Were we were born with a genetic propensity to be a pitcher or a saver, a hoarder or a heaver? Some people like my sister never let unnecessary items accumulate; others like me have trouble throwing away anything.
While spring cleaning, I finally parted with possessions that had been with me for most of my European life like a bottle of Chanel perfume that I received as a gift in 1979, my first year in France. With my Multiple Chemical Sensitivity I could never wear it, but every time I saw that bottle I was reminded of the kindness of strangers, those Parisians, who first welcomed me to their homeland.
I no longer have storage space for my coffee cup – gifts from family, friends and students – an eclectic collection of ISU, UWSP, Manchester, London, and my all time favorite a cream-colored cup imprinted with a sketch of the United Methodist Church, my dad designed. Some cups mean too much to me to use, so they decorate my mantel like the one with a photo of a former basketball team.
I also save baseball caps from every major sporting event I ever attended and every team I loved. Ditto for those team logo t-shirts.
My kids, young adults now living thousands of miles away, have no desire to keep old scrapbooks, school awards, sports medals, so why do I save them? Why keep the clay mold of a 5 year olds handprint, odd shaped vases, lumpy hand made pottery, a glazed chicken, and dozens of paintings. Silly me, hanging onto old toys like Playmobil and Beanie Babies for the memories they evoke.
Dozens of picture albums clutter our home with old pages falling apart filled with photos of places I no longer remember and people whose names I have forgotten.
I have good intentions. Every time the urge to organize strikes, I buy another beautiful colored folder that then sits empty on a shelf like a heirloom.
But by far my worst vice of all is an obsession with words. I saved cards from my grade school BFF, sketches from college roommates and letters from grandparents. Books spill off my shelves. I have – yes I counted – 86 binders in shades of red, blue, green, purple and orange filled with half-baked story ideas, travel notes, family research, book drafts and kids’ essays. For a writer, words are the hardest possession to part with.
Call me a hoarder, but I am not materialistic driven to buy, buy, buy and accumulate more goods. It’s just that pitching out sentimental, memory-evoking possessions feels like sacrilege. Out, out, out. Gone the memories.
With the advent of technology and information updated every second – text messaging, Instagram, Snapchat – everything changes so fast, and is forgotten even faster.
Could our brains intentionally be wired this way into pitchers and savers? Some minds are designed to discard and downsize to make room for the next generation, while others like me cling to the past to record our passage in time.
I am like the beekeeper tending the hive, honing the busy nest of our lives, gathering the honey of our collective memories.
To me it’s not about politics. It’s not about liberal or conservative or agreeing to disagree on what we each think is the best way to ensure that the US is a great place to live.
It’s about the values I thought we held regardless of our political leanings.
After hearing the election results on November 9, I cried. I felt a gut wrenching fear and despair that knowing there was no turning back. I walked out the door and wanted to keep walking right off the planet. My disappointment was magnified thousand-fold with the heartbreaking knowledge that half of the nation believes in a leader whose platform was filled with empty slogans and derogatory rhetoric based on repression, intolerance, bigotry, misogyny and ignorance.
I know that realistically not all those who voted support those views and that they have very legitimate reasons for wanting change, I know that for many it was an act of anger, frustration and hopelessness, not racism or misogyny. But it’s hard for me to feel that in so-voting, those views, which I find so abhorrent and antithetical to the very rights we fought so hard for in the past, weren’t being endorsed. Regardless of what happens at a policy-level, I’m fearful of the message that has been sent, of the noxious sentiment that has been aroused, and of the no-longer unrealistic possibility that the rights we have fought for could be taken away, or at the very least not truly be guaranteed for all.
I understood why thousands of Americans took to the streets in protest chanting, « Not my President. »
Not my country either. Not the country I loved so dearly for defending the unalienable rights we hold so true … liberty, justice and freedom for all, not just those who shout the loudest or have the biggest bank accounts or have ancestors born in Western Europe and have less melanin in their skin.
