Waging Peace

AFTER I RAN out of blank cards, I started decorating regular Christmas cards.

 

The need, the drive, didn’t hit me immediately. It came on me slowly, sneaking up on me from the side, in a zigzag pattern like spies or commandos storming a building in a World War II movie.

But first, after the initial shock and bottoming out of my stomach on November 8, 2016, my emotions went all fire-engine red and boiling hot orange anger mixed with gray despondence and despair. I couldn’t believe half the country had decided not to show up at the polls so that 25% of the country could vote in a man who makes fun of the disabled and thinks it’s okay, normal even, to speak with such disrespect about women or immigrants or anyone really, other than himself. It had been a year since Dad had died and I felt like I was grieving for my dad all over again, AND the country he’d immigrated to, at the same time.

But eventually, I needed something — anything — to keep me going, get me past this and back to life. Staring off into space for hours at a time between bouts of rage and grief does not pay rent or get stories written or feed the cat.

Normally, writing is one of those tools I use to find my way around my emotions, but I was too raw to write. It just seemed to make things worse. I just got angrier, especially at anyone who called for acceptance and calm. All those people asking for that felt too much like the slimy arm of some creepy authority figure trying to manipulate me into behaving a certain way. It felt wrong.

At the same time, the anger wasn’t productive, but it wasn’t going away either. I still needed to figure out how to manage all this anger and grief. Teddy, my cat, tried to console me. My heart was breaking for dreams I had held fast and hoped would come to fruition since I was a little girl. These were dreams I’d had for even longer than I’d wanted to be a writer. Dreams of hope and a world where everyone had a place at the table, no matter their gender, race, religion, ethnicity. These dreams predated my desire to write stories.

TEDDY DID his best to console me while I worked through things.

So, I had no words to describe what I was feeling; no words for dealing with the grief. Anger, hurt, and betrayal cycled through me constantly. I tried to tamp them down, but always I was wondering, did those people who voted for Trump, some of them quite possibly friends and family, did they truly comprehend all the damage he would do? That people they knew and loved would lose access to healthcare? Did they care about that at all? Did they care at all about the people they knew in blended families — blended genders, blended nationalities, blended religions, blended sexualities? Did they care that free clinics and Planned Parenthood clinics and other programs who help people with little or no access to healthcare probably kept people they knew healthy enough to be productive members of society? Did they care at all about all those people, from babies up to adults, who are disabled and probably going to lose access to necessary education and occupational programs? Did they not get that science is real and climate change really is killing us all?

Or were they as angry as I was, but from a different viewpoint altogether? Were they so clouded with fear and anger at losing grasp in a changing world that their vote was a last attempt to hold onto a world that no longer existed? Maybe they truly believed that the world was a zero sum problem, so if someone gets more, they automatically get less. Maybe they didn’t realize that if we all win together it’s better for all of us. Maybe they didn’t grasp that just because people with different beliefs were showing up and asking to be counted, didn’t mean any one belief system or way of life was being invalidated.

I kept wondering why they didn’t understand: If they didn’t believe in a woman’s choice to do with her body what she will, or that people of the same gender could marry, or that other religions were just as valid as their own, or that science was real and we all deserve to have access to, or the ability to obtain food, clothing, shelter — that that was their choice. They could believe that if they wanted. If they wanted to keep their world small, that was their choice. But that was the thing. It was their CHOICE. The rest of us chose NOT to live in that small world. And we continue to choose NOT to be sucked into that dark abyss with them.

As angry as I was with that particular “them” — the “them” who had chosen a smaller, darker world — I also knew that somehow I needed to get past that anger. Somehow, the world needs to change to allow all of us to co-exist, not just a few of us comfortably and the rest tossed under the bus. And I knew that I needed to actively participate within myself for that change to take hold.

