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.

Me, Amy Tan & Millions of Others: Children of Immigrants

Me, Amy Tan & Millions of Others: Children of Immigrants

Amy Tan and Her Brother

Melting pot. Founded by immigrants. Liberty and justice for all. Sometimes words lose their meaning when repeated over and over again. Hymns, songs become rote. We hardly know what we’re saying or singing IF we grew up hearing those words. It’s the proverbial TAKING SOMETHING FOR GRANTED. Not so for recent immigrants who still might cry hearing the National Anthem or when they finally attend the ceremony to become an American citizen.

I attended one once–as the godmother of a child adopted from Ecuador. Every new citizen there was emotional. Had I taken my citizenship for granted? Yes.  Whether it’s our ability to speak English or rely on our last name or the color of our skin–many of us who have assumed our PLACE in the USA often have little thought as to how WE have been so blessed. TIME TO CHANGE THAT!!

WAKING UP…FAMILY HISTORY, KNOW HOW GOVERNMENT WORKS 

My husband researches family history on Ancestry.com. I admire how he reads articles and finds past relatives, connects with others who share a tangential relationship so that slowly his family history and mine have grown and many questions about WHY WE ARE HERE answered.

But I’ll also settle for a few basic explanations:

  • I’m a U.S. citizen because three generations back, my great-grandparents from both my mother and my father’s side, traveled on some crowded ship with their few possessions to claim a place here in the U.S.
  • I appreciate and understand how fortunate I am, because as a sophomore in college I took a GOVERNMENT class, a requisite taught by my professor Ann B. Matasar PhD. The class woke me up to my good fortune. Homework included studying Supreme Court decisions like BROWN VERSUS THE BOARD OF EDUCATION.
  • We also had to read a daily newspaper–the Chicago Tribune. Dr. Matasar was vehement and rightly so: “If you are going to live in this country, then you have to take up a from of citizenship and know what is going on–what your rights are and if they are being trampled on.”
  • YES. BRAVO. You cannot live in a country like the United States and not understand how it acts and works day to day. I never lost the habit.

AMY TAN: NOVELIST (The Good Luck Club), AMERICAN CITIZEN

A first generation Chinese American, writer Amy Tan grew up in Northern California. Her father was a Baptist minister, guided by the principles of his Christian faith. Her mother was guided by the old ways, by the vicariousness of curses and luck. Thus Tan states in her latest publication, a memoir, Where the Past Begins, that she is a product of the contradictions in her upbringing. Both her father and brother died when Tan was in her teens.

Tan: Who we become has so much to do with the experiences we had, and how we survived. My strong need to find a purpose in life probably comes from my father. It was not a question of who he was, but who am I? What are the qualities that he had, that he provided for me, and what didn’t he provide? What am I still looking for? What am I still rebelling against?

When your father dies when you are fifteen, the “you” who you were at that age is still there. I wanted to think about how I saw my father from those rebel teen years until now, as someone who is well beyond the years he lived.

AMY TAN ASKS WHY AMERICANS VOTED AS THEY DID 

My father was, to me, a model of great values: an honest person, a kind person. We grew up not knowing that my parents had an immigrant status. I just remember them getting their citizenship and crying in jubilation. It was a moment of great relief: the danger of them losing their life here was over. 

“You don’t know how lucky you are to be here, what we had to do so you could be here” — that was always my father’s message, and I didn’t know what it was based on. There were illusions to great sacrifices made on our behalf. I didn’t know what kind of life they’d had in China or why they left.

THEN THE ELECTION HAPPENED…

But everything about the election called into question everything for me. I was so disillusioned that it was essential to look at everything and say: How could this have been? Who were the kind of people who would’ve voted for this person? 

What if my father were alive — is this the man he would have voted for, and why? It was not to demonize voters so much as I simply couldn’t understand how this attitude could have become the defining one for our country for the next four years — one I considered before the election, and which has borne out post-election, to be a very racist, white supremacist agenda.

In a recent interview, Tan states unequivocally that she now looks at community differently. She wants to find commonality with people.

I’m more grateful when I find [those] people — I don’t even have to ask them what their politics are, you can just tell by the kind of things they care about. If they are concerned for poor people, and immigrants, and people with uncertain status, you know where they stand.

