America is in a Clutch Situation



I don’t care for the word, “clutch.” It’s full of hard, abrupt sounds. I prefer words made up of gentle sounds that flow off your tongue, like Sisyphus.

Remember Sisyphus from Greek mythology? He was the guy who was forced to push a boulder up a steep hill over and over, only to have it roll back down and smash him. This was his eternal punishment for being a greedy and arrogant king who thought he was the greatest — greater than the god Zeus.

Sisyphus was punished for his avarice and hubris, and also for his deceitfulness and general ugliness — he abused visitors to his country and he seduced women! Imagine having a king like that!

Anyway, clutch is today’s word prompt from WordPress.

Clutch is an anxious word, an emergency kind of word. Like you clutch your heart because you think the stress of worrying about nuclear war or climate change might give you a heart attack. Or you clutch your stomach, as you might when someone’s behavior mortifies you to the point of nausea. Or you clutch your head in anguish when you see a headline like “States Prepare to Shut Down Low-Income Children’s Health Programs.”

This reminds you of scary children’s stories from your youth, when the poor children are “in someone’s clutches” — a cruel and heartless tyrant, say, or a megalomaniac.

Then there’s the tidy little “clutch” handbag that you take to cocktail parties where you are so uncomfortable that you have to cling to your purse for security. The kind of place you might meet Russian diplomats who are really spies or yacht-owning Saudi Arabian oligarchs looking for lucrative hotel deals.

Check out this little lovely which you can get from Ivanka Trump’s company for a mere $85:

There’s the clutch in a standard transmission car, of course. This is the pedal on your left which you depress to disconnect the wheels from the spinning engine so that you can slow down. It’s especially useful when you are in big trouble and you manage to jam down the clutch and the brake just in time to stop the car from going over a cliff.

In sports when your team is at the edge of a cliff, it’s known as a “clutch situation.” The situation is critical. The stakes could not be higher. We are talking about the whole game here.


Thanksgiving Gremlins



I usually take a look at my blog platform’s word prompt of the day, just to see if it hurls a bolt of brilliance my way. Hence, my brilliant blog on mercy yesterday. (OK, OK, brilliance is a relative term.)

Today’s word prompt is gremlins. What? Gremlins? On Thanksgiving Day? I expected gratitude or family or feast or table or cornucopia (which Merriam-Webster says is getting a lot of look-ups this week). But no, it’s gremlins.

The first thing that comes to my mind is the tiny footsteps of fieldmice skittering behind the living room walls here in this old New England farmhouse. The gremlins have come inside for the winter.

I also think of the meltdowns at my friend’s house last night where twin boys celebrated their fifth birthday with their big brother and two little cousins — a two-year-old and a baby. All would be well and then suddenly a gremlin would pass through the room and one child or another would become possessed, thrown to the floor in paroxysms of grief and despair.

“I want another fill-in-the-blank!” or “He took my fill-in-the-blank!” or (my favorite) “I wanted all the lights off when we were dancing to the Gummy Bear song!”

It had been a long celebratory day, it was well past bedtime, post sugar rush, and we were in the final throes of an energetic dance party. 

But what excuse is there when adults, myself included, succumb to the same gremlins? “I don’t have enough fill-in-the-blank! He has something I think I might want! That didn’t turn out exactly the way I had planned it in my head! They didn’t say ‘thank you’ to me! I am a victim!”

How about we have a gremlin-free Thanksgiving today? Look for the bright side, search out the gifts, give the benefit of the doubt to those annoying family members. Everyone’s doing the best they can. Check out this link to four ways to cultivate gratitude in case you are having trouble. 

And give a thought to the real victims on Thanksgiving, the forty-six million turkeys who gave their lives to expand American waistlines today. I will spare you my traditional evangelistic-vegetarian Thanksgiving post and instead just offer a link to it, here.

The ones that got away

Happy Gremlin-free Gratitude Day!


Making the President Irrelevant


I like to pretend that the President of the United States is entirely irrelevant to my life. I’m sure many disengaged Americans have always felt this way, but I’m not normally one to ignore current events. I’m a social justice activist at heart, a bit obsessive about politics, and I think it’s our responsibility to pay attention and speak up when, say, a president threatens to blow another nation off the map.

Still, in the interest of my own sanity, I am trying to detach, to pretend that everything is normal. Sometimes I can manage it for hours at a time. I plant herbs in my garden, chop up broccoli and carrots for dinner, scrub the bathroom floor, read a gothic novel, all without a thought to the unspeakable cad in the Oval Office (a term my mother reserved for the most despicable of men and which I think fits exactly).

But then I’ll knick myself with the kitchen knife and wonder if I’m going to lose my health insurance, or I’ll notice how fast the basil and cilantro go to seed in the record-setting heat and then I’ll wonder how on earth anyone could possibly deny climate change, most especially the people in charge of our environmental and energy agencies, and I’ll say out loud to my cat that the only person in this gd administration who seems to accept climate change is the former CEO of Exxon who has no business being in the Cabinet anyway.

I try to reel it back in, to let go of the string of anxious thoughts, to focus on the smell of the mint I’m chopping for the cucumber salad, but all I can think about by then is a mushroom cloud rising somewhere in the vicinity of North Korea and I scream at my cat, “Who threatens to ‘totally destroy’ a nation of millions of innocent people??” and my cat says “meow” and I continue my tirade, “Who, WHO goads a madman with nuclear weapons??”

“Another madman,” my cat answers, only of course she doesn’t, but I think she’s sympatico; anyway she’s seems perturbed.

