Suicide..after all the “townspeople assembled and leveled their stern regards.” -Hawthorne

 

pale blue dot blogThis morning’s London Times greeted us with news of a second political suicide, (literally not metaphorically) in the United Kingdom after a labour party leader’s transgressions with pornography were revealed.  Rather than face the tsunami of publicity now surrounding personal and morally repugnant deviance, he chose to end his life.

I am reminded of Hawthorne’s classic novel that unveiled some of the more sordid aspects of “rule of law” in colonial America. In modern times, the harsh scrutiny that faced Hester Prynne by “God-fearing gentlemen” seemed disproportionate, over-the-top.  But, as Hawthorne wrote, she accepted that “these were her realities, all else vanished.”

In our time too, the autumn of 2017 will be remembered as the time when for the many whose moral compasses lost their calibration, all else vanished.  In the United Kingdom, it is not the show business glitterati who are under the microscope, rather the politicos have been caught in the wave of revelations that have gripped America for the last several weeks.

Lest my words be conjured to signal sympathy for those whose transgressions are toppling their worlds, know this–that is hardly the case. But neither is it the case that I will blindly get caught up in the wave that would pronounce guilt by numbers. If one person speaks out, there exists the possibility of truth, if several speak out, there is the likelihood of truth and if many speak out, certainty has been achieved and any trial thereafter is a mere formality.

As Miss Prynne walked among the “gazes of unrelenting eyes” there was a critical difference between the scorn she was subjected to and the scorn greeting modern day transgressors. Her walk was part of a sentence after a trial–albeit a trial that may not have itself met all the transparency one has come to regard as the norm in a civilized society. But, nevertheless,  the public humiliation to which she was subjected was at the very least, meted out in the aftermath of the determination of guilt.

It should exceed worrisome when suicide starts to precede the words arrest, charge andcaveat-emptor trial.  Caveat Emptor…the distance traveled from accusation to guilt-by-public-opinion, in cases where other moral issues are at play (like say ideologies or religious beliefs) can become alarmingly short.

Finally one admonition, which sadly requires mentioning. I am a woman. I know that there is much merit in many of the voices that have bravely spoken out, and needn’t have to say more for you to accept that my perspective is an informed one. But, I am also a lawyer and when the integrity of the legal process is on the verge of compromise,  the depth of all our concern should be unfathomable.

 

 

 

Hidden Gender Agenda in Hallmark Christmas Movies?

What bad could possibly be said about Hallmark Christmas movies–the channel that markets itself as feel-good TV at Christmas time? The real question is–what’s right about Hallmark TV?hallmark_2Capture

The first inkling of the negative messaging embedded in Hallmark movies, occurred to me a few years ago. It was the recurring theme of a successful professional woman, who found herself in a dream as a happy housewife with husband and children, at first yearning to return to her old self, but in the end happy to toss aside her “present” for the wedded bliss of the “future.”  That was followed by more than a few movies where every professional woman was unwed, in an unsatisfactory relationship or demonstrated a distinct lack Christmas spirit as she paid attention to work pressures, deadlines and other office-related predicaments. The heroine in those stories lived in a cold urban environment, typically New York City. Those movies were complemented by a series of movies where lonely single city dwellers gave up their digs for a solo country Christmas. In those movies the woman typically ended up falling in love with the strong country type–usually a handyman, plumber or toy shop owner.

For lawyers, the next in the series offers a landscape of feel-good movies that crossed every legal line imaginable with lowly secretaries, assistants, window dressers, and nannies (often an errant elf)  falling in love with their bosses, bosses brother or bosses male assistant. In half of those scenarios, the current girlfriend is a lackluster unspirited socialite, who gets dumped for the morally anchored but lowly secretary, housekeeper, hotel maid or nanny. Those are followed by nefarious land-grabbing developer movies who “steal” the deal of an aging Christmas tree farm, wonderland or town and extract a pound of flesh or worse, to un-seal the deal. Nevermind that the lawyers in those movies are portrayed as unsympathetic dumb slugs who can’t muster up the creative intelligence to negotiate the duped client’s way (its always a woman) out of the clearly unscrupulous contract.

