Apr 19 2014

Redux: Easter…Sacred, Secular & Oh, So Sweet

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The original version of this piece was published on Easter, 2011. It remains one of my personal favorites for obvious reasons, but also because there’s just something about Easter that conjures up visceral, poignant memories that remain sweet… literally and figuratively! Please enjoy once again. And wishing a Happy Easter to all of you, however you and yours may spend the day! 

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When you grow up as one of eleven children (9 of them below) in a very observant Catholic family committed to the mandate of proper church participation for every holiday, and your family is run by a woman for whom holidays take on Biblical proportions (financial and time limitations be damned), you come away with an almost zealous sense of celebration – and a deep well of nostalgia – for the holidays spent in childhood.

Easter was always an odd holiday from my point of view. Unlike Christmas with its weeks of giddy build-up, its anticipatory range of activities and pomp all leading to the pinnacle day of excitement, Easter’s trajectory seemed a rather dour one, what with Lent and all its moping denial and the sense that we had to, once again, face the tortuous and inevitable death of our God’s Son (a sensitive youngster, this just cyclically broke my heart). I found all the suffering quite ponderous and from the more self-absorbed angle, Lent’s required deprivation (I typically gave up chocolate and some favored activity) felt punitive, my self-pity lessened only by the guilt induced when Mother would holler that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, I could “at least give up candy, for God’s sake!” Yes. I could. For God’s sake.

Good Friday for a Catholic child was quite simply the nadir of the holiday cycle, the darkest day on every sensory level, making its name, a misnomer, all the more confusing. First of all, this was the day Jesus died and the Stations of the Cross were de rigueur. Appropriately mournful with its bloody themes of that hateful gauntlet up to Calvary and the inevitable crucifixion to follow, the angst was further exacerbated by the hot, somber church packed with black-garbed believers, the droning, sleep-inducing priest, and the choking stench of incense (and I don’t mean the sweet kind that wafts through the aisles of gift shops…this stuff could asphyxiate a horse!). The long, arduous Good Friday Mass, preceded by a mandated confession in there somewhere, was also on the schedule. A whole lotta churchin’ goin’ on. I knew I was supposed to be pious but mostly my genuflecting knees hurt and there was nothing I wanted more than fresh air and a reprieve from all the suffering. That came the next day.

Holy Saturday was a somewhat undefined day that seemed mostly a palate cleanser between the darkness of Good Friday and the sweet triumph of Sunday to come. I have no specific memories of what we did on that day beyond copious ironing of new Easter finery and an enormous amount of high-tension prep for the baskets yet to be filled. When I was very young this was obviously done by my parents, though we were assured the quite capable Easter Bunny accomplished the basket task while we were sleeping (odd how E. Bunny and Santa followed the same playbook!). When I got older (Bunny fantasies dashed and reality clear on the horizon), I was relegated, as one of the “three big girls,” to join the assembly line in the secret room upstairs to help crank out those baskets, an assignment I actually enjoyed with its aesthetic demands of proper basket assemblage with its easy access to jelly beans and the forbidden chocolate (one day away, what did it matter?). If you’ve never seen the voluptuous beauty of twelve well-stocked Easter baskets (eleven kids and a big one for Mom and Dad) lined up on a table waiting for distribution to clever hiding places around the house, you have missed a seminal secular holiday experience on a grand scale.

And when Easter Sunday finally arrived with its messages of triumph and redemption, the flower-filled church and joyful noise emanating from the choir, we, in our new Easter best – bonnets, bunnies and all – marched en masse into our church filled with a true sense of belonging and a thrilled anticipation of the day to unfold. A very good memory.

Whatever my Mother may have gotten wrong as a parent, one of the things she got delightfully right was her contagious enthusiasm for the holidays, at least early on (things got exponentially more manic as she got older and there were so many more of us!). She had a joyful excitement and creative bent that contributed to making each of the holidays special and exciting for her eager children in the audience. Whether gathering us all to make homemade Valentine’s cards, sewing together some remarkably fashionable Halloween costumes or turning Easter into an exuberant rite of Spring, she did it up right and I remember many aspects of those celebrations to this day. For us kids growing up in a very traditional Catholic environment that too often chafed, confused or terrified, the mix my mother found between sacred and sweet was a balm, at least for me. The balance allowed us to both honor the holiday traditions of our faith, as well as revel in the secular celebrations to follow. That meant there was Jesus, Pontius Pilot, Church, Mass, Mary, prayers, rituals, hymnals, confession and incense, but there was also Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, presents, egg hunts, trick or treating, coconut lamb cakes, and Easter Pigs…(one year my father forgot to get the requisite stuffed bunnies to put in our baskets and my mother wildly sent him out to the store on Good Saturday night to right his wrong. Given the late hour and the proximity to Easter, all he could find were stuffed pigs and so he made the executive decision to bring them home. Though my mother was seriously horrified by this epic blunder, we loved our Easter pigs and it’s a story happily replayed whenever speaking of family Easters!).

So in my own son’s life, unbound by the tenets of organized religion and its weighty calendar of traditions and obligations, how did we celebrate the holidays grounded in Christian belief but now transmogrified into bona fide secular events? Like my mother, we got creative. My husband and I made sure our son knew the stories and traditions behind each holiday celebrated and we typically represent the sacred aspects as well as the secular. We have a beautiful crèche that is a beloved Christmas tradition and he knows the stories of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Though he will not grow up with a sense memory of knees rubbed raw by kneelers or a nose twitching in the haze of church incense, he understands the foundation behind the events and should he wish to religiously explore those further as an adult, he surely can.

For now, for Easter, he’ll remember raucous egg hunts, bountiful baskets, sweet cards, and loving family dinners. And once again, this year (his fourth away at school), we will gather the family on Easter Sunday, make a good meal together, fill a basket for our family’s youngest, and be sure to let him know he’s not forgotten (his basket went out UPS instead of E. Bunny). We will imbibe in good chocolate and cold champagne. We will share our memories of childhood Easters, start new memories for our newest members, and acknowledge the mystical, spiritual story behind the day. We will visit my crazy, creative, somewhat diminished mother and remind her of past extravaganzas with Easter Pigs, baskets hidden too well to find, and giggling children filled with jelly beans. It will be a good day, like all our Easters, sacred, secular and oh, so sweet.

All photos courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke

LDW ponders

Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contentlyher photos at Fine Art Americadetails and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.

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Mar 31 2014

Meet Jessiah Mellott: “My Generation: Postmodernism, Grey Morality & the Internet Age”

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I want to introduce you to a young writer whose perspective on his generation is well worth sharing, particularly with those convinced “nothing good happened after (fill in the blank)”… usually the years they grew up!

We are a world that loves to categorize its inhabitants… by ethnicity, nationality, politics, sexual orientation, age; even the years in which we were born. “Generations” are given actual names and defining characteristics and we rumble like Sharks and Jets over which one did what to the next and who gets to be called “the greatest” and it’s silliness, really. Whether aggrandizing or bashing a generic group based on their birth year (God knows I hate the never-ending anti-Boomer screeds!), the absurdity is in the fact that any group’s commonalities can be contradicted by its many exceptions. But still…

There’s no denying that all of us are – were – influenced by the life and times in which we grew up. We can’t help but be. The air we breath, the events we experience, the sense and sensibilities of the world we encounter affects us in those general, generational ways and, frankly, it behooves us all to pay attention to – and attempt to understand – the influences of those who came before and after.

Meet Jessiah Mellott. He’s 22-years-old, a smart, articulate English major with strong family ties who stands in sharp contrast to many of the JessiahMellottcurmudgeonly opinions of “kids today.” The Millennials – Jessiah’s generation – get everything from, “they’re all apathetic, lazy tech-addicts” to “they wouldn’t know good music if it hit them on their pot-addled heads,” but as with every cliché of every generation there are, oh, so many exceptions. Jessiah is certainly one of them.

Most of us tend to pay attention to our own peer groups, seldom extending that interest to what younger people have to say about life as they see it. Which is to our detriment. So when I read Jessiah’s very compelling essay about his Millennial era, one which he nicknames “the Silver Generation” for reasons he explains, I was so impressed by his sharp, analytical perspective I thought it would be educational – certainly illuminating – to share it with my readers, most of whom are a good deal older than Jessiah.

