Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Holiday Prescription

The holidays approach and I increase my dose of Paxil.  It's not anything personal to anyone at the moment, more of a Holiday ritual. It's not that I hate the Holidays...  wait a minute.  Really, I kind of do hate the holidays.

Not the days in themselves, I don't have any recollection of the Spirit of Christmas assaulting me with boughs of holly.  If anything, said spirit was distinctly not in attendance and therefore has a pretty solid alibi.  Neither has Father Time or Baby New Year anything to worry from a line-up.  The turkey at the end, never saw the guy and he never laid a feather on me.  Nope the embodiments of these holidays were not in the area at the time. Hit them with neglect if you have to, but I say, "give 'em a break. It is, after all, the holidays."

For me, nearly five decades of 'bad holidays' are hopefully coming to a close. I'm staying home this year.  No travel for me. Thank you Universe.   People look to the Holidays as a time to joyously be with family.  The tissue commercials, the coffee commercials, the beer commercials, the articles on how to slaughter and roast your 'perfect' 20 lb. bird, the table decorations, the exuberance of the children, all of the parts and people surrounding me turn into this mutual fantasy of 'the perfect holiday.'   We'll all be together, we'll all be happy.  Myth.

Everyone comes together in my family for a funeral.  That's it. And actually, now that I think of it, now that Nana and Grandaddy are gone, I wonder what is happening that I don't know about.  Heck, half the family could have died and I wouldn't have heard about it. Yes, we are a tight Southern Clan.

But Holidays were not the time for the family to gather.  They were the time that my parents stuffed us all in the car and off we went off the mountain to my grandparents elegant southern home in our stiff clothes, starched, neat, respectable.  When we arrived, we touched nothing, we said virtually nothing, and we didn't see anyone else.  My cousins, of which I have several, had several if the last funeral count still stands, were never in attendance.

We were the segregated part of the family. Often called hill-billy and rat-tail we were not meant to linger or mingle with the rest of the family. And so we didn't.  I recall one holiday meal with my aunt and uncle and their children.  The awkward attempts at conversation, the gaps in even basic knowledge about one another.  My brother making his escape early, my cousin and I following along behind the elders like a pair of matched red-headed mutes.

And that visit was an exception to the rule.  Most holidays were ride in the car in close proximity to my brother, still, silent, hoping he would ignore me for the whole trip.  He wouldn't, I would protest, and the whole cycle of anger would take off from there.  So, I learned not to protest. Suck it up, I can take it. And I could, so I did.

Get to grandparents house, sit for another interminable time, grownups talk, kids remain silent, straight, "don't muss your clothes", get off the floor, no you can't watch TV, we are hear to visit. She wasn't talking to you.

Nana would offer me a soda, and I would say "No thank you, Nana." because there would be Hell to pay if I ever dropped a single spec of it on her carpets.  Nana wouldn't really care so much she'd just send mom the bill, but mom would, I'd never hear the end of it, spoiling her perfection.  Embarrassing her. We'd go out to eat. Nana didn't cook, well, not for us. And then the long ride home in tense silence being enthusiastically grateful for our gifts, on cue, and never for too long.  Excitement in the car was frowned on.

And so it went year after year.  Until my brother started being able to drive on his own, then at least I could sit in silence on the back seat and not have to worry about him hitting me.  Then I went to college, and still, I would now drive the long miles across the state to "be together with the family" for the holidays. But, I might have driven in on my own, but once there it was the same, I was part of the scenery, I would only drink water, I was never quite smart enough in my dress, you know, the usual.

Then when my husband and I moved to NY state.  Finally, I was free, I thought. But, no.  There was still the expectation that I would travel the 13 hours south, to then go 'a progress' of the state from west to east to see all the parts of my scattered family, and his family.  And it was the same scene played over and over, until we got to his family.  Then there was a riot, and clamour, and laughter, and drink, and everything that I was not familiar with that came with a family.

I did that trip, I was dutiful, every year, except one.  That one year, we were packed, the car was facing out of the driveway the only thing left was for me to get into the car. And I couldn't make myself get into the car.  I couldn't face another holiday of masks and pretend and the schism between what we were supposed to be, and what we were.

