My Next Life as a Cat

If the Buddhists are right about reincarnation, then we all live many lifetimes on our way (one hopes) to spiritual perfection.  Some of those lifetimes are human, some animal, and some even insect.  If I get a choice in this process, I want to come back next time as a cat.  Of course, I want to be a cat that lives with people who call themselves “pet parents” (so long as they don’t dress me in undignified costumes).  Being a cat otherwise probably would be interesting, but I might as well be comfortable, if I have any say in the matter.

This lifetime as a cat that I’m fantasizing, would be a sort of “r and r,” rest and relaxation, from being a human living in the world created by human rules, assumptions, opinions, and beliefs.  Mark Twain once pointed out that cats are completely indifferent to the principled and moral constraints of human civilization.  Humans may think it’s terrible when cats have loud amorous encounters in the alley, but cats aren’t troubled by human opinions.  That’s why I want to be a cat, not so much to be pampered as to have a cat attitude—cattitude, if you will.  What I’m really looking forward to are the behaviors and attitudes toward life a cat enjoys or gets away with just because she is a cat.

As a cat I could exercise my curiosity without seeming intrusively nosey.  “That cat is always following me!”  Of course, the “always” probably refers to trips to the kitchen or the bathroom.  Following a person with opposable thumbs into a kitchen with a cabinet full of food seems obvious.  The bathroom is less obvious, but, as a cat, I’m sure I would discover the appeal.

In spite of their size, cats think they own whatever their paws can reach, which is pretty much everything, including a human’s dinner.  Unlike dogs, however, cats rarely beg.  They expect you to surrender some of your dinner peacefully.  And if you don’t?  Well, expect the unexpected.

However, as a cat, I can be a finicky eater, putting my nose in the air if I don’t like what I’m being served.  “Poor kitty.”  My pet parent would rummage in the fridge for something tastier or perhaps even serve me something from his own dinner instead.  Human beings might indulge their children that way, or they might decide the child needs to learn a lesson about frugality and being satisfied with what one is served.  Some cats seem to be willing to starve rather than lower their standards.  Consider how much care a pet parent might put into finding the cat food that meets my tastes.  That person might get exasperated, but she can’t treat me like a human adult or child who should “know” such demands are unreasonable.  I’m just a cat.

As a cat, my finicky behavior can extend to other situations.  For example, I won’t have to socialize if I don’t want to.  I can retire to the cozy dark under the bed and not have to make polite conversation with people I don’t particularly want to be around.  Being a cat would be an introvert’s dream!  If kitty doesn’t want to come out and greet guests, well, she’s just being a cat.   And I wouldn’t be worried about what anyone else thinks of my appearance.  Yes, cats groom themselves frequently, but it seems to be more for their own comfort than for the approval of anyone else.

Not that cats don’t want attention.  Why else do they sit on the newspaper or book you’re reading or stretch themselves across the keyboard you’re typing on?  Cats want attention but pretend not to.  In their view, they’re thoughtfully giving you a break by sitting on your paperwork.  This interruption from a cat is considered charming.  In a human being it would be infuriating or disturbingly neurotic.

Being a cat, I would be expected to sleep 16 or more hours a day.  My only movements for hours on end might be to follow a spot of sunlight from one side of the room to the other.  A human who did that would be criticized or despaired of as having no work ethic, no sense of purpose in life.  Whereas sleeping 16 hours a day is part of the known purpose of a cat’s life.

Speaking of purpose, as a cat, I could practice “pure” science, that is, scientific pursuit just for the knowledge it provides.  Human beings rarely get to do that.  They have to be seeking something useful, like developing a product or solving some sort of problem.  However, cats can test thrust and gravity for the sheer pleasure of observing what happens when they knock pen caps and other objects off desks and counters.

For all that cats seem to be self-focused, they also seem free of the socio-cultural complexity that binds human beings.  As the poet Wordsworth said about the materialistic part of that complexity, “The world is too much with us; late and soon,/Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.”  Cats don’t spend, they are spent on, even when indifferent.  A cat may seem demanding but he or she can be happily satisfied with a cardboard box to play in.  A cat values the basics, like food, comfort, affection, and a little entertainment.  Cats are literally and metaphorically light on their feet.  Gravity seems to pull down on humans harder.

Yes, I could look forward to being a cat—except for that part about horking up hairballs.


