July 8, 2020 – Hard Truths

hard truths

Next week Mary L. Trump speaks some hard truth. On July 14th her book about her uncle, Donald Trump, comes out. Reporting by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and others reveals that it will be the story of her uncle as an incredibly wounded, psychologically damaged and impaired person, whose psychopathology is endangering us all.

This should not really be a surprise to anyone who has, even a little, objectively observed Trump prior to his presidency and since assuming the office in 2017. It is a very dangerous book for Donald Trump because Mary tells hard truth about him that helps us understand some of the other hard truths others have been sharing in their “tell all” books. What gives this book some greater credibility over the others is that 1) Mary was an insider in the Trump clan and 2) she is a clinical psychologist.

Honestly, I won’t giddily read the book looking for salicious, condemning new bits of information about Donald Trump. We already know as much as we need to know about Trump to make a clear headed judgment about his fitness for leadership.

I expect to feel pity and sadness for both Donald Trump and Mary Trump as I read the book.

Both are victims of a highly dysfunctional family and have come through many Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). I know. That sounds very judgmental, doesn’t it? It is an assessment I can fairly and compassionately make because I also come from a highly dysfunctional family and have a number of ACEs, too. A bit of “It takes one to know one,” plus I was also trained as a therapist and worked with numerous clients who had experienced early childhood trauma.

Donald Trump uses bravado, hubris, and mistruth to feel like a worthy person. I expect this book will make that clearer than ever. Mary Trump is also deeply wounded. She strikes me as a person who needs to write this book as part of her own healing and recovery. It is also an attempt to save others.

I can empathize with both. Like Donald Trump I have felt incredibly insecure and have resorted to the same strategies. I have also been wounded like Mary Trump and felt a need to stake my claim to recovery and save others.

If Your Parent Drinks Too Much was my “tell-all” book in the 1980’s. It didn’t sell nearly as many copies as Mary Trump’s book will, but it did okay. It was nominated for a national book award, won a minor book award, and was translated into German and published in Europe. I didn’t write it as a tell-all book, but that was the impact it had on my family, particularly my sisters.

The book focused on lessons learned from growing up with a severely alcoholic father and a chronically angry mother who resented the presence of her children because they “trapped” her in a marriage she did not want. I did not intentionally tell stories on my family though there were many that could be told. When my sisters read the book, they read between the lines. They saw things in the book that reminded them of things they thought they had forgotten and which they had never discussed with anyone, including among themselves.

Years later I would learn that on a few occasions my sisters would meet up for a weekend to talk about what they had read and then compare their own stories. Even more years later the four of us sat together in a nursing home where my middle sister was waiting to die. On that day we talked for hours, for the first and only time in our lives, by ourselves. Our parents had passed years before and, now, we could freely talk. We finally had the safety to speak the hard truth each of us had hidden. We weeped together, affirmed our love for one another, and healed a little bit more.

Stories like those I told, and which I believe Mary Trump will tell, can make a difference because they speak hard truths which are also often hidden from view. They can be so hard, in fact, that they can be hidden from our conscious self as well. Mary Trump’s book may give Donald Trump the same opportunity it gives her – to heal. I won’t be voting for Trump in the Fall, but I will be hoping he allows this book to move him to experience the healing he so badly needs, and which we all need for him to experience.


a moment of sweetness

This Tweet appeared in my feed recently. It features a serendipitous experience for a young girl in a park. I won’t give the story away but I hope you will take a minute to watch it. I think it will make you smile.


chickenman – episode 78

The Police Commissioner orders the arrest of his own brother, a rum runner. This episode features some great one line zingers from Ms. Helfinger!


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 7, 2020 – Hard Choices

hard choices

Clemencia and I, like many of you, have been making many difficult decisions over the past few months of the pandemic. You’ve probably noticed too that they aren’t getting any easier.

Recently we’ve been facing the decision of how much to go back out into the world. In our state, Maryland, the positivity rate for the virus is 4.53%, up slightly from yesterday, but still the lowest it has been in months. The lowered positivity rate gives confidence that people can begin to move about more freely outside their homes.

With that new sense of freedom, we begin to wonder how much moving about is too much. It also raises the question “Just because we can begin to go out again, should we?”

We’ve answered that question for ourselves. Given:

  • the changing understanding that the coronavirus is not only spread by droplets but aerosol;
  • the risk it poses to older people like ourselves and, now as we are learning, for young people;
  • the gross failure of the Trump administration and many governor’s to act in accordance with the best science available to contain the virus; and,
  • the overall failure of American’s to use the simplest mitigation practices: wear a mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance,

we are deciding to shelter-in-place until a vaccine is widely available.

