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Monthly Archives: July 2016

Hillary is Hermione

 

Sometime over the past few weeks, after the twentieth or twenty-first media expert complained about how careful and studied Hillary Clinton is, how she plans and researches everything, and she’s so boring compared to Trump’s constant impulsiveness, I started to think that Hillary is Hermione, from the Harry Potter books, all grown up.

I was a Hermione as a kid: the smartest girl in the class, asking for extra homework, and hated for it. We have a lot of nasty, derogatory terms for kids who study a lot: grind, swot, egghead, drudge, etc. My classmates wanted less homework and more recess. I found recess, and the freedom to make endless social mistakes, unbearable. Even J.K. Rowling, clearly a Hermione herself, did not believe the world was ready for a smart girl as a protagonist. She guessed, and she was right, that people would prefer to believe that Harry, a boy, and an average student who never tried very hard, was the ultimate hero.

Even when Bill Clinton told their love story, on Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention, he focused on Hillary’s oversized glasses and too-big hair, her intelligence and her off putting attitude, instead of her beauty. He was the cool kid, and she was the swot. He didn’t want to work any harder than he had to, and she spent summers volunteering to help those less fortunate. He was more Ron Weasley than Harry Potter, the way he tells it, just without the red hair.

On Monday night, on The Late Show, Steven Colbert finally trotted out a cartoon version of Hillary Clinton to match the cartoon Trump he’s had on staff for months. And his team’s guiding principle in how to create that character seemed to be to assume that she was on the autism spectrum. They may have meant to say that she was two-faced and out of touch, but they managed to portray her as unable to read other people’s emotions, and robotic in her portrayal of her own emotions. It’s an interesting idea. Hillary clearly has had issues fitting in with her peers. She never quite gets the joke. She tries very hard to get social things right and always gets something wrong.

Bill Clinton could be forgiven for having affairs, but Hillary could not be forgiven for having thick ankles, or “cankles.” And then when she wore pants suits to cover those offending ankles, she was criticized for her outfits. She could never find the right hair-do to avoid criticism, or the right clothes, or the right words. And people wonder why she is so private. No, they call it secretive, not private. A man could be private and reserved, but Hillary is secretive and suspicious. A man who thinks he’s qualified to be president is called ambitious and confident. Hillary, for the sin of thinking that she can be a good president, is considered power hungry and out for herself.

Bill Clinton is Teflon. He has had real, proven, character issues and yet people still love him and believe in him. And yet all of his flaws and mistakes stick to Hillary like she’s fly paper. Instead of believing that Hillary loves her husband despite his flaws, people believe that she married him for political gain, and remains married to him for political gain, despite the fact that she would have actually gotten a lot more public praise for divorcing him instead of sticking with him through the Lewinsky scandal. And by the way, why do we call it the Monica Lewinsky scandal and not the Bill Clinton’s penis scandal?

My sense is that, with her awkward social skills, someone like Bill Clinton offers a relief. He does the reaching out. He teaches her how to fit in better; he helps her to relax. No wonder she chose Tim Kaine as a running mate – he does the exact same thing.         But if I had any doubts about Hillary Clinton’s heart, watching Chelsea Clinton’s speech on Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention squashed them. Chelsea loves her Mom, and she is, clearly, deeply loved by her mother.

The question is, can we as a country tolerate a president who is smarter than she is cool? Can we tolerate having a president who has to work at being socially confident? Because there’s no question that she will work her ass off to get things done, and that she has the brain power to do the job. But she’s not Obama, with his soaring rhetoric and self-confidence, and she’s not folksy like Bill or like George W. Bush. Hillary is more like the female version of George H.W. Bush: very serious, studied, hardworking and bright, stiff and careful.

Cricket and Butterfly have not been thrilled with all of the television coverage of the conventions, if only because it keeps them up too late at night. Though, Cricket seemed to be intrigued by Barack Obama’s speech on Wednesday night. She was certain she heard him say “go,” or “out,” or “pee.” She can pick these sounds out of any speech, or just imagine them. But he was talking during prime pee trip time, so that could explain her confusion. Butterfly slept through all of it. She has no interest in speeches or elections or conflict, unless the stress leads me into the kitchen for snacks, and then she’s wide awake and eager to participate. We all have our priorities.

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“Did he say ‘pee’?”

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Butterfly didn’t hear a thing.

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Until there were snacks.

