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Regarding Renee Zellweger: Please Stop

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Regarding Renee Zellweger: Please stop.

No offense intended, but what the hell is wrong with you people? And by “you people,” I mean approximately 99%  of the humans currently living in the United States of America.

Two days ago, I did not know who Renee Zellweger was. Now I do, of course. She’s an actress. Big whoop. And apparently she has “had work done.” Bigger whoop.

I didn’t know who she was because I don’t watch television, and I don’t watch television precisely because this is the kind of drivel they serve up. I do hover around Facebook, however, and Renee started to show up there a few days ago, as you undoubtedly know.

Perhaps your friends posted her picture  — a surprising number of otherwise quite intelligent people did. Anyway, I clicked on the photos to see what the fuss was about, didn’t see much difference between before and after, and went about my business.

But it didn’t stop there — no, by the afternoon, there were comment threads a mile long about this outrage, this abomination, this insult, this . . . well, you probably read them.

Excuse me, but who cares? Who cares if she had plastic surgery? Don’t most Hollywood types? Does it make an actual difference to anything at all?

By the second day, the “serious” journalists and bloggers had jumped on it. But rather than just admit that they like mean-spirited gossip as much as the next plebeian, they had to find an angle to turn this non-story into a socially redeeming or educational moment. Oh, they went on and on about sexism and ageism, and examples for our young girls, and — of course — their favorite subject, themselves: how are WE responding to this major world event?

Please. Just please.

Then, a friend of mine pointed out that Renee’s looks were the top story on every national news show and the local news as well. What? Surely you jest.

Nope – no joke. Top of the news. I guess professional journalists now think they are missing “news” if there’s Tweeting going on that they haven’t covered.

America, here is a news flash: Celebrity gossip is not important. The more you fill your head with crap like that, the less room there is for important or meaningful things. There’s an election coming up in a few weeks that could directly affect life-and-death issues like your healthcare, progress on climate change, and who we bomb next. Google that.

Please stop this silliness.

You’re cluttering up my Facebook page, and I’m having trouble finding the cute kitten videos.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."    The Bible

Beauty

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”  

The Bible

Abdicating My Soapbox but Still Mourning Trayvon

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I’m staying out of the Trayvon Martin thing. I just can’t do it this time. I know that makes me a bad progressive, maybe a bad Christian, certainly a bad social networker, and perhaps even a bad American.

The media tells me I should have been glued to my TV for the past several weeks, cheering when “my side” scored a point, scoffing at the lawyers and witnesses on the “other side.” But I do not have a TV (much to Verizon’s incessant chagrin – I’m missing out on their BUNDLE, don’t I know??).

No, I have not been a proper “media consumer.”

I did not accept my free ticket to the summer circus.

The Facebook Frenzy

So when I got on Facebook yesterday to see what was going on in the land of cute kittens and pretty sunsets and weddings and babies and random photos of food, I was taken aback.

The verdict had been handed down twenty-four hours before; Zimmerman was walking the streets again, and all hell had broken loose!

I felt a moment of panic. I did not have my case prepared! Everyone else seemed to know every detail of the case, they had opinions on the lawyers and the judge and the witnesses and the pre-trial this and that.

No worries, my Facebook friends would tell me what to think. Most of my friends are progressive types, and they were all over the story. Dozens of articles, some searing with sarcasm and seriously funny, some digging up dark moments in civil rights history that many white folk have probably never heard of.

Pictures of hoodies and Martin Luther King, pictures of Martin Luther King IN a hoodie, pleas for civil suits, and petitions for the Justice Department to take action.

MLK

My conservative Facebook friends (the few, the proud, the brave who suffer my rants about global warming, peace, WalMart, and even presidential elections) were all over the gun thing. This had nothing to do with race, they said, it was all about the right to bear arms. Some had moved into compassionate conservatism, feeling badly that George Zimmerman “is going to be spit on, literally and figuratively, for the rest of his life.”

Remarkably, I refrained from commenting, “I hope so.”

This was a turning point for me.

What I Do Not Know

Because you see, I do not know. Am I even allowed to say that, to not have an opinion?

I do not know the facts. I was not there. I was not on the jury. I do not know the defendant or the dead teenager.

I want to think that the jury did their best to put aside their prejudices, preconceptions, and personal politics and to seek the truth. “Reasonable doubt” is always subjective, but what else do we have?

