Limericks to Help Us Cope

Enjoy these three topical limericks. The first I’ve ever shared.

There once was a group from SNL
They noticed an unusual media swell
Focused their skits on party gaffs
Poking fun, inducing laughs
Helped a nation collectively say “What the hell?”

——-

A liberal Democrat named Keene
Discouraged by the race of 2016
Reconciled to hope
Or at least not to mope
By mulling over what might have been.

——-

A lame, cocky billionaire named Rump
With the intellect of Forrest Gump
Distorted the facts
Obnoxious to the max
And somehow still got over the hump.

Poetry and Politics

Here’s a poem I wrote this month. Happy National Poetry Month!

In a Democrat’s Car

I’m at a red light
That hasn’t changed in months.
And I can’t see around the edge
Of the light
To see what the moving traffic sees.

My guiding word for this year is
Listen.

So, I’m sitting at this red light
Watching traffic
Zip by.

I’m listening.

The silence is damn deafening

Until I hear a verse from the Bible
In my head.

“’This is the day the Lord has made
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Though the reception was a bit fuzzy.
And I thought I heard

This is the conflict the Lord has made
Let us rejoice and deal with it.

Hmm. That’s odd.

Oh, the light is changing.
Finally.
Damn.
It’s caution.

——-

I’m also writing for a blog called Letters2Trump. Today’s post is mine and I get to write about once a month. I recommend reading them as often as you can stand thinking about the fact that Trump is really our President.

Help When We Need It

I was looking for encouragement, browsing through the books in my office (instead of cleaning it). Here’s a poem I happened upon from a book called Poems To Live By In Uncertain Times:

May 1915

Let us remember Spring will come again
To the scorched, blackened woods, where the
wounded trees
Wait, with their old wise patience for the
heavenly rain,
Sure of the sky: sure of the sea to send its healing breeze,
Sure of the sun. And even as to these
Surely the Spring, when God shall please,
Will come again like a divine surprise
To those who sit today with their great Dead, hands in
their hands, eyes in their eyes,
At one with love, at one with Grief: blind to the scattered
things and changing skies.

By Charlotte Mew

Being naturally curious, I wanted to know more about this poet who was new to me. Her biography is quite interesting.
You can learn about the World War I context of the poem, hear the poem read aloud, and read an analysis of the poem at this website. I’m sorry to say that I could not capture the exact form of this poem due to the odd formatting of this edublogs editor.

Something about that poem spoke to me. Maybe it was the hopefulness. The repetitive reminder that even in dark times (winter’s cold darkness, 45 and the gang, climate change…), Spring exists around the corner. Deep in the midst of our crazy lives, we need that reassurance sometimes — I do, anyway.

Singing also fills me with hope. Many times, I have willed myself to go to choir rehearsal. Even though the choir members and conductor are like a second family, sometimes I’m not in the mood to rehearse. However, I’m always filled up by singing. I always come out of rehearsal with my spirits filled and a song on my lips and heart. I sing with the Earl Nelson Singers and we sing this Saturday, February 18 at Bethel Seventh Day Adventist Church, which is 4817 Bristol Road (off Reo Road near the corner of Jolly and MLK) in Lansing. We are singing what I think is a very uplifting lineup of spirituals and gospel music:

WALK TOGETHER CHILDREN

OH, FREEDOM

I’VE BEEN ‘BUKED

AINT A THAT GOOD NEWS

KING JESUS IS A LISTENIN’

JUST TELL JESUS

WHEN YOU WANT TO TALK TO JESUS

JUST A LITTLE TALK WITH JESUS

UNDER HIS WINGS

I LOVE THE LORD

I BELIEVE (From the Gospel Mass)

LIFT EV’RY VOICE AND SING

THAT’S ENOUGH

Feel free to join us that morning!

Verna Holley, our director, just produced a new CD entitled “In a Time of Trouble” which is very comforting. It is made up of 15 hymn arrangements and is just beautiful. She may have some copies with her on Saturday.

