Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year 2013

I remember when I was young and I couldn’t wait for life to hurry up and happen. Half my life was like a long bad dream I couldn’t wake up from and I thought if I hurried through life, I would get to that place where I was mellow, and smart and happy. Now, I need it to slow down a little. How in the hell did 2012 go by so quickly? I just turned 60 and now am sliding into 61- face first. SIXTY. Crap that is old. And I’m not much smarter than I was 25 years ago- mellower only because I’m tired out- though no smarter, much, much happier.  

I know- you are only as old as you feel. I get it. But I wake up stiff and on cold days I limp from my arthritic feet, knees and hips. In the morning, I am approximately 110 years old. By noon I’m back to 60. Just a kid.
As always, I am glad to usher the year out and get started on the new one. I almost can’t remember most of the year- except of course the months long presidential campaign from hell.  And this past December filled with sadness for so many families.

My year wasn’t bad. My job changed for the better and I was given a nice new office on the 3rd floor with a view of the Novato hills and the lovely Stars Restaurant. I can come home and walk my dog at lunch if I remember to look up and notice the time.

Toshi loves his bath
I stayed healthy-except for a bad December cold, my dog stayed healthy (which meant no vet bills for the first year in many, my family stayed healthy- and really, you can’t ask for more than that.

Elsie and Renee
My best friend’s mom, Elsie almost ducked out on us- but decided to come back and kick some ass. (I’m guessing about the ass kicking- but she is fully capable.)

My son seems to have found some peace and tranquility- and for that, I am extremely grateful.

I continue to write and had a few small publications this last year- and that always encourages me to keep going. I plug along, trying to hone skills.

I think the highlight of my writing year was a publication /radio broadcast at KQED in San Francisco. It was a piece about our veterans. I was proud to be chosen out of the many essays they receive and very proud to help enlighten the public about veteran’s issues.

I always love the New Year because it’s a clean slate. (for me anyway) – I like the fact that you can clean out your office, house, brain, and throw things away before you start making new messes.

Like last year, I’m not making any big plans for this year- I’ll keep doing what I’m doing because it seems to be working. I’ll write a little, maybe sell some real estate, take a few hikes and hopefully this year I’ll spend a little more time with friends and family than I have the last few.

My wish for all is that you have a healthy and happy 2013, that you be kind to one another. Be generous with your love and have an abundance of empathy. It’s okay to give a homeless person a couple bucks if you have it. (Don’t worry about what they spend it on), and try not to hate anyone. Hate will eat you up like cancer- and leave you very ugly from the inside out.  Find peace and keep the hope.

Happy New Year 2013

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Christmas Wish

I wish it were always the Christmas Season. Well without the frenzied shopping thing. And maybe without the stress of not enough food to feed the hungry, not enough homes for the homeless- or blankets for that matter.

I wish we could keep that spirit of Good Will Towards Men. Well, mostly good will. Not everyone has it. Some people decide to take babies away from their parents and parents away from their babies. Christmas destroyed ever after. Drunk drivers wipe out whole families, gunmen killing for sport, drugged out mothers and fathers (for lack of better names to call them) forgetting their kids in cars on snowy nights while they cook their meth. T’is the season.

Missing loved ones long gone- or newly departed- is always a little worse at Christmas. It’s a sadness we rarely feel on the 4th of July.

What if we could ratchet it back a few notches?  What if we went back to homemade gifts- started in January? What if we gave some of those surplus dollars to people who could actually use some food?  What if we were able to shift the way society values life? Then the Christmas Season would be great right?

What if everyone just slowed down a little and read something once in a while- instead of watching crime shows on TV?  Instead of watching news, that isn’t news anymore- delivered by people that have forgotten the basics of journalism- what I learned in 7th grade when I wasn’t even paying attention.

The Christmas season must have been nice at some point in time. Some people have tried to keep tradition alive. My niece throws a lovely Christmas Eve dinner party and decorates the house like the North Pole. It was peaceful and full of joy, as it should be. Of course, she was exhausted afterwards. And her co-host husband- a firefighter had been up for 30 hours after receiving 25 calls while on duty the day before. Merry Christmas to him and all of our first responders- it’s a bad time of year for them too.

