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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

After Trump Loses, What Happens Next?

For illustration purposes only. These are not my predictions. 
What happens after Trump loses?

Will Trump ally Roger Stone see his prediction of a "bloodbath" come true? Will there be "blood in the streets"?

"I think we have widespread voter fraud, but the first thing that Trump needs to do is begin talking about it constantly," Stone said. "If there's voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government."

"If you can't have an honest election, nothing else counts," Stone said. "I think he's gotta put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath… We will not stand for it." (source here)

If there is violence, what form will it take? A lone standoff in a national wildlife refuge in a western state? A couple of Trump supporters urinating in the face of a sleeping homeless Hispanic man?

Or if there is violence, will it be the steady drip of ugly speech honed to disqualify a potential Clinton presidency? "The election was rigged, stolen. She's not the real president." We saw such rhetoric after Bush's win over Gore, with Obama "a Muslim. Not born in the US." How will such disrespect for the presidency affect our country?

Election 2016 has been a terrific education in how the human mind works, and how, though we may think of ourselves as exceptional, the United States is just as prone to mass irrationality as any other nation.

From the first Republican presidential debate to the last, I discussed them, at length, as they were happening, with other voters on Facebook. My choices were Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, and Rand Paul, in that order. I didn't know much about Trump, but I concluded, based on his behavior in the debates, that I could never vote for him. I came to this decision over time, and posted my reasons in a blog post entitled "I Will Not Vote for Donald Trump; My Top Twelve Reasons" here.

Facebook friends I had previously thought of as rational assessed as attractive the very same Trump behaviors that I assessed as disqualifying. When Trump mocked Megyn Kelly for menstruating, they joined in with period jokes and memes depicting Megyn Kelly as an ugly hag, and a tool of controlling Jews.

One former Facebook friend, Scott, a man who meant a great deal to me, told me that I "eat shit as if it was chocolate pudding." He was referring to the media. The media, he insisted, is controlled by a vast Clinton conspiracy, and brainwashes anyone who doesn't see the bright, shining hope that is President Trump.

I see no such media conspiracy. I see no one publicly raked over the coals as much as the Clintons, and I see Trump receiving soft treatment even as he refuses to renounce support from David Duke, whom he dishonestly claims not to know, and even as he promises that Russia will never enter Ukraine, in spite of Russia's notorious and recent military incursions into Ukraine, that have killed many and redrawn the map of Europe.

Trump supporters can't see what is right in front of their eyes; they can't hear what is spelled out for them. They invent realities – that Trump has demonstrated, over his seventy years in the public eye, that he is a devout Christian, that he loves America, that he is a committed, informed, skillful counter-jihadi, that he is a dedicated family man and a wildly successful businessman.

None of that is true; that none of that is true matters not at all to Trump supporters. They don't even believe that Melania plagiarized her RNC speech. They don't believe that Trump mocked a physically handicapped reporter. They don't believe that Trump insinuated that gun-owners could assassinate a President Clinton or her Supreme Court picks.

You can show them the videos. They deny all. It's … an education in how the human mind works.

Pollsters have discovered that Trump supporters are more likely than the general population to believe in conspiracy theories.

How will conspiracy-theory fueled, reality-averse Trump supporters (which is not all Trump supporters) react when their man loses? Will they realize that their primary vote for Trump, not Ted Cruz, was a huge mistake that cost the Republican Party an election it should have won and could have won?

Will the scales fall from their eyes and will they apologize?

Will they turn on their Pied Piper who lead them, their party and their country so far astray?

I doubt it. I think they will merely pull the cover of conspiracy theories over their eyes and slip deeper into their walking slumber. I think they will become angrier, more defensive, and choose to close ranks and interact with a tighter clique of fellow true believers. I think it would hurt them too much to realize that they have been duped, that they have been the pawns of an erratic, personality-disordered billionaire who couldn't care less about them; who gave them as much thought as a leech gives its host.

I think it would hurt them too much to acknowledge that their primary votes delivered America into the hands of another Democratic administration, with all the negatives that that implies: No rejection of deeply flawed Obamacare, more Black Lives Matter Fergusons and Baltimores and demonization and castration of police officers, leading to yet more crime for black inner cities. More refusal to come to terms with the reality of jihad. More refusal to honor and pass on the gift of Western Civilization. Yes, Trump Republican Primary voters, you gave us that. Will you ever come to terms with it? Will you ever apologize? What happens to the inside of your heads after Trump loses?

What happens to the Republican Party? The Party of Lincoln? The party of personal responsibility? The colorblind, no affirmative action party of Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Susana Martinez, Mia Love? People who achieved because of their skills, not because of some quota? How does that party ever regain its dignity after having Donald Trump as its nominee?

The Donald Trump who bashed a Gold Star family, whose supporters circulated rumors that that Gold Star family were Muslim Brotherhood operatives whose son's death in uniform in Iraq was merely part of a terrorist sympathy-mongering scheme? The Donald Trump who said that Gonzalo Curiel was not fit to judge him? Gonzalo Curiel who prosecuted Mexican drug cartels so dangerous his life was in jeopardy?

I think of a David Brooks, say, facing off with one of my Facebook friends, an unquestioning Trump booster. I think of those two people running into each other at a bar the day after Trump loses. Who will punch whom in the nose first? You ruined my party … no, YOU ruined my party. Who is left standing?

