True Memoir: When the Writer Gives You a Gift

And I have written before about sharing your love and your life with someone, even if they are dying. Don't be afraid. I admire the thoughtful columns of Meghan Daum. Recently she drew an interesting distinction between what writers put into a memoir–stating that it should be an honest report on a life and not a confession. She stated that some writers of memoir treat the form without respect.

“They forget about their audience. They forget that they have a mandate to shape the material into something beyond a diary entry or a rant. They also confuse honesty and confession.” —Salon, January 2013

To simplify, Daum believes

  • a memoir that reads like a confession is asking the reader for something;
  • a memoir that is an honest relating of one’s life is a generous gift, a sharing of a life so the reader will feel less alone.

When I read THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, by Joan Didion, I was transported. Didion worked through the loss of her husband in that book–but she wasn’t asking me to weep for her, she was offering the gift of shared human experience. From her book I wrote my piece THE DAY OF MAGICAL THINKING. I then read her next book, BLUE NIGHTS, about her daughter’s illness and death. I cherish both of these honest and endearing works. Didion from The Year of Magical Thinking:

We all focus on how unremarkable the circumstances were in which the unthinkable occurred, the clear blue sky from which the plane fell, the routine errand that ended on the shoulder with the car in flames, the swings where the children were playing as usual when the rattlesnake struck from the ivy. 

So true, and yes lately–we have been reading a great deal about shock and awe on Elm Street. FOR A CHANGE– I’d like to focus on stories that are shockingly wonderful. Stories of success and happiness–because they can happen just as fast as sorrowful events. We all need to work harder at focussing on the positive.

  • So Meghan Daum has a point: let’s focus on those people in our lives who are walking memoirs, the ones who share their lives and their stories with us and give us some joy.
  • They don’t harangue us with negatives, tear down the way we live; they aren’t constantly begging us for attention and complaining about their lot. We do not need their ugly negative thoughts.

Didion was deeply hurting in both of her books; she was in sorrow over the loss of her husband and daughter. But she gave of herself with openness and shared with her readers the JOY of her life, the WONDER of those precious relationships and the POSITIVES of the human experience.

Have you ever thought about writing a memoir? It’s more than a diary. It should really be the awakening of memory and the sharing of your soul. When you search Amazon for books on how to write a memoir, there are many to choose from. But this one stands out. Mary Karr, in THE ART OF MEMOIR, writes about memory itself:

Memory is a pinball in a machine–it messily ricochets around between image, idea, fragments of scenes, stories you’ve heard. Then the machine goes tilt and snaps off. But most of the time, we keep memories packed away. I sometimes liken the moment of sudden unpacking to circus clowns pouring out of a miniature car trunk–how did so much fit into such a small space?

I’m no Meghan Daum or Joan Didion, but I did write a memoir over 15 years ago, that like other work I have done is filed in a cabinet. I searched that work today, found a passage that might qualify as GIVING you something–I am certainly not asking for forgiveness or confessing a sin. This goes back to my childhood. I am trying to remember it. Did the clowns spill out of the car trunk?

My mother gives us a record with the story of the PIED PIPER of HAMLIN. I play this over and over. It is a strange story about a town infested with rats, about a piper who can rid the town of these pests, and then, because he is not properly paid for his deed, plays his pipe once more, coaxing the children to follow him out of the town along a winding road, over a hill and eventually into a long tunnel. It leads to a place where the honey bees have lost their sting. This last detail I always remember. It seems to linger with me, the tunnel, the honey bees that don’t sting. I keep picturing all the children in line in the darkness and then emerging into the light at the other end. There are flowers and trees and the warmth of sunshine and these marvelous bees. 

Sometimes, when I lie awake and the hall light is off, I worry that I’ll hear that strange alluring music, that I will disappear into that tunnel. It is in the dark of that bedroom that I discover how dry my lips can get, the existence of uneven spaces between my teeth, the clutching pain of stomach cramps before vomiting. It is the darkness of that room that sheds on me the light of discovery. 

P.S. I have written before about sharing your love and your life with someone, even if they are dying. Don’t be afraid. 


Got a Doctor Appointment? Check This Out.

Got a Doctor Appointment? Check This Out.

Almost every time I arrive at my annual physical or any doctor appointment, I forget ONE thing. And it’s not my symptoms or questions, no. It’s always a list of medications and vitamins that I take. Almost immediately I am handed forms to fill out and there I am, scrambling to remember names, dosages etc. (This time I’m going to type up a list, save it and print out a few copies.) Take away–want to have a successful doctor appointment? Be prepared. And don’t just jam all your med bottles into a paper bag and bring them along–the approach above is less cumbersome, you won’t lose your drugs and you’ll always have the list. Below, a few more tips for a successful appointment.

  1. Doctors are often late. They don’t want to be, but things happen: a patient is late; a patient does what doctors fear–gets up the courage to say I HAVE CHEST PAIN as the appointment is ending. Extending a slotted time for a patient can happen for a number of reasons, over which you and your doctor have no control.
  2. Keep things moving, don’t make the doctor question why you are there or if something other than a routine physical is required at this appointment. Address your concerns with your doctor immediately. Even if the thing you want to tell him or her frightens you (I have a lump in my breast) say it right away–get the news out so the doctor can handle the issue, put it at the top of the list. When patients fail to do this, doctors call it the OH BY THE WAY, moment.
  3. Be specific about symptoms and when they started and what they are. Dr. Amber Tully MD says if you do that, a full report might even make it unnecessary to run certain tests.
  4. Once you’re related your concerns, let the doctor run the conversation. The questions you will be asked will hone in on the process of determining your care. Relating that this ache started during a volley ball game might be relevant, but keep the details short and related to your symptom.
  5. Doctors will never pass judgment on physical problems that relate to intimate patient concerns. You’re there to get help–tell your doctor intercourse is now painful or that you’re passing gas constantly. Isn’t that really why you are there? The doctor is not a mind-reader.
  6. Doctors want you to understand what has been discussed and what your take-aways are. If you are unclear about anything–ask! And it’s always a good thing when you are given a new medication, to repeat back to the doctor or the nurse the instructions for taking that medication. I like to take notes.
  7. Be honest. Doctors will be able to help you only if they have true information: you took your husband’s antibiotic; you aren’t taking any of your meds; you smoke, drink, do street drugs, have more than one sexual partner.