By the way, Butterfly, if she had a chance would be a loyal Hufflepuff, through and through, and Cricket would feel comfortable in Ravenclaw, because she’s very bright, but not especially brave. I’d like to believe that I could be in Gryffindor, like Hermione, and like Hillary, being brave even when it’s the hardest thing to do.

I’m working on it.

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Loyal Butterfly likes to keep Platypus company when he’s on edge.

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“I do have claws, Mommy. You will see them very soon.”

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The Sweet Relief of Jon Stewart

 

This has been a rough year for me. Just when Donald Trump took over my television set last summer, Jon Stewart left The Daily Show for parts unknown (or to help his wife rescue animals on their family farm, whatever). I’ve tried to take comfort in Samantha Bee (Full Frontal), Larry Wilmore (The Nightly Show), and Trevor Noah (The Daily Show). I’ve come the closest to finding sustenance with the one-two punch of Rachel Maddow’s comprehensive historical take on the news on MSNBC, and Steven Colbert’s giddy musical review of the news on The Late Show. But no one filled that Jon Stewart void.

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Butterfly sought comfort from Duckie.

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Cricket went for the food.

I’ve watched this year as the Republicans moved from disbelief, to disgust, to acceptance, to an embrace of the post-factual Trumpian world view that we witnessed at the Republican National Convention this past week. Jon Stewart showed up Monday night on The Late Show, as promised, but only to do spit takes and reintroduce Colbert’s alter ego from The Colbert Report. It was not enough.

I watched this week as the media refused to blame Melania Trump for plagiarizing Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech, as if she is a child. But, she speaks, what, five languages, became successful on her own long before meeting Trump, and is, in fact, a forty-six year old adult woman. If Michelle Obama had been caught plagiarizing, would her speechwriter have been blamed? Or would we assume that she is an intelligent human being who can tell the difference between her own words and someone else’s? I wonder if the media think that Melania is a moron because she was a professional model, or because she’s a non-native English speaker, or if it’s because she chose to marry Donald Trump, and they assume that any truly intelligent woman would know better.

Then I watched the media fawn over Trump’s odd waxwork children, none of whom seem to be able to breathe outside of Trump’s sphere. All three of the older children work for their father, and Tiffany seems to be on her way into the organization too, now that she has been indoctrinated and proven her loyalty. How many families do you know where all of the children go into the family business, and no one goes off in another direction? Is it not allowed in this family?

But I almost lost my mind when, after Ivanka gave a lovely speech on Thursday night, seemingly advocating for Hillary Clinton’s and Bernie Sanders’ policies and pretending that her father is just a lovely man, Trump came out and patted her butt with both hands. That just broke me.

People have been joking about his inappropriately sexual relationship with Ivanka for a long time, ever since some disturbing pictures surfaced of her as a very young model sitting in seductive poses on her father’s lap. Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, has been making jokes all year about Trump wanting to have sex with Ivanka. There are interview clips where he talks about her sexy body, and how he would date her if she weren’t his daughter. Ivanka sits there awkwardly in these interviews, as if she isn’t taking it seriously and is just embarrassed by the silly things her father says. I took her lead and didn’t take it very seriously, either. I thought the jokes were in bad taste, actually, and that the things Trump said were just more evidence of his “word salad” problem. But when, on National television, in front of the world, in response to the air kisses she gave him from what looked like a foot away, he grabbed her ass, it all came together. This is an incest family.

In her speech, Ivanka presented her idealized father – who bears very little similarity to her actual father – and she made it clear that she advocates political beliefs that are not in concert with the Republican Party. Either she is delusional about who her father is (which would be a sign of a deeply dissociative state, common among incest survivors), and/or, she was giving a public, lady-like fuck you to that man.

People have talked about how Trump is a dictator and a narcissist and a sociopath, but all week the media have been saying that he can’t be such a bad guy with such wonderful children. Ivanka is his “closest ally and confidant,” and she is the “princess,” (according to one of her brothers), and she is going to be the “real first lady.” But Trump reminded her, in front of everyone, that he can do whatever he wants to her and no one will stop him. He owns her.

How is this man being lauded and supported by a political party that supposedly believes in Christian values? I can’t imagine what kind of moral convolutions Paul Ryan (Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives) must be going through to make this seem okay.

