Nine years

Number 9 by Theo Schildkamp (2020) : Painting Acrylic on Canvas - Singulart
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It has been nine years since I started ruminationville, and if you have followed me during this time you would know that each January I reflect here on the previous twelve months. At the beginning of 2020, my daughter and I spent some days together in Upstate New York, and, from my point of view, they were glorious. How could we have known then that in several weeks’ time the world would be gripped by a raging pandemic — one that would send us all scrambling for the relative safety of our individual cloisters and that would leave us humbled by the staggering chutzpah of a microscopic virus, which, by the beginning of 2021, would kill upwards of 400,000 souls in the US alone?

And how could we have known then that Donald Trump, the Devil incarnate, would deliver a year of selfishness, corruption, lawlessness, and violence that would eclipse all that we had to endure for the previous three years from this monster and his sycophants? (Or for the previous four years if you count the moment when, in stunning vainglory, he descended a golden escalator that took him to the basement of his eponymous New York tower.)

But if these past few weeks have shown me nothing, they have revealed the importance of locating in myself an enduring core of kindness and good will that I can hold up like a crucifix to those who would destroy our peace (including, of course, the Satanic base of murderous, racist, anti-Semitic Trump fans who on January 6 rampaged through Congress and terrorized those who were there to earn a living).

It would be a lie to say that I have not had to contend with monsters in my own head who internally (and, occasionally, externally) spew their particular, profanity-laced versions of hatred against this unspeakable evil. Indeed I have. But it is equally true to say that my own darkness is no match for the love I feel for the world itself.

At the least I can tell you that, throughout my years on Earth, I have held within my heart a glinting thread of hope (for what is love if not everlasting hope). And this has been true no matter the various calamities that have found me — or me them. There is much that I cherish — but nothing and no one more so than my daughter. This is a love without end. My love for dear friends who have offered nothing but positive regard across our many seasons also endures. Even the confusing love I have carried for a man who in 20 years has never once shown me a moment of genuine kindness, even that love remains — though I confess it is a love that has tried to flee whenever my back has been turned.

An “unexpected flash of beauty”

This past weekend, Maryland birders were delighted to see a male painted bunting in their home state. They were especially thrilled because, according to an article in The Washington Post, this beauty, “known for its kaleidoscope of colors,” is typically seen only in Florida and elsewhere in the south. As has been true wherever humans benefit from plundering Mother Nature, we enjoy the gifts she gives us at her — and at our own — expense: “[T]he painted bunting is one of several species included in a recently published study from the National Audubon Society demonstrating that climate change is causing a shift in birds’ ranges during winter and breeding seasons.”

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Where in the world?

Abstract Airplane Paintings | Fine Art America

At 6 pm on election night I sat down to watch the results on MSNBC, and at 8 am the following morning I was still glued to my seat. Throughout the night I was at times filled with despair about the real possibility that Donald Trump would be re-elected and that the Senate would remain under the demonic control of Mitch McConnell. But now that it is two days later, that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris seem poised to win, and that the Senate may well see a Democratic majority before all is said and done, I am feeling less hopeless.

Increasingly, though, I am questioning why, even if Biden wins and the Senate reverts to Democratic control (after two pivotal run-off elections in Georgia), I would want to continue living in a country where almost half of its inhabitants are racist, anti-Semitic, white nationalists who believe any lies Trump tells them and who live in a reality I simply cannot begin to fathom. So, my daughter and I have been talking about leaving the United States. Here are several countries we are thinking about: England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain (and then a few outliers like Greece, the Netherlands, and New Zealand). Of course, getting jobs will be crucial for the both of us, so much depends on our ability to secure work for ourselves before we pack our bags and go.

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Tenderness

Image result for the number 8 meaningAlthough it has been eight years since I started ruminationville, I have not maintained it actively since the corrupt, greedy, lying, self-serving, misogynistic, racist creep sleeping in the White House stole the election. In part my relative silence has been because of a growing belief that whatever I might have to say here would seem frivolous in light of the grave dangers that now confront us. I think, also, that I have been unable to proceed here with business as usual because I have changed over these past several years.

