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CORONAVIRUS STIMULUS RELIEF PACKAGE(S): A Questioning Acrostic

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Image courtesy of health.mil.

Catastrophic delays
Of equipment for patients and carers
Reveal huge flaws in America’s design.
One thing I do
Not hear discussed
Applies to the “have nots’”
Vying for their tiny share of
Income from the supposed stimulus:
Registering their presence without
Use of computers and Internet?
Shadowy reminders of those we forget.

Small businesses
Tethered lightly to viability
In line for loans
Must wait months to see $$
Urgently needed, as
Life savings go out padlocked doors
Unless some Cuomo-esque souls
Snip through the bureaucracy…

Relying on small amounts,
Each home health aide, waiter,
Likely most in gig economy, live
In fear of dislocation,
Eviction, illness, as the
Fat big business cats purr in delight.

Phase 4 bill? The Dems want more $$ to
Aid states/locals still fighting virus,
Care via family/medical leave,
Keep first responders safe,
Add to Fed food aid,
Gird pensions for stability,
Extend more checks to meet great need.
(See below…)

_________________

The three bills were bipartisan, a remarkable accomplishment at this time that meant both sides compromised. To date, the Republicans say no more stimulus is needed–except Lisa Murkowski, who wisely notes that serious mental health needs arising from the pandemic will have to be addressed.

The Democrats improved the Republicans’ bill, but said they’d be back for more. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the first two bills were for emergency relief; the third for mitigation. The fourth will be for recovery.

In this fourth bill, the Democrats will plead for all in Phase 4 above, plus virus-revealed issues: money for Internet services, now a necessity; money for states and the Post Office for vote-by-mail to ensure our democratic processes can continue despite the pandemic.

(Will the President sign this bill? Speaking of the previous bill’s funding request for vote-by-mail, which is expected to enable more Americans to vote, he stated:
“The things they had in there were crazy…that if you ever agreed to, you would never have a Republican elected in this country again.”)

Two parties; two different wish lists.

For Phase 4 to pass, We, the People, must loudly say we agree. Do you? Will you?

Annie

Continue reading “CORONAVIRUS STIMULUS RELIEF PACKAGE(S): A Questioning Acrostic”

Building Sand Castles: Then and Now

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Photo courtesy of pxhere.com

Growing up near a beach, I led a child-dylic life of sun/sand/surf

The ocean was my backyard pool; the sand my playground

Near the water’s edge, the consistency of that granular play-doh

Encouraged childhood architectural whimsy.

 

We built our castles, carrying water to the construction site in Baby Bear-sized buckets

Not too small to hold too little, not too big to burden our slender frames

The structure, once assembled, cried out for ornamentation.

 

And so the Dribble Castle began to take shape.

Small fingers drip-drip-dripping the moist sand into fabulous pillars, turrets, bridges,

Water scooped into moats suggesting a royal tableau.

We lay in the sand beside these marvels, reveling in the glory of our creations.

 

Then, as the afternoon wore on and the tide shifted,

We watched the waves break closer and closer, wishing the waters away

But knowing well the fate of our hours of work.

A hard lesson to learn young: the inevitability of impermanence.

 

Now, my aging self relearns that lesson every day.

Sometimes it saddens me, sometimes it strengthens me.

Trying to keep my footage, standing firm through ebb and flow,

My mental dribble castle reminds me to reach for the richness, seek out the beauty, hold tight the wonder

The impermanence is part of living, but the pillars, turrets, and bridges may always be rebuilt.

Annie

[Note: I wrote this poem weeks before the pandemic changed everything, so I kept putting it aside to discuss the more pressing issues. But as I reread it, I feel its relevance to me right now–at this time.]

Continue reading “Building Sand Castles: Then and Now”

Wherein My Personal Blogosphere Expands Via a Fun Exchange With a Super New Acquaintance

I’ve often said that I’m one happy blogger: I love to write and to research new topics; I’m grateful for your feedback; and—this was one aspect of blogging that I hadn’t anticipated but is becoming one of the most valuable—I feel personally enriched by meeting so many extraordinary, talented people from all over the world.

