Sunday, December 16, 2012

How Could This Happen?

I am a writer. I process things that happen by writing. After the recent tragic shooting in Connecticut and all the other horrific acts that happen around us every day, I feel the need to process the craziness of this world. Maybe my words will reflect how you feel. I often find it a comfort when I read something by another soul who expresses just what I was feeling. If this happens for you as you read my words, I am glad. If not, that's okay.

I know a lot of people will cry out for more gun control, and I totally agree with this sentiment. If any one of the shooters of the last year had not had access to guns, the death toll would be significantly reduced. Maybe to zero. Twenty children would still get to open their Christmas presents. I have been an advocate for gun control since I became politically conscious. Rachel Maddow, one of my favorite TV commentators, had a segment last night about how even members of the NRA believe in certain controls on guns. No one I know wants to take away our 2nd amendment, just keep guns out of the hands of people who will go around shooting into crowds. But just because we have a right, doesn't make it right. I think most of us don't own guns, and those who do own hunting rifles or hand guns. But why does anyone need to own a gun designed to rapid fire many rounds at a time? They don't. Plain and simple.

Still, this has bigger ramifications than merely gun control. No sane person grabs four  automatic guns and enters a school with the intent to kill people. We are a world of troubled souls and damaged minds. Yes, we need better mental health care, for sure. Good mental health care is essential. I have lived with depression for most of my life. It has not been fun. I have been on meds for some ten or twelve years now, and that has made my life so much better. I'm sure it has helped people around me be happier too. I know I was not my best self, not even close. And I have a supportive, loving husband. So if it took me decades to get the help I needed even with all the support I had, how many people who need mental health care don't have that support network?

A couple of decades ago, due to budget cuts, mental health patients got ousted onto the streets. Was it worth it, folks? Wouldn't you have rather paid more taxes in order to help these people rather than have a rising death count. Disclaimer: I am well aware that not all crazy shooters have even been in the health care system. Which brings me to my next point. People with mental health issues are all around us, seemingly functional. Hiding it well. We cannot, and should not, ignore them. When someone comes into your life who clearly needs help, help them. I work with teenagers, and many of them have lives that would make any of us cringe, and they need to know that someone in this world cares about them, loves them, will come when they ask for help. Be that to someone. It might not be a teen. It might be a co-worker, a spouse even. Our society does not make it easy to be a person who doesn't fit the mold. That hurts. Try to move out of your comfort zone and include someone different. It might save some lives, even if it's only the one life of that person.

People of my parents' generation, and indeed even my own generation, will lament that our world grows more evil all the time. I disagree. There was Hitler, Stalin, the Inquisition, Jack the Ripper. Even less infamous people throughout human existence have brought death and evil with them. No, the world is not worse than ever. I think we deceive ourselves if we think this way. Part of what is different, though, is the 24 hour media that has to report on every single second of our lives. Every day, the newspaper if filled with gruesome stories of man's inhumanity to man. It may seem worse than in past decades and centuries, but that's only because we are privy to the images, the words, the knowledge of all of it. A hundred years ago, Boise, where I live, was a relatively isolated place, far from most of civilization. I doubt people here ever heard news of much that happened elsewhere.

Here's the part I think disturbs us most: We allow it all. I remember as a kid I loved reading stories about brave people in the face of the Nazis. I wondered how the rest of the world could have let Hitler get away with killing six million people. The common response to that question was, "We didn't know." We don't have that excuse now, with our constant media circus. We know. All of it. And we do nothing. This is the society we have created. Not the president. Not the congress. Not the governors. Us.

And that is the scariest reality, because we know, deep down, that any one of us has the same capacity for evil acts as the next person. I'm not saying this from a preachy, we're-all-sinners, kind of view point. I'm saying we all have shadow sides, which we mostly like to keep hidden and not think about. We like to pretend that we would never do such horrible things. Yet we allow them to happen every day. We tut-tut and go about our business as if we are not complicit. But we are. Every act is part of us. All humanity is connected.

And that's the good thing, too. All humanity is connected. That means our grief is shared. We hold each other through tragedy. The shadow side lurks and ruins, but the side of light is miraculously evident, too. We are constantly amazing and wonderful, even as we are atrocious and horrible. Perhaps if we stopped running from the truth about ourselves, perhaps if we embraced all that is human in us, we might find our way to an answer. If we feared ourselves less, we might fear each other less. We might reach out in compassion more. We might be able to let go of us-them thinking and remember that we are we.

I wrote two poems this week. One I already posted on facebook, but here it is again. Followed by a poem version of this essay. I believe the only way to change our world is to change ourselves and how we interact with each other. Caring for those whom society deems outcasts. The poor, the disabled, the left out, the homeless, the crazy ones, the lesser-thans. The least of these.

