BOOM, WOW, GREEN, LOVE…The Power of Words

BOOM, WOW, GREEN, LOVE…The Power of Words

I don’t know exactly when I could read. Probably around the age of five—all I know is words are magnetic for me—an eternal pull. Growing up, I read WORDS in my mother’s daily Chicago Tribune or on the pages of Life Magazine or the side of the cereal box and the ketchup container. One of the best parts of my day was the end of it and the book on my bedside table. THANKS MOM. Then reading worked its way into writing. In fourth grade I wrote my first story. It was one page and awful. But I was already playing with words.

A VISUAL EXPERIENCE 

Once I remarked to a friend as we strolled the grounds of the University of Illinois that there was beauty in the sign ahead. It read: DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH. She looked at me as if I was crazy. Well, each to their own—there is something beautiful about the letter E—and all the rest of it.

Because words are a visual experience as well as a communication to the brain. EDGAR HEAP of BIRDS would agree with me. One of his works appears above and is from his collection now installed at Garis and Hahn gallery in LA. A Native American, Heap of Birds is fascinated by the power of words and the uses of language. Born in Wichita, Kansas, his father was descendent of Cheyenne who fought at Little Big Horn. And though Heap of Birds states that many Indians were laborers, he got inspiration from artist Blackbear Bosin from Wichita, a sculptor and painter. Heap of Birds then studied at U of Kansas, Royal College of Art in London and Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. Later, inspiration came with a blank wall. “I would write things. The wall became a piece. The text became a piece.”

A MESSAGE FROM HIS ART 

When studying Custer’s massacre at Washita, Oklahoma, where more than 100 sleeping women and children were killed, Heap of Birds found the tools to his express his feelings.”I didn’t want to make a bad narrative painting, so I started notating a lot of issues.” Over time, text, words became central to his art. Thus, in bright red or cool blue he paints: WHAT PART OF SACRED DON’T YOU GET   CLEAN YOUR CHURCH WITH SEWER WATER    DEFEND DEVINE MOUNTAINS FOR SPRING-BREAK FUN

But all of this is more that just letters and color—it’s part of his exhibition Defend Scared Mountains—inspired by four mountains that are held scared by America’s indigenous peoples. There mountains are: Mauna Kea in Hawaii; Bear Butte in South Dakota, San Francisco Peaks in Arizona, and Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, known to the Cheyenne as Bear’s House. The struggle of his native people to defend sacred places may have political connotations–but they are not mentioned. Heap of Birds is making that point with his art.

CLEAN YOUR CHURCH WITH SEWER WATER alludes to the sacred San Francisco Peaks in Arizona. Since 2012 a ski resort on one of those peaks allows the manufacture of snow from retreated wastewater. Thus they are blanketing a holy Native American site with human waste. Heap of Birds explains that these are charged places, spiritual places. But the U.S. government has never treated them that way. Heap of Birds relates that irony: “It’s a federal offense to climb Mt. Rushmore. You can climb Bear’s House all day long.”

So…his art, his words in their bold colors fight back:

DEVIL’S TOWER WRONG NAME CONFUSED WHITE MAN

YES, WORSHIP AFTER PAYING ENTER FEE

MOUNT RUSHMORE POUND SPIKES IN…

People who know Heap of Birds, like Bill Anthes, say that his work and his attitude toward it is never about lecturing. “His plays on words is always fascinating. Some are jokes on the viewer. Some are playful…word play. He has fun with it, even if he is challenging you.” For Edgar Heap of Birds, who doesn’t work in granite or marble, he loves the work he does, states that “…paper ships easily. Language is very mobile.”

And yes, words have power, evoke the past, present and future. Fuel wars, peace and love and thus the continual progression of people on the planet. BOOM WOW LOVE

 Thanks to Edgar Heap of Birds for the photo of his work and the LA TIMES and Carolina A. Miranda for the amazing review of his art installation.

Signs, Tragedies and Why We Tell Jokes

CHANGE: It Can Be for the GOOD!!

THIS SIGN NO LONGER EXISTS.

What went through your mind when you first looked at the above photo. If you have lived in California for many years, you might be familiar with this signage. I was not. THIS WAS A FIRST FOR ME.

Today in the LA TIMES it was reported that this last “immigrant crossing” sign next to the 5 Freeway near the Mexican/California border has become obsolete and thus has been taken down–by someone. They don’t know who. I believe that’s okay. The article stated that fences had been erected over the years to protect people from being hit if they decided to run across the freeway–another reason the signs were no longer needed. Also, the number of people crossing the border illegally has dropped dramatically in the 21st century, a 83% drop.

History Behind the Sign 

The sign has always been a source of controversy. That makes sense to me.

Many see it as an offensive caricature of people from Mexico fleeing to the US. Justin Akers Chacon, a professor of Chicano Studies at San Diego City College related that critics of the signage felt that the imagery dehumanized immigrants, likening them to animals. I agree.

Historically, the signs warning drivers had no image. Drivers had to quickly read: Caution watch for people crossing road. Then artist John Hood was asked to add the drawing. HIs take on what he created: “It doesn’t mean they are running across the freeway. It means they are running FROM something else as well. I think it’s a struggle for a lot of things–for opportunities, for freedom.” Thus even the artist who created the sign has a more open position on the immigration argument.

Different Views  

Everard Meade, director of the Trans Border Institute States: “The thing with these symbols is that the response is 50-50. Some people see that sign and think, ‘My god, this is a sign that represents how our immigration policy has failed, and we put people in vulnerable position such that we have to have a road sign so people don’t run them over on the highway.”

