Monday, January 30, 2017

Memories lost

Sunset through clouds
There is this thing that happens in a marriage. Any serious relationship really. You divvy stuff up.  Who cleans what. Who drops the kids off and who picks up. Amy stopped cooking for herself. I did that. I stopped paying attention to birthdays. Parents, kids, nieces and nephews. I didn’t need to because Amy did. She’d hand me a birthday card to sign and off it went. It may not have been perfectly egalitarian, but it worked for us.

And then she died. All those birth dates. And other things. Trips we took together. Dates we went on. I have memories of all—I think all of them—but stuff is missing here and there. This past Thanksgiving as a family we decided to go to a restaurant for dinner. It was a good choice. They had an outdoor grill with smoked oysters on the half-shell. I introduced my older son, now 14, to the delight of oysters, a rare treat for me now. I started to tell him about the first time I had raw oysters—with his mother. I like sharing happy stories of their mother when I can. I told him, it was a weekend getaway 17 years ago to Ocean City, Maryland. It was winter and we had just started dating. Or was it the year after that? In Rehoboth? I couldn’t remember. It’s a small detail but I really wish I knew. In telling the story to my son he now knows that happened in 1999 in Ocean City. I'm pretty sure about it. Seven years ago I would have asked Amy to confirm the details of this minor family history footnote but I didn’t need to then and I can’t now.

It’s a small thing. But it gnaws a little. I wish I had written more things down. Journaled consistently. Something.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Keystone XL approved: blame the environmentalists

The Keystone XL pipeline looks like it will now be built, thanks to Trump’s pen. And I blame my team, the environmentalists. We did not properly frame the problem.

We framed the problem as an environmental problem. Keep that nasty tar in the ground. It pollutes the local water and contributes to CO2 emissions. Yes, all true. But not an argument that stirs many emotions, except for the emotions of us hard-core greenies.

Feb 2013 Forward on Climate Rally, Washington DC
Instead we should have asked the question, “why is they want to build that pipeline all the way to the Gulf of Mexico in the first place?” Well, the answer is pretty easy: Global markets are better than U.S. markets, and profit. The Gulf Coast is home to one of the largest concentrations of refineries in the world. Crude oil needs to be refined into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, etc., before being sold to the consumers. Also, you need to know this: U.S. law prohibits the export of crude oil. This is a remnant for the 1970’s Arab Oil Embargo days. But, refined products like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, can be exported. So the oil companies have to refine that tarry oil into something they can sell on the world market. Right now they can't. Not easily.

So the bottom line is this: If we were really interested in national security and energy independence, like Trump says, this is not the way. That Canadian tar will be sent to the Gulf, processed into gas, diesel, and jet fuel then sold on the world market to China, India, Europe, you name it, where it can be sold for more than it can be sold on the US market. Have you checked out the price of a gallon of gasoline in Europe?

We environmentalists took our eye off the ball. In the future we should look for ways to reframe the issue as one of national security rather than saving polar bears. The environmental math involved in all the different pieces and parts of Keystone XL were too complex for your average politician sound bite. We should have tried something different, like, "if you are going to take land away from U.S. citizens and pollute North America, at least keep that gas at home so we can stop importing in from the Saudis and Venezuelans."

But now we are all going to pay for it. As will the environment.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Steely Dan, Donald Trump, and the Buddha

They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues

- Steely Dan. "Deacon Blues." Aja

Winning feels great. It is great. Who doesn't like winning? Losing sucks. It's embarrassing, it's painful, it hurts.

But I am a loser. I don't think I'm a hater, by the way, who are lumped together with us losers in Donald Trump's twitter feed. At first his criticism of me, the loser, was bothersome. But then I thought, I've never been criticized by the President before. That's something!

