The vicious absurdity of bathroom laws

Last Sunday afternoon was breezy and bright, but I was too lazy to take the dogs for a walk so a friend and I drove into town to grab a cup of coffee. It was just your standard, laid-back, happy, Sunday-afternoonish sort of outing.

On the way to the coffee shop we swung by our local library. There were a couple of men – nice-looking grandfatherly types – standing near the entrance with a trestle table on which they had a couple of three-ring binders and some pamphlets. Attached to the wall behind them was a shiny sheet-sized poster featuring some message about “freedom and privacy for all” and a picture of a cute little blonde girl.

Transgender shocked girl (2).jpeg
Not this kid, but you get the idea. Who wouldn’t want her to be safe and happy?

As I ambled past them one man approached me with a binder, which he flipped open to reveal a sheet of paper about one-third filled with names and signatures. “Would you like to sign?” he asked.

“Sure!” I said – after all, we all like freedom, privacy and pretty little girls, right? I assumed it was a petition relating to the recent demise of internet privacy protections. I hadn’t really thought through what the little girl was there for … maybe protecting our freedom and internet privacy is a way to ensure her a safe and happy future. But to be honest, I didn’t think about it. There was a spring-like song in my head that didn’t leave a lot of room for logical analysis.

The man beamed at me, handed me a pen, and held out the binder for me to sign. “So what’s this about?” I asked, casually, just making conversation, and because even on a sunny spring day with a song in my head I am not a total idiot.

House Bill 1011,” he said, and when I looked blank, pen still poised above his piece of paper, he explained, “We believe people should have the right to vote when their privacy is affected.” I continued to look blank, but the song in my head was beginning to weeble.

I honestly don’t remember what he said next – he was still beaming and I think stretching his lips like that made it difficult for him to speak intelligibly – but you already saw the title of this post so you know what’s coming. For starters, the pen in my hand suddenly turned into a snake and bit me. “Oh my word!” I exclaimed, flinging it away. “You’re talking about restrooms? You’re trying to control how transgender people use public toilets?” He blinked and his beam wavered into bemusement. “Ugh! That’s disgusting! Your bigotry is disgusting!

Now I really don’t do confrontation. I mean, I do, but only under duress, and I need some sort of warning – time to work up a head of steam that will enable me to blast through my tendency to stutter when stressed and sob when angry. Under the circumstances I turned out to be as incapable of intelligible speech as he was, so I stormed into the library and slapped some books around.

When I stormed back outside the pair of them huddled together but stood firm, awaiting my next attack. I felt a bit sorry for them, actually – they were just a couple of gaffers doing their bewildered best to hold back the horrifying onslaught of … whatever it is they find horrifying. So I asked them some questions along the lines of “Have you ever actually heard of a case of a transgender person assaulting a little girl in a bathroom? Or of a predator dressing up as transgender in order to do so?” and they explained that they just wanted people to have the right to vote about something that affected their safety and privacy, so I asked, “And what about the safety and privacy of transgender citizens?” and … really, again, I don’t remember what they said. It didn’t have any logical handles that would enable it to attach to my brain.

So I shouted a bit and used the “bigot” word and waved my arms and didn’t make a lot of sense because another thing that happens when I’m upset and stressed is aphasia takes control of my tongue – sometimes it’s so bad the only word I don’t forget is “aphasia”. But this is what I wanted to say to them. This is what I should have said. This is what I’ll say next time.

First of all, just how does this whole transgender thing work? Well, I’m no expert, but as best I can figure it out from reading what various transgender people have to say on the subject, it seems to me that transgender people are the gender by which they identify. It’s not just a feeling, or a mood, or a phase. A person can have a penis and still be a woman, or a vagina and be a man. What, you don’t understand it? I can’t help you with that, because nor do I. But so what if you can’t? The older I get, the more things I find I don’t understand. Usually, in my experience, if I leave them alone and don’t poke at them with a pointy stick, they leave me alone and nobody gets bitten.