Pedro Rios, director of the U.S. Mexico Border Program for the American Friends Service Committee advocates for migrant rights. He pointed out that Operation Gatekeeper pushed would-be-immigrants routes east over the mountains and through deserts. “Ironically, this pushed migrants into less-populated areas…it means that fewer migrants died crossing in the San Diego region, but more were in peril in the less-visible treacherous crossing routes.” Obviously, the arguments pertaining to border crossing continue.

My First Encounter

Being new to California and not living near the San Diego border, I had never seen one of these signs until today, in the newspaper. But when contemplating what to write about today–it communicated to me HOW OUR REACTION TO THINGS CHANGE. And often for the good.

Growing up in Chicago in the sixties there were a series of horrible murders--3 women at Starved Rock National Park, a teenage female found in Montrose Harbor and two sisters also found dead and frozen during the winter months. Jokes were actually told about these incidents. I won’t recount them, but they were gruesome. And people laughed. But comics often go to the scene of the crime, so to speak, to soften the horror and thus DEAL with the harsh realities of other peoples’ lives.

What did drivers say when they saw those signs along the Freeway? Maybe they were more alert to not hitting a human being, but maybe after a while the sign meant NEXT TO NOTHING, DID NOT TOUCH THEIR LIVES, just like the horrible jokes I remember DID NOT TOUCH MY LIFE. Maybe the signs even created some jokes. We use humor to push the tragic away.

So Why Do We Tell Sick Jokes About Tragedies? 

Psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos worries that sick humour’s popularity is symptomatic of an unhealthy culture which has been desensitised to the suffering of others.

“One of the reasons we laugh at tragedy is that it makes the enormity of the issue easier to deal with,” she states. “But we do live in a society where tragedy has become something that we’ve become conditioned to laugh at.”

Sigmund Freud addressed this in his essay HUMOR. He argued that sick jokes were the mechanism by which the ego “insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world”.  

Comedian and writer Erma Bombeck once said: “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”

Psychologist Peter Mcgraw in an article tried to uncover the reasons as to why sometimes tragedy can result in laughter. The core of the theory? That the amount of time that elapses since the tragedy and how closely the tragedy hits home, and how severe it is affects the aspect of humor.

  • distance can be measured in both time and space so that small tragedies, or mishaps (what the authors call benign violations), are more likely to generate humor if they happened to you or to a close friend.
  • but large misfortunes are funnier when they are inflicted on other people–and not you.

Fences and Walls  

Maybe the sign in the photo above was looked upon by most drivers in the San Diego area as a necessity of that time period. Maybe some drivers were angered and upset by the image and touched by the humanity of the situation. Maybe the sign instigated joke-telling as people made their way north on the freeway without a care in the world. “Did you hear about the …etc etc. (I actually don’t know any of those jokes and if I did I would not print them.) And I am horrified that in my youth I laughed about someone’s misfortune. I’m glad the signs are gone and I hope we now think or people fleeing other countries as not that far from our own immigrant ancestors who came to this country for a better life. I’m sure once they got here there were jokes to tell: maybe jokes about sinking ships and nasty workers on Ellis Island. But then–they were here, they were free, they could begin a new life.

Found this Ellis Island Joke:

Yehudah Tzvi Windweher arrived at Ellis Island and asked his friend “What would be a good American name for me? I want it to be Jewish, but more American.”

His friend replied, “Sam Cohen, that’s a good American Jewish name.”

Yehudah Tzvi began his long walk up a massive flight of steps leading to the immigration office. With each step he said, “Sam Cohen, Sam Cohen,” in an earnest effort to learn his new name. When he finished carrying his luggage to the top of the flight, he was winded and tired.

A large immigration officer caught Yehuda Tzvi off guard when he said, “NAME?” in a booming voice. A flustered Yehudah Tzvi replied “Shoyn fargesin” (“I already forgot” in Yiddish).

The immigration officer replied “Sean Ferguson, welcome the United States of America!”

My Wild Wonderful & Sweet Children–Every One

My Wild Wonderful & Sweet Children--Everyone

My husband and I are blessed with three amazing children. The point of this post is that not only are they all living good lives–it’s that ALL THREE ARE SWEET! Why is that a big deal?

Keep Reading.

HOW TO RAISE A SWEET SON in an ERA of ANGRY MEN 

Faith Salie, author of the Approval Junkie, published a piece with the above title in TIME MAGAZINE. I LOVED WHAT SHE SAID. I wish I’d written that piece. So I looked her up. Faith is an American journalist, writer, actor, comedian, and contributes to CBS Sunday Morning and NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! SHE’S A SMART WOMAN.

Faith has damn good insights. Her first child was her son and when her husband greeted the newborn, he said, “Hi Sweet Pea” not Buddy or Little Man and Faith felt great comfort. She saw from the beginning that both of them would be committed to raising a sweet boy and Faith, like many other mothers, realizes that this is what the world needs now–millions of them.

Faith now has two children–her son is five and her daughter is three. She uses metaphors for the trajectory of their individual lives: the girl deemed a makeshift kite to be a fencing foil and raced around the yard proclaiming “En grade!” At a birthday party, the boy asked the balloon artist for a heart, instead of the usual sword.

Here’s the point Faith makes: “Boys have always known they could do anything; all they had to do was look around at their presidents, religious leaders, professional athletes and at statutes …in cities big and small.” “Girls always knew that they were allowed to feel anything–except anger.”

Yes. But now girls, led by women, are allowed to be angry. They can feel all emotions and use them to determine their futures. LIKE MY TWO DAUGHTERS. Christine had to deal (and did so expertly) with egotistical, obnoxious men when she worked in the film industry. Caroline had initially wanted to major in architecture, but found her way to city planning and landscape as a more wide-open choice for her. They are both powerful women in their own right.