Yes, we know that could be many months, even years. However, the possibility of catching or spreading the virus seems completely irresponsible to us given all we know about the virus and what COVID-19 does to people. It isn’t just that it kills many older people, it now appears to destroy the bodies of younger people. Actor Nick Cordero, who was only slightly older than our own children, is a horrific case in point of just how much the virus can devastate the body.

For us, it is easy to stay at home because we can both work from home and online. We do not have to go out. Still, it is a hard decision because we know it means we cannot be with family or dear friends.

Earlier today, after sharing this decision with a friend and colleague, I was asked, “But what would you do if you had young children?” The presence of young children presents an even harder choice. I had to stall a little as I quickly thought about it.

Finally, I said that I’d do everything I could to keep my children home with me. I say this fully aware that, though I am not a wealthy person, I live a privileged life compared to many others. And it is privileged compared to my younger self, too. I know what it is to live paycheck to paycheck; to be far behind on payments; to be on the verge of eviction; to have my credit ruined because of debt delinquency; and to miss meals because I couldn’t feed my family and also feed myself.

In reality my younger-less-privileged-self would not be able to stay at home and keep my children at home too. My heart aches for the parents who feel they have no recourse but to send their children back to school in a few weeks. My blood boils at Lame, Lummoxed, Loggerheaded Leaders who are so lacking creativity and courage that they cannot re-imagine how education could be – if resources were made available. We can help parents teach and manage their children even as they need to continue to work, from home or outside the home, even as essential workers. It still wouldn’t be easy for a parent but neither is sending a child off everyday to an environment you are not sure is really safe for them.

If those “Leaders” wanted to, if we as a society had the will, we could make the investment for every parent and every child. In turn, they could make the easier choice of keeping their children safer at home this Fall. Really, can’t we do that?


chickenman – episode 77

This episode focuses on life back at the Commissioner’s office in Midland City. Ms. Helfinger realizes the Commissioner has a brother! A rum running brother!


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 25, 2020 – Halfway to Christmas

Today is actually June 25, 2020 – not yesterday as I erroneously reported. Today really is Log Cabin Day, yesterday was International Fairy (Faery) Day, and Tuesday, June 23rd was National Columnists Day. My bad. I skipped over it in my list of holidays and recognitions…I think maybe the fairies made me do it…must have played a trick on me. Of course, this is all very confusing to you because I write this blog on the day before I post it, using the date that I write it as the header instead of the date you receive it.

Regardless of the date, I want to take a minute for a “shout out” to National Columnists Day. It was created for two purposes. First, to honor Ernie Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Scripps-Howard news syndicate who died during the World War II Battle of Okinawa in 1945. He was best known for his articles about ordinary American soldiers during the war. Second, it recognizes more generally the value of writers and columnists in all forms of media. In an hour when “fake news” tends to win the day, writers and columnists are valuable for putting out truth, exercising the rights in the First Amendment, and preserving it for now and the future:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Article I, Contitution of the United States of America.

halfway to christmas

Today, June 25, marks six more months until Christmas. It has always been my family’s tradition to celebrate Christmas, given our Lutheran and Methodist traditions. My two oldest sisters were raised as Lutherans and my youngest sister and I were raised as Methodists. Don’t know whyit just was.

Specifically, we celebrated the holiday on Christmas Eve which was our family tradition. Happily, Clemencia’s family tradition is also Navidad (“Christmas Eve” in Spanish), which means we can sleep in on Christmas morning.

My mother would stock pile baking supplies through the summer and then, in October, get really serious about baking for the holiday. She made all sorts of fudge, divinity, and cookies, including Zimmer and Springele, which are two types of traditional German cookies. Zimmer are spiced cookies and the Springele are more commonly known as as “Anise Cakes.” I’ve got both recipes but have only really focused on making Springele. I don’t usually fire up the oven to make them until November and, if I remember this year, I’ll take pictures and post them. They are not only tasty, they are also very artistic.

At Christmas, my brother-in-law Boomer would make the chili. Boomer, you may remember, was my biker/racer/father figure. He made a really excellent chili. I never knew what he put in it – and probably don’t ever want to know – but it was extremely good. None of it was ever left over for Christmas Day.

Boomer worked much of his life in the building trades. He learned cabinet making from a master carpenter in our hometown. Later, he transitioned to building steel infrastructure for buildings and worked for another man in our town who had a very successful steel and concrete business. However, he never gave up carpentry and woodworking.

