Strawberry Therapy

A while back I (stupidly, stupidly, stupidly!) got into a heated Facebook discussion with a relative of two good friends. This was a the-current-state-of-healthcare discussion, and this person was lecturing one of my friends—the dear-to-me daughter of a dear friend—in a way that just (as we say here in the South) made me lose my religion.

It wasn’t opinion, what this person was spouting; it was factually incorrect.

And even when I pointed that out,* it didn’t stop her.

I quickly (and privately) said “I’m sorry” to my friends. Then I got up from the computer and went downstairs to engage in strawberry therapy (i.e., I had a gallon of strawberries that needed to be cleaned and sliced) because I was so utterly angry.

Strawberry therapy.

And as I stood there in the kitchen, slicing, slicing, slicing, but embarrassed, too, I thought that sometimes it’s difficult for the person who “owns” the Facebook page where the discussion is happening to speak up. Especially to a relative. So as I calmed down, I decided I was glad I’d said my piece. I was able to go to bed, even, and sleep instead of fretting.

The next morning both of my friends contacted me and thanked me for correcting the person who had been mouthing off.

Trust me when I say I could have written quite a screed. I have strong opinions, but I am trying to behave like the sixtysomething woman I am physically, as opposed to the impassioned twenty-five-year-old I still am inside. But I am still her. I am still that woman.

* I knew better, of course. I’ve read about confirmation bias, which points out that “when your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.”

May the Blessing of the Rain Be on You

This post is republished from my other blog, Read Play Edit. It ran in September 2012.

Before I visited Ireland the first time, I had the impression (as many do) it rains a lot there. (I packed a raincoat.) Here’s what the Irish Meteorological Service says: “In fact, two out of three hourly observations will not report any measurable rainfall.”

That sounds good. But consider this: “The average number of wet days (days with more than 1mm [3/100 inch] of rain) ranges from about 150 days a year along the east and south-east coasts, to about 225 days a year in parts of the west.” Well. That threshold for what constitutes a wet day is pretty low. And if you do the math, you’ll see 41 percent of the days in the east are wet while it’s wet 61 percent in the west.

So it’s no wonder, then, the Irish have a lot of slang for rain.

My favorite is soft, as in a soft day, which is characterized by a soft rain, which is actually more like mist. (Hence the soft.) A soft day is cloudy and sometimes the wet is a little more drizzle than mist. You might hear a day described as a grand soft day, which is, as best I can tell, no actual rain, just an elevated humidity.

Here are some other wet-weather words (and here’s a chart to help you decipher their relation to size and number of drops):

• Misht: mist with a country accent
• Drizzle: a little heaver than a soft rain, not quite a light rain
• Mizzle: very fine drops, but definitely raining
• Mildering: a light rain, regional version
• Light rain: looks soft, but don’t be fooled; it’ll ruin your hairdo
• Drop of rain: not enough to worry about, but take an umbrella
• Shower: enough rain to know you’ve been rained on
• Sun shower: raining while it’s sunny; watch for rainbows
• Wet rain: yes, they’re teasing you
• Pissing rain: hard vertical rain (not as much wind as lashing rain); an annoyance
• Lashing rain: diagonal, hard rain (due to wind)
• Driving rain: too much wind involved; stay inside or you’ll get soaked
• Heavy rain: you’ll want rain gear
• Teeming rain: heavy rain
• Raining cats and dogs: a heavy rain; careful, you might walk into a poodle
• Spate: a sudden, strong rain, out of nowhere
• Heavens opened: a spate of rain
• Downpour: a heavy rain
• Bucketing rain: you’re instantly soaked, like someone threw a bucket of water at you
• Sheets of rain: like buckets only steadier; walls of rain coming down
• Torrential rain: unrelenting; seriously, stay home
• Almost biblical: can’t get much worse

The real test, though, is the Gaelic. I found this list here, which post is also somewhat amusing for the dueling linguists:

