her. Although my God I wish she would get something to eat. She’s seriously not in the pink.

Nobody over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is in the pink. And so, neither are any of us.


Today’s word prompt: pink

Daily Prompt – And Sometimes Nada


The Challenge is to write an entire post without the use of a particular letter. Eschewing a vowel is extra brave, it’s said, so I’m going without the “sometimes vowel.”

The Alphabet Without the Sometimes Vowel

A is a dependable letter. It can stand alone. It is faithful and valuable. Nothing spectacular, kind of quiet about its business, but there, all the time. There are 33 A’s in this short paragraph alone. Important words don’t often start with A. America does. As do absurd and asinine, both useful descriptors as we witness the workings of America’s government (or lack thereof).

Absurd and Asinine

B is the opposite, bustling in behind A, it is an assertive letter. Like a bull in a china shop, it busts into a sentence, blustering and being big. People whose names begin with B are Buds and Burts and Berthas– with big voices and boisterous laughs. An aside: this video of a bull in a china shop belies the metaphor.

C is complicated – schizophrenic. At times a nice, soft sound, as in nice or citrus. And at times a callous, uncompromising letter used to scare people — Communist, Corporation, Cholesterol. And, of course, Cancer. Still, it’s a cooperative letter, and works well with others, acknowledging that it could be lacking on its own.

D still brings back dismal feelings of defeat. It is what I got in a high school math class (starting with G and having do with triangles and such), and that was *after* Mr. Griffin went and asked Mr. Williamson not to fail me.

E is an excellent letter, relating with ease and connecting to each letter like a sociable aunt. It is also the first letter in elephant, this writer’s all-time favorite animal and a cool word in itself.

Nothing Cooler

F – back to high school. I got them twice, both times for failing to attend classes that were rude enough to be scheduled during sweetheart of the week’s lunch break. One of the classes I failed was Band, and the other was the class that taught me how to find and use letters on a machine used for writing. What I’m doing now.

G begins Griffin, which I used to hate, but which I have grown to respect. I used to think it too serious. Solid, a tad masculine. But it knows how to have fun. It’s Welsh, which isn’t as fun as Irish, but still…

H. Hmmm. I haven’t much feeling for H. I suppose it’s cooperative like C, changing and morphing and toughing it out when it’s not in the place of Honor.

I is all about me. And I like that. I like to write I. I. I. Don’t we all? I could not write a post without the letter I.

J has got strange juju – like juju, it can be good or bad. As in Scrabble – nailing a triple-letter score, J rocks. Left over at the end of the game, it can cost eight points. Jam is good. Jasmine tea is evocative. Jazz can be nice, depending…

K is not a letter for kids. It can start out kind, but is a trickster and can end up knocking a person over or even killing them. Like a King, it can be capricious. I think it suffers from serious codependence with C, and is also just a grump because it doesn’t get to take the lead often.

L stands for love, and that is all we need.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono - the-70s Photo

M starts Melanie, which I like better than Griffin. The best friend from childhood is the sole person who gets to call me Griffin. M is melodious, musical (are those the same?) and begins cool words like maestro and magician.

N. I have no opinion. It is a non-sound, a nothing, a neutral letter. Nada.

O makes me laugh. It can be opinionated and official, but I don’t take that to heart. It’s the shape of a surprised mouth and round, surprised pupils. And that is simple lightheartedness. October, too, is light — bright and crisp.

P presents a preponderance of paths to explore. Lots of words start with P, and the letter, like A, is applicable to the opposition of the political parties in D.C. at present. Apoplectic parading before the press and parsimonious pissing matches proliferate. Plus pandering.

Q. Talk about codependence. I don’t even want to mention U in this paragraph, because the Q will get all quiverish. Of late, we are seeing too much of Q as the queen of “Sequestration.”

R – I like R. It is rich and round and rolls off the tongue. Rambunctious at times, it gets riled up and romps ‘round the house, rousing drowsing folk. Then out of the blue, it relaxes and becomes more reserved and reticent, even sometimes bordering on routine.  But a reassuring routine, not a boring one.

S, for me, is one of the most sublime of all the letters. Such sounds! How it sings to us and sanctifies our speaking and listening. It can hush – Shhhh — or it can scream, if pressed. It has spirit. Scarce it is not, as it signifies pluralism and adds abundance wherever it lands.

T, like dependable A, deserves our trust. It is tough, but lightweight; there in the past, the present, and the future.

U is unobtrusive, but ubiquitous. Thank God for it. Otherwise, where would Q be?

V is a venerable letter. It is old-fashioned, in a sense. World War II old-fashioned, as in valor and victorious. Vacuous and vapid ought not to start with a V; it is not appropriate. And I wish that vicious did not either. Oh, but now I’m off on the D.C. villains again.

W – Words with weight owe their being to W. Wisdom, worth, world. But also wild and whimsical.

X is fortunate that the word “oxen” exists, or Scrabble mavens would despise it. It is an extreme example of the “weird letters.” Unless it can persuade an E to lead it around, or a chemist to name a food additive after it, it’s stuck with the instrument that ends with “ophone” and those medical imaging thingies – neither of which I can mention because each contains…

The unspoken letter, the lack of which isn’t so bad, except that I cannot speak to the reader in second person, and I miss – the other person.

Z we love because it is Z. It’s a zealous word, but Zen at the same time. It’s nice that someone thought to start a flower’s name with Z — the Zinnia.

Photo From Wikipedia Commons

There – I’ve done it. No “wise.”

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