Because it’s one thing to allow media to define a generation; it’s another to get beyond stereotypes and preconceived ideas to avail oneself of the actual words and unfiltered views of someone from that generation. So take a few moments, if you would, to read the very thoughtful, humble, and insightful views of one young man who represents the best of what his generation has to offer:

My Generation: Postmodernism, Grey Morality and the Internet Age

by Jessiah Mellott

Grey is the most self-conscious color. It doesn’t know if it wants to absorb all the colors of the world or reject them completely. Grey is the color of indecision. My generation is the grey generation. Actually, we’re the Silver Generation. Silver’s more reflective. My generation is full of reflective indecision. Or indecisive reflection… Or. Whatever. We still speak in absolutes and hyperbole, like totally, but we are the most self-conscious generation in the history of the world. Trust me; I’m 22, I know everything. Or nothing. What did Socrates say again?

The Internet age and social media have taught us that there is no right and wrong, no good and bad. YouTube videos filled with cuddly kittens get thousands of “dislikes” and people like Soulja Boy and Lil B actually have fans. It’s not that my generation is stupid. Well… maybe a little. But every generation has bitter pundits and bad musicians. The difference is that they’re all visible now. Everyone gets to experience and voice their opinion on everything. The Internet age has forced the perspective of the subjective on us. Even writing this, I’m getting an uncomfortable, self-conscious itch. What if somebody who reads this actually likes Soulja Boy? Why do I think his music sucks? Who am I to judge? I guess I need to be more open-minded.

photo by Michelle Yates

My generation depends on this insecurity because we grew up in a world where postmodernism was already established. In order to understand my generation, we need to talk about its dependence on the generations that came before it. Our grandparents were the Baby Boomers, the most entitled, consumer-crazy generation in history. They grew up in a world full of change, and their modern Renaissance attitudes made it happen. But the Boomer’s growth went unchecked; they were too sure of themselves. They brought the world magical ATM’s and cell phones, and an unhealthy dose of technological dependency and mass pollution. Generation X, as my parents have been called, developed a conscience. They started to realize that what is right for the individual might not be right for the world. Once they questioned this whole notion of the progress of civilization, then the postmodern discourse really came into effect.

There’s no alternative for the Silvers. We are the combination of egocentric and self-conscious that our families raised us to be. We question everything, because everything is subjective. An advertisement selling us “The Perfect Shave” or an “Insanely Healthy Energy Drink” makes us laugh. We scorn the kid who comes out of the movie theater saying simply, “It was good.” Nothing is ever black or white in our world anymore. I saw Inception in theatres and came out thinking that it might be my second favorite movie of all time, and I didn’t give myself ten seconds to enjoy it. All I could do was pick at its flaws. Was it really good enough to deserve that much excitement?

Millennials in actionIf we are the generation of the self-conscious, the insecure, the postmodern, and the grey, then I think we’re also the generation of the empathetic. This is a tough argument to make, unfortunately. A lot of the Boomers and Xers would say the opposite. All our slacktivism and smiley face emoticons are cute, but they don’t actually involve real face-to-face emotional connections. We get mad when people call us when they could have just texted and we break up over Facebook because we’re too awkward to do it in person. This is a valid argument and I’m not going to deny that a small chunk of my generation is somewhat hopeless. One reason I’m studying to be an English teacher is my frustration at how socially acceptable semi-literacy has become. Outside of a college campus, reading a book has become a strange activity. We’re wasting the information superhighway on memes and Angry Birds, and our attention spans can only tolerate two and a half seconds of video buffering.

On the other hand, being globally connected has its benefits. The Silver Generation can’t help but be citizens of the world. Our grandparents were nationalists, and now we’re globalists. We travel more, consume more world culture, learn more about different lifestyles. My uncle emailed me about an African rap group (Daara J) and I got to check them out instantly. We are more accepting of race, religion, and sexual preference. We were a huge factor in getting the first black president elected, twice. According to USA Today, young people are volunteering for organizations like Teach For America and The Peace Corps in record numbers (Walton). We look at stories from multiple sources with the click of a button. We are in the middle of the golden age of documentary and there is not a single important global discourse that we don’t have access to (O’Hagan). The best part, though, is …

[Click HERE to continue reading.]



Jessiah Mellott is from Mendocino, California. He is about to receive his degree in English from Humboldt State University. Post graduation he plans on teaching in South Korea for a period of time, after which he’ll return home to earn his teaching certificate. His plan beyond that is to teach high school English, coach basketball, and follow in his dad’s footsteps by being the kind of teacher who inspires young people to work towards becoming better every day.


Group photo by Michelle Yates

“Millennials In Action” photo provided by JM

Jessiah Mellott photo provided by JM 

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Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contentlyher photos at Fine Art Americadetails and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.

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Mar 26 2014

Selfies, Phone Cameras, and the Etiquette of Photography

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I love cameras. I’ve had one most of my life and have always appreciated its facility in chronicling my best adventures in pictures, some of which I’ve had since childhood.  Now as a professional photographer viewing the art and craft of photography from an even more analytical perspective, I feel as attached to my beloved Canon as anyone could to any inanimate object. Its weight, its glass, its technical ease and brilliance that captures what my eye sees in ways that can take even my own breath away. I’ve traveled the world with it and regardless of time, place, or rugged terrain, it’s slung around my neck, at the ready to grab something unmissable. The wonders of photography are many and never-ending.

Then there’s phone cameras. Camera phones. Cell cameras. Whatever. Which have spawned the selfie. Those damned, ubiquitous selfies. The constant shooting and posting of phone photos taken from that oh-so-familiar “hand up in the air” POV that does odd things to most faces, is almost always horribly lit, and creates a visual world where everyone’s perspective ends at the length of their arm. Selfies have a certain detached, unconnected look about them (as opposed to photos in which a photographer and subject are communicating with each other), that often makes them soulless and self-conscious. Certainly they have their place (Ellen’s Oscar selfie that broke the Internet was all in good fun), but beyond the “fun” aspect, there’s something narcissistic about the incessant posting and reposting of these images, to the point that it seems no one exists and nothing can happen without someone slapping it up on Facebook. Or maybe that is the fear: did it happen, do I exist, am I pretty enough, am I even seen much less pretty enough if my selfie, my profile pics, my endless supply of face-shots, are not posted on social media? It’s exhausting being young sometimes…


I remember having a similar youthful fixation on my looks, my hair, my clothes, my ass; always ready to catch a glimpse in a mirror or window, checking the status of various body parts and sartorial accoutrement as I walked into a room or down a street sure that everyone was profoundly interested in ME… what I looked like, how cute I was, if I was flirt-worthy. Of course, back when I was that kind of young we didn’t have phone cameras (thank God!) and the idea of taking pictures of oneself with a small 35mm was ridiculous. Unless you meant to be ridiculous or you were taking a self-portrait in lieu of new head shots you couldn’t afford (of course that never worked). Youth, presumably because of its evolutionary urge to procreate, is fixated on appearing and being seen as attractive, so the fundamental need to exert oneself in putting forth that image, and making sure everyone else notices, is understandable. If we’d had Facebook and Instagram back when I was a kid I might have found reason to post myself all over the place, too. Or maybe not… there’s still something about the narcissism angle that gets me (though you wouldn’t guess that from the pic below of me at 20!).

LDW @ 20

But beyond selfies and youth is the more general etiquette of taking and posting pictures of anyone online. This has become an issue fraught with some misguided principles, enough so that I’d like to suggest a few pertinent guidelines that apply to every age group, in every circumstance. Pay heed and you’ll find fewer people scrambling when you walk into a room with your phone!

Top 5 Rules of Phone Camera/Social Media Posting Etiquette:


Particularly on a bad day, in bad lighting, after weight’s been gained, or just because, well, they don’t want their picture taken. Don’t assume it’s your God-given right to take another person’s picture just because you want to. Don’t do the “oh, come on, you look great!!” routine when Aunt Helen really isn’t feeling up to it. Any good photographer knows the best posed pictures happen when people have acquiesced rather than been browbeaten… and, once they’ve acquiesced, are given the time to fix their hair, freshen their lipstick, suck in their gut, or get out of the shadowed light. If they still don’t want their picture taken after all that, DON’T TAKE IT. Period.