• biadh an tsic (“food for rain”): rain in frosty weather
• brádán báistí: light rain
• braon: the dripping of the rain
• cith agus dealán: sunshine with showers
• ceóbhrán: light drizzle, mist
• durach mor: a big shower
• focíth fearthainne: occasional rain showers
• frás: shower
• fuarbháisteach earraigh: a cold spring downpour
• lá frasaidheacht: a showery day
• greadadh báistí: heavy (pelting) (driving) rain
• plimp fearthainne: a sudden downpour of rain
• síorbháisteach: a continuous downpouring of rain
• scáth báistí (“rain shield”): umbrella
• smurán: a shower
• stoirm ceatha: breeze before a shower
• stoirm shíobhta bháistí: a driving rainstorm
• taom fearthainne: a bucketing down of rain

You’re on your own for pronunciation, so if I were you’d I’d stick to the English. 🙂 And pack a light raincoat. You may need it!

I Am Still Speechless, But—

“Video of Police Killing of Philando Castile Is Publicly Released”
New York Times, 20 June 2017

Last week the video made from the dash cam of the cruiser belonging to the police officer who killed Philando Castile was made public by Minnesota state investigators. I’ve seen the video shot by Diamond Reynolds. I am deeply troubled by the acquittal. I don’t even know where to start.

Thank goodness Kimberly Hammers, a smart and thoughtful friend of a friend of mine, did know where to start. I have her permission to to reproduce her comments.

If this is not one of the most troubling things you have ever seen, try to remember a few things:

  1. This was a man with no violent criminal history.
  2. This was a man who was loved by his community, and reportedly took the time to remember the names of all 500 children he served in an elementary school cafeteria, and their food allergies.
  3. He was described as an ideal employee and role model for others.

While all of that is the more personal side of this travesty, and the one that I find myself responding to the most, here’s food for thought for all of the Second Amendment fans out there (and I’m friends with a bunch of you; I know because any time I mention stricter gun control laws I hear from you):

  1. This was man who was exercising his Second Amendment rights, with a legally bought weapon that he had a license to carry.
  2. This man had already complied with police officers by pulling over in a timely manner and providing his proof of insurance. He had been told to reach for his wallet, which contained his license and proof of registration.
  3. This man did exactly what he was supposed to do, which was inform the officer in a calm, clear voice “I need to let you know that I do have a firearm on me.”
  4. This officer was acquitted of all charges this week.

Just Mr. Castile saying those words, “I need to let you know that I do have a firearm on me”—that triggered this officer to grab for his weapon. You can see it clearly on the video. Note that the other officer, who reportedly couldn’t hear what was said, didn’t react until the first officer began shooting—because he didn’t hear that Mr. Castile had a weapon, nor did he see it.*

Also, you can literally hear Mr. Castile, with his dying breath, respond to the officer’s “I told you not to reach for it!” with “I wasn’t reaching for it …” Not to mention (also on video) the officer states, “I didn’t see the gun. He looked like he was reaching for something larger than a wallet.”

If you want to have your Second Amendment rights, fine. I don’t agree with the scope of it all, but fine. But—that is everyone’s right, not just the right of white people. Make no mistake that this man was killed because he was a black man exercising his legal right to carry a firearm. So theoretically you, gun-rights supporters, should be making the most noise right now. Your silence is deafening.

As I write this article, the Washington Post reports that the NRA issued only a halfhearted statement following the shooting last July, and has had no comment whatsoever about the acquittal. Slate’s headline speaks volumes: “Philando Castile Should Be the NRA’s Perfect Cause Célèbre. There’s Just One Problem.” You guessed it: “If Castile had been white instead of black, the NRA would have been rallying behind him and his family since the moment of his death and fundraising off his memory for the rest of time.” (To their credit, and in spite of Ms. Hammers’s—and my—personal experience, some NRA members have spoken out in defense of Philando Castile. Some have even resigned their memberships.)