My son and I celebrate the un-Christmas. He is a Buddhist and I am a Doubting Thomas – want to be Buddhist– but we like the day for rest and relaxation. We usually go to a movie, but this year he was sick and I was just getting over something so we didn’t do anything but eat a nice dinner. That was enough for us.

I’m always irritated by people who want to go back to simpler times- like in the 50’s when kids could ride their bikes down the street without being shot or kidnapped. Because there was bad then too. The McCarthy era, extreme racism, The Cold War, Korean Conflict. Women’s rights were just a dream. I remember my mom always got a migraine at Christmas.

I honestly do wish that Christmas could be about more than what it’s become. I would wish for Christmas all year round if it could be good for everyone. But for now- Christmas lasts long enough and sometimes a little too long.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

No Simple Solution

Everyone wants answers- but there are none. At least no answer that would make me say- oh, okay- now I get it.

There is so much crap on the internet I’m afraid to open my facebook page for fear I will lose another friend because I can’t take the adamant blaming of the left or the right. Really people, is that your best? Blame the other guy? I saw people blame President Obama, I saw people skip right over the fact that 20 babies were killed and say they will never give up their rights to own a gun. We’ll have to take them out of their cold dead hands. Okay- I can do that. I don’t think gun laws are the only answer to the problem though. I think there is so much more- but if people don’t discuss the issues with empathy, with keeping the families of the murdered in their hearts and minds first and foremost- then you are missing the whole point of humanity and democracy working for the greater good.

I don’t think anyone is going to go after your deer-hunting rifle or your 6 shooter. But do you need an arsenal? And if so why? Because if it’s from delusional paranoia that the liberals, the Muslims, the Jews, the Mexicans , the Blacks, are taking over the world, then guess what? Maybe we should rethink to whom we are giving these guns.  

Was the Newtown shooter mentally ill? Yes. Was it his mothers fault for having guns around an unstable person? Yes. I have no idea if she did the best she could or not. No idea at all- but guns around unstable people is always a mistake. The trick is how do you know when someone is going to crack? And how do you legislate that?

Some people are saying we need to bring prayer back into our Nation. My faith in God- was already waning when the horrific murders of 27 people in Newtown took place. I have always wondered about a God that would let children (especially) suffer so many horrible things. Believers always say- but he saved so and so… and he was there to hold the pieces together after the fact- but really- if you are GOD you should be able to do more right? Babies are innocent- no matter what the Christians say about being born with sin.

In fact- the way I see it -religions and the myriad differences of all of them causes more problems than they solve.  Just ask the survivors in Oslo. Just ask some Jews. Just ask some Muslims.

So the anti prayer in school people are freaking out because they don’t want church and state mixing it up and the 2nd amendment people are freaking out because they are afraid they will have to give up some of their semi-automatic weapons.

I read an article where they decided to arm the teachers. Does anyone besides me see something crazy about that? Militaristic? What if the teacher takes a shot and hits a kid?

On March 13, 1996, unemployed former shopkeeper Thomas Hamilton walked into Dunblane Primary School armed with two 9 mm Browning HP pistols and two Smith & Wesson M19 .357 Magnum revolvers, all legally held. He was carrying 743 cartridges, and fired his weapons 109 times. The subsequent police investigation revealed that Hamilton had loaded the magazines for his Browning with an alternating combination of full-metal-jacket and hollow-point ammunition. Hamilton made his way to the gymnasium and opened fire on a Primary One class of five- and six-year-olds, killing or wounding all but one person. Fifteen children died together with their class teacher, Gwen Mayor, who was killed trying to protect the children.

In 2006, a shooting occurred at the West Nickel Mines School, an Amish one-room schoolhouse in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.  The Gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV took hostages and shot ten girls (aged 6–13), killing five, before committing suicide in the schoolhouse. He used a semi-automatic weapon. A group of people who never hurt anyone… who prayed on a very regular basis. Why? Why would anyone want to hurt them?  

