Monday, April 24, 2017

March for Science

I saw a lot of brilliant, creative signs at the march,
but this one succinctly summed up my own feelings.

On Saturday, I attended the March for Science in Washington D.C. This march was intended for scientists, but also "science enthusiasts." I'm an analyst which is similar to a scientist, only we work with data and not the natural world. Anyway, it's not like you had to show your science cred to participate, although it was clear that many, many people at the march were genuine scientists.

Originally, three of my children were going to go with me, but for various reasons, had to cancel. That was OK because I had plans to meet with a friend who was traveling down to the march from Pennsylvania. Brigid made this fantastic sign for me out of an old shower curtain. "Mama" = Mother Earth.

I rode up on a bus full of other marchers and when we arrived and parked at RFK Stadium, I set off alone on the three and a half mile walk to the Washington Monument. It was a nice walk and, as at the Women's March, many of the houses along the way had pro-immigration, anti-racist, and anti-Trump signs displayed in their yards or windows. Trump seems to be deeply unpopular in Washington. 

One of the signs I liked - Approaching the security checkpoint.

The crowd swelled as I approached the monument and we were all funneled through a security checkpoint for a bag search. Once through security, the crowd was very tightly packed, and it had started to rain. I draped my handy waterproof banner over my back like a cloak, and it did a good job of keeping me dry, but people kept stepping on it, and the wetter it got, the harder it was to hold around myself. Then I realized that the ink was running off and my fingernails were black, so I reluctantly folded it up and carried it in one hand. 

Selfie with Shower Curtain

It was, I have to admit, intensely uncomfortable. The rain was lashing down now and it was cold and muddy, with medieval-grade filth in a wide margin all around the portapotties. (Which were, I was pleased to note, "Don's Johns" - the same used at the inauguration and about which Trump insisted that the word Don be covered up.) I stood on a manhole cover - a tiny island in the mud, while my friend and I kept missing eachother's texts and my brain began another weary round of depression thoughts. What a stupid and useless person I must be, not to be able to manage a shower curtain and an iphone simultaneously in the pouring rain. 

We cared enough to brave these muddy conditions

Rain lashing down. Mine wasn't the only sign with runny ink.
(Actually, I saw another sign that said, "Now I AM a mad scientist.")

But then my friend Laura and her daughter and their friend found me on my manhole cover island and things were better after that. It was still raining and freezing, but it was nice to be together. The first part of the event was a rally with speeches and music. (I arrived just in time to hear Bill Nye speak!) At 2:00pm, the actual march started, in which we would all walk to the Capitol Building. We were eager to march, if only because moving might help us warm up a bit. The entire rally area was fenced off, with the only exit through the narrow security checkpoint. Luckily, someone realized that this wasn't a good situation and took away some of the fencing and we all poured out into the street. The crowd was so dense, that after the initial surge, we stood at a standstill for quite a long time. The rain cleared for a bit, but then started again.

Here are a few pictures I took - the conditions for photography were terrible.

Crowd density during the march

Above is my friend Laura's daughter's sign. It perfectly captures what I wish politicians would understand. Climate change trumps everything! If we don't have a planet, we have nothing. Do jerks like Trump really not care that they are destroying life for future generations? Is it really worth it to sacrifice the lives of billions of people so that a tiny few can get rich? This shortsightedness for the sake of instant gratification is truly baffling to me. And, and, let's just say that climate change isn't caused by human behavior? Even if that were true, WHERE IS THE HARM IN REDUCING EMISSIONS AND INVESTING IN GREEN ENERGY? It could be an economic boom, I DON'T understand the resistance to it.

Steminist - very nice

Eventually we started moving and marched our way up to the Capitol, where the march ended. The program suggested that everyone would "peacefully disperse" at the end of the march, which is more or less what happened, although a lot of people stuck around to take pictures. On a tree near the Capitol Reflecting Pool, Laura and I hung a yarnbomb I'd made for the occasion. It was gratifying to step away from the tree and immediately see a group of people notice it and take pictures.

Impeach Trump

Laura took this picture of me at the end of the march.
Nice capture of the random Buffalo Bills poncho! Go Buffalo!

My bus wasn't scheduled to leave Washington until 7:00 PM, so I had three hours to kill. We walked in the general direction of RFK stadium and stopped in a burrito place. I'd eaten nothing since 6:00 am. It was so good to get out of the cold and sit down! The actual air temperature wasn't really all that cold - upper forties or low fifties - but when you are soaking wet from head to toe in fifty degree weather for over five hours, you are very cold indeed. My hands and arms were so cold and wet I was unable to unzip my jacket, could barely pick up a pen to sign the receipt for my meal, and was unable to sign my name but managed a sort of scrawl. But the food was delicious and the warm bowl returned the function to my hands. I dug into my bag for the sweater I'd packed and found it buried under the wet and inky shower curtain I'd stuffed into the bag and carried all over town. Laura's bus left at 5:00, so they said good bye. I found a cozy coffee shop on North Carolina Ave and waited there with a latte until it was time to get my bus.