The most recent is Judy Dykstra-Brown, a poet, writer, artist, and lecturer who blogs at Life Lessons. She’s a prolific blogger, posting something—sometimes several things—every day. That energy alone boggles my once-or-at-most-twice-weekly blogger mind!

My virtual meeting with Judy occurred in a manner that frequently happens among bloggers. As about 30% of my subscribers aren’t bloggers, I hope you WP folks will bear with me while I explain this process—very briefly.

Judy clicked on “like” concerning a comment I’d made on someone else’s blog. That triggered a WP email informing me of her action and citing some of her posts that I might find of interest. Intrigued, I visited her site. 

It’s a treasure trove, as you can imagine from the versatility I note above. I immediately knew I wanted to see more, so I clicked on “follow” and became one of her more than 5000 subscribers.

I was drawn to a funny little poem she’d written, which—as is often the case—fueled my own creativity. I responded in verse, and Judy then began to follow me. She also graciously reblogged one of my posts, a poem I’d titled “Chaos in America…BUT…We Can End It!” 

(An aside: The poem was written as a near-acrostic, in which the first letter of each line, viewed vertically, clearly spelled out the title. However, that little attempt at cleverness required indenting parts of the longer lines—formatting that apparently became lost when I had system problems and my WP advisors told me I needed a new menu. I didn’t realize the impact of the change until I saw the post again, lines now awry, with Judy’s reblog. The fix involves html, which is not my native language…so it may not happen soon. If you choose to read the poem, please note the bolded first letters.) 

Anyway, we had such fun with our first meeting that I thought I’d share with you Judy’s poem, my verse response, and our subsequent exchange.

Judy’s poem:

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Image courtesy of flickr.com

Piscine Phobia

I don’t eat salmon, don’t eat flounder.
I prefer my protein rounder—
chicken, roasts or food like that.
Fish is too fishy and too flat.

Tuna mixed with soup and noodle
I despise kit and caboodle!
Nothing could persuade me that
I should eat food fit for a cat.

I won’t eat food grown in a swamp,
so crabs and clams I never chomp.
No protein caught by motor boat
will ever pass my teeth and throat.

When dinner parties serve up chowder
I’m likely to just take a powder.
I simply can’t take the suspense
of what fish lurks in soup so dense.

So if you want to plan a treat
that I will find the nerve to eat,
once again, I must repeat,
forget the lobster. Give me meat!

And my comment:

“Give me meat,” the woman pleads,
But I must turn aside:
A bloody steak, a fatty slab
Will make my gorge uprise.

“No mammals” is my credo;
I find it tough enough
To eat a little Nemo
From seas serene or rough.

I used to love my bacon,
But now a baby pig
Reminds me I’m more comfortable
Just chewing on a fig.

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Image courtesy of needpix.com.

Judy’s response:

Touche!!! Ha. It takes all kinds of us in this world, right?

And mine:

It does indeed. And if we could all accept and embrace our differences with good humor, what a lovely world it could be!

————————

When I asked Judy if she was OK with my printing the above on my blog, she said, “Of course, you are most welcome to…It was a fun interchange. I predict future ones as well.”

I’ve written about inspirational people. After reading Judy’s bio. on her blog and information about the books she’s written, I’ve concluded that she’s clearly one of them. 

So with regard to future fun interchanges, the pleasure will certainly be mine!

Annie

More Notes From a COVID-19 Epicenter: Fighting This Thing Alone–Together

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COVID-19; image courtesy of state.gov.

Events are moving very rapidly. Less than a week after I published my post about life in self-quarantine in an epicenter of the pandemic, far more Americans are in similar situations—some in mandatory lockdown, which I suspect will arrive in my community soon. (Update: we’re now in mandatory lockdown.)

In my previous post, I described being in a hard-hit area with a local hospital whose CEO was profoundly worried about running out of ventilators for patients and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for hospital staff. When staff members become ill, obviously, there’s no one to treat patients.

Our community arranged a teleconference for residents to hear from all the relevant local, county, and state officials, as well as our member of Congress. Both my husband and I felt good about what we’d heard. These people knew what they were doing. They were competent and dedicated, and would do whatever was humanly possible to keep us safe.

One person who wasn’t on the call was the hospital CEO.