Secondly, this issue of who gets to use which facilities. Transgender women dress like women; I’m willing to bet most of them look way more feminine than I do. (Yes, that’s a low bar, but still.) Transgender men dress, walk, look like men. Republican dudes and duffers, do you really want someone in a dress and high heels standing next to you at the urinal? Or touching up her lipstick at the sink in your public restroom? Quit being dickish about this, and it won’t happen … because transgender people use stalls. Men with vaginas aren’t equipped to use urinals. Women with a penises will choose to wait … and wait … and, holy cow, cross their legs and wait in line for a stall rather than use the urinal in the men’s room.

Mind you … speaking as a woman who has, on more than one occasion, disdained the long line leading to the women’s room at a busy supermarket, preferring to dash straight into the empty men’s room right next door, I don’t really get why separate facilities are necessary. As far as I’m concerned, the sooner we switch to unisex restrooms the better. Although … yeah, they can tuck the urinals off around a corner somewhere … I don’t want to have to see that. (Sorry, guys, I know you’re awful proud of them and all, but they’re just not pretty.)

Transgender bathroom-police.png
I borrowed this cartoon without permission, because it says what needs to be said and it wasn’t clear where permission might be got. Please check out their website so they get some benefit from it.

Getting back to the point, thirdly, there’s the issue of enforcement. Are you going to appoint genital police to peek inside everyone’s underwear before we’re allowed through the door? Because I really don’t see how that will enhance feelings of privacy! Maybe this law will apply only to people whose community knows they have transitioned, like at schools. How’s that for a great way to encourage tolerance and civility – forcing a girl (with-a-penis) to use the same shower and toilet facilities as the tender-hearted fellows on the football team!

Because, of course, fourth point, let’s not forget that this all starts with concerns about safety. Those worried folk who are so anxious to strip transgender people of their peeing rights aren’t naturally mean, they’re scared. They’re scared of big hairy men putting on dresses and claiming to be women in order to invade their little girls’ potty spots and Do Nasty Things to them.

The thing is, rape is already against the law. So are assault, indecent exposure and harassment. Predators don’t care about restroom laws. When they are set on doing their predatory thing, they already disregard far more powerful laws, with harsher penalties than anyone could dream up for using the wrong bathroom.

I wish people like those two old gaffers would stop and think about who is really at risk here – the girls with penises and boys with vaginas who just need to pee, in safety and privacy, same as the rest of us! And then get the heck out of there, because no one actually wants to hang out in a public restroom!

That’s what I wish I’d said, in calm and measured tones, but instead I got loud and emotional, and when I realized I was about to start sniveling I whirled around and stomped off, and nearly slammed into a couple of young people – a tall girl and a short man – who were standing just a little way off.

The young man said, “Um, I just wanted to thank you.” He gestured in the direction of the gaffers. “For what you said there.” I mumbled something awkward and incoherent. He said, “They asked me to sign and I told them I couldn’t because it would mean I’d have to use the women’s bathroom, and they seemed to think that would be okay.”

Completely inappropriately, because I was still all discombobulated and upset, I hugged him. He didn’t seem to mind, but I wish I’d known what to say.

What do you think about legislation requiring people to use the restroom intended for their assigned gender? If you had been involved in this conversation, what would you have said?

 

A question of character

So on Monday night we had this…

debate vs hillary donald

… which one could explain away as a combination of “the American political system at work” and, well …

Election 2016 gary johnson libertarian party

And one could, if one chose, simply leave it at that. But for some reason I feel compelled to say more, if only I could focus on the presidential election without perpetually being distracted by a need to hit something with a mallet, run out to the corral and shovel manure, or just, you know, bang my head against a wall.

