Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 35: Say Thank You

On Thanksgiving morning, I was lucky enough to be the recipient of words of gratitude for a kindness I never even realized I gave. It was a humbling experience. And it reminded me again of how important our actions can be – especially the ones we don’t think about.

So I decided that in the spirit of Thanksgiving, my awesome challenge would be to write letters of thanks to a couple of people who I never formally thanked … for things they were likely not aware that they did. Or that they never realized had such an impact on my life.

I sent out two letters: one to a friend who guided me through a particularly rough patch in my personal life, and the second to another friend who helped me navigate a rough patch in the life of someone I love.

The response I received from the second letter was one of complete astonishment. Like my experience earlier in the day, my friend had no idea that what she had shared with me had had such a positive effect. I could practically see her smile through her email, and the next morning I was lucky enough to see her in person and got to share a heartfelt hug.

Both instances – my thanking and my being thanked – took only moments, but their impact continued for days. How easy it is to say thank you … and how seldom it is done! We are taught to thank God on Thanksgiving, and that of course is good. But I believe it is just as important to thank the people who reflect God’s love in our lives.

Just because Thanksgiving is over, giving thanks doesn’t have to be. I challenge you to take five minutes. Make a phone call. Send an email. Thank somebody. Someday you may just thank me for it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Day 34: Reach Out and Touch Someone

This challenge is similar to “A Friend in Need” from Day 16, but with so many people hurting this holiday season, when I saw this suggestion from a friend on Facebook, I felt it was appropriate to revisit it. And perhaps that’s what makes it so much more difficult to figure out what is appropriate to do.

From “Stuff-a-Bus” food drives to Small Business Saturday, it seems this week kicked off a flurry of holiday giving opportunities. I always struggle with who to give to, what to give, how to give it. In the end, I usually end up writing a check, buying a turkey, giving a gift card. But it all leaves me feeling inadequate.

One year we tried in vain to “adopt” a family in need. But no one would tell us of any. I understand the pride thing; no one likes to admit they’re hurting. And it’s not like the local newspaper publishes a list of the Bottom 100 Family Incomes in Milford so we can choose a recipient for our generosity. Even when I was a member of a social services group at church, we were hard-pressed to know where to deliver our gift baskets. For all we knew, the person hurting the most could have been sitting in the seat next to us.

And that’s the point. We just don’t know.

So when I’m feeling uncomfortable about selecting “one” recipient or “one” cause to devote all my energy to, chances are it’s because it should be everyone. And the giving itself shouldn’t be limited to a financial or even a food donation.

I recently read a meditation about “spontaneous giving” – that little thrill that we experience when we give a gift without premeditation. It usually doesn’t involve a big check or lots of gift wrap. More often, it means stepping up to the plate when you see a need. Lending a hand – or an ear – when someone needs help. Sometimes all we can give is support, encouragement, a smile, a nod … and sometimes that is enough.

There are so many people hurting this year … I’m sure I won’t have to reach out very far at all. Just farther than myself.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Day 33: Pamper Yourself

A few years ago, after being beaten over the head with the idea that “you can’t love anyone else unless you love yourself,” I looked into the concept of “extreme self-care.” I think it appealed to me merely because it had the word “extreme” in it. And of course more must be better, right?

In reality, the sad truth was that I always put myself last. Except when I was putting myself first. I was either playing the martyr by not taking care of myself at all, or I was saying “FU!” to the world and focusing only on me.

Over time, I’ve gotten much better at balancing my needs with those of the people around me. Maybe that’s a function of my kids growing up or maybe it’s a function of ME growing up. But whatever the reason, I’ve vastly improved.

So I liked this challenge, and it came on a perfect day since I’d already scheduled a massage for late afternoon.


For anyone who has never had a massage, you are missing a wonderful experience! I am pretty convinced that a lot of the aches and pains we suffer can be alleviated by simply getting a full-body deep-muscle massage once a month. Imagine how many pills we wouldn’t have to take, how many outdoor activities we wouldn’t have to miss, and how many sleepless nights we wouldn’t have if we just gave ourselves this one hour a month!

The first massage I ever had was in response to a literal pain in the ass. I had decided to demonstrate to my then grammar school-aged children how flexible I was despite my “advanced” age of 42 by showing them how I could put my foot behind my head. (Yes, I was sober when I did this.) The result was predictable. After several days of limping and having to lift my leg with my hands in order to get into my car, I decided to visit a massage therapist I knew from the gym.

