Feelin’ Groovy–You Can Too!

http://www.designerspics.com/,

They are just for you.

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

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

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

HELP FROM SOME POETS 

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

BUT POETRY TODAY, REALLY?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: DesignersPics.com  free download

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Memories of Celebrating Labor Day & Considering It’s Purpose

Memories of Celebrating Labor Day & Considering It's Purpose

On Labor day, many people do not work. Instead, we are to celebrate those forces in society that create and supply us with goods and services.

A quick definition: Labor Day is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It’s a tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

PERSONAL LABOR DAY MEMORIES  

I do love the definition and the purpose of the day. But let’s go back a bit.

When I was a kid, there was always a late afternoon picnic, and we could have orange or grape “pop” and eat hamburgers. But that celebration was lacking–it was not as exciting as the summer’s 4th of July, with its fireworks and red, white and blue decorations.

Labor Day was always too intwined with the heaviness of the next day, the Tuesday coming after–the first DAY OF SCHOOL.

  • As a kid, that meant no more jeans and bikes or swimming in the iron bathtub next door which was painted blue and fondly known as our neighborhood swimming pool. It meant wearing a uniform every day and doing homework.
  • As a teenager, Labor Day meant a pile of textbooks and next day meeting a bunch of new teachers. Would they like me? Could I pass my math classes? Would I make new friends? And the uniform thing again.
  • As a college student, Labor Day usually meant a planned break-up with my boyfriend, John. I think we did this for two years, but by Thanksgiving we were always back together. The purpose was to date other people. We’ve been married now for 47 years. The planned break-up didn’t work!!
  • As a young adult, Labor Day also meant school–but this time I was nervous, would be meeting five classes of young people and hoping they would like me. I taught high school. It meant homework and grading papers. It meant I could no longer read a new novel “just for fun.” Instead, I would be grading papers every weekend and rereading or reading for the first time literature that I would be teaching.
  • When a parent, the “going back to school” thing again applied. Did my children have all their notebooks and pencils, books and a backpack? Were they happy? Often they were both excited and scared. New teachers, new things to learn and people to meet. Some children thrive on the unknown, others back away. I raised both.
  • Later, when I worked in Labor and Delivery as a nurse, the entire weekend of Labor Day became a hassle for the staff: patients crowded the unit with false labor. So strange but factual. The very mention of the word brought them in and if there was a full moon, it was even worse. RN’s like their holidays off–but if you are trading with someone to get say New Year’s Eve off, don’t trade for Labor Day. It’s worse.

Quotes: Work, Zealots, Purpose

I no longer work in L&D or teach. I write. And my children are grown and school now starts, in most cases, BEFORE Labor Day. I do enjoy remembering. And there will be hamburgers tonight, but today I’d like to emphasize the importance of yes, the holiday and celebrating what true, honest labor does to keep the United States moving and flourishing. But more than that, could we discuss the purpose of labor, of work?

Being able to get a job, have a place of employment, pursue a career gives meaning to life.

  • Let the beauty of what you love be what you do. Rumi 
  •  Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. Confucius
  • In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it. Marianne Williamson

Today it would be amazing if people wanted a job–not just for the economic benefit, but for the benefit of furthering their own knowledge of people and of the world. Take medicine for example. Men and women who spend years in school to become proficient in healthcare: doctor, nurses, physical therapists, first responders–statistically they not only take their work seriously, but they give of their hearts also. In many cases dealing with the public and everything “that comes through the door” you have to.

But there are downsides. The nurse in Germany now in prison for using his healthcare powers to kill patients. Wacko? Evil? Who knows. Or the policeman who joins the force because he or she wants power over a minority. Again, wacko, evil or carrying a belief so far that preventing crime devolves into creating a crime.

The following could be said of the Arizona sheriff. Quotes listed under zealotry:

  • You have to quit confusing a madness with a mission. Flannery O’Connor
  • “Zealots: Wild eyed persons afflicted with incurable certainty about the workings of the world, a certainty that can lead to violence when the world doesn’t fit.” Jonathan Stroud

These days the world doesn’t always fit and yet if we think through the origin of our task, to always keep it in mind: to heal, to teach, to protect, to produce–then maybe the CLEAR PURPOSE of our WORK will stick with us. We won’t wander off, use our talents to debase others, cripple their dreams or even end their lives.

