What’s Your Idea of an Adventure?

What's Your Idea of an Adventure?

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

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

HOW DID I RESPOND? 

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

SO WHAT THE HELL IS AN ADVENTURE, ANYWAY? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADVENTURES NEVER END

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

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

INTO THE FUTURE

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

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

Photo Credit: Pinterest Akamai Marketing

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

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

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

QUESTIONS AND PLANS 

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

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

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

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

HOW IT ALL WENT 

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

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

AMERICA CHANGES OVER NIGHT

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

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

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

IF I WERE RICH, WOULD I FEEL DIFFERENT? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESEARCH and FINDINGS 

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

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

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

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

DIFFERENT OPINIONS 

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

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

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

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

Photo: Thanks to Napoleon Hill and Brainy Quotes

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Thoughts for This Season 2017

Thoughts for This Season 2017

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

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Losing and Gaining…

Losing and Gaining...

The California fires as seen from space…

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

SANTA ANA WINDS

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

PRESENT STATUS

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

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

SOME BOTTOM LINES

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

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

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

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

MORE BOTTOM LINES

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

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

FINAL THOUGHTS on LOSING and GAINING

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit:  Marwa Eltagouri in the Washington Post.

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.

I’m Thankful for the Adults in the Room

I'm Thankful for the Adults in the Room

It’s Thanksgiving Week and I’m giving thanks. Grateful more than I can say for my husband and every member of my extended family, the roof over my head and the food on my table.

Grateful for reading–books, newspapers, articles, essays. Reading is a gift that I indulge in every day. (Thanks, Mom, for taking good care of my eyes when I was a kid.) And this week I’ve read some amazing ideas from THE ADULTS IN THE ROOM. What room, you ask? Wide-spread, global, you name it.

WHAT IS AN ADULT? 

The basic definition: fully developed and mature.  That doesn’t do it for me. It doesn’t get at the heart of my message. When I examined the origins of the word from Latin, French, well–this is more like it: to become mature, grow up, to nurse, feed nourish.

NOURISH, YES. The adult in the room should be someone who GIVES US SOMETHING POSITIVE, something we feel grateful for, something that FEEDS US, whether in words or in deeds.

This past week I decided to be on the lookout for “adults in the room,” people who could speak to me through their writing, their words. People who could give me a message that filled me up. I found a few.

THE FIRST from Kevin Kelly.

I have been reading excerpts from THIS I BELIEVE and when I read Kevin Kelly’s, it touched me deeply. The words reproduced here are adapted from a Christmas card he sent to family and friends in 2007I urge you to go to the link above and read the entire letter.

One year I rode my bicycle across America. In the evenings I’d scout houses for a likely yard to camp in. I’d ring the bell and say, “I’d like to pitch my tent tonight where I have permission. I’ve just eaten dinner, and I’ll be gone first thing in the morning.” I was never turned away, and there was always more, like an invitation into their home. My job at that moment was clear: I was to relate my adventure, and in the retelling of what happened so far, they would get to vicariously ride a bicycle across America — In exchange I would get a place to camp and a dish of ice cream.

When the miracle flows, it flows both ways. With each gift the threads of benevolence are knotted, snaring both giver and recipient. I’ve only slowly come to realize that good givers are those who learn to receive with grace as well. They radiate a sense of being indebted and a state of being thankful. As a matter of fact, we are all at the receiving end of a huge gift simply by being alive. Yet, most of us are no good at being helpless, humble or indebted.    No matter how bad the weather, soiled the past, broken the heart, hellish the war, I believe…the universe is conspiring to help us — if we will humble ourselves enough to let it.

What a gift to be thankful for. That the universe is conspiring to help us. Something to ponder when we want to FEAR the universe instead.

THE SECOND from David Litt. He was in his twenties when he signed up to be a speech writer for the Obama White House. He takes a radical yet positive viewpoint on adults:

But here, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the single most valuable lesson I learned in my 20s: There are no grown-ups, at least not in the way we imagined as kids. There’s no room full of all-knowing elders in charge.

True, people often referred to POTUS as “the adult in the room.” But it took me years before I fully understood what that meant. As much as I admire and respect him, President Obama wasn’t perfect… What made Obama the adult in the room was the way he defined his priorities. Children strive only for pleasure; adults strive for fulfillment. Children demand adoration; adults earn respect. Children find worth in what they acquire; adults find worth in the responsibilities they bear…And while it turns out the world has no all-powerful grown-ups, it has an overwhelming number of children. They come in all ages, from every walk of life and every corner of the political map…but we will have to be our own grown-ups. We will have to save ourselves. That’s the idea at the heart of democracy. None of us is the best of We, the People. But we are all we’ve got — and if each of us does their part, we’re good enough.

