Category Archives: Nonfiction

Screened

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Photo from pxhere.com

This morning I sat down at my breakfast counter to a creatively crafted omelet with broccolini and sharp cheddar, local-baked white toast, and raspberry jam from the farmers’ market. It was a simple feast, but a feast none-the-less. I took my first bite and looked out the window at a blue jay in the lower branches of a small pine. I idly wondered what it was doing. Was it eating the seeds of pinecones?

No sooner had I swallowed the bite, as this question drifted away, when an impulse seized me: I should check my email on my phone! The phone was lying within easy reach on the counter, facedown, the way I usually put it so I am not distracted by messages that appear. The ringer is off, so I am not hostage to every notification. Still, something inside compelled me to grab for it. But … I resisted. I consciously resisted, thinking, if I pick that thing up, I won’t taste this delicious breakfast I just made. I will mindlessly shovel the food in while my being is sucked into the screen and pulled in 20 different directions.

I finished my breakfast with mindful bites, allowing the salty cheesiness and the green goodness of the broccolini to rest upon my tongue. But as I ate, I wondered—what drove that impulse? Something inside me in that moment was not content to just BE, as if I harbor a fear of the mundane, of these moments in the actual physical world where nothing in particular is happening. Except, so much is happening! The jay in the pine, the snow sliding off the roof, the clouds of the big nor’easter rolling in, the water on the wood stove bubbling. Perhaps, too, I was driven by guilt. It was already 10 am on a Saturday morning and I needed to get to my writing client work if I had any prayer of taking Sunday off as a “normal” weekend day.

Getting “screened” is a ubiquitous cultural experience. It’s one thing to listen to a news story about technology addiction, and quite another to observe it in your own life, the lives of your friends, and then attempt to do something about it.

The other morning I stopped into my favorite bakery where they serve creamy lattes flavored with malted cardamom or ginger-maple. They have a range of cookies, scones, and croissants that keep me honest about making sure I get my body moving at some point each day, whether it’s a walk, yoga, or a fitness dance session. As I waited for my drink, I noticed a young couple sitting at a table facing the window to the street. Their backs were to me. What I saw was this: both of them were comfortably side-by-side, their heads and necks bent forward, and they were motionless. Intrigued, I repositioned so I could see what they were doing. They each had a large cell phone flat on the table, index finger on the screen, tapping and sliding. Neither of them spoke to the other. The whole 20 minutes I was there. Neither of them moved. As I passed on the way out the door, I glanced down and saw the comments bubbles and emojis of social media.

A couple weeks prior, I was in the same coffee shop meeting a dear friend for conversation. We were talking about pretty intense life challenges. But the whole time, her phone was face up on the table. At regular intervals she would jump as if jabbed in the back and pick up her phone. Then she would exclaim, “Oh, no, it’s my son. What does he want now?” Or, “It’s my husband. God, I hope he is okay!” The adrenaline rush that passed through her every time a message flashed was amazing to watch. It was clear that phone was keeping her, daily, in a constant state of mild anxiety. Needless to say, our conversation lacked a coherent flow with so many starts and stops. I felt genuinely concerned, with her being so jumpy from attending to every message.

I am not immune to getting screened, as my breakfast this morning illustrates. I am an information junkie. I LOVE to learn as much as I can about this crazy, fascinating world. This drive increases as I get older. I just want to have some sort of understanding of “What the heck?!” before I die. Where did we come from? Why are we here? What is dark matter and what does it mean about reality? What is that jay doing in that pine tree on this frigid morning? You know, those kinds of questions. Because of this, if a wondering pops into my head, I reach for my phone. This is one of the cool things about technology—all this knowledge at our fingertips! Such a gift!

I also use my phone to track my calories, my client hours, and even to make sure I haven’t died in my sleep to lie undiscovered for days while my cat roams the house traumatized by my demise and hungry. Yes, there is now an app called Snug that allows people who live alone to quietly check in each and every day. If you don’t check in, the app texts your emergency contacts. Pretty cool!

There are also endless, fascinating podcasts to download that make long car drives a pleasure.

The problem is, once that little device is in my hands, there is no telling where I will end up or how much time will pass in that state of mental fragmentation within my benumbed body. Over time, I realized that certain activities such as surfing my Facebook wall often caused me to experience all sorts of negative emotions, such as guilt for not knowing that remote acquaintance lost her dad. Or a lonely pang of wanting a dog again after seeing a cute post of someone’s pup. Or a feeling of missing the train because I can’t afford to plan any exotic vacations. Or disbelief and discouragement over someone’s heartless condescension on a political thread.

On a recent New Years Day, I went for a walk in the woods. As we tend to do during moments of “beginning,” I was pondering my writing coaching and editing business and what I wanted to do concerning its marketing. I was pondering my life overall, what I wanted to discard and what I wanted to enact. I stood in a small grove of trees. It was silent except for a crow’s intermittent caw. Then the wind picked up and the trees made a soft sshhhh sound. I made a decision. I wanted a robust physical existence, not a robust virtual existence.

When one has a small business, or a band, and I have both, social media and an online presence are a must. But just how much, how often, and what kinds of online media can be a choice. I realized that most of my best clients come via word of mouth. I took my business off of Facebook. I never, ever had gotten any client through that page. Instead, I ramped up my LinkedIn for professional visibility. And I delved into the joy of my blog. That was it. No Twitter. No Instagram. I am busier than ever.

And, in one of the best decisions I have made lately, I took Facebook off of my phone. I thought about and researched deleting the account. Or going dark. But I have too many friends with whom I don’t want to lose contact. So I just took it off of my phone.

It was astounding how not having Facebook on my phone changed my life. Just one simple change like that. I no longer lose hours a day to all those screened emotions. I spend less and less time updating my persona online. I read more books. I write more letters (remember those??). I send more cards. I meet more friends for coffee. I make more phone calls and actually talk to people.

I no longer think in Facebook posts. I no longer respond in comments bubbles. My blogs are intentionally long, like real chapters or developed articles. I fear that the breadth and lack of depth of thoughts and of information is at the root of many serious current issues we face as humans. So many people knowing so little about so very much. Just a little of this. A little of that. How can we ever make informed choices?

Recognizing the ways that getting screened affects my life is a work in progress. I must remain aware, observing my own behavior and that of my friends and that of strangers. How is this habit affecting me, affecting us all? Our relationships? It’s fascinating. And a little horrifying. And definitely annoying. Of course, I am as easily sucked in as the next person. The wild and wacky world of quantum physics theories? Right there at my fingertips. On that device! Or maybe a good omelet recipe. Or a page on the behaviors of blue jays.

