That giant sucking sound…

That giant sucking sound...

In the middle of election night, after I had stayed by the television to taste the bitterness of the end, I awoke with these words in my head, “that giant sucking sound.” And I couldn’t identify them for a long time. But lying there I finally did–it’s a line parents in Iowa, where I once lived, would say during spring break, the line referring to most folks leaving the state to go somewhere else. “Oh we all heard that giant sucking sound,” someone would say referring to the lines at the airport. But it really comes from, you guessed it, a political event. “The “giant sucking sound” was United States presidential candidate Ross Perot’s phrase for what he believed would be the negative effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he opposed.” Bill Clinton won that election. Funny how the mind works!!

Well maybe my mind was going that far back, and then connecting to the election in the dead of night–only this time Hillary Clinton lost. This time folks had voted for a man who just might take us on a ride we could not have imagined–one of fear and hate, one of exclusion and denial of the rule of law. We will see. I am told to take heart from a man whom I have honored for eight years and always will. He is my President, he is POTUS to me and always will be. But he is saying take heart, because he must, even though his heart is deeply hurt and he has to work with a man who worked to delegitimize his presidency.

And then Wednesday, it was all about Hillary Clinton and how I had been here before with her, when ironically, she lost the primaries to President Obama in June of 2008, and gave her first “glass ceiling speech.” She had to give another one. WHAT A WOMAN. I am fiercely proud of her and everything she stands for. I would vote for her again should she choose to run for something. But she’s done. Yet, Hillary will always help this country in some way. And if the President-Elect had any guts, he would appointment her to a position, or at least ask her. But he won’t. He’s done too.

Today, I watched the brief look into the meeting that Mr. Trump had with the President. He was calm, though he looked nervous. I guess you could say he was on his best behavior. After everything I have seen of this man and how he conducted his rallies and what he said about his opponent and MY PRESIDENT, it will take me a very long time, if ever, for me to say positive things about him. As a writer, I know–words count and they don’t blow away because you are now smiling a lot.

But there is someone else who needs to examine their American soul in this post-election world. THOSE WHO DID NOT VOTE. How hard is it to take a half-day, if necessary, and vote–once every FOUR YEARS–for the person who can have a profound affect on your life? HOW HARD IS IT to try to get an absentee ballot? If fear kept you away from the polls because of the things Trump said, I get that–he threatened the people of Philadelphia–“those areas” and we knew what he meant. But if it was just laziness or an inability to decide whom to vote for–you have no idea the privilege you have given up. To live in a country where what we saw today–POTUS meeting with the one who won the election, and beginning the HAND-OVER process–that’s our freedom, our democracy, the American way. No coup, no guns, no deaths.

Maybe the lesson from this election will hold over for the next—-VOTE and don’t believe the polling. Don’t let some numbers convince you that your vote won’t count. YOUR VOTE ALWAYS COUNTS. Otherwise you’ll wake up in the middle of the night and hear “that giant sucking sound” your candidate losing, your ability to exercise one of the most valuable gifts on the planet going away, utilized by someone else who did bother to vote.

Photo Credit TIME

Why Hillary Clinton Matters to Me Part Two

Why Hillary Clinton Matters to Me Part Two

I am a woman, voting for Hillary Clinton. And when I look back, I find we have more in common than just our gender. I find connections. I think many women reading this post can. But what makes me hold my breath is that Hillary is running for the most difficult and complicated, as well as important and heavily responsible position in our country and possibly the world. And despite what anyone says, being POTUS requires great intelligence—not just about business, but about how the world works, how the government works, people work and how to sort through complicated problems that might keep some people awake at night.

I was raised on the south side of Chicago, Hillary in a northwest suburb, Park Ridge. Her father worked long hours running his own business. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom. Neither one of us was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. My father died when I was young, so my mother worked to support our family. Both of us have two brothers. I married my high-school sweetheart, worked hard as a teacher, had children, went back to school to become a nurse, worked again. My life has been a very good life.

Hillary’s life has been plain amazing. She is super smart and driven. More than moved by the death of Martin Luther King, Hillary was shaken to her core. We were both in college—I a Democrat and she a Republican. King’s murder moved her to change her political affiliation to Democrat and to determine another goal: she would go on to law school at Yale.