Politics makes me go

snoopy-bleh

because I just don’t get it. Seriously, why would anyone want to be president? Here in the US you spend a year being alternately (or sometimes simultaneously) pilloried and on parade. You also have to spend a shitload of money – and I say “a shitload” intentionally, because to get it you have to kiss a lot of butt, not all of it clean. That gets you about three years to play the blame game while trying to unravel the mess your predecessor left behind. Then you pretty much put your presidential day job on hold for a year while you get back into pillory / on parade to win another three-and-a-half years in which to do the things you promised to do the first time you ran, when you were still fresh-faced and naive and thought the White House would be a cool place to live. Finally you have to spend your last six months in the job back on pillory/parade patrol, only now your party has chosen someone new to lead the parade and your job is to smile, smile, smile while they explain how they will actually do the things you said you would do only you were distracted by a war / tsunami / hurricane / plague of locusts. Then the voters pick the other party’s candidate and it’s your fault.

And that’s how it goes if you win.

Frankly we’d probably both have more fun if I just yattered on about the latest exploits of my favorite crazy goofball.

20160507_181128-2
Argos: focused, likable, and he probably won’t hurt you.

But I am a Blogger on a Mission to Fulfill my Civic Duty. I am going to discuss the US presidential election if it kills me because, notwithstanding all the noise and fuss and expenditure of obscene amounts of money, only one person can win it, and we the people have to decide who that person should be. And since clearly only an insane person could actually want the job, it’s very, very important that we take the time to understand each candidate’s particular brand of insanity, and determine whether it’s the kind of insanity that could result in us being blown up or obliged to live in cardboard boxes, because those are the kinds of insanity we should try to avoid.

Pretty simple, right? All we need to do is make a list and then cross off anyone who is untrustworthy, unqualified, unrighteous, undignified, unrestrained, unbalanced or in any other significant way un-okay.

dollary-clump
For the deluded and confused: Dollary Clump.

To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, once we have eliminated the deplorable, whoever is left must be the true choice.

Look, I’m not going to discount the possibility that you might actually like Trump or Clinton and earnestly desire to vote for one (or both) of them. But in such a case I really don’t know what more to say to you. Let’s talk about something else. Have you read any good books lately?

On the other hand, according to RealClear Politics 55.1% of voters object to Clinton while 58.3% dislike Trump, so it’s statistically likely that you plan to hold your nose all the way to the ballot box before you sadly scrawl your mark next to one or other name. These numbers make perfect sense to me since I think they’re both horrors for so many reasons that I don’t have the space or the inclination to enumerate here. (The information is all out there, guys – no need for me to repeat it. If you’ve been vacationing under a rock, please go here, here and here for a few probably-incomplete lists of what’s scary about Trump, and look here and here for a glimpse into Clinton’s dark side.)

What doesn’t make sense to me is that people are still voting for them, apparently on the basis that if they pick one the other will lose. Really, guys, the best you can do for America is pick the least worst? You’re seriously willing to live for four years with your selected portion of the bizarre mess the DemRep Coalition has sicked up on the national carpet? Come on, you can do better than that! Go for the gold!

Yes, I said it: you have a choice, and its name is Johnson/Weld. Yeah, yeah – third party, wasted vote, spoiler, blah blah. Just stay with me a little longer, okay? Let me explain why you’re wrong. Well, potentially wrong … if you’re willing to stop believing the myths and being scared by the lies. And, most important, you have to be willing to quit thinking that choosing a president is like betting on a horse race. This is not where you assess the “odds”, pick a winner and hope for the best. This is a time to think long and hard about the candidates – their character and qualifications – and choose the one who can best be trusted to deliver on their promises.

johnson-weld-2016
Libertarians Bill Weld (VP candidate) and Gary Johnson (Presidential candidate). (Side note: Johnson may look like a shrimp next to Weld, but in fact he’s 6 feet tall at sea-level, and spends a lot of his time standing on mountaintops. This means that Weld is probably taller than Abraham Lincoln – whose legs went all the way to the ground – which may or may not be significant, in that Lincoln ran as a third party candidate to become the first Republican president. Lincoln would not like the sorry, self-indulgent mess modern Republicans have made of his party! In fact, I’m pretty sure if he were running this year it would be as a Libertarian.)