Of course, I wasn’t thinking nearly as coherent as above when I started making Christmas cards and watching Star Trek and Christmas movies. But, my brain couldn’t deal with it all, it was too much. No editing or writing jobs were going to get done while my brain was in this fog of grief and disbelief. No reaching out to others on the other side to show them that the world needed to be open and not closed was going to happen while I was just so very angry. In fact, no real thinking was happening at all, at first. It was Christmas movies cuz… Christmas. And Star Trek (TOS, TNG, Deep Space Nine, Voyager … it didn’t matter) cuz Star Trek is always relevant. And then I reached past the words to something deeper and began to create.

I got out my pens, pencils, brushes, paint, glitter, glue, blank cards, old cards, scissors and everything and set about painting and drawing and cutting and gluing and spreading glitter over everything.

At first I was just going to make about ten cards, just enough for some family and close friends. But then I realized there were a few more people to send to, and then I needed to get more laminate pouches, and then more glitter. Eventually, I found that once I got started, I couldn’t stop. So I just got as many 4 x 6 cards and laminate pouches as I could afford, ordered more stamps, and set about nonverbally expressing myself as hard and as loud as I could.

I wasn’t sure who would get what card at first. I just looked at pictures and colors and let my emotions and creative urges have their way with me. I’d make a bunch of cards, set them aside to “set” and make more, or work on making my Christmas crossword and newsletter. Then, I’d take the cards that were “set” and look through them, and look through my address list and see what spoke to me. The cards told me where they wanted to go.

It was all instinctive. There was no coherent thought to it. Pick up a blank card, think of the colors, look at the bits of paper I wanted to use in a collage, glue, paint, cover with glitter. Let dry. Repeat.

I couldn’t stop, so I decided to go with it. Each night I’d do as many cards as I could, wearing myself out so I wouldn’t cry myself to sleep.

Once I got through all the 4 x 6 cards I had purchased, I found regular Christmas cards and started decorating them, too. Colors and glitter. If I was being forced to have a president who believed in a dark world with no color, then I was going to make sure I spread the color and the glitter and light and life as far and as wide as I could. I don’t even know if I can describe the fierceness in my heart at how necessary it felt for me to do this.

It was early/mid December when I finally felt myself floating to the surface of my emotional ocean. Coherent words and thoughts were finally stringing themselves together outside of work. And the phrase that kept repeating itself in my head as I worked on my cards was “waging peace.” And that’s when I realized that what I had been doing was fighting a war in my heart to match the war “out there;” I was waging peace.

And then it was like everything broke loose. It didn’t matter if you were anti-Trump or had voted for the orange monster, or someone else, I was waging peace with these cards, and I was waging it in your direction. And dammit, I was going to be heard. This was my effort to reach out and get my message across — not with words, as words had failed me. If you weren’t going to listen to me or any words I said or wrote before the election, you weren’t going to care about any words I said to you now.

But now I was waging peace with color, pictures, paint, glitter, and my purely emotional and whimsical hope for a holiday that would be merry despite the despair in my heart and the fear and hatred peppering the world.

And I believe this still. Somehow we all have to get that message out there, past the prejudice of speech and old arguments, go primal and pre-speech, with hearts and dreams and color and glitter and hope — we have to reach out to the world and wage peace.

Christmas Crossword 2016

The last few years I’ve created my own little tradition of creating a Christmas crossword puzzle for my Christmas newsletter. It’s no New York Times-level crossword, but it’s fun to create and share. After I make sure everyone’s had a chance to see it in my newsletter, I like to share it out in the great wide world, in case there’s someone else out there who might have fun with it. So, now, without further ado, this year’s Christmas crossword.

Santa Bastet Came By!

This post was completely lost on Blogetary 1.0, so this is a reconstruction or retelling of how Teddy came to live with me for Blogetary 2.0. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be a better read this time round.

This is the story of how Santa Bastet came by and brought Theodore Forrest Beauregard Olivier, Emperor of Catmas, Noble Defender of the Household (Teddy for short) to live with me.

