Smarter, kinder and living in 2017

Laughs are precious these days. I turn on the news or open my computer with a vague feeling of dread. It’s always nice to be surprised by a little humor instead, so today I’m sharing a few of my favorites from Facebook. Links to like are at the bottom of the post. Please do.

Along with my growing appreciation of anything that gives me a smile, I notice that I am also becoming bolder in expressing my opinions. This week I had my first letter to the editor published in our local newspaper. Encouraged by how easy that was, I just sent in my first ever Op-Ed piece, a guest editorial on North Carolina’s infamous bathroom bill. In case you haven’t heard, you are watching NCAA championship games being played in South Carolina right now because North Carolina has a law that so blatantly discriminates against the LGBT community that even the NCAA will not hold games in our state.

These days I find myself compelled to share my true beliefs with friends, relatives and strangers once they confront me with theirs. I’ve never been one to argue politics, and I still won’t be the one to bring the subject up first. I like getting along with people. But I’m also finished pretending to be disinterested, uninformed or hard of hearing when others express opinions with which I don’t agree, or worse yet which I find abhorrent. I wish to treat people gently and to listen to them with respect, but allowing myself to thoroughly disagree has improved my state of mind almost as much as the humor.

Part of my growing politicization is that I have decided that I do not have to apologize for thinking the following:
1. Education is a wonderful thing. However you make your living, knowledge makes you a better person.
2. Open mindedness is a wonderful thing. What ever your religious beliefs, being hateful to any group does not please anyone’s God. I think every holy book on the planet is pretty clear about this.

This does not make me an elitist or a snowflake. Education makes us smarter. Open-mindedness makes us kinder.

Finally, the past few months have brought me back to reflecting on two of my favorite topics: time and change. I am astounded that a large group of Americans (larger than I thought) believed that they could live in the same town they grew up in and do just what their parents did and they were somehow guaranteed that would make them a good living. This is basically an assumption that society won’t change over time. Of course it will. Moving, learning new skills and adapting to a changing world are part of survival.

Furthermore, much of this same group seems to believe that someone promised them that their culture, ethnicity, religion or social beliefs would always reflect the majority view just because they once did. Demographics and societal norms change. It makes more sense to work to improve the world that it is, than to fight to make it the way is used to be.

Most people like their cell phones and enjoy their iPods. I suggest that they wake up to the fact that that those are not the only ways that 2017 is different from 1957 and consider embracing this new millennium. They might find that it has a lot to offer everyone.

(If you enjoyed the humor, please go to Facebook and visit and like Neil Degrasse Tyson Fans, Paid Liberal Troll, and Liberal Progressive Democrat.)

Have you ever broken a law?

I used to teach a class in ethics as part of a training program for my company. My co-instructor liked to start off with this question. Have you ever broken the law? Most people would shake their heads.

Didn’t borrow any of the down payment for your first house from you parents? Never tried recreational drugs? Underage drinking? Never saw any of it occur and failed to report it?

By this point much of the class was shrugging or looking sheepish.

guidelinesNever ran a stop sign? Crossed the street on a red light? Exaggerated the value of your clothing donations on your income return?  Never double parked or jaywalked or even drove a single mile over the speed limit? Ever?

She had their attention then, and we generally went on to have a pretty lively discussion about what it means to be a law-abiding citizen. I liked to talk about Jack Sparrow’s famous quote that his pirate code was really more of a “guideline.” The fact is, we all consider some laws to be guidelines, particularly when we believe that consequences of our breaking them will not hurt anyone. The perception of which laws this applies to changes over time

In this class we talked about bank robbery versus littering. When I was young my parents would never have considered robbing a bank, although they did habitually take towels from hotels, assuring me that it was included in the price of a room. I later learned otherwise. My parents certainly considered laws against throwing trash out of the car to be a suggestion, along with any requirement to wear a seat belt. Like I said, times change.

Laws change, too, as do penalties and enforcement. When society begins to deem that “this law is serious” the hope is that the increased scrutiny and greater fines are made public first, not used as gotcha fundraising, and that the changes are uniformly enforced among all income levels and ethnic groups. (I know. That’s the hope.)

insider-tradingMuch of the purpose of our particular class was to end up in a discussion about business ethics. My company worked with many different countries, all of which had laws against bribery, but many of which had cultures that considered those laws as guidelines. We also talked about insider trading, and how its acceptability has changed over time. I like the example from the 1980’s movie The Big Chill, when Kevin Kline tries to help his close friend William Hurt by tipping him off that a company is about to be acquired and its stock will shoot up. A friendly gesture? Or ten years in jail? You be the judge.

nutshell I’m remembering those lively discussions and wondering how my former co-workers back in the Houston area are feeling about illegal immigrants. It’s an emotional topic, today more than ever. Because z2 is partly about immigration, I did a fair amount of research on the subject as I wrote. My main source was a wonderful book called “Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell” by David Weissbrodt and Laura Danielson, which used humor and antidotes to help illustrate the changes in both law and perception over the decades.

