Untethered Dog

You Never Know Where He Will Go

A Cure for Anxiety

  1. Get calm. Whatever you need but the body must register your arrival. It is, therefore, a great conduit.
  2. Engage the concern. Aim for proactive, seek meaning, don’t grasp for answers.

Wider View

I realize I wrote the other day that I had found some level of clarity about the upcoming election — that I was square-jawed in the direction of free and fair elections and doing my small part to bring that about — that as long as we have an election that accurately reflects the will of the people I will accept the outcome. Yet my peace, such as it is, has been disturbed by a fuller awareness that one of our two major political parties is — at best — indifferent to democracy and it’s not a stretch to say that the party that supports the current occupant of the White House is, by all outward appearances, not committed to the continuation of the American Experiment. If given the choice between losing democracy and the possible retention/expansion of their power we know which they would — unflinchingly — choose.

Think of that: if the choice is to save the country as it was constituted or win the upcoming election Congressional Republicans — and the people who emotionally, intellectually, and financially fund their campaigns — would not choose George Washington. They would not choose Tom Paine. Or Abraham Lincoln. They would not choose — would not! — the tens of millions of men and women, many of them self-identified ordinary citizens who in acts large and small over 244 years risked their emotional and physical safety and stood up for what was right and in many cases gave the last full measure of devotion — gave their very lives — in support of the idea of America. In support of democratic institutions. One of our two major political parties is not with the veterans who fought to defend the freedom we have at this moment.

How many ways do you have to be disrespectful to your heirs to take such a posture?

I am tired of the outrage over the current occupant of the White House.

I am done wondering what corrupt thing the Attorney General will do next.

If they cared about democracy, Republicans in Congress — and the people who put them there — would show it in their words and in their deeds. I will keep at my modest efforts but when I stop for a moment and accept that it’s very clear, and has been for some time, that a large swath of Americans are no longer committed to America I lose my breath.

I try hard to not concern myself with matters that are outside my control.

I do not wish to allow my beliefs to take hold of me in ways that lessen my functioning — and don’t do anyone else any good, either.

Yet there is power in recognizing what already is playing a role in your daily fears and future plans. When you step back and regard the moment — some forty percent of the country, including those with the keys to the halls of justice, are down with the destruction of our founding ideals and shared laws — it is nothing short of stop-in-your-tracks stunning.

The Least Worst

From Merriam-Webster:

  • of, relating to, or favoring blind submission to authority
  • of, relating to, or favoring a concentration of power in a leader or an elite not constitutionally responsible to the people

Democracy is work. It’s messy.

It’s being OK with not getting all of what you want.

To be a citizen in a democracy means being OK with compromise — being good with compromise.

Democracy takes effort. It takes a willingness to try like hell to advance your cause but accepting that sometimes — often — you will come up short.

Democracy is not a spectator sport. To be a citizen in a democracy comes with many rights and more than a little responsibility.

By definition, in a democracy you must work with other people — some will be a lot like you and many others will be very different from you. Different backgrounds. Different beliefs. Different motivations.

You have to think in a a democracy. Be smart. Humble. Adult.

Democracy demands trust that the other side cares as much as you do — they just have a different vision for what should be. This isn’t a bug of the system but rather a feature. You keep each other honest.

In a democracy the people are in charge. They have a say. They choose the leaders. Because there are so many people there are liable to be many voices. So many you cannot hear them all. This can be confusing and cumbersome and frustrating.

In short, democracy is a challenging, flawed, and inefficient means to organize a society.

It just so happens to be less bad than all other alternatives.

Legacy

I think we all hope to leave our mark on the world. Only precious few of us do.

I speak from experience. For I know how hard it is to bring about change.

Real. Lasting. Change.

On July 19 of the current year, as I was leaving the Trader Joe’s parking lot with a car full of groceries, I decided to exit via the “in” lane. This was not so much a conscious choice. Destiny doesn’t work that way.

It is as I rounded the wrong curb when I tried to see if my windshield would withstand a collision with the working end of the sturdy, steel gate that welcomes you to Trader Joe’s.

Turns out, no.

Now this, believe it or not, isn’t the best part of the story.

If you want to change the world you have to sacrifice.

I want you to know that my windshield did not die in vain.

Several subsequent trips to TJs have revealed that I literally had left a mark. Specifically, streaks of paint from my car remained on the edge of the sign.

That is, until my most recent trip, on Tuesday of this week, when I noticed that TJs has now added safety tape around the edges of the sign.

I do not know for a fact the manager personally mentioned me by name at the unveiling ceremony of this public safety enhancement but I think we can assume that he did.

For weeks people asked me: How did you do it? Why did you do it?

They just didn’t get it, I guess. I drove my car into a a sharp, heavy inanimate object for them.

So they wouldn’t have to.

In fact, this was never about me. It’s about the tens of thousands of shoppers who come after me. For if any single one of them is as completely moronic as I was at that moment will be spared the humiliation — and a windshield deductible, if they happen to have one — that I endured on their behalf.