One way or another, the Republican Party is going to need to take a long shower.

What happens to counter-jihad? I am a counter-jihadi. I believe the case for counter-jihad can be made with rational means, and has nothing to do with prejudice or hate of any kind. Counter-jihad is not about hate; it's about love. Love for Western Civilization and the Judeo-Christian tradition. Love for the Yazidis who lie moldering in mass graves just being discovered today in former ISIS territory.

What does it do to counter-jihad that its most famous face, now, is a bumbling fool who can't stumble past the partial incoherence of a drunk?

What happens to the right-wingers who, like Cassandra, warned and warned and warned and warned and were, like Cassandra, ignored, and even vilified?

Michael Medved and Mark Levin stand out. I don't much like Mark Levin. I don't like the sound of his voice and I don't like how angry and insulting he is. But I am in awe of his courageous and insightful critiques of Trump.

Levin is steeped in the Constitution and American history. His every critique of Trump is based, not on personal distaste or tabloid headlines, but on detailed precedent and law. No wonder Trump supporters singled Levin out for verbal crucifixion via his status as a Jew. "Filthy Jew Attacks Glorious Leader" frothed one website I prefer not to name. I won't quote any more anti-Semitic attacks or memes but do the Google search. It will make you sick.

What happens to Cassandras after their worst predictions come true? Do they receive a laurel wreath, or do people just pretend that they didn't hear what Cassandra had said?

What happens on Facebook? I have wondered if Scott would ever be my Facebook friend again. After I came out as anti-Trump, I experienced a mass unfriending. Some left without a word of goodbye, after years of Facebook friendship. Others dropped f-bombs on me in private messages. Others publicly denounced me.

I have to be frank. I feel only pity for these folks. I know that sounds terrible and condescending. I'm not being condescending. I've been fooled, too. I have believed the wrong person. I have blind spots. As I often say, I'm so inept with physical reality that I could be confused by the mechanics of a salt shaker. That's why I constantly have to ask friends, "How does this work? What do I buy? Where do I find this item?" I'm such a lost soul in hardware stores.

The difference is, when I don't understand something, I get it that I don't understand something, and I ask for help from those who do understand.

Trump supporters are surrounded by pundits and friends and opinion polls that shout out to them: "This is the wrong guy," and they don't hear. They are listening, rather, to smoldering resentments. I totally understand their resentments – the left has gone too far for too long. But a demagogue is not the answer. Ever.

What happens with Trump? Some theorize that his connections with Sean Hannity, Stephen Bannon, and Roger Ailes will result in a new, hate-mongering media empire. What rough beast slouches, indeed.

Both the right and left are mongering hatred. The left is mongering hatred against men, against America, against the Judeo-Christian tradition. Trump battened on the stirred up resentments. Team Trump is mongering hatred, too. What happens to all this hate after Trump loses?

America needs a unifying and inspirational leader. I so hoped that election 2016 would produce such a leader. It won't. How much longer can we drift before we crash?



Friday, August 26, 2016

This Is Why I Don't Birdwatch That Way

Greenhead fly source
Lia McLauglin USFWS
This summer, after forty years of sending my writing to publishers in attempts to get it published, I had the heady experience of communicating directly with editors-in-chief of national publishing houses, houses it might utterly transform my life to be published by.

Monday I went to Tillman Ravine; it was lovely. I came home and found three rejections.

My writing remained what they initially called it "captivating fascinating." But it violates genre boundaries, isn't like anything we've published before, and would be hard to market.

I was crushed.

I tried to communicate to people I thought of as friends why this news was so devastating.

They didn't get it.

I wake up, as I did Monday, and find police on my doorstep investigating the latest attempted killing; my acquaintances wake up to their backyard, built-in swimming pools. Why should they hear anything I say?

"Why don't you just apply for a job?" a couple of them said.

"Why don't you just self-publish?" another asked.

"Why don't you just show your writing to famous people who will like it and help you promote it?"

"Why don't you just try another publisher?" another said.

In other words, rather than being kind to me, they just piled on unsolicited advice.

Google knows all, tells all.

I just googled those two words: "unsolicited advice."

The first entry: "unsolicited advice is … shitty … falls on deaf ears … pisses people off"

Second entry: you hate it; so does the person you give it to.

Third entry: How can I stop people from giving me unsolicited advice?

Fourth entry: it triggers feelings of inadequacy and anger

Fifth: causes stress … it's a communication killer … it's how your mother-in-law talks.

Not one single positive thing to say about unsolicited advice on that first page of Google search results.

Tells you something, no?

Unsolicited advice exists so that there can be a clever way to insult people and establish your own superiority. "I understand your life better than you do. This whole time, you've been doing it wrong. I will now bestow upon you the path to do doing it right. Be humbled and grateful that I have deigned to grant you this boon."

It's a way to stab people in the back when they are at their most vulnerable.

What did I need? Kindness.

Was there a meeting held and did society vote that spinsters of a certain age shall no longer be recipients of any kindness? Is that engraved in some rule book somewhere?

People still tell me jokes; check.

People still wish me happy birthday; check.

People still ask me what time it is, whether I think it will rain, and what I think of the presidential campaign. All check.

Kindness has petered out in my life.

I'm not talking about someone typing an angled bracket and the number three so it will look like a heart on a computer screen.