Hot Lead

Paperweights aren’t nearly as necessary as they were back when windows had to be left open to catch any breeze or when heavy, brass-bladed desk fans were the only source of cooling.  Those days were mostly before my time, but I do have a small collection of paperweights.  Most of them I consider artworks; they are made of blown glass imbedded with millefiore or whorls of color and iridescence.  It’s a modest collection.  However, one paperweight looks merely functional.  It is a small lead ingot, about three inches long, with slanted sides and a flat top imprinted with what seem to be random letters.  And, yet, I value it greatly.  The ingot was given to me by the city editor of the small daily newspaper where I worked when I was in my twenties.

The editor rescued the ingots on the day the scrap people came to take away the old linotype machines gathering dust in a corner of the composing room.  She gave an ingot to each reporter in the newsroom to mark the passage of an era.  The ingot has become more symbolically important to me over time.

Before linotype machines were invented in the 1880s, type was set by hand, letter by letter, on a composing stick.  The innovation of the linotype was that it used a keyboard to set lines of matrices or molds into which molten lead was poured from a burner on the machine to form a line, or slug, of type.  Although this sounds cumbersome—and the machine itself was a hulking beast—the linotype increased the speed at which type could be set.  Used in some form for nearly a hundred years, it permitted the growth of the modern newspaper.  At the risk of sounding like an old coot, I suspect young people today have as much difficulty appreciating printed newspapers as I had appreciating the linotype machine back when I was a young reporter.

Today, surrounded by electronic communication media, we are constantly threatened with information overload.  We find it hard to appreciate what newspapers and printing have meant in human history.  Suffice it to say that a person with a printing press was once a political (and sometimes theological) force.

Hollywood saw the romanticism of “a man with a printing press”* and eventual crusading editors and reporters, putting them at the center of a number of films.  These famously include Deadline, USA (1952) with Humphrey Bogart facing down the mob and All the President’s Men (1976), dramatizing the Watergate scandal (newly relevant again).  More recently, Spotlight (2015) falls into the category of films about investigative, revelatory journalism.

Of course, a person with a printing press isn’t always or necessarily a social good.  A small town weekly newspaper in the region covered by the daily I worked for was owned at that time by a man who was a curmudgeon and a bit of a crank.  He was always looking for a fight, sure that he was right and anyone who got crosswise with him was wrong.   He obviously relished writing his weekly editorials and sometimes printed scathing articles on the front page.  Locals seemed to take him with a grain of salt and read his newspaper for what they had always read it for: births, deaths, marriages, police and fire reports, news about the school board, city council, sewer improvements, church luncheons, women’s club events, Rotary Club meetings, and county fair results.

Not very many years after I moved on to a different career path, newspapers fell on hard times.  The mid-sized city where I live now has a paper that, back in the day, considered itself the dominant news source for a good chunk of the state.  Now it’s a pathetic shadow of its former glory and not much more than a “penny-saver” paper published for the ads.  Some say the Internet killed newspapers, but papers were already in trouble, the victims of media corporation buyouts and “business plans.”  The new owners who swept through the region looked at the newspaper as a source of profit rather than a voice for the community.  From a purely business point of view, the money-making part of the newspaper is advertising.  The news is just a vehicle.  So, according to that logic, the areas that can be trimmed are the news departments.  The local newspaper began, literally, to shrink in size.  A smaller paper meant less personnel.  The news photographers went first, then correspondents, then section editors and their reporters, and eventually even the majority of “city” reporters and news writers.  The local paper now operates with a skeleton news staff and complains that the community doesn’t support it.  I would say that the reverse is true.

Is the Internet a viable replacement?  Through the Internet, we can be inundated by information. But the Internet is also inadequate to the needs of communities still hungry for news about themselves.  My husband and I finally let the paper subscription go when the circulation department tried to raise our rates to pay for the online version of the paper we didn’t read.  Now, we get some local news online but just don’t read much about our community at all.  As locals say in the coffee shops, what this town needs is a good newspaper.  Indeed, small town dailies and weeklies do pretty well for themselves.  It’s the midsized cities’ and metropolitan newspapers that have suffered the most.  Big dailies have hung on, although sometimes just barely.  Ironically, in the torrent of information through electronic sources, we miss solid, flesh and bone community.

At least the newspaper—or news source—as a mover in society isn’t completely dead yet.  The corruption, mendacity, and attempted authoritarianism of our country’s current president seem to have revitalized some of the bigger newspapers and media outlets to dig in and start doing some real investigative reporting.

