Friday, October 31, 2008

Ayn-ally Retentive

Alan Greenspan is not having much fun these days. Three years into retirement he’s taking a fall for the way things are going now. He’s saying things like, “Gee, maybe I wasn’t right about everything.”
If Greenspan made decisions that affected a lot people, a lot of people went along with those decisions, so I think that if there’s going to be blame, it doesn’t all belong to him, but then I am of the belief that blame is not a helpful thing. I’m talking about the kind where you demonize someone else and don’t hold yourself accountable for your own actions.
I was not aware that Greenspan was a follower of Ayn Rand, but that is one of the things I’ve learned in recent days. He was part of a group that met in her apartment in New York City, where the tenets of Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, were hammered out. Rand said in the appendix to the 1957 edition of Atlas Shrugged, "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."
She was born on February 2, 1905, in St. Petersburg, Russia, as Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum. Her family moved to the Crimea at the time of the Russian Revolution, and she came to the United States at the age of 21, changed her name to Ayn Rand, and went to Hollywood to write screenplays. There she met and married her husband, Frank O’Connor. She became a naturalized citizen in 1931. She and O’Connor later moved to New York City, where they lived the rest of their lives.
I read Rand’s novels, Atlas Shrugged, and The Fountainhead, when I was in high school. The scenes I remember most vividly from her novels were the violent sexual encounters, with the woman being brutally taken by the sweaty superior male and loving it, and him. I thought then, and I think now, “Eee-ew.”
Then there was the scene in which Rand gleefully killed off a whole trainload of liberals by asphyxiation. She described with evident pleasure the gasping demise of these poo-poo head do-gooders, one by one.
Also, she had a striking hostility toward soy beans. I’m not sure what that was all about.
A lot of people admired her philosophy and became her followers and disciples. You can see the attraction – the belief that you are superior to everyone else? The assumption that the superior being (you) should lead and triumph? That selfishness was the supreme good and that living selfishly can make you rich, and that’s good for everyone? Hey, sign me up!
Ayn Rand went to her final reward on March 6, 1982. That news may have been buried beneath the news of the death of John Belushi, who was a more popular public figure at the time, on March 5.
Her books still sell. People still buy into her Objectivist philosophy, and occasionally you still see a bumper sticker that says, “Who is John Galt?”
Apparently Alan Greenspan is having second thoughts, though. Ayn Rand was brilliant, no doubt, and she worshipped the rational, but it turns out that the rest of the world, with all its inferiority and irrationality, does not live up to her tenets. Darn.
So perhaps now we’ll try a new philosophy. You thought philosophy was a dusty old subject that had no meaning to the real world, but we have all been had by the teachings of a dead philosopher. It’s a cruel truth, but bad philosophy happens.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Choosing a Church

A friend remarked to me the other day that she was thinking it was about time to start going to church, “You know, just in case it’s true.” “Ah,” I said, “Fire insurance church.”
There are a lot of reasons for going to church. Fire insurance is a big reason for a lot of people. Some parents want their children to have some sort of moral and spiritual training outside the home. Some people want to spend time in a community of like-minded souls. Some feel called to become closer to God and church seems like the place to do that. Some people want an hour’s break from their kids on Sunday morning, and some like the coffee and baked goods after the service. God doesn’t care how or why you show up.
Whatever the reason, how do you find your spiritual home?
First, look at your history. Were you raised in a faith tradition? An outcome that takes some parents by surprise is that the children they raised to be good agnostics or atheists turn to religion with a passion in adulthood, and conversely, children raised as devout something or other turn out to be atheists and agnostics. What I’m saying here is that you can make choices about faith for yourself, but not for anyone else.
So, was your childhood experience with religion good? You might want to start there with your adult search. Pick up where you left off, and see where it takes you. Spirit being Spirit, you can have a great faith experience even if you are running away from the past. We all experience grace whether we believe in it or not. This annoys people who think you have to do something or prove something to receive grace. Fortunately those people are not in control of the dispensation of grace. Whew.
Was your childhood experience with religion bad, or horrible? Church may have been completely poisoned for you, and I can’t tell you that you’ll ever get over it. I would advise counseling for you, to make sense of what made no sense. All abuse is toxic, and abuse within a church is more so because we have this idea that you should be able to trust people in church. Unfortunately, people are still people and some of them will use church as a place to exert power and control over children and adults.
Here is a word of caution to all: church is not a safe place. It is a human institution, which makes it a place of division and politics and power plays. Don’t walk in thinking it will all be sweetness and light. It won’t.
So why go?
Because church is “a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” I forget which Anglican said that. You really can experience spiritual growth, and good companionship and community, and that is church at its best. It won’t be an entirely comfortable experience – I also forget who said, “Christ came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
If you are not of the Christian persuasion, but you embark upon a true spiritual journey, you will still find it is not an entirely comfortable journey. That’s the way spiritual journeys, and spiritual honesty, work.
One of the positive outcomes of spiritual honesty is true humility, and acquiring true humility can be a painful experience at times. Like that time years ago when I realized that the one consistent factor in all the crappy relationships I’d had was…me. Ouch. See, that was painful, but it was a good thing to know.
Still want to go to church? Listen to that call, because it is a call. I hope I’ve made it clear that church is not for wussies, and that spiritual quests are not easy or safe. All you Star Wars and Lord of the Rings fans know that.
If you’re just going for the social contacts and the coffee and cinnamon rolls, it might not matter where you go, but watch out. Once you open up the door for God to come in, all kinds of crazy things can happen. You might end up writing evangelical columns for an alternative newspaper. You never know.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pickin’ and Singin’