Here's one thing I've been yearning for for the past four years of unending medical emergencies and deaths: someone to take me out to lunch, even to the cheapest local chain restaurant, and look in my face, and call me by name, and listen to me, and say, "Aw, I'm so sorry that happened to you. How are you coping? Is there anything I can do? No matter what, I want you to know that I admire your strength and perseverance. I know how much you put into this."

And not look at his or her phone.

And not look at his or her watch.

And not make a date and then break it several times because more important activities with more important people have intervened.

And not preface lunch by saying, "We're going to have to keep this quick. I've got so much I've got to do."

No, that will never happen again.

It used to. I used to receive kindness, and give kindness, too. Is it the wrinkles? Menopause? That I'm not anybody's child or sister or signer of paychecks? It's all Darwinian.

Spinsters enter the Unkind Age.

Here was my unspoken response to the cascade of unsolicited advice:

I threw in the towel on these folks.

"*&^% you. +_^% in $#@@," I thought. Words so bad I can't type them here.

"I hope you contract smallpox" – reserved for the two men who told me I should just apply for a job. And then I wouldn't be poor.

I meant it. In my heart of hearts, I wanted these two men to contract smallpox.

I immediately recognized my thoughts as contrary to what Jesus wants me to think, so I erased the blackboard of my mind. I would not cultivate my angry, hateful thoughts. I would cultivate the kind of loving and forgiving thoughts Jesus wants me to think.

Later I remembered part of the process that those who have had near-death experiences go through. It's called a life review. During the life review, the experiencer relives his entire life. Not only does he feel his own feelings, he feels the feelings of others he has affected.

Someday, the two men who said to me, "Why don't you just apply for a job?" will experience how I felt when they said that to me.

Someday, they may also experience this: being born poor, dyslexic and unwanted. In spite of everything, including a crippling, hard-to-treat illness, and living on no money, earning a PhD and paying for almost all of it out of pocket by working as a landscaper, a live-in domestic servant, a house cleaner, an exam grader, a tutor, and a carpenter. Graduating without a dime in debt. Writing a prize-winning dissertation. Applying for *hundreds* of jobs. And not getting one interview.

During their life review, these "why don't you just apply for a job" friends will, further, turn to internet support groups for other adjuncts, and they will find hundreds of such stories in today's market. Including one poor soul who wrote a memorable essay about receiving not just good, but perfect reviews from his students, not getting any of the jobs he had applied for, looking at his wife and kids for whose support he was responsible, and trying to kill himself.

Finally, these omniscient advice-givers will give up on ever having an academic job, and they will apply for *any* job, and not get hired. Because why hire a PhD who might give you attitude because smart-people-suck and are weird, smart women are weirdest of all, except of course for poor, smart, old women – a volcano of cooties – when you can hire an illegal immigrant who will do whatever you say? Younger, prettier, stronger?  

They will know what my job search looks like, not through reading about it while lounging on the chaise beside the backyard built-in pool. They will learn about what my job search feels like after being diagnosed with cancer and not having any insurance and being told by hospital administrators, 'Wish we could help; there's nothing we can do."

Yes. Yes. I am still thinking angry, vengeful thoughts. Just couched in a patina of religious reserve.

Speaking of patinas of religious reserve.

Jesus tells us what to ask for, and tells us to expect it. "Ask and you shall receive." "Who among you if his son asks for bread, would give him a stone?" And then Jesus pulls the rug out from under us. Jesus is Lucy with the football; we are Charlie Brown.

I prayed that my brother Mike might not die, so soon on the heels of my brother Phil's death, even as his, Mike's, wife was pregnant with their daughter Lydia. Prayed so hard. Mike died.

Prayed so hard that Antoinette not die.

Prayed so hard that "God through Binoculars" would be published at the national house where the editor-in-chief called it "captivating."

I've got enough stones to build a cathedral.

I resolve to pray the rosary daily. Since it is my vow to pray daily, I have to confront that moment when I don't want to pray the rosary because I have no faith, or because the idea of God makes me want to puke.

It was a challenge to pray the rosary after receiving the news I received Monday.

I did, though.

This is what I did. We Catholics pray a designated group of five decades (five groups of prayers) for every day of the week. On Mondays, for example, the decades tell the story of Jesus' conception, birth, and childhood: the annunciation, the visitation, the nativity, the presentation in the temple, the finding in the temple.

Rather than praying the designated decades for the day, I prayed decades I invited on the spot. People who felt abandoned and betrayed by God.

It was a wow-holy-cow moment when I realized that my first decade would, of course, be dedicated to Jesus himself. "Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?" As I prayed that decade, I meditated on Jesus' sense of abandonment and betrayal as he died on the cross.

The second decade was dedicated to Mother Teresa's dark night of the soul, as described in her book "Come Be My Light." The third decade was dedicated to Walter Ciszek, a Polish-American priest who was imprisoned in Soviet Russia, including in the Gulag, for 23 years.

My fourth decade was dedicated to Bernadette Soubirous, whose short life included cholera, asthma, and the extreme pain of tuberculosis of the bone, as well as torment and inquisitions because she saw the Blessed Virgin Mary over a communal garbage dump in Lourdes, France. During one of her apparitions to Bernadette, Mary, being utterly frank, said, "I do not promise to make you happy in this life, but in the next." Hey, no kidding.

My final decade had to be more upbeat. I prayed to Saint Therese the Little Flower; I prayed for one of her famous miracles. "I want to spend my eternity doing good on earth," she said. And recipients of her roses insist she has made good on that promise. Keeping my eyes open for a rose.

