Despair is Not an Option

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Despair is NOT an Option

Oh how I wish I had the luxury to be uninvolved, to return to my pre-November 9th days of writing, reading, and thinking that sense and dignity and intelligence would certainly prevail. My life was upended that early morning – and while I long to return to the rhythm of my days, while I long to believe that my calls, emails to our elected representatives will be at least heard if not accepted, I admit to more than one episode of near-despair.

On a state and national level, it feels like events are moving in a helter-skelter, out-of-control battle, Republican officials racing to undo progress made in moving our country toward a forward-looking, accepting society, to institute laws, regulations that they think will make the country “great again,” to accept baseless tweets and opinions as facts. Environmental protections, consumer safeguards, rational gun control laws, healthcare coverage – the rush to decimate, to unravel anything done or espoused by the former President. Yes, hard not to despair of an administration that wants to bring back coal, restrict the rights and privileges of our citizens, build a wall, ban Muslims.  I must ask for what purpose?

Yes, down the list of 45’s platforms are limits of congressional terms and lobbying jobs. I’d like to see some progress on those issues. Instead, he seems to be working hard to take us back to the 1950s, a time that his supporters seem to view through sepia lenses. As far as I know, time-travel only exists in novels.

Preaching to the choir I am most likely. And I promise that this will be my last dirge for a while. My second historic novel, Echoes from the Alum Chine, is close to being born. You’ll hear more-than-you-want-to-hear about that over the next months.

Meanwhile, I won’t despair, and I wish the same for you.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

Gratitude and Joy: Compare and Contrast

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Gratitude and Joy:  Compare and Contrast

Gratitude – who in this life could not, should not, be grateful – even in the horrendous political climate we are enduring. The suggestions, admonitions, about gratitude, about keeping a gratitude journal, about simplicity, well, who would not agree with them? So much to be grateful for – and I honestly do spend most of my hours in a state of gratitude – for (some of) my family, my friends, my health, for having “enough,” and most of all, for the freedom of my days.

Freedom – to do what I want, when I want, to set my own schedule and be responsible for following or not following it. It has been years since I left the world of paid employment – and there has not been a day since when I have not breathed a deep sigh and paean of “thank you, universe, for this sovereignty.” It was not until I experienced it that I realized how fettered I had been for way-too-many years. It was a bondage that I had freely accepted, indeed, had sought out and believed was what I wanted, a way to prove myself, mainly to myself.

And then the veil was lifted, the clouds parted, and I found this life – late, but not too late. Gratitude, you bet. And a sense of enough – enough money, enough time, and (almost) enough love. Gratitude – absolutely.

Which brings me to joy, a quality that had not been my strong suit.

Ah, joy – to experience that unrestrained, free, soaring spell (for to me it is a spell – a good one) if only we open ourselves to it. Joy in its purest form, without the Puritan/Catholic/Jewish shackles of “you’d better be grateful for this and if you’re not, you’ll pay the price.” Just plain joy, without gratitude.

Whoa…. surely some severe consequence will befall me – this sunrise, can I just experience it, let it touch my heart, without a voice inside, sometimes quiet, sometimes more insistent, that declares – “this is a gift, be grateful, remember this for your entry to your gratitude journal”?

I know that joy is a gift, which I exuberantly receive with no chains or laces. And the more I open my eyes to it, the more it seems to appear. And do I ever love that no-strings-attached thing-y.

The universe conspired to send me back to an old friend, Abigail DeWitt, a wondrous writer and teacher who has been a muse and inspiration to me for several years. It is she, via her Write to Heal course, who opened my eyes and heart to joy. Even more thanks to you, Abigail.

I’ll end with a joyous commercial for her – learn about her and her programs on her website: abigaildewitt.com. You may wind up entering that into your gratitude journal….

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

What Toilet Would Joan of Arc Use?

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What Toilet Would Joan of Arc Use?

I would wager that we all think that we know what is moral – that we have right, and/ or truth, and/or God on our side. Sure in our cloak of smug rectitude, we march, we call, we email, and complain bitterly about those who don’t agree with us, who surely have it wrong, and whom we deride as corrupt conservatives or snowflake liberals.

Just ask me. I’ll be more than happy to tell you exactly how our country should be run – who should be allowed in (almost everybody – we are, remember, all refugees), who should have health care (everybody) and how we should pay for it (taxes for all, no exceptions, no loopholes, including the ones that I am currently using). Our values, after all, are reflected in how we spend our money. It really doesn’t matter how loudly we proclaim differently.

Which brings me to morality, or rather the co-opting of moral as a slogan. Whenever I meet someone who introduces themselves to me as “a good Christian,” I always step a few paces back. Not, mind you, that I encounter many such self-proclaimed sanctified. More often I read about them, on both sides of the issues. Sometimes they are members of the esteemed clergy. More often they are cherry-pickers of whatever biblical voice suits their beliefs.