Then there is the class of movies where a series of late twenty-something or early thirtysomething women can’t face their families and parents over the holidays without a date. Those offers solutions for these sad sack young women that range from making an intimate pact with total strangers they bump into on the street  (with whom they ultimately fall in love) to outright “boyfriend” kidnapping. There was one uncharacteristic exception to that class involving a prosecuting attorney who brings home a woman (state’s witness) in his custody awaiting an important trial where she is expected to testify against a crime boss. He parades her amidst his family on Christmas day as his girlfriend. She is loose, wears tight clothing all featuring fake animal fur and a variety of animal prints.  Each of the movies in this genre shares the common ending of coming clean to the families, only to have the main character eventually fall in love with their stranger dates or custodial witness.

There are others–which no surprise loosely fit into one or all of the categories above, the stranger in the coffee shop who ends up being a Prince from Askovia. The handsome prince keeps his royal roots under wraps but nearly every story involves a stodgy butler, a pompous mother and occasionally an errant sibling (brother) who collects cars and blonds. These nearly all disparage those who do not demonstrate the requisite enthusiasm for Christmas who are,  by coincidence, from the ranks of higher economic or social status.

Lastly, there are the sad widower movies. These too cross lines across the genres already described. The widowers are left to raise a daughter while the widows are left behind by their deceased spouses to single-parent young sons. Each finds happiness with mom’s new love. The men saviors will compete against a rich city slicker but the fellow who works in a soup kitchen, is a kind stranger in an airport, cook or restaurant dishwasher, will win her heart out every time.

Time constraints prevent me from writing about the miserable lady lawyers, lonely valueless women who date superficial greedy guys or lady doctors who leave California to head out to the-middle-of-nowhere Alaska to run a clinic.  And for those of you who do not fall into any of these hapless categories–take a second look. Do you flood your house with lights at Christmastime? Beware, if you don’t, your neighbors might just be talking about you behind your back!

So what’s it all saying? Women who work hard, are missing out. Young upwardly mobile women who put work first are misguided. Single parents cannot lead rewarding lives. Widows and widowers will live unsatisfied until they find a new mate. Those in the lower economic social strata can and should aspire to marry princes and all guys who run tree farms in Vermont are handsome, morally sound and good marriage material. For those of you who live in southern climes, Sorry–Christmas cannot be truly appreciated without snowflakes but if you kiss your significant

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other, preferably under a mistletoe, while looking at all the bright lights lining your roofline, there’s a chance you might capture the Christmas spirit, Hallmark style.

For all TV-on-while-you’re-working-all-night-long insomniacs out there, they say Frasier reruns will resume in January. I’m counting the days.

The lawyers will save us all.

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. -John Adams

Are we there yet? Seems we’re closer than ever before.

Those of us old enough to know, know that we have been here before. Republican vs. Democrat.  Liberal vs. Conservative. Vitriol. Slander. Venom…are words that come to mind almost daily. And, let’s not glorify the past too much, politics was as dirty then as it is today–only then, they settled disputes in a kindlier gentler way–in a gentleman’s duel which inevitably left one disputant dead. Death to the finish yesterday, today a musical. Oh, the irony. But, I digress.

I blame the conservatives. I blame the liberals. I blame the gun lobby.  I hold responsible the patrons for immigrants, refugees, women’s rights and right to lifers.   I blame them all because, as I watched them all march around DC this last week, it was clear that we have become a nation of private and special interests all jockeying for attention to our cause. Many, if not all,  have banded together in the “enemy of mine enemy is my friend,” fashion and our newly elected President is the glue that binds them.

By some lucky coincidence all the liberal interests number about 50 million and the conservative interests too, 50 million. In the middle possibly only 5 million or so who don’t really care to enter this very particular fray–because there interests weren’t at play in this go-around. There is real comfort in those numbers because it says that for every person whose voice is heard, there is a person of opposite view. In the 60’s there was a popular poster that made its way into every flower child’s dorm room “You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.”  The incorrect assumption in this last election was that which failed at interpreting the silence of 50 million people as everything other than the heartfelt righteous indignation it was. And the people, I might add, are good, god fearing, country loving people. Good like you and I good.