WHAT ABOUT THE WORD LIBERAL?

“Liberal” is not a nasty word. I wish “liberal” could be changed to “compassionate,” meaning we share responsibility; we share pain; we share in our flaws; we share in the ways we’re destroying the environment but want to make amends. It has more to do with recognition of a lot of the good things in people, and appreciating that those qualities are there — in more people than not.

THOUGHTS FROM TAN ON IMMIGRATION

In a way, I think it’s good my parents didn’t tell us kids that our life here was in jeopardy. We were born here, so we were American citizens, but if our parents were forced to leave, we of course would have had to go with them. I see this today in people I know who are undocumented—I asked a good friend of ours the other day, “What does your six-year-old child know?” She said, “He doesn’t know. He’ll say, ‘Why can Uncle So-and-so go to Mexico and we can’t?’” And she says, “We can’t for now, but maybe later.” Meanwhile, they’re hoping they don’t get deported. If they were, what a shock that would be to that child.

ANOTHER WAY TO SAY IT

We are an immigrant nation. Yet there are many in this country who forget their origins, who gin up on the fact that their ancestry stretches farther back than others. Possibly they have forgotten the true meaning of the Declaration of Independence or they have never read the Constitution. Their idea of owning property and contributing to the national welfare only applies to certain people.

Researching their roots like my husband does just might help. Knowing what others endured to provide us a PLACE HERE is profound. So are the words of our founding fathers. It’s a sad fact that recent immigrants to our country know more about the rule of law, the Constitution and the true meaning of the words in the Pledge of Allegiance than those who hunger to kick them out, take their citizenship from them.

Can you trace your ancestry back to a country, a year, a place? Whether you can or not, each one of us must honor fellow citizens. It’s trite but true, we are all in this together. 

Thanks to AMY TAN and NPR for the Photo of Amy and her brother.

What Not to Say to an Expectant Parent

What Not to Say to an Expectant Parent

Parents always look into the future.

My husband and I raised three amazing offspring who are now all adults. And we shared all of it, the raising, the teaching, the loving. But just four days ago while we were walking, my husband told me the most amazing story. One I had never heard.

It happened four years into our marriage. We had just discovered that I was pregnant for the first time and things were going well. We could share our news. And so my husband did–at his office, in a group of people who worked for him and with him. There were hugs and congrats. Until one woman came up at the end and spoke to him (almost like the Bad Fairy in Sleeping Beauty.) This woman might have had ten years on my husband, but she was not another mythic figure, not the aging fortune teller with a not so subtle warning.

But this is what she said to him: “How can you bring a child into this world?”

He was stunned. Maybe the question had some merit, but this woman was not a close friend, not an economic adviser or priest or psychologist–you know what I’m getting at–someone who knew us intimately and might have some specific concerns.

But no–this was just a statement from a woman working in the next department. Take it or leave it. John rejected her question. Absolutely. You do so when you are on Cloud Nine. This is your first child!! You are more than thrilled.

And as we walked, he said that maybe there had been a response at that time, but “my consciousness wasn’t raised enough to know what that response would be.” So honest.

Right this moment we live in times where deciding to bring a child into the world could be problematic. In my work in progress, my novel, I consider exactly that problem. My main character, Ella, a nurse and a mother, reflects on discussions with her mother, Cecile. This scene had its origins in conversations with my own mother–when she would lament the “state of the world” after reading the newspaper or watching a newscast and I had to REJECT her words. After all, I was raising children in that world, I had to embrace it.

She would always defend her practice of medicine, because she was a part of it—medicine was what she was. It was not unlike when she had defended certain aspects of current culture to her mother, something she had done often. Cecile ripped apart the changing mores of society. But Ella defended change, because the result was Ella’s society, Ella’s culture. She lived in it and dealt with it and so she had defended it. She couldn’t condemn what was a part of her, what she had embraced and brought Sarah into. If she had condemned culture and society, then she would be condemning herself.

As my husband and I finished our walk, we reflected on the ups and downs of our family life–mostly ups– and how the reality of our parenting, our family life helped bring all three of our adult children to where they are now–having good lives, good careers. That they are GOOD PEOPLE.