Today we learned that he has tested positive for COVID-19. Just days before, he’d been at another meeting with all the folks above. So possibly, the entire entourage whom we’re depending upon may now be harboring the disease. This concept takes a little getting used to— and much deep breathing.

Now our governor has taken over these local operations. The governors have been the unsung heroes of this pandemic—from Jay Inslee in Washington state to Mario Cuomo in New York.

They’ve struggled to gain the attention of a President who just weeks ago was declaring the pandemic a “hoax” perpetrated by the Democrats to oust him from office. We lost valuable time while he lived in denial/conspiracy land, bolstered by his friends on Fox TV.

But faced with a free fall in the only indicator he seems to care about, the stock market, Trump has finally awakened and declared himself a “Wartime President.” And then he went missing in action before our eyes. “Mr President,” the exhausted governors pleaded “we desperately need federal help.” His response: “Find your own ventilators. We’re not a shipping clerk.”

It’s so ironic that the President many of us have worried has shown dictatorial tendencies—who has, in fact, declared that as president he has the right to do whatever he wants—is now being so reluctant to use the power he has for the greater good.

The New York Times observed “Mixed Signals From President Sow Confusion.” First he said he would invoke the Defense Production Act, which dates to the Korean War and “grants the president extraordinary powers to force American industries to ensure the availability of critical equipment.”

The very next day, he made his “We’re not a shipping clerk” comment. Apparently, some business leaders who didn’t like the idea of being “forced” to do anything got his ear. But will they do enough, quickly enough, to provide the vital protective equipment to ensure that our health care workers aren’t decimated, and that enough  life-saving respirators are on hand so that those working won’t have to perform triage to determine who gets one and who’s left to die–as is currently the case in Italy?

Meanwhile, in Italy, the total death rate reached 3405 on Thursday, exceeding that of China at its highest, according to an article in Bloomberg. The next day, Bloomberg reported 627 deaths, “the highest daily toll since outbreak hit.”

The Prime Minister is weighing even greater restrictions than those covered by the current “near-total lockdown,” Bloomberg reports. “The decision depends on factors including the spread of infections and the fact that many Italians aren’t respecting the rules, the official said.”

And this is happening in northern Italy, which has more and better hospitals than the southern part of the country—and has been overwhelmed. If the virus spreads south, it could be disastrous. The second article cited provides information about Spain, the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands.

I am also getting reports about India from my fellow blogger, the Controversial Indian, who provides her thoughts daily from what she calls “house arrest.” She observed on Day 19 that she is suspicious of the low number of cases reported to date—236—and says “the government still refuses to acknowledge that there is any community transmission of the disease in the country.” There’s also very little testing.

You’ve seen the curve of increased cases in Italy? Our curve bears an eerie resemblance to that one, and experts report that at the speed at which the cases are multiplying, we have about two weeks before we’ll be facing comparable conditions.

That’s why it’s so important to try to “flatten the curve” of the incidence of infection by having us remain in our homes. At this point, the number of confirmed cases in the US has climbed to more than 17,000. The lack of adequate testing suggests that number is considerably higher.

Dear Readers:

It appears that more of you have begun to take these events seriously. But if you are still tempted to disregard this threat, please reconsider. I get that the pandemic is affecting various parts of the country differently, but this nasty virus knows how to cross state lines—big time.

And as a country, we have varying degrees of quality and quantity in the health care services and facilities we can access. If New York City, one of the nation’s foremost medical meccas, can be approaching the breaking point, I fear the Italian analogy will be appropriate. Other areas will be hard hit and won’t have the resources and expertise they’ll need.

So I am speaking to you, the Spring Break Invulnerables yukking it up on Florida beaches, oblivious to the threat.

And to you, those who didn’t think twice about going to a large wedding in Brooklyn, NY, that had to be broken up by the police.

And to you, the Self-Styled Immortal Boomer Parents who are in the “most vulnerable” category, but refuse to adapt while their 30-something children scream at them and weep at their heedlessness: “Don’t take that cruise!” Why are you going out to dinner again?” (See The Atlantic article, Convincing Boomer Parents to Take the Coronavirus Seriously.)