Dr. John Ely underlines the importance of accurate exchanges between doctor and patient by listing the eight characteristics of a symptom as:

  1. where is your pain (if that’s your complaint) and where does it radiate i.e. move;
  2. this symptom: lasts how long? occurs how often? is getting worse? is getting better?
  3. Describe what you were doing when this pain first occurred?
  4. Do you have other symptoms associated with this symptom, with this pain? Describe them.
  5. Using an example, describe the quality of your symptom i.e. pain is like the stabbing of an ice pick or burns like fire
  6. Now describe the quantity of this symptom i.e. on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the worst what is it?
  7. What makes your symptom worse? if your were dizzy is it worse when you roll over in bed?
  8. What improves the symptom? Heat, cold, sleep, eating, movement etc.

For more information about making the most of a doctor appointment, please check out my past posts: Bring Your List of Questions to the Docs Office, They have A List Too. And Be Your Own Health Advocate. 

Got a Doctor Appointment? Check This Out.

Got a Doctor Appointment? Check This Out.








Thanks to Parade Magazine and the WELLMARK BLUE Publication




Thanks to and


Think a Positive Story–Live One Too

 Think a Positive Story--Live One Too

If you see your life as a positive story, can you also live one too? Well, the process certainly has benefits, but it also has elements fighting against it. Years ago when I was struggling with some health issues, a close mentor-friend told me to say aloud to myself: every day and every way I ‘m getting better and better and better. I did. And I did. Now, with everything we are facing in the current 24-hour-news cycle, it might be a good idea to steal away some positive thinking time and turn off the noise.

The theory behind the internal monologue is that your subconscious mind, a powerful force, hears things you say like: I’m never going to get that job; I’m a failure; with everything that is happening, life just isn’t going to get better; and these words actually affect your actions so that the negative thing happens—especially if the negative is often repeated or has nothing positive to offset it.

It’s your powerful subconscious that is programming your future either into good luck and success or into the hospital—or possibly the grave. Tell yourself at 50 they you just want ten more years and it’s quite possible you’ll have to struggle with a major illness when you hit your 60th birthday. It’s important to cultivate positive feelings about your life and your life choices.

Skeptical? For one thing thinking positively leads to positive action, action that encourages health, advancement, and success. Examples: caring for the body by following preventative health measures; caring for the mind by exposing one’s self to new ideas, theories, and keeping up with what’s happening on the planet all the while avoiding repetitive negative news that increases your heart rate and makes you yell at your family.

Clinging to the negative (he hates me, he’ll never promote me no matter what I do, we are doomed, things will never get better) can preclude personal growth. Opening to the positive can be transformative.

It’s not an easy thing to do. Sometimes today is all that counts–as some reach for the cigarette, the street drug, drive while texting, fail to practice safe sex, ignore new information available to them and balk at taking a class or working under a new supervisor to advance in a career. People want to give in and say, “Forget it. No mater what I do, things are going down hill.” Instead of fighting back, believing it’s a momentary slump, things will improve and the positive will occur.

Seventy-three-year-old Byron Katie, who has been called a Spiritual Innovator for the 21st Century, in her book I Need Your Love—Is That True? teaches that we can create our own reality by believing our own thoughts. And she is talking about toxic thoughts, thoughts that make us suffer. Who wouldn’t want to change that.

She says: “Thoughts are like children. They’re gonna scream till we pay attention. When we do, and when we put these beliefs to certain questions, thoughts we’ve believed for 40, 50, 60 years—the worst stressful thoughts—get popped. It takes a lot of courage. But isn’t it time to get real? Haven’t we conned ourselves long enough?” I love that–the thoughts get popped, we see that they are wrong, that isn’t who we are.

The above process is what happens in Katie’s seminars that she calls The Work. Who should attend The Work? Katie says: “It’s for everyone who wants to end their own suffering and whose mind is open to questioning what they believe to be true.”

Here are four questions you would have to ask yourself at a Byron Katie seminar.

  • Question 1: Is it true?

Katie says this question can change your life if you can be still and ask yourself if the thought you wrote down is really true.

  • Question 2: Can you absolutely know it’s true?

Another chance to open your mind and go deeper into the unknown, finding true answers that might be hidden by what we think we know.

  • Question 3: How does your body react—what happens—when you believe that thought?

This helps you notice internal cause and effect. When you believe the thought, there is a disturbance. It’s stress that can range from mild discomfort to fear or panic. How does what you’ve written about, the thought you believe, make you feel about a person or event? How do you treat yourself or the person you have written about because of this thought?

  • Question 4: Who would you be without the thought?

Imagine yourself in the presence of the person or event without believing the thought. Would your life be different if you could remove the stressful thought? Katie finally asks: which do you prefer—life with or without the thought?

Katie instructs her attendees to Turn the thought around: When you do this, you are able to experience the opposite of what you believe. Once you have found one or more turnarounds to your original statement, you are invited to find at least three specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround is true in your life.

Katie writes: “The Work reveals that what you think shouldn’t have happened, should have happened. It should have happened because it did, and no thinking in the world can change it. This doesn’t mean that you condone it or approve of it. It just means that you can see things without resistance and without the confusion of your inner struggle.”

Katie and my mentor-friend are similar in their approach. Having one life to live should encourage us to find truth and to find a way to live with truth, as some of it—ie chronic illness, the death of a child, the loss of a job—makes living extremely difficult. But we cannot blame it away, deny it away, hate it away. And we should not go through our days telling ourselves that because of the event, the illness etc we are doomed.

My mentor-friend showed me that for physical challenges it helps to talk to your body with love. Example: gently massage your forehead or neck when you have a headache while saying relax, you’re okay, take it easy, instead of throwing yourself into an activity where you attempt to ignore the pounding and just be angry at your body.

And for interpersonal challenges, it’s about approaching the stressful situation staying as calm as possible until you have all the facts. In a huge argument with a teenager you might be able to acknowledge that one choice he made during the event was a good one, while pointedly explaining why the other choices showed poor judgment. When it’s over, you’ve kept the door open and helped him walk away with some pride intact.