Despite the rain and discomfort, I'm glad I attended the March for Science. If a march has a good turnout, it sends the message to our elected representatives that the people are serious about this issue. I read here that the estimated attendance at the DC march was 40,000 people. That's a lot of people who were willing to give up their Saturday and endure being cold and wet for the sake of humanity and the sake of our planet. Without science, we are doomed.

Did any of you make it to your local march, or the one in DC? Anyone have plans to attend the Climate March this Saturday? (I'm not, it's a bit much for me to go to DC two weekends in a row, but if there's a sister climate march in Charlottesville, I'll go to it.)

Monday, April 17, 2017

last week

Last week was terrible. So terrible that on Tuesday, when I went upstairs after work to put my things away, and discovered that flying ants were swarming all over the windows in one of the bedrooms, I just shrugged and decided to deal with it later. And then just went about my business, with ants swarming everywhere. And here is the thing: the ant swarm was only the third-worst thing to happen to me that week AND IT WAS ONLY TUESDAY.

On Tuesdays I go to a support group thing, so I went to that and left the ants to themselves. I told my support group about the worst worst thing and I'd meant to mention the ants, sort of as a humorous icebreaker, but I'd completely forgotten about them by that time. And when I got home, most of the ants had gone back to the nest. There were a few stragglers that I sprayed with Raid. I had, at least, remembered to go to Wegmans for ant spray, and also spent a fair amount of time browsing in the kitchen and dining aisles because that's what I do when I'm upset now. It is soothing to peruse kitchen linens in cheerful colors and clever gadgets and lovely unstained cutting boards.

Anyway, this is not my first rodeo with flying ants. Jon and I have lived in a number of sketchy rentals in our time and have had encounters with all kinds of pests. And in this case, the ants haven't reappeared, but I suppose they are lurking - there's no way my halfhearted spraying could have killed them all.  We'll have to hire an exterminator which will be a nuisance. Only now we're about to be at war with North Korea and maybe also Germany and Australia and whoever else Trump decides to insult today, so the ants and I are both doomed.

This post isn't really going anywhere. I wrote it because it struck me that if a flying ant swarm in your house ranks low on your list of problems, then it should be recorded. That's all. I hope your lives are going as well as possible, considering we're all living under an emotionally abusive dictator who possesses only animal intelligence and has no impulse control. Here's to a better week.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Table for One

Last week, Jon, Ian, and Seamus went on an all-boys trip to Colorado; staying in Boulder as a base and hiking in the mountains every day. Meanwhile the girls went up to Buffalo to visit family and see a comedian they really like. (Joe Rogan.) So I was the only Bartels in Virginia for the week.

I won't bore you with the details of my cleaning spree - although I did empty, clean, and paint this little cupboard in my kitchen. I got the inspiration from bruktogblandet - a Swedish instagram account that I follow.  I just used leftover paint that I already had on hand. I follow so many home-focused Swedish instagram accounts, I'm starting to feel like I should learn Swedish.

Hasn't been painted in sixteen years

After - also freshly painted white on the inside

The Inspiration:
I was without a car for the week, which was fine, although my commute to and from work was a long three mile walk each way. (Usually, I drive partway there and walk the last mile.) Since my bike accident last year, I can't face cycling. One day I was lazy and took an uber to get home. I also took Thursday and Friday off from work, so I could have a little spring break too.

I spent my evenings watching Suffragette. It has a great cast, with some of my favorites like Helena Bonham-Carter, Meryl Streep, Anne Marie Duff, Romola Garai, and Carey Mulligan. I encourage you to watch it too, although it's an uncomfortable film and it will make you very angry and determined to smash the patriarchy for good. In light of Trump and the things he says, and the way a bunch of old white men sit around deciding women's health care, men's attitudes to women haven't changed at all since 1910.

One major bummer - I'd booked an appointment for a hair cut and highlights on Friday. I waited nearly two months for this appointment and my hair looks awful, so I was really looking forward to it. When I arrived, my stylist wasn't there and the other people working there told me he was on vacation on Puerto Rico. Honestly, it's pretty shitty to book a vacation and not take care to check your schedule and notify your clients. I walked home, fuming, and called him and left a voicemail about the mixup. I wasn't rude, and even gave him an out, suggesting that the scheduling website that he uses had something wrong with it. He texted me to apologize and told me to let him know if I had trouble scheduling another appointment. Oh, so I'm supposed to again go through the scheduling site that you apparently ignore and "let you know" if I have difficulty?  This is a guy who insists on a full 24-hours notice if you want to cancel your appointment with him and not get charged. So I'm in the market for a new hair stylist.

I know it's small and petty to be upset about a thing like that, in the context of people being killed in chemical attacks in Syria. My head has not been in a good place lately. OF COURSE, as soon as I write a post about how citalopram and a sun lamp cured my depression, I find myself depressed again. I don't want to increase my meds, so I'm going to hold out hope that I'll feel better once terrible April is over. At least I'm not quite as bad as I was last year.

The walk to the hairdresser wasn't a total waste of time because I hung up this yarn bomb on the way there. This is the "downtown" section of my neighborhood, full of restaurants and busy with tourists and locals every evening, so  lot of people will see it.

