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.

From Folk Singer to Nobel Prize Poet

From Folk Singer to Nobel Prize Poet

Bob Dylan has always been a poet–he just added on another talent with his music, his expertise playing the guitar, harmonica and his iconic singing. Also a skilled pianist, he possibly uses that instrument to begin his compositions. But this past week he was honored for being a troubadour, a poet who writes verse and then puts it to music–he was awarded the Novel Prize for Literature.

When considering Dylan’s work it’s hard to separate the music from the lyrics, but Bruce Springsteen captured some of that emphasis in 1988 when he was inducting Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: “Dylan was a revolutionary. The way Elvis freed your body, Bob freed your mind.”

Yes. Dylan’s lyrics, his poetry, his story telling–it freed your mind, took it down interesting paths, destroyed boring assumptions so that you were now considering new and different ways of looking at society, at life. Thus the Nobel Prize for Literature. His work has been a ballast for others and his lyrics so much a part of our American lexicon that we might not know that “HEY, that’s a Bob Dylan song.”

In his celebratory piece in the LA TIMES, Randy Lewis traces Dylan’s career, starting with his 1962 debut, “Bob Dylan,” which showed a young artist working in the traditional folk music realm. On that first record he sang versions of folk, country and blues standards such as “House of the Risin’ Sun,” “Man of Constant Sorrow,” and his own compositions “Pretty Peggy-O” and “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.”

His work flourished at a time when people gathered and sang folk songs and Bob Dylan could write them, one great one after another.

Blowin’ the Wind, It Ain’t Me Babe, Mr. Tambourine Man, Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right, Forever Young, I Want You, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Like a Rolling Stone, On the Road Again, Rainy Day Woman, and Shelter from the Storm–to name only a few.

In an interview in 2004 Dylan reflected on his creative process. In reference to “Like a Rolling Stone” he said: “It’s like a ghost is writing a song like that. It gives you the song and it goes away, it goes away. You don’t know what it means. Except the ghost picked me to write the song….”

“I wrote ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ in 10 minutes, just put words to an old spiritual, probably something I learned from Carter Family records. That’s the folk music tradition. You use what’s been handed down. ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’ is probably from an old Scottish folk song.”

But it’s the distillation of these old stories, these old laments and how they join with the chords he has decided to strum on his guitar that makes his song-writing genius.

Robert Hilburn, music critic for the LA TIMES: “Look at all the great writers. When you talk about words having an effect on people around the world for generations — his words make us dream, they inspire us, they comfort us, they exhilarate us…. You could have given him this prize 20 years ago for the cultural revolution he created with just words.” YES!

So enjoy some of Dylan’s lyrics, his literature. I’m sure the melody will pop into your head as you read.

BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND, 1962

How many roads must a man walk down, Before you call him a man? Yes, ‘n’ how many seas must a white dove sail, Before she sleeps in the sand? Yes, ‘n’ how many times must the cannon balls fly, Before they’re forever banned? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGIN’, 1963

Come senators, congressmen, Please heed the call, Don’t stand in the doorway, Don’t block up the hall, For he that gets hurt, Will be he who has stalled, There’s a battle outside And it is ragin’. It’ll soon shake your windows And rattle your walls For the times they are a-changin’.

FOREVER YOUNG (played at the beginning of the popular TV show, PARENTHOOD)

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

Answering Questions About Parenting and Midlife

Answering Questions About Parenting and Midlife

I am a member of a wonderful group of women who write about midlife. Under the umbrella, THE WOMEN OF MIDLIFE, we now have over 1,000 members and within the group are writers of novels and poetry, photographers and chefs, designers and members of the medical community–all experiencing midlife and helping one another as they share their experiences. Some members have created products or research and present products that make midlife even better. Many have published books.

A year ago, Melissa T. Shultz interviewed members for her recently published book: FROM MOM TO ME AGAIN How I Survived My First Empty-Nest Year and Reinvented The Rest of My Life. 