We concluded that is the key: you cannot run away from society and culture–but you can be instruments of change by upholding values and teaching your children those same values. I am not saying that we were perfect. We are STILL LEARNING how to be the best that we can be. And in our society today, everyone of us might think about devoting ten minutes a day to examine how we treat others, how we contribute to society, how we can do better in those regards–and then if we are lacking, to go and do something about it.

What NOT to say to an expectant father or mother?  Hey, wow, what a mistake.

Because life is full of promise and possibility. I love to think about Abraham Lincoln’s mother–a woman that Lincoln prized and honored with these words: All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother. 

And certainly, she didn’t bring him into a cushy world, but one of hard work and struggle. I have always been saddened that Barack Obama’s grandmother died the Saturday before he won the 2008 election. Certainly she must know that her love carried him far.

Wishing all mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers reading this a special blessing–especially if a child is on the way. After all, in any age, we cannot see the future, but we can pledge to make it better.

 Photo thanks to NPR  Frida Kahlo art.

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Spoken Like a Typical English Teacher…

Spoken Like a Typical English Teacher...

I haven’t heard that phrase for a very long time. Possible reasons: it’s been years since I taught English and/or for many people teaching English or majoring in English in college has fallen off. THINK AGAIN.

BUT MAJORING IN ENGLISH IS ABOUT OUR STORIES & SO MUCH MORE

How delightful to read this past weekend: Don’t study English Lit to Acquire Marketable Skills. Written by Rohan Maitzen, an associate professor of English at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. This is a piece eager to change your mind. He laments that the number of students choosing an English major has fallen off and investigates how to change that. He mentions the following:

  • psychologists are presenting the crucial role that reading fiction plays in developing empathy; (and wow, do we need that in our culture today!!)
  • philosopher Martha Nussbaum has outlined the ethical advantages of seeing the world as the novelist does i.e. rebuking reductive economic utilitarianism;
  • programs such as Changing Lives Through Literature reveal the personal and social potential that reading imaginative literature demands.

But in the end, being an English major, Maizen writes, is about the power of words. He states: Literature is the record of the many stories we have told about ourselves and our world, and of the many ways we have found to use language artfully and beautifully, but also cruelly and obtusely. It both reflects us and shapes us. We don’t need any excuses for taking it seriously.

A DEGREE IN ENGLISH LITERATURE–AN END IN ITSELF OR A STEPPING STONE  

So after reading Maitzen’s piece (and incidentally he teaches Victorian Literature which is what my brother, Prof. John Pfordresher teaches) I did a little more sleuthing and found this: Daniel R. Schwarz, asking What to Do With a B.A. in English? WOW. so many amazing, wonderful things. Here are a few of the examples he posted in the article:

  • any aspect of working in the law
  • a step to getting an advanced degree, say Art History
  • medicine, hospital administration
  • working in the financial industry or publishing industry;
  • writers!! reporters, poets, novelists, researchers, interviewers, librarians, speechwriters, medical writers;
  • and of course teachers—at any level of the teaching profession from elementary to advanced degrees.

CLEAR THINKING, HONEST WRITING  We need both. 

He also focussed on the need for clear thinking and how studying the works of great writers and possibly mediocre writers helps a future writer discover the difference.

Schwarz stresses the universality of an English major when interviewing for employment. He suggests that statements like these would be excellent for a future medical student or social services position:

“I majored in English because reading about other cultures and time periods complemented my life experience”

“No other major would have taught me so much about how people behave in various circumstances and in various cultures. More than any other major, I felt I would learn how other people live, what values motivate them, and why and how people think and feel.”

WHEN TALKING TO YOUR ALMOST-COLLEGE STUDENT 

Again–the link to Schwarz’s piece which could be helpful if the talk to your son or daughter about how to pick a college major might be in your future. Schwarz asked some English majors to help support his thesis. Here are some of their answers:

Grace Jean, US naval reporter: “All the skills that I developed and honed through my English classes and seminars are put to use daily in my career as a journalist. Close reading, analytical thinking, and clear and concise writing have become the bread and butter of my livelihood. I have the English major to thank for playing an integral role in my professional development.”

