Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter Solstice

My favorite day of the year. I feel the light.
'From the most Ancient Days our ancestors have gathered at Solstice.To witness the rebirth of the unconquerable Sun at first light. Moving from its long gestation to triumph over the darkness.
The divine light gathers strength to bring new hope, peace and joy. Whispering life’s secrets into awakening dormant seeds. With the warmth of love and the mysteries of the spirit.

We rekindle the turning of the year from its dark coals. To guide and sustain us as we journey through the coldest times. Honoring the rebirth of the inner light within ourselves.'
(from  Living the Wheel of the

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Rituals and Crowns

Do you ever think about the random rituals that become part of your life?
I usually begin my early morning computer time by clicking on weboutlook.
My home page comes up, I fill in my password, click enter and receive the message "Custom error menu does not recognize this error." I tap the 'x' button and receive the following: Do you want to close all apps?"
Yes, I do, as this has gotten me nowhere.
I then repeat the exact same process and my e-mail immediately pops up.

So I have two choices: I can dig into the matter and make the changes necessary to eliminate my morning starting off with a mistake. Or I can just go through the ritual and get what I want. I stick with the easy one, the brainless one. That's the post-coffee beginning of my day.

For the last couple of weeks, walking early in the morning I pass by a man with a glittering crown on his head. It's just about sunrise; he's African-American, with a black jacket and dark pants. I smile and say hello; he responds. I could ask him why he wears a crown instead of a hat, but decide not to. I don't want to insult him, don't want to be the one to tell him he has a crown on his head if he doesn't know, and don't want to be confronted by his political or religious beliefs. I also wonder if he is participating in a scientific project to see how many people will pretend there is not a crown on the head of the person walking by. Too many thoughts. So I just make it part of my morning ritual to pretend it is a normal thing to be wearing a glittery crown at 6:45 a.m.

That's it for this morning. At least five times I've begun a sentence about the record number of people buying guns post-Newtown. But 'tis better I keep my mouth shut and not impose my rants on you. I'm sticking with the guy and his crown; he brightens my day. Enjoy yours.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Stranger, redux

It started last night about 10:00. The Stranger came to me. Not just any stranger, but Meursault, Camus' Stranger. Do you remember him, the man who didn't cry at his mother's funeral, the man ultimately found guilty of murder and sentenced to death?

We're all desperately attempting to answer the unanswerable question: Why did one young man rush into a school and deliberately kill sweet, innocent children and their teachers? The matricide, as loathesome as it is, leads us to easier hypothesis than the intentional murder of young children.

If I were running the world I would suggest a break from all news, all discussion, and mandate a Required Reading Day. My choices would be Camus' The Stranger and Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamozov. OK, so it is more than a day, maybe a week. Actually, take a month sabbatical, and throw in Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man. Then let the discussions begin again.

  I know - not everyone majored in English. Some people actually learned how to create prosthetics, implement accounting procedures, measure black holes or create beautiful music. Not me. In retrospect, perhaps I should have come up with a few usable skills, but reading and writing kept me busy.

I can't think about the Newtown killer without thinking about Mersault and his last words in The Stranger.  I also can't think about how to justify the killing of innocents without pondering Ivan's speech in The Brothers Karamozov rejecting the notion of a loving, compassionate God. Even granting the concept of a loving God and ultimate redemption, Ivan suggests that the price of suffering is just too high. There are other pieces of literature that you might substitute for my three, but it seems to me we aren't really debating the labels - Hmmm. Was it Asperger's or Autism? Really? And what good does it do us to attach a lable that has no bearing on the big Why?

What about us? Is there room for any collective guilt here in our often detached society? Just asking. I don't know where the answers lie, where you end and I begin. I think we're all sort of connected. So I revert to literature, seeking some sort of redemption or solace.I'm a believer that the truth is in literature; the facts are in the other things we read. And I believe we are all searching for something better these days, better than facts. We're looking for some collective truth.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Guest Post - Steve Wood in CT

Like everyone, I have been in a near-constant state of shock and stupor since 26 women and children were murdered in Newtown three days ago. There is so much to say, yet no way to say any of it as well as I’d wish. There is so much to assess and rectify, yet no one knows where, or how, to begin. For me, writing provides catharsis. I often say that I write this website for me and that it’s nice that some other people enjoy peeking into my world every now and then. And I mean that. While what happened in Newtown isn’t about me, it’s impossible not to reflect on our own lives and families after such tragedy.
At the time of the shootings, I was on the local NPR station talking again about “Connecticut’s Eccentricities” and having a great time doing it. One of the subjects I thought that may have come up was something about our state’s iconic trees. I had just posted something about one of Sharon’s Twin Oaks being felled by Hurricane Sandy and something else about Newtown’s “Kissing Oak” being split into two recently as well.
To me, that was the worst thing that happened in Newtown in recent memory: An old oak tree in the woods cracking in half. I’m glad we never talked about trees.
As you’d expect, I know Newtown pretty well. It’s one of our many towns that sort of exemplify the ideal Connecticut town. Beautiful Main street, rolling farmland, curvy back roads with trees a bit too close; a spirit of community in Sandy Hook and other sections, affluent areas and some more hardscrabble “New Englandy” sections. I have friends and acquaintances who grew up there and some of them know people directly affected.
I can’t… I can’t imagine.
The hardest cry my wife and I had this weekend was when I read a note from my friend who grew up in Newtown and now lives one town over. She knows a father who lost a child, the school nurse, and a first responder among others. In a failed attempt to try to understand a tiny bit about how parents can go on after this , she concluded, “I hope you and I never have to get closer to that answer as we are right now.”
I have two sons. My son Damian is the same age as all those Newtown children. “He’s a 2006” I told a parent of “a 2007” on Saturday. Those dates get me. Those dates.
I have been dropping Damian off at school every day now for four years. As a special needs student, he’s been going to school since he turned three, all year long. That’s a lot of drop-offs. And even though we could have him take the bus in the mornings, we voluntarily choose not to. Our walks in to school are just sort of my thing now.
Mind you, some of those walks can be downright awful. Damian does not allow umbrellas or mittens. He changes the rules on me daily. He yells repeated “no’s” for no reason all-too-often. Some days he throws himself on the ground. The bus would