Teriyaki Slow Cooked

Tonight The Boy and I went out for teriyaki. It’s a Friday night, and we’ve been in the deep trough between checks for quite some time now and then one came in yesterday, and, well, it’s Friday night and we felt festive. We go out to eat often, but usually it’s in our own little town. Tonight we wanted to do something special. We talked it over as we drove to the Big Town down the the road, and settled on our favorite teriyaki place. We don’t go there often; but when we have gone the food has been uniformly tasty, and the service excellent.

When The Boy and I walked in we saw a number of people already in the place, but there was only one person in line. It looked good.  The Boy and I settled on our orders and I got in line while he went to the bathroom and found us a table. The person ahead of me ordered, and it seemed to take a little longer than usual, but I chalked it up to a new counter person. When it was my turn I stepped up to the counter, opened my mouth–and the phone rang. “Wait, please, while I take this order,” the counter person said. And then, without waiting for my agreement (which I would have given, because I am a Nice Person, but still, it would have been nice to have been given the opportunity), she proceeded to slowly, slowly, take an order–a big order–over the telephone.

The counter person hung up and I placed my order and paid, which is how we do things at this teriyaki place. Because I am a Nice Person, I even added a substantial tip to the receipt. And then I went to the restroom and found The Boy, who had chosen a table with backless stools. Because I’m a fat middle-aged lady, I pulled rank and moved us to a table with chairs, with actual backs. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. Other people came in. A couple sat down at the table The Boy had initially chosen. The waitress came out carrying part of another table’s order. Everybody got their food except for one man, who sat and watched his friends eat. The couple who had taken our first table got their food. And still we waited. A lady at the table told the server that her meal was burned. The server carried the plate away and returned a few minutes later with another plate of freshly cooked food.

And still we waited. When the server passed our table I flagged her down and asked about our food. “I think our order might have gotten misplaced,” I said. “I’m seeing people who came in after us being served. Can you check?”

She agreed and hurried off.

Glaciers formed and melted. Species evolved, flourished, and went extinct. And still we waited.

The last man at the table next to us finally got his food. A different server brought it this time. I got her attention and asked about our food.

“I don’t know when it’ll be ready,” she said. “We have a lot of orders. Call-in orders. We cook everything all together. In the order it comes in.”

“But I see people who came in after we did, and they’ve been served,” I objected.

“We cook everything in the order it’s placed,” she said stubbornly.

“Can you just let me know how much longer we can expect to wait? If it’s going to be much longer we’ll need to just get our money back and go somewhere else,” I said.

She grudgingly agreed to check.

A few minutes later  she came back and said it would be five more minutes.

And sure enough, a few minutes later our food arrived. The server had also brought along the order ticked. She had also brought the ticket that she said held the order that had been placed by the couple who took the table The Boy and I had vacated way back in the beginning. In a stunning feat of detective mathematics she proved to her own satisfaction that I was completely unjustified in complaining about the wait “because their order is time stamped at 5:10 and yours is time stamped at 5:15.” She didn’t mention anything about the other people who had come in after us, and been served ahead of us. Apparently her one example, how ever problematic, was all she needed to completely discount our objection to having to wait more than half an hour for food that, even if it was cooked from scratch, should have taken no more than fifteen minutes to prepare–and that’s if the restaurant did no preliminary prep at all.

She swished off, secure in her mathematical superiority. She didn’t bother to explain how it could be that they had taken the table we had left, so had clearly not been in the restaurant before we were.

And so it was that The Boy and I ended up spending our evening not enjoying each other’s company, but wishing we had gone somewhere else, and discussing the importance of customer service. It was annoying to have to wait and wait and wait first to order, and then to be served, but that wasn’t the biggest issue. “The thing that got me the most,” said The Boy in the car on the way home, “was that when she finally brought our food she brought those tickets along to ‘prove’ that no one had been served ahead of us. Maybe they called their order in. So what? Bringing the tickets was just rude. If she would have just said, ‘I’m sorry you had to wait so long,’ that would have been enough.”

And he was right–it would have been. The restaurant was busy. It was busy enough they really needed another person working the counter, handling the call-in orders while the first counter person took the walk-in orders. They apparently needed another cook or two. They needed another server. The crowd tonight was not an aberration, if the conversation I overheard at the next table was accurate. “We’re always busy on Friday nights,” the server informed the man who had spent fifteen minutes watching the rest of his party eat their dinners. And somehow that was supposed to make it all right.

And so we ate, and on the way home we talked about how disappointing it was–this should have been a special evening. We were going to a restaurant we enjoyed and didn’t go to often. We’ve been busy–this was the first time in quite some time we’d spent an evening together. It might have been  just another “slammed” Friday night for the people running the restaurant, but it was more than that to us. It was family time, time we’d expected  to enjoy. Instead we spent the evening paying to be treated like an annoyance, and then being shamed when we asked about the service that we should have been able to simply expect.

I doubt if the people who run that restaurant are reading this, but if you are, here’s what I’d like to say:

1. Your food’s great. Seriously. Great.

2. You need to figure out the counter. Having a line build up in the restaurant while your one harried counter person is hunched over the phone taking hundred-dollar orders doesn’t work. Not only does it mean we have to wait and wait and wait, but we know that that huge order means we’re going to have to wait even longer to get our food. Take the call-in orders in the kitchen. You’re making your walk-in customers feel like second-class citizens.

3. Learn the value of a simple, graceful apology. When you run a restaurant sometimes things are going to get busy. People are going to have to wait. Customers are going to get served out of turn. Plates will be spilled. Food will not meet customer expectations. Those things are going to happen. And most of the time customers will be happy with a simple, sincere, “I’m so sorry about the wait/dish/accident.” And, if necessary, “Let me check with the kitchen and get this worked out.” We don’t want to litigate who’s at fault–we’d just like to get our food and get on with enjoying our evening.

And that’s it, really. I’m not saying I’ll never go back. The food’s good. Really, really, good. But I have to also say that this evening has left a sour taste in my mouth. I’m willing to chalk tonight up to bad luck, but if it happens again, I’ll be voting with my feet. I’ll start looking around for another place that not only serves great food, but also understands great customer service. So watch your business. I’ve got my eye on you.


We’ve all  become heartily sick of watching the legislative shenanigans in Washington. Article after article reminds us that the American People are Very Unhappy With Congress. And that’s true. I am unhappy with Congress.

I am unhappy with a lot of people these days. I am unhappy with WellsFargo Mortgage, to whom I have been submitting financial information for nearly a year in the increasingly dim hope that they will actually modify my mortgage.

I am unhappy with my credit card companies, who raised interest rates even though I was more than current and well below my limits and, when that became illegal, began assessing a higher “base rate” on my existing balance, and then added usage as well as non-usage fees, and then late fees for the payment they demanded I miss before I became eligible for even the inadequate “hardship plan” on offer. When I set up a payment plan one company opted to withdraw the payment not from the checking account designated on all the paperwork, but from my savings account,which was not a checking account, to which I had NEVER provided them the numbers, and which was, in any case, pretty spartan. When the payment didn’t go through they assessed “returned payment fees,” and the bank assessed overdraft charges. They reversed them for me when I complained, but still…

I am unhappy with my state, which has raised my property taxes AND my assessed property value, even though I am reliably informed that my property value has tanked along with everyone else’s.

I am unhappy with my insurance company, which has raised my home insurance rates because, hey, my assessed value went up.

And I am unhappy with my mortgage company AGAIN because not only have they refused to respond to my repeated financial re-filings (except by demanding yet MORE financial updates), but they have now raised my supposedly fixed-rate mortgage payment because my insurance has gone up. My insurance went up about two dollars a month and my mortgage payment is going up $25 a month, but never mind.

So I’m unhappy with a lot of people. But I am NOT unhappy with my senators, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden. I love them. I would practically have a baby for them. I will definitely vote for them again, unless they go crazy and screw things up between us. But I really don’t see that happening. Here’s why. They called me. To be fair, I wrote one and called the other first, so it wasn’t like I was playing “hard to get,” but the fact remains that I contacted their offices. And I got answers.

The thing about what’s happening right now is that people like me are being hit from all sides. Companies we bailed out have repaid our generosity by screwing us to the wall at every opportunity. It’s like being sent through a car wash without a car. It hurts, and it’s scary, and it hits you all over, and when even the very measures (like mortgage modifications) that are supposed to be for people like me are denied not by rejection, but simply by being allowed to age on someone’s desk there is a deep, corroding, despair that sets in. It set in for me.

I sat with my bills, and I looked at my income, and I realized that I had to have help. Thing is, everybody’s pretty much in the same boat. We’re all struggling. It feels like we’re living in that Yeats poem–the one that talks about the center failing to hold, and ends by wondering what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born.

I went to a consumer credit counselor. He looked at the same numbers I was looking at and told me my only realistic option was bankruptcy. I came home feeling like the car wash had won.

In desperation, I emailed Senator Merkley, and then I found Senator Wyden’s office telephone number. I picked up the phone and dialed. I figured I had nothing to lose. I really didn’t expect anything beyond a form response about how they were very very busy working very very hard for Oregonians everywhere, and a reminder that they’d appreciate my vote, and possibly a donation.

I was wrong. The woman who answered the telephone at Senator Wyden’s office listened to my story. She sympathized. She got my email address. She emailed me a list of local resources. She also told me that the people in Senator Wyden’s office are hearing stories like mine every day. She included a form for me to sign and return if I thought it might be helpful to have the Senator send a few letters or make a few calls on my behalf. She gave me her name–it was Jerusha–and urged me to call back and let her know how things were going, and if I needed their help.

