Art of Citizenship

Civic:  relating to the duties or activities of people in relation to their town, city, or local area.

It’s like history:  people think of history as these broad narratives usually of, by, and for white men.  Digression.  Back in March 2018, the Hoover Institution (on War, Revolution, and Peace) sponsored a conference on “Applied History.”  Thirty male historians, one female historian, ALL white, ALL associated with American institutions.  Not having been there, I couldn’t tell you what “Applied History” actually means; my knee-jerk reaction is to wonder whether anyone talked about the use and misuse of history by policymakers, or whether this was just a bunch of white Americans telling policymakers what they should be doing on a national and international basis.

What do people mean by civic?

Yesterday, a very young and lost boxer followed me for a mile.  I went back to my Airbnb and not knowing what to do, asked my host to help me.  She cut me off:  “The dog needs to go back on the street, he can’t be here, and I can’t help you.”  After the initial panic, I realized that I can in fact take care of the problem.  I called the local no-kill shelter, they referred me to Animal Control, and I sat with the dog until the officer showed up thirty  minutes later.  He assured me the dog would be scanned for microchip information, held for 24 hours to wait for owner, then taken to the no-kill shelter.  Today, I have a “civic” survey in my inbox, asking me what I think civic means.  Based on the choices on page one, civic would seem to mean citizen action of the obvious sort recognizable by the general public:  voting, demonstrating, petitioning.  Yesterday, DH and some neighbors sent out postcards to registered voters encouraging them to vote in the upcoming midterm elections.  Yesterday, I rescued a friendly young dog with no common sense.  Yesterday, I found out my Airbnb host, who has a full life as a feminist/Democrat/community activist, did not see my action as a civic one.

I must admit that I was tempted to ignore the dog . . .  but he was so obviously lost and clueless.  A couple of local neighbors helped figure out that the dog belongs to a family not far from where I am staying, his name is Bruno, and he is quite young (about 5 months old).  I am hopeful his family picked him up from Animal Control last night.

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On my last morning in Santa Fe, I found this heart hanging on a fence outside a Canyon Road art gallery.  I am indeed grateful that I am lucky enough to live in a country where civic action — or inaction — is (still) a choice and a right.

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The Three of Us

My medical school preceptors considered me a rather mediocre student; it was not necessarily a wrong assessment.  I kept my head down, I made no waves, I just wanted to be done . . . .  because being lower than whale dung really sucks.  Other students were much more savvy: look eager, ask lots of questions (especially ones you know the answers), flatter the attendings.  Get good evaluations, and you are on your way to the rest of your life.  

The rest of my life did not follow, but it is many years later now, and it is a reunion year.  The alumni reunion coordinator had no volunteers to be our class co-chairs, so I thought, “Why not?”  Why not, indeed.  This is not altruism, it is an experiment on myself:  I have time, I want to know if this could be my personal Creative Morning, and I am curious how my former classmates define success. 

I wrote a reunion letter so inspiring that am tempted to go to the reunion!  And then, the coordinator gets not one, not two, but three more volunteers:

The three of us are willing to be the co-chairs for the upcoming class of ’93 reunion. None of us have a whole lot of time . . .  blah blah blah . . . 

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Well gosh.  The Three of Us and Bisy Backson, all in one!  

The coordinator has sent my inspirational reunion letter on to The Three of Us, and is sure that they will “connect” with me.  She is so optimistic — but I suppose she has to be to deal with medical alumni. 

I am back remembering the day I realized that The Three of Us (or rather, The Six of Us, of which The Three of Us was a subset) and I had never been friends.  These women were a clique back then, and they remain a clique now.  And of course, the core truth of a clique is that while you-the-outsider can clearly identify them as the clique, they do not identify you as anything because they never think about you at all.  On that day I remember my truth: “How stupid am I?”

But there is hope yet for my inner Opie: the memories are vivid, but they no longer sting.  And that is very good news indeed because I am, of course, on tenterhooks waiting to see whether I will be noticed by The Three of Us Bisy Backsons!