The Norwegian police charged a 32-year-old man, whom they identified as a Christian fundamentalist with right-wing connections, over the bombing of a government center and a shooting attack on a nearby island that together left at least 92 people dead.

There is so much information about this that I am including a Wikipedia link – the numbers of dead vary from 80-92- the Wikipedia information on the dead is incorrect-

(The following paragraphs are of particular interest to me) 

“He decided to obtain a semi-automatic rifle and a Glock pistol legally in Norway, noting that he had a "clean criminal record, hunting license, and two guns (a Benelli Nova 12 gauge Pump-action shotgun and a .308 Bolt-action rifle) already for seven years", and that obtaining the guns legally should therefore not be a problem. 

Upon returning to Norway, Breivik obtained a legal permit for a .223-caliber Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic carbine, ostensibly for the purpose of hunting deer. He bought it in late 2010 for €1,400 ($2000). He wanted to purchase a 7.62x39mm Ruger Mini-30 semi-automatic carbine, but gun laws in Norway may have prevented Breivik from obtaining it.

Getting a permit for the pistol proved more difficult, as he had to demonstrate regular attendance at a sport shooting club. He also bought 10 30-round magazines for the rifle from a United States supplier, and 6 magazines for the pistol (including 4 30-round magazines) in Norway. From November 2010 to January 2011 he went through 15 training sessions at the Oslo Pistol Club, and by mid-January his application to purchase a Glock pistol was approved. 

Breivik claimed in his manifesto that he bought 300 g of sodium nitrate from a Polish shop for 10 in December 2010, in order to make a bomb fuse. In March 2011, he legally bought 100 kg of chemicals from a small Internet-based Wrocław company. The Polish ABW interviewed the company owner on 24 July 2011. Breivik's Polish purchases initially led to him being put on the watch list of the Norwegian intelligence, which did not act because they did not believe it was relevant.
He had also planned a last religious service (in Frogner Church) before the attack. He was a fundamentalist Christian. This guy planned this for a long time. Yet not one person thought he was a problem not even Norwegian Intelligence. 

In June of 2012 a gunman, dressed in tactical clothing, entered a theater in Aurora CO- not far from where one of my best friends lives and  set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience with multiple firearms, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others. James Eagan Holmes, was arrested outside the theater minutes later.

Meanwhile the mental health communities are adding up how much money it will take to fix all the broken people ( a lot) and the families- the poor families of these children- these babies, these heroic teachers, These Scottish babies, these Norwegian teenagers, these Batman enthusiasts- their poor families are mired in grief. Normal grief is bad enough, but can you imagine knowing your baby spent their last minutes in total fear?  I can’t.

My parents never recovered from losing my 27-year-old brother in an accident – my mother died two years later. I think the stress triggered my Dad’s ALS- he died 7 years later. You do not recover from that grief. Not in a lifetime.

I don’t believe in church and state mixing it up- but I’d be willing to let go of that fight if they could pray nondenominational prayer- another words not Christian. Not Hebrew. Not Muslim.  Or even better if school taught about all religions- without favoritism. Maybe if that were to occur they would see the common thread and not the great divide. Religious tolerance would be a wonderful thing wouldn’t it?

I know too, that a lot people like to hunt and have rifles, and I would have more respect for people who hunted animals with a bow and arrow- but I get it- sort of, and I understand it’s a sport- but irresponsibility with these guns is unforgivable. LOCK THEM UP. Think about who has access. And do not underestimate a curious kid. My dad was a policeman -I never, ever saw his gun.

I know a few people- especially military who love their guns- they were trained – and trained some more to use them properly. (Although many of them who suffer from PTSD and TBI should not have guns anymore either.)

A little give and take. Is that too much to ask? A dialogue that brings up all the issues- and looks for solutions. Less finger pointing – more open-mindedness.

