The PEOTUS is a Master

A word cloud from one part of the PEOTUS press conference.

Today I looked at the transcript of  Mr. T’s recent press conference. He is the most amazing master of vague. This man has a tremendous flair for using very many superfluous adjectives and is astonishing at using a lot of superlatives.  And he’s very, very, very good—the greatest—at repetition.

In the transcript, he is going 66 times and gonna 20 more, making that 80 times he demonstrated how forward looking he is. 

Very appears 77 times in the transcript, 15 times together as twins and once as triplets. One sentence of 38 words uses very four times (twice as doubles).  The same adjective makes up 10% of the content of the sentence! 

Today he didn’t use a lot a lot as he usually does—only about 20 times—and he moderated his use of  amazing, terrific, tremendous and fantastic. Was he feeling a little less fantastic today?

Oh, did I say that he excels at saying nothing?

So, we’ve been very, very much involved, and other things. We had Jack Ma, we had so many incredible people coming here. There are no — they’re going to do tremendous things — tremendous things in this country. And they’re very excited.

We’re going to have a very, very elegant day. The 20th is going to be something that will be very, very special; very beautiful. And I think we’re going to have massive crowds because we have a movement.

As a former English teacher, I have to wonder what his school essay exams might have looked like. I give him a D on his lexicon which lacks fluency, so important in problem solving and communicating with others on a precedential level. 


empty school desk

What does a middle-schooler say when…?



Part 1: Remembering my teaching days

After teaching middle school for many years, I am accustomed to the 12-year-old perspective. For some reason, my pre-retirement memory keeps replaying the soundtrack of belligerent middle school boys I taught.

For example, let’s call my quintessential recalcitrant male middle schooler Johnny. When I tell him to get ready for a pop quiz, all of a sudden he can’t find a pencil. When I ask him for his homework assignment, he tells me that he spent last night in the ER for his peanut allergy which doesn’t seem to bother him when he eats his peanut butter and jelly sandwich at lunch later that day. He brags about how he usually stays up half the night and that he can get away with anything.

Although I try daily through my lessons to change things, Johnny appears to lack empathy and the ability to listen to others. He seems to lack the will to learn.

When I begin to teach an especially important concept and remind the class they need to listen so  they will understand tomorrow’s lesson, he is writing and passing a note to a friend. When I rebuke him for something inappropriate that he just said, he answers,“ “That isn’t what I meant.”

He snickers at the girls and whispers to his buddies about how each one rates on a scale of one to ten.

When I give him a D on his essay, he says “That’s not fair. You keep finding all my mistakes. I’m gonna get my parents to fire you.” When I question why he’s late to class, Johnny doesn’t give me a straight answer, implies a talk with the principal and suggests there are some things he knows that I don’t.  

When someone laughs at his answer in class, he pretends he meant it as a joke in the first place. More often, though, he lashes out and puts his classmate down, “You’re a retard!”

I wonder how Johnny will grow up and if he ever will. When his tax return is due, will he still be looking for a pencil? When he tells his neighbor that there is a secret underground tunnel beneath his house, how will his neighbor know what he means? When he doesn’t get a sales contract he wants, will that be because his boss is incompetent?

I always understood that some middle schoolers needed a lot of guidance, that they needed to be held accountable to certain rules so they would neither destroy themselves nor lead everyone around them crashing into a wall of insanity. Until this past year, I thought I was through dealing with a certain middle school mentality when I retired, but these old memories haunt me today.

Part 2: And now a word from Meryl Streep

...“ But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hook in my heart not because it was good. It was — there was nothing good about it, but it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart, and I saw it, and I still can't get it out of my head because it wasn't in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate when it's modeled by someone in the public platform by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody's life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.

Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence insights violence. When the powerful use definition to bully others, we all lose. Ok. Go on with that thing. OK. This brings me to the press. We need the principal press to hold power to account to call them on the carpet for every outrage.

That's why our founders enshrined the press and its freedom in our Constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists because we are going to need them going forward and they'll need us to safeguard the truth.

One more thing. Once when I was standing around on the set one day, whining about something, you know, we were going to work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, "Isn't it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?" Yeah, it is, and we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. “ (Meryl Streep, Golden Globes speech as recipient of the Cecil B. Demille Lifetime Achievement Award, January 2017)

A somewhat related blog from 2016:

The Christmas I Made My Parents Cry

Christmas is the quintessential season for giving birth to traditions. And my family had many, like going to Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium to buy our tree every year, shopping with our grandparents for presents for our parents, giving one present on Christmas Eve. Like most families we left cookies and milk for Santa. On Christmas morning, we had to wait for the Santa-all-clear signal from our parents before we came down the stairs, peeking through the banister on the way down. We saw the decorated tree for the first time because that was Santa’s job. 

Santa left his gifts organized under the tree so each one of us had our own pile.  Our parents wrapped their presents for us but Santa didn’t wrap his, so we could see immediately what was there.
I am the oldest of three girls born in  1944, 1947 and 1954. Before our youngest sister Jaymie was born and when she was a baby, our maternal grandparents took my middle sister, Nancy,  and me shopping every year before Christmas. We were given five dollars each for our mother and father, twenty dollars total. 