I’ll be frank: I don’t like guns. I have personal friends who are responsible gun owners, but I believe we need more restrictions, not fewer. My father, though a military veteran, hated firearms. And I see no reason for people to be walking around my small town with a gun on their person. Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is not the Wild West. Take that gun to the shooting range, take it out to the country, but don’t take it to Kroger.

* In fact, the gun was found in Castile’s pocket by paramedics when they were loading him into an ambulance.

“Nuala O’Faolain, 68, Irish Memoirist, Is Dead” *

This post is republished from my other blog, Read Play Edit. It ran in March 2012.

Some years ago when I still worked in the corporate world, I was driving home from my job listening to NPR. It was late (yes: I worked late too frequently, even then) and they were running an interview with Nuala O’Faolain. She had just turned sixty, and the interview had to do with the paperback reissue of her first novel, My Dream of You.

Nuala O’Faolain. I lifted this photo from the Irish Independent. 🙂

Her protagonist, Kathleen de Burca, is an older woman who unexpectedly falls in love after having given up on that ever happening. There is much, much more that goes on in this layered and nuanced novel (I loved it), but the radio interviewer headed down that older-love path, as many of Kathleen’s details seemed to echo O’Faolain’s personal life.

In this interview O’Faolain said (I’m paraphrasing) that as she had begun aging, she’d been essentially written off by younger people. They think I’ve given up “all that,” she said (meaning wild, passionate emotional and physical love), but I haven’t. I still long for “the Other.”

At the time, her words struck me right through the heart (I’d been divorced and alone for some time) and there I was, driving down the highway, sobbing like a baby. But this was her gift: as a writer and speaker she is unsentimental, painfully honest, eloquent in that way the Irish are—and sees right to the heart of the matter.

I’d never heard of her before that night (in Ireland she was a household name) but I went to the bookstore the very next day and bought My Dream of You. After that I read Are You Somebody?: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman and later her second memoir, Almost There: The Onward Journey of a Dublin Woman. I was moved, always, by what this woman had to say.

When I stumbled on the headline above, then, you can imagine my sorrow. I’d felt like I knew her! Less than a month before she died she did a sad but unblinking radio interview about her impending death. It was a sensation in Ireland. (You can read it here or listen to it here. It’s really good for seeing / hearing the rhythm of her Irish way of speaking, if you are interested in that sort of thing, as I am.) “It must look as if I’m an awful divil for publicity altogether,” she said.

Perhaps. But even now, her writing deserves your attention. Have a look. Let me know what you think.

*This headline is nearly a decade old; it’s from a story in the New York Times dated 11 May 2008.

I’m the Person I Always Was—Only Now I Say What I Think Out Loud

Yes. You’ve probably noticed. I’ve been speaking my mind. 🙂

When I got divorced in 1990, I became a very busy single mom working two and three jobs. Life continued apace, and the country had lots of interesting things going on, but I kept my thoughts to myself because I didn’t feel qualified to speak up. I’m a facts gal. I always have been. And if I’m not in possession of the facts, I’d rather be silent than be stupid.

Back in those days some male members of my family had a lot to say about politics—even knowing that I didn’t agree with them*—but I let it roll off because I didn’t feel like I was up on all the facts, so I couldn’t have an intelligent conversation about it. During that time, I prided myself on keeping the peace, and I’ve since prided myself on keeping things light. On the blog I talk about travel and my fortunate life. On Facebook I talked about my kid, my pets, my now-husband, the yard, my work … all the things I love and care about.

And as long as I did that, I was OK.

Oh, I watched all the ugly, partisan memes that twisted the truth (or often lied). I saw lots of them on my brother’s Facebook feed. I watched that angry, mean stuff from Alex Jones, Mark Levin, and Fox News (and so, so many others) posted by people I thought I knew. I heard the disgust in certain voices when the word liberal was spoken or written. It hurt when people I know used the word libtard in my presence. I didn’t like it, but I said nothing. I was “a good girl,” it seems.