My lead ingot is a paperweight in a society that talks about going paperless.  But paperless doesn’t have to mean purposeless.


*For a timely article about a woman with a printing press, follow this link:


Human life is full of little ironies.  For example, one hot area for collectors is ephemera, things we produce that aren’t meant to last, like calendars, tickets, magazines, and posters.  Because these things are meant to be used and thrown away, what survives becomes valuable.   Usually these items are paper, but they can also include bits of film or video or even advertising items, like plastic whistles or the metal “cricket” clickers given away with Pol Parrot shoes when I was a little kid.

Another irony that fascinates me is The Cloud and other amorphous computer storage places.  If you have a smart phone, at some point you’ve probably thought or said that it contains “my life,” like your mother’s phone number, your grocery list, the date of your next dentist appointment, fitness records, email, texts, and a dozen apps that keep you entertained.  If you’re like me, you shiver with dread at the thought of losing or dropping it.  For that reason, you may “sync” your phone with your home computer or back up the information on The Cloud.  In fact, you may back up all your computer data on The Cloud.  Our treasured electronic devices are fallible, after all.

Ironically, The Cloud is, itself, merely an electronic device, an array of computer servers somewhere, consisting of diodes and circuit boards, with wires hanging off the back.  Although the industry depends on redundancy to keep running, all the machinery is merely machinery and just as susceptible to flood, fire, insect infestations, human error, and natural and man-made disasters.  It is all also susceptible to business failures and power outages that can be permanent.  Even though we intend to keep the details of our lives, the medium in which we keep them is by its nature ephemeral.

Perhaps, in the cosmic view of things, this transition from paper records to ephemeral electricity is a good thing.  All life is transitory.  After all, human history and the brief lives of mayflies (genus Ephemera) are different only in matters of scale.  In one sense, humanity has been preparing to disappear for millennia.  We’ve gone from writing on stone and clay tablets to writing on paper and now to zeroes and ones in the wiring of big black boxes.  No new iteration of humanity or potential intelligent species is going to stumble upon our banks of computers a thousand years from now and devote years of scholarship to deciphering what is written there, because nothing is written there.  It is encoded and requires wiring that lasts a thousand years plus knowledge of specific electronic manipulation to even be available for decoding.

But we don’t have to wait for a thousand years for bits of the future-past to disappear.  While we might feel blushing amazement still to find and read the love letters grandpa and grandma wrote 60 years ago, the love notes we might write on email or the limited characters of Twitter have already disappeared, never to be seen by wondering grandchildren decades from now.

Maybe it doesn’t matter, because our grandchildren’s Internet-influenced attention spans will be shot to heck anyway.

Do Porpoises “Write” Poetry?

Porpoises and close kin dolphins may be a lot smarter than we give them credit for.  Recently, researchers have discovered that, when dolphins encounter a stranger of their species, they introduce themselves with a greeting that appears to consist of their own distinct names and other information.*  That is amazing for many reasons, such as that they have the self-awareness to identify themselves as individuals and that they have social protocols similar to our own.  Although researchers are hesitant to call the structured dolphin whistles language, these sounds do seem to convey fairly complex meaning.  Just how like us are the dolphins, and what questions about them reignite questions we ask about ourselves?  Could they construct poems?  Are they motivated to?

The question about porpoises writing poetry came up in a discussion of imagery at another blog,).  I was caught by the question and wondered how it applied to humans and poetry.  I think it is far too early in our understanding of our ocean cousins to be concerned with dolphinian poetry, but it does raise the old question about why they or we would write poetry to begin with.  (I’m using the word “write” metaphorically, of course.)

Poetry can be a fraught topic.  Students often dread studying it, while poets and academics complain that too few people read poetry.  Nevertheless, amateurs write rhyming stanzas for family reunions and retirement parties.  Teens and young adults, in particular, write free verse describing their angst.  Purists deplore retirement party poetry and angst-poetry as travesty, claiming it diminishes all poetry by being just plain bad.  There’s a disconnect about motivation in that complaint.