As I have watched myself careen daily between rage, grief, sadness, and fear — and as I have looked for ways to right myself — I have come to realize that what interested me most when I started this blog no longer interests me very much. More than wanting to become a better writer, I think I wanted to see if I could be disciplined enough to write regularly because I had been led to believe that I had no business calling myself a writer unless I wrote with determination and consistency. Now I see that I can call myself a writer even if I never write another word. Who’s to tell me otherwise?

And where previously I came to think that being a writer was my life path (and it certainly had seemed so), several years ago I found I had been placed on another path when I wasn’t looking. It began in 2016 when I was searching for a way to supplement my income since one cannot pay one’s bills and eat on an adjunct professor’s salary. I also was looking for a way to exit teaching because, after more than 20 years in the profession, I had lost my passion for it.

Having had some experience in the mental health field, I applied for a part-time job working with young adults who had experienced their first episode of psychosis. To my surprise, I was offered a full-time position. Unfortunately, after two years in this job I was let go because the program had been taken over by another, much larger organization that required someone in my role to have an undergraduate degree in psychology, social work, or a related field. Although at that point I had several advanced degrees, none satisfied the requirement, and I was left scrambling to find new work. Fortunately a supervisor went to bat for me, and I was hired to do a similar job for the same organization, though in a different program with different degree requirements for staff.

I realized then that, if I wanted to leave teaching and if in the future I wanted to be considered for better-paying, more professional mental health positions, I would need another graduate degree. Colleagues told me that a master’s in social work would be the most versatile degree, so I applied to an MSW program and was accepted. Believe me when I say that I was not eager to return to school, yet here I am with a year and a half of course work behind me and with my first of two required internships well underway.

When I finish my degree, I think I would be happy enough to remain in Northern Virginia, where I live: I have friends, work, and a spiritual community to which I have belonged for many years. I am confident, also, that I could get a better job with my new credentials. The only problem is that my daughter has returned to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she was born and where we lived while she was growing up. She was pining for her home, and now I am pining for her.

As a holiday gift, she sent me a baby peperomia plant. The directions said I should give it a name, and, although “Cheryl” popped immediately into my head, I found I could not remember it for the life of me. My daughter thought I might not be able to remember the name because it didn’t seem to really suit the plant, so I asked her to suggest another. Though fragile, “Sofia” appears to be thriving, and I have no trouble remembering what to call her. Daily I speak with her, touch her leaves gently, and open the blinds to let in the light. I feel great tenderness for her, in fact, and am becoming aware that she is as much a being as I am. When I let it, this realization breaks open my heart and allows a certain kind of love to enter. Perhaps it is this love that will help guide me in the decisions I soon will need to make.

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Tea for two

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For quite some time I have been relatively silent here. I could say much has changed, but you would not know it necessarily: As always, I seek solitude wherever I can; typically wear loose, dark clothing, with black as a preference; and remain folded in melancholy, though generally I can keep a sense of irony about things.

I also remain steadfast in the love and devotion I feel for my daughter, and I still believe I am called to serve the fragile. If years back you had asked me how I felt about my father, my mother, and my brother, I would have said that I loved them but that I might have died from their dark betrayals. I would say the same today but would add that I am not an innocent either.

Still I have more and more come to accept my nature and my past: I have made so many grave mistakes, particularly in relationships. Yet, I do not think I could have done otherwise, and perhaps I should not have done otherwise. More and more, too, I am roiled by rage as I watch men (and, sadly, women) who do not seem to possess even a trace of self-knowledge hurtle us toward the end of days. But I am less and less afraid of my anger. In fact, I can welcome him in now and can delight in pouring us a cup of tea. He and I have much to discuss.

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Six years

#6 Boffi

It has been more than six years since I published my first piece on this site, and for five of those years I was diligent about marking the anniversary of each passing year with a post that would somehow measure the progress I thought I might have made during the previous twelve months.