My one grandfather was brought here at two years old and never knew the country of his birth. I’m pretty sure that all eight great-grandparents of mine arrived from Russia with no paperwork; some of them didn’t even know what country they were going to. Half of one family ended up here, half in Argentina. Oh well, at least they weren’t in Russia, where authorities were cracking down on them for having immigrated from Germany a century earlier.

taboojive2You see, at one time the world was a place where people fled danger, hoping and expecting that those elsewhere would allow them to start a new life if they just worked hard and didn’t make trouble. Paperwork was a guideline. As long as they didn’t hurt anyone, it was really okay.

We live in a different sort of world now, but not everybody has caught up. We have people who were brought here as children by well meaning parents who didn’t think they were doing something that awful. We have those who came here even recently believing that the worst a generous and kind country like ours would do to them would still be far better than what they were facing from tyrants where they were.

We have every right to make our borders completely non-porous today if we so choose. Cost versus benefit, compassion versus safety; these are debates worth having. But when it comes to how we treat those already here, it would serve us well to remember.

choicesThe text we used for our ethics class was a wonderful  book called How Good People Make Tough Choices by Rushworth Kidder. It talked about the main ethical dilemmas facing moral people. Loyalty versus truth. Short term thinking versus long term thinking. Individual rights versus social responsibility. And my personal favorite, mercy versus justice. Our most passionate discussions were about this last one, as we tried to get our participants to understand how often we as humans want mercy for ourselves, our loved ones, and those like us, and how stridently we demand justice for everyone else.

I’ve been thinking about that class a lot these past three weeks, and wondering if I could try just teaching it to passing strangers on street corners. Would anyone stop to listen?

Two enemies talking

Cronin1You never know what will make your day. Today it could so easily have been the angel food french toast that my daughter made for brunch, but as we were clearing the table she gave me a gift that brought an even larger smile to my face.

“Did you read the article I sent you?” No, I hadn’t. “It’s about a black musician who befriends KKK members and then they quit the organization.”  She knows that my novel z2 is about racist groups, and that I am fascinated in general by any person who manages to reach across a divide of hatred and create healing.

So I read her article from Liberty Voice  about Daryl Davis, member of The Legendary Blues Band and author of Klan-Destine Relationships, a book about the twenty plus ex Klan member that this black musician has befriended. The man sounds sincere and admirable, not to mention courageous.

All the people who have reviewed his book have praise for it, except for an odd review from a professional book review company, and they call the book a “futile and pointless volume”.  It is an oddly harsh review, and its shrill tone seems to be what is pointless. I notice that the book and reviews are from 1997, and the 2013 article sent by my daughter says that Davis is working on a sequel.

I hope that the sequel is good.  I hope that it’s well received. I hope that this man keeps on making all sorts of unlikely friends because we all need to learn to do more talking and less fighting.

Check your pulse

pulseI was putting on a piece of jewelry yesterday when it reminded me of something my husband did nine years ago that angered me. Almost nine years to the day, in fact, and I know this because the events are tied into my birthday so the timing is unfortunately easy to remember.

Click here to like the Dalai Lama

Click here to like the Dalai Lama

Nine years, I think. That’s too long a time to stay mad. Certainly about one of those bits of behavior that any girlfriend would shake her head at and agree I can’t believe he did that, but which, in the grand scheme of truly awful things that humans do to each other, was pretty insignificant. I remember reading somewhere that human cells replace themselves at a rate such that every seven years we are made up of completely new material. What a wonderful concept. I realize that my husband is not the same man he was nine years ago, literally, and therefore it’s about time that he should be forgiven for inconsiderate behavior.

As I apply a little make-up to a face that is not the face it was nine years ago, I take this a little further. We do all change, albeit slowly. What if you could only be held liable for wrongdoing committed over the last eight years? I mean, what if society really accepted that as truth? How much personal guilt would be washed away? How much would forgiveness change families and friendships? Hell, how different would our world be if our penal system was designed around this belief?

Click to like Hippie Peace Freaks

Click to like Hippie Peace Freaks

Everyone would be totally liable for their recent behavior, no excuses. But eight year old behavior? No, that was another person, long ago and far away. You can’t even remember what they were thinking. As I start the daily fight between my hair and the hair straightener, I am warming to this new approach to life, to this idea of a total reboot after eight years.

Then I make the mistake of getting on the internet, to verify my new found insights. Damn. Guess what? The seven year cell replacement story isn’t true at all, as this online naturalist and several of his friends are all happy to explain. Some parts of your body grow new cells at an amazing rate, and some don’t. Your colon, for example, is all shiny and new. Your brain? Not so much so. The neurons in your cerebral cortex are yours for life.

Seriously. The Dalai Lama deserves a like.

Seriously. The Dalai Lama deserves a like.

Maybe this physical fact doesn’t negate the wisdom of the original insight, I think. Those neurons may be there from birth, but the heart, mind and soul that they feed with information is a work in progress. That is one of the beautiful things about life. We change, we grow, we hopefully improve. Forgiving ourselves and others lets us move on, lets us move forward in time. We we can chose to embrace this progress without regard to how fast our body replaces our cells.