Melissa interviewed me and my answers appear in sections of her book. But when I was looking for a topic today, I found both questions and answers and realized they underline some things I have been wanting to write about–and so here is the interview–unedited and honest. (Footnote: Life is often a search for another’s experience as we make important life decisions. I encourage you to read Melissa’s book, especially after reading this post–because the interview is only a glimpse into the material that she covers and that readers in similar situations can benefit from.)

1. As a mom, do you believe that children come first? That is, do their needs take precedence? When you bring children into the world, you have to care for them. If that means that you must give up certain material goods or blocks of time in your life to love, rear and help your children grow and adapt to living in the world—then yes! A child’s needs should take precedence over your own. Or don’t have children. But also, don’t create some imaginary world where you watch what others do and want to give, buy and push your child to be like someone else’s. Be sensible and reasonable in your rearing. Give them love. That’s what they want and need. Not stuff.

2. Do you think being sad or depressed when the kids leave for college is a sign that you were too involved in their lives? Everything works on a continuum. If you are deeply depressed and need medical help when your children leave for college—then again, yes, you need help. Women who live through their children and monitor their lives too closely lose themselves in the rearing. Then when the object of that attention no longer needs them—what is left? Possibly depression—or at the very least a long time adapting to the change.

3. If you have children still living at home, are you putting off a personal dream that you hope to accomplish when they’ve left for school or moved out? My children are all gone now, but looking back—no I did not put off a personal dream. While raising my two daughters who were 4 years apart, I got up early almost every day and wrote until they awoke. When my son was born, I even tried to publish a book on having children after the age of 35—I was 42 when I had him. Then I went to nursing school and became an RN working in labor and delivery. Later, when he was in grade school and high school, I wrote three novels. And I also worked at home proofreading for a publishing company and then taking a position outside the home as an educator at the health department, part time.

4. If you could go back and change one thing about how you prepared yourself (or didn’t prepare yourself) emotionally for your son/daughter’s departure to college (up to four years before he or she left), what would that be? Here’s the crux of that question—becoming an empty nester can be hard no matter how you prepare. I think by having another life, my writing, my nursing, I did prepare myself. But what is part of the empty nest syndrome is ultimately the fact that you are entering another stage of life. You are leaving that exhilarating time of the bonding family, and if it’s been a joyful experience, which it was for me and my husband, then it’s just sad to have to give it up. What I am saying is you can’t prepare for that. It’s life. You are now at another stage and you are aging.

5. If you’re an empty nester, are you in (or are you contemplating) a new career? If so, tell me a bit about how it came about/the reality vs. expectations, etc. I am an empty nester, but when I first became one, I might be a bit different in some ways. As my son moved off to college, my husband’s chronic illness worsened and my mother’s dementia increased. I started writing my blog, Boomer Highway, because my life was so busy with so many responsibilities, and I needed to figure out how to manage. Of course I did manage, and I wanted to help others who were in the same proverbial “boat” that I was in. My son graduated, then lost all his possessions in a fire. My husband retired, then almost died until he got into a clinical trial that is saving his life. My dearest mother did die and then we moved across the country. Life goes on and on. Sometimes you just hang on. My career? Then it was coping. Now it’s writing and working toward publishing my novels. I also enjoy reading and taking deep sighs of relief.

6. If you’re an empty nester, are you still as close to the women friends you had while your kids were growing up together? Please elaborate. Those friends I swear are in your bloodstream, your bones. They are the golden oldies. So yes! My Chicago friends who were there while raising my daughters and my Des Moines friends who were there while raising my son are still in my heart. We email. Some visit. My husband and I go to their children’s weddings when we can. It’s a process as everyone has busy lives. But certain ones are always there for me and they are the oldest and dearest, the ones from the very beginning.

7. If you’re an empty nester, have you made new women friends since your child/children left? If so, how did you meet and were you actively seeking new friends? Friends are precious. Since we moved, I only have a few in the new community where we live, and when you don’t have children to pull you into groups of people, it takes a lot longer. And I guess I’m more content to write and read, though I did join a book club. I confess, I miss my friends from Chicago and Iowa. That’s why social networking is nice. Not the same, but helpful.