Trying To Be Civil, Instructive, & Still Pissed

If you know me and you follow the link, below, you’ll know I wrote this letter. It’s theoretically to President Trump. I’d be happy if he read it and took it to heart. It’s what I would say to him if I met him. I don’t really believe he’s going to read it, so it’s really for you and for other people to read. It’s more of a reasonable approach than everything I mumble to myself about how the guy is ruining our country and there aren’t enough brave, insightful Republicans in Congress to stand up to him. Yes, I’m ticked. However, if I was standing in front of the guy, I’m not sure I could bring myself to show my true anger. Writing this first letter helped me re-learn civility. It has its place. I hope to write a letter a month for this new blog. And I suggest you read the amazing other letters on the website.

Here’s a link to my letter at Letters2trump

Strange Days, Indeed

I forced myself to watch Trump’s Inaugural address today. It was possibly the longest 17 minutes of my life. And (possibly) the first time I had heard Trump use complete sentences. I didn’t believe that much of it was sincere or realistic or coherent; however, it dawned on me that in the midst of this insane historical period, Trump has indeed benefited us in some ways:

* Putting his offending perspective in a place of power has spurred a large percentage of the U.S. populace into action. Many people that were not interested or involved in the governance of our country have been outraged just enough to get them to notice and act. The tremendous turnouts at all the inspiring Women’s Marches around the country and world are the most recent example. Many of the women and men that marched were new ‘marchers.’ This renewed energy in addressing and demanding our civil rights is a refreshing, hopeful sign, despite the cause. It’s already building community where it didn’t exist before.

* Somewhat related is the fact that people’s concern over what Trump will do to our nation has inspired more financial giving to causes. Time magazine reports that the ACLU and Planned Parenthood have received almost 80,000 donations since November. Other groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the Council on American-Islamic Relations have seen rises in volunteers and donations as citizens bolster their resources against potential anti-Muslim acts by Trump (according to the Atlantic). It’s unfortunate that our apathy or indifference waits until times like these, but it’s also encouraging that there still is a line that can be crossed; a line where we take matters into our own hands and act.

* Trump has made the office of President attainable for most anyone…with money. While it’s scary at the same time, his ascent to power points out the fact that most any (con) man can get there. It’s a call to (mostly white) (mostly male) hucksters to raise their bars. In a recent Miami Herald article, Carl Hiaasen addressed this issue head on. He wrote that “The surprise triumph of the Big Orange Trumpster is very much a story of hope. The message is simple: These days, anybody — absolutely anybody — can become president. You don’t need facts. You don’t need experience. You just need a good act.” (If you have the stomach for it, this is also the link where I watched Trump’s speech)

* Trump continues to be excellent fodder for Saturday Night Live (find their You Tube page and subscribe). We will need to laugh — often and to excess — if we are to survive the next four years. As long as Alec Balwin stays healthy, I plan on using SNL as my drug of choice. Trump may privately have stock in NBC…why else would he continually put his foot in his mouth so that the SNL writers have an easy job?

* Theoretically, Trump is inviting us to be involved in his presidency. Something called “We the People Petitions” are up on the White House website. We can each create a petition on the White House website on an issue that’s important to us. If your petition gets over 100,000 signatures from others concerned about the same issue, then the White House will “respond.” I’m not sure how they will respond or if it will have an affect on anything, but it’s something. The first petition to reach 100,000 signatures had to do with Trump needing to release his tax returns so the American people will know the extent of foreign influence on him due to his financial interests.

I worked hard to come up with those benefits of Trump’s existence in our lives. The costs are a bit easier to see:

* The President is often seen as a role model for our youth and Trump is a terrible role model. He works hard to characterize himself as an egotistical bully. That sort of person doesn’t respect others or listen to others. That’s not the role model we need in office.

* Trump is a foreign relations nightmare. His insistence that the Mexican government will be paying for a wall between us is ridiculous and demeaning, as is his suggestion that we may withdraw from NAFTA (I believe its pros outweigh its cons). He’s not a welcoming presence in the world and most newspapers around the world reacted to his inauguration speech with a defensive shock which included reminding him that he’s the son of an immigrant.