Even if someone agrees to pose for a picture – alone, with a group, with you – that doesn’t automatically mean they want said picture plastered all over social media. It’s become so routine to post every single picture taken that the people doing the snapping and posting don’t always consider the privacy preferences of their subjects. ASK. If you want to post a group shot, check with everyone before you part ways to make sure they’re okay with that. A quick, “If I get some good shots here I’ll probably post a few on Facebook… everyone OK with that?” works. Typically people are, but show them the courtesy of asking. Particularly people who aren’t young, aren’t necessarily enamored with their looks, and aren’t accustomed to posting selfies all over the place!


This should be a given but I’m always surprised at the carelessness of what some people post online. As a photographer (and a subject!), I know the self-consciousness that many feel about having their picture taken and I also know how affirming it can be when a good shot is achieved. In fact, a good photo can boost someone’s self-esteem as much as a bad one can drop it. Be aware that most phone cameras – even the good ones – don’t do well in low light indoors; if you are not a photographer and don’t know how to use Photoshop or other post-production software to enhance or improve a shot, don’t use it. But if you do decide to post your phone pics of other people “as-is,” you are obligated by etiquette to take the time to choose the very best one. Post whatever you want of yourself, but when you’re putting up photos of others, don’t put up that one that was shot in deeply shadowed light, glaring sun, or too dark a room. Don’t put up the one where the subject looks bad because they blinked, their hair was weird, or the angle was unattractive. Don’t choose to post a group shot where you look great but everyone else looks horrible. Have some consideration, some empathy, and realize NO ONE WANTS A CRAPPY PICTURE OF THEMSELVES ON THE INTERNET!!


It used to be you could meet a few friends for lunch, grab a movie with former colleagues, go over to your Mom’s for dinner and no one felt compelled to whip out a camera to “grab the moment.” Somehow we all managed to hold onto memories of lesser moments in life (versus bigger ones like weddings, birthdays, christenings, etc.) without having to collect a bunch of (usually crappy) photos that someone is sure to post online. One could say it’s curmudgeonly to complain about anyone wanting to capture camaraderie and companionship with a camera, but goddammit, sometimes you just want to eat your Niçoise without someone snapping away while you’re chewing tuna. Personally, I could do with fewer of those, thank you.


It’s no small wonder we live in a culture obsessed with youth, beauty, cosmetic surgery, thinness, sexual voracity, and so on. It’s we the people who are driving that train! We can complain all we want about what “the media” and the “entertainment business” have done to perpetuate certain unrealistic standards, but if you really analyze the chicken/egg aspect, it’s hard to find the line when even every-day folk are obsessed with their beauty, youthfulness, thinness, etc. How many times do we see mostly women, but some men, too, cycle and recycle their profile pics, while friends do their part by exclaiming with each picture change, “You’re SO gorgeous!”… “What a hottie!”… “You’ve never been more beautiful!”… “Hubba hubba!” (all comments I’ve seen online!)? It’s great to occasionally get a compliment on your looks – who doesn’t appreciate that? – and sometimes you have, in fact, just innocently changed your picture, it posts on the Newsfeed, and friends comment without any intent on your part to elicit that response. But in far too many cases it is about the attention, the requisite comments that feed the need. And we get it; you’re hot, you’re beautiful, you’re sexy. But tell me, was there anything you created or accomplished today that might trump that shot of you in a bikini? Yes, you look great, but I’d be more interested in hearing about the grant you wrote, that song you finished, the Little League team you’re coaching…

75. Quite Pleased With Her Collar

Now, don’t get me wrong; there are categories of posted photos I always love. People’s travel pics, fine art photography, baby pictures, family shots, even that dog with the frilly collar. Gorgeous road trips, the weekend at the recording studio, that last location of your indie shoot are all seriously post-worthy. Your Hawaiian hike, that tour of historical architecture in Venice, the shots of your urban neighborhood will likely enchant me. I’m less interested in your lunch or whatever you mixed up at the wet bar, but if there is something creative in either of these, post away.

The point is: Think about it. Don’t just shoot and post. The fact that everyone now has a camera in their hands demands that we be more thoughtful and considerate about how we approach the matter of taking and posting pictures. Get creative, look beyond the reach of your arm, and have both empathy and consideration. I promise I will never post a crappy picture of you and I’m expecting you to extend the same courtesy to me… because, believe me; that promise gets more important as we get older and facial symmetry gets less and less dependable! :)


Selfies Guide To Men @ Dashburst

Woman Taking Selfie shot at Cosmopolitan: Research Shows Your Friends Probably Think Your Selfies Are Annoying

LDW @ 20 photo from the Lonnie & the Lugnutz files.

Frilly dog courtesy of me. 

LDW ponders

Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contentlyher photos at Fine Art Americadetails and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.

And don’t forget to fill in the subscribe box above for updates when new material is posted!

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Feb 28 2014

Empathy Is The Antidote To… Everything

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When I get up in the morning and sit down to my computer, I typically scroll through selected news sites to see what’s happening in the world before I start my work. Per my own advice, offered in Want to Feel Better, Really Better? Step Away From the News, I’m picky about my media sources and make sure to avoid most comment threads for the sake of my sanity. But still…

It’s impossible to completely block out the tone and tenor of our cultural view of each other – of “regular” people, of celebrities, of politicians, of… anyone. And the prevailing sentiment I see all around me – in the news, in comments and tweets, in Facebook threads, in blogs and shared stories, even simple conversation – is judgement. The unrelenting flow of criticism. Of condescension. Of arrogance. Of snide, sneering, dismissive, just sort of snitty characterizations of anyone and anything beyond ourselves, our particular groups; our own little worlds. It bothers me, kind of like the trash barge bothered Andie MacDowell’s character in Sex, Lies and Videotape, and like her, I don’t see any way to solve the problem of that floating debris. Except one.


I know… such a airy fairy, la la, positive-thinking concept. Would it help if I said what the world needs now is some fucking empathy?

However you say the word, it is, as mentioned in my piece on bullies, the antidote. To everything. To resentment, hate, crime, bigotry, trolling, abuse, violence, intolerance, passive-aggressiveness…. all of it. Think about that: one THING that could solve all the problems of the universe. And yet we humans, instead, spend our time circling our fierce fleets of wagons around the identities with which we align ourselves: political parties, religions, nationalities, ethnicities, countries, states, neighborhoods, clubs; even the way we eat (have you ever seen a vegan and bacon-lover go at it on Facebook??).

bacon vs tofu

It’s absurd, really, the degree to which we create separation and the “us vs. them” mentality, but that impulse to divide and distance is at the heart of every single problem in the entire world and has been since the dawn of time. It’s only the most enlightened, the wisest, the most loving and spiritual, who’ve realized that we’re all of the same cloth; that we’re all here on this earth to do basically the same things: live, evolve, connect, contribute, and hopefully learn something of value before we pass off this mortal coil. And yet, despite that shared mission statement, we humans seem compelled to see our differences more than our most basic similarities. That impulse has gotten us into a lot of trouble over time, and it remains the single-most driving force behind the snarling, angry culture of today.

Now, let’s be clear: the reason I say “culture of today” (as opposed to any other time) is only because it’s the moment we’re in… and the one in which the ubiquity and reach of technology has made the minutia of every day life known to everyone worldwide, making us all aware of the dark turns of culture on a global scale. Certainly issues of empathy-lack were just as rampant when Vikings were slaying their conquests, the Brits were invading Africa, and Manifest Destiny was wiping out the Natives; we just weren’t hearing about it in minute-by-minute tweets (let’s face it: the “express” behind “pony” may have been a misnomer!). Nowadays, the sheer bombardment of seething examples drives the point home.

Empathy: The power to understand and enter into another person’s feelings. The willingness to walk in another’s shoes. The ability to imagine or experience the feelings, thoughts and attitudes of another. The sense of compassion derived from the Golden Rule of “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” What would our world be if we actually had true empathy for each other?

