More Like This….

More Like This....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YES, again We need MORE LIKE THIS…

photo: The New York Times

Conversation Versus Confrontation Affects Our Children

Conversation Versus Confrontation Affects Our Children

When I was right smack in the middle of raising my daughters, five o’clock pm could be an awesome and a crazy time. Awesome, because my mother and I were always in conversation at that time, talking about her day and my day. Crazy because my daughters were doing their homework and they interrupted us. Which on the face of it was fine. My mother would wait, loved them like crazy. But often the topic SHE was relating to me was her passion–the news. What was happening: children starving in Africa, Inda. Or something going down in D.C.

Now I’m near to being in my mother’s place–drawn into the issues, the tension, the worry of what is going on in our country and in the world. But when I am with my children, I see the importance of pulling away from those topics and immersing myself in what concerns them: child-rearing and their jobs. Of course often they cross over–one affects the other. Believe me, I see the importance of both and wrote this in my work-in-progress novel: (Ella is the mother of a child who has gone missing)

It was not unlike when Ella had defended certain aspects of current culture to her mother Cecile, 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 her child into. If she had condemned culture and society, then she would be condemning herself.

THOSE WHO POWER UP SOCIETY OFTEN MUST APPROVE OF IT. And then again, not always.

Let’s consider conversation versus confrontation. I like to think that when my mother and I spoke about our lives it was a conversation. And In fact right now–governments are forgetting conversation. They need to be reminded that diplomacy is all about airing one’s opinions but not in a bullying fashion. It’s not confrontation so that you make THE OTHER want to scream back at you–or drop a bomb on your country. It’s conversation, a sharing. The very word comes from Middle English and means living among, familiarity, intimacy; 

Krista Tippett is the host of a radio program ON BEING. She interviews movers, shakers, thinkers and her podcast has reached a global audience of 1.5 million listeners a month. On Being was listed in the iTunes top ten podcasts of 2014. Tippett was recently interviewed in TIME MAGAZINE.

TIME: (when discussing conversation versus confrontation) Are there limits to listening?

Krista: Listening is not just about being quiet while the other person talks, it is about being present and willing to be surprised and curious. That is muscle memory we have to build up.

TIME: What are you mulling over to explore next in your podcast?

Krista: This matter of what a conversation is, as opposed to a debate or confrontation. We don’t even know right now how to get the people we disagree with in the room with us, unless you set up a formal debate, and it is my ideas against your ideas. Public life is so unsettled, it creates this opening in which we can start to weave whatever common life is going to look like in the 21st century. Can we figure out what questions we have in common if we don’t have answers, and let those be the tools with which we think about how we create the world we want our children to inhabit?

Just think about that. If we continue to fight one another, we are leaving more chaos and confusion for the next generation. We need to listen to the millennials and those behind them. We need to balance their bright and fervent ideas with the history that we might carry with us–whatever age we are.

SO BACK TO MY MOTHER: I needed to understand (and I think I did) the passion she had for helping others as she aged, because she wanted to leave this world a better place. And she in turn had to understand THE CHANGES that I had already embraced with the very act of bringing children to live in this culture.

It’s an ongoing process–it’s a give and take. Conversation must continue. That intimacy. When Krista Tippett interviewed Richard Rohr, one of my favorite thinkers, he said something related to where my mother was and where I am right now:

To be a contemplative is to learn to trust deep time and to learn how to rest there and not be wrapped up in chronological time. Because what you’ve learned, especially by my age, is that all of it passes away. The things that you’re so impassioned about when you’re 22 or 42 don’t even mean anything anymore, and yet, you got so angry about it or so invested in it. So, this word “contemplation,” it’s a different form of consciousness. It’s a different form of time.

“It’s a different form of time” or a different way of feeling time, of living it.

When TIME Magazine also asked Tippett what she was reading, she answered: WHEN THINGS FALL APART by Pema Chodron. I was not familiar with that book, but it definitely relates to the chasm in conversation that we are now experiencing in the U.S.

About Chodron’s Book: How can we live our lives when everything seems to fall apart—when we are continually overcome by fear, anxiety, and pain? The answer, Pema Chödrön suggests, might be just the opposite of what you expect. Here, in her most beloved and acclaimed work, Pema shows that moving toward painful situations and becoming intimate with them can open up our hearts in ways we never before imagined. Drawing from traditional Buddhist wisdom, she offers life-changing tools for transforming suffering and negative patterns into habitual ease and boundless joy. 