And to you, bloggers who have expressed disdain at the “stupidity” of people who are going like sheep into their homes as requested—or ordered.

As I and many others have pointed out, we are all interconnected and interdependent. We are in for a rough period unlike anything we’ve seen in the US in our lifetimes.

We will get through this, but we’ll do it more quickly and with fewer casualties if we’re willing to put up with the dramatic changes to our daily lives that the experts insist are essential.

One more thing. A friend forwarded to me a video of a lecture on the coronavirus for health professionals, which was given by Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, an infectious diseases specialist at the Santa Barbara (CA) Cottage Hospital.

I found the 1-hour lecture fascinating. One tidbit that I felt important to convey here is Dr. Fitzgibbons’ suggestion, based on findings, that the distance the virus can travel through sneezes or coughs is closer to 13 feet, rather than the 6 feet we’re currently told to observe in social distancing.

For now, social distancing must be our mantra.

There’s a cute little public service announcement made by Max Brooks and his father, the comedian Mel Brooks, age 93. Max is visiting his dad while standing outside his home, talking through the closed window. “If I get the coronavirus, I’ll probably be ok,” he tells us. “But if I give it to him, he can give it to Carl Reiner, who can give it to Dick Van Dyke…and before I know it, I could wipe out a whole generation of comedic legends.”

The PSA concludes with Mel nodding his head in agreement, knocking on the window, and telling his son: “Now go home.”

Very good advice for us all.

And in accord with my ongoing belief that we must keep laughing, I bring you the wise words on social distancing from Pluto, a four-legged. (Also courtesy of my friend Fran Kaufman; thank you, Fran!)

Note: Pluto doesn’t mean to offend with his straight talk; I hope you’ll keep that in mind.

Annie

Continue reading “More Notes From a COVID-19 Epicenter: Fighting This Thing Alone–Together”

How Bernie Sanders Can Rise From Politician to Statesman

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Photo courtesy of en.wikipedia.org.

Republican Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio defied a state Supreme Court decision and cancelled his state’s primary election on March 17, citing “health concerns.” Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, whom I greatly respect, said he’s been working with DeWine, knows him well, and is confident that his decision was based on the right reason: the desire to protect the health and safety of the people of his state.

So although there’s plenty of political shenanigans around, the Ohio primary cancellation doesn’t seem to have been one of them. That’s the good part.

The bad part is that DeWine’s decision sets a dangerous precedent—as historian Michael Beschloss confirmed on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show. When we get into the business of cancelling elections, we’re entering new territory fraught with negative implications for our democracy, which has been suffering mightily in the past several years.

The coronavirus has demonstrated that we are all interconnected and interdependent: We’ll have to work together to get through this pandemic that is threatening us now—and to deal with the unprecedented dilemmas it is posing.

Based on nearly all sources, who now include a recalcitrant President Trump (!), the pandemic will surely worsen over the next several months. Louisiana and Georgia have already postponed their primaries. It seems to be time to consider how important the remaining primaries are to our democratic process.

There is only one person who should make that decision: Bernie Sanders. 

As of March 18, he faces a nearly insurmountable delegate deficit. Former Vice President Joe Biden has won 1165 delegates; Sanders’ tally is 880. The odds of his success are slim to none. After losing the primaries in Illinois, Florida, and Arizona by large percentages, Bernie is now “reassessing his campaign,” according to current reports. 

If he decides that it is irresponsible to continue seeking delegates through the primaries because people’s lives will be at risk going to vote in primaries that won’t change the outcome—and suspends his campaign—he will be demonstrating a degree of reality-based unselfishness that will earn him a solid place in history. 

In contrast, if he continues to campaign in whatever way he can, he will divert Biden from focusing his sole attention on President Trump’s massive failures, delay whatever reconciliation is possible between his supporters and Biden, and increase the chances that the most inept and harmful president ever may somehow win another four years. 

Bernie’s place in history may then be as the spoiler who increased the possibilities of our democracy failing. I’m sure that is not the legacy he wishes. He has committed to voting for and campaigning for Biden, stating that defeating President Trump is the most important issue.

