The Staying Power of Words

Maybe our words float up into the ether.

Maybe our words float up into the ether.

Do your fingers ever hover over the keyboard before you create a sentence or hit send? We might be able to assign a few more seconds of hesitation to the “writing, posting” process than the speed of which WORDS come out of our mouths. In either case, words have staying power. On the internet they are almost forever. Politicians and pundits have alerted us that tweets can be deleted–but not really. What was said is OUT THERE.

Maybe fifteen years ago, I started to believe that every word I said (and that lead me to believe the words of everyone who has lived on this earth) is floating around in the ether somewhere. My words of love were there; my questions. And so were my angry words, my vindictive words. So were the taunts I overcame and the angry words of others that I experienced.

But on an even higher level, my words of love or those of anyone–parents, scholars, writers–were struggling against the words of folks gone wrong–like Hitler and Mussolini–their words challenging those of Jesus and Buddha, thinkers and philosophers. There is not room on the page to create a list of humanity’s ideas that grapple with other ideas, words.

And I think this concept could be scientific fact–though that’s not my forte. The idea also smacks of some psychological fact. Ask a counselor or a psychologist, psychiatrist. People spend years aching, hurting, burning over words said to them by their parents,  other family members, friends or a person they bump into on the street.

Yesterday, while listening to a podcast, Brene Brown told the story of an artist who offered his mother a drawing at the tender age of eleven. She was about to hang it on the fridge (which all mothers know is the first place of honor) when the boy’s father walked in. “You’re not planning to become some faggot artist are you?” Did the picture get hung, did the boy go on to draw more? No–not until he was in his fifties. Words have staying power. They float around in the ether and become indelible memory. They do damage. They can’t be taken back. Amended? Maybe. But does that work?

You might not agree with my theory about the ether–but everyone who draws breath has a memory of a word or words that they either try to forget because of some hurt or long to remember because it sent them on a positive life-journey.

Take-aways:

  • might be a good idea to linger over the keyboard before hitting send
  • give yourself a time-out before responding to a text, email or voicemail that riles you up
  • sometimes the message can still be delivered but with the proper word choice (sorry I believe that PC has its positive effects)

How fascinating if in a story or a novel, a person walks into a room and encounters a barrage of words floating in the ether that uplift him and encourage him to fulfill a quest. How fascinating if the memory of one word (and not faggot but artist) propelled an eleven-year-old boy to take art classes in high school, only to go on to be able to sell his art and help take care of his mother and his father when their health was failing. (Love that change in the story.)

We, as people, are all about stories, all about words. Yesterday, while singing as loudly as I could during a church service, I pictured my “song words” lifting up through the high ceiling and blowing out into the ether and I hoped they would do some good, push away words of discouragement and anger, words that support the viciousness and debilitating partisanship that is so much of our current culture.

Words have staying power and I want mine to be remembered with “encouragement” and “hope” attached to them. So please have a great week and thanks to author Laura Drake who brought the words of author Madeleine Engle to me today:

The author and the reader “know” each other; they meet on the bridge of words.

Photos: Thanks to www.genesseecountyparks.org and www.transformhypothesis.co.uk

The Staying Power of Words

Words form a bridge between us.

Marilynne Robinson Talks to POTUS Part 2

Marilynne Robinson Talks to POTUS Part 2

Novels. Politics. Do they go hand in hand? I’m really going out on a limb here, but I am going to say yes. As a preface to PART 2 of the talk novelist Marilynne Robinson had with Barack Obama, I love considering how reading and novels can bring people with very different backgrounds together to share and be moved in tandem. Again, that’s what democracy should be doing. WE THE PEOPLE. And we the people vote and elect our representatives. So there is a connection.

To stress that point: Reading to your children makes them good citizens. Reading brings the world to children, right on the page. Picture books quietly reveal to a child that people come in all colors. There’s variety in the world of trucks, zoo animals, dogs, cats AND people. What a wonderful thing. Because when that child enters school at a future age, IT IS NO BIG THING for he or she to meet kids that are different colors. In fact, they don’t even notice. That’s the point. And reading takes it to a higher level when a child reads about the boy on the farm, the boy living in the middle of a war, the girl in the tenement or the girl living on a fishing boat–that’s a world-view, that’s variety. Reading helps children see the choices that life provides. It lifts each and every one of us out of the backyard or off the front porch or out of the elevator of public housing and opens up the world. Reading all sorts of books during childhood (picture books, chapter books) and reading novels as adults does that. So if POTUS asked me, I’d say yes. Reading novels makes us better citizens of the USA and the world.

President Obama asks Robinson: Are you somebody who worries about people not reading novels anymore? And do you think that has an impact on the culture? When I think about how I understand my role as citizen…and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned–I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.

I loved POTUS’s question and answer, and had to chuckle. I don’t think he’s had the time to read the recent research that states that reading does make us more empathetic.(My post on that subject is here.) And Robinson responded, citing the variety of voices in contemporary writing. Robinson: You know people say, is there an American tradition surviving in literature, and yes, our tradition is the incredible variety of voices….And [now] you don’t get the conversation that would support the literary life. I think that’s one of the things that has made book clubs so popular.

I think on that last point, Robinson meant that statistically we are not on a day to day basis sitting around talking about books. (Unless that’s your business.) She is also saying that book clubs have become very popular because people WANT to talk about books. When I was growing up my mother belonged to a group of about 12 people who selected fiction and non-fiction to read and discuss. I guess I thought that was what everybody’s parents did!

