More Like This….

More Like This....

We all make choices about what we will read, what television presentations or films we watch. In today’s world of “fake news”–almost anyone with an opinion can throw us a curve ball. FACT-CHECKING helps. If you come across something you think might be false, you can go to various sources to confirm it’s truth factor. (I’m thinking news stories–better to have a few different sources before you think Pizzagate really occurred.)

Currently, I think we need to do that a lot. When reading non-fiction that lands on the best-seller list, we are at the mercy of the author. His or her book could still be a vehicle of lies and BS. Sad but true. An Index at the back of the book often helps confirm that the author did research and what and who the author’s sources were. (Think childhood immunizations cause autism. It took a long time for those lies to be correctly challenged and disproved.) Because if the author is known for a certain stance on that subject. then you probably know what you’re getting–unless the book is a complete turnaround or includes new research.

Rebecca Skloot had credentials when she started working on the book that became THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS. She attended Portland Community College to become a Veterinary Technician and then received a BS in biological sciences from Colorado State University, and an MFA in creative nonfiction. Her education prepared her for the ten years it took her to write the book which was on the NYT Best Seller list for two years and recently made into a film that appeared on HBO this past weekend.

Oprah Winfrey played the part of Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s daughter, whose life was shadowed by the death of her mother. Henrietta died in 1951 at the age of 31 from cervical cancer. She had five children whose lives suffered after her death. And unbeknownst to this black family, a doctor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, removed cancer cells from her cervix and these cells were able to reproduce outside the body in petri dishes at an astonishing rate. Called HeLa cells, they enabled researchers to make medical breakthroughs, one being Dr. Jonas Salk who is credited with the polio vaccine.

But there is a downside to this story–how it affected Deborah Lacks and her family. When you tell a person who is not a scientist that her mother’s cells are alive in a lab in Baltimore–complications occur. The Smithsonian writes: A postdoc called Henrietta’s husband one day…The way he understood the phone call was: “We’ve got your wife. She’s alive in a laboratory. We’ve been doing research on her for the last 25 years. And now we have to test your kids to see if they have cancer.” Which wasn’t what the researcher said at all. The scientists didn’t know that the family didn’t understand. From that point on, though, the family got sucked into this world of research they didn’t understand, and the cells, in a sense, took over their lives. Skloot in many ways was a gift to the Lacks family, explaining things as she learned them, comforting Deborah who helped Skloot with her investigation. Read the book! Watch the HBO presentation. We need more like this.

Now consider a work of fiction. Fiction, you make stuff up, right? But when an author takes on a topic that has complicated ramifications, is a topic that she does not feel she can speak to WITHOUT RESEARCH, then I applaud her for letting us know. Jodi Picoult, the author of 23 novels, did just that with her latest novel, SMALL GOOD THINGS.

The novel is about a black maternity nurse who is accused by a white supremacist for contributing to the death of his newborn son.

Picoult writes at the end of the novel: I expect pushback from this book… Believe me, I didn’t write this novel because I thought it would be fun or easy. I wrote it because I believed it was the right thing to do, and because the things that make us most uncomfortable are the things that teach us what we all need to know. In her review of SMALL GOOD THINGS Roxane Gay writes: ‘A writer is like a tuning fork: we respond when we’re struck by something…If we’re lucky we’ll transmit a strong pure note, one that isn’t ours, but which passes through us.’ To the Black people reading SMALL GREAT THINGS – I hope I listened well enough to those in your community who opened their hearts to me to be able to represent your experiences with accuracy. And to the white people reading SMALL GREAT THINGS – we are all works in progress. Personally, I don’t have the answers and I am still evolving daily.

I thought the book was well done. It was a page turner and though it tied up things a little too neatly at the end, I did trust Picoult’s research. In the back of the book, she delineates exactly who she talked to on both sides of the situation.

Roxane Gay also writes in her review: And therein lies the true challenge of writing across difference, or of writing a political novel — if the politics overcomes the prose, then it becomes something other than a novel. (Maybe that’s one way to reach an audience that needs to be reached)

Picoult writes: There is a fire raging and we have two choices: we can turn our backs, or we can try to fight it. Yes, talking about racism is hard to do, and yes, we stumble over the words—but we who are white need to have this discussion amongst ourselves. Because then, even more of us will overhear and then, I hope, the conversation will spread. (Picoult even provides her reader with a list of things you can do to get invovled.

Roxane Gay concludes: It is, in the end, the author’s note that leaves me feeling generous toward “Small Great Things” despite its shortcomings. Picoult wanted to write about race in contemporary America, and she does. The novel is messy, but so is our racial climate. I give Picoult a lot of credit for trying, and for supporting her attempt with rigorous research, good intentions and an awareness of her fallibility.

YES, again We need MORE LIKE THIS…

photo: The New York Times

Books That Pave the Way for Life’s Journey

Books That Pave the Way for Life's Journey

Books can take us on many journeys and I love to get lost in fiction. But ever so often a book can inform, change an attitude, a choice, maybe even a life. Having the ideas of thinkers and researchers at our side when we have a question, a problem or a new idea can make the difference between informed choice and blowing in the wind. The net makes it even easier, as you can type in a term: education, marriage, parenting, employment, health, exercise, travel, science, politics–and voila, your choices are numerous. I’ve picked a few today to get your thinking about nonfiction. Some of these choices have been in print for years. Some are hot off the press. We all want to embrace the next decades with knowledge and understanding–so happy searching and reading.