BUT WHAT ARE BOYS TO FEEL? 

Faith states it clearly: while now girls are encouraged to take on the roles that were once only for men, boys who already knew they could be all these things–astronauts, tech giants–their parents often fail to help them access their emotions, understand them and how to work with them. Faith points out that boys are still dressed in trucks and footballs. She saw a onesie for a baby boy that read TOUGH LIKE DADDY and would much rather see one that read RESILIENT LIKE MOMMY. (Also consider how many men around the age of 27 commit suicide or go on a murder rampage. The statistics are chilling.)

There is nothing wrong, but absolutely right, to raise a son and foster his innate sweetness. Because this boy will grow up to see that there is strength in being vulnerable and empathetic. (Empathy, which is now one of my favorite words for all time.)  Faith states that when boys grow to be men and understand their emotions they:

  • aren’t threatened by criticism
  • don’t perceive COMPETITION from people because of their skin color or sexual orientation, religion, education or as Faith writes WHATEVER!!

When boys feel everything without shame it is because their parents and hopefully the wider society have given them permission to access their emotions, welcome them and understand them. There is NO SHAME in having and expressing emotion for males or females.

Faith writes: “Parents must invite their sons to be sad, afraid, hurt, silly and affectionate, and embrace them as often as they snuggle their daughters. Sweet boys learn early on that they can defend themselves against loneliness by reaching out and asking for support rather than turning into people who, literally grab for power. Sweet boys evolve into openhearted men who aren’t confused about consent and sexual boundaries, because they experience women as equals.” 

FINAL THOUGHTS

I kept a baby book for each of my children. I recorded their birth weights and size, taped in  their foot print sheets and went from there. Their growth, new teeth and first words were all recorded. Their illnesses, birthdays, funny and amazing proclamations–all were recorded. My husband and I realized that we were raising two girls and then a boy–but that pattern for each was the same.

HOW DID OUR THREE TURN OUT?  I could go on for hours, but I’ll make it brief.

Caroline has an MA in City Planning & Landscape Architecture, works in the Green Movement, helping to restructure buildings to become LEED certified. (LEED is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.)

Christine has worked in the film industry, only to do a one-eighty and earn her MA in Theology, with a focus in spiritual direction. She has three amazing children and published a book about what she learned from them.

Andrew works in marketing for a firm that specializes in games, he plays guitar, knows chapter and verse about many kinds of music, and writes his own songs.

They are wild and wonderful, creative and funny, curious and interesting and all have found amazing life-partners. They love adventure and yet sitting around a fireplace on a cold night just talking–nothing could be better.

When my husband and I hurt, they are there for us. When we cry, they cry; when we laugh, they laugh. Last night our son called with excitement as his girlfriend Amy had been honored with first place at an art show. This is a man who GETS IT. But I have to say, he’s had a great role model all his life–his father. He did get called, Buddy, now and again, he was encouraged to play baseball etc but there was never a doubt that he would be sweet and kind–and today he is a man of great empathy–in a world where anger, ego, lust and pride are sometimes held up as the way to be.

No, never. Not our son. Or the sons of our children.

Great thanks to Faith Salie; Photo Credit: DAD

THE RIGHT TO VOTE: David Letterman Talks to POTUS 44

THE RIGHT TO VOTE: David Letterman Talks to POTUS 44

“Facebook and Amazon Go are eliminating our human interactions. Why talk to friends and family when you can like their pictures? Why chat with the grocery store clerk when you can scan your phone while she is checking you through? Technological progress is amazing, but we need to stay in touch with our humanity, with the people around us.”

YES! I so agree with Eugene Gu MD who posted most of this on Twitter.

And yes I go to Twitter almost daily, but I also communicate with many people online BY WRITING to them. By calling them. And I feel very strongly that town centers, shopping malls, community centers and movie theaters are vital parts of our lives. Even if you can afford a home theatre, people need other people. Interaction with someone NEW keeps our social skills alive. And we need social skills to have fulfilling lives.

But WHY, we might ask. Well, let’s go deeper.

  • Why would we want to support people in need if we didn’t really know anything about them, didn’t understand them, had never met them and thus eventually might not give a damn about them.
  • Why live in a democracy when we don’t really care about the VOICE OF THE PEOPLE?
  • Why believe in the power of the vote if we allow political operatives to prevent people from voting?
  • Why salute the flag if we don’t support what it stands for: THE BILL OF RIGHTS; THE CONSTITUTION and THE SUPREME COURT RULINGS that help us advance government to provide for all its people. (a ruling mentioned below has failed to do that.)

Obama and Letterman: VOTING BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE

Two men who left their long-held employment, Letterman and Obama, recently chatted about their new goals and how to adapt with major life changes. And though they teased each other, Obama reminding Dave that he didn’t volunteer to leave his job, Dave getting Obama to share his “Dad Moves” when dancing with daughter Sasha and taking his older daughter Malia to college–Obama admitted, he was only assigned assembling a lamp.

But the heavy focus of their “chat” was on Letterman’s visit with Rep. to the U.S. House John Lewis and a filmed walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Letterman honored Lewis and his fight for civil rights and voting rights. Lewis’ dedication to these causes began when he became a member of the original 13 Freedom Riders in 1960. Then in 1963 he became head of SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee which eventually led him to take a prominent role in the Selma to Montgomery March to register black voters. On March 7th, 1965 which became known as Bloody Sunday, Lewis was at the head of the line leading more than 600 people across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. When they reached the other side and stopped to pray, police set off tear gas and then mounted troopers began to beat the marchers with night sticks. Lewis had his skull fractured and bears the scars of the incident to this day.