I’ve always prided myself on being smart. My grades gave me self-esteem. Doing well in school or the job I happened to be working –teaching, nursing, raising children, doing medical research—that’s what gets me up in the morning. So in 2008, backing Hillary for president was logical for me. Now in 2016, it’s even more so. As a woman, I believe in my own abilities and after reading about Hillary Clinton, meeting her, evaluating her beliefs and political standards, I know she has the knowledge, empathy and openness to run our country.

Because women have felt the sting of being the quote weaker sex or the second sex, we sometimes do what we should not—put competing with each other on the top of our To-Do list. I did that in college. I fell into competition with my close friend, Carole. We both majored in English and though I would study six hours for a test, Carole would study for two and get an A while I got a B. Always. Like Hillary, Carole went on to become a lawyer, eventually taking on a big political position in the city of Chicago. But Carole can tear up like Hillary–Read WHY HILLARY CLINTON MATTERS TO ME part one.

As an undergraduate, Hillary attended Wellesley, in Massachusetts. The motto of the school was certainly fortuitous: “Non Ministrari sed Ministrare” – “Not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” Hillary Clinton is still that person. If we had gone to school together, I might have spent some time with her talking about class work, but I don’t think we would have been close friends. I had some insecurities that I constantly fought: the battle of beauty versus brains—the one SEVENTEEN MAGAZINE focused on, the one built into our culture. The one Hillary completely ignored.

But in college, I did begin to GET IT, being really angry when I discovered what steps the administration was taking to lure future college freshmen. On a warm spring day as I walked from the main building, I saw a photographer posing five girls from my dorm. I found out later that they had been selected to represent the entire college. These were well coiffed, well heeled girls who wore too much makeup and the latest Garland sweaters. They were all white and they didn’t represent my college as far as I was concerned. (Sorry but I still get angry when an institution of learning falls into the same narrow gap they were teaching us to avoid!) The ones with the smarts did represent us. Like my friend Carole or maybe even me. But this is the real world and I was learning what pushes people’s buttons. Even as a junior in college with my excellent GPA and many activities, I was still insecure and trying to be the best on all fronts. So I tried out for the college board which at that time meant working at a department store like Carson Pirie Scott or Marshall Fields in the junior department. Do they even have a junior department anymore? I got the job. Was I now beautiful and smart? I needed to move on. Believe in myself, period.

During another summer job, I began to see how marginalized women were and still are. I worked for an insurance agency that handled workman’s compensation. I typed up the information members had written on their claim forms. There was no form for pregnancy. You had to answer questions that indicated you had suffered an injury. Where did the accident occur?  A pregnant woman wrote: in the bedroom.  How did the accident occur? She wrote: In the usual way. 

During that summer, Hillary sought out jobs in Alaska that involved social justice. There were no social justice issues washing dishes in the Mount McKinley Nation Park, but there were when she moved on to the processing cannery in Valdez. She blew the whistle on the awful working conditions there and of course, they fired her. But they were also shut down overnight. Hillary was on her way.

I did discover my own female power and used it—to teach underprivileged students in a high school that broke out in a riot after the Chicago police allegedly murdered black men Fed Hampton and Mark Clark. Later, I become a nurse and helped to deliver teenage mothers and then talk to them about birth control and family planning. It’s not as much as Hillary has given, but I can also claim three grown adult children and their spouses who are all voting for her.

If Hillary becomes our first woman president, she’ll be examined and reexamined on everything a male president would—and more. Think back to when she wore headbands and then grew her hair long. Now it’s all about her pantsuits. The only change a man makes is his tie—or maybe he grows a beard. But men have known for centuries that you can demean a woman if you ignore their brain and focus on their clothing. Let’s focus on her smarts and her diligence. Let’s focus on her dedication. Even her opponent admitted SHE NEVER QUITS.

But during this campaign, he has vilified her, stalked her when she was answering a question at a debate, threatened her with death and imprisonment. Even his followers have talked about assassinating the president of the U.S. if Hillary is elected. She is not perfect. He is not perfect.