On this day when we honor labor, let’s hope for good work, meaningful work for all Americans. So much can be achieved with labor that provides a positive and beneficial end for all citizens.

  • We are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. Barack Obama
  • Loyalty to the Nation all the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it. Mark Twain
  • Unemployment insurance, abolishing child labor, the 40-hour work week, collective bargaining, strong banking regulations, deposit insurance, and job programs that put millions of people to work were all described, in one way or another, as ‘socialist.’ Yet, these programs have become the fabric of our nation and the foundation of the middle class. Bernie Sanders

Whatever work you and your family members engage in, I hope it is purposeful and brings you peace and satisfaction. Work can and should bring you to the top of Maslow’s Pyramid.

PHOTO: the Pyramid: Psychologist Abraham Maslow researched human motivation and action. His work lead to the Hierarchy of Needs, often shown as a pyramid.

Thanks to Pinterest

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Writing, Creating with Compassion

Writing, Creating with Compassion

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

WHAT TOPIC TO CHOOSE

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

INSIGHT FROM DONALD MAASS 

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

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

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

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

Maass states: 

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

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

I AM LISTENING

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

FINDING COMPASSION THROUGH SELF-TENSION 

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

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

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

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

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

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

SO WHAT’S THE END OF THE STORY?

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

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See the Eclipse: Support Science & Global Warming

See the Eclipse: Support Science & Global Warming

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

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

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

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

See the Eclipse: Support Science & Global Warming

Neil deGrasse Tyson

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

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

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

Photos: Seattle Met; Pinterest;

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Alternative Religion: Is There Such a Thing?

Alternative Religion: Is There Such a Thing?

The little boats saved the troops at Dunkirk.

I’ve had enough of alternative facts. I’ve had enough of powerful people either in our government or operating as talking heads, obscuring the real tenants of religion. Whether you are part of a church or not–I hope you will agree with me that some of the basic principles used to found “this shining city on the hill” have been kidnapped by powerful people who do not care about their fellow man or woman–not in the least little bit. They could give a damn about loving their neighbor, unless that neighbor can grease their palm and make that first or second yacht a possibility. But if the neighbor is asking for legal help, looking for work, asking for good medical care, wanting her child to get a good PUBLIC education–FORGET ABOUT IT.

NO NAMES 

You might already have stopped reading, but in the hope that you will continue to hear me out, I will not use real names. But I will state my case.

In our country today and maybe across the globe, there now rises an alternative religion. It preaches through various voices that hating another man’s religion is okay. Much of this comes from ignorance. Yes, there are members of a certain faith who have twisted its basic tenants to support killing anyone who does not agree with them. THAT IS WRONG. But there was a period in past centuries when Christians armed and ready, took to their horses and in the name of Christ killed many. This was called the Crusades. Click on the word and read about it. The Crusaders USED religion to gain power. Wow, not a new concept. It’s going on in our country right now.

LIVING BY EXAMPLE 

I found the following sentence while thinking about writing this post. I don’t know who said it: You push people down and you have two choices. RAISE THEM BACK UP or arm yourselves. There is much truth in these words. But also a problem. With there being two sides we want to believe that one side is right. That one side is moral.

OKAY: One side is working to live, feed their families, and practice their religion. The other side is filled with hate, doesn’t want these people to live, take care of their families and practice their religion. (I started to write this post on Friday, having NO IDEA that #Charlottesvillle would occur. But it has.)

PREACHERS ARE HUMAN & COME IN ALL STRIPES

To be a preacher, sometimes all you need is a great voice, a few great lines and a Bible. You have to have a Bible. People come. People listen and they pay you. You are on your way. You can say outrageous things in the name of God. (In my day, there was that preacher couple. Millions flocked to them. She wore all that mascara. He went to jail.)

Here’s my question today. I’m a Catholic. But I don’t pretend to have read every page of the Bible. In college, I studied with teachers who used what is called EXEGESIS: an explanation or critical interpretation of a text. What this process does is get a person away from literal word interpretation. Like: if you sin with you hand, cut it off. The Bible as a holy book has been used to enslave and hurt human beings.

Jesus spoke in parables and this is my favorite. In fact, I wonder if modern preachers like that mascara lady just ripped that page right out of the holy book.