I highly recommend Dr. Bernie Siegel’s Love, Medicine and Miracles that relates, through his personal experience, how death is truly part of life and acceptance of a loved one’s death makes a passage easier on the one leaving and the one staying. When he was asked to recommend a list of self-help books, he responded: “Every book ever written is a self-help book. What’s the Bible? What about Buddha? Each generation thinks somebody new is starting the process, but we keep repeating the wisdom of the sages and the ages.”

Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient was written by Norman Cousins, a longtime editor at the Saturday Review. The book relates how Cousins laughed his way out of a crippling disease by watching the Marx Brothers and thus “jump-started the whole mind-body connection.”

Man’s Search for Meaning is the memoir of Victor Frankl MD PhD, who survived Auschwitz. He argues that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl’s theory-known as logotherapy, states that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, but the discovery and then the pursuit of what we find meaningful..

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi This is one I have not read, but it is definitely on my list. If you have read Atul Gawande and Anne Lamott, readers state you should read this inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir that finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds. It is written by an idealistic young neurosurgeon as he attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living? He died within two years of his diagnosis.

Blindsided by Richard M. Cohen, a Journalist and husband to Meredith Vieira. In this memoir, Cohen relates his battle with MS, startling the reader with his grace and wisdom.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Mood and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison This professor of psychiatry shares her personal struggle with manic depression. She is also the author of Touched with Fire: Manic-depressive illness and the Artistic Temperament.  

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion A personal favorite, this 2005 National Book Award winner recounts how Joan could continue to live after her husband’s sudden death and then was faced with their only child lapsing into a coma. (Read Blue Nights for the end of that part of Didion’s story.)

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I received this book for one of those “life-changing” birthdays. It’s amazing. The author shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world. You will better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics.

The Book of Joy authors, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama Despite the hardships—or, as they would say, because of them—these two men are the most joyful people on the planet.

If you have suggestions, please mention them in your comments. Wishing you good health and good reading. We are all in this together.

Parts of this post appeared in 2011 in a different form.

Photo credit: janeaustenrunsmylife

Open Up Your Heart To The Other

Open Up Your Heart To The Other

Who is your other? On the extreme it is the man in the grainy photo in the newspaper–the man being pummeled by another another man, or dragged from a car. Or it’s a woman in a mug shot who is being charged for drug-dealing. This “other” is so easy to look away from. Because is there a connection between these two people and you or me? Remember I said extreme because the majority reading this post do not get involved in crime on the streets or get arrested. But regardless, there is a connection–these are faces of human beings. Their DNA may be different from ours, but we all go WAY BACK, we all have the same beginnings. Again, human beings. Can you open your heart to that concept? It can be really hard.

HELPING THE OTHER

I recently read an article about a man who everyday goes into the streets of LA (and this without belonging to any organization) and works with the homeless. He might spend hours with the one person he finds who is ill or dying. That day he does what he can to help that particular individual. He is answering the call to open his heart to humanity and he is doing it with the other–the extreme other–the total stranger.

My husband volunteers with the Conejo Valley Youth Employment Service helping teens and the homeless find jobs. He does have an office where he can sit and meet with people. But when dealing with the homeless, he often deals with people who don’t keep to a schedule, who say they’ll return with a resume and don’t. It can also be frustrating with the youth who one day are all about getting a job and the next forget they even had an appointment to work on a resume, interview skills, an elevator speech. Still my husband keeps at it, opening his heart to the other, to people he has never met, knows nothing about and for some have been living on the street.

VARIETY IS TRULY THE SPICE OF LIVING 

James Baldwin, author of THE FIRE NEXT TIME and other works, wrote: Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. Baldwin makes a valid point. Our ability to turn away from others, to avoid the other, to look down on the other–that often begins in the home. But I posit that it can be changed around through living and realizing the human connection. Through education and being out in the world, we all can learn that fearing the other closes us off from the splendid variety of life, of people and their ideas, of music and culture, art and writing.

WHO IS THE OTHER? TO SOMEONE–IT COULD BE ME 

Yes, it could be. Because when I walk the streets of a busy city where no one truly knows me, I become THE OTHER to someone. Maybe I’m the other because I’m not the same age as the person looking at me or because I’m a female or because I’m white. But I surely know that if I suddenly became a human being in need–if I suddenly fell to the sidewalk with a heart attack or a stroke, I would hope that someone around me would not see me as THE OTHER and walk away, but would come to my aid.

THE BASIC CONCEPT IS TRYING

James Baldwin also wrote: There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves. So true. But when you first read that sentence, test yourself: do you immediately think of the selfish and hidden things about yourself that you try to disguise or lie about or ignore?           OR: did you immediately think about all the wonderful possibilities in your makeup that you just haven’t tapped into yet?

How great if it is and always will be the latter. If we are always opening to the possibility of our changing, of our personal growth and development–of our truly SEEING OTHER PEOPLE. That would be amazing. 