I did not watch the seventy-five minute speech Donald Trump went on to give at the Republican convention that night. I took the dogs out for as long a walk as possible, checked Facebook and Twitter, and then twiddled my thumbs waiting for the after shows to offer some perspective. Alex Wagner, a guest on The Daily Show, commented on the “inappropriate touching.” Larry Wilmore talked about his discomfort in finding that, for one strange moment, he found himself, eek, agreeing with Ted Cruz (“Vote your conscience.”). And then, finally, Steven Colbert came on, live, after Midnight. He looked like he’d slept in his iridescent blue suit, but he was still awake and giddy and dancing, which gave me some energy and some hope.

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“Did Donald Trump pee here?”

And then, Jon Stewart popped up from under the desk, and gave me the rant I’d been waiting a year for. There’s something about his mix of outrage and earnestness and humor that digs deep into my sternum and makes room for me to breathe again. I have missed him more than I ever thought possible. I have needed his no-bullshit voice all year long and it was such a relief to breathe deeply again. But it’s not enough. It was over too soon.

I know that animal rescue is important, and I understand that Jon Stewart’s kids need his attention, and that the daily grind of the show was getting to be too much for him. But I need rescuing too, Jon. Please, come back soon!

 

Cricket & Butterfly waiting for Mommy

Cricket and Butterfly are waiting.

A Study of Sleep

 

 

I had to do a sleep study for the new Pulmonologist. He did breathing tests, and x-rays, and walking-while-breathing tests, and inhaling-vile-stuff-while-breathing tests, and then he wanted a sleep study to see if sleep apnea was causing my exhaustion and shortness of breath. Each new doctor has his own set of tests you have to take, it’s their thing, and if you want them to take anything you say seriously, you have to jump through all of their hoops. I’d done a sleep study years ago that came out normal, but he wanted to check again.

I was really anxious that this new sleep study, which would be done at home, would be like the ambulatory EEG, which involved having a video camera pointed at me at all times, and wires glued to my head. But there was no video camera or glue this time, thank God. I had to wear monitors, but they were small and wrapped around my chest and abdomen with elastic, and a nasal cannula was stuffed into my nostrils, and there was a monitor on my wrist and middle finger to keep track of the oxygenation of my blood. It wasn’t especially humiliating, though neither of the dogs chose to sleep near me that night. I’m sure that was just a coincidence.

The results of the sleep study were, as I’d expected, normal. I do not have sleep apnea. The thing I don’t understand is, if you are going to study sleep to try to discover more about my overall health, why would you only focus on a limited area like sleep apnea? Isn’t there anything else about sleep that is worthy of attention?

I have always had trouble with sleep. Even as a kid, I would wander around, go to my Mom, visit the bathroom a few times, and then stare at the ceiling and count the circles in the asbestos tiles for hours. Every creak of the house made me worry about monsters under the bed. But even now, even when I get to sleep on time and wake up on time, I still don’t feel rested.

The dogs are champion sleepers. Cricket can pull a blanket off the couch and smush it into cozy nest for herself on the floor and take a short daytime nap any time she pleases. Butterfly will find one of the stuffed toys, anywhere Cricket has left it on the floor, and stretch out for nap right next to it. Cricket can stretch into all manner of unimagined yoga poses to vary her sleep style and keep it interesting.

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“Platypus needs this blanket more than you do, Mommy. “

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Two toys are better than one.

In fact, the dogs change sleep positions very frequently. I think I do this too, except that I don’t have as much room for variation as they do. I’ll turn over, or kick my blankets away, or curl up, or stretch out, but they actually move from place to place and alter the whole landscape of sleep. I only sleep on my bed, but they can sleep on my bed, on the hard floor, on their pet beds, on carpets, on couches, under couches, chin on a shelf, or chin on my leg. But no matter how they sleep, or when or where they sleep, the dogs wake up raring to go, and ready to go outside and pee, and then ready to eat, and then ready to get back to sleep. They can wake up and fall asleep so quickly!

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Platypus is a very accommodating sleep partner.

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But so are my shoes.

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Cricket can’t decide which bed to sleep on.

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Or maybe she should sleep on the floor.

It seems like the sleep study should have looked at some of the practical issues of sleep. Maybe along with the heart rate monitors and oxygen concentrations monitors and such, they could have asked me questions, like, was I too hot or too cold? Did I wake up during the night? Did I have bad dreams, or nightmares? Did I feel rested in the morning? But they don’t want to know if I kick or turn a lot when I sleep, or if I’m in pain when I wake up. They don’t want to know about problems they don’t know how to solve. All they want to know is if my breathing is interrupted when I sleep, because they have a machine for that.