She worked for a full session on the muscles in my butt, which were knotted and twisted in frightening ways. When she was done, she said I would be sore for a day or two but that the pain should be gone. And indeed, that was the case. I was hooked! (I also swore off placing my limbs in places God never intended them to be.)

Over the years since then, I’ve had a variety of massage therapists, some who worked out of a room in their apartment, others at high-end spas. Because I have a sedentary job, I get a good amount of lower back pain. That is also the spot where my stress tends to settle. For a long time, I’d wait until the pain, that great motivator, got bad enough to call and make a massage appointment. But over the past year, at the suggestion of a friend, I’ve made a commitment to monthly massages. This way, I can be proactive and hopefully shortstop the worst of the pain.

As always, my massage was fabulous and relaxing. Because my massage therapist and I are also friends, we spent most of the session catching up and chatting. Sometimes I choose to be quiet and use the hour for meditation, but today conversation was just what I needed, and I left feeling renewed, energized … and quite satisfyingly pampered.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Day 32: You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

The gym to which I occasionally drag my reluctant ass declares itself to be a “Judgement Free Zone.” Aside from making me cringe every time I see this slogan misspelled, it also makes me think about how often we make snap judgments in the course of a day. And not just at the gym – where it’s easy to judge exercisers by their age, weight or general appearance. Out in the real world, we continually judge people by how they’re dressed, what they drive, where they live. We judge situations by what we know, what we don’t know and what we think we know. And even though these judgments are wrong about 99% of the time, we continue to base the majority of our actions on what we assume to be reality.

So today’s challenge was to be aware of how often I judge people, places or situations. How often I make assumptions about someone’s insides based on what I see on the outside.


Every day, weather permitting, I take a mid-morning walk. (This allows me to skip the dreaded visit to the aforementioned gym.) Although the route differs somewhat from day to day, there are just so many variations of streets in my neighborhood, so I inevitably end up passing the same homes once or twice a week. As I walked this morning, I recognized a whole lot of judgments that I make based on external environment: I know the people who live in that house with the religious statues – what hypocrites! The occupants of this small cape must have a lot of money to burn because they’re having a built-in pool dug. The woman who stuffed birdfeeders into her planters has got to be pretty eccentric. OMG, look at the mess in that backyard! Maybe I should call A&E and get them on the next episode of “Hoarders”!

Then I started thinking back to the time when I was a little girl. I used to love driving home with my parents after dark because I could look into people’s windows and try to imagine what their lives were like. I guess that was my way of judging back then, although I remember my assumptions were always pleasant ones. The families were never dysfunctional. Dinner was perfect every night. Everyone was always smiling and laughing. There were no fights or tears.

As I continued my walk, I began to think about the secrets each house held. The dreams, the fears, the hopes, the frustrations. All the stuff that makes up life. Maybe the people I thought of as hypocrites were trying to turn their life around with a good dose of spirituality. The ones digging up their yard might have saved up for years and were finally giving their kids the pool of their dreams. Since the birds ate the seeds she planted anyway, the lady who owned the birdfeeder house might as well just welcome and enjoy her feathered friends. And the messy backyard might have gotten that way because the occupants were too burdened by trying to fight their way out of financial or health problems.

Then I passed a large piece of property that was once a farm but has now been marked as the site of a new cemetery. I thought of how short our life’s journey is, and how every human being throughout time has experienced the same dreams, fears, hopes and frustrations as the occupants of those homes – and the occupants of mine. If the emotions are all the same, there’s really no room for judgment. But if I’m going to judge anyway – and let’s face it, it’s hard not to – I might as well assume that we’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 31: Forgive Someone

They say that harboring a resentment is like taking poison and hoping someone else dies. You’re the only one you are hurting. In fact, the other guy probably doesn’t even know you are angry with him.

But how do you get rid of a resentment? One way, they say (and who the hell are ‘they’ anyway?), is forgiveness.

When I first pondered this challenge, my initial thought was that I had no one to forgive. I patted myself on the back for a moment, thinking that I was free of resentments. All was right with the universe. I had cleaned up my side of the street and was free to … oh, wait. There’s him. He is complicating my life right now, making the logistics of an already-stressful holiday season even more so. Therefore, he deserves my anger. Doesn’t he?