One of the problems with Johnson/Weld is that they aren’t well known, even in an election that has voters riled up and paying more attention than usual. The best way to get known – and possibly the only way to stand a real chance of winning – is to participate in the presidential debates. These are controlled by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which is essentially a joint venture between the Republican and Democratic parties. The CPD requires that, for a third party candidate to take part, they must average 15% in five preselected national polls. Sounds reasonable? Tell you what, let’s get it into context.

  • Both Clinton and Trump won their presidential nominations, which the CPD recognizes automatically, on less than 9% of possible votes.
  • The polls the CPD chose to determine whether Johnson/Weld were eligible to debate have used some questionable research methodologies, such as interviewing only people contactable via landline. This means they don’t connect with younger voters, who tend to use only cellphones, and who strongly favor Johnson.
  • The CPD’s stated mission is to “provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners”.
  • Various polls indicated that Johnson/Weld were unknown to around 70% of voters.
  • According to a report by the conservative watchdog Media Research Center, from January through August this year the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts gave Trump 1,773 minutes of coverage, and Clinton 1,020 minutes. Johnson received 11 seconds on the NBC Nightly News in May, when the Libertarian Party announced his nomination. The other mainstream media, both print and broadcast, have paid him minimal attention.
  • Johnson/Weld are the only third-party candidates who appear on the ballots in all 50 states. To get there, they had to win the support of nearly a million people, spread across every state.
  • A Suffolk University poll released early this month asked voters: “If a third party presidential candidate is certified for president by a majority of state ballots, should he or she be included in the debates this fall?” 76% of respondents said yes.

So yeah, Mr Trump, you’re right. The system is indeed rigged. Lucky you.

Anyway, under the circumstances it’s impressive that Johnson/Weld averaged 9% in the selected polls – a record high for a third party contender. But the CPD wasn’t impressed, and the first debate, last Monday, went pretty much as expected …

Animatron donald trump hillary clinton debate argue

… and nobody learned anything new … EXCEPT that laid-back, chill, ever-friendly Gary Johnson could get angry. Apparently that came as a surprise. Me? I’m delighted. Let me tell you why.

But first let’s backtrack a little. You remember that Aleppo debacle? The Great Gaffe that magically knocked all of Trump’s uglies and Hillary’s sneakies off center stage for at least five minutes, until until some new dreadfulness emerged about them? Here’s a reminder.

So the interviewer asked what he planned to do about Aleppo, and inside Johnson’s head a synapse misfired and his brain went, “Umm … ALEPPO … acronym meaning whut?” instead of instantly understanding that the conversation had shifted to the conflict in Syria. And the internet lost its collective marbles. Suddenly, people who on a good day could barely find their own way to the bathroom were bumping into each other and going, “Haw! Gary Johnson! Aleppo! Haw haw haw!”

How big a deal was this? Well, on the plus-side, his name recognition improved significantly. The downside was that the mass media (and, with them, the masses) jumped to the conclusion that Johnson didn’t understand foreign policy. Obviously it would be a very big deal if a potential Commander-in-Chief didn’t know what was going on in a war zone where American troops are engaged, and didn’t have an opinion about how to deal with it. But that’s not what happened here. For a moment he lost the bubble, but as soon as he regained it he was off and running again – and by the way, I love his ideas about foreign policy. (Essentially, they amount to: “Let’s get the fuck out of everyone else’s business and clean up our own shit.” I may be over-simplifying just a little – don’t you go labeling him isolationist – but I don’t have time to talk about that here, okay? I’m starting to realize this is going to take more than one post. Oyyy…)

A couple days ago it happened again. In an interview, asked to name a leader of any country in the world that he admired, he couldn’t think of one. Now it’s possible that he thinks they’re all flawed, and it’s also possible that he’s just not good at pop quizzes. Seriously, so what?

What matters to me, and what I took away from these “gaffes”, was how he handles a setback. Unlike Clinton, he doesn’t deny. Unlike Trump, he doesn’t tweet, threaten and blame. After blanking on Aleppo, the first thing Johnson did was apologize to his supporters: “I’m so sorry. You all work so hard and I let you down.” For the week or so that followed, every time a reporter said the A-word he took responsibility and refused to make excuses. And when he couldn’t think of the name of a national leader he admired, he commented with wry humor that he was having “another Aleppo moment”.