 

 

Dominion: Lording Over Nature

black duck

Photo by Doug Brown on Pexels.com

“We have seen that no species can evolve apart from its co-evolution with all other species—meaning that all have played their role in our evolution. We could not have evolved by ourselves. If we look at co-evolving living systems through eyes other than our own, we will quickly see that we have no more reason to consider ourselves a supreme form of life than have others.” Elisabet Sahtouris

Just yesterday my neighbor posted a picture on Facebook of his cat watching, through a sliding glass door, a turkey eating seed scattered on the deck of the house. Immediately someone commented to his post that the turkey would make a tasty meal and advocated that my neighbor consider acting on this possibility.

This is a comment trend that I have frequently noticed on social media. Someone posts a picture, out of curiosity or in awe, of a pristine wild creature, and it’s not long before the guns come out and someone suggests killing and eating the star of the photo. Usually a semi-polite but slightly heated debate about hunting ensues.

Now, I would guess that the cat watching the turkey is indeed interested in an adrenaline-filled chase of the winged creature (likely not weighing in the fact that the bird is 3 times its size), and, perhaps, the cat in the window is even salivating a little. But it’s a cat.

What I wonder is why the first “highly-developed” human commentary on these kinds of Facebook posts is about snuffing out the bird and gnawing on its leg. Okay, maybe biology explains some of it. “Me caveman. Me eat meat.” But here in the modern US, we are not exactly starving. (Well, some of us are, too many of us, but that is a subject for a different blog post.) What I mean is that the commentators on these social media posts likely have a sizable refrigerator that, if not full, contains adequate sustenance such that a photo of a large bird, or perhaps a doe and its fawn, or a sea turtle, should not immediately trigger salivary glands and thoughts of bloodshed.

Inevitably on these post threads, some wildlife “expert” contributes that the species is overpopulated and there is a dire need for humans to step in with their traps, poisons, and firearms. At first glance, this seems reasonable, maybe even a justification to kill the critter. This comment may also be to assuage some sort of subconscious guilt that energizes over the age-old spiritual questions that arise when a human takes the life of another living creature.

But perhaps these comments come from insidious cultural conditioning. Somewhere, likely through a variety of religious and philosophical texts, we humans got the idea that humankind was plunked down here on this planet, in this galaxy, in this universe, to hold dominion over all the creatures, plants, even rocks, minerals, air and water. I would argue that this foundational belief in the self-maps of many people is what spurs these predatory comments, and this is what spurs the subject to then wander to hunting “rights” and population “control.” For if we hold dominion, it’s our right to shoot that turkey. If we have ultimate sovereignty and control, then we are charged with the responsibility to “balance” wildlife populations.

This notion of dominion thus allows for those that would love a drumstick to be absolved ethically and morally for wanting to end the life of the seed-eating turkey. It’s our role and job as humans—as stewards of the earth. But part of the definition of steward is “responsible care.” And I have to say humanity has not been adhering to these words where nature is concerned.

When I was a kid, I never saw a single wild turkey in my rambles throughout New England woods. I didn’t, in fact, ever see one until I was in my mid-thirties. Now, almost every time I drive down our Vermont roads, I have to stop to wait while a flock waddles across the road. I see them in cornfields, in backyards, near farms, and even in neighborhoods of towns. They are everywhere! So if I had to make an educated guess, I would agree: wild turkeys are overpopulated.

As a country girl, I do not judge or begrudge my neighbors and friends who hunt for food for their tables. I know most of my neighbors use all of the meat, and even the feathers. I know they hunt ethically, causing as little pain as possible. I know that their dinner had a happy, wild, natural life, thus being a kinder meal than eating a factory-farmed bird struggling to stand with its oversized breast while suffering in overcrowded, nasty conditions. I get that hunting can be a morally superior, sustainable food choice.

I do see the language that we use for hunting as stemming from the dominator model, however. We call hunting “sport,” our prey “game”, and we “harvest” kills as if we were farmers. But at least harvesting is a more respectable term than the poor word choice of “bagging” a turkey or a doe, wording more symbolic of a joking, cruel conquest.

But before I’d jump to hand out more hunting licenses and increase the length of turkey season, it seems prudent to ask the question why—why are turkeys everywhere? Are they truly overpopulated, or do they just have less wild space in which to roam? It seems we humans are overpopulated and eating up open spaces and forests like Hungry Hungry Hippos (the silly game some of us played as kids where we tried to “eat” as many marbles as we could with our plastic hippo heads).

Why were there hardly any turkeys in the ‘70s and tons of them now? A complex systems approach is needed. What is going on in their ecosystem to foster this burgeoning? I would bet the reason is tied to some bumbling actions, intentional or unintentional, of the supposed stewards of the planet—us.

In Virginia Scott Jenkins’ fascinating book, The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession, which is all about domination of another natural environment, our yards, she writes about how humankind has long been “at war” with nature. Nature has been our greatest conquest. She quotes John Crowe Ransom, writer and literary critic: “Ambitious men fight, first of all, against nature; they propose to put nature under their heel; this is the dream of scientists burrowing in their cells, and then of the industrial men who beg of their secret knowledge and go out to trouble the earth.” She then quotes feminist activist Annette Kolodny who “concludes that the brutal images of man against nature reflect ‘the very pattern of our current ecological crisis’”. Jenkins continues, “Wilderness has also appeared as the villain, with the pioneer as hero relishing its destruction” (134). We can’t be at war with nature and her stewards simultaneously.

I can hear the Facebook commentators now: “Good grief, it was just a silly joke about eating a turkey.”

At home, I often observe the flock of turkeys that dines on my neighbor’s porch and entertains their cats. The large birds have colorful, shiny feathers, sometimes sticking out with wads of burdock tangled in them. They walk slowly and carefully through the snow, pecking at this and that, their big feet leaving forked tracks. They appear serene, though alert. All I have to do is open the door and they take awkward flight. Sometimes I’m amazed the lumbrous fowl can even get off the ground. They often bunk down under the pines right behind my house near the marshy watercourse. Well, it is supposed to be marshy, but my other neighbor mows it flat each fall. He tells me he wants it the way it was when his grandfather had the land, when cows ate all the vegetation in the low-lying wash. I’ve observed the turkeys picking pathetically at the remaining scattered weeds and seed stalks, and surmise that the vegetation in the wash was likely their winter food source. So now they must resort to bird feeders. Indeed they have a good memory. I had a feeder out back last year, but have not put it up this year. Sure enough, at the beginning of the snows, the flock trucked right under the tree where the feeder used to hang, clucking and looking about, as if in confusion. “Well, it was here last year!”