I hung up feeling immensely better. The next day I got a call from Senator Merkley’s office. The woman was equally sympathetic, and equally prepared to offer help. Because I was already working with Senator Wyden’s office I thanked her, but let her off the hook. She also asked that I call back if I needed anything.

The day after that Jerusha from Senator Wyden’s office called again, checking on how things were going. I updated her (my mortgage broker believes that she’s discovered the Secret Formula which determines acceptance or rejection; I’m still waiting to hear). I have no idea if the Secret Formula is actually the key to mortgage acceptance or the recipe for Colonel Sanders’ crispy chicken. I hope the mortgage goes through. I am still hoping to find a way to avoid bankruptcy. Things are still hard.

But if the modificationt doesn’t go through, if the credit card companies refuse to deal with me in a meaningful way, I have two senators in Washington are waiting to help not because I am unique or special, but because they understand that we here at home need more than just their work in the Legislature and the suggestion that we bootstrap ourselves to success. We need help navigating through the mess in which we all find ourselves. And they’re giving it–a listening ear followed up by real, concrete, tangible, practical help. My senators call me back. And I love them for it.

Hail, and Farewell

This post has been coming for a while, now, and writing it is easier than I thought it would be. I started this blog back during the election. It was a response to all the “Joe the Plumber” nonsense that was going on. For a while there everybody was talking about “Main Street,” and what “Main Street” wanted. I was given to understand that by “Main Street” they meant me, and people like me–small business people, enterpreneurs, leading small lives. Everybody had a lot to say. The thing was, none of what they said sounded much like me–what I wanted, what I needed, what I hoped.

I learned that I wanted affordable health insurance, that I wanted less taxes so I could buy my health insurance myself, that I wanted a tax rebate, that I wanted money invested in infrastructure, that I wanted the banks fixed, that I wanted the credit card companies fixed, that I wanted to have tea parties, that I wanted an affordable mortgage, that I wanted special needs children and Sarah Palin’s parents not to go in front of death panels, that I wanted politicians who were “just like me”.

Some of the things I was told I wanted sounded like good ideas. Some other things sounded just plain looney. But the thing was, for the first time I really heard politicians professing to want to know what would be good not for the nation, not for the states, not for businesses, but for people like me.

I thought they wanted a conversation. And so I, who had never voted, who had always believed that there wasn’t much to choose among politicians, started a blog. I started reading the news. I started having political discussions with my Sister the Mostly Republican. And then, because it turned out I was Mostly Democrat, and because we love each other more than we love politics, we decided to leave politics alone and go back to talking about horses, our kids, the books I’m trying to publish, and our crazy family. In retrospect, it was the right decision.

I’m new to politics. As I said, I’ve been pretty apathetic about the whole process, but something about this campaign inspired me to actually believe that things could change. It took a lot of other people the same way. We all hoped.

And then the mortgage companies got bailed out, and even though I get daily ads in my inbox about how President Obama would like us to refinance and take advantage of the lower interest rates, and even though my credit was excellent until a few months ago, and is still pretty darned good, no mortgage company would consider me for refinancing without imposing ruinous penalties.

And then the credit card companies did bizarre and egregious things to interest rates, even for people like me who had never missed a payment in living memory, and now I’ve gotten a note informing me that though my interest rate apparently can’t be raised any more for some newly imposed legal reason they’ve decided to raise my “base” rate. God knows what that means. Nothing good, I suspect.

And then my clients disappeared, swept away in the financial hurricane that consumed us all, and my credit card balances went up, and up, and up, and then my line of credit dissolved, and one day about a month ago I realized that I had no money in the line of credit, no money on the credit card, no money in the bank, clients who owed me money but hadn’t paid, and the mortgage, telephone, and electricity all coming due.

I had honed. I had pared. I had cut expenses wherever I could. And it wasn’t enough. And on the news, all anyone could talk about was how Americans really must not want health insurance reform enough, and how the bailout hadn’t worked, or how we had to be patient just a little longer, and how Sarah Palin had decided not to be governor any longer for some mysterious, Palinesque reason that undoubtedly made sense to her.

The war is going on. Mortgages can’t be had. Credit card companies have become usurers. People like me–sort of–go to town halls not to glean information or engage in a dialog, but to shut down debate, to shout, to vent their fear, frustration, and rage at the very people who seem to be trying to help. The party of Big Business has co-opted the rage of the masses and turned it to their own advantage.

It’s ugly. It’s frightening. And none of it has anything to do with me–at least not in any good way. The things done to help me haven’t helped. The nonsensical, crazy things being done to destroy the one hope I have left–the hope that we might actually emerge from all this with some kind of public health insurance plan–seem to be carrying the day with too many people.

The arguments are crazy. Looney toons. I would never have believed such idiocies would actually merit consideration, even to the extent of disproving them. But they are, and my hopes of a victory are fading with the craven Blue Dogs.

I started this blog because I wanted to be part of the conversation. But no one’s listening, and I’m tired of talking to myself. And so I’m stopping.

Some might consider this giving up. I don’t. I consider it facing reality, and choosing to spend my energy not in trying to persuade those who will not be persuaded because they are fueled by prejudice, fear, greed, hatred, and jingoism, but in getting my own family, my own town, through this time as well as I can.

For one thing, suddenly I have a great deal of work to do. When things got really, really bad a month ago, I had a couple spells cast on my behalf. I do that from time to time. I’m not much of a joiner, and faith is not a commodity in which I traffic well, but spells seem to work for me. A week after I had them cast I had more work than I could do. I’ve been working fourteen to eighteen-hour days to keep up, and still it comes in.

I still have some financial challenges, but the rain of work has reminded me of something that I had forgotten in the midst of all the furor, drama, and fear–the world is a wonderful, bountiful place. It deserves our respect, our love, and our care. Politics seems to be failing us–again. Business is surely failing us; the sheer cold rapaciousness of what’s happening in the financial industry leaves me breathless if I think about it too much. And so I’m stopping.

This has been a hard time. It drove me to my knees. But then I remembered who I am, and I remembered the resources I have. And I realized that in following the news, in trying to do my bit to guide public opinion into constructive, positive channels, I was destroying my own life. I was using energy I should have been using to develop the bounty that has landed on my desk to talk to people who weren’t listening, anyway.

Perhaps the lesson in this, as far as I’m concerned, is that I don’t need to correct every wrong opinion about me. I don’t have to engage in every debate. I don’t have to care about the vicissitudes of Congress. Much as I mourn it, perhaps it is time I accepted that below the loudly stated assertions of public service there is a far murkier substrata governing decisions, and that strata isn’t going to be changed by my best reasoning, my most poignant remarks.

There’s an old saying: “Don’t wrestle with pigs; you both get dirty, and the pig enjoys it.” Perhaps I have been wrestling with pigs. I keep getting notes from various politicans urging me to make my opinions known, to call, write, attend, speak my piece, talk to my neighbors. If you’re going to live in Crazy Town, you have to be at least a little bit crazy. In order to comment on politics these days, I have to deal with absurd, nonsensical attacks that do nothing be destroy any hope of progress. As long as I keep blogging about politics, I have to live in Crazy Town. I don’t want to live there any more.

Politics has taken over. Fear, frustration, and manufactured outrage are killing hope. But I don’t have to watch. I will go another way for a while, step back, sit on my lawn, feel grateful for the bounty of the earth, eat tomato sandwiches, watch my son hold water fights with the neighborhood kids, and work, read the cards, and remember to be grateful.

And so I’m putting my digs in Crazy Town up for sale and moving back to where I belong–to Main Street, the Main Street that the loudest voices these days have been twisting and deluding into becoming partners in its own destruction. I’m moving back to the Main Street of small businesses that must double up to survive–to the Main Street that holds a hardware store and kitten shelter, an antique store and tanning salon, a beauty parlor and home decorating store, the Main Street where I know the lady who runs the sub sandwich shop, as well as her daughter, who runs the burger joint up the road. I’m moving back to Main Street because in the end, this is where my success or failure will be measured.

For those of you who have moved back to Main Street already, I’ll see you soon. For those of you with the courage and mental rigor to remain in Crazy Town a little longer, I wish you well. Take care. Good night.

Gunning Down Grandma

The word is out: The Obama Healthcare Plan will reduce premiums not by denying health insurance to those who need it most, but simply by applying most elegant, most final, most cost-effective solution. We’ve been informed by no less than the GOP leadership and Sarah Palin herself, former governor and now campaigner-for-hire, that Trig himself will be one of the first victims, should the plan be voted in. The thought of Trig Palin in the crosshairs is unpleasant to all of us, I’m sure, and if the asssertion had any basis in fact the horror and outrage would  be fully justified. But it’s not. It’s just not.

How do I know this? Because I read the relevant section of the bill. You can read a summary, and an excellent discussion, on  FactCheck.org. More important, I have been fortunate enough to actually have a little background in healthcare, in advance directives, and in the Compassion and Choices organization, which began in Oregon, was instrumental in passing the Death with Dignity law, and has become part of the national conversation. A recent study posted on the Death With Dignity National Center’s website should be required reading for everyone involved in the debate. The study finds that, in the eleven years since the bill passed, there has not been a single instance of abuse. Not one.