* He acts like facts don’t exist…when they really do. Even since he became President, his staff is already attempting to spread this mis-information virus. They couldn’t even agree with estimated numbers from his inauguration. I loved that Dan Rather spoke up about this, calling on the media and Republicans to defend fact-based news. Rather said

“So here is what I think everyone in the press must do. If you are interviewing a Paul Ryan, a Mitch McConnell, or any other GOP elected official, the first question must be “what will you do to combat the lying from the White House?” If they dodge and weave, keep with the follow ups. And if they refuse to give a satisfactory answer, end the interview.”

I’ll be curious to see if the press answers his challenge. It’s way past time to call Trump on his insistence to invent his own reality. Somebody has to stand up and shout that the emperor has no clothes.

Here’s a visual that may help in fighting fake news. It helped me. Some news is reputable, some is skewed, some just isn’t reputable.

Fight Fake news. Know who is reputable. 

* Trump has surrounded himself (if/when his Cabinet nominations go through) with an out-of-touch, billionaire club that will probably not help him “see” situations more clearly. While the advisory role of the Cabinet is a bit out-dated, picking experienced, fair-minded folks would seem prudent.

* ____________ (I’ve left room here for you to fill in your own “cost of having Trump as President.” Enjoy.)

I wrote the following poem a couple days ago. It gets at the shock and anger I’m feeling these days.

Since November

So this is how history happens —
Complete shock
Unable to take it all in,
I am a witness
To the downfall
Of the United States of America.

One tweet at a time
The dominoes fall
In an unbelievable series
Of unexpected events

That keep hitting me.
That bat just keeps hitting me.
Everyday I wake up to
A bat hitting me in the face
With the reality that
Our country has been
Dumbed down
From the top.

We have been hijacked
By terrorists from within,
Holding sanity hostage,

Holding logic for ransom,
Without a timeline
Without a clue
As to the ramifications
Of a vote
An untruth
A garble of nonsense
Coming from the POTUS
Of a minority sect
Who lounge in their idiocy.

This new America
Guided by a ring leader
Of mis-information
Can’t see the rabbit hole
Or understand the allusion
Or grasp the big picture
Of Mother Earth
Living the Scream painting.

We’ve kicked our own feet
Out from under us.
We’re falling and
It’s a
Long
Way
Down.

———-

P.S. Here are two more gems that fit the topic. First, Taylor Mali performs his latest poem. For me, it speaks to the mood of our time and the way language has been altered/perverted to get around facts and convictions. Also, here’s a classic from John Lennon — “Nobody Told Me” which speaks to the mirrors that are being used these days to present false realities. “Nobody told me there’d be days like these…Strange days, indeed!”

Sharing Our Stories

We are more alike than we are different. And we each have our own story. Our own history or herstory of success, of failure, and all those gray experiences in-between. Life is such an extraordinary mystery that we each live one day at a time. One moment at a time. Everyone, living their important lives, all at the same time.

I love biographies and autobiographies. I enjoy learning about how other (sometimes famous) people maneuvered their way through this lifetime maze. Funerals can also be learning moments; so many times, I am impressed by the story of a person’s life after his or her passing from this life. These aren’t usually objective tellings of the events of a person’s life. We don’t hear about the shortcomings at most funerals, though the occasional biography will include them. And how people handle the difficulties can be the most instructive elements of their lives. History, too, is incomplete, though. “The winners write the history books” as they say. It’s hard to get the actual story of what happened in people’s lives and in the country’s “life.”

These next two story-telling shows attempt to tell an intimate and often honest version of life experience:

Storycorps‘ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.
We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.”
It’s also a podcast and the interviews are archived at the Library of Congress in Washington.
In a recent Storycorps interview, Vernon Dahmer’s family recounted his last days fighting for voting rights for Blacks. His statement that “If you don’t vote, you don’t count” was a powerful message that I wish all U.S. citizens would take to heart.