I see the biggest problem as people that don’t want to get involved, that won’t call the police when they see suspicious behavior, that won’t report a neglected child, that won’t report a child molester, that won’t report anything about anyone because it’s none of their business. I wonder how many people thought this Newtown killer was off the rails and didn’t say anything to anyone.

If praying makes you feel better you should pray. But I don’t expect it to change anything. I believe ONLY action will change anything. Prayer is inaction. It’s thought. It’s letting Gods will be. It’s acceptance.  I refuse to accept that 15 babies should be killed, 20 babies should be killed or 91 teens should be killed or 12 Batman fans should be killed, because there are bad, sick, confused people in the world with access to semi-automatic weapons.  (The Scotland killer used handguns.)   

Personally, I am going to act. I am going to fight for more responsible gun control, no assault weapons, and better mental health care for the nation. If they want prayer in school I will fight for all religions to be taught and not just Christianity. I’ll fight for people to start getting involved. Pay attention. For me it’s a no brainer; the ONLY way to honor the dead and give their families something – some little bit of light in their darkest hours.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Gift of Compassion

 If the holidays remind us of one thing only, it should be the gift of compassion. In the last year I have known so many people who have had catastrophic events happen and for the most part instead of running with their tails between their legs, they faced these events with grace and came out the other end - with the gift of compassion.

There, but for the Grace of God, go I. I probably heard that 9 million times before I understood it. I understood it completely when a fellow Marine mom shared the Marine’s had come to her door, and her son would never hug her again.

She was full of grace. I knew I could never be like her. I would have been full of anger and I don’t even know what else. Hate- I suppose.

But that was the first time I fully understood that expression. Sadly, it was repeated more times than I could count. It’s what I said to myself every time I saw a another loss.

I’m not at all religious, I say Happy Hanukah as much as I say Merry Christmas. Or I say Merri Kirasumasu because I like the way it sounds. Happy Holidays works just fine for me- because to me it’s all about the spirit of giving. It’s more than one holiday, it’s several throughout the month. A month of good things if we do it right.

For me, it’s not about shopping either. I have given up joining the herds of people at Macy’s (Open 48 hours straight this year up until Christmas Eve.) Toys R Us and all the other must get to their sales, locations. I'll shop a little- but I won't kill myself or go broke to get it all done.

I like to use this time of year to remember (and try to help when I can)  those less fortunate than myself. I don’t mean necessarily poorer-although that too- but people who have no love in their life. People who live in fear. People who are sick- either physically or mentally. People who have lost their way. People who have forgotten what happiness is. People who have not shared a smile with someone. People, who for whatever reason have not seen or heard from their families and loved ones- these are the people I think about during the holidays.

In a year where we heard so much divisiveness, where everyone hated everyone else for thinking differently, looking differently, praying to a different God, I wondered if we would ever stop the hate long enough to celebrate the wonders of the holiday’s. I hope we have -maybe some of the wounds will heal.

HOLIDAYS- they belong to everyone.

The gift of compassion is the best gift you can give someone. It costs you nothing- and pays huge dividends.  Smile at the cashier (especially at Macy’s during their shopathon.) 
Be kind to restaurant and hotel employees who won’t have any days off between now and Christmas, and many will work Christmas too.  (If you even think of not tipping during the holidays just stay home.) Be kind to your grocery clerks- you have no idea what their life is like during the holidays. Be kind to your co-workers, employees and business associates. Be kind to your family- and be kind to yourself.  Ask people how they are and wait for their answer. Listen to them.

We never know what is going on in someone’s life. The homeless, scruffy –bearded, tattooed 27 year -old standing on a corner with a far-away stare might be a homeless Iraq or Afghanistan war veteran. Don’t presume anything. He may not be some bum that should just “get a job.”  There but for the Grace of God, go I.

We don’t know what happened to some of these people who have lost everything- including their dignity. Maybe it was drugs, alcohol, chemical imbalance, death, war, destruction- or just life.

Compassion is what we owe each other as human beings and what we so often lack. It takes a minute. Just a minute to smile at someone.