Finally, for mental challenges, it might be necessary to seek the help of a counselor, someone who can work with you on an impartial basis and help you see where you are, how you can stop “stinking thinking” and get past your hurt. At the end of each day, meditation with a thank you repeated over and over to Spirit can help you get up and cope again the following day.

Byron Katie says: “On our deathbeds, we’re still saying that he or she ruined my life. People say life is a dream. Well, let’s question the nightmare and have a happy dream. Retiring from stressful thoughts could be the most important retirement there is.” So think a positive story and live one too.

(For more information about Byron Katie and The Work click on the links above.)

Thanks always to Barbara Tennant 

To watch a film where what someone believes affects his entire life, watch:

An Unfinished Life with Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez and Morgan Freeman.

Think a Positive Story--Live One Too

Below, Bryon Katie Above photo courtesy of Google Images

Think a Positive Story--Live One Too

What I Love about America

What I Love about America

Do you remember as a kid having an argument with a sibling or a friend and when they tried to stop you from doing something you responded: Hey, it’s a free country! Those words, if we truly examine them, are incredible words that even as children we so took for granted. Because yes, we were living in a free country and most of us could roam our neighborhoods or fields and vacant lots with impunity–a gift we took for granted. It’s just one of the reasons why I LOVE AMERICA.

Today, as adults, our freedoms still exist, though for some there are challenges. But because we are celebrating the 240th birthday of the United States of America, I wanted to list some things about my country that I love. (And a nod to TIME MAGAZINE who did the exact same thing in this weeks issue.)

There is not a particular order to my list, except that when creating it, I started from childhood and then moved on.

  • Vaccines. I love that as a child my pediatrician provided me with the vaccines which were available at the time.The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) was NOT available, and so I had to experience all of those illnesses and they can be dangerous. But because polio raced through the country affecting many children with death and paralysis, a vaccine was created and was immediately made available to me and my brothers. Anti-vaccinators today need to realize what a relief it was for my mother to know her children were protected.
  • Backyards, sidewalks and porches. Growing up, we spent most of our playtime outside. In any weather. Imagination fueled that play. We didn’t need any expensive equipment to keep occupied. A white dish towel provided me with a cape–so that I could be Snow White. My brother and I played Davy Crockett and shared one coon-skin cap that a generous relative provided. WE MADE STUFF UP–it was and should still be the American way.
  • Public transportation and my bike. If we weren’t walking half miles or more to get to the candy store, the park, a friend’s house–we took the 103rd Street bus and transferred to get to the beach. We had a pocketful of quarters to get us there. Or we often biked–no helmet in those days. And summer jobs? The Rock Island Train was always my ticket to downtown Chicago where I worked in the file department of an insurance agency through some of high school and all of college. Now living in California, I wish public transportation was more easily accessible. The state is working on it.
  • The opportunities for single woman. My mother was widowed with three children, yet forged an opportunity to care for us and work and pay the bills. It got easier as the years went on and women were given more power in the workplace. My two single aunts both had Master’s Degrees and thus acquired excellent jobs in publishing that allowed them to golf and travel abroad. In some countries, my life would have been buried in poverty without a father, a male in the household.
  • Public education. Though I attended private schools, I became a teacher and fell in love with public education. The soft landings in my life did not apply to many children in the high school where I taught, so being a part of that experience made me value what good teachers and administrators and school boards can do to help an entire community and it’s future workers, parents and children.
  • Advancing medical science and research. This American gift has profoundly affected my life. Good medical care (and for much of my adulthood that meant HMO’s and PPO’s through my husband’s employment) allowed me to have healthy children, experience the birthing and newborn care of those children in a fully staffed and well run hospital. It has also meant access to advances in the care of cancer and is the reason my husband is still alive today. Thank you medical research and dedicated doctors and nurses of all persuasions who contribute daily to LIFE.
  • Taxes. Many people complain about paying taxes and often try to get around the system to limit what they have to pay. Bottom line: what if you had a fire in your home and when the firemen arrived they tried to limit the expertise to put out that fire–they tried to pull back and not provide you with all their capabilities. We live in a country where every day public servants deliver our mail, work to keep our cities safe and in California are ready to use any means possible to stop a raging fire that can destroy neighborhoods in an instant. I’m willing to pay my taxes to insure that safety.
  • The power of voting. I have a say in determining a way of life fro me and my family. Millions on this planet have no say.

For sure, this is a very short list. But it might get you thinking about the things that you appreciate about being an American, the reason you are willing to blot out all the chatter, the voices that have nothing positive to say, who fail to acknowledge anything worthwhile that we as a people have built and can continue to build on.

Our forefathers and mothers insured that we would have the freedoms that we live with today. Let’s celebrate that. And let’s be aware that these freedoms belong to every American. Happy Fourth of July. And don’t forget to vote.


Photo Credit:


When You Don’t Get the Window Seat

When You Don't Get the Window Seat

Lately, when I fly, I never get a window seat–my husband is on the aisle, me in the middle. But I have memories of traveling alone from the Midwest to California to see my grandchildren, in the window seat, watching the land drop away, the green fields of Iowa and the mountains of the west below. Going to Chicago, I found the sight of Lake Michigan and the skyline thrilling. Beauty from the air.

This last trip? The young woman in the window seat kept the shade down EVEN DURING LANDING. Nothing to do, I tell myself. This is America where tolerance needs to apply in many situations. Let it go, even if travel might make me cranky and eager to say “Don’t you want to look out at Chicago, watch us glide over this amazing city and land?” I stay quiet. But on some issues, maybe I need to offer some words.

While flying from the west coast to Chicago–I did something.

I read a book. I read Ta-Nehisi Coates, BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME.

I will never be the same.

And one morning while in the woods I stumbled suddenly upon the thing, Stumbled upon it in a grassy clearing guarded by scaly oaks and elms, And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting themselves between the world and me...taken from a Richard Wright poem

You all know Richard Wright! You read NATIVE SON in high school. In this poem, Wright comes upon the remains of a tar, feathering and burning, only to grasp that his future might be the same. But Coates, writing his book to his son, leaps from the scene to the present day. Some things are now outlawed. Some are not.

This is a book about Coates’ fear for his black body. For me, this book is a WINDOW on white privilege, on the impact of words that have come from my mouth over and over: bad neighborhood, ghetto, white flight, gangs with guns and drugs, working the system–.

