Are You a Patriot?*

Funny, I can always tell the politics of a Twitter user even before I look at his or her feed. If there is an American flag icon next to the user name, that person is invariably a trump supporter.

No inference should be made from this about the patriotism of the trump opposition folks (like me). It’s just that trumpies use the flag—and their implied patriotism—like a cudgel. Make America great again, they say. That well-known photograph of trump hugging a flag on a stage somewhere makes me throw up in my mouth.

Early in 2017 I read an article about how to stand in opposition to trump’s base and to, perhaps, make them see why we opposed trump, even, perhaps, to change their minds about those of us they literally see as the enemy. It said we should not shy away from embracing patriotic symbols like the flag. Because one thing trump supporters think of progressives is that we are not American enough.

(Having traveled in countries outside this one, I can assure them: we are. Europeans, for example, can spot us coming, regardless of our politics. I don’t necessarily mean this is a good thing.)

I’ve said time and again I was raised by the Original American Patriot. My daddy could get choked up singing the national anthem. But we didn’t fly a flag outside the house, day and night, rain or shine, the way magas often do these days. We flew a flag on Flag Day and Independence Day; at sunset we took it down and folded it back up.

(We did, however, note Memorial Day. I was born on Memorial Day. That is, May 30th. Back then, Memorial Day was always May 30th. From 1868 to 1970, Memorial Day was May 30th. It was great: No school on my birthday! Pool’s open on my birthday! Then they instituted the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Bah, humbug.)

So the magas wrap themselves in the flag and call themselves patriots. But we’re four years into this shit show and I am here to tell you, the most patriotic Americans are the ones who oppose trump. I want America back.

* Or should I say a paytriot—since the GOP has spent four years lining trump’s pockets.

In Everything Give Thanks* … Manners Do Count

I’m turning into a cranky old person. No, wait, wait—let me start again. 🙂

It’s the twenty-first century, and I’ve been wondering when public discourse got so sloppy and mean. We have online trolls, Bernie bros, and, well, we have trump. And I could put up with that (I’m not polite when I speak about trump, after all) but it seems private business communication is not doing too well either. Is it just me? I do not appreciate rudeness from business associates, particularly those who are significantly younger than me and apparently don’t know how our mutual business (publishing) works, much less how to conduct a professional correspondence.

This is what I mean: “I was off that day or I would have caught that error that you, Jamie, discovered and brought to our attention” is not a thank-you. It is certainly not a thank-you worthy of someone with the title of senior editor.

It is not at all a thank-you after I have spent an hour composing an email in which I bent over backward to let you know this without actually pointing an accusatory finger at whoever it was on your staff who got the dates all wrong, dramatically wrong. And the hour I spent before that in discussion with your author, who is even right now** hyperventilating over a date that is, as I say, dramatically different than the one in her contract. (Because when you send me a manuscript with a specific due date, the first thing I do is drop the author a cheery email letting her know I’m on the job and what the pertinent dates are that we must hit together. It’s just good business. And doing that is what revealed that forty-five–day error.)

“I was off that day or I would have caught it” was not a thank-you, sister. Nor is “I’m sorry BUT …” an apology, related to the same incident.***

It seems my idea of “professional” is apparently outdated. The professional thing to do would have been to say, simply, “Wow—good catch! Thank you for letting us know about this! We’re so appreciative you talked our author off the ledge. I’m sorry you spent any time at all on this project—since in order to make it fit our production schedule we’re going to have to rescind our offer and do it in-house. I’m really sorry that leaves a hole in your production schedule; you’ll be the first editor we call for the next assignment. This was all our fault. Thanks so much for all the good work you’ve done for us.”

And that would have been that. Although a kill fee would have been appropriate too. The best publishers do that, you know. Ha. I worked in a publishing house, remember? I know how these things work.

This is the way the world goes, I guess: people make mistakes. But my mother always said there was no substitute for good manners and no excuse for bad ones. So I was annoyed about this incident. And I stayed annoyed for a couple days and then I moved on. I know my worth, and it’s not determined by someone whose mother didn’t teach her any manners.