Letterman and Obama talked about how the change in the Voting Rights Act in 2013 has harmed the ability for many Americans to vote. Something that is a RIGHT of all Americans now allows states to present problems to certain populations by closing voting stations, arranging times that make it hard for working people, and insisting on certain forms of ID. “There’s a narrow window of time to vote some Tuesday and it’s snowing and you work or have kids who are sick. So people can’t vote.”

THE LESSON OF SELMA: we can awaken the people; we have the power to change and make it easer for all to vote. Letterman quoted John Lewis who provided a profound reminder of the preciousness of the vote:

  • 1st white men with property could vote;
  •  then white men without property could vote;
  • eventually women could vote. But the vestiges that only SOME are worthy to have a voice in our government is still with us.

Obama talked briefly about his foundation on the southside of Chicago where his presidential library will be built, but more importantly where he hopes to create a HUB to train young people to understand that in order to create change you need to stay involved.

It’s like Dr. Eugene Gu said in his tweet: “Technological progress is amazing, but we need to stay in touch with our humanity, with the people around us.”

ONE FINAL IDEA that Letterman and Obama agreed on: WE DO NOT MOVE FORWARD WITHOUT SOME DISCOMFORT. 

Thanks to: Voting Booth 2008  Candace Lovely

Small Things Awaken Us–They Still Should

Small Things Awaken Us--They Still Should

I was a kid and I was sick. I don’t remember what I had. But my brother, three years older than me, brought me some books to look at while I lay in bed. One was THE FAMILY OF MAN. If you are familiar with this book–it is all photographs by Edward Steichen from an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York–that then circulated around the world. The beloved Chicago poet, Carl Sandburg, wrote an introduction:

THERE IS ONLY ONE MAN IN THE WORLD and his name is ALL MEN. THERE IS ONLY ONE WOMAN IN THE WORLD and her name is ALL WOMEN. THERE IS ONLY ONE CHILD IN THE WOLRD and the child’s name is ALL CHILDREN.

But I wasn’t reading that. I’m a kid, probably seven or eight. (And if I watched TV, it was cartoons and Disney.) So I’m opening the book and being shocked. Why? The photographs are amazing, photos of people naked and kissing; a baby being born; a mother nursing a baby with all exposed. Keep turning the pages and I am in countries where people don’t dress like Americans, don’t look like them–they are dancing, singing, eating, crying and dying.

I closed the book. Was I really supposed to see these things? YES. A few years later it would be a pornographic magazine found on a street corner. (Nudity can be art and not art.) I was learning about the world. No parent can keep a child from reality. But there are wonderful ways and sordid ways for children to become worldly. We learn to evaluate and to understand.

RIGHT THERE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Every family decides how they will handle nudity, where babies come from and the details of sex. Yes, in some ways I was sheltered. There was the time a loving aunt took me to a public pool to swim. After that day, I didn’t like public pools very much. I was shy. I liked running under the hose in my backyard. That day when we walked into the shower room in our bathing suits, an older woman totally nude was showering, revealing parts of the human body I had never seen. Now where was that book that my brother gave me when I was sick?

Another time, my mother drove us to the Highway Theatre for a movie. We purchased our tickets, waited for the doors to open. A woman and a preteen girl were at the ticket window. I was watching them, but then wanted to turn away–the clerk indicated that they didn’t have enough money. The mother began to argue, raise her voice. The girl pulled at her mother saying, MA LET’s GO. The woman kept it up. The girl pulled harder and harder her voice cracking until finally she was able to escape this terrible scene. I didn’t enjoy the film. I thought about that girl for days.

Because I grew up with no father, he died when I was three, it took me years to feel comfortable around men, to understand what they were all about. On trips to a lake house with my close friend’s family, I loved the weekdays–no men. They came up on weekends. They were all loving fathers, but I hung back.

WAKING UP EVERY DAY

The crazy thing about these episodes that occurred in my life years ago, is that they are still happening. Yes, I navigated and embraced my life, survived learning about men and women, sex and marriage, pain and death, and came to the conclusion that life is amazing and wonderful and I want to hug it and be in it and share it with others.

Books, like THE FAMLY OF MAN, opened doors for me. I read, I learned, I could not get enough of life’s vibrancy. Or its sadness (Jesus cold in a manger, men and women dying in wars.) Because there comes a point in everyone’s life when you no longer want to look out a curtained window at YOUR LIFE. You want to BE IN IT.

Even though I have some years on me, I don’t want to watch a room of jaded older men and women, who are not AWAKENING like I am, deciding how my children and grandchildren will live in this, our beloved America. I want to shout out:  YOU HAVE HAD YOUR TIME, ARE SET IN YOUR WAYS! Others are awakening, LISTEN TO THEM.

FOLLOW THE VOICES, LOOK AT THE FACES 

There is a word in our language: jaded. It means, made dull, apathetic, or cynical by experience or by having or seeing too much of something.

You can’t see too much of your fellow humans who smile and weep; who work hard and love to sleep or listen to music or dance. 

You can’t read too much about the good things in people–the hard work they encounter, the diseases they fight (patient and doctor and scientist) the things they create–music and art and poetry and drama, and the world of nature that is powerful some days and tame the next.