Go ahead, stop and ask yourself what language you might unconsciously use to denigrate a group of people–and do it casually, like it’s really no big deal. Because it’s so a part of most of us we don’t hear it or see it.

As a child the rhyme, Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, Catch a–the object of which my mother changed to tiger. I don’t know when. But I said the original. I didn’t know what I was saying, but I SAID THAT while playing a game! Now it horrifies me.

It was part of the culture, inbred in daily living. Life without thought. Ignorance. Did I ever stop to ask myself why I said these things? No. Did my white body prevent me from digging through decades of pre-judgment–from seeing clearly that some of my choices smacked of fear? Yes. And then finally I asked myself why?

Because it was ingrained from my ancestors, forebears or the populace that came before me. They handed me a well-crafted picture–just handed it over and said:”Here, believe this, because this is how it is for you and how it will always be.” Were they good and loving people? Mostly, yes. Were they the product of the times, the whispered words, the judgments. Yes, definitely. And Christians also.

Separation. Fear. Build a wall–like don’t drive there after dark; don’t shop thereDon’t take the bus. 

My husband took the bus to college through those neighborhoods. NEVER had an incident.

Thank God for NOW because my grandchildren would ask WHY NOT TAKE THE BUS? And since reading BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME, these phrases, these tossed off and accepted ideas that are so much a part of the nomenclature stand out in my mind like darts of poison–because I am part of this. So what can I do when my policeman relative tosses it off so casually? Try to understand and yet know I cannot change him; arguments take me nowhere. But my black brother-in-law from South Africa, he gets it. He and my sister-in-law have experience DWB–driving while black.

I taught in a school with a diverse population (one of the best things that ever happened to me). But even so, I brought with me some pre-conceived ideas. My friend Linda M. helped wake me up. Told me, WE NEED TO SHARE THE LAND. Yes.

And not just share a dying neighborhood or a crumbling public housing building. See how they trash everything? I cringe even typing those words, but this is what we hear, this is in the language. We need to wake up and challenge it, never make general assumptions. Or at least try to discern WHY some things happen as they do.

My older daughter’s master’s thesis in Urban Planning was on the rationale behind the housing projects in Chicago–many of which have been torn down, thank God, some of which remain. I read portions of her reference books and they pointed to a major fact: a human being needs to have a say, to identify with a dwelling, a doorway, a garden. That builds pride, leads to care. Pushed in one direction without agency in choice blocks attachment. Ever read RAISIN IN THE SUN? Ever think about living in a building 20 stories high with no sunlight in the stairwell, one or two windows lighting your abode and no ability to step outside on a deck or a patio to feel the sun on your face? Sounds a bit like a prison. It was.

We whites think we have struggled for safety. Here is Coates: To survive the neighborhoods and shield my body, I learned another language consisting of a basic complement of head nods and handshakes. I memorized a list of prohibited blocks. I learned the smell and feel of fighting weather…I recall learning these laws clearer than I recall learning my colors and shapes, because these laws were essential to the security of my body.

Coates emphasizes his fear that someone will destroy his body because he is black–and for no other reason. Thus he references the firm and physical discipline of his parents.The LESSON that all black mothers and fathers teach their children: avoid the police when walking the streets. Be careful. Watch yourself. Your life depends on it.

What thoughts went through your mind, Dear Reader, when you saw a black mother scolding her child in a store, or pulling that child toward her? Negative right? Now read this from Coates as he addresses his son:

Now I understood it all…black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered. I think we would like to kill you ourselves before seeing you killed by the streets that America made. That is a philosophy of the disembodied,of a people who control nothing, who can protect nothing, who are made to fear not just the criminals among them but the police who lord over them with all the moral authority of a protective racket. It was only after you that I understood this love, that I understood the grip of my mother’s hand. She knew that the galaxy itself could kill me, that all of me could be shattered and all of her legacy spilled upon the curb like bum wine. And no one would be brought to account…because my death would not be the fall of any human but the fault of some unfortunate but immutable fact of “race”…

Coates recounts his first trip to Paris, a joyful-sad experience for a man bursting from the historical bonds of American society. Sitting in a Parisian garden he writes: At that moment a strange loneliness took hold…It occurred to me that I really was in someone else’s country and yet, in some necessary way, I was outside of their country. In America, I was part of an equation–even if it wasn’t a part I relished. I was the one the police stopped on 23rd Street in the middle of a workday…I was not just a father but the father of a black boy. I was not just a spouse but the husband of a black woman, a freighted symbol of black love. But sitting in the garden, for the first time I was an alien, a sailor–landless and disconnected. And I was sorry I had never felt this particular loneliness before–…far outside of someone else’s dream. 

Yes, we all have dreams. But they have to be ours. SHARE THE LAND, let others have their dreams without a catch. J Beckett says in his Goodreads Review of Coates’s book: The tears came because Coates, in a few pages, captured, exposed, unlocked and translated what so many people of color, so many frustrated and frightened parents, and so many disenfranchised and nomadic youth found so difficult to dictate and explain. For them, the feelings were there but the words simply would not come. I wept because Coates’ story was my story..

And part of Coates story is my story–it’s my inability to fully see and understand. I have a bigger window on that story now, even though what I saw was not my plane landing at Ohare in Chicago, but the words on the page bright and vivid calling out to me.

Read this book. Let me know if his words touch you also.

P.S. Next week, The Terra-cotta Warriors, on display at the Field Museum. If you are in Chicago, don’t miss it.





My Father: The Day of Magical Thinking

My Father: The Day of Magical Thinking

I notice his gold ring, gold watchband and a maroon tie peaking out from the shirt under his white coat.

It happened when my dentist went on vacation. A much needed one, but a little excessive for the amount of time he would be gone, 22 days. Because during that time I needed to see him for a checkup and cleaning. The office had called asking if I’d see someone else while he was gone. I was overdue for a cleaning, and said yes.

So this morning I was awakened from a very vivid dream about my father by the phone ringing and Helen, my dentist’s receptionist, telling me that they could see me in one hour. They had a replacement dentist. I move fast and I’m in great shape at sixty, but they were a little abrupt with the allotted time and I was not happy about having to hurry. One hour to shower and dress and drive there. (I didn’t get my hair blow-dried to my satisfaction.) But I made it, and they set me up in the dental chair.