Robinson and POTUS further discussed the difficulty of creating a common conversation that would bind people together. POTUS: Sometimes you get some TV shows that can fill that void, but increasingly now, that’s splintered, too, so other than the Super Bowl, we don’t have a lot of common reference points. And you can argue that that’s part of the reason why our politics has gotten so polarized…

POTUS asked Robinson if her writing sensibility, her involvement in the lives of her characters on the page alters or affects her feelings and attitudes about democracy and every person she interacts with.

ROBINSON: If I’m going to be honest, I think that there are some political candidacies that are much more humane in their implications and consequences than others. I mean, if suddenly poles were to be reversed and what I see as humanistic came up on the other side, there I’d be…when I do book signings…and people come up one by one and talk to me about their lives…how earnest they are, how deeply committed they are to sustaining people they feel close to or responsible for and so on—there they are, the people that you think of as the sustainers of a good society. 

And after reading that comment of hers, I would say that these are the people, the characters that inhabit her books. They aren’t perfect, they struggle, but they understand family, connection, goodness and they strive for those things, reflecting what Robinson sees in the people she meets.

And though POTUS didn’t propose the question, Robinson answered it as she spoke. How does the media affect the reading of novels and thus the thinking that is becoming part of our DNA as we click on Facebook and Twitter, as we partake of the endless cable news cycle??

Robinson: …if we could all just turn off media for a week, I think we would come out the other side of it with a different anthropology in effect. I wish we could have a normal politics where I disagree with people, they present their case, we take a vote, and if I lose I say, yes, that’s democracy, I’m on the losing side of a meaningful vote.

If you read Part 1, you know I am repeating here, but her words are important to share. How wonderful if for a time we filled our heads with the lives of characters in novels–characters who fall in love and struggle, but who find answers; characters who learn from their mistakes and go on to understand the antagonist and through that understanding help the antagonist. Maybe empathy would fill us and stay with us during our day to day journey.

Here is an excerpt from Robinson’s latest novel, LILA. Let me know if it touches you, if something springs from your heart as you read. The main character struggles with the idea that anyone could love her.           THANKS FOR BEING HERE.

Marilynne Robinson Talks to POTUS Part 2

And now here Lila was, sitting in the dark, wishing the crickets weren’t so damn loud, thinking she might tell that old preacher not to come creeping around her place at night. That would put an end to it, all of it. Then she’d know for sure what he thought of her. .. But when folks are down to the one thing that can keep them alive, that one thing can be meanness. It makes you feel like you’re there, you’re doing something. He is such a beautiful old man. All that kindness would be gone out of his face, and she would see something else, not beautiful, not the face he had worn all the years when he had only good people to deal with. 

Marilynne Robinson Talks to POTUS Part 2

Photos: ablogforyourthoughts.com; pressrelease.reponsecourse.com; www.ps.org Marilynne Robinson Talks to POTUS Part 2

Marilynne Robinson Talks to A Famous Person, Part One

Marilynne Robinson Talks to A Famous Person

Photo taken in the beautiful Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

When I lived in Des Moines, the capitol of Iowa, I met some amazing people–my forever friends, and some folks with recognizable names. Living in a small big town allowed contacts I would never have had in my hometown of Chicago. I shook hands and talked with Secretary Hillary Clinton, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Gov. Howard Dean, Gov. Tom Vilsack, Sen. Tom Harkin, Sen. Chuck Grassley and Gov. Terry Branstad–to name a few. I joined a series of talks where celebrated women shared their lives: Anne Lamott, Julie Andrews, Jane Fonda, Mia Farrow, Ann Richards and more. I heard Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman and even shook hands with Barack Obama. But I never met a writer that I admire and would feel honored to sit and talk to–Marilynne Robinson. She is currently a professor with the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Wow, if I could go to Prairie Lights and hear her read.

Background of Marilynne Robinson 

Robinson’s first best-selling novel, HOUSEKEEPING was published in 1980 and nominated for a Pulitzer. She didn’t publish another novel until GILEADin 2005, and it did win the Pulitzer. Because Robinson had fallen in love with the family of her creation, the Boughtons, she wrote two sequels, HOME and LILA, published in 2008 and 2014, respectfully. Readers like me were thrilled.

I will always remember driving back to Des Moines after visiting my mom who was slowly dying in a senior home. Listening to an audio version of HOME, I started to cry. Minister and widower Robert Boughton is also dying and wants his son Jack to stay in Gilead. “I can’t enjoy the thought of heaven like I should, leaving so much unattended to here. I was hoping I would be able to tell your mother that you had come home.” Jack sat pondering his father…finally he said, whispered, “I hope you will give her my love.”

POTUS Asks to Sit Down and Chat: Democracy 

Robinson’s works touch on the deep religious roots of our culture and President Barack Obama, like me, had read all of her novels and asked to speak to her about the broader cultural forces that shape and affect our democracy. You can listen here. Marilynne and POTUS met in an architectural jewel, the legal library in the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. And after listening to their hour podcast, I hope to capsule here and next week the main points that they covered.

They concurred that the basis of democracy is that people assume well of other people. That allows us to work together. Fear and conspiracy theories fight the function of democracy. Democracy (demos: Greek for people) indicates that WE ARE ALL FROM EVERYWHERE, and it is inappropriate to have an “in-group.” They agree that democracy is the consequence of humanism–being human and having a love of God is always implied in this. LOVE THY NEIGHBOR should be part of how we function and not arming ourselves constantly against the “imagined other.” THIS IS A CHALLENGE and IT IS DIFFICULT! Yes.

Homespun Values

In the discussion of Robinson’s work, that it features small town Iowa, Robinson and POTUS agreed about the importance of life on the local level, that it can instill the virtue of interacting with our neighbors through Little League and trips to the ER. We are being good to each other, caring for each other. Knowledge of one another fights against FEAR.