Yeah, my side lost in the election. But I'll be honest, I was not as strongly in the Clinton camp as many of my liberal friends. I don't need to repeat the litany of reasons why, all of which have been pundit-ed a thousand times over. I've not written about the election much, aside from the occasional short quip on FaceBook. My feelings are conflicted. I think Trump, as a man, is weak. A lousy role model for my sons who is effectively a composite caricature of every awful privileged white male stereotype. Pisses me off. How can we white men show up credibly as the smart, hard-working, passionate, caring humans we are when we keep pushing forward these guys? C'mon white men! Is this guy really the best we've got to offer?

And just for the record, while there are plenty of disagreeable things about Trump, his policies, and the leadership team he is forming, I do agree with a few things. We can do better than Obamacare -- though this whole repeal nonsense is foolishness. Universal coverage would be my choice. We can do better with our trade agreements. I'd like to see better enforcement of environmental and labor laws globally through our trade agreements. We can do better for those at home who have been marginalized through globalization. Ending globalization is not the answer, but rather demonstrating leadership towards a 22nd century economy built on renewable energy and reliable infrastructure is where where I'd go. And our whole approach to the Middle East has been misguided for decades. I don't have smarts on that one. But certainly we can do better there too.

But this isn't supposed to be about politics. It's about losing. Which happens in politics. And in life. We lose in competitive endeavors and we suffer emotional loss. And if we are paying attention losing can help us.

Tibetan Buddhism gives us the concept of bardo. Bardo is the in-between state between two lives. After someone dies and before they are reborn their soul exists in the bardo state, one of transition, and also, one of great opportunity. The living pray for their loved one, participate in any number of prayers and rituals to both help the departed's soul transition through and to learn. The end goal being to move the soul closer to enlightenment and to break free of the endless cycle of suffering of human births and deaths.

From the Tibetan Book of the Living and Dying, 

The bardos are particularly powerful opportunities for liberation because there are, the teachings show us, certain moments that are much more powerful than others and much more charged with potential, when whatever you do has a crucial and far-reaching effect. I think of a bardo as being like a moment when you step toward the edge of a precipice; such a moment, for example, is when a master introduces a disciple to the essential, original, and innermost nature of his or her mind. The greatest and most charged of these moments, however, is the moment of death.

Rinpoche, Sogyal (2009-10-13). The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: The Spiritual Classic & International Bestseller: Revised and Updated Edition (p. 11). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

As I look at the clock, we are just under three hours away from a new president. Some of us are in raptured joy. Others in grievous mourning. And the rest of us scattered somewhere in between. It does feel clear that we are moving from one reality into another. It's scary. It's also our greatest opportunity for learning. Especially for us losers.

Call me Deacon Blues.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Like stubbing your toe

Last night my younger son, now 11, asked me what we are doing Sunday. Sunday is Amy's birthday.
"I don't know. What would you like to do?"

He just looked at me and after a long moment started crying. He came over and we held each other.

Grief is a shitty thing. Pops up now and again in seemingly random ways. Like stubbing your toe on a corner you've successfully walked past a thousand times. The grief pain is different now. Yes, it's less, and not everyday. But more so it's different.

Seven years ago, this January 22, we celebrated Amy's 42nd birthday. Amy, a staunch pro-choicer, used to say that she "hated, hated! Roe v. Wade day." Surprised friends would look at her askew and she'd continue, "I hate it because someone is always protesting on my birthday!"

I like that joke and it helps me remember when Roe v. Wade day is. I also can't help but wonder how we'd celebrate her birthday this year: two days after The Inauguration and the day after the Women's March. She'd be turning 49. Seven times seven. A perfect square. I'm sure we'd have made something out of that. It being a Sunday and a non-decadenal birthday, we'd probably keep it simple, order in and have Pepperidge Farm Orange Milanos (her inexplicable favorite) along with chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Maybe we'd get fancy and pop a bottle of sparkling wine for the grown-ups.

My younger son has lived longer without his mom than with her. It breaks my heart when I think about what was taken from him. From us.

Moments. Memories. Even the toe stubs. That's what we keep.