As usual, first I saw Christy. She’s my hygienist, has the same name as my second daughter, though she spells it differently. Her husband has been in Iraq, it seems forever, and I’m always nervous about asking her how he’s doing. My mother is a widow, Christy has a son, and I’m just sensitive to that stuff. I guess I would immediately know if something horrible had happened.

She’s always cheerful and does an excellent job on my teeth. Obviously you can’t talk when someone is probing inside your mouth, but I get a question out now and again just after she finishes suctioning, and then she’ll talk about her husband and what he’s doing while my mouth is full again.

This morning, something strange happened. She had cleaned some of my top teeth and told me it was time to rinse. When she removed the buzzing brush, I automatically turned my head to the left to spit. An old reflex. There was no bowl there with the tiny metal spigot of water running in a half-circle. They don’t have those anymore. We laughed about it and she handed me a small paper cup filled with a cinnamon tasting liquid—the rinse.

A few moments later Helen comes in and they are talking quietly. I learn that Christy’s mother has arrived—an emergency situation. She is having lots of pain in one of her teeth and naturally would come right over and see her daughter who is in the business. Christy apologizes. She’s got to go check on her mother and then she’ll come back to finish my cleaning.

I’m fine about it. I’m a nurse. If my mother or one of my children needed me, I’d be right there.

I lie back in the chair and close my eyes for a while. I didn’t get my coffee—it’s decafe every morning—but still the aroma and the routine gets me moving. This dental chair is recumbent so my feet are up; I’m comfy. I have a book in my lap. I always have something to read with me, but I close my eyes. I doze off and on.

Once I open my eyes and look into the hallway. There are no doors on the examining rooms which all open onto this hallway. People flow in and out with x-rays and lab reports, bringing appointment cards and those tiny tubes of tooth paste that you always get to take home with you.

The replacement dentist is standing there. He has his back to me. He’s wearing a very starched white jacket, well not exactly a jacket, it falls to his knees and has a slit up the back. It’s more like a lab coat. The sleeves are three quarter length so that the fabric won’t get in his way. If he were closer I might even make the crack about didn’t he get the dress code email today? This dental practice does a color coded thing. All the hygienists and receptionists, even the dentists, wear the same color scrubs—but it alternates—maroon on Tuesdays, beige on Fridays. There’s a pale blue.

The replacement dentist turns a bit in the hallway—I can’t hear him talking, but he’s standing there like he’s conversing with someone, his hands held together at his waist. His hair is a soft brown, longer than I’m used to seeing. He has it combed back along the side and neatly trimmed around his ear. I notice his gold ring, gold watchband and a maroon tie peaking out from the shirt under his white coat. Is that his nod to the dress code? Are the rest of them wearing maroon today? I didn’t notice, but I know it’s not Tuesday. Maybe when he comes in later to look at my teeth I’ll ask him about his glasses. They look to be those new flexor type—all plastic lenses with no frame, very lightweight. I’ve been thinking about getting a pair. I doze.

After a while Christy is back. She finishes my cleaning, gives me my new appointment card and new toothbrush and tubes of paste and leaves. I know in any given amount of time, depending on how busy he is, the dentist will be in to see me. He’ll look at my teeth using that probe with the mirror on it. He’ll ask me if I have any discomfort, comment about when the next set of mouth x-rays will be done and then I can go.

I close my eyes for a while. And then I hear him walk in. He’s already behind my chair when I open my eyes. I can hear him open the chart which Christy has left on the table at the back of the room.

“Havey,” he says. “I know the Haveys.” His voice is deep, but has tenor qualities to it. It’s a lovely voice and I’m a little annoyed with myself that I am drawn to it suddenly. His coat makes a crispy, starchy sound as he moves and when he does my skin tingles. Now I’m arguing with myself. It’s the same sound my husband’s stiff white shirts make when I hug him.

“These Haveys were back in Chicago.” He flips a page in the chart.

I sit up straighter in the chair, which is hard to do because the very nature of these apparatuses is to have you lie back. “I’m from Chicago,” I say. “My husband is the son of Ed Havey.”

“That’s right. I knew that.” The voice pulls at something in me.

“You did?”

He doesn’t answer me. He continues to read the chart. I want to turn around and look at him, but that wouldn’t be proper. He’ll get to me and check my teeth soon enough.

And then he says, “So do they still call you Beth.”

Now something moves in me. My heart jumps, quivers. The way he asks it—it’s not really a question. And the word Beth in his mouth—it feels different, to hear it, a resonance or some other context that I’ve never heard before with the sound of my name.

I hurry to answer. “Yes. I love my given name, Elizabeth, like in the chart, but yes, everyone calls me Beth.” My other dentist must have it written down somewhere. Nickname, Beth.

“And I see you’re a nurse. I’m so happy to see that. I would have thought you would be influenced by your mother’s sisters—be a teacher or at least write.”

His voice is leading me. It demands that I answer even though these are not the questions that a replacement dentist would ask. Maybe I briefly decide he knew my people back in Chicago. Maybe I don’t. “I’m not practicing nursing right now. I actually am writing. And I was a teacher. That was my first job. But I taught English. Like they did. Like my oldest brother, John. He teaches at Georgetown. He’s a PhD. A published author.”

“That’s a wonderful thing. You both have done so well. And Bill?”

“You knew Bill, back in Chicago?” I’m thinking that maybe if he finally comes around and I can see his face I will know that he’s closer in age to Bill. Maybe he even went to school with Bill, my younger brother.

“I didn’t know Bill. Not as well. So he’s–”

“Oh, in the music business. Out in LA. He’s been there forever. Except for a job in New York for a number of years. We are very close.”

“And then there’s your amazing mother.” My mother is 92. Now how would he know her. Now I have to turn around. I struggle in this recumbent chair to twist my body and look at him. He has his back to me, sitting on a stool in front of the desk, still bent over the chart, one elbow resting, the right hand turning the pages. I turn back. The chart. He’s so into the chart.

“I know I’ve had way too many cavities,” I say abruptly, apologizing. “I had to have four of my molars capped. I’m sure it’s all there. I’m better about my teeth now. I am. But my father would not be very happy with me.” I always say this.