* 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV. No exceptions, no excuses.
** This happened some years ago.
*** We saw this phenomenon recently in the news when Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) confronted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the Capitol about her vote, then uttered a remarkably gender specific vulgarity at her. And there were witnesses. The outcry was such that he had to “apologize” the next day on the House floor, where he said sorry but added he couldn’t apologize for his “passion, loving my God, my family, or my country.” Good grief. As someone on Twitter said, “An apology + explanation that defends the offending behavior is not an apology. It’s another insult. Here, Yolo is suggesting AOC doesn’t love God, family or country (because he does and has to make an exception to his apology).” I rest my case.

Notes from a Pandemic: American Mask Exceptionalism

Welp, things are starting to get real: Walmart just announced masks will be required to enter the store. Nationwide. Here in Tennessee—where mask-wearing is a political statement and even in blue Nashville a mask-wearer might get yelled at by a misinformed manly man—I think police might need to be on hand in case tempers flare.

Those of us who’ve been wearing masks for months now are both thrilled (it’s about time!) and slightly panicked. There are more of them than us, and they really, really think wearing a mask is an infringement of their personal rights. There are any number of meme-like comments I could trot out here, but the fact is we know that wearing a mask helps reduce community transmission of the virus. I repeat: this is fact.

And yet … Americans from Dallas get off a plane in Dublin, Ireland, and, when asked “What brings you here during this pandemic?” by local reporters, say, “Nobody tells us Americans what to do.” And yet … my sibling continues to insist on social media that his rights are being infringed upon. Over and over and over. And yet … elsewhere on social media, a Nashville friend of mine (smart, wise) posts photos of her daughter’s wedding shower, and there they are—the mother, the daughter, the future mother-in-law, two hostesses—arm-in-arm, and no one is wearing a mask. It makes me want to weep for them: Nashville—a popular tourist destination and it town—is a COVID hot spot. And yet … another friend who is employed by the Department of Defense and lives near and works on a US military base in Germany notes that the military and families who are incoming are expected to quarantine but no one is keeping an eye on them and they are behaving, instead, like tourists in a country that has its case count down to about five hundred. “Spreading their nasty germs everywhere,” my friend says.

I got my first exposure to the fact that it’s OK that the whole world isn’t like the United States (and doesn’t talk like us either) when my family lived in Canada; I was young, and thought it was kind of cool, actually. Later, my eyes were opened to the phenomenon of American exceptionalism when I began traveling to the UK and Europe, making friends there and keeping them (Facebook and Skype help). I’ve seen Ugly Americanism up close and it disgusts me, frankly.

So here we are—USA! USA!—drowning in COVID and the one easy thing every American could do* to help is wear a mask. And yet, and yet. Sadly, we have met the Ugly Americans, and they are us.

Why won’t they? In all honesty, I think it’s because they feel self-conscious. I felt self-conscious, too, back in March when we got our first cloth masks. And then I got over it.

The rest of y’all weeny-babies are going to have to get over it, too: many national chain stores have started requiring masks, including … Apple Store, Aldi, American Eagle Outfitters, AT&T, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Costco, CVS Pharmacy, Dollar Tree, H-E-B, Home Depot, Kohl’s, Kroger, Lowe’s, Menards, Publix, Safeway, Sam’s Club, Starbucks, Target, Verizon, and Whole Foods. I’m certain that by the time I post this, there will be more. Thank goodness.

Yes, thank goodness for these companies that are making a stand, doing what our idiot** president will not. Thank you, Walmart.

* There are a few exceptions, but they should not be taken advantage of by pissy republicans. According to the CDC, “cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.” And no, CO2 is not an issue.
** I feel confident that history will show he is in the throes of dementia, but it doesn’t excuse him. As of this writing, he is still “functioning,” still creating chaos, still sowing hatred.

Notes From a Pandemic: Not a Traditional Response

… from April 6, 2020

A dear friend called to tell me her husband died last night. We were eating supper (for us that’s around 4pm), and as we talked, I set my fork down and got up to go to our bedroom to take a shower and change clothes. To drive to her home.

