“Agitated with pain”

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In conversation with my spouse this weekend, I came up with the word for what I have been feeling.

Distraught: “agitated with doubt or mental conflict or pain” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary).

Mainly the pain part.

Nearly fifty years ago, when I was wearing my Another Mother for Peace medallion to work every day, writing my antiwar letters to periodicals, and sending cheerful chatty letters and care packages to the guys I knew who were in Vietnam, I thought that Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon were the worst mainstream presidential candidates I would ever see. Now I can only wish that the Republicans would once again give us someone as decent and intelligent.

In my worst nightmares or my wildest imaginings, I did not foresee, could not have foreseen, that nearly half a century later a mainstream presidential candidate–the frontrunner!–would feel free to publicly make racist remarks about Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, that he would speak favorably of identity badges for members of a religious group and of torture as a tool. That a physician candidate, a highly educated surgeon, would spout anti-scientific nonsense. That a candidate who is the son of an immigrant who fled a repressive regime would oppose allowing in refugees fleeing oppression and war.

How have we come to this? My younger self, who thought my generation (at least parts of it) would lead us to a better world for everyone, who thought that by the time I was almost 70 the U.S. would be living up to the best ideals of every generation from the founders forward, simply could not have believed that we would come to this. I could not have accepted that we would have learned nothing, nothing, from history.

I remember that somewhere in the intervening years, a friend, in speaking of Nazi Germany, challenged me: “You think it can’t happen here.”

“No,” I said. “Not it can’t, but it won’t. We have seen, we have learned.”

And so I am distraught.


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Over the years, I have written often about my not really grasping the concept of “forgiveness.” Here i try to consolidate years of pondering. I will probably have to revisit and edit this many times.

First, what is it that people are doing when they “forgive” someone?

Does “forgive” mean “act as if it never happened”? My approach to life is that what has happened has happened, and all I can do is go on from here. Everything that has happened in my life has contributed to making me what I am, to making my life what it is. Nothing–in the universe as I know it–can change what has happened. It happened. It will forever be part of my past, of the formation of my present and my future. So no, I’m not going to act as if it (whatever) never happened; to do so would be contrary to my concept of what I am, of what my life is.

Does “forgive” mean “make you feel better about what you did wrong” or “take away your guilt”? Sorry; you are responsible for your own reactions. For myself, if I do something wrong, my guilt over it becomes part of who I am and how I live my life. The best description I’ve ever heard of my feeling about this is Captain Kirk’s words in The Final Frontier: I need my pain. It’s part of who I am.

Does “forgive” mean “not hold a grudge”? Well, I either never hold a grudge or always hold a grudge, depending on what the definition of “grudge” is. If you did something unfair to me, in all my future dealings with you, I will take into consideration that you once did something unfair to me. If you acknowledged that you did such a thing and apologized, in all my future dealings with you, I will take that into consideration, and if you never acknowledged it and/or apologized, I’ll take that into consideration. My relationship with you will always be the sum of all its parts.

For me, past experience informs my present rather than controls it. What has happened in the past has shaped the person that I am, but what I, as that person, do in the present is an ever-renewed possibility.

Recently I heard Rabbi Harold Kushner talking about forgiveness. He said that it is something we do for ourselves, not for the other person. We stop permitting other people–their actions, their words, their opinions–to control our emotional lives. When I mentioned this to my spouse (J), he burst out laughing, because he knows that I stopped doing that when I was 11 or 12.
I once wrote, “I try to live my life in such a way that I have as few things as possible to forgive other people for.” People were confused by that statement, and legitimately so. What I was getting at was what Rabbi Kushner talked about: I need not stop giving other people’s words and actions emotional space in my brain because I don’t let them lodge there to begin with. As I wrote above, I absorb an immediate experience into the gestalt of experience and move on. If someone does something that hurts me or harms me, or that hurts or harms someone else and I am aware of it, it has happened; it has become part of the structure of our relationship and it will always remain so. What is, is.