OPEN UP YOUR HEART 

My brother Bill Pfordresher is a song writer and one of his songs urges a lover to:

Open up your heart and let it go,

That’s the way it starts,

This I know-Open up your heart to me. 

And later on the lyric is: Watching one’s life slip by day after day…

For a lover or for the love of living, don’t let time get away.

ACT NOW

On Friday, my husband and I took the train to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. We went to a concert and then walked back to the station through an area of LA that is full of government buildings, the Catholic Church of the diocese of LA and places for many homeless people to walk or sit or sleep under the shade of a tree. A march had occurred that morning and there were crowds of people leaving the march and lots of police on motorcycles and bikes patrolling the area. What did we do? We walked. We smiled at folks on the street, stopped to ask one policeman a question and would have purchased something from a vendor but we had already eaten. We opened our hearts to LA and everything it had to offer that Friday afternoon. Call me Pollyanna if you want to. I’m no saint. But I believe that more and more we have to fight some dictum that tells us to turn away from folks because they are not JUST LIKE ME. You can volunteer or write a check, make a phone call or reach out to someone you know (maybe a stranger but more likely someone who needs a friend.) Do it today. Don’t be a person who is Watching one’s life slip by day after day…

Photo: Zocalo Public Square

Our DEMOCRACY: Past and Future

Our DEMOCRACY: Past and Future

Let’s look at some ideas about democracy and see how it has been woven into our lives from the very beginning, from the birth of the United States of America–until the present, where today, we take for granted such freedoms. Democracy, government by the people, for the people, must always be an integral part of our lives.  

If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent, we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter. George Washington

The system of government which shall keep us afloat amidst the wreck of the world, will be immortalized in history. Thomas Jefferson

The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations. Thomas Jefferson 

Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments. Alexander Hamilton

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy. Abraham Lincoln

Nowhere in the world is presented a government of so much liberty and equality. To the humblest and poorest amongst us are held out the highest privileges and positions. The present moment finds me at the White House, yet there is as good a chance for your children as there was for my father’s. Abraham Lincoln

Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Democracy is a superior form of government, because it is based on a respect for man as a reasonable being. John F. Kennedy

The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all. Life in freedom is not easy and democracy is not perfect. John F. Kennedy

Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put up a wall to keep our people in. John F. Kennedy 

The whole world must see that Israel must exist and has the right to exist, and is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world. Martin Luther King

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Martin Luther King 

The United States was born in revolution and nurtured by struggle. Throughout our history, the American people have befriended and supported all those who seek independence and a better way of life. Robert F. Kennedy 

Democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. Ronald Reagan

We must never remain silent in the face of bigotry. We must condemn those who seek to divide us. In all quarters and at all times, we must teach tolerance and denounce racism, anti-Semitism and all ethnic or religious bigotry wherever they exist as unacceptable evils. We have no place for haters in America — none, whatsoever. Ronald Reagan 

You cannot put democracy and freedom back into a box. George W. Bush

It is an idea for which I hope to live and to see realized, but, my Lord, if it needs be, it is an idea for which I am prepared to die. Nelson Mandela

The real legacy of the Founding Fathers is a political process: a system of disagreement, debate, and compromise that has kept democracy vibrant in the United States for more than two hundred years. Unknown, BUT SO IMPORTANT 

The worst thing that can happen in a democracy – as well as in an individual’s life – is to become cynical about the future and lose hope. Hillary Clinton

Democracy works–but we gotta want it–not just during an election year, but all the days in between. Barack Obama 

The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose. Barack Obama

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our Democracy; Tonight is your answer. Barack Obama

Democracy cannot be imposed on any nation from the outside. Each society must search for its own path, and no path is perfect. Barack Obama

One of the key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace, good people don’t go into government. Donald Trump

On the occasion of losing our current president to a new one, I pledge myself to believing in our freedoms: freedom of speech and word, freedom to dissent, to argue and thus to continue to claim the freedoms that the fourth estate has always possessed–freedoms given to us by our founding fathers. Concerned? Subscribe to a newspaper or magazine; watch a variety of televised news shows. Keep up to date on what is happening. Don’t become complacent. Ever. Politics is not a disgrace and there are many good people working for us. We must cling to the good that our founders saw in our democracy.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in THE GREAT GATSBY: So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Our DEMOCRACY: Past and Future

Humming a Tune, Summing Up a Year, Piling up Some Books

Humming a Tune, Summing Up a Year, Piling up Some Books

Music can often get a person through some down times. There’s a famous Rogers and Hammerstein song from THE KING AND I, a musical comedy, called, Whistle a Happy Tune. Check it out here. The lyrics relate that whenever you feel afraid, whistling (or in my life singing) can block out your fear or sorrow or disgust and help you believe that things are okay or soon will be.

Music’s Easy Access

With our many devices and the ability to access music anywhere, we could walk around with headphones on and indulge in music, blocking everything else out. I think that’s called escaping. Which is okay, as long as it doesn’t prevent us from doing necessary tasks like childcare and work. But as this year of 2016 ends and we stand on the brink of a new one, having music to cheer us and guide us would be a good thing. Any suggestions for what we should be listening to? Here are a few: Beyonce, LEMONADE; Leonard Cohen, YOU WANT IT DARKER; Diana Krall, WALLFLOWER; HAMILTON, the original Broadway cast and SIMON RATTLE IN NEW YORK, which includes works by Wagner and Mahler.(I confess these are mostly serious choices. You have some lighter ones? Please share.)