Liz Wight graduate of Cornell University: “I think the thing the major gave me most was critical thinking, a yearning for discovery and clear means of articulating myself.”

Sal Ruggiero, Assistant Manager, Domestic Rights for the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group: “Reading and writing not just well but for a purpose has proved paramount to my job. Plus learning argument and persuasion techniques in essay writing sometimes proves useful in contract negotiation…”

I have never regretted majoring in English and teaching English at the secondary level. After all the term papers and essays I wrote and those my students wrote which I had to read and grade, there was always time for reading literature. And that’s my thing!

Photo Credit: The LA TIMES  Taken at campus library of the Maywood Center for Enriched Studies in Maywood, Calif.

 

Magic Words Can Lead to Magic in Deeds

Magic Words Can Lead to Magic in Deeds

Uruguay Amethyst Geode

It’s happened to you. You are reading something and you come across one sentence, or a paragraph–WORDS that hold you to the page or your screen. Words that have revealed a thought you’ve had, but expressed in a way that  jumps off the page–like magic.

Consider:

It was a nice thing for her to say. In her way. With Greta, you have to look out for the nice things buried in the rest of her mean stuff. Greta’s talk is like a geode. Ugly as anything on the outside and for the most part the same on the inside, but every once in a while there’s something that shines through.

I love this passage, because it relays the thoughts of fourteen-year-old June Elbus who tells us the story of her relationship with her Uncle Finn, an artist who died of AIDS. But the “Greta” in the quote is her sister, a few years older, the one she now tangles with on a regular basis. Can they make it right by each other. (The novel is: TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME by Carol Rifka Brunt.)

June’s words, her reflection is on page 52 of a complex story, but it leaped off the page for me, not only because it’s an insight that will come back to complete the story, help the troubled relationship between the two sisters. But also because it is TRUTH.

In our lives, the people that make us crazy, who we sometimes wish we had never met–they are the ones we must acknowledge as human and in the most surprising moments they can say things or do things that reveal their humanity: something that shines through.

Do you know a person who talks a line that starts to give you hope? And then they turn around and annihilate that hope in what they do. THINK: some politicians!! or a friend, even a family member. And think: what did our mothers or fathers tell us when this happened?

  • Oh, she didn’t mean it.
  • Give the guy a break.
  • Tolerance, could we just have a little tolerance in these situations.

Those are all good suggestions, and as June in the novel learns–and we all learn–some people you give space to, hoping they’ll come around and HAVE YOUR BACK–don’t fail you. They wake up. They arrive when you need them. They cement a bond that might have been broken.

But there are also those that never do come around. They are:

  • the salt in a wound instead of the salt of the earth.
  • Their first thought is of themselves and you can go blow in the wind.

Or actually I might be wrong about both those evaluations. Sometimes we just don’t know why the love we sail over to them, the phone calls, the emails, the attention–falls flat. They might arrive in your life years down the road and think nothing of it. But you do, because you wanted to keep that relationship alive. You wanted to be there for them and they wanted to disappear.

Ironically, great thinkers and leaders know that’s not the way to go. If another human being reaches out to someone, a response should occur. It cannot always be commensurate with need, but one dollar, one meal, one phone call, one smile–is better than none.

So if there’s a person in your life, right today, who you are trying to reach, trying to love or help–listen for the magic words. They might be there–and you’re so angry you can’t hear them. Or they might be disguised in bravado or sorrow. That happens ALL THE TIME. But if you keep on giving of yourself, the right words just might come shining through. They won’t be MEAN. They’ll be the KEYS to more communication.

At the end of the novel, Greta helps June to accomplish an enormous task. She’s her support, she provides encouragement–which is something we all need:

“It’s all going to work out fine…I’ll keep an eye on you.”

Here’s hoping that someone in your life RIGHT NOW will open up, keep an eye on you, give some magic sign that they know you need them and they NEED YOU TOO.

Photo credit: The Crystal Rock Store Uruguay Amethyst Geode

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The Latest Skinny on Soul Mates

The Latest Skinny on Soul Mates

I totally believe that my husband and I are soul mates. But what does that mean exactly? To expand on my own ideas, I’m sharing sections of a piece by Ada Calhoun that appeared in TIME. Her recent book is the memoir WEDDING TOASTS I’LL NEVER GIVE.