Whew. It’s been a good singing and guitar week so far.
Sunday night Rick, Becky, and I went over to Bremerton to watch the Brothers Four and the Kingston Trio in concert. Yes, Bremerton. Bob Flick of the Brothers Four expressed his thanks to Mapquest that so many people showed up.
The two groups had been doing a “Fiftieth Anniversary Tour,” about fifteen dates in three weeks, in California, Oregon, and Washington. This was the last date of the tour, and you could tell they were glad to be done and ready to go home and kick back a little.
That did not stop them from giving a great concert.
The Brothers Four have maintained the same sound over fifty years – the epitome of mellow male harmony. People a little younger than I am (that is to say, under 60) might not know who they are, but, talkin’ about my ge-ge-ge-ge-generation, people my age and older sure do, and in Japan they are loved greatly.
The Kingston Trio is a franchise, more or less. Two of the original trio are gone now. Dave Guard passed away in 1991, and Nick Reynolds passed away a couple of weeks ago. John Stewart, who replaced Dave Guard in the trio in 1961, died last January. Bob Shane, the sole survivor, retired from touring and now the trio is represented by George Grover, Bill Zorn, and Rick Daugherty. Grover has been the banjo man for the trio for over 30 years; Zorn played with the trio back in the 70s; and Rick Daugherty was Glenn Yarborough’s replacement in the Limeliters for many years. Bill Zorn was a Limeliter with Daugherty for a few years. So they have plenty of folksinger/trio cred, and while they don’t sound like the original three, they sound pretty good and they sing the old songs and a few new ones and indulge in snappy patter, which I envied. Being an old singer/songwriter myself, I can only say that you should never underestimate the importance of snappy patter on stage.
We Tuels have a connection with Rick Daugherty that goes back a ways. He directs operas down in the Bay Area, including for Sonoma City Opera, and has directed my father-in-law, Mark Tuel, in many operas. We mentioned Mark to him and he was delighted to hear of him and meet my Rick, and to hear that, at 87, Mark is going strong. “He’s made of iron,” Daugherty said. Yup, he pretty much is.
Becky and I bought stacks of CDs and listened to them on the way home, and here at home since.
This morning I had my own gig to play. Occasionally I sing at the local nursing home. Most of my audience gets wheeled in; some are no longer verbal, and some are what you might call a little too verbal. I took the summer off to do other things, so hadn’t been back for three or four months. There was a big crowd – the lunch room was packed!
I tend to sing songs from my parent’s youth: It Had to Be You, Melancholy Baby, Always, As Time Goes By. Songs like that. Red River Valley, a little Johnny Cash, Misty, Me and Bobby McGee – it’s a fairly eclectic mix of songs that were popular over the middle twentieth century.
One of the wonderful things about the internet is that you can find the lyric to practically any song in about a minute, and I print up lyrics of songs I’d like to sing and put them into a three-ring binder. I don’t always learn the songs, but today I turned the page and there was the lyric to “Plastic Jesus,” a song I have never performed before. I hauled off and sang it, and got to hear the words with the same sense of discovery and amusement my audience had: “I don’t care if it rains or freezes, long as I got my plastic Jesus, riding on the dashboard of my car…” We all had a ball.
But then someone asked me to sing Stardust, which I keep meaning to learn but don’t know. Flo Ann was there, though, and she knew it and she has a nice voice, so I said, “Let’s have a singalong. Flo Ann, you lead it,” and she did, and a lot of people sang along, and that was sweet.
At the end we all sang “You Are My Sunshine,” and then they got ready for lunch and I got to visit with Christine, a friend who has been severely disabled by multiple sclerosis. It is for her I learned the Johnny Cash tunes, and I thank her for it, because everyone seems to like his songs.
So, a good gig. I came out exhausted. Singing takes energy, and that’s not my long suit these days, but it felt good to pick and grin once more, and of course the applause never hurts. I’d like to take a nap, but instead I’m going to haul some discards up to Granny’s Attic, our local thrift store supreme. The more I get rid of, the happier I am.
Hope your week is going well also.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Too O-L-D

