Talking Story

Mainland Living

horses

 

My sixty year old neighbor at the end of the cul-de-sac phoned late this afternoon. We live in an area with only six homes over about 30 country acres, so it’s not your typical suburban cul-de-sac. Two of her horses were loose and she’d been chasing them for hours from property to property. She was calling me to see if anybody was home—besides me, since she knows I’m crap at horses—who could hop on one of our horses to help her wrangle hers home. Last seen her horses were munching on grass in a field near my house and she was worried they might get out on the busier road.

I felt terrible when I had to tell that none of our horses were at the house. They were all having a last summer hurrah at what I thought of as Pony Heaven—a wooded 100 acre parcel a few miles away filled with meadows, hills, and a running stream. In a few weeks they’d be back to their boring corrals at our house, stuck there through the long, cold winter. But for now all the summer parades and horse shows were over, and they were living the horsey high life.

She was tired, angry, and thoroughly over her rotten horses. Of course, her husband was out of town. Another ten minutes of chasing them, and I think she would’ve gotten a gun. She knows I’m not a horse person, so any of my suggestions—grain buckets, more help corralling them—was given a sniff of derision and a snapped, “I’ve already tried.” Frustrated that I didn’t have the solution she wanted, she hung up.

My husband had heard enough of my side of the conversation to know horses were loose and was already putting on his shoes. “I’ll come,” I said.

“You don’t have to. I got this.”

“She says they’re really naughty.”

“It’s okay.”

I grabbed my shoes, too. “How about I just go spot them for you?”

“Okay.”

I went out the front, down the road, and over to the field she’d last seen them. There they were, bold as brass, nibbling on the far side on top of a hill. When they spotted me watching them, they squealed and ducked behind the hill.

Yeah, they know they’re being bad.

A few minutes later my husband walked up the road carrying a couple of halters and a bucket of grain he’d snagged from our horse trailer.

“You’ve seen them?”

“Just over the hill. Want me to come?” I asked.

“Nah. Just stay here in case they make a break for it and head to the road.”

Off he went.

When he got close, the horses started to run, so he stopped, looked away from them, and stood shaking the bucket, the halters held out of sight behind his back. The horses moved away from him and started eating again. Working an angle, he moved closer to them, still holding and shaking the bucket. When the first horse turned to look at him, he immediately turned his back to them and  moved away, walking toward their house. The horses looked at each other and started walking quickly toward him. When they got close enough to nudge him, he turned and showed them the bucket, then kept walking away. They hurried to keep up with him and nudged him again. He stepped sideways and let them have a taste of the grain in his bucket. Then he walked away. They chased. He stopped and gave them more grain, this time slipping a lead through their headstalls. Caught, they meekly followed him back to their corral.

It took all of five minutes.

Later when I asked him about it, he said horses are a lot like people. They like to think they are getting away with something they shouldn’t. They like to think they are in charge. Chasing them only makes them think they are winning. You have to walk up with something they love and then deny it to them. You’re the boss and they have to recognize it. They have to decide they want what you’re offering more than freedom. You have to be the one that fulfills their desires. You make them come to you. You start with a bucket of grain, but you act like it’s all yours. They want it. You give them a taste and ignore the dangling ropes and halters for the moment because if you grab at them too soon, they’ll sense a trap and bolt. You make them love you. And once they do, you slip the halter or rope around them and they forget they’re much bigger and stronger. They’ll go exactly where you want them and will do what you ask of them.

Wow.

My horse whisperer of a husband thinks horses are just like people. Boggles the mind when you think it through, doesn’t it? Politics. Religion. Peer pressure. Professional organizations. There’s something to this.

What’s your bucket of grain, who’s holding it, and what freedoms are you giving up to eat it?

you_never_know_photo

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints recently put out a new video called You Never Know. Part of their Mormon Messages campaign, it’s about nine minutes long and tells the story of a young mother whose day is much like the days I remember when my kids were small. The best laid plans go out the door. It’s the kind of day where you make a list and nothing gets crossed off, but you’re running every single minute.