A couple of world leaders at the United Nations referred to President Tweet as a rogue.

Nail on the head.

And everyone knows that a rogue elephant is never irrelevant.

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

Procrastinating Preacher



You can be pretty sure that if I’m scrubbing the toilet, I’m preaching the next day. This is not some spiritual practice I’ve developed to metaphorically cleanse my spirit before I stand before our congregation or to keep myself humble before speaking from the stage.

Nope, I’m not that holy. It’s procrastination, pure and simple. Avoiding practicing my talk. Since learning that I have ADD a couple of years ago, I am less hard on myself during this stage of “preparing my sermon.” It’s just something I have to go through every few months before I speak.

So far today I’ve done a load of dishes, changed the cat’s pan, washed the sinks, cleaned up multiple nasty sticky spots from the kitchen floor, emptied out several dusty mystery bags that turned out to contain old Christmas presents, books (surprise!) and cleaning supplies (ha!), and picked up all the random dirt-and-dead-plant-filled flower pots from around the house and crammed them into the entryway closet (reminding myself to open it veeerrrry slowly next time).

And of course I’ve scrubbed the toilet.

Oh, and I’ve spent the last thirty minutes doing an outline of a new memoir. Do not expect anything from this; I’ve got at least half a dozen of them lying around.

So it’s three in the afternoon, and time to start practicing. In a few minutes, I’ll decide that I’d better check on the wardrobe situation for tomorrow and I’ll likely conclude that doing laundry is a must.

But apparently I am writing a blog post first.

Happy weekend.

Was This Teaching Thing All a Mistake?



The closest thing I can liken it to is that feeling you get when you’ve been in a car accident and you step out all wobbly, gingerly testing every part of your body. You think you might be OK, but then again you might be missing a limb and not feeling it because you are in deep shock. Everything seems vivid and clear and surreal. You are glad to be alive.

You take deep gulping breaths and blink back tears, tears that have been lurking since you ate your PB&J sandwich at noon and waited for the kids to come back from recess.

Today you have been sad, mad, and despairing, but mostly just powerless.

Over first and second graders.

My first day as a substitute teacher might have been better without the second grade boys in the mix. In fact, it most definitely would have been. The paper airplanes wouldn’t be stuck on top of the ceiling light fixture and the four-foot-tall stack of plastic tubs would not have careened to the ground and scattered all the regular teacher’s folders and papers all over the floor.

I just thank God that the head of the school did not walk in at that moment. With two boys denying responsibility at higher and higher decibel levels and a third boy sobbing his heart out and the rest of the class staring at me with saucer-sized eyes, wondering if I was going to hit someone.

The girls mostly got into fights with each other over sharing toys and where things such as rocket ships and flags were supposed to be stored. There were raised voices, there were tears, there was one who sat in a corner and sulked for ten minutes. I asked her if she wanted to talk and she shook her head so I left her there. She seemed to bounce back.

I don’t know. Was this whole idea of substitute teaching a massive mistake?

My Facebook friends were so encouraging! “You’ll be amazing . . . you’ll be great . . . you have so much wisdom . . . you’ll change lives!”

Not so much.

There were moments. Helping a little girl learn to read the words “ice cream and cake” was cool, and reading Horton Hears a Who to an exhausted class at the end of the day with one small child cuddled next to me was five minutes of well-earned bliss.

A little red-headed girl who was only with my class for an hour of spelling and writing came running in to give me a hug after school.

And A, despite being in tears several times during the day, presented me with this:

A’s Gift

I don’t know whether that is a TV or a couple of aliens coming in through a window, but it matters not. I will keep this picture as a reminder of my first day as a teacher. Someday I hope to laugh about it all. Right now, my stomach hurts. I have to go back tomorrow.

Instinctive Terror: Day One in the Classroom



“That one is going to be my problem, isn’t he?” I was watching a little boy with a blue striped shirt and vibrant green eyes flit about the classroom, an aura of mischief encircling him.

“Oh, good,” said the teacher who was mentoring me. “You’ve got the instinct.”

The instinct to recognize trouble? But then what?

“You’ll be great,” she says. “It’s just classroom management.”


I don’t know anything about classroom management! Wait, you’re not leaving me alone with these kids, are you??

New Beginnings

Tomorrow is my first day as a substitute teacher. I spent a day of my own time getting to know the teacher and the class last week. The teacher directed me to some websites which I’ve been studying as if my life depends on it.

I’ve memorized some of the material. I’m to watch out for:

  • Shifting in seat
  • Opening and closing fists
  • Drumming on desk with fists
  • Slumping shoulders
  • Crossing arms against chest
  • Trouble making eye contact

“This child may become defiant. Intervene early.”

What?? A defiant second grader? Then what do I do?

“Don’t expect that you can reason with the child or make an emotional appeal to get them to behave.”

Oh, OK.

Wait, if you can’t use reason or emotion, what do you do?

“Stay calm. Take deep breaths.”

OK, now I feel like I’m entering a hostage situation. Which is about right. Six and half hours trapped in the classroom. Only I’m not being held hostage. I’m in charge. God help us.

Something else I have memorized:

When confronted with defiance:

  • Be brief. Avoid lectures and sarcasm.
  • Speak in a calm, matter-of-fact tone.
  • Use short, direct statements.
  • Don’t ask questions (unless you will accept any answer).
  • Keep your body language neutral.

Stop that. Stop that now.

Do not do that.

I am calm.

Stop doing that!


This is going to take more than instinct.

More to come, if I survive . . .

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