Tippett then comments: ...things are always falling apart. That would be a thing for everyone in this country to remember–that actually the ground was never all that stable under our feet. Understanding is the nature of waking up…Tippett then says: 

In the 24/7 news environment, people are bombarded with the same story of what is catastrophic and corrupt and failing 25 times before lunch. They start to internalize that not as news but as the norm…(We must work against that.)

There are actually so many beautiful generative things happening in the world, and to end this discussion, I would like to mention that this is NATIONAL POETRY month. Maybe each of us could select a book of poetry and read at least one poem a day. Let me know what book you chose and if that helps THE CONVERSATION. Here is mine:

From New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver: Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches …

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint that something is missing from your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch? Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself continually?

Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

Well, there is time left–fields everywhere invite you into them.

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away from where you are, to look for your soul?

Art: CONVERSATION OF A FRIDAY: Gallery 13 North in Lambertville recently signed international artist, Lourdes Ral from Barcelona, Spain.

Hey, Listen: I’m a Woman and I’ve Got a Brain

Hey, Listen: I'm a Woman and I've Got a Brain

Thanks a lot, Eve, I guess you were the beginning of it all. And it really sucks: women are temptresses; men need protection from women; and men, because they gained power first, (at least in some countries) get to talk first, deny first. “None of her accusations were true.” “I did not have sex with that woman.” Yes they are and yes you did.

WOMEN, A VICE PRESIDENT and a TV PERSONALITY MAKE SEX the NEWS

So let’s consider some so-called solutions to the eternal men/women quagmire: don’t dine with a woman alone and for sure take your wife to any social occasion if alcohol is being served. Really? Take that temptress, that woman, your wife–how can she help you out? I will state that religion can be a good thing. But good things can get out of control, run to extremes that make absolutely no sense.

Current news underlines that. The VP is the one who needs his wife to protect him. And a certain TV personality claims ( like another male who now dominates the news) that his role working with women is exemplary. He works at Fox News, so maybe not. Because this guy is sometimes into FAKE NEWS and my guess is he’s also into FAKE MORALITY. How did we get here? Our VP might say it’s because women are in the workplace and if you’re a married man–watch out–we’re coming for you. (Snark comment about the VP could go here, but I won’t.)

CONSIDER the JOB INTERVIEW

Instead I’ll take you back some years when I was interviewing for a job. In the tumult of the current news cycle, I reflected on my own life in the workplace. First job interviews.

In my early twenties I applied at three major high schools in the southern suburbs of the city of Chicago. I was interviewed at the first two by men. They were cordial. That’s all I remember. At the third I was interviewed by two women who would become my department chair and co-chair. They sent me to meet the principal who shook my hand and then the school superintendent for the entire district. He happened to be in the building that day and I was invited into his office. He asked me questions about my education, questions I don’t remember. He did ask me one question that I will never forget.

“Would you still want the job if I told you that a student could come at you with a knife?” “Yes.”

When you like everything you have just experienced and then you are asked this question, there might be some hesitation in your answer, BUT YOU SAY YES. You are a female and you can handle your life as well as any male who might or might not be asked the same question. If later I did ask my fellow newly-hired teachers if that was part of their interview, I confess–I don’t remember what they answered. I GOT THE JOB. I loved the job. I handled myself with dignity and quick thinking when we had race riots in our school about two years later. I matured.

As a young teacher and then later on when I became an RN, worked at two different hospitals, a telecommunication center and a health department–I WAS ALWAYS INTERVIEWED BY WOMEN. The interviews were not easy. At one hospital she would not consider hiring me in the labor and delivery department unless I agreed to work on a medical floor. I did not agree and instead interviewed and got a position in an L&D unit at a Chicago inner-city hospital. Best work decision I ever made. Like my teaching position, I GREW in that job. It’s actually the impetus for the novel I am writing. But I digress.

WOMEN WORKING with Men–A GIVEN 

Florence Nightingale was surrounded by men and they thanked God for her presence. She and her fellow nurses saved lives–and there was alcohol present–you know, it’s a germicide. My point is that each person, male and female, has a responsibility to conduct themselves properly in the work place. But of course that doesn’t always happen. Chalk it up to being human–or something along those lines.

