April 2015 A to Z Blog Challenge Reflection

This was my first participation in the challenge. And, like a good half German, I obeyed all rules and posted every day (Sunday off for bad behavior), even with a 0600 scheduled publication. And I’d forgotten about the challenge until the end of March so these were real-time posts. Next year, if I am able to participate, I will write some well in advance of April 2016.

For the work I put into this prose, I wish more had read them. But they aren’t going anywhere so I hope folks will stumble into the site going forward. I kept the blog site separate but link to my website – debrastrege.com – and have decided to incorporate relevant posts into that ongoing blog, especially since that blog effort lagged during this challenge.

I am embarking on a new career of writing and speaking so this was a significant part of developing a new habit, finding my voice and expanding my audience. It offers hope that this time next year I will be much further down my new path. I hope my friends and followers will stay with me and grow. Hello world!

Z is for Zealots #atozchallenge

Zealots have no humor.

Zealots make me sick.

Zealots are inflexible.

And do not help one lick.

 

Your faith, your fear, your certainty,

In how the world should be,

Your rigid lack of compromise,

Can’t trump reality.

 

I know you think the world would be,

In perfect harmony

If all the people not like you,

Would simply let you lead.

 

But that ain’t going to happen.

Still things will turn out fine.

Embracing people’s differences,

Can help us change our mind.

 

The world evolves without you,

To which I’m sure you’ll fight.

Appreciating differences,

Is doing what is right.

 

Now when it comes to justice,

And treating people fair,

I could be called a zealot.

That’s a moniker I’ll wear.

 

The difference is I do believe,

All folks will come around.

We all fall from out pedestals,

And that’s where love is found..

Y Is For A Y On Life’s Road #atozchallenge

Life doesn’t have a linear path for most of us. Perhaps those who have had glitches, hick-ups and disappointments, are the lucky ones. I am not sure I ever wanted a linear path, anyway. I’m like the Goldie Hawn character in “Best Friends,” whose character was reluctant to marry because, “You’re born, you get married and you die.” So if she never got married, she would never die. That’s not exactly my life’s philosophy, although I relate to the character not making traditional choices. That I would not change.

Had I made traditional choices of a husband and kids, I might not have been able to make the choice to move Dad in with me the day Mom passed unexpectedly. And that was my best choice in life so far. Dad was with me just shy of ten years. I left paid work and built a second addition on my house. I miss those days beyond words. But it changed me. I found my core, my passion and my voice during those days with Dad. I am bold, outspoken, entertaining and viscerally intolerant to bullshit. My time with Dad crystallized for me that no amount of money is worth spending time with mediocre, erratic, marginal, petty people at some soul-sucking nine-to-five job. Those dysfunctional folks  have all been wished into the corn field.

So I’m on my way. I have bliss, not every moment of every day but most moments of every day. I’m strong and centered. I am healthy. I am busy and productive. M&DSepiaI still work on house projects (I am DIY wired with surround sound!), which is necessary and helps future profits for me. I am finding my voice. And twenty-four blogs in the past month has certainly strengthened my writing commitment! It also built a new haCartoon mebit so when I write one or two blogs a week, it will feel like a breeze. I am studying improv, which is delightful and terrifying. But it’s bringing me closer to my public and stage work. I am committed to this new venture and am using my written and spoken word in various venues. The new people in my life are lovely and generous and supportive. I am so very grateful to Mom and Dad for this life.

Now this new path isn’t easy to take. But the one less traveled is where I want to be. Joy and bliss can take you far!

 

 

X Is For What Is Our Society’s X #atozchallenge

I rated this blog PG so I won’t post porn pics. But I would love to post a few because I find our puritanical views of sexuality in our society absurd and unhealthy. We shield kids from breasts yet by the time a child reaches 18, he or she will have seen 40,000 murders in the media and 200,000 acts of violence. Now I don’t know about you, but I was raised to become an adult who has sex, not shoots people with guns. Why does our society get so upset about showing a human phallus but would never pixilate an assault rifle? (That’s hilarious on so many levels.)