But let’s be clear, and look at the source, the very engine of their campaigns. HILLARY CLINTON has a history of working to help children and families. She believes in ALL Americans. She is a lawyer who understands how the constitution works. She also understands rule of law in regards to many facets of government because she has been there–as a U.S. senator and the Secretary of State. Her opponent has a history of not paying taxes, vilifying women, refusing to pay people who build his casinos and having a fondness for Russia and dictators. He supposedly understands how to teach people to become as wealthy as he claims he is, but Trump University only lined up on his “not so much” sheet.

The right to vote is what makes America a free nation. So vote. Choose your candidates and vote. And if you see some older person or person of color or handicapped person being marginalized at the polling booth SAY SOMETHING. This is AMERICA. We citizens have the right to vote. Our voting process needs to be HONEST AND FAIR. Help make it that way and VOTE.

P.S. To find your polling place, you can use google or another search engine, type in Find My Polling Place in (name your state) and they will ask you to put in your address.

photo credit: Hillary Clinton FACTSHEETS

 

Reading Stories Can Change Your Psyche

Reading Stories Can Change Your Psyche

On November 11, 2013, I published a post about research that revealed that reading literary fiction can make a person more empatheticThe study was based on having readers look at photo’s of subject’s eyes (the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test or RMET) and then identifying what that person was feeling.

Does reading fiction make you more empathetic?

Now that conclusion is being questioned. Sarah Begley writes in the current issue of TIME, that this past September researchers tried to replicate that study only to find that there is no significant connection between reading a short fictional passage and having one’s empathy increased. They did find that study participants who scored high on the RMET recognized the names of real authors on a list versus fake authors. Conclusion: being a devoted reader of fiction might make you more empathetic as opposed to reading a short paragraph for some study.

A Study Author Weighs In–Conclusions

Maria Panero who worked on these studies concludes: “It’s hard to know whether reading literary fiction increase theory of mind (empathy) of if people who naturally have higher theory of mind (empathy) are just more drawn to literary fiction.” Or to say it another way, it’s possible that high empathy and a high interest in literary fiction feed off each other.

Some Fun Facts about Our Involvement with Characters 

  1. One study found that READERS, those who read at least 18 books per year, like to line their bookshelves with their “reads” and communicate that they are readers to others. Reading is part of their identity and self-expression.
  2. Reading can also create a social bond between people. We see that online–large numbers of readers follow certain book reviewers and share their enthusiasm for a particular novel. It’s not unlike tweeting about a favorite television series or becoming so involved with a character in a novel or a film that we feel real grief while reading about them or seeing how their story unfolds.

But let’s take it farther than that.

Can Reading About a Character Affect Future Behavior?   

In her article, Begley reports on a 2012 Ohio State University study. The study “had registered undergraduates read different versions of a story in which the protagonist overcomes challenges in order to vote–like car troubles, bad weather and long lines. Those who read a version that led them to identify strongly with the character were more likely to vote in the real election a few days later–65% of them said they voted, compared with 29% who read a less relatable version of the story.” Conclusion: in a small way, reading affected their behavior.

Identifying with Characters or Bibliotherapy 

Ella Berthoud, an artist and Susan Elderkin, a novelist, though not registered therapists, have created a service for clients who are having emotional or life situation problems. They have the client complete a questionnaire about what is happening in their personal lives, but also what they like to read. The bibliotherapist creates a prescription at the end of the session and follows up by sending a list of 6-8 books and why they feel that reading these works will help the client solve problems and feel better about their lives.

Most of the books are fiction. Berthoud states: “Inhabiting a novel can be transformative in a way that using a self-help book isn’t.”

Eldurkin says: “There are certain books that have been really life-changing books for me, and it’s generally a matter of luck whether you hit on the right book at the right time of your life, which can open a door and help you to see something in a new way, or just give you that next leap up into new maturity.”