The acidic taste in my mouth reminded me that I was still ingesting poison. Methinks I have a bit of forgiving to do. But how does one go about the process of forgiving … really forgiving? For that, I went to my therapist, Dr. Google.

From my search, I determined that forgiveness always take five steps. They’re not always the same five steps, but every site I visited listed five. So that must be the magic number!

According to eHow, one should:
1. See the positives.
2. Express yourself.
3. Let them explain.
4. Let your pride go.
5. Understand that everyone makes mistakes.

Yahoo suggested these five steps:
1. Acknowledgement.
2. Be the bigger person.
3. Be patient.
4. Forgive yourself.
5. Set limits.

And finally, laid out these ground rules for forgiveness:
1. Express yourself.
2. Look for the positive.
3. Cultivate empathy.
4. Protect yourself and move on.
5. Get help if you need it.

I saw right away that no one list was going to fit this situation exactly. eHow wanted me to actually dialogue with the person, which in this case was not only inadvisable but pointless. Yahoo’s step 4 suggested that I needed to forgive myself; however, I hadn’t actually done or said anything requiring that. Yet. And seemed to imply that the situation was dire enough to require both protection and professional help, which it does not. So I created an amalgamated list, which went something like this:

1. See the positives: We were going to all be together for Thanksgiving for the first time in years.
2. Cultivate empathy: The person in question is old, crotchety and selfish but in the past has been supportive and caring in his own way. I can understand the limitations he has and try to be more willing to accommodate them.
3. Be the bigger person: The steps we need to take are inconvenient and more than a little annoying, but we are able to do them in the name of being together, and that is more important.
4. Set limits: We’ll make concessions this time, but not every time.

And then I added a fifth step, one that was not on any of the websites I visited, but one that I’ve heard works wonders:

5. Pray for the person you’re angry with. Not that he changes or sees the light or admits that you are right and he is wrong. But that he has happiness, abundance and love. And after all, isn’t that what the holidays should be all about?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Day 30: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

Fear is a funny thing. We can deny we have it, disguise it as other things (like anger and pride), and claim to be courageous despite the gnawing in our stomachs, but the bottom line is that we’re all afraid of something. Usually lots of things.

However, on this particular morning, I couldn’t think of anything that I was specifically afraid of. So, as usual, I threw it out to the universe. And – also as usual – my Higher Power, who has an incredibly twisted sense of humor, smacked me right upside my head with situation that never fails to evoke raw fear in my gut: a technology issue.

Let me start by saying that I am a writer, editor and proofreader by trade. My undergraduate degree is in Communications with a minor in Psychology. Nowhere in my educational or professional history is there even a hint of any knowledge of computer science. None. Zip. Nada. And yet many consider me to be “computer literate.” This is akin to claiming to be fluent in Italian because you can make spaghetti sauce.

Over the years since I started freelancing, evolving technology has changed the delivery method – though not the nuts and bolts – of my job from fax and FedEx to attachments and zip files. Thanks to lots of expertise and encouragement from my husband (who DOES have a degree in computer science), I have been able to keep up with the changing demands of the high-tech environment. But there are times when the technology just doesn’t work and there are times when I have to fly solo. And sometimes those times collide. The result is never pretty.

The result is fear.

If you’ve ever seen a dog expend endless, pointless effort chasing its tail, you have a fairly good idea of what I look like trying to solve an unsolvable computer problem. Let’s visit my mind-chatter room for a moment: “Every time I input comments on this file, my program shuts down.” “There’s probably something wrong with the file.” “But maybe if I break it into several smaller files, that won’t happen.” “It’s happening again. You’ve now spent an hour trying to do a page worth of work.” “Maybe if I rename the file, it will work.” “That isn’t working either, and you’ve just skipped your workout and your lunch.” “If I don’t figure this out, I’m going to look like an idiot. … I’ll miss the deadline. … My client will hate me. … There will probably be a billboard placed on I-95 saying ‘Joni Aveni is computer illiterate. She’s a fraud. Don’t do business with her.’ … I will lose my business, my house, my car, my kids, my husband, I will live out of a cardboard box and die a lonely, broken woman.”

Or … I could just admit that I don’t have the answer. Ask for help in figuring out the problem. Maybe offer one or two suggestions, including the old reliable fax and FedEx options. Have faith that this will all work itself out without any dire consequences.

Ah, faith.

It’s said that fear and faith can’t live in the same house, but I get the distinct impression that they are both under my roof, barricaded in separate bedrooms, vying for my attention at any given time. The choice I need to make every day (every hour, every minute) is: Which door am I going to open?