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Tenter frames, Otterburn Mill, Northumberland

Santa Fe 2018

“I don’t go to Santa Fe anymore; it just isn’t what it used to be.” She was New Mexico born and bred, still lives in Albuquerque, and goes to Taos for what Santa Fe used to be.  I have been visiting Santa Fe for almost 20 years, and I have my own ideas of what Santa Fe is, and was: It is a city with many identities, and I don’t think it was ever what it used to be.

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In Santa Fe, I am Opie: I am open, I am kind, I listen.  It is an interesting persona for me, and for a few minutes out of their day, people can unload some part of their identities on a stranger who listens, who they will not see again.  On a whim I went to a Creative Mornings Santa Fe event.  The speaker was a physicist, and while he was interesting, it was the mixer before the talk that was stimulating.  I talked to Sharon for about half an hour: she  had seen someone fill in the name badge blank under “I’m curious to know about your . . . .” with “first love,” and she told me not about her first love, but about her last love.  A white woman who grew up in a tiny Hispanic village thinking she “fit in,” only realizing as she really grew up that she fit in only because of the kindness of her neighbors, and that then as now, she was never going to fit into her Hispanic lover’s world.

I think I fit in, until something happens that tells me I do not:  A look from someone who wonders what an Asian woman could possibly know about small town architecture, or multiple histories of settlement of the American West, or distorted symbolism(s) of the Alamo . . .  I think racism doesn’t apply to me, until it applies.

But then, on my last day in Santa Fe, a random act of joy:

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A small act of inclusion and acceptance from a stranger.

In between, a thought-provoking interactive/immersive installation at the New Mexico Museum of Art: Pollination, by the art collective Postcommodity:

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Enter a stall, insert token:

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The shade goes up, and the show begins:

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Nature, managed and controlled, not quite real, the object of desire in a land of little rain.

Treasures

Almost three years after Mom’s death, I continue to find things she — and Dad — saved.  Yesterday was a day of days as I tackled cobwebs.   Mom feared open windows and closed doors:  open windows meant drafts, and closed doors signified  secrets.  So of course all the spider places are along window tracks she never used, behind open doors she never closed.  As I crawled around cleaning, I was distracted by cabinet doors Mom never dusted — but then, who wipes down cupboard doors, or any other doors, these days?

I found her sewing box in a wet bar cabinet.  It is a plastic multi-tiered affair of avocado green, and inside I found a mostly unused spool of lime green thread.  Mom bought that thread for the  pants I made in my 7th grade sewing class.  The pants were indeed lime green, high-waisted, flare-bottomed, with a zipper at the back.  I remember getting an A on the project; I was so proud of that zipper!  Mom, on the other hand, had nothing good to say about my pants:  she hated the color, the fabric, the cut.   A few years ago, Mom and I were talking about something to do with sewing, and I said I was too scared of zippers, and she said she remembered that I did a good job on the pants zipper.  I am sure in her memory, she liked the pants too!

In the wet bar, in a drawer that is a repository of obsolete remote controls and cordless phone sets, I found a small ziplock bag with a few bits of broken shells and rocks.  When  the College Student was 8 or 9, we stopped at a beach in Santa Barbara on our way to a family reunion.  The College Student forgot the bag when she packed to come home, then she forgot about the shells entirely.  Mom saved it, because she’s Mom.  She would  not have wanted to tell her granddaughter that she tossed her little treasures.

Kiri's shells

 

 

Remember Life

DD has a goal for the summer:  climb as many 14ers as possible (this is a Colorado “thing”).  Last weekend she hiked four in one day: Democrat, Cameron (although it is not technically a true 14er), Lincoln, and Bross.  As she fulfills her bucket list, I think about my own list from when I was about her age.  There I was, backpacking through Europe during my junior year abroad, and ticking off as many countries and cities as I could visit on my 2-month Eurail Pass.  And let me tell you, you can hit quite a few cities if you are willing to sleep overnight on trains then run like mad from one famous site to the next.  Then repeat.