HISTORY OF THE SOUL MATE CONCEPT

The idea of soul mate goes back to Plato’s Symposium. Zeus, thinking to humble humans, split them in half, forcing us to wander in search of our other half. As Calhoun writes, this mythological concept is VERY ROMANTIC, but has kind of messed us up–as some people keep searching, denying that a happy, healthy relationship fits that bill–and casting about continuously for THE ONE.

Calhoun admits to thinking she had met the magical one–only to discover in the bright light of reality that no–if he was her soul mate, they are definitely over-rated.

ROMANTIC CHIVALRIC TRADITION

J.R.R. Tolkien loved his wife from his teens until her death at the age of 82. But he also had some interesting things to say about our obsession with soul mates and blamed it on the Romantic Tradition. He wrote: “Its weakness is, of course, that it began as an artificial courtly game, a way of enjoying love for its own sake…It takes, or in the past has taken the young man’s eye off women as they are–that is companions in shipwreck…not guiding stars.” 

Such a great statement and so realistic. Life can never be all positives. It’s when the loved person is there when things get tough, when there’s some kind of shipwreck, that real love comes through. Long-lasting love affairs, Calhoun writes, are about time, patience and commitment. Possibly years of dating can also develop these ties that bind. In the end, you are a kindred spirit or the soul mate, because of true knowledge of the other, forgiveness, and consistent love and understanding.

ARE WE CREATING A SOUL MATE? 

In her piece, Calhoun writes about a friend’s parents who appeared to be soul mates, but really didn’t have much to bind them together. “She was Jewish, and he had a good job. That was enough for the marriage to begin.” But they struggled while raising their family and talked about separating when that part of their lives was completed. But what had happened during that time? When the children were grown, they discovered that neither wanted to leave the marriage.

DIVIDE and CONQUER

I can only speak from the one marriage that has blessed my life. When we started out, we were both working, but SILLY ME insisted that I take over the household chores, because my husband came from a large family and had already had a large share of domestic life. He bought me a washer and dryer a month after our wedding. YAY. We had a small townhouse (thank you Park Forest, Illinois) with hardly any yard to mow. To save money, I made lunches for me to take to my teaching job and he to take to his insurance adjuster job in downtown Chicago.

The lunch thing ended abruptly for my husband when in front of co-workers, he opened a sandwich of liver sausage on raisin bread. I was fired! (That’s all I had in the fridge.) But you see, we were developing a marriage. I was forgiven and yet a fable was born.

I fired him from lawn mowing because “I’ll do it on the weekend” just didn’t work in a Chicago spring when it rained every weekend and the grass was a foot high. GIVE AND TAKE.

Like the saying that a cold with medication lasts two weeks and one without medication lasts 14 days, our marriage is solid. No one could have provided for me better, loved me more and fathered our children with constant care, understanding and humor than he. A photographer, trip planner, universal fixer, wine connoisseur, film partner and of course loving husband–he is mine. A total blessing. We decided a few years ago, that marriage should feel comfortable, like a worn and beloved pair of slippers. Anxiety is out. Our home is warm and companionship reigns and he always remembers to set the light timer and check the smoke detectors!! Good will abides within our home.

THUS COMFORT REIGNS 

Tolkien believed “The real soul mate is the one you are actually married to.” That makes sense to me. The years of discovering this person within a marriage–his and her depths, beliefs, weaknesses and strengths–is like water flowing against a rock or a tree growing against a wall. Throughout the years, the give and take forms and shapes us within the relationship. We learn when to push ahead and when to pull back. As Calhoun states in her piece, THE IDEAL PARTNER IS THE ONE YOU CREATE.

Photo: TIME MAGAZINE online

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Updates on My Life: Parenting, Writing

Updates on My Life: Parenting, Writing

On the way home from a writer’s retreat, I’m up in an airplane, praying. No, it’s not turbulence, it’s thankfulness. I have just attended a four day retreat with fellow writers, and I’m feeling grateful for: words, ideas, computers, paper and pen–and most of all READERS and fellow writers.