Print? Even Better

But the activity that provides me with escape and yet also fuels my brain is one I do on a nightly basis–reading. What have you read this year? Or what are you planning to read besides editorials or columns about the 2016 election and that THE WORLD IS ENDING. Last I noticed, we are still here and while my heart has stopped a few times as cabinet members are chosen and tweets fill the air, I still believe in my country. And I believe more than ever in the power of the written word.

If You Tweet, Read to Back Up What You Say

And to define written word, I’m not talking about 140 characters, which in the wrong hands might help take down years and years of detente and hard work. No, I’m talking about our personal relationship with words, language and story. And I’m also talking about EMPATHY. We are going to need a lot of it in 2017.

“The greatest gift you can give anyone is to take the time to talk with someone about a book you’ve shared.” Will Schwalbe 

So I was delighted when I came across an article that appeared in the WALL STREET JOURNAL and was written by editor and writer, Will Schwalbe, the author of THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB. The idea for this successful book came about when his mother was undergoing chemotherapy. They were both constantly reading, so they decided to read the same books which would provide a basis for conversation while they spent time in the hospital waiting room. The article relates: “The ones they choose range from classic to popular, from fantastic to spiritual, and we hear their passion for reading and their love for each other in their intimate and searching discussions.” What better way to become even closer to someone you love as their life is drawing to a close.

But from this adventure in reading, the author learned a truth. He writes: “I used to say that the greatest gift you could ever give anyone is a book. But I don’t say that anymore because I no longer think it’s true. I now say that a book is the second greatest gift. I’ve come to believe that the greatest gift you can give anyone is to take the time to talk with someone about a book you’ve shared.” Just as you often want to introduce someone you love to someone else that you love, the same applies to a book.

Did you love STEWART LITTLE as a child? Or DAVID COPPERFIELD or SONG OF SOLOMON as you grew in your book choices? Schwalbe did and shares his reactions. So I encourage you to read the complete article here.

And please share the titles that you either enjoyed in 2016 or are eager to read in 2017. I’ll do the same with Schwalbe’s words humming in my head:

Books remain one of the strongest bulwarks we have against tyranny–but only as long as people are free to read all different kinds of books, and only as long as they actually do so. The right to read whatever you want is one of the fundamental rights that helps preserve all the other rights. It’s a right we need to guard with unwavering diligence. But it’s also a right we can guard with pleasure. Reading isn’t just a strike against narrowness, mind control, and domination: It’s one of the world’s great joys.

May I also suggest my collection of stories about motherhood: A MOTHER’s TIME CAPSULE. You’ll find more info here.

Thanks to: WSJ & Will Schwalbe for his road to sanity. http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-need-to-read-1480083086

Photo Credit: ILLUSTRATION: BRIAN STAUFFER which appeared in WSJ

 

Books that Speak to the Heart of the Soul

Books that Speak to the Heart of the Soul

Christmas and the holiday season is a time of gift-giving in many families. And over the years mine has realized that often one special gift can replace all the “noise” of the advertised “newest” gadget or toy or even object that is supposed to “fill you up.” Because days after the holidays are over, there is often a feeling of loss or sadness. The mad dash is over and we are back in the day to day of real living. In many places it is cold and we are challenged to get to work, school, buying food etc by fighting ice and snow.

So this year, why not purchase something that doesn’t require a battery or juice (unless you use a Kindle), cannot be consumed in a short period of time and yet fires up the coldness of winter with thought and remains with you for a long time.

Buy your family members a book. 

Children love stories. WE ALL LOVE STORIES. Younger children will want to hear over and over the whimsical tales of WINNIE THE POOH. And though I recommend the original there is also the Disney version that might lead to the real thing.

You cannot go wrong with a book by PATRICK McDONNELL, like THE GIFT OF NOTHING. Mooch the cat desperately wants to find a gift for his friend – Earl the dog. He wonders what he can buy the dog who has everything and decides that the answer, of course, is nothing. Browse all of McDonnell’s work. You will find many treasures.

Middle Grade and Up–the choices are  numerous. But I will recommend two older favorites that my children loved: The Boxcar Children (mysteries solved by some orphaned kids who truly have the spirit to care for one another and to survive), and Anne of Green Gables. When Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert of Green Gables, Prince Edward Island, send for a boy orphan to help them out at the farm, they are in no way prepared for the error that will change their lives in the shape of Anne Shirley, a redheaded 11-year-old girl who can talk anyone under the table.

For adults I have two suggestions in this post. First is LAB GIRL, a memoir/bio written by HOPE JAHREN. She’s a scientist–but not only of the geophysical world, but of living and finding your way. Below are a few quotes, a taste of the world that Jahren will open to you.

A seed is alive while it waits. Every acorn on the ground is just as alive as the three-hundred-year-old oak tree that towers over it. Neither the seed nor the old oak is growing; they are both just waiting. Their waiting differs, however, in that the seed is waiting to flourish while the tree is only waiting to die.

Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life.