Big themes include:

Race-hate and bigotry would be impossible, as we’d all understand that the color of skin, the ethnicity of one’s birth, have nothing whatsoever to do with the intrinsic value of a person.

Religious intolerance would be eradicated because we’d all be aware that while each of us has the right and freedom to believe as we choose, those personal beliefs cannot and must not be imposed or legislated upon anyone else.

Sexism and misogyny would be extinct, as men would recognize that gender has no bearing upon the worth, intellect, value or viability of another person.

Sexual violence and abuse would end because no one would find it acceptable to rape or assault another in service to a compulsive need to control or overpower.
Ageism and elder abuse would disappear, as we’d all realize that each and every one of us – if we’re lucky enough to live that long – will one day be the aged and our ability to grasp and understand the continued desire of that community to contribute, participate and experience life would be inevitable.

Political vitriol and partisan bullying would be abolished, as each person involved would grasp why another feels as they do and, even if in disagreement, would allow true respect and decorum to govern how governing is implemented.

Gun control would be a desired conversation and goal for both the gun lover and the gun control advocate because all parties would see the wisdom in making gun use saner and safer for everyone.

Mental health issues would get the necessary attention and funding because people would be less inclined to dismiss and disparage, understanding it as an affliction that can affect anyone in any age, economic, ethnic and religious background.

Homophobia and intolerance would be banished because we’d all accept that humans come in many different varieties and each is deserving of the same rights, freedoms and respect.

But even in the smaller, more secondary arenas, true empathy would make a significant shift in cultural discourse:

Media users would acknowledge and show respect to those who’ve taken the time and done the work to learn something, compelling them to – rather than snark and troll as a matter of habit – share, discuss and maybe learn something themselves.

When it comes to the many stories of average people, fellow humans would, perhaps, express real interest and support, even comment in respectful, intelligent, contributory ways (don’t laugh…. it can be done; see Same-sex couple never expected this response to their wedding photos).

With the endless click-bait fodder about the celebrities in our midst, the more empathetic would recognize that those who’ve gained fame via talent or circumstance are actual human beings with flaws, feelings, families, and a right to privacy, and won’t assume (as some recently did on my Facebook page) that ugly, incessant media scrutiny is “part of the package.”

Fellow citizens would grasp that not every needy person is or considers themselves “entitled,” not every subsidized American is an “aggrieved victim” (that’s for you, Condi Rice), and that showing compassion uplifts our country and improves our economy rather than burdens it.


Members of the electorate would – even if they disagree with the President – agree to do so respectfully, understanding that the sheer weight and enormity of the job is something NO ONE outside of the office can truly comprehend.

Neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members would solve problems without vitriol and anger because they’d have the ability to see the issues from the other’s point of view.

Marriages would survive to a greater degree because the parties involved would have the wherewithal to see beyond their own needs and wants to grasp those of their partner.

And so on.

Empathy may sound like one of those idealized concepts that reads well in print but is, in fact, too high-toned and elusive to be effective in changing true, tangible, earthbound problems in our society, but it’s not. It starts with one person. It’s what we teach our kids, it’s how to turn a bully, it’s what should guide each and every one of us in every single decision we make. Simply ask yourself this question before you write a comment, take an action, speak a piece, place a vote or… do anything:

How would I feel if this was done to me?  

This intolerance, this judgment, this criticism, this bigotry and lack of compassion. This mischaracterization, this act of violence, this condescension, insult, denigration, separation, or annihilation. The big things; the little things, the things in between. How would I feel if any of those were done to me?

Once you know how you would feel… you know. You know exactly what to do, how to act toward another. Do that.

It really is that simple.


Listening and Loneliness photos by LDW

Bacon vs. Tofu @ Archie McPhee

Empathy cartoon found @ Inspire My Kids 

LDW ponders

Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contentlyher photos at Fine Art Americadetails and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.

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Feb 18 2014

Don’t Hate Me, But I DIDN’T Love Season 2 Of House of Cards

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House of Cards
First, let’s be clear: I’m in love with what Netflix is doing with their original programming. “Orange Is the New Black” knocked my socks off, we’re just catching up with “Lilyhammer” (it’s a bona fide “hoot,” a word I rarely use seriously), and I loved Season 1 of “House of Cards.” Loved it. In fact, I watched it twice when my husband decided to jump in after I’d already seen the whole season. Just so we’re clear on my TV cred.

[SPOILER ALERT] – And to anyone who hasn’t already plowed through the entire second season, be aware that there will be spoilers below. They pertain.

Our story beings on Valentine’s Day. Like everyone else who’d been seduced by the wily Francis Underwood and his gorgeous Claire, I was so thrilled to dive into Season 2 that we made our Valentine’s Day night a proper celebration with sincere “I love you’s,” a plate of shrimp and, yep, the TV set on Netflix. No chocolate, but that’s another story.

Here was my inaugural Facebook post after watching the first episode:

“House of Cards, Season 2, first episode… holy moly!! (no spoilers but DAMN!).”

This was met with great shared enthusiasm from others.

And as we continued watching and watching and watching over the next week (I’m told the term “binge-watch” was coined after “House of Cards” first launched), something very bad happened: I wasn’t falling in love. I found myself getting more and more frustrated, and less and less engaged, with a plot trajectory that felt to be going off the rails. It had credibility issues the size of sinkholes; dismissed or lost interest in many – formerly important – plotlines without a blink, introduced a cavalcade of new characters oddly uniform in their shared moral dysfunctions (clearly an epidemic in the HOC crowd and, let’s face it, Molly Parker’s Jackie is just Frank in a skirt), and ratcheted up the evil-quotient of both Underwoods to the point that I was waiting for Frank to sprout a Dali mustache to twirl and Claire to start chasing Dalmatians. Dear God, if they got any more evil Al Pacino would have shown up as the Devil!

Let’s start with that first episode’s stunning plot twist and the head-shaking lack of credible action that followed: after Zoe Barnes is summarily dismissed and Lucas, another of the Season 1 folks, starts exhaustively investigating, how is it that police have CCTV video of the very moment Ms. Barnes meets her end and yet no footage of the moments leading up to it? The video was shot from an angle that clearly showed the walking area around the spot of impact, and yet THERE’S NO VIDEO OF HER STANDING THERE BEFOREHAND, furtively glancing around, finally seeing a chapeau’d Mr. Underwood peek out from behind the wall; Zoe walking toward that shadowed area from which, moments later, she will be shockingly flung to the tracks. NO VIDEO OF ANY OF THAT… but the police have the one bloody moment of her flying through the air because “she tripped” and they all appear to have no problem with any of that? We call that “a buy” in the script writing business; meaning, the audience is expected to just “buy” the plot despite huge gaps in logic. That was the first big-ass red flag as we moved deeper into cartoon land.

Let’s discuss the shape and tone of the characters. Big problem this time around: there’s no one to root for. In Season 1 we had the hapless but likable Peter Russo, Constance Zimmer’s Janine who was cranky but someone we could relate to. Sadrine Holt’s Gillian was a noble foil for the calculating Claire; Zoe had a fierce sort of wackiness that was bracing, and Claire’s vulnerable and touching love affair with her sexy photographer friend felt real and authentic.

But that was back when they wrote Claire with a modicum of a soul.

This season? Apparently rootability was discarded along with logic. The BBQ Freddie storyline had its moments of pathos but felt oddly forced rather than an organic, rational plot pusher. Pregnant, beleaguered Gillian is written out in the first episode, Claire’s photographer is gutted like a wildebeest, and what was the point with Peter Russo’s ex, Christine, working for the President and garnering Claire’s inexplicable hate? Our “former call girl” Rachel is so passive as to be catatonic (at least until the end… too late? And she was used for some obligatory lesbian sex…); poor, droopy Lucas, after frantically beating the drum of suspicion around Zoe’s death, is dropped like a hot potato to languish in prison; the President and First Lady are written as saps and pawns, and even Meechum, our seemingly incorruptible Secret Service guy, ends up in a three – oh, dear God, that was not a scenario I wanted to imagine!! – and… well, who else is there?!