Admittedly, action films are not my genre so I don’t see the appeal in violent, physical conflict. But it seems if one is titillated by acts of violence, one wants to see it again. if it doesn’t have a direct correlation to violent behavior, the amount of violence in the media certainly desensitizes us. I’ve seen my share of violence on TV and I don’t want to own a gun or be near one but other people are wired differently and might find a thrill in violence. It’s no secret how high our gun deaths are compared to the rest of societies. And is it any accident that we now have a diminished manufacturing industry in this country except for guns and ammo? Hell, we teach our military with warring video games. Surely there’s some correlation to make. This whole paragraph creeps me out.

XCannons

Look at ancient architecture. XHostoryMuch of it is erotica. They have their share of warriors, too, but today’s culture holds no cXAshcroftomparison. And remember when Attorney General John Ashcroft spent $8,000 of taxpayer dollars on blue drapes to cover the lady parts on two statues in the Great Hall of the Department of Justice? Childish. Meanwhile his boss was invading a country on false pretenses, that killed and maimed hundreds of thousands. That’s some messed up priorities.

What our society has deemed to need a big X to block the view of innocent purview calls for a long overdue taboo review.

 

Xkid

W Is For Workers Unite #atozchallenge

It is cold, cruel and criminal that full-time employment keeps folks in poverty and that economic advancement, social mobility and simple self-respect are becoming but a quaint memory for too many of us. People are hurting and this recent uprising by fast-food employees may be the tipping point that begins to reverse the ever-increasing struggle to survive. Let, “We can’t survive on $7.25,” becomes a rallying cry for all workers. Income disparity is the foremost cause of social rebellion, as evidenced in Egypt during the 2011 Arab Spring. Egypt is suffering under vast income inequality, but it may surprise you to know that Egypt’s disparity is not as great as ours, even though the Right will argue that the poor aren’t really poor because they have smart phones and flat-panel TVs. While technological trinkets may make us look rich, the true pain of living paycheck to unemployment check is a painful reality for too many. Unity is the only power employees have and if all workers would rally behind the fast-food workers who are protesting for higher wages, we might capture the momentum needed to slow the ever-widening divide between the “haves” and the “have-very-little.”

One of my heroes, my dad, always said there was going to be a revolution in this country some day when workers found they had enough. I agree with one modification. Now that multinational companies control the majority of global workers and all workers now are fighting the race to the bottom in wages, I believe it will be a global. revolution. And I believe we are overdue.

As another one of my heroes, Senator Ted Kennedy once asked, “When does the greed stop?” I don’t just wonder why the billionaires would sacrifice the basic comforts of so many of their workers with poverty wages, I wonder why they would want to live in a poor country. The fact is, America is not poor and it’s not “broke,” as Congressman John Boehner claims. It’s just lost its moral compass. Workers regaining some of their power would be a win for everyone. The one-percenters and Congress would have to follow.

 

V Is For The Body Is a Vessel #atozchallenge

Note: The morning after the courageous Bruce Jenner has shared his personal journey of gender transitioning, this post has even more meaning. Our mind and body are not separate. We must honor both.

Whether or not you believe in a soul that transcends the body, espouse to a particular religion, are convinced of nothing or are certain there’s nothing beyond this incarnation, your body is your vessel. VesselThinkWithout your vessel, you can’t exist. We spend so much time in our heads, we often ignore this partnership. I have friends whose lifestyle choices are catching up with them and are developing chronic health problems, are taking medication or just plain don’t feel good. How far are you going to get if your equipment can no longer travel well?

Now, I am not perfect by a long shot. But I don’t take any medication, except a couple vitamins. I exercise every day and I am a vegan. Never touch soda and I drink water like my life depended upon it – because it does.  I’m a social drinker and break my vegan rule with some seafood when on holiday. That is, I would have seafood if I ever had a holiday. (That’s not healthy.) But I do recognize that without making healthy choices for my body, I won’t be able to do all I like and need to do. Garbage in, garbage out.

It seems like such common sense but most of us often treat our body like it’s a partner to our thoughts with the mind as the propeller. I blame 16th CenDescartestury philosopher Rene Descartes who, to keep science and philosophical study relevant in a time heavily controlled by the church, proposed the mind and body were capable of a separate existence. It stuck. It’s simply not true, however. It is this conflated idea that, if practiced, will cause harm.