I'm a big believer in action. Inaction makes sadness worse. I remember making and serving dozens of sandwiches during Phil's funeral.

This week I had to do a lot of medical stuff, a lot of work stuff; I needed to get out more queries on "God through Binoculars." And I wanted to birdwatch. It is my little piece of heaven.

Yesterday I went to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.

I got up at three a.m. A group of Hispanic men were having a fight in the street. They fought the entire time I was getting ready. That's stamina.

I was out the door by five and at the refuge by seven.

I write a lot about the rhapsody I often experience while birdwatching. There was no rhapsody to be had yesterday. I saw a lot of great birds: glossy ibises that always bring to mind ancient Egypt, where ibises were worshipped because their bills curve like the crescent moon. Millions were mummified. Black skimmers, great blue herons, American egrets, snowy egrets, tri-colored herons, black-crowned night herons, warblers, wrens. I was just not-to-be-moved.

The notorious greenhead flies (tabanus nigrovittatus) swarmed around me the entire time. They are horseflies. Mosquitoes are capillary feeders. Their method of eating blood is more sophisticated than that of a horsefly. Mosquitoes seek the tiny tubes in the skin. They have a proboscis designed to plunge into skin and find, and suck blood out of capillaries. They can do this without being noticed, until after their blood meal is finished.

Horseflies don't have a proboscis designed to suck blood from capillaries. Horseflies are "pool feeders." The mandible of the female horsefly is a jagged saw blade. They saw through skin. As blood pools, they lap it up. Horsefly bites hurt much worse than mosquito bites.

Greenhead flies live most of their lives on that most rarified and delicate of foods, nectar; just like nymphs in Maxfield Parrish paintings; just like Greek gods who lived on ambrosia. It's child bearing that turns female greenheads into saw-wielding predators. They want human blood to feed their eggs.

While I'm at it, let me pause to salute the terrestrial leeches of Nepal. While trekking during monsoon in Nepal, I sometimes had a hundred leeches climbing up my sarong at one time. The wonderful thing about leeches is that they suck your blood but they don't hurt at all. It doesn't hurt while they are doing it, and the wounds don't hurt after they're done. Scientists say that among the 60 proteins in leech saliva is an anesthetic. I just googled "leech anesthetic" and found Wikipedia claiming that this is true (see here) and one cranky man claiming that it's all hogwash (see here).

To this cranky man, I say, I lived in Nepal, and I can tell you lots of leech stories, including the guy who had a leech attached to his privates that gotten so bloated with blood that he thought, at first, that he had grown a third testicle, and none of these stories ever involve the leech bite hurting – it's exactly because they don't hurt that people have the leeches for so long and discover them at odd moments. Like when blowing their nose at an expensive restaurant meal meant to reward themselves for completing the Everest trek – yikes! What's this in my handkerchief? Suddenly that plate of bloody calf liver is so much less appetizing.

The greenhead flies don't bite me. When they fly into the car, usually around ten at once, eventually they land on something and I just hit them with my hand and they die – pretty fragile. I wear the recommended long, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and spray myself with DEET. Et voila, not one bite.

I ran into a couple of gentlemen, middle-aged, all geared up. They were standing in back of their serious vehicle, gazing through a telescope.

"See anything good?" I asked.

"A jaeger."

Holy cow! I was ready to kiss my despair goodbye.

There are three species of jaeger in North America: long-tailed, parasitic, and pomarine. I've not seen any of them. They live in the Arctic. They rarely appear at Forsythe, usually in winter.

I looked through the gentlemen's telescope. I don't own a telescope; it's money, and it's heavy, and it's a bit more O-C than I want to be. But I am very grateful when people who use scopes let me look through theirs.

"I don't see it," I confessed.

"It's between two gulls."

Looked again. Saw … gulls between gulls.

The man positioned his hand and his arm as a target. I looked between his two fingers with my binos. I saw … gulls. Tried the scope again. Gulls.

The men were busily paging through their field guide; engaging in manly debate about whether this was a pomarine, parasitic, or long-tailed jaeger. They were using that dead serious tone that men use for collegial debates; I've heard that tone in discussions of who a candidate should pick as his vice president and what the results of a pre-emptive nuclear strike would be.

I took advantage of their debate to look through their scope again. I saw … gulls. And I thought, I'm just a baby. These guys are experts.

I asked what, for me, was the key question. "What made you notice this very distant bird? What told you that it was a jaeger?" The bird was far away. How did they know?

"Something different about the tail … and the wings."

Oh. I realized I saw nothing different about this bird's tail or wings.

"Thank you," I said. "I'm going to keep moving," I said. I walked on.

A bit later they drove up to me.

"That was a gull," they said.

"Thank you!" I said.

And this is why I don't birdwatch that way.

I don't want to be a numbers-obsessed birder. I want to be able to enjoy a magnificent terrain like Forsythe for what it is: a protected pocket of wilderness within eyeshot of tawdry, Trump-tainted Atlantic City.

I want to be moved by the sight of glossy ibises, invoking in their lopsided forms that look as if they are about to teeter over, their curved bills are so outsize; their legs are so spindly, invoking Egypt, invoking the dinosaurs from which they have evolved. I don't want to pick out each new bird in my binos, hoping and praying that it is a species different from what it is, because I need to jack up the number of species I've seen in a given day.

