Patience

One reason it’s good to have less money is that it forces you to be more patient.  A couple of weeks ago, my laptop took a turn for the worse.  Since I tripped over the cord, getting a good connection between the outlet and the computer is a tricky business.  Sometimes it requires repeated twisting and jostling, and sometimes prayer or cursing.  I’ve gotten used to that.

But then one night the incantations didn’t work– I gave the cord my special attentions, and when it was feeling just right, glowing the orange light for battery charging, I propped it on its side over night, using a heavy book and my ottoman to keep it in position.  In the morning– still dead.

I was so upset, it took me another week to realize this was probably the battery, a reasonably replaceable item.  I would not throw the laptop off a cliff, or go steal one from the Apple store.  Not yet.

What we gain in wealth, we lose in patience.  Patience is what is left after the money and anergy are gone.  Because I couldn’t afford to buy a new laptop (with real money anyway), I waited to calm down enough to figure out what was wrong.  Then I went to buy one (out of stock), and then I ordered one online (still waiting for it to arrive).   Patience, patience.

I can’t think of anything more useful to my work than patience.  Not to teaching, not to writing.  I see that people are disillusioned with President Obama.  I’m glad no one would judge my teaching by my first two years.  I had to be patient with myself, even more than with the students.  It was incredibly frustrating to know how important my job was, and know how poorly I was doing it.  So I feel for him.

I don’t understand why people associate Democrats with the deficit, rather than seeing the consequences of Bush’s tax cuts (less revenue) coupled with years and years of war (more expenditures).  Lower taxes on the wealthy don’t raise all ships.  If they did, we’d all be afloat right now.  And higher ones brought us into wonderfully prosperous times.  Do people not have the patience to follow events over time?  Looking at history takes patience.

I hope that our tough times can teach us patience, and give us the time to consider causes and effects more carefully, to think about how we got where we are, rather than just voting out of anger.  It feels good to throw a laptop off a cliff, I bet.  It probably feels good to vote out of anger, too.  But patience can take you further in the long run.  It encourages a spirit of kindness– which we all need through difficulties.

Slow Leak/Quick End

Although you would expect a pants-on-fire liberal like me to freak out about the BP oil disaster, I found myself oddly unable to get riled up.  It’s true, I often compare oil companies to drug dealers.  They’re feeding evil, and not evil themselves.  I prefer oil companies, since they don’t directly feed cycles of violence and poverty in my neighborhood, and transportation and air conditioning seem like greater goods than getting high.

It also  failed to rile me because the whole situation made so much psychological sense.  For example, I think my last relationship was the BP oil spill.  Watching trouble burbling, I thought I could handle it.  Knowing there was danger, I went ahead anyway because I was trying to get at something important.  And then, even though the waste and the goo was getting everywhere, it took me a while to ask for help.  Maybe part of the reason America freaked out so bad was that it’s not just an environmental disaster: we all have our own oil spills, whose pollution we are powerless to stop.

A broken oil well, deep underwater, is a lot like a troubled romantic relationship.  No one knows what is going on down there, and no one really knows what to do about it.  Following this metaphor to its natural conclusion, I blame President Obama’s distraction with silly matters like the war in Afghanistan and our floundering economy for my breakup.

This week, some guy in Utah opted for the firing squad.  Go ahead, shoot me, he said.  Dick Wolf, of “Law & Order” fame, was interviewed on “Fresh Air” recently, and he mentioned that it’s a very bad idea to tell someone to shoot you.  While hanging out with cops and detectives, doing research for cop shows, he learned that when staring down a gun, many now-dead people had snarled, “Go ahead!  Shoot me!” And real people with guns, unlike television characters with guns, are only too happy to oblige.

They did shoot the guy in Arizona, while his friends were singing “Free Bird” in the parking lot.  Of course, your choices are limited when the state decides to kill you.  The quick method is the only one they’ll allow.  They don’t say, “Hey, we can give you a slow-growing cancer to suffer with for 10 years, or you can be lethally injected in 7 years and get it over with?”  I’d choose the cancer.

In fact, I’m so committed to the slow leak that I rarely consider the firing squad.  Sometimes it would be a great idea to go up to a problem in your life and blurt, “Go ahead!”  I’d rather throw rubber tires at my problems.  I’d rather send down an extra straw to suck up most, if not all, of the poison.

There’s another reason I can’t freak out at BP.  I know we’ve done screwy things to confuse nature, but here in the midwest, I see too much empty space, and too much nature working and working things out.  I am conservative about the environment.  Better safe than sorry.  At the same time, I believe in the power of time and the deep down urge of life to live.  Plankton want to live.  Birds want to live.  The ocean wants to work this oil out and grow things again.  If I’ve lived my own oil spill, over and over again, I’ve also seen my messes wash themselves out, gather and break down, dilute and dissipate.  With care and good intentions, it’s amazing what can wash out.

Firing squad article:

http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2010/06/19/20100619FiringSquad0619.html

Dick Wolf interview:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=96741775

Reforming

It was a very partisan car I was riding in.  I fantasize about having cocktails with FDR over his stamp collection.  The driver sitting next to me wishes he lived next to the Bush family, so he could mow their grass when they are out of town.  The House was debating health care reform in Washington, DC, and we were debating health care on I-35, north of Oklahoma City.

Our discussion in the car was painful.  Sometimes I had to send my focus across the southbound half of the interstate, to the Oklahoma pine trees wearing late spring snow.  Or I would see a nest in a tree and say to myself, hmmm, there’s a nest.