The fact is, this part of the legislation isn’t presenting anything new. All it requires is that people be informed of their legal medical options, and that they be offered the opportunity to speak for themselves, should the day arrive when they can no longer do so. Opponents of reform have positioned the legislation as some sort of coerced euthanasia program. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Put simply, the bill requires that medical practitioners inform their patients of the tools available to them for maintaining control of their own healthcare decisions–even if the day arrives when the patient can no longer speak for himself, or herself. Living Wills, or Advance Directives, combined with a durable power of attorney, provide healthcare professionals a guidebook for administering certain types of life support measures if the patient is comatose or otherwise unable to voice his or her own wishes. This is not a “license to kill,” as some would have it, but a way of providing a legal, binding decision to family and healthcare providers. An advance directive may say, “I do not wish to be rescitated.” Or it may say, “Take every step necessary to prolong my life.” Or it may say, “I trust Mary Smith to make a reasoned, compassionate, choice for me if I cannot speak for myself.” What an advance directive does is allow the patient to speak–and to give the patient’s voice the force of law.

Advance directives are simple to fill out. You don’t even need an attorney. It’s recommended that you notify those who care about you–and particularly the person you designate as your spokesperson, should  you choose to do that–that you are filling out an advance directive and what your wishes are, but it’s not required. All that’s required is that you provide the completed form to your healthcare provider at a time when you are legally competent to do so.

The new law would change none of that; it would simply require that your healthcare provider do what every doctor I have had in the last  ten years has done, anyway, during my initial visit: ask me if I have an advance directive, if I need information about writing one, and offering to provide me with forms and information if I wish. In addition, the law would now require your doctor or healthcare provider to check in with you periodically and verify that your advance directive–if you choose to complete one–is current. There are all kinds of reasons for this. Perhaps the person you designate as your spokesperson dies, moves away, or becomes your mortal enemy. Perhaps  you change healthcare providers. Perhaps medical technology changes, and new treatment alternatives become available, or old ones are discredited. In such circumstances, your wishes could and should change. So should your advance directive. It’s in your best interest–and in your healthcare provider’s best interest–to make sure that your wishes reflect the reality of your life, your relationships, and your treatment options at the time they take effect. Advance directives are a good idea. Hospitals, doctor’s offices, and clinics everywhere provide information on them–and the necessary forms–for free. As I said, this legislation isn’t really adding anything new; all it does is require that healthcare providers inform their patients of their options–and take steps to ensure that the patient’s wishes continue to reflect the changing realities of their lives.

The bill is about preserving choice, not removing it, and certainly not about pressuring sick people to off themselves. For one thing, such a step would violate the Hippocratic Oath. And for those less high-minded, such a step would be contrary to the healthcare providers’ best financial interests. Sick people go to the doctor. They require a lot of care. Doctors make money on them. If you’re in medicine for the money, advising your patients to kill themselves is not smart.

Most legislation has winners and losers, but for the life of me, I can’t see a downside to this. Healthcare providers are given clear instructions for patient care that bear the force of law, thus freeing them of the threat of a malpractice suit. Patients ensure that their treatment plan reflects their own wishes and values. Families aren’t faced with the agony of trying to divine “what Mama would want us to do.” Mama has spoken. There are no losers.

And yet the bill is being spun as a coerced euthanasia bill. Opponents trumpet that government operatives will attempt to pressure the elderly and sick into suicide “for the good of the state.” and to cut Medicare costs. This attack is not only false, but it threatens to undo several states’ death with dignity laws. If you are unfamiliar with the laws, I recommend checking out the Compassion and Choices and Death With Dignity Act information widely available online. For a humanized look at how legalizing end of life choices has played out in lives, check out Compassion in Dying, Stories of Dignity and Choice, available from NewSage Press and by contacting Compassion and Choices–Oregon.

The book contains an excellent discussion of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, the safeguards built into it, and case histories of several people who used the law in various ways. I urge you to read the law for yourself, but here’s a quick summary to get you started. Like an advance directive, the law is based on the premise that each person is entitled to control the decisions made about their healthcare, and that such control should never be usurped by another person or agency.

But here is the crucial difference: Advance directives offer people the opportunity to express their wishes while they are in a position to do so–and to have those wishes given the force of law even if the day arrives when they can no longer make their own healthcare choices known. The Death with Dignity act requires that the person most intimately concerned be mentally competent and physically able to administer the medication to themselves. It cannot be implemented by a third party.

The popular conception is that the Compassion and Choices organization and the Death with Dignity laws are all about allowing people to kill themselves–or allowing others to kill them–under the cloak of law. In reality, Compassion and Choices is about far more than just providing the terminally ill with the power to choose when their life no longer has meaning to them, and what, if anything, they’d like to do about it. It is about exactly what the name says–about compassion, and about giving choices to those for whom choice is rapidly slipping away.

Compassion and Choices provides the terminally ill and their families with options and resources, from a volunteer base of respite caregivers in some areas to transportation to doctor’s appointments to help in contacting appropriate resources for help in one of life’s most difficult passages to help in discussing illness and death with family. Providing the terminally ill and suffering with a means of ending what has become a meaningless existence to them is only one small part of the package, but it is the part that has gotten the most press coverage.

And rightly so. Deciding at what point one’s life is no longer worth living should not be done lightly, and never, I believe, by a third party. Oregon’s law includes many safeguards to ensure that the law is not abused. Among other things, the law requires that the patient be diagnosed terminal within six months, that they undergo counseling, that they be certified by two psychiatrists, and that they be able to administer the medication themselves.

In short, in states where it is legal and in circumstances where it is relevant, part of the physician-patient discussion mandated by the proposed healthcare laws might include such topics as hospice, palliative care, and maybe even the options that the Death with Dignity Act provides.

But all of that’s academic, isn’t it? Sarah Palin isn’t the only one putting the faces of her nearest and dearest on the proposed law. The fact that her spin, her theorized “death panel,” is not a distortion so much  as an outright fabrication doesn’t mean that she’s the only one considering what the law might mean to all of us. I’m doing it myself. And I’m hoping and praying the law passes not because of some wild-eyed speculation, but because of my father.

Ten years ago Dad was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. From the day the doctors cut him open, took a biopsy for form’s sake, sewed him up, and sent him home to die they were scrupulous in offering no hope. The cancer was advanced, and in an inoperable location. Furthermore, it was pancreatic cancer, which at the time was virtually always a death sentence–generally within 6 to 18 months, authorities said. Reading about a disease I had never even heard of before Dad’s diagnosis was terrifying. The general consensus was that pancreatic cancer is a filthy way to die–it strips its victims right down to their souls, and then takes that, too. There is intense pain. There is nausea. There is the loss of bodily functions. If anything, the authorities understated the facts.

I watched my father wither from nearly 6′5″ and 275 pounds to an emaciated skeleton. I watched him choose between pain and nausea and the merciful oblivion the morphine offered. In the beginning, he chose pain. He had things he wanted to accomplish. He worked a last summer running my parents’ custom harvesting business, having someone drive him out to the fields, the oxygen tank on the floor beside his feet, holding onto the pickup as he crept over to give repair instructions to those of us who had had to become his hands, trying to get around the corn chopper so the rest of us didn’t have to see the blood and bile he was vomiting in those days, then at last going home, to the relief of morphine.

Because of Oregon’s death with dignity law, my parents were able to map out a care plan for Dad that focused on prolonging quality of life, rather than waging a futile war against a foe that had already won. There were a few rounds of radiation therapy to slow the cancer and keep him as comfortable as possible, but no chemo therapy, which would have been both painful and futile. Because of the hospice resources available my parents had access to the hospital beds, in-home nursing care, hospital equipment, and medications Dad needed to keep his quality of life as long as possible. Because of the law Dad was able to die in his home, in a bed looking out over the river valley he loved, rather than buried in a maze of tubes and machines in a hospital ward.

Had he chosen to do so, Dad could have chosen at any time to halt the morphine, be certified competent, and (up until the cancer made it impossible for him to swallow) obtain the means of ending his own suffering. I take great comfort in that. To the end of his life, Dad was alive because he chose to be, because he felt he had unfinished business, because there were conversations he still needed to have. He wasn’t alive because some organization that didn’t know the pain of his private circumstances had decreed that he must be forced to live and fight beyond the point where hope and strength had been exhausted.

Sarah Palin and the opponents of the bill would have us believe that the law denies the precious value of human life, that bureaucrats will look at a spreadsheet and decree that some hapless person is no longer a good healthcare investment, that the bill deprives us all of the right to choose our own way of living–and dying.

On the contrary, the law helps ensure that our right to live–and cease to live, if our lives have become unbearable to us and there is no hope of respite–will remain firmly in our own hands until we choose reasonably, thoughtfully, and lovingly, to lay it down.

The next time you see the screaming mobs destroying the opportunity for meaningful discussion at a Town Hall meeting about healthcare reform, think of my father, turn off the television, and call your healthcare provider, call Compassion and Choices, call your lawyer, call your parents, call your children. Research the legal cases surrounding the Death with Dignity act. And then think of my father again, and put yourself in that hospital bed overlooking the river, watched every second because even in this extremity a part of your brain is driving you to work, vomiting blood and bile, a rubber sheet on your bed, needing help to get to the bathroom, onto the toilet, needing to have your bottom wiped, in the end suffering the agonies of a childhood rape again because you can no longer swallow the morphine, the “patches” are no longer enough, even though they are plastered on your body like bandaids, and anal suppositories are your only hope. Imagine a world in which ice cream has become bitter to you, in which you can only eat soups and purees, in which you cannot swallow, in which you cannot hold a cup.

Imagine living like this if you have chosen to do so, as my father did. Now imagine living like this if you have not chosen to do so, and if you have no hope of respite. Think of my father. Think of yourself. Think of your children.

Medicine has come a long way in our lifetimes. It offers hope in many cases where there was none. It offers options for treatment that were unthinkable just a few short decades ago. But those very advances have forced us to look at ourselves as more than bodies. Michael Crichton has one of his characters in Jurassic Park comment that science is increasingly answering “yes,” to the question, “Can we do this?” And that in the wonder of that, we are forgetting to ask the greater question: “Should we do this?”