Some of you know that one of my main activities (and by “activity” I mean, “more movement than lying on the couch watching TV”) is going through the detritus of my life, sorting and tossing. There is a rule in office work that you only touch a piece of paper one time, and when you let go of it, it is filed, shredded, or passed on. It is history and you will never deal with it again.
What a beautiful concept.
My personal rule is that I pick it up, look at it not knowing quite what to do with it, and then add it to a pile. At some point I go through the pile and attend to things with time considerations, such as mortgage payments and power bills, and things I can recycle.
There is always the starter for the next pile, though – paper I can not figure out how to classify or process. Also there are drawings and other art projects my sons did when they were sweet, adorable little boys (there, you see how memory shines things up? They were sweet and adorable, and they were also little boys, so you figure it out). I cannot let go of these precious mementos of the past, theirs and mine, but I don’t exactly have anywhere to put them, so – they go into piles, which I sort through again and again. You can see why it is taking me so long to pare down the baggage.
The reason I take the time to look at every piece of paper is that sometimes I find treasure. Yesterday I found that notebook which I mentioned in my previous piece, and was warmly reminded of my friend Fran. Right after what I wrote about Fran, though, was a song lyric that never made it any farther than the page of that notebook. It’s in my handwriting, so I know I wrote it.
When I think of all the times I wished I could write a song, begged God to send me a song, went ape-poop haywire because I could not for the life of me write a song, gave up in despair and decided I would never, ever, write another song, it wonders me something wonderful that I wrote this lyric and then forgot all about it. It’s a squandering of creativity that horrifies me.
OK, so maybe it’s not a great song. I never know when I write these things. I take down the dictation, and maybe I put it to music, and if I sing it for other people and it seems to have meaning to them, I learn it, and sing it again.
When I read these words, I thought, hm, I can relate to that, and I’ll bet a lot of other women (and men?) my age could, as well. It’s a spelling song, and it goes like this:
I went to get a J-O-B
So I could pay my rent
They said I was too O-L-D
And that is how it went
I read the ads, I made the calls
I sent out resumes
On paper, great,
But then the gate
No J-O-B today

Too O-L-D
Too F-A-T
Grandma is too gray
Their eyes shut down,
I turn around
No J-O-B today.

It ain’t as though I want to go
‘Way up the corporate heap
The bottom’s fine, a job that’s mine
So I can earn my keep
I’m told that older workers
Are reliable and smart
But how’s an older worker
Going to get an honest start?

Too O-L-D
Too F-A-T
Grandma is too gray
Their eyes shut down,
I turn around
No J-O-B today.

Look out, Tammy Wynette.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Remembering Fran