I do not know. That is why I’m abdicating my personal soapbox for the moment.

I often jump to conclusions, often react with knee-jerk assumptions. People I know and trust say this, so it must be so. The wealthy corporation claims this, so it’s probably not true. Past history in America is this, therefore

We all do this. We base our opinions on our past experience, our beliefs, and our context. Nothing wrong with that, up to a point.

But in a court of law, that would be hearsay and circumstantial evidence.

What I Do Know

The circumstances in the Zimmerman/Martin case, as I see them, seem pretty clear. I can understand why people are holding vigils.

George Zimmerman has a history of violence towards cops and women; he has a history of racial hate speech, and he has called the police more than forty times about “suspicious” black people in his neighborhood.

The police told him not to go out there with his gun that night. The National Sheriff’s Association completely disavowed Zimmerman’s action and said his group was not a Neighborhood Watch.

Trayvon Martin smoked pot, I hear.

What Others Know

Many of my African American friends are devastated by the verdict. I am sick on their behalf, on this nation’s behalf.

Even setting aside the Zimmerman case, why are we still like this? Why should my friends have to worry that their teenagers will be shot when they walk out the front door? Like any parents, they talk to their kids about respecting their elders and responding appropriately to authority, but in their case, it can be a life or death conversation.

The FOX News commentators  say this whole mess is because the black people, including our President, keep bringing up all this race stuff. If they would just stop stirring the pot, everything would be fine.

Right. Let’s move on from all this unpleasantness.

My younger friends seem to have been hit upside the head with this verdict. It seems clear to them that Trayvon Martin was stalked and murdered. They thought that things had changed since their grandparent’s day. They know that politics is broken, but had hoped the judicial system was above that.

They have had their eyes opened.

I know the feeling. I remember the gut-kick I received when the Supreme Court said, “Stop counting the votes,” during the Bush v. Gore electoral debacle in — oh yeah . . . Florida.

Stop counting the votes? Isn’t this America? Don’t we count the votes here?

Well, folks, this is America. And shit happens.

 Bending the Arc of History

It’s up to us to keep trying to get it right. We must not give up. We are Americans.

Try to be civil. Try to consider the facts. Even try to examine the other side with an open mind, if you can find someone who is able to state it reasonably. It’s harder and harder these days, on both “sides.”

To my progressive friends, I say work for justice – don’t give up. Try to speak reasonably and don’t set your hair on fire. The arc of history bends towards justice – we must believe this and put all of our collective weight into bending that arc.

To my conservative friends who think that the word “justice” has been co-opted by “liberals” and is really something that God will hand down in the by-and-by, I say read your bible about justice and oppression and pray about it. Shut out the noise and see what God might be saying to you, personally. And pray for peace.

We should all be praying for peace. Real, true peace, not covering-things-over peace.

And we should be talking about morality, not just legality. Because as it turns out, sometimes laws are immoral.

I feel a little guilty for not diving into the blazing house of opinionators this time. But also a little liberated. I’m not informed, and I don’t know how to get informed at this point.

You guys already know how I feel about racism, and if you don’t, please read There’s No Such Thing as Quiet Racism. The disease is alive and noisy in America.

It is possible that Zimmerman is innocent, under a less-than-moral Florida law. It’s just as possible that he’s guilty as sin.

Either way, I hope that there are further investigations.

Because the kid is dead.

OK, maybe I do have an opinion.

America’s Suicidal Personality Disorder(s)

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“Your son and daughter are going to die in a car crash!” The short, red-faced man is poking his finger at me and standing way too close for comfort. This might feel like super-bad mojo if I had kids. It still feels a little crazy, as so many things do these days.

I had just left the grocery store and made a friendly comment to an older fellow on the sidewalk. “I love your overalls – you don’t see enough of them anymore.” He smiled, his chubby cheeks rounding. “Very practical,” he said.

From behind me, a voice said, “Pretty soon we’re all going to be dressed the same.”

“Excuse me?” I turned to see Short-Angry man hurrying to catch up to me.

“Yeah, in drab, gray jumpsuits like the Russians when the Communists took over.”

(I think he was talking about the Chinese, but hey, what’s the difference?)

I hope Obama still lets us wear heels!

“Oh,” I said, now understanding what I was dealing with. “I don’t see any indication of that. Now excuse me while I go get in my car over here with the Obama sticker.”