So every December, a particularly hard month for me due to several losses. I try to find the good. I don’t always succeed. Not every minute of everyday. But I think with every passing year I inch a little closer to the compassion we should have for one another. 

The hard thing for me-while I seek compassion, I lose tolerance for those who have none. Maybe I’ll just keep repeating- There but for the Grace of God go I.

Merri Kirasumasu ~ Happy Hanukah ~Assalamu Alaikum  (Peace Upon You)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

It’s All Your Fault!

My Mom and her kids. Linda, Katie, Johnny and baby Angie
I bet that headline got everyone’s attention. I would venture a guess that at one time or another we have all muttered those words to someone- or screamed them maybe.

In my crazier years, back in the late 60’s and all of the 70’s- I used to blame my mother for everything bad. My father and my step father too. I blamed teachers, bosses, boyfriends and anyone else who was handy, for my shortcomings.

I would call my mother in the middle of the night, crying and crazy and say things like it’s your fault I’m crazy, it’s dad’s fault I drink too much and it’s your fault I’m crazy. My mother would say something like- “Stop drinking and you won’t be crazy.” And then I would hang up on her.

Kids are a product of who their parents make them, yes, they really are, but at some point in time- we have to take responsibility for our own actions and stop the blame game.  

The blame game usually goes back several generations. My mother blamed her mother for dying when she was 8 years old and leaving her to fend for herself. And I remember my great–grandmother telling me (in her 80’s) her mother was very cold and had no love for her and that made her distant her whole life.

I came to the party a little late. But, I got there. At some point in time, my sisters and I started calling my mom a character builder and giving her credit for our good stuff. We took what we liked from our respective fathers and ignored the rest. My older sister adopted her dad’s ability to rough it and find adventure,  my little sister got her dad’s sense of humor and some artistic qualities, and I have to give my dad credit for my amazing ability to research/investigate anything.

My son was doomed from the start. His dad and I both shared some quirky – if not downright bad character traits. I tried not to make all the same mistakes my parents made, but still there were times when I was less than a stellar parent.

If my son blames me for his problems (assuming he thinks he has problems), I have never heard him say so.  Once in awhile he will infer he picked up some crappy character trait from me- but it never feels like blame- just a fact. (Perhaps, I am in denial?) He does give me credit for some good stuff, so I’m glad I didn’t have to die in order to get some kudos.

So, when should we stop blaming our parents? That is the big question. Should it be the minute we start making our own choices? Should it be 18 or 21 or 25 or 28? Should it be when we have our own kids? Should it be about the 100th time we made a shitty decision and blamed everyone but ourselves? YES- to all of the above.

As long as we continue to blame other people for our problems, we are victims. The minute you stand up, take responsibility, recognize your shortcoming AND your attributes and take the steps to change for the better- you have entered the adult world. If you are crying the poor me song then you need to look at yourself through new eyes.

If you have kids of your own and you are making the same parental errors your parents made, STOP.  Just STOP. It’s not that hard. Make a list if you have to- of every bad parenting decision your own parents made- then put an X next to the ones that you are repeating- (I know you are.)  (Then throw the list away and forgive your parents because guess what? NO ONE- NOT ONE BABY- COMES WITH INSTRUCTIONS.)

The only people that are going to continue to play the blame game after that exercise are the ones who are happy in their misery- and who would rather not take responsibility for their own poor choices. That my dear friends, is like mental illness. There are medications for that. Albert Einstein is attributed for saying “ The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  I’m fairly sure he didn’t say this but it’s a true statement. I proved it myself.

If you don’t address these issues- the constant blaming others for your problems, you may one day find yourself all alone. That is the only choice you leave the people you have blamed for your – read YOUR- problems.

So I’m going to blame my mom today- for making me a survivor. For my cooking talent, for my over abundance of self-inflicted self-esteem (deserved or not) and for all the story fodder. Thanks Mom. It’s all your fault I’m here to tell the story.

