A Book for all Seasons: Comfort, Balance and Perspective

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E.M. Forster famously said, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say.” Writers love this line because it gives weight to the effort of writing.

I’d like to shift Forster’s thought for a moment because I picked up a book recently that’s given me a new way of thinking, so I’d say, “How do I know what I think until I see what I read.”

I spotted the book at my local library and really have no idea what attracted me to it, but now it’s one I’ll have in my personal library along with a handful of other books that have influenced my life. It’s one that I’ll carry around the way people carry sacred texts, so I can read a few lines for comfort and balance whenever the need is upon me.

The title, The Shepherd’s Life, may sound like a sacred text to some or perhaps a book on some idyllic pastime, but the subtitle says otherwise: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape.

Let me be clear. I know nothing about sheep or shepherding – or at least didn’t until now – aside from seeing flocks in fields or on farm roads now and then, and once or twice as a child feeding wooly lambs from long-necked bottles with rubber nipples attached.

The author of the book, James Rebanks, grew up in English sheep country, more particularly in the Lake District, the world of Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth, and descended from a long line of farmers and shepherds.

He eventually left the farm for a few years and went to Oxford – a story in itself – and the book is something of a memoir crossed with an excursion into history and philosophy with a good measure of poetry, passion, geology, and the recounting of some of the things we’ve lost in our modern lives even while strong traditions linger.

It’s by no means a sentimental lament for lost times, just the clear observations of a man rooted in one world and now living in another.

The Shepherd’s Life is a beautiful telling of family stories, hard work, passing seasons, life and loss. I couldn’t put it down.

Then today James Rebanks crossed paths with Salman Rushdie and my previous post about changes in our personal weather when I read this from his description of working the farm in bitter winter weather:

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. That’s what they say.”

It occurred to me that when our personal weather changes, we’re going to want the metaphorical clothes to match it. When our personal weather changes, we’re not in the same place, not the same people we were the day before, and the clothes, the life, we wore yesterday will need adjusting.

Only a fool would go out in new weather wearing the same old things that worked for yesterday’s weather.

Oh, and Rebanks has – like Miss Fidditch – a few simple rules. Miss Fidditch says about writing 1. Get the words down and 2. Fix them. About shepherding James Rebanks says:

  1. It’s not about you, it’s about the sheep and the land.
  2. You can’t win sometimes.
  3. Shut up, and go and do the work.

I can think of all kinds of occasions when these rules work just fine.

Comfort. Balance. Perspective.  The shepherd’s life.

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Personal Weather

Although I am no longer writing like I once did, I’m still a faithful reader and a listener – not to books on tape which tend to bore me, but to writers interviewed on NPR.

A couple of days ago I was listening to Salman Rushdie describe his sense that fantasy and magic are not relevant to his writing these days with all that’s happening in the world.  He didn’t belabor the point, but made it with this elegant phrase:

“There’s been a change in my personal weather.”

I can’t remember when eight little words have so affected me, said so much or altered my state of mind.

“There’s been a change in my personal weather.”

No blame. No arguments. No loud voices or accusations or cause for alarm or sharp statements.  It’s such a simple phrase and so responsible, accepting the very personal way in which we are each affected by the world, the people in it and the events we encounter every day – large events and small.

There’s no request in those eight words that anyone share the weather, only to accept that this weather is true for one person – in this case, Rushdie.  In my case, me.  In your case, you.

What I like best about those words is that there’s also no apology, no rationalization, no need for explanations or defenses.

Too often we get caught up trying to account for the changes in our personal weather that happen when circumstances change, when we see things we didn’t see before or understand something in a new way, or maybe just get too tired to pursue an old dream.

I’ve always liked this statement by psychologist and author Rollo May who wrote books like The Courage to Create, Man’s Search for Himself and Love and Will among many others:

“To the best of my lights this is what I choose to do, although I may know more and choose differently tomorrow.”

A change in one’s personal weather brings about such a change of heart whether it involves a retreat, an advance or a quiet lateral move.

The small movement of distant butterfly wings.

The realization that time is passing and we have no time left to spend on this thing or that.

A choice to opt for more solitude and smaller parties, quieter nights with quiet guitars.

And when those around us – friends and family – ask, as they are wont to do, “Why?” we have our answer.

“There’s been a change in my personal weather.” 

 

 

 

Miss Fidditch Loves High Heels and Doesn’t Care Who Knows It!

Dear Readers…

You may or may not like what Miss Fidditch has to say this time, but she’s going to say it anyway.

Miss Fidditch is very disappointed with the petty comments about Melania Trump’s shoes.

There I said it.  As a devoted high-heel-wearing woman until I could not easily keep my balance in them, I find the comments unworthy of good women out there.  I’m not sure why the men decided to attack.  Melania may have some things to answer for but being beautiful and wearing high heels are not among them in my book.

Pick on her hubby all you want, God yes, but leave the wife and Barron and other kids or grandkids under the age of 13 (or their tee-shirts) out of the conversation.  Please.  Pettiness is not a good color on anybody.

We have much greater concerns in America today.  Let’s focus on them and stop the Facebook-inspired gossipy bitchery over the back fence.  And yes, guys, you are sometimes bitches, too.

 

 

Dulcet Tones Do Not a President Make

Once again the media, including the New York Times, is making nice with Donald Trump and calling his latest dulcet-toned promises for Houston and the rest of Texas hit by Harvey “presidential.”

Sorry, but it’s going to take more than “dulcet-toned promises” for Miss Fidditch to wash away the bad taste of the man ripping our country apart.

The man who pardoned an unrepentant felon/buddy less than a week ago.  The man who continues to insult and offend, nay threaten, our continental neighbors (and anyone else who won’t do exactly as he says).