Advance directives, laws like the Death with Dignity Act, and the healthcare reform legislation under consideration  do not pre-empt a person’s right to choose how their medical care proceeds. Having doctors advise patients of the wisdom of determining what kind of medical care they will receive and when before they can no longer voice their wishes is a good and compassionate thing to do. Explaining the resources available to terminally ill patients who face agony and then death–from care aids to hospice to the power to determine at what point enough is enough is, in my opinion, also a wise, compassionate, and respectful thing to do. Explaining options allows each person to move beyond, “Can we do this?” in their own unique circumstances, and provide a clear, thoughtful answer to the bigger question every family and healthcare provider of a terminally ill patient struggles with: “Should we do this?”

Princess Palin

A couple days ago a reader, Chaim,  asked a couple really good questions about the article I reposted here, “Sarah Palin Fights Like A Girl.” Here they are:

You talk about how SP manipulates with her femininity the kind of small-town, uneducated men you are familiar with, and it rings true. You also say that these men are hopelessly prejudiced against women holding power, which also rings true. So how do you explain that they wanted to put a woman in a position where there was a substantial chance of her becoming President? I’m hoping for something other than “they’re just bedazzled mindless,” although it might be true — that they pretended they were voting for McCain for President, Palin for Cheerleader-in-Chief.

The questions got me thinking, because on the face of it they do seem like contradictions in terms; why would the men we saw at Sarah Palin’s rallies–the men she played to, the men in work clothes and “gimme” caps, men overheard in restaurants saying sadly, “Wimmen’n power…wimmen’n power…turrible combination…turrible combination…” be willing to support –wait for it–a woman in public office? Logic would seem to dictate that such men would demand somebody more like, well, like Ernest Hemingway to lead them. And yet they queue up in record numbers to cheer her, get her to sign various items of an anatomical and sartorial nature, and yes, cast their votes for her.

The fact that she has been revealed to be less than astute on myriad occasions, that she is ill-informed, and, to put it bluntly, is a bit mouthier than I was taught was desirable in a woman in no way lessens her appeal. Why? “She’s hot,” they breathe soulfully. But I am confident that they find many women “hot.” Men through the ages have certainly done so, and that hasn’t stopped them from doing their darnedest to keep those hot women firmly shackled to the bed.

It seems like a contradiction, but I don’t think it is. I think this is the latest replay of a story that first saw the light of day way back in Elinor of Acquitaine’s Courts of Love. The story goes like this:

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess/queen/maiden. She lived in a castle. She may or may not have been married; in those days marriage in castles was about business and inheritance, not True Love. This maiden was as chaste as she was beautiful. She swanned around the castle all day long being sweet and virginal and never cooking or cleaning or tending a baby or pooping. She was Above Such Things.

And all the knights loved her. She was the Lady, the beautiful woman who could be loved only from afar. And so they did. The knights fought jousts in her honor, and vied to wear her “favor”–a ribbon or personal item–pinned to their sleeves. They battled other knights to dared to diss her, sometimes to the death. They loved her hopelessly, and were happy to do so. The tale of Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot is built around the dangers to civilization that result when knights and ladies forgot one simple rule: They could look and love, but they must not touch.

Other women were for that. Women who worked in the castle, who held lower social status, who had no family or powerful friends to protect them. Such women might be married. Or they might be raped, taken up against a wall somewhere and gotten pregnant, or bartered as part of a transaction. They might be beaten, or even killed, quite possibly with few if any repurcussions. For such women, being an object of desire was likelier to be a liability than an asset. Being “hot” caused a lot of trouble. Such women might make good bed partners, business partners, life partners. But did they inspire love poems? Did their husbands or bed partners vie for their honor and favor? Probably not. Why should they? These women were attainable, here, present, earthy. They cooked, scrubbed, nursed babies, smacked children, gossiped, worked in the fields, tended animals, slept with their husbands. They sweated. And sometimes they farted. They were women, not ladies.

And so was born the notion of courtly love, and the idea of Romance, of wooing a woman, of seeking to win her heart. It took centuries for the ideas of love and marriage to get into bed together, so to speak. And so also was born the notion of two different kinds of women–Ladies, who men loved and courted but could never touch, and Women, who they lived with, who served their bodies and their needs, but knew better than to expect love.

The idea took hold. For centuries men continued to marry for business, keep a mistress for pleasure, and worship the lady in the castle, or on the throne.

But we’re a long way from that, right? We would all like to think so. But I find myself thinking of how  this old, old idea played out in my own childhood. My parents were staunch fundamentalists. My father expected my mother to cook and clean and tend the children and provide him with–ahem–bodily comforts when he wanted them. My mother worked beside my father for most of my growing-up years, as did we children. Because we were such very good fundamentalists, Mom and Dad decreed that make-up, fashionable haircuts that required freqent hair-setting, and modest, unfashionable clothes were required because we were “Good Christians.” We were to be modest, unobtrusive, hard-working, and subservient. Above all, we must never draw men’s eyes. Above all, we must never prompt lust. The rules applied to mom as well as me and my sisters. Dad was very clear on what Good Christian Girls and Women should look like. But those rules were for us, the women over whom he had control.

There were other women–usually his boss’ wives. “She’s a real good-lookin’ woman,” he would say. “She keeps herself up real nice.” Or, “She’s always got a smile on her face…” and in one memorable case, “She’s a water witch.”

There was nothing wrong with Dad’s eyes. The women he deemed “good-lookin’ women” were pretty. They did indeed keep themselves up. They dressed fashionably, wore makeup, and weren’t saddled with the prohibitions against drawing men’s eyes. Looking at those women, and understanding that the very things my father found beautiful and praiseworthy in them were the things he had forbidden for the women of his own household taught me as perhaps nothing else could have how Dad saw me. I was useful. I was not worthwhile as a person. I was not someone worth striving to win.

That was a long time ago, and Dad is dead now, but when I see the men who vow that Sarah Palin is worthy to be president because she is “hot,” I find myself wondering about their wives and daughters. Do they, too, find themselves the victim of an old, old double standard that elevates one woman because she inspires hopeless love, and crushes the life out of the women who inhabit less elevated planes? I wonder how many of those men beat their wives. I wonder how many of their wives are forced to listen to their husbands gush about the woman they love and know they can never have. I wonder what it does to those women’s hearts.

When Sarah Palin was chosen to run with Senator McCain, many saw it as a sop to feminism. I don’t think it was. I think it was a reaffirmation of one of the oldest stereotypes of all. There is the lady in the castle. And then there are the rest of us.

Warning: If you got a little teary at all the farewell picnics, checked your credit card limit to see if you could possibly swing a trip to Alaska this weekend, or find yourself thinking nostalgically of the livelier GOP rallies last election, close this window and back away slowly…slowly…slowly…that’s it…

They gone? Good.

There’s a house in my town that’s having a “Moving! Estate Sale! Everything Must Go! Last Weekend!” sale. The yellowed grass of the front yard is long dead under its burden of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, Encyclopedia Britannicas (New! Updated! 1956!), duct-taped vinyl La-Z-Boy recliners, baby clothes, and knobless hi-fi’s. It’s a small, unpretentious ranch, one story, two, maybe three bedrooms. The sale started back during the Eagles’ first Farewell Tour. All I can say is, that house has a hell of a basement.

I didn’t watch the Sarah Palin Farewell Tour coverage this weekend. The though of watching people jostling in line for cooked meat and governor on the hoof lacked a certain appeal. Call me part of the left-wing-liberal-elite (yeah, me in my 1921 house with half its floors torn up while I try to save enough money for refinishing), but I couldn’t really see the news value.

Sarah Palin reminds me of some of our less successful fireworks last 4th of July: She started with a bang, and we all stared with bated breath, only to watch the sparks flicker and fade as they streaked for the ground with sad little squeaks. I wrote back during the election that she had already made herself irrelevent as a serious politician to everyone but her “base.” (I’ve reposted the article below, if anyone’s interested.) And that was before the election.

In the months since, she’s been in the news regularly–but not in a good way. It’s been Sarah vs. The Turkeys, Sarah vs. the Bloggers, Sarah vs. Levi, Sarah vs. David Letterman, Sarah vs. The Villagers, Sarah vs. the Ethics Queries and Complaints, Sarah vs. the Media. The woman will fight with anybody.

And now she’s quitting–presumably so she can finally say what she likes on Twitter, and leave Alaska without anybody asking who she’s left sitting in the Governor’s chair while she’s gone. She’s planning to start a new “coalition” and travel around the country campaigning for anybody who agrees with her ideals. From what I’ve heard, there aren’t many takers on her generous offer.

So what will she do? God knows. I suspect there may be an effort at building a coalition, or at endearing herself to the GOP (though I have a hunch that ship has sailed), or possibly even that circuit-riding campaigning she spoke of. But here’s the thing. If we’ve learned anything over the past few months, it’s that for Sarah Palin, political office is not a solemn trust, not something to plan for, educate oneself for, and work toward, but a shiny toy that drops into the lap. When the shine wears off, she’s outa there.The thought of Palin in a position of responsibility is frightening. The thought of enough people finding her electable–or delectable–enough to make that happen is appalling.

And yet, I think it’s too soon to write her off. As long as we have horny men who like their women cute and scattered, and frustrated church-going ladies who long to be given a voice with us, Palin will have a constituency. Think I’m too harsh? Consider how far she would have gotten had she been an ugly atheist. Sarah Palin is here to stay. The show will go on. Just please, please, not in a political office.