As for setting, Season 1 had a nice mix between the world of both off and online journalism balanced against the heady environs of politics and the White House; Season 2 opts for a heavier dose of pretty much all-politics-all-the-time and that choice, for me, tipped that balance unsuccessfully. Even with the creep-fest that was Zoe and Frank’s affair in Season 1, at least we got to see our main character somewhere else beside the chessboard that is his political life…

Important, since the political life of Frank Underwood is rife with ethics-free, morally repugnant men and women, all of whom appear incapable of seeing through the chicanery and smug, sarcastic bullshit of FU (really, EVERYONE falls for this guy???). Which brings us to what I see as one of the biggest problems with Season 2: our lead characters – “Francis” and Claire Underwood – are written as SO relentlessly devious, hard-hearted, and amoral that we, the audience, WANT to see them taken down and, of course, as the lead characters of the show, it’s unlikely they will be. Certainly not this season. In fact, each episode, instead, raised the bar on their craven, sociopathic behavior and despite a few threats to their upward scurrying, they survive unscathed, only to rise higher, right to the mind-numbing conclusion…. in which Underwood appears to be channeling “Damian” from some contemporary version of The Omen.

Much has been written about the expert performances of Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey, and I concur. They are extremely skilled at their craft and portray their characters with stellar and very unique interpretations. This is no dig on them or any of the other actors involved, all of whom are at the top of their game. And, in fact, the characters of Claire and Frank Underwood are, as initially drawn, quite compelling; chewy, scene stealing, and BIG.

My problems are with the development of those characters (and others) over the two-season arc; with the writing, with the formation of credible plotlines, with character nuances… there, the writers failed. The choice to harden and make thoroughly despicable the character of Claire (a rare moment of tears doesn’t redeem her) was an odd choice; it left her as repugnant as her husband and his cartoonish, evil glee is all the dastardliness we need. Additionally, the focus and fixation on the arcane minutia of backroom political machinery became numbing and often hard to follow. And while the hacker plotline was interesting (and initially gave us hope for at least some kind of justice), the writers chose to make it so meandering and slow that it lent little more than a reason to put Lucas in prison. Lastly, there appear to be no intelligent people ANYWHERE in the White House except for Frank and Claire Underwood, and the level of sheer stupidity, corruption, and perfidy ultimately translates as cynical at best, manipulative at worst.

Frankly (pun intended), while working hard to be current and cutting edge, the show went off the rails by the power of its own extremes. By the end of the last episode, I felt like the “House of Cards” had crumbled, shark-jumped into “Californication” territory where the audience is expected to embrace the show’s “protagonist” as simply irresistible, despite logic and the fact that, in the real world, most truly intelligent people – dammit, at least SOME – would see through the smoke and mirrors.

Maybe it will redeem itself next season…

But, oh, I do love the opening sequence music and visuals… quite fabulous.

So I apologize. I know I’m bucking the trend. I wanted to fall in love. I’m sorry I didn’t.

House of Cards one-sheet image @ IMDB.

LDW ponders

Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contentlyher photos at Fine Art Americadetails and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.

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Feb 14 2014

Turns Out, Valentine WAS A Romantic Fellow… Let’s Party!!

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Valentine note_r

Apparently it’s not just Valentine’s Day; the entire month of February is designated as the “month of romance.” Are you feeling it yet? Come on, we’re two weeks in, let’s get busy!

If you’re like me and want to know how we got to these annual holiday traditions, you can go to any resource and get a smorgasbord of facts related to Valentine’s Day: who St. Valentine was (seems there was more than one), what he did or didn’t do (pagan legend is bloodier than you’d expect for a saint focused on love), and did he actually send out cards (apparently he did, at least one… see photo above!).

One legend has the hapless fellow put to death for performing secret marriages for young lovers in defiance of Roman law (single men were considered better soldiers). While there’s something sweetly romantic about that sacrificial endeavor, it’s a far cry from Hallmark and roses. Another says he was martyred for the compassionate act of helping Christians escape harsh Roman prisons. Again, a lovely gesture but no hearts and chocolates there. But there is one – more romantic – facet to the legend…

There are tales of a Valentine in a Roman prison who, before he was to be put to death (presumably for one of the above-mentioned transgressions), sent a love note to his jailer’s daughter with whom he’d fallen in love. Purportedly he signed it, “from your Valentine,” a sentiment still used today in classic Valentine’s cards. We don’t know if said jailer’s daughter then rushed out squealing to share this fluffy note with her local BFFs, but if you choose to believe the story, it could be considered the inciting incident of what has now become the burgeoning industry of love-marketing.

And “industry” it is! According to History.com, over 141 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged on February 14th. Nielsen reports that $345 million is spent on V-day chocolates. And flowers? The Society of American Florists estimates that 233 million roses are produced just for that one day of love. But the most profound statistic is marriage; according to CNN, more than 6 million proposals are made on Valentine’s Day (whether those come to fruition or last till the next February 14th is another, more cynical, matter!).

Old Fashioned V card 2

So with all this hearty celebration, why is Valentine’s also vilified as one of the most universally hated holidays? One can read a litany of complaints about how the day “enforces the idea that love is all around,” as one writer bemoaned, when for many it isn’t. It seems the lonely hearts that populate our culture understandably don’t appreciate having a whole day to be reminded they don’t have “a Valentine.” Schools struggle to keep the tradition of trading cards from devolving into soul-crushing popularity contests the nerdier kids can never win. Some in relationships find the day’s obligations weighty and inauthentic. Others carry on about the crass commercialism of the card, chocolate and flower purveyors who milk the day for all it’s worth. And then there’s the Al Capone thing.

To all this I say, “bah, humbug!” If you’re going to go down that road, let’s talk about St. Paddy’s Day and the crass commercialism of green beer and all-day benders. Don’t hear many people complaining about that, do you?

The fact is, love is a touchy subject. If you’ve got it, it’s grand; if you don’t, it’s not. Regardless of whatever else you might feel about a day spent celebrating a rebellious Roman who hit on the warden’s daughter before being carted off to martyrdom, it can’t help but push buttons for those not in the mood, or circumstance, to celebrate love.

So how about this? Forget romance, Cupid, hearts and flowers. See it as a day to acknowledge friendship, compassion, and kindness. At a time when war and crime are prodigiously reported, politics are mangled by too many soulless marauders, and humans of all shapes and sizes are behaving questionably, it cannot hurt to shift the focus to friendship, compassion, and kindness. It doesn’t take chocolate or a card; it simply takes reframing the day, just the day, and seeing if it feels good enough to continue the sentiment.

Old Fashioned V card

My mother used to round up all us kids at the long table that sufficed for our dining room and with construction paper, crayons and paper doilies, we were instructed to hand-make Valentine’s cards for all the neighbors who lived up and down our small, rural street. I remembered thinking it was weird that I had to make a card with hearts and flowers for crotchety Mrs. Grimme, who was sort of creepy and really didn’t like kids on her lawn, but when we took our baskets and trundled from house to house to drop off those unexpected missives of neighborly affection, I was struck by the look on her face when I delivered her card; such surprise and true appreciation, even some tears, and it was then I understood, in the ways a child can, what my mother was trying to impart.

Love is love. Doesn’t matter if it’s romantic, familial or neighborly, the result of expressing love is profound. And though I still wasn’t welcome on Mrs. Grimme’s lawn, she would wave to me with a smile anytime I made my way past her house and that moment of warmth was message enough… and one I never forgot.

Being curmudgeonly about any holiday seems a waste of a good opportunity to experience and share a little joy, a bit of fun, a moment of affection. Rather than roil in cynicism and grumble about “not falling” for the commercialism of celebration, join in. Whether it’s chocolate, flowers, Christmas cookies, or green beer, it’s less about some purveyor’s profit and more about taking a moment to exchange love and friendship.

And, hey, if St. Valentine could die for the ideal, we can surely share some candy. So a very happy, sweet, loving, romantic (or not) Valentine’s Day to you all!


Original, unadulterated image of St. V painting @ Mentalfloss

Old-fashioned Valentine’s Day cards @ Valentine’s Ideas

LDW ponders

Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contentlyher photos at Fine Art Americadetails and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.