He can still play an active role in pursuing his ideas and ideals; he has already moved Biden to the left on education. But I hope he realizes that the primaries—and Biden’s increasingly large victories—have demonstrated that this is a center-left country.

Based on all the votes cast in the primaries to date, it’s now time for the battle of ideas among Democrats to cease in order to form a cohesive strategy to defeat Trump, hold the House, and retake the Senate.

Biden recognizes where he must be to forge what has so far been a winning coalition. If Bernie pushes too far, he risks validating those among his supporters who will refuse to vote for Biden because they view him as too much a part of the “corrupt establishment.”

I hope, therefore, that Bernie will soon announce the suspension of his campaign and devote his energies to ensuring that the Senate passes substantive legislation that will provide immediate and ongoing assistance to Americans in need due to the impact of the coronavirus. 

And I hope that along the way, he will be able to convince many (most?) of his supporters that their vote for the man he calls “my friend Joe” is right and necessary. 

We have Republicans in the Senate today sounding like Socialists (shhhhhh!), saying they’re ready to send dollars to the public. 

We have a public that, after decades of accepting the Republicans’ fraying of the safety net, finally realizes due to the absence of good management and wise decision-making how very important the federal government is. 

(With regard to the above point, I urge you to read this extremely important article in the Washington Post by Stuart Stevens, a now contrite Republican consultant, on the damage his party has wreaked on this nation, leading inevitably to our current crisis.) 

In the midst of the horror we’re experiencing, if Bernie now declares he’ll no longer participate in the primaries, he can take pride in the role he’s played in changing people’s views. He just hasn’t succeeded to the point that they’re ready for his revolution.

Annie

Notes From a COVID-19 Epicenter: Our Quarantine Begins

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COVID-19; image courtesy of state.gov.

This wasn’t the post I’d originally planned to publish. That one can wait for another time. This post is more timely. And since my story may become your story—if it hasn’t already—I thought I should tell it to you now.

I live in a medium-sized community in the eastern US. Yesterday, our mayor requested that we move beyond this new status we’ve just learned about: social distancing.

We’ve now been asked to self-quarantine, voluntarily at this point. We should stay at home, going out only to buy food or medications. We are suddenly activists in the effort to flatten the curve and slow the exponential increase in disease incidence. 

The community officials have been acting very responsibly—closing the municipal buildings and library and encouraging people to conduct their business online. (Woe to anyone without functioning computer and Internet connection, but that’s a story for another day.)

They’ve even stated the number of people who will be permitted to enter the food markets at one time: 50 for the largest; 25 for each of the smaller stores, with only one family member permitted per visit. I’m all for these restrictions, which seem well thought out to me.

As my husband and I are past 60, we are considered part of the vulnerable population. We don’t have the other conditions that would increase our odds of becoming severely ill—such as heart or lung disorders or diabetes—but our well-worn immune systems are better off not being called into combat against this particularly nasty bug.

I’ll note that we’re careful about our health and diet, don’t smoke, and are both gym rats. One of the hardest things about this quarantine is that even though we’d decided it was probably not a good idea to continue going to our gym, the gym announced today that it’s closed until further notice.

That deprives us of the most important man in my life: the personal trainer we work out with together once a week. (I’ve told the trainer that in my husband’s presence.) He has really strengthened us and made us feel we’re up to all sorts of challenges.

I had assumed that under the circumstances, even if I got the damn virus, I would be sick for a week or so and then recover. But I’ve since learned that it’s quite tricky, and even when people seem to be recovering, it can do a sneak attack that brings them to an ICU needing a ventilator.

My purpose in telling you this is not to create panic; I feel amazingly calm myself considering my basic catastrophizing nature. Mindfulness meditation works wonders for me: I don’t dwell on what may happen.

Similarly, I see no point in checking the balances on our rapidly crumbling retirement accounts—or spending more than a fleeting moment pondering potential breakdowns in our food supply chains and the availability of medicines I must take. 

But there are plenty of people who either aren’t getting or aren’t hearing the facts about COVID-19. The messages from the White House and the CDC are conflicting and confusing. Putting out a blanket limit on 50 people congregating in a single spot does not take into account the size of the spot (unlike my local regulations) and how much “social distancing” is possible therein. 