He kept his chill until last Monday, when he was preparing to watch the first presidential debate of 2016. He was working Plan B, connecting with the press and active on social media, but it must have been heartbreaking to be muzzled, denied a space on the stage, when he had worked so hard to be there.

So when some reporter chose that occasion to ask him, yet again, about Aleppo, he came unglued. “I’m tired of innocent people being killed in these countries!” he exclaimed. “Hillary Clinton dots the i’s and crosses the t’s on all of the names … but as a result we have the foreign policy that we have right now that I have to tell you I think is horrible. Horrible!” He was angry, he said, that people were calling him out on the names of geographic locations and foreign leaders, while “the underlying policy has thousands of people dying! And that is unacceptable!”

And that, friends, is why I’m delighted. Push Hillary and she slithers behind a denial. Poke Trump and he shouts and calls you names. Put Johnson under enough pressure to dent his cool, and what flares up has nothing to do with his ego. What we see is anguish over the mess we’ve been making, and a passion to clean it up.

I don’t understand why anyone would want to be president, but I think I get why he’s running. He’s proved himself in government. He’s been outstandingly successful in business. He’s climbed the highest peaks on all seven continents. What else does he have left to do but save the world?

As for me, it’s a matter of personal integrity. When someone of such caliber asks for my vote, how can I throw it away on someone who would not respect me or honor my trust? I don’t care about his so-called “odds”. I’m in.

[All GIFs from giphy.com]

What are your thoughts on this election? What do you think is the most important character trait in a good president? Have you read any good books lately? Let’s talk!

Want to know more about Gary Johnson/ and Bill Weld? Go here and here to learn where they stand on the issues that are important to you. Wikipedia has good biographical information on both Johnson and Weld. Also, go browse their Facebook page and watch some of their online town hall meetings.

Going postal

USPS-Exam-3D-Cover-with-text (2)So it looks as though the US Postal Service has a clever new scheme going: tell people you’re hiring, then when they go to your website to apply, don’t let them do so unless they fork over $29.95, in return for which some helpful people will send you a “well written Guide with NO MEMORIZATION required”, including test-taking strategies and tips from “subject matter experts”.

What’s particularly cool about these people is that they don’t expect you to waste time waiting for snail mail – because, as it’s important to understand if you’re going to apply for a job at the post office, actually physically posting anything is pretty old hat. No one who has a clue does that any more. So they will provide a link to a 98-page PDF document that you can download within three seconds of making payment, and print out using your very own personal printer ink and paper.

Alternatively, for only $10 more you can get essentially the same thing from another source, only what they promise to send is a “Postal Exam Package” containing exam registration materials, “eCareer Profile Creation Tutorials”, a bunch of practice tests, and a “Postal Interview Recommendation”.

It’s not entirely clear how they send this, but to me the word “package” denotes physical substance – something with heft. I imagine brown paper and string, the knots liberally coated with sealing wax … Dang, those were the days! I remember helping my mother make up parcels like that! Sometimes she’d let me hold the stick of sealing wax. I remember the smell of burning string and hot wax, and how quickly the drops of wax hardened, and how satisfying it was to scratch the hard accidental drips off the paper, and how important it was not to put my face so close to the flame that I burned off my eyebrows.

Hand made leather man wallet and  package on wooden background
Searching for this illustration made me feel so old! Everything I found was essentially an artistically staged picture. Take this one – what’s the relevance of the man wallet? I also found a still life in shades of brown, featuring a stamped seal, a watch on a chain and a cigar, arranged like relics of a forgotten era. Also, there are lots of pictures of scrolls, apparently made of papyrus, tied with hemp, and sealed with a perfect dab of red wax. Seriously, Adobe, WTF? Real people living today actually used this stuff, you know – and it had a purpose. It wasn’t just bloody decorative, okay? It was messy and it dripped and blobbed, and if you let your kid do it they probably illustrated the package with artistic extra drips and blobs, but – and this was important – YOU DRIPPED THE WAX ONTO THE KNOT IN THE STRING, okay? It was there to discourage postal workers from opening your parcel, because that was back in the day when it was reasonable to expect the South African Post Office to deliver parcels rather than dumping them in a ditch, losing them, or selling them to the highest bidder. Because, of course, back then we hadn’t invented scissors yet, so sealed and unbroken string was impenetrable.