8. Regarding your partnership or marriage, how has the empty nest changed/not changed the dynamic between you? Our marriage is great. We have been the best of friends for 45 years in marriage and for 51 years if you include dating. We still share the same faith, the same politics and of course our children and grandchildren are amazing familial bonds. He is my greatest supporter and our love, every aspect of it, is still present and giving our lives joy. Though my husband has been through a lot with his chronic illness, even after a day of chemo, he would get up the next morning and go to work. He is strong and forward thinking and that helped me to believe and be strong. Same with my mother. Her abiding love and belief in me all my life helped me to give back to her what I needed to give at a very tough time in my life.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Maybe some people don’t realize that every day of family life you are building toward the end of that family life. If you love and give and support, it most probably will come back to you when you need it. And believe me, we all will. Being a parent and parenting has been a gift in my life and it continues to see me through midlife and I am sure it will be there for me always.

 

We Are Not in Charge, But We Can Make a Difference

We Are Not in Charge, But We Can Make a Difference

I read newspapers and magazines and online articles. I’m constantly soaking up information and feel fortunate that I have the time to educate myself, to evaluate what I read and how I feel about what is happening in the world. Words are powerful. But it’s absolutely true: a picture is worth a thousand words. 

THOSE THOUSAND WORDS

Recently, I saw the above photo–two fathers carrying their infants in their arms. Compelling, love abounding in this TIME MAGAZINE photograph, despite the rubble, the destroyed street somewhere in Aleppo in Syria. The photo pulls me in. Photos do that. But after reading and looking, I turned the page. I could do that. I could look away. But this particular photo stayed with me. So I am writing about it–the thoughts it engenders.

ONE DAY YOU’RE UP, THE NEXT DAY YOU’RE DOWN

Autumn is coming, winter is coming. Here in the United States streets are not bombed into rubble, but there are floods and tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes that destroy.

I love living on this earth, but part of being here means struggle–for some it is all consuming, for others they are hardly touched. For some of you reading this right now: a loved one is ill, a friend recently died, an adult child is out of work or—-you just got a huge raise, purchased tickets to tour the world, bought a boat. I don’t know–these are random thoughts. But life is random. Like the song says, one day you’re up and the next day you’re down.

FAITH, LOVE, HOPE

So what are the constants: the earth turning on its axis, the change in seasons, birth, death, aging. They are always with us. AND SO IS WISDOM–the thoughts and ideas that are ours and others reaching out and providing us with BELIEF in what we can do, LOVE for what we have done and HOPE in the days to come.

I am certain, that if the fathers in the photo were asked what we could do to help them, outside of insuring peace in that warring country, they would have asked for food. Maybe they would have gone beyond that and asked for a small plot of land outside the terror of the bombs, a place to plant for food and maybe create a shelter so that they could maintain their families away from the chaos. That’s whittling down life to the bare essentials. That’s putting the seed in the ground to discover hope for the future. But that is what it means to be human.

So I come back again to the change of seasons, to the coming of autumn and winter–which ironically will not touch me as much as it did when I lived in the Midwest. Then I enjoyed putting the garden to bed, making sure the outside spigots wouldn’t freeze and that I had shovels for the snow and good tires on my car. Now I pray for winter rains in the drought that is California. But nature always gives you something. So we humans evaluate and try to prepare.

WISDOM: Frost reminds us that we’re not in charge, after all.  How do we let go?  Laugh at our failures, but don’t repeat them…Observe. Learn. Let go.

These are the words of Jane McKeon and she is writing about gardening, but her words mean more. We all experience life changes that affect our physical and spiritual health. Sometimes we are happy for these changes, other times we pray that they will soon end. In the latter case we can clench our teeth, let our back muscles grip in pain, lash out at those around us, or we can let go. It’s challenging, but such times call for examining our failures, discovering what might have contributed to them, and trying not to repeat them.