I am well aware of body image issues, particularly for women in our society, although you men are catching up to us. I could argue that the mind/body separation is to blame for that, too. If we truly valued a person for their complete selves, we would be idolizing those whose inner and outer matched. I would love to be able to have some magic side by side pictorial of an outer appearance next to the inner one. The imagination reels!

 

U Is For Unions #atozchallenge

When compared to the steady decline in middle-class income over the past 30+ years, a nearly identical, parallel decline in the number of union jobs in this country seems to have an undeniable connection, particularly since organized labor and collective bargaining serve as a great equalizer between employees and employers. Union membership saw its last uptick just before Ronald Reagan took office in January of 1981 and it has declined steadily since, along with middle-class income. Since August, 1981, when President Reagan abruptly fired the striking, unionized air-traffic controllers, unions have experienced a decline in membership, and have seen their representational power at the bargaining table nearly disappear. Coupled with our vanishing middle-class, the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs, our halted generational mobility and our economic decent, it is hard to see any winners from the fall of organized labor, unless you count the mega-wealthy and multinational corporations, who have benefited from taxes incentives and trade agreements that have rewarded them for moving good-paying jobs overseas. The losers are lots of skilled workers, much of the middle class and our economy. Corporate lobbyists have fought successfully to weaken workers’ power, suppress wages and eliminate tariffs and tax regulations that protected America-made products. In the long run, everyone is harmed by these short-sighted policies because as workers’ wages fall and their skills diminish, our economy suffers and it becomes more difficult to compete.

A Decline in Unions since Reagan

Reagan’s 1981 firing of the air traffic controllers hushed many unions, as the newly empowered Phelps Dodge and International Paper quickly followed suit, replacing their striking workers. The next great blow to manufacturing, most of which comprised of union jobs, came in 1994, when President Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), resulting in the loss of 682,900 manufacturing jobs. Then, in 2004, President Bush signed the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), from which followed the closing of 40,000 manufacturing plants. According to the National Association of Manufacturing (Nam.org), the U.S. claimed 19.5 million manufacturing jobs in 1979 and 17.2 million today, but union jobs in that sector is down to 9.6% today, from 24.1% in 1979.

More recent efforts to weaken unions and eliminate collective bargaining abilities have occurred in various states, through the “Right to Work” legislation that is now the law in 25 states. This legislation dilutes unions by forcing them to represent and defend non-union employees in labor disputes and even allows those nonmembers to sue the union if theyare dissatisfied with their representation. Other laws have been inserted into the bargaining process to make it more difficult for unions to represent members. For example, a law now requires employees to prove their individual support for their bargaining representative before collective bargaining can begin. This not only slows the process, but it contributes to additional and early conflict among members even before the negotiating can begin.

Prominent Economists Support Strong Unions

According to many economists, the loss of strong, unionized workers hurts business and the economy in the long run. A statement signed by forty prominent economists on February 25th, 2013, called for businesses to help restore unions and cited studies showing that businesses with union employees are no more likely to fail than those with non-union workers. In fact, dedicated, better-trained and well-paid union workers have a greater stake in a company, which helps stabilize businesses, particularly in a recession.

UnionStrikeFurthermore, it is misguided for businesses to view employees as adversarial, when all parties benefit from a profitable company and collaboration. The only businesses that benefit from an adversarial relationship are the vulture capitalists, who profit from using their vast wealth to buy successful businesses, leverage their assets by acquiring debt and then file bankruptcy, reaping great capital gains for themselves, but leaving the carcass of the once thriving business and workers in the dust.

Years of favoring such practices have left a tremendous tear in our economic fabric. The middle-class has been beaten down by wrong-headed policies and their struggle just to survive is evident in the country’s overall decline in competitive innovation and economic standing. They have been burdened by a Federal and corporate income tax structure that favors the ultra-rich and corporations. The deregulation of banking and Wall Street crushed middle-class retirement savings and the value of their homes. But the middle-class has the power to reverse these harmful policies, stop the cyclical recessions, help restore our economy and strengthen our global, competitive strength. When more Americans are well paid and have job security, they stimulate the economy through increased local spending.