Because my work experience has been in professions that are predominantly women, I have had little to no problem with sexual advances or discrimination. Yes, once in an elevator a doctor I had never seen before took advantage of my school-nurse uniform and propositioned me. Luckily, I got off at the next floor. And all of the MDs on the L&D units were not always verbally “proper”. There was no name-calling, but there was tension that went to the stress of a busy night with clients in pain or annoying family members, or just two many children coming into the world in a 30 minute period. You let off steam and sometimes it’s a female nurse you have shouted at. We shouted back. A given. Reprimands were about a mis-diagnosis, or not always putting the patient first–and rightly so. Lots of life is on the line. But the stress of aiding in a difficult birth comes with some passes.

For me it has always been an acknowledgment either spoken or unspoken that I’m doing a good job, if not a great job, and that I have a brain. That’s what counts. Of course different jobs have different work cultures. Being a female working with the men on Fox News speaks to that, compels a woman to know that culture and to be aware of it. I truly hope there will be a time when someone working there breaks the harassment that seems to be endemic.

On an L&D unit when there’s down time, interns, docs, nurses might talk about family, or whose dating who, or even grumble about the anesthesiologist. (We did that a lot, but he was really okay.) When I did leave my nursing position in that Chicago hospital, a doctor wrote me a letter, mailed to my home, asking me to come back, telling me how he valued what I had given to my patients. That was awesome.

HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED DISCRIMINATION? 

The other part of this discussion speaks to your own personal relationships. If you are single, the workplace can often become the arena for meeting a future partner. And if you work at home but your spouse or partner goes to an office or studio or hospital etc every day, then your relationship relies on its strength. But that’s just the way it should be. Forget some norm that you (if you are a woman) cannot have alcohol after work with a client, boss or co-worker unless he has his partner or spouse with him. Truly, are you kidding me? That’s not to say that nasty stuff is impossible. It is. It definitely is. Use that awesome brain of yours. Be alert. If necessary talk back. Discrimination exists, but there are laws. And within the workplace, it’s great to be noticed. But I for one would advise that the notice relates to your brain, your smarts. What do you think?

Thanks to MrsProfessionalism wordpress.com

 

Books That Pave the Way for Life’s Journey

Books That Pave the Way for Life's Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: janeaustenrunsmylife

Open Up Your Heart To The Other

Open Up Your Heart To The Other

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

HELPING THE OTHER

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

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

VARIETY IS TRULY THE SPICE OF LIVING 

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

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

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

THE BASIC CONCEPT IS TRYING

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

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

OPEN UP YOUR HEART 

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

Open up your heart and let it go,

That’s the way it starts,

This I know-Open up your heart to me. 

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

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

ACT NOW

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

Photo: Zocalo Public Square

Will You Become Nostalgic for Weather?

Will You Become Nostalgic for Weather?

Living in Southern California provides many positives: a major one, weather. The Golden State truly provides days and days of sunshine which can lift the spirits and certainly makes nature-deficit disorder a rarity. (Coined by Richard Louv, nature-deficit disorder refers to people of all ages who are disconnected from nature, spending inordinate amounts of time indoors.) But in most climates, we are lured outdoors to walk or participate in sports. Even in cold climates nature provides ice skating and skiing, snowshoeing and sledding.

SEASONAL AFFECT DISORDER or SAD

Variety is the spice of life and that is also true for weather. People begin to feel depressed if the sun doesn’t shine for days at a time. I’ve written about that too–in a post about Seasonal Affect Disorder. Those of you living in temperate climates are familiar with this condition: SAD is diagnosed when a patient experiences depression and other symptoms for at least two consecutive years during the same season; and it generally applies to people dealing with long winters where sunlight is rare and the body begins to suffer–not only from outdoor activities being curbed but also from the physical affect that light has on the body. Because there is a definite relationship between light sources to the body and the production of serotonin which affects our moods.

FOUR SEASONS ARE THE BEST!

But though sunlight can lift the spirits, a person’s memory bank of weather also plays a part–we love rainy days and snow days and autumn days. A temperate climate allows for FOUR SEASONS that have definite borders. When autumn approaches, leaves change color and drop from the trees, grass begins to form deep roots instead of height, the air gets cooler and the days shorter. Fall requires different clothing and there is nothing better than a brisk walk in brisk fall air. It has its own perfume, its own way of touching the skin.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA DOES NOT HAVE FOUR SEASONS. IS THAT GOOD?