So after having jiggled the doorknob of the fear room long enough, I turned my back on it and walked through the faith door instead. I said I didn’t know, couldn’t figure it out, was throwing in the towel, but here are a few workarounds I came up with. Within minutes, one of the workarounds was accepted and I was back in business. No billboards. No cardboard box. Just another opportunity to conquer fear with faith. I’m pretty sure there will be plenty more.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Day 29: P.A.C.E. – Positive Attitude Changes Everything

I have spent the past few days consciously trying to put positive thinking into action. And for the most part it has worked. I’ve been able to defuse a couple of situations that had the potential to disintegrate rapidly. I’ve been able to walk away from others that were hopeless. (“Do not engage! Do not engage!”) And I’ve been able to turn negative conversations into positive by injecting just the right degree of humor into the mix.

And then we set the clocks back.

I don’t know about anyone else, but if I had to rank the seasons in order of preference, winter would fall about 10th. That’s because I suffer from what used to be called the Winter Blues, but is now referred to as SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder.

For those who do not suffer from SAD, the best way I can describe it is continually swimming against the tide … a cold, dark, overwhelming tide. The mind chatter I experience when faced with waking up in the dark, going outdoors in the cold, or doing anything requiring large amounts of energy and enthusiasm goes something like this: “You have to do it.” “I can’t.” “You can’t just lie around till spring.” “Why not?” “It’s just [cold] [snow] [ice] [darkness] [cold snowy icy darkness]. You’re acting like a baby!” “Screw you!”

SAD creates in me an overpowering urge to curl up on the living room couch in front of a roaring fire with a cup of hot cocoa and my Great Dane. (OK, I have a Tibetan Spaniel, but a Great Dane is much more iconic.) It fills me with a craving for carbohydrates that is so strong that the only thing keeping me from getting in my car and raiding the bakery is sheer ennui.

For SAD sufferers, the fact that Christmas is in December is a cruel joke. Surely we cannot be expected to add all the gift-buying, party-going, and merry-making to our to-do list during this, the most slothful of seasons! Wouldn’t we all be better-served – not to mention better able to travel to the homes of distant relatives – if Christmas moved to the summer?

In addition to – or perhaps as part of – SAD, I am also blessed with a sensitivity to severe weather changes. Just yesterday – a beautiful, crisp, sunny fall day – I felt my mood begin to plunge in mid-afternoon for no apparent reason, though I tried valiantly to blame my husband for it. My educated guess would be that my body was attuned to the low-pressure system that was approaching. And sure enough, this morning I awoke to the sound of sleet, hail and freezing rain on my roof. Muttering an expletive, I turned off the alarm clock and went back to sleep for two hours.

So it’s time to break out the arsenal of SAD-fighting gear: the light box, the dawn simulator, the St. John’s Wort and Vitamin D. Those are the basic tools that allow me to keep swimming against the tide of winter, that enable me to do the other things the experts suggest – like exercising, going outdoors, and surrounding myself with as much positive stimuli as possible. Because a positive attitude does change everything … except winter.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Day 28: Stop Procrastinating!

I can honestly say that I am not much of a procrastinator. If anything, I tend to jump impulsively into most activities, often before I’ve carefully considered what I’m about to do. (“Ready, fire, aim!”) If there is something unpleasant that I need to do, I’d rather get it over with than brood about it. Such things have a tendency to gnaw at me, interrupting my sleep at 3 A.M. with the inevitable committee meeting to discuss it at length. In some cases, if the task at hand is something distasteful but not urgent, I find that putting it off by writing it on next month’s calendar page is a good way to practice “positive procrastination”!

But there is one area in which I am guilty of extreme avoidance behavior: all things medical.

There was a time when I dutifully went to the doctor every year for a checkup (usually my Ob/Gyn during my childbearing days). I had my teeth cleaned at the dentist annually and my eyes checked every year or two since I wear corrective lenses. But as I got older, health care got more expensive, insurance harder to come by, and “required” tests more common, so I began to slack off. At about the same time, I began to notice more and more cases of “CYA Medicine” being practiced – stressful tests and unnecessary, expensive procedures being done just so doctors could cover themselves against any future threat of lawsuits. This was also when it became common knowledge that too much stress could negatively impact one’s mental, physical and emotional health. So if doctors were requiring pointless tests that put undue stress on patients with little or no benefit, wasn’t that counterproductive? That’s when I began to develop a severe aversion to all things medical.