I had the good fortune to be born around the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. It’s a wonderful confluence, because each time I face another year on this earth, I am reminded to be grateful for all that the past years have brought me. This year, I’ve decided that I’m not going to be grateful for the past. This year, I’m concentrating on gratitude for the future, and for all the hope that the very concept of change brings.

And that’s the way it was ….. er, is …… er, will be

crystal ballI’ve just finished chapter 3 of my fifth novel, d4, and am already engrossed in this story about the future. I am so caught up in it, in fact, that I’m beginning to neglect this blog, which is centered around a book that focuses on the past. Yet past and future are at their root the same topic, aren’t they?

In that spirit, tonight I am pretending that I live in the year 1013, and can peer a thousand years into the future. Tomorrow, on October 16, what will I see?

In 384 years, a woman named Jadwiga will be crowned King of Poland, although she is a woman. A woman can run a country?
In 793 years, a French queen named Marie Antoinette who is famous for her extravagance, will be guillotined. Sounds a bit drastic.
In 869 years, England will found its first residential college for women. It is going to take over eight hundred years for me to be able to live in a dorm?
In 916 years the first family planning clinic will open in the United States. Wait, one can plan their family?
In 964 years, China, now home to amazing fireworks displays, will detonate its first nuclear weapon. I’m guessing that these nukes aren’t just bigger and better firecrackers.
In 978 years, Wanda Rutkiewicz will be first Pole and the first European woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. What is Mount Everest? And why are women climbing it? October 16 seems to be a very good day for Polish women.

How do you think I’m going to feel about the direction the human race is headed?

Change is good?

Though I heartily oppose the idea of treating corporations as people under the law, I do have to admit that in someways a corporation can behave like a sentient life form. It can easily be selfish and self-serving, and has a much more difficult time being compassionate. Sounds sort of human, doesn’t it?

rulerBack when I spent more time immersed in the ways of the corporate world, I got a kick out of the various slogans that would come and go to serve the needs of the corporation.  “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t matter” wins as my least favorite of all time, but there is so much to say about that one that it needs to be the subject of whole ‘nother blog post.

changeOne of others I had the most argument with was about the very subject matter of z2. Change. A corporate reorganization was in the works, and the slogan “change is good” began to appear everywhere.

“No,” I said. “Change is different. Change, at least slow change, is inevitable.  But whether the change is good or not depends entirely on what the change is.” Most of my co-workers looked at me and shook their heads. They realized, perhaps well before I did, that I wasn’t as good a fit for middle management as I ought to have been.

So I will state my case again. You and I may have very different views on life, but surely we could agree that a new law mandating the death penalty for going more than two miles an hour over the speed limit would not be a change for the better. In that vein, I do not doubt that you can come up with twenty or so clear changes for the worse in less than a minute. If anyone sends me such a list, I will happily include the most outrageous in a second post on this subject.

Costa Rica 2parkingMeanwhile, here is a picture from last week on the left, where I was enjoying an amazing vacation. Here is a picture leaving work this week on the right. Ah, the parking garage after almost everyone else has gone home.

Is change good? Sometimes. Not this week. But the good news is that change keeps happening.

How things change: being thoroughly modern

Visit Caitlin Kelly

Visit Caitlin Kelly

I’m waist deep into research for the fourth novel in this collection, and am spending way too much time thinking about human trafficking and involuntary prostitution. It is a horrible subject to have take residence in your head. Then it occurs to me. Could there possibly be a worse subject for a Broadway musical? Except for the intentionally awful “Spring time for Hitler” of The Producers fame, I think not. And yet, a few years ago I saw such a musical on Broadway.

Let me back up. I was still a child when my sister and I were allowed to see the Julie Andrews movie Thoroughly Modern Millie in which a heartwarming small town girl sets out to marry her rich boss but first must evade an Asian “white slavery ring” and assorted comical mayhem ensues. My mother, to her credit, asked me after the show if I had any questions about the plot and I assured her I did not, even though of course I did.  She left it at that. My sister and I loved the flapper dresses and the long cigarette holders and a tipsy Carol Channing  gushing “raspberries” and declared it our favorite movie ever.

So when my own children were mostly grown, I found myself in New York with them and my sister and guess what had just opened on Broadway? “We have GOT to see it.” My sister and I jumped up and down.  “This is going to be great!” Only it wasn’t. Since the movie came out in 1967,  I had acquired two teenage daughters and several Asian friends. Girls marrying for money wasn’t so funny. Caricatures of Asians were less so. Drunk overdressed rich women? No. And kidnapping young girls so they could be forced to have sex? By intermission I was thinking that this had been a very bad idea.  My kids were giving me funny looks. The world has changed so very much, I thought that night, and I’m glad that it has.

However, the Broadway musical went on to win six Tony awards, including best musical. It spawned three traveling productions and, in the words of Wikipedia “has since become a popular choice for high school productions.” Yikes. High school productions.

Okay, so maybe the world isn’t quite as different as I sometimes think that it is. Sometimes, it’s me that has changed. And I’m glad that I have.

For more on how things change with time, visit my x0 blog here for thoughts on veggie burgers, humor and empathy. Also visit my y1 blog here for thoughts on gay psychiatrists and my hoarding disorder.