In Southern California the shift into fall is often imperceptible. Yes, the days get shorter, some of the trees drop their leaves, but much of the vegetation keeps on flowering so that there is not a definitive change. I miss that. Then suddenly it is Christmas and folks, like those in the midwest where I lived most of my life, are driving cars with an evergreen tied to the top. But it takes some adjusting to drape Italian lights in foliage that is still bursting with greenery. Winter here is our rainy season. The nights do get colder and the rose bushes and hydrangeas get cut back. But there’s no snow. You can travel to northern parts of California to ski, but last year our snow depth in the mountains was very low. This year it is greatly improved.

WOW, SPRING IS COMING AND I ENVY YOU IN TEMPERATE CLIMATES!

Here’s my point: many of you are about to or just now experiencing the beginning of spring. I envy you. The air begins to warm and you shed your jacket by 11:00 am. The trees begin to flower–redbuds, forsythia, then magnolia and fruit trees. Tulips and daffodils push up from the earth and the days get longer. You find yourself pulled from your home where people’s voices once again blend with birdsong and the buzz of tires on the street. It’s truly a rebirth and often produces a smile from a stranger. Because we all feel it–new life, green grass, bluer skies.

WOULD YOU WANT TO LOSE YOUR FOUR SEASONS???

Nostalgia for weather accentuates how grateful I am for nature and all that it provides us. So when spring begins and like a wave of blessing speeds across our country warming the winds and pulling people outside–consider: we need to protect the seasons, make sure that we don’t lose them, honor all the memories we have of spring, summer, winter and fall.

PLEASE FIGHT FOR THE EPA! FIGHT FOR YOUR SEASONS

So forgive me for this final thought, but if the Evironmental Protection Agency is defunded the way the current government is talking about–the entire country might eventually have the desert-like climate that is Southern California. No more leaf-peepers in New England; no more skiing in Colorado; no more ice-fishing in Minnesota. This is no joke. We must fight for the four season. Fight for clean air. AND ESPECIALLY, fight for clean water. No human being can survive without water–lots of it. To learn more go here. (Five Reasons to Like the Environmental Protection Agency)

I love talking about the seasons and how in some climates they are SO different. Which season is your favorite? Whichever you choose, I hope you don’t lose it. Help protect our earth. Help save our seasons or you might become nostalgic for weather you will never see again. Help fight for the EPA.

Photo source: Pinterest

Hey Government, Behind Your Decisions Are REAL PEOPLE

Hey Government, Behind Your Decisions Are REAL PEOPLE

Sometimes we are so involved in the argument that we don’t realize that the argument involves REAL PEOPLE. It’s one thing to sit around with a glass of wine or a shot of something stronger and argue about The Affordable Care Act, immunizations, the cost of various medications, or getting rid of various government departments because there is too much government. But remember, behind many of these arguments to eliminate stuff are PEOPLE–people’s lives, their health, education and general welfare!

YOU AND YOUR FAMILY’S HEALTH 

Take a situation that occurred recently at an elementary school in California. A teacher there died of bacterial meningitis. What do you know about meningitis. Here are the symptoms in people older than the age of 2: Sudden high fever. Stiff neck. Severe headache that seems different than normal. Headache with nausea or vomiting. Confusion or difficulty concentrating. Sleepiness and light sensitivity. When the disease is full blown: seizures.

Is it contagious? Yes, very. It can spread through coughing, sneezing or direct contact such as food sharing. The treatment, if disease is acute, intravenous antibiotics and, more recently, corticosteroids. This helps to ensure recovery and reduce the risk of complications, such as brain swelling and seizures. The antibiotic or combination of antibiotics depends on the type of bacteria causing the infection, so a broad-spectrum antibiotic is ordered until the doctor determines the exact cause of the meningitis. (there is also a viral meningitis which is treated with bed rest, fluids and and fever reducers.)

The Los Angeles County Public Health Department sent out representatives to discover who had come in contact with the teacher. They then provided preventative antibiotics and information about the disease to calm parents’ fears. THIS IS WHAT GOVERNMENT CAN DO ON THE PLUS SIDE.