But the seeds of that distaste likely had their origins in my early childhood – like everything else – in the days when the doctor made house calls (yes, I’m THAT old) with needle in hand and ultimately in my butt cheek. I was the kid who had every childhood illness – measles, mumps, chicken pox, German measles – usually just in time for some major life event like graduation or First Holy Communion. Just about the only ailment that turned out beneficial was the stomach virus I picked up in the summer between grammar school and high school that allowed me to shed 15 unwanted pounds.

In my college dorm, I lived on the floor below the pre-med students. After a couple of months of witnessing their antics, I made a conscious decision not to visit any doctors once they had graduated. And in my junior year, suffering the after-effects of too much grief, booze and toxic relationships, the doctors I visited seemed incapable of diagnosing – much less treating – my panic attacks despite repeated visits to some of the best clinics in the Boston area.

After figuring out and treating my anxiety on my own, I began to put more faith in healthy food, vitamins and exercise than I did in the medical profession. Of course I sought the appropriate medical care when I got married and had my children, and I took them for all the required checkups and shots when they were growing up. But little by little, I began to distrust some of the advice I got from their doctors.

Like when my infant son caught the flu that all the rest of us had two days shy of three months old and the pediatrician insisted on drawing blood from his tiny little arm at the hospital to test him for meningitis – just because that was standard procedure. Even the phlebotomist was crying. I finally stormed out, baby in arms, called the doctor and told her off. (She was gone about a month later from the practice.)

Or when another pediatrician suggested that because my daughter was short, I should give her growth hormones. (Have you ever given blood? They ask two questions: Have you had intimate contact with anyone who has AIDS and have you ever received growth hormone?) We changed doctors right after that.

As I got older, it seemed that more and more tests were “required”: an amniocentesis, should I get pregnant after 35; a mammogram annually once I turned 40, and a colonoscopy at the mid-century mark. Of course every one of these tests was extremely costly for someone like me – self-insured with a high deductible. So some of them I argued successfully against, others I reluctantly endured, and still others I avoided altogether.

Which brings me to the present. Right now I am behind in getting some follow-up blood work done (it requires fasting, and I can’t drive without my morning cup of coffee), having a mammogram (last time they screwed up and scared the crap out of me) and scheduling an eye exam (I hate having my pupils dilated and driving home half-blind). Having just finished up with a root canal – something else I put off, due to the distance and time involved – I am not in any hurry to make these appointments. And yet I realize I am procrastinating. Out of fear? Perhaps. Out of distrust? Most likely.

But for now, the best I can do is to practice some of that “positive procrastination” and write a note to myself in my calendar. Maybe after the holidays.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Day 27: Explore Another Culture

When faced with this challenge, I went to my trusty dictionary, which defined “culture” as “the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.”

Having just survived another election season, I decided to explore the cultural divide that makes politics so nasty. What is it that makes people resort to backstabbing, mudslinging, and mean-spirited behavior when it comes to making a political choice? Aren’t we all striving for the same things, just traveling different roads to get there?

My news feed on Facebook is a good place to get a snapshot of an America divided. Although some of my friends are fanatically right-wing while others list completely to port, I’m pretty sure that if I created a questionnaire and distributed it among my Facebook friends, all would agree on the same basic needs. The Declaration of Independence sums those up pretty well: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Despite ideological differences, in the end most of us will buckle down and work with whatever the process throws at us. So if we all agree, why is there a cultural divide? What makes the left the left and the right the right?

To answer that question, I decided to go to extremes. For my cultural journey, I chose what I felt to be the farthest right website ( and the farthest left website ( to see what they “regarded as excellent” in America – and how they felt we should achieve it.


Upon opening up the Rush Limbaugh website, my senses were immediately assailed by a dizzying explosion of color, movement and confusion. This is a busy place! Determined to sort through what was advertising, what was content and what was shameless promotion, I checked that my anti-virus software was up-to-date, then began carefully clicking on the various sections of the home page.

The first thing I noticed was that the date was wrong: It was still listed as Tuesday, November 2 (Election Day) although it was now Wednesday, November 3 at 9:30 AM. This concerned me. Nevertheless, I clicked on the first link: “Go Vote, Then Sit Back and Wait.” This appeared to be a transcript of yesterday’s radio program, the gist of which was: “Remember the Limbaugh Rule. Any candidate with a (D) next to his name on a ballot, you vote against . . . when you see an (R) next to a candidate's name, you vote that candidate. You do not seek compromise with those who believe this country is immoral and unjust.”