I want to appreciate what is and not make it what it is not.

My friends *have* been kind to me.

The man who said the most hurtful thing went out of his way to say positive things about my book Bieganski. The man who said the second most hurtful thing brought me food and drove me to doctor's appointments when I had a broken arm. The woman who said the third most hurtful thing remembered how touched I was when my sister bought me pomegranates and she sent me pomegranates for my birthday last year.

I can be a pill and nurse feelings of resentment or I can at least fake being more of a mensch and be grateful to these people for who they are, and not wish they are something else.

As for prayer.

I've been praying for my health.

I had to have a test this week, four weeks after the recent surgery.

The other day the doctor called. "This is highly unusual," he said. "Your test results are *perfect.* Usually with this surgery, we go too far or not far enough. So far, with you, we have the very unusual situation of it appearing to have been perfect."

I'll need to keep getting tested, and more steps will most likely need to be taken, but so far, not so good, but so perfect. I can feel it in my body. I can see it in my face when I look in the mirror. I notice it when I walk – since I was diagnosed, people pass me. Since the surgery, I'm back to being the walker who passes others on the trail.

Also. The lump. It appeared last summer after Antoinette died. Scared me to death. Three separate tests verified: it is a lump.

This summer, for a while, it got much bigger. Was actually poking through my skin. Hurt. Circulation in that part of the body got worse. Doctor said, maybe more surgery. Not necessary, but it will improve conditions for you.

Now? The lump is so small I can barely feel it. Circulation is flowing again. All spontaneous. Have been praying about it.

And my writing. The day of the multiple rejections, out of left field, I received an email from an author I highly admire, as do many others. He said, and I quote, "Danusha Goska is awesome." He had read something I wrote, and he really liked it.

God … keeps us on our toes. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Tillman Ravine, A Sign from Antoinette, a Dangerous Animal!!! And the Requisite Whine

Photo by Stephen Vecchiotti Source
Eft by National Geographic source
July, 2016 was the hottest summer on record, ever, in the history of humanity. And not just in my apartment. I live in a refurbished silk mill. Ceiling 25 feet high; 49 square feet of window facing south. No cross ventilation. No air conditioning. (A neighbor spends $200 monthly air conditioning his loft. I can't do that.)

My apartment grabs on to heat and won't let it go. I wilt.

And this summer has been episodic.

"You need surgery. You need tests before surgery. The tests reveal you may have cancer again."

And so I had to switch gears back to "Time to update my will, not buy the economy-size laundry detergent because I won't be around to use it; time to watch subtitled movies in smelly theaters with audiences all dressed in black. Time to gaze at the sunset and ponder the innocence of children and the impermanence of life. And I can eat all the chocolate I want because who cares if my corpse is fat."

"Test results are in. You don't have cancer."

Put that chocolate down!

The other episodes were hope and despair. Four national publishers looked at my book God through Binoculars. Two top editors called it "captivating."

And so I hoped. I can get out of the slum. I can afford to buy any food item in the supermarket. I can get health care when I need it. People will read my writing.

Sitting by the computer, waiting for word.

I really wanted to get away this summer, even just a weekend at Cape May, but the episodicity prevented that. Needed to be on hand for the next medical test, the next jerking around by a publisher.

So I've been taking small trips.

I have long wanted to return to Tillman Ravine. The very name is magic.

Antoinette and I went there when we were girls.

She knew more about the world than I did. She introduced me to Ringwood Manor and Skylands, with its botanical garden. She somehow heard of Tillman Ravine and one day we drove there. Just the two of us, intimate, sharing, sisters. Because I've been there only that one time, Tillman Ravine's magic, for me, will always be encapsulated in a glistening caul of that first time, with my sister.

When I returned to New Jersey after years in Indiana, my sister's daughter was showing to me photographs she had taken that she had stored on her computer. One was of Tillman Ravine. "This is a special place," she told me. "You and my mom went there when you were girls. She told me about it and she took me there."

I smiled. I didn't let the feelings out. I wanted to sob. Antoinette and I had spent the previous decade and a half not talking to each other. The split had given me nightmares that I'd waken from in a cold sweat. My niece's photo and caption of her trip to Tillman Ravine with Antoinette alerted me that my sister spent at least some of those years missing her little sister, whom she had pushed away with shocking cruelty. My heart broke.

Last night, I decided. My two medical appointments this week could wait. I knew I'd be getting news from publishers soon; they could wait, too.

It was time to return to Tillman Ravine.

But, I thought, what if Tillman Ravine's magic eludes me? What if it was only wonderful because it was Antoinette and me and we were friends that day and both agiggle with girlhood and secrets and promises and hope? The promise: we loved to bake. Someday we'd leave NJ and go live in Vermont and open a bakery.

The hope: love. Hot, sexy guys who were also astoundingly sensitive; they all talked like Billy Wilder scripts, because really all we knew of love was what we saw in the Golden-Age Hollywood movies we watched over and over on TV till we had the dialogue by heart and repeated it to each other as part of our secret, shared language. We also hoped for publication. We both wrote, and told each other novels we composed spontaneously during long car rides.

And maybe I shouldn't go to Tillman Ravine because 2012's Hurricane Sandy did such a number on it. It was closed for months afterward.