They’ve lived in their present community (not far from here) for some years, and she stopped me, told me not to come, she’d be OK, she has support. So I sat down. We’re in the middle of a pandemic with so many unknowns; in fact, our state is under a shelter-in-place order. And we are old. I have the proverbial “underlying conditions” issue.

Still, I’ve known her for more than forty years, and hearing her say that broke my heart.

It Shall Be Admitted Forever That in the War for the Union We Were Right …

Yesterday, Evan McMullin* tweeted,

Are the deaths of 50 thousand Americans yet enough to persuade us that compromising decency, honor and competence “for the judges” isn’t actually worth it?

I think about this all the time. Because I know people who voted for trump for one reason only: to get a conservative majority on the Supreme Court so they could roll back Roe v. Wade.

Never mind that one of those judgeships should have been filled during the Obama administration.** And never mind that—in theory—we abide by the separation of church and state in this country. We are a secular nation. We allow all religions to be practiced, but none of them to rule us.

But here’s what I really wonder. Those people I know who voted for trump for this one reason—even though we had plenty of warning about who and what he was—are they sorry now? Do they regret voting for him now that it’s evident he lies, that he is a serial adulterer and assaulter of women, that he is a racist? We watched him mock a disabled person on national television—does that fill them with shame? We know that he ridicules (or worse) people he doesn’t like and does favors for those he likes. We have evidence from our intelligence community that he was aided by the Russian oligarchy (and China and Saudi Arabia and Julian Assange and others) to steal the election of 2016. We have evidence, now, that his family has engaged in tax fraud since at least the 90s and no doubt much longer. There is circumstantial evidence that his wealth comes from money laundering, not from his success in business. (In fact, we have evidence that he is a lousy businessman: consider the six bankruptcies.) Many of his closest associates are in jail or on their way to jail.

We have seen him talk big and deliver little. We know that he is incompetent in every way.

None of these things are desirable in an American president; all of them taken together makes a reasonable person wonder about the people who voted for him and continue to support him by remaining silent, by failing to step up and say, “Oh my goodness gracious, this is awful. I made a terrible mistake!”

And now we have a pandemic. We regular folk had warning of it; we read about it in the news in January. The trump administration had better information than us, and yet, here we are, as McMullin notes, with fifty thousand Americans dead so far. Surely that merits an oops from you people?

At the National Republican Convention of 1880, fifteen or so years after the Civil War had ended, the North and the South were having trouble chosing a candidate to run for the presidency. Emotions ran high. James A. Garfield (who would go on to the presidency***) became the compromise candidate. In his acceptance speech, Garfield said, “The Republican Party offers to our brethren of the South the olive branch of peace, and invites them to renewed brotherhood, on this supreme condition: That it shall be admitted, forever, that in the War for the Union we were right and they were wrong.”

That. That’s what I want: an admission from people I once respected, once had close friendships with, that they were wrong, that trump was absolutely the worse possible choice they could have made. Are the deaths of fifty thousand Americans enough to persuade you that compromising decency, honor and competence “for the judges” wasn’t actually worth it?

It should be.

*You remember him: he ran for president in 2016 as an independent. Currently he is the executive director of Stand Up Republic, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization focused on advocating for government reform to defend and strengthen American democracy. Formerly he was a CIA operations officer and, for a while, a policy director for the House Republican Conference. He has a degree in international law and diplomacy from BYU, and an MBA from Penn’s Wharton School.
**Those rules won’t apply to trump, though, should we lose a judge in the next few weeks or months, according to McConnell. You see, there are special rules for republicans.
***Although he was assassinated six and a half months later.

Keep Your Distance, Please

I’ve always been that person who sees people in the driveway, throws open the front door and shouts “Come on in this house, y’all!” My dad was too. He was very hail-fellow-well-met.

I love company. And we live in a house that we can have company and still be comfortable. Since we moved in thirteen years ago we’ve had family from California and from Ireland. We’ve had my son and his wonderful wife. We’ve hosted a touring brass quintet thrice, and friends whose house was flooded in the 2011 Nashville flood once. The college-freshman daughter of a good friend a few states away who just needed a mom for a day. We’ve had a few parties; one that actually required a tent in the back yard. I’ve had several of “my” authors stop and stay overnight. And a few friends of friends that became friends of mine too. Sometimes I was actually seeing them for the first time when they pulled up outside.