Signs of Unions’ Sprouting Rebirth

There was a time in this country when labor was recognized as the driving force behind capitalism, from which grew the great middle class that built this country on “American ingenuity,” making the U.S. the king of industry and innovation. Written into the National Labor Relations’ Act of 1935, was the recognition that business benefits and protects itself “from injury, impairment, or interruption…by encouraging practices fundamental to the friendly adjustment of industrial disputes arising out of differences as to wages, hours, or other working conditions and by restoring equality of bargaining power between employees and employers.”

There are some hopeful signs that there may be a restored interest in unionizing workers. The “Occupy Wall Street” movement of 2011 demonstrated the need for people to unite in shared economic interests. UnionOccupyAnd the recent protests for better wages by fast-food workers are showing younger and unskilled workers that there is power in the collective. The “Employee Free Choice Act,” which simply allows workers the choice to organize a union through a simple majority, is catching on, too. And, finally, the Affordable Care Act is the first legislation that begins to unchain employers from providing medical insurance to employees, thereby equalizing labor costs with other industrialized countries. The odds are still stacked against workers, but there may be a glimmer of hope that the U.S. will be on the leading edge again. And global competitive factors may force these changes sooner than we may think.

T Is For Television #atozchallenge

I can give up a lot of comforts but not TV. Television has been the backdrop of my life growing up an only child to necessary chatter when I am working around the house. It’s on now. Even though the on-line options for watching shows have changed television viewing for most, including me, there’s nothing like having on that boob tube. It is the backdrop and soundtrack of my life. I confess my TV is my sleep aid, too. Find me an old, familiar show and my mind can settle into slumber.

And, yes, I watched a lot of TV as a kid. Mom didn’t make it my babysitter but I wasn’t restricted, either. As an only child, I learned a lot about life, sibling dynamics and the world from TV. Besides the PBS children’s fare, sitcoms showed me how different families interact and I can still recite commercials from back in the day. I can’t imagine how I would be today without TV.

I know a few people who do not own a television. (I have seven throughout my house, including one in my bathroom.) Now, I have an advanced degree and varied interests. But I love sharing that commonality of TV with friends. When I find out someone is a fan of “The Sopranos,” “Break Bad” or “Mad Men,” I know they appreciate good writing, acting and editing. It’s a wonderful diversion and great conversation.

Sitcoms alone are like my extended family. From the Bradys, the Bundys and the Ricardos, to Roseanne and Dan Conner, Rob and Laura Petrie, Frasier, Niles and Martin Crane and Jerry, Elaine, George anTelevisionLucyd Kramer, these characters are my friends – including Friends! I make no apologies. TV is a free, clean diversion from our busy lives. It brings joy and connects us. It’s relatable. If I say, “VItameatavegamin”, most know I am referring to the classic “I Love Lucy” episode. People born after Lucille Ball died know her. It’s Americana. If I say, “No soup for you!” or “Are you master of your domain?” or “Yadda, yadda, yadda,” almost everyone knows these lines are from “Seinfeld.”

Sitcomsfordays

And when I need a good belly laugh, I can hit YouTube for something in my memory bank like this:

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Roz

Cracks me up every time!

So take my smart phone, if you must. Take my coffee maker. I’ll get by. But keep your hands off that remote!

S Is For Suppression #atozchallenge

When some politicians and citizens talk about wanting to take back America, I know some mean specifically from our first African-American president. But for the rest who make this acclimation, since they are almost always white men, I believe what these folks really want is to go back a lot farther in time to a post World War II era or even before the Civil War because those were times when white men dominated unquestionably. If they could just suppress the rest of us again, it would be easier for them, like in the good old days.

I like to study old movies and television for the changes in attitudes toward various classes. It’s pretty shocking sometimes to see how blind we were to bigotry. I wouldn’t want to go back where women had to marry for economic survival, people of color had little chance for educational or professional advancement, people in the LGBT community lived in constant, mortal fear of being outed or people with disabilities simply fell through the cracks.