Why do we have health departments in our towns and cities? Just for this reason. Any epidemic or health scare that arises is immediately dealt with because of in-place protocols used by your local health department. Knowledgable people jump in and help. Because let’s be frank, even with the internet, we don’t have all the answers and panic blocks clear thinking. But also consider this: you have some symptom and you go to the health department and discover you need surgery. Congress has eliminated the ACA. You don’t have health insurance through your job. You are in trouble.

YOU AND YOUR FAMILY’S ENVIRONMENT  

Another argument that truly makes me crazy is that global warming or climate change is a myth. Really? And to prove that our senate appointed an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head who doesn’t believe in the EPA and would like to dismantle it. He would probably use the line, “I’m not a scientist.” But let’s complete that: “I’m not a scientist, but I really hate science because it interferes with me and my buddies making lots of money. And after all, I owe them.” No, you owe the American people who voted for you.

The truth hurts. (And by the way, I’ll wager my six-year-old grandson knows more about science than any current member of the senate who is voting against climate change.)

But I would like to ask one of these guys in Congress and the EPA head: “Have you ever looked out your car window at folks walking the streets and wondered about their lives?” Because my God, don’t you climate deniers have parents, grandchildren, some sort of family. And why do I ask??

Because new research reveals that exposure to high levels of fine air pollutants increases dementia and its classic behavioral signs: disorientation and memory loss. (Gee, Mr. Senator, you might have to hire a full-time health worker to take care of your parent with dementia. But hey, keep that person signed on because you might need her to take care of you. Maybe you need her right now!)

Scientists have found that exposure to air pollution creates amyloid beta protein clumps in the brain and the die-off of cells in the brain’s hippocampus–a key center for memory function. But Mr. Senator or Mr. EPA Head, you might not give a care–you know, scientists can use some confusing language. Unfamiliar words. They make you WORK a bit.

But you will give a care if it hits you where it hurts, YOUR PEOPLE. I mean your decisions aren’t just a piece of paper–they follow a chain of command that hurts US citizens, THE REAL PEOPLE. The ones that voted for you.

So excuse me a moment, but I’m going to look at the SCIENCE.

“The US EPA found significant differences when looking at people who breathed clean air and those exposed to unsafe pollution levels.” OF COURSE. A study found that before the EPA set new air pollution standards in 2012, some 21% of new cases of dementia and of accelerated cognitive decline could have been attributed to air pollution. So thanks, EPA, for caring about people. Someone has to. But wait. Isn’t government decision-making often based on MONEY???

Let’s ask Dr. Jiu-Chiuan Chen, an environmental health specialist. “If people in the current administration are trying to reduce the cost of treating diseases, including dementia, then they should know that relaxing Clean Air Act regulations will do the opposite.”

Oh and by the way, many women carry a gene that gives them a predispostion to developing Alzheimer’s disease, because this gene makes them more sensitive to air pollutions’ effects. But these older guys in the senate don’t have time to read this information. They aren’t scientists, after all.

Every person in power could become educated about these matters if they cared to. They could contact the EPA, ask to spend 15 minutes on the phone with someone who could give them facts and stats about the condition of our air and why clean air laws are truly necessary. Think of all the people they would help.

When we first moved to California, we were looking for a house in Pasadena. Many people know that place because of the Beach Boys song, The Little Old Lady from Pasadena. One of my cousins who had lived in the LA area was shocked. “You don’t want to live there. Too much smog.” Well, he was right, there had been lots of smog in Pasadena, but with new laws that made it imperative that every vehicle be checked under strict emissions guidelines, the smog is gone. Thanks, California, and the EPA.

We are at a time when major changes like dismantling the EPA and denying climate change will have a major impact on our country and the future of our children and their children. Yes, some of the guys in Congress will be dead. But right this moment, this very day, they need to care about REAL PEOPLE, the ones living now and those that will come after. Let’s vote them out, if they don’t.

P.S. I am proud to say that as an RN, I worked at the Polk County Health Department in Des Moines, Iowa from 2009-2013. I helped educate people during the 2009 H1N1 flu epidemic. I created and wrote an education program to help folks with Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. And I witnessed how health departments screen children for lead poisoning, provide immunizations for children and adults and help those with sexually transmitted diseases. Health departments also go through drills in the case of nuclear attack, wide spread pandemics and other disasters. We need our local health departments. THEY ARE BEHIND REAL PEOPLE.