The video makes several points, not the least of which is that we never know all the good we do with our small acts of kindness. It’s meant to inspire, uplift, and celebrate the everyday things we do as Christ’s hands.

But in my mind it misses the mark.

You see there’s a whole sub-plot of the mom and her cousin. From the very beginning you know that at some point in the evening the mom is supposed to meet her cousin at the airport for a mini reunion during the cousin’s two hour layover. It’s on the calendar. The mom has gotten a babysitter. The cousins are texting back and forth. This is clearly a Big Deal. The clock is ticking people. This mom is on a deadline.

But in fiction as in life, things get in the way. Throughout her day, the mom chooses the inconvenient choice in every situation. She prepares her picky daughter a second breakfast. She glues her son’s forgotten science fair project together before school. She watches a neighbor’s drop by child and brings her needy sister lunch at the park. She tries to take crafty photos of her uncooperative toddler. She even prepares and delivers a last minute supper to a family with a new baby—after forgetting to turn the oven on. Things push her day so off schedule, she never makes it to the airport. The mom is sad, weepy, and not a little frustrated at the end of the day.

And because this is fiction, we get to see how her decisions to do the inconvenient thing—always—helped so many people. Her son wins the science fair. Watching the neighbor’s child allows the parents time to deal privately with a medical tragedy. The sisterly pep talk leads to bigger and better things in her sister’s career. The last minute meal helps a couple keep going through those long new baby nights.

During these images, there’s a voice over message that says it’s all okay—we’re not failures. We simply we never know how much good we do.

It’s as subtle as a hammer. The writers, actors, and director increase the tension and risk at each plot point—the video is designed to trigger a tsunami of  emotion. I get that. But to an analytical mind who crafts stories for a living—at least this one who used to be a video director and was once a mom with small children—the whole scenario rapidly becomes absurd.

At the end the message left me with the unfortunate takeaway that good mothers sacrifice everything. Instead inspiring or encouraging, to me it’s more an homage to ideals of motherhood as self-sacrifice—the exact opposite of what I think the video was trying to say.

Here’s how I’d fix it.

If they’d asked me, there would be no cousin coming to visit. The focus would be on the long list of things—all worthwhile and important to the mom and her family—that the mom plans to accomplish.

Let’s assume everything else stays the same. (Although if I were really writing it, lots would change here, too.) Throughout the day the mom gets the same derailing problems and makes the same choices. Her frustration comes not from missing her cousin, but from not checking things off her list.

Think about it. In my version there’s a moment at the end of the day where she sits at a table with Fruit Loops stuck in dried milk, dots of glitter glue trailing over the placemats, and the morning’s congealed eggs on a plate. She looks at her house and list and shakes her head. She didn’t sew the costumes. She didn’t sort the old winter clothes and run them to a charity shop. She didn’t use the peaches and now they’re spoiled. She didn’t update her blog with cute photos like she promised her mother. She’s a failure. She didn’t do one important thing she set out to do.

Then the voice over comes telling us that we never know the good we do. We see the same results of her choices, but this time at the end, she raises her head. She grabs the pen and writes all the things she did do that day and crosses them off the list. She sits back in contemplation of her choices and realizes she did the work God set for her—the truly important things. She laughs at the cereal stuck to her elbow and says tomorrow is another day. She climbs into a bubble bath with a magazine. There are candles lit around the tub. Later she says a prayer of thankfulness that she could be Christ’s hands and asks for guidance tomorrow. She goes to bed tired, but empowered.

That’s the message.