Maybe if each doctor took a more detailed interest, in each area of testing, they could have figured out something by now. But instead they choose the easiest thing, for them, and the hardest thing for me, and come up with nothing. I bet if Cricket could read medical journals, she’d have me fully diagnosed by now. She could use Butterfly to monitor my skin temperature, and flavor, overnight, and she herself could test my reflexes with her patented Jump-On-Mommy-While-She’s-Still-Sleeping test. Both dogs watch me very carefully, and I’m sure if they could write they’d fill many notebooks with all of their trenchant observations. And yet none of my doctors have asked for their input in making a diagnosis.

Phooey.

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Diagnostic exam in process.

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Cricket consults with Butterfly before delivering her diagnosis.

 

Look-a-likes

 

I have a friend whose 17-year-old daughter is like a facsimile of her, except that she does her hair and makeup differently (as in not at all) and dresses her own way. They’re like two identical dolls dressed by radically different children. There’s danger there, because my friend sees her own face so clearly on her daughter, and struggles at times to see her daughter as a separate person, with different characteristics, and needs, and limitations. The temptation to project yourself and your own feelings onto such a familiar face must be extraordinary.

“You sound just like your father.” I said this to my second oldest nephew recently, because I heard his voice from a distance and actually thought it was my brother. His voice had deepened significantly since my previous visit. The older one looks more like his father, and the younger one sounds more like his father, but neither one of them is just like either of their parents, even though there are those genetic matches, and habits they’ve picked up in how they phrase things.

I look very different from my mother, especially in body type. I am taller, with a bigger frame. I’m built more like my father, which does not feel good to me. As a teenager, I tried to starve myself down to the right size, so that I would resemble my mother more, and my father less, but it only lasted long enough to give me fainting spells and muscle cramps, and when I started eating again, the illusion of similarity disappeared.

My father is six-foot-four and over three hundred pounds. He used to be unspeakably strong, before diabetic neuropathy, two strokes, cancer, and age. My hair is brown with red highlights, like his was, rather than dark brown to almost black like Mom’s. My nose is more rounded, like his, my face is more Russian, like his, my skin color is peachier, like his, whereas Mom’s coloring is more Mediterranean. To other people it’s probably subtle to the point of invisible, but to Mom, and therefore to me, the differences are overwhelming.

The fact is, I didn’t and don’t look like my father. I have a full head of hair, and no beard. I am nowhere near as tall or imposing as he is, and my body language is very different. I wasn’t a smaller version of him, at any point in time. But when categories were being given out, my brother matched up more with my mother and I matched up more with my father, and that was that.

For a lot of people, there’s relief in being able to see a parent’s features in a child, if only because it proves parentage. That way you know for sure that the babies weren’t switched at the hospital, and the mailman didn’t get his genes in there without you knowing. But I wonder if looking nothing like your parents might be easier, as long as you are certain of their love and attachment, because then people can see you more clearly as an individual and not so easily confuse you with someone else. But then again, we all look for clues to who we are in the people in our families. We look for a great uncle with our particular inability to do math, or a cousin with our propensity to laugh until we fall on the floor crying. The balance between wanting to be unique and wanting to fit in is so precarious.

I have two dogs instead of human children, and they are small, white-haired dogs. We will never show up in those side by side pictures of dogs and owners who look alike.

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“Wait, you don’t look like us?”

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“We need to lie down.”

When I was younger, we used to have black-haired dogs, so that was a little more like me. I especially felt like Dina, my black lab mix, was my familiar, even if we didn’t look exactly alike. I related to her “black dog” status, not the most desirable puppy at the shelter, not the right size or breed or coloring to be popular. There were lots of puppies like her at the shelter, and at every shelter. But mostly it was her personality, and her status in the family, that I related to. She cried desperately when we had to keep her downstairs in the kitchen as a puppy, before she was potty-trained. She escaped from every enclosure we made for her, but no one was willing to put time and effort and money into training her, or buying her special beds and toys and treats, or coming up with a set schedule for her. She was largely left to her own devices, like I was, and she was overwhelmed, like I was, and she developed some odd behaviors as a result, to try to comfort herself, like me.

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Dina’s smile.

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Me and Dina (we even dressed alike).