I also hung this one on my walk to work one day

I didn't want to end the day (my last day of solitude as the boys were on their way home) on a sour note, so I took myself out to dinner, to Mas, our favorite restaurant in Cville. This is a very popular, busy, and fashionable restaurant  In my depressed state, it was difficult to do this, but I also didn't want to sit at home and wallow in misery. (Maybe the citalopram is still working after all. The pre-citalopram me would have done exactly that.)

My slattern hair and I walked boldly into the restaurant and found a spot at the bar. By the time I'd drunk a quarter of my margarita, I started to feel better and had a lovely dinner of two tapas dishes: the pork empanada that is always sold out when Jon and I come here for dinner (I ate early, so it was still available) and one of my favorite dishes in all of Charlottesville: the brioche slice, sizzling in a tiny cast iron skillet and covered with manchego cheese and lovely vanilla-perfumed apricot jam. I was lucky because it's not on the menu every night, and even when we do order it, I have to share it and only get a couple of bites. It was nice having the whole thing to myself.

Yummy yummy brioche

I did feel like an oddity though, a woman alone at dinner. I have no trouble eating lunch or breakfast alone, or even dinner alone when I'm traveling, but I feel really conspicuous and out of place in a local restaurant. Like, I have no business taking up a bar stool or wasting a server's time when I'm alone. Do you feel that way, or can you take yourself out to dinner with ease?

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Reporting from the Resistance

Those of us who live in the fifth congressional district of Virginia - a large district, gerrymandered to benefit republicans - are cursed with Tom Garrett, a pompous republican blowhard, as a congressman. This is his first term in office (and last, I hope) and since being elected has been snide, dismissive, insulting, and condescending to constituents. In the face of intense pressure to host a town hall meeting, he agreed to do so, but only in a tiny auditorium on UVA grounds. There were to be 135 seats, a third of which would go to republicans, a third to democrats, and the rest to students in the public policy program at UVA. A few days before he announced the restricted access to his town hall, a crowd of 1200 people gathered at the Charlottesville High School auditorium to voice their concerns about Garrett.

VA 05 in dark green. Gerrymandered much?

There was a loud outcry about the unfair ticketing arrangement, so the event was expanded to accommodate 250 people, with all tickets being distributed by lottery. Also, all questions would be moderated. Garrett refuses to acknowledge that the people who have been angrily speaking out at other town halls across the country have a right to be angry and has compared his liberal Charlottesville constituents to lying schoolyard bullies. He has mocked his dissenters on twitter and has also failed to appear at scheduled meetings with constituents.

So this bullshit town hall was scheduled for Friday March 31 and the University Democrats at UVA organized a rally to occur in the outdoor amphitheater, directly in front of the building where Garrett would speak. It poured rain most of the day Friday and was still raining when I got to the rally, where a crowd was shouting, "White Supremacy has got to go!"


I joined the crowd and it took me a minute to realize that a counter demonstration was also occurring. The Trump-supporting counter protesters tried to drown out our shouts with racist sayings of their own. They called us "liberal whiners" and were altogether hateful. For example, we chanted that immigrants are welcome here, and they started yelling for immigrants to go home. At one point, one of the Trumpers yelled at us through a megaphone, saying that white babies were going to become extinct because of homosexuality, abortion, and mixing of races. (I don't remember the exact words because there was a lot of shouting back and forth. He concluded lamely by saying, "well anyway all your babies will be aborted." There was also a man waving a large Trump flag and when he walked past me, I heard him quietly saying, "white supremacy, white supremacy." So these are the people who showed up to support Tom Garrett, while in the hall, he fatuously remarked that discrimination had no place in "Mr. Jefferson's University."

There was heavy police presence, with state and UVA police stationed everywhere, including sniper-style in every window of the building where Garrett was speaking. I don't think any arrests were made. There was a lot of shouting, but no violence.

I climbed onto a wide concrete balustrade to get a better view. An older man standing next to me was laughing as if the protest delighted him. I wasn't quite sure what to make of him, and then he turned to me and said, "I think the far right are all assholes and I think the far left are all assholes too." I murmured noncommittally and wished I had never climbed onto the balustrade. The man gestured at a row of students with an anti-Trump banner. "I bet none of them even voted," he said. This got my hackles up a bit, and I remarked that three of my children were young adults of voting age and all had voted in the election. "Well that's down to parenting," he said and then went on a rant about black young people, who he said didn't make enough effort to succeed, who were getting the same education as everyone else, and whose parents didn't raise them right.

I don't like confrontation, but I also couldn't nod politely at this speech. I pointed out that schools could hardly be considered equal across districts and he countered that people just needed to live where the schools were good. I mentioned housing discrimination and high cost of real estate. He agreed that things were "hard" for some people and then, as if to settle the matter, told me about how his kids had gone to public school in McLean, Virginia and how it was the second best school in the country and better even than private schools.

McLean, Virginia is an affluent town in northern Virginia and its population is nearly 80% white. YOU CAN'T USE YOUR EXPERIENCE IN A WHITE AFFLUENT PUBLIC SCHOOL AS A YARDSTICK BY WHICH TO MEASURE EVERYONE ELSE'S SUCCESS. Below is one of the brief videos I took. The inane chuckle and the yelling about voting at the very end are the contribution of my new friend from McLean.