MAYBE TOMORROW YOU COULD:

  1. Say hello to a stranger
  2. Turn off your electronic device and listen to the wind, rain, or if you are lucky hear birdsong.
  3. Call a friend who you’ve been angry with. Make up.
  4. Hug your family members like you really, truly can’t live without them. Because if you do lose them–that will be your sad reality.
  5. Find it in your heart to break down some barrier–it could be a prejudice, an anger or a blaming. Sometimes we even blame ourselves when forgiveness is the BREATH OF LIFE.
  6. I would also recommend finding a copy of THE FAMILY OF MAN. Or reading Ta-Nehisi Coates, WE WERE EIGHT YEARS IN POWER. Or teaching yourself about THE TAX PLAN. Or reading literature, which is about THE OTHER, and introduces you to SOMEONE ELSE’S POINT OF VIEW. 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole
White Girls by Hilton Als
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

Photo: ABC NEWS.go.com

 

What’s Your Idea of an Adventure?

What's Your Idea of an Adventure?

Once, when I was raising our son, 9 and 13 years younger than his sisters, those two amazing young women suggested that I go on an adventure. We were sitting on the couch in my mother’s home–and they laughingly insinuated that I had taken safe paths and it was time for me to “plan a trip where you drive off by yourself and explore, have some adventures.”

To their credit, one had left the Midwest to study at a major eastern university and adding to that excitement, had a scholarship to do it. The other, after her marriage, decided that California was the place for her career and so she and her husband went west. Adventurers both. Me? My husband and I were confirmed Chicagoans, Midwesterners–because we wanted to raise our son there and because our income was there. (You can always pull up stakes and leave a place, but it’s best to have income if you are raising a child.)

HOW DID I RESPOND? 

I remember feeling hurt. After all, having our son at the age of 42 had been an adventure. There was risk, there was lots of planning and some sacrifice–all things that must go along with adventure. And I was grateful that our two daughters hadn’t just headed out without a plan and financial backing. My husband and I would not have welcomed a call saying one or the other was out of money and alone. But surprised and a little annoyed by what they were saying, at that moment I didn’t agree or lay out some startling future plan.

SO WHAT THE HELL IS AN ADVENTURE, ANYWAY? 

I remember reading a novel by Elizabeth Berg, about a woman, who having issues with her husband, packed up her car with warm clothing and some provisions and headed out. The novel, THE PULL OF THE MOON, is described thusly: Sometimes you have to leave your life behind for a while to see it and really live freshly again. In this luminous, exquisitely written novel, a woman follows the pull of the moon to find her way home. Sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, always honest, The Pull of the Moon is a novel about the journey of one woman – and about the issues of the heart that transforms the lives of all women.

BUT I DIDN’T NEED OR WANT TO LEAVE MY LIFE. Instead, I wanted to enrich it. THUS: here is MY DEFINITION OF AN ADVENTURE, in a few sentences. 

First it is not what I saw on television while growing up–wild horseback riding or cars driving at dangerous speeds or travels into jungles where you might get mauled by a wild animal. An adventure can be a movement into the unknown, but It does not have to include danger, though it might include risk. There is a difference. Our son grew and thrived and thus:

  • I went back to school at the age of 42 and became a labor and delivery RN.
  • I worked the 3-11 shift at an inner city hospital.
  • I encouraged my husband to take new employment in Des Moines, Iowa & we moved.
  • I decided I could write a novel. In the space of seven years I wrote three of them.
  • I decided to spend weekends at a university studying about writing. (I attended either weekend or week-long classes at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival. I did this for eleven years.)
  • I researched a chronic form of leukemia to help my husband when he was diagnosed.
  • I worked for Meredith Corporation in their book department, doing copy editing and  proof reading and I worked at the health department in Des Moines.
  • I drove back and forth to Chicago to oversee my mother’s failing health.
  • Along with my husband, I decided that yes California would be a great place to move to when he retired. We did.
  • I decided I could write a weekly blog, join the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and take classes and workshops with them.

I don’t list these things to brag. No, not at all. Only to show that most did not require major travel in the PHYSICAL world, but they did in the MENTAL WORLD. That’s ME. That’s what I crave.

All of this is to underline that our personal choices make up the adventure of our lives. I totally admire people who do take greater personal risk when they climb a mountain or zip-line or sail around the world in a small craft. (Does one hour of rough water rafting on the Snake River and encountering a 4 count?) Basically, I’m a chicken.

ADVENTURES NEVER END

Maybe adventure is closely related to attitude. Do we exhibit our ability for adventure by taking risks in physical stunts, exotic trips, precarious adventures? OR in exposing ourselves to ideas and mental struggles that in the end might prove to be even more taxing. Whatever you decide:

  • try something new–a film, a food, a city, a book, an art form or type of music
  • be open to new ideas
  • work toward empathy and understanding
  • tell yourself I WANT TO GROW!  Growth is always an adventure.

INTO THE FUTURE

It’s always best to stay awake for something amazing. What would that be? Where would that experience, thought, travel take you? Right now, the internet is a form of adventure, as long as we use it to power good thoughts and actions. What’s on your list of future adventures?

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Photo Credit: Pinterest Akamai Marketing

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Women, Men and Birth Control

Women, Men and Birth Control

There is a definite positive economic component to birth control.

Sometimes I read something and I just know that the man writing the letter either hates women or sees all women as a threat. What else could be operating–if not bold ignorance.

So this in the Letters to the Editor, LA Times. ...taking birth control is a choice made by women who do not want to become pregnant. That is their prerogative, but it should not be the financial responsibility of taxpayers or employers. In those rare cases where pregnancy can be life-threatening, private or employer insurance, or even Medicaid, should of course cover it.