Photo Credit: ARTWORK

Instead of Fear: Positive Things We Can Do to Help Immigrants

Instead of Fear: Positive Things We Can Do to Help Immigrants

When I answered my phone earlier today, a voice that sounded like Darth Vader told me that they were from the IRS and that I would soon be visited by police–I HUNG UP. I didn’t bother to listen to their bullshit reason. I know the IRS will never call me. I read stuff. I educate myself. But many folks do not. This is another lie, another gimmick, another ruse to get someone to fork over money or leave their house unattended or whatever. FEAR FEAR. Ramp it up. It’s everywhere. And it makes me very angry.

We seem to be living in an era where it’s okay to use fear to make money, sell something, get elected. (It’s been done before, but as FDR said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” which translated means–don’t sit around thinking about all the things you fear or you will become paralyzed.)

SECURITY COMPANIES INSTILL FEAR

There was a time when people in the security business advertised their services by listing what you could get if you signed up: a sign in your front yard, wiring for so many rooms. Now they skip that. Now they use video of robbers at your front door or slogans like: it’s the holidays so robbers will be after your new computer and the gifts you have purchased. Then there’s the gun issue. I will not live in any state that allows open carry. I pay my taxes. I have the gift of a phone that can go with me everywhere. I can always dial 911.

NEIGHBORS INSTILL FEAR 

In the area where I live there was a big effort to prevent moving special education children from one school in one neighborhood to another school in another neighborhood. And the letters I read in the paper linked it to an influx of fear–if those kids were moved, the neighborhood would change. Really? Where is the human consideration for caring for one’s fellow man? It’s gone. Lock your doors. But remember, everything you do your children see and take to heart. Are you raising fearful children?

Fear almost always involves THE OTHER. It was the Jewish people in Nazi Germany. And as indoctrination took over, most people turned away and allowed their neighbors or doctors or teachers to be taken away. FEAR.

OUR GOVERNMENT INSTILLS FEAR

In our country today some people in power are making immigrants THE OTHER. A recent travel ban and a lie about a massacre that did not exist or illegal voting that cannot be proved strives to CONTROL US with fear. “There are bad people out there and they are going to take over.” So don’t question. Give up your own principles that you grew up with. Buy into the fear program. Join us.

AN IMMIGRANT SPEAKS

No. Absolutely not. A recent article by Lev Golinkin in the LA Times stressed once again that we are a country of immigrants. He was nine when his family fled the Soviet Ukraine. They were refugees in Austria and then made it to America. He assimilated quickly because he was young. But even at that age he discovered that immigrants are not always welcome.

I am third generation German descent. On my mother’s side my people were farmers and when they settled in the outskirts of Chicago, they opened a florist business, actually grew flowers in a large field right next to their home. My maternal grandmother had some education beyond high school. My maternal grandfather did not.

English was spoken in their households. Golinkin writes that native-born Americans enjoy a tremendous advantage over someone who cannot speak English. He writes that not knowing the language of the country one has immigrated to is greater than a barrier: When you don’t speak English, it’s as if you’ve suffered a debilitating stroke, except instead of being rushed to the hospital, you have to look for a job. What you value about yourself–your smarts, humor, honesty, eloquence–requires language. But it’s gone. You could be a poet in Arabic; in English, you’re an idiot. Worse, when you can’t communicate your thoughts to those around you, they assume you don’t have any in the first place. You disappear; you’re a non-person.

Golinkin provides some things you can do to help immigrants that you might encounter during your day:

  1. You see someone verbally attacking an immigrant who struggles with the language. Enter the equation and ask if you can help. Imbalance vanishes. Now the immigrant has a voice and the tormentor will either help with the stopped transaction or walk away.
  2. Don’t criticize an immigrant who doesn’t immediately call the police. Americans are taught from birth to assert their rights, but refugees and immigrants are wired to do the opposite. They don’t want to raise their voices or to be noticed. Golinkin relates that even though his father is an engineer and his mother a security guard for two decades in the US, they still are terrified of even the most innocuous encounters with police. I get that. My heart rate goes crazy if I’m ever pulled over by police and I’m white and native born.
  3. Finally, Golinkin asks that you not be offended if you don’t get a thank you after you have helped an immigrant. He remembers people who helped him when he first arrived in the US. Not only was he struggling with language, but he also was sick of being a charity case. BUT, he didn’t forget anyone who helped him. The bad experiences have faded, but those who helped him shine like stars.