There’s nothing at all presidential about Donald Trump, nor will there ever be.

Miss Fidditch doesn’t generally consider herself a believer in conspiracy, but when it comes to Donald Trump, she believes anything and everything are possible.

For instance, I think it’s entirely possible that Trump sprung Arpaio so Arpaio can, as he immediately and slyly announced, run for the Senate, giving Trump a solid comrade when it comes to pushing his agenda including the wall.  Who better than the worst anti-immigration law enforcement officer in the country to lead the charge?

Have we not learned by now that every “presidential” act of Donald Trump is simply orchestrated by his faithful few as a sound bite to cover, for the briefest moment, for the real Donald Trump and his tweets and insults, threats.

The man is cutting a swath in American dignity and wholeness that will not be healed anytime soon.  And he will use any and all events, including a national disaster, to further his political agenda.

Can I be the only one concerned about his latest move to again allow local police to use military grade weapons including the heavy stuff like rocket launchers?

Sorry, but militarizing police departments around the country sounds like a very bad and unpresidential idea to Miss Fidditch.   Have we forgotten his desire to have tanks and a military parade for the inauguration?  Have we overlooked his desire to put all those generals around him in the White House?

Are we listening to the dulcet tones and overlooking the Russian connections which he’s no doubt also busy manipulating and covering up?

Don’t kid yourself, my friend. Donald Trump has big plans for America.  No dulcet-toned announcements are going to change those.  And they are not at all about unity and healing.

 

 

Change the Defiant Child in Charge? Ain’t Gonna Happen

Every day there’s another story in the news about Donald Trump’s behavior along with a lot of speculation about how he (a) might be changing, (b) is changing or (c) could possibly change if the going gets bad enough.

To all of these, I say it ain’t gonna happen.  And that’s not because he’s 70 years old and beyond all hope – although that’s true as well.

I say it because a couple of years back I was introduced to a mental health problem known as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).  This generally occurs in young children who usually outgrow it before their teens.

But in come cases, they don’t.  They become ODD adults and carry on the same way.  This is different from the narcissistic behavior so often attributed – and rightly so – to Donald Trump.  ODD and narcissism share some of the same traits but they are quite different in the moment.

Here’s a short rundown on ODD from a mental health professional:

“ODD may be genetic. It often begins in childhood with patterns of rebellion against adults and their rules…Adults with ODD are more than just aggressive and irritating from time to time; to be diagnosed with ODD, a person must display a pattern of negative, hostile, and defiant behavior that lasts at least six months and includes four (or more) of the following symptoms:

  • Often loses temper
  • Often argues with family and coworkers
  • Actively defies or refuses to comply with rules and laws
  • Deliberately annoys people
  • Blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
  • Easily annoyed by others
  • Angry and resentful
  • Spiteful or vindictive

Adults with ODD feel mad at the world, and lose their temper regularly. This may manifest as verbal abuse or road rage. Adults with ODD defend themselves relentlessly when someone says they’ve done something wrong. They feel misunderstood and disliked, hemmed in, and pushed around. Constant opposition to authority figures makes it difficult for adults with ODD to keep jobs and to maintain relationships and marriages. They are particularly quick to anger, they are impatient, and they have a low tolerance for frustration.”

Donald Trump’s outbursts, attacks, need to be right, shifting blame to everyone else for his failures seems to me a pretty clear sign the old man has – and has long had ODD.  I’m guessing it’s the reason his parents sent him off to military school.  And it’s possible that his old man had it too – the genetic factor.

It accounts for his ongoing “campaign” rallies – no one at these rallies is trying to tell him what to do.  Quite the opposite.  They love the bad behavior and this ODD man needs that constant reinforcement that his bad behavior is acceptable.

Either way, nothing’s going to change without professional help and we all know that possibility has a snowball’s chance.  No, we’re stuck with a defiant child as our president.

And although he comes across as a buffoon so often, he’s scary.  The same way a kicking and screaming defiant child can be scary.  Unpredictable.  Explosive.  Happier to hurt than to help.  In fact, happy to cause problems and pain.

Watch his face closely – that smirky smile he displays so often is the smile of an ODD adult taking pleasure in breaking rules, defying the norms, hurting people.  There’s nothing genuine about Trump’s smile at all.

For someone who has to deal with this behavior – or a country of someones who have to deal with it – the situation is a no-win all the way.  Trying to get the person to behave by any norms or rules will create more of the same behavior.  And rewarding that behavior in any way – even the remarks that “it’s getting better” or “not so bad” will – I don’t have to tell you – incite more of it.

ODD is also the reason Donald Trump can jump from one persona to another in the speeches.  Keeping the rest of the world off-guard is a hallmark, sometimes played out as a crazy-making double bind which, in worst cases, can lead to schizophrenia.  Being nice one day and a vicious SOB the next is classic.

Abusers are good at this.  And right now Donald Trump is abusing this country in the worst way.  I’m not a Mitch McConnell fan, but if McConnell – or any other Republican – can somehow hold Trump’s feet to the fire and end this situation by getting him out of office, I’ll send a letter of congratulation.

It will take someone like Ed Koch, who was mayor of New York when I lived there and managed to stop Trump cold, to do the trick.  Koch also famously posted no parking signs that read, “Don’t even think of parking here.”  We loved the guy.

If nobody in DC can take Trump on full out and no-holds barred, we’re in for a hellish three and half years with a defiant four-year-old running his trike into the furniture, laughing when something breaks or he runs over somebody’s toes.

But this four-year-old also has a finger on a lot of buttons that could cause a hell of a lot more pain and, without intervention, he’s just as likely to push them.