Lifelong friendships are beginning to stress and crack.   It is as if there were only one view and any other,  an anomaly, the unfathomable result of millions of New York’s  rats and cockroaches  who found their way into voting machines (outside of NY) and, when no one was looking, voted.    There’s the rub. The 50 million whose candidate did not win the election would have one believe there is no other side. There is but one correct world view, theirs,  as improbable and illogical as that sounds.   Those who adhere to a values and priorities different from their own are, simply and utterly, in one Facebook pal’s words, “despicable.”  In the past, thanks to the poetry of the ultimately tarnished Spiro Agnew,  yesterday’s “deplorables” had an equally caustic descriptive for the liberals:  “an effete corps of impudent snobs.”

And, there we have it. The dance  between the “arrogant intellectuals” and the “deplorables”  has begun.   For the fourth time in my short life, a Republican has been elected President. For the second time, those whose candidate did not succeed have hit the streets. Both times, liberal democrats. Both times, I stayed home.

This weekend, the lawyers came out–headed to the airports not to protest, but to attempt in their very special way,  to temper the impact of an extraordinary Presidential fiat with rule of law.  Thank god for the lawyers. Rule of law demands this: 1) that we have lawfully transitioned to a new president  whose ideologies may differ in extreme ways from yours and 2) we have a system designed to tolerate that and check and balance it. Our judges and courts are there for a reason. Let us put our faith and stock in the system–the system that gave 50 million people a voice and elected Donald J. Trump as President of the United States of America and the same system that will provide endless opportunities for the other 50 million to challenge it and him when they deem it necessary. I accept this. I accept the current holder of the office of President of the United States and I accept peoples’ right to work with the system to change those actions which they consider constitutionally offensive. I envision there may even be times when I join in those actions.

I will not unfriend you, as perhaps you will me when you read this. And, if that’s the case, then I am really very sorry about the sad state of affairs in our world. I can only then ask this: Let us not wait until we are on our deathbeds, like Jefferson and Adams, to mend the fence upon which our friendship has been built all these last several years.

What’s it all about Alfie?

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I never paid much attention to the lyrics of this song past the second line, but find myself on not infrequent occasions muttering or humming the tune’s first lines. If you need a refresher…here’s how it starts:

What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give…

There are those among us who have a difficult time giving ourselves permission to become completely absorbed in the day to day trivialities of life. You know who you are. You’re the ones who when you leave work, joining the throngs of people in mass exit heading home towards parking lots or public transit, wonder if it isn’t reminiscent of the ants we marvel at in summer, all marching along in concert to support the colony.

You are the ones who have conversations with yourself, while trying to convince a colleague, group or client of the value of a particular course of action and the long and short term beneficial consequences.

You are the one who, while walking down the street curiously observing your fellow man, queries yourself if you are indeed the only one thinking about, “what its all about,”– for you are sure everyone seems quite absorbed in the task of getting somewhere, going somewhere, doing something, none of which  include being perplexed about their state of being.

Do you sometimes think, in 50 years most of the people I’m looking at will not be on this planet and wonder if this thought has occurred to them? I do, with more regularity than I’d like to admit, and in those moments, this e e cummings’ quote comes to mind:

little man
(in a hurry
full of an
important worry)
halt stop forget relax

wait

How apropos is it then, that as I write, this ad appears in my inbox, imploring me to get the “big picture” into my life. I chuckle. For some the “big picture” refers to a  large screen TV, nothing more, nothing less.

big picture2So today, I leave you with this: try a little Socratic scrutiny in your life. What’s your deal?  How do you see “the big picture?”  If it is true that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and I do believe that is the case, then consider  periodically pressing your personal pause button.  Purvey the landscape of your life, the people in it that you value, the values that you espouse and consider whether they are all in sync.

If after reading this you happen to pass me on the street, no need to say hello, just nod. I’ll get it. Despite all the warnings my kids give me about not making eye contact with strangers, I’m likely to return the nod with a deeply satisfying, but polite and appropriately reserved smile.    So, go ahead, make my day.