I enjoy these waddling intricacies of perfection that somehow organized out of the universal chaos that our microscopes and statistics struggle to comprehend. They bring a smile to my day as they bob their heads and yodel about the backyard on their way back and forth to the feeder. I am glad my neighbor with the cat is not inclined to sup upon our feathered friends.

Bibliography

Jenkins, Virginia Scott. The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.

Sahtouris, Elisabet. Earth Dance: Living Systems in Evolution. iUniversity Press, 2000.

 

The Acceptable State of Busy

The other day I went into the staff room of the small college where I teach, and after I punched in the door code that lets faculty and staff in and keeps students out, I encountered a young staffer seated at one of the round lunch tables munching energetically on chips.

“How’s it going?” he asked loudly.

“Pretty good I guess,” I replied. I was lying. I was tired. I had a mountain of portfolios to grade in the upcoming week; each of them would take an hour. My checking account was overdrawn. I was currently working with my TMJ doctor to find the right mouth splint adjustment to relax my jaw joints enough while sleeping to keep me from biting my tongue off in the night.

“Me too!” he said, with seeming enthusiasm. “Pretty busy, which is good I guess.” He crunched another bunch of chips. “Makes the day go by fast,” he said, as I hustled into the bathroom to check my eye makeup and comb my hair. I was late to my learning center mentor shift.

“Agreed,” I called back from the bathroom door.

Inside the bathroom, I looked in the mirror and grimaced. Fluorescent lights always create a ghastly effect, making me look ten years older than I really am. A thought pounced on my mind.

“No you don’t,” the thought said.

What?

“You don’t agree. At all.”

My inner self was right. I didn’t prefer to be busy, or for my day to go by fast.

But, in my “congenial colleague persona,” I had just demonstrated how mindlessly our culture views busyness as a good thing. When did “busy” become the acceptable good? The desired state of being? The best and most successful modus operandi of our species? Sayings of busyness abound:

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” Walt Disney

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon

“Rarely have I seen a situation where doing less than the other guy is a good strategy.” Jimmy Spithill

Productivity: produce, product, production, gross domestic national product (note the first word is “gross”)

Bottom line. ROI – return on investment

Get a move on. Daylight’s burning. For chrissake, hurry up. Get out of my way.

The early bird catches the worm.

The noise of busyness is ever present.

When I was a kid one of my favorite books was The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. Ferdinand does not headbutt, kick, and run about and try to get in good with the other bulls. Nor does he share their aspirations to be selected to go and fight in the bullfights. He just wants to sit under his cork tree and smell the flowers. For this he is viewed as extremely odd. Speaking volumes about this little book, Hitler and Franco banned it, while Gandhi embraced it.

How could I explain to this guy at the lunch table that what I really wanted was to sit in an open field all day long like Ferdinand the bull and simply smell the flowers? My vision of a good day, of success, was slow and quiet. Just being.

I am not advocating a life devoid of purpose, contribution, and meaning. But I wonder how modern society’s current trajectory, which most days seems bent on mass destruction, might change if we just slowed down—the way we talk, walk, breathe, drive, think, and do. What if we sat and listened? What would we see if we just looked at what is really going on all around us? How would it change what we DO?

What are we really accomplishing with all of this busyness? Is it what is best for ourselves, our family and friends, for society, for the planet?

I try to carve out time for slowing down and observing. Interesting words we use – to carve … cutting and slicing as if time were meat on a plate, or a tree to be fashioned into a wood carving statue. Rather violent, this idea of carving time.

When I do slow down and observe, I am often appalled and astounded at some of the awful things we do and say to each other, what we do to fish, birds, plants, oceans, forests. It takes guts to listen and look.

But I am also inspired and hopeful, enlightened. Always I see the most beautiful moments of the natural world. Sometimes I see the tiniest acts of joy and kindness between fellow humans.

I take a long, deep breath. And the fresh air is a delight.

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Trauma Memories: Listening to the Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh Hearing

After listening to both testimonies for the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, like many I ended the day feeling cognitive dissonance fracturing my mind and jangling my nerves. Two completely different possible truths. One was delivered humbly, with strength, but also trepidation: in a one-piece bathing suit she had practiced her dives. The other was delivered forcefully with anger, indignation, and bitter upset: he lifted weights, played football, and drank beers with the guys. The two narratives spoke volumes about the effects of patriarchy. Each voice could be credible, depending on one’s construct of reality, of what’s right and what’s wrong … of what is really going on here.

I took a long walk down my dirt road.

I thought about my sex education as a young woman growing up in the ‘70s, just a few years earlier than Blasey Ford, in a small town. I got a booklet from my mom, but learned the details on the playground, like many of us did. One boy in elementary school told me, as I sat casually, legs sprawled: “Close your legs; the war is over.” I had no idea what he meant. I am not sure he did either. I felt terribly embarrassed and did not feel confident to ever sit with my legs sprawled again.

As I progressed into middle school, some girls already having sex, I learned from peers, TV, movies, and jokes told by adults:

  • Girls with big boobs got male attention. I developed quite late, not until the very end of high school. Strike one.
  • Girls who had sex were desirable, popular, and got the cutest boyfriends. They dated the sports stars. I held out until I was 17. Strike two.
  • “Boys will be boys.” Whatever boys did or desired should get preference. Home run.

The last, most damaging message was: If you teased a boy—if you flirted, made out, or put yourself in close proximity unsupervised by adults—and you got the boy excited, he had every right to do whatever he wished, because … you asked for it. It was your fault. Especially if you were drinking. Because guys, well, they have this “uncontrollable” physical reaction. It was cruel, once arousing them, not to follow through. Girls who teased were chided with the phrase “blue balls.”

I am not sure if these messages were pervasive, then, for all girls my age, in all towns, and all schools, but these were planted in my adolescent psyche, and, I suspect, in the minds of most of my peers.

Fast-forward to my senior year. When I finally went “all the way,” it felt like a badge of honor. I was in the club! Not long after this dubiously victorious moment, I went out with my friends on Halloween. Somehow over the course of the night, in three cars, we got separated. We were hanging out near our high school, thirty minutes away from home, and decided to meet at this party a classmate told us about. Driving alone for some reason, I found my way to the party at a house out in the middle of nowhere on a back road. I waited in my car in the driveway, but my friends never showed up. Not wanting the night to be a total loss and miffed at my girlfriends, I put on my witch hat and cape and went inside. It was packed and loud music was playing. I did not know a soul.

