Saturday, August 19, 2017

Nazis Are Bad

Apparently in 2017 this still needs to be clarified.

My mind is reeling from everything that is going on in the news and our society and I do not have the time right now to sort it out into words the way I want to, but in a moment where silence contributes to the problem I can't not put something in this space that condemns hatred.

My father was Jewish.  The amount of writings he collected on the Holocaust was massive.  My brothers and I were introduced to those real-life tales of horror at a remarkably young age.  We saw Shoah over two days in a theater when it came out.  I took a course on the Holocaust in high school.  I've been to both the Holocaust museum in Detroit and in D.C.  I've stood in the attic where Anne Frank hid, and have never lived anywhere where I didn't mentally seek out space where I could hide someone if I needed to.

I don't expect everyone to have that level of education about the Holocaust, but even through popular culture alone one should realize Nazis are bad.  Few wars in history so clearly delineated good versus evil.  The Nazis murdered six million Jews.  They also tried to exterminate all blacks, gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled.... They wiped out entire villages in Poland in order to thwart resistance and make room for their own people.  Millions and millions of innocent lives brutally lost in the name of grotesque ideas.  That's why even those of us who detest violence cheer when Captain America punches Nazis and just shrug when it happens to a real one.  Because Nazis are bad.  I am disgusted that there are people who want to join their ranks here in this country.

On our own soil we have created the KKK.  I am not as deeply educated about their history, but know enough to find them equally disgusting.  Slavery and its lingering effects is a great stain on our nation.  Nazis are easier for us to condemn because they rose to real power in a visible way and they were "over there."  White supremacy is in our backyards, and woven into the fabric of our communities.  We don't want to face that the same kind of evil exists in the form of our neighbors and law enforcement and legislators.  But it does, and we have to speak up when we see it.

Because Nazis are bad.  Maybe if the president had spent more than 15 minutes at Yad Vashem--using it as the solemn learning experience it is rather than a tourist stop to sign the guest book--he would know that too.

Saturday, July 15, 2017


Family is interesting because you don't get to choose.  You get what you get.

Sure, you can choose to interact or not, to be an active participant in different lives or not, but who you are and where you fit, in an objective sense, is out of your control.

When I had my first baby, I became a mom.  My husband became a dad.  Whether my brothers were interested or not, they became uncles.  My parents became grandparents regardless of whether they were ready to think of themselves that way yet.  A new life creates labels like "cousin" and "great-aunt" and "niece" automatically.  When I chose to become a parent it imposed new levels of identity up and down my family tree forever and always.

I am a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a cousin (in all its varieties of removed and numerated), an aunt, a niece, a sister-in-law, a half-sister-in-law, a daughter-in-law, and at one time a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter.  By choosing to become a wife I turned other people into in-laws without their consent and in some cases without their knowledge.

Family means being intertwined in history in a way that friendships and working relationships can't match, regardless of the true meaning and relevance of it all.  You become part of someone's future genealogy research as a branch of a tree you did not plant.

I am who I am, but what I mean to others is up to them and changes with the context of the role.  If I say, "I love you" to my husband it means something different than if I say it to my mom or my children or my cousin or dear friend or my oblivious dog.  I do not get to decide how they interpret it.  I do not get to decide if they love me back.

I also, in a very real sense, don't get to write my own narrative.  I make my own decisions and choose how to behave in the world, but others ultimately determine what parts of my story are told and how to describe what I've done.  I may try to make someone feel at ease, but my success in doing so is solely the right of the other person to conclude.  I am not the one who gets to announce that I am a good daughter or sister.  I do my best, but I don't get the final say.  If I look like a good parent to others, but my children don't think so, theirs is the only vote that matters, because in that role they are the only ones in a position to judge. 

I can console myself if I think someone's judgement is wrong, because often it can be, since no one has all the information necessary to truly understand another.  I can tell myself I'm good enough in any particular role in order to get through the day, and maybe I am, but ultimately someone else's truth may be what's handed down as the official version.

I don't offer advice much anymore, because the older I've gotten the fewer things I'm certain of.  But this I know:  Do not take love for granted, however casually it seems to be offered at times.  I've always known this, but it's the single point in my life that gets driven home again and again in new ways with each passing year and each new loss.

When I think back to my teenage years and how easily I dismissed expressions of love because they seemed too common, I cringe.  I was embarrassed when my grandpa wanted to help me on my paper route, but he understood and loved me anyway.  I want that moment back to do over.  I want another round of cards with my grandma at her kitchen table that I'm sure at some point I felt I didn't have time for.  I want a day to sit and draw with my dad in my dining room when he was no longer very mobile, but I left him to go to work.  I should have taken off work.  As my children slip into adulthood I should take more days off work now.

We always think there will be more time, or more hugs or more "I love yous."  Those gropey toddler hugs that seemed suffocating way back when--those are golden.  I miss those.  Everything ends and we don't get a say about it.

Those casual "I love you" moments, where they feel cast off and out of habit--those are a gift.  Those moments when love is easy like breathing, those are where life is best.  Because we are intertwined with others regardless, but when there is love in the mix--particularly both directions--we are truly among the most fortunate on earth.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Reading the Bill of Rights

When I work in the kitchen or drive somewhere I usually listen to the news on the radio.  Quinn, if he's helping me out or along for a ride, listens too.  We used to play a game on the drive to Latin where before I would turn on the news we would each guess what the topic might be and see who got closer.  But now it's all Trump all the time, so that game has lost its appeal.

Usually when we listen to the news Quinn has questions.  Some of them are obvious, many are not, and too often I can't answer them as well as I'd like.  (That's where Google comes in handy.)