I couldn't face another holiday playing out the roles, the 'happy homecoming'.  I had a home, in NY.  I wanted to be there. I wanted to be old enough to finally say to my family, "God, no!"  I am not going to play out this fantasy, again.  It's a lie. "Merry bloody Christmas."  As you yourself said mom, as I was curling into a ball and Dad was raging and my brother was yelling.

And now, mom asked if we should all 'get together for the Holiday.' All our dysfunctional, hateful little clan. Dad's in a nursing home, brother is ...  dang I don't even know but at least he's not in jail, I know that much. She is still trying to piece together that damn perfect Holiday.  That cruel fantasy.  No.

Well my husband and I are back below the Mason-Dixon.  We moved back south about six years ago to be closer to his family.  I have finally started to be able to function with the glorious lunacy that is his family.  And I have started to love them each.

And so what did they do.  They up and fucking moved to NJ.  To be closer to his sister and her children.  And now they want me to drive, fucking drive 13 hours to be part of their Holiday.
My reaction.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Echoes of 1933

Photo: the cover of the Philadelphia Daily News
The greatest generation, where are you when you are needed, again?  Gone to flowers, every one. Well, not every one.  But many, most. I cannot imagine what my Grandfather, either of them, would say about Trump.

One grandfather was an engineer during WWII.  He built the runways for the RAF that German bombers pounded every day.  And then, the morning would dawn, and granddad would be repairing them.

The other grandfather, he - well no one really knows what he did during the war.  He never spoke of it.  He had stuffed that part of his life away, with the associated memorabilia, in an attic.  Nana said he was overseas, but that was all she would say.  It remains a mystery.  I could ask and look for the truth, but, it was his life to share and I'll respect his choice.

My Uncle and my Mother remember the Blitz.  They lived through it. To this day my mother doesn't like enclosed spaces.  Too much time in bomb shelters as a little girl.  Huddling in the dark not knowing what the world would look like when you went back "upstairs".  Not knowing if Daddy was alright or if one of the bombs had hit your house.  Hearing the bombs exploding overhead.  Counting between when you heard the engine cut off and when it exploded.  That's a heavy memory for a six year old.

WWII is still very much alive in my family.  On the 70th anniversary of D-Day my mother and I traveled to Bedford, Va to the National D-Day Memorial.  She went to thank the service men who had been on the beaches.  A "thank you" from a little girl who had huddled in a bomb shelter to the men who had made Adolf and his bombs stop.

I have read and studied a great deal about WWII, and not just via the History Channel, thank you very much.  My degrees in Political Science often had me looking at the roots of WWII, the causes.  And it is easy to point to a single ego, a political entity that lusted after power.  But the truth of the matter is much more complex.  The truth lies in the intersection of economics, lifestyle, beliefs, anger, resentment and fear. And at that intersection there came one ego that knew how to exploit the underlying fear and resentment of the masses.  That person, that master manipulator, was Adolf Hitler.

In 1920 Hitler placed his agenda in public.  At one of his first political speeches he outlined the Twenty Five Points of the German Workers' Party.  In this political platform, he called for  rejection of the Treaty of Versailles which was seen as demeaning, And in truth the heavy reparations of the treaty had crippled the German economy, leading to much of the resentment and economic uncertainty of the German citizenry.

A second point in Hitler's vision was citizenship determined by race with no Jew to be considered a German,  In Mein Kampf Hitler relates that his ideas on Jews had been shaped by his early years in Vienna, especially by his admiration for the mayor, Karl Lueger, a noted anti-Semite.  But, that political viewpoint rose to new levels under the guidance of Hitler, who used the Jewish community, especially bankers and financiers, as a scapegoat for the near economic collapse of the 1920s.

In truth the financial woes of Germany in the 1920s were caused by high reparations, high tariffs on German goods, and the reactions to one of the first global economic crisis, the Great Depression. When the United States entered the Great Depression, one of its first actions was to demand repayment of loans that the US had made to Germany post WWI.  This pushed the German economy still closer to collapse.

The average German at this point was watching hyper-inflation make the price of bread soar.  A lack of markets for german goods caused unemployment. The german citizenry was growing poorer, and life was becoming ever more unstable and unpredictable.  The people were becoming not only resentful, but afraid.  For many people the idea that there was someone they could punish for their problems, a scapegoat, was more attractive than reason.