So we settled on a name: Theodore Forrest Beauregard Olivier, Emperor of Catmas, Noble Defender of the Household. Teddy for short, because he's a Teddy Cat.

Theodore Forrest Beauregard Olivier, Emperor of Catmas, Noble Defender of the Household. Teddy for short, because he’s a Teddy Cat.

We were putting the January paper to bed the week leading up to Christmas and it was busy, but I was coming to the realization that I felt as if I was finally ready to put feelers out for a new kitty to come live with me. I wasn’t going to be in any hurry, just slowly look around and be open to the possibility. I confided that at work, but didn’t think any of it, just went about my busy day.

We got the paper to bed, barely. It’s December 23 and though it’s only a five minute walk home, I’m exhausted. I’m settling in for an evening of Christmas movies when Pam, from work calls me up and tells me she is at NKLA (part of Best Friends) and has seen an orange kitty there I might like. But they won’t let her adopt it without me being there. Can she and Pierre come pick me up?

Um, sure? I nodded then realized she couldn’t see me and said “Sure!” with more confidence.

I kind of sat and stared for a while, but eventually got myself moving again so I could be downstairs when she drove up. Almost forgot to bring my cat carrier. It was about 7:30 in the evening. She’d driven all the way from West LA and we were driving back again. She assured me we didn’t have to do this this evening, but she happened to be at the shelter and saw an orange kitty who was about 4 years old and wanted me to take a look at it. And there happened to be another orange kitty there who was older if I liked as well.

I breathed again and realized I could just roll with this. This was Christmas after all. Magical things happen at Christmas.

With traffic it took a while to get back over to the shelter, and then we had to wait to sign in and then wait to be escorted back to the kitties, so that it was about 8:30 by the time eyeballs were on cats. I didn’t think any of it, but they closed at 9 p.m., so it put a little bit of a hurry in our step.

There were all sorts of kitties back in the kitty room. Some were big, some small. Some older and some very young. Some playful and some napping. Pam introduced me to Kennedy (the shelter name for the cat) and I don’t think either Kennedy or I “felt it” for each other. She was a pretty orange kitty with a white tuxedo. I hope she found a good home, but she and I weren’t for each other. But I decided to look around at the other kitties while I was there, just as a way to take things in. Like I said, there were all sorts of cats. There was a young girl running around excited because her family was taking home a pair of white kittens. I found myself a little taken with a gray tabby who was about six months old. He almost came home with me, but he had Pye’s feral look in his eyes and I knew what kind of work he would be for any home he went to. I wasn’t sure I wasn’t up to it again, at least not yet. So, I kept him in the back of my mind in case I didn’t see anyone else who caught my eye, but kept looking.

In the meantime, my friend Pam had become taken with a kind, but very large, black and white cat who went by the name of Adam. And the only reason she didn’t take him right there and then, I think, is that he had Feline Leukemia, so that gave her some pause (as opposed to paws… heh). She was having fun playing with him.

Poppy:Teddy 122315 1I wandered back to the front. It was getting late, almost at closing time, but they’d said there was that other orange cat. Now, they’d called him an orange long-haired cat, but as I’ve been the owner two very orange-y cats, he looked more beige-y sand colored to me, and long hair? It was normal, if a bit thicker. And he had a patch shaved off his back and his tummy, but they didn’t know why. He’d come from the city shelter that way. They’d guessed at his age as 7 years old and put his birthday down as December 8, but I think that was just his intake date. (These days — June 2016 — he strikes me as as more of a June baby and less of a December baby. Who knows?) They called him Poppy.