Working in the hospital teaches you that there are only two kinds of people in the world: the sick and the not sick. If you are not sick, shut up and help.

For those of you who have loved the poetry of MARY OLIVER, this season you can purchase for yourself or a dear friend UPSTREAM, selected essays. Here is a taste:

In the beginning I was so young and such a stranger to myself I hardly existed. I had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was and what I wanted to be. Wordsworth studied himself and found the subject astonishing. Actually what he studied was his relationship to the harmonies and also the discords of the natural world. That’s what created the excitement. 

Both books are journeys away from the chaos of modern life into the thought-provoking journey of making choices. If you are waking up each morning WONDERING where we are headed, I promise, these books will stimulate your love for taking a walk, or just existing in the world. After all, despite some changes, it’s still there. Let’s enjoy it.

FINALLY, I am sharing some thoughts that I feel support reading and emersion into other worlds. Open your heart and your soul to the other. Think of statements like “Love one another” or “Do unto others as you would have them do for you.” Thanks for reading.

Empathy is work. Being caring takes work. Being kind takes work. Wanting to help people, it’s work. There are some people who wake up and are like, it’s all I want to do! But for other people, it’s work. I want to put that message out ― that it’s worth putting the work into. It’s going to be annoying and it’s going to be uncomfortable and you’re probably not going to want to do it. But please, please find a way to do it. Okieriete Onaodowan On The Need For Empathy Today

I have to learn to love my neighbor with my crooked heart. The real fight, that. All the more so because the present feels like an unstable, constantly shifting ground where the future, which is always uncertain, feels all the more so, but with a strain of capriciousness thrown in. “Somebody chose their pain,” Auden once lamented about disastrous choices. “What needn’t have happened did.”

This is home; I have to fight for it; I have to do so out of love, with love: Of these things I’m certain. Much else lies shrouded in uncertainty. As Auden pointed out:

But the stars burn on overhead,
Unconscious of final ends,
As I walk home to bed,
Asking what judgment waits
My person, all my friends,
And these United States.   Garnette Cadogan 

Art: -womeninamericanhistory19.blogspot.com

Why We Need Symbols

Why We Need Symbols

In 2005, I was given the opportunity to help write a book that I thought would be way beyond my interests. I was wrong. I said “yes” and with my friend, James Wagenvoord, we wrote and edited MIAMI INK: Marked for Greatness. The book echoed the television show that explored not only the lives of the artists, but more importantly those of the customers who came into their shop in South Beach Miami. Each person wanted a tattoo for a particular reason: remembering. When they looked at the tattoo and proudly wore it, they were remembering a loved one, a choice, an event. The tattoo was a symbol. Sonya, the mother of a child who had died, asked Kat Von De to create a tattoo of her daughter holding a pet alligator. One man wanted his wife’s face and name on his back, because “she has my back.”

KNIVES AND INK: I WANT TO REMEMBER WHERE I CAME FROM

Isaac Fitzgerald, who got his first tattoo when an encouraging teacher offered it as a reward, has published “Knives and Ink”–knives, because the people in his book are chefs. I’ve noticed that many chefs boast tattoos, and his book focuses on the narrative or story behind each of those tattoos. For Chef Soliel Ho, who has a paddy crab on her chest, the crab is the food that sustained rice farmers in Viet Nam where she was born and raised. She states: “It’s important to me to remember where I came from and the humble food that still sustains and satisfies people everywhere.”

SYMBOLS ALL AROUND US

Of course a basic symbol many of us wear is a ring–engagement, wedding, promised–or one we purchased ourselves to remember a place we visited or because it reminds us of someone we love. The symbol can be very tangential, “My mother had a stone like this. It’s gone, but now this ring with the same stone will remind me of her.”

Symbols have been with humans forever. They communicate important aspects of our lives: the country we live in and the religion we follow. We communicate that through clothing, flags, medals, headwear. Adornments on our bodies offer symbols of our place in society, our wealth or education, position or life work. Various peoples throughout the centuries have chosen to wear their hair or adorn their skin to communicate place or station, power or caste and definitely heritage.

SUN AND YOUR SKIN 

Skin color and all its shades have made we humans colorful and various–melanin is the reason. Melanin is a dark brown to black pigment that occurs in the hair, skin, and iris of the eye in people and animals. It is responsible for causing skin to tan or darken when exposed to sunlight. The closer people on earth live to the equator, the darker their skin. Melanin protects skin from burning and wrinkling and often from skin cancers.

In past centuries, women living in more northern areas chose to stay out of the sun. Tanned skin indicated a lower station, a person who worked in the fields or walked long roadways to get to their place of employment. Many decades later tanned skin came into vogue and was viewed as a sign of health. Self-tanning products and tanning beds were all the rage. We now know that tanning beds and unprotected skin can lead to burns and skin cancer. Thus for most skin types it’s better to purchase sunblock and a sun hat. Let’s face it, we humans are changeable, but in the last analysis we would be much better off if we saw skin color as symbolic only of the fascinating and numerous peoples who live on our earth.