The New York New Jersey Trail Conference reported:

"Crew Chiefs Monica and David Day's crews built a stone staircase up a very steep embankment created when a huge tree was blown over; redefined several trail sections; cut up two huge blowdowns that blocked a bridge and used a highline to lift the tree pieces out of the streambed; rebuilt the bridge's footings on a temporary basis and hoisted it back into a new alignment; and freed another bridge from a massive blowdown."

So maybe I shouldn't go to Tillman Ravine at all.

But, then I thought, maybe Antoinette will send me a sign. And then it will all be okay.

I woke up at five hoping to get an early start but my walls were strobing red and blue, a frequent occurrence. I looked out the window and saw several police cars, an ambulance, and a fire truck. I googled it later; yet another attempted killing right in front of the building.

I need to get out of Paterson.

Maybe if I can find a publisher for God through Binoculars.

The drive to beauty and sanity took me up over a thousand feet. I lost the New York station on the car radio and had to settle for country music. Made sense; I was passing farm stands, woods and fields. I watched the numbers go down on the car thermometer. As I left the city's heat island and gained altitude, digits decreased all the way to 64. I knew I had died and gone to heaven. Other people look for departed loved ones; I will look for cool air. It was August 22, but I would wear the twelve-year-old Orvis down vest I keep in the trunk of the car for the first hour of the hike.

My first footfall on the trail landed next to a bright red eft. I immediately knew: Tillman Ravine is every bit as magic as I remembered it. Life was everywhere: puddles hopped with copper-eyed and copper-backed frogs with lime green smiles, hemlock branches sifting the clouds high overhead bobbed from the weight of black-and-white warblers.

I hiked for five and a half hours. Never sat down. Moved. Down Tillman Ravine, which is every bit as beautiful as the Grand Canyon, but not quite as large. Through a meadow burgeoning with queen Anne's lace, goldenrod, chicory, thistle, rattlebox, brown-eyed Susan. A ring-necked pheasant trotted along the overgrown path head of me. I found three of his feathers. My legs bled from thorns.

To a cemetery: husband's birth date and death; wife's birth date and death. Then: Gladys: 1800-1802. Another girl: 1802-1804. No other children listed. Another stone, merely the word: "Babies." Oh, the heartbreak those stones communicated.

Walking back toward the car, I saw something I'd never seen before in the wild. A porcupine. He had his back, bristling with worlds of hurt, to me. His head appeared to be poked into the angle created by two fallen logs. I left the trail, crossed over Tillman Brook, and tread carefully.

I got back to Paterson and received the final rejection notices on God through Binoculars. All at once. That's never happened before. They all seemed so torn. One was signed "regretfully." Another said the book is too hard to pigeonhole.

I feel as if I was just crushed by an anvil. I've been through this too many times before. I'll be in this slum forever. No more than a couple dozen people will ever read my writing.

I'm in pain … and so I'm writing this inconsequential little blog post. Because writing is my crucifixion, and my solace.

Finally … Antoinette.

I've been birdwatching for forty years and more. Except for the most recent years, I had seen only one bald eagle.

I didn't have a car to get to wild places, and bald eagles, stricken by DDT and habitat loss, were on a steep decline. In recent years, though, bald eagles have been bouncing back, and I now have wheels.

During our last trip, to Lake George, Antoinette, her daughter and I took a long boat ride. Outside our window we saw a bald eagle perched on a pine. He never flew off and we gazed at him as long as he was in eyeshot.  

Later, Dominick Dabrowski and I were driving in New York state. We stopped at a rest stop and I began to cry. I realized that it was one I had stopped at during that Lake George trip with Antoinette. As we were driving away from the rest stop, I tried to explain to Dominick why I was crying, and we saw a bald eagle perched prominently on a tree on the exit ramp. I took it as a sign from Antoinette.

One day some months back I was headed up to Garret Mountain, a wooded area completely surrounded by Paterson and West Paterson. My "little voice" said that I would see a bald eagle, and that that would be a hello from Antoinette. A bald eagle flew low and leisurely right over my head in urban Paterson, NJ. It's been a while since anything like that has happened.

This morning, just as I was turning off the main road to the wooded one-lane that would take me to Tillman Ravine, I saw a large bird flying over my car. Birdwatchers don't much care about traffic when a bird that size flies overhead. The bird had a white tail. I surrendered the car to whatever autopilot my brain can muster when I am staring at a bird. It was a bald eagle, right over my car, just as I was turning toward Tillman Ravine.

A sign? I think so.


You can read brief excerpts of God through Binoculars at Julie Davis' Happy Catholic blog here. You can read a couple of longer excerpts at FrontPage Magazine here and here



Sunday, August 21, 2016

Donald Trump, Theories of Emotion, The Country We Love, and Christianity

Sanders supporters and Trump supporters clash 
Saint Francis by Francisco de Zurbaran 

 There are many theories of emotions. I will talk about two: the hydraulic theory and the "practice makes perfect" theory. I am using the term "practice makes perfect" for the purposes of this post.

Genetics also play a huge role in human emotions; some people are hardwired to be more happy, or to be more sad. And there are other theories. But for this post I will contrast the above two points of view.

In the hydraulic theory, emotions are like physical things inside the body. They can build up. Their building up is dangerous to the body. The body must "let them out." One must cry, yell, pound things, to express unexpressed emotions.

In the "practice makes perfect" theory, emotions are not like physical things, and they are not stored in the body. Rather, people come to feel what they have practice in feeling. They come to feel the feelings that they encourage, and that they are encouraged to feel.