 

 

Poppy:Teddy 122315 2Anyway, I wasn’t really sure I was interested, but I thought what was the harm of getting a closer look at him, and maybe I’d like him, or one of the other kitties who was there. The NKLA shelter is on Pontius, which is at least an hour or more bus ride from where I live, so I wasn’t sure when I’d get back there. Pam was still deciding about Adam, taking Pierre back to meet him I think. Since I was there, I thought I would check him out. And, after a lot of waiting … (it was after closing now — there was a LOT of waiting that evening, and I wasn’t sure what for as there were a lot of minders just sitting at computers. Maybe they weren’t allowed to do the cat or dog handling, but if that was the case it would have been good if it had been explained. If I’d let customers wait that long without an explanation when I worked in retail I would have been written up and/or fired. Nice people, all of them, but it was a lot waiting)…. anyway, after more they finally took me in to see “Poppy,” where he’d been hanging out in a small community room place with other cats.

Cat’s don’t always want you to pet them, even when they seem to exude “pet me vibes.” I was aware of that as I approached this big, beige-colored cat. Poppy seemed like an odd name on my tongue. He had a pretty face, like a flower — I got that. But he didn’t seem like a Poppy for me.

He was laying there, kind of looking depressed. I reached over to let him take a whiff of my hand, said “Hi!” and he got up right away, chirping and rubbing his face against my hand. It was almost instant. And I instantly started crying. Just crying. I wanted to pick him and hold him, but didn’t want to seem forward, so settled with just lots of petting. And when I could find someone again (after more waiting and finding Pam and Pierre and letting them know) said, “I want this one.”

And then it was reading and signing paperwork and going through the care and feeding of cats (they were very conscientious). “Poppy” had been checked over by a vet, given shots, been micro-chipped, and had the sniffles. They wanted to make sure I understood everything. I noticed in the paperwork that someone had labeled him “stout” at 12 1/2 pounds. I figured we were meant for each other since we’re both middle-aged and stout.

Pam paid for the adoption as a lovely Christmas gift. (I call her Teddy’s godmother.) And then we were finally, at about 10 p.m., on our way back to the car to go home! (Until someone came out and reminded us we needed medicine for the sniffles, so there was more waiting while we waited for someone to get the medication.)

And that’s how I ended up waiving goodbye to Pam and Pierre at 10:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve Eve as they drove off after dropping me at home with a cat in tow. And suddenly as I stood there on the sidewalk I realized I had no litter, litter box, food, catnip or toys to speak of. I’d given most of it away after Pye died, and tossed the rest. I rushed up the stairs as fast I as could lugging the cat carrier. I’d forgotten how hard that could be.

I set the carrier down, opened the door, got some water (looked again for something akin to tuna and found nothing) and then rushed over to the computer to see what I could do about ordering something in the way of cat things from Yummy before they closed at midnight. I could always get other things later, but we needed the essentials that night.

I ended up with a roasting pan for a litter box. (6/12/16 — Every time Teddy used it he gave me a dirty look if I was around. I apologized for it every time for it until we got a proper litter box.) Otherwise, I was able to get the food and the litter and treats enough to tide us over until later.

And that’s how Santa Bastet brought Teddy to stay.

Poppy:Teddy 122315 3

June 12, 2016 Addendum: I forgot to say he’s earned his keep in defending my honor against a HUGE brown spider that found it’s way into my bathroom a few days after he arrived. I had seen the spider earlier and decided to ignore it until I could deal with it later. Teddy saw it, started batting it across the bathroom floor, playing with it, it scooted behind the makeshift litter box, he found it, and “killt it dead – d-e-d – dead.”

It was a good fight, but it was ugly. Spider didn’t know what had hit her/him/it.

Yes, I know, spiders are good. Normally, I’m all about leaving them be, but this was a big outdoor brown recluse-looking thing that had made it’s way inside somehow. Scary. I am so glad Teddy defended my honor. Very happy I didn’t have to be the one to trap it or scoot it out the window somehow or wash it down the drain.

And that’s how Theodore Forrest Beauregard Olivier, Emperor of Catmas, Noble Defender of the Household (Teddy for short) came to stay.

June 13, 2016 — P.S. — Pam and Pierre went back to NKLA to a few days later and brought Adam, now Felix, home for Boxing Day to live with them and their two dogs. So, happy endings all around.