Then they discussed the GAP between this, our daily life, and political life. Robinson suggested that the restlessness that helped build this country is trying to unbuild it. She says: “People who don’t like government should go live where there is none–no roads, education, post office, electricity.” Suspicion of government can be paralyzing and so can someone building up fear of THE OTHER. An emphasis on CONFLICT creates a pessimism and drowns out the positive voices in our culture. POTUS: And that, too, is a running strain in our democracy. That’s sort of in our DNA. We’re suspicious of government as a tool of oppression. And that skepticism is healthy, but it can also be paralyzing when we’re trying to do big things together.

Reading Novels/Listening to Music

POTUS asked Robinson if we are still reading novels, still distilling ideas through the lives of characters who can offer some hope or analysis. They talked about Iowa small towns and how POTUS felt comfortable in 2004 when he began his presidential campaign and spent a great deal of time in Iowa being with families. I’d go into these towns and everybody felt really familiar to me, because they reminded me of my grandparents and my mom and that attitude that you talk about. You saw all through the state—and I saw this when I was traveling through southern Illinois when I was first campaigning for the United States Senate—and I actually see it everywhere across the country. Robinson concurs because she has traveled all through Iowa and set her novels in the state and sees it as a symbol of America and its people and their struggles and how religion and day to day living can bring people closer together and yet challenge their beliefs at the same time.

They then discussed HAMILTON, the brilliant musical currently on Broadway, seeing it as a symbol of the vibrancy of American democracy. The show and its song lyrics emphasize that our forefathers were brilliant, but at the same time flawed. Just as they are today. They agreed that HAMILTON is an excellent way to reach young people and teach them history.

How the United States Relates to History 

POTUS stated that in many ways America is ahistorical. He says: That’s one of our strengths—we forget things. You go to other countries, they’re still having arguments from four hundred years ago, and with serious consequences, right? They’re bloody arguments. In the Middle East right now, you’ve got arguments dating back to the seventh century that are live today. And we tend to forget that stuff. We don’t sometimes even remember what happened two weeks ago.

Education and Quarterly Earnings 

Robinson and POTUS also discussed the importance of education, agreeing that all of society needs to support education and often it does not. Success is defined not by how much you read and learn but by quarterly earnings. Robinson asks that folks think about what makes them feel optimistic. When she asks the question of others, she hears that people crave a society that supports them. Her solution to getting there? She says: And it’s only—really, if we could all just turn off media for a week, I think we would come out the other side of it with a different anthropology in effect. I wish we could have a normal politics where I disagree with people, they present their case, we take a vote, and if I lose I say, yes, that’s democracy, I’m on the losing side of a meaningful vote. 

What Would You Like to Add to the Conversation? 

Would love your thoughts. And more next week. Thanks to the New York Review of Books.

Marilynne Robinson Talks to A Famous Person, Part One

Saying Goodbye at the Des Moines Airport

Marilynne Robinson Talks to A Famous Person, Part One

The stacks in the legal library at the Iowa State Capitol. A place you wouldn’t want to leave.

Breaking Into The Conversation

Breaking Into The Conversation

You’re with a group of people. It could be family. It could be a gathering of friends. Or even your work buddies out to relax or maybe form a group to complain about something going on within the office walls. Then consider: you want to break into the conversation, but you can’t. Even with family gatherings this happens–no one is giving you an opening because someone is the leader, someone is choosing the topics and you find you are no longer listening but just waiting, waiting for a chance to break in. You lose the thread of the conversation. Or after a while you don’t even care.

CONVERSATION SHOULD BE AN EXCHANGE OF IDEAS 

  • We all anticipate being with people we care about and sharing conversation.
  • Often we are tired at the end of the day and eager for something fun.
  • And to add to our eagerness, we dressed up to be with friends for some meaningful exchanges.

This is part of being a member of society–the anticipation of TALKING to one another. You might even have some news you want to share and you’re just excited to be with this group and see their reactions and how they will support you. (Come on People, we still like the warmth of camaraderie and don’t have to open our minds and souls through Facebook all the time, but can wait for that gathering of hugs and smiles to give our news.)

We all crave that small spotlight when people will focus on us and listen to what we have to say. The KEY is the exchange. And friends and family can be so generous about our news or our opinions. From youth to old age–being able to steer the conversation is empowering and helps us grow no matter the topic:

a new job; the choice of a school or a career; the person we are dating or going to marry; the person we just broke up with; the death of a friend or someone being ill or someone injured or someone recovering. We made money; we lost money. We just met someone the group already knows; we have a new idea for our art work, writing project, music presentation. There are millions of topics. So enough–you get the idea.

But what if you’re having a bad time and you can’t break in or you suddenly don’t want to break in. There are a variety of reactions to this.

  • you give up and walk away
  • you try even harder to break in
  • you find yourself getting angry
  • you attempt to peel the person sitting next to you away from the group

I’ve been in situations with friends when the conversation was all about people I did not know. Everyone else was comfortable with remembering these folks, but since I didn’t know them, I sat quietly wondering when the conversation would take a turn into a topic where I could join in. Has that happened to any of you?

I think if you care about the group you are with you tend to be patient, maybe help yourself to another drink and wait for things to change. But if this happens to you a number of times, you tend to become sensitive to groups that do that. Your awareness of making a conversation COMFORTABLE for everyone in the room becomes one of your goals. When you are the host you are very aware of this. Conversation can be hurtful. Unfortunately it goes with bringing a variety of people together. Drinking can loosen tongues. You intended to have a fun party and maybe there are people leaving your gathering with hurt feelings and unless they tell you, you will never know.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WILL YOU DO?