I don’t get offended, and I very seldom feel “hurt” in an emotional sense. I think that “It’s not all about me” is one of the keys to this, and to my feelings about forgiveness. I have a very hard time for myself with the concept of my being hurt by, and even more so with my forgiving someone for, something that person does for their own purposes, out of their own needs, wants, or weaknesses. A person might hurt or harm me as an unintended consequence of doing something to fulfill their own responsibilities to themselves or others. They might even have known that I would be hurt or harmed incidentally, but saw the action as one they had a moral or legal obligation to take. “Forgive” the person for not making my interests their priority, over their own? I don’t see myself as the center of everyone’s universe! So when I say, “I try to live my life in such a way that I have as few things as possible to forgive other people for,” one of the things that I mean is that I try to live with the awareness that people are who they are, not who I think they are, and “forgiving” them for being who they are would be megalomania.

A pertinent quote:
Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

–Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

I wouldn’t say “nothing” as in the quote; I’m leery of “always” and “never” applied to human behavior, of universals applied to humans at all. But people do things for their own reasons, from their own needs, wants, desires, experiences, knowledge, hopes… Even in the rare case where someone does something specifically “because” of me, they are still doing it because they want to affect me in some way, for their own reasons.

The more I think about it, the more I look back at what I have written on this over the years, the more I think that “It’s not all about me” is the simple core of my approach to human relationships.

Autism, thinking, society, gender, Foyle’s War, AHA!, and me

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I am not autistic. As far as I can tell, I am not on the spectrum. Yet often things I read about being autistic resonate strongly with me.

I do not think in words; I think in what I have always called “patterns,” though that isn’t exactly correct, but–how do I describe something that is not-words in words? I had never encountered anyone else who said they thought this way–and had encountered people who denied that anyone could think in other-than-words!–until I read something by Dr. Temple Grandin in which she discussed word thinking, visual thinking (her style), and pattern thinking. It was a huge AHA! moment for me.

What she says in an article here–http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/temple-grandin-on-a-new-approach-for-thinking-about-thinking-130551740/–makes me change my description a bit: I think in patterns with a strong visual component. She says, “Each of the three types of thinking is a continuum,” and I agree, but I think they have, or can have, intersections. I was good at both algebra, which to me is patterns, and geometry, which to me is mainly visual. Yet I am also good with words; that seems strange, but I think it’s because I have to think ABOUT words, rather than think IN words. It’s probably part of what makes me a good editor.


I recently mentioned that I seem to have more female friends on the spectrum than many neurotypical women do. A couple of my AS women friends agreed that they find a friendship with me easier than with most neurotypical women. Today my spouse showed me this link: http://ownshrink.com/aspergers/female-aspies-explained/. The writer says, “Having Asperger’s Syndrome as a female is to live in a world that is aggressively and consistently assumptive.” Another AHA! moment. I have frequently talked about not having had many of the experiences that some women claim that ALL women have. When I have brought this up in a discussion on some “women’s” issue, I have been told that I am in denial, or that if I haven’t experienced it I have no right to talk about the issue–it has even been implied that I don’t count as a “real” woman if it is true.

“Aggressive and consistently assumptive”? Yeah! Actually we all live in that world, of course, but some people fit the assumptions so well that they never notice them–in either applying them to others or having them applied to themselves. I don’t fit society’s assumptions about “woman” in many ways, however, and I try never to apply society’s assumptions to other women–or men, or other-gendered people, little kids, the elderly, teens, and so on. (“Try” I say; in this as in all my other goals, I am not perfect.)


I have been watching the series Foyle’s War. In a recently watched episode, Christopher Foyle, who is an extremely reserved English police detective, was forming a friendship with another man. The way it was transpiring pleased me–do you know that feeling when you are watching a show and you just get a kind of “oh, I like this, I like what’s happening, this is nice” feeling? And there it was, another AHA! moment.

I have always had male friends, going back to my earliest years. While I was friendLY with various girls, throughout childhood and teens, I was usually closest friends with a boy. In my adult years, whoever has been my life partner, or in between those, the person I was dating most seriously, has been literally my best friend, but I have had other male friends as well.