Luke 18:9-14 Two men went up to the temple to pray,one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

PUBLIC SERVANTS

Wow, my head kind of zinged when I typed that very familiar phrase. Servants? But the point I want to make is if you are a preacher of any religion or a senator, representative, mayor, the president–you are a public servant. You work for THE PEOPLE. ALL THE PEOPLE. Supposedly you work for peace; you work to prevent wars that kill people, not start them. You work for your citizens, your military, your diplomats. You work for me, for all of us. And burning in your heart, should be the desire to think: the people first, not my bank account.

MORE PUBLIC SERVANTS: DUNKIRK  

To wind this up, let’s remember DUNKIRK. My husband and I saw the film this week. Generations of Americans have no idea what Dunkirk was. Not a clue. But you could say the story of Dunkirk is a kind of religion, if you are using the definition A SYSTEM OF FAITH. The men in the little boats believed in their country and their countrymen. They were willing to give their lives for that faith.

Pressed to the edge of the sea by the Germans, thousands of British soldiers and other Allied Troops were evacuated from the beach at Dunkirk between the 27th of May to the 4th of June. Wiki Says: British press later exploited the successful evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, and particularly the role of the “Dunkirk little ships”. Many of them were private vessels such as fishing boats and pleasure cruisers, but commercial vessels such as ferries also contributed to the force…The term “Dunkirk Spirit” refers to the solidarity of the British people in times of adversity.[49]

I feel a thrill that is hard to describe every time I watch the clip below. Yes, it’s an old movie, but maybe in a small way watching these PUBLIC SERVANTS risking their lives connects me to the small things I have done: helping one of my students whose parents had no time for education; holding the hand of one of my patients who was losing her baby and had no one to cry with her.

I’m against using religion to fill your bank account. If you want to be religious, fill your heart and soul–take care of others, consider others. It’s A FACT — it will fill you up. PS: See the new film, though the clip below is great, part of the film MRS. MINIVER. 

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/1111863/Mrs-Miniver-Movie-Clip-Your-Destination-Is-Dunkirk.html

Photo Credit Taylor Homes

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What Are the Chances that Folks Will Remember You?

What Are the Chances that Folks Will Remember You?

Maybe you’re not in the mood for this, but I’ll try to make it upbeat.

We all want to be remembered. For something. And though today, right this moment, we might consider how vast our place in FOREVER might be, it’s not that vast. I’ll use ME as an example. Who will remember me?

My family: my children and grandchildren. After that it’s a guess.

My friends. Yes I have many, my husband has many. But like Wendy, Michael, John and Peter Pan, we might ascend to the heavens all at the same time, or around the same time. Because remember, we are all of the same generation.

THINGS YOU CAN DO TO BE REMEMBERED

Be kind, be as generous as you can be and take photos! From the beginning of our life together, my husband took photos–of our vacations and family events: baptisms and weddings, holidays and birthdays. We have a cabinet full of photo albums and now many of those precious memories have been digitized so that we won’t lose them. You cannot walk through a room in our home without seeing a framed photograph of family. It’s necessary–because two of our children live a distance away and life gets crazy and we want to think of them and see their faces. It’s a form of connection. I also have a photo of the women’s group I was a part of when I lived in Iowa. I look at it frequently–I miss them.

Communicate: we have phones, snail mail and email. Though hearing a friend or a family member’s voice is the best, it’s not always possible to connect that way. A voice mail starts the process and so does an email–it’s like a friendly knock on the door of the person you want to chat with. It’s saying: here I am. I have news. Or I want to tell you I care about you.  Or I don’t want to forget you and I don’t want you to forget me.

Don’t Move. Stay in one place. This is hard to do. We live in a society of movement and change. In our years of marriage, my husband and I have moved twice–once with our children (though one was in college, one in grade school and another already working) it changes the center of the family, the HOMESTEAD. When we moved the second time, it was just the two of us. Now one daughter is near us, one in Boston and our son in Chicago–which is our starting place, our HOMETOWN. Chicago is where we were born and lived for many years–and thus there are people in Chicago who do not forget us. They are the Golden Oldies and if you’ve moved from your Hometown, you know that and you need that.

But regardless, you must call or write, visit and embrace. That’s how you will be remembered. We had many wonderful years in our second Midwest home, and I knock on doors with email whenever I can, people visit when they travel here, and yet I fear over time those friendships could be lost. Of course, now in our new home, we make new friends. Will they last? Will they remember me?