There are going to be many situations in the next six plus months where the main topic of conversation will be politics. I think in some situations we will have to decide to preserve the friendship and so if the person is on the other side–better not to go there at all–or give it a try?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Again, what will you do?

It’s a hard choice. Strong feelings about a candidate can make us want to get up on a bully pulpit and shout to the world. If only we could always stay on an intellectual plain of ideas. Tricky, tricky stuff.

FLOOD YOUR BRAIN WITH IDEAS 

I found this note in one of my notebooks: Each of us has a pool of stories, opinions that we offer in conversation when there is an opening, when we find the space to express our views. But what if this pool would become so narrowed down that we might be expressing 20-25 ideas. There is never an excuse for not reading and learning about possibilities. The world is wide open inviting us to read, consider and take new things in our minds and hearts. Maybe that will help us break into the conversation of living–and people will no longer ignore what we have to say. They will be eager to give us an opening–they will be looking to us to YES, guide the conversation.

AGAIN, WHAT DO YOU THINK?  WISHING US ALL GOOD LUCK WITH THIS ONE.

Photo: Merlot Marketing.comBreaking Into The Conversation

Breaking Into The Conversation

For Mother’s Day–An Invitation to Meet Some Moms!

For Mother's Day--An Invitation to Meet Some Moms!

In FACTS OF LIFE Cara knows about fireflies, mosquitoes and bats. But is there more for her to learn?

We all come into this world because of our moms, and often we define what a mother is from that first experience: we are all a child to a mother. Today I invite you to meet some moms–five of them. Some you might immediately identify with, some you might criticize, pity or weep for. But all of these women are moms and they all have a story to share with you.

Anne: She is in her thirties and divorced, a working mother with one child–twelve-year-old Cara. Her co-wroker Mark wants a relationship. But is she ready? Is Cara ready? When an attempted kidnapping occurs near Cara’s school, Anne has to ask herself if any of the decisions she is making are the right ones. How will Anne answer that question. Find out in my story FACTS OF LIFE.

Claire Emmerling: Unmarried and unsure, Claire is in her early forties and pregnant for the first time. The father is neurosurgeon Christian Farr who Claire has worked with for many years. She will not reveal the pregnancy to him. But when she finds Polaroid photos of her own mother pregnant with her–Claire realizes that baby was incidental to the sex, but the child that moves within her is everything–the sex incidental. How will Claire move forward? Read SOMEDAY IT WILL BE DECEMBER.

Hazel Enright: Hazel cannot eat hard-boiled eggs or stand the smell of scorched linen. These and other experiences plunge Hazel into the memory of being pregnant at sixteen and her parents forcing her to “go away”, have her baby and then give it up. Has this experience changed Hazel’s life? Read HAZEL’S CHILD.

Emily: She feels abandoned and lonely, her husband constantly on business trips, her children off to college and her doctor telling her she must have a hysterectomy. But when her old friend Veda calls and asks her to meet, Emily learns that maybe she is not in the autumn of her life. Because there is always change, Veda revealing her own life is not the fantasy Emily thought it was. No life is. The tables are turned in MAKING CHANGE.

Sunny: She’s a landscaper with a cheating husband, a daughter of her own and an adopted daughter, Colette who one day takes too many pills and is rushed to the hospital. Now Sunny’s life has one focus–to understand and help Colette. Can she find the right words to make Colette see that there are good things in life? Find out in YOU HAVE DONE NOTHING WRONG.

Meet and read about these moms and eight others in A MOTHER’S TIME CAPSULE, a perfect gift for you or a mother you know for MOTHER’S DAY, May 8th. To purchase A MOTHER’S TIME CAPSULE from Amazon, B&N, kobo etc go here.  And don’t forget the dark chocolate–one piece to go with each story.

To read a story from A Mother’s Time Capsule go here.

COMMENTS ABOUT CAPSULE

What a wonderful book this is – filled with heart memories, a perfect gift for Mother’s Day for yourself or someone else! I love Elizabeth A. Havey’s writing! Carol Boyer

Beautifully written. Emotional, thought provoking tales which are the perfect length for dipping in and out of. Cathy L.

This author has a unique voice and writes with such profound emotion it’s as if she’s left a part of herself on every page. Susan Haught

The extraordinary imagery of these stories is evocative of the early years when I was raising my two sons. “A Mother’s Time Capsule” artfully describes the woes and wonder of being a mother. I will read it over many times. Kelly M.

 

For Mother's Day--An Invitation to Meet Some Moms!

A Mother’s Day Gift!

Conversations With My House

Conversations With My House

Maybe the walls can talk.

I may be a bit crazy, but whenever my husband and I would drive away for a long vacation, I would look back at our house and say, “Be good, House. ” And this, out loud. Funny, I didn’t really greet the house when I returned, but was always happy to have the garage door go up and find things the way I left them. Houses are the warm womb we like to get back to: the pillow on the bed that is just right, the views that are old but warm the heart with their familiarity. And the feel of the doorknobs and how the stove works–it’s smooth and easy, like the worn slippers that comfort the feet. And no matter how big or small, well decorated or pared down–it’s that place that is ours.

WALLS MIGHT TALK, BUT THEY ALSO ADAPT  

But consider this. Houses hold the conversations of families and as the famous saying goes IF THE WALLS COULD TALK… well, maybe they can. Did my big house in Iowa slump with sadness when I left it? No. But maybe it’s plaster walls started to experience infinitesimal cracks because three little girls moved in and I’m sure they’re a lot noisier than my husband and me–the house’s last occupants.

We called this house, the House in the Trees, because we had 17 oak trees on our property. They were lovely, but tons of work. I created a plaque with that name and when we drove away–I left it for the new owners with a note, saying I hoped they would love the house as much as I did. But this is my pattern. These are the conversations with my house and the people who live in them. But will the new owners feel like I do?

YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN

Our first house was a tract house, built on a piece of land with no trees. We had to put in a lawn and garden, attempt to create a “place” that was ours. It was wonderful to have our own walls, and this was the house where our first child began to walk and talk. But after awhile we left it, seeking a really old house that opened its arms to us and we lived there for seventeen years. Our two other children were born during that time.

There was a day when the doorbell rang and a young man stood on the porch. He told me he had been raised in the house, was back in town and just wanted to take a look. I warmly welcomed him. After he quietly walked around for a while, certainly trying to blot out our furniture and photographs so that the place he had loved would open its arms to him, he asked to see his bedroom. I took him up to see it. I think this was the end for him–the bright blue walls were now melon-colored and there were no trucks or trains or sports equipment–whatever had signified that this was his space. And so he thanked me and abruptly left. I understood. We had painted over the marks on the woodwork that traced his growth. Now our children’s names were there–for the while.

Something similar happened with the next home we bought and totally remodeled. The daughter came back and as she walked through–her mouth dropping open–she couldn’t believe the changes we had made. We had given the house the love that it needed, but I could not ask her which she preferred–the old shabby way or our new refreshed hardwood floors and remodeled kitchen. She probably liked it the old way–because that was what welcomed her home each night.

HAUNTED HOUSES 

In that remodeled house, my daughter whose bedroom was on the third floor, a room cut out of the attic, actually believed that a female ghost lived in the house. How the spirit dealt with the remodeling I don’t know, but one night my daughter was certain she saw the woman in a pink bathrobe standing outside her door. It’s possible. A woman had died in the house. The closest I have ever come to feeling a house is haunted is the sounds that it makes–the things you become familiar with like the top step of the basement stairs in the Iowa house–I can still hear it creak. Or the plumbing in the walls of that house that would clank when the water was heating up. This is how houses talk back, let owners know their personalties.

And they fight you. A remodel or a minor change gleams in your mind and when you or the people you have hired arrive to make it happen–the house resists. “Well, your plan won’t work because there isn’t a weight-bearing wall here…” “You electric will need a total upgrade..” etc etc. It ALWAYS HAPPENS.

HOUSES: An Ode to One’s Life 

When I miss some of the places where I have lived, I look at photographs and think about the joyous times–the births of our children, the Thanksgivings, summer barbecues with games on the lawn, the graduation parties, the visits from my family. And I think about the simple days: rising, breakfast, the newspaper on the front porch, the leaves to be raked in the back yard, the sun going down while we sit sharing our dinner with some flowers from my garden on the table. Houses are a gift. Though houses do need upkeep–I have often joked that the rather old and practical cars that we drive to help balance the budget should have a license plate that proclaims YOU SHOULD SEE MY NEW FURNACE!!

But it’s the warmth and safety that matters, that sticks. Virginia Woolf celebrates similar feelings in her short story THE HAUNTED HOUSE. Here is an excerpt, the ghosts (people like me who have left, though these are true dead spirits) coming back to remember what living there was, what memories pulse in the place. I think the walls are talking.

“Here we slept,” she says. And he adds, “Kisses without number.” “Waking in the morning—” “Silver between the trees—” “Upstairs—” “In the garden—” “When summer came—” “In winter snowtime—” The doors go shutting far in the distance, gently knocking like the pulse of a heart.

If you have to sweep a walkway or paint a room, remodel a kitchen or start a garden–rejoice. Your house will thank you for your tender care and your memories will linger even longer–because this is your domain, and as you work have that conversation. The walls might not talk, but they hear what you are saying. So even after struggling to install that new furnace–step back, enjoy the view and tell the house: THANK YOU.

Conversations With My House

Our House in the Trees. .

Love Her, Love Her Not

Love Her, Love Her Not

This post is a review of the above book, but it’s also the first of others that I will be writing about Hillary Clinton and the upcoming presidential election. The editor of Love Her, Love Her Not, Joanne Cronrath Bamberger, graciously sent me a copy of her book. My summary opinion: this book is an interesting collection of 28 short and extremely readable essays, all written by women who have taken an aspect of Hillary’s life or an individual personal view of Hillary’s accomplishments and/or foibles and run with it.

Love Her, Love Her Not will probably not change anyone’s vote. But it does zero in on an historical moment in American politics and history: we might be about to elect the first female president, now, in 2016. That’s awesome in itself. Bamberger writes in her introduction something that many people feel: Our country has a very complicated relationship with Hillary Clinton. 

MEDIA SKEWS and SCREWS THE TRUTH 

I think it’s more accurate to say that THE MEDIA has a complicated relationship with HRC and that we who are reading and viewing get sucked into it. For every candidate. Because politics is dismal these days–full of anger and in some cases hatred. On both sides, with both genders and affecting every citizen with every kind of background.

That’s why I enjoyed Bamberger’s collection–the writing is thoughtful, not hostile. It is honest and covers many aspects of Secretary Clinton’s persona. It feels fair to me and that’s what is missing in a lot of media coverage these days. FAIRNESS. HONESTY. If someone were to thrust me into the spotlight, I’m sure they’d find something wrong with me too. My hair, my clothes, my penchant for enjoying reading rather than sports. WHATEVER. So when reading about Hillary Clinton–ask yourself how you would measure up. That’s exactly what these thoughtful women writers did. BRAVO!!