THE THIRD from Michael Eric Dyson. A Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University, this is taken from his recent book: TEARS WE CANNOT STOP.

Beloved, your participation in protests, rallies, local community meetings, and the like makes a huge difference. When we gather to express grief, outrage, and dissent, your presence sends the signal that this is not “just a black thing.” It is, instead, an American thing. …Your presence also puts your bodies and reputations on the line by identifying you with folk you are not supposed to have much in common with. Your presence adds great moral weight to the gathering. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but for now, it is.

THE FOURTH from Marilynne Robinson, author. This taken from her first novel, Housekeeping. If you had time to read it at your Thanksgiving table, that would be something.

“There is so little to remember of anyone – an anecdote, a conversation at a table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming habitual fondness not having meant to keep us waiting long.”

A BLESSED THANKSGIVING to EVERYONE, Beth 

Thanks to Jade Keller for this amazing image.

Is This a Medical Crisis?

Is This a Medical Crisis?

Trauma Center

It’s not opioids. It’s not marijuana. It’s not obesity and diabetes. It’s not a disease that over time with research and the commingling of hard scientific work and cooperation we have almost conquered–like AIDS and some cancers. No. This continues to be a MEDICAL CRISIS harming 30,618 people in 2016 and killing 15,085. So far this year it has already killed 13, 304 and harmed, 27,206. It’s guns.

Okay, some of you stopped reading right then. But as a nurse and a mother and the wife of a cancer patient, the daughter of a father who died when I was a small child–I know about loss, about struggle, about the importance of good medical care, and the difficulty of picking up your life again IF–you lost a limb, have a spinal cord injury, facial and body deformities or simply can no longer lie down and have a good night’s sleep. PTSD. You keep living it. But so far A GUN has not been part of my family history. I AM SO DAMN LUCKY. So far.

IF YOU WERE SHOT, WHAT’S YOUR FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE?

So if you skipped the above heading, please go back and read it again. What is our first line of defense. Many would answer: your own gun or a man, woman, policeman with a gun. In other words, if someone shoots you–that’s what you need right away. Yes, if you’re down and the guy is just shooting and shooting. Because then, you’re dead. But if you’re in a crowd and the shooter has moved on, your first line of defense for your life IS A DOCTOR!  Or nurse EMT–someone trained to stop your bleeding.

TALK ABOUT GUNS

Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency department physician at UC Davis in California called on primary care doctors “to make a commitment to ask your patients about firearms when, in your judgment, it is appropriate.” He has asked his fellow doctors to sign a public commitment: “When risk factors for harm to my patient or others are present, I will ask my patients about firearms ownership and safety.”

DOCTORS CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, since February 2017 when the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 2011 Florida law that would have barred doctors from speaking to their patients about firearms. They concluded that the act violated the first Amendment rights of doctors. Remember, they take an oath TO DO NO HARM.

Here are some things doctors could talk to their patients about:

  • how do you store firearms and ammunition;
  • you need safety locks and separate locked cases;
  • review stats showing that 60% of U.S. gun deaths are due to suicide;
  • impulsive teens with access to firearms are at high risk;

RESEARCH CENTER FOR DOCS

Dr. Wintemute is also heading the nation’s first publicly funded firearm violence research center, established by the state of California at UC Davis. For the first time in 2 decades, there is a growing body of research to guide doctors when they discuss firearms with their patients. He urges doctors NOT TO STAY ON THE SIDELINES. But with this research, Dr. Wintemute says “you won’t be acting alone.”

Examples of when THE TALK should occur:

  • patients who are drinking heavily or abusing drugs should be asked about the presence of a gun in the home;
  • an acute injury, difficult medical diagnosis or a job loss;
  • or when a severe mental illness is not under control;
  • past history of violence, including a suicide attempt or an abusive partner

THE FIRST STEP

Wintemute acknowledges that asking these questions may not lead to immediate behavior change. But there is proof that a doctor’s counseling a patient, especially when that counseling is repeated, can be a powerful prod to change and a healthier behavior. He make this IMPORTANT POINT: “The fact that it doesn’t work all the time isn’t a reason to never do it.”

IMPORTANT COMMENTS FROM DR. WINTEMUTE: “I know as an ER doctor, most of the people who die from gunshot wounds die WHERE they were shot. So for us as clinicians to make the largest inroads we can into the number of people who die, we have to prevent them from being shot in the first place. So that’s why we don’t back down. The questions are fascinating. The opportunity to make a difference for the better is fascinating. There are very very few people working it. There’s active opposition. What’s not to like?”