At least the one I’d want to tell.

country_walkTonight near midnight I had a nagging urge to check the horses, one of those niggling feelings along the back of my neck that wouldn’t let go. I called the dogs from my daughter’s room, slipped on my flip flops, grabbed a flashlight, and headed out the door. There was no moon, but it was light enough to see the way to the corral. Brownie came to the rail to greet me with a nicker and a slight cough I’ll check in the morning. All seemed well, so after a few pats and a double-check on the water, I headed back to the house. That’s when I heard it–the long, low cry of the wolf pack. Not close, in the hills a few miles away, I think, but it’s been a couple of years since I’d last heard them call. Wildlife officials say there are no wolves in these parts, but they are mostly nine to fivers. You have to be a night owl to run with the wolf pack. Keeping the dogs in tonight.

books_3

The librarian called me a liar.

“There’s no way you read those books! You just took them home yesterday. You’re trying to cheat!”

Now a wiser child would’ve simply said something like, “No, ma’am! I live thousands of miles away, but I’m spending the summer with my grandparents. I don’t know any local kids, and my grandparents are happier if they can’t hear, see, or smell me, so I spend my days perched in the top of an old oak tree with an apple, a bottle of Coke, and a couple of books. I’ve already read every word in their house twice which is why I’m back at the library for more.”

But I all I heard was cheat and that hurt my pride.

“I did too read those books! You don’t want to sign my book log because you’re afraid I’ll win the prize!”

Yesterday the sign was the first thing I saw when I entered the tiny public library. In big, bold letters it announced the annual summer reading program with the prize of a free ticket to the magical land of Lagoon for any kid who read one hundred books. I’d heard of my cousins speak of Lagoon in the hushed tones reserved for church or when Grandpa was napping. “It makes Saratoga Springs look like the dinky Strawberry Days Fair,” they said. Saratoga Springs with its waterslides and rows of skee-ball alleys was the bomb-diggity. Lagoon, I figured, was a ten year old’s version of paradise. If I got a free ticket, my grandparents would have to take me.

But that would never happen if this dried prune of a librarian kept giving me heat, saying I didn’t read the three measly books she let me borrow a whole lifetime and twenty-six hours ago. I crossed my arms and stuck out my bottom lip.

She raised an eyebrow and picked up the top book from the pile, Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott. “So when Kitty married Mac—”

“Kitty never married Mac,” I interrupted. She married Steve. Rose married Mac.”

She sniffed. “You read it before.”

“Nope.” I picked up Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. “I did see this movie, but it was called Willy Wonka. In the movie Charlie and Grandpa Joe find the golden ticket, but in the book only Charlie does. I liked the book better.” The last novel was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I held it up. “I loved this. I want to be Meg and have a brother like Charles Wallace. Do you have any more like this one?”

She narrowed her eyes, but grabbed her rubber stamp and dated my log, scrawling her initials next to each title. The war with the librarian was on.

Almost every day I’d walk the two miles each way from my grandparent’s house to the library, toting the three books she let me borrow in the horrific July heat, stopping to splash in the irrigation ditches and to check if the pawdawadames that grew along the banks were ripe. Each day with the bitter taste of too-sour plums teasing my tongue, I’d get quizzed on the books I returned and watched as the librarian reluctantly stamped my official reading log.

I drove her nuts checking out every book deemed fit for children in her library. I read all the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and The Three Investigators mysteries on the shelves and moved on to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books. I escaped into Narnia, Middle-earth, and Pern. Huck Finn, Tom, Becky, and I explored the Mississippi, and once I went to a strange planet where all the aliens were made of mushrooms. To this day, I can’t remember the author or book title, but I remember how the space children had to eat boiled eggs. I detested boiled eggs.

The summer I turned ten should’ve been lonely, but with my book friends and imagination I was never bored. I rode my aunt’s old bike around town, played in tennis tournaments, impressed my land-locked cousins by jumping off the high dive, and peeled mountains of cucumbers for my grandmother’s refrigerator pickles, but mostly I read. I discovered that books didn’t care what you looked like, what you wore, or where you came from. Unlike people, you could put them down and pick them right up where you left off, ready to entertain, amuse, and amaze.