“Why not?”

“My father was a dentist. That’s why. I should have perfect teeth and I don’t.”

“Your father is very happy with you.” And then he gets up and comes around, wheeling the stool with his foot. He stops it at the side of the chair, near my feet. He sits and looks at me. The first thing my eyes focus on is his tie, bold in color against his white clothing, but soft real silk. And the glasses are real glass, highly polished with gold wire side pieces. His trousers are wool with a very fine grey stripe in them and his shoes are leather and highly polished. My other dentist wears tennis shoes. This replacement dentist is about 45 years old. He has my chart in his hands.

“I was making a sandbox for you. Or did I finish it,” he says.

“You finished it.”

My heart is pounding in my ears. I’m not sure I am hearing him correctly, hearing myself.

“You kids wanted a dog.”

I rush on. “I was way too young to remember. But this woman called me when I published an article about becoming a nurse and feeling closer to—to you. Because of the medicine connection. She was one of your patients and she said you were going to get me a puppy.”

There are tears in my eyes, they are running down my cheeks now. I brush them away hurriedly because I don’t want my vision blurred. I want to be able to look into his eyes and hold them there, watch how he moves his head, what he does with his hands, hear again the crispness of his starched coat and every word intoned with his amazing voice. I want to ask him questions, but I’m afraid to move, to say a word; I’m terrified that Christy or Helen or someone will walk in and he will just disappear.

“I would have gotten you anything you wanted.”

“In a scrapbook, I have the pumpkin you drew me,” I say. A stupid comment. There are so many more important things to talk about.

“Your mother is doing okay.”

“She talks about you more and more. She says she knows she’s getting ready to see you. Oh, but she’s so old.” My voice cracks and the tears are worse now. He is so young, 45, his skin clear and unwrinkled, his body straight. He left us when Bill was just 3 months. John was six. I was three. My mother has osteoporosis. She is shorter than he would remember her, wrinkled and grey. And then I say, “But her hair stayed red for longer than anyone there ever was.”

He smiles. It’s the same smile from the photograph—the one that sat on the drum table in our living room when we three children were growing up without him. He’s got this very soft smile and he’s wearing a maroon tie and his wire-rimmed glasses. The photo was taken not long before he crashed over in a chair in that same room, dead from a massive MI—heat attack. Now I’m shaking, my hands, my legs still outstretched in the recumbent chair. He’s just the photo on the damn table. He’s going to disappear.

“Your teeth are fine today. You are fine today. And you have three wonderful children.”

“Your grandchildren. They didn’t get to–”

“It’s okay, Beth. Really. You have to see that. I’m just here to reassure you.”

“May I touch you?” I finally ask him. I’ve been afraid to ask him.

He smiles and shakes his head as if to say don’t ask too much. Then he says, “I see you like to read.”

And then it happens. “Dr. Pfordresher, can you check on Christy’s mother again. Her pain is worse.” Helen, damn her, is standing in the doorway.

“He can’t leave. He hasn’t looked at my teeth yet,” I say boldly.

“Your teeth are fine today. You are fine.” He’s repeating himself. People in dreams sometimes repeat themselves.

“Don’t go.” I say it loudly, boldly. I’ll cry out if I have to.

Helen has walked away down the hall.

“Tell your mother, I’ll be there.”

I am sobbing now. I cannot help it. I fight to make it stop so that I can watch him, how he rises from the stool, gently pushes it back against the wall, how he walks behind my chair again, setting the chart on the desk. I am up on my knees now, turning my body to watch him. He’s moving toward the doorway.

“Dad!” It’s not a cry for help, not an angry cry. It’s more a pleasant, joyful escape of sound, something that I cannot ever remember doing as I was so young when he died. Three-year-olds don’t remember. Now I have said his name.

He turns back to look at me, a sixty-year-old woman holding him in my heart.

“Beth,” he says again and lifts his hand as I have seen him do thousands of times in my dreams. And he walks away, down that hallway.

I gather my purse, my book and stumble out of the chair. I forget my appointment card, my toothbrush, those little tubes of paste. I wander down the hall looking for him, questions for him pouring through my mind like water. Why did you die on us? Do you know everything about our lives? What do you think of this country now? Did you know that now medicine could have saved you? You could have lived to be my age or older.

Everyone is wearing pink today. They smile at me strangely and I know they are wondering why I am wandering around looking in all the exam rooms. He’s not in any of the rooms. I even check the break room, but he’s not there. Of course he wouldn’t be.

I had to go to the dentist today. And it was just my day of magical thinking.

Dr. Albert George Pfordresher DDS of Chicago, Illinois died of a massive coronary in his living room on June 4, 1950. He left a widow, my mother Virginia Pfordresher, and three children—John C. Pfordresher, a professor at Georgetown University, William F. Pfordresher, a song writer and music producer, and Beth—who wrote this piece. She thanks Joan Didion for the phrase “magical thinking.

This is a repost in honor of my father and Father’s Day. You might also like: FINDING MY FATHER Even though we never had the opportunity to talk about careers, my father influenced my career choices.

Safe Travel Helps Your Wanderlust

Safe Travel Helps Your Wanderlust

Ah the wanderlust of travel. It creeps upon us and we throw up our hands and say YES, YES, let’s explore this amazing earth.

But before you head out the door, if you are planning on International Travel, you need to think about health and illness prevention. Being ill when you are miles away from home and familiar doctors does not fulfill any part of the desire for wanderlust.

On the Plane 

If you are flying to far off places, your flight will most probably be long. Some airlines serve food and others will sell you boxes of snacks. Either way, find out if you can request meals and snacks that are healthy—think low in salt and sugar. If it’s possible to bring a snack bag of low-fat, low cholesterol and low salt foods on board, do so. You probably have to purchase these snacks after going through security.

During a long flight it’s best to avoid alcohol and caffeine as both of these can hasten dehydration. Some folks even experience head congestion, caused by poor air circulation as well as alcohol consumption. Drinking a glass of water or fruit juice per hour will keep you hydrated and make you get up and use the bathroom—which is good for you and fights against the effects of prolonged sitting. And if you are prone to swelling in the feet and legs, compression socks or hose should be part of your travel outfit.