First Published on iReport way back when we still feared Sarah Palin might be living in the Dick Cheney’s Undisclosed Location. Now that Palin has resigned, I found myself thinking of it again. Enjoy the little time capsule!

I’ve watched the debates. I’ve watched the rallies. I’ve read and watched the news coverage. Here’s what I’ve learned: Sarah Palin fights like a girl.

Listen to her rhetoric; it’s high school all over again, the popular girl building her clique by a process of exclusion. She cozies up to her rally audiences by telling them that the opposition doesn’t see America like she and her audience do.

She is the walking, talking incarnation of that old axiom, “It is not enough that I succeed; everyone else must fail.” I tried to source that quote, by the way; it was instructive. Various sources attribute it in various forms to Napoleon, Genghis Khan, Gore Vidal, and Attila the Hun, among others. Increasingly, the McCain/Palin campaign seems to be creating its own version in which the first part of the quote is omitted, leaving only, “Everyone else must fail.” The Republicans are leaving no stone unturned to see that this happens. A few days ago I jotted down a little list of the various claims and insinuations against Senator Obama:

1. He is an Arab.

2. He is an African.

3. He is an angry African American.

4. He has ties to the Chicago mob.

5. He is a Socialist.

6. He is sort of an honorary Weatherman.

7. He is a closet terrorist.

8. He hates America (I should have written “real” America).

9. He is to blame for the McCain camp’s negative advertising. (Seriously.)

Any day now I am expecting to hear that Obama is a Chinese immigrant planning to implement the policies of the late, great Mao; that he really swam the Rio Grande one dark night and isn’t a citizen; that he deals drugs from the campaign bus (this isn’t as farfetched as it sounds; there have been GOP attempts to portray him as a “man of the streets”); that he’s changed the national anthem to hip hop. In short, he has been linked to a significant number of our boogeymen, not just once, but over and over again, in spite of the fact that the myths were debunked in most cases months or even years ago.  The list is alive and well in the campaign ads, on the robo-calls, and at the rallies.

But I digress. It’s been interesting, watching how the three men in the presidential race deal with Sarah Palin. Senator McCain doesn’t speak of her often, but when he does his goofy smile and gushing remarks made me ask, only half joking, “Is he doing her?”

You think that’s tasteless? Watch the coverage. He’s like a boy talking about his best girl. By all reports, Senator Biden’s debate prep included a healthy dose of how to win the debate and not look like he was beating up on pretty little Sarah Palin. He had his work cut out for him, but managed the delicate situation with good manners and a healthy dose of “challenge McCain not Palin.” In reality, Sarah Palin wasn’t the person Joe Biden debated at all. He listened to what she had to say, no matter how incoherent, smiled, and then focused his own attacks and debate points on McCain.

Barack Obama seems to have channeled Thumper’s mom and followed the “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all” rule. He seldom refers to her, but when he does, he is invariably polite, gracious, and respectful.

So there they are, three men, all skilled politicians, all far more informed than the former Miss Wasilla, all more articulate, all arguably more intelligent, based on their showings this election cycle. So why is she even there? Why, out of all of the men and women in the United States, did he pick a provincial, incurious, inexperienced, and, as one reporter put it, “ethically challenged” governor from a state geographically, socially, culturally and financially remote from the rest of us?

I submit that he picked her because she was a pretty girl.

I use the term advisedly. Though she is forty-four years old and a mother of several, Sarah Palin has remained a girl. Hillary Clinton is a woman. Elizabeth Dole is a woman. Women understand responsibility. Women have lived. Women have depths. Women do not comport themselves as if they just escaped from the Chicken House half the time, and as if they are channeling Annie Oakley and the Angel Moroni simultaneously the other half of the time. Women have dignity. Women have grown up.

Women know how to face adversity. They do not hide from the press when it becomes obvious they cannot speak without memorized crib sheets, nor do they excuse their ignorance by insisting that all members of the press except for the 700 Club and Rush Limbaugh are part of an intellectual liberal elite conspiracy. Women take responsibility. They do not speak blithely of being found blameless of ethics violations when the whole world is reading the investigation report that finds them guilty of that very thing. Women do not treat us as if we are idiot children. Sarah Palin is not a woman.

She is a girl. If she weren’t I strongly suspect she would never been chosen as Senator McCain’s running mate. Can you imagine a man uttering the claptrap Sarah Palin has subjected us to surviving even five minutes? Can you imagine Senator “Senator Obama doesn’t understand” McCain tolerating such idiocy? Can you imagine this hypothetical flower of manhood being protected from the big, bad reporters who actually expect him to make sense? It’s laughable. But John McCain needed someone special, someone to appeal to the “base,” and so he picked someone the “base” would love.

I ate lunch in a diner that contained a small piece of that “base” a while back. There were these two farmers. One was your standard Old Coot. The other was a Young Old Coot—let’s call him…oh, Joe the Diner Guy. So Joe and the Old Coot were discussing the shortcomings of a local female county commissioner. They dissected her all they way through their bacon and eggs, and just about the time they were mopping up the last of the egg yolks with the last pieces of toast Joe said mournfully, “Yup…women and power…women and power…terrible combination…terrible combination…”

That’s a significant part of the “base.” Take a look at the demographics. Take a look at the rally tapes. Take a look at the handshake lines. Watch as Sarah Palin plays to the guys in the thick plaid jackets, worn jeans, and thick boots. Don’t get me wrong; I mean no disrespect to these men—and most of them are men; men significantly outnumber women at the Palin rallies. I grew up on a ranch. I worked summers driving trucks and equipment. I live in a farm town now in a rural part of the state. I am surrounded every day by men in worn jeans, thick boots, and plaid jackets, and I’m here to tell you that Joe the Diner Guy is far from unique. Studies show that in the presence of a pretty woman, a significant number of men are far more likely to make some pretty boneheaded decisions.

Does this make men who prefer their women biddable, pretty, and defenseless evil? Well, no. But it does make them incredibly easy to manipulate, particularly if you’re a certain type of woman.  And Sarah Palin, no matter who she may have been in Alaska, no matter who she may be inside those lovely suits, has made herself into that woman. She has not energized the base; she’s wrapped it right around her little finger.

How does she do it? By creating a threat. By appealing to the protective instincts of her “base.” By courting them—and by letting them court her. By reminding them that she is a mother, holding her son onstage, parading her pretty daughters. By turning the media into an adversary.  By creating a world in which she, her admirers, and her family are the only “real” Americans.  By wearing red stiletto heels and showing a great set of legs, by playing the “good mother” on stage, by flirting, by cozying up to her audience, assuring them that they share a special bond with her, by god help us winking at them. She cons her audience with the oldest, simplest tools, the only tools that women had for far too long.

Sarah Palin has chosen to fight like a girl, protecting herself not with knowledge, wisdom, experience, and integrity, but with old prejudices and shibboleths. Like the one that goes, “You don’t hit girls.”

Being something of a tomboy, I frequently waived this particular rule for the boys of my acquaintance. Indeed, my first-grade best friend was a boy. He sat in the desk right in front of me. We went out every recess and beat each other up, then came in and whispered over our mathematics worksheets. It was a lovely friendship.

Waiving the “don’t hit girls” rule has always been the girl’s prerogative. It still is, and Sarah Palin has been smart enough to keep that rule firmly in place. She bounces around from rally to rally, bitch-slapping Barack Obama and Joe Biden upside the head with innuendo, twisted “facts,” distortions, and increasingly shopworn “talking points.” The GOP calls this “firing up the base.” I call it laying the groundwork for something that is becoming very, very ugly.  Rally attendees speak of killing Barack Obama. They shout “terrorist.” Nice old ladies confide that he is an “Arab,” and a “Muslim.” They say it in a pointed manner; this is not just information they’re sharing.  This is code for something deep and ominous.

Do Senators Obama and Biden fight back? Against Senator McCain, yes. They address the slurs, the misinformation. The men give as good as they get. Do they fight back against Sarah’s fear-mongering distortions? Can they? Not really. It would be hitting a girl. Occasionally someone suggests to McCain that he might consider reining Sarah in. He responds with blind approval and self-conscious smirks, and does nothing. Why should he? This is his best girl, going to bat for him!

And Sarah carries on, and on, and on, blatantly using her femininity to say and do things that no male politician could say without expecting a direct challenge. She smears Obama–and winks. She stands in front of rally crowds and draws dot-to-dot diagrams for her audience to complete themselves, and when they shout, “Terrorist,” she just steps back from the mike and smiles a tight little smile, and winks again. And no one calls her on it, because she is a good Christian girl, and must not be hit.

It might seem like she’s won, but I wonder. Look at how McCain is describing her “areas of expertise” these days. We’re not hearing much about her energy savvy. Since the Troopergate report was released we’re hearing a lot less about how she’s a “reformer” who roots out corruption wherever she finds it. No one except Sarah herself could say the report exonerated her and keep a straight face. So what does she have left?

She has a Down syndrome baby, a pregnant daughter, and an autistic nephew. Her new role is apparently going to be that old preserve of women, children, in Palin’s case, special needs children. A fine and worthy thing, of course, but what has happened to Palin the reformer, Palin the energy maven, Palin the maverick? She’s disappeared, and we’re left with Palin, the vicious gossip on the church social committee who leads out in a children’s division. Today she gave her first major policy speech—on special needs children.

While there is no doubt that special needs children do indeed have, well “special needs” that must be addressed, I have to wonder if now is the time and the place to be making policy on that. Our financial system is crumbling. Families are being forced from their homes and into their cars, and winter coming on. We have two wars to fight. If we are not a nation in crisis, we’re doing a darned good imitation. And we get a policy speech outlining not an energy plan, or a foreign policy plan, or an economic plan, but a plan for the special needs children. Why?