Years later when I was studying how people learn, one of my professors talked about how reading with speed and fluency were the most important things for a child to learn. In fact, from kindergarten to sixth grade, average kids who spent only twenty minutes a day of their free time in silent sustained reading were guaranteed to score in the ninetieth percentile on standardized tests regardless of IQ. Like a basketball player working the free-throw line after practice, it was a matter of building muscle memory and neural pathways. In a year, those daily twenty minutes compounded into more than one million additional words read. During tests this was a huge advantage because more time could be spent figuring out the best answer and less on reading through the questions. Studies showed that any sustained reading—comic books, magazines, newspapers, the backs of cereal boxes—as long as a reader stuck to it for a significant amount of time, it helped improve reading speed and fluency.

I never imagined that while I was reading about flying dragons, I was really preparing for SATs and earning college scholarships.

The take away here for parents is that we should worry less about grade level appropriateness and vocabulary building—just those concepts alone are enough to turn kids off reading—and more about finding stories that keep kids engaged. It’s sad, but true that my son taught himself to read when I finally refused to tell him what each of his Pokémon cards said. Highly motivated, he learned to read. I’ve seen similar things happen when kids discover Amelia Bedelia, Encyclopedia Brown, or Harry Potter. For some kids reading becomes fun when they discover stories about world records, survival tips, or sports heroes. With sustained reading as the goal, the right kinds of books make all the difference. Libraries with their varied offerings are exactly the kind of smorgasbord kids crave.

It was late in the afternoon and I was leaving for my Hawaiian home in the morning when I returned my last borrowed books to the Pleasant Grove Library. “See?” the librarian smirked, “I knew you couldn’t do it.”

A smarter kid would’ve shrugged, knowing there was no time left in the summer for a trip to Lagoon. I went to the baby section and read thirteen picture books. “Here,” I said, dumping them on her desk, “one hundred!”

“Those don’t count!”

“Your sign says books. These are books. I bet you’ve never given a ticket away. You probably don’t even have one. The whole summer reading program is a scam!”

When I walked into my grandmother’s house, I handed my golden ticket to my nine year old cousin. Lagoon, she later wrote in my Christmas card, was glorious.

ebook_bookSummer used to mean trips to the library, at least once a week and usually more often. Books had to be gathered from under beds and behind car seats and children rounded up and loaded into those same seats, wiggling with anticipation over the new stories they’d discover and bring home.

Often we’d get sidetracked and end up grabbing a shave ice from a local teenager sweltering in a temporary shed covered in plastic raffia. I used to keep baby wipes in the car so sticky tiger’s blood wouldn’t dot the new book covers.

But now things are different. Last week my 14 year old daughter asked if I could take her to the library. I turned away from my computer, blinking.  It’s the middle of July and I haven’t had a single strawberry shave ice. We’ve driven by the library a zillion times. Why haven’t we stopped in?

Oh, man. Does this mean I’m a terrible mother? My kids are not reading this summer. They are going to fail their SATs and end up addicted to video games and living in my basement until I die, a cold Diet Coke clutched in one hand and a dusty library card in the other.

Quick! How many books do they have to consume in the weeks before school starts to catch up? 10? 20? We’ll give up tv. We’ll give up sleep.  We’ll—

“Mom? Did you hear me? Can we go to the library? Or can you at least recommend something from your eBook collection? Since I can’t pick up the books and check the back, I don’t know what’s good.”

Oh, yeah. EBooks. Between gifts, subscription services, and purchases, there are thousands of books in my digital library for the kids to choose from. “Son,” I yelled up the stairs, “what are you reading?”

The 16 year old peeked over the railing. “Last week I read Brandon Sanderson’s newest. Yesterday I finished the entire Sherlock Holmes collection and I’ve started on Terry Pratchett.”

“So you don’t want to go to the library?”

He waved his smart phone at me. “Whatever for?”

My daughter said, “Well, I want to read The Fault in Our Stars.”

“Mom’s got it,” he replied. “Check her Amazon account.”

“I also wanted dystopian.”

“Mom’s got the Legends series.”