Curious? Examples of What These Bibliotherapists Prescribe

  1. career crossroads: Patrick deWitt’s THE SISTERS BROTHERS
  2. whether a woman should have a child: Ali Smith’s THE ACCIDENTAL
  3. struggling with divorce: Zora Neal Hurston’s THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD
  4. struggling with a so-so relationship: Elizabeth von Arnim’s THE ENCHANTED APRIL

Conclusions:

When you think about it, each one of us has probably recommended a book or an article to a friend who was going through a rough patch in life. But usually those recommendations are nonfiction–self-help books written by people with some letters behind their names. Berthoud argues that a truly great novel, “gets into your subconscious and actually can change your very psyche from within.” That is so different from a non-fiction self-help book that lists steps to take to deal with a problem.

All of this–the science that might be able to prove that reading helps your mental health–is limited. But researcher Maria Panero states: “I think we all have some sort of intuitive sense that we get something from fiction. So in our field we are interested in saying, ‘Well, what is it that we’re getting?'”

To riff off a quote from Eldurkin, think of it this way: how many times have you immersed yourself in a novel or a story that provides proof that something you have always felt about your own life is true?

photo credit: Andres Tardio’s Creative Branches – WordPress.com2923 × 1957Search by image Los Angeles: The Last Bookstore

And thanks to Sarah Begley and TIME MAGAZINE.

WHY HILLARY MATTERS TO ME Part One

WHY HILLARY MATTERS TO ME Part One

I don’t have any personal history with Donald Trump—I’ve never watched his reality TV shows or read his ART OF THE DEAL. And though now I read about him daily—its unavoidable—he’s still not rising up on my radar in any way, because he opposes everything I believe in. I do have a history with Hillary Clinton—for two reasons—we share some history and we definitely share some future. To me she symbolizes one thing that ALL WOMEN should consider—Republican, Democrat, Independent—she exemplifies what an American woman can do.

(Note: Phyllis Schlafly also exemplified the power that a woman can wield. But she stopped the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, sidelining advances for women. I believe she was wrong.)

If Hillary becomes POTUS, she will forever wipe out that wrong, just as individual women who fight for an ever-expanding role and position in this country do every day. Glass ceilings are breaking-up everywhere. I wonder if my mother would be proud. I hope so. The irony is that though she didn’t realize it, my mother was one of the first who in her own way expanded the role of a woman.

Widowed with three children, my mom had to work to support us. But more than once I heard her say that it was okay that men make more money than women—her reason—they had families to support. She knew she did also, but she was expressing what “the majority” needed—because in my childhood, in the neighborhood where I was raised, men were the main supporters of most households. Her statement was still puzzling, considering that her sisters, my two single aunts, worked hard for the money they made in the publishing business. But Mom condemned feminist thinking and would get up and walk out of the room when the conversation turned in that direction. She was a product of her time.

Maybe my mother should have been angry that her salary in downtown Chicago did not compensate her to care for three children like it would have if she were male. But life had pushed her in a direction she really didn’t want to go. She wanted to be married and raise six children. She got three and a dead husband. She had no degree. She could have gone to school part-time, worked her way up in the business world, but her focus was always her children, so she held on—her free time devoted to us. I think a lot of women make that choice. And despite it, my mother rose to chief secretary at the Chicago insurance agency where she worked for 45 years, becoming a business success. In the end—she  was proud of her accomplishments.

All of this is not to say that I am not fiercely proud of what my mother accomplished and forever grateful for the sacrifices she made for my two brothers and me. I became an English teacher, made a great marriage, was gifted with three children and then went back to school to earn my RN. Through my working years, I discovered the value of unions, the muscle of numbers. I picketed for higher salaries and benefits. I worked hard at my job and never felt guilty that I was asking for more.

But much earlier than I did, Hillary Clinton saw that women were not on equal ground and needed to fight for their place. She has one daughter. I have two. That galvanized both of us—our daughters should be able to enter the working world equal in every way to their male counterparts.

Considering Hillary Clinton and I were both raised in Chicago at the same time, her consciousness was definitely raised sooner than mine and the trajectory of her life amazes me and makes me proud to be a woman: Hillary has always been about helping women and children—even if that means working the system and knowing how to handle the slings and arrows of the opponent who is eager to stop her.

When I had the chance to meet Hillary Clinton she was running for president. It was 2007 and we met at the Drake Diner, a local eatery in Des Moines, Iowa. We were both there at five in the morning—she to be interviewed by all the major networks, me to sit in a booth in the background and drink hot coffee. I guess you could say I was window dressing. But I wanted to be there and I did get to meet her.