THREE BELOW

But as always, I think of my three children down below me–their lives spanning the continent: one in Boston, one in Chicago and one in Palos Verdes California. Ah, they are all so different, yet all working with the same DNA. They are my dear friends and sometimes my quiet critics–and they are all mine and my husband’s amazing fault! But the prayer is one of thanksgiving and of WONDER.

Because here I am still adventuring and they are living their own pathways and their own adventures.

STARTING OFF POINT: THE SAME

At some point, all three started the journey with the same gifts: ate the same foods, heard the same loving words and lullabies, enjoyed the same childhood books and music, were hugged and tickled, encouraged and guided by the same parents, grandparents and other family members.

But being their own individual people, along the journey, doors opened or closed to these common elements. They chose who they would love, where they would live, what they would like and dislike, what is most meaningful or as #2 says, what blows your hair back. 

It’s called becoming who we will be and has many labels. Here are a few: guitarist, classicist, vegan, green, poet, agnostic, spiritual counselor, politically involved, iconoclast, getting by, wealthy, MA, BA–singular in choices and proud of it.

And I am proud of each of them–their pursuits, the people and places they love, the devotion they give to music, children, work, the environment, their lover, their country and always the words on the page. They all know the value of reading, of poetry and prose, of research and knowledge. Damn, they are all so WONDERFUL.

BUT ENOUGH OF MINE  

These words, I hope, lead to thoughts of your own creations, whether living on the planet or existing in your head, the children of your mind. We bring to our culture so much besides our DNA–great thoughts power the globe.

FINAL OFFERING…

is a link to my book of stories which continues the journey of being a mother and having a mother (we all do.) It’s my A MOTHER’S TIME CAPSULE, now available on Amazon in ebook form at a lower price–3.99.

Here is the link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B075PH3D2D/

Thanks for reading. Thanks for all you do to help another human being, whether it’s your own flesh and blood or a total stranger. We are all in this together.

P.S. Sample story here: http://boomerhighway.org/windows-one-mothers-view-of-her-world/

Updates on My Life: Parenting, Writing

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo credits: independent.co. uk.  Foreverland Press.

Feelin’ Groovy–You Can Too!

http://www.designerspics.com/,

They are just for you.

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy
Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ groovy.

This is POETRY, MAN…(and woman)  So lift me up, make me feel good and groovy.

Today, during these times that we are living, more than ever, I need groovy. I need Paul Simon’s song and lyrics, or to be immersed in a Bach fuge or Bill Evans’ endless piano trills. Call it escape if you want to, but sometimes we just need to be SAVED from gathering darkness, fear, illness, lies, hurts, you name it.

HELP FROM SOME POETS 

  • Jill Bialosky has written the book POETRY WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE. So which poem saved her: Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.
  • “I read my own story in (that poem). There are two roads one might travel: The road where families are whole and not broken, and fathers don’t die young, and mothers are happy…and the road I travel, which is crooked and not quite right, with bumps along the way. I know it is important I choose the right course.”
  • The poem helped Bialosky realize that what she was experiencing did not have to mark the rest of her life. For her, poetry made her see: “…I’m included. I belong. My imagination has given me a coping skill.”
  • Then today, I stumbled upon this line: “Don’t Fear Poetry”…an interview with poet Matthew Zapruder and his book Why PoetryHe wants you to read poetry and feel comfortable. 
  • He sees a poem as a kind of individual portal: “Poetry comes to be, each time, in the mind of each half-dreaming reader.” Poetry is not a puzzle, a code or riddle to solve. Rather when things are hard to talk about, poetry works. Poetry relates complex ideas in the “simplest way possible.”
  • Zapruder says that when he was reading poetry, he would get mysterious feelings about life, things hard to talk about, but things so precious to him. Thus he became a poet and a lover of poetry BECAUSE that’s what he wanted from his life!
  • Zapruder says: In a poem, language remains itself–yet is also made to feel different, even sacred, like a spell. I love that. You can fall under the spell of poetry. 

BUT POETRY TODAY, REALLY?

Yes. You are in the doctor’s office; you are on your lunch break; you are in a car waiting to pick up your child. What are you doing? Where before we had to search for print media–a newspaper, a magazine, a book (I still try to always have a book in my bag)–today, as Zapruder says, “I just pull out my phone.”