Get Your Shots

Immunization is the other key to travel—you have to prepare your body as it doesn’t want to deal with viruses and bacteria it is not familiar with and won’t be able to handle.

Think of immunizations as part of your prep for travel. Maybe even more important than your suitcase, immunizations are something you carry with you to protect you from very serious illnesses.

Contact your local health department and ask to speak to an RN about your travel plans. Health departments have charts which indicate what immunizations you will need depending on the country you are traveling to.

For example: if you are going to India, the following immunizations fall under the category Recommended/Required: Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B, and Typhoid. The following fall under recommended: Japanese encephalitis, polio and rabies. And Yellow Fever is required!

While researching immunizations, I was extremely impressed by the following website Passport Health USA. Not only does it cover immunizations but weather, the locations of U.S. Embassies, safety and security tips and if you do need medical attention, what processes to follow. Travel agents often have access to similar information, but if you do all of your reservations online, a site like this one is extremely valuable. To find a Passport Health near you check out this link.

Plan Ahead for Immunizations

Don’t wait until a few weeks before your departure to check on immunizations. Some require a few weeks within your body to be effective and some health departments might not be able to take you stat! So call ahead and talk to someone who knows what immunizations you will need and can set up an appointment that will work with your schedule.

More Travel Tips Below are some more ways to stay healthy while traveling.

  • Frequently clean your hands with a gel cleanser kept in your purse or pocket; remember to buy a size less than 3 oz. that can go through security.
  • Use the hand sanitizer often, especially after trips to washrooms.
  • If on an airplane, turn off the overhead vent; you don’t need the draft and you don’t know what the air contains that it blowing on you.
  • Swab a small amount of an antibiotic cream like Bactroban inside your nostrils before leaving home; the cream will help fight viruses that want to make a home in your nose.
  • If you are immunocompromised from a chronic illness, purchase a N-95 mask to wear on a plane or train, especially if the people around you are coughing or sneezing;
  • Clean the seatbelt, tray table and arms of your plane seat with sanitary wipes;
    you might think to swab your suitcase handle when you pull it off the belt on arrival.
  • Try not to touch your face as you travel and if someone sneezes, close your eyes. Viruses love to enter through our eyes, mouth and nose.
  • Some travelers flush their noses with saline solution once they arrive at the hotel etc. You can try NeilMed Sinus Rinse that is available at drug stores.
  • Always have plenty of tissue with you.
  • Finally, wearing ear plugs protects you from sinus pressure as you take-off and land on airplanes and can provide a quieter environment if you happen to be around noisy passengers.

So BON  VOYAGE!!!!!!! With these travel tips you will stay healthy, arrive feeling good, and avoid getting some disease that is endemic to the place you are visiting. You’ll be ready to have fun and fulfill those longings for wanderlust.

Thanks to Barbara Barzoloski-O’Connor MSN RN CIC in

Photo: Pro Profs Quiz Maker


Your Future Could Be: What? Could You Please Repeat That?

Your Future Could Be: What? Could You Please Repeat That?

When my friends and I get together for a glass of wine and good talks, at some point the topic of aging usually arises. And it might stop right there with: Hey, we’re still here, as the wine is passed and we begin to plan a trip or chuckle over the recent news of our grown children. Then again, we might focus on aspects of aging that we’re dealing with—thinning hair, the latest skincare tips, the need to go up or down a size, foot surgery—that seems to be more and more common after years of flip flops and high heels. But so far I haven’t noticed any one of us asking that we repeat things. Hearing loss is subtle and it’s easy to smile and pretend you heard everything.


Hearing loss is rarely discussed. I remember my friend Cathy, during a more philosophical talk we were having, saying that loosing her hearing would be worse than loosing her sight. When I expressed the exact opposite opinion and asked her why she took that stance, she immediately said how painful it would be to not hear music. Yes! And bird song and your granddaughter’s first word.

Hearing loss and the use of hearing aids is a delicate topic and we’ve often ignored it. That’s not to say that it won’t be a hot topic in the future. I’m predicting that it will be! And when one of us has to get some form of a hearing aid, I’m hoping it’s not hidden away, that we can talk about this, share information.

Consider: people born with eyesight can get glasses when needed or have eye surgery. People born with hearing can get hearing aids when needed. Hearing aids offer the ability to again partake in a conversation even though hearing loss has occurred. But unlike glasses, it is taking us a long time to consider them a cool thing. With new technologies, that is definitely changing. For more information, go here.


After a noisy family wedding back in 2001, I tried to fall asleep, but began to realize that I was experiencing a humming or buzzing that could only be tinnitus. A few months later an episode of vertigo that I experienced on awakening sent me immediately to my very kind doctor. He ran a bunch of tests, even checked me for Lyme disease. A few weeks later, being concerned about Meniere’s disease, I had a hearing test and physical exam with an ENT. Diagnosis, not Meniere’s but minor hearing loss and BPV—benign postural vertigo. (see definitions below)

I was relieved, but tinnitus can be extremely annoying. I read about it, and like some of the articles emphasized, I realized that relaxing into the condition instead of focusing on it helped my brain block the annoyance. I could hear and that’s the bottom line. I still have tinnitus and always will. Most often I am no longer aware of it, except when in a very quiet room. AND, after being around loud sounds for a long period of time like a concert or a wedding. Then it becomes exacerbated. Ear plugs help. So does avoidance of sounds from motors. I wear ear plugs when I vacuum or use machines doing yard work. (My goal is always prevention, no matter what aspect of my health is affected.) Sometimes I just plug my ears with my fingers if I pull up next to a car blasting whatever.

The diagnosis of tinnitus also underlined that hearing aids were probably in my future. I am fortunate to have longevity on my mother’s side of the family–grandmother, aunt and my mother all lived into their nineties. But all wore hearing aids.


The commonly stated range of human hearing is 20 Hz to 20 kHz. In a sound laboratory, which blocks out interfering sounds, humans can hear sound as low as 12 Hz and as high as 28 kHz. Individual hearing range can vary depending on the general condition of a person’s ears and nervous system. Women typically experience a lesser degree of hearing loss than men, with a later onset. Men have approximately 5 to 10 dB greater loss in the upper frequencies by age 40.

