Author Archives: arpjen

Somewhere in Ohio

It’s 12:30 in the morning and I am on a bus full of junior high kids speeding home through the night from our nation’s capital. Trying not to watch the driving too closely but feeling the bus rock from side to side constantly, making deals with God about getting us all home alive. Not sure if it’s because the driving is so bad or because I can’t sleep. Probably some of both.


Saw a lot over the past five days: the Liberty Bell, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and the NPR studios. Most of those were history-gasm moments for a junkie like me. But it hurt my heart to see the White House and Capitol Building because of what now resides and does business in those hallowed halls. It’s like they’ve been polluted by hate and need to be aired out.

Despite that, and despite all of 45’s antics and rants and “look-at-me” junior high style behaviors (hey, I call them like I see them), I did get a little choked up. I think of what it meant to stand in the room where the Declaration was read aloud for the first time to those daring men who would later sign it. To look upon the places where Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin once sat, and to walk where they once walked…. For me, there are no words but to say it was akin to a religious experience.

Seeing Washington with 50 junior high kids was also an interesting experience. Sure there were times they were a little rambunctious, but, overall, they were good kids. At the WWII Memorial there were some Honor Flight vets. The kids thanked them for their service and asked if they could take their pictures. I was so proud of those kids. I think many of them appreciated all they saw and learned on this trip. I know I enjoyed it more than I really thought I would, even Busch Gardens which really was a beautiful place.

About the only thing I wasn’t crazy about were the bus rides out and back, where on the way out I got about 1 1/2 hours of sleep. And, as we continue to sail westward through the night somewhere in the middle of Ohio, I suspect I will get about the same amount of sleep on the way home.

It’s now 1:30 and here I am, still not sleeping. Sigh.

Speechless

This morning, part of my crazy day began when I read a copy of a reference letter a friend wrote for me for a job I am applying for. She is a former school board president and I had her son in my class about a million years ago. We are, as we both agree, kindred spirits. To that end, we get together for lunch or coffee sometimes, but not nearly often enough for either of us, I daresay, being kindred and all.

And her letter today left me speechless. Part of me was thinking, when I wasn’t crying, who is this person she is writing about? This shining pillar of a person who loves kids and who is good at what she does and really should get that English position at the high school, thank you very much. Speechless, except when I replied to her e-mail, between spots where I told her I was weepy with gratitude and stunned by her view of me, I said the principal would probably read that letter and hire me without the trouble of an interview. Yes, her letter was that wonderful.

Which makes me think about how I view myself. I have never been one to brag. I don’t like to do that, particularly. I know I’m smart. I consider myself nice enough looking (there are days when I think I am pretty, but then there are plenty of those other days). And that’s about where it begins and ends, unless I’m having one of those down days, where I get angry at nothing and anything. Where I have no patience with myself. Where I yell at myself and tell me that I’m so stupid. I know these are all falsehoods. But that’s where my head goes sometimes. Actually more times than I really like. Which is to say “never ” – I never really like it to go there, but go it does.

And then I read this letter. (sniff, sniff)

I told her that I struggle with how I view myself, which is true. I spend a lot of my internal time second-guessing myself, doubting I am good enough, and I tend to put other people’s thoughts into my head (“Oh, good grief, what is she thinking? She’s so stupid.” “Why is she wearing that?”). I have to remember, as I read somewhere, “Other people’s thoughts are none of your business.” True, so true. And yet…

And then there is this lovely, wonderful letter.

So, I think what I need to do is print out this letter from my dear friend and read it every morning when I get up, just to look in a different kind of mirror that I never knew was there. Or maybe didn’t want to think was there. I like this mirror, mirror. I guess in Snow White the mirror does reveal the truth. But I never knew which mirror to look in to see the real me, or at least the me my friend sees, which I would like to hope is the real me.

I am the Mosquito!

Image result for cartoon mosquito

Buzzz! You know that annoying little mosquito I said I was gonna be a few posts back? Well, I’m still buzzing and circling. And, according to another friend who is more political than I am (I know, I know, hard to believe), apparently, some legislators are getting nervous. What do I say to that? Good! And, “Buzzzz!”