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Feb 4 2014

Oh, Humanity, Do You Demand Too Much Of Us?

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Comfort me

It has been an emotionally exhausting weekend.

Thankfully all is well with me, my family; my closest circle of friends, and the Seahawks did win the Superbowl, but the larger collective, the community, the great mass of humanity with which we engage, took a few hits this weekend, from the sickening death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, to the aching letter of Dylan Farrow, to the snarling response of bigots to a multicultural Coca Cola ad, right down to the thousands of Tweets, Facebook posts, comments, and debates that have roiled around each one of these events.

There is clearly no one more exhausted, more truly affected, than the people intimately involved: Hoffman’s family, the Farrows and Allens; the millions of ethnic Americans sick to death of xenophobes defining our country as a place where only English-speaking white people exist. Each are, respectively, suffering horrible sorrows, deep anxieties, and tremendous rage.

Me? I’m only involved as a questioning observer, a member of the community, a woman, wife, mother, friend, and thinking/feeling human who has been stunned, saddened, angered, and left drained by the responses of so many to this list of tribulations.

It’s not just a matter of having opinions; I have opinions… plenty of them. As a writer, I often put those opinions into words that fly across the internet and garner either agreement or spittle-flying hate and denouncement. Opinions are like… well, you know how that goes.

The problem is not the opinions (well, some of them maybe); it’s the way people choose to express them, the seething, judgmental, arrogant, aggressive way in which sides are taken and lines are drawn. I have read utterances that have made me shake my head and wonder how we got so goddamned superior and all-knowing, when we became so convinced that our experiences dictate the reality of everyone else’s, and why we think it appropriate to decide that compassion and empathy are “enabling” when dealing with either addicts or damaged daughters… probably even Coke drinking immigrants.

A great actor who seems to have been loved by everyone who knew him died of a heroin overdose and someone suggested I might be too “kind” in my assessment that compassion was in order. “Ass kicking” was considered a better prescription for an addicted person. Others felt it necessary to point out, with great vitriol, that Hoffman was an “absolute douche… a piece of shit who would rather get high than fulfill his responsibilities”…  as if orphaning his children had any part in the decision to stick a needle in his arm. The degree of judgment and disdain exhibited by far too many in response to Hoffman’s death has itself been sickening. As if humanity couldn’t find a way to deal with grief without drowning it in denigration and revulsion. Couldn’t witness the weakness of an addict without seeing it as permission to be imperious and condescending. We all have our stories, our experiences with alcoholism and drug addiction and so, yes, certainly, we are allowed to be superior, right?

Then there’s Dylan Farrow and the matter of child molestation and our view of the women – and men – involved. Holy hell. As I write this, article after article is being posted, tit for tat, for or against, pro and con, everyone deciding who should be believed and who shouldn’t. It’s almost as if the bookmakers have jumped in: Whose side are you on? Who’s winning in the court of public opinion? Should we boycott Woody Allen films or decide Dylan is a patsy whose strings are being pulled by her fire-breathing mother? Is there any way to believe a woman who came forward 20 years later to finally tell her side of the story or is she to be categorized, as some have, as a calculating, relentless pawn? Should Allen’s celebrity be a shield against the accusations or has the addled Mia Farrow sacrificed her daughter for the sake of revenge?

I don’t know, you don’t know, but do you realize we have made a parlor game out of the life and death of people we don’t even know? Yes, these are worthy topics to discuss and there are many who’ve done so with grace, empathy, and an awareness that there are truths we may never know. But far too many have done so with smug, moral certainty that they are right, angrily, judgmentally right, and these strangers they’re discussing are worthy of their disgust and moral superiority.

Are they? I have my opinions; you, no doubt, have yours. But at the end of the day, to put it bluntly, who the fuck are any of us?

As a friend of mine put it, “Being judgmental and selfish is human, being an asshole about it is a choice.” Okay, but how about this? How about choosing to be human enough to NOT be judgmental and selfish? Human enough to express opinions with civility and whatever logic you can summon up. Human enough to realize every single person you are judging is human, too. And hope that if you ever need the humanity of compassion, empathy, and non-judgment, those around you will have the humanity to extend it.

As for Coca Cola… I don’t drink the stuff but damn if I didn’t appreciate their view of the humanity that is the “real America.”

LDW ponders

Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contentlyher photos at Fine Art Americadetails and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.

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Jan 9 2014

Of Blondes, Bridges & Bad Behavior: Welcome To The First ‘Gate’ Glut Of 2014

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Gov and Ms Kelly

And, no, we’re not talking about The Wolf of Wallstreet. But it sounds like we could be.

We started this week with a media world awash in Chris Christie “Bridgegate” stories. That, and Robert Gates’ memoir stories. We hadn’t yet had a good “gate” story in the nascent new year so this was an embarrassment of riches, particularly since one of the “gates” in the current “gate” glut is an actual gate. Well… Gates. Synchronicity is always a bonus.

Regarding Christie, there are plenty of voices out there tongue-tripping over what will surely be one of the stories of the month (year?), one with legs, even, given that he’s presumed to be a top 2016 GOP presidential contender, so I will refrain from saying much about it. What, really, is there to say? Heads will roll, people will fall on swords, Christie will express “shock” and “outrage”; Jon Stewart will skewer (surely more than once), and we’ll all imagine the New Jersey governor sitting in a dark room off the pole dancers’ bar, diving into a plate of gabagol as meaty associates huddle nearby discussing “whaddawe gonna do about that dick mayor, Sokolich?”… while fidgeting at another table is the collegiately fresh-faced Bridget Anne Kelly, who, in trying to hip-check her way into the New Jersey boys club, comes up with the great, ghoulish notion of making life difficult for Democratic Fort Lee mayor, Mark Sokolich (whose purported transgression was not backing Christie for governor) by creating some “traffic problems” with an urban bridge. Port Authority official, David Wildstein (who reportedly called Sokolich a “little Serbian“… Sokolich is Croatian), nods eagerly, convinced this is a fabulous idea.

Who needs reality TV??

Wildstein wisely resigned last month, while Ms. Bridget of Bridgegate was just canned; odds are, her strawberry blonde head will be only one of several sent rolling, particularly since the predicted “traffic problems” that ensued are being cited in the death of at least one person after emergency vehicles were delayed on the snarled bridge. I see lawsuits, criminal investigations, inquiries (supposedly the Feds have already opened one on the scandal), unfathomable media word count (do we think this might out-do the Duck dump?) and endless — ENDLESS — analyses and deconstruction of the story on cable news (though it’s been noted how little coverage Fox has, so far, allotted the GOP-tainting story). Any way you look at it, it’s gonna be a big show.

Of course, we’ll all wonder how the hearty, irascible, seemingly invincible Gov is going to weather the storm, one that might prove more personally devastating than that other big one we know of as “Sandy.” More to come. LOTS more. Oy.

As for the other gate story: Robert Gates, the Republican statesman and former Secretary of Defense for both President George W. Bush (replacing Donald Rumsfeld) and President Obama (until 2011), has released his 600-page memoir, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, to much fanfare, mostly for its unvarnished “contempt” for everything from his Democratic boss (that’d be Obama), that boss’s Vice President; Congress, and pretty much everything related to how the war business was conducted during his most recent tenure. While there’s something unseemly, it seems, about a major insider so publicly dissing a sitting president about his handling of a war while said war is still in effect, we live in a world where discretion, loyalty, respect, and political sensitivity is considered “old school” (see Edward Snowden), particularly if promulgating one’s personal opinion trumps all those messy old ideals. Or, as Howard Kurtz over at Fox News put it:

Let’s not mince words here: Robert Gates has just betrayed the president who appointed him and gave him the Medal of Freedom.

Not because the former Defense secretary has written a book ripping Barack Obama for his handling of the war in Afghanistan: Gates has every right to do that. Not because he described Obama as failing to trust the military: he has every right to do that as well.

No, the betrayal involves the disclosure of private conversations that Obama had every reason to believe would remain confidential. How can a president conduct candid conversations with his inner circle if he fears he’s providing fodder for a future best-seller?