A look-a-like was what I needed at that time. Someone I could think of as just like me, and still worthy of love and attention and care. Taking care of Dina taught me how to take care of myself. But by the time Cricket came along, I was ready for a dog who was not like me at all, but who needed me anyway. She was so assertive, and cute, and very high maintenance. She taught me that even though there’s a steep learning curve in loving someone so unlike yourself, there’s also a freedom in it. It’s so much easier to accept her strengths and weaknesses as they are when they don’t reflect on me. She’s her own person and I can see her clearly without judging her, or myself, quite so much. And that’s a relief.

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Cricket is her very own person.

Talking in Circles

 

As a child, I was taught in my Jewish school that we are not allowed to write the name of God (G-d) full out, or else we are taking God’s name in vain. You can’t even spell the Hebrew version of Yahweh out loud; you have to replace some of the letters with safer letters. Often, orthodox Jews will replace any name of God with “Hashem,” which means “The Name.” It’s similar to the He-who-must-not-be-named business in the Harry Potter books, except that we were avoiding saying the name of the ultimate good rather than the ultimate evil. Part of it is an attempt to retain the power, the specialness, of the name of God. Just like in Harry Potter, the fear is that if you say the name of He-who-must-not-be-named (Voldemort, ahem) too frequently, you’ll forget to be afraid of him.

All of this makes me think about how hard it is for humans to say what we mean. In our intention to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings, or to avoid criticism, we often end up being polite, or vague, and therefore, being misunderstood. I love that dogs are direct. I may not always like what they have to say (or when they choose to say it), but at least I know what’s going on with them. Cricket is very clear when she is angry at me for withholding the extra treats she demands. Butterfly is also very direct, and never uses big words. If she barks, it either means she wants to eat what you are eating (and is convinced that Cricket, because she can jump up onto the couch, will have first dibs), or she needs to go outside. If she flattens herself on the ground, she wants to be picked up. If she smiles, it’s because she is actually happy (most likely because food is anticipated). If she licks your hand, she wants to be scratched. If she’s wary, she backs away. If she’s really scared, she shivers (at the vet’s office or during a storm, usually). She’s not vague, or blurry, or sly. And because she’s so clear, her needs are easy to meet.

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Butterfly wants scratchies!

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Cricket is grumpy.

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Those are my shoes Butterfly is sitting on. I can’t imagine what she’s trying to say.

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“Feed me!”

A lot of the time, though, people are vague because they really don’t know what they are feeling, or how to express it clearly. I find myself asking question after question of people who think they’ve been clear and clearly were not. I’m often in the position of wanting to scream, “What the @#$% are you trying to say?!” But I rein myself in. Mostly. I will try to ask a question or two, or ten, to help them get to their point. Sometimes they do not realize that they are wandering, or being unclear. Sometimes they are as frustrated as I am, and believe that I should just understand them without their help. Sometimes they know exactly what they mean, but English is their second language, behind the jargon of their profession, and we both remain un-elucidated.

My rabbi, at times, throws in a word that he assumes everyone knows, like Hapax legamenon – which means, a word that appears only once in a text, like the Bible. He momentarily forgets that we were not all in rabbinical school with him, where that word came up all the time and was so useful! I have an automatic allergy to words like that, because I hated sitting at the dinner table as a kid and being the only one who didn’t understand what was being said, especially after my brother started to study vocabulary words for the SATs. But my rabbi thinks each one of these words is like a jewel, a gift! And he tosses them into conversation with glee. I am considering preparing a glossary for new members of the synagogue with words he uses often, like: prolegomenon, apotropaic, apocopation, merism, inclusio, and, of course, hapax legamenon. He is, in most ways, exceedingly down to earth, but those particular words of his profession just make him delusionally happy.

But, some people use jargon intentionally to keep others out of the club. In certain professions (academics, medicine, and law come to mind), you spend a great deal of your time learning the language of the profession before you can ever be trusted to think your own thoughts. This bothers me. I mean, sure, it’s good to be precise, and when you go into more depth on a particular subject it helps to have vocabulary with you to light up the dark, but does it have to be so alienating to outsiders? To what end?

Cricket understands every word I say, or do not say. She has especially become a master of the ellipsis, so that I can’t even leave the important words unsaid, because she knows I was going to say them anyway. I wonder what she would do with the rabbi’s rabbinical school jargon. She probably wouldn’t let him off the hook, the way the humans do. She would have at least a few more questions for him. He says that dogs can’t come to Bible Study because some congregants may have allergies, or deep-seated fears of canines, but I wonder. Maybe he’s just afraid that Cricket will stand on the table, barking insistently, “but why?!” And he won’t have a handy dandy hapax legamenon with which to answer her.

 

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“But why?”