Some of The Amazing People I Have Met

Some of The Amazing People I Have Met

We meet many people during our lives. There is often the iconic story of the teacher, doctor, employer who teaches, employs and cares for a young man or woman who goes on to become known in the world: the scientist who creates the polio vaccine; the political activist who becomes a state senator and then president of the United States; the gardener who loves plants and then becomes known for his gardening advice. The writer who wins the Pulitzer.

Every one of you has someone you worked with, met or taught—someone who has gone on to do great things. Maybe that person is you!

Today I’m sharing some of the amazing people I have met who still inspire me to this day.

THE BEGINNING

Born, raised, and completing my education in Chicago—there are hundreds of people during that time in my life who had great influence on me, who loved and encouraged me. Certainly, every member of my loving family. 

BUT WHAT PATHWAY TO TAKE

My biology teacher at Mundelein College saw something in me, called me into her office to underline that I should NOT major in English, become a teacher. I should immediately switch to the sciences, go into medicine. I didn’t listen.

But after teaching high school English at BLOOM TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL (I loved my students) and having my children, I became fascinated with medicine and followed her advice, became a nurse. I worked in the maternity unit at MERCY HOSPITAL in Chicago, assisting pregnant women of all ages and backgrounds. Like teaching, this position opened my vision of life, stressed the importance of understanding all persons in our society.

LIVING IN IOWA EQUALS POLITICS

Then a few years later my husband accepted employment in Des Moines, Iowa—another adventure. Des Moines is the state capital, and because of Iowa’s first in the nation caucus, it is always the center of political activity. My husband and I couldn’t help but become more involved in politics. When HILLARY CLINTON ran, we were sitting in the Drake Dinner at 5:00 in the morning, watching her prepare for interviews on all major stations. We were friends with DR. ANDY McGUIRE, who ran for governor of Iowa, who has been head of the Iowa Democratic party and will always have political blood running in her veins. Through Andy, we met Hillary that morning, and I asked her how she did it all. She teared up. And for those reading who remember a similar episode, this was way before New Hampshire.

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA won the caucuses and I was able to shake his hand during a meet and greet in Des Moines. That’s a huge memory for me. But that event was also fortuitous, as the woman standing next to me was an RN at the Polk County Health Department in Des Moines. I had recently lost the amazing work I had done for Meredith Corporation in Des Moines—(think Better Homes & Gardens, Midwest Living, Country Home and many other amazing magazines), because the Meredith Books group had shut down. (Thanks to Terri Fredrickson who guided me through the years I proofread for her.) So I interviewed at the health department and was hired JUST AT THE TIME, — H1N1 was surging.

But because of my work at MEREDITH BOOKS, I had met JAMES WAGENVROOD, a writer from New York City, who became my mentor and dear friend. We actually wrote a book together that you would not think would be in my wheelhouse, MIANI INK, MARKED FOR GREATNESS. 

I also met and toured the garden of ELVIN McDONALD, gardener, writer, and lovely person. You might be familiar with his: A GARDEN MAKES A HOUSE A HOME. 

BOOK SIGNINGS 

The Des Moines Library (newly built in the re-emerging city center with a roof that originally was covered in grass, a salute to the green movement) hosted authors and there I met ELIZABETH BERG. She shook my hand and said I needed to get my novels out of the drawers where they were sitting. I’m still working on that project. She was charming, of course.  

THE IOWA WRTERS’ WORKSHOP

And speaking of writing, Iowa is the home of the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, famous for its creative writing program: The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. An easy drive down Route 80 and you’re there!

So get jealous now: I and twenty other writers spent a weekend with Pulitzer Prize winning ELIZABETH STROUT, known for her novels OLIVE KITTERIDGE, OLIVE AGAIN, AMY And ISABELLE, MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON (and more). I’ve read ALL her work and encourage you to do so.

There were more wonderful teachers at Iowa: my friend and helpmate SUSAN CHEHAK who helped and encouraged me to publish my collection of short stories: A MOTHER’S TIME CAPSULE.

ONE FINAL and FUN STORY

Through Andy McGuire we met many people in Democratic politics: Governor Vilsack, former Vice President Mondale, Governor of Vermont Howard Dean—but the most memorable was meeting NANCY PELOSI.     

We were in Andy’s inviting house for a fundraiser for a House Representative. I was sitting in the back of the room. I have often found myself in the back of rooms, but when someone is speaking, I go back to my grade-school days—I look right at the speaker, focus on what she or he is saying. When Nancy finished, she became surrounded by people. My husband and I got up quietly and walked into the dining room. I was sure I had seen some chocolate cupcakes along with other goodies set out on Andy’s dining room table.

But then someone was tapping me on the back. I turned. It was Nancy Pelosi. She said, “I came over to meet you.”

Okay! Why? I guess Andy had suggested that she do so. As we chatted, John asked her, as only John would, “What is the most important thing in your life going on right now?” He was waiting for a political response, but Nancy answered: “My grandchildren.” We loved that.

The bottom line in sharing all of this with you is that I have been blessed. The people I have met in person and the people I continue to meet online and now in my new but old home of Chicago, are all important to me in so many ways. So thank you….AND, ANYONE READING THIS–YOU ARE ALL AMAZING, Beth 

Photo Credit   Citizenship Creations Stock.

