Tampax, Tunnel Vision, and Tangibles

My son was five when, unbeknownst to me, he retrieved used Tampax applicators from the bathroom trash, put four or five together like a long, white telescope, and went on a back yard adventure. A giant yard of big, old trees, sand box with trucks and buckets, a two-story playhouse, and a swing set, but all he could see through his invention were a few oak leaves, the wheel of a Tonka in the sand, the yellow seat of a glider. Yet he was intent on his narrow scope of exploration.

I kept watching him out the back door—focused, looking for treasure, a mind full of pretend. I kept asking myself, “What in the world is he looking through?”

I think he was smart to invent an instrument for viewing his surrounds, but I don’t think those white cardboard applicators joined together gave him a complete view of the world around him. Looking through that long narrow tube, my little boy could only see what that little round hole at the end of the applicators showed. He had tunnel vision.

Tunnel vision is extreme narrowness of viewpoint resulting from concentration on a single idea or opinion, to the exclusion of others.

I can’t help but notice that there are many adults in this world now walking around looking through Tampax applicators. They see one idea or one object at the end of the tube and pick on it, scratch it raw, and then beat on it until it bleeds. They have no peripheral vision, none whatsoever, and concentrate to a fault on one grain of sand out of all the world’s beaches—one tiny inanimate object over all of humanity. I keep shaking my head and saying, “What is wrong with them, and why can’t they see more?”

We live in a time of tunnel vision and tangibles. People like tangibles—real things, palpable, things you can see, touch, even hear, pick up and hold or easily wrap your mind around. Simple and familiar tangibles attached to one meaning and experience include: a football, a tuba, trumpet, drum, cymbal, banner or flag.

People just can’t see beyond the viewfinder of the Tampax applicators; they can’t see intangibles or abstract things. They attach to the material item single-mindedly and focus on its color, sound, texture, and what they personally think about it. They build anger and hostility as they look to hammer and hurt everyone else who doesn’t see the item like they do. There’s no understanding or empathy outside that one object, even though there’s an infinite world of possibilities. I keep shaking my head. “Why can’t they see the big picture?”

I remember the movie Patch Adams. My other son (the one who was given a real Fisher-Price Adventure Tool Set after it was discovered what his brother used for exploration) was in that movie. I think of the scene in which Arthur Mendelson, an elderly, eccentric, intellectual patient ran up wildly to Patch and held up four fingers. “How many do you see?” The staff thought the old man was crazy, but Patch pursued his question. Mendelson told Patch to look beyond the fingers, to look at him, and by gazing through, Patch saw the fingers double. By looking at the four fingers, Mendelson said, “You are focusing on the problem. If you focus on the problem, you can’t see the solution.” This was a charge to see more, to look at the whole, to see what no one else sees, to see an answer. “See what everyone chooses not to see … out of fear, conformity, or laziness.”

My friend, writer Chance Chambers says, “I will not hold flags and ceremony (tangible items) in higher regard than human lives. A song doesn’t mean more to me than freedom and the right to live without fear.”

I don’t have a lot of hope that a lot of people can embrace this. Most are very content with their Tampax applicators, and we’ve just got to let them play, pretend, and cry in their own little, narrow worlds.

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In the Shadow of the Steeple

AUGUST 1944 – 73 YEARS AGO – ANNE FRANK WAS FOUND BY NAZIS IN SECRET HIDING PLACE IN AMSTERDAM, SENT TO A DEATH CAMP

“Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” ~ Anne Frank

The Diary of Anne Frank. I read it every year as a teen. I was a post-war child, born of a father who fought against the atrocities of Adolph Hitler in Europe, ended up at the base of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, and spent a year in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, two hours from Hitler’s mountaintop retreat in the Bavarian Alps.

From my scrapbook

I was fascinated by the genre, by the first-person voice of a girl my age recording real-life experiences. As a college student, I went to Amsterdam and took a tour of Anne Frank’s house with its secret annex and hidden staircase. I remember the swinging bookcase and the stairs up to the secret room—narrow, steep, and dark. I remember walking around in the large room that hid Anne and her family. It was filled with windows letting in sunlight when I was there. It was hard to picture that once, the windows were blacked out for secrecy and protection. I stood at one window and looked out at the city teeming with people and life. The most meaningful image was that of a church steeple.