When a break in the interviews occurred, she came to our booth. My husband sat on the end, so I leaned over him to shake her hand (I had met her once before after a town hall meeting that previous January.) I told her I was worried about her. Was she getting enough sleep? How did she do it every day? She knocked the so-called wood of the shiny booth table and said so far she was hanging in there, doing just fine. My husband John told me later he thought he saw a tear in her eye. John is from a large Irish Catholic family. Tear in her eye? Hillary? I was sure he was exaggerating.

Then came the iconic moment in Portsmouth, New Hampshire when Marianne Pernold Young, a photographer standing behind a table where Hillary was talking with 16 women voters, asked her the same question. “How do you do it? How do you keep upbeat and so wonderful?” And when Hillary replied about having help with her hair and then just went into the major guts of her life, her face pinked up, her armor crumbled, she got emotional.

“I just don’t want to see us fall backward as a nation. I mean, this is very personal for me. Not just political. I see what’s happening. We have to reverse it. Some people think elections are a game: who’s up or who’s down. It’s about our country. It’s about our kids’ future. It’s about all of us together. Some of us put ourselves out there and do this against some difficult odds.”

My God, yes. And I wonder how she would respond now, if I could ask her that question. Probably in the same way. And certainly after being Secretary of State, and the email server mess and having DJT call her crooked Hillary (like he’s as clean as new fallen snow) her skin has gotten even thicker, her ability to keep her calm the first thing on her agenda.

That’s good for being president. Your life is not your own from DAY ONE. You need that presence to be in politics, especially when the color of your pantsuit can deflect from the important words you are saying or the actions you are implementing. But even though I would like to ask her again how she does it every day, I already know the answer: she does it all for us, for Americans and probably especially for women and children. Even Donald Trump when asked to say something nice about Hillary at the second debate acknowledged that she never quits.

So I am proud to say, I feel like I am a small part of Hillary Clinton. I’m the part she hides. I’m the part she doesn’t let people see. But regardless, I want people to know me—I am an older woman and despite what people might say, I will survive. It’s the combination of those words, older woman, that tear at some media people and some voters, make them fly into a rage they can’t really name.

It’s the hidden part out in the open. It’s so there people don’t see it. Hillary Clinton is a woman hitting her head against the ultimate glass ceiling and women all over the country are pulling on their panty hose or selecting their Manolo Blahniks or the latest knock-off pair from TJ Maxx and secretly smiling. She can’t do it. She’ll never do it. If I can’t do it, neither can she. So lose Hillary, lose.

“How do we beat the bitch?” a finely coiffed and decked out woman asked John McCain at a campaign stop during the run-up to the 2008 election. That woman wanted to stop a Democrat and I get that. So just say: “How do we stop Hillary?” And John McCain should have pointed that out to this woman. Or someone should have. You can watch the thing on U Tube!

The point is—Hillary is not a bitch. How dare a woman use that term when describing another woman. That John McCain supporter degrades herself. Hillary is me. Hillary is that woman too. Her pantsuits don’t hide that we are females, the softer sex. When Hillary showed some décolletage it was a headline. I’ve no problem with that, show us some breast, because you have two of them and you gave birth to a daughter, and I have a uterus and breasts and I have two daughters and a son and I thank God for them. Final note: I am privileged and proud to be a woman.

And I know Hillary is too. She showed us the full spectrum of womanhood in the five minutes (though it must have seemed like an eternity) that it took her to walk from the White House rose garden across the green lawn to the helicopter that day. Chelsea was with them, in the middle, Hillary on one side of her and Bill on the other. A natural falling into step for the husband and wife falling out. A moment of belief and strength in the midst of unbearable pain.

Because pain is a private matter. Hillary wanted to go into a small room or hide in a corner or under a blanket. She didn’t want to walk in front of TV cameras and photographers. But she did and held her head up, held Chelsea’s hand because she needed her and Chelsea needed her mother. The pain was excruciating, worse than a broken arm, a shattered femur bone. A lot worse. “How can we beat the bitch?”