Now I was disgusted with this man, so I hopped down and went to where the speeches were being given. Our friend Leslie Blackhall, a palliative care physician at UVA, was one of the speakers and she SLAYED. Her speech was focused on healthcare. When all of your patients are dying of cancer or heart failure, the cruelty of yanking health coverage from people is especially obvious. Dr. Blackhall was one of the group that had a scheduled meeting with Tom Garrett, for which he did not show up. When she finished speaking, amid the cheers, I heard the people behind me yelling, "Run for office!"

Now the event was winding down and it was raining again, so I walked two miles back to my car, which I'd left near my office since I figured there would be no closer parking. I am really glad that I attended this event and that so many others did as well, despite the rain. Later, I saw footage of the town hall meeting itself and the shouts of the protesters could be heard inside, which is what I was hoping would happen. Among us protester, I recognized parents of my children's classmates, UVA faculty and physicians, and the owner of a local coffee shop. I heard that the pro-Trumpers were an alt-right group who had been bussed here. So much for the Right's claim that anti-Trump protesters are paid and bussed in from afar.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Monica Dickens: Dear Dr. Lily

Monica Dickens' name keeps popping up among the book blogs that I read. The great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens, she wrote over forty books between 1939 and 1993.  I recently finished Dear Dr. Lily, which is one of the later books in Dickens' oeuvre. (1988)

The story starts out strong. It's the early 1960s, and Lily and Ida meet by chance on a flight from England to the United States. Eighteen year old Lily, who comes from an ordinary middle class family, is attending a friend's wedding. Ida, several years older and accustomed to a life of hardship is on her way to marry an American GI and live in Massachusetts. Their plane experiences technical difficulties and has to make an emergency stop in Iceland, where they are stranded for two days. This experience is the cement for a lifelong friendship.

The first several chapters, which change point of view between Lily and Ida, are really engrossing. Ida's marriage is not a success (not a spoiler, it's obvious to the reader, even before you are introduced to Buddy the GI). Lily, who feels compelled to help (interfere with, at times) people she perceives to be in need, wants to be a social worker.

The timespan of the story is several decades and I found it to be a bit wearisome at times. But isn't this how life really is - long stretches in which not much happens interspersed with brief periods of drama?  Ultimately, Lily's need to get deeply involved with people ends in disaster. This is not a comfortable book and several scenes are dark, disturbing, or creepy. There's also considerable focus on Lily's not-entirely sympathetic father and his sketchy career. I definitely want to read more of Monica Dickens though.  I think, like Elizabeth Jane Howard, Barbara Pym, and Angela Thirkell, she's another writer who I'll want all of. Have you read anything of hers?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Sometimes life throws tiny curve balls in your way.  I'd left a beef brisket in the oven overnight to cook slowly at a low temperature. In the morning, the pan was cold, the beef was uncooked, the oven dead. Like all people who work in IT, my first idea was to turn it off and then turn it on again. (This IS a legitimate fix so don't sneer.) So I'm sitting there at 05:00 with my head in the oven and nothing is happening and the brisket is a disaster and I won't be able to bake soda bread and St. Patrick's day dinner is ruined.

Incidentally, I was reminded as I sat there with my head in the oven, of the meme that was circulating recently about naming something that young people wouldn't understand. I realized that references to putting your head in the oven would have been the perfect answer to this. Nowadays, with electric ignitions, gas ovens are no longer lethal. And it is probably the electric ignition that is broken in my oven. A gas oven is basically a box with a gas line and the electric ignition. If you replace the ignition once in a while,  you can keep it working indefinitely. And I'd rather stick with my 1990s "almond" enamel range until I'm ready for my "forever range" which won't be for some years yet.


ANYWAY, besides the St. Patrick's Day dinner, I had plans this weekend to try a new pizza dough technique and not having an oven really threw a wrench into that plan. So I researched stove top pizzas. And then Sunday evening, Seamus, who wasn't super-enthusiastic about pizza made on the stove top, tried turning the oven on, and it worked, as if nothing had ever been wrong with it. (See, turning it off and then on again IS a legitimate fix.) But NOW, I was almost disappointed because I'd planned a blog post about stove top pizza and I was going to have to bake the pizza in the oven.

It has been one of my lifelong projects to make professional-tasting pizza in my home oven. To that end, I've read numerous recipes and experimented with different techniques. I recently bought Franny's Simple, Seasonal Italian Cooking specifically because I read a review stating that it has awesome pizza recipes. Franny's dough recipe is similar to any other pizza dough, only you proof it in the fridge for at least 24 hours, and then you need another four to twelve hours for the dough to rest. It's easy to make, assuming you have a dough hook, and if you don't have a dough hook, you could probably knead by hand and get good results.  Anyway, the new-to-me technique in this recipe was to finish the pizza under the broiler. My oven was able to withstand the rigors of switching from heat to broiler multiple times and the result was four extremely delicious, professional-tasting pizzas. (Three with a topping of broccoli, garlic, lemon, and parmesan, and one ordinary pepperoni pizza.)
Kitchen in full pizza-making mode.
The finished pies. (Unmelted cheese on top because the recipe instructs you to sprinkle with more cheese after baking.)

