What I’m Not Doing to Cope

Montrose Harbor is my place. Or it was before Mayor Lightfoot started cruising through the city, flip-flop in hand, telling clustering idiots, “Go home.” When the blues hit, when life sandpapered me raw, when I felt lonesome for my own company, I’d leave home in Rogers Park, hop off Lake Shore Drive at the Lawrence exit, and slowly tool through the long lakefront park to the harbor, say “hey” as I passed what we call the “llama tree,” and assure myself of a few things. Lake Michigan was still there. The crows were still there (they’d vanished one year, due to West Nile Virus killing so many, but their numbers have been recovering). The seasons were coming and going in their expected procession. I needed the reassurance. I needed the anchor in time.

The llama tree.

Some fifteen years ago, my wife and I started driving the length of the park in a repeating circuit before picking up our tot from daycare. It was a way to savor being ourselves — our lover selves instead of our parenting selves — until the very last minute. We cherished it.

Ten years ago, my wife (and first reader) suffered a life-changing head injury at work. For six months, she couldn’t remember that I’d read to her the night before. I’d been reading her to sleep every night for years. She slept twenty-three hours a day. She’s since fought, centimeter by centimeter, to regain her sight from visual disturbances (which she described as “a static of orange spiders in motion”). A year out, she struggled to regain the ability to read. To ride in a car without a towel over her face to avoid motion sickness. Her recovery has been slow and incomplete, and still she amazes me.

After this injury, she was unable function as an RN and our hard-hit finances kept me up nights. I tried to calculate how much we could get for our furniture, some of our books, and realized a giant, everything-must-go yard sale wouldn’t save us. I wished I could go back in a time machine and un-buy almost everything in our home. When I slept, I dreamt of trying to whore myself out and finding no takers. I dreamt of cutting off an arm and trying to sell it.

I’m prone to depression and the fevers of mental illness ran high around this time. Gail couldn’t come with me, but after making sure she didn’t need my help to and from the bathroom and she didn’t want anything to eat or drink, I’d kiss her and say, “I’ll be back.”

“Where are you going?”

“To see if the lake is still there.”

And she understood.

The Harbor. I fed my beloved crows, keeping a rough count so I could report back at home, feeling small if there weren’t any, thrilling if there were more than a half dozen. I outwitted the greedy seagulls (really, they are the gimme-est of birds). I watched goslings transform from bipedal clumps of fluff following their parents through the grass to mature, fully wing-spanned geese. I watched the waves, listened to the sailboats’ rigging clink in the wind. I would marvel at the green of the grass and wonder at the endurance of trees. I’d wonder what the fisherfolk were catching. When the barrels came out, I knew it was smelt season. I’d write. I’d practice blues harmonica (which gives me much more joy than it will probably ever give anyone who listens). I gaze at intervening distances. On misty days, I’d seek a horizon erased by gray. I sometimes got out of the car to sit on the concrete steps and glory in the wind and weather, but I mostly enjoyed all this from the shell of our automobile.

These sound like such little nothings. Even if I throw in the two hawks I once saw tussling over a fish, a solar eclipse, the grackles and starlings, a wild turkey, and the squirrels. Don’t forget the squirrels, who tend toward small and gray, but a few have hints of auburn in their tails, and if you’re lucky you’ll see one or two lovely black ones. Obviously, I have my favorites. With all this and all I am leaving out, it sounds, I’m sure, like humble pie, as most experiential wonders tend to do, but I can’t say it any clearer than this: urban nature kept my brains in my skull.

I could peel myself off the proverbial ceiling as long as I could visit this spot two, three times per week. More often if things were worse. Less, if our family hit a patch of (relatively) smooth sailing. I’ve counted on this spot as a personal anchor for the better part of two decades.

When word first came that Chinese officials had expanded the radius of the January 23rd lockdown of Wuhan, my wife said, “That’s coming here. We need to get ready to hunker down.” Everyone in our household has underlying conditions that increase the risk of serious illness should Covid-19 make it across our threshold. We quietly stocked up on essentials and braced ourselves. I took photos of the crows. Dug out an old file with the sound of rigging in the wind.