It would seem that the old stereotype—women’s role is caring for children–has prevailed, reinforced, no doubt, by Palin’s obvious unfitness for the role at which she leaped “without blinking.” What foolishness that she was asked; what hubris that she accepted.

I have never been a Hillary supporter. I found her tough, abrasive, obnoxious, and disingenuous. But lately I find myself with a new appreciation for her. She plays tough, sometimes dirty politics. She jabs below the belt sometimes–but she stands up and takes the jabs she gets in return. She doesn’t play sexual politics, and now, after seeing Palin in action, I appreciate that more than I can say.

When I was in fifth grade my male teacher assured our class that there would never be a female president because “girls just aren’t suited for it.” The world has changed a lot in the last forty years, thanks to the unflagging efforts of visionary men and women who saw beyond skin and body shape. It changed enough for Hillary Clinton to come within a hair’s breadth of a presidential nomination. But she lost, just barely, and Barack Obama, who my fifth-grade teacher must likewise be stunned to see nominated, won.

And right there was when Senator Clinton proved herself presidential—not in victory, but in defeat. Seeing her throw herself into campaigning for the man who beat her by such a narrow margin has been inspiring and humbling. I have to believe that she’s acting from principle, because on a human level I would imagine that it must be agonizing for her at times. And she’s done it with such grace. Could I do it? I don’t think so. I think that’s one of the lessons those who have given themselves to public life either learn, or they don’t. And if they don’t learn, I suspect they don’t last long. Senator Clinton lost this election cycle. But she is young, and there will be other campaigns. I will see her differently on that day. I can respect a woman who is not only gracious in defeat, but who rises above the personal to act for the best good of the whole. Now that’s strong. That’s equality. That’s a woman. That’s presidential.

Sarah Palin hasn’t learned that lesson–perhaps it wasn’t required reading in her cram sessions. She has carved out her own little fiefdom in the political rallies, protected by an indulgent running mate and the stereotypes she tried to use to her own advantage. Meanwhile, the real presidential race goes on without her. McCain makes speeches and oversees his increasingly sleazy campaign. Biden makes speeches. Obama speaks of how he would like to heal the nation in increasingly specific terms.

Relatively few people point out the fact that, though she has been asked about it numerous times, Sarah Palin still seems to believe that the Vice President rules the Senate. Her ethics violation back home in Alaska rarely come up. No one does anything substantive about altering her rally rhetoric. No one really objects to the fact that she refuses to be interviewed by any but the most sympathetic members of the press. The role her Alaska-centric fisherman/snowmobile racer husband, a long-time member of an Alaskan secession party and the person openly acknowledged as her closest advisor, might play in the equation is not questioned. Mr. McCain assured us in the debate that Mr. Sarah was “a pretty tough guy,” but even that ringing endorsement lacks a little something for me. The thought Ms. Palin being left in charge of the nation, closely advised by a man even less educated and informed than she is and who thinks, “Hey theres a case to be made for Alaska going it alone,” should worry us.  I suppose it would if it weren’t for the simple fact that in a very real sense, Sarah Palin seems to have become irrelevant.

And that’s scary, because while Barack Obama currently leads in most indicators, the race is far from over. We might yet end up with Vice-President Palin. I would like to think that McCain is keeping her aboard to avoid yet another round of discussion of how his campaign seems to be operating like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off. I’d like to think that his first act upon reaching the Oval Office would be to repossess the $150,000-worth of clothes the GOP bought for her  and offer the Vice-Presidential chair to someone who understands the vital role that separation of powers plays in American politics, someone who doesn’t think the vice-president’s role is to “get in there with the Senate and make some good policy,” someone with a least a vague idea of the world beyond the borders of Alaska. I would like to think that, but I am not sanguine.

The Republican Party was sold a bill of goods, first by their leadership, and then by Sarah Palin herself. They were told they were getting a tough, gutsy, smart, ethical reformer. Instead they got a bully who uses all the weapons of the “nice” girl to victimize her enemies first by destroying their reputations, and then by using her gender to prevent them from responding in kind. She has taken the stereotypes of women and used them to manipulate her way within spitting distance of one of the highest positions in the land; who can believe that the mother we see holding her son, patting his back, and swaying gently could be capable of inciting the violence breeding at the GOP rallies? How could such a pretty little thing spew such mean-spirited filth? Any woman who ever dealt with a girl bully knows exactly how. We would like to believe that girls grow out of such behavior–and I think most of us do. But not all of us.

In invoking the stereotype Sarah Palin has protected herself, but I suspect while she has won the battle, she may have lost the war not only for herself, but for her running mate, for more seasoned, qualified female politicians, and, if McCain wins, all of us. A pretty face, cheerleading, winks, cross-stitch sampler mottos and flag waving are not enough to guide a nation. Tragically, Sarah Palin doesn’t seem to have realized that. Her grab at the political brass ring might well have done more than just cause her embarrassingly public tumble; it might well have knocked many better-qualified women off the political merry-go-round as well. She has reinforced all of the old arguments about women, and what men expect of them: Pretty, not smart enough to be a challenge, a good mother, devout, charming, defenseless against the evil press. No threat–nothing to challenge McCain’s supremacy.  The problem is, we might actually find ourselves being led by her.

Some women can and do fill positions of power well, just as some men do. We need the best of us—gender irrelevant, to lead us now. My fifth-grade teacher was as wrong about women and power as Joe the Diner Guy is today–but he was right about one thing: a girl in the Vice-President’s chair, or, God forbid, the President’s–is a really, really bad idea. On that day that she was asked to run as Vice-President, I really, really wish Sarah Palin had stopped, googled the vice-president’s job, compared its requirements to her skills, experience, knowledge, and interests, blinked, and said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Simple Gifts

The poet Bobby Burns tells a little story in one of his poems (“To a Louse,” if anyone’s interested). There he is, sitting in church, and the sermon’s failing to grip. As many of us do when that happens, his eyes and mind start to wander. And there, right in front of him, is a fine lady. On her head is a lovely bonnet. And on her bonnet is a louse, a happy, active, contented louse, if Burns is to be believed.While the minister drones on, Burns occupies his mind in an imaginary conversation with this louse. As the sermon and his lousy conversation draw to an end he concludes with the observation that it would be a wonderful gift to be able to see ourselves as others see us.

I’ve often found myself thinking of those words. Some of us would be pleasantly surprised. Others less so. But I think all of us wish for that gift from time to time. Politicians and advertisers expend billions each year in search of that very information. Purchase the gift–and then use it to alter not their own products and actions, but to try to alter our perceptions.

Aesop has a fable about that–a man his grandson and a donkey are traveling along a road. The boy rides the donkey. His grandfather leads them. A spectator wonders scornfully how that strong young boy can make his grandfather walk. Not wishing to offend, the grandfather switches places with his grandson, and they travel on. Another traveler berates the old man for riding, when his young grandson must walk. The old man dismounts, and both walk on, leading the donkey. A woman laughs at them for both walking, when they could be riding the donkey. So man and grandson climb onto the donkey, and they proceed. An animal rights activist stops them, angry at so overloading the poor donkey. In desperation the two dismount, hoist the donkey to their shoulders, and stagger on. They come to a bridge. In an agony of embarrassment, the donkey throws himself off and drowns.

The point, of course, is that by trying to please everyone we end up pleasing no one. A balance must be struck. In the political world, that balance has been lost. Our political leaders have been given the gift Burns wished for in vain–the tools to discover how others see them. And they have squanderd it on spin.

Think about it. Polls from both liberal and conservative sources have long indicated that Americans in general felt that Sarah Palin would be the better for some study on the issues and challenges that face us as a nation. What resulted from that? I am not a louse on Governor Palin’s bonnet, nor even an observer at her church. I can’t say for certain that she hasn’t been studying up on the issues. All I can say is, if she has, it doesn’t seem to be sinking in.

And those pesky ethics complaints. Are they all warranted? I don’t know. I don’t know the in’s and out’s of Alaska’s ethics law. What I do know is that if they truly are all unwarranted, soon-to-be-ex-Governor Palin has a serious perception problem, and just issuing angry retorts isn’t addressing the problem. The kind of response she’s given tends to shut down the very thing that might have actually stemmed the ethics complaints–an honest, respectful conversation in which Palin actually tried to see herself as others saw her–in which she she left her angry defenses temporarily unmanned and stepped outside herself to see what others saw when the looked at her.

It didn’t happen. It rarely does. For an industry that spends so very much on learning what people think, our politicians seem to be remarkably good at forgetting that in taking public office they have placed themselves under the kind of scrutiny that those in private life don’t experience. They have placed themselves on display. And sometimes they drag their families with them. And all too often, we see not the beautiful bonnets of spin in which they cloak themselves, but the lice crawling among the ribbons and flowers.

I once heard a counselor observe that abuses of all kinds require an atmosphere of secrecy to survive, and that the best way to end abuse is to end secrecy–to bring one’s life out into the bright light of day, to metaphorically “live in a glass house.” I am a mother. I want to protect my child. I live in a glass house. Sometimes it’s embarrassing. But it’s alsn excellent defense–the very best. I can know that my private actions will not destroy our life because I live in a world in which there ARE no “private actions.” So do our nation’s leaders.But all too often they forget that.

And so we have interns in the Oval Office, and soul mates in Argentina, shady back room deals and agreements that rob us blind and bizarre tales of wild flights so a baby can be born in Alaska, and happy declarations of exoneration when we have just watched a news segment directly contradicting that very thing. We have sleek, wealthy congressmen induling their whims on public money while all too many of us struggle to survive.