Some say that birth control for women and treatments for erectile dysfunction in men should be looked at equally. Not so. One is a medical condition, and the other is a choice. Bob, Laguna, CA.

To pick apart some of this:

  • instead of stating that women simply do not want to become pregnant (and I could write for hours about men who are totally unable to understand our sex’s physical and psychic responsibility as well as physical vulnerability that many men will never understand) the writer should instead realize that birth control is a means for women to POSTPONE pregnancy–for whatever reason they deem necessary;
  • practicing birth control negates his next line about financial responsibility to employers. The woman who plans for a child by taking birth control does so precisely to become economically and socially able to give birth and care for a child. Employers of women should encourage birth control that can aid the woman in learning her job–thus being able to prepare her employer and fellow workers for the time when she will be on maternity leave (if in fact that is offered to her, which it should be.)
  • Then the guy writes: in those rare cases where pregnancy can be life-threatening...I know this was a letter to an editor and thus brief. But he has no idea what he is talking about. If your only knowledge of a pregnancy is a wife, friend or co-worker and you really aren’t interested, then you can’t begin to understand all the conditions that can make a pregnancy life-threatening NOT ONLY FOR THE WOMAN BUT FOR HER CHILD. Thus: Maternal morbidity includes physical and psychologic conditions that result from or are aggravated by pregnancy and have an adverse effect on a woman’s health. The most severe complications of pregnancy, generally referred to as severe maternal morbidity (SMM), affect more than 50,000 women in the United States every year. Based on recent trends, this burden has been steadily increasing.

I’ll take a breath for a moment. I am a big advocate of birth control. I see it as a gift to women who can now control their ability to have children–can now plan for a family that they are able to support and care for. Regardless, life isn’t perfect. Some women discover they are unable to get pregnant after using birth control. Is there a relationship: “With a few notable exceptions, immediately after you stop using birth control, your fertility will go right back to what it was destined to be,” says Paul Blumenthal, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Johns Hopkins. There are exceptions.

Some women, me included, find it takes months to get pregnant. And for others, this is definitely not the case. Today, some women who postpone motherhood are freezing their eggs to ward off changes that might affect their individual fertility.

Maybe the writer sees birth control as a means of having sex without responsibility. But as a nurse, I can attest that their is always responsibility connected to HAVING SEX. There is the possibility of social diseases that currently are on an increase. Condoms as a form of birth control help fight the passage of some venereal disease but certainly NOT ALL. And there’s the psychological responsibility of sex–sadness, abandonment, guilt to name a few. Contraception cannot address those issues, but it certainly can provide a time period of adjustment before an infant is introduced into the mix.

Then this guy writes:

  • Some say that birth control for women and treatments for erectile dysfunction in men should be looked at equally. Not so. One is a medical condition, and the other is a choice.

DAMN!! WRONG WRONG WRONG. First off, here is a link to the many medical conditions that doctors treat by prescribing birth control pills. (This editorial letter writer never uses the word PILL, but basically he must be referring to either the pill or the IUD. The pill can be costly and requires a monthly script. Some women cannot take the pill. Though a diaphragm is relatively inexpensive, in real life use it is only 88% effective. IUDS can be very expensive, but are said to be 99% effective.)

ERECTILE DISFUNCTION VS BIRTH CONTROL

The letter writer says ED is a medical condition. He’s right. It is.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, as many as 52 percent of men experience erectile dysfunction, with it affecting 40 percent of men age 40, and 70 percent of men age 70. Men who have heart disease, diabetes and are taking certain medications have higher risks of experiencing erectile dysfunction. (Jun 11, 2013)

But the real kicker? He says that birth control is a choice. No. Birth control is often needed to address issues related to feminine health. Once again, here are a few: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, Endometriosis, Amenorrhea, Menstrual Cramps, PMS, and Primary Ovarian Insufficiency. If a woman has other medical conditions that indicate becoming pregnant would be adverse to her overall health, birth control could save her life. You can read about post-partum contraception here.

FINAL THOUGHTS 

Maybe the writer of this editorial letter had just had it with women–after all we are making news and we should be!! I do hope this guy doesn’t have a daughter who needs birth control. Ignorance can often be the beginning of a mistake that spirals out of control and hurts a young life. Women and girls deserve the right to plan their lives and their families. Birth control has allowed that. It helps women stay solvent economically and can prevent abortion — if the birth control works and if in fact that was something the writer didn’t want to mention. I just saw a government ad that said contraception leads to abortion. LIES.

Information is power, but only if it is the right information. And hey that means evidence-based and research-based–words I will continue to use freely despite what anyone says.

PS If we’re talking the cost of Birth Control, consider this: eight to nine thousand for a vaginal delivery and a C-section is higher.

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In 2018, What Will Concern You, Affect Your Happiness?

In 2018, What Will Concern You, Affect Your Happiness?

As we enter a new year, it’s always wonderful to see it as a clean slate where we set out certain goals and eagerly work to attain them. But I will digress, remembering instead a year that was not about finishing a writing project, celebrating a wedding or a graduation or even as basic as painting a room or cleaning the basement. It was a year of CHANGE.

QUESTIONS AND PLANS 

It was 2013 where the mundane LIST above was eclipsed by life itself. The first concern was my mother. Diagnosed with dementia, in her upper 90s and living in a senior home in the memory unit, we wondered if she would live through the year.

Second, and in my mind the concern of my entire life, was my husband, newly entered in a clinical trial for a chronic form of leukemia that had wrecked havoc on his blood counts so that he was in grave danger.

And third was our plan to put our house on the market and move closer to one of our children–because John had retired but was fighting this cancer and because it has always been our modus operandi to make things simpler when complications are on the horizon.