The police barricades have been up since 1995 — no, since late March 2020 — but it feels much longer. Spring and Summer came day by day, as we had little to do but watch flowers bud and trees go to leaf, instead of coming all at once in the times we’ve been too busy to pay attention. I pine for the sights and sounds around Montrose Harbor. I am waiting for the day (and praying when it comes, the shortsighted don’t spoil it with their maskless, clumping contagion shutting it down all over again). I’d like to have the windows down, but I’d keep them up if I had to (maybe with a little cheat or two to throw those roasted-in-the-shell peanuts my crawking Corvid friends so like). I’ll wear a mask; I wear one everywhere anyway.

Crows vs. gulls

Yes, I’m grieving. Yes, it’s tough. Still, I applaud the efforts of Mayor Lightfoot and Governor Pritzker to slow the spread of Covid-19. If only everybody understood a lifting of restrictions means going more places, but with masks and social distancing instead of a barefaced free-for-all, but that’s a whole different post.

The Foster-Montrose stretch of park is a self-contained gem and, as of this writing, pretty much off limits to anyone wanting to drive in. Not every park can be so easily guarded. Me, I’ve been making do with the Loyola Park strip of lake shore. While it helps to see the water and hear the waves, it isn’t the same. Give me sailboats clanging. Give me crows as I cuss the greed of seagulls.

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Crow Funerals

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FDeepLookPBS%2Fvideos%2F879300018921245%2F&show_text=0&width=560“>Crow Funerals from the PBS Deep Look series.

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What’d’ya think of this one, Sally Rand, Sally Rand?

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Solar Eclipse, 2017 August 21 — viewed from Chicago’s lake shore near Lawrence Ave.:  In Chicago the solar eclipse fan danced in the clouds. Several different layers of cloud blew through from three different directions allowing flirtation. Thank you, Mother Nature, for a few lovely glimpses!

 

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A Force for Good: Jolly Roger Telephone Company

Roger Anderson is an aficionado of all things telephone–except calls from telemarketers. After putting his son on the phone with a sales guy who ended up cussing at the kid, he went to work creating a robot capable of reading inflections and holding long conversations with telemarketers, thus wasting their time. He’s even given a TED Talk about it. Since the first release, which featured Roger Anderson’s own voice, he’s expanded to a menu of various genders and personalities (there are samples here). Subscriptions are cheap, considering how jolly it is having some bots on your side.  Check it out: http://www.jollyrogertelco.com/

 

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InnSaei: The Power of Intuition, from Zeitgeist Films

I stumbled upon this short (1 hour, 18 minutes) film on Netflix and it seems such a gem I have to share. InnSaei is an Icelandic word with multiple meanings, all appropriate –I won’t give it away, see the film!

Hrund Gunnsteinsdottir landed and worked for women’s rights in her dream job at the UN. Eventually the stress of her work led to a painful miscarriage, and she had get her bearings. How had she become so disconnected from her emotions to not realize she was burning out?

From there she seeks out scientists, like neuroscientist and indigenous consciousness expert Marti Spiegelman; Marina Abromovic, the artist well-known for her work of sitting and gazing with whomever sat before her to connect without words; and Malidoma Patrice Somé, a West African spiritual leader, and others.

It’s worth all 78 minutes. Leave time for a walk afterwards.

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Step Three: Balance Your Diet

 

“This morning I have been pondering a nearly forgotten lesson I learned in high school music. Sometimes in band or choir, music requires players or singers to hold a note longer than they actually can hold a note. In those cases, we were taught to mindfully stagger when we took a breath so the sound appeared uninterrupted. Everyone got to breathe, and the music stayed strong and vibrant. Yesterday, I read an article that suggested the administration’s litany of bad executive orders (more expected on LGBTQ next week) is a way of giving us “protest fatigue” – we will literally lose our will to continue the fight in the face of the onslaught of negative action. Let’s remember MUSIC. Take a breath. The rest of the chorus will sing. The rest of the band will play. Rejoin so others can breathe. Together, we can sustain a very long, beautiful song for a very, very long time. You don’t have to do it all, but you must add your voice to the song. With special love to all the musicians and music teachers in my life.”attributed to Madonna (I’ve not found its original source. I suspect the “blow up the White House” kerfuffle has overshadowed it).

Resistance is a long position.

For many of my friends and I, the past three weeks under the Republican administration have been a horror show as many of our causes and the agencies monitoring and protecting common interests (e.g., affordable healthcare, clean water, national parks, women’s governance of their own bodies, etc.) face blitzkrieg assault. How many petitions can one sign? How many protest marches can one join? It’s exhausting. Frankly, the speed and number of these attacks are designed to be exhausting, and they will continue. It’s a favorite strategy of self-serving powers – each act of resistance takes energy, each fact-check requires time and effort and rides the heels of a lie already gaining ground and whose repetition will continue.