Well, I digress … A modern parcel would have tape, not string, and it would likely come in one of those standard red, white and blue USPS boxes. Unless they sent it UPS or Fedex, those being the faster and more reliable options since the Pony Express closed down. But either way, there wouldn’t be string.

Sorry, that was another digression, because in fact I resisted the temptation to order a Postal Exam Success Guide. The only reason I was googling post office jobs was a sudden panic over money, for crying out loud! If I was going to spend $39.95 on something, it wouldn’t be on an unartistically presented package, which I wouldn’t receive because we don’t get mail delivery at our house due to an argument over post box location with our local post office about eight years ago, which culminated in the Hubbit declaring his independence from delivery services by renting a PO box (from USPS) instead. (That’s a whole blog post in its own right, but not one I feel like writing today.) Anyway, the $39.95 option didn’t include space for a PO box address, so I couldn’t choose it. As for the other option, the convenience of receiving a PDF document is offset by the fact that I still haven’t figured out how to get our wireless printer to connect to my computer, and I am fundamentally fed up with having to forward every bloody thing to the Hubbit for printing. In any case, if I had random bits of money to be scattering to the four winds I wouldn’t be contemplating a job at the post office, now would I?

Sometimes I feel as though my life is spiraling out of control. There are too many damn buttons to push, and you have to push them in the right order, and … GAH! It’s just too  complicated.

I couldn’t help wondering what my $29.95 would get me – I mean, in the sense of what career opportunities would open up if I accepted their Success Guide. So I went back and took another look at what popped up when I googled USPS jobs, and I realized that the sites I’d found the first time I tried this weren’t actually part of the official US Postal Service. They’re very cleverly dressed up to look that way, complete with bald eagles and flags, but if you click on the actual USPS website you can go straight to the online job application, easy-peasy.

USPS stamps
Turns out they have a new stamp design, called “summer harvest”. Click on the picture on the USPS website, and it’ll take you to a fantastic array of gorgeous stamps. Some of them are so pretty I just want to rush out and … I don’t know … start mailing letters again? Probably not – back in the day (before email) I was notorious for writing long, wonderful, newsy letters, putting them in an envelope, sticking on the prettiest stamps I could find … and then forgetting to put them in the mailbox. Actually physically going to a post office to post a letter was one of those things I invariably put off, so letters would go onto the pile of un-dealt-with paperwork I have kept on every desk I’ve ever owned, and there they would slowly sift to the bottom, to be found years later when I packed up to move house.

So anyway … I looked, and apparently the main post office in our area is looking for rural mail carriers. Only to get hired you have to pass a test, which takes about two hours to complete. I don’t have two hours right now, having already invested a substantial portion of today in writing this post. Also, I really hate writing tests, because failure, rejection, feelings of inferiority – AAHHHHH! I mean, how would I feel if I failed a test that was directed specifically at school leavers and other people with no prior experience, skills or training? Plus, apparently the test includes a section called “Summary of Accomplishments”, and the advice to applicants is  to “write about how your skill set, education and training matches the posting”. Seriously, should someone who can’t mail letters be responsible for delivering same?

Still, I have to admit I’m tempted. The thought of working in a post office, dealing with the Great Unwashed every day, fills me with dismay. Yes, I know, you don’t actually have to be nice to anyone – that’s one of the perks of working for the post office. But … ugh … you’re perpetually at the end of a queue, and every single day is just one piece of mail after another. Could that get monotonous, do you think?