What culinary challenge are you trying to master? Could you manage to live without an oven? (I know there are people who never bake and actually use their ovens for storage. I can't imagine doing that myself.)

Monday, February 27, 2017

We Need to Talk about Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell (1890-1961) is one of the darlings of the cozy lit crowd.  A large body of her books, written between 1933 and 1961, are known as the Barchester Chronicles, as they are set in the same fictional region as Anthony Trollope's Barsetshire series and concern the general faffing about of the British upper middle class.

I discovered Angela Thirkell by accident, when browsing the library shelves. The mention of Barchester hooked me and I checked out Wild Strawberries, which had the earliest publication date among the library collection. I enjoyed it but in my review, I mentioned that there was a certain snobbish nastiness in the book that turned me off.

When I discover an author, I like to read their entire oeuvre in order of publication, and so I've been slowly and more or less chronologically working my way through Angela Thirkell's books. Below is a copy of the Angela Thirkell section of my book list. The titles in colored fonts are those that I've read. (Blue means I liked the book, maroon means I didn't.)

All of Angela Thirkell: Three Houses (memoir); Ankle Deep; High Rising; Wild Strawberries; Trooper to the Southern Cross; The Demon in the House; O These Men, These Men!; The Grateful Sparrow (children’s); The Fortunes of Harriette; August FollyCoronation Summer; Summer Half; Pomfret Towers; The Brandons; Before Lunch; Cheerfulness Breaks In; Northbridge Rectory; Marling Hall; Growing Up; The Headmistress; Miss Bunting; Peace Breaks Out; Private Enterprise; Love Among the Ruins; Old Bank HouseCounty Chronicle; The Duke’s Daughter; Happy Returns; Jutland Cottage; What did it Mean?; Enter Sir Robert; Never Too Late; A Double Affair; Close Quarters; Love at all Ages;  Three Score and Ten; Mrs. Morland & Son (stories)

I recently finished O These Men, These Men! (1935) and it was a disappointment.  At the outset of the story, Caroline Danvers, aged 26, becomes estranged from James Danvers, her abusive, alcoholic husband. The rest of the novel concerns sorting out the romantic lives of Caroline and several other characters. Here are the reasons this book disappointed me and why I'm rethinking Angela Thirkell:

One:  Shittiness to women. We are made to understand that James Danvers is so awful and abusive that he somehow causes Caroline to have a miscarriage. His family shelters her after he runs off with another woman and treats her with outward kindness, while also quietly blaming her for being abused. Poor James has had to "put up with a lot." If only Caroline had been more firm, none of this would have happened!  Conversely, Caroline's extreme passivity in response to her abuser is admired by some, as if that is the only correct response from a wife.

Two: Fascism. The two younger Danvers brothers, Wilfred and George are obsessed with opposite political ideologies. George loves all things Russian, whereas Wilfred is an open admirer of Hitler. Their squabbles about politics are supposed to be the comedy of this novel. What? You mean one brother is a communist and the other is a nazi? Hilarious! I know I shouldn't judge people of the thirties with the eyes of the 2010s, (and in fiction, no less) and maybe I'm just jumpy about Trump, but casual mention of meetings with Blackshirts really turned me off.  Also, at one point, apropos of nothing, Wilfred announces, "Einstein is a dirty jew." Surely, surely, even back then people knew better? And this is not to say that Thirkell herself was a nazi (although the comment about Einstein makes one wonder). The reader is not encouraged to approve of Wilfred's philosophy, but to see it as an amusing youthful foible.

Three:  Shittiness to servants. A comic mini plot concerns Rose, the parlourmaid of one of the characters. Rose is described as grumpy - one of those tyrannical servants with a heart of gold - but is otherwise faithful and perfectly competent at her job.  Indeed, she goes above and beyond her duty in looking after the alcoholic James when he stays as a guest with this character. The problem is that her employer would like to sell his house, but doesn't know how to get rid of Rose. This little dilemma is solved when Rose's feelings are hurt by an impossibly petty incident and she gives her notice on the spot. She's then further humiliated by another guest in the house. How marvelous!  Rid of the old bag and it's her own fault for being low-class!

Classism and nastiness have been in evidence in all of the Angela Thirkell novels I've read so far. It's not funny and I'm not impressed. Comic nastiness aimed at privileged people can be funny. (I'm thinking of Jane Austen's brilliant parody of the snobbish, overbearing, self-important in her Mrs. Elton character.) Comic nastiness aimed at people who have no power to defend themselves is just shitty.

Am I giving up on Angela Thirkell? Not yet. I'd like to read a few more of her books and see if she matures as a writer or gains any perspective. Perhaps if some of you have read her later works, you could let me know in the comments. I know that racism and anti-semitism are rife in older works of literature, and sometimes, (such as with Anthony Trollope) there is so much of value in the novel as a whole, that you put up with it. And of course, there is no point in boycotting a dead novelist.  I wonder where the line is between turning a blind eye because of the time period the book was written in and saying, "Enough.  I won't read any more of this author?"