But on 25 November 2015 in South Carolina, Donald Trump publicly mocked a disabled man, and I’ve not been able to move past that.

There’s a lot more than that, of course. Trump lies. He’s selfish and greedy. He’s a racist, a xenophobe, and a hater of the worst sort. He’s a science denier. He is a serial sexual assaulter. He’s also not particularly bright, which is something that really bothers me.

I kept silent a little longer. But now I just can’t. Staying silent destroyed my personal serenity and played havoc with my mental and physical health. “I cannot and I will not retract anything,” Martin Luther said at the Diet of Worms in 1521, “since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.” That’s where I’m at, y’all. There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.

Interestingly, because I’ve spoken up now, because I’ve stepped out of my good-girl role, because I have dared to criticize the man they voted for, some people I know have called me a hater.

To those people I say: clearly you don’t know me at all. I have always had these opinions you don’t like. I’m just talking back now because I have my facts in hand. Oh, I’m a smartass, all right. Sure, I’m angry. And yes, I have a very low tolerance for bullshit (and always have). But I’m no hater. There’s a difference.

*Because I’ve had the same fundamental beliefs about life, and the goodness of it, and the notion that in the end we as humans and as a nation will be judged by how we treat the least among us since I was about ten years old, arguing politics at the dinner table with my daddy, who encouraged me in all things, even my renegade allegiance to the Democratic party.

“Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence. We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of others. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.”
Robert F. Kennedy, speech, “On the Mindless Menace of Violence,” in Cleveland, Ohio, 5 April 1968

Poetry Geek

This post is republished from my professional blog, Read Play Edit. It ran in April 2013.

When I was a kid I loved studying poetry in school. For the same reason I love a jigsaw puzzle, for the same reason I loved diagramming sentences (yes! and I’m not ashamed to admit it), for the same reasons I enjoy editing now, I loved the discussions about symbolism and simile and structure.

I loved parsing the words, teasing out the message that just wasn’t clear to a thirteen-year-old of limited frame of reference. “I met a traveler from an antique land,” Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in 1817,* “Who said, ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone …’” and these lines never fail to thrill me. I’m right there in that desert. It’s a fairly transparent sonnet, actually, but I was quite impressed with it when I was thirteen and I am still, these many years later.

I also love being exposed to new poetry. So I was delighted to read a post from poet Isabel Rogers, in which she mentioned this gorgeous piece—“The Lammas Hireling” by Ian Duhig. The poem won the (UK) Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition in 2000. I immediately sought it out—and it’s lovely—but knew I needed to do a little research.

Isn’t it always an adventure to read and then think and imagine what’s going on in a poem? You can start with the title. Lammas, as it turns out, is a pre-Christian tradition: a harvest festival on August first. The hireling is simply a man, a stranger, engaged at a rural hiring fair. Duhig himself tells us this is how farm “labour was engaged well into the last century.”

Americans unfamiliar with the folk traditions of the British Isles will be stumped by a couple references. Duhig says,

It’s based on a story I heard when I was in Northern Ireland, out for a very late night walk, a local person pointed out a house he told me was where the local witches used to live, and in their tradition witches would change into hares, and when the father was dying, his family was very embarrassed because the father’s body was turning into a hare’s and this bloke [who] told me the story said he attended the funeral and the last thing you could hear was the hare’s paws beating the lid of the coffin as they lowered it into the ground.

Now there’s a story for ’round the campfire, eh? The poet goes on to say, “‘A cow with leather horns’ is another name for a hare—if you think about it you’ll see why.” That last line, of course, is the best part of reading poetry, as we’ve discussed. If you think about it, you’ll see why.

Read the poem again.

Now, just for fun, watch this short film from filmmaker (and poet!) Paul Casey, founder of the Ó Bhéal reading series in Cork.