On Being is a Peabody Award-winning public radio conversation and podcast, a Webby Award-winning website and online exploration, a publisher and public event convener. On Being opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live? We explore these questions in their richness and complexity in 21st-century lives and endeavors. We pursue wisdom and moral imagination as much as knowledge; we esteem nuance and poetry as much as fact.”
There’s a podcast and a mobile app, which I use.
Listening to Krista Tippet interview people reminds me of the importance of the skill of listening. It’s really the Rodney Dangerfield of English class. She affirms what people say, she asks to know more about the off-hand comment, she hears the feeling with which the words are said…she’s a listening pro and that magnifies her interviewing skill. One of my favorite interviews of her is when she interviewed the founder of Storycorps, David Isay; it’s called “Listening as an Act of Love.”

Other websites that share stories and opinions:

Youth Voices

Letters2Trump blog

Letters to the Next President

Soundcloud

The Remembering Site

The Life Stories Project

Biography.com
http://www.biography.com/

Open Library
https://openlibrary.org/help/faq/about#what

Some of my favorite biographies:

Dreams in the Mirror (about e.e. cummings)

Born Standing Up (Steve Martin’s autobiography)

Kiss Me Like a Stranger (Gene Wilder’s autobiography)

The Life and Wisdom of Gwen Frostic

Humans of New York

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to listen more. Reading biographies and autobiographies are one form of listening…listening to another person’s life story. I invite you to listen, too.

Focusing Back on the Cup

Politics is damn distracting — all sparkly, full of itself, and seemingly important. But I’ve decided to treat Politics like my dentist or proctologist — a necessary evil seen infrequently.

Instead, I’m focusing back on the cup with the water in it. You know the one. Sometimes it looks half full, sometimes it looks half empty depending on your perspective on life. I had a Facebook friend challenge me recently to look at my cup. At first, my cup looked empty. Just when I was starting to nod in agreement, I realized the evening light was playing tricks with my eyes. And I was too close to the cup anyway. As I backed up, the water level was right around half way and it dawned on me that my life is at least half full.

I have a steady, though small, regular income; I may be the last person on Earth to get a pension, but as of this writing I still have one. It’s roughly 33% of my previous income as a teacher, but it’s something. And I have numerous opportunities to make more money: Schuler Books gives me money for hanging out there and helping people find books they want; I’m writing an online unit for Youth Voices; and ASPPIRE of Mid-Michigan just asked me to job coach a bit more and teach a Personal Finance class soon. Maybe I can learn something from that Finance class to help me keep some of my savings in the bank. Retirement from teaching has given me time to read, to write, to exercise more often, and to volunteer in various places — all blessing to be sure.

Plus, I have a loving family and wife, I have my health, I live in a safe country without many natural disasters in my area, and my community/city (ELi needs your help) is a very diverse, close group of people. My faith in God also sustains me. Though I’ve struggled with seeing it clearly, God’s presence in my life is a constant reassurance and strength — definitely part of that full part of the cup.

That empty, top-half of the glass does concern me, but I’m trying to see it more for its opportunities. I don’t think we can ignore the half-empty part of the cup. It’s the yin to the cup’s yang; neither could exist without the other. There are the obvious, recent causes of looking at the cup as half empty: our President-elect has no experience to lead us and has surrounded himself with a bunch of like-minded, wealthy, self-absorbed puppets; millions of people voted for this guy; climate change is real and we’re not doing enough to stop it; our country is still incredibly racist and sexist at a deep level; we won’t address poverty in any real way so as to affect educational opportunities for a great many young people in any transformative way; too many people live in fear and lack hope for the future…. It’s overwhelming if you focus on it. I’m acknowledging all of it, but I’ve decided to take the Serenity Prayer approach to it as much as possible.

Here it is if you need a reminder:

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

Amen.

(prayer attributed to Reinhold Neibuhr, 1892-1971)

The things I can’t change just tend to infuriate me if I focus on them; I need to accept them and move on. I’m not saying it’s easy or even possible all the time, but that’s my goal. Other people…can’t change them. Who this country chose as a President…can’t change that. Deep breath. Moving on.