The other day during a particular news story they kept talking about first amendment rights and Quinn asked what that meant.  I explained that the first ten amendments of the Constitution of the United States are referred to as the Bill of Rights, and the first one guaranteed freedom of religion, speech, and assembly.  We had an interesting discussion about what the exceptions were.  We talked about different ways people have found to confront speech they didn't like.

In any case, the thing that surprised me as I had this conversation with my son in the kitchen as I was chopping vegetables, was that I realized as I was talking to him that I couldn't name all ten amendments.  I can name all ten commandments from the bible even though it's not my thing.  I apparently use the Jewish numbering which I didn't realize until I looked it up to explain to Quinn that different religions using those same commandments actually number then differently.  (This is something I wonder about when people put up ten commandment monuments since however they get numbered is a nod to a particular sect, not just to Judeo-Christian culture in general, but whatever.)  The average person I run into who claims to construct their life around those commandments can't actually name them, which I find either amusing or irritating depending upon the day.

But then I claim to hold up the Constitution as central to the choices I have available to me as a citizen of this country, and yet I wouldn't be able to tell someone what was in the entire Bill of Rights.

I had Quinn Google it and read me each amendment aloud.  I was sort of stunned by how much of it was unfamiliar.  So for anyone else on this American holiday who wants a refresher course on the Bill of Rights, here they are along with a few notes about what Quinn and I discussed as we read through them:

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Another Two Weeks

Today was our 20th wedding anniversary.

We didn't do anything particularly special today other than share a sandwich at lunch.

Ian got up early to run, I swam.  There was an appointment with a roofer to get another estimate on the latest house project that needs to be tended to sooner rather than later.  When I left for work all the kids were nestled into spots on couches and cuddled together to do things on laptops.

I did a lot of bow work today at the store.  Ian brought me lunch and did work on his side of the store which is so different from my side.  His thing is all Quickbooks and bills and rental lists, and mine is all chisels and knives and planes.  It's a good thing we have each other because each of us is lost on the wrong side of the store.

In the afternoon he picked up this week's farm share box on the way home where he had to do an Army conference call.  I finished my last few appointments and then swung by the house to grab the kids to go volunteer at the soup kitchen downtown.  Then we stopped at Michael's and Goodwill to poke around for stuff for a project I'm doing, and then home where we were unsuccessful at coaxing the dog out from under the couch for a walk.  (Chipper currently remembers how to do stairs, but has forgotten he likes to go for walks.)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day 2017

Dear Dad,

You've been gone almost two years now.  It still hasn't really sunk in that I won't see you again, or get a hug from you anymore.  I miss making you laugh on the phone.  I miss being able to ask you questions when I'm having a grammar moment.  I don't automatically reach for the phone now when those moments happen, but I still haven't quite let go of the belief that you are out there and I just haven't seen you in too long.

When I haven't seen someone in a long time I'm usually a little surprised when we are reunited that there are details I forgot--bits of mannerisms or scents or motions that go with a person that you don't hold onto well at a distance.  I'm still adjusting to the idea that my perceptions of you will not be updated or renewed, but I'm left with whatever I already have.  It's not enough, but it will have to be.

What would I tell you today, this Father's Day without you again, if I could call?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Varnish Workshop 2017

I went to my third varnish workshop in April and this was the best one yet.  I went for the first time in 2013 when it was in Boston (during which the marathon bombing occurred, so that was memorable even without all the cool new information about turpentine), and again last year when the workshop moved to Chicago.

This year it was in Chicago for the second time, using the facilities of the Chicago School of Violin Making while the regular students were away on break.  (It was a long commute from Milwaukee, but it was nice to sleep in my own bed at night.)

I think the most natural question of the uninitiated at this point would be, "What is there still to learn by going to this workshop for a third time?"  And someone who has never varnished a violin or doesn't know anything about it probably assumes there can't be that many ways to do it, so it would be hard to imagine a whole week of it yet again.

But the better you become at anything the more capable you are of learning new things.  It's great to feel you are improving your skill set while also adding to it.

The first varnish workshop was a revelation about how to see violin varnish, how to read the wood as you progress, to understand ground in more depth, and how to use materials very different from what I was initially trained with in school.

By the second workshop I was able to move past more general ideas and focus on finer details.  I learned a huge amount about preparing an instrument while it was still in the white in order to influence the look of the varnish later.  I was led by the hand through explorations in color in ways I never would have conceived of on my own.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Other Mothers

I've always been irritated with people who are quick to dismiss Mother's Day as a greeting card holiday.  Holidays are what you choose to make them.  The commercialization of certain holidays can indeed get out of hand to the point where the real sentiments get lost, but that's the fault of capitalism and the juvenile insistence of the average person in this country that everything be fun or dramatic rather than meaningful.

Major Christian holidays in this country get a lot of attention, and I know members of minority faiths who resent how little the mainstream knows about other holidays when they come around, but I've often felt they should be a bit grateful that the relative obscurity shields them from some of the nonsense, and they don't see important traditions reduced to another excuse to buy unnecessary things.  My kids were surprised to learn Easter was a religious holiday at all, because they've only known it as egg hunts and candy.  For us that works, again, because we can make holidays what we like, and for some of them that means making them silly.

But even secular holidays aren't immune from further secularization.  Mother's Day in this country was eventually denounced by its creator who found its reduction from something meaningful to something used as a marketing ploy to be deplorable.  However, we can pick what we like and reject the rest, just as we can on any other day.  The tricky part is navigating the larger context and being prepared for the various meanings any holiday has for others.  We can't assume it's the same for everyone.

Mother's Day can be complicated because mothers are complicated.