Such ambiguity may lead people to continue taking advantage of not having to be at work to meet with their friends in a bar; that’s definitely not smart. This is not your grandmother’s flu. It’s spreading more quickly than other viruses in the past. It’s also more lethal.

On March 14, our local hospital had 11 cases, and 6 of them (all younger than 60) were in the ICU. Another 40 patients were under observation. Those numbers are increasing rapidly, and they somehow haven’t made it into the state’s official count.

You know those N95 masks many people are talking about, which can be used only once and are essential to protect health care workers as they tend to infected patients? The hospital’s CEO said in an interview that those masks are running low statewide. His hospital had gone through 795 of them by 7 pm in a single day.

He described the past week as something he’d never before seen, even though he’d fought cholera in Haiti after the earthquake, when there were no medical supplies, and “even when we ramped up for Ebola.” He called this crisis “unprecedented.”

The CEO said a number of things that were quite concerning. One that disturbed me the most was that he’s given up on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which had yet to confirm his hospital’s first case.

In his view—and this is something he wants people to know—testing is problematic. It’s more complicated than it’s been described. To be effective, it must be done under strict conditions with a sample taker appropriately outfitted with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and differing RNA assays make test sensitivity questionable. 

So at best, the tests are 90% accurate, whereas flu tests are 99.999% positive. He fears drive-through testing that shows someone is negative will give that person “a false sense of security.” He said he told the Governor his concerns. 

There are many experts with differing views; I’m noting his because he’s a highly regarded individual who’s working with labs—not to suggest that his opinions necessarily be used as guidance in individual decision-making. 

Testing in the US has certainly been botched, by nearly all accounts, but many point out, as this Atlantic article states, that knowing how many people have been tested would give us some sense of how far the disease has spread and “how forceful a response to it the United States is mustering.” Hmmmm….

Though our hospital CEO doesn’t want to incite panic, he does want people to take this disease seriously because in infected patients

“things can turn around very rapidly. We had a patient that we were thinking about releasing—he seemingly was recovering—and then, two days later, he was put in the ICU. The flu isn’t like that. People need to know this.” 

He encourages people to be responsible: stay home, avoid malls and theater and group activities for now.

“We need to sort of hunker down at home. Go outside if the weather’s nice in your backyard. That’s healthy and good. But we shouldn’t be out and about.”

That’s what we’re doing. Going into stores for food only when they’re not crowded. Avoiding situations where we’ll have to stand on line. Bringing our rapidly disappearing hand sanitizer with us when we’re out of the house, and swabbing our door knobs on the outside and inside with Lysol when we return.

(We’ve also made some hand sanitizer by mixing alcohol with aloe vera, but both ingredients are no longer available.) 

I heard one virologist say COVID-19 is most likely to linger for up to 9 days on metal and hard smooth surfaces. Clothing and porous surfaces seem not to be a concern. I haven’t found confirmation of this statement, however.

What else are we doing? Agonizing over whether to buy two or three small packages of tissues (8 each pack): they were going fast, and we felt we could use them to open doors once our hand sanitizer was gone. But was buying three packages selfish? 

We’re wiping down our cell phones (Apple said Chlorox wipes are OK) and other surfaces. Lifting weights and exercising at home, and taking walks in the late afternoon when few people are around. And yesterday we toured our small garden, buoyed by the sight of the first crocuses pushing their way through the mesh we’d placed over the hard soil to allow them to get a head start before the feeding faunas’ visits. So those back-aching hours planting bulbs last fall paid off! The appearance of those young green shoots couldn’t have come at a better time.

And we’re washing, washing, washing our hands. I find it so interesting that this devastating organism can be vanquished by plain old soap and water.

Finally, we’re still remembering to laugh. (See my previous post.)

My sister-in-law sent this cartoon today.

PHOTO-2020-03-14-07-32-36

My response was: “Gee, do you know where he got it? I could use some.” 

Do you have stories to tell about how you’re coping? I’d love to hear them. I hope you all stay safe.

Annie

Continue reading “Notes From a COVID-19 Epicenter: Our Quarantine Begins”

Is There Anything Funny About the Coronavirus Pandemic?

