Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Not 9/11

It’s not 9/11.

On that day, my little boy asked me, “Mom, why did those people crash those airplanes and knock down those buildings?”

He was five at the time, and we were deeply in the preschool groove, so my automatic impulse was to explain that those hijackers had made some very bad choices. Which was true, but didn’t begin to cover the enormity of what we’d all just experienced.

“They’re bad guys,” I had to say. “Terrible, terrible people who did something evil.”

He let me hug him because I was the one who needed it, then went on his way, satisfied with that answer.

Fast forward fifteen years. My little boy voted, and my Facebook feed is full of people struggling to explain yesterday’s election to their young children, especially their daughters.

It’s not 9/11. Which makes your task harder than mine was.

We’ve been calling each other bad guys. Bullies. Perverts. Racists. Rapists. Communists. Fascists. Ignorant. Self-absorbed.

I didn’t vote for the new president. For the record, I’m experiencing profound anxiety.

I have little confidence in his ability or inclination to listen to competent advisors, rein in his rhetoric, or grasp and deal with the fine points of political negotiation or world diplomacy.

I also think he might be exactly what we—all of us—deserve.

I know some people who voted for him. None of them froth at the mouth. They treat women with respect. They spend real money and time helping disadvantaged people in thoughtful and useful ways. They honor others’ religion, or absence thereof. And none of them disengaged their morals and brains at the moment they decided who to support in the election.

This election indicates that a large number of people are feeling disenfranchised, unheard, and alienated. Angry. Confused. Given how close the race was, it’s safe to say that just about everyone is feeling that way at the moment. (Except the one teenager in the ice cream shop last night who I hope to heaven isn’t old enough to have voted: “Which party was Trump running for again?”)

That makes this an excellent time to sit down with each other and really listen to each other’s concerns, fears, and hopes. A better time would have been 18 months or so ago, when this train wreck of an election cycle started.

My knee-jerk reaction, even when I’m giving the advice, is “Yeah, those people really should start listening to my perfectly legitimate needs and concerns.”

Because to set aside my own biases and listen to someone else’s concerns puts me in a vulnerable spot. No one likes to be vulnerable. But it wasn’t [those people] who caused this election. It was everyone who felt comfortable demonizing, fearing, and rejecting people they disagreed with.

It was all of us—or at least, I haven’t yet met anyone that didn’t have a hand in it.

And if each one of us decides today to act like a sane, rational, compassionate grown-up, and to encourage our elected officials to follow our examples, there won’t be much the man in the White House can do to mess up the country.

Fifteen years later, I can even start to wonder if the 9/11 hijackers also started from a place of confusion and alienation that made bad choices look like the only choices.

Fortunately, it’s not 9/11.

A link everyone needs today

We all voted, and we have the sticker to show for it. If you throw it in the wash, the residue stubbornly remains. Here's the link that will save your shirt:

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Konmari & Me: A Book and Life Review

Yesterday I sent my friend a picture of the inside of my bathroom cabinet. Note the items on the second shelf, ascending joyfully from left to right. I’m eagerly awaiting a picture of my friend’s underwear drawer.

Why? A best-selling little pastel green book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It seems like all the ladies (Sorry for the profiling, guys. I’ll edit this once I meet a guy fan.) in my neighborhood/ Facebook feed are tidying.

This book enters a crowded field of tough-love decluttering books (also this parody), devoted to saving pathetic acquisitive pack-ratters like me from the soul-deadening, life-shortening, dagnabbed frustrating heaps of our own stuff. Don’t love it/use it/have a place for it! Toss that ol’ thang! Clutter is the enemy!

KonMari (a Japanesey cutening of the author’s name, Marie Kondo) is kind of the Hello Kitty of decluttering drill sergeants. She encourages a “tidying marathon” leading to respectable Dumpster-loads of discarded stuff.

But instead of reviling clutter, we are to hold each possession in our hands, and to keep only those that “spark joy.” And after determining which things spark joy, we are to lavish them with care and attention.

Konmari comes off as just a little nuts (charming, but nuts). She passionately describes the feelings of inanimate objects, encouraging tidyers to respectfully thank each object before chucking it. And some of her feng-shui-flavored organizing mandates work best if you happen to live in a Japanese home, with its distinctive deep closets designed to hold folding futons during the day.

Unlike other declutterers, Konmari acknowledges that each possession at one time sparked an emotion that caused us to bring it into the house. And that a precious few material objects enhance our lives and bring us joy. That it feels good to live in an orderly place surrounded by our most beloved objects.

I think that focus on gratitude and acknowledgement of the pleasure-bringing qualities of our earthly possessions is what’s rocketed her to 60 some-odd weeks on the bestseller list. Questions? You can find me lavishing appreciation on my great-grandmother’s bread knife (hand-carved handle is wobbly, but the blade still cuts like a boss.) Or polishing my humble but trusty stapler.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Random Research Day: Bummer Etymology

My daughter is one of those crazy-overscheduled teenagers you hear about, and since she doesn’t have a driver’s license yet (too busy), I drive her places a lot. Mostly, we talk about words, or come up with word games, or talk about how we sure spend a lot of time talking about words. It’s pretty metalinguistic—occasionally meta-metalinguistic.

She was entranced one day by the words “imagine” and “magic”—it seemed logical to both of us that those ought to be related. But when we got home and looked it up, we found that:

• “Magic” comes, via French, Latin, and Greek, from magus, an ancient Zoroastrian philosopher (think “three Magi”).

• “Imagine,” on the other hand, comes via Latin from imago, or image.

• While we’re here, “magnificent,” “magnanimous,” “magnate,” etc. all come from Latin magnus, meaning “great.”