And though we could not see the future, our end goal was to be happy. But not before we complicated our lives. Yet in the process, found many blessings.

HOW IT ALL WENT 

My mother died that spring. We had already put our house on the market, planning for a waiting and real estate bargaining period of six months. WRONG. The first family that went through wanted the house. That’s called: it sold in one day–just before Mom died. Then we realized we had to find a place to live, pack and move on. In the end, we accomplished it all.

It was a time when our country was humming along. We read the paper, kept up with the news, but our brains had space to grieve (Mom’s funeral) heal (John’s body responding to the clinical trial drug) and plan (we flew to California and after many days of looking, found a home we liked and could afford.)

AMERICA CHANGES OVER NIGHT

Now as I publish this, it’s almost 2018. Yes, we got through 2017, but only because in our own personal lives it was not 2013, we were not in transition. Transition in a PHYSICAL, MENTAL SENSE. (You know that losing a parent and moving are two of the most stressful life events. And I might have lost my husband! No wonder my  hair thinned!)

But many folks are now losing their hair, seeking medical advice both physical and psychological (I asked my internist and she said yes, has never been busier, never seen so many SICK clients) because of the climate we are now living in. How your country treats you matters. Will 2018 be better?

If you’ve stopped reading, that’s okay. My musings on this blog HAVE to include how life affects others. Yes, I am able to carry happiness with me, but I also FEEL for others–on a daily basis. I feel for my country. I want healthcare for its citizens–and jobs, and good housing and education for all children and much more.

IF I WERE RICH, WOULD I FEEL DIFFERENT? 

Well I am rich in so many ways: family, friends, health, a lovely place to live, my 2001 Dodge that still runs. But recent research indicates that if I were economically RICH, I might feel differently about people like me or people who have much less than I have.

BOTTOM LINE: The rich experience happiness in ways different from me.

The research reveals that instead of “feeling positive emotions that involved connections with other people, their (the rich) happiness is more likely to be expressed as feelings that focus on themselves.”  

This finding was published this month in the journal EMOTION and according to the psychologists that conducted it, their findings seemed to fit a larger pattern. They wrote: People with money are more insulated from social and environmental threats. That gives them the luxury of being able to focus on their own ‘internal states and goals’ instead of having to worry about other people.

The report goes on to say: Those who inhabit the lower classes…often find themselves at the mercy of others. They may be more vulnerable to crime, or may be forced to send their children to underfunded schools. 

And for those who struggle to pay all their bills, here’s a fascinating result to their condition. In order to accomplish what they need to accomplish: the best coping strategy is to muddle through together. That requires them to focus on other people instead of themselves.  

RESEARCH and FINDINGS 

Researchers surveyed data from 1, 519 Americans, questioning them about their household income and their emotional state. The participants were from all 50 states and represented a mircrocosm of the entire country.

The survey probed people’s happiness, asking about 7 distinct positive emotions: amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, enthusiasm, love and pride. Each emotion was described in a concise statement and survey-takers used a 7 point scale to show how much they agreed or disagreed with the statement.

  • People from higher social classes were more likely to agree with the statement indicating that they felt pride: It feels good to know that people look up to me. But people with less money were more likely to agree with statements that indicated compassion: Nurturing others gives me a warm feeling inside. I develop strong emotions toward people I can rely on.
  • These associations held up even when the study authors controlled for factors including age, gender, political ideology and religious beliefs.

The conclusions that the researchers reached were stated thusly: …wealth predisposes you to different kinds of happiness. While wealthier individuals may find greater positivity in their accomplishments, status and individual achievements, less wealthy seem to find more positivity and happiness in their relationships, their ability to care for and connect with others.”  Read more here.

DIFFERENT OPINIONS 

Of course the above is a limited study. There have to be exceptions to this rule and/or after a person achieves a high level of success and they begin to realize that HELPING OTHERS and SHARING what they have made, is more meaningful than anything they could do. i.e. Bill Gates.

But it’s not true of many who think only of their own bank accounts and security.

As we begin 2018, the needs of many Americans have become more apparent. How can we help? At the granular level: a small donation; helping a neighbor; turning back to a relative that we’ve ignored, joining a group like Meals-On-Wheels (is it still funded?) or offering to visit the elderly in a nursing home. My husband meets with people who are homeless and/or jobless and helps them construct a resume and the “elevator speech.” Then he helps them search for a position.

At the heart of every man and woman is the desire to work and care for themselves. Let’s make 2018 a year of believing that and helping to make it so–in whatever way you possibly can.

Photo: Thanks to Napoleon Hill and Brainy Quotes

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Thoughts for This Season 2017

Thoughts for This Season 2017

No matter what your beliefs, reach out to others. Especially now.

Dear Friends,

I kissed my husband this morning and felt a profound sense of thankfulness. He still with me and our love still blazing, a simple kiss makes me incredibly grateful for this day and every day. And that gratitude will continue when our family gathers and we remember to honor one another and the memories and experiences that make us one.

Later, having my morning coffee, I can across a piece written by Katie Couric and was moved to tears. And so I am sharing her words with all of you. I think this appropriate–when another writer can say something better than I can–then yes, I want you to read this too.

In the piece, Couric recounts losing her first husband, Jay, to colon cancer. Then she writes about her new marriage and the life she has taken up since that great loss. She reflects on the experience and concludes:

Jay often said that I was born on a sunny day, which I took as a real compliment. But that sunniness can also blind you to the suffering of others. No more. Ever since Jay got sick, I have been keenly aware that there are those whose holidays are far from merry and bright. They might be next to you, picking out an ornament or tying a tree on the roof of a car. They could be ordering a standing roast or watching their child perform in an assembly or growing impatient when they can’t reach their carry-on in the overhead compartment. They are all around, bravely holding on to the present and terrified about the future.