Become a Member of Ancestry.com or a similar organization. Talk about memories!! My husband has become the official family historian–and if you can become part of someone’s history, why yes, you will be remembered. He has unearthed photos and news clippings about my deceased father and mother and his family. He is building a family tree that grows bigger and bigger with births and with finding those that lived before us. No one is ever deleted. They live in our memories. What will be necessary is for someone to continue this endeavor. Not everyone finds history fascinating. But here’s something else to consider:

Someday you will be history, but only if there’s a living person keeping track. So encourage record keeping of some sort. You know what they used to say: if your house catches on fire, grab your photo albums and run. Now you need to have a flash drive or backup system you can grab and run with.   

And I guess, finally, make a name for yourself. Or in other words, get your name out there. Still with becoming so-called FAMOUS, there are no guarantees. You have to be truly truly famous to go down through the ages. I would love to publish my novels. Then, hopefully, someone would have a copy when I’m gone. But over time who is remembered? Shakespeare. Homer. Jane Austen. Dickens. Writers of literature in languages I am unable to read. Tyrants, kings, presidents, politicians, saints and sinners.

Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us 

Yes, this is a real thing, a book by scientist Sam Kean. He is fascinated with all things science and finds connections for us–between the LIVING and the DEAD. An excerpt: Even more startling, our breaths entangle us with the historical past. Some of the molecules in your next breath might well be emissaries from 9/11 or the fall of the Berlin Wall, witnesses to World War I or the star-spangled banner of Fort McHenry. If we extend our imagination far enough into space and time, we can conjure up some fascinating scenarios. For instance, is it possible, that your next breath–this one right here–might include some of the same air that Julie Caesar exhaled when he died? …Across all that distance of time and space, a few of the molecules that danced inside his lungs are dancing inside yours right now.   

Kean’s theories certainly connect all humans to one another. And we will be remembered as the species that occupied the planet Earth for thousands of years. But will some other species know that we were also the creation that destroyed it?

ONE FINAL THOUGHT

In order for humans, those that are famous, those that our infamous, those that will be forgotten over time–the earth must survive. It becomes questionable that we should strive to advance and change, only to allow some naysayers to condemn the planet to it’s final death. Yes, there is controversy, but if your painting or photo, your poem or organization, the building, the business you built with your name up in lights or glorified on a skyscraper–if any of that is to have meaning, the human race must survive on this planet. Or we can say goodbye to Shakespeare, Austin, Caesar and the rest–then, Oblivion. So we must strive to keep the earth healthy, for our DNA to continue on in some form. And to make that happen? We all need to fall in love with Mother Earth and protect her.

P.S. To preserve memories, you can interview family members and write down their memories. Or keep a diary. More about how to do that here.

Photo: Pixabay

 

Jobs Stop Bullets

Jobs Stop Bullets

“Gang violence is about a lethal absence of hope,” Father Boyle has said. “Nobody has ever met a hopeful kid who joined a gang.”

Last week in my post I said I would write more about that topic which was the importance of good education for everyone. A few of you wrote “bring it on.” So here goes–one solution that is working for some kids. It’s only one, but it’s tossing a stone into the pool–it’s making some ripples.

Have you ever heard of the Homeboy Program? I had. But I didn’t know very much about it, until a friend from Chicago who worked with a volunteer group helping others,The Ignatian Volunteer Core, sent me an article which talked out it.

THE PERSONAL CONNECTION

While reading the piece, I immediately found a personal connection–this caused me to read every word. IT STARTED: …One of Saint Margaret of Scotland’s graduates, where I am an IVC volunteer, was gunned down and killed last year. He was only a Sophomore. ”What is the answer?” I asked the priest I was working with.

St. Margaret’s! The church I walked by every day when I attended The Academy of Our Lady High School, better known as Longwood on the southside of Chicago. Knowing that the story was about a place that I could claim as mine, made me more invested.

Our lives go on, some places in our lives feel static–but they are moving and changing just as we are. (In fact that’s a primary concept in the novel I am writing. PLACE defines us, digs in our hearts, brings up memories, but nothing is static. For better or for worse, we humans change and everything around us does also.)

I cherish the old house I was raised in and drive by it when I am back in Chicago. I often drive the roadways that took me to familiar places. I reminisce. So here is more of the story.