Remembering Fran

Last night I found a little spiral notebook. I have about a zillion of these floating around, because I carry a notebook in my purse so I can write things down as they occur to me. Often I forget to pack the notebook, so while I’m out I buy another little notebook, and while I’m at it a new pen, because writing with a new pen is a physical thrill to me. Non-writers might not get this, but I’m past worrying about what people think.
So I found this notebook, and paged through it to see if there was anything worth keeping. There was. This notebook was with me about two years ago.
In November of 2006, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Fran Gordon died. She’d had cancer for years and had been doing pretty well for a while. The summer before at Strawberry Festival she asked me to sing at the Heritage Museum up in town. She and her husband Dick were deeply involved in the Heritage Museum. The stage was a sheet of plywood set on the ground in front of the museum, with a PA set. I ended up singing a lot of hymns a cappella, and Fran came down and stood on the plywood with me, laying on her alto harmonies. My friend Tara listened, but most of the crowd passed by, some giving us a nervous glance as they went into the museum. We had fun singing those beloved old tunes, leaning into the harmonies, singing and laughing. It was a beautiful day.
A couple of months later she called to say that her cancer was back, and it was everywhere, including her liver. I don’t know if she knew the cancer was growing on that fine summer day. It would have been just like her to know, and to smile and sing anyway. In retrospect, I think she knew that all her treatments were holding actions, buying her time, but her attitude and intention was always, “I’m sticking around.”
That’s what she told me when I went to visit her.
“I want to see David go on his mission, and I’d like to see him get married,” she said. Fran was a Mormon born and raised, and David was her son, who was in high school. I told her that day that if she needed anything, anything at all, like a ride in to chemotherapy, to call me, and I’d be happy to take her.
Because she’s a Mormon, I figured her LDS family would take care of such things, but she did call me soon after and say she needed a ride in to the hospital for chemo the following Tuesday, and could I take her? Of course I could. Now I wonder if she called me because she knew I needed to do that for her.
I showed up that morning and helped her into the car, and loaded up her wheelchair. She was terribly weak, and terribly pale, and said she felt so tired. We talked and laughed on the way into town. We must have talked about a lot of things, but what I remember most vividly was her telling me passionately how she hated the F-word and all its variants and euphemisms: fricking, effing, freaking – all loathsome in Fran’s sight, because the way the word was used and what it meant was so disrespectful and demeaning to women in particular and to all humans in general. I was impressed enough that I avoided using the word or anything like it for months afterwards, out of respect for Fran.
When we got to the hospital we put her into her chair and I pushed her to her appointment. We sat in a waiting room with large aquariums that had fluorescent fish wafting around inside, and I took a picture of her with hair, because she knew she was losing it again. It was already starting to fall out. She planned to have it shaved off, but before that she was going to allow David to decide how to style it before it went.
She told her caregivers how tired she felt, and it was decided that she needed a blood transfusion. She told me that I could go back to the island, and asked me to go pick up Dick at work and bring him up to the hospital, which I did.
The transfusion helped, but not as much as one she’d had previously. We all knew the cancer was winning.
She had her hair done to David’s specifications. It was a multi-colored Mohawk. Libbie Anthony took a picture of Fran with her new ‘do before it was cut off.
Her sisters arrived from other states to take care of her. I went to see her on a Thursday, just a couple of weeks after I’d taken her to the hospital. She was in a hospital bed in the living room, placed where she could look out the windows and see Maury Island and the Cascades in the distance, and all the way to heaven, probably, from her perspective. She was white as her sheets, either asleep or groggily awake. I visited with her family for a while, said good-bye, and left. I don’t know if she knew I’d been there.
Two days later she passed. Her funeral was the following Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. The Mormon Church was packed. Fran had made such an impact on so many people’s lives. She had a way of making you feel like you were the most important person in the world to her. She’d been the president of the PTA for years, she did lights for many local theater productions, and she sang and acted in many of those productions. She was deeply involved in the community, and she was deeply loved.
For months after she died, when I thought of her I felt like falling to the ground and sobbing. It’s such a tough world, and it hurts to lose someone who makes it feel worthwhile to be here. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for her family.
Apparently I went somewhere a few days after Fran died, and I wrote in this notebook – remember the notebook? – while I was on the ferry, and that’s what I found last night:
Nov. 21, 2006
The last time I rode the ferry
Fran was with me
And now Fran belongs to the ages
(“I’m right here with you,” she says in my mind
“I want people to know
I had a good life
And no regrets
You don’t know
I can see it now
It will all be well
And I’ll be seeing you soon.”

My Lord will comfort me through these good-byes
It is a parting for a while
But not forever
You’ve gone ahead
I lag behind
Still you live on
A gift and a song
In my heart and mind

We’ll miss you so
We already do
The question we ask
Is how in this world shall we do without you?
And you say, “Cheer up”
And we see you smile
“You haven’t lost me at all.
Can’t you hear me call?
See you in a while.”