All the money spent in discovering “what the people want” is wasted if the politicans asking the questions don’t take the simplest, most direct path to ensuring that they aren’t caught out in seedy behavior, or in ineffective spin. It’s wasted if they don’t use the information gleaned to sit for just a moment in our seats–and then get rid of the louse, rather than simply adding more ribbons and bows to their bonnets in a vain attempt to conceal it.

The gift of being able to see ourselves as others see us allows us to perform that most important and necessary of ethical and social actions–it allows us to evaluate our actions from a perspective other than our own, and edit where necessary. It’s a skill anyone who has taken College Writing should have learned–the difference beteween an okay paper and a great paper isn’t vocabulary, or even subject matter as much as it is perspective. To persuade, a writer must think like a reader. They must step outside of themselves, look at their argument, evaluate it, and rethink their own opinions. In other words, a good writer accepts and courts constructive criticism as an aid to thinking, and to ultimate excellence.

So what prompted all this? Two speeches I heard yesterday. One was by President Obama. He was addressing the press regarding his remarks on the occasion of Professor Gates’ arrest. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “I realize that some of my works left a false impression, and in doing that I may well have made the situation worse. Here’s what I think. Here’s what I’ve done to try to set things right.” And then he concluded by relaying a request from the arresting officer–that the press please stay off his grass.

It was masterfully done. Every word was carefully chosen. President Obama took responsibility for his part in the media storm, clearly articulated his position, expressed his hope that we could all find in this regrettable event a “teachable moment,” and in relaying the officer’s request humanized everyone in the exchange.

The contrast with Sarah Palin’s speech at the picnic couldn’t have been greater. Her theme–that we should all be grateful to our armed forces, who fight to keep us safe–was a simple one. It could–and should–have been expressed in a few moments. But it wasn’t. The speech–which you can watch and read here at The Mudflats, is illuminating not for what is said–AKMuckraker aptly describes it as “word salad”–but for what it says about Palin herself.

For whatever reason, she is either unable or unwilling to step into her audience’s shoes, look at herself, and most critically, edit. Vanity Fair’s literary editor Wayne Lawson and its research and copy departments edited her resignation speech for her, and the results proved both instructive and amusing. But in the end, it was a wasted exercise. The speech she gave yesterday at the picnic was less coherent than ever–full of circumlocutions, sentences that started in one place and ended up somewhere else altogether, buzz words and catch phrases, interjections, and the sort of cute, folksy, off the cuff delivery that has become her trademark.

But here’s the thing: In that speech, there was no consideration for her audience. If there had been she would have done them the courtesy of striving for clarity, brevity, and logic. She said the speech was all about the armed forces. It wasn’t. It was all about Sarah–about Sarah’s hectic life, about her love affair with a micropohone, about her refusal to consider how her words–and her actions–might appear from another perspective. And the louse? Aw, heck, just buy a few more ribbons, an’ nobody’ll notice.

Reality Check

I keep starting posts and then abandoning them partway through. Partly this is because my workload and stress factor have been creeping steadily upward, even as my income dwindles. In meeting the challenge of saving the house I have largely abandoned the challenge of trying to make sense of, let alone speak intelligently on, national politics.

The politics of the nation have been subsumed in the politics of survival. I know, because I still listen to the news a little bit, that people in Washington are duking it out over whether or not those of us who are uninsured actually deserve to have affordable healthcare. I don’t know the details of the debate; I’ve stopped listening. From what I’ve gleaned it comes down this: Some believe everyone who really wanted healthcare badly enough would figure out a way to have it. These are largely the same people who think that everyone who really wants to work should just suck it up, beat the pavement, and find a nice office job somewhere–you know, one with benefits.

The other side believes that, radical as this may sound, even people who don’t work in nice offices might actually need affordable healthcare. These people also tend to think that affordable education, safe housing, and child care would be good ideas. They seem to be long on goodwill, but perhaps a tad short on that whole “how are we going to pay for this” thing. But they can sing Kumbayah. In harmony. While their opposite numbers are chanting America Über Alles. Lovely as it is, Kumbayah gets drowned out.

But all that’s in Washington, where everyone involved in the battle has a guarenteed salary, lives in a lovely home or at C Street, where mistresses and counseling groups both seem to be part of the utilities package. Everyone has a retirement plan. Everyone except for that one guy who is making a point has excellent health insurance.

Good for them, is what I say. Not that any of them are listening. And since none of them are listening, let’s be honest. Or at least me. I’ll be honest. You must do as you please. Honestly, things are scary out here.

I’m a slightly agoraphobic single mother. I started a business when my son was born because I couldn’t find a job then–stupid as this sounds, I had too many skills, I was told, over and over and over. I would command too high a salary. I wouldn’t be satisfied with the job they had available. No one seemed to consider that I was desperate to feed my son and keep a roof over our heads.

I started doing contract work–and turned out to be good at it. I bought a house. I pay taxes. Last year I earned enough to start the application process for health insurance–which I couldn’t get because during my uninsured period I had had pneumonia, and then a severe reaction to some of the medication. And then my lady parts went slightly wonky. Nothing serious, but enough that the insurance companies deemed me unsuitable. My only option was priced above what I could afford.

But all that was before the crash. Now health insurance has gone way, way down on my list of worries. Now I worry about the mortgage, about refinancing the house (though I have excellent credit and my reduced income seems to qualify me for the relief funds the application process has been going on for months now) paying the car insurance (which I can, ironically, still get, even though my car’s in worse shape than I am), and buying enough cereal and milk and ramen noodles to keep the ravening monster that is my adolescent son’s appetite appeased.  My biggest client seems to have disappeared again–I am afraid that this time it’s for good.

I still have work, but the big contracts–contracts finalized before the crash–that keep me busy right now are coming to an end. What will I do then?

I’m not sleeping very well these days, which dovetails nicely with my need to work as much a possible to meet looming deadlines. My body is starting to fail. My back and neck, the canaries in my stress level mine, both died over the weekend. I woke this morning with a migraine and back spasms, brought on by working too long, under too much pressure. But I daren’t stop. The deadlines are real. If I don’t meet them, I don’t get paid. And the mortgage, the taxes, and the insurance are all due.

The other canary in my stress mine is those aforementioned lady parts. When my stress level goes up, they do their best to lighten the load, so to speak. I don’t want to get too graphic here, but last time this happened I ended up with a cancer scare, birth control pills, a pap smear, a biopsy, and a D&C. And psoriasis.

But enough about me. Others are in worse shape than I. I suspect that there are millions out there whose bodies are, in their own very individual ways, telegraphing “enough already,” and “lightening the load” in frightening, and perhap lethal, ways.

I still have work. I can still do it, even if lately I’m working through a fog of pain and fear too much of the time. Best of all, my brain has apparently decided to join my lady parts in lightening the load. It’s started to churn out some innovative ways of earning money and benefiting others in my town. I’m looking forward to trying them out, just as soon as I get these big projects off my desk and to press.

But that’s the future. This is now, and money is tight–so tight that I’ve been exploring ways of being more efficient with it, of cutting all possible expenses. I decided to take my son out of day camp and myself out of counseling. I called the camp director and my counselor. The camp director said, “If it’s just the money, send him anyway. We’d love to have him.” The counselor offered a reduced rate, and an expanded schedule. I hung up from both calls feeling incredibly blessed in the people in my life.

And maybe that’s the other benefit–as a nation, we have made a virtue out of isolation. We have praised the person who “makes it on his or her own,” who never asks for or needs help, who triumphs not through cooperation but through competition. There are still many who believe that.

But here’s the reality: times like these demand that we give help where we can–and that we accept help when we need it. A woman I know well and deeply respect–a woman who always subscribed to the “make it on your own” philosophy, recently needed my help. And I gave it, and our friendship shifted, and is better for it. I got the help I needed from the day camp director–to whom I had given help when she was just starting out, and struggling.

For too long, we have believed that it’s best to march through life. Times like these teach us that it’s really better to dance. In fact, I suspect that for most of us, dancing will provide the key to survival–and that when the hard times end, as they always have before, as they surely will this time, we will be the better for it.

Times are hard. Washington is very far away. I find it hard to believe that people who live such very different lives from mine can understand the reality with which I live, or that they will, in the end, do much to change it. I had hoped. But I think the entrenched system is too strong, and even the most vehement singing of Kumbayah has little chance of overwhelming the more militant opposition. It’s not right. But I can’t afford to worry about it anymore. I can’t even afford to spend much time hoping. I have a son to house and feed, and right now that’s challenge enough. But here’s the thing: I am facing a huge challenge, but I have been given my hands, and my creativity, my work ethic, my son, and my dancing partners. Together, we’re going to be all right, not because of men in Washington, but because of the men and women we are here, in my house, in my neighborhood, in my town, in my network of friends and clients.

I will be all right because of the person I am, and the person I will become in meeting this challenge–a woman who can balance the needs of survival with the needs of living and loving–a woman who has learned that if she is to care for others, she must first care for herself. And so, tonight, instead of staying up into the wee hours forcing my body to crank out just one more chapter, I am going to post this, shut down the computer, put on my nightgown, get a iced drink, switch on the lamp, and curl up with a good book. And tomorrow, when I arise fresh and rested, I will have a question for you.

Shall we dance?

Palin: Why She Did It

In my last post, I speculated that Sarah Palin had resigned to spite me, and to deprive me of prospective income from my Holy Republican Family. I was joking, of course. I seriously doubt that was her reasoning. Given my blog visitor numbers, it’s pretty clear that Sarah, her minions, and supporters have no clue I exist.