The priest admitted right off that the question as to why young men and women are dying on Chicago streets is complex. He stated clearly that such a problem cannot be solved with only surveillance cameras or even gun laws. He said: “That does not get to the root problem.”

That’s when he mentioned Father Greg Boyle who started Homeboy Industries.

THE FOUNDER OF HOMEBOY

Rev. Gregory J. Boyle, S.J. founded Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.

A Catholic prises and Jesuit, he has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and English from Gonzaga University, a master’s degree in English from Loyola Marymount University, a Master of Divinity degree from the Weston School of Theology, and a Master of Sacred Theology degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.

He spent a year living and working with Christian base communities in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Then in 1986, he was appointed pastor of Dolores Mission Church in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East LA, the poorest Catholic parish in the city, located between two large public housing projects with the highest concentration of gang activity in Los Angeles.

He witnessed the devastating impact of gang violence on his community during what he has called “the decade of death” that began in the late 1980’s. He witnessed suppression and mass incarceration as the means to end gang violence. (Which is what the current administration wants to do again.)

So Father Boyle and parish and community members adopted what was a radical approach at the time: treating gang members as human beings. 

“Gang violence is about a lethal absence of hope,” Father Boyle has said.  “Nobody has ever met a hopeful kid who joined a gang.”

In the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Jobs for a Future, a community-organizing project begun at Dolores Mission, launched their first social enterprise business in an abandoned bakery that Hollywood producer Ray Stark helped them purchase. They called it Homeboy Bakery. If you ever fly into LAX, you just might find yourself purchasing something at one of their kiosks.

Today, Homeboy Industries employs and trains former gang members in a range of social enterprises, as well as provides critical services to 15,000 men and women who walk through its doors every year seeking a better life.

  • Father Boyle is the author of the New York Times-bestseller Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, which was named one of the Best Books of 2010 by Publishers Weekly and received the PEN Center USA 2011 Creative Nonfiction Award. 
  • The book received that title because: Father Greg was talking to one of his Homeboys and he said something very profound. He said that ‘jobs stop bullets’.  When the Homeboy heard that he responded ‘Damn G , I think I will tattoo that on my heart.’  Think about it. Jobs help attack poverty and idleness at the same time.”
  • Father Boyle is the subject of Academy Award winner Freida Lee Mock’s 2012 documentary, G-Dog.  He has received the California Peace Prize and been inducted into the California Hall of Fame.  In 2014, the White House named Father Boyle a Champion of Change.  He received the 2016 Humanitarian of the Year Award from the James Beard Foundation, the national culinary-arts organization.

The Things We Already Know Are Truly Right in Front of Our Eyes

My friend Tom, who sent me the article about Homeboy, recalled that his mother would say: ‘Idleness is the devil’s workshop.’  He decided that was why she always gave him lots of chores. My brothers and I can say the very same about our mother. Give kids a  job and they feel pride. THEY FEEL HUMAN.

Another member of the Ignatian Volunteer Core probably said it best. “I think the key to making it work is what Father Boyle calls “exquisite mutuality”. There is no “them” and “us”; there is only “us”.”

Think about the pride you felt when you brought home your first paycheck. You were entering the adult world, taking on the mantel of responsibility, growing up!! Helping your family.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every small town, city and village across our country could see it that way?

PRIDE in WORK.

SUMMER JOBS or JOBS THROUGH THE YEAR: cleaning vacant lots; repairing run-down properties. A wonderful suggestion: statewide and national programs to begin to rebuild our infrastructure. With the right program, we could millions of jobs for our kids. Give them a good start for their lives.

Someone has suggested that doing this would be like starting a revolution. JOBS STOP BULLETS. We as citizens going about our daily jobs of parenting, grand-parenting, having talks with friends and co-workers can spread this message of ONLY US and JOBS STOP BULLETS.

So I just wanted to share this idea with you. Who knows? In conversation with someone looking for summer help or someone looking to help a community, there are ideas to consider, to expand on. Maybe on a small scale the revolution can start with each one of us.

My husband works with the Conejo Valley Youth Employment Services, helping homeless people and high school students find jobs. He talks with them, discovers their interests, what their skill set might be or is tending to. One person at a time he is making a difference. And so is my friend Tom, who sent me this article and has given freely of his medical expertise to people who need it.

One day at a time. One person at a time. One kid at a time–you can tattoo something wonderful on some kid’s heart.