My first encounter with a group drafting that term was Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, that faction of the 1980s, whose half-life seems to be echoed by Franklin Graham. We all know their stand on righteousness. To me it seems to be “my way or the highway.” As for me, I’ll take the highway – nicer people there, I do believe. And then there is North Carolina’s own Moral Mondays, though this group stands on the opposite end of the morality spectrum, one of inclusion and a voice for those whose voices may not be heard.

Now this hurts – because this is where my principles collide with causes that I support. The marchers in this group are calling for a legislature that considers its citizens and their oft-times competing needs. So it is not their cause I abjure, but rather it is the name they have chosen for themselves. By co-opting “morality,” they are in danger of becoming as rigidly self-righteous as those who represent all that they oppose. They are, as with the conservative Christian right, both preaching to their own choirs and giving the opposition firepower.

Which, finally, brings me to Joan of Arc. The nation is currently in a toilet frenzy – who should be able to use what toilet. I must confess that I don’t see the vibrant connection that the conservatives assert between toilet usage and sexual predators, but I must also acknowledge my sense that this group sees sex lurking around each and every corner. Projection perhaps?

And here is Joan, cross-dresser of old. And even thought the ever-pious St. Thomas of Aquinas admitted that sometimes this was not the embodiment of wickedness and debauchery, the courts of the time decided otherwise. For her hearing, and subsequent immolation, she was forced to wear a dress. (Alas, our heroine in a skirt does not make for nearly as theatrical a rendition.)

So my question of those North Carolina supporters of HB2 and for those states now considering passing the same types of laws – where would you direct Joan of Arc?

And for me, I continue to write, call, email. Our current political situation, locally and nationally, demands it. And as I do, sure that I have the answers, if only someone would ask, I also consider –Who of us does not think we are moral? Who of us does not think we have the corner on good, on truth?

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On Aplomb….

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On Facing Life with Aplomb

I delighted myself last Sunday when I figured out a key word in a crossword puzzle: aplomb. And not only did I congratulate myself for figuring it out, it also unlocked what turned out to be the rest of the entire puzzle. A sign, you say? Well, hell yes!

Aplomb. It came to me again the next day in a guided meditation. An instruction was to allow a word, a quality, to come to mind. And aplomb it was.

Aplomb. Is that not the answer to the world’s ills, or at least our ills with the world? The dictionary defines it as a confident composure or self-assurance. But I have another overlay – to me, aplomb is a healthy distancing, observing, yet being part of it – the good part. An acceptance of the situation, without undue emotion or connection. No superiority, just aplomb – and maybe a second Manhattan.

Aplomb – an enjoyment, an observation – from a distance, a bit removed — not that separate, sad feeling of not belonging, but a jolly acceptance of what is – without the angst of wishing it were different.

So from now on, I plan to practice aplomb. With our political situation, I will remain concerned.  I will be active, but I will also keep a distance that I hope will allow me to see and speak with a rational, logical, honorable detachment. When I observe my associates and intimates acting in ways which show their flawed humanity, I will strive to understand and accept, and hope that they will do the same when my failings overtake me. We should have plenty of practice on these.

I want to face the world with a lightness that has been missing from my life since November 9th. And, so I’ve heard, light will conquer darkness.

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Nevertheless, She Persisted…

Nevertheless, She Persisted….

I start each week by telling myself that this will be the week when I return to some semblance of normalcy. This will be the week that calling, writing, emailing my senators and representative will not be my first priority. This will be the week that I return to posting a blog that is not political. And then……and then…. Like so many, I feel that I must persist. If not I, then who? And Senator Warren, you go girl. Hasn’t this propelled you and our cause to the fore!

This week I actually visited the field office of Senator Tillis, or at least I tried to. I went alone. I wanted to see how/if there would be a different response to one person rather than a group. What I found was a locked door, lights on in the back of the office. I rapped on the window; I called. No response. I went back an hour later – same routine.

Later that day I called and was told that they keep the door locked, and, of course, they couldn’t hear me since their offices are “all the way in the back.” When I asked how constituents were supposed to find them, they told me that there was a bell I should have rung. Where is said bell? I asked. To the right, along the wall.

Well, I’m sure they’re right. I didn’t see it, even though my current vision is 20/20, or almost. There was no sign letting visitors know about it. So I will let you be the judge of how important visitors are to the good senator’s local office.