But then he questions himself.  What happened to all those moments? What happened to all that time? 

And he makes a very good point. “I think that poems remind me of what that time was like before everything was so harnessed to usefulness. …the old technology of the book. It starts giving you a little bit of your time back.

WHAT DOES HE MEAN? He means that we all can be poets, that with a notebook app or a pen and paper, we can recreate what life once was for us, the life we noticed.

  • jot down how the sky looks; the sun on the grass;
  • describe the smile and laughter of our child this past morning;
  • briefly defend with language a point of view;
  • capsule feelings about a friend, enemy, bit of news, the world you are seeing right now;

But the final point that Zapruder makes is the most important one.

  • Don’t SHARE what you write.
  • This is just for you.

I confess writing is an intricate part of my day–almost every day. I keep a notepad by my bed and I jot stuff over articles and on ads–where paper and pen are handy. Sometimes even my phone. And I look them over. Some I discard. Some I keep. WHY, because they’re good, I can use them in future blogs or in my novel. Because, basically, they’re GROOVY.

GOT A FAVORITE POEM???  Which one. This you can share. 

Photo: DesignersPics.com  free download

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Writing, Creating with Compassion

Writing, Creating with Compassion

Being a writer in today’s contentious climate can change your vision. It can make you either hop on the current bandwagon of anger and hurt, or make you want to think only happy thoughts, create a new world as you go, or simply focus on topics that have escaped contention. We need both.

WHAT TOPIC TO CHOOSE

I follow the blogs of other writers. I tend to be more serious while some fellow writers can knock out a light-hearted piece over and over. We need those. It’s like watching a great comedy where laughter is a gift. Because reading a newspaper every day and listening to news can really drag you down. Writers must create with variety. But also with compassion.

INSIGHT FROM DONALD MAASS 

I follow a blog for writers that is blessed occasionally with a piece by New York literary agent and author for writers, Donald Maass. He offers incredible insights into the writing process, but he also lives in the real world and in answer to another writer’s post recently wrote: (Note: I have altered his response slightly)

Stories do not require a consensus.They do not legislate.Their purpose is to persuade. But persuade us of what? And how? 

In a novel, (or screen play, script that becomes a film) to prove others wrong, it is first necessary to acknowledge that they may be right. So…

  • create characters who represent divergent ways of thinking and doing–actually opposing ideas are represented by opposing characters. (Brilliant and basic. Every television drama presents tension–because people with differing points of view are interacting.)
  • But to be strong, each character must face their weaknesses. (As writers,  our characters face what we are afraid of). As readers and viewers we will not be moved unless we see humanity first. The character must fail. And then to persuade us to change, the character must change because of the failure. They see the light, in other words. 

Maass states: 

  • Writers must create antagonists whose case is excellent and heroes who are flawed. 
  • But in order to truly be a hero, those characters must learn and then change. 
  • Thus the power of storytelling to change us (the reader) lies in the courage writers summon to see things as others do. It depends on creating heroes who are flawed and must learn. Most of all, it requires that authors humble themselves, writing not out of resentment but out of twined compassion and conviction about what is right.

Maass asks: What is the bell you will ring in your writing today? What clear and simple truth does it sound? Words are strong when you know their purpose. Stories speak loudest when the storyteller first listens.

I AM LISTENING

Writers speak through their characters. They use their so-flawed-ideas and their closer-to-perfect ideas. Both are on the page. My novel-in-progress. presents a crack in the foundation of a marriage: one of the partners decides to forget an initial pledge to be compassionate in life and help others. He is turning away. She is not. But that doesn’t make her an angel. Maybe she is overboard and thus wrong in her belief that she can change people through empathy and compassion. It helps me day to day to grapple with my own fears and insecurities while getting into the skin of my characters.

FINDING COMPASSION THROUGH SELF-TENSION 

This week Erin Aubry Kaplan published a piece in the LA TIMES, entitled A New Reckoning for Whiteness. And I found a connection between the hero of any novel or story wrestling with his or her flawed-ness, before becoming a hero-again. And myself wrestling with my own lived life. Kaplan writes that our current president’s “both-sides” problem just might make some citizens grapple with a crucial question: What does it mean to be white? Or, what does it really mean?