Driving around delivering letters, on the other hand … now that could be fun. Lots of time to think, and – thanks to the invention of GPS – I wouldn’t get lost. Probably wouldn’t. Not very lost, anyway, and probably not permanently. It would be different if they were still using ponies – I like ponies way too much to sit on one – but these days you get to ride around in one of those cute little vans with the driver on the sidewalk side. You know, I can see myself doing that, while simultaneously dictating a Great Work (or, at least, a blog post) into a little hand-held recorder thingummy. I already have one of those. I just need to figure out how it works.

So what’s your dream job? What do you do when you suddenly realize you’re down to your last $50 and there’s still a week to go to the end of the month?

 

 

Contemplating Christmas without the crocodile

I was over visiting Ms MPB today, reading her latest post, and it got me to thinking about gifts. She was pondering the changes that a baby would bring to her life, and one of the questions she asked was, “Will adoption make the rest of our lives messy?” Further down, in the comments, she commented on how much she dreaded having toys, especially plastic ones, all over the house.

After I’d done laughing, shaking my head, and murmuring, “Oh, honey, you have no idea how messy your life will become!” I found myself pondering the the stuff and clutter in my own life, and gifts given and received over the years, and which ones worked and why. It’s getting to be that time of year, people – Christmas is 101 days away, according to a nifty little countdown I have on my phone, and pretty soon the Crocodile of Christmas Present will jump up and grab you. We’ll need to have our wits about us to hold back the flood of cluttering Stuff – because if you don’t, it will suck you under, roll you over, and rip up the decomposing remains of your life just like a crocodile with its prey.

Well, you don’t have to be crocodile food or retail fodder. You can choose to break the cycle.

The thing about gifts for kids is, we’re always tempted by the Latest Shiny Thing – and the kids in our lives want it too. Oh boy, how they want it! They don’t just want it – they neeeeeed it to give meaning and fulfillment to their lives … right up until the day after Christmas. Or maybe it’ll last into the new year, if you’re lucky. But, guaranteed, the day they learn what their friends got, they’ll be dazzled and smitten by the Next Shiny Thing.

I rarely had much spare money when I was raising the Girl Child. Except for a few short years before the bank took it back, we didn’t ever live in a house we owned, and space was always limited. When she was very young she played mostly with the contents of my lower kitchen cupboards – pots and pans (delightful to thump with a spoon), plastic containers (they stack! They nest! You can put things in them and pour!), canned goods (they make towers and then they fall down and roll all over the floor, and sometimes make Mommy scream!) She had other people who loved her, though, so she accumulated some good stuff. She learned at an early age to entertain herself … and I learned, when I wanted to sleep late, to do so in a bed full of Lego.

But mostly I gave her intangibles. There was her own special china cup as soon as she graduated from a sippy cup, and for her third birthday her very first pillow in a bright yellow cover. (When I gave it to her, after several months of nagging, she exclaimed, “Oh! My pillow!” and hugged it tight. Some 20 years later I restuffed it with down off wild ducks Himself had shot, and she told me during her recent visit that she still had it, although it’s now a dog bed.) I know a cup and a pillow are tangible objects, but the real gift was the “You’re old enough for this now”. That’s a gift that lasts, because it’s not about the thing, it’s about the moment and the memory.

When she turned four I had a business trip that coincided with her birthday, so I gave her her first airplane trip, and she stayed with a friend while I was working. And the year she got her first bike, we packaged it in an enormous box. When we called her into the living room to open her gift she ripped off the paper then stopped, stared, and exclaimed, “A BOX!” because what could be better to play house in?

Best Christmas gift EVAH!
I got a robot instead of a baby. Perfect!

Himself and I have become pretty casual about gifts over the years. Last year I went all Fifties Housewife on him and requested a vacuum cleaner. This year it’s a replacement for my sick and sorry laptop. In both cases, I said, “Honey, what I’d really like for Christmas is…” and he ordered it a couple days later. The man has no self-control – he can no more wait for Christmas or a birthday to roll around than ignore that thumping noise in the left rear car tire.