But I can see how it was simpler when everyone knew their place and different groups kept to themselves. Most had fewer choices but, by playing by society’s rules, one had a degree of certainty in life. Any choice outside the norm automatically marginalized you from association within the acceptable constraints. And white guys with a certain level of social status could be C students and still rise to CEO and even President. But when we began to raise more boats, and expand legal and social protections and college education for lower-income people, women and minorities, it diversified society and our options. More minorities could be all sorts of professionals with advanced degrees, women could remain single, financially independent or even become mothers without being shunned and LGBT citizens could be out, if not fully protected.

I can even see why, if I were a white male, I would like to take it back to a time when I didn’t have to compete with everybody or had the upper hand on other groups. I even understand how scary it might feel to lose that. I just wish those who would like to suppress the rest of us back to 1960 would be a bit more realistic about those not so good, old days.

Mad Men, the drama set in the 1960s, does a brilliant job pointing out the challenges of that Post World War II era. As a single, white female, I can feel that particular restriction the women characters experience as they navigate and conform to avoid ostracization. In the first season, the new girl is taken to a doctor for birth control because it is expected she will sleep with the married men, if the men want it. The divorced woman, or “the divorcee,” is looked upon with suspicion as a “man stealer” by the wives and as a dangerous seductress by the husbands. And in the workplace, the women endure the accepted sexist treatment, which makes being taken seriously about anything an arduous task.

MadMen

Mad Men depicts what it was like for other groups, too, or anyone different from the Anglo male, whether it is someone from Italian or Jewish heritage, the LGBT community, African Americans, the differently able, those divorced, and then had the nerve to speak out of line, be at all aggressive or otherwise behave restlessly in their place,

While it’s not like it was in 1960, there are still enough Neanderthals who wish it were. Since I am a single, white female, I can speak authoritatively from that perspective. I know that feeling of being minimized in words or actions for no other reason than because of my gender. As much as I have had to endure, there is no way I would go back and have to suppress my intellect, independence, humor, style or sexuality As she often does, Gloria Steinem said it best describing the way it still is for our gender. “Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That’s their natural and first weapon.”

We needn’t look any further to see where the haters are headed since Hillary Clinton announced her presidential candidacy. Has anyone else noticed this is the first presidential candidate who is called my her first name, exclusively? Even George W. Bush was called Bush 41 and “W,” but Mrs. Clinton is Hillary. Now she doesn’t mind because she been navigating through hate for decades and she’s tough. Still, it’s a double standard.

Since her announcement last week, the topic of sexism has gained prominence. Days following her announcement, I tweeted when the #EverydaySexism hashtag was trending and I struck a nerve with the tweet because I got the most favorites, retweets and followers from this one than any other to date:

#EverydaySexism when male coworkers simply ramp up name calling, sexual innuendo if I give better retorts. #CantWin #MadonnaOrWhore”

I think it resonated for many because it’s a truth many of us have lived. The tweet was inspired by years of sexual harassment in the workplace. Yes, it still happens. If I were not female, not single and, in this case, not straight, I would not have faced this treatment. I am not sharing this because I feel like a victim. And it wouldn’t have bothered me if I could have given them my comebacks! But I couldn’t. It’s just reality. I was working in a male dominated setting where I was called a whore by one man every day. “Hi, whore,” was his daily greeting with a full-on grin. And it got old fast when every single time I turned down a meat dish someone brought to share (because I am a vegan), some guy would chime in that I wouldn’t turn down all meat. I never socialized with these men, I was more educated, better dressed and conducted myself as a professional. But I had to build cooperation with these guys so I had no choice but to take it or quit. I had much funnier comebacks but could never say them. Why? Because, as the tweet says, they would turn on me, ramp up the harassment and stop collaborating with me.

What were my unspoken retorts to the sexist men, you may ask? To the, “She’ll eat some meat,” my response was, “Yes, just not dead, aging flesh that rots unless chilled,” You’re right, but only if measures up to my standards,” or, “Yes, if hasn’t been separated from a heart and soul.” I had dozens of lines about the inadequacies of guys who, in this scenario, took a job where they strapped a phallic symbol to their leg, but I’m going to stop here for my personal safety.