“I want books.”

I get where she’s coming from. There’s something about holding a book, measuring your progress through it, trying to slow down when you know the end is coming up and you war with yourself over wanting to prolong the journey as much as you want to find out what happens.

I also know that eBooks are immediately available and infinitely more portable.

At the library, I wasn’t surprised that when my daughter borrowed Legend  by Marie Lu  she had to  put her name down on the wait-list for the next books in the series, Prodigy and Champion. It’s popular and there were four or five kids ahead of her. I also wasn’t surprised when she came to me at 11 pm asking how to download the final two books.

The desire to know what happens next crushed the book purist in her.

And now I fear I’ll have to find new excuses to make summer shave ice runs. But the kids are reading. Won’t have to finish the basement after all.

chalk_men_womenAfter many years of thinking of myself as a feminist, I’ve realized that I’m not. That definition has become too loaded with baggage I don’t want to carry any more. There’s a particular brand of feminism that proclaims if you’re a feminist, then you’re for everything womyn and against everything male. Modern feminist rhetoric lost me when their pendulum swung so far that it’s no longer about gender neutrality, but feminine superiority.

That’s just swapping one form of tyranny for another. If you haven’t picked-up on it yet, I have a low tolerance for bullies.

Now I absolutely support wage equality, shattering glass ceilings, and social, economic, educational, and political parity. Ain’t nobody gonna put Baby in the corner, right? So if that’s how you define feminism, preach, sister, preach.

In my head, what these ideas have in common is that they’re all about how groups of humans work and live together. I think most of us would agree that the rules, expectations, and opportunities in a secular society should be gender neutral.

However, it’s at the individual level where much of what modern feminists beat their drums over loses me, particularly when they start placing value judgments against women who choose differently than they do and claim that all differences between men and women are irrelevant. A lot of feminists groups are drawing hard lines in the sand and to my surprise some of those lines exclude me.

If being a modern feminist means fitting into a narrow definition and being anti-male, I’m going to have to pass.

Besides, some of the finest human beings I know are male. It’s not gender, it’s attitude.

welcome_home_signNot surprisingly, some people disagree with my criticism of the 2014 Rainbow Family Gathering which is happening in the Uintah National Forest just a few miles from my home. Here’s a sample:

“But Lehua, where is your Christian charity? We should welcome everyone with open arms. You’re judging and that’s wrong.”

Or words to that effect. It’s a PG blog after all.

Charity is something I take very seriously. I feel that as someone who has been given much, I have a responsibility to give back in continuous and significant ways. I give generously not only in money and goods, but in time as well. And unlike many of the people who disagree with me, I’ve also traveled enough to know what real need looks like. This isn’t it.

To the Christian (or Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist or Flying Spaghetti Monster) charity proponents, I’d like to point out that the Rainbow Family is composed of people who are choosing to come here and break the law by camping longer than anyone else is permitted to and without paying required fees or even providing for modern sanitation services. These are not people fleeing a natural disaster, military coup, or economic downturn. These are not down on their luck, brother can you spare a dime panhandlers. Regardless of whether or not you believe in their message of peace, love, and dubious hygiene, they are lawbreakers amassing in a number that allows them to act this way.

We have another name for people who think they are special like this: bullies.

Funny, we spend a lot of time and energy teaching children that bullying behavior is wrong. We tell them that  it’s not okay to simply take what they want. We teach them to take responsibility for their actions, to think of others, and to understand that might does not make right. To do other than this is to act as a selfish elitist.

No matter how much the Rainbow Family preaches love, tolerance, and acceptance, by their actions you know them for what they truly are: bullies.

I’m not going to welcome them and encourage this behavior. It’s the equivalent of telling a child that it’s okay that the bully takes his lunch money. He needs it.

That’s not charity. That’s victimhood.

I’m calling a bully a bully, and if that makes me uncharitable in your opinion, fine. Don’t expect me to be handing out sandwiches or spare change or giving away blankets or coats this summer to the panhandlers who have already hit me up.