Turns out many there were a bit older and from a motorcycle gang. I didn’t drink anything, or talk to many people. I didn’t stay long. But I remember two encounters: a short, thin woman, wearing a leather biker hat, took a swig from a bottle of wine as she told me she’d just taken two valiums. Then she confided she was pregnant. I remember feeling panicked. Oh my god! I must have looked out of place and startled. The owner of the house, a stocky guy with medium-length blond hair, came over and for the rest of the short time I was there, he was nice to me. I don’t remember why, or what he did, just that he was nice.

Fast-forward to some evening in some month following this party. I visited this guy. I don’t remember how it was arranged, or why. I don’t remember exactly when—not what day, what week, or even what month. I know it was my senior year. I know it was cold out. I know this because he was fixing his furnace, which wasn’t working. That’s what he did for a living. He fixed furnaces. I don’t remember how I got there, or how I got home. I suppose I drove. Who else would drive me way up to this house out in the boondocks? I have no recollection of where it was; I could not ever find it today.

I suppose this was a stupid thing to do. But he had been nice. Perhaps I wanted a boyfriend. Perhaps I hoped for love. Perhaps I wanted to be cool. Perhaps I was simply looking for a diversion. Our senior class was tiny and here was someone new, outside our small circle. I don’t remember what we did after he fixed the furnace. We might have eaten a little dinner, listened to music. I don’t think I had more than a beer, maybe two. If I had any.

What I do remember is this:

A narrow, dirty-white couch in the middle of an otherwise sparse living room. Making out on this couch with this blond-haired guy I barely knew. Saying, “Stop” when he wanted to keep going past making out. His look of disgust. I remember telling him it was my time of the month, hoping to dissuade him with a decent excuse. It did not stop him. He asked me how many days was I into my cycle. I said, “near the end.” I was shocked when he pushed forward, saying, “no big deal.”

I don’t remember if I said stop again. I might have just gone along with him, because, well, boys will be boys. He was stocky; I didn’t know him very well. I had aroused him, so it was my duty to deliver. I remember my humiliation when he removed my monthly protection and dangled it in the air, almost mocking me. I don’t remember the act itself. I think it was rather quick and business-like. I remember a sick feeling when we were done. Something wasn’t right. But I didn’t know what. And I remember the month of terror after, hoping I wouldn’t become pregnant. Luckily I did not.

I might have told a friend or two. Otherwise I filed this incident away as one of the dumb things I did as a teen. It was my fault. I filed it away initially as evidence that those early messages were true. But one was not true: I was not cool or desirable to have put myself in such a position. I filed away a sense of my powerlessness as a young woman, as a woman of any age. My “Stop” did not matter. Not to him. Not to our culture. I had no name for this until I was in my early 30s—date rape.

The snarky, hateful comments about Blasey Ford on social media run the gamut, but one refrain, even chanted by the President, ridicules her spotty memory of her trauma: How can she not remember how she got there and back? Why can’t she remember how much she drank? When it was? Where it was? Why she went in the first place?

Walking down my dirt road, thinking back on my own trauma, I realized I was missing all the same puzzle pieces. Yet, like Blasey Ford, the moment of violation was crystal clear some 36 years later. I have a similar residual trauma from the incident, though it has manifested in me differently than hers.

But Blasey Ford has at least one memory I don’t have. She remembers his name.

 

 

Confessions of an Arachnophobe

I’m sorry. But they had grown much too big, much too fat, much too meaty. One, I saw, even ate its own brethren—the husk of a spider body, white and tan, blowing in the breeze from a thin strand of web.

The final straw was when I went out the back door in the early evening and felt a cobweb cross my face, then lay across my hair. I screamed. Of course. And jumped. And ran a few silly steps while frantically combing my fingers through my hair, hoping not to feel a cool, doughy wiggling thing under my palm.

You see, by this time of summer, they have grown to the size of small toads. In fact, one time I had a guest point emphatically to a corner of my porch. “That spider’s as big as a TOAD,” he declared.

So it was time. I had a broom and a mission.

As terrifying as they are, I’ve grown much less hysterical than in the heyday of my arachnophobia. Now I study the creatures closely with a cortisol-infused curiosity. I can even tolerate one or two setting up camp about the exterior of the house.

They are, after all, reminiscent of dear Charlotte, the amazing spider who could spell. My residents do not craft words, but, rather, elaborate architecture. And they catch flies. But what I remember most about Charlotte was her egg sack, the one that Templeton the rat had to gently extract from the livestock barn and carry in his mouth to Wilbur’s crate as they prepared to leave the county fair.

What I remember was that Charlotte’s egg sack hatched dozens and dozens of little tiny Charlottes, all destined to grow big, fat, and meaty.

And this is what propels me to act.

Ever so gently, one by one, I invited my houseguests onto a very long broom. Each spider was hesitant, confused, and then frantic. I aerobatically balanced the speedily crawling eight-legged creature on the broom while I trotted briskly across the lawn.

I tried to find spidery places, webby places in which to deposit them where they could find some protection and possibly construct a new web. Under a pine tree. In the brush pile. I have no idea if they can survive such a move. I have no idea if they are like the animals in The Incredible Journey and can find their way back.

All I know is that, temporarily, I no longer have to wallow in one of my biggest fears—that one of these plump arachnids will plop on my unsuspecting head.

That night, it poured … buckets, a waterfall. Tucked up in bed, a crisp white sheet to my chin, rain drumming on the metal roof, I thought of them out there. In the wet and the dark. Web-less. Lost in a strange neighborhood.

Musings on Mowing the Lawn: An Environmental Conundrum

I’ve been participating in it all summer: the quintessential summer ritual that provides comfort and nostalgia almost on a cellular level. Mowing the lawn. The smell of cut grass intoxicates me, invoking childhood memories of wet sneakers, running fast across the grass chased by my friends, and hitting a birdie with a badminton racquet. A freshly mowed lawn conjures feasts of buttery ears of corn and cool watermelon balanced on collapsing paper plates while swatting mosquitoes and trading stories with family, or reading by the glow of a flashlight in a tent in the backyard during a long, hot summer night illuminated by fireflies winking on and off.