You cannot. You cannot stop a strong incredibly convincing woman, a mother, a wife who kept her family together despite his betrayals.

“She should have divorced him. I won’t vote for her because she should have divorced him.”

Translation: I would have run away, hid in a corner, divorced the blankety blank and she should have too.

Wrong. Hillary Clinton has strong beliefs and morals. She fights for what she believes in and that’s why she will make an excellent president. She gets up every morning and fights. She does not give up. One commentator, Eugene Robinson, said that the dictionary should have her name next to the word resilient. She defines the word.

Hillary Clinton did what few women in our present culture have the strength to do—she stayed in her marriage and she worked it out. Operative word that suits Hillary just fine: work. Divorce is painful and messy. Working it out can be even more so. There isn’t a marriage in the country that hasn’t had some sadness, fighting, anger, misunderstanding which often leaves spouses wondering about their choices. And many have suffered betrayal on the part of either spouse. Let’s be honest, every women in this country knows this.

“How do we beat the bitch?” We don’t. She is us. She is all women who want their special place in the sun. Some of us are stay-at-home moms and some of us are CEO’s and some of us presidents of large corporations or possibly in the future the United States of America.

I’d really like to find the woman at the John McCain rally and ask her about her marriage and her career and her relationships. I would really love to know who she is voting for this election.

P.S. Don’t forget to vote!!

Photo credit: New York Times

From Folk Singer to Nobel Prize Poet

From Folk Singer to Nobel Prize Poet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND, 1962

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

THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGIN’, 1963

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

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

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

Answering Questions About Parenting and Midlife

Answering Questions About Parenting and Midlife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

THOSE THOUSAND WORDS

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

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

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

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

FAITH, LOVE, HOPE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THERE WILL BE FROST AND SORROW AND JOY  

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

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

You’re A Candidate For Good Health & A Good Doc

You're A Candidate For Good Health & A Good Doc

The health of the two candidates running for president has certainly been in the news. But the question is–how do you find a good doctor if you’ve just moved or if you have recently been diagnosed with cancer or a heart condition or something else that requires a specialist? Word of mouth is very often the way someone starts the process, but how one doctor relates and helps your friend might not be the best choice for you. And you don’t want to waste your time and possibly your health simply starting out with any doctor and finding that down the road you made a hasty and wrong choice.

WHEN YOU START THE SEARCH

First keep these two things in mind:

  1. know what type of insurance you have and if there are any limitations connected to that insurance. Some plans send you a booklet of doctors in their network. You are limited to those.
  2. YELP and other internet reviews of physicians are often driven by a patient who didn’t improve. The complaint might be related to the doctor’s care, but it also could be related to how compliant the patient was. Something to consider.

Second, when searching for a new physician after a move or a diagnosis, make a list of the things that you truly want in this future doctor and the provided care you are seeking. Here’s a list to consider:

  1. What hospital is this doctor affiliated with–a local community hospital, a tertiary care center, a university hospital–all or one?? Is this physician’s office and the hospital where she has privileges close to your home or a long drive? In an emergency situation closer will always be better.
  2. Is this doctor board certified in the speciality that you need? Internal medicine board certification is a good place to start if your general health is good. But you may need a cancer or cardiac specialist etc, and that will narrow your choices. (Note: often getting an internist in a university group is the best way to go as that physician can then refer you to say an ear, nose and throat, a surgeon or an orthopedic doctor etc in his group.)
  3. If you have trouble speaking English, that’s also a consideration. It’s always good if you are terribly worried about your physical health or running a fever or vomiting or a cancer patient etc that you bring someone with you to your appointment. But it’s not always possible and if language is an issue, you need to make sure you will always be able to communicate with your doctor. Misinformation can lead to your getting sicker or even hospitalization and death.
  4. The age of the doctor you choose or his or her years in practice might also be on your list of concerns. Some people want an older doctor who they feel they would be more comfortable with or who would know more. Others want a younger doctor who will be up on new advances in medicine. All physicians are required to stay up-to-date in their specialty through reading and testing and participating in hands-on programs for recertification.
  5. The gender of your physician might also concern you. (Certainly in the practice of obstetrics and gynecology there has been a major shift–more women in that practice now than men.) But that shouldn’t rule out the skill of male OBGYN’S. When my husband created this list and followed it, his final choice was a female internist physician. I also chose her for my doctor and we have referred her to our friends.
  6. It’s very important to discover if the doctor you are researching is taking on new patients. You might get all excited that you’ve found one, only to discover the practice is closed.
  7. Once you have found one or two you are considering, you can verify their board certification here. You can also go to your home state department of consumer affairs to check for any negative reports about this doctor.
  8. And of course you can Google them. Most doctors will have an online presence, often with a personal photo, phone number, office hours and map to get you to their office.