*I hate making disclaimers, but I hope everyone realizes that I'm not talking about censorship. I would never suggest that a book should be removed from library shelves because it contains anti-semitic or other offensive language. We should all be able to judge for ourselves what offends us in literature and should have the freedom to chose to read these works or not. It's entirely personal.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Knitting as Activism

As you may recall, since the Trump election, I've been knitting little signs with resistance messages and tying them to trees in public areas. It's a small act, but I had been hoping that lots of other people would do the same, and based on what I've seen on social media, it does seem that others around the country have independently had the same idea. Certainly, the Pussy Hat Project was a great success, and the other day, activists hung a "REFUGEES WELCOME" sign on the Statue of Liberty.  There's someone in Charlottesville who is placing pink, heart-shaped resistance signs in the middle of vine wreaths and hanging them around town. Bravo to that person and his/her creativity, and to anyone else who decorates the landscape with anti-Trump messages, even in a small way.

It just so happens that the winery owned by the Trump family is only a fifteen-minute drive from my house. I drove out there one weekend on a recognizance mission. At the main entrance, the Trump Winery sign sits on blocks of stone - not really conducive to a yarn bomb. It was nice to see a little knot of protesters gathered at the end of the drive. So the main entrance was a no-go, but the service entrance had real possibilities. It's located on a more heavily-traveled road than the main entrance. There's a driveway with a wide apron and plenty of room to safely park a car out of the way. There's a Trump Winery sign by the side of the road, affixed to wooden posts - ideal for attaching a knitted banner. The sign is close to the road, and further up the driveway is a heavy gate and security card reader. Therefore, the service entrance had all three required elements for this type of adventure: a place to park, a way to affix the banner without damaging the sign, no need to trespass.

It wasn't even my original intention to hang the yarn bomb on the actual Trump Winery sign. I would have been happy with a likely tree or fence or telephone pole in the general vicinity, but the sign, once I saw it, was irresistible and I hurried home and began work on a new yarn bomb, larger than the ones I'd done before.

Almost finished knitting

Other than Jon and Seamus, I didn't tell anyone about my plan. It would have been so humiliating if I chickened out. Hanging the sign in broad daylight was crucial, so that I could get a good picture since I anticipated it would be removed by winery staff almost immediately. I admit, I was really nervous. I thought getting arrested was unlikely since I was taking care not to commit an actual crime. More likely would be to get told off or possibly detained by an overzealous vigilante security guard. I couldn't come up with a good plan for such a situation and just had to trust my luck. (I also concentrated on the image of my mother - a true rebel in her own right, and who died twenty years ago - watching over me.)

With the finished banner, I drove to the winery late enough for good light, but early enough that I probably wouldn't meet anyone. I tied my banner to the sign post with long strings of yarn and took some pictures. As I was walking back to my car, I noticed a guy in a pickup truck watching me. He had come from the winery (that electric gate is completely silent, yikes). Instinct took over and I smiled and waved as if this were the most normal thing in the world. I got into my car and politely waited for him to pull out ahead of me. Then I drove home, feeling triumphant.

I lightly felted the banner for a tighter look.
Unfortunately, the felting process distorted the skinnier letters. That T is tragic.

I posted one of my pictures on Instagram and Facebook, with the caption, "NO ONE WANTS YOUR BAN, NO ONE WANTS YOUR WALL, NO ONE WANTS YOUR WINE." Most people liked it, and it got shared a lot, but some people were really angry. I couldn't possibly track down all the angry comments, even if I wanted to, but on my own facebook page, someone lectured me that "yarn bombs hurt innocent people." Someone else said my sign made her sick and accused me of being a "sneak thief." A friend told me she saw a comment that wondered what my parents thought of me. There was a kerfuffle about immigrants - Trump Winery hires foreign workers, therefore my sign was hurting them. Oh sure, Trumpers, support immigration when it's convenient, but look at your man's agenda. Most commonly, resisters hear, "Get over it; Trump won; Stop being a sore loser." No. This isn't about losing an election. This is about thousands of Americans, saying in every way they can, that bigotry, cruelty, religious intolerance, racism, and hate are un-American.

Of course I realized that Trump supporters wouldn't like the sign, but the intensity of the anger was surprising. I also realized that if a clumsy knitted sign upset people this much, then Trump supporters are feeling really insecure and that the resistance is working. Let's keep it up. Trump may be in the White House, but we will not let his agenda overrun our great country.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Pity Party About Depression

It's difficult to be objective about your mental health. Thus, for years, I believed that my main mental issue was anxiety. And certainly, I was anxious. Since childhood, I worried like I was getting paid for it.  I've been aware that I felt depressed at times, but the depression seemed more transient - would last for a few weeks and then lift - but the anxiety was ever-present. Indeed, I was convinced that my anxiety caused me to be depressed.