The Only Thing

The only thing
I can do
in this madness
is to love
to create peace
where I can
to hold in my heart
the wounded
the poor
the sick
the sad
the only thing
I can do
is live
by the spirit within
and hope
to give enough
of myself
to make
some difference

When They Ask

When they ask
How did we let this happen?
Say to them
I did nothing to stop it.
Did you?
This is the culture
We have all perpetuated.
We all committed this act
Because we are a society
Of violence
Of intolerance
Of guns and killing
Of hatred
When did we sow seeds of love?
When did we help someone in pain
So bad that he might think the only way
Was to kill and then die?
When did we say
It is my responsibility?
As a citizen, I own up.
I did it.
Because of my inaction
Things happened.
Because I was too busy,
Lives ended.
How many times do we have to
Relive this
To realize we need to
Not with more guns
Not with more fear
Not with more anger.
Act now
With love
Care for those on the edge
The fringe
Do you even see them?
They feel invisible,
So is it any wonder they
Their actions aren’t important?
Reach out
To the weak
To the crazy
To the suffering in silence
To the odd one out
To the desperate
It’s easier to ignore
But that
Is how we let this happen.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Merry Christmas and Everything

So, hello there family and friends. It's the first Sunday of Advent, and I'm actually going to write you an update of our year for Christmas this year. Wow! When was the last time I did that? I'm feeling awfully conformist just now, but I hope to get over it.

Possibly you follow my blog or you read my facebook posts and you know much of what's contained in this post. If so, my apologies. I will try really hard not to repeat things I've said in the past, because, well, read my blog.

Life has been busy and interesting this year, to say the least. We've had the good fortune to have pretty much only good news to share.

David's dad finally moved out of his ginormous big house this year, and we started the year gathering with the rest of the Jensen clan to divide up as much of three generations of stuff as we could. I told David we had to keep the take to a minimum, and we did, relatively speaking. We acquired a mere 12 boxes of books about hiking/travel, for which we had to get a new bookcase. Thank goodness the girls have moved out, because their room is fast being filled with all books that enter our house. At various times, one or more of Les's four children were in Ashland during the first few months of the year, helping sort through a lifetime of stuff. In the end, three--yes, three--storage units were rented and Les moved into a condo. One of the nicest things we got was a lovely set of china that belonged to David's great grandmother. We've never had a set of china before, so this is a treat. The children were not enthralled by spending a week of their lives being dragged to Ashland to sit around and watch their elders negotiate family heirlooms, but they acted like troopers anyway. Melissa said that since she is the eldest of her generation, when we all die she plans to throw it all away. I told her to go for it. This whole thing has inspired me to begin massively paring down, especially the paper monster that occupies our lives. I say "inspired" because I have yet to actually take any action.

Boy Scouts on snowshoeing weekend in February. Peter is third from the left.
Peter at high adventure camp in the Tetons
Peter in Disneyland with friends from
Epworth Chorale, the church youth choir.
He's the one with the hat.
Peter spends a large number of hours of his life with boy scouts. His troop started a venturing crew in June, which is a branch of scouting for 14-21 year olds, and it is co-ed. He is the president of the crew, as well as senior patrol leader of the scout troop. Peter is working on his Eagle rank. As a sophomore in high school, this is his first year at Boise High. Yes, here in Boise, you are still in junior high your freshman year, even though your grades still count on your high school GPA. He spent the fall in marching band, many hours of practicing and marching. Like a lot of percussionists, Peter drums on anything--the shower wall, the table, his leg. Peter has succeeded in hooking Neysa, Melissa, and Emily on Doctor Who, and he is in heaven, because we actually know what he's talking about. He hopes to start a Doctor Who club at school. Peter's loves chemistry. He has always liked science, and last year he had physical science, which included a fair amount of chemistry. But now he has full-blown chemistry and just eats is up. This makes perfect sense because he's always loved fire and explosions (big fan of Mythbusters). He has thought of going into engineering, and now he's thinking more specifically chemical engineering, and more specific yet, nuclear engineering. He recently told me his goal is to help figure out how to tame cold fusion into a usable energy resource. (At least I think that's what he said. I don't understand a lot of what he says, because it's been way over my head for years now.) Speaking of over my head, Peter has now surpassed David in height, not by much just yet, but still, the tallest in the family.
Emily with her flight instructor, Rick, after she soloed

Emily's crazy cat, Luna
Emily loved seeing the Spruce Goose in Oregon
on a girls only trip with Neysa and Melissa
Our other science geek is Emily. I think you knew that. She's majoring in physics and hopes to go on to study astrophysics and become an astronaut. She's minoring in Chinese and computer science. And just recently, she announced she might as well double major in applied mathematics, since she has to take most of the courses for that in physics anyway. Yikes. She has kept up a great GPA and gets some scholarship money for this. Now she has a job in the physics department and will be assisting in some research starting next semester. And Boise State is going to send her to a physics conference in January. Wow. Can a person be too smart? She's only a sophomore! Well, technically, she's got enough credits to be a junior, but she's only in her second year. (I know.) All this PLUS she is working on her pilot's license and just soloed this fall. She was way excited. AND she is writing, always writing. Whew. Emily has the sweetest boyfriend, Isaac, whom we adore and who fits nicely into our family. He has a wry sense of humor, a positive outlook, and a non-conformist lifestyle. I've known his family since La Leche League days. (Emily says I know everyone in her generation from La Leche League, and it's kinda true.)

