Author Archives: mrswhatsit9

Imbolc Potpourri

Brigid's cross on a field of snowdrops

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling lighter in the past few weeks. I know shit is still pretty fucked up – pandemic, what feels like an agonizingly slow roll out of the vaccines to those of us at the back of the line, recession, continuing high unemployment, particularly for women and particularly PARTICULARLY for women of color, right-wing nutjobs running wild – and there’s a lot of damage to repair, but at least we’re being led by competent, empathetic adults, so we can get to work, and that gives me hope. What’s giving you hope these days?

(Also, the days are getting noticeably longer, which helps.)

Although I wasn’t able to leave town or go to my usual warm Caribbean location, I did still do my annual assessment and planning retreat for my business recently. Last year was BY FAR my worst full year in business since going out on my own going on nine years ago. I knew that going into my retreat, of course, but it was still hard to sit down and actually face the details. Now that was because, when I launched, my spouse and I agreed I would pay (and fully fund) my 401K first, so even if I was sacrificing take-home pay to the dream of being my own boss, I wouldn’t be sacrificing OUR retirement, and I have the reserves to more than cover it, but it was still sobering to see that red ink on my year-end management report from my accountant. As a type-A person who is used to pushing myself to succeed and then, you know, actually succeeding, it was a hard lesson for me to say “Last year was not successful, and THAT’S OK.” What hard lesson have you had to accept in the past year? What has it taught you?

I’m well known among my friends for making only fun New Year’s resolutions. I do keep a running list of ideas, and this year seemed like the perfect year for: I will see all the movies nominated in the major categories (director, picture, the acting awards, international, animated, documentary, screenplay) BEFORE the Oscar ceremony which, this year, is in late April.

Yes, that’s a LOT of movies – in the worst case scenario (little to no overlap, which is rare), we’re talking~60 movies.

But, one, it’s not like I have an otherwise full social calendar; and two, everything will certainly be available via one of the streaming services. Now, the Academy still isn’t going to announce the nominees until mid-March, about six weeks out from the ceremony, but insiders are already speculating about likely nominees, which means I can get a BIG head start, so I won’t be facing trying to watch ~60 movies in ~40 days.

And I have been, starting with the movies everyone is handicapping for Best Picture and Best Director. I’m ten movies in (some likely candidates are not available yet), and WHOA, IS IT A LOT OF DUDES. Mank. Da 5 Bloods. One Night in Miami. Soul of Metal. The Trial of the Chicago Seven. Even Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is mostly about Chadwick Boseman’s character, not Viola Davis playing Ma Rainey.

Good movies, all (well, not Da 5 Bloods, but the rest), but where the hell are all the ladies?

So I started looking into the movies that are likely to be up for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. And I realized something. If you want to be up for Best Picture or Best Director, it looks like you better be telling men’s stories, because the juicy acting roles for women don’t make it. So yeah, #OscarsSoWhite (although decreasingly so), but also #OscarsSoMale, and sadly, we don’t seem to be making much progress there.

Image found here.

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“I Appreciate You”

One of the many gifts Black culture has given US culture as a whole is an (if I may) jazzy approach to language. Poetry, rap, slang, playing the dozens, AAVE – Black culture shows us how to play with language, have fun with it, bend it and shape it to amaze, to inspire, to inform, to entertain.

And we all benefit.

One small thing that I’ve been working to add to my common speech patterns is the simple but profound: “I appreciate you.”

Not “I appreciate this thing you did for me.”

Not “I appreciate this thing you gave me.”

I appreciate YOU.

Hearing that – saying that – feels different. My appreciation is not about some way that you helped or benefited me. My appreciation is of you, as a person, in the entirety of your being and just for existing and being who you are.

I’d challenge you to do the same – and to find someone, today, and simply say, “I appreciate YOU.” I think it has the potential to change the way we see the world.

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Local Perspectives on the January 6 Insurrection

Flowers on the fence at the US Capitol

When most of us think of Washington, DC, we picture the monuments. We fondly remember that middle school trip to visit the Smithsonian where we also took in Shear Madness at the Kennedy Center, or a family vacation for the Cherry Blossom Festival. Maybe you’re an avid follower of the National Zoo’s Giant Panda Cam. Or maybe you’ve traveled to DC for the famous Independence Day fireworks and concert on the National Mall. Maybe you’ve even, pre-pandemic, visited your Member of Congress in her/his office or taken a tour of the White House or the US Capitol.