I’m giving my charity to people who really need it.

The first Rainbows arrive in Uintah National Forest 2014.

The first Rainbows arrive in Uintah National Forest 2014.

I’d always assumed if I was paying for a party, I’d at least get to pick the guest list.

Wrong.

I am soooo tired of special.

This year, the Rainbow Family has chosen Uintah National Forest for their annual gathering. It’s a pristine chunk of federal land that starts just a few miles from my front door. It’s breathtakingly beautiful up there. Being so close, I’d always wished I could park my camper in a prime location and run back and forth all summer long, but there are laws that don’t allow camping in one spot for more than 14 days. Rangers keep track of who’s camping where and if you’re out fishing or hiking when they stop by, they’ll thoughtfully leave notes telling you how many more days you can stay. To camp in the Uintahs all summer, you have to break camp and move at least five miles every 14 days. That way everyone gets a chance to enjoy the area.

Unless you’re the Rainbow Family.

You see, they’re special. The rules don’t apply to them.

2013 Gathering in Montana.

2013 Gathering in Montana.

Let me tell you a little bit about the Rainbow Family. They claim to have no leader or leadership; if you have a bellybutton, you’re in. Call them counter-culture, hippies, or alternative life-stylers, nobody applies or signs a permit, pays a fee, or is accountable for the group’s actions. Through magical group consensus—maybe it’s a homing instinct—a place for their annual gathering is selected about two weeks before the big shindig. You know your town’s the gathering place when they start showing up. The media takes care of the rest of the invitations.

In 2014 the only town near their gathering place is my town, a rural high-desert valley community of 12,000 residents misnamed Heber City. Heber’s small enough that the tellers at the bank, checkers at the grocery store, waiters at the diner, and the guy who takes the movie tickets know me well enough on sight to ask how my daughter’s soccer team is doing. We’re also remote; our nearest neighboring towns are 30 minutes away in different directions through winding canyons at freeway speeds. We’ve learned to watch out for deer, elk, and the occasional moose crossing.

Living on the outskirts of Heber on the main road to the Uintah National Forest, my neighbors and I have never locked our doors. Seriously. When the sheriff told us we had to start locking up our houses, sheds, garages, and barns because Rainbows are opportunists, we all had to run 25 miles to the nearest Home Depot. In my case after 15 years, we couldn’t find a key. Many of our garages and sheds don’t have closing doors. Hell, half the cars and pick-ups in the valley are left unlocked with the keys in the ignition. Yes, Virginia, there really is a place like this in 2014 America.

Conservative estimates think we’ll get 10,000 to 15,000 Rainbow Family members, although they admit some gatherings have been as high as 30,000. The big event is July 4th with most arriving before July 1st and staying through July 7th , but some stay all summer.  The Rainbow Family Council started showing up mid-June and selected their main campsite June 15th. Like busy beavers, they’ve been setting up satellite camps since.

June 15th to July 1st to July 7th to…wait a minute…

But it’s okay. They’re really nice people with just a few bad apples giving the group a bad name; we know because they say so.

I’m calling shibai. Here’s the real deal.

The Rainbow Family has held yearly gatherings since the early 1970s. They are fully aware of their impact on small communities—in fact, so aware that they target them. Like modern day locusts, they descend waving flags of free speech, the right to assemble, and freedom of religion while thumbing their noses at laws that govern the rest of us. They gather in such large numbers with no advanced warning that communities are overwhelmed. They camp on federal land which is under Federal, not local jurisdiction. The only way to enforce the laws already in place is to send in the National Guard to root them out. No Fed wants pictures of flower-wielding, kumbaya-singing hippies forced at gunpoint to break camp splashed across the news. So the Federal attitude is live and let live. Besides it’s not like they’re camping on the steps of the White House.

As hopping mad as we get, Heber City’s 12,000 tax paying residents simply do not carry much juice with the Feds. We’re not even a rounding error in their calculations.