Okey dokey, that’s crystal clear.

Next, I clicked on the big graphic in the center that invited me to “REESTABLISH CONSERVATISM STARTING TODAY!” along with the slogan “YES, WE CAN!” (Haven’t I heard that somewhere before?) The page opened up to yet another transcript of one of Rush’s shows, this time discussing the Republicans’ chances of regaining the House and the Senate. The most interesting part of this page was the photo of President Obama swimming against the “Tea-Nami."

Finally, I opted to view a video clip entitled “A Time for Choosing,” which was a speech given by Ronald Reagan in October 1964, while campaigning for Barry Goldwater. (Barry Goldwater? Voting for Barry Goldwater was nearly grounds for divorce in my home. My father voted for Barry Goldwater because he was a fellow ham radio operator. My mother was appalled.) I discovered in this video that Ronald Reagan used to be a Democrat. Who knew? I also discovered why he was labeled “The Great Communicator.” The guy definitely had a gift.

It really was quite fascinating to listen to some of the issues that were going on in the early ‘60s. In fact, if it wasn’t for the crackly black-and-white video and the references to Vietnam, Mr. Reagan could have been discussing the talking points of today. One segment of the speech immediately caught my attention, when he stated: “There is no such thing as a left or right. There’s only an up or down. Those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on a downward course.”

Definitely food for thought.

I clicked on a few more links, hoping to find a simple, bullet-point list of exactly what principles Rush believes in. I found them in a section entitled “Flashback: The CPAC Speech That Started a Conservative Resurgence.” Here, Rush defines who conservatives are: “We love people. … We see human beings. We don't see groups. We don't see victims. We don't see people we want to exploit. What we see -- is potential. … We believe [a] person can be the best he or she wants to be if certain things are just removed from their path like onerous taxes, regulations and too much government. … We love and revere our founding documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth that we are all endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty … and the pursuit of happiness. … We conservatives think all three are under assault.”

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There they are, those basic needs. Seems like the far right wants those pretty badly, just like the majority of Americans do. But does the far left agree? Time to “move on” to the next website.


The first thing I noticed when I landed on the home page of was that it, too, seemed to think we were still in the pre-Election Day period. Is there a time warp that has affected both right- and left-wing websites? Or is it just wishful thinking now that the votes are counted and neither side has gotten exactly what they wanted?

Their first, most prominent link, “Save the Future,” had this lead-in: “We just received an urgent message from the future. It's about next week's election, and it's pretty bad.” I clicked on the video link and was instantly directed to a screen that wanted to link to my Facebook profile. Sorry, Charlie. I believe that’s an invasion of privacy.* But there was an opt-out button so I clicked on that. The next screen wanted me to at least give them my name and email address. No dice. Again, I found the opt-out button and was finally able to view the video.

It was quite a show! A fictional warning from the future to vote in the November 2 election … “or we’re doomed,” the video features a frantic woman (probably a famous actress – she looked vaguely familiar) who has just managed to contact the people of 2010 (that would be us) from the future (maybe there really IS a time warp) in order to give us the frightening facts about what life would be like 5, 10, 25 years from now if we don’t vote the Republicans out of office. These included making the government into a giant corporation (RepubliCorp—a fictitious merger between giant corporations and the Republican Party), replacing social security with motivational emails, and having Sarah Palin declare war on Norway. (I can’t make this stuff up. Watch it for yourself: It was amusing in an SNL way, but I was really looking for something with a little more substance.

Another link on the home page led to’s 2009 Agenda (more evidence of the time warp). Their top five items included universal health care, economic recovery and job creation, building a green economy/stopping climate change, ending the war in Iraq, and improving public schools. Not too much to argue with there, except – as usual – the means to those ends, which was suspiciously absent.

But I still wanted to know what they were doing NOW. So I clicked on “About” to see if I could get some current facts, preferably without the rhetoric. The only solid information I could get about the organization was this sentence: “ Political Action, one of the largest Political Action Committees in the country, brings real Americans into politics to fight for a more progressive America and elect progressive candidates.”