The Essence of The Christmas Tree

It has been written that for Hegel “essence” describes “how you come to the Notion, to the “key” to understanding something which, once arrived at, is the basis for all analysis of and “logical thinking” about the thing.”  For Kant, it was the thing “in and of itself.” After 40 years on the planet in contemplation and study of essence, being and rose colored glasses, I believe I managed to arriveOld Saybrook-20131224-00715 at understanding the concept when conjuring up of the christmas tree pictured here. The tree did it. It got me there–to understanding the essence of being.

The Back Story:
Work and other preoccupations kept me from having the opportunity to fulfill the annual ritual of wandering deep in the tree farm to find that perfect Concolor tree, with long lemony scented needles (which almost never shed). There are strict parameters to trees in my home:  not too tall, not too short– recognizing that the measure of small is anything that is shorter than I.

This year the ritual did not happen. There would be no  tree in our living room this Christmas. On Christmas eve with children traveling far to come home, the negative gravitas of that decision  began to weigh heavily. By noon on Christmas eve, when the first installment of visitors left, my options were reducing exponentially with each passing hour, possibly in direct inverse proportion to my anxiety over the decision.  We headed out to survey the options. The two local nurseries were, not surprisingly, out of trees. I wasn’t disappointed. I saw those trees loaded on trucks from Canada in August. I did not want one of those.

Art is important to me and every home since my first had few blank walls. On her first visit to our home years ago, a neighbor remarked “this place looks like a museum.”  I have an aversion for crowded public places. For this reason I have always enjoyed having a handsomely populated home library and well adorned walls. This indulgence is one that suits my idiosyncrasies concerning libraries and museums. Which brings me to the large blank wall in my small living room.

treeAdmittedly I had some inspiration. Somewhere along the way I managed to collect an image of a two dimensional tree made of twigs. It apparently struck me as I saved it to my hard drive. Now I was facing a blank wall, only a two hours remaining before the first child arrived home, and a fireplace mantel, that while out of the ordinary beautiful, was not  a substitute home for Christmas presents accustomed to sitting under a tree.  We were in the car, and though I ruefully glanced at  the  empty tree lot,  I proceeded on to CVS resolved to pick up two dozen clear “hooks” and convert an empty wall into a “tree.”  A  few minutes later, I was pulling into the driveway, threw the car into park,  scrambled into the wooded area adjoining the driveway to gather a half dozen long boughs that had been cut from a downed tree the winter before.

I laid them out on the living room floor—imagined the configuration that would best approximate a  “tree,” marked where my partner needed to make the trim cuts, grabbed the box of “favorite odds” ornaments from the attic and a string of lights. A large star-fish topped off the work which was assembled with the help of dark brown English twine  brought back from one of my London jaunts that I knew at the time, would someday come in handy. That day had arrived, and sooner than I thought.

The base was formed by (an empty) beautifully wrapped square box which was soon joined by the other presents. I plugged in the string of lights and there it was: The Christmas Tree, and really, a fairly perfect tree too.

Later in the evening  I sat with my daughter in the living room gazing at “the tree.” My analysis: it provided the function of “housing” the gifts below. The lights twinkled. The oddity of the ornaments, all favorites for one reason or another, allowed me to savor each one in a way the traditional tree did not. An early gift from my daughter of an ornament made by trafficking victims from NOMI, an organization that serves victims of trafficking was added to it—and fit in perfectly. It meant something–a gift from a child that recognized her mom’s work and something that was important to me. The Starfish atop it was personal too—starfish have always been in our Christmas trees, a symbol of our life these last many years living near the water. It was balanced. It was beguiling. I had managed to capture the essence of The Christmas Tree, without having one—and that I suppose is what Hegel and Kant were all about—capturing the essence.

I was startled. For the first time I had a truly deep sense of the essence of a thing, which was more amorphous than I had ever imagined and yet more real than anything I could have envisioned.  That assortment of sticks from the woods, strategically placed and ordinarily combined, generated a spot where we would sit, smile, giggle, share and realize in a very real and deep way, what this holiday is really all about.  