Marilynne Robinson Talks to POTUS Part 2

Marilynne Robinson Talks to POTUS Part 2

Novels. Politics. Do they go hand in hand? I’m really going out on a limb here, but I am going to say yes. As a preface to PART 2 of the talk novelist Marilynne Robinson had with Barack Obama, I love considering how reading and novels can bring people with very different backgrounds together to share and be moved in tandem. Again, that’s what democracy should be doing. WE THE PEOPLE. And we the people vote and elect our representatives. So there is a connection.

To stress that point: Reading to your children makes them good citizens. Reading brings the world to children, right on the page. Picture books quietly reveal to a child that people come in all colors. There’s variety in the world of trucks, zoo animals, dogs, cats AND people. What a wonderful thing. Because when that child enters school at a future age, IT IS NO BIG THING for he or she to meet kids that are different colors. In fact, they don’t even notice. That’s the point. And reading takes it to a higher level when a child reads about the boy on the farm, the boy living in the middle of a war, the girl in the tenement or the girl living on a fishing boat–that’s a world-view, that’s variety. Reading helps children see the choices that life provides. It lifts each and every one of us out of the backyard or off the front porch or out of the elevator of public housing and opens up the world. Reading all sorts of books during childhood (picture books, chapter books) and reading novels as adults does that. So if POTUS asked me, I’d say yes. Reading novels makes us better citizens of the USA and the world.

President Obama asks Robinson: Are you somebody who worries about people not reading novels anymore? And do you think that has an impact on the culture? When I think about how I understand my role as citizen…and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned–I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.

I loved POTUS’s question and answer, and had to chuckle. I don’t think he’s had the time to read the recent research that states that reading does make us more empathetic.(My post on that subject is here.) And Robinson responded, citing the variety of voices in contemporary writing. Robinson: You know people say, is there an American tradition surviving in literature, and yes, our tradition is the incredible variety of voices….And [now] you don’t get the conversation that would support the literary life. I think that’s one of the things that has made book clubs so popular.

I think on that last point, Robinson meant that statistically we are not on a day to day basis sitting around talking about books. (Unless that’s your business.) She is also saying that book clubs have become very popular because people WANT to talk about books. When I was growing up my mother belonged to a group of about 12 people who selected fiction and non-fiction to read and discuss. I guess I thought that was what everybody’s parents did!

Robinson and POTUS further discussed the difficulty of creating a common conversation that would bind people together. POTUS: Sometimes you get some TV shows that can fill that void, but increasingly now, that’s splintered, too, so other than the Super Bowl, we don’t have a lot of common reference points. And you can argue that that’s part of the reason why our politics has gotten so polarized…

POTUS asked Robinson if her writing sensibility, her involvement in the lives of her characters on the page alters or affects her feelings and attitudes about democracy and every person she interacts with.

ROBINSON: If I’m going to be honest, I think that there are some political candidacies that are much more humane in their implications and consequences than others. I mean, if suddenly poles were to be reversed and what I see as humanistic came up on the other side, there I’d be…when I do book signings…and people come up one by one and talk to me about their lives…how earnest they are, how deeply committed they are to sustaining people they feel close to or responsible for and so on—there they are, the people that you think of as the sustainers of a good society. 

And after reading that comment of hers, I would say that these are the people, the characters that inhabit her books. They aren’t perfect, they struggle, but they understand family, connection, goodness and they strive for those things, reflecting what Robinson sees in the people she meets.

And though POTUS didn’t propose the question, Robinson answered it as she spoke. How does the media affect the reading of novels and thus the thinking that is becoming part of our DNA as we click on Facebook and Twitter, as we partake of the endless cable news cycle??

Robinson: …if we could all just turn off media for a week, I think we would come out the other side of it with a different anthropology in effect. I wish we could have a normal politics where I disagree with people, they present their case, we take a vote, and if I lose I say, yes, that’s democracy, I’m on the losing side of a meaningful vote.

If you read Part 1, you know I am repeating here, but her words are important to share. How wonderful if for a time we filled our heads with the lives of characters in novels–characters who fall in love and struggle, but who find answers; characters who learn from their mistakes and go on to understand the antagonist and through that understanding help the antagonist. Maybe empathy would fill us and stay with us during our day to day journey.

Here is an excerpt from Robinson’s latest novel, LILA. Let me know if it touches you, if something springs from your heart as you read. The main character struggles with the idea that anyone could love her.           THANKS FOR BEING HERE.

Marilynne Robinson Talks to POTUS Part 2

And now here Lila was, sitting in the dark, wishing the crickets weren’t so damn loud, thinking she might tell that old preacher not to come creeping around her place at night. That would put an end to it, all of it. Then she’d know for sure what he thought of her. .. But when folks are down to the one thing that can keep them alive, that one thing can be meanness. It makes you feel like you’re there, you’re doing something. He is such a beautiful old man. All that kindness would be gone out of his face, and she would see something else, not beautiful, not the face he had worn all the years when he had only good people to deal with. 

Marilynne Robinson Talks to POTUS Part 2

Photos: ablogforyourthoughts.com; pressrelease.reponsecourse.com; www.ps.org Marilynne Robinson Talks to POTUS Part 2