Many years of education have taught me that poetry is based on economy, community, memory, emotion, and what I’ll call grounding.  Poetry began in oral culture, when people could pass along stories and ideas only by memorizing them in some form.  The appealing rhythms and structural devices of poetry, such as rhyme, made the stories and ideas easier to remember, as well as adding something similar to musical pleasure.  Because poetry had to be memorized, it depended on economy, or packing as much information and feeling as possible into as few words as possible.  That economy was largely accomplished by calling on community memory through references to other poems, mythology, and well-known events as well as through symbols and images.  Imagery and metaphor have the advantage of touching us viscerally and grounding us in our environment.  If we speak of autumn leaves falling, we can call up physical memory, sadness about or fear of winter (which also calls up the idea of death), and personal experiences of autumn and winter or the ideas they represent.  Over thousands of years and through the invention of writing, poetry has become refined into a variety of conventions and forms, as well as processes of economy and enrichment.

Often, for students, all this becomes merely a puzzle they lack the life-experience and motivation to solve.  Sometimes we try to compensate for the life-experience with footnotes, but we do little to encourage the motivation to read poetry.

I have a theory about writing and reading.  It is that our first natural desire is expression, followed closely by the knowledge-seeking of reading.  This means that writing or forming language to communicate is our first impulse, so why shouldn’t that apply to poetry as well?  What if we taught the economy and elements of poetry—even at the college level—mainly as tools of expression rather than only reception or knowledge-making?

I can tell you what would happen, because I’ve tried it.  You would get lots of bad poetry.  But, so what?  It’s like the ridiculous comic paradox: you can’t go in the water until you know how to swim.  All expressive experience with language gradually makes us better speakers and writers of language.  Why not of poetry as well?

Encouraging people and giving them the tools to write poetry would have the added health advantage of helping them refine experience and emotion.  A former colleague who is a biologist once told me that, after he would write up his field research for potential publication in a science journal, he would sit down and write a poem about it in order to express the wonder and other emotions he experienced.  Although he didn’t intend to share his poetry, doing this helped him understand his reactions as he tried to reshape them into the economy and grace of poetic language.

So, do porpoises write poetry?  If they have language and the desire to express and remember their life experience, then my guess is they do.  When you think about it, it’s natural.

*“Bottlenose dolphins appear to engage in formal greeting ceremonies while at sea.  The ceremonies involve exchanges of signature whistles, which likely contain information such as name, sex, age, health status, intent and more.”

** Memoirs of a Husk, in a post titled, “If a Picture Paints a Thousand Words” (

Why Not Funny-Ha-Ha?


“Depression is a funny beast.”

I wrote that sentence at the top of a clean page in my writing-ideas journal.  But I hesitated and then added “not funny-ha-ha.”  I was trying to keep my train of thought going, but the train had already jumped the rails.

I was hung up on “funny.”

One way or another, words have been my business for many years, so finding the right word to describe or express something is almost a compulsion.  The first replacements that came to mind were “strange” or “odd,” but those words imply a context of normalcy in which other things aren’t strange or odd.  What would that context be for depression?  Daily life, states of mind, mental illnesses?  Clearly, I was on the wrong track.  I kept trying.  Depression is an interesting beast?  Too neutral and not what I wanted to say.  A surprising beast?  Closer, but the connotation is too positive.  An intriguing beast?  Not personal or emotional enough.  A disturbing beast?  Too emotional.  Other than funny, what kind of beast is depression? Gogo and Didi2

I tried to change the sentence completely, asking myself even if “beast” was the term I was looking for.  Actually, “beast“ works pretty well, both as a potential reference to something dumb and ox-like or possibly to something metaphorically demonic, such as an incubus or succubus.  (There’s truth to the titular metaphor in Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.)  I couldn’t let the sentence go, so I tried a different tactic.  Why was the word “funny” the first (and seemingly most effective) word I could come up with?  What did I mean by “not funny-ha-ha”?

At first glance, “not funny-ha-ha” would seem to be the opposite of “funny,” right?  So, if funny means amusing or laughter-provoking, “not funny-ha-ha” should mean something like “serious.”  Then is depression a serious beast?  Yes and no.  Depression is certainly serious, but that isn’t the idea I wanted to explore.  Why funny/not funny?

Theories of humor and laughter are surprisingly complex, or perhaps have been construed as complex by the scholars and philosophers who study humor and laughter.  For years I taught a course on “The Politics of Comedy,” which was about humor and comedy as an assertion of power in drama.  Preparing that course, I learned that the three most dominant theories of comedy and laughter are Incongruity, Superiority, and Release.  Other theories abound, but they don’t have the historical weight of these three.