Growing up in the American Northeast, I experienced plentiful soft, green, expansive lawns—at my house, my grandparents’ houses, and friends and neighbors’ houses. It’s just the way it was. Well, except when I was a toddler in Bakersfield, CA, which I vaguely recall as a flat, hot, shimmering brown expanse, our little manicured tract house wavering in the heat as if it were only a mirage. Oh, and in the hills outside of Albuquerque, NM, when I was in my 30s, where the yard was high desert scrub with pale green sage, pretty yellow chamisa, and fragrant juniper. Dancing out the door in New Mexico barefoot routinely resulted in a sharp stab and an “ow, ow!” that required a retreat to the deck to extract the thorny goatshead about the size of a large pea except sporting sharp barbs in all directions—also appropriately named puncturevine weed—from the tender bottom of my foot. My dog used to step on them and hop to me, holding up his paw in a pathetic plea for assistance.

Which all makes a lush green lawn sound like a panacea of peace and loveliness. Which it is. And … it isn’t. Just sit outside on any beautiful afternoon, and it will begin: the drone and whine of small engines near and far, drowning out the cheery songs of the birds, drowning out whispers of the breeze in the trees. Each week, men, women and children all over the United States, even in dry Bakersfield and Albuquerque, turn keys to start up a host of mowers and then spend anywhere from one to six hours circling in a zen-like jostled reverie to cut the grass. Some industrious souls with smaller lawns or a propensity for masochism still use push mowers, or even reel mowers with no engine, to push and pull with aching arms and a sweaty brow to create those neat, fragrant, carpeted grass lines.

Life is short. Damned short. So why are we content to dedicate our precious summer hours to such a seemingly futile task? The grass grows right back within a day or two, in a wet summer sometimes hours (I swear I’ve seen it grow), taunting us to drop what we are doing to tame the lawn once again. Every year I think about this more and more. While the American love affair with the lawn feels as essential as apple pie, it is also a waste of resources, time, and fossil fuel, only to create what is basically an environmental wasteland.

Having a nicely manicured, sizeable lawn around one’s home is what we do as responsible, well-to-do Americans. It doesn’t matter if one is lower class, middle class, or upper class, a nice lawn makes a statement: I have property, and I have my life together.

Unkempt lawns evoke visions of squalor—a flea-bitten, bony bloodhound sleeping on the porch, skin twitching to disturb the flies landing on his tattered fur. A wooden door slightly crooked on the hinges with a torn screen. God forbid, chickens scratching around in the front yard in the bare dirt amongst some rusted tin cans. Let’s throw in a couple of barrels and a broken down car. This stereotypical, economically prejudiced view of unkempt yards did not arise from our DNA; it was not ordained by a holy writ from above. It was, pun intended, cultivated. Yes, this mindset was intentionally crafted by the likes of the United States Golf Association, the United States Department of Agriculture, and numerous American garden clubs like the National Plant, Flower and Fruit Guild, and the Home Culture Club starting in the late 1800s. The campaign for the lawn went well into the twentieth century and the pressure and cries for “responsible yard care” were additionally bolstered by a growing, robust lawn care industry sporting the latest and greatest lawn care tools, mowers, and toxic chemicals, often with ads that planted visions of wealthy elites or stirred lust with voluptuous housewives in billowing short skirts pushing a mower with a single lovely hand.

In Virginia Scott Jenkins’ meticulously researched and thorough book (who knew a book called The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession could be so riveting), Jenkins states, “The domestic front lawn is a typically American landscape feature. Lawns can be found in all parts of the country, from New England to Florida and California. Houses in Phoenix have front lawns…But this has not always been the case. Lawn grasses are not native to this continent” (9).

When I first read this—call me naïve or uninformed—I was shocked. Lawn grasses, the very fabric of my childhood outdoor escapades, were not native?

Jenkins goes on: “Lawns were new to most Americans in the nineteenth century. Homeowners were taught to incorporate the new lawn aesthetic into the landscape and to learn how to take care of their lawns. It was a slow process, but by the mid-twentieth century, front lawns had become thoroughly integrated into the American landscape” (10).

Jenkins explains how the transformation of the American yard had to do with European immigration, obviously, and a desire to imitate the grand, sweeping estates of European nobility (think the grounds of Downton Abbey), exemplified in America by the numerous gorgeous park designs of Frederick Law Olmsted in the mid-nineteenth century (Jenkins 25). About the same time Americans began to covet this European aesthetic, the United States Golf Association began a quest to find the best blend of grasses to create the perfect golf green. To do this they enlisted the help of government scientists and what would eventually become the United States Department of Agriculture. Through ignorance and bumbling, settlers had pretty much destroyed America’s native grasses, so grass enthusiasts turned their sights to importing, interbreeding, and otherwise messing around with Mother Nature to manufacture grass seed blends that could survive in the variety of climates across the United States. Kentucky bluegrass was brought here from overseas in the late 1700s, likely from the Middle East and other parts of Europe (sorry bluegrass musicians, it’s not from “down home”), while other grasses were shipped over from Africa and other parts of the world. These new grasses “escaped” out into the environment, washing down riverways and streams until they began to populate more and more land tracts.

In the process of importing and integrating new grasses—to keep up with the Downtons, to tee off on a carpet of velvety green—useful approaches to the front lawn, such as raising vegetables in sizeable gardens, raising chickens, and other endeavors that resulted in broom-swept dirt yards, were quietly tucked away in the far reaches of backyards, hidden from view. Such activities of sustenance were viewed as below what affluent families should have for a front lawn aesthetic, even to the point where towns and cities passed rules or ordinances (still in place today) for property maintenance outside the home. Jenkins quotes an 1897 horticulture book: “…our suburbs will not always have so many uncared for, weed-grown lots littered with empty tin cans, badly kept ‘yards’, and impassable roads” (32).

Enter home and garden clubs, women’s magazines, and a “City Beautiful Movement” all of which became mouthpieces for the USGA and USDA, patiently instructing the poor ignorant masses on proper lawn care and home maintenance strategies which required time-consuming labor for which no working class person back then, or even now I might argue, actually had the time. The wealthy simply had their servants or groundskeepers do the planting, weeding, fertilizing, and mowing, tasks carried out by hand or with rudimentary tools and machines. According to Jenkins, America’s first mowers were patented in the 1860s.

By the early to mid-twentieth century, the tutelage on lawn care was plentiful and far-reaching. It was a public relations campaign to rival the persuasion regarding patriotism and sacrifice for the war effort during World War II. Contests, billboards, magazines, hardware stores, and trading cards touted images of gorgeous lawns and intimated that the care was so easy a kid could do it (indeed, many kids got the chore of lawn care). Ne’re-do-wells with sloppy yards were chided and looked down upon by neighbors. This advertisement from an 1888 catalog, quoted by Jenkins, contains a typical message: “Faust’s Fairmont Park Lawn Grass Seed Special Mixture … we know of nothing that will so much improve the appearance, and contribute to the comfort of a home, as a beautiful lawn. It matters not, be it the home of the rich or the poor, its refining and invigorating influence is felt by all alike, for it is one of nature’s gifts” (71).