THE INTERVIEW

My husband has specific health issues, so after doing his research he made an appointment with the doctor he was considering, telling her receptionist that he wanted to interview the doctor. Here’s what he learned at that first meeting:

  • she was on time and open to discussing his health needs;
  • he brought his medical history with him so that she could examine lab results etc and understand his past and present health;
  • he determined that she had excellent listening skills and she did not rush him;
  • at the end of that 45 minute meeting, she also made a referral for him as he had another health issue that needed immediate attention.

Botom line? He had made the right choice and her care of him has been excellent.

PERSONAL CRITERIA

So what criteria is important to you when choosing a doctor? It will vary from person to person, but for me, I have to feel that the doctor values me as an individual and will take the time, if only five minutes, to discuss my concerns. I recently changed a specialist, because the tests I needed had been scheduled way down the road and I wanted information sooner than later. Maybe I panicked a little, but I am very happy with this new doctor who did all the tests that first appointment.

I have also found that being informed and prepared for a doctor visit just might be noted in your chart–you’ll become a so-called favorite patient. So on your end, a few things to do:

  1. be on time and if you are delayed or cannot make an appointment CALL;
  2. bring your list of medications with you;
  3. bring a list of your concerns with you and don’t wait until the appointment is almost over to say I’ve had some serious chest pain!
  4. if you have to wait, try to be patient; WHY? because your doctor is dealing with another patient who just said “I’ve had some serious chest pain” or something like that.

One final thought. Often your condition will move you to do some internet research before you walk into the doctor’s office. That’s okay. As a nurse, I have done that for years. But a few things to keep in mind to cement a good working relationship with your doctor:

  1. WAIT. Let your doctor explain first what she feels is your diagnosis. Don’t walk in waving a piece of paper with YOUR conclusion about your case. As the appointment proceeds, use what you have learned on the internet to further explore your condition and ask questions. Depending on the site you used, you might be totally off. And building a good relationship with your physician requires TRUST. To make it very basic, when you have an electrical or plumbing problem in your home, you are eager to have the technician tell you what’s wrong. Most of us don’t research electricity and plumbing before this person arrives. Give your doctor the floor.
  2. WAIT again. Yes, I’ve had concerns about my health and brought in that piece of paper with my questions or some info from the net. But I ease my way into the question and often before I can even ask it–she’s answered it.

So I’m wishing you the best as you continue your relationship with your doctor or find a new one. The ground work you do is extremely important. You are a candidate for good health and hopefully once you have done your research, the doctor you choose will get your vote.

Thanks to my husband and to Val Jones, founder and CEO of Better Health

You're A Candidate For Good Health & A Good Doc

Photo www.carp.ca

Cartoon www.indigogo.com

Using “STORY” To Support Facts

Using "STORY" To Support Facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: www.mlparentcoach.com

Using "STORY" To Support Facts

The Grandmother Hypothesis and Grandparents Day

The Grandmother Hypothesis and Grandparents Day

If you ask the evolutionary question: why do women continue to live after they are no longer able to bear, birth and breastfeed children, you come up with a researched and very interesting answer. They continue to be part of the evolutionary plan because they become grandmothers. And that is terribly important.

THE GRANDMOTHER HYPOTHESIS

In the 1980s, anthropologist Kristin Hawkes and her colleagues studied the Hadza tribe, the last known hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, Africa. Their findings:

1. the tribe’s old women did not just rest, they worked, digging up a deeply-buried tuber which provided the main source of starch for the tribe’s diet.