Melissa on the right with her friend Ashley, making cookies
Melissa's "favorite place in the world" at Cape Blanco, Oregon
Melissa is a senior. (I joke that she has been a senior for a long time now. But hey, no shame in going to school as long as you possibly can get away with it. She LOVES school.) So she'll graduate either next May or next December. (Place your bets now. Odds are about even--Ha, I just made a pun.) Major in history, minor in political science. Not surprisingly, if you know Melissa, her favorite historical subject is anything involving Britain in the medieval or early modern periods. You should see her get giddy over a Britain class. Crazy. She's been debating whether she wants to go to graduate school to become a history professor or apply to law school. (Yeah, I was hoping to get out of parenthood without adding lawyers to the world, so sorry folks.) At this point, last I heard--because she hasn't made any specific plans--she will graduate and get a job while deciding what to do next. I'm always in favor of gainful employment. It will be weird for her not to be in school. She continues writing as well, and I think both girls are more prolific than I am.
Melissa at the Oregon coast on our girls only trip

Spent an August afternoon here with my girls
However, I may have beat them this year. I have attended six, count 'em, six, writing conferences or workshops this year. And what do I have to show for it? Two completed-through-first-revision novels. I have spent a lot of time learning a deeper level of craft and I think it has made writing more fun, easier to get right the first time (or second), and definitely more empowering. So now, it's time to be submitting these while revising two other novels that I have new insights for, as well as getting started on my next new manuscript. I have it almost completely written in my head. The hard part is transferring that to the page. Could they please just invent a telepathic transcriber? My freelance work has been full of interesting topics. I edited books on the history of the Idaho Education Association, the history of falconry in America, a novel about Haiti, a medical thriller, and a quiet novel about a father trying to get it right. And I wrote web content about Idaho for a travel site .

I took one bagpipe lesson, have practiced bagpipes approximately twice, and do plan to keep at it. It's not the highest thing on my list of priorities, but I just decided about a year ago that it would be a fun instrument to learn. It's very hard, because many of the flute/recorder techniques are diametrically different on bagpipes--you don't tongue, your fingers must be straight, for example. I did learn alto recorder this year, thanks to weekly sessions with my friend Pam. Now we aim to learn bass recorder.

Neysa at Glen Falls High Sierra Camp in Yosemite.
How I do love a waterfall.
Of course, one of my biggest goals for this year was visiting Yosemite for my 50th birthday. You can read all about it on my blog. It was a huge deal for me on many levels. First, major birthday. Second, I was born there and we moved away when I was about two years old, so I remembered nothing. Third, my parents, brothers, and husband came with me. Fourth, I backpacked about 17 miles at elevations I rarely visit. It was a pilgrimage of a lifetime, and now I hope to return to that magical land as often as possible.

I find myself spending more and more time being happy and worrying less about what others think of me, whether I'm measuring up, or weather I'm getting it right. The older I get, the less I care about inconsequential stuff like that, and I care more about justice in the world, making a statement, having some sort of positive impact.

David in Yosemite
David and Neysa at the beginning of three days of backpacking in Yosemite
There is this man in our lives who is always working, always there, always caring for his family. He is the best guy to be married to. He has proven this year that his Fabulous Mr. Fix-it skills cannot be rivaled. He kept me going on the 8 miles up, up, up at over 9,000 feet. He is the scout master/crew advisor extraordinaire, my TV buddy for shows like Covert Affairs, Burn Notice, Leverage, The Good Wife, and a few others. He is like the quiet engine that keeps our family on track. He trained with me for our backpacking adventure, reads aloud to me every night, ponders the idiocies of some people's political stupidity with me, and manages to do all this with a sense of humor that defies all that is wrong in the world. David is the very best of what a husband and father should be, even if he does have a few bad habits. (Okay, maybe more than a few, but we shall leave those alone for now.)

The interesting lessons of this year for me have been how really strong I am physically, and how much I love hiking. No surprise really--I did spend most of my childhood scrambling around the hills at Wind Cave and at my parents' ranch. My travels around the western U.S. have affirmed to me that Boise is my true home. I could not ask for a better suited place to live. There are many beautiful spots in this amazing world, and this one is mine.
John Muir and I agree that God is in the mountaintops.
This is the view I woke up to on my 50th birthday. May Lake.