If Anne could’ve looked out that window, she would’ve seen hope and help.

The steeple image has stuck in my mind for almost five decades. I’m now trying to make meaning of it.

It’s the Westerkerk, the West Church. Rembrandt was buried there in 1669. It’s old. It’s a church with a steeple that towers above the city, marking its location so people can find it, pointing upward, and portraying its purpose as a place of God, of believers, of love, of hope and help.

The steeple serves as a visual testimony to all who walk in its shadow.

What happened in the shadow of the steeple seven decades ago when Anne Frank was a twelve-year-old?

There were surely good and God-loving people in the church. As they sat under their steeple, surely, they sang, prayed, took of the Body and the Blood. And then what? When they walked out the front doors, on the sidewalks by the canals, to their homes in the shadow of the steeple, did they live out the church’s mission, their mission?

When I read Anne’s diary as a young girl, my underlying thought was of the people, the good people, who let this happen to her. I mean, how could they? Why didn’t they do something? I realize some did help—provided protection and a path to fleeing the insanity that was. But many did nothing.

Were they unaware? Were they afraid? Of taking a stand? Of carrying out the church’s mission? Did they hide in the shadows?

Ultimately, young strong men—soldiers, like my dad—from other countries were called in to save them from the madness they’d allowed.

Life experience has taught me that good people are mostly silent. It’s easy, better that way, more acceptable to stay quiet in the darkness, to align with similar others, to hold inward vigils, and to excise those who stand out of the shadows.

Anne’s is a tragic story, because hope and help never came.


Irises, Rainbow Colors, and Courage

Irises have rich historical meanings, and when given as gifts, they convey deep sentiments: hope, faith, wisdom, and courage. The flower takes its name from the Greek word for “rainbow.” Another Greek word, “eiris,” means “messenger.” The Greek Goddess Iris acted as the link between heaven and earth. She delivered messages for the gods and from the Underworld and traveled along rainbows as she moved between heaven and earth. Purple irises were planted over the graves of women to summon the Goddess to escort the dead on their journey upward into the afterlife.

I like to think this is symbolic and that the flower also inspires us with courage to rise up and reach out above our darkest times into growth and newness of life.

The purple iris also denotes royalty. During the Middle Ages, the purple iris was linked to the French monarchy, and the Fleur-de-lis design, inspired by the flower, eventually became the recognized national symbol of France.

The iris is also the state flower of Tennessee.

Iris spikes and blooms standing tall

Irises from my friend Colleen

I have iris rhizomes from friends in Tennessee, from my grandmother’s farm in Mississippi, from William Faulkner’s house, Rowan Oak, (white cemetery iris) in Oxford, Mississippi. I dug up some irises from my old house in Fieldstone Farms and brought them to this new house on the hill. They fill in my landscape with their showy spikes and their flowing, silky, spring colors. I am surrounded by hope and faith. By wisdom. And courage.

Irises from my grandmother – might be 50-75 years old,
growing on land that has been in our family since 1850

The iris provides the perfect cover image for Editor Susan Cushman’s anthology, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. My essay, “Pushing Up the Sun,” is included in this new book, released in March 2017. The flower is soft, delicate, in a silky, flowing design—feminine. But you better believe she is hardy, and no matter what she faces, whether being pounded by snow, rain, or hail, being slept upon by rabbits or stepped on by children or mowed down by a careless landscaper, she comes back. And she comes back bigger and stronger. Every year, those spikes strengthen and rise up and reach high, producing wrapped blooms that grow tall and open into flowers, repeating in second bloomings, and more.

What a perfect gift of hope and faith and wisdom and courage for Mother’s Day! And a book signing for this anthology will be held at Barnes and Noble Cool Springs in Brentwood, Tennessee, the day before. May 13, 1:00. I welcome you to come! Susan Cushman, editor, will be there. River Jordan, local author and contributor, will join us.