“Firearms are consumer products. The industry needs to move product. To the extent that they see the work that any of us do as threatening those economic interests, they see as a threat.”

A FINAL THOUGHT 

To determine future blog content, I save articles from newspapers, magazines or printed items from the internet. When I checked today, I found two articles from the LA TIMES about Dr. Wintemute that I had saved. This was AFTER the Las Vegas shooting. Now as I write this piece, we have already had ANOTHER MASS SHOOTING. It has to stop. Go to: http://www.gunviolencearchive.org for statistics.

Photo: Health Tip   Gunshot Wounds Chest, Doctor answers

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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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Those Voices in Our Heads

Those Voices in Our Heads

The title of this post is not about some pathology. No. The title is me working toward asking everyone a question: Who thinks about you each morning?

I hope it’s someone you love. I hope it’s a dear close friend–as opposed to a fellow worker who is just eager to talk to you so some duties can be passed along or a crabby neighbor who keeps bugging you to trim that tree.

So who thinks about you each morning fondly or with love?

The question can also be turned around: when you open your eyes, who do you think about?

FAMILY 

On opening my eyes, I think about our three children. I picture my older daughter already at work–she is three hours ahead of us and that’s a bunch of time. I think of my son in Chicago who is also at work. And finally, I know my other daughter is busy getting our three grandchildren ready for school.

Such mother-oriented thoughts might apply to you too–but on a different level. Maybe your first thought of a morning is: I forgot to sign that report card or make the lunches.

I get that.

CHILDREN DON’T COME WITH INSTRUCTIONS 

The above statement is kind of a joke, but it’s also true. Here is the crux or guts of my post today–and it does connect with who thinks about you each morning. 

In human interaction (which starts when we are born, proceeds through childhood etc) no one sits us down and says, SO, ABOUT LIFE and LIVING, this is how it’s done. (You might argue that yes, your parents sat you down about sex, or being safe or something. I get that.)

But what I’m referring to is the fast-paced challenge of daily living. You can look at this from different points of view: when you were or are raising your children OR when your parents were raising you.

A lot went by without a sign that read: hey, this is important, watch what I do–this is how to live. Or: listen up, this is important, watch what I say and how I say it.

No, what each of us learned was ON THE FLY, in the moment, hectic and busy, sometimes with a hint of anger or frustration. And the end result? We grew up and created our own persona either taking in and agreeing with THOSE VOICES IN OUR HEADS or making a point of disregarding them.

And I get that. I get that sometimes what we are exposed to as children needs heavy editing. That’s how we rearrange things and hopefully what our children now hear doesn’t need that kind of editing.

THE HUMAN VOICE

So back to those voices in your head–in my head.

First, regardless of how busy their lives are, I hope and I think I know that our children DO think about me, about my husband every day–or almost every day. Maybe that thought is not the first thing–but later, late afternoon when our son calls on his drive home or one daughter sends an email and the other calls or there is a text. HUMAN CONNECTION. THOSE VOICES IN OUR HEADS.

Even in our current culture, the world of cell phones, I can hear my children’s voices, see their smiles. Distance doesn’t have to be distance. It can be an opportunity to picture them, think about them, answer that initial question: Who thinks about you each morning?  I DO! I think about you. And if the lives of my children are any bit like my life–they hear my voice now and again. It’s in their heads. Hopefully, the message is loving and positive. Or I presented an argument or an answer to a problem that they are now considering. My husband is a great counselor. I’m sure they ponder his ideas.

SOME VOICES REMAIN

As a final thought, each night I remember my parents, especially my mother who raised me and my two brothers alone, because of my father’s too-early death. If there is any voice in my head that has guided me or whose movements, choices, facial expressions created that BOOK OF INSTRUCTIONS, it was my mother.

I still patten much of what she said about living, how she treated other people, her ideas on parenting and being a good friend, a loving spouse. She was awesome. Trailing behind her during those early years of my life helped form me. Of course I wasn’t aware at the time as to how lucky I was.

Thanks for reading.  Tomorrow when I wake up, I’lll think of my family–and my readers. And for sure, I hope there are a lot of you!

PS. There has been much research about parental voices affecting the raising of children, I’m Okay You’re Okay being a major one. But I just wanted to touch on the basics–keep it simple. If there is a book or an experience that provided a turning point in your life, I would be eager to hear about it.

Thanks to Charles Schultz, Peanuts and Pinterest.

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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.