He built two of the three house he and my sister lived in. In fact, my sister still lives in the second one he built. I remember he also built the kitchen cabinets in our farm house. To save money for my parents he built them out of plywood but they were naturally finished, very beautiful, and extremely strong. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were still in use. In fact, they may be the only thing that is keeping the house standing (and it is still standing, by the way).

When Boomer was “in the zone” while he worked, he would whistle. Most often, he would whistle the song Mountain of Love. The song was written and first recorded by Harold Dorman in 1960. It is a memorable – some would say infectious – rockabilly tune that gets into your head and stays for a little while. It remains one of my favorites. The song has been covered by many artists over the last 60 years, including Bruce Springsteen – 12 times in live concerts!

One of the most successful covers was by Johnny Rivers. His 1964 recording went to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100. His is the version I heard most often played and is the one that I think inspired Boomer’s whistling. Non sequitur alert…in 1993, on the eve of the Great Midwestern Flood, as the river was rising only a 100 yards or so away, I got to see Johnny Rivers perform the song live in Des Moines, Iowa. It was the night before the start of the Des Moines Grand Prix which was, of course, flooded out and never returned.

The artist who has had the most success with the song, though, is Charley Pride, a former pro baseball player turned country western singer. Charley Pride is also one of the few Black men to be successful in modern country music. He became a member of the Grand Ole Opry and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000. In the 1970’s, he and Elvis were the best selling artists for RCA records. His country version of Mountain of Love is the only one that ever hit #1 and that was on the Billboard Hot Country Singles in 1982. Charley has a terrific voice and this is a great country version of the song.


chickenman – episode 69

Chickenman checks in at the Police Commissioner’s office only to be given a very special clean up task by Ms. Helfinger.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 14, 2020 – Letting Go

Today is June 14, 2020 and American Flag Day. American history reports that Elizabth Griscom Ross (aka Betsy Ross) sewed the first American flag. Quaker history reports that she grew up in a Quaker family. However, she married outside the faith (eloping with John Ross who was a member of the Church of England) and was expelled from the Religious Society of Friends. (Yes, we did that at one point.) Ross was not, however, a seamstress. She was an upholsterer.


Letting go

With 115,521 deaths today in the U.S. from COVID-19 many people have experienced the trauma of letting go of a loved one. There is a sorrow that comes with death unlike any other. That sorrow is magnified so much more when it is impossible to be by the side of your loved one in that moment of transition from this life. Sadly there have been too many people lost in this pandemic and too many who have had to let go from a distance. In writing the next few lines I am deeply aware of these realities.

We are letting go this week of one of the Girls, Madison. We took her to the veterinary yesterday to learn why she seemed to be having difficulty walking and was losing weight. Madison is a geriatric dog so her symptoms were not really surprising. She is 14 and a half in human years at least. She may be older, in fact, we suspect she is. We never saw her records because she was a rescue from a puppy mill in Ohio. Our investigation suggested she was at least three years old when she came to us. Geriatric or not, we felt like something wasn’t right and we wanted to have her checked out.

Madison

At first, the vet thought it was osteo-arthritis and simply muscle atrophy, which is common in older dogs. Then he did a blood test. The blood test prompted him to do an ultrasound. Then he delivered the news. “It’s her time,” he said. “There is nothing I can do for her. So she is not in pain, I recommend you wait no longer than a week.” He explained in further detail that she was severely anemic, a mass had formed within her, and she was bleeding internally. “It’s her time.”

Madison is not the dog that was supposed to leave us already. Dolly has been contending with Cushing’s Disease and was, in fact, not supposed to live past last July. However, a growth discovered inside her last year was benign and she is still very much alive. This news about Madison came as a shock.

We aren’t sure that it is a shock to Dolly though. We got her a year after Madison and have strong evidence that she is one of Madison’s first pups. For the past several days, before taking Madison to the vet, we noticed that Dolly was staying especially close to Madison. Dogs know stuff, don’t they?

We are making arrangements for Peaceful Passage to come on Friday afternoon to help Madison leave and help us let go. COVID-19 restrictions means that the vet cannot come into our house so we’ll have to prepare to say good-bye to her in the garage. We are grateful that Madison came to our home, we are incredibly sad that she is leaving now, and, yet, we will get to be with her when she does.

In the human world it appears that part of the new normal will be that we cannot be with our family members when they die. This a cruel reality of the pandemic. To those who have already lost loved ones in this time and to those who are to experience it, we wish it were not.


chickenman – episode 58

Chickenman makes his way to Fargo, North Dakota to deliver a basket of groceries and a TV Guide to his mother.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

Day 66 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Today I was in service to Clemencia…and I loved it! It was a wonderfully refreshing and fun day to do nothing but help her.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020 – Live to Blog from a Better Place

#alonetogether – just the two of us!