And a big shout out to Barnes and Noble — the best book store a local author could hope for!


Because I Am

I hiked two miles yesterday on the freshly mulched trails of a Class II Natural Area, saw native wildflowers in white, pink, and purple, saw birds, frogs, turtles lined up on logs in the lake, snakes swimming, and chipmunks jumping around. The color green across the forest floor was new, fresh, and yellowy. The pitch of bird sounds was high and expectant. It is newly spring, when cycles begin again. Life comes around every year.

The last short segment of the hike was on an old road, closed to driving and crumbling at the edges into the lake. The center line spoke to me, and I snapped a picture.

Old road surface, rough, hard, harsh, cracked, hidden under thick trees, away from sun and light, always dark there, always, no light gets through, not ever. Yellow line at the center of the path to follow home. Straight, unlike life. And jagged, winding cracks have opened up all down the line splitting the yellow paint, itself marred and chipped away. Life finds a way up through the openings in the gray. Tender new green, fragile, flowering, pink, finds a place in the hard, cold road. Keeps doing it every year, coming back, coming back, coming back. Even blooming.

Why? What is the purpose? I wonder when it will tire of this.


I Lost a Friend

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My friend Neil O. Jones lost his long battle with lung cancer the last day of January 2017. The Roundtable Writers Group, of which he was a member, spoke at his funeral service on his behalf, doing readings by his favorite authors, as well as original works.

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I am honored to have written and read a poem with my friend Susie Dunham. I’m sharing it below in honor of Neil, a fine man who had friends all over the country who came to pay respects. He was blessed to have his writer friends, his “brothers” from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, fellow college professors, the Muletown Hog Chapter of motorcycle friends (a 20-bike tribute! Thanks to Jerry Knox who organized this!), Gerald (T-Bone, childhood friend from Dallas), local friends, children, and grandchildren to gather to celebrate his life.

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January 31, 2017

We Lost a Friend

Susie Dunham and Kathy Rhodes

Susie Dunham

We lost a friend today.
We’ve lost other friends and family to cancer,
but we’ve never lived it so close.
Close enough to see week to week
month to month
year to year.

We saw how it took pieces of you.
Teasing and testing you to
fight harder than you did in the
jungles of Vietnam, to
fight harder to stay alive.

Fifty years ago in that January,
your worst battle of that war,
Operation Junction City,
you fought to keep your brothers safe.

Now in this January,
your worst fight of this war,
you battled with bravery and honor
to stay with the people who
will miss you
now
that the battle is lost.

This ain’t Nam.
But Nam
followed
you
home.

*

From Neil’s book Brothers, All

It was then I knew,” you said. “Nothing would ever change. I would get out of this life whatever I could and think of Vietnam only when it attacked me [whenever] it … chose. It was the ghosts of my brothers … It was Agent Orange. There was no escape,” you said. “The mark of the Beast would keep coming back.”

“It is the cancer coming back and building in me that I can’t get away from,” you said.

 “Now there is a new way to fight it—a new drug … approved … twenty days before my cancer in progression receives it.

 Another battle ahead.

Five decades of war, college, love, children, grandchildren, work, teaching American literature in college, now this—more war,” you said. “I am trying desperately to save myself from the enemy, firing with every weapon I’ve got. I face the deep, unfathomable abysm.

 And so it begins.”

*

Kathy Rhodes

And so it ends.
We lost a friend today.

You fought the war back then,
and now near’ four years of battles,
one after the other:
surgeries, chemo rounds, radiation—
new wonder drug!

Battle scarred,
you left this world
fifty years after you left that old war.

You got out of life what you could.
“Half scholar, half rube,” you said.
Renaissance man, country boy.
You taught the classes.
You rode the mules.
You rode the scoot.
You told the stories.
You wrote the book.

You fought the battles. You did your part.

It’s that, sometimes, in life, what’s supposed to save you does not.
The beast, it turns on you.

Many battles won, but the war rages on.
Maybe you, first in that new cancer treatment,
can help those who come behind.

For in life, what matters most is doing for others, all brothers, and
you
did
much.

*

Susie Dunham

You won before you lost.