SYMBOLIC CONSCIOUSNESS

Symbols are quick and easy. From drawings on cave walls to emojis, we humans are eager to communicate how we feel, where we live, how we live, where we are headed. In a recent article, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee defines symbolic consciousness: a way of working with symbols that allows their meaning and energy into our consciousness. It is like a key that is needed to unlock the real potential, the energy of a symbol. He sees the Internet as a symbol with very positive potential.For example, if we are attentive to the symbolic dimension of the Internet, we will find that it conveys a promise of a new model of global consciousness, an interconnectedness whose organic nature reflects the organic nature of life.

That’s a positive view, one that might arise if we could all find interconnectedness in our goals, if we could all set aside fears and make plans to walk together into the future. The economic needs of people never seem to even out. Some have much more money than others and often those that do simply crave more. So when various people in the United States look at the American Flag or the Statue of Liberty, what they see and what they feel and what that symbol communicates can be vastly different.

IS THERE COMFORT IN NEGATIVE SYMBOLS?

When people are afraid, they often hide behind the shield of a symbol. During the stress and nastiness of this past presidential election, the focus was often on making one candidate or the other a SYMBOL of something, something evil or bade. NASTY WOMAN. BASKET OF DEPLORABLES.

Both candidates were guilty. But one candidate did a deserve to himself as a man and to all women: he ran against a woman trying to uphold male dominance, to make women a symbol of inferior brains, lack of proper behavior, lack of strength and character, and who are not capable of making their own healthcare choices. He also applied that to handicapped people, people of color and people not like him.

I’ll end with the words of Rebecca Solnit, taken from her article in the Guardian: Don’t Call Clinton a Weak Candidate, It Took Decades of Scheming to Beat Her:

I know that if Clinton had been elected there would not be terrified and weeping people of color all over the country, small children too afraid to go to school, a shocking spike in hate crimes, high-school students with smashed dreams marching in cities across the country. I deplore some of Hillary Clinton’s past actions and alignments and disagreed with plenty of her 2016 positions. I hoped to be fighting her for the next four years. But I recognize the profound differences between her and Trump on race, gender, immigration and climate, and her extraordinary strength, tenacity and courage in facing and nearly overcoming an astonishing array of obstacles to win the popular vote. Which reminds us that Trump has no mandate and sets before us some of the forces arrayed against us. Rebecca Soling          

Women are and will always be Symbols of Strength. 

Thanks to THE WRITES OF WOMEN for compiling amazing essays.

Photo: 3D Tattoo Design

She Said: THAT’S NOT HIM–But Is It Us?

She Said: THAT'S NOT HIM--But Is It Us?

There’s a new show that I have been eagerly watching. It was hailed as a series to replace or at least echo PARENTHOOD and so far yes–it definitely pulls us into a family. There’s a couple, pregnant with triplets, but when the 3rd to be delivered dies, they adopt a child abandoned that night and brought into the hospital’s nursery. (That baby’s mother had died; the father felt unable to raise the child.) The child is black, later named Randall. The young parents go home with a son and daughter and this adopted son. Later Randall’s father resurfaces. Oh, but there’s so much more to this complicated tale.

The show is called THIS IS US. Nice title. The highlighted US, in the logo above, might be saying something about the US–United States.

But let me tell you another story, briefly. Three months ago, I was at a party. And a woman sitting across from me brought up the man that was running for president. She was praising this guy and I had to say, “But what about his rallies. He mocks people with disabilities. He mocks minorities. He has people thrown out and then folks in the crowd beat up on other folks.”

She smiled at me across the table as if I were her child. “Oh that’s not him,” she said. It echoed in my head for days:  THAT’S NOT HIM. THAT’S NOT HIM.

So we have: THIS IS US–a family blazing a new trail of love and inclusion. They are all actors telling a story, a story I want to believe in.

And we have: THAT’S NOT HIM, a kinda-actor, who now takes on the role of president of the United States. Was everything I saw during his rallies an act?  Cause I feel as if I’m awakening from a bad dream and would like to turn the channel and keep watching THIS IS US instead. I want to believe in THAT creation. The other, those rallies–to me they are the stuff of nightmares. And I’ve read plenty of books and watched enough pre WWII films to know that presenting yourself as ONE person and then reversing and trying to be someone else is scary stuff. YES, the female candidate yelled and berated him occasionally–she was defending herself, drawn into this entire pre-election period that became its own SWAMP. WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS. I want to believe that all the negatives of the election was NOT US.

So I’m confused and saddened. That’s all I will say. Others have weighed in with their feelings. And I am open to that. One friend quoted RUMI, the 13th century Persian poet:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I will meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.

The world is too full–words cannot describe what we have on this planet–the grass, the love between two people, the splendor of birth that occurs between humans and all creatures–birds in the air, seed pods falling from the trees, whales leaping through oceans.

If I had to prize and hold dear something RIGHT NOW that I could say THIS IS US –it would be my family, who shares my love of peace and diversity, who believes in kindness and the power of talk before shouting and belittling. I would also prize my eyes and my brain, because I can read and read some more. I can fill my mind and my soul with the beauty of ideas that is inclusive and free from hate. (there is so much hate and anger on the internet–and yet goodness too).

Here is the poet, Mary Oliver from an essay in her new book UPSTREAM:

I read my books with diligence, and mounting skill, and gathering certainty, I read the way a person might swim, to save his or her life…You must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.   