How about this?

image

I understand this cartoon appeared on FaceBook. If anyone knows the originator, I would love to give him/her credit.

I dedicate this post to my late friend Peter, who said–under the worst possible circumstances for him–

“Remember to laugh!”

Annie

UPDATE: I’m pretty sure we’ve located the creator. Thanks to a tip from my ace researcher friend Fran Kaufman, who also sent me the cartoon, I journeyed from a Twitter thread to FaceBook, eventually finding a message from a woman named Susan Madsen stating the following:

“MY SISTER ALICE MADSEN drew this. It’s HER Original work!”

So thank you, Fran, and Brava, Alice Madsen! Your work brought a whimsical touch of humor to many people who sorely needed it.

 

Keeping Anxiety in Perspective

 

perspective

By Sharon Salzburg

Reprinted with permission from the app Ten Percent Happier.

Note:  Sharon Salzburg, a pioneer in American mindfulness education, is a regular contributor to Ten Percent Happier and the author of nine books. I’ve quoted her previously in my discussion of lovingkindness in this post.

****************

Everywhere I teach, people describe being exhausted by the mounting anxieties of contemporary life, from political uncertainty to climate change and now, the rapid spread of the Coronavirus. Now more than ever, we need to remain calm and composed amid so much danger, real and perceived. But how do we do that?

Here are two steps that I recommend.

1. Distinguishing Anxiety from Fear

The first step in coping is to learn to distinguish anxiety from realistic fear.

Fear is immediate: a threat right in front of you that requires a swift response. My dear friend Sylvia Boorstein uses the example of finding yourself driving through a blinding snowstorm that prevents you from seeing even a few feet ahead. Without needing to think, all your senses focus so that you can respond in a way that ensures your survival and that of the other people in the car. This is a useful response to a dangerous situation.

On the other hand, Sylvia uses the example of trying to reach her son, and not being able to do so. “There could be a thousand reasons he is not answering the phone,” she told me once. “He’s in the shower. He fell in love. He’s sleeping. But my mind goes to the worst extrapolation of that. If I phone my son and he doesn’t answer, that means he must be dead.”

And so her eyes widen and her heart races, as she escalates into a state of hyper-alertness — even though all of this is only taking place in her imagination.

Even worse, anxiety feeds on itself. Sylvia describes it as a “free-floating hyperactivity of the mind.” I would add that anxiety doesn’t just float; it intensifies, building one conjecture upon the next. It can be very harsh. You might even feel anxious about having anxiety, and it gets stronger. A friend sent me an old Peanuts cartoon of Charlie Brown sitting up in bed in the middle of the night saying, “My anxieties have anxieties.” That captures the proliferation of anxieties perfectly.

Now, of course, sustaining ourselves requires vigilance, and the fear response accelerates you — heightens awareness, focuses the senses and alerts the reflexes.

But when those senses are piqued by imaginary threats, we become consumed by anxiety. The fact that anxiety grips the body in the same way as fear gives anxiety more credibility than it deserves. When your body reacts this way, it believes anxiety is alerting you to a genuine threat.

And when the brain is spinning out one horrifying outcome after another, it does not have enough space to clearly perceive the world around us as it is, and make careful, appropriate choices to protect ourselves and others.

So, first step: start by taking a breath or two to ground yourself so that you can determine if the threat you feel is real or a conjecture from circumstances. Is this a real threat? Or is my mind making it up, or perhaps exaggerating what’s actually there? Don’t try to forcefully calm yourself down — that’s too much. Just try to determine if this is a real fear, or an anxious conjecture.

2. Applying an Antidote

Next, once you know that what you feel is anxiety, consider an antidote.

One of my favorites is to cultivate some lovingkindness for yourself: both the chant-like nature of that practice, and the generation of lovingkindness will help. There are guided lovingkindness meditations on the Ten Percent Happier app, and on the internet. They’re very simple – often just chanting to yourself “May I be free from harm. May I be strong and healthy. May I be happy. May I live a life filled with ease.” And then extending those same wishes to the people you love and to the wider world.