 

No presents please.

no-gift-imageMy grandparents reached a stage in their later years when they often said at Christmas or on birthdays: “Don’t buy us anything.” They didn’t offer more. They didn’t suggest substitutes nor did they feel the need to explain. Being on the giving end of that mandate was unpleasant. Giving them gifts made us feel good. Their not wanting gifts was discouraging, to say the least. What we didn’t comprehend was that we were gift enough…our accomplishments and our companionship. I finally get it. They derived pleasure, as I am beginning to, from our just (to borrow a phrase from Jerzy Kosinski) “Being There.”  Being There is the gift I want from those close to me and Being Here in the moment is the gift I give to myself.

The journey to this place was pretzel like–it was a journey that truly is only recognizable in retrospect, that is “through the rear view mirror.” It is a state of mind that you can achieve, but cannot map. You can only hope to land at this spot, but planning the journey in a way that guarantees you will, well that’s something else. Not much different from the measure of the parameters of obscenity, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Potter,  I can only offer that while I can’t explain how one gets to this place “I know it when I see it.”

That’s about as lofty as things will get here today. For, having arrived at this state of mind that does not require my fighting traffic, pushing my way through crowds in stores at any hour of the day or night, no matter the enticement or otherwise being in “go” mode, the following is a list of things and holiday messages that I’m finding particularly irksome–and in some instances, downright problematic this week:

Hollywood Messaging:
1) Being committed to work and high caliber performance (male or female) must necessarily involve short changing family–and if you don’t have a family, your work is a likely culprit. 2) Life in New England or other backwoods country locale (=good) is preferred  to life in New York or other urban area (= bad). 3) Hard working type A’s probably don’t believe in Santa Claus and are, no surprise, often found on the naughty list. Additional faulty personal traits that tag along  include lacking true Christmas spirit and understanding what, in Charlie Brown’s words, “Christmas is all about.” This list could actually benefit from an entire blog, but you get the gist.

Commercial Enterprises Changing Roman Calendar:
Friday, Saturday, Sunday–the names of the week date back hundreds of years. Sure, there’s a favorite I have of “Over the hump Wednesday”–but that’s a prepositional phrase–falling far short of the current trend towards adding  adjectival descriptives to the days of the week that in effect become  name changers.

The Friday after Thanksgiving is no longer,  as in “Do you have to work on the day after Thanksgiving?”  but is now:  Black Friday. What was for some a welcome day off from work, generating one of the only fourdayweekends in American working life, has been transformed into a day when everyone bears a piece of the responsibility for turning the economy around, signalling recovery and the harbinger of hope for the year ahead. Opt out of being part of that message at your peril for being labeled downright unpatriotic.

If you thought that skipping Friday was a simple way of avoiding falling into that commercial trap, special thanks to American Express for naming Saturday “Small Business Saturday.”  Just when you patted yourself on the back for staying away from the big box stores on Black Friday, your guilt can only now be assuaged by visiting the mom and pop stores and “shopping small.” You don’t want to be seen as a Scrooge, do you?  Lastly, lest you believe you have outsmarted every effort to draw you into the shopping melee, on Cyber Monday when you return to work your inbox and every website you visit will bombard you with promises of the bestprices, steepestdiscounts, todayonly lastchances to shop for those special people on your list.

In what world that you or I may have ever conceived would spending the weekend listening to music, reading and writing be viewed as excessively sedentary downright unpatriotic pursuits? In what world could reading about the comet that managed to escape capture by the sun or contemplating from my window the lone swan who swimming  back and forth without his/her now missing spouse not hold  a candle  to running around saving the economy through endless shopping?  In what world could reminding your fingers and brain that you once played Rachmaninoff’s Prelude and can again, ever be mentioned in the same breath as an admonition that includes the words”staying home and sitting around?”

Something is amiss.

For a long time now I have enjoyed these lines by notsofamous poet, Hugh Prather from his book “Notes To Myself”:

“Ideas are clean. They soar in the serene supernal. I can take them out and look at them, they fit in books, they lead me down that narrow way. And in the morning they are there. Ideas are straight. But the world is round, and a messy mortal is my friend. Come walk with me in the mud.”

And by that, I don’t mean let’s head out to the mall and check out the sales.