Now, don’t read too much into the line above. By “a better place” I don’t mean in the sense of I’ve “gone on to a better place.” I’m just saying that I got out of the right side of the bed this morning. I was disappointed to see that none of this has been a really bad dream but, hey, it is what it is, right? And so it goes.


A Day in Service

Today I decided that I wouldn’t do any of my own work. Instead, I decided to give Clemencia a hand with her fledgling business.

Clemencia – Headshot #1

In January 2018 Clemencia started volunteering at our local library to teach Spanish classes to people in the community. She had been teaching “dental Spanish” to students at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry where she had taught classes and conducted oral health research for 20 years. The group at the school started quite informally about four years. A group of dental students had expressed interest in the language because they were seeing more Spanish speaking children and parents in the clinics.

That first experience with the dental students sent Clemencia down a path she had never anticipated following. She went back to school – after two doctorates, I thought she was a bit nuts. She enrolled in an online course through her alma mater – Arizona State University – to learn how to teach languages. Then it was a couple of online courses with universities in Spain and along the way she picked up many hours and certificates in teaching English as a Second Language and Spanish as a Second Language.

When she finally felt confident enough in her skills, she ventured into the public realm of Spanish instruction. That brings us back to January 2018. The night of the first class was very cold here in Maryland. She was quite sure no one would be there so she asked me to go with her so she wouldn’t have to sit alone in the room throughout the evening. She was shocked…and delighted…when nine people showed up for her first class. I was not shocked at all.

Clemencia – Headshot #2

Since that time, her classes have grown steadily, as has her passion for teaching Spanish. Her retirement dream was to teach for Prince George’s Community College at their Laurel center (only about five minutes from our house). More specifically, she wanted to teach adults and seniors. She reached out to the community college and they, in fact, did have an opening at the Laurel campus for a Spanish teacher for that group.

This past January she started her second year of teaching at the Laurel library and was preparing for her first year of teaching for the community college. She finally started her classes with the college in February and had two weeks of classes then…you…know…what…happened.

After the shock of COVID-19 passed Clemencia began to think about what had previously been unthinkable to her: teaching groups online. She contacted all of her students from both the library (which was also closed) and the college and asked if they’d be interested in online classes. All but two decided they would join her online group classes.

Now, nearly 10 weeks later, Clemencia has become on online teaching pro! Her students have become quite proficient at using Zoom and are loving the classes.

A few weeks ago it became clear that the “new normal” was not going to make it easy for groups to gather for classes again. Clemencia began to consider whether her teaching could actually become a career that paid a little bit. She had been excited about the community college position because it actually did pay some which helps in retirement.

Clemencia – Headshot #3

As long as I’ve known Clemencia she had been a studier and a decider. She does her research, gathers facts, and then, without waffling, make a decision. When she does decide to go all in, she goes all in. That’s exactly how we got to today and ¡Charlemos con Clemencia! (Let’s chat with Clemencia). After weeks of planning, she took the leap.

Clemencia is not as comfortable with technology as I am so she asked if I could help her with a website, setting up a payment system, putting together an online registration form, etc., etc. Because I will do pretty much anything she asks, I agreed.

Today I was in service to Clemencia…and I loved it! It was a wonderfully refreshing and fun day to do nothing but this. I tried to pull together all the things she needs to register students in her inaugural Summer Session – which is barely a month away. I can’t show you the website yet – it is still under review by mi jefe (my boss). However, I did use a few of the new website headshots in the blog. Plus, I have permission to share this video we shot using Zoom. Enjoy!

Clemencia Vargas explains how the classes work at Charlemos con Clemencia

In reality…

My friend Cynthia in Washington State sent me a link to an article today that is pretty disturbing. Researcher’s at the University of Washington are beginning to calculate the death rate for COVID-19. Here’s what they have learned:

A new study suggests the number of Americans who will die after contracting the novel coronavirus is likely to more than triple by the end of the year, even if current social distancing habits continue for months on end.

The study, conducted by the Comparative Health Outcomes, Policy and Economics Institute at the University of Washington’s School of Pharmacy, found that 1.3 percent of those who show symptoms of COVID-19 die, an infection fatality rate that is 13 times higher than a bad influenza season.

“COVID-19 infection is deadlier than flu — we can put that debate to rest,” said Anirban Basu, a health economist at the University of Washington who authored the study.