When you say those wishes sincerely, every element of the practice is a relief. The phrases channel the energy instead of allowing it to proliferate. As you do this, you are back in charge and you can feel the body relaxing as the space around your anxiety opens up and releases. When you release control, you are free to choose how to react rather than being inhibited by frightening conjectures.

Another effective tool is to simply change your physical surroundings. Get out of the house, if there are things triggering your anxieties there. Go for a walk. The tools are simple – the key is knowing when to reach for them.

Let me conclude with another story from Sylvia Boorstein. Recently, Sylvia was walking through Costco and found herself in an aisle surrounded by big-screen televisions all of which were displaying news about politics.

Instantly her pulse started to race, and all her fears for the future ricocheted inside her mind, so much so that she had to stop shopping and pause.

First, Sylvia took a breath and then another to bring herself out of her mind and back to her body — in the here and now. Then, she could see that she was in a big public place, and she was safe. There was no immediate threat.

From that, she expanded her thoughts to her reliable car in the parking lot, her home where she has lived comfortably for decades. Rooting herself in the present — and in her larger context — shrunk the anxiety and thereby weakened it, allowing her to go about her errand.

Sylvia’s story illustrates the two elements of coping with anxiety. The first is recognizing it. Is the threat in the moment, or is it in the mind? Once you name it, it’s easier to address it. You, like Sylvia, can reach for a number of tools.

Now, nothing in life is a straight shot. Sylvia is in her 80s now, and she still works with anxiety all the time. We go forward, we fall down, we have to pick ourselves up or let someone help us up — we go forward again. That’s how change happens, that’s how progress is made — through resilient effort, not through self-punishment or judgment.

But change is possible. You can live a life that keeps anxiety in perspective.

_____________________________

Did you find Sharon Salzburg’s guidance helpful? Can you relate it to your own life?

Annie

Continue reading “Keeping Anxiety in Perspective”

Chaos in America…BUT… We Can End It! (A Near- Acrostic Poem for Our Times)

Candidates flailing arms in the air, bent
on talking, one over another
Hapless moderators—too many, too
weak to control the mayhem
Another Democratic debate,
Offering less light than heat
Seemingly not laser-focused on our
closeness to the abyss.

In the far too-White House, a lawless
President—unrebuked by his
tarnished party—
No-nothingly claims the gathering
pandemic will soon be gone

And helter-skelterly seeks funding only
after a ka-chinging Stock
Market dives into waters darkened
by viral uncertainty…
Even as he tears away our protective
Intel and
Rebukes/replaces experts and judicious
judges,
Instead producing pattern-setting
pardons of those justly
Convicted of crimes against the State…
As back in Russia, Vladimir does his
happy dance with wanton abandon.

BUT…

When an aroused people stands together
Elevating our shared goal beyond our
individual predilections,

Change of the most positive nature can
unfold
As we become Citizen Activists as never
before:
Noting the work ahead, and
enthusiastically signing on

Exercising our right to vote for whoever
we think best—but
Not turning away if the nominee is other
than our choice,
Determined to banish the unclothed
emperor above all.

In this nation of great promise and
hard history
This is our time, finally, to get
things right!

__________________________
Note:

In my previous post, I cited the free newsletter by RB Hubbell of California (rbhubbell@gmail.com). His February 26, 2020, issue (No. 380) is a treasure trove of action steps we can take, with links to organizations focused on the important issues of voter registration, turnout, and voter protection, among others.

They include several I’d never heard of, such as Changing the Conversation Together (in which volunteers have issue-oriented discussions with people in their homes), Vote Forward (you sign your name to letters on a template sent to under-represented voters), and one I found particularly interesting:  Payback Project, dedicated to defeating ten Republican Senators (including Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, and Mitch McConnell), and thereby taking back the Senate.

And in today’s newsletter (February 27, 2020, No. 831), Hubbell adds another compelling possibility: Sister District Project, which tries to turn states blue by winning state legislatures, thereby helping to end gerrymandering. The organization says it has teams “across the country.” With the 2020 Census under way, leading to redistricting in 2021, it is vital that we have Democratic Governors and state legislators involved in this effort to ensure that representation is accurately apportioned.

Annie

Continue reading “Chaos in America…BUT… We Can End It! (A Near- Acrostic Poem for Our Times)”