Here is a father, Aaron Sorkin, writing to his daughter. I think he is saying THIS IS US.

We get involved. We do what we can to fight injustice anywhere we see it—whether it’s writing a check or rolling up our sleeves. …we fight for the families that aren’t (insulated from this fear). We fight for a woman to keep her right to choose. We fight for the First Amendment and we fight mostly for equality—not for a guarantee of equal outcomes but for equal opportunities. We stand up.

The battle isn’t over, it’s just begun. (YOUR) Grandpa fought in World War II and when he came home this country handed him an opportunity to make a great life for his family. I will not hand his granddaughter a country shaped by hateful and stupid men. Your tears last night woke me up, and I’ll never go to sleep on you again.

When each and everyone of us gathers at Thanksgiving, we can pledge that we want all Americans to continue to form the fabric that this immigrant nation wove. THIS IS US, ALL OF US. We don’t want families torn apart or their future being that knock at the door. We can volunteer–one hour a week, one day a week or run an errand for the family we know with two working parents and a hectic schedule or a disabled grandparent.

AND READ. I’ll have more about that to come.

But today I am sharing Andrea Dunlap’s  reading list. SEE BELOW.

She is a writer and these works follow the old saying: Live in someone else’s shoes. LEARN EMPATHY. Maybe that’s what was missing when the woman across the table at the party said to me: THAT’S NOT HIM. Sorry. You cannot be a human being and watch what went down at those rallies and applaud. It was or is at least a part of him with a big lack of empathy and understanding for another’s soul, another’s life. Of course, you can believe anything you want to believe.

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

Thanks to Andrea Dunlap; Thanks to the Huffington Post. Read more here.

 

Something You Can Do: Support Responsible Print Matter

Something You Can Do: Support Responsible Print Matter

Definition: Printed matter is a term used to describe printed material produced by printers or publishers including newspapers, magazines, books etc. The digital age is amazing and provides information at your fingertips, but more and more the question is arising: who is the source of this information, is it true, will it lead you to the wrong decision if it is false.

FACEBOOK’S PHONY NEWS

No one likes to be “had” but social media is swarming with people who want to trick you into buying their product or believing a lie. In the 2016 presidential election, people on Facebook saw information about one or more candidates that were truly bold lies. Read more here. Basically, we should be able to sniff out lies as we read and evaluate, but it is  getting harder and harder to do.* The reason might be linked to the surplus of information that we are bombarded with daily. Even if we attempt to block a constant barrage, friends and family are sending us links, wanting to persuade us of their point of view. Just opening a computer or a cell phone can send you off a proverbial cliff. There are some email providers (I won’t name them) that are owned by people with certain persuasions, so the NEWS you get on those sites should really be questioned.*Update: Even Google was fooled by fake news. 

NEWS STORIES SHOULD QUOTE THEIR SOURCE

But in our divided society, you can still work to get the truth. And I am advocating print matter. Why? Because it requires WRITING–yes, I said WRITING (one definition: written work, especially with regard to its style or quality.)  QUALITY, QUALITY. Not a string of angry words, but a statement that is backed up and names its source.

PRINT MATTER IS UNDER ATTACK 

It’s also true that there is print matter out there that is totally one-sided and filled with lies. But as a thinking person, if you truly want THE NEWS, subscribe to two or more publications that will provide you with varying points of view. THE WEEK, a weekly news magazine, does this well, because they pull from different publications with opposite points of view and present both. YOU can read and evaluate, use your brain to form an opinion.

But the main reason for taking some money out of your budget and taking out a subscription to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, which provides one view or THE WASHINGTON POST, which provides another view–is that print matter is under attack. Read about it here.

RESTRICTING ACCESS TO YOUR NEWS IS THE FIRST STEP

What does that mean, exactly? It means that people in power with a political agenda are eager to curtail what you read. They want their point of view to be the only one that you can access. They are eager to limit your thinking process. This is the beginning of fascism. When a group feels threatened by free speech, they are eager to stomp on it. Think book burning.

But, you might ask, with the internet we’ve got it all–so why support print matter? You still can. You can subscribe to newspapers and read them online. That helps keep them alive. Often if you subscribe to the print version, you automatically get the digital version. WHAT YOU’RE DOING IS SUPPORTING GOOD JOURNALISM.

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN

Remember the film ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN?  It was based on the book of the same name by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, reporters from the Washington Post. The book presents the risks they had to take and the battle they had to wage to report the scandal surrounding Watergate. The book relates “the most devastating political detective story of the century, two Washington Post reporters, whose brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation smashed the Watergate scandal wide open.” (Amazon)

But the true hero in the story was Ben Bradlee–the editor of the Washington Post newspaper at the time. Read the book; watch the film and you will realize that reporting needs to be checked and rechecked. THE VALUE of the newspaper you are reading depends on the writers and reporters, yes, but also on the editors who insist on fact-checking. That means you are truly getting THE NEWS. Opinions only belong on OPINION PAGES. I confess, I read those too, especially when I need to feel that I am right–or as close to the truth as I can get.