I gravitate naturally to the way that some men do friendships. I don’t mean the sports-and-beer, never have a real discussion kind–if those actually exist in real life and not just in stereotypes. But sharing another’s company without having to talk all the time, enjoying activities together, discussing movies or politics or the best contractor or, yes, sports, if you both feel like it. And then at a certain point knowing that you can trust this person, he has your back, you can tell him things and he can tell you things–but you don’t have to, it’s OK to just be. No drama. No judgment. No BFFs one week and not speaking the next. Did I mention, no drama?

I am NOT saying that two women never have this kind of friendship or that all men do. But in my lifetime experience this kind of friendship, the kind I prefer, has been by far easier for me to find with men. The women I have the best friendships with these days are generally (1) friends of very long standing –going back to high school, 50 years and more, so we know pretty much all there is to know about each other; (2) my cousins, again with a long history–and I am fortunate in that both sides of my family generally get along very well with each other; (3) women on the AS spectrum.


I don’t have a grand conclusion for this. It is what it is, presented for your consideration, should you care to consider it.

Remembering My Lai

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With the U.S. government attempting to put a better spin on the Vietnam War, it’s more important than ever to remember what really happened.

I remember the reactions of ordinary Americans, like my parents, when news of the My Lai massacre started reaching the public. They simply didn’t believe it; American soldiers, the good guys, their sons and brothers and husbands, fighting the dirty Commies, would never do such things.

I thought it was true as soon as I heard about it. It didn’t shock me or even surprise me. All these years later, I have no idea why I had such a clear idea of what war is, of what it does to people. Maybe it was that I had always read so much about so many things. Maybe I simply had a more unblinkered view of human behavior than many people, even those much older than I was. I don’t know.

Most humans, once you convince them someone is the enemy, seem to lose any ability to see that someone as a fellow human, with their own family, friends, home, hopes, desires, fears, needs. And some humans want power, or land, or oil, whatever, so much that they convince themselves that someone is the enemy, in order to justify doing anything they need to do (and even things they need not do) to get what they want. Then they convince others to follow them. Or force others to follow them.

Humans and groups of humans


Those who know me, or who have read much of what I write, know that I don’t “believe.” I distrust the word, because so often once someone says, “I believe,” there is no room for new, and especially contradictory, information. My viewpoint is “This is what I think, based on information, observation, and experience up to now, and subject to change at any time with new information, observation, or experience.” Unwieldy, I know, but there you have it.

But there are things I am pretty close to “believing,” and this is one: humans are humans, subject to their human nature, in every time and every place and under all conditions. Further, humans are each unique. Therefore, in any situation with a sufficient number of humans, there will be those who do good and those who do evil, those who love and those who hate, those who judge by reason and those who judge by emotion, those who lead and those who follow and those who stay out if it, and so on. Take a small enough group, and one can generalize about certain things–particularly regarding the factors that bind them as a group. But as soon as the group is just a little larger, even those things are no longer true of all the members.

To generalize about men or women, about blacks or whites, about Asians or Latinos, about Christians or Muslims, about conservatives or liberals, is meaningless, yet very dangerous. When we do so, we deceive ourselves into believing that we know what we do not know, and from there we judge what we cannot fairly judge. We deceive ourselves into believing that those categories of humans are somehow fundamentally different from each other.

We can and should judge what humans do, but we cannot judge what they are. We can say that members of a group with this characteristic in common have done this thing, individually or in concert, but we cannot say that every human who has that characteristic has done, or would do, this thing.

I would be surprised to learn that there has ever been any human group of any significant size that has not regularly done, individually or in concert, horrible things–to their neighbors, to women, to children, to elders, to those among them who are “different” in some way–being gay, or suspected of witchcraft, or having a disability of some kind, or so many more “differences.” And further, those horrible things have been supported, approved, or at the very least not opposed, by the group as a whole. Perhaps–probably–not by every single member, but by enough members that one might reasonably say “the group.”