So, yesterday, I attended the latest Legislative Forum (my new name for it is the “House of Lies”). At this one, as at the last legislative event I attended (not a forum, per se, but a meeting with one legislator), one Republican did his darnedest to be patient with us and to explain how greedy we public employees are for wanting to get a one-to-two percent raise every year. How he talked with a waitress who said she wished she could get that kind of raise every year (at which point some beautiful loudmouth hollered out, “Raise minimum wage!” – that’s my kind of heckler). This same legislator also said a farmer constituent said his income was cut in half because of low commodity prices. Now, we don’t know how much Mr. Farmer was making in the first place. If cutting in half went from $150,000 to $75,000, I don’t feel too sorry for him. But, we weren’t told how much.

I get more than a little frustrated with patronizing, condescending Republicans (sorry, folks; I gotta call it as it happens; I am not inherently anti-Republican, honest; it’s just that’s who is doing the fibbing in this instance) who act like teachers and public employees who want to make a decent living are villains who are trying to drain the treasury. What about legislators who get their health insurance paid for for only working for four months of the year? What about the governor who gives multi-million dollar tax breaks to multi-billion dollar multi-national corporations and then tries to balance the budget on the backs of public employees and students?

Okay. I’d better hold up. My new therapist (love her!) and I have been discussing this whole deal of me getting a little too emotional over the political climate (our term is “emotionally reactive” – kind of like a nuke with feelings?). So, I am trying to channel Elizabeth Warren, who is so good and patient and gets the zingers in there when she needs to. So, I mostly kept my mouth shut. But I let my signs speak for me. What did they say?

Whenever the Republicans spoke, I stood up and turned my back and let them read my sign which read, “Turning my back on you like you turned your back on Iowa’s public employees.” The flip side, which was on a broom, by the way, read “Sweep out the State House.” In the other hand, I held the sign (with two sides – one for each face) that had “Retirement Party: November 6, 2018” and the names of the legislators. The flip side of that one said, “Remember: Don’t listen to your constituents. Hold the party line.”

Whenever one of them walked in, I’d make sure I stood with my back to them so they could get a nice chance to read my messages. Then, whenever they responded to a question, I’d stand up and do the same thing. Lots of people got to see my signs before it all started as I walked hither and yon to speak with folks I knew in the back or on the other side of the room (I was standing/sitting near the front). I got my picture taken a few times and lots of thumbs up from audience members. My signs appeared on the local news (not me, though, which is fine – it’s about the message, not me). But I did have the NS Press ask me a few questions. We’ll see. But as long as the pictures are in, that’s what matters.

The next legislative forum is March 11. I’m already working on some new signs. They’re gonna be doozies! Stay tuned.

Buzzz. Buzzz.

Illness and Perspective

So, I think all the stresses of the past several weeks have finally taken their toll. Yesterday I came down with something. Not sure what it is. I don’t get bronchitis or sinus infections really now, thanks to my CPap machine. No this was something different. A twisting in my gut that would not let up.

Today Ed has been dosing me with Pepto, which seems to help. I thought I was curing myself this week with a Facebook and a national news (mostly) blackout. But here I am, sick all the same. Ten hours of sleep on Friday night and on Saturday night. Feels like all I want to do is sleep. But I suppose that is okay. If my body wants sleep, I will sleep.

I have been trying to shift my perspective, though. Focus on things I can change. With the help of my Daily Stoic book, which gives me something to consider each morning, my new sun lamp (15 minutes every morning to give me a little shot of what the sky has not been giving us over the past 3 months or so — how is it possible for the world to stay so completely and unendingly grey for so long?), and my new therapist, I am slowly trying to make some changes.

Depression is such a lousy pit. Combine that with SAD and fear that the world is going to end, and that makes a bitter cocktail. So, I decided to try to make some lemonade from all those lousy lemons. Right now I’m doing some squeezing. Soon I hope to add some sugar. But being sick makes it hard to pull myself up. So, I guess I just have to let it all go for a few days.

The ubiquitous “they” say that February is the worst month (I think it far crueler than April, Eliot be damned). I don’t want to believe this, because if I haven’t yet seen the worst, how much worse can it get? So, today I’ll just turn on the heating pad, make another cup of tea, read my book, journal a bit, and pray that I start to feel better, at least physically. Because, from my perspective, that’s at least one place to start.

Stand Up!

Get up, stand up; stand up for your right!