A further tenet of Hiltler's National Socialist German Workers' Party (called Nazi) was religious freedom, except for religions which endanger the German race, namely Judaism, but this was expanded as needed to later include Catholics and Jehovah's Witnesses. As the party became more organized, and once Hitler was in power his Minister for Church Affairs, Hans Kerrl, worked to mold Christianity into "Positive Christianity", a Nazi version of Christianity.  The effort was seen as a way to bring the entire population into not only support for the party, but also compliance.

Other point outlined by Hitler in 1920 were a strong central government,  efficient execution of legislation. all income would be earned by work or it would be confiscated, and a restructuring of the education system,

When Hitler came to power in 1933, he viewed trade unions as competition for the power of the workers.  He saw the unions as providing an alternative for workers power, therefore, trade unions were banned in Nazi Germany.

All of these points were to "make Germany great again".  A slogan that any downtrodden person will cling to.  We will be great, again.  Things will be good again.  There will be bread and there will be prosperity and there will be ease, again.  Who wouldn't want a promise like that? It's attractive. It appeals.

I don't throw comparisons to Hitler around lightly, nor should anyone.  Seriously, you shouldn't because using the name Hitler, like a bogey man or an insult diminishes the extent of the evil that he accomplished.  He brought the world to war, again, after "the war to end all wars."  He attempted to systematically exterminate a race. That takes a very special type of insanity.

But I see these patterns being played out, again.  America, your population is afraid.  The economic failure of 2008 has made life uncertain, unstable and unpredictable for a big section of the citizenry, who were previously comfortable. Gun violence has become a daily occurrence in our nation.  In the media the extremes are shouting out the center.  And all of this is allowing egotists and manipulators to emerge.

Trump is creating scapegoats, Mexicans, Muslims. Trump is making promises. We will be great again. Trump proposes a database of all Muslims.  Trump stated  that the sins of the father should be visited on the sons, and daughters, and wives.  That if someone is a terrorist "you have to take out their families."  He was, of course, speaking of Daesh terrorists. (That's ISIS and ISIL.)  But not so strangely, that isn't the part that seems to stick in his followers minds.

Trump has recently stated that Muslims should be forbidden to enter the US and then compared that statement to FDR's internment camp policy during WWII.  For the record, the internment camps of the 1940s were not the best chapter of American history.  It was, indeed, one of the moments when we, as a nation, allowed fear to overrule reason.

And although the scene of a black man being beaten by a white crowd at a Trump rally is more reminiscent of the Civil Rights movement in America.  It was the crowd that horrified me, ordinary men so filled with hate and ready to lash out at anyone they perceived as a threat. Meanwhile Trump, at the head of the hall continued speaking the rhetoric of hate, fear and scapegoats.

When I started this article, I was thinking about Trump, and where he would lead this nation.  But, my thoughts don't bend to him now.  He has stated on the record saying that Hitler references don't bother him.  He is unphased with his manipulation of the masses and the fear mongering.  He thinks it effective and is without guilt or shame.

So I have to look to the American people.  Trump is manipulating you. Wake up.  He is using your fear and he is taking cues directly from the precedent set by Hitler.  And only we, each of us, can resist the poison that he would feed to us. If Trump is allowed to become the leader of anything besides his own parade, we are all in deep. And to quote my Grandad, if that happens, our nation is FUBAR'ed.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Just one of those things...

Today is just one of 'those' days.  A day when even thought the sky is blue my whole world appears to be one flat shade of grey.  My depression can be like this, sneaking up out of a stressful moment to make an appearance days later.  These are the days that I just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.

Chores get done. I plod through tasks, head down unwilling and by and large unable to look up.  My world collapses to the edges of my task list and extends no further.

My thoughts go dull and I find myself fighting the tide of thoughts as they turn again and again to topics that I try to forget. Or at least I try not to wallow in them.  Tears come easily on days like today, the well of sadness and despair seems to provide tears endlessly.  I look for anything that can help pull me out of this space, and it always seems to be a doomed, or self-defeating proposition.

There is only one door marked 'exit' from this place.  The rest of the time I simply have to hold on, persevere and hope that my mood lifts, tomorrow or the next day, or the next.

Depression is really a bitch.