For more about HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES go to http://www.homeboyindustries.org.

Thanks to Tom Essig. And of course, John.

 

Work Against a Divided America: Support Good Schools For ALL Our Kids

 Work Against a Divided America: Support Good Schools For All Our Kids

Consider the following words: gangs, drug use, pregnant teens, petty crime, unsafe neighborhoods, poor schools, being homeless, children without parents, reckless driving, suicide, mental health issues. Every word listed could be expanded into reams of writing: how this is a problem, how this problem is growing, how we cannot seem to make a dent in this problem and how every problem listed is a drag on the economy.

WANT TO SOLVE THESE PROBLEMS? Good Public Education For EVERY CHILD Is the Key

Because YES, one problem infects another and each problem affects local, state and national governments and uses tax dollars that could be used to make America the shining city on the hill (Reagan) or whatever metaphor you care to choose.

Because the little kids you see crowded into a poor daycare center today can become the troubled teenagers that might mess up your neighborhood tomorrow or fill up the court systems after that. It has to stop.

Please consider this, taken from an article in the LA TIMES: The current administration wants to impose the biggest cuts to federal education funding in memory and slash support to poor children and families by cutting Medicaid, food stamps and other programs while cutting taxes for the rich. (DO YOU SEE THE GAP GETTING SO WIDE THAT IT CAN NEVER BE HEALED?? my words) It is an agenda that betrays millions of families seeking a better life, and one at odds with what this country stands for. Public schools are a fundamental engine of opportunity in this country. We will (we must) stand together to defend them. ( to read more go here.)

Tax Dollars Need to Be Spent In ALL Neighborhoods

Each problem that I have listed could be ameliorated, helped, reduced, maybe even eliminated if one thing was offered and utilized by each of our citizens: excellent public education that leads to JOBS!!!

The current administration talks a great deal about jobs. But you can’t GET A JOB if you don’t quality, if no one will hire you. There are jobs in this country that American citizens cannot fill so employers go abroad to find workers. Google it. You will find articles like these: America’s Persistent Problem: Unskilled Workers; America Has Near Record 5.6 Million Job Openings. And there is this:

Companies can’t find enough skilled workers. Manufacturing jobs have become more technical, but workers haven’t kept up. That’s left companies with a glut of low-skilled workers and a shortage of applicants who can really do the job. 

There is a solution. There has always been a solution. The United States needs to educate its citizens. ALL ITS CITIZENS. And do a damn good job of it.

A Divided Country Cannot Stand

My argument, and you are welcome to poke holes in it, is that we must eliminate every problem I have listed. We cannot continue on the path we are on which actually is creating two Americas: one where the super-wealthy and the moderately wealthy live and work; the other where the poor and those getting by live and work.

Education Can Make a Difference 

  • Gangs: involving young children in MEANINGFUL education that communicates  self-worth helps them see a future for themselves that is not the streets but a job.
  • Drug use: keep kids involved in the school day with sports and extra curricular activities, honor their self-worth and they won’t need drugs to feel good about themselves.
  • Pregnant teens: I worked with a program called RISING STAR. We helped girls that had already had one child go back to school, alter their goals to include getting a job and thus a feeling of self-worth that comes from earning an income. This also helped them PROVIDE for the child they already had. Today, offering health education in schools and providing healthcare for young girls will help prevent unwanted pregnancies.
  • Petty crime and unsafe neighborhoods go hand in hand, occuring when growing men and women cannot find a purpose for their lives and do not receive respect from teachers, parents and people who have “power” over them.
  • Reckless driving, suicide and mental health issues occur in the lives of young people who are lost and cannot see a future for themselves. They feel rejected by society and harbor a death wish. Education builds self-respect, creates a pathway to a good and fulfilling life.
  • Being homeless or not having a parent often springs from the generation above that did not have a good education and thus a job. Responsibility to the child they brought into the world is key, but some have no hope.

I know I have drawn this picture with some broad strokes, so next week I will offer a few solutions. Thanks for reading. I’ll end with a few more thoughts from the LA TIMES article.

Research, common sense and our collective experiences working with children, families and schools tell us that we must invest in, not cut back, public education. That means providing high-quality preschool for kids, and the social health and mental health services they need. It means making sure students are reading at grade level by the end of the third grade, that they have powerful learning opportunities, including career and technical training that can prepare them for college and work. 