*

Kathy Rhodes

You won before you lost.

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Nashville Women’s March: Peace, Unity, Love

I held one end of an American flag banner against the rail of a viewing porch on the Pedestrian Bridge high above the Cumberland River. That’s how I met Alma Sanford. She and her daughter brought the banner with them and displayed it throughout the Women’s March at Cumberland Park, the walk downtown on Second Avenue, and in Public Square Park. I passed the flag corner to my friend Susie to hold as we both shared in this historic event. Twenty thousand people gathered in Nashville to stand for “right” in America.

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womensmarchkathysusie

Alma Sanford is a retired attorney and political consultant. After she stopped practicing Law, she has worked in the areas of government service, political campaign management, event planning, and member of many boards, such as the Nashville State Community College Foundation to raise funds for student scholarships. I got this information from LinkedIn; she told us to look her up. She worked on current Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s campaign. She told me this.

Alma is also a founding board member of the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument, Inc. According to LinkedIn, she:

“Prepared all initial legal documents for incorporation, application for non-profit status and planned first fundraiser. Participated in the selection of the sculptor Alan LeQuire, who was commissioned to create the monument to the Tennessee women suffragists who successfully gained the state of Tennessee’s ratification of the 19th Amendment. The monument includes 5 women that are 9 feet tall that will stand on a base of 3 feet…in Centennial Park in Nashville…”

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The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1920, the year before my mother was born. In other words, my grandmothers in their early years did not have the right to vote in the United States of America. Thank God for strong, bold women who stood up and spoke out! After 1920 white women could vote. In the late 1940s when my mother, a white woman, moved to Mississippi, she had to take a civics test and pay a poll tax to vote.

That was to keep black people from voting. Thank God for bold and strong African-Americans who stood up and spoke out for their rights in the 1960s! I lived it and watched it in the Mississippi Delta in my young years. My public school was segregated until 1965. In the 1970s I watched – yes, saw with my own eyes – black people getting off the sidewalk of an old Mississippi town when white people approached, lower their heads, and shuffle. It was a way of life there. My God! In the 1980s I sat in the public library of a small Mississippi Delta town looking at books with my children and watched the librarian refuse a book to a little girl of color and tell her, “You know you can’t check out a book here. Go’on now.” My God! My first act of activism was calling the main library director and reporting that incident. It was handled appropriately. Silence would have done nothing. We’ve always needed protestors in this country.

Sometimes it takes a strong, loud, collective voice to make the government more responsible and responsive to its citizens.

As reported, the “Women’s March Is The Biggest Protest In US History As An Estimated 2.9 Million March.”

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In Nashville, twenty thousand marched. There were almost as many men as women. There were babies and children and dogs, and I heard there was one goat. I came to tears when I saw walking in front of me a woman who had to be in her 80s. Another touching moment was seeing a little girl all dressed in pink, sitting and resting on a pink poster. Another touching moment was seeing three Mexican workers, maybe facing deportation, in a downtown building stop their construction activity and stand in windows videoing the marchers. There was one woman in a wheelchair, worried about pre-existing conditions removed from health care.

womensmarchunity

We didn’t all agree on the same issues. We marched for our own reasons. Why did I march?

  1. For my granddaughter. I have twin grandchildren—a girl and a boy. I want her to grow up with the same rights and standing and pay as he will have. We’ve come a long way there, but we’ve still got a way to go. I know. My husband died. I am single. I try to live in this world, where many men still look down on women, and where many women still believe their place is in the home cooking for their men and look down on other women who work and who are dealt a different hand in life.
  2. Against bullying. I don’t want my granddaughter bullied by little boys on the playground, who may think they have a right to now, because our new president does this on a daily basis. I refuse to ever be bullied by a man again. Yes, it happened, and apparently they figured I was a strong woman because seven of them came to take me down. I was right, and they knew it, but they also knew they could bully me into shutting up.
  3. Against sexual assault. Our current president has a history of sexual assault, which he has bragged about. He believes he has the right to do what he wants to women because he has power and wealth.
  4. For facts over fiction. Because this is my writing life: seeing truth, dealing with the facts, not making anything up, speaking in my voice. I know Fake News when I see it.
  5. For education and the arts and humanities. Because this is my life. I’m a teacher by degree and experience. I’m a writer and editor and exist in the literary community. We stand to lose a lot here with the incoming administration.
  6. For health care and a women’s choice for her own body. I am against abortion. But I am for birth control, for a hysterectomy if a woman needs one, and for abortion in the case of rape, incest, and the life of the mother, which I might add that my Baptist denomination was always for, too. We have some nutcases in the incoming administration, and I don’t trust giving them the rights to make these decisions, as we in Tennessee did with our lawmakers.
  7. For the environment. We have scientific documentation, and we know the chemicals that harm us. We need to be careful here. We stand to go back fifty years.