Get up, stand up; don’t give up the fight!  — Bob Marley

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Have you ever had such a feeling of loneliness that even in a room of people you feel a welling up of such deep and utter sadness that it is an almost physical wrenching?

That’s how I’ve been feeling for the past couple of weeks. Sadness and despair so intense I fell into times of mental paralysis, forgetting things so simple and elemental that I truly feared for my sanity. I do suffer from depression, but this was different. It was may familiar bout of depression amplified so as to be unrecognizable. I felt so frightened at times, though I could not have told you what it was that frightened me had you asked.

I am happy to say that all of this shifted last Saturday. Because I found out I’m not alone. Last Saturday, millions of women, men and children around the world marched with me. Well, maybe we didn’t all actually march, because some places there were simply too many to actually march. In fact, my particular “march” gathered in a Union hall. But it was not the movement, in a physical sense, that mattered. It was the gathering. It was the communing, the fellowship, the standing together with some friends, but mainly strangers, and all looking for others who felt like me, finding strength and solace in numbers. Realizing that as low as we all felt things had become, that, together, we would work to turn this ship around and start back-paddling before it completely went over the falls and hit the rocks. At least, I hope so.

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Standing shoulder to shoulder in a tightly packed room generated all kinds of heat, and eventually we had to step outside for air. Even then, we found another hundred or so people outside, chanting, cheering, and holding up signs. And even though there were more speakers to come, we did leave feeling inoculated enough to stem the tide of helplessness.

“This is not the protest,” one speaker told us. “This is the preamble.” Now is the time, he said, to find ways to take action, to find our agenda, and figure out steps we could each take to make things happen, to start the forward motion, to seek justice.

So, even though I have a busy life, I will find a way to take small actions that can be of great consequence, and put them into each month or week or day. I will learn where I need to look to be aware of what happens in Des Moines and Washington and I will remain vigilant.*

And I will make regular phone calls or write letters. I will remain the mosquito that buzzes in the ear, that constantly pesters and annoys and makes life uncomfortable. They may want to take things away, but they will not be allowed to do so without a fight or, at the very least, an earful from me.

Yes, I will stand up! And I will fight!

*vigilant: “late 15c., from Middle French vigilant or directly from Latin vigilantem (nominative vigilans) ‘watchful, anxious, careful,’ present participle of vigilare ‘to watch, keep awake, not to sleep, be watchful,’ from vigil ‘watchful, awake’.” from http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=vigilant

 

Ga Ga for La La

1083_RS19_S012P120.jpgFred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Swing Time, 1936 RKO Radio Pictures

When I was a kid, I was kinda weird (I know – shocker, right?). In junior high, I listened to Glenn Miller and loved watching the movies of Fred Astaire (and Ginger Rogers or whoever else his partner happened to be for that particular picture). The concept was simple: boy meets girl; boy and girl may not like each other; they dance, they sing, they fall in love; they then sing and dance their way to the end of the movie. Simple, but, oh, so much fun to watch, singing Cole Porter or George Gershwin or whoever’s music, watching the effortlessness of Fred (who played the Adler Theater in Davenport with his sister Adele during vaudeville, by the way) and Ginger doing everything backwards and in heels. That, my friends, was dancing and the movies at their best.

Maybe that’s why I so loved the movie La La Land. We had date night on Friday, and that was the movie. And, oh, what a welcome distraction!

To my friends, it’s no secret that, since the election, my gyroscope has been off-kilter. I’ve been angry, sad, scared, frustrated, and anxious, with the odd moment of hope and optimism

la-la-land-2016-movie-poster

So when I heard people praising La La Land as a movie that leaves you humming, I was interested. And now, having seen it, I’m a convert. When in the opening scene of a traffic jam on the LA freeway turns into a song and dance number, with people leaping from their cars and dancing, full of song, I was hooked. I’m listening to the soundtrack now as I write and am feeling the endorphins doing backflips in my brain. Ahhh! This was so needed. Kind of like the Cubs winning the World Series. It’s something to help you see that, despite everything, there are elements out there that bring us joy.

It sounds kind of hokey, I know, but I don’t care. It works for me, and that’s what matters.

I don’t care who you supported in the election. I would hope that everyone can understand that we all need a positive shot in the arm right now. We have to find common ground and things to make us happy and we have to pull ourselves together without anyone rolling their eyes at anyone else’s feelings. That is what has to happen or we all go down in one giant Titanic. It’s called empathy, people. Find it!