The creation of our American obsession with the lawn took about a hundred years, culminating in the suburban bloom after World War II, fed in part by the prosperity efforts embedded in the New Deal. I was born in 1963, and thus the ubiquitous embrace of lawn aesthetic and lawn culture has been synonymous in my psyche with affluence, good standing, beauty, small town charm, neighborliness, citizenship, community, and even whiteness. Pretty powerful notions emanate from those blades of grass.

Here we are over 50 years later and some not-so-small planetary problems have cropped up: an even stronger obsession with fossil fuels, the resulting build-up of greenhouse gasses, overpopulation and the resulting loss of wild habitat and open spaces, and the mysterious disappearances of certain species of pollinators. At the same time, it seems our lower and middle class workforce is especially harried and beleaguered, with little time or resources for the laborious upkeep of expansive, grass-filled yards.

 

As I drive my own rider mower in circles for about two hours a week, I have a lot of time to consider this costly ritual. As always, the rider mower casts me into a trance with its circles and jostling and buzzing. But now there is an undercurrent. I’m conscious that this ritual is manufactured, unnatural, and not in the best interest of the sustainability of the gorgeous forested environment teeming with toads, birds, flowers, and trees just at the perimeter of my lawn. I am more conscious that my lawn is a status symbol, born of privilege. I am also painfully aware of the path of destruction that my mowing creates.

I find it quite disturbing—the stream of refuse that arcs out from my hungry blades. Moths tumble; flowers are severed at the head. One time I ran over a frog, chopped it right in half. I thought I was going to throw up. Grasshoppers and crickets frantically leap out of my path and snakes slither to safety. I used to grit my teeth and shrug off the havoc I created, the fact that my lawn puts living creatures in peril. The lawn must be mowed; what can one do? It’s necessary collateral damage. But is it? I’ve found I can mitigate the mayhem by simply driving slower and keeping an eagle eye out for critters. As my mower groans along, I see toads, bees, grasshoppers, crickets, snakes and moths, some moths bearing startlingly gorgeous colors and patterns on their wings. I slow down, stop, or go the other way until the path is clear. I try to mow in the heat of the day, when the living things are not nestled into the grasses to the same degree as they are in early evening when the moisture settles down. Even still, it’s impossible to miss them all.

So this summer I simply mowed less often. I let my grass burgeon to a disreputable five or six inches long and then simply raised the mower blades higher. As a result of this choice, which some may view as neglect, my lawn is a lot healthier. But some of the neighbors didn’t like it. They actually inquired if I had been traveling or had been ill. I also had to fight my own pre-programmed response to a longer lawn: my life is out of control, I am not well off, and I am a sloth. Gradually, though, I grew used to the less-kept look and now even gaze upon it with pride. Lo and behold, more flowers appeared, which I let float as long as possible along the top of the grass, which brought butterflies and bees. In June, I harvested the dandelions, which, counter to the anti-dandelion weed propaganda, carry all manner of vitamins and antioxidants. I ate the leaves; I even put the flower petals in my pancakes one day. Next, wild strawberries appeared. I harvested those. I’ve grown to love this laissez-faire approach to lawn mowing.

Still, I must confess, when I do cut the grass, I feel my sense that “all is right” with the world returning. The smell comforts me, triggering that little kid nostalgia. I love to walk across the grass in bare feet (sure beats goatsheads).

At the same time, the cognitive dissonance clangs: noise, gas fumes, beheading the clover that the bees love, adding more C02 into the atmosphere. When I am done, an area that was teaming with life is silent and empty—only the grass grows. Jonathon Engels writes, “They [lawns] go against nature. We fight weeds and trees from invading the landscape, which is desperately trying to repair itself with these pioneering species. We work sparingly with animals, leaving perches few and far between for the birds, vast expanses of land with no rockeries nor rotting wood for the lizards and frogs. The whole thing keeps growing…” (“Why Our Lawns are Bad”). Such dissonance has me looking for solutions.

Reel Mower

This spring my mother gave me a reel mower that she wasn’t using. Looking sweetly retro, the reel mower has a number of silver blades in a cylindrical pattern that whir and click along with only the power of my muscles, muscles which I know will grow to the size of Popeye’s if I use the mower regularly. Proudly, I loaded the reel mower into the back of the car and took it to the local mower repair shop to get the blades sharpened and have it oiled up. The owner of the shop looked down at my little prize with disdain. “We don’t service those,” he said with a chuckle, as if I were amusing in my quaint retreat to past technology. “In fact, I don’t know anyone who does. Not enough people use reel mowers and they take a special tool and a lot of time to sharpen.” My heart sank. Luckily another guy in the shop piped up. “Steve sharpens those over in Montpelier. He’s the only one around.” “Really?” I asked, brightening. “Does he charge an arm and a leg?” “Forty-five bucks.” So off I went to Steve’s. Steve was a bit of a relic himself, speaking and moving at the pace of a turtle, and I wondered nervously just how long he would be able to keep doing repairs. Not to worry; he did an excellent job.

Once the reel mower was all sharpened and ready, I had another problem. My yard was simply too big to maintain with the little mower. It takes 2 to 3 times as long to mow my yard with it. Like many of my friends, I work, at any given time, about 4 jobs and 50-60 hours a week to make ends meet. To use the reel mower for all of the lawn all summer was just not do-able. Thus, I use it for the portions with the flattest and thinnest lawn coverage. A friend quipped on Facebook when I posted a picture of my reel mower, “If you can’t mow your whole lawn with that, your lawn is too big.” Then I dislocated my shoulder in July tripping while exiting my tent, and sadly for me that was the end of the reel mower for the summer. There is always next summer I guess.

When driving about in my car, I now study what other people are doing with their lawns. I am simply astounded at the size of many homeowners’ lawns, many of which have up to 5 or 6 acres manicured to fairway-quality greenery. According to NASA scientists, “there is now an estimated total of 163,812 square kilometers, or more than 63,000 square miles, of lawn in America — about the size of Texas” (“The American Lawn”). According to this article in the Huffington Post, the American lawn is the largest “single crop” we grow. Perhaps the biggest tragedy, however, is I never see any activity on these vast lawn areas—no children playing, no picnics, no adults napping on blankets, no lawn games. I assume we are all too busy working or too tired from earning the resources to keep a home these days, or are inside hooked to various screen-devices, living in another world altogether.