It’s no secret to any of my readers that I had some pretty deep reservations about Sarah Palin’s politics, ethics, industry. To be honest, I have to admit that at this point my feelings about her resignation fall into the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” category. Though I knew nothing about her prior to the campaign, observing her during the campaign frankly alarmed me; her skillful use of falsehood and innuendo, and her stunning success at stirring her base’s basest emotions make me fear for the potentially violent fallout.

Following her post-election has elicited a combination of laughter, winces, frustration, and irritation. I found myself watching for her to do something foolish, venal, unethical, self-serving, or just plain ill-judged. I looked at my own emotions, and recognized them. Much longer ago than I like to admit, I attended college with a boy who considered himself a writer–one of sufficient stature to be entitled to Quirks and Personality.

In his case, that took the form of put-downs–of other writers, people he considered wanna-be’s, the students whose papers he graded. He administered these put-downs in a condescending, patronizing manner that quite frankly made me want to slap him. I didn’t, of course–but I did something worse.

One night, after tutoring was over, several of my friends and I were discussing this boy/man, his superior attitude, his unpleasantness to those students whose papers he graded, the quirks he affected, his conviction that his self-diagnosed status as the best writer on campus entitled him to behave in bizarre and inconsiderate ways. We started a list of the things we had said to him–unkind, cutting, clever things with razor teeth and adder’s tongues–that we felt particularly good about.

It didn’t take us long to compile quite a list. I contributed several witticisms. After everyone had gone I sat and looked at the list. A part of me felt meanly pleased–cruelty is a form of power, and though, in retrospect none of us were–or are–cruel people, the things we said to this boy were cruel. Another part of me wondered why this person elicited this response not only from me, but from a whole group of otherwise kind, reasonable people.

I spoke about it to one of my professors. “He invites persecution,” she said.

I thought about that. In a way, it was true; his superior airs and the bizarre, patronizing affectations made it hard to like him. But the reason–the real reason–I think we responded as we did was because, in our eyes, at least, he was exhibiting a sense of entitlement out of balance with his position and abilities.

I’ve thought of that often in the years since–it was the last time that I really took pleasure in cruelty. At least it was. Since Sarah Palin came to the public notice, I’ve found myself feeling many of the same things, taking more pleasure in her failures than I would like to, being quick to place the blackest possible construction on her actions. I suspect that my feelings probably stem from a set of circumstances eerily similar to my college experience: Sarah Palin, too, seems to be one of those people who invites persecution.

In my case, this resulted as much as any between the gaping hole that all too often existed between the Palin spin and the verifiable facts. As with my fellow student, I found myself wanting to close the gap or, failing that, to point it out. Over time, I found myself simply assuming that she was a self-serving, duplicitous politician. In any ambiguous situation–and the Palins being what they seem to be there were many–I began to automatically place the blackest possible construction on her words and actions.

I didn’t much like what I had become, but I didn’t know how to escape the trap. All too often, Sarah Palin lied. All too often, her stated reasons for her actions simply didn’t make any kind of logical sense. All too often, she came up short in the knowledge, skills, and poise we should be able to expect from our leaders. The simple fact was that, like my fellow student, she had metaphorically “bitten off more than she could chew.” She accepted the vice-presidential nomination when it was clear to everyone–and surely most of all to her–that she simply didn’t have the necessary skills for the job. But as long as she kept pretending she did, I felt like I, too, was trapped by the need to balance the picture.

To be fair, maybe she didn’t realize she wasn’t qualified. Maybe she genuinely thought that having lived in a challenging environment was preparation enough. Maybe she was truly unaware of the deep cultural, intellectual, and social knowledge necessary to deal deftly with the world both within and beyond our borders.

Maybe…maybe…maybe. I don’t know. What I do know is that by presenting herself as qualified for a position she was clearly not ready for she lost any credibility she might have had for me. When I listened to her on the news after the election I heard the narrow, conservative provincialism, the partisan rhetoric, that delighted her base and horrified so many of the rest of us. Was that present in her words? I don’t know. As I listened I heard a woman who recycled discredited and outdated talking points, no matter what evidence was unearthed to the contrary, much as she had done in the campaign. I came to wonder who was calling the shots for her. Surely no rational person would face the world, day after day, and keep insisting that black is white, up is down, benefit is harm.

I watched, appalled as she selected people for high positions who reflected the same spirit of intolerance and partisanship that had come to color her words, at least as I heard them. I observed some of her supporters, and heard the shrill rhetoric. I watched the Palins’ responses to Letterman, and to the political photoshopped cartoon on a local blogger’s website, and it seemed excessive, bizarre, and nonsensical–a willful exaggeration of a questionable joke into something perilously close to slander.

And then she called a press conference, announced her mid-term resignation, and went fishing, saying that she was stepping aside for the good of the state. In the days since, I’ve listened to the pundits speculate that there might be something new and awful waiting in the wings, something so damaging that it would require her resignation. I’ve listened to others commenting on her thin skin, and how she couldn’t handle the intense media attention, even though she seemed to court it when it suited her. I heard rumors of a personality meltdown. Rumors are everywhere, and because Sarah Palin has proven herself unreliable in the past, no one seems to be taking statement at face value.

I think we should. If we strip away all the self-sacrificing rhetoric, hyperbole, and talking points, she seems to be quitting because she doesn’t think she can govern effectively, and because she doesn’t like what being in the public eye is doing to her, and to her family.

Part of me thinks that this is another stunt, another attempt to reinforce her “folksy” credentials. But there’s another part of me that wonders. I am reminded that I don’t have the whole picture. Case in point: After reading her reaction to the really fairly innocuous political cartoon of her with the conservative talk show host I was convinced that she was spinning to gain sympathy, to remind us once again that her son is a “special needs” child, and to shut down a blogger she saw as an adversary. The grandiose, liturgical wording of the press release prompted my own photoshop picture.

And then, quite by accident, I happened on a site. I don’t know when it went up, or what prompted the posters, but when I viewed it the site was page after page after page of photoshopped photos of the Palins, and of Trig, in particular. While I still believe that the collaged image of Sarah Palin and the conservative talk show host was not in any way a “desecration” or a comment on Trig, I must admit after viewing those other images I felt a little sick. Some, like my words to my fellow student, were cruel. Maybe the posters were prompted by feelings similar to mine. I don’t know. I don’t know if the Palins even saw those images, but I did, and it reminded me of something uncomfortable.

Sarah Palin and I are a lot alike. We both grew up in conservative Christian homes in challenging physical environments. We both know what it is to have skills that don’t fit the stereotypical woman. We both are mothers–and we both had sons late in life. Many thought that we should have terminated our respective pregnancies. We’ve both made career decisions that many feel are inexplicable, irresponsible, and unwise, for reasons that make sense to us.

Sarah Palin and I are not soul mates–I find her political and religious views–and especially the way she seems to blend them–frankly frightening. I find her conviction that she and those like her are qualified to decide what choices others have overweening. I doubt that we would get along socially, and I know we definitely shouldn’t talk politics or religion, but on a fundamental level, I find her stated reasons for resigning persuasive.

W.B. Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming” begins:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

I think that’s what happened to Sarah. I think she accepted the VP nomination, got caught up in the campaign, in the rhetoric, in the machine, and lost her center. She placed her children in the public eye, and discovered that the media coverage had taken on a life of its own. She found herself being asked questions she had never considered–had never really had to consider–and panicked. I watched her in those awful interviews and I remembered myself in my first teaching job, too frightened to lecture standing up, losing my place, forgetting what I knew, fumbling for words, staring at a sea of faces, my mind blank. I don’t think she is a stupid woman, but I do think she was unprepared, and I would bet any money that her stomach was churning a sick mixture of fear and anger at herself, at the interviewers, at the situation. The spins grew wilder: campaign clothes, the angry rhetoric, the overdone folksiness, the winking, and then after the campaign the regrettable turkey pardoning, the anger of former allies in the legislature, her absence, her disregard for the plight of the villages, and then the belated “missionary trip.”

The center could not hold. The swings became more and more bizarre. And then one last, wild, swing, and then–she stopped.

She just stopped.

And to me, it makes absolute sense. No matter who she was before the campaign, her life since has been lived in Crazy Town. Leaving aside for the moment all the justifications–that she made the choices that created the craziness, that she herself caused much of the drama–the remaining indisputable fact seems to be that the Sarah I have seen over the past months is a long way from a middle class woman who enjoys fishing and hunting. The Sarah I saw in the picture picking fish was a far cry from the mannequin the GOP created to spout filth at rallies.

It’s hard on the state of Alaska, having to switch governors halfway through a term. I could wish that Sarah had found a way to work with the legislature again. I wish that she had just stopped with the spin, faced up to the realities, and found a way to be what she clearly wanted to be–a mother bear, protecting and leading the state. I wish she hadn’t been too scared to admit that she was human, and fallible, and unsuited to fill some roles. I wish she had been confident enough to say, “I don’t know,” when she was asked questions about things she didn’t know. But if wishes were horses, beggers would ride, right? She is who she is, a woman who decided that she could no longer effectively lead the state, who looked at her family and decided she didn’t like the life they were leading, and who decided to just stop. Suddenly. Very, very suddenly. A little warning might have been nice, but maybe she didn’t feel she had time for that. And so she stopped.

I hope that she did it not to avoid the disclosure of some scandal–the “rough beast…[slouching] towards Bethlehem to be born,” as Yeats puts it. I hope she didn’t stop to try to save herself from some lurking shame. I hope that she stopped because at last the falcon heard the falconer, and she found her center again.