Short-Angry followed me to my car. “You know, he wants cars to get 50 miles-to-the-gallon!”

“Yeah, wouldn’t that be awesome?” I said. “We would get a lot more gas for our money.” I didn’t mention climate change or air pollution, not wanting to have to physically defend myself.

This is when he cursed my non-existent children. “Your son and daughter are going to die in a car crash! The cars will be made out of all light shit, and we’re all going to die!” This might not have been his words exactly, but I caught the gist and exclamation points as I closed and locked my car door.

I might have just chalked this up to some sort of mental imbalance, impulse control, whatever, except that I’ve been hearing and seeing so much of it lately.

It seems America has a raging personality disorder.

 

 

Diagnosing the Patient

I used to think it was pure Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Some of the characteristics used to identify NPD are vanity, conceit, extreme self-centeredness, arrogance, bravado, entitlement, grandiosity, and self-righteousness. In the extreme, this can result in exploitation of others, manipulation, isolation, and rage.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my country, but I do see signs of this disorder from time to time. It can be more or less apparent depending on who is president, but there’s a poisonous streak of it in our DNA, I think.

Poisonous Pride

Lately, I’ve come to believe that our diagnosis is more complicated. There’s a touch of Borderline Personality Disorder, surely. Swinging from one extreme to the other every election cycle, blaming others for our ills, and believing that our version of reality is the only possibility and anyone who doesn’t agree is evil or delusional. And worthy of a few drone attacks, or maybe going to Hell.

These days, there is a strong streak of Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as multiple personalities. Red state, blue state. The media feeds this – journalists are taught to look for conflict, not harmony. “The People,” though, are sick of it — even as we often engage in it ourselves. My finger is pointed at myself, here.

Suicidal Nation – Guns & Climate

Sadly, this combination of chronic disorders becomes seriously acute when gun control or climate change gets mentioned. This has literal life and death consequences.  We can’t get our fingers out of our ears and stop yelling, “Nyah, nyah” at each other long enough to stop our own suicide.

I don’t believe in climate change. What school shootings?

I’ve ranted on climate change in this space before. Today’s irrational, reality-denying, suicidal issue is gun control.

Setting aside the National Rifle Association going completely over the sanity cliff and the conspiracy theorists who say that Sandy Hook was a hoax, here is an authentic recent offering from a “Friend” of mine on Facebook:

“I’m talking about our government dictating what our rights are, taking them from us when the constitution guarantees them for us. Spouting it’s for our own good. Ok. Then… Outlaw cigarettes. They are cancer causing and addictive (and I don’t smoke so others shouldn’t either) No reason for them. Outlaw alcohol. This would eliminate drunk driving and related health issues (or did they try that already). Outlaw fast food. Causes obesity and no reason go it [sic] (I don’t eat it so I don’t care about it). Outlaw muscle cars and sports cars. They are designed to go faster then the national speed limit and have no place on the road. And since I don’t own a corvette or any other car like that then others shouldn’t either. Outlaw them all !!! I want the government to step in and regulate our lives, tell us where to go, what to eat, control what TV we watch and take that and the Internet also (yes, other countries control all of that). There is a huge band wagon out there which has spun as politically correct which everybody is jumping on… You better hope your [sic] right, and I want to see how every body [sic] who does jump on it reacts when the government we have strips you all of something you believe in… Let’s take religion. If the government feels like it wants to control how we pray, or if we can, or to who! How would you feel. It’s in the construction [constitution], but hey, that can be changed apparently. And Obama is stating he can step over the congress to do so with out giving them a say in the matter. Don’t think that could happen? It’s happening right now on another issue that you don’t care about. Wait till it happens to one you do. It may be to [sic] late by then…”                                                               

How is that anything but certifiable paranoia? He forgot the part about all of us dressed in “drab, gray jumpsuits;” otherwise, he’s done a good job of channeling the red state psyche. (In southern Virginia the other day, I saw an “O’Vomit” bumpersticker. Har, har, har.)

I don’t believe my response to his rant was paranoid, but I will own up to being passive-aggressive. For my “gun-toting friends,” I posted this:

Another friend pointed out that “gun-toting” might not have been the most constructive term. I meant it as tongue-in-cheek, similar to the way they call me a “tree hugger,” but OK, I’ll try to behave.