Photo: www.Simply-magical.net

Saving Our Country’s Backyard

Saving Our Country's Backyard

Scenario ONE:

You have worked for over five years to make your backyard a place of enjoyment for your family. You have planted trees, shrubs and flowers, raked and weeded, spent money to fight disease in one of your trees and installed hardscape for more enjoyment of this outdoor space. Then one day a person from the government comes to your door and drops off a sign. Your backyard is now government property and has actually been purchased by a large corporation. The sign with their name will now hang on your fence and the use of your backyard is open to change.

Scenario TWO:

You live in an apartment, condo or public housing and in order to enjoy the outdoors you walk to a public park, a lakeshore or some open space. And wherever you live, when planning a vacation you consider a national park like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon or Glacier National Park. But now you learn that the government has changed the use of public lands. Oil drilling will now be taking place at Yosemite National Park and off the ocean shore by Santa Barbara, California.

THIS IS NOT ALL SOME HORROR MOVIE

A crazy movie-maker’s nightmare? The first scenario maybe. The second–a distinct possibility under this new administration. AND I wrote the first scenario to underline that our national parks truly ARE the playgrounds and backyards of the citizens of these United States.

FAMILY FUN IN AMERICA  

Not all families can fly to Europe or some exotic island. But they can climb into the family car and drive to a national park or fly to a central location, rent a car and again drive, drive, drive. That’s what we did in 1988. What did we see with our two daughters? The Continental Divide; Mesa Verde; the north rim of the Grand Canyon; The Four Corners; Monument Valley and Brice, Zion and Arches National Parks. My husband is one amazing planner.

When we lived in Iowa, we drove west through the Badlands to Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Monument and then on to Mammouth National Park. But all of these amazing preserved lands that make America the land of free space for families to enjoy are now in jeopardy. Why?

WHAT IS THE FUTURE FOR SUCH TRIPS??

When our current president was campaigning, he promised to “streamline the permitting process for all energy projects.” That could mean ignoring environmental protection laws or changing them to “encourage the production of [fossil fuel] resources by opening onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands and waters.” That means “open season” for oil and gas drilling on public lands.

A recent article in NEWSWEEK reported that Americans see our National Parks as a gift of high value. A report from Harvard’s Kennedy School this year found that 80% of Americans would agree to pay higher taxes to keep the National Parks—and attacking them directly would be politically unwise for any government rep seeking a future term.

Saving Our Country's Backyard

WHO MIGHT FIGHT FOR OUR NATIONAL PARKS??

Who is currently in charge? Who could you write to? Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke of Whitefish, Montana is now serving as the 52nd Secretary of the Interior. He has said that no president in his lifetime has been “more for us” than the current one. WE WILL SEE. Click here for their website.

So what does this guy do? The Secretary of the Interior is in charge of overseeing the National Park Service, as well as overseeing all federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and presiding over the U.S. Geological Survey, a massive scientific research agency which studies America’s natural resources and anything that threatens them—like climate change, which you know who says is a hoax perpetrated by “the Chinese.” Read more here.

THE ANTIQUITIES ACT: REMEMBER THEODORE ROOSEVELT?

We also need to worry about the future of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which permits presidents to create national monuments on federal lands, so that they must be preserved indefinitely. President Obama used the Antiquities Act during his tenure to create 23 new national monuments, including a massive marine monument off the coast of Hawaii, and an expanse of wild land in north-central Maine. Republican presidents almost never use the Act. And under this president, things could get worse.

There is some good news. Dwight Pitcaithley, the former chief historian to the National Park Service says: “For every action there’s a reaction. This president doesn’t have carte blanche. I think if he goes too far, there will be a pushback by the public, and that will be felt in the next election.” Still, Pitcaithley sees no wins for the environment anytime soon. And he is worried.

Saving Our Country's Backyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WRITE YOUR SENATORS, FIGHT FOR OUR BACKYARDS

Stay alert these next few years. Plan your vacations to our national parks. (We are going to Yosemite in a few weeks.) Enjoy the beauty and bounty of this land. If you do and you want to fight for it, use the web, write to your congressman and congresswomen. Make sure your voice is heard. And thanks for reading.

Saving Our Country's Backyard

The sun was low in the sky at Arches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos courtesy of John Havey

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