On the designated Saturday shopping day, we dressed up in our Sunday clothes to go downtown to buy presents for our parents. For several hours, with piped-in Christmas carols surrounding us, we checked out the merchandise in Hutzler’s, Hecht’s, Stewart’s and the May Company. We admired display windows with moving scenes, walked through fragrant aisles and rode elevators controlled by black elevator operators wearing white gloves.

In spite of all the  choices, every year Nancy and I always wound up buying a tie or socks for our father and a nightgown or scarf for our mother. Although our gifts lacked imagination, our parents always showed surprise and delight at the gifts their daughters had given them.
This tradition of making a special day for shopping for our parents helped teach us the joy of giving.
My parents also had another tradition. On Christmas Eve, each of us was allowed to give one gift to each person in the family. Christmas Eve was the special giving and that left Christmas Day for receiving Santa’s gifts without any distractions. 

When I was around nine or ten, as I was discussing the shopping day with my grandfather, I told him I had an idea. I didn’t want to give my father another tie or my mother another scarf. Instead, I wanted to make a record for them, with me playing the piano and Nancy and me singing Silent Night. This was in the early 1950’s when vinyl and record players were how we listened to music. We listened then to 78 rpm records. After that 33 1/3 rpm and 45 rpm records were introduced. Would an original record be possible, I asked? Would our combined twenty dollars cover the cost of making a record?

His response, “Let me see what I can do.” A few days later, he told me that we could produce a record and that the twenty dollars was perfect. This is the only lie I ever knew my grandfather to say but, well, if ever a lie were a good one, this was.

Nancy and I practiced and practiced, voices barely heard over the piano which seemed to have only one tone—loud. The next Saturday, our grandparents took us to a recording studio in Baltimore. I was too excited to be nervous. I sat down on the piano bench with Nancy next to me and we practiced some more as the engineer tweaked the sounds. Finally, we were told the next time was the real thing. With the microphone in front of our young faces, our voices wavered sometimes on key, sometimes off. 

A few days later, our grandfather handed us the final vinyl so we could wrap our present. By that time, we could hardly contain our excitement. We were going to give our parents a real record that we recorded. Christmas Eve finally came, along with the anticipation and fanfare. We held our breaths as we handed our parents the wrapped present. They had fun trying to guess what it could be. I truly believe that they had no idea because they seemed a little puzzled at first when they opened the package and then we explained that it was a record we had made. They put it on the turntable and listened to our faint voices singing Silent Night with my clumsy piano playing. This is when the tears rolled down their faces and met their smiles. In retrospect, their tears were the best present because it showed us how much they cared and what a special present it was that we had given to them. 

Our grandfather gave us another present, one which could not be wrapped.  When I at first shared my idea about making a record, he could have responded in the way that most adults would have, “No, we have to stick with the traditional presents.” Instead, he listened, considered and then helped us. He taught us to embrace possibilities.

Busy Living

A young Facebook friend asked me recently, “How u make yourself very busy...??do not u feel like tired or do not u want rest.???"

It is a good question which deserves a full answer.

The easy part of the answer is to remind him that Facebook exaggerates perception. After all, we only post what we want others to see and what we think might be fun. Of course I rest but I don’t always share. Who wants to read a Facebook post that says, “I am taking a nap.” 

Now for the more thoughtful part of the answer.

The bottom line might have something to do with death which will ultimately conquer, but while I am physically able, I nurture growth. When we stop growing, we begin to die. Ultimately death will come, regardless of what I do but I have no desire to sit and wait for the grim reaper to come. As I made clear in my book, 365 Gifts, every day is a gift. I will not refuse this gift. In fact, the best way of honoring it is to accept it fully. 

I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying. ~ Andy,  Shawshank Redemption

However, my answer is not so much about death as it is  about the way I choose to live and what drives me—curiosity, connecting, learning and creating. My life is not about being busy but about being immersed in the business of living. All of these things are woven into the tapestry of my life which is who I am. 

Curiosity is a constant companion that is always whispering in my ear, “What if?” In other words, what are the possibilities that lie ahead? Even if I wanted (and I do not), I cannot stop this voice in my head.

Connecting is part of what defines me. In my Defining Ourselves words and photo project, I defined myself, “I am a child of the universe who lives a rich life of creativity, connections and possibilities.” 

Learning is part of my fabric. It is impossible not to learn when I delve into all the what ifs and the problem solving they invoke. When I was nine, I pulled an old picture frame from a neighbor’s garbage can and asked what if I paint it gold? Will this frame be transformed? When I was in my late 50's, I asked, what if I pursue a doctorate? This experience transformed me. Learning prods my questions, answers and experiences.

To an artist, creating is like breathing. It’s impossible for me not to create. Creating is the essence of life and it appears in many forms. During those times when I appear to be busy, I may be creating connections and new experiences. However, during times I am quiet, appearing to vegetate, I may also be creating new connections of spirit and ideas. 