As I drive, I can now spot the environmentally conscious mowers. They tend to leave unruly swaths of wildflowers scattered about the groomed green. The patches of flowers look pretty, but unusual. A rare homeowner here and there mows only a tiny swatch just around the house with the rest grown to hayfield height. I am all too aware of my pre-programmed reaction—unkempt. The silent judgment that follows is something along the lines of: they must be busy, disorganized, or lazy slackers. And of course there are the growing numbers of ticks and tick-borne diseases to consider, another justification to tame nature’s wildness to an orderly 3-inch carpet. Still, I find I have a growing admiration for these mowers of only tiny swaths.

Back home I walk my property. I have a modest 1.2 acres, about ¾ of which is lawn. How can I create less lawn, yet still retain aesthetic beauty and usefulness? One neighbor has simply transferred almost all of her property right up to her door into orchards, strawberry patches, and vegetable and flower gardens. But she basically works out there in the yard all day, every day. I simply can’t carve out that kind of time, though her productive land is pretty and the produce sumptuous. On one steep back hill on the north side of my property, I am letting the trees grow up wild. I always have to pay to have it brush-hogged anyway. I know it will bring songbirds and create a windbreak. It’s a fascinating experiment—what will Mother Nature produce on her own? So far poplars have appeared, a few maples, and some white pine. Already I notice more bird activity.

Along the road, I’ve let a 5 to 6 foot-wide stretch of grass grow all summer. It looks messy, but I plan to put in a short post-and-rail fence there to create a visual line. Each spring this will save me from raking up the gravel the snowplow pushes from the road to my lawn over the winter. It’s nice to have this subtle barrier of grass and flowers between the road and my space, which is really only “my space” by decree of human invention of the notion of “property.” In this little patch of wildness, I notice how the tall grasses are beautiful when they go to seed, their feathery plumes wheat and purple-colored, waving in the breeze. I’ve always let a back corner along the stonewall go to grass and wildflowers over the summer as well. There is one problem with letting the lawn go wild though: trees will grow up and take over, which can then reduce light and solar in the home. So I have to have this area brush-hogged in the fall, after the frosts have caused the crickets to go into hibernation. Last, I drew in the perimeter edges all around the circumference of my lawn by 2 feet or so. It’s not much, but it helps.

These are but modest changes, but they are a start at least. The American lawn is a conundrum. In spite of myself, I feel a sense of satisfaction after cutting a section of grass. I am okay. I am being a responsible homeowner. The universe is in order. I am American. These thoughts, of course, are a form of brainwashing, instilled by the lawn aesthetic campaign of 100 years ago and the resulting mindless cultural habit that has followed. There is no easy solution as to how to cultivate the yard in alternative, aesthetically pleasing, useful ways. Even with my various creative strategies, my lawn is still too big. Despite the issues, I love my lawn; I like the way it looks, feels, and smells. I enjoy a good competitive game of croquet, when I don’t have an injured shoulder, that is. I like reading out on the lawn on a blanket. It’s fun to watch the robins hop across the grass in the evening looking for earthworms. I am sure more and better solutions exist to reduce the areas I still mow. Finding those alternatives will be my winter research project. For I must answer the little voice that now pipes up as the sweet hay smell lingers over my freshly-mowed yard: You might be thinking you have just done your civic duty and restored order, but in reality you have actually committed floral and insect homicide, burned up some fossil fuel, added more C02 to the air, and created a stretch of environmental wasteland.

 

 

Work Cited

Engels, Jonathon. “Why Our Lawns Are Bad for the Environment and How to Change

Them for the Better.” Permaculture Research Institute, Permaculture Research

Insitute, 3 June 2016, https://permaculturenews.org/2016/06/03/why-our-lawns

            are-bad-for-the-environment-and-how-to-change-them-for-the-better/.

 

Scott Jenkins, Virginia. The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession. Smithsonian

Institution Press, 1994.

 

Wile, Rob. “The American Lawn is Now the Largest Single ‘Crop’ in the U.S.” HuffPost,

            Oath, Inc./HuffPost, 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lawn-largest

            crop-america_us_55d0dc06e4b07addcb43435d.

A Positive Observation on the Great American Divide

With the fascination of a latent sociologist I’ve been studying the dialogue of the “Great American Divide,” a seemingly terrifying fissure that appears to have suddenly cracked open in the past couple of years, though many say this division has been present and growing for some time. Before the election, few people were discussing politics on social media. I am sure some of you are wistfully uttering, “Those were the days.” During the election we were screaming at each other on Twitter and Facebook like lunatics. But now…something else is emerging. And I think it’s good.

In response to the appearance of the fissure, I’ve been frantically amending what I thought was a more than adequate and comprehensive education in order to get up to speed on just what the heck is going on. That is, when I can find the time in the midst of, like many Americans right now, “working my fanny off just to pay the bills,” which is a sad thing as I don’t have much of a fanny to begin with since I inherited my father’s flat-as-a pancake derriere, which means I have to earn even more money to keep myself in a selection of stylish belts. But I digress…I would argue that this workaholic condition that afflicts many of us (because if we don’t adopt it, we sink) has most definitely contributed to these trying, divisive times. How can any of us take enough time to roll up our fraying pant-legs and wade through the mire in order to pluck out the truth about the latest political crisis from the swamp on any given day…and since the election, the onslaught of political crises seems relentless.

To get educated, I first reread The Constitution. Wow, it’s a lot more interesting than I remember in 8th grade when we were more focused on which one of us was shooting spitballs at the somewhat plain and boring social studies teacher in his white button down shirt and khaki pants (still, he had a pretty amazing afro for a white guy). I’ve also been reading a range of online media sources that relay wide perspectives (sometimes alarmingly wide!) on the significant issues we face, trying to bookmark the least biased sources of information (quite a tough undertaking). I’ve been listening to a range of radio news and noting (okay, I admit it, sometimes welcoming) the biases of my favorite sources, such as Democracy Now, NPR’s Morning Edition, and On Point. I regularly tune into Vermont’s WDEV’s somewhat right-leaning Open Mike and Common Sense Radio. Occasionally, I even venture into far right Christian radio land just to see what they are saying. And lo and behold, they appear to care about the same human concerns as most of us, like friends and family, helping the downtrodden, and living a compassionate life. It’s just that their narrative of how and why to live this way is different than mine. By far, my favorite program has been Indivisible and I was sorry to see it go when the current administration passed the 100-day mark. I am sure I am not alone in craving “centrist” news and discussion…if anything today, many of us are seeking dialogue between extremes.