He has surprised me only twice. When I married him there was no money for a diamond ring, so I told him that if I put up with him for 10 years he could give me diamonds then. Instead, he gave me a doberman. And then there was the birthday (I forget which, but it was one that made me grumpy and sorry for myself) that he kept asking, “Would you like your present now?” and I kept growling that no, I was busy. Eventually, near bedtime, I pulled myself together and mopily said I was ready. It was actually gift wrapped! I took off the wrap, and it was a beautiful jewelry box! “How lovely!” I exclaimed, while privately wondering why he’d give a jewelry box to someone who owned only junk jewelry. I opened it and … the box contained a string of pearls. No one had ever before given me anything so completely impractical and pretty. I am not someone who wears pearls. I don’t live a lifestyle, or in a place, that ever calls for pearls. But oh, how I love them! I wear them under my tees and sweatshirts while cleaning up after horses and dogs, and they’re like a secret between me and my skin.

By contrast, I love surprises, and although I’m hopeless at keeping secrets I’ve managed to surprise Himself a couple times. There was the year that he was grumpy the whole day of his birthday. I told him I’d give him his present when he came to bed (no, it’s okay, this is not where I over-share!) and he kept me waiting 45 minutes while he poked around reading the news online before finally stomping upstairs, to find me passed out and wearing nothing but a Stetson. (Oh calm down! The gift was the Stetson! This is not that kind of blog!)

Another time I gave him his gift before I got out of bed. He removed the gift wrap from a small box of shotgun shells, smiled awkwardly, kissed me, and said, “Thank you, honey … only … these won’t work in my shotgun.” I smiled coyly, reached under the sheet, and drew out the fancy new shotgun his best friend had told me to buy. “Well, will they work in this?” I asked.

I guess the point I’m trying to make here is, it’s okay to buy stuff and get stuff. Giving and unwrapping presents can be tremendous fun! But let’s not get dragged under by the Jolly Crocodile, okay? I think the worst, most dehumanizing insult the world dishes out to us these days is to call us “consumers”. I don’t know about you, but I am so much more than a consumer! I’m a maker, a doer, a dreamer and a rememberer. I’m a lover, a player of games, a friend, a defender of the vulnerable. a celebrator.

When I give gifts, they’re not just Stuff – they mean something. And if they don’t carry the same meaning to you that I placed in them, then please pass them along. Just remember the receiving of a kindness, an act of friendship. That’s really the best any of us have to give anyone.

Just me and my skin

Himself went fishing today, so I decided to celebrate a day alone by not getting dressed … at all … apart from sandals, which became necessary when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Malinois decided that an unclad momma-boss lacked authority, and commenced chasing the horses with joyous disregard for my shrieks of “LEAVE IT!” from the porch.

As I barreled loudly across the yard clad in nothing but my Birkenstocks and brandishing a leash I did experience a brief little something-or-other, and if I’d had time to analyze it I would have said, “Huh – so that’s what a qualm feels like” – because while I dislike the Nasty Neighbor whose house overlooks the relevant portion of our yard, I don’t necessarily want to cause him a heart attack. But, you know, priorities … I got Argos out of the corral, confirmed that there was nobody waving at me from any of the surrounding pastures, and headed back into the house.

Out of consideration for the Nasty Neighbor I confined today’s gardening to the front porch, taking tulip bulbs out of pots to be stored until I plant them someplace permanent in fall. Apart from that, it’s been quite an ordinary day, largely spent dealing with some otherwise annoying business from behind my desk. I opened all the windows and set the ceiling fans to spinning and didn’t bother with air conditioning, and oh, the pleasure of a whole day of just me and my breeze-kissed skin!

Once upon a time I would strip off without a second thought. I’ve never been to a nudist resort – the idea of a place dedicated to being naked has always seemed a little silly, and I find it hard to believe that people there would be any less judgmental than people anywhere. But if you’re puttering about at home, or off on the river or at the beach or up a mountain somewhere where there’s no one else to notice or care – except, perhaps, one or two whom you love and trust – being naked has to be the best way in the world to minimize laundry.

I really wish I hadn’t stopped feeling happy and at peace and comfortable inside my skin.

Cape Point on a summer day.
Cape Point on a summer day, many years ago.