THE FEMALE AGE QUESTION

Columnist Froma Harrop focuses on age discrimination and how it affects females in her essay Hillary’s Age as Shorthand Sexism. It’s an eye-opener to any woman who dwelling in a similar decade feels the power of the future and that life after child-bearing age is a time to grow, not shrink away. But obviously there are pundits out there who are going to USE it against Hillary. Harrop refutes the writing of Charlie Cook saying: Cook clearly had fallen into the cultural prejudice that perceives middle-aged women as over-the-hill while their male contemporaries remain vibrant, powerful and sexy. Like Harrop, the women and many of the men I know wouldn’t buy Cook’s garbage,

WHY DOES SHE STAY WITH HIM? 

Oh get over it!  The essay, Bill Clinton as Metaphor for America and Why Hillary Is Uniquely Qualified for President was a favorite. Written by Rebekah Kuschmider–she gets it. What person living today, man or woman, hasn’t been “betrayed” by someone or by some situation. And consider this, as Kuschmider writes, Bill Clinton was “the American Icarus sailing so very high and falling in a heap.” But afterwards, he got it–he set up an office in Harlem and paid back many times over. Kuschmider writes: Hillary wrote in LIVING HISTORY that Bill was a force of nature and that she resisted his marriage proposals for a long time because she didn’t know if she could weather his storms. 

Bill Clinton’s “affair” was ignorant and foolish. His selfish actions brought sorrow into their marriage. But how Hillary handled it–that was her business, no one else’s. As Kucschmider writes, Hillary has experienced sorrow in her life: turned down by NASA because she was a female; unable to get national healthcare up and running; the loser in the 2008 election. This is a woman who knows how to pick herself up and get on with it. And here is why. Kucschmider writes: Hillary loves Bill, yes. … But Hillary loves America more, the real America, good and bad, weak and strong, right and wrong. That love, that loyalty, that ability to see the real America–the raw, striving grasping with hope America–is Hillary’s strength, a nearly wifely attitude of loyalty–in richer and poorer, sickness and health, weakness and strength. A steadfast determination to stay…the way she’s always stayed and made it work with Bill.

Considering that if Hillary becomes president the media will still obsess over her clothing, two essays in the collection brilliantly address this. In Worshipping the Semiotic Brilliance of Hillary’s Pantsuits Deb Rox writes: …she forced the debate to the singularity of “what color pantsuit is she wearing today?” In doing so, Hillary degendered the playing field, making her appearance effectively recede to a question almost as innocuous as “what color is his tie today?”

And in No More Glass Slippers, Kim Cottrell explains the history of female shoes and how they hobble movement and become a metaphor for the female inability to keep up with the opposite sex. But Hillary has conquered that for Cottrell: So here’s my idea, Hillary friends. Let’s lace up our own shoes–you know the kind–tie back our hair, and celebrate the badass lines on our faces, the way our countrymen have been doing since forever, and get to work…we will do so (retain our superpower status) when we unhobble women and unshackle men and let them go to work together creating a shared vision of the future–wrinkles, flaws and all.   

Though this review is simply a glimpse into the fascinating opinions by women about Hillary Clinton, I hope it will interest you enough to purchase Love Her, Love Her Not and see for yourselves. Available here. Happy reading.

Love Her, Love Her Not

Five Days Blind

Five Days Blind

Probably after the surgery.

The memories are fresh and stark: my mother brings me to the hospital. I am five. She has kindly told me all that she can tell me–that Dr. S is going to fix my eye. He is going to put me to sleep and fix my eye, because my left eye rolls around a bit. I have strabismus or wandering eye. My mother didn’t use the word surgery. But I certainly didn’t know what to expect–other than I would miss some school. I was in Kindergarten and I didn’t know what it would feel like to be blind.

I think it was a Sunday when I was admitted at the hospital. I do remember that my mother was at one end of the room while this big nurse (I’m a nurse, but this woman’s touch felt cold and rough) did whatever she had to do to admit me. I had to take off my clothes and pee in a cup and she probably drew my blood. I just remember wishing it would stop. In the 1950s, I don’t think PATIENT EDUCATION was high on the list.

Finally that part was over and my mother could hug me and hold my hand again. We went up in the elevator to the children’s wing where I would have the bed by the door in a two bed room. I’m sure they put me in a hospital gown right away and put me in bed. NICE AND TIDY. And I probably had some clear liquids on a tray, if they fed me at all. My mother sat in a chair beside my bed. I did have a roommate, an older girl. I think she had had appendicitis, but she was very close to being discharged, so she never spent one minute with me. Not one. Eventually my mom kissed me and said she had to go home. She always had to go home.

Did I cry? I can’t remember. Then I slept. Monday was surgery day and this is what happened:

  1. My mother could not be with me. Some ancient hospital policy.
  2. I woke up hungry and remembered Mom had put some cough drops in the top drawer of this little bedside table.
  3. I leaned way over, got that drawer open and got me a cough drop.
  4. Moments later a nurse came in with a cart and made me move from the bed to that cart. I don’t remember what she said to me. Probably to be brave. I love how people tell you that, when you have NO IDEA what is about to happen. You are supposed to be brave about the scary future.
  5. Now I’m being pushed down the hallway, never knowing that my mother is peeking at me from around the corner. She is watching me, her brave girl, probably tearing up and praying. Again what a stupid hospital rule.
  6. Suddenly the nurse hears me crunch the cough drop. ARE YOU EATING SOMETHING? YES, I say, YOU DIDN’T GIVE ME ANY BREAKFAST. And she hurries into a room, grabs one of those scratchy gauze squares and says SPIT IT OUT! Again, PATIENT TEACHING. Five-year-olds are not totally dumb. And her you-know-what is on the line if a patient, me, is supposed to be NPO (translation: (nil per os) nothing by mouth.
  7. And the next step hasn’t changed much. I don’t remember the two doors to the OR swinging open for me, but they probably did. And then there are all these people standing there with masks on. Again, PATIENT TEACHING, PEOPLE.
  8. I want to remember that Dr. S waved or said hello or pulled off his mask and called me “Beth.” I think that happened. But though I don’t truly remember that, I do absolutely remember what happened next.
  9. Ether. They put some metal thing over my nose and mouth that had an awful strong smell to it. Later, I would decide it looked like a colander used to drain vegetables. The picture here isn’t quite what I remember. But it had holes in it and they told me to take deep breaths.
  10. I am sure I remember hearing bells ringing, though I can’t find proof of that in the literature. Ether supposedly makes you vomit, but I don’t remember that. Here is what I do remember and my mother confirmed it. When I was coming out of the anesthesia, I was probably in recovery and they must have let my mother in this time. Because I kept trying to tear the bandages from my face and talking on and on about THE GREEN HAT. For a few nights I had nightmares about that green hat and couldn’t understand why my mother wasn’t doing something about it.
  11. ORIGIN of the GREEN HAT: It was a typical winter head cover of the 1950s that my mother had kindly bought me. It was green knit material trimmed in fake fur, but my brain knew that its shape (see photo below) could definitely cover my eyes. And my brain was convinced that the green hat was now on my face, blinding me–and why wouldn’t anyone TAKE IT OFF!!
  12. The surgery on my left eye was successful, I learned later, but Dr. S had bandaged both my eyes so that for five days, I was blind. From what I have read, this is standard procedure after strabismus surgery–the hope is that the eyes will properly realign. But again–there was no PATIENT EDUCATION for me or for my mother.
  13. I lay in that hospital bed from Monday night through Sunday. Five full days. My mother had my brothers to care for and of course in those days, no child visitors were allowed. She came to visit me but could do so only during visiting hours. I learned to listen for her footsteps echoing down the marble hallway. Sometimes the footsteps would end up in my room and it wasn’t my mother, but Sister Frances who also worked at the hospital. I remember she brought me a box of chocolates shaped like Dutch wooden shoes. I also remember that one day MY MOTHER COULDN’T COME.
  14. Someone had to feed me. At night things were even worse. I had to sleep on my back and to make sure I didn’t move, they put sandbags on either side of my head and they put a cardboard cuff around each elbow so that I wouldn’t reach up during my sleep and mess with my bandages–you know rip that GREEN HAT off my face.
  15. But I got through it. And my fear of ever being blind remains with me to this day. I take extremely good care of my eyes.
  16. Sunday was a sunny Chicago day. My mother arrived to take me home. They let me sit on the side of the bed while they removed ALL the bandages and flashed a light in my eyes and had me look up and down and sideways. Then they lightly patched the surgery eye and let me out of that bed.
  17. I don’t know where my mother was at this moment. Maybe again they made her leave the room and maybe the nurse turned away for a second, because I was in heaven and I was moving around and bang, I fainted dead away, hit the floor. Again, PATIENT EDUCATION. People who lie in bed for five days need to ease back into things!!
  18. But I could see! My mother’s face, the face of the nurse, the room where I’d been imprisoned, the bandages etc etc.
  19. My mother drove me home. I remember it was cold outside and we had had a conversation about what I would want to eat my first meal home. Get ready: I asked for hot dogs and mincemeat and raisin pie–always the sugar lover. Mom agreed to both, but not at the same meal. We had hot dogs.

I recently read Alice McDermott’s latest novel SOMEONE, in which she too describes experiencing being blind after eye surgery. Her prose far surpasses mine. And it makes me think she either went through what I did or knows someone who did. Thanks for reading.

Thanks to Google Images.

Blind

The “nightmare” hat was like this, only green cloth trimmed in fake brown fur. It’s probably in a landfill somewhere and it can stay there!

Five Days Blind

An ether mask.

A Feminist Easter Story for Children

A Feminist Easter Story for Children

A reprint of my favorite Easter post.

Many people, Christian and non-Christian, have heard of Mary Magdalene. She appears in the Bible at prominent places in Christ’s life—two being at Easter: she was with the women who discovered Jesus had risen from the dead. And in another reading, she comes upon Jesus in the garden adjacent to the tomb. She mistakes him for a gardener. Such a lovely story to awaken deeper Easter meanings–this woman was highly regarded and blessed–a new idea for that time.

Easter is spring and rebirth and invites us always to look at our lives and to grasp new ideas, live our lives differently, make our lives better. Spring holds so many symbols of rebirth and rethinking. Even the plethora of chicks and bunnies says that on a small level. But the birth of new ideas is what we need to focus on. And what better way than to teach children, the coming generations, equality for everyone–male and female.

Maybe that’s why DuBose Heyward, a southern author who is best known for his novel Porgy that was the basis for Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, wrote The Country Bunny and The Little Gold Shoes. The title page states: as told to Jenifer, his daughter, who needed to know that her sex didn’t have to hold her back from becoming anything she wanted to be.

This heart-felt story cherished by many families during the Easter season, tells the tale of a simple mother bunny and how she became one of the five Easter Bunnies who travel the world bringing baskets of colored eggs and candy to children. With a copyright of 1939, it’s a tale ahead of its time.

The storyteller describes his heroine as: “a little country girl bunny with a brown skin and a little cotton-ball of a tail.” Her dream was to grow up and become one of the Easter Bunnies. “You wait and see!” she would say. But the Jack Rabbits with long legs and the big white bunnies who lived in fine houses scoffed at her and put her down.

After Cottontail grows up and has twenty-one Cottontail babies, these same Jacks and big rabbits really laugh at her. “What did we tell you! Only a country rabbit would go and have all those babies. Now take care of them and leave Easter eggs to great big men bunnies like us.” Heyward writes that “they went away liking themselves very much.” Note that Heyward’s editor wanted Cottontail to have a husband, but in the end she is a single mom.