Fifth-century B.C. all-star Aristotle said we laugh at people who are inferior, weak, or ugly because we get a kick out of feeling superior.  That’s Superiority Theory.  People who favor Release Theory, which is about laughter as the release of tension, might say that laughing at others is really about the anxiety we feel that others will see us as the inferior, weak, or ugly butt of the joke.  Sigmund Freud pretty much agreed but saw laughter mainly as a release of physical tension, which, of course, he assumed was fundamentally sexual tension.

Our first experience of funny in life is likely incongruity-type laughter when we are toddlers.  Little kids think potty humor is hilarious because they have been taught that talking about such things is taboo or definitely not approved by mom and dad.  By the time people hit their teens and early twenties, potty jokes have morphed into or expanded to include sex jokes, which some people never outgrow.

A mechanistic theory of humor seems to be a variation on incongruity.  One ancient and still common example of mechanistic incongruity is the annoying consistency of common human traits, such as being persistently boastful, flirtatious, self-centered, or foolish.  Socrates, via Plato, said that the ridiculous is characterized by self-ignorance, a human trait that always causes trouble.  Think of a few sit-com characters on television, and chances are they’ll represent common types of human frailty.  What makes Homer Simpson funny is the persistent selfishness and foolishness of the character.  His behavior is predictable (mechanical) but all too human.  And that contradiction brings up the issue of irony.

Early Twentieth Century French philosopher Henri Bergson explained funny as something mechanical imposed on the living.  One appropriately French example is Jaques Tati’s film Mon Oncle (1958) which contrasts what Tati saw as the rigidity and sterility of Modernism with the fluidity and fallibility of human life.  The rumpled, bumbling main character Mr. Hulot seems out of place in the busy, angular, sleekly modern world he lives in.  But we understand Tati’s film is ironic, and that it is Modernism that is inhuman and out of place in the larger context of a natural, unpredictable, lively world.

The inversion, contrariness, or intentional understatement of irony certainly inclines to humor and laughter.  By the word funny, do I mean, then, that depression is ironic?  Maybe, but not exactly.

Perhaps the most common “use” of laughter, in my opinion, is to bring something down to size.  Laughter or making fun of something is a means of managing our emotions or restoring order to a chaotic or threatening situation.  We mock an abusive boss or teacher (out of his hearing) in order to reclaim our sense of dignity and equality.  Or, more negatively, we may bully someone by belittling them and laughing at them in order to establish our superiority and control.  Funny isn’t always nice.

Stage comedy, from Aristophanes to the present, often depends on either gentle or biting satire, which mocks people or behavior in order to correct those things.  Let’s face it, we like correcting other people.  British philosopher Thomas Hobbs identified laughter as “sudden glory” at the failure or fall of someone else.  Therefore, is my supposed insight about funny depression the “sudden glory” of putting it in its place?  Is calling depression funny a sarcastic put-down?



Depression is a funny beast.  In other people it may look like what we expect it to, or it may appear as if nothing is wrong at all.

I suspect most of us think we know more-or-less what depression is, even if we have no personal experience with it.  We probably would describe a depressed person as someone who is sad and perhaps lethargic.  If that person is a teenager, we may perceive him as moody or sullen, lazy, and “not working up to ability.”

But the actual experience of depression may or may not be any of that, from person to person and moment to moment.  It can be both inaction and impulsive action, time stretched out endlessly—and yet with the unbearable tension of a frayed rubberband.  It is cynicism, sadness, despair, self-hate, ennui, numbness, and perhaps suicidal ideation.  A depressed person can actually show moments of happiness, but at the same time be making a tremendous effort to keep going and seem “normal.”  This pleasure may be expressing gallows humor, black humor, or cosmic humor, but it may also be a genuinely happy moment.  Unfortunately, that moment can make the darkness seem darker.  While she is putting a good face on it, a depressed person may neglect friendships and family responsibilities, eroding the support system she needs so desperately.  Sometimes, depression looks like a happy-face mask, a constant but mindless smile.  For the sufferer, depression is like trying to walk normally underwater at the deep end of a pool.  And that person may not know just how deep underwater she is.