While some friends have plain opted out of Facebook, others have gone back to posting videos of cute animal antics, and others are still ranting and raving, I have taken to “limited Facebook exposure,” like one tends to limit exposing pale bare skin to especially bright and damaging sunlight. I walk the fence between posting benign, quirky life observations and occasional political commentary. So, following the passage of the AHCA in the House this week, I bravely ventured into two different Facebook threads—one post by a solidly conservative friend and one post by a solidly liberal friend.

Both posts started out, predictably, on an emotional level. The rightwing post was the equivalent of “Yay! Goodbye Obamacare!” And the leftwing post echoed the sentiments of Henny Penny: “The sky is falling!” As a liberal I did not share the view of my conservative friend, so of course, I reacted emotionally, but as respectfully as I could—something to the effect of “women, children, and the elderly are not going to be able to afford appropriate care under the new bill, the rich are going to get richer, and how dare they put sexual and domestic assault on a list of pre-existing conditions??” Meanwhile, something akin to the liberal post had coursed on a wave of adrenaline through my veins when I heard the AHCA had passed the House by a narrow margin. What did this potentially mean for my healthcare going forward? I was having enough trouble making my insurance payments and out of pocket expenses already. Riveted to the radio on my way to teach my morning class at a local college, I had decided that it was most definitely going to get worse. Thus, I “Liked” the liberal post and was about to log off and rejoin the world of the real.

But then I was drawn further into the threads of both posts, past the ranting against government regulation and those dastardly democrats, past the pronouncements of disgust about the new administration and how we are all going to die in the streets, bereft and shoeless. And here is what happened.

In the conservative thread, my friend who made the post, happy to see a step taken towards repealing Obamacare, was relaying the exact same struggles I felt: unmanageable, unaffordable insurance premiums, high deductibles, a convoluted system that was not working so well, painful out of pocket costs, and feeling broke as hell. The only difference was she saw the AHCA as a step towards a solution and I saw it as a giant step away from a solution. (Personally, I would love to see a single-payer system such as has worked well in Canada and Europe for years and be done with the whole mess.) Because I saw commonality, I started dialoguing with her and some of the strangers on her thread, and guess what? I lived! Some of the responders went into detail about their medical costs and illness woes. We were all in the same boat. People posted this and that resource—some biased sources, some not. Some people chided others for not having their facts straight, but in a respectful manner. Those who were chided appeared to research and revise their opinions. Was this a miracle?

What I observed was a shift. Where a couple of months ago, condescending, derogatory comments would have flown, name calling would have started, and the F-word would have been typed as fast as fingers could fly, instead, we were talking, listening, teaching, and learning. I read the articles they posted and followed links to even more articles. When I left the thread, I felt better informed on the AHCA, though I still disagree with many of the bill’s points. I felt like President Obama’s statement in The New Yorker following this election was right: “This is not the apocalypse.”

In the liberal thread, I noticed one lone conservative voice. The friend who had made the initial post, which was a list of pre-existing conditions for which Americans would struggle to get coverage if the AHCA becomes law, had dismissed this lone naysayer and said, “We will have to agree to disagree.” Okay, fair enough. But what if this voice of dissent had something important to share about the legislation poised to impact our lives to such a great degree? I followed her link to read about the misinformation being spread about pre-existing conditions. If it was misinformation, I wanted to know. While exhibiting a subtle condescension towards all things liberal, the information in her chosen article was actually on par with what I had managed to glean about the AHCA bill by poking around online and listening to a variety of radio news. Of course her source was right-biased and there were nuances that the article downplayed—namely that if one has a lapse in coverage, the potential is to pay much higher premiums for pre-existing conditions. However, this woman’s article showed that the post that my liberal friend had made was incorrect and misleading. There is no “list” of conditions in the bill. And the decision falls to the states as to whether to allow insurance companies to charge higher premiums if there is a lapse in coverage (a 60-day lapse, as I learned from a guy on the conservative thread). There is, apparently, no denial of coverage of pre-existing conditions as my friend’s post had intimated, and even higher premiums are not a given. “Thank god I live in Vermont,” I thought, as my representatives will not likely seek a waiver from the community rating. Still, this bill weakens pre-existing condition protections because if one is unlucky enough to live in a state that seeks a waiver, and has some bum luck that causes a lapse of coverage, a person could quickly be out-priced and out of luck on pre-existing conditions. Yes, there would be a high-risk pool, but is this funding enough?

Surprisingly, little ole liberal me then jumped in to stand with the conservative woman in the thread, because what I want is accurate information, not to be right. As I stood with her, others came to the center and the dialogue deepened.

On the subject of being right, I also discovered, thanks to her and because I did some more sleuthing after reading her article, that I was not “right” in regards to my freak out about sexual and domestic assault being on the AHCA’s list of pre-existing conditions—a point about which liberal bloggers had also been freaking out the day before—because, well, there is no list of pre-existing conditions in the bill, and second, those items are not on the lists of common pre-existing conditions identified by insurers. Here was another nuance: many conditions that assault victims may suffer from, such as anxiety, PTSD, depression, and STDs, ARE on such lists. And so, by default, IF a person is assaulted, has a lapse in coverage longer than 60 days, and suffers from some of those conditions, she might have to pay higher premiums to get treatment. Whether this nuance is ethical or not will need to be saved for another debate.

So…I had to pull up my Big Girl frayed pants over my hardworking, flat fanny and go back to the conservative thread to amend my position on the sexual assault point I had made the day before, and I included a link to a solid article on Politifact that I found about how the initial freak out had been off base. No one tore me apart.

Here is the thing. What I see happening that I think is a good development in our country is that we ARE talking about politics and we are growing up past the “Green and Yellow Told Ya!” unproductive shouting phase. In social media we are now quickly identifying trolls; we are chiding anyone who name calls or swears. We are asking challenging questions and checking each other’s facts. And, best of all, we are listening and learning. And this, this is the gem of our current time. This is the heart of the Socratic method that I have seen over and over bring diverse students in my classrooms to a common discourse that deepens understanding of any text or issue on the table.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all puppies and rainbows. But it never was and never will be. Respectful discourse—like what I just experienced on both sides of the political fence while discussing a highly charged issue on a social media platform infamous for knockdown-drag outs—is what will bridge our divide and help us to find logical solutions to our complex problems. Now if it could only plump up my rump…