The thing is, more than 700,000 people, average people, REAL Americans (if I may), LIVE in DC. The US Capitol is right in a residential neighborhood, with thousands of regular people – some of whom had to evacuate their homes on January 6 because violent white supremacist Trump supporters planted IEDs at the DNC and RNC headquarters – living steps from the Capitol complex. As I’ve written about before, they lack representation in Congress, which includes limits on local control, self-determination, or their ability to protect themselves.

What I want to do today is link to writing and reporting from and about actual DC residents to help folks outside the area understand what our fellow Americans are going through right now, to empathize with them, and to remember that the thousands of people who live in DC are just as “real” as people who live in Kansas or Louisiana or Idaho or anywhere else in our beloved country.

(Yes, I understand that cops are, largely, problematic. But these particular cops, on this particular day, were heroes.)

To conclude, from a local reporter:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

When you look at the iconic images of our nation’s Capitol, remember the real people who live there who are in real danger right now, and keep them in your thoughts and prayers, particularly in the coming week.

Image from DCist

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My Wish List

For the Biden/Harris, Dem House and Senate first 100 days (and I’m right):

  1. DC Statehood – it will make LITERALLY every other thing Dems want to accomplish easier. It’s past time to end this injustice.
  2. ERA – women are the ones who did the work to bring about all the change that we’ve seen in the past four years. We’re owed.
  3. Voting Rights Act – particularly in the past few days, many people have observed that the Southern states aren’t red – they’re purple states where Black votes are being suppressed. Stacey Abrams, LaTosha Brown, and a host of other Black women activists have been KILLING themselves organizing for years to produce Tuesday’s Senatorial wins in Georgia. They shouldn’t have to.

Yes, there are MANY other things that are critical to address: the TrumPutin admin’s disastrous pandemic response and equally fucked up vaccine distribution roll out, climate change, prosecuting the TrumPutin crime family, including holding them and Congressional Republicans like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley accountable for attempting to overthrow the US government.

But first thing’s first.

Image from LaTosha Brown’s Twitter feed.

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An Afternoon of Normal

lattice top cherry pie

One of the few good things about the pandemic is that commercial food purveyors have opened up accounts to consumers.

Well, to be accurate, they ALWAYS allowed consumer – as opposed to food industry – accounts, but I can’t afford to place a $5000 order, nor would I know where to store that much food if it all arrived at once. Now a $250 minimum? That I can do.

This week, we were ordering for the traditional Italian-American Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes.

(No, neither of us is Italian-American, but I grew up in a heavily Italian area, so I have gleefully appropriated this particular tradition.)

Now, we have a VERY good open air fish market in town here, right along the wharf, but since our Seven Fishes was VERY small this year, I wanted to go fancy – ossetra caviar, bitches! – so while we got the oysters, clams, shrimp, and whole snapper at the fish market, we also put in an order to our favorite commercial purveyor.

While browsing around their site, I noticed something TRULY special: pitted, frozen SOUR cherries. Which are the queen of cherries, particularly if you want to do anything more than just eat them fresh, and are devilishly hard to come by.

Into my cart they went.

One other small fact to be aware of: while the commercial purveyors have dropped the order minimum, in many cases, they haven’t dropped the order QUANTITY.

Which is how I found myself with 40 pounds of pitted, frozen sour cherries on my stoop Wednesday morning.

I was already planning to bake Wednesday afternoon – chocolate almond biscotti, anise pizzelles, amaretti (an Italian meal deserves Italian desserts) – and after loading MANY MANY pounds of cherries into gallon freezer bags and making room for them in the chest freezer in the basement, I knew what I wanted RIGHT NOW: sour cherry pie, the queen of all pies, and, often, devilishly hard to come by.

So I finished up my work for clients and for my business for the year in the morning, and, after a workout/shower/lunch, changed into my Baking Clothes and spent a blissful afternoon in the kitchen working with chocolate and flour and sugar and sour cherries and butter and almonds to make delicious things to eat.

It felt….normal.

And that’s my wish for you this holiday season (whether or not it’s also a holy day for you): that in this uncanny year, you would find a few moments – or even a few hours – here and there that feel blessedly, delightfully, normal.

Photo by the author. If you copy, please link back.

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We’re ALL There

12/13/20 Pearls Before Swine comic strip

It’s pretty common, at this time of year, to reflect on what one has accomplished. And in the era of social media, when so many of us give in to the temptation to “curate” our lives for our platforms (lots of vacation shots and accomplishments, eliding the mistakes and failures), many of us are both seeing – and perpetrating – a highly edited version of our 2020 right now.

In short, lots of “I learned Italian” and very little “I haven’t changed out of my pajamas or showered in three days.”