 A brief and relevant interlude for art:  The Last Exit to Brooklyn knocked me sideways when first I read it. I remember reading to the end of “Tralala” and having to stand up and pace out the energy, scream-whispering, “Holy shit! Holy shit!” because I had just experienced the perfection integration of voice (the tension of the line!), form, and content. Tralala’s desperate circumstances, her bravado violence – nigh unforgiveable, and yet the end pleads compassion. It’s a masterpiece. Most stories/segments in the book also hold characters traditionally considered despicable (especially in 1964 at publication) who walk in the dark. It can be a tough read, whether you read for craft or pure story, and yet, even the mighty Hubert Selby, Jr. let a beam of light and laughter in with “And Baby Makes Three,” where Spook (and his motorcycle hat) finally show up with an old police bike; it stands out as a single matchlight of pure happiness.

Where is your matchlight? You may have to hunt for it.

That our world has survived more competent raptors than those running amok in our government for the past few weeks may not be enough. The Nazi war machine was halted; Hitler croaked; Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot are all dead. This this pinch-sphinctered bullshit, too, will end. Small comfort, given the devastation the others left in their wake. I need more than this fatalistic tidbit. I imagine you might, too.

I’m not suggesting you ignore the onslaught, but find news illuminating what offers your worldview hope and makes room for courage. It’s like getting warm in the middle of a panic attack – it may not completely fix everything, damn, if feeling cold doesn’t make it all feel that much worse. What serves for balance and respite will vary according personality, context, and situation.

 A tiny list of examples for start:

  • While not a full-on break, the biting response of the rogue Twitter accounts for muzzled federal agencies gave me a wagon-fixing spike of joy.
  • Megan Stielstra’s and Dia Tschirki-Penning’s #host project, a response to Oklahoma HB 1441. Pitch in, if you like:

“Megan and I are finding as many strong, heroic, in your face females we can. Tagging them as “Host”. And sending to Governor Mary Fallin.

Additionally, feel free to call her office and let her know what you think of Oklahoma’s HB 1441, which refers to women as hosts for fetuses and requires paternity tests before women are allowed to make decisions about their care. (405) 521-2342”

  • Shinrin-yoku AKA “forest bathing”
  • Iceland’s Best Witchcraft Museum
  • Donna Seaman’s book looks amazing.
  • The Curiosity app delivers 5 tidbits of varying interest each day. You can check out their site here.
  • Craft some art, damn it. Write, draw, paint, act, sculpt, throw a pot, quill, quilt, knit, embroider, collage, sing, make music, dance, perform, design…
  • Check out some art at, say, Colossal or the current ArtAIDS exhibit in Chicago.
  • Look to folks who build community through story – check out 2nd Story and its people.
  • Here are a few people and organizations helping homeless folk with tiny homes and socks (I can personally vouch for Bombas – best socks I have ever worn. For every pair they sell, they give a pair away). It’s a start.
  • Southern Poverty Law Center has a multifaceted, teaching Tolerance. There are webinars, teacher’s own experiences, and resources. Not the only resource out there, but a place to start.

Is your brain tired? Want action over news?

This is just the beginning. Where do you turn for balance?

 

 

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Step Two: The Trees Are Disturbing, Yes, but Make the Effort to See the Forest

The recent immigrant policy, as wrong and infuriating as it is, is a shell in a shell game; what’s more, each shell contains a nut threatening to grow into a malignant tree. While people rightly rage about the blatant injustice toward immigrants, Bannon is offered a special throne at the National Security Council.  This is the strategy outlined: https://medium.com/…/the-immigration-ban-is-a-headfake…

The EPA and environmentalists’ and climate change scientists’ concerns are abraded  in typical GOP fashion: Lie, repeat the lie until people have heard it enough to think it’s true.  Remember when “X out of Y scientists say” suggested what followed was almost certain fact? You can thank big petroleum et alChristofacists (thank you,  for the term), and now the White House (go rogue Twitter feeds!) for the erosion as empiricism falls to “facts interfere with profits” and “I believe it, so it must be so.”