The Grandfather Easter Bunny who is wise and kind, lives in the Palace of the Easter Eggs. In the story he must select a fifth bunny. This is Cottontail’s chance. She brings all of her 21 children to the tryouts where the Grandfather cannot help but notice her.

He tests her to see if she is as wise and kind as he is. But she must also be swift. When she scatters her 21 children and in seconds is able to round them up again, the Grandfather is convinced. She will be his fifth Easter Bunny. The writer tells us that when Cottontail arrives at the Palace of the Easter Eggs for this amazing duty, the other four Easter Bunnies do not laugh at her—“for they were wise and kind and knew better.”

Cottontail meets her challenges during this charming tale, her deep desire and loving heart capturing every reader and providing a sunny Easter morning finish.

Anita Silvey on her website A Book-A-Day-Almanac writes: The story stresses the importance of hope, determination, and courage. Not only was the book a feminist statement in a time when this perspective was rarely shown, it also celebrates the achievements of a brown bunny rather than a white one. Yet at no point does the reader ever feel as if they are being given a polemic—Heyward has created a totally satisfying world.

The copy I own is a First Printing, copyright 1939, paper edition. It is well-worn and well-loved. It might even be the one my mother read to me. But I know it’s the one I read to my three children. For anyone wanting to celebrate spring, rebirth and ideas that are meaningful–this simple story is powerful and yet gentle at the same time. Enjoy.

I want to thank my daughter, Christie, who is also a mother to a daughter and values this story for the simple power it holds for adult and child readers alike.

For more ideas on this interpretation go here.

Thanks to Istock Photos. Thanks to Washington Post photos.

A Feminist Easter Story for Children

Thoughts on Accomplishments Or How to Make It a Good Day!

 Thoughts on Accomplishments Or How to Make It a Good Day!

When I awake in the morning, the first thing I do is think of my children and prayerfully wish them a safe and fulfilling day. My grandchildren too. That’s how my mind works–a day is open to accomplishments. And so I wish for them a bundle of good stuff (those things they will achieve) and thus can claim for their own. No day should end with a big bunch of emptiness, unless we’re sick!

As a mother, I’m sure my children often felt some pressure from my encouragement. I remember sitting near the front door with my son, going over spelling words as we waited for the carpool. I suppose we could have been telling each other jokes or being happy about the weather. And maybe we sometimes were. But many times I was squeezing in that last math fact or spelling word before he started his day.

As a mother, I filled up many day-moments teaching and encouraging, guiding my children toward school goals and extra-curricular goals–even if the latter simply meant driving them to dance, gymnastics or baseball and making sure they had the “right stuff” for the activity. Turns out that believing in what your children can do is half the battle for them to achieve the “right stuff.” Parents can light the fire to achievement in their children, but we all must learn how to step back and let it burn.

The second thing I think of as I’m rousing myself for the day is WHAT WILL I ACCOMPLISH. I make a mental list and being at the stage of life I am, there are few interruptions to alter my list–except the excuses I might make to prevent me from “making it happen.” Let’s just say I have the freedom to make excuses, but I try not to.

My goal: to be a serious writer.

Sarah Manguso wrote recently in the New York Times:

The purpose of being a serious writer is not to express oneself, and it is not to make something beautiful, though one might do those things anyway. Those things are beside the point. The purpose of being a serious writer is to keep people from despair. If you keep that in mind always, the wish to make something beautiful or smart looks slight and vain in comparison. If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.

I had to share that with you. It’s radically different from what I might have answered. But it makes perfect sense. Serious writing probes. It pushes down through the layers of life, asks important questions, examines and offers up answers. And this occurs in non-fiction and in fiction. Reading is a profound experience that can transport someone who is dying back to life. It can offer beauty and joy to someone who is downtrodden. It can be an escape or have the effect of awakening. As Sarah says: If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.

I believe this is true of many art forms. Do you paint, scrapbook, work in clay, or spend your days painting furniture and walls? Valley Burke is an RN. She was born with severe myopia and was considered legally blind. But she found LIFE in art and began to draw as soon as she could hold a pencil. Burke writes: “As a patient, painting, drawing provided an invaluable outlet wherein I was able to go beyond the pain, nausea, fear, grief and sadness.” Later in her nursing life, Burke offered her art work to hospitals and saw that her work helped patients heal. Being involved in art can provide all of us with profound feelings of accomplishment.

Thoughts on Accomplishments Or How to Make It a Good Day!

Burke with her painting RED GODDESS

Burke advises: “create a sacred space in your environment…dedicate a room and in this space, do what nourishes you. It can be writing, music, meditation, yoga, painting, drawing–anything that uplifts your spirit.”

Of course my space is for writing. And some days I can claim accomplishments. Others, the muse has abandoned me.

Sarah Manguso also writes: All writers will envy other writers, other writing. No one who reads is immune. To write despite it I must implicate myself, to confess to myself, silently or on the page, that I am envious. The result of this admission is humility. And a humble person, faced with the superior product of another, does not try to match it or best it out of spite. A humble person, and only a humble person, is capable of praise, of allowing space in the world for the great work of others, and of working alongside it, trying to match it as an act of honor.

Sarah’s words inspire me. I will always read and be filled up by the work of serious writers. I will always find myself transported by a sentence, a scene, the depth of a character. Will my writing do the same? I can strive, I can hope. I will be humble. And as Sarah underlines: allow space in the world for the great work of others–all the while doing my work, trying to match theirs as an act of honor. And I know that in following that goal, I will make it a good day!

What are you working on? What accomplishments can you claim for your day?

Thanks to You Tube, The New York Times and Nurse.com