And we absolutely should be celebrating ANYTHING we managed to accomplish this year, no matter how small. Because it’s been incredibly hard on everyone. Even if you haven’t lost someone you love to COVID-19, or lost a job or your home (or your savings trying to keep your home after losing your job), we’ve all been dealing with fear and isolation and sadness and loneliness and anxiety and boredom and rage.

And all those negative emotions? They’re OK, too. You do not have to be Ms. Mary Sunshine every goddamn minute.

I’m here to give you permission, if you need it, to feel all those “bad” things and to accept yourself right here and right now. In case you need to hear it – in case no one else has told you yet – whatever you have OR HAVEN’T been able to accomplish in this uncanny pandemic year, you’re doing great – amazing, actually, even if you didn’t re-tile your bathroom or learn how to make phyllo from scratch.

And don’t let anyone else tell you different.

Sunday, December 13, 2020 Pearls Before Swine comic strip from Stephen Pastis’s online archive

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May Your Holidays SWING

Little known fact, but there are TWO outstanding jazz versions of the Nutcracker Suite.

The one embedded above is the BETTER known of the two, arranged by the legendary duo of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

However, there is a lesser known version, arranged by Shorty Rogers, that is JUST as tasty and hip. Couldn’t find video, but AllMusic has the audio links.

Now normally, me and the spouse enjoy a night out in the neighborhood around this time of year, walking to dinner at one of our many neighborhood faves, then walking on to the neighborhood performing arts center, where one of our great local jazz orchestras performs Ellington’s version, Rogers’s version, or, if we’re very lucky, BOTH (yes, they did that one year and swore never to do it again because it WORE THEM OUT).

Well, not this year.

But we can still light up the tree, put these sweet, swingin’ tunes on the hi-fi, pour a cocktail, and take a listen. So that’s what we’re going to do.

What are some of your normal holiday traditions? How are you adapting them in this pandemic year?

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Restoring Our Democracy

In just over a month and a half, Joe Biden will be inaugurated the 46th President of the United States.

“Our long national nightmare is over!”

Hold on there, Sparky.

In the final analysis, our democratic institutions held, but just barely, and only by the heroic, unrelenting efforts of Democrats and activists and Democratic activists from Nancy Pelosi to the nice old lady who, COVID risk be damned, worked your local precinct on election day. We had only the most tepid, token, weak assistance from a mere handful of Republicans, and if that sounds like I’m saying that one of our two political parties is irrepairably broken, THAT IS CORRECT.

How do we even begin repairing the damage?

Lots of people have ideas, but I think some of the best have come out of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

In 2018, AAA&S convened a commission on the practice of democratic citizenship, led by Danielle Allen, the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University and Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics; Stephen Heintz, President and CEO of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; and Eric Liu, Cofounder and CEO of Citizen University.

The commission led quantitative and qualitative, ethnographic research with representative samples of Americans from all walks of life and places on the political spectrum that resulted in a report, Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century. The report contains 31 specific recommendations organized under six high-level strategies:

  1. Achieve Equality of Voice and Representation
  2. Empower Voters
  3. Ensure the Responsiveness of Political Institutions
  4. Dramatically Expand Civic Bridging Capacity
  5. Build Civic Information Architecture that Supports Common Purpose
  6. Inspire a Culture of Commitment to American Constitutional Democracy and One Another

I’m chuffed that some of their specific recommendations are things I’ve written about here in the past several years: items from Rep. Don Beyer’s Fair Representation Act (such as multi-member districts and ranked choice voting); ending gerrymandering by turning redistricting over to non-partisan citizens commissions; overturning Citizens United; term limits for the Supreme Court (which Hecate has long advocated for); taking concrete steps to combat voter suppression; immediately and automatically restoring the vote to returning citizens; creating incentives for citizens to get involved in their local communities (too many posts to link); and universal national service, among others.

I strongly encourage you to download and read the full report, available at: https://www.amacad.org/ourcommonpurpose/report.

And then commit to ONE THING you can do to advance one of the recommendations that seems most important to you or resonates best with you.

And if you’re feeling like you could use a little inspiration, make sure to listen to the wise and talented Amanda Gorman, America’s first Youth Poet Laureate, recite her Believer’s Hymn for the Republic.

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#OptOutside

One of my favorite new-school Thanksgiving weekend traditions is REI’s #OptOutside movement.

I’ve never been a Black Friday shopper – I’m claustrophobic in big crowds, I hate getting up early, and I figure there are probably a bunch of people need those deals way more than I do anyway. My temptation has always been to spend the day after Thanksgiving continuing my turkey-and-pie food coma while getting an early start on holiday movies (you know, Bad Santa, Die Hard, etc.).