The smart phone makes it so easy for people to have pictorial evidence of their existence at any moment in time.  An actress once explained to an interviewer why she didn’t take selfies with fans:  Just because you don’t have a picture doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  I dragged a 35 mm Canon with multiple lenses around Europe, and I have hundreds of photographs of “can’t miss” places.  I have pictures of Lucerne and Zurich, and zero memories.  As in, I don’t even remember BEING there.  Just because I have pictures doesn’t mean it happened.

As I age, I worry more and more about the state of my mind.  Are these lapses in memory, lapses in my vocabulary, lapses in attention — are these significant?  Or has my brain in fact become more efficient at weeding out extraneous information?  This of course would be a much kinder interpretation.  I visit Tom Vander Well’s Wayfarer blog every now and then and come away inspired to change something in my life.  Today, the entry I read had to do with what we choose to focus on as we age (“Fixing Our Eyes on Life”).   Aside from the inherent optimism of choosing to focus on the life ahead, the message resonates with me as I watch my father dying in place.  His eyes are turned inward to all his memories of his parents (dead), his brothers and sisters (dead), Mom (dead), and finally to his own existence (what is the point?).

When DD was younger and we corrected her, she would try out some sort of explanation or excuse.  She then graduated to “I will do better,” and now she just says “Okay.”  I have no idea what “the point” is, but I keep trying.  Fixing our eyes on Life?  OK.

Anger Management

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January 20, 2017

Optimism, in front of a non-denominational, non-profit community coffee house.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe it.  Not only do I not believe it, I am not sure it is all that helpful right now.  But that is because I continue to be angry.

My word for the year is SHOULD:  it is an insidious, neither here-nor-there sort of word, it commits you to nothing.  I should work on my anger.

On Carnival Barker’s inauguration day, I cleared dog poop along the trail.  Now, I do trail cleanup pretty much every day (my personal — if tiny — commitment to the environment), but it seemed especially appropriate that day.  It also seemed like there were even more piles than usual.  As I said, inauguration day.  And for a couple of hours, I did something more useful to me than inadequate messages of optimism:  I worked on my anger.

More Things I Forgot to Remember

During my medical training, attendings reminded us again and again to treat patients with dignity:  simple things, such as addressing them by title and last name, keeping them properly draped during physical examinations, sitting down at eye level when possible. The physical nature of the relationship between doctors and patients does not always bode well for that injunction:  there is no dignity in the rectal exam, or in dropping an NG tube, or in any of the many invasive things we do to patients during the acts of healing.  Nevertheless, there are certain things we can do that serve as reminders that our patients are adults, and that their bodies and minds deserve care with compassion and dignity.

So I had forgotten with my father.

“Dad, please eat the last few bites.”  I feed him.

“Dad, you need to take a shower.”  I undress him, I put him in the shower, I soap, I wipe, I dry, I redress him.

“Dad, time to brush your teeth.”  I put toothpaste on toothbrush, fill the cup, watch him brush.

“Dad, wash your hands.”  I give him soap, or hand sanitizer, and I watch to make sure he cleans his hands.

“Dad, please don’t use the stairs by yourself.”  I sleep on a makeshift bed, a human barricade on the staircase landing so that he cannot go downstairs in the middle of the night.

All these things that I think my father need to do, but that he refuses to do on a regular basis.  They are for his own good, right?  Why would he refuse to take care of personal hygiene, or to eat, or to get out of bed, or to do any number of other things that any reasonable human being does, as he did do for most of his life, but has stopped doing since Mom died?

My father is his own person, with his own reasons, making his own choices.  Who am I to try to force him on a course he doesn’t want to take? He wants to be with Mom, and as a thinking being, he is doing something about it.  And it’s about time I remembered the lessons of compassion and dignity.  No question it is a hard thing to watch my father dying, and to let him go on his own terms.  I choose to believe that is his gift to us:  that we are not his parents.

Conversation of the Month:

Me:  “Could you make sure after guests leave Mom and Dad’s house that you clean the                     toilets?  They were filthy after _____ stayed for 8 days back in May, and I had to                     clean them when I got here, 5 months after the fact.  Not fun.”

Brother:  “I did check the toilets, they were fine!”

Me:  “Did you flip the seats up and look underneath?”

Brother (in bewilderment):  “Why would I want to do that?”