Anyway, I’m willing to lay down my sarcastic, passive-aggressive behavior and take my fingers out of my ears if the people in the red states would be willing to admit that maybe, just maybe,

WE SHOULD NOT HAVE FREAKIN’ MACHINE GUNS IN OUR NEIGHBORHOODS!!!

That’s my humble opinion. What’s yours?

He Was Dead, Right There in the Left Lane

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“I saw the guy’s eyes get really huge, right before his motorcycle smacked into my truck. He flew 45 feet. He was dead, right there in the left lane.”

Oh my God,” I say to the long-distance trucker, “that must have been so traumatic for you.”

“No,” he says, “I saw a lot of that in the military. No biggie.” He squeezes more ketchup onto his hash browns.

No biggie?

I had this conversation over breakfast yesterday with a trucker at the Village Diner in Pennsylvania. He drives what’s appropriately dubbed a “crash truck” – the one that cruises along behind wide loads with fluttering flags and such.

Even if he had seen “a lot of that” in the military, which it turns out he hadn’t (his major service consisted of building a golf course, a football field, and beer garden at a base in Texas), this would rate as a biggie. Yet he pooh-poohs this other guy’s bloody death.

Which brings me to my point.

Why are people so averse to talking about death?

What scythe? I don’t see no scythe.

I know this is a dumb question, on one level. Death is, from our current vantage point, a highly unpleasant certainty. But most people who have experienced the deathbed vigil with a friend or family member know how profound the moment of death is. I have heard many use the seemingly incongruous word, “beautiful.”

We will all “join the great majority . . . join the choir invisible . . . go the way of all flesh.” This final passing is the one thing we all have in common. And aren’t writers urged to write about the universals, to try to find the themes and experiences that everyone can relate to? What’s more universal? Still, if I had started this post with the inviting words, “Let’s talk about death and dying,” you might well not have clicked.

There’s been a lot of death and dying going on in my circles lately. The universe has been teaching me to be more comfortable with death since my mother’s passing four years ago, during which she saw and said things that made me want to go with her — “Oh what are those beautiful winged creatures . . . why can’t they be here all the time?”

I’d like to read and write and hear about death and grieving, but it’s not a popular topic. Even the Christian Science Monitor **, a church-owned newspaper with a public-service mission, tells writers:

“We accept essays on a wide variety of subjects, and encourage timely, newsy topics.

However, we don’t deal with the topics of death, aging and disease.

Some examples:

It’s raining acorns!

In the basement, we putter and flutter.”

They want to print essays on “home, family, gardening, neighborhood, and community,” but only the ones where nobody ever gets sick or dies.  Even poets, who are usually exempt from “no sad things” rules, are advised:

“We do not publish work that presents people in helpless or hopeless states.

Nor do we print poetry about death, aging, and illness, or anything dark,

violent, sensual or overtly religious.”

When one of my stories was being published in the AARP Bulletin** http://www.aarp.org/work/social-security/info-11-2011/melanie-griffin.html#.TrqiPkT6_dg.email, they sent a photographer whose only advice was, “You’re not allowed to wear black in AARP.” Apparently, even eighty-year-old retirees mustn’t be exposed to the shadows. Here’s the game:

  • Let’s all be young forever!
  • Let’s keep our penises erect!
  • Keep those age spots bleached!
  • If you break the rules and get old or sick and want to reflect on death, I promise to tousle your hair and say jauntily, “Oh don’t talk like that, you’ll pull through!!”

That last rule is the worst. Not only do we avoid talking about death; we don’t even want the dying to talk about it. This costs us dearly. It is a privilege to help someone to the Great Beyond, but we have to be willing to walk alongside them. Only the dying can truly teach us how to face death ourselves. But we don’t want to hear about it. (Nothing competes when it comes to evasive euphemisms.)

Maybe if we don’t acknowledge the guy over there with the cape & scythe, we can avoid that little unpleasantness altogether.

###

** – This is not to say that I don’t ADORE the Christian Science Monitor and the AARP Bulletin. I would consider it a great privilege to appear in the pages of those august publications. Honest.

I highly recommend this wonderful little book by a hospice nurse. Yes, its’ about dying: http://www.maggiecallanan.com/finalgifts.htm

If you want, you’re even allowed to joke about IT. Kudos to Tig Notaro, stand-up comedian who I recently heard doing her “I have cancer” bit on NPR’s This American Life. Here’s the podcast site: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/476/what-doesnt-kill-you?act=1

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