I must say that I don’t like becoming a political animal. I don’t like starting each day with ever-so-polite calls to regional and Washington offices. I’d much rather drink my coffee, sit on my sun porch and listen to the birds. And then I found this Facebook post. It had been shared many times, and I could not find the author. But did her words resonant, did they ever ring true. And I share them here, not my words, though I wish they were:

 
“I want my friends to understand that “staying out of politics” or being “sick of politics” is privilege in action.
Your privilege allows you to live a non-political existence. Your wealth, your race, your abilities, your religion, or your gender allows you to live a life in which you likely will not be a target of bigotry, attacks, deportation, or genocide. You don’t want to get political, you don’t want to fight because your life and safety are not at stake.
It is hard and exhausting to bring up issues of oppression (aka “get political”). The fighting is tiring. I get it. Self-care is essential. But if you find politics annoying and you just want everyone to be nice, please know that people are literally fighting for their lives and safety. You might not see it, but that’s what privilege does.
I also want to say to my friends who are new to this, my friends who have recently become more vocal, my friends who’ve seen the damage #45 has done so far, my friends who went to the women’s march — I am proud of you for getting involved. Don’t stop there. Keep having these discussions, keep talking about politics, stay active.
And when you read the critiques of the march from other progressive women who didn’t feel represented, don’t get defensive or discouraged. Activism needs critique. We need to ask ourselves where we were as Flint’s water has been poisoned, or where we were when Philando Castile was killed, or John Crawford or Eric Garner. If the women who showed up at the march showed up when people of color were murdered, it would stop.
Intersectionality means showing up even when the issues don’t affect us directly. Stay awake and stay active. We need you so much right now.”

And so I continue, every day, even on my Sabbatical Wednesdays to do what I can. I know it is small, but it is something. You know what they say about those snowflakes – alone, one might not mean so much, but just see what they can do when they accumulate and the climate is right.;

Well, the climate is definitely right. And Nevertheless, She Persisted.

www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

On Sabbatical Wednesdays

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On Sabbatical Wednesdays —

For several years, I’ve tried, not always successfully, to keep Wednesdays free of outside commitments. I meant it to be a time of catching up on all those chores, tasks, that somehow never got finished, a time to quiet the hive-mind, to concentrate on those undertakings that were best performed with at least a semblance of serenity. To write, to edit, to think…to catch up on emails (and Facebook).

That plan vanished after the election, when I was in such a state that I could not think, much less write, straight. And then the election, and all those Congresspersons to call, to write, to email – it felt like my life was not my own. So much to do, so much to object to – a world spinning out of control.

And I realized that it was I (among others) who was doing the spinning. All that energy trying to understand, making the effort to always be logical, polite, respectful in my dealings with elected officials, even those whose tweets and postings made it clear that they had no respect for me. I received much information on issues from Facebook and other postings. For a while it was a godsend.

And then…and then….

I realized that these issues had overtaken my life. I longed for peace. I yearned to incorporate at least a bit of joy in my life. Slowly an answer appeared:

Sabbatical Wednesdays – a “real” Sabbath, a withdrawal, however short, from the world of politics, Facebook, Twitter, newscasts – even from the world of writing.

I must say that the first time, without Facebook, was more difficult than I had imagined. More times than I am willing to admit did my eye go to that icon on my IPhone. But I toughed it out – and the world continue to turn on its axis. To put off writing obligations was much easier, a relief, actually.

On the second such Wednesday, I realized that it was a reprieve – all that bad news would come to me, in time, just not as it happened. There was little that I could do that a day would make a difference. So, this past Wednesday, I read, I read new-to-me poets, I watched way too much Acorn TV. I even napped. And I must tell you, it was a delicious way to spend a day.

And Thursday morning, I was back at my laptop – for my daily calls, emails about the issues that I am focusing on – universal healthcare and gun control – with most days including a response to the latest presidential outrage. And the afternoons for writing, and thinking, and then thinking some more. But a bit more refreshed, less frantic, less hopeless about the world.

A day off – my Sabbath is Wednesday.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

 

We Are All Refugees…

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My book group is reading The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Its narrator, a half-French, half-Vietnamese operative, tells a story of divided loyalties. It begins in 1975 with the withdrawal of American forces from South Vietnam.

I lived through this time; I remember pictures of South Vietnamese clinging to American helicopters as they left the area. At the time I thought, how sad, and then went back to my life and my problems and worries,so much more important than what was happening so far away. Sorry that “those people” had to endure even more than they had, but, really, wasn’t there always sadness?

Earlier this year, I watched the PBS Documentary, “Last Days in Vietnam.” Rory Kennedy (yes, that Kennedy) did a superb job of re-telling this story that many of us thought we knew. I thought I knew. I didn’t. So much that I didn’t realize, that I glossed over. I’m sure the press covered it, though not in a way that I paid attention to, so wrapped up in my own life was I.

And so I became a bit less blind. And less blind. And less blind.

And now I find myself looking with disbelief with what our president has done, with the flourish of a pen, proud of his executive order. Calling it “extreme vetting.” Others, those with little hope of escape, of freedom, might chose to call it something else. And those of us who watch, in horror, feel both outrage and helplessness.

We post our indignation on Facebook; we write blogs like this one; we live in our bubble where everyone agrees with us. Certainly, we remember that we ALL come from refugees.

And meanwhile…

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