2. though the young women also dug for the tubers, the older women spent more time at this task, leaving early in the morning and coming back late in the evening.

3. and because of the presence of this food in the diet, the grandchildren of these older women had better growth rates.

From these observations, came the “grandmother hypothesis.” Simply stated: women past childbearing age help not just their children, but their children’s children. They strengthen the genealogy of the family, insuring that the line will continue. Having such a role or purpose eventually lengthened their own life span. When no longer required to carry an infant around, they were freed up to do work that helped their progeny. And very importantly, by foraging for more food, they prevented their grandchildren from dying. All generations were aided as the lengthening of the life span was then passed on.

The researchers added that the “grandmother hypothesis” clarified why humans are able to have children in quick succession, whereas in other species there are long gaps. Example: chimp mothers wait 5 or 6 years to give birth to another neonate. But with tribal grandmothers available, the younger women could continue to have children. This collaborative child-rearing allowed the young woman to focus on the next baby while the grandmother took care of the toddlers.

In her piece in the New Republic that analyzes the “grandmother hypothesis” Judith Shulevitz writes of another very positive reason for grandmothers –As the grandmother effect spread throughout the population over thousands of generations, it changed humans in another way. It made their brains bigger. As life lengthened, so did each stage of it. Children stayed children longer, which let their brains develop a more complex neural architecture.

WHY GRANDPARENTING IS SO IMPORTANT

It is my belief that grandparenting is the most important family role of the new century, says Roma Hanks PhD. There is much to substantiate that claim. In a society where many women have to work or choose to work, daycare centers, schools and grandparents often replace the role of the parent. Hanks is referring to the gifts that grandparents can bring to children whose parents are stressed and often emotionally unavailable because of work schedules and the worry of providing basic needs. In these cases and in families where life flows more easily, grandparents are vital in helping a family thrive.

Children need guidance, love and someone to listen to their fears and worries. Grandparents easily become that source and a bond forms, allowing for future communication.
Grandparents can babysit, allowing stressed moms and dads a chance to get away and relate to one another.
Grandparents can relate family stories, creating a history that forges a bond and provides a child with a sense of place and security.
Grandparents can be a source of information, providing advice, guidance and just plain helping out–like locating the phone number of a doctor.
Grandparents can be role models for their children’s parenting and for their grandchildren’s relationships with others. The love and gentleness found in the home is the first step to forming good citizens of the world who will have their own relationships and build their own families in the decades ahead.
In the end, grandparents can offer a shoulder to cry on, words of encouragement, or gentle reassurance to both their children and their grandchildren.

CHILDREN OF DEPRESSED MOTHERS

Kate Fogarty, PhD, stressed the importance of the protective role grandparents can play when grandchildren are cared for by a depressed mother. Her research showed that the formation of loving bonds between grandparents and those children could help develop positive behavior, increase cognitive development and prevent behavioral problems. She even went so far as to say that the possibility of the depression being passed to these children could be broken by the grandparent/grandchild relationship–a win win.

And though Fogarty’s research was with grandparents, certainly the role of loving aunts, uncles and friends will always make a positive difference in a child’s life.

IT IS TRULY ALL ABOUT FAMILY

There’s the familiar line: “If I’d known how wonderful it is to have grandchildren, I would have had them first.” What is that all about? Probably that with grandchildren comes experience, confidence in the role to be played, freedom from the harder aspects of child-rearing and the amazing chance to see once again the future in a child’s eyes.

Certainly some grandparents have more nitty-gritty responsibility for their grandchildren than others. Some are doing much of the raising and rearing. Some show up only for the fun times, like birthdays and holidays.

But hopefully most grandparents find the middle acceptable ground–they are eager to role up their sleeves and help when needed and they are always desirous of telling family stories, reading well-loved books, taking exploratory walks or singing well-loved songs. It’s a little like reliving your parenting. It’s a lot like looking into the future and once again having that uplifting feeling of knowing something of you will live on. That’s truly important.

Celebrate Grandparents day, Sunday, September 11th, 2016

The Grandmother Hypothesis and Grandparents Day

Thanks to Google Images and grandparents.about.com