They can thank me later.

People Are Hurting

It didn’t have to be this way. With political leadership that included a healthy respect for science, the coronavirus pandemic could have been so much less severe in America. We had a head start. We had the scientists. We had the economic might. We could have done far more to limit the spread of infection and all the destruction and disruption that spread has caused.

That is what could have been.

Here is what is: more than 189,000 deaths and counting; more than 6.3 million confirmed cases and rising; millions out of work; untold Americans struggling daily with illness and grief.

Meanwhile, as reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune, our country is in the midst of a mental health catastrophe.

Suicides are up. Drug use is up. More people are suffering panic attacks. And this seems unlikely to lessen anytime soon, as we all go back indoors as winter descends, flu season arrives, and with COVID-19 still far from under control. Social isolation is likely to continue, if not intensify, in the weeks and months to come.

Talking to a friend the other day she remarked how it seems people on the roads are more angry and inpatient. I said I wondered if I was turning into a “get off my lawn” old man before my time. As the little buddy and I walk the sidewalks, I notice drivers roaring engines down side-streets, running stop signs, and otherwise giving the impression that the world is in their way. The other night I swear one rig went twenty miles an hour over the speed limit feet from our house. So many people seem on edge.

When I stop and think about it, I have to admit that I am among them.

I want to be able to plan for life. I don’t expect guarantees that we never get in this world — any day could be your last, we know this — but I find myself, as we all do, with an added layer of deliberations over every decision, large and small. Certainly any financial decision weighs in the back of my mind more heavily than it otherwise would. Before I, say, make even modest purchases I wonder: will I need this money for an emergency soon? Should I buy anything that isn’t absolutely necessary before the November election?

No doubt, this is a fear of luxury as compared to the daily challenges of so many others.

Yet I can’t help but wonder what awaits us as we keep not just our distance from each other but also from our futures.

Will we make a choice to work together and deal with this disease — so we can solve the economic crash and the physical and mental health crises — or will we embrace the chaos and division the current occupant of the White House foments? Will we continue to fight over masks, stock up on ammo, pit police against citizens, and allow elected leaders to take a hands-off approach with the fate of our democratic republic?

Of course, I do not know the answers to these questions.

Of course, it is not in my power to answer these questions for anyone else.

People are in pain. So many people. Through no fault of their own. I will try to remember that as I answer those questions for myself today and in whatever is to come.

BYOB: Bring Your Own Ball

On the back stretch of the evening walk I abruptly stopped us.

“Wait a second, buddy,” I said to the little buddy.

We backed up and, yes, at the end of the driveway we had just passed sat a bowling ball bag.

A bowling ball bag and nothing else. At the end of a driveway. At the end of the day.

This bowling ball bag was not new. Do people still buy bowling ball bags?

This bowling ball bag seemed well cared for. Other than being left out to temp unsuspecting bowling ball bag robbers, that is. There was no noticeable wear and tear.

Bowling: those were the days, weren’t they — when people went bowling so often they had their own bowling balls and so, of course, needed their own bowling ball bags?

On one hand, that time seems so long ago.

Given all that is going on in the world — we’re six months into a pandemic that our country doesn’t have the political will or direction to control, California is on fire, the rest of the Earth is also warming, we’re overrun by lawlessness and reckless ambivalence in Washington, D.C., and that’s just for starters — and from that standpoint this bowling ball bag seemed to be not just from another century but from another country.

On the other hand, it wasn’t that long ago.

Believe it or not, people — my parents, included — used to go to the bowling alley once or twice a week. They would bowl in leagues. Even if they had no desire to be the next Earl Anthony they would bring bowling gloves and keep score and post their averages. They would join teams and go to the local alley on Tuesday nights or whatever and they would bowl and socialize and have a good time. They had shirts with their names embroidered on the front.

There wasn’t automatic scoring and no laser lights. No one looked at their their phone all night because their phone was at home on the wall near the babysitter who wouldn’t use it unless the kids were on fire or her boyfriend called.

A bowling ball bag at the end of a driveway at the end of the night … at the end of the world (as we know it)?

We had to stop. Buddy, that bowling ball bag right there is a relic.

EJ 2020: New Home

The Election Journal is now its own page. Thank you for any time you spend there.

Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner

Pssst: I have a secret.

You can’t tell anyone — not a soul.

The other day I, um, watched Dirty Dancing.

Yes — the whole movie.

Of course, the original. What kind of question is that? The only version that should be allowed by law. The one with Swayze. And Jennifer Grey’s old nose.

No — a woman didn’t put me up to it.

What do you mean how did this happen? I just started watching on a break from work and, you know, one thing led to another.

All right, all right: It’s hard for even me to believe this … much less admit it … but … I … um … totally dug it. OK? Are you happy: I liked Dirty D.

Sure, the premise is a bit shaky. Here you have a seemingly packed club of young, gorgeous people who spend all their free time dancing yet not one of them can step in when the featured female dancer needs to step aside one night.