Having lived in Europe for the past 37 years, perhaps I have no right to judge. I do not know what it feels like to be stopped in the street for the color of my skin. Or to be a working class man facing unemployment when my job was outsourced overseas. Or to be homeless waiting in line for a food pantry hand-out. Nor the despair of watching my child grow sicker and weaker due to an inability to afford health care.
But I do know the fear of standing in line in a French immigration office fearing that I will be deported. I do know the humility of depending on German teammates for a roof over my head. And I do know the gratitude of people – international friends and colleagues – who ignored where I came from and accepted me for who I was.
And I know what it feels like to be left out. In the early Title IX days, I left the USA to pursue a dream denied in my homeland. In 1979, I moved to Europe on the heels of the Vietnam War at the height of the Cold War, during the Reagan era.
While living abroad, I tried to mitigate the stereotype of the loud, arrogant, ethnocentric American by speaking softly and keeping a low profile. I demonstrated the ideals of tolerance on which my country was founded by showing respect for others who worshiped different deities, spoke different languages and practiced different customs. As a guest in others homelands, I discovered firsthand through friendship the beauty in our diversity.
I came back to a nation where people were more connected than ever on social media, yet profoundly divided in real life and unable to communicate in civil terms.
Recently retired from teaching abroad, I stayed in the states longer and followed the election with mounting alarm, stunned not just by how vitriolic it turned, but how easily we condoned it. When did the election in one of the greatest democracies become more about digging up dirt on one’s opponent than discussing critical policy issues?
I felt as if I’d been flung back in time to an era when women were objectified, Jim Crow Laws kept blacks in their place, and gays hid in the closet for safety. Trump gave free licence to discrimination. His dismissal of anyone who is not a white American male echoes an Aryan supremacist ideology that nearly destroyed us.
« Make American great again ! » Trump proclaims. What was great about America was that everyone had an opportunity to pursue the Dream.
« Build walls to keep out immigrants ! » America was built on the backbone of immigrants who came here for a better life.
On the heels of Brexit, Trump’s victory, following a campaign filled with disdain for women, minorities, immigrants, gays and the disabled only fuels the extreme right of the world. Marie Le Pen is kicking up her heels in France; Geert Wilders is dancing in Holland. .
The nightmare I woke up to November 9 reverberates around the globe. We may only worry about what is happening in our neighbourhood, and I get that, but what we don’t realize is that, like it or not, any decision made in America affects the rest of world, environmentally, socially, and economically.
We need to remember that regardless of our political party, religious affiliation, national identity, race or gender, we don’t own this planet.
We cannot go back and change the outcome of the election, but that does not mean we should give up on those ideals. We can speak up for those who are victimized or do not have a voice. We can continue to teach our children to treat everyone with kindness and respect. We can encourage the many politicians in both parties who have condemned Trump’s racist and misogynistic rhetoric to continue to do so.
While most people have been using smartphones for ages, I finally inherited a hand-me-down iPhone 5 from my husband’s secretary. At long last, I possessed that amazing little gadget that can do everything but wipe my backside. I can get organized, share FaceTime with family (here is an explanation on how to use it on any Android machine), text message friends and dance my heart out to iTunes. Just one problem, they don’t make smart phones for dummies.
Case in point ME. When I went to phone store center to trade in my antique Nokia, the clerk laughed out loud. “Wow, it’s been eons since I have seen one of these.”
Within 48 hours of activating my phone chip, I made so many gaffs the Frenchman threatened to confiscate it.
While walking home from school, I tried calling the hubby at his printing office in Lausanne; instead I rang my daughter at her pediatric clinic in Minneapolis. That went down real well.
In PE class, I thought I was recording students’ lap times; instead I was setting the alarm clock.
“Who’s calling?” I screamed waking up that night.
“You!” the hubby grumbled. “You set your phone to ring at two a.m.!”