I stood up yesterday for and against these things. It was a wonderful, inspirational, peaceful, happy, accepting, unified, respectful gathering. As Susie said, we stood for peace, fairness, and respect for every human.

And today, hate came. Someone told me, “You are very sadly misrepresented by the celebrities you allow to speak for you…There are unspeakable injustices in this world and millions and millions of women would take our injustices in a heartbeat. The celebrities who were speaking to this movement were hate-filled and vulgar. You are lumped under that umbrella in the media…” This came out of the clear blue. It was fabricated, made up, a misrepresentation of me and my mission. I heard no celebrities talking about this. I think for myself.

And so what is that. Bullying. It’s a form of bullying. It’s what I marched against.

We need more Almas in our America. We need people in cities all over the world standing up for our now backward-and-downward-sliding America. We need yesterday’s good, strong, peaceful, determined, bold, collective voice continuing to speak out against the wrongs America is sliding into.

We don’t need the hate and division caused by fear of something outside the box or fake and negative-slanted news or radical misguided religion. I am so saddened and hurt to see it come to this.

But I will rise up, shake it off, and continue to stand for what I marched for.


Simple Goals for 2017

I haven’t heard much about new year’s resolutions this year. I haven’t made any. Has anyone? I think I’m still reeling from 2016. But hey, here we are, and life goes forward spinning round and round as the world turns. Perhaps, I should just think about what I want to accomplish in 2017 in terms of goals.

Goal. A desired result or possible outcome that one envisions, plans, and commits to achieve.

At the top of my list should be to bring kindness to my world. Not only to bring it, but to look for it in others.

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I feel a need for my own sanity to avoid toxic people who continue the trend of 2016 to spread political untruths, to engage in name-calling, to manipulate others into seeing things their way. I’m a writer. I will continue to write and read and explore for understanding. That is how growth comes. Growth comes from way down deep, from thinking, from questioning, from soul searching, from seeing things the way that only I do. I’m a writer. I see differently. I don’t bury my head in the sand and ignore. I work it out. I write to know.

Some other things I would like to achieve:

  1. Finish the novel I’ve had in the back of my mind for maybe 15 years. I’ve made three attempts to start it. I remember sitting in downtown Nashville at a restaurant around the new millennium and talking to Charlie about it. Maybe I let all the steam out. Write a chapter a week.
  2. Write an essay every month. The new month starts today. I should get busy.
  3. Plant garden foods I will eat. Take time to work in the gardens and flower beds. Tame my yard. Maintain it better.
  4. Live with less. Get of rid of old things I don’t need. Pack things to save in bins and label.
  5. Go to a movie once a month.
  6. Spend time with Puppy Heidi on Franklin trails.
  7. Reach out and make a friend in the neighborhood.
  8. Go to the beach—with or without the new little camper I want.
  9. Blog more. Ten years ago when I started blogging, I committed to two or three times a week. When Charlie died, that went out the door. I had to go to work full time and support myself. Maybe now, two or three blogs a month. At least.
  10. Rethink social media. Remember why I got on Facebook ten years ago. Get back to that. I didn’t want any old friends or family. Just the writing community. Facebook for marketing and keeping up with other writers and new books and writing support. I need to tighten my boundaries. Say what I want to say and leave the room.

Okay, that’ll do it. I’m in. Foot down. New year. Go!