For me, it was a hard piece to read. But necessary–that’s why I am sharing it. Kaplan asks: “It (the question) requires individual answers to intimate questions: How do I feel as a white person? What advantages do I take for granted based on my skin color? How do I see nonwhites? Or do I see them at all?”

Kaplan writes that if white people struggle with these questions, she has struggled with similar ones all her life: “What sort of black person are you? Middle class or ghetto, articulate or down-home, educated or irrational, bourgeoisie or radical?”

She writes that currently, “no one can indulge in the illusion of togetherness. He’s (POTUS 45) disrupting a surface that needs to be disrupted, for good.”

She’s saying that in order to write the best American story, each of us “characters” has to look and acknowledge our flaws before we can go back to believing in the “prefect union” we so desire and thus become the heroes of our story. Please read the entire article to see the whole of her argument. It might be disruptive — but then we are becoming used to that EVERY SINGLE DAY.

In conclusion, I have been examining my whiteness. Yes, I benefited from living in a middle class Chicago neighborhood and attending private schools. I knew few black people growing up. My high school was integrated, but barely. Did I make an attempt to befriend my fellow black students? No. Maybe I felt myself absolved by the literature I was reading and getting A’s analyzing. CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY. Big deal. In college, Martin Luther King was assassinated and the black students printed a piece in our newspaper with a photo of them gathered. They called themselves the “worms in our apple.” By the time I was teaching high school in an integrated school that pulled from neighborhoods of poor whites, middleclass whites and poor blacks–I was more awake than ever. And I fought to stay awake. But even now, I wouldn’t give myself an A plus, that’s for sure.

SO WHAT’S THE END OF THE STORY?

I want to be open to the world and all its colors and brightness, all it’s variety and hopes, dreams and pains. I want that to flow through my fiction and encourage you to comment on this post. We are family–all of us. Time to work on our flaws and become the best people we can be. Compassion, anyone?

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See the Eclipse: Support Science & Global Warming

See the Eclipse: Support Science & Global Warming

Odd. No one is in denial of America’s Aug 21 total solar eclipse. Like Climate Change, methods & tools of science predict it. These words were tweeted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of America’s foremost scientists whose name is synonymous with anything related to science.  

At least for this one day, August 21, 2017, Americans are in the grip of science and eager to learn about it, see it, experience it. I say BRAVO!
The widow of Carl Sagan, an American astronomer known for popularizing the study of science through books and television shows who died in 1996, said this about the coming eclipse:
“Think of it. We’re born in this kind of cosmic quarantine with no knowledge of what’s going on in the solar system, let alone the universe. And every now and then there’s an eclipse or every once in a while a comet appears in our skies. This is a kind of inducement to figure out what’s going on.
 
I’m glad we have [eclipses] because it reminds us of that sudden chill–the motion of the birds, the way that the rest of life reacts to the blocking out of the sun. It has that kind of mythic, biblical power to it. And it should.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson, like Sagan, is an American astrophysicist and author who communicates with eagerness and a smile about anything you might want to know about science, the heavens, the eclipse, research regarding the solar system and yes, global warming. Since 1996, he has been the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.

That center is part of the American Museum of Natural History, where Tyson founded the Department of Astrophysics in 1997 and has been a research associate in the department since 2003. He is joyful about his work and whenever you see him in public, he is wearing a tie that pictures the solar system, the planets and shouts out: I’m an astrophysicist!!

See the Eclipse: Support Science & Global Warming

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Tyson states: There is no science in this world like physics. Nothing comes close to the precision with which physics enables you to understand the world around you. It’s the laws of physics that allow us to say exactly what time the sun is going to rise. What time the eclipse is going to begin. What time the eclipse is going to end. Monday is the day, but if you don’t have protective glasses read this piece in the Washington Post: Can’t find the protective glasses to watch the solar eclipse? Go old school.    

Science can help us use electricity efficiently, teach us about the planet we live on, help us cure diseases, reach for the stars…and on and on. Science can help us save our planet. Enjoy the eclipse in whatever form that takes for you. And do yourself a favor: read up on global warming. Help save this beautiful planet. Read and treasure the words of Carl Sagan:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam…It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Photos: Seattle Met; Pinterest;

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