Then there’s the gutting of public and higher education, already well underway as corporate types have convinced colleges and universities they need someone with a head for business (e.g., “Columbia’s Identity Crisis”). Once the corps(es) assume control, expensive consulting firms are hired; reports are demanded where every program and person must justify their for-profit existence  in the organization no matter the evidence supporting their tradition of excellence or the success of their alumni; beloved, capable, entrepreneurial chairs are let go for no cause; all chairs are replaced with interim chairs – some of whom do not hold terminal degrees or working experience to support their elevation; they replace the deans with interim deans (see a pattern here?); courses get streamlined, watered down, mediocritized to resemble what every other school does (death to innovation!); they wear down faculty unions who must either give up the school or file complaint after complaint at the NLRB — often for the same damned offense over and over; departments merge and faculty fear losing their positions; one-third the staff are suddenly cut and set at odds against the adjuncts; enrollment drops, so tuition raises, then enrollment drops again until all the nonsense actions make one wonder if the corps(e) administration wants higher education to exist at all. And don’t get me started on public education. DeVos might as well be made of granite, because she’s a tombstone.

The GOP and their corporate puppet masters don’t want an educated, critically thinking, problem-solving citizenry — a population that could actually keep our country innovative and our economy expansive (but is harder to keep under thumb). They want people who can read and regurgitate the employee manual, who are so dopey-thankful for their “right to work” (misnomer of misnomers there) jobs, they don’t question anything, not the water poisoning them, not the oil pipeline through their lands, not the heavy metals (that apparently increase violent tendencies) in their soil and air, etc. Screw the future, they want easy big bucks now, and who are we to stand in their way? I’m waiting for the wrong asshole to sing-song, “let them eat cake,” too loud around the wrong crowd.

It’s a shell game, and it’s rigged; whatever shell you pick, you lose. The disenfranchising of rainbow marriages and lives, the defunding of Planned Parenthood – really, focus on any individual shell and a dozen more slide in and out of view. Step back, take a broad perspective – wherever the hand tries to engage your attention, you can be sure of missing something important either on or under the table.

Keeping calling your governmental representatives (look ’em up here and add them to your contacts) so your views balance against professional lobbyists and corporate interests — make those politicians do their jobs, keep speaking up, keep protesting, keep talking to people on “the other side”  but the surest move I can see is upturning the table in the next election, if there’s still a table.

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Step One: Stay on the Planet

While listing these suicide prevention numbers in response to the news of the LGBTQ rights and civil rights pages disappearing from the Whitehouse.gov website, I’m thinking about some of my former students who were horrified by the 2016 Election results. First things first, we (rainbow, Black, Latinx, artists, women, people with disabilities, the poor, people who need healthcare and don’t know where the money’s going to come from, and the list goes on…) need all hands on deck and if you want a chance in the fight you have to stay on the planet. You have to take care of your own well being. You have to breathe — keep breathing.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” — Audre Lorde*

*Thanks to Jessica Young for this quotation.

The GLBT National Help Center
Hotline:   1-888-THE-GLNH (888-843-4564)
Youth Talkline:   1-800-246-PRIDE (800-246-7743)

From their website:

HOURS:
Monday thru Friday from 1pm to 9pm, pacific time
(Monday thru Friday from 4pm to midnight, eastern time

Saturday from 9am to 2pm, pacific time
(Saturday from noon to 5pm, eastern time)

Email:  help@GLBThotline.org
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) National Hotline provides telephone, online private one-to-one chat and email peer-support, as well as factual information and local resources for cities and towns across the United States.

All of our services are free and confidential.

We speak with callers of all ages about coming-out issues, relationship concerns, bullying, workplace issues, HIV/AIDS anxiety and safer-sex information, and lots more!

We also maintain the largest resource database of its kind in the world, with 15,000 listings. Our database contains information on social and support groups, as well as gay-friendly religious organizations, sports leagues, student groups and more. We also have information on LGBT-friendly businesses including lawyers, doctors and various counseling professionals.

There are many others, but I’ll include these two for now:

The Trevor Project:   1-866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386)
24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention lifeline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning young people ages 13 to 24.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  1-800-273-TALK (8255)
This one’s for anyone and everyone

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J. K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure

J K Rowling on the Benefits of Failure  [Video, less than 3 minutes]

Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.

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Presidential Election 2016

Just because your vision of what you (we) want your world to be was flung a bit further and into rougher turf, it doesn’t mean you stop moving toward it, breath by breath, word by word, petition by petition, hand in hand with those who see the possibility too.

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