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pressure cooking

Pressure cooker

warning: bad metaphors ahead

Some people are wondering why I worry so much about this world, about this time we live in. They say we've been through all this before, it's just a cycle, this is the way it is.

This is not the first time I'm living through a war or a crisis or a feeling of unrest. I'm old, remember?

I remember air raid drills in elementary school, being forced first under our desks and then they changed that and we had to go out into the hallway and crouch down with our head between our legs, practically smelling our own asses. And all I could think of was how the hell is this going to protect me? And I asked the teacher and she said it was to protect us from flying glass and projectiles and I said, well that's nice. It's good to know that when I die from and EXPLOSION the head of my lifeless body will be glass free!

From the time I could read, and it was pretty young, I read the newspaper. I wanted to know everything about the world around me. I wanted to know why the newscasters on the tv always looked so grim and why my parents and all the other grownups talked in clenched-teeth whispers about war.

I remember the Vietnam War, and I remember my older cousin Fran being involved in protests. I vaguely remember a crowd of teenagers in the parking lot of the local strip mall, throwing things at police and the police forcing them back with fire hoses and threats of tear gas. I remember this made my mother cry, but for some reason it made my adrenaline surge.

I remember the television on every night during dinner and my parents shaking their heads and looking glum. Is that what I look like now to my own children when I am watching yet another news flash about suicide bombers in Israel? Do they wonder, like I did, if it is as bad as the look on my face says it is? Do they lay in the dark at night, like I did, wondering if the world had turned into hell when we weren't looking?

I remember when the Vietnam war ended and everyone went outside and flashed their porch lights on and off in some sort of celebration and the grownups were all saying how maybe, just maybe, this was the last of wartimes that we would see, that they hoped the children would grow up in a world of peace, and all I felt was sadness and a weird feeling in my stomach that it had all been for nothing and that this was not the last war I would see. I was eleven.

I remember the gas shortage and the lines that snaked around the block and the even/odd system of obtaining gas. It was summer and hot as hell and my mother had a convertible. I used to go with her on the day it was her turn to get gas and sit in the back of the car reading magazines and listening to all the people in the cars complain about the shortage and the government and the world at large. And then on Saturdays I would take the little bus to the library and look up all the big words the grownups had used that I wrote down in the margins of my magazine. I looked up all the places and people they talked about and read every newspaper the library had and at night I would read fairy tales and fantasy books to keep my mind from dreading the future.

I remember the hostage crisis and the constant threat of terrorism, even back then, and I think that's when I first became aware of the blanket hatred that too many people harbor for specific races and religions.

I remember that Natalie took her first step on the first day of the Gulf War. She stood up in the living room and took one step towards the tv, tuned to the face of George Bush on CNN and then she plopped herself down, stared at the television and cried and I said, yes honey, I know. He makes me cry, too. She didn't take another step until March. I'm sure she was just traumatized by George.

And here we are now, still being traumatized by a Bush, still facing the prospect of a war in the middle east, still worrying about gas embargos and terrorism. I imagine George the junior sitting in the oval office, staring at a picture of his daddy and wondering how to outdo him and he turns to his cabinet of evil and says Let's kick it up a notch!

So I sit here and worry if soon my children will be in the school hallway with their heads up their asses, safe from flying glass. They know what's going on around them because they don't even have to look for it the way I did. They don't have to run off to the library or scour the newspaper because it's all being played out right in front of them. (Except for the broadcast news stations where a car accident and manhole explosion get more in depth coverage than 7 Israelis dead at the hands of terrorists). War is no longer a dirty little secret. Casualties are badges of honor and playing "spot the differences" with your neighbors and co-workers can get you a bumper sticker and a license to spy.

Maybe it is a cycle and maybe we have been here before. But the heat has been turned up and the ingredients are more potent than they ever were. It's simmering and boiling and I'm afraid someone left the lid on this pressure cooker and we are about to witness an explosion.

(you know I had a bad night's sleep when the only metaphor I can come up with is George Bush as Emeril)


I'm just old enough to remember that they were still shoveling the 'Duck and Cover' crap at us in Oklahoma when I was a kid. Plus, watching all the class films about nuclear war gave me nightmares that will never go away. I never realized how close we got with Captain Insane-o...errr...Reagan.

You're a bit younger than my older daughter. The Berlin Wall went up two months after she was born. My husband had been in Korea and his draft classification was (basically) "after women and children," but I still sweated it out, even though his job was installing Atlas intercontinental ballistic missiles in holes in the ground in Wyoming.

And in October 1962 we were in Abilene TX doing the same thing when he got a 3 AM call. He came back and told me he had to go out to work and I should make sure the car had a full tank of gas and we had a full supply of camping food. I bowled that day, and the Air Force wives were all telling how their hubbies had been sent all over the world. And the radio and TV had absolutely NOTHING to say until that evening. When husband got home he told me he'd brought five missiles up to operational status. Then we went out to Sears and bought a rifle, in case we felt it wise to take to the hills. (An ICBM site would surely be a target.) That was the Cuban missile crisis.

I'm not sleeping well right now either. It's almost surreal watching what's happening around us.

I grew up an Air Force brat and spent most of my childhood in the prime target zones for Soviet missiles. I don't remember every worrying about it though. Today, we work hard to make sure our kids (8 & 6) don't see the news. At that age, they shouldn't have to worry about religious jihads and suicide bombers. That's my job.

I used to be like that. I absorbed everything. News papers, cnn, 60 minutes, you name it. Recently I have cast off my news watching ways. news is no longer about providing you with the facts. News is now about getting you to turn the channel to Channel 4. Then getting you to keep it there.
Walter Cronkite where are you?
I still keep my eye on the news, but I can't stand to watch it on TV, or even read it on CNN or MSNBC. Its all overly opinionated.
Why worry about what I cannot control. I worry enough about what I can. Control is just an illusion anyways.

I think this is the finest writing I've read in five years--including all the pros but one(Bobbie Ann Mason). I taught creative writing at Brock university and Niagara college for dog's years. I wish I could describe how reading about Vietnam from your eyes made me feel. I came to Canada during the Nam war when marrying people to extend their draft status no longer worked. All us dodgers were teaching assistants at SUNY Harpur in Binghamton, NY and even great grades in grad courses plus marriage(a farce but fun)plus teaching two first year courses was not enough to keep you outa that insanity called war. So we ran. (Our friends who didn't run died.) And Lucky Pierre T. was here to give us landed immigrant status on the spot and assistantships at U of Toronto. Nice, eh? Wouldn't happen today. Today they'd shoot us or bury us with nuclear waste in nevada. I've been here since then and can truly say that now I HATE the USA and think they will take over here as if it were their god-given right. Ironies--I came up here to escape all that and now it's all come back as a burning bush. makes me want to puke.
Thank you for such well-wrought writing. clarity-- that's what you've got. and clarity is the most uncomfortable mental condition I know.