Several years ago, outdoor retailer/co-op REI launched a movement to #OptOutside. They’re closed today. Rather than demanding that everyone show up at 4 am to open the stores before sunrise, they give their staff the day off and encourage them – and us – to get out and hit the trails.

Sprout Social did a great case study on how something that started as a hashtag and maybe a bit of a PR stunt turned into a movement. And I’m a convert.

This pandemic year will be a bit different – we’re sticking close to home and hitting a national park that’s inside the city limits rather than driving out into the mountains – but as soon as we finish our turkey-and-pie leftovers lunch, we’re outta here to get some fresh air and exercise.

How are you remaining connected with your local landbase in this pandemic year as the days turn shorter and colder?

Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter @MrsWhatsit1.

 

What Does It Look Like to Give Thanks in a Pandemic?

Give Thanks With a Grateful Heart

I mean this in both senses, that of celebrating the holiday itself and that of the act or practice of being thankful, of the actual giving of thanks.

With regards to the second, we’ve been very fortunate in this pandemic year. Neither of us has caught the virus. So far – knock wood – all the friends and family who have caught it either have recovered or are not seriously ill.

My spouse’s job is secure, and although revenue in my business is off significantly (like more than 50%) this year, wouldn’t you know it, our expenses are down quite a bit, too, since we can’t travel or eat out or go to the theater or take dance classes or many of the usual leisure activities we spend money on. So we’re not going to lose the house or anything, and in fact, we’ve been able to increase our charitable giving substantially, which is a good thing, because our local service and arts organizations really need the help right now.

We both normally work from home, so the day-to-day hasn’t changed for us a whole lot (other than NEVER going to an on-site client meeting). Which, combined with my slow work schedule, has meant plenty of time for solo, masked walks, practicing boxing and dance on my own, and Spanish practice. (My current instructor and classmates were surprised to learn, in last night’s online class, that I’ve only been studying Spanish for nine months. Well, when you can invest an hour or so in practice most days, you do tend to make progress.)

I desperately miss my friends/family of choice – seeing only one household per week, only outdoors, physically distanced, and not sharing any food or beverage (or hugs) is not the same – and although my feelings about my Trump-supporting family of origin remain complicated, I’ve never gone this long – not even in 2017 – without seeing them.

But overall, I actually do have a lot to be grateful for this season. Which feels somehow wrong, or disrespectful, to articulate, when so many people are experiencing so much loss. More than 250,000 Americans are dead. More than 12 million Americans are out of work. Hundreds of thousands of children are falling behind in school, because it’s not safe to send them there.

How does one give thanks while still properly acknowledging all the harm that so many have experienced this year?

With regards to the actual celebrating of the holiday, we’re still trying to figure this out.

Obviously, we’re not traveling out of the area, nor are we gathering together any sort of large – or even medium – group.

Health experts have been recommending that we all form small – VERY small – “pods” (or, as my spouse prefers, “bubbles”) for the coming cold months. The thinking is that since we will no longer be able to gather outside for any length of time with any level of comfort, and confining ourselves just to the people who physically live in our house (in my case, just me, the spouse, and two EXCEPTIONALLY spoiled kitties) may be detrimental to our mental health, better to choose one other household to basically join our household. In short, you become one household that just happens to have two locations, which prevents you from losing your shit and going to a big party that turns into a super-spreader event.

In our case, we approached another couple with whom we are very close friends who also have no children or local family, who also both work from home full time, and who also only ever interact inside with any other humans in a single weekly, masked trip to the grocery store at a low-traffic time of day, if they would want to “pod/bubble” with us this winter.

They said yes, and we chose Thanksgiving as the first time any of us will be inside, unmasked, and sharing food and drink with anyone other our respective spouses since early March (and even then, we had gone to brunch with other friends shortly before everything shut down, and there was NO “you have to taste this” or “can I try that?” going on WHATSOEVER at our table – everybody ordered their own food, ate their own food, and that was that).

But now, with cases rising in our area (even though we’re still among the very lowest infection rate locations in the entire country), I find myself wondering if we should chuck it, stick to just the two of us for the entire winter, and hope we don’t kill each other or go mental in the process.

How does one balance what is, likely, very little (but not *no*) physical risk against likely (but hopefully not severe) mental risk?

I don’t know the answer to either of these questions, but they are certainly making for yet another deeply discomfiting chapter in this seemingly never-ending anno horribilis.

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