To my dismay, other links in the “About” section caused the time warp to grow, this time plunging me back three years with a video entitled “2007: As Told By MoveOn Members.” Not terribly interested in history, I tried clicking on “News About Us.” This was yet another attempt to get my personal information, as the landing page was simply a form to fill out that said, “Please enter your request to our Press Office - A real person will review your email as soon as possible and get back to you if necessary.” A real person? If necessary? And who makes that decision?

I was beginning to get a very creepy feeling. I checked my antivirus software again. So far, so good.

Returning to the home page, I was gratified to see that they had finally changed their banner (at 1:30 PM). It now read: “Thanks for all you do, now tell us what you think” and acknowledged that the election, indeed, had already occurred. Thank goodness, we were back in today! It also included a message to members, the synopsis of which was toward the bottom of the page: “We can't stop fighting because we carry in our hearts a vision of Americans coming together to take care of each other and make our country work again. And if we don't fight for that vision, who will? Today, we should all take a breath. Tomorrow we need to get back to work."

That message is certainly commendable. It sounds to me as if the left, like the right, realizes that in order to get anything done, we all have to work together. And while there was no actual mention of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the vision of “Americans coming together to make our country work” sounds an awful lot like the same thing to me.

A link at the bottom of the letter invited readers to visit the members’ bulletin board, so I clicked through. A few comments there – which, for the most part, were thought-provoking and intelligent – really brought home what pretty much everyone in America is feeling in these tumultuous times:

One member wrote: “This is a time when even very intelligent people are feeling afraid, and this election is a good opportunity for us to critically think about how we can better understand and informatively address the economic fears of our fellow citizens.”

And another stated: “Too many progressives are simply [too] sound-bite driven, flighty, and lacking in real patience and perseverance to really get the change we want. If you want real change, stick by your champions, and realize it's going to take *decades* to get this country back on track.”

But this one was my personal favorite: “It's easy to be misled when average Americans spend nearly 8 hours each day in front of the TV or on the Internet. It's difficult and time consuming to hunt for truth.”

You can say that again!

*Ironically, I later found this paragraph on their “Success Stories” page:
“Facebook: Protect Our Privacy!
In December 2008, Facebook took purchases its users made on other websites and made them public on Facebook without permission-- great advertising for corporations but horrible for basic privacy rights. MoveOn formed a pro-privacy group on Facebook that grew to over 80,000 members and was covered by media worldwide. As a result, Facebook reversed its policy—preserving its own integrity in the process.” Where I come from, we call this “hypocrisy.”

Monday, November 1, 2010

Day 26: Through the Eyes of a Child

For the past few days, I’ve been contemplating what it means to see life through the eyes of a child. To have that “child-like faith” that the Bible speaks about. And I’ve discovered that as an adult, it’s a lot harder than I expected.

First of all, there’s a big difference between child-LIKE and child-ISH. I can be the latter quite easily. You know, the stamping-my-foot, everything-isn’t-going-my-way, two-year-old behavior that seems to be my fallback response whenever the defecation hits the rotary oscillator.

No, “child-like faith” puts the emphasis on the “faith” – which is where my jaded adult outlook falls short.

Halloween brought this idea home to me. That once-a-year opportunity to be someone else, which in childhood evoked feelings of great potential but in adulthood tends to foster feelings of regret. What happened to the days when every morning meant new possibilities? When every night brought sleep filled with sweet dreams? When did that all change? And can it ever come back again?

I tried for several days to see things through the eyes of a child. I kicked through piles of leaves (until I started worrying about tripping on an unseen rock and twisting an ankle), breathed in the crisp fall air (at least till the mold spores started my allergies up), and dug into the Halloween candy bowl (but just one bite-size Snickers at 90 calories apiece).

When faced with some bad news, I thought about how I would have handled it as a child. I think I would not have even recognized it as bad news, but if I did, I would have assumed that my parents or some other adult would fix it, and then I would have just gone about my merry way.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe that’s why seeing things through the eyes of a child is so hard to do as an adult. Because there isn’t anyone left to fix it. We’re the grownups now, and we know the dark secret that our parents never told us: They couldn’t fix it. Not then and certainly not now. No one can fix it.

The leaves disguise hidden rocks and the air holds invisible allergens and the Halloween candy will make you fat and clog your arteries and eventually kill you. And once the genie is out of the bottle, once the truth is revealed, it’s not really possible to readjust your vision and go back to the way you used to see life. We are no longer children. And we can no longer pretend to be.