Heber City and Wasatch County taxpayers will be left picking up the tab for everything from the trash Rainbows leave behind—I don’t care if they claim to bag it all up, somebody at some point is going to have to haul it out of the mountains and pay to put it in a landfill—to the overtime cost for EMT, police, fire, and all the other civil services needed to manage a double or tripling of our population. Of course, there’re also softer costs like vandalism, petty theft, theft of services, unpaid hospital visits, and drains on the local food pantry and disaster relief services. Rainbows are quick to point out that local business benefit from their arrival, but the math doesn’t add up. Previous Rainbow Gatherings have left behind bills of more than $500,000 in services alone—that’s more than $4,000 per resident in Heber City—bankrupting already thin county coffers. This is not an exaggeration. During last year’s gathering in Montana the governor issued a state of emergency to help defray the fiscal impact. Look it up.

And the Rainbow Family knows this.

And they don’t care.

rainbowgathering

2013 Gathering in Montana.

So don’t tell me how wonderful they are. Really wonderful people pass the magic hat and pony up impact fees, group permits, stay no more than fourteen days, and pay for porta-potties instead of digging slit latrines. Yeah, that’s right. Their waste management plan is slit latrines and campfire ash. Don’t even think about the fact that a human creates about .8 lbs. of solid waste a day. With 15,000 people, that’s about six tons per day. In pristine wilderness. A day.

But I have to give them credit. Next time I want to camp on federal land all summer and dump my black water into a slit latrine instead of hauling it to a sewage treatment facility, I’ll just tell the Ranger I’m with the Rainbow Family.

After all, I have a bellybutton, too.

windmills

Tilting at windmills is exhausting.

I should know. For the last few years I’ve been waving my sword at giants, huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf, certain in the rightness of my cause. There is no drug or drink as heady as righteous indignation, for when you are certain that you are right, that you are the only person who can see the truth through the fog that surrounds everyone else, anger pours out like honey, a thick amber goo that seeps into the cracks of everything it touches and sticks and sticks and sticks.

It’s comforting to wallow in how the world should be, to bemoan the state of things, to think that if people would just shut-up and do it my way, they’d see the light. Honestly, the world would be a much better place if everyone just did what I thought they should.

When it’s put like that, it’s much easier to see the pride and arrogance for what it is. In my case, I think I had to run out of steam before I could finally stop and stand there, panting and wiping the sweat off my brow, suddenly realizing that those giants were really windmills. Not only was it impossible to defeat them, defeating them was really not the point.

Huh.

I’m not going to go into long explanations about my particular windmills—at least not here in a blog post. I will say that a leaky jar of honey can spill over from one area to another until everything is a sticky mess. I worked up a full-head of steam of righteous indignation that finally got me so mired in despair that no progress in any direction was possible—the very opposite of what I was so desperately pushing for.

A hard truth about life is that there are some things we cannot change. Rather than weeping and wailing, gnashing our teeth at the injustices, and demanding that the world accommodate us, I think we need to step back. You can’t stop the ocean waves, but you can figure out how to avoid rolling up the beach spitting sand.

Again.

There’s a freedom that comes from ending the pursuit of control over the uncontrollable. It allows you to take the reins over what is in your power even if it’s only your own reactions.

When you stop fighting the waves or tilting at windmills, you give yourself the power and permission to surf.

Didn’t think of that didja, Don Quixote?

 

 

2014 Dodge Challenger SRTI’m having a mid-life crisis.

I need a new car. In our family, a new car takes years to purchase. My husband researches, test drives, compares. He considers the possible uses we’ll put it to—road trips, pulling horse trailers or boats, or simply running around town—and he figures out which models will work best. He reads all about the upcoming developments, the power train ratios, mileage, traction, and braking systems, and basically overwhelms me with spreadsheets of facts, figures, and options. I say uh-huh and ignore it all until he narrows his list down to one. That’s when I finally break down and say let me drive it.