BRIDGEGATE

There is of course the problem that people with MONEY own newspapers. They want to please their investors. But it’s the reporter in the street–the woman or man making the lowest salary who truly brings you THE NEWS. They are on the scene, on the beat, taking notes. Just like Watergate, the Bridgegate Scandal in New Jersey would not have been reported without them. Free press means getting to the truth. But there’s a bad ending to this particular story. The two newspapers, the Bergan Reporter and the Hudson News, that reported the Bridgegate scandal early on and worked to flush out all the details have been shut down by their parent companies. Is there a connection? Is money involved?

Another way to support print matter is to visit your local library. See your tax dollars at work and enjoy reading current materials either in print or in digital presentations. What’s important is having the facts and thus being able to support the facts. Truth will set you free.

THE WRITES OF WOMEN

Finally, for my female readers, I received this today. It’s a link to a post from the WRITES OF WOMEN entitled: IN THE MEDIA, November 2016 PART ONE. First paragraph reads: In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

I like this–it’s honest and when you dip in to read, you might find something you agree with and you might not. Check it out here. Articles and POV by many women. 

Thanks for reading. Thanks for evaluating your news source and changing it up if necessary. Thanks for supporting responsible print matter.

Photo credit: youtube.com

Reading Stories Can Change Your Psyche

Reading Stories Can Change Your Psyche

On November 11, 2013, I published a post about research that revealed that reading literary fiction can make a person more empatheticThe study was based on having readers look at photo’s of subject’s eyes (the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test or RMET) and then identifying what that person was feeling.

Does reading fiction make you more empathetic?

Now that conclusion is being questioned. Sarah Begley writes in the current issue of TIME, that this past September researchers tried to replicate that study only to find that there is no significant connection between reading a short fictional passage and having one’s empathy increased. They did find that study participants who scored high on the RMET recognized the names of real authors on a list versus fake authors. Conclusion: being a devoted reader of fiction might make you more empathetic as opposed to reading a short paragraph for some study.

A Study Author Weighs In–Conclusions

Maria Panero who worked on these studies concludes: “It’s hard to know whether reading literary fiction increase theory of mind (empathy) of if people who naturally have higher theory of mind (empathy) are just more drawn to literary fiction.” Or to say it another way, it’s possible that high empathy and a high interest in literary fiction feed off each other.

Some Fun Facts about Our Involvement with Characters 

  1. One study found that READERS, those who read at least 18 books per year, like to line their bookshelves with their “reads” and communicate that they are readers to others. Reading is part of their identity and self-expression.
  2. Reading can also create a social bond between people. We see that online–large numbers of readers follow certain book reviewers and share their enthusiasm for a particular novel. It’s not unlike tweeting about a favorite television series or becoming so involved with a character in a novel or a film that we feel real grief while reading about them or seeing how their story unfolds.

But let’s take it farther than that.

Can Reading About a Character Affect Future Behavior?   

In her article, Begley reports on a 2012 Ohio State University study. The study “had registered undergraduates read different versions of a story in which the protagonist overcomes challenges in order to vote–like car troubles, bad weather and long lines. Those who read a version that led them to identify strongly with the character were more likely to vote in the real election a few days later–65% of them said they voted, compared with 29% who read a less relatable version of the story.” Conclusion: in a small way, reading affected their behavior.

Identifying with Characters or Bibliotherapy 

Ella Berthoud, an artist and Susan Elderkin, a novelist, though not registered therapists, have created a service for clients who are having emotional or life situation problems. They have the client complete a questionnaire about what is happening in their personal lives, but also what they like to read. The bibliotherapist creates a prescription at the end of the session and follows up by sending a list of 6-8 books and why they feel that reading these works will help the client solve problems and feel better about their lives.

Most of the books are fiction. Berthoud states: “Inhabiting a novel can be transformative in a way that using a self-help book isn’t.”

Eldurkin says: “There are certain books that have been really life-changing books for me, and it’s generally a matter of luck whether you hit on the right book at the right time of your life, which can open a door and help you to see something in a new way, or just give you that next leap up into new maturity.”

Curious? Examples of What These Bibliotherapists Prescribe

  1. career crossroads: Patrick deWitt’s THE SISTERS BROTHERS
  2. whether a woman should have a child: Ali Smith’s THE ACCIDENTAL
  3. struggling with divorce: Zora Neal Hurston’s THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD
  4. struggling with a so-so relationship: Elizabeth von Arnim’s THE ENCHANTED APRIL

Conclusions:

When you think about it, each one of us has probably recommended a book or an article to a friend who was going through a rough patch in life. But usually those recommendations are nonfiction–self-help books written by people with some letters behind their names. Berthoud argues that a truly great novel, “gets into your subconscious and actually can change your very psyche from within.” That is so different from a non-fiction self-help book that lists steps to take to deal with a problem.

All of this–the science that might be able to prove that reading helps your mental health–is limited. But researcher Maria Panero states: “I think we all have some sort of intuitive sense that we get something from fiction. So in our field we are interested in saying, ‘Well, what is it that we’re getting?'”

To riff off a quote from Eldurkin, think of it this way: how many times have you immersed yourself in a novel or a story that provides proof that something you have always felt about your own life is true?

photo credit: Andres Tardio’s Creative Branches – WordPress.com2923 × 1957Search by image Los Angeles: The Last Bookstore

And thanks to Sarah Begley and TIME MAGAZINE.