** In memory of my mom, Beverly Francis Arietta
B: July 10 1931 D. December 9 1984

Monday, December 3, 2012

Finding Your Voice

For a writer, voice is important. It’s what will separate your submission from a thousand others. Grammar can be fixed (sorry editors) voice – your voice, has to be present, has to be clear and above all has to stand out from the crowd.

It’s the same for people who don’t write. You can be loud and obnoxious. You can be clever and witty. Or you can be as quiet as a mouse or variations and combinations in-between. There are a million ways to communicate and I have always chosen blunt over flowery and honesty over tact. That isn’t necessarily right, but it’s my voice, who I am and I’m not sure at 60 years old there is time to change the way I communicate or if  am even willing to change. I’m used to me.

I have noticed that many women don’t find their voices until later in life. Many women, especially my age group, and the generation before me, went from home to marriage, fell from one form of subservience to another (equal footing being a rarity until recently)  and many learned (erroneously), that being quiet is what keeps the peace.

When you spent 45+ years of your life not uttering a peep and suddenly, you decide to speak your mind- you may have a tendency to go overboard. You may speak to things of which you have little knowledge; you may be so adamant that you leave no room for discussion or reply. Finding your voice is not just about saying what you think. It’s not about freedom of speech, which is so often mistaken for I can say any stupid ass thing I want.

My mother used to say if you don’t have anything smart to say don’t say anything all. Most parents say that if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all, but smart was more valuable to my mother than nice. (And she passed that gene to me)  I don’t know how old my mother was when she found her voice, but I’m guessing in her early teens. By the time she was 30, which is when I was nine and remember conversations with her or listening to her talk to other people, she was in full command of her voice, if not her actions.

The problem for many women when they find their voice later in life is that it takes the people who know them by surprise. Friends and family may think it’s hormonally induced diarrhea of the mouth, or worse that you have lost your mind completely.  A simple statement like, “I don’t really like your taste in music.” can turn into a full-blown episode of “Where is my wife, mother, sister… and who are you?”

People change.  This is true no matter what your gender. With any luck, we get smarter with time. If you got married at 18 years old and you manage to make it through the changes, then you grew together at the same rate. If you don’t make it then chances are you grew apart- or maybe one of you found an unexpected voice.

All my life I have encountered people who would have rather I lied to them than been honest.  People who thought I should change my delivery and be more tactful. I admit- with age has come a little bit more tact, but the honesty factor never waivers.

If you ask me a question, be prepared for the truth. A nickname some friends gave me back in the 70’s was Frightfully Candid Katie. I think the fright part has diminished over time. Sometimes.

The reason I am able to say what I do to whomever I please, is that I’m not afraid of the consequences. I never have been. It’s an annoying irreverence, I understand that- yet it’s who I am.  More brave than smart. But I was born this way and I have had 60+ years to hone it.

The one thing I have tried to learn over the years is to not be wrong. And by wrong I mean- I try not to spout off when I have no clue what I am talking about- and I also try- (and sometimes fail) to own up to it when I have no clue what I am talking about.

If I had a daughter – or for my nieces and great nieces now, I would try to teach them to go ahead and always say what you think- but give it the 3 second rule. Just wait 3 seconds and ask your self ONE question- Do I know what I am talking about?

Everyone should find his or her voice. It’s not just for writers. Communication is the end all. It’s the most important thing you will ever learn. (Says me.)  If you can’t communicate your needs, they will never be met. If you can’t communicate your feelings, they will never be acknowledged. If you run from every uncomfortable conversation, you will never have the satisfaction of getting someone to see things from a different perspective.

If you have recently found your voice and find yourself stepping on toes and dodging piles of poop like landmines, then you might want to practice that 3-second rule before you spout off. Then read- read everything about everything, it’s amazing what little tidbits will come in handy when you are having a conversation.

I’m not sure what prompted me to write this. Maybe I ran across a timid mouse that couldn’t get their cheese, or maybe I know more than few people that have a voice screaming inside them- LET ME OUT.  Maybe- I know someone that needs to be heard and doesn’t know where to start.

Start here. Start now. It’s never too late.