My husband and I are about the same age, but I have noted that I can hear high tones that he cannot hear. You can take a hearing test on your computer, but it might not be very accurate depending on the condition of the room you are taking the test in and the quality of the headphones you use. (I recently did a test of identifying musical notes. I did this for my nephew and did very well. I was pleased.) And once again, age and prolonged exposure to loud sounds can significantly lower your ability to hear high frequencies. Sensorineural hearing loss means that the loss is related to a problem with the cochlea or the inner ear. An exam done by an audiologist can usually determine the degree of hearing loss and why it is occurring. Educate yourself about hearing loss.


Every one of us is aging. You might be 30, but yes, you are aging. It’s the human condition. And yes, I might have some years on you. So what am I doing about it? Lots of physical things to avoid immobility, which is the real killer. But also brain things. I read. I research. I write this blog. Being informed about hearing loss is better than doing the old HEAD IN THE SAND trick. Keep track of your health. If more and more you find yourself saying, WHAT, COULD YOU PLEASE REPEAT THAT? It is time to see your doctor or a specialist. And have those earplugs handy. You never know when your wild nephew might show up with his band.

Meiniere’s Disease: a disorder of the inner ear that causes episodes in which you feel as if you’re spinning (vertigo), and you have fluctuating hearing loss with a progressive, ultimately permanent loss of hearing, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), and sometimes a feeling of fullness or pressure in your ear. In most cases, Meniere’s disease affects only one ear.

BPV: Benign Positional Vertigo: develops when small pieces of calcium crystals that are normally in another area of the ear break free and find their way to the semicircular canal in your inner ear. This causes your brain to receive confusing messages about your body’s position.

Make Some Noise for National Tinnitus Awareness Week

Your Future Could Be: What? Could You Please Repeat That?

Make Some Noise for National Tinnitus Awareness Week

photo credits:,

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Make Time Your Friend, A Lesson I Really Need Now!

Make Time Your Friend, A Lesson I Really Need Now!

From the moment we awake to the end of the day, we are constantly employed with the job of living. Depending on how smoothly time flows, our day might go extremely well or it might bump along until we cannot wait to end it, fall into bed! 

No matter what our day contains, how we have planned or didn’t plan a given day, and what our attitude is toward the day’s events—time is passing on. We are aging minute to minute:

• heart continually beating,

• gravity pulling on the body,

• the environment exposing us to damaging elements that could affect intricate organ systems and overall health.

We don’t think about these things as we rise from sleep, make breakfast, check email or simply begin the chores and obligations of the day. They vary greatly depending on whether there’s a job to drive to, a train or bus to catch, appointments and deadlines to keep or children to care for.

But in fleeting moments when we separate from life’s busyness and just consider living, Deepak Chopra has some guidelines to help make time a friend. His rules can help soften time’s frantic pace and lessen the negative affects it has on our physical body. It can also help calm the mind that is often fraught with worry and concern. And that’s where I am right now, the news of this election cycle affecting my mood WAY TOO MUCH. I need to remember the gift of each day. Here are some guidelines:

Rule One: Where the mind goes, the body must follow. If our minds are constantly worrying, then our bodies are constantly being placed under stress. Cortisol runs through the blood stream increasing heart rate in the flight and fight response. We become jumpy and unnerved. Our bodies are following our  minds, aging every minute as we stress out, worry and fret. Lesson to Learn: whenever possible eliminate negative thoughts and relax; work to accept the bumps in the day. Breathe!

Rule Two: Memory freezes time and makes us relive toxic experience. This is a hard rule to follow, because humans love to hold on to things. With two fists clenched and with a mind set in a firm pattern, we go back to things that are finished, things that happened days, months, years ago. We call up hurts, regrets, betrayals, things that mar the calmness of the present. It’s like taking a beautiful beach scene and wanting a tsunami to occur. All the toxic feelings associated with that event come roaring back. Where there might have been stress-free healthy living, now we are experiencing those very same illness-producing feelings from the past. Lesson to Learn: to fight aging, live in the present and let the past go. Breathe!

Rule Three: Aging is rooted in stuckness. Linked to Rule Two, this one reminds us that bad experiences leave chemical residue in our cells. Dwelling on divorce, job-loss, a friend’s betrayal allows the flight and fight experience and the cascade of negative chemicals to reoccur, circulating through our bodies. The heart races, anger rises shutting out pleasant experience. Stop this cascade of responses. Breathe, think uplifting thoughts, cultivate relaxation. This clears negative chemicals from organ systems. We will get unstuck, our minds focussing on the good things happening in life. Lesson to Learn: breathe out tension when stuck. Embrace the present. That’s staying young.

Rule Four: A river never ages. Like flowing rivers, embrace change. In order to stay young, mind and body must accept change. The direction of the change is our choice—are we going to move forward or backward? Are we embracing newness in life as we hear the news or deal with a bank balance; or are we dragging ourselves back into stuckness—angry about what is happening in the world when truly some things are hard to change or worrying about bills when maybe some budget changes can help. We can turn off the news; have a family meeting about spending. These are forward ways to handle concerns. It’s up to us. Lesson to Learn: Creativity brings change; be creative in daily life and let change bring exciting challenges.

Rule Five: Beyond time, the experience of youth can be eternal. Chopra conjectures that someone once said: an ageless body depends on a timeless mind. What is timeless in you? Your soul, your consciousness, your mind freed from memory during meditation? Yes! We need to free ourselves. Immortality is that timeless part of us that we’ll find through meditation. Chopra says meditation and letting go will allow the mind to find truth. And truth is beyond the confines of time. Lesson to Learn: Stop the dirty dishwasher of thoughts. Focus on breathing and find the truth buried within.

Time is a precious commodity. Each morning I will continue to select something I truly want to do during that day–like write this post–and make sure I do it. Time can steal away life before we paint that picture, walk in that garden, tell someone we love them or that we are sorry for something we said. Make Time Your Friend every day. I know I need to truly work on this.

PS MY ERROR: For those of you looking for my piece on HEARING and HEARING AIDS, it was a guest post that I inadvertently published here. It will appear here later this season. My apologies. I would send you to the blog where is appears, but it has not been posted yet.

Photo Credit:as-the-clock-ticked-altered jpeg.

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.


  • 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 and

The Staying Power of Words

Words form a bridge between us.