When it comes to technology, I am one step behind and a term or two off beat. When my students told me about that instant messaging thing, I said, “Cool! I need to get what’s up.”
They laughed me out of the classroom.
“It’s not what’s up,” a student said, ‘it’s Whatsapp` an application for free messaging.”
Application? One uses an application to seek employment, to enter university, and to do calculus. What does “application” have to do with finding out, “What’s up, bro?”
It gets worse. During a staff meeting my sweatshirt pouch burst out singing in Janet Jackson’s voice. I swore I turned off my walking-to-school music. Savvy colleagues explained that moving around with an iPhone in your pocket could turn on iTunes.
Texting is a whole other ball game. Seriously, how can anyone text and drive? It’s like diving off a cliff with your hands tied to your feet. Even at my desk with both hands on my device, I have yet to text without falling off my chair. Besides by the time I punch in the correct letters, my brain’s faulty memory bank has already forgotten the message. Even my 81-year-old, nimble-fingered mom can text faster than me.
Stranger things keep happening. Yesterday all by itself my little iPhone burst into song and dance, playing Walk the Line by Johnny Cash…. I don’t even like Johnny Cash. Next thing I know Sandra Beckwith, a marketing guru, is telling me how to sell more books – from a class I took five years ago. My husband, who was watching Netflix on TV downstairs, explained that sometimes it sets off iTunes when the computer nearby is on the same network. Well, how dumb is that?
Worse yet, every time he receives a call for another crisis at work, my phone rings too.
And if these phones are so smart, how come they get lost all the time? Mine has little electronic legs and never stays where I put it. When I misplaced it at school, I stayed up all night worrying that a techie teen would crack my code and access my top-secret contact list.
But you know me; I am always willing to give it a go. So send me your cell number and I’ll ring you the next time I’m in your neighborhood, if can catch that darn phone that keeps running away from home.
Meanwhile my brain becomes more muddled; numbers scramble, fingers freeze on the keyboard, … applications, smapplications, crapplications…will I ever understand that mumble jumble tech speak?
I am convinced my iPhone 5 is possessed, so I am upgrading as soon as they invent that smart phone for dummies.
From the beginning of time, women have found strength in groups. I have never been much of a joiner; the only club I ever wanted to belong to was the ol’ boys club….just kidding. No, seriously though, once I longed to be included in – the exclusively male S Club, a group of Sterling High School boys, who owned the coveted Varsity letter S proudly worn on letter jackets. Fueled by Title IX, they finally allowed girls to join.
Mom stitches generations together
My mom’s generation knew the value of women’s social circles. As the ultra clubber, she belongs to a half dozen groups that support one another through life’s transitions. From sorority to AAUW to the Methodist church’s Rebecca Circle, Mom has always been a do gooder. She works at FISH (a food pantry) and plays chimes at church. Her Piecemakers Quilt Club creates quilts for babies, children and military people in hospitals and also holds auctions with profits going to local charities.Read more→
Like so many teachers, I push my body until the breaking point and then collapse. Luckily I work in a European school system, which schedules shorter summer, but more frequent breaks, about every 2 months. Next week is our Vacances de Pommes de Terres, the traditional fall holiday when students used to help families with the potato harvest.
Right on schedule, I am sick again from what feels like the influenza. I wish it was the influenza; the flu has a beginning and an end. At any time my multi-system inflammatory disease flare ups like a roaring beast in my body, clogging my lungs, inflaming brain cells, burning my throat and searing my eyes.
But hey, I don’t want a pity party. I am not alone in the battle to find a cure for disease and remedy for pain. My setback is just a reminder of other friends out there, who are coping with losses, facing surgery and fighting their own battles against cancer, chronic pain, and depression. No matter what our station in life, we are all part of the aging game.
I spend an inordinate amount of time in the dark, lying flat on my back and looking up struggling to stay positive. Here’s what helps keep me going.