Gates and the Prez

Excellent point. And on top of that specific issue, and beyond Gates’ personal animus for the President’s style and substance, is the fact that some (much?) of what he’s purporting is being contradicted by experts on both sides of the aisle. Writer Luke Johnson at The Huffington Post made some interesting points in his own piece, Robert Gates Memoir Backfires On Obama Criticisms:

Experts contacted by The Huffington Post found Gates’ criticisms equally perplexing.

“Since Gates got brought in to clean up the mess of the Bush White House not having questioned adequately Pentagon strategy for Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s odd to say that Bush’s relationship with his generals was better than Obama’s,” said Heather Hurlburt, senior adviser to the National Security Network. “Because Bush’s relationship with his generals is what brought us the loss of focus in Afghanistan and the debacle in Iraq.”

Lawrence Korb, an assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said that Obama was right to be skeptical toward the military. “Like any bureaucracy, they have a point of view, they see things in a certain way,” he said. “If we had listened to the military in the Cuban missile crisis, none of us would be here.” […]

While Gates’ criticism of Obama might have resonated among Republicans, at least one top Senate Republican sided with Obama on the Gates memoir.

“But for a former Secretary of Defense to be so critical of the current commander-in-chief, particularly on an issue like Afghanistan when negotiations over future security arrangements remain unresolved, strikes me as bad timing and bad form,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) wrote on Facebook. “Worse yet, it makes it less likely that this President, or future Presidents, will reach across the political or philosophical aisle when filling out his or her cabinet. The country benefits when people with discordant views are in a position to challenge and shape a President’s views in private, when in matters most. This book makes that less likely to happen.”


You decide. You’ll have plenty of time… it, too, likely has legs.

Shall we pat our culture on the back? Only nine days into the new year and we’ve got two big ones launching the gate-fest of 2014. That seems a good start. How about we conclude with a pretty one in purple:

The Purple Gate


Governor Christie/Bridget Kelly photo @ NorthJersey.com

Robert Gates/President Obama @ Wikimedia Commons

Purple Gate photo by Lorraine Devon Wilke

LDW ponders

Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contentlyher photos at Fine Art Americadetails and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.

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Dec 22 2013

Christmas Isn’t A Bad Boyfriend… My Seven Commandments To Keep It That Way (Encore)

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I ran a version of this piece a couple of years ago and it was met with such appreciation and enthusiasm, it felt worthy of an updated encore… ENJOY!

I was in line behind a woman tightly wrapped in a Christmas sweater; eyes strained, face pale, the dry lips of a dehydrated overachiever. Noticeably panting, she hugged a packaged iPad to her chest and, leaning in as if we were trench mates, hissed triumphantly, “I got it! The last one! Thank God; he’d flat out kill me if he didn’t get it for Christmas!”

And there it was.

Christmas as a Bad Boyfriend. It can be an apt metaphor:

  1. Endless demands which you best meet if you know what’s good for you.
  2. He insists you don a certain mode of dress (that sweater, those ornament earrings!) and it doesn’t matter how you feel about it.
  3. The house better look “the way it’s supposed to!” (aka: get those decorations up).
  4. Preferred music (“has ‘Little Drummer Boy’ played yet?”) loops endlessly for his listening pleasure.
  5. There’s a clear presumption of copious gift giving and general holiday attention (“did you send cards to my family?”).
  6. The list of favored food and drink is long and laborious.
  7. Much emphasis on “PAR-TAY!!!”
  8. Regardless of attempts to keep things calorically moderated, rich food is profoundly expected.
  9. The big gut is pretty hard to miss.
  10. You must stay cheerful regardless of mood or exhaustion.
  11. No reciprocal expectations should be had.
  12. And of course, you clean up the mess after he’s done.
  13. Merry effin’ Christmas, baby.

Yeah…right back at’cha.

Face it, we do have a complicated relationship with this holiday. There’s grousing (certainly by this writer) when Christmas decorations come out seconds after Halloween has concluded, but there is a skip in our step when we head to the mall for that first holiday visit. We complain about the rampant commercialization and consumerism, but there is no more energy or passion exuded than when shoppers share Christmas deals they’ve found. The gift and task list is pages long, the depth of obligation grows larger every year, and, for religious folk, the balance between sacred and secular is an ongoing challenge. And yet – if we had to admit it – there’s something kind of spirited about the whole exercise, isn’t there?

Here’s my theory:

Quantum physics tells us time is an illusion. Explanations of that theorem make my head explode but let’s go with it for a moment. Time is an illusion and over the eons of human existence, it became clear that without time management, people meandered; lost track not only of the aging process but the approximate moment to eschew summer whites. So wise ones who understood both science and human nature came up with the calendar, that corralling of time based on astronomy. We named time (months, days), we partitioned it off (years); part of time became the past, part was the future. The stuff in the middle, the present, was where we lived. Very organized stuff.

King Olav @ Christmas

Since part of the mission statement of calendaring was to give structure and meaning to this passage of elusive time, one of the ways this was achieved was by marked events: traditions, holidays, cyclical rituals; those anointed and completely arbitrary moments we celebrate at designated points of the calendar. There have been many, and they’ve changed and evolved over the centuries; some giving way to others, new ones occasionally popping up (love it though I do, is National Peanut Butter & Jelly Day really necessary?!).  The importance of these rituals and traditions was their connecting of communities; their honoring of the days, people and historical events we deemed special. They marked the passage of life, rendered it meaningful, and, frankly, gave us reason to dress up in hats. We humans seem to appreciate that.

Certainly Christmas has been the most enduring of these time markers. Year after year it comes with its long, fluid history – often debated and certainly controversial – and it remains one of the most pivotal shared events in the world. Celebrated with mind-boggling variety and, despite the baggage it carries, including its manipulation as a weapon in the cultural/political/religious “wars” (see No, Virginia, There’s No War On Christmas), it is quite universally beloved. It is also, unfortunately, resented as well: that’s the “Christmas as a Bad Boyfriend” meme.

But, as we know, one cannot be repetitively taken advantage of unless one allows it. That goes for Christmas as well as any hairy guy in a bad suit sacked out on the couch. There is no one on this earth who can blame anyone but themselves if Christmas goes all BB on them. It’s a choice. Just as we’re taught to set our boundaries, hold our ground, and stand firm against unrealistic expectations in other relationships (needy friends, ex-spouses, PTA), we are capable of taking the same stance with this holiday. It’s doable. Seriously, if I can wrangle Christmas, anyone can.

My Seven Commandments of Christmas, for what they’re worth:

  1. Only entertain if you enjoy it. I promise, no one will notice if you don’t. Entertain, that is.
  2. Attend business parties as needed, but do your networking in the first hour so you can leave before “smarmy IT guy” or the new temp start hitting on you.
  3. Stick to crudité and avoid heavy drinking. Minimal weight gain and a consistent lack of vomiting go a long way toward a more enjoyable holiday.
  4. Decorate only when, and as much, as you like… and only with items that have actual appeal. Blow-up plastic Santas and those hideous front lawn snowmen are unnecessary and considered blight in some circles.
  5. Don’t be browbeaten into sending paper holiday cards. It’s a new world. A well-designed e-card sent with love and a sweet note is not only acceptable, it’ll keep a few thousand redwoods above ground and save you hundreds.
  6. Don’t travel unless you want and can afford to. Both must apply. Obligation to fly the hell all over the place at the busiest and more stressful time of the year becomes massively counterproductive to holiday cheer. You can just as easily visit family on non-holidays and give yourselves permission to stay put. Or suggest – if you’re so inclined – they come to you. And remember that Skype makes face-to-face holiday visits doable without breaking the bank… or your sanity.
  7. And here’s the deal breaker: GET VERY SELECTIVE ABOUT YOUR GIFT-GIVING. The mindless and burdensome expectation of “gifts all around!” is the single most element responsible for the fear and loathing of Christmas. We max out our credit cards, drive ourselves crazy “finding the right thing” for people who need nothing; we overdo with children who are so overloaded they have no idea what to play with next. We gut-churn over not giving gifts as expensive as the ones we got, feel guilty if we accept a gift when we did not give one, and the whole ridiculous exercise becomes as antithetical to Christmas as the Black Friday nut-job who pepper-sprayed her way to a video game and or the frothing shoppers who stepped over a dead man to get to the sales table.