R Is For Carl Reiner #atozchallenge

Carl Reiner is an American treasure. With a comedy career stretching into it’s eighth decade, where do I begin? First, if you are over six years old and do not know who he is, you have already missed out on added joy in your life. Carl Reiner is one of the inventors of sketch comedy and TV sitcoms. His television presence goes back to the first black and white glimmers in American living rooms as a costar on arguably the most golden show of TV’s “Golden Age,” Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, in which he was part of the comedy gold ensemble with Caesar and Imogene Coca, as a writer and actor. He also created and starred in The Dick Van Dyke Show, still my favorite sitcom. If you have seen it, you might know him as Alan Brady, the arrogant and egotistical star of the fictional show for which Van Dyke’s character writes.

Fast forward to this century and you might know Carl Reiner from Ocean’s Eleven, as the older guy with the “medical event.” He just published his latest book, “I Just Remembered,” and has done the book tour, appearing on Conan, CBS Sunday Morning and Bill Maher. At ninety-five there is not only no slowing down for him, he is as relevant and funny as ever. I follow him on Twitter, although his wit may go over some troll heads. A mind like his is rare and a delightful journey every time he appears. Here he is on Conan, where he coins a new social media term, the selfishie:

If you know what’s good for you, you will follow him on twitter @carlreiner. Here are some of his recent tweets:

Watching the Oscars, I was once again happy, as I was last year, not to hear my name read in memorial.”

If won uses two many homonyms, don’t ewe think it ‘s a might child dish? Eye due and sew should ewe. “

Went to 4 yard sales & not 1 owner would sell me his yard but all wanted me to buy the junk that was in it.”

If Dr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) could not find a way to stay, what chance have we earthlings? “May flights of angels sing him to his rest.'”

Excited to report that the brilliant & witty Bill Maher has agreed to a write a preface for my new bio. Wanted Mark Twain. but unavailable.”

I thoroughly enjoy everything about this man but for me, Carl Reiner’s greatest contribution is the Dick Van Dyke Show. It’s smart, sophisticated and, thanks to Dick Van Dyke, brilliant physical comedy, a template for all future sitcoms. The writing and timing is so impeccable, it’s as funny the first time I see it as it is the fiftieth time. Reiner created and wrote the show, which is based on his real life. The characters bloom with realism and it’s that honesty in the humor of every-day life and the brilliant dialogue that are still so damn funny today.

Besides creating and writing the show Reiner occasionally appeared as Alan Brady, a star of the fictitious Alan Brady Show. In this link, his head writer’s wife, played by Mary Tyler Moore, comes to apologize to him for revealing his baldness on network TV. The comedy timing is incomparable.

Here's the Dick Van Dyke scene where Carl Reiner as Alan Brady deals with having is baldness revealed on national TV:
Click link above to watch the Dick Van Dyke scene where Reiner, as Alan Brady, deals with his baldness exposed:

Please indulge me a bit more with sharing a couple of my favorite scene from Dick Van Dyke. I know you have ninety-five years of brilliance, Mr. Reiner, but this is President Obama’s and my favorite show. Frankly, most episodes are just too good for a snippet and are worth watching in their entirety. But I edited a few hilarious scenes of Van Dyke’s physical comedy that stand alone well:

DVDDon'tTripOvertheMontain

Don’t Trip Over That Mountain” (where Rob sprains his entire body and tries to conceal it from Laura)

DVDMyHusbandIsNoADrunk

My Husband Is Not A Drunk,” in which Rob is unwittingly hypnotized to go from drunk to sober every time a bell rings.

DVDLaura

Pink Pills and Purple Parents,? a flashback to when Laura first met Rob’s parents and takes a few too many tranquilizers to help her cope.

Carl Reiner deserves this blog post all to his own but he would disagree and remind me I would be remiss not to mention his son is Rob Reiner, director of “This Is Spinal Tap,” “Stand By Me,” “A Few Good Men” and “When Harry Met Sally,” in which his wife Estelle Reiner said the famous, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Carl will fight me again for not mentioning how he and Mel Brooks still have diner together every night, being best friends of more than six decades and now both widowers.

I could obsess about this post more than any other because I respect this man that much.But it’s “R” in the April blog a day challenge and I’m tired! Carl Reiner, you inspire me to write better, see the funny, take risks and get up every day just in case.