Don’t believe everything your doctor tells you. YOU know your body best. When you suffer from chronic pain and fatigue, non-specific symptoms that doctors can’t always scientifically identify, you become a problem patient.
Use the tools of technology to reconnect with old friends from the comfort of your couch with an iPads and Laptops.
Call a sister! And I mean anyone in the broad sense of sisterhood. Most women (and some men, too) have that extrasensory sixth sense called empathy. Sometimes the best medicine is a good moan. Do what my sisters and I do. Time the gripe. After 5 minutes complaining about our arthritis, colitis, encephalitis– we change the subject.
Read! Literature is a great escape. If your eyes hurt like mine often do, listen to books on tape.
Get on your knees and pray for strength to whatever higher power guides you. Then, count your blessings aloud.
Lay flat on the floor, take deep breaths, and stretch.
Throw in a load of laundry – the washing machine does all the work, you feel a sense of accomplishment
Focus on someone else’s problem. Reach out to a friend, colleague, family member who is struggling with a call, email, or card.
Ask your significant other to make of dinner or get carry out. Even kids can call for a pizza delivery.
Remember what you do is not who you are! It’s okay to just be.
We measure our worth in dollars. How much we earn, how much we own, how much we produce, how much we accomplish, but the to do list is NEVER done, milestones to reach are endless and things to buy infinite.
In my darkest moments, when I feel so weary from the fight that I can’t go on on, I stop. I reflect on all the people who would miss me if I were no longer around. And think, oh heck, I can hang in there another day!
Bear with me as if I go off topic on my post this week. Four years ago, my Frenchman suggested I start a blog to replace my old newspaper column. Little did he know what he was getting into! I enrolled in Dan Blank’s Blogging 101 and How to Build An Author Platform and became a part of a Virtual writing group. My blogging buddy and cyberspace friend extraordinaire, Kathy Pooler of Memoir Writer’s Journey has nominated me for the Inspirational Blog Award.
Nominees are asked to list seven little-known facts about themselves and then pass this prize on to seven other deserving bloggers.
I was bit by rabid skunk when I was 18-months-old; I haven’t been quite right since.
I never carry a purse because it hurts my back.
I dropped out of creative writing class in college because I thought I couldn’t write.
I have Ledderhose Disease, (my first German-named ailment), a rare disorder where nodules grow in the arches of the feet.
I wore high heels only once on my wedding day.
I became a globetrotter, yet still confuse my right from my left and can’t read a map.
My little sisters and I used to prance in front of the picture window in pink nighties; we still dance together, only now we call it aerobics.
Here are 7 of my favorite blogs that I recommend.
1. Authentic Woman – with Clara Freeman, who keeps me real, challenging me to follow my passion and listen to the voice of my inner warrior
2. Life in the Expat Lane –with Missy Footloose, the Dutch ex-pat whose humorous perspective on living everywhere but her homeland, keeps me laughing
3. Du Jour – with Delana, a Minnesotan who pitched everything to start over in Provence France, keeps me in tune with my Frenchness
4. Coach Dawn – with Dawn Redd, Beloit College women’s volleyball coach, who gives me great coaching tips that can also be applied to real life
5. Self righteous Housewife –with Judy Zimmerman, the Erma Bombeck of suburbia, who keeps me chuckling over her family’s antics in the Windy City
6. One Big Yodel – with Chantal Panozzo, a young writer, who left her home of deep dish pizza for the land of cheese and chocolate
7. I also love Any Shiny Thing by my Californian friend, Lynne Spreen. Lynne has introduced me to a new blog worth checking out. Vonnie Kennedy’s Bloomer Notes Blog to help me stay healthy in my Middle Ages
Thanks to my global sisterhood of blogging buddies that keep me inspired!
As the guidelines go:
Link back to X-pat Files From Overseas
Reveal seven little-known facts about yourself
Nominate 7 of your favorite bloggers for the “Inspiring Blog Award”, contact the nominees and give them the guidelines.