STOP THE MADNESS! This is not what it’s about. (And, really, who but a Bad Boyfriend could’ve ever come up with Black Friday?)

Now, before you holler that no one in your circle would stand for such boundaried giving, make note for next year: Long before the holidays roll in, judiciously and logically decide who in your family or circle of friends you’ll be buying gifts for. A short list. Then write a warm, loving email and send it to EVERYONE involved announcing your decision. Something along the lines of:

“In our effort to keep the Holidays as stress-free and financially manageable as possible, we’ve decided to limit our gift-giving to ___________ (i.e., Mom  & Dad, the kids in the family, etc.). We hope you understand and, of course, ask that you not send gifts to us. Cookies, however, are always welcome!”

As I said, this must be done long before the normal shopping season starts so no one gets huffy about jumping the gift-giving gun. Be prepared for some grumbling and criticism, but hold firm. Over time, and years of sticking to the program, the family will get that you’re serious and eventually come to appreciate the reciprocal unburdening. But remember: even if someone violates the request and sends gifts, thank them but DO NOT change your policy. Ever. Break once and Bad Boyfriend is right back, snapping his fingers, big gut resting on the table, wondering where the carols are and why the prime rib isn’t ready.

To conclude: I love my friends, I love my family; I appreciate and respect my colleagues, associates, and collaborators. And when the holidays roll around, I look forward to all the rituals and traditions that make this time of year different from the rest: that marking of elusive time that comes with revelry, cheer and warm, expressed appreciation. I get out the favorite decorations and make my Greek cookies. I acknowledge the holidays with artistic e-notes, maybe an open house, a holiday dinner with close friends, certainly those wonderful family gatherings where we simply enjoy being together, sharing good food, and watching our select few open their gifts. It’s lovely, manageable and affordable. And there’s no weeping.

Just as a Good Holiday should be. You’ll see!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a really fabulous 2014 to you all!



Christmas Couple reprinted from www.FunnyFeed.com

Santa Gnome reprinted from www.timswineblog.com

King Olav illustration reprinted from www.gutenberg.org

Bad Boyfriend Doll: www.amazon.co.uk 

Candle and all family photos courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke

LDW ponders

Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contentlyher photos at Fine Art Americadetails and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.

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Nov 28 2013

The Gratitude Meme. Not Just For Thanksgiving.

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Gratitude is not a cliche

In case you hadn’t noticed, gratitude is pretty hip these days. All zeitgeisty and viral, posted daily on social media, in Twitter acknowledgements of thanks and grace; there are even Facebook groups devoted to the idea of expressing gratitude. It’s a beautiful thing. And because it’s the internet, all of this higher consciousness thinking and warm, human emotion is moshed in with screeching headlines, comment fisticuffs, and the never-ending dirge of articles written, posted, and shared about the very worst of our life and times. Crazy making. Hard to find balance in all that, but balance we must.

I read an interesting piece the other day that espoused the idea of “not buying into” the messages created for us by the ubiquitous media: messages of lack, fear, doom, opposition, worry, illness, etc. We know those things exist, but that they exist does not demand our emotional attachment to them, emotional attachment defined as the acceptance of those messages as indisputable fact, the immersing of ourselves in them as inevitable, or the habit of getting ourselves so surrounded and embroiled in them that it all becomes a soul killer. An anxiety builder. A depression stirrer. A joy denier.

A beleaguered woman told me recently that she felt too guilty feeling joy “when there’s so much hate, suffering and anger in the world.” Hmm. Not much good in that equation, but I understand.

Particularly when we often feel helpless about what to do to change the course of those negative elements of our society. Some of us feel that shining a light on them, bringing them to light as writers, commenters, opinion leaders and sharers is helpful; it illuminates the darkness. And sometimes, and in some cases, it does. But then what? We read about it all, watch it on TV, listen to it on the radio, but the fact is, most of us can’t leave our lives to go join an international charity group, don’t have the money to donate to important causes we believe could turn the tide; don’t even have time beyond our life, work and families to volunteer at shelters, organize political rallies, or hold crack babies at county hospitals. So what do we empathetic, compassionate, caring sorts do and, come on, how are we supposed to feel gratitude in the midst of… all that??

What if we stopped engaging in the cultural battle? Stopped buying into the conversation?

I touched on that in my recent Huffington Post piece, Want to Feel Better, Really Better? Step Away From the News, the idea that our compulsive need to “stay on top of things” is literally manifesting in a form of “consumer anxiety”: the malaise where one feels they can never be current enough, on top of it enough, because it’s all changing so fast and being reported so relentlessly that we have to watch, read, listen, write, argue, debate, suffer, be depressed, defriend, and ultimately deflate in a pool of “life sucks.”

But it’s smoke and mirrors. A hologram. Life isn’t moving as fast as it seems; it’s an illusion created by the 24/7 media. As an old mentor of mine used to say, “you can stand on your street corner for hours and, on most nights, you’ll never see a damn thing happen.” But the media, by virtue of compiling the millions of things that have happened, around the world and back again, have made us all feel that there’s a running montage of dramatic, life-shifting, often terrifying events happening right outside our doors every minute of every day, Jesus Christ, I can’t even breathe in here, what the HELL, get me OUT!!!

Breathe. It isn’t all happening here, there, and everywhere. Not by a long shot.

It’s one thing to be empathetic and aware, it’s another to focus yourself on the darkest aspects of life. One is consciousness, the other is cultural masochism, which is not healthy or helpful. So instead of immersing yourself in the hologram that is “all-drama-all-the-time-yikes-the-sky-is-falling,” step out of that loop and immerse yourself in the good of your own life and the world around you; deeply, truly, and with arms open. You’re allowed to do that, to feel joy and gratitude for your own abundance and good fortune, however and wherever you find it (and sometimes it’s in the very smallest of things!). You’re allowed – and, in fact, advised – to become just an observer of the cultural noise, unattached and unencumbered. Notice, but don’t dive in; do what you’re moved to do, then detach. Have empathy but focus on positivity.

Sometimes it’s as simple as, when your office mate tells you that “something’s going around… everyone’s getting sick,”  you say, “I’m not.” When someone shouts that all of this group is “spineless” and all of that group are “assholes,” make note (out loud or otherwise) that generalities are the tool of the narrow-minded. When a seemingly charitable, caring person drones on about the woes of the world, the country; your neighborhood, gently put their attention on the good that exists in all those same places. When another diatribes about “kids today” point out the brilliant young people you know and are aware of. When anyone tells you humanity is doomed, the world’s on the brink, and we’re all idiots too stupid to figure it out, walk away while noticing the countless, incredible things around you that emanate love, beauty, and hope.

Because, honestly, if it’s true our lives reflect where and on what we put our attention, why the hell would we put our attention on the very worst of it? Why would we spend so much time on the lack, the ugly; the sorrowful? Why not put our attention on what we see that’s good, rather than what drives us fucking nuts?

We’re made to believe there’s something infinitely noble in being informed and trudging through the daily muck, but unless you’re one of those moved to honest activism by your rage, let’s be clear on the allowable limitations of “being informed”: watch/read/listen enough to be aware, but put your attention on that which you love, that which empowers and uplifts, that which offers hope, inspiration, humor, and healing. Put your attention on GRATITUDE and decide it’s not a cliché, not a nifty November meme that feels good until it gets trumped by the latest tragedy, crime, or political blunder. Those will keep coming, it’s inevitable, but you’re allowed to simultaneously feel joy and gratitude. And you might be surprised to discover just how much living and reflecting those higher elements of human thought and emotion impact the energy of the world around you. You might find it’s not only “all you can do,” it’s more than you might even imagine.

I’m giving it a go. And today, Thanksgiving, the official day of gratitude? Let me say that I could not be more grateful for… all of it. My family. My friends. All of you. Humanity. The world. The new day with its chance, every day, to make it better.


gratitude meme funny

LDW ponders


Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contentlyher photos at Fine Art Americadetails and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.

And don’t forget to fill in the subscribe box above for updates when new material is posted!

Click to read & share!