I didn’t really know them when I let them in, but I’m a really good judge of character and it all went swimmingly. (Although I confess this is also how I got H1N1 back in 2009.*)

Which leads me to my point. In Asia, COVID-19 spread in family groups. One person became infected, and soon they all were. As soon as they figured that out, authorities began isolating the sick away from their families. (Now, of course, we know even someone who is asymptomatic can spread the virus, which is why it’s urgent and vital to test everyone.)

So here we are in the midst of a deadly global pandemic … and I can’t even open the door to people I know and trust. Not my friends across the street. Not the daughter of a good friend. Not anyone, really. Because you just don’t know.

* Funny story. No, really. Well, sort of.

The State of the Nation

Wow. I really am a hopeless Pollyanna.* I thought things couldn’t get much worse but, hey, then the illegitimately elected president awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh during the 2020 State of the Union address.

Yep. It’s awarded to those “who have made exceptional contributions to the security of national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” Yet there was hatemonger Limbaugh, accepting our nation’s highest civilian honor.

And the very next day, my once-respected trump-supporting friend was crowing about it on Facebook. As I’ve noted before, this person was a coworker, and the likes and loves and comments on the post revealed a host of other former coworkers of mine, all of whom proclaim their Christianity to the high heavens along with their viciously partisan politics. “Well deserved!” they said. Some chortled at how Democrats must feel about it.

Well, it’s good to know, during these perilous times, who cannot be trusted to be kind.

I tend to be optimistic. My first husband often called me a [expletive deleted] Pollyanna.

Keeping the Facts of Your Life Straight

From a weekly email from Austin Kleon, who is a big advocate of journals, as are many creatives:

Here are 10 things I thought were worth sharing this week:

This week I tore through Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated. The book is about many things, but one of them is the power of journals and diaries to help you cope with trauma and keep the facts of your life straight. (Westover has kept a journal since she was 10. “My journals supplied me with a level of detail I could never have had if I relied on memory alone,” she says. “I recorded meals I’d eaten, conversations I’d overheard, work I’d done for my father in the junkyard or my mother tincturing herbs.”)

I’ve been writing stories since I was five years old, but I’ve kept a journal just twice in my life—once when I was a new mother, and then again during the run up to and after my divorce. I’ve got a journal somewhere of my most vivid dreams, too, because what there is to be grokked in a dream fascinates me.

Of course, Facebook could be called a journal, don’t you think? It’s a record of day-to-day events. And elements of this blog could certainly be called a journal. Even my daybook journals my daily activities. There are many benefits to keeping a journal (no matter where you keep it).

Now I’m an editor—I edit books—and I’ve noticed that even when I’m editing, all my thoughts get organized when I write. I write to figure out what I think. I’ve written about this before:

  • On editing: Writing clarifies thoughts, sparks creative ideas, makes connections you hadn’t seen, helps problem solving, unlocks intuition. I am often astonished at what is revealed to me when I start writing down my thoughts and ideas (from Whole-Picture Editing).
  • On asking questions: When I get stuck (editorially speaking), when I’m confused, when there are so many trees that the forest—er, story arc—seems obscure, I tend to fall back on formula. Meaning, I ask myself some standard questions and see if the answers, like bread crumbs, lead me … anywhere. Out of the woods (from Interrogatory Editing).
  • On outlining: Capture your ideas in writing. Sketch them out in a paragraph or briefly outline them. You will never regret this (from How a To-Do List Is Like a Book).
  • On process: I make a note about it so I don’t forget. Sometimes just a sentence or a paragraph, sometimes a whole outline. I might even research it a little. Now I’m conscious of it, but in an unconscious way. It is not on the front burner, just “rolling around in the back of my mind.” It can stay there for weeks or even months (from The Waiting Is the Hardest Part).