There will be frost—we are not in charge. And snow and drought and tornadoes etc. But we can live happier, better lives if we find something about change that strengthens us. A broken arm, painful and inconvenient, is not life threatening. It can create a lasting appreciation for that body part, and for the people who do the littlest thing to help us weather that cycle. Just as the relationships formed with strangers during a crisis changes how people feel about those very strangers.

On a different note, it’s totally challenging to find anything good in a job loss. That’s a change that requires we all remember: attitude is everything and stress can tear a family apart or ruin a person’s health. In such a time of struggle, for our own health and the health of our families, we have to let go and let others help us. And of course we have to help ourselves: observe, learn, not repeat our failures. That’s how we will weather such a season. It’s a cumulative process, one we will get better at as we live.

THERE WILL BE FROST AND SORROW AND JOY  

Jane’s words are words of wisdom. For your own spiritual and physical health, accept the flow of the seasons in your life. Weather the springs and autumns and you’ll be ready for the winters when they come. Let Go, Let God –or whatever god or spiritual practice you believe in. After frost and snow comes spring. And when you can: be grateful and reach out to others. Little by little we can draw closer to one another. We can make a difference.

Photo Credit: www.haaretz.com Photo taken by Ameer Alhalbi AFP/Getty Images

Using “STORY” To Support Facts

Using "STORY" To Support Facts

Story telling is powerful. Presenting an argument using a story is the first step to winning that argument and possibly getting others to follow our thinking. It’s basic psychology. It’s understanding how the brain works. Story is universal. WE LOVE STORY! But the story doesn’t always tell the truth.

Author Lisa Cron provides a succinct analysis in her Ted Talk, Wired for Story. She relates how we believe things over time because of the stories we have heard–her example: “women are responsible for a clean house.” She believed this story because every cleaning commercial she had ever seen showed women using the product.  Eventually she realized the story wasn’t true for many reasons–but it helped her understand its power. Story is emotion. We evaluate life and our choices through the emotion of story and we have to FEEL something in order to make choices: our spouse, our home, our clothing etc. Story is the reason our ancestors knew NOT to eat the red berries. Because someone died and the stories got passed along. Cron points out that story is often how we survive.

The message in THE LION KING? You either run from the past (the story) or you learn from it. How you think about a story is always related to how you feel about it.

In her Ted Talk, Cron mentions TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, by Harper Lee, underlining that the author used “story” to move us in a different direction so that as a people we could combat decades of racism in American culture. That novel, that story about Scout Finch, a young girl living in American’s South, changed many people’s hearts and cut into the formidable stain of racism. Cron says: “You aren’t reading about Scout, you are Scout. Story takes you there.”

Former First Lady, Laura Bush, said that Lee’s book was a prime example of how words can create strong ideas and impact the mindset of readers for decades. All the scholarly facts and figures about race might not have had as profound an effect as the words of Atticus Finch and Scout in that  story.

When you boldly think about it, racism is a learned pattern of thinking that humans become exposed to through story–while they are growing up. It’s like young Thomas or Claire deciding not to like Uncle Dennis, because of all the stories they’ve heard from their family: Dennis swears, always wears the same shirt, has been known to tell dirty jokes and once stayed with the family for a week and never offered to pay for a meal. But then Thomas and Claire meet Dennis and within an hour discover he’s kind, will play ball out in the yard and knows more about science exploration than anyone. He’s not a bad guy–he’s just not, for reasons the kids can’t figure out, a family favorite. Story is powerful and you might still not like certain people in your life because of a STORY you once heard about them.

Now think about someone you’ve met who is against vaccines, telling a story about a child she knew getting autism from being vaccinated. In the book, DENYING TO THE GRAVE, WHY WE IGNORE the FACTS THAT WILL SAVE US, Sara and Jack Gorman explore story as a means to understand and then counteract harmful lies. They relate that we should not dismiss and walk away from people who deny facts. Instead, we should be challenged to counteract their beliefs. (WOW. Just think about the present political climate, everything resting on it, and all the lies floating around. THAT’S a CHALLENGE.)