Yes, we should condemn the horrible things that groups do, just as we should condemn the horrible things that individuals do. But it is the worst kind of hubris to think that those horrible things make “them” somehow fundamentally different from “us.” Because the next step from there is to believe that what “we” do is automatically right, that we cannot possibly do evil–even when we are doing, or have done, the exact same action as “they” are doing.

Music and Me

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I started listening to popular music when my mother played the radio or we watched “Your Hit Parade” on my grandmother’s TV in the early 1950s. I remember “Mockin’ Bird Hill,” “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window,” “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes,” “I Went to Your Wedding,” “Mona Lisa,” “Mule Train,” and one of my mother’s favorites, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by Nat King Cole.

But in 1956, when I was 9, along came a popular song that spoke to me. It was “The Wayward Wind.” I always loved the wind–I still do today. By then we lived next to the railroad tracks: “I guess the sound of the outward bound / Made me a slave to my wandering ways.” I never took up those wandering ways, but the idea, the draw, the urge has never left me.

Then when I was 12 I discovered American Bandstand on TV and KFWB Channel 98 on the radio, and I found my generation’s music. Here’s a list from that year, 1959; I remember almost every one of these, and can still recite at least a line or two from most of them: http://www.musicoutfitters.com/topsongs/1959.htm

For my 13th birthday, in 1960, I got a transistor radio! And all kinds of music started to speak to me: fast songs, slow songs, instrumentals, pop music, folk music (and later protest songs), country, western … I liked some of just about everything.

A year later I started high school and joined the band. I had a terrible sense of rhythm, so of course I became a percussionist. (I learned much later that I have a pretty good ear and probably could have done fairly well on an instrument that actually produced notes.) For four years of high school and a year and a half of college, the band was my social group, both in and out of school. Every boy I dated was in the band, at my school or another, till I met my first husband when I was 19.

I wonder how my life would have gone differently had I joined the glee club instead of the band. A couple of my friends who were in the glee club urged me to do so. But when I was in grade school, someone told me that I couldn’t sing well–and I believed it. However, it wasn’t true. And in my junior and senior high school years, I sang alto in the church choir.

I have realized in the course of my advanced years that there are at least two areas that had I really gotten into them, would have taken over my life: music and sailing. Either one of those probably would have been my life, given a chance.

When Does Life Begin?

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When does life begin? It sounds like a simple question, doesn’t it? Certainly it is a question to which one could give at least one’s personal opinion.

Not so fast. At least when asked in regard to abortion issues, “When does life begin?” is a smokescreen, a red herring, a trick question. It’s a “gotcha” waiting to happen.

Even scientists do not fully agree on what constitutes “life.” But by most definitions I can find, a single sperm cell or a single ovum, qualifies, as do most other single cells in the human body. Is that what the questioner means? Probably not.

Rephrase it perhaps, to “When does human life begin?” Not very helpful, as too general. OK, then, how about “When does a discrete human life begin?” Better.

Let’s posit that a discrete human life begins when sperm and ovum join. But wait! What if that entity later splits into two, producing identical twins? Did two discrete human lives begin when a single sperm and ovum joined? Did that single entity possess two lives? Or is one the original life, and the other just a copy? If so, which is which?

But that doesn’t really matter for abortion discussions, because it still isn’t the question that is actually being asked. That question is “When does a human life begin that is entitled not to be ended by another’s deliberate action?”* And that is the question on which people differ. Some say when the sperm and ovum unite, some say when the embryo is implanted, some say when life outside the womb is technically possible, some say at birth. Some say only when the life is wanted by the woman incubating it. Some at the radical ends argue either for the life-sacredness of the individual sperm and ovum or for the “right to life” not beginning until some period of time after birth.

It is a question that has occupied years of thought on the part of philosophers, theologians, and legal scholars. It is a question on which not all of them have decided on an answer, and of those who have, their answers do not agree. Small wonder, then, if the occasional person not able to devote their life to the question has not decided on an answer.

And then: it is a question regarding which some people are willing to impose their answer on everyone, and others are not.

*The obvious corollary is “When does a human life cease being entitled not to be ended by another’s deliberate action?” but this essay is not about war, self-defense, removing life support, capital punishment, etc.

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Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

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