So, back to the original question.  Acting on curiosity, seeking connections, exploring new ideas and creating art lead to a multi-layered life which may seem to be “busy,” but I call it “living” fully. To me, “busy” has a connotation of merely filling time which is a shallow way to experience one’s life. I do not fill time but I embrace it so I can receive the gifts it brings. As I approach my 72nd birthday on December 10th, I am aware that my aging body will eventually change how I do some things and the pace at which I do them. My mother was just six years older than I am now when she died. It reminds me that I have a lot of answers yet to explore, more experiences to discover, new poems to write and more images to create. 

I have a lot of living to do.


The Times They Are A-Changin’ In the past, sending a telegram was one of the fastest ways of sending a message. Today technology has changed that.
President-elect Trump will find it difficult to fulfill some of his campaign promises such as bringing back coal and manufacturing jobs. His followers want him to give them their country back and make it the way it used to be. Make America great again is the chant.

The good news is that, although there are many improvements to be made, America is already great. The bad news is that there is no backward time travel. Technology has built a wall behind us and our only choice is to move forward. If we don’t move forward, we will fail.

We all know how every four years or so, our computers are out-of-date. In the 1980’s I had a Kaypro computer and a Diablo daisy-wheel printer. Eventually, with new operating systems on the market, the Kaypro was retired. I looked for someone to buy the printer which once cost a whopping $500, but there were no buyers. In fact, there were no takers for a free item. It broke my heart to take that beautiful, expensive printer to the dump.

Sadly, that is the story for many. Technology, which has brought us smart TV’s, GoPro’s, mobile phones that take stunning photos and watches that talk like the ones in the old Dick Tracy comics, has created graveyards for things we used every day.

Advances in technology are not only challenging for individuals but for businesses too. Look at one of the largest success stories in this country, Kodak.

After a series of imaging technology successes by George Eastman in 1892, the Eastman Kodak Company began. The company introduced the public to a daylight-loading camera and over the years it grew and introduced new film products. By 1946, two years after I was born, Kodak had more than 60,000 employees. In 1975, Kodak invented the first digital camera that captured black and white images at .01 megapixels. Imagine that! By 1982 the company’s sales soared beyond the $10 billion mark with plants scattered around the country and abroad. Kodak was at its peak in 1988 when the company employed 145,300 workers worldwide. 

Kodak’s stock in 1999 had shares around $80. In 1990, its annual sales were $19 billion. In 2011, its stock was 78 cents per share and in 2012, Kodak entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. What happened?

In spite of inventing the world’s first digital camera, why did Kodak fail? The company failed to accept that digital technology would disrupt the film world which its empire centered on. Around 1981, the company conducted research with results revealing that digital could replace film in as short a time as a decade. With this information, Kodak had time to prepare to adapt to changing times.

The company did not learn from the history of its founder, George Eastman, who avoided earlier failure by recognizing that he had to change with the times. He gave up a profitable dry-plate business for film. Later he invested in color film, even though its quality was inferior to black and white. Kodak, however, did not prepare for the more recent overthrow of film. It was in denial.
Today, the company that used to be a household name has only $2 billion in sales annually and 8,000 employees worldwide. Its Rochester campus once had 200 buildings on 1300 acres. Today 80 buildings have been demolished and 59 others sold.

Like Kodak, other industries have declined in the face of technology and less demand for certain products.

For example, the coal industry is facing a decline in demand. With new inventions in technology and new ways of doing things, fewer miners were needed today. In 1914, there were 180,000 anthracite miners; but by 1970, there were only 6,000. Employment in bituminous that was used for generation of electricity was at 705,000 in 1923, 140,000 in 1970 and 70,000 in 2003. Also, a drop in natural gas prices after 2010 became severe competition for the coal industry. Coal production declined in the U.S. by 29% in the first weeks of 2016. Production expenses increased as President Obama pushed for changes to leasing of public lands for oil, coal and gas. “Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future,” the President said. The movement today is away from coal toward cheaper natural gas, even in China. In 2014 and 2015, the amount of power generated from coal in the U.S. fell by 226,000 gigawatt-hours while the amount of power produced from natural gas increased by 208,000 gigawatt-hours. We are not using the same products that were once in demand.

Factory jobs have also decreased. The U.S. lost five million manufacturing jobs since 2000, not necessarily the result of trade with other countries. In 1960, one out of four American workers had manufacturing jobs. Today fewer than one in ten people work in the manufacturing sector. In our history, we have seen jobs go from fields to factories and now to service jobs such as nurses, personal care aides, cooks, waiters and retail sales. In another hundred years demand for service jobs might migrate to yet another area.

My husband is fond of saying he has proof that time travel exists but the bad news is it only goes in one direction. To survive, we need to adapt and change. Those who used to own a horse and buggy eventually bought cars. Those who used typewriters eventually moved to word processors and now computers. Times they are a-changin’. We can appreciate the past and fondly remember the days of our grandparents, but they will never come back. Nostalgia is one thing. Clinging to the past is another.

So, Trump supporters, it just ain’t going to happen. Your new President cannot roll back the clock.