Gogo and Didi1
Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in Waiting for Godot*

When I first read Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in college, I absolutely did not see anything funny about it.  Talk about depressing!  But in performance, the play can be quite funny.  Gogo and Didi’s banter and physical comedy bits can be the brightness that makes the darkness darker.  I believe the laughter is necessary to the existential theme of the play.  Exploring similar themes, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead uses comical, even silly, wordplay in the context of something larger and darker than the characters can handle or even grasp.  The disquieted audience laughs.

One of the assignments I would give my students in that literature class was to find a joke they really like and then write an explanation of why it’s funny.  It was an unsettling assignment because, of course, explaining a joke sucks the funny right out of it.



This piece was published first on my second blog, Ten Minutes With a Friend.

From a Political Black Sheep: Baaaaa

In the past several years, ambitious parents-to-be have tried to enhance the developing brains of their babies in utero by playing classical music to them, sometimes through headphones placed on the mother’s belly. If this does indeed affect those developing brains, then my brain was shaped by my mother’s avid attention to the 1948 national political conventions. Long before yuppie parents bellied up to Mozart, my mother insisted I surely would be influenced by convention speeches I heard before birth during that steamy summer.

The 1948 Republican convention, June 21-25, and Democratic convention, July 12-14, were both held in Convention Hall, Philadelphia. Holding both conventions in Philadelphia allowed fledgling television networks NBC and CBS to broadcast the events to the east coast, using a cable system available only in that part of the country. Home television sets were not all that common, so most people listened to the conventions on radio. (Yes, I’m that old.) I was born on the day after the end of the Democratic convention, apparently waiting politely for my mother to get through both.

I suspect Mother didn’t give as close attention to the Democratic convention as she did the Republican, but the egalitarian experience in utero seems to have fired up enough liberal-option neural cells in my brain that, despite being steeped in my mother’s conservative views for the next 18 years, I developed progressive political views. This continues to horrify my mother, who often reminds me that I helped her canvas neighbors for Goldwater and was (briefly) a Young Republican.

The 1948 presidential election had some interesting features. Members of both parties attempted to recruit General Dwight Eisenhower, but he declined to get involved, at least for the time being. The Republican convention was relatively sedate, although three ballots were required to settle on running New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey for President.

The Democratic convention provided much more drama. In fact, the conflicts splintered Democrats into three parties, Progressives, Dixiecrats, and centrist Democrats, each of which ran a presidential candidate in the November election. Henry A. Wallace was the presidential candidate on the ballot for the Progressive Party, which was strong on the New Deal and certainly wouldn’t have run screaming for the bunkers if you called them “democratic socialists” –or worse. A number of southern Democrats walked out of the convention and left the party to form what became known as the Dixiecrats. They ran then South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond for President on a pro-segregation/pro-states’ rights platform. The Democrats that constituted the party after the split tepidly supported the incumbent, Harry Truman.

Because of this split and a disastrous midterm election two years before, no one expected Democrats to win—including Democrats. However, the pro-union and pro-civil rights Truman poured himself into campaigning, including a traditional whistle-stop tour across country by train. He aggressively went after Dewey, ridiculing him for avoiding the issues, while Dewey himself ran a campaign designed to attract all voters and offend none. By comparison, Truman’s campaign was sharply critical. He called the Republican-controlled Congress a “do-nothing” Congress, which sounds pretty familiar these days. Truman had nothing to lose, since he was unpopular and not polling well. In a publicly more civil era, he could afford a little bombast.

Republicans were sure they had Truman beat. Democrats were fairly sure they did, too. The press and what we now refer to as Washington Beltway insiders were convinced Dewey would win. The Chicago Tribune was so certain, they printed an early edition proclaiming “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Photos of a triumphant Truman holding up the front page of the newspaper are famous. This is what was going on the year I was born.Dewey Defeats Truman

Fairly early in my adulthood, I learned not to discuss politics with my mother. Alas, she hasn’t come to the same conclusion regarding me. She has no intention of allowing me to continue in the error of my ways. Even pushing 90, she is sure she can “win me back” to the right political philosophy and the right way of thinking about the world if she just hammers at me long enough. However, in my most recent conversation with her, she said she wouldn’t discuss politics. I suspect the respite is temporary and has something to do with blood pressure—hers and mine.

Although political opinions don’t seem to be hereditary, passionately held political opinions apparently are. I get just as wild-eyed and upset about politics as she does, only from the opposite side of the political divide. I blame my passionate political opinions on the drama I heard in utero—that or clear-headed, realistic thinking. One or the other.