I lived like that for over forty years, with my anxiety becoming markedly worse when I started my nursing career. I felt some relief when I quit bedside nursing, but then a series of family crises that occurred between 2011 - 2015 left me in a shattered state. I was "functioning" in the sense that I went to work every day, and attended to my household responsibilities, and in public maintained a cheerful face at least some of the time, but all that time I was crushed under a black cloud of dread. As with any illness, there are good days and bad days, so I felt OK for some periods during that time, but I never fully escaped the black cloud.

Late in 2015, I moved to a new position in my department - a more technical job with a steep learning curve. With my mental state being what it was, trying to master the skills of my new job was too much and I broke down. I still went to work every day, but I couldn't handle even the slightest mishap.  Once, dropping a spoon between the stove and the wall reduced me to tears.  I cried when I walked the dog, indeed, I cried nearly every day. I felt disassociated from myself - like I was protectively carrying the most vulnerable part of myself in a teacup because I literally could not stand even the smallest crisis. And still, I thought my main problem was anxiety.

My panic about a minor difficulty related to cosigning my younger daughter's lease led her to make me promise to see a doctor. I didn't want to see a doctor because I was afraid of being put on anti-depressants, which I was convinced would make me fat and I knew I'd rather be miserable than be fat but I kept my promise and I saw my PCP in June. That day started out badly because I'd tried to work from home before the appointment and had been unable to connect to the work network, which of course made me cry - not crying because computer failures are annoying, crying because I felt I was literally too stupid to work from home. That is the thought trough my brain was stuck in. These are the lies that depression tells you.

I'd rehearsed in my head what I would say, "I'm only here because my daughter made me promise," but I did give him an accurate picture of how awful I felt. The doctor listened sympathetically and prescribed citalopram, an SSRI, which I agreed to take. Despite my fear of weight gain, I knew I couldn't go on like I had been. He also gave me a list of therapists and advised me to shop around for the one who felt right.

An SSRI is a relatively new type of anti-depressant. I believe the first one available was Prozac. Since then, newer, more selective SSRIs like citalopram have been developed. SSRI stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects mood. Our brains have receptors that mop up any excess serotonin (because GOD FORBID anyone become too happy) so SSRIs help prevent these receptors from eating your serotonin, so you feel happier.

They say it takes three to four weeks before you feel the effects of an SSRI, but I swear I started to feel a tiny bit better on day two. After a couple of weeks, Jon - who I didn't know I was taking an antidepressant - commented that I seemed happier and less anxious.

The first month or so on citalopram was like a honeymoon period. I felt great and I lost weight, which boosted my mood even more. Naturally, the dramatic lessening of a pain that you've lived with for years will make you feel pretty good. Then you adjust to the absence of pain and you have to start working on what was making you sad in the first place. Antidepressants don't solve your problems, but they do help you gain the strength to deal with them.

I found a therapist and it has been helpful to have an objective listener. I have a lot to work on and some serious decisions to make as to how I want to proceed with the rest of my life. I've also realized that my main problem was depression, and that depression made me anxious, which is the opposite of what I'd believed all along.

After the honeymoon period ended, I continued to feel better. This was the first Christmas in nearly twenty years that I didn't have a sobbing meltdown at some point.  I saw my doctor in early January and told him I felt fine. And then the depression came back. Not as bad as it had been, but suddenly the old "I'm stupid" thoughts were popping into my head. I was profoundly irritated with everyone, and I cried over nothing for the first time in months. I had an idea it was related to the winter lack of light (I've always known I had a touch of SAD) but I couldn't understand why it was affecting me now, when the days are markedly longer than they are around the holidays.

I told my therapist and she said seasonal depression worsens with the cumulative exposure to darkness, and that there are the most suicides in April because that's when people tend to feel worst. Hearing that was an epiphany. For as long as I can remember, I've hated and dreaded spring, and April is when my anxiety seems to peak. (I impulsively bought my solo ticket to Iceland in April because I felt so strongly that I had to get away from everyone.)  The cumulative effect seems to work in reverse as well. I've always had the greatest feeling of well-being in the fall - now, I realize because from the effect of months of summer light.

My therapist suggested that I buy a full spectrum lamp, which I did. All of this is a recent development and I've only had the light for a few days, but I did feel happier and more energized this weekend after having used it. I lived for years with depression, thinking that if this was how I was, I didn't want to change, but now, after experiencing life without depression, I don't want to go back to it.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Women's March on Washington

My daughter Brigid at the mach - photo credit to my daughter Grace

The Women's March on Washington turned out to be just as wonderful and life-fulfilling as I'd hoped. I admit, I got a little scared on Friday, after hearing about violent protests and pepper spraying in Washington on Friday. Still, we decided to go ahead with our plans, and my daughters, Brigid and Grace and I boarded a bus at 6:00 am, and arrived in Washington a couple of hours later.

Everyone we encountered throughout the entire day was beaming with good will. Even the Washington DC security, who lined the route to the march, cheered us on and gave us high fives.  At most of the houses on the route to the March, up Capital Ave, supporters waved or cheered from their front porches. One house had a live band. One resident of the street handed out soup. Except for one lonely house with a pro-Trump sign in the window, almost every house along the two-mile avenue had a sign that expressed solidarity with the march.