The writers of DENYING TO THE GRAVE have found that when it comes to believing in science, we humans are uncomfortable with an event that does not have a clear cause–like autism–so we tend to fill in the gaps ourselves. Being emphatic creatures who can learn human understanding from the story of Scout Finch, we might deny science after hearing the story “you get autism from vaccines.” And we might stay there. The story has power, creates images in the imagination that statistics cannot always overcome.

Story is power and that’s why writers in widely read publications like TIME MAGAZINE, begin a news article by zooming in on ONE PERSON that story has affected. We readers immediately find our brains connecting with that ONE PERSON and so the facts begin to stick with us–the smart writer leaving the statistics for later, after the empathetic part of your brain has already been hooked.

DENYING THE GRAVE concludes that instead of chastising folks for their belief in a story,  we should figure out why we are drawn to this story in the first place and work to change minds with compassion and understanding–not disdain.

I challenge all of us to do that every day. When we hear stories that fall on our ears as lies, we should attempt a kind response, one that draws empathy from our listener, one that might be part of our own personal story, one that helps build a STORY for the truth.

Photo Credit: www.mlparentcoach.com

Using "STORY" To Support Facts

When Fathering Girls: Love and Protection

When Fathering Girls: Love and Protection

When Fathering Girls: Love and Protection

We’ve heard it over and over, but it’s still a truism, having a father is good for a girl. Having a father provides a girl with love and protection, encouragement and a relationship that is just WELL different, from what moms provide. Yes, there are troubled relationships between girls and their mothers and they could also occur between girls and their fathers. But for a girl to grow up and navigate the world of love and sex, marriage and children, or having children with a man without benefit of marriage, that father figure if he is loving and understanding, supportive and open-minded, can truly give that girl a head start. And if he is not?

Maybe he has only one of the above qualities. I don’t meant to describe the perfect father that maybe doesn’t exist. But I do believe a girl’s presence in a man’s life can soften his edges, open his eyes to the future of all of his dealings with women in a way no one else can. His daughter is the FUTURE of womanhood–as he relates to it. And he wants the best for her. Yes, he wants that for his wife, but caught in the constraints of time–he now sees more for his daughter. He sees change and advancement stretching out into the future and he routes for her. He begins to believe that girls, just like boys, can thrive.

This all might sound dated. You’re thinking–things have changed–all men are aware of the importance of fathering their daughters. We don’t need songs about it, like Billy Bigelow singing in the musical comedy, Carousel.

You can have fun with a son, But you gotta be a father to a girl.
She mightn’t be so bad at that, A kid with ribbons in her hair!
…But my little girl Gets hungry ev’ry night and she comes home to me!

Both parents prepare for their children and want to do the best for them. But life gets in the way. Families are so different now–with step-fathers and absent fathers and fathers raising children with no mother. The ability to fly from coast to coast, take jobs in different places or work remotely via the internet has also affected the composition of the family. Sometimes the mother is the constant, but sometimes it’s the father. That’s great, as long as there is a constant.

My father died when I was three. But I had a mother who was so loving and understanding, who put her children first, always, that I turned out all right. There were uncles in my life, fathers of my friends. They helped me see how fatherhood worked. Once, my father took me to see his brother, my uncle. But the man had a new television and was more interested in talking about how it worked. My mother related this little story more than once–how my dad came home with me in his arms and said to my mother: THEY JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT WE HAVE HERE. That’s father-love. I felt it then and it  sustained me through the years at some level, because I turned out all right.

The protective role of the father is needed more than ever in a world of Face Book and photo sharing, pornography and the sexualization of young girls. Readers might remember  when five-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was found murdered in the basement of her family’s Colorado home on December 26, 1996. JonBenet participated in child beauty pageants, because her mother had been a beauty queen and supposedly JonBenet wanted to echo what her mother did.