Fran Gordon. What a gift she was. How we miss her.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Well, kids, last week was a little rough, in the world and in my head, which kept me busy writing – parodies, a column, letters, emails – writing, writing, writing. Ended the week Friday by meeting a deadline AND singing at an Obama rally which featured pouring rain. By Saturday I was fried.
So I thought I’d kick back a little this week. I like to think that having mono has taught me to be less driven, less insistent on doing all of everything all the time until I keel over. The whole “keeling over” thing has lost its charm for me.
So I started the week thinking I’d go to Seattle and get some new shoes and hit Costco and fill the gas tank on my trusty old Honda Civic. Instead I woke up feeling a little off, which over the next couple of hours turned into a migraine, and I ended up going to bed and sleeping for a few hours with a block of ice on the back of my neck. Later in the day I drove up to Vashon town with my son to mail CDs at the post office (your CD is COMING, Sofie) and pick up necessities at Thriftway: pizza fixings and half and half. The Tuels will be marching on, thus provisioned.
It is October and the rain has arrived. Time to put the Birkenstocks into the closet. I made the mistake of wearing them up to the store today, and when I stepped out of the car they filled right up, soaking my socks. The problem with getting water into Birkenstocks is that they have that little rim around the sole, so the water does not drain back out.
I hear that the world is stumbling and falling all around us. So I hear. After all these years of hearing the crash was coming, it has finally arrived. Maybe. It was bothering me last week, but doesn’t seem to be bothering me this week. Oh well. What the hell. We’re doing the best we can.
That’s about all a person getting over a migraine can say right now.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Money, Morals, Religion, Racism: Summing Up

In 2000 and again in 2004, the election process was dubious, to say the least. That is saying it kindly. Here is what I think: two presidential elections were stolen in broad daylight, and nobody had the will or the power to do anything about it. I have heard people from third world countries calling what happened here a coup d’état. I’ll let Webster’s Dictionary explain what a coup d’état is: “a sudden and decisive action in politics, esp. one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force.”
As we have tried to go about our daily lives, we have experienced terrorist acts and we have been lied into a war we did not want.
We have watched the rich grow richer and the middle class grow poorer. We have watched our country go deep into debt, and we, the people, have gone deep into debt, some of us because of unwarranted optimism, some because of the lack of sense or the lack of the will to put off getting what we want; some because there was no other way to get by. Now we all seem to be having problems with credit, and money. The roots of these problems go a lot deeper than the last eight years, but the borrow-and-spend ways of the last eight years have precipitated the current hysteria.
Then there is morality. A little reality check here: does anyone not know that the alpha male has always assumed he’s entitled to sow his superior seed? That this is one of the reasons guys become politicians, and rock stars, and athletes? Scandal is always to be avoided, but that was easier back when the press was polite about these things. “Boys will be boys and what the people don’t know won’t hurt the boys.” The rules have changed, but the behavior hasn’t. For the first time sexual behavior that falls outside the strictures of Protestant morality is being reported and condemned.
The crazy-making part of this is how the morally righteous treat transgressors: Democrats who stray are slime who are given hell here and will later burn in hell; Republican transgressors are to be prayed for and forgiven. People who decry situational ethics practice situational morality, and it’s a safe bet that the people who howl the loudest about morality and sin are the ones most likely to be caught with their pants down, literally. Crazy-making.
Both the right and the left ends of the spectrum tend to believe they are morally superior. So I will now say a few words about moral superiority: like the military-industrial complex, it is to be avoided. If you think you’re right about everything, you have missed the mark. No one listened to Eisenhower, either, but he spoke up and I am speaking up. Knock that crap off. It does not help.
Then there’s religion. Many people adore Bush Jr. “because he’s a Christian.” I have no idea of the real relationship between George and his God. All I see is his public behavior, and from that perspective he acts, talks, walks, and quacks like a charismatic character who has been a perfect figurehead for the neo-cons, as Ronald Reagan was. As Bush, Sr., wasn’t quite, though he was a faithful party steward. As Sarah Palin is shaping up to be, in this era of politics as show business.
The biggest factor in the 2008 election is racism. All the campaigning, all the debate, all the issues, all the qualifications or lack of them, all these things are nothing in the face of prejudice. This election will be a referendum on racism in this country.
We’ll get up the day after the election and try, as always, to live our daily lives as well as we can. If your guy loses, and you think it’s the end of the world and you don’t know what to do, I point you toward this verse from the Hebrew Scriptures:
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:8, NRSV
Not a bad plan for the day after an election. Or coup d’état, as the case may be.