I haven’t needed my journals to cope with trauma, but I definitely use some form of writing every single day to make sense of … well, life. I’m getting ready to start a family history project, and I think writing it out—if my initial attempts are any indication—will help me make sense of the person I am.

For What It’s Worth

There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear …
I think it’s time we stop,
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.
Stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.*

Yes, there sure is something going on here. This is what I think about it. I have a lot more to say, but not enough time to say it.

Wishing Blessings on the Refugees / 26 August 2015
Working on a Detox / 3 August 2016
Holding Two Opposing Thoughts in My Head: It’s Self-Evident, Y’all / 25 September 2016
“Eschew Ignorance. Pursue the Truth.” Be a Good Citizen. / 15 October 2016
I Am Your Sister, Your Wife, Your Mother. … I Am a Human Being. / 20 Oct 2016
Let Each Citizen Remember / 30 October 2016
Both Men I Married Were Immigrants / 5 February 2017
The Very Rich Are Different from You and Me / 11 March 2017
When Is a Super Bowl Television Commercial Un-American? / 25 March 2017
Not the Right Stuff: Winning At All Costs / 21 May 2017
I’m the Person I Always Was—Only Now I Say What I Think Out Loud / 22 June 2017
I Am Still Speechless, But— / 24 June 2017
Strawberry Therapy / 27 June 2017
“I Got Mine” / 5 July 2017
I Don’t Care If You’re Partisan. I Do Care If You Perpetrate Lies. / 23 July 2017
Sunshine Patriots / 23 September 2017
Ken Burns and Me / 1 October 2017
The Year In Review / 5 January 2018
Travel to the US Is Down / 21 February 2018
What Language Are You Speaking? / 5 March 2018
What the Mind Does / 15 March 2018
Critical Thinking PSA / 21 March 2018
Second-Class Something / 20 April 2018
Racists at the Breakfast Table / 21 April 2018
Dear Old Friend / 19 June 2018
In My Parents’ House Were Many Books … / 7 September 2018
Little Round Planet / 9 October 2018
Moving Humanity Forward (At the Oscars) / 25 February 2019

* “For What It’s Worth,” Stephen Stills, songwriter, 1966


Our Immigration Adventure

All my immigration articles are threaded through this blog. Here’s a way to see all of them, in chronological order! A table of contents.

And please remember this, friends, as you read this … Yes, it was occasionally frustrating and it took a long time. But we never doubted that it would happen. Why? Because 1) we are white, 2) we speak English, and 3) we had the means to hire an attorney. Additionally, we were not pressured by time (meaning one of us wasn’t fleeing a war-torn country or afraid of being killed or raped by neighbors); we each had a safe place to live while we waited. Not every immigrant is this fortunate.

Immigration Woes (Part 1) / 1 November 2008
Our Immigration Attorney Laughed at Us / 30 October 2014
Because You’re Not Married If You Don’t Have Cake / 30 October 2014
I Wanted Something Sentimental / 30 October 2014
Sometimes Things Work Out / 31 October 2014
I Wasn’t Prepared / 1 November 2014
With a Little Help From Our Friends / 1 November 2014
Parting Shot / 1 November 2014
Getting Back to Normal / 20 November 2014
Immigration Woes (Part 2) / 3 June 2015
Like the La Brea Tar Pit / 23 August 2015
Slogging to Dublin / 29 September 2015
It’s a Great Day for a Celebration (Part 1 of 2) / 3 October 2015
Party Time! (Part 2 of 2) / 3 October 2015
A Long Day at the Airport / 20 October 2015
An Early Christmas Present from Uncle Sam / 24 December 2015
We Think the IRS Must Be Gaslighting Us / 27 July 2016
Both Men I Married Were Immigrants / 5 February 2017
The Next Step on the Road to Immigration / 30 June 2017
Homeland / 3 July 2017
Second-Class Something / 20 April 2018
The End of the Immigration Affair (Almost) / 27 June 2019
Taking the Oath / 15 August 2019
Immigration Epilogue / 15 August 2019

See also:
Wishing Blessings on the Refugees / 26 August 2015
What Language Are You Speaking? / 5 March 2018
Dear Old Friend / 19 June 2018