So, what does any of this have to do with Fred & Ginger? Well, during the Depression when folks were feeling pretty low, they would take an hour or two and sit in the dark of the movie house, hear some catchy tunes, and watch Fred and Ginger float gracefully across the screen. And they would forget their troubles (c’mon, get happy, for heaven’s sake) and feel uplifted. That’s the beauty of the movies. They don’t have to be serious or deliver some sort of moral lesson to change your life for the better, at least for a little while.

 

top_hat11Top Hat, 1935 RKO Radio Pictures

Upon leaving the theater that Friday, I’d hear people say, “They don’t make musicals like that anymore.” Which is mostly true. But I’m sure glad they made this one.

la-la-land-trailer2

http://www.slashfilm.com/la-la-land-trailer-2/

London Calling

Yesterday, as I caught up on the latest episode of Sherlock, I found myself distracted by the backgrounds of the show, remembering London, even though the scenes on tv were not most of the places we had been, though I was delighted to see Sherlock and a companion walking through Piccadilly Circus and by the Tube station we used. Sigh. Still, all in all, it was London. And London is wonderful.

buckingham-guardvictoria-statue-with-gold-2big-ben-under-churchills-arm

Despite starting off the first two hours at Passport Control with 800 of our closest friends at Heathrow, this was a most wonderful and needed trip. Due to the horrific outcome of the election and other extremely stressful things going on for Ed and me, the timing of this trip was perfect. And London was perfect.

Some high points and strong images:

*Walking 27 miles in three days (no buses or Tube on Christmas Day, if you are planning a trip).

*Women smoking hookahs in sidewalk cafes on Edgware Road.

*Having an Italian lunch on Christmas Day with our new friend Bobby. During that lunch discussing how Bobby loves country/bluegrass phenom Alison Krauss. I told him she was from Peoria, which was only an hour or two from where we live. Then the man at the table next to us leans over and says, “Did you say ‘Peoria?’ I’m from Peoria!”

*Feeling like a sardine in a can at Harrods. Honestly. How can that many people fit into one store?

harrods

*Getting lost on our first day of walking and seeing a house with the plaque “Home of Benedict Arnold, American Patriot.” The hell, you say. That’s not what we call him.

*”Mind the gap” and “This is a Bakerloo line train to Regent’s Park.”

*Watching Kitten Rescuers as well as The Glenn Miller Story on British tv. Also seeing a celebrity panel show that included Carrie Fisher just two days before she died.

*Lights, lights, and more lights on Oxford, Regent, and Bond Streets. Simply stunning.

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*The store windows of Fortnum & Mason all decked out for Christmas.

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*Thinking I might have seen British author Neil Gaiman in the Christmas Eve crush at Fortnum & Masons (I asked. It wasn’t. Though I do not regret asking.)

*Seeing Stomp in a teeny theatre. Amazing!

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*The tiniest hotel room on record, though centrally located and affordable. I will stay there again.

*Rekorderlig Swedish pear cider. Ahhh.

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*The most amazing food (Bangladeshi, Indian, Italian; and Ed had Portuguese and Brazilian).

*Accents from most everywhere in the world except Britain (or very little British). A lovely man I spoke with at the Victoria pub said most actual Londoners leave the city over the holiday. To make room for us interlopers, I suppose.

*Waterstone’s Books. A little five-story piece of heaven on earth.

*The world’s best chippie (that’s fish and chips in Brit-ese) at the Golden Union on Poland Street, just off Oxford Street. Thanks, Bobby, for that!

*Hearing the pealing bells of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day. Heavenly.

*Beautiful and ginourmous Hyde Park.

*Having Oyster cards for the Tube before we left home so we could quickly (relatively – see paragraph two above) leave Heathrow for London. So happy I did my homework on this one.

*Walking, walking, and more walking and, happily, just getting tired, not sore, feet.

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*And, to cap it off, getting surprisingly upgraded to business class for the flight home, including complementary drinks, the best food, warm towels to wash up, a nice blanket and space, glorious space to relax in. We kept poking each other with goofy grins, repeating, “I can’t believe this!”

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That, my friends, was London. Wonderful, beautiful, courteously well-mannered, polite, cosmopolitan, ancient, direction-confounding, marvelous London. A spot of tea or chippie, anyone?