• And “maggot” comes from the Old Norse word mathkr, which means maggot.

So, if for some reason you say
“The magician imagined magnificent maggots,”
you have spanned four different source words from French, Latin, Greek, Persian, and Norse.

Impressive, but still disappointing.

They might not be etymologically related, but I still believe that imagination is magic.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

How to Resolve

How to Resolve

Yeah, it’s January 6. Most people have broken their New Year’s resolutions by now, and I haven’t made mine yet. You think that’s bad, you should see the bright, shiny Christmas tree in the living room.

One year, we did get ambitious. My husband and I made a firm resolve to get up and go walking every single day at 6 a.m., without fail!

Problem is, New Year’s Day tends to fall on January first. When we popped out of bed that morning, we noticed that it was 2 degrees outside, and thick ice covered every sidewalk. So we went back to bed. And didn’t exercise for the rest of the year.

So, yeah, some years we’re really efficient. But this year, the process has captured my attention. As I was mulling over how to go about resolving, my son walked past, chanting under his breath:
more productive
not drinking too much
regular exercise at the gym (3 days a week)

“Are those your New Year’s resolutions?” I asked, trying not to sound alarmed about the drinking part.

“No,” he said, “it’s a song by Radiohead called ‘Fitter Happier.’ It goes on like that for three minutes, and then it ends, ‘In a cage. On antibiotics.’”

Oh. So there’s an approach to the New Year, refreshingly devoid of idealism.

Here are some others:

“This year, break a bad habit, learn a new skill, do a good deed, visit a new place, read a difficult book, write something important, try a new food, do something good for someone who cannot thank you, take an important risk.” Awesome advice, which I find my brain automatically rejects, because it came from Pinterest. In-a-cage. On-antibiotics. Unless I count this blog post as writing something important and cross that one off…

• At work, my husband and his co-workers first made comprehensive lists of everything they were good at, and everything they needed to work on. They spent half a day narrowing both lists down to five items: things to improve, and things to make even more awesome.

• A neighbor told me that her elderly relations’ notable characteristics, positive and negative, are growing more pronounced with age. An alarming thought. I like my alone time—LOTS of alone time, and I like it a LOT. I can see myself curling into a tight little ball, then fossilizing like that until someone digs me up 200 years later and puts me in a museum. Which I’d hate. Museums are full of people.

• A couple of different friends choose a word to live by for the year: Ignite! Love! Heart! Focus! Etc.! I kind of like etc., myself.

• My friend Luisa pointed out that, in baseball, a .3 average is awesome, and a .4 is legendary. But when most of us make goals, we beat ourselves up for anything short of 100%. Not beating oneself up is a good goal, but it also got me thinking that I could probably bat .95 in a T-ball league (Well, maybe .75). But what if I signed up for the majors, and rejoiced in batting .3?

• Which brings us to a quote from the newspaper: “My fears will eat me alive, not if I act on them, but if I don’t.” Really gotta start those banjo lessons. Can’t spend my life fearing the banjo.

So, yeah, New Year’s resolutions. So far I’ve made a list of things I’d actually like to accomplish in a bunch of different areas, and things (in a different color of ink) that I probably ought to want to accomplish. Then went back and wrote in long-term wishes/visions for those areas. 

Further bulletins if I ever finish. Maybe after the ice on the sidewalk melts...

Monday, January 13, 2014

Amish Friendship Math

Ever gotten a start for Amish friendship bread? It’s kind of like sourdough: you have a container of fermented “starter,” you use it to make the bread, then you replenish it so it keeps growing. After you’ve nursed the starter along for ten days, you make yourself a batch of yummy bread using part of the starter, then you divide up the starter into 4 bags, keep one for yourself, and give three away. That’s presumably why they call it “friendship bread.”

(Disclaimer: Wikipedia says "There is no reason to think that the bread has any connection to the Amish people." The Amish are much wiser than this. And I can’t imagine them using Jell-O pudding mix as an ingredient in anything.)

It sounds so innocent and…friendly. But friendship bread is really a terrifying exercise in exponential growth.

If I have a cup of starter, that’s
40=1 (Don’t ask me why. Anything to the zero power is one). So far so good. The original starter yields 4 new bags, including the one I keep, for
If each neighbor takes good care of the starter and gives three neighbors a bag, we have
A bag takes 10 days to mature, so another 10 days later we have
43=128 bags of starter after about a month. In another month or so, we’re up to
46=8,192 If you estimate that every home in my town has about 4 people in it, that’s one bag per house. In another month, we’re up to
49=524,200, or enough bags to cover about 2 million households of 4 people. Another month later, we have
412=33,544, 432 bags.
Only two more rounds after that, we’ve got a bag of starter for every household in the U.S.:
After sixteen rounds, we don’t have quite enough Amish friendship bread starters for everyone in the world:
416=4,295,000,000, but everyone in the world can have about three bags after the next round (if we haven’t run out of Zip-loc bags by then):
417=17,180,000,000 after a little less than 6 months since my original bag of starter.

But wait! There’s more! These numbers are vastly underestimated, since the bag I kept goes on to spawn four more bags, as does each one of the other bags, leading much more quickly to the downfall of humankind as we know it. If everyone obeyed the instructions on the bag, we’d already have international ordinances and relief agencies dedicated to eradicating the friendship bread menace.

Fortunately, my neighbors are deeply aware of the Amish friendship bread threat, and they declined my Zip-loc bags. Friendship bread went no farther than my house, where I made 5 batches and threw away the instructions.

Oh, and if you didn’t read past “yummy bread,” here are some instructions for starting your own Amish friendship bread (this recipe yields only three starts). Just don’t give me a bag.

Lee Ann Setzer's blog about books, writing, and life in general.