I can still see their faces from the brief interactions that enabled me and my family to materialize out the ghostly existence of statelessness and feel human. You don’t forget the good ones.

If each one of us could strive to aid another. If each one of us could teach our children to be tolerant. If each one of us could reject what we hear daily about FEAR FEAR FEAR–we  can definitely make a difference. David Brooks writes in the New York Times:

We can argue about immigration and trade and foreign policy, but nothing will be right until we restore and revive the meaning of America. Are we still the purpose-driven experiment Lincoln described and Emma Lazarus wrote about: assigned by providence to spread democracy and prosperity; to welcome the stranger; to be brother and sister to the whole human race; and to look after one another because we are all important in this common project? Or are we just another nation, hunkered down in a fearful world?

What do you think?

Photo Credit: Vox.com

Secrets and Lies Make a Story, Not a Life

Secrets and Lies Make a Story

I’ve been working on a novel for a long time, a story about a secret which becomes a major lie and profoundly affects a family. In literature, the engine of the story is often something negative–a problem that the protagonist must overcome, a hurt that must be healed.

Think of your favorite stories, the conflicts that the hero or heroine had to solve, or the worry and fear that often drive them to pursue a goal. Even in the comedic world, there is always a struggle. It might make you laugh, but it does make you root for someone. That’s what it means to turn the page.

In my novel, a child goes missing and finds comfort in a murder of crows that have descended on the city where she is living with her abductor. Thus the art above. Being a child she is wary of lies. She knows that she is now in the wrong place. She hungers for her parents and for the normal life she once led.

Wow. Look what I just wrote–normal life, wary of lies, in the wrong place. After a weekend where an argument over numbers became so important that a phrase was coined–ALTERNATIVE FACTS--I thought of fiction. I love fiction. I love story. But I also, like my little Sarah in my novel–I am wary of lies. Don’t lie to me. Don’t take me for a fool. Okay? Because somewhere, away from the secrets and lies, is TRUTH. And I am not afraid to seek it out, to know it, to look it in the face. Don’t mess with me.

John Keats wrote: Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. 

What did this amazing poet mean? Oh well–readers, writers, teachers and scholars have been arguing that for years, since the ink dried on his parchment.

Keats wanted to condense his ideas in few words. Isn’t that what poetry is? Things in nature fell into his personal definition of beauty. His works captured the Beauty of life and made it a truth for all the ages. His own individual logic told him that things of this earth that are beautiful are truthful–a spiritual association.

But Keats didn’t just write about walking through fields of flowers. He saw the sorrow and sadness in life. He acknowledged ALL of life in his work. So did Walk Whitman. Think of the poem, I Hear America Singing. 

America, our country. It’s so amazing. So awesome. And I say this from my heart, grateful for the roof over my head (laugh out loud, we just had to repair it during rains we here in California desperately need). Grateful for my health insurance–but so worried about millions losing coverage because of the possibility of losing the Affordable Care Act–Obamacare. Some people have actually said we should get rid of Obamacare, but keep the Affordable Care Act. OKAY!! Where are they getting their information? What lies are they believing?

Each of us has a story to tell. And those stories will never become novels. They are our personal stories. But we must hold them to the truth. When we raise our children–truth. When we pledge love to a spouse–truth. When we work at our jobs–truth.

Mark Twain was so damn smart. He said: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” And you don’t have to make up “alternative facts.”

Writing a novel is hard work but so much fun. You create your own world, make up your own story, create characters you want to hug and those you don’t want to be in the same room with. But creating lies to boldly hide secrets does not work. They will come back and ruin things. Make a pledge today to look for the truth, honor it and fight for it. At the end of the day, you can lose yourself in a STORY (TV NOVEL FILM) and yet feel safe that America is still protecting and caring for you the way a country should.

PS As a registered nurse, I support healthcare for everyone. I support OBAMACARE.  

Our DEMOCRACY: Past and Future

Our DEMOCRACY: Past and Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our DEMOCRACY: Past and Future