Yet when you let that go — when you accept that Baby is really going to go for it — all is redeemed. The training montage is sweet and sexy. There are actually some surprisingly moving lines of dialogue, the characters remain believable, Swayze is Swayze, Dr. Houseman (Jerry Orbach) is the man we hope all fathers would be, and during the final dance you realize that here is a woman who is living one of her moments.

And that is what life is — isn’t it? — it’s ten million ordinary, disposable moments broken up by a rare few that you carry with you forever. Moments that shape you and change you, moments that cannot be sought or reached again, save for in memory — in fleeting feelings that make you smile without knowing that you are.

I do not imagine that Johnny and Baby make it outside the walls of the resort. They don’t live happily ever after. That is not the point. And the resort itself — it’s days are probably numbered. Baby probably goes on to do good work in a helping profession, probably marries a solid guy who makes decent money, has two or three kids, runs the PTO, and hosts an outstanding Thanksgiving each year, and never again has sex like she had that summer.

She may find happiness in life but deep down in places she doesn’t talk about at the cocktail parties she is required to go to as part of upper-middle class life she experience occasional bodily twinges of what it means to be who she is, exposed in front of the world, moving her body fully in rhythm with the music, being totally fucking alive.

OK. Yeah. Sure. I know. Chicks movie.

Awareness

It is staggering how much I keep fumbling for identity this well into the proceedings.

You reach a certain point in which you look back and see how unsettled you used to be and think, “I’m so glad I’m not back there anymore.” There is pleasure in this moment: when you actually look down your own nose at your past self.

Silly kid!

But then you press your more weathered nose against another window and, surprisingly, see in it your reflection. While you were not fooled before — while you are not, in fact, where you once were — you aren’t as formed as you thought when you felt so mighty as to sneer at yourself.

Look at how you just tried to show who you are in the way you made that joke to the book club. In the way you looked for that organization to support. That team to root for. That woman to hold.

It’s the way of life — oscillation is the word that comes up — growth then regression then growth again — and probably the Buddhists would have something to say to me about attachment and ideas of the Self.

But I do not wish to grasp at answers this morning.

I wish not to solve anything. Or try to put down something called truth.

I think this is enough: to see what I have seen about myself.

(Not Exactly) The Only Thing We Have to Fear

Simmering in the back — and sometimes in the front — of my mind for months now has been anxieties about the presidential election. Almost no matter the result, I fear the aftermath.

At various times I have focused my angsty energy on who the challenger would be … who the current occupant of the White House’s supporters are … what the current polls say … what calamity or obscenity or violation of the law the current occupant committed today/yesterday/this week/this pandemic. I have been beside myself over the absence of felicity by members of Congress to their oaths to the Constitution. I have lamented the lack of relationship to common standards of decency by elected leaders.

While I will not go so far as to say I no longer direct ire or a gust in such directions — to be sure, I am not that good — I have more or less settled on the following:

If the election is free and fair — if every eligible voter who wants to vote can vote — and if every vote that is cast is counted, the current occupant of the White House will not win.

– Or –

If the current occupant of the White House does, by way of free and fair election, in fact, win — if America looks at the state of things and collectively concludes that four more years of this is advised — then we will get what we deserve.

This leaves my tribulations squarely on the mechanics of the election itself.

Will the election be free and fair?

Will every eligible voter be able to cast her or his vote?

Will all votes cast be accurately counted?

Here my fears are fumbling around in the dark. And this was the case before the current occupant of the White House actively initiated steps to bring about the deleterious operations of the U.S. Postal Service for his potential political advantage ahead of an election in which mail-in voting is just commonsensical.

Given that no actual laws or common mores govern the current occupant of the White House and the party that sustains him, it leaves me thinking nearly anything is possible — that no amount of meddling in the election is off limits to one powerful person and his party, which controls one of the most powerful legislative bodies in the world.

This is the paradigm: we elect our leaders.

This is the system’s grand correction: we have the chance to follow big mistakes with lesser ones.

If we do not have free and fair elections — if we cannot agree that a free and fair election has occurred — the paradigm on which our country was founded is shattered.

Americans agree on little. Bless us. But we have always agreed on the foundation of our democratic republic.

It is one thing to learn that a cause or candidate or specific piece of legislation you believe in has not or will not advance. It is another thing altogether when the principles around which your country operates comes into doubt.

Of course, I am one person. I have modest means. I have minuscule power. What can I do?

The election is, of course, for all practical purposes, outside my control.

Shall I then throw up my hands and hope for the best?

As meager as my efforts may be in the grand scheme, it seems important to focus on what I can do.

Every day I can do something. One thing at least. Whether that is learning something new about our elections or our history or whether that’s giving in some way — of my time (making a phone call, writing a letter, volunteering to serve) or money (donating to a worthy democracy-saving effort).

More than anything let me set my intention to do that, to do one thing — even if it’s a small thing — every day.