Reid Wilson, The Hill, May 19, 2020

Good thing it’s not as serious as the flu, eh?

Oh, man, just give me some Chickenman!


The Adventures of Chickenman

Episode 35 – The Invisible Fearless Foul is still…well…invisible despite a rigorous regimen of aspirin. (Gee, maybe he should try Clorox, or Lysol, or hydroxichloriquine.) Anyway, he has to take a pass on saving the country. Wow, sounds like a lot of other folks today!


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep hoping Chickenman becomes visible again…maybe he knows what to do with this mess!

Tom

Day 11 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

March 26, 2020 live to Blog with Egg on My Face

Oh, man, I really stuck my foot in my mouth today. Really, I was trying to be nice and make conversation while we stood in line – yes, six feet apart. But I think I just got it so very, very wrong.

Early this morning I had to go the bank and try to pick up some items at our local Aldi grocery store. I was thrilled to discover when I arrived at Aldi that Thursdays (today) and Tuesdays were reserved for senior citizens and pregnant women only from 8:30 AM to 9:30 AM. I’ve never been more excited to be an old guy. I joined the line – keeping a social distance of six feet from the two people ahead of me. The first person appeared to be an older woman about my age. The second in line appeared to be a very pregnant young woman. We chatted together while waiting for the doors to be opened. At one point the young woman, seeking confirmation about the hour, said to us, “So it’s okay for pregnant mom’s to shop at 8:30 AM too?” The older woman assured her it was.

A few more minutes of general chatting followed. Then I looked at the young woman, smiled, and asked cheerfully, “When is your baby due?” The young woman gave me a puzzled look, with a side order of glare, and said somewhat indignantly, “I don’t know.”

I paused. No, it was not a pregnant pause…just a pause. At times like this, when I’m caught off guard, realize I’ve made a social faux pas, and have no clue what to say, I usually default to some idiotic, blathering. Today I was true to form. I responded cheerfully, “Well, uh,…I’m, uh…sure the doctor will tell you before the baby is born” and followed it with an embarrassed grin. She did not smile.

At just that moment an elderly woman, moving slowly with the aid of a cane, appeared out of nowhere from behind the young woman. “Ohhhhhh….nooooooo,” my Best Intentioned Self silently scolded my Idiot Self. Then, the automatic doors opened and I did everything I could to avoid the young woman and her elderly companion during the rest of my visit to Aldi. For added measure of I caution, I spoke to no other living soul the entire time I was in the store.

Sock Offensive update: I really wish I had washed Bert (left) and Ernie (right) before putting both feet in my mouth today. Sigh.

Participants in today Coffee Break/Happy Hour

BYON Virtual Coffee Break/Happy Hour: At our second virtual coffee break and happy hour today we had many of the same folks who joined us last week. Two couldn’t make it but we gained another Canadian. With the group’s permission I captured a photo of the screen to share with you here. One helped us celebrate Clemencia’s birthday with a fun hat. (Thanks FP!) At the moment this screen shot was taken, the group was singing happy birthday to her. (Thanks group!)

We’ll be meeting again next Thursday, April 2 at 5:00 PM. Be sure to bring your own nose, hat, or anything else that lifts your spirits. Our conversation starter is an activity. Prior to the gathering, visit the Public Radio Name Generator and get your own public radio name. Then come to the meeting prepared to share it and use it throughout the meeting. See below for our BYON Coffee Break/Happy Hour connection information and try to join us.

Using Zoom has become a way of life for many people in the time of COVID-19, including Clemencia and me. We use Zoom throughout the day to stay connected to clients, to students, and to conduct training and classes. Today, though, we used it to stay connected to our family members. We invited our children to a Zoom birthday party for Clemencia at noon. Everyone made it on time and we had a fun visit but…overshadowing it was the reality of the pandemic. Our daughter lives in Brooklyn and we worry about her as the cases of the Coronavirus, and the body count, climb to unbelievable levels. To pass the time and be of service, she is making face masks for people who need it most. Our son is a social worker who still has to go out into the field but without the benefit of any protective wear. Our daughter-in-law is dealing with the stress of long hours working remotely as an essential IT security specialist working to protect a major hospital system from regular hacking attempts. Our godson is doing his doctoral research in Spain. He and his partner are living in a town about the size of Baltimore that has over 54 deaths from COVID-19. Even as we laugh together and celebrate the life of someone we love so much, we also feel on the verge of tears for worry. This is life in the time of COVID-19.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, and remember to let yourself both laugh and cry, even at the same time, when needed.

Tom