If you know them, intrude on their privacy by reaching out, even if they turn you away. If you don’t know someone in this category, say a prayer for them and wish them strength and what Emily Dickinson described as “the thing with feathers”: hope. And if you’re lucky enough to have your health and the health of those you love, look around, soak it in and take a moment to say THANK YOU.

 Katie Couric is an award-wining journalist and a co-founder of Stand Up to Cancer. This piece appeared in the December 25th issue of TIME MAGAZINE, along with pieces by ROBIN ROBERTS, PATTON OSWALT, KESHA, GABBY GIFFORDS and MARK KELLY.

May this Christmas and the New Year provide your families and our country with good will toward EVERYONE. Beth

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Losing and Gaining…

Losing and Gaining...

The California fires as seen from space…

Last Monday, my husband had jury duty 15-20 miles away from our home in Ventura County, CA. We actually live RIGHT ON THE BORDER between LA County and Ventura County. He was at the Ventura Court House all day, but was not called to duty and was released from his obligation late Monday afternoon. Hours later, the Thomas Fire began in Ventura Country.

SANTA ANA WINDS

This is all new to us. We have been in California for only four years and yes, there have been fires. But California is a huge state–they were never near us. Now they were in our county and because of the Santa Ana winds–the fire was spreading. By Wednesday, the weather service was predicting winds up to 80 miles per hour. Okay, can a fire travel that many miles and threaten our home? Not likely. (It depends on the wind’s direction and the wind did ultimately shift, moving the fire toward Ojai and the ocean.) But more fires were starting in other areas. No matter how you evaluated the winds, the dry conditions, many  Californians were in danger.

PRESENT STATUS

We are fine–though the Thomas Fire has burned 173,000 acres, is only 15% contained and is now in Santa Barbara County. Evacuations are still being ordered. We gained, many lost. A video of a man jumping from his truck to save a wild rabbit went viral. Twenty-nine horses died in Ojai and many more endangered in fires near San Diego.

We did pack up our car, though we never got an evacuation order. Seasoned neighbors chuckled. Our family members in other areas did not–once an evacuation order is given you have little time. Then the roads are jammed. We could have been on the road immediately.

SOME BOTTOM LINES

Much of life is about losing and gaining–weight, health, money, jobs, prestige–and most important, belief in self versus giving up.

We all need cheer leaders, people who believe in our choices and admire how we plan and pursue our lives. That’s the role of parents. Successful people often credit their parents and/or spouses for their success, someone who believe in them. And on the contrary, some very successful people had little to no parental support and made the decision to “show” their beginnings that they could “make it” despite the hard-to-overcome negatives.

Even as an adult, recently I find myself looking for support, for people who believe in what I believe in, people who struggle but don’t give up, because I won’t and cannot. Laugh if you want to because I packed up my computer, but I was ready to save my writings, double protected by flash drives and some work on the mysterious CLOUD. I was ready to bring with me physical reminders of my life. You know what THEY SAY, bring your photographs, because everything else can be replaced. That’s true and not true.

Material things are just STUFF, but they matter to us–we cannot say they don’t. Of course if forced to stand by a burned building with your life–yes–it’s only stuff.

MORE BOTTOM LINES

So what have I gained from this past week, from being fortunate to sit here at my computer and write to you today–everything intact?

  • gratitude
  • relaxation–why go crazy with chores, Beth. Enjoy moments of your life.
  • Careful choosing..I did go through my house Wednesday afternoon as the winds roared outside, picking out things to take–the quilt my grandmother made when we were married; an album my mother made for me–of report cards and drawings from my childhood; my father’s lavaliere, his ring, and my Winnie the Pooh Books from my childhood. I also have picture frames of my three children–the photo that is showing being fairly current. But behind that photo are all the ones taken in the lower grades and high school. You can lay them out–watch my children change and grow…

FINAL THOUGHTS on LOSING and GAINING

Some people who lost their homes had to run, had to abandon and leave behind the material things in their lives. Other people have to run from the very life they are living. They take a huge risk to find the life they deserve. Take Michael Oatman, for example. Remarkable statements from THIS I BELIEVE, as to how he changed his life.

I still wonder what happened to that happy-go-lucky semi-thug who used to hang out with drug dealers on dimly-lit street corners. Well, I’m in the library parsing a Jane Austen novel looking for dramatic irony, while many of my old friends are dead or in jail.

I was lucky…When I was on the streets, I never felt I was good at anything, but I wrote this poem about a girl who didn’t care about me, and it got published. I knew nothing about grammar or syntax, so I went back to school to learn that stuff, and one thing led to another.

It’s odd to educate oneself away from one’s past. As an African-American male, I now find myself in a foreign world. Like steam off of a concrete sidewalk, my street cred is evaporating away, but I don’t fight it anymore. Letting go of the survival tools I needed on the street was a necessary transaction for admittance to a better life…I’ve learned the benefit of research and reading, of debate and listening. My new battlefields are affirmative action, illegal immigration and institutional racism.

I believe I am the living embodiment of the power of education to change a man. One day soon, a crop of fresh-faced college students will call me professor. I may even be the only black face in the room, the only representative of the underclass. I may feel the slight sting of isolation, but I’ll fight it off because I believe in the changes that my education has allowed me to make. (Thanks to THIS I BELIEVE.)

Photo Credit:  Marwa Eltagouri in the Washington Post.