Also awesome was the sea of pink hats, the result of the Pussy Hat Project. From our bus on the way to the march, we saw a long line of pink-hatted people waiting to get into one of the metro stations. We saw trains crammed with pink hats, and the crowd around us, walking to the march was an endless expanse of pink hats. Now I wish I'd knit one for myself, but I used all my knitting energy making anti-Trump yarn bombs, which I secured to trees on Capitol Hill and in other spots around Washington. I will knit a few now. I'm sure I'll find some places to put them. :)

Friday was a sad day. Trump's inaugural speech was disturbing, to say the least. After speaking grandly about returning wealth that had been "ripped" from American homes, Trump's VERY FIRST action in office was to screw the middle class by suspending indefinitely an initiative that would have lowered PMI premiums. He then went on to scrub the White House web site of any mention of climate change. The new "America First Energy Plan" is a truly terrifying document and I urge you all to read it, unless you're OK with the total destruction of our national parks. After this, what I needed was to be with other people who agreed that this is fucked up and un-American; that we need to fight Trump and his policies.

Trump is unbearable

I was thrilled to attend the march with my daughters, and experience the largest protest in American history with them. My mother was an activist - I have memories of being pushed in a stroller while she canvassed door-to-door for liberal political candidates. She died twenty years ago, but I know that she, along with my aunts and grandmother, were with us in spirit. I hope that Brigid and Grace and I will carry on my mother's practice of activism.

Of course we had some funny little incidents, the main one being the drama caused by Brigid's coat. She got a free fur coat from a thrift shop, and using other thrifted textiles, stitched the word NASTY on the back and appliqued an assortment of female anatomy. Wooden sign posts were forbidden, but Brigid found a thrifted baby toy and fashioned it into a long, albeit droopy sign post. People freaked out a bit We hadn't even boarded our bus in Charlottesville and I spotted someone photographing Brigid and her coat. And so it went, for the whole march, people asking to photograph the coat or to have their picture taken with her. Eventually we ran into the press. A journalist from Montreal interviewed her, and later, another journalist chased her down and said, "Do you know how many people are chasing after you, trying to get a picture of your coat?" She took a lot of pictures, and then another journalist took more.  Also, as we approached some police officers who were watching the crowd, I overheard one of them say to the other, "We've got a vagina coat over here." But when we walked past and he saw the "Nasty" on the back, he said, "That's awesome." I guess it's pretty cool if the D.C. police admire your protest wear. Have you seen her coat in your feeds?

We ran into the woman pictured below and of course had to have a chat and some photographs. The hilarious thing was that a little girl, as she approached us, screamed, "That is NOT a hot dog!"
The "hot dog lady"

Brigid's coat turned out to be useful in addition to being decorative. There were tight bag restrictions at the march, so we put most of what we needed into our pockets. Brigid's coat pocket was large enough to hold a partial roll of toilet paper, which came in handy at the port-a-potties at the end of the march.

Finally, one of the most personally heartwarming things about the march was that I hung a small "NO TRUMP" yarn bomb on a tree in Lincoln Park on the way to the march. Hours later, as we were walking back to our bus, I checked to see if it was still there. It was, only someone had embellished it with a solidarity pin. We also noticed that the tree I'd randomly selected was a pussywillow!

I hope that everyone had a great marching experience on Saturday. It was a historic moment and if we continue to stand together, we can defeat this man.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thoughts on Gaslighting and the Women's March

Just posting briefly to prove (mostly to myself) that this blog is still alive. Lately, I feel like my relationship with my blog is like that scene in Gone With the Wind, where Scarlett whips her horse until it collapses. The intellectual demands of my job seem to have taken up all the space in my brain that used to come up with things to write about.

Also, any remaining brain space has been taken over by panic/rage at Donald Trump and his team. HOW can anyone observe this man without realizing that he is deeply disturbed and not in any way able to carry out the duties of the president of the United States? During the campaign, even I thought that a lot of his bluster was just shtick and that if he were actually elected, he might be able to pull it together and behave more or less like a rational human.  But that has been proven not to be the case. Clearly.

And now it is the eve of the inauguration and nothing can save us. I am attending the Women’s March on Washington, along with Brigid and Grace. I know it is going to be a long, grueling, and uncomfortable day, but I am looking forward to it. One unexpected (to me) thing that came out of the election was the large-scale emotional abuse perpetrated by Donald Trump and his team (*cough* Kellyanne Conway *cough*).  They are manipulating the meaning of truth itself, so that we are perpetually confused and doubting. Their insistence of the rightness of Trump’s actions, in the face of facts that prove the nearly everything he says is a lie is a type of abuse known as gaslighting, which causes its victims to question their own perceptions and even their sanity. To me, attending the Women’s March is a way of combating this abuse. To say that those of us who find Trump’s actions abhorrent are real and that we won’t be gaslit. How will Trump explain away over 100,000 people marching in protest, with sister marches occurring all around the world?  I’m sure he and his people will find multiple demeaning ways to dismiss us, but being present in these marches is a weapon against his abuse.

Are you planning to attend the Women’s March on Washington, or a local march in your own area? If so, let me know in the comments. I wish us all a safe and affirming march.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on