My list is shorter. Do I like the colors inside and out? Is there a convenient place for my drink? When I stomp on the gas and turn sharply, does the back-end break loose in a plume of smoke and handle like I stole it?

Yeah, I care about the go. Don’t talk to me about fuel efficiency, warranties, the sound system, or on-board navigation. When I have to merge on the freeway, I don’t want that pause in the engine, that I think I can moment, to get in the way of the zoom.

If I drive it and like it and it’s on the lot, I buy it. My husband knows this, so he manages the test drives very carefully. If it’s not on the lot—wrong color or missing a key feature—we’ll order it. Salesmen like that about us until it comes to the negotiation. One foolish dude once said, “I can’t believe you’re walking away over a $300 difference!” I snapped, “I can’t believe you’re losing a sale over $300 you’ll get back in dealer incentives.” “What incentives?” “If you don’t know about your own current corporate pricing structures, get me someone who does. And no, I don’t need oil change coupons, either.” My husband’s research is annoyingly thorough and it makes him laugh when I’m the one going toe to toe with the big bad dealership. But that’s another post.

So we need a new car. It’s been fourteen years since I bought my decked-out Durango RT. That’s another thing about our family. We buy new and keep them forever. We’ve had other cars since, but not one that’s mine.

After several years, my husband’s narrowed it down to a diesel Jeep Grand Cherokee, either a completely loaded Limited or a Summit edition with a tow package. While we were waiting for the Grand Cherokee’s brand spanking new diesel engines to hit the showrooms,  I test drove everything in its class from a Porsche Cheyenne to an Audi Q5 and Q7 to a Volkswagen Touareg. He’s right. I like the Jeep Grand Cherokee best. It’ll do everything I need it to do and more.

But.

And this is where the mid-life crisis comes it. My eyes are wandering to the cute convertible VW Bug in candy white outside the grocery store. At the park I ran over to check out an orange racing-striped convertible Mini Cooper and swooned. Then there was the sleek deep green Jaguar parked in front of a restaurant. When I was supposed to be looking at Grand Cherokees at a Dodge/Jeep dealership, a Challenger SRT8 in classic plum crazy purple whistled at me. How ya’ doing darling, he said.

Hellooo, big boy! I called and trailed a finger across his hood while he purred.

My husband shakes his head. No way he’s driving a girl car like a VW Bug or Mini Cooper. Might as well get a Prius and take away his man-card. He says if I want a convertible, let’s check out a BMW or maybe a used Audi.

Used? Nah.

We’ve had convertibles and I loved them for about four months out of every year. In our souped-up Miata I’d drive with the hard-top off in winter, heater blasting full blast, ears numb by the time I got where I was going. But too often I had to drive with either the hard or ragtop up, more because of where I was parking in the city than the weather. Hate, hate, hated dealing with the tops. And all that rear wheel power made it tricky in the snow. A few times during record snowfalls, we had to wait for snow plows to clear our street before we could make it up the hill to our house. Unfortunately, we live much higher in the mountains now. Snow and icy canyons and hills are a sucky fact of life.

Plus convertibles are low slung. Sexy, but hell to climb in and out of on my bum Achilles’ tendon.

Sigh.

When I mention the Challenger, he’s wary. But you hate sedans, he says. You’re always complaining about the seat belts getting tangled in the doors and the trunk’s never quite what you want it to be. He’s right. Sedans make me twitch.

Double-sigh.

cherokeeI also know he’s right about the diesel Grand Cherokee. It does have great zoom, cargo space, and sits high on the road. There’s enough space for a couple of adults to comfortably road trip in the back seat. It could tow a boat, small horse trailer, or even the ultralight camper. It’s easy to handle, park, and if I turn off all the annoying auto-driving helpers and chatty navigation systems, I’ll probably like it. As much as the cute, sporty, and outright muscle cars are whispering their siren songs, I know it’s a mid-life crises.

But this time I’m insisting on Deep Cherry Red. A girl has to have some standards.