In an interview in 2012 her father, John Ramsey, reacting to the popularity of the reality television show TODDLERS AND TIARAS, said that letting his daughter compete in pageants is something he regrets. “Only because- that possibly might have drawn attention to us. I don’t know. But-  I think for- for advice to a parent is just recognize that- regardless of where you live, there- there could be evil around you. And- and don’t be naive about it. And keep your kids protected.” Even in death, that’s hard to do as a television series about JonBenet’s life and death will be airing soon.

Writer Naomi Schaefer Riley took a hard look at the reality show TODDLERS AND TIARAS. She wrote: One father, who had a rap sheet of drug and alcohol abuse, sued for custody of his daughter. The girl, now 6, was a regular on the pageant circuit, where she appeared dressed as Dolly Parton, complete with padded bra and enhancements for her rear end. Apparently, her father wasn’t happy about this.

Thousands of girls appear in these pageants, along with hundreds more on television shows glamorizing the whole culture of miniaturized sex objects. Last year, one of the 3-year-olds on the Toddlers & Tiaras reality show dressed up as Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman, before Richard Gere sent her on a shopping spree. Another little girl appeared singing Sexy and I Know It at a nightclub.

(My milllennial son was so upset about this he wrote a song about it.) I can’t imagine this for my daughters and granddaughters. I didn’t even like them watching the film Pretty Woman when it came out in 1990 and they were sixteen and twelve. I recently watched the film again. It is still true fantasy that could never ever happen to a prostitute. And I am sure the film has been used by pimps as a device to lure innocent but desperate girls. But many will still say ah, it’s so light-hearted! Maybe, but crosses a line that’s hard to pinpoint.

In her article Riley stresses the importance of fathers being involved in their daughter’s lives. She states: A protective presence lets girls grow outside the sexualized pressure of our culture. She is so right!

Where once fathers might play ball with their male progeny, now they can pick a sport or an activity that their daughters want to pariticpate in. And if busy work and travel schedules make attending practices difficult (and this can be mothers too) it’s not hard to find time to sit and talk about what a daughter has achieved in gym class or dance, softball or piano. SOMETHING! Attention and time with DAD is what girls need and fathers too. You can’t always know your child while they are part of the larger family crowd. One to one is meaningful and necessary. A game of chess or checkers, a walk, and the always possible drive in the car provides a quiet time to find out what’s going on in your daughter’s head.

Let’s hear it for slowing down the push to grow up; for reaching a plateau of growth that can be celebrated and yet HELD ON TO for awhile. Blink and your daughter (or your son) is beyond your control and you are asking what you did wrong. STOP THE CLOCK. Talk to her. Put her on the pedestal of attention she deserves. Protect her from stupid choices that can bring her sorrow. Love and protection are key. And beauty pageants? She’s beautiful in your eyes. Others eyes can wait until she’s an adult and ready to walk in the wide world.

Thanks to shutterstock.com and storyhighlighto and pinterest.com

When Fathering Girls: Love and Protection

Sorry-but this is NOT Cute.

When You Don’t Get the Window Seat

When You Don't Get the Window Seat

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

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

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

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

I will never be the same.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

photo www.youtube.com

 

 

The Staying Power of Words

Maybe our words float up into the ether.

Maybe our words float up into the ether.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take-aways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Staying Power of Words

Words form a bridge between us.

Marilynne Robinson Talks to A Famous Person, Part One

Marilynne Robinson Talks to A Famous Person

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

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

Background of Marilynne Robinson 

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

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

POTUS Asks to Sit Down and Chat: Democracy 

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

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

Homespun Values

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

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

Reading Novels/Listening to Music

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

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

How the United States Relates to History 

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

Education and Quarterly Earnings 

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

What Would You Like to Add to the Conversation? 

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

Marilynne Robinson Talks to A Famous Person, Part One

Saying Goodbye at the Des Moines Airport

Marilynne Robinson Talks to A Famous Person, Part One

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