It was not easy to sit through the discussion.  Maybe the cancer histories of various relatives were invoked.  Maybe someone suggested that people who love European ways so much should go live there.  I absolutely did not endorse Cuban dictatorships or mob-fueled economic revolutions.  In fact, I joked about Cuba and coup d’etats.  Jokes, especially self-deprecating jokes, are an antidote for poison that creeps into conversation.

What saved us was that it’s hard to hate a Republican when he’s driving you in his car on a fabulous road trip.  And it’s hard to hate a Democrat when she just sneaked downstairs to the hotel lobby to buy you a bag of peanut M & Ms (your favorite).  Also, I kept reminding my pounding, impassioned heart that no one had a gun to my head.  Breathe deeply.  It’s just politics.

Health care reform is almost a miracle.  I was so afraid, so many times, that fear would win.  We can’t find the money.  We can’t try a new way.  It will only get worse.  We can’t let the government have more power.  They mess everything up.  We are too poor now.  Health care will bankrupt us. I do believe this will be difficult to pay for.  My insurance and health care costs are a significant expense.  They would be an impossible expense if I had a serious illness or lost my job, however.

It is also impossible to know what any complex government program will cost– we have merely projections based on theories.  But we will adjust.  We are tough.  We are cowboys.   We have rearranged and held together Medicare and Social Security with duct tape.  We have cut up welfare and sewn it back together.  Not because it was easy or cheap.  Because the value of a human being is not tied to her financial solvency, or her health.  Because we want to protect our greatest asset: our people, and their muscle and creativity.  They aint no good to us when they’re ailing!

I have to admit that later, when I saw the 6:20 pm update on the internet, I actually danced around my bedroom and made up a song about Nancy Pelosi and Obama and Rahm Emmanuel.  None of them have easy names to rhyme, let me tell you.

Health care reform is almost a miracle to me.  A real honest-to-God miracle, all partisanship aside,  is being able to discuss controversial political issues in a moving car without anyone screaming, jumping out, or bursting into tears.  A real miracle requires the strength to listen when your mouth wants to whip the other person’s argument senseless.

What if it even ended with people saying, “I love you anyway”?  Let me assure you: it happens.

Summit

I was called to a summit, representing the United States of Me in talks regarding Thanksgiving 2009.  I am not a very effective delegate, but unfortunately the people can’t find anyone else to do the job.  The only smart move I made was to stop for a pastry and a coffee on the way.

Because I have the metabolism of a hummingbird, my mother taught me never to attend meetings without food.  I had to teach myself to put on the armor of coffee.  It’s just not worth the risk to enter dangerous territory uncaffeinated.

Although I would be caffeinated and fed, I was completely out of ideas approaching the summit.  The only thing I was sure of was that I liked wearing my new pink shoes and black gloves with buttons.  It was chilly and the trees were naked and the light is so strange this time of year: the bent morning sun looks like evening to me.

I thought about some arguments that would really zing, and then I imagined some postures I could take that would give me the sheen of complete enlightenment (always a winning strategy).  I parked my car in the street and bumbled around the building with my coat hanging open.  There was a woman right inside the door, but she said, “Oh, I’m not in line.  Go ahead.”  And then I was standing right behind a soldier.

A guy in fatigues and combat boots, at least.  My whole family is fine, many of us would be together for the holiday, and my job does not include any expectation of gunfire or attack, no worry about being wounded or killed or lost.  So I felt like an ass, getting all worked up about the minor politics of my Thanksgiving and who ought to do what and how.

We waited.  Milk steamed, smoothies blended, newspapers whisper-turned.

I believe in peace, theoretically.  I just have a hard time keeping peace inside my own head, or between me and people I love with abandon.  I believe in peace, and settlements.  Achieving peace requires a lot of fighting.  I had a soldier in my head who had been employed a great deal lately, running defense and hiding and setting up booby traps and marching on the offensive.  I wasn’t sure I had been deploying him wisely.

President Obama has been trying to figure out what to do about Afghanistan.  I am so pleased that he took his time.  We recently witnessed the consequences of rushing into a war recklessly (or maybe we witnessed a carefully planned thing dressed up in the costume of carelessness– whichever).  I am happy to see that, even if his decision doesn’t pan out, he has at least taken the time to think it through.  You could say a lot of nasty things about the man, but thoughtlessness doesn’t seem to be one of his vices.

The soldier ahead of me ordered, and I then I wondered if I should thank him, or offer to buy his coffee or something, but then, wouldn’t that be awkward?  Maybe he’d feel weird having a measly civilian woman buy him coffee.  Or maybe he would feel weird about being thanked– I have had a guy just back from Iraq tell me he thought I was braver– he’d rather return to a war zone than teach high school.  Was his service more thank-worthy than mine, or the barista’s?  Or maybe he’s an extra for a commercial they’re filming around the corner, and not a soldier at all.

My brain whipped itself into knots, and he ordered two coffees to go, and took them, and then it was my turn to order, and I had no idea what I wanted.

I drove on, to the summit.  Sat on the couch.  Drank my coffee.  I didn’t give up any territory.  I got huffy.  Said ridiculous things.  Stood up.  Sat back down.  Sometimes listened.

Eventually, the Thanksgiving issues receded, relatively unresolved, and I agreed to have lunch.  Having lunch is always an important negotiating tactic, a clever strategic move in a long conflict, regardless of your metabolism, and especially if the offer includes chips and salsa.