This past year, my sixth as queen of an undistinguished, microminiature cyber realm, I found myself changing in ways I could hardly bear to notice, much less measure, and discovered I had been shaken loose from a habit of writing often and from a feeling that what I had to say would matter to those who visited here. I have come to see that, these days, writing mostly means my having to unearth a personal history that pains me profoundly (and from which I have long fled). Much of my previous confidence has hightailed it, too.

It all began last January, when I saw the country I didn’t even know I loved begin to lose its wheels, and I watched with horror while a man with a soul as dark as death made off with the presidency of the United States.

It enrages me just to see his picture or to hear his voice, which means I have been in a near-constant rage for more than a year because there is no escaping him. And, while it is true that I am angry about what he and his sycophants are doing to the republic and that my feelings appear to be those of a patriot, I have come to see that the fury has more to do with my own afflicted history than it does with the squatter in the White House. Watching him gaslight his way through the first year of a presidency without even a hint of remorse has poured a terrible light on the traumas of my earlier life, when a family of miscreants abused and confused me almost beyond repair.

The #MeToo movement also has forced me to reckon with a history of two failed marriages as well as to reflect soberly on my countless other relationships (or make-believe relationships) in which I sought, and found, the same confusing abuse I experienced as a child. And it has afforded me a certain amount of emotional cover so that I could endure reliving the sexual harassment and molestation I experienced at the hands of employers, doctors, and others I thought I was obliged to trust.

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Boys to men

Men Will Be Boys” at the 2013 Minnesota Fringe Festival | Twin ...

As much-admired men in the public sphere fall, I am deeply saddened by their tumble-down because some, like Louis CK and Kevin Spacey, are genius. And we are going to need a boatload of genius to counterbalance the idiocy we now see in Washington, DC.

I am wildly grateful, though, that at last there has come a moment of public reckoning for men who would use their prestige and power to assault women with impunity. And I am very much for town-square pillorying if this serves as a warning to those who even contemplate the kind of beastly violations that lately have come to light.

Yet, I don’t think there is a woman living, or dead, who has not experienced, or witnessed, our culturally nourished abuse and diminution of women. Even the best of boys learn when they are toddling that they can run roughshod over girls. Daddy and mommy might even think it cute — the emerging machismo of their male offspring. And what high school locker room has not enwalled its share of towel-snapping teens snickering about the school “slut” who gave it up the night before?

Why, just the other day, while waiting at a crosswalk, I was standing behind a group of adolescent boys who were laughing about a tweet one had seen, which posed these questions: “Why do girls wear whore costumes for Halloween? Aren’t they supposed to dress up as something they are not?”

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Turning Five

Number Five Print 5 x 7 Inches by keesandme on Etsy, $10.00:

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Each year since I started Ruminationville, I have made an inner commitment to reflect on the 12 months leading up to its birthday on January 14, when this year on that day the earth will have completed 5 or so orbits around the sun.

At times, especially over the past few weeks, I have found myself wondering what would happen if the site simply disappeared, signed off, said sayonara. Maybe fewer than a handful of you would miss my blog for a very little while, but before long it would be as though it, and I, never existed. This is not an unbearable thought, though, since, try as most of us might to deny how little we matter in the scheme of things, the naked truth is that we matter little in the scheme of things.

Yet I deeply believe there is a purpose to every life on this fragile planet — both on an individual and at a collective level — and I somehow feel that, were I to go dark, I would not have finished fulfilling a piece of my part. Still, I find myself becoming restless here and wanting to try something new, learn something new, be someone new.

On this last point, I do not mean to suggest that I would wish to suddenly wake up a blue-eyed, blonde-haired 20-year-old with white, straight teeth. I mean that I wish for continued spiritual growth — evolution, if you will — and out of that maturing a change that, through me, shines itself brightly in this darkening world.

This year, I find myself wanting to light the menorah of my ancestors — my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents, and all those who came before them. Always I have felt compelled to participate in Christmas festivities because not doing so meant feeling even more of an outsider in a world that, by and large, does not welcome its Jews into the fold. Tonight, as I light the first candle of Chanukah, I will think of my forebears with reverence. And I will honor, too, the sacred Christ that resides within me, within us all.