What do you think? Now that you’ve watched the film, do you think there could there be a less magical interpretation? Casey gets us started when he says the poem “explores superstition in 20th century rural Ireland.” What do you think of his choice of a woman to play the hireling, when the poem calls the hireling “he”? Is the old widower a reliable narrator? You tell me.

UPDATE: This post became known to the poet within minutes of the time it published, and in short order I was having a Twitter conversation with him. He said, “If obscurities remain—allowing for its unreliable/unhinged narrator—do ask.” Don’t hesitate, friends: @IanDuhig.

* “Ozymandius” was published in the 11 January 1818 issue of the (London) Examiner.
Thank you, Isabel, for exposing me to “The Lammas Hireling.”
There’s some more interesting discussion about the poem here.

 

Ireland on the Page

This post is republished from my professional blog, Read Play Edit. It ran in September 2012.

Before I visited Ireland the first time, I did an enormous amount of reading—about history, culture, and so on. The history, in particular, is a lot to grasp for an American. That whole Troubles thing? We. Just. Don’t. Get it.

I’d long been fascinated by Ireland. This allure probably had some genesis in—don’t laugh—the 1966 Disney movie The Fighting Prince of Donegal. (I said don’t laugh. I still have a VHS copy. It’s based on a 1957 novel by Robert T. Reilly, Red Hugh: Prince of Donegal, and is Good Clean Fun.)

I’d read Joyce in high school, of course (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners; I’m not any braver than that). Ten years later I read Leon Uris’s Trinity (subtitle: A Novel of Ireland) and finally thought I understood the Irish Troubles. As we’ve discussed (here, say, and here), there is a power to convey history even through fiction. (Sadly, the book didn’t stand up well in a recent reread. Which isn’t to say you mightn’t enjoy it, just that it is no longer my cuppa.)

In the years that followed I read quite a bit of Roddy Doyle’s wonderful fiction; I’d found Nuala O’Faolain and Fergal Keane. I read The Great Shame: And the Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World by Thomas Keneally (he of Schindler’s List fame) and another piece of Irish history fell into place. I found a little book called A Literary Guide to Ireland by Thomas and Susan Cahill (touring Ireland by way of its writers? you can imagine my delight). This led me to Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization, which was pure nonfiction pleasure. Highly recommended.

Irish history has been discussed in a variety of fiction and nonfiction, all immanently readable. (It’s been covered in movies, too, but that’s another post.) It’s an ongoing thing, this personal study of Irish history, but by the time I finally visited Ireland, I at least had the basics in hand. Not everyone is as interested in drilling down the way I am, I guess, but if you travel to a country not your own, how can you experience it as anything more than a Disneyland (Oh, look, honey! Sheep! So cute!) if you don’t know at least a little something?

This was borne home to me in an incident I experienced in Dublin at Kilmainham Gaol. Now a museum, the gaol played an important role in recent Irish history, having been the site of the executions of fourteen men who participated in the Easter Rising, including all seven of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. It is a solemn and sorrowful place.

On this particular day our tour group was being led by a soft-spoken young man who looked to be in his mid-twenties; he was probably a graduate student at one of the local universities. Also in our group was a large American man who seemed desperate to show the rest of us—and the very Irish docent—how much he knew about Ireland, about the Rising (he called it the Uprising … sigh), really, about everything. He kept peppering our young guide with questions and comments, which were answered fully and patiently.

And then the guide said something about the Irish Civil War.

The big guy sputtered. “Civil war? What civil war?” Hahahaha. Yes, dude. Didn’t you watch the movie? Michael Collins didn’t die at British hands.

Without doubt, Irish history is complicated. And, as Fergal Keane notes, “ruthless … nasty, [and] tribal.” But if you want to understand it, you can. I can recommend a book. 🙂 The Irishman and I found it in the United Nations bookshop, of all places: Ireland: An Illustrated History, by Henry Weisser. It’s short—you can read it in an afternoon—and has everything you need to know.