Even harder is having the courage to change the things I can change. Often that means rocking the boat and I’m not very good at that. But it needs to happen. I can call my senators and voice my concerns about Trump’s nominations (Check…did that today regarding DeVos). Not much rocking, but somewhat satisfying. Other, harder things involve digging deeper for courage: getting to know people of different races and cultures; working on improving relationships in my life; seeing a counselor when I need it; listening to people who think differently than I do; volunteering my time in ways that push my skills….

Yes, I see myself as a glass-half-full person. Life is good. I’m so grateful for the life I live. And The glass-is-also-half-empty. My life and the world could both improve greatly. I want to believe I’m learning to know the difference between what I can change and what I can’t…and I’m working to change those things I can.

Choosing Hope in the Midst of Shock and Anger

“Mother, may I take three giant steps forward?” Asked Hillary.

“NO WAY! But your bigoted bully of a step-brother can take one ridiculous step forward…for the win.”

We’ve been playing ‘Mother May I?’ with the mothers of all the characters from Deliverance and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. With bizarro Norma Bates from Psycho. With the cast of Bad Moms. With June Cleaver on crack. Mom is out to lunch.

Apparently we do have a third party in this country because he is not Republican in any real way. We have an I party. I stands for “I am fed up with the establishment.” I as in “I don’t think the President of the United States of America needs to respect other people.” The I party is all about ego and change. I’m usually a proponent of change, but this change seems like a step backwards.

The I in this third party doesn’t stand for Independent. What do we call ill-prepared people who lack common sense? That seems to be what he represents. It may rhyme with schmidiot. Yes, I’m angry. I’m angry mostly that many people didn’t vote. They had the opportunity, the right, the responsibility and they let others decide. I’m upset that so many women chose not to support Hillary Clinton. I can’t understand how they couldn’t see she was the best candidate and that it was time to have a woman lead us. I’m not saying she was the perfect candidate, only the better choice.

Here’s a look at the demographics of who voted for which candidate (somehow they produced this video only hours after the polls closed).

In the midst of my anger, however, I know that President Obama is correct in saying that we are Americans first (not Democrats or Republicans){Click here to hear his speech; I heard it live and was impressed that he gave it without notes/teleprompter}. He also exuded confidence that the new president will do what he thinks is best for America. I’m sure it was hard for him to give that speech, but he doesn’t disappoint; he was the epitome of class and respect — an inspiration to and model for us all.

The reality is that many people are fearful of this upcoming presidency. Van Jones called it a “nightmare” for many minorities and the whole outcome a “whitelash” against President Obama’s presidency. Judy, my wife, even said “This is worse than getting cancer (as a breast cancer survivor herself). When you get cancer it just affects you and the people around you. This (cancer/election) affects the whole world in a devastating way.” These are real concerns for about half the country. My hope is that our new president will work at mending and uniting…and that Clinton supporters will meet him halfway.

Over the past couple months, the Men’s group I’m in has been reading and discussing a sermon a week from Dr. Martin Luther King’s book Strength to Love. On Tuesday, we were talking about a sermon entitled “Shattered Dreams” that he wrote in a Georgia jail in the early 1960’s. He offered insights into how we can have hope and faith in the midst of dark times. It was yet another of his sermons that resonates 50 years after he wrote and shared it. He said that…

“the answer lies in our willing acceptance of unwanted and unfortunate circumstances even as we still cling to radiant hope, our acceptance of finite disappointment even as we adhere to infinite hope. This is not the grim, bitter acceptance of the fatalist but the achievement found in Jeremiah’s words, ‘This is a grief, and I must bear it.’…Ask yourself, ‘How may I transform this liability into an asset?’…Our most fruitful course is to stand firm with courageous determination, move forward nonviolently amid obstacles and setbacks, accept disappointments, and cling to hope. Our determined refusal not to be stopped will eventually open the door to fulfillment.”

As hard as it will be to come together, we must work toward that goal. We survived George W and though this may seem 10 times worse, let’s have faith, let’s be our best selves, let’s hope against hope that this is not the end…just an unexpected, challenging stage that we can overcome together.