The "practice makes perfect" theory is diametrically opposed to the hydraulic theory on this point: the hydraulic theory says that expressing emotions releases them. The more anger you express, the less anger you have.

The "practice makes perfect" theory says that the more anger you express, the angrier you are.

As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Mother Night, "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

Twelve Step encapsulates the "practice makes perfect" idea in many slogans:

"Bring the body and the mind will follow";
"Fake it till you make it";
"Act as if."

That is, if you want to be a certain thing, including someone feeling a certain emotion, you "act as if" until you convince your emotions to come along for the ride. If you feel afraid, acting brave will make you brave. If you feel hateful, acting loving will make you loving.

In this theory, if one expresses much anger, one isn't actually releasing a finite amount of anger in the body – in this theory, there are not stored up emotions in the body. Rather, a person, through repeated, habitual behavior, is teaching the body to be angry – or happy or sad or fearful or brave.

Conversely, as is often pointed out, merely choosing to smile, even if one doesn't feel one has any reason to smile, can change the mind's chemistry and contribute to a lightening of mood, however minor and temporary (see here). Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said, ""Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy."

The "practice makes perfect" theory appears in literature. In George Orwell's masterpiece 1984, citizens of a totalitarian state are encouraged to feel anger during daily exercises called "two minutes hate." You can read more about that here.

I value being exposed to a variety of points of view. When I have no one else to debate with, I debate with myself. That may sound like a joke unless you are Polish. We are a contentious people. In September, 1939, World War II broke out when Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia at the same time. After the war, our "allies," America and Britain, betrayed us to Stalin at Yalta. We know that hate, betrayal, irrationality and death can come from the left, the right, or the middle.

My mother was Slovak. Her father was a coal miner. His heavily accented political theory could be summed up in two words: "Everybody crook."

Igjugarjuk, an Eskimo shaman quoted by myth scholar Joseph Campbell, said it more poetically. "The truth lies far from men, out in the great emptiness." A mere mortal, I may never reach absolute truth, but I want to get as close as my puny powers allow.

I have Trump, Clinton, Johnson, and Sanders supporters among my Facebook friends. I read everything they post. I want to know what a variety of people are thinking. I want to hone my take on the truth against their truths.  

In recent days, Donald Trump has been tanking in the polls.

No sooner did Trump take his nosedive but my Facebook page was colonized by 1984 style "two minutes hate." In a scene from a Sci Fi movie, suddenly dozens of Facebookers were posting post after post that depicted Hillary Clinton as the worst person who ever lived, up to and including an ally of the anti-Christ (Yes, really. Google it.) One respected Facebook friend posted a meme stating that Hillary Clinton supported the Jews in their alleged deicide of Jesus.

I had previously looked forward to my morning plunge into Facebook as a way to connect with fellow humans near and far: their families, their pets, their memories, their prayer requests. Some politics, but not exclusively. Now merely perusing my Facebook feed left me feeling an acid burn on my skin.

Encounters with anger were not limited to a passive perusal of my Facebook feed.

Facebook friends I'd had for years, who had previously been courteous to me, exploded.

I was called many names. The most astounding and troubling to me: "immigrant." I was born in New Jersey.

I was especially troubled by posts from Christians referring to Hillary Clinton as Hitlery, Killary, Hildebeast, etc, Being a Christian is a challenge. The presence of others on a Christian walk is supportive and uplifting. Seeing Christians brazenly violate Matthew 5:22 and Exodus 20:16 rattled and depressed me. It was a Young-Goodman-Brown moment.

Many Facebook friends who are Trump supporters announce that they are angry. Numerous polls support my subjective impression that Trump supporters are angry. "Trump Supporters Are Angrier and More Risk-Accepting Than Clinton Supporters" claims one such poll; see here.

At least one Trump supporter on my Facebook feed says that this is all right and good. He voices a hydraulic theory of anger. Older white men, he says, have been stepped on and horribly abused. (This man's Facebook photos reflect a comfortable and successful, upper middle class life.) Because they have been so abused, older white men must lash out and express anger at those abusing them: women, immigrants, the poor, minorities. Once this anger is released, everything will be better.

I doubt this hydraulic theory of Trump supporters' anger.

I put more credence in the "practice makes perfect" theory.

The more anger people express, the better they get at expressing anger, the more they teach their body to be angry.

Jesus said, "Love one another as I have loved you." (John 13:34). That sounds pretty much impossible. Non-Christians question and scoff. How can you possibly love people the way Jesus loved people?

The Bible makes it even harder. In Luke 10, Jesus is asked what we must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself."

It gets even harder. When asked, "Who is my neighbor?" that is, whom must I love? Jesus responds by telling the Good Samaritan story. We have to love people utterly unlike ourselves.

Again, that sounds totally impossible.

We can at least try.

One way we try is "act as if."

There are many stories of saints "acting as if." My favorite.

Saint Francis was a pretty amazing guy. Enlightened. Recognized as amazing.

But he had a flaw. He couldn't abide lepers. Who could? They looked disgusting. They spread a hideously deforming contagion.

Saint Francis recognized his abhorrence of lepers as his challenge.

So he walked up to a wandering leper, embraced, and kissed him. In some tellings of this story, the leper then turned into Jesus. Mother Teresa understood this. As she worked with lepers in Calcutta, she called them, "Christ in distressing disguise."

One telling of this story, dating from 1264 and said to have been written by Saint Francis' companions, shows remarkable insight.

"Francis, everything you loved carnally and desired to have, you must despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. Because once you begin doing this, what before seemed delightful and sweet will be unbearable and bitter; and what before made you shudder will offer you great sweetness and enormous delight."

The above thirteenth-century excerpt articulates, not the hydraulic theory of emotions, but the "practice makes perfect" theory.

God acknowledges that Francis' body, his "meat" – his carnality – wants creature comforts, including the disgust Francis feels for lepers.

God doesn't tell Francis to express that disgust, to "let it out."

Rather, God tells Francis to "act as if." Act as if you love lepers, and you will come to love lepers, and other humans you had previously hated.

The Trump campaign and the behavior of Trump supporters has me worried and scared. The Trump campaign encourages anger and hate. That won't "let anything out." It will merely make people angrier, more hateful.


I want to keep Saint Francis in mind in these troubled times. I want to remember God's message to Francis, and Jesus' message to us: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Anthropoid 2016 Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan A Tough Movie I'm Glad I Saw

My mother was born in Slovakia and I grew up on stories. How beautiful her village was, of course. But stories of overwhelming ugliness, too. Munich, like Yalta, was an obscene word in our household. In 1938, long after Hitler had revealed that he was a rabid dog needing to be put down, the West surrendered Czechoslovakia to Hitler without firing one bullet. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, the man with an umbrella, called the Munich agreement "peace for our time." One of the many reasons so few Eastern Europeans are Anglophiles.

My mother taught me about Lidice, a Czech village that, with its inhabitants, had been wiped off the face of the earth by the Nazis. The men shot, the women and children murdered more slowly, the houses razed to the ground. In fact the Nazis wiped out hundreds of villages in Poland and Czechoslovakia.

"Anthropoid" is a Hollywood movie that, at long last, tells some of the war from the point of view of desperate Czechs and Slovaks fighting the Nazis. Fanboys gripe, "How many World War II movies can you make?" One answer: chronicling of World War II will not be complete as long as major stories like Operation Anthropoid remain untold. Reinhard Heydrich was one of the worst human beings who ever lived. He chaired the Wannsee Conference that formalized the Final Solution, the Nazi plan to murder all Jews. He was also in charge of the Czech Republic. He brutalized the population and wiped out the resistance in short order.

Heydrich was the only top Nazi to be assassinated, although there were assassination plots against others, significantly Hitler himself. People need to know that non-Jews, as well as Jews, suffered under the Nazis. People need to know of the incredible courage and heroism of forgotten heroes who fought the Nazis. The questions of an operation like Anthropoid remain open. Is it ethical, and is it militarily strategic, to assassinate one of history's worst humans if you know that thousands of innocent people will be murdered in retaliation?

"Anthropoid" opens with two resistance fighers, Jan Kubis a Czech (Jamie Dornan) and Jozef Gabcik, a Slovak (Cillian Murphy), being parachuted into Czechoslovakia after their training in England. They must find the tiny remnants of the surviving underground and announce their assassination plan. Resistance members Ladislav Vanek (Marcin Dorocinski) and Uncle Hajsky (Toby Jones) are not immediately enthusiastic. They recognize the risks of retaliatory mass killings. They understand that this assassination may be more of a means of bringing respect to the Czechoslovak government in exile in London under Edvard Benes.

"Anthropoid" is a tense, gripping, film noir-ish film. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, and I cried at the end. For hours afterward I was haunted by the film.

It's not for nothing that Steven Spielberg chose to make a glamorous, powerful, heroic, high-living member of the Nazi party the subject of his "Schindler's List." It's hard for a storyteller to tell the audience a story that has no triumphant moments, lots of death, and an ending that most filmgoers will already know.

"Anthropoid" consists largely of very tight shots on the faces of its two assassins as they live in Nazi-occupied Prague, trying to figure out a way to fulfill their mission. Scenes are dimly lit. Everyone is tense. There is little laughter or smiling. There is zero swaggering. There is a very brief moment toward the end that offers a hint of redemption. If you see the film, you will know what I'm talking about. The scene involves water, light, and a beautiful woman reaching out her hand.

The film does not take in the grand sweep of history. There are no shots of London headquarters, no fetishizing of squeaky Nazi boots or Hugo Boss uniforms. Lidice is mentioned in such an understated manner that filmgoers unfamiliar with it won't know what has been said.

"Anthropoid" offers an almost documentary look at what it is to be an assassin in a totalitarian regime. It's not fun. I was at first dubious when I heard that Cillian Murphy would be playing Jozef Gabcik. I wished for a Slovak actor. Murphy's performance is the emotional and aesthetic heart of the film. Murphy rarely allows any emotion to register on his face. He has turned himself into a killing machine. When, at a certain moment, a tear falls from his eye, that tear carries great weight. The audience knows what a courageous professional this man is.

My mother told me about Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik. When I have gone through tough times in my own life, I have used men like them to inspire me. How can I complain, when they went through so much worse? How can I give up, when they never did, through a six-hour shootout with Nazis who massively outgunned and outmanned them? How can I fail to take risks to fight evil, when a Slovak just like me managed to send to hell a man who seems to have emerged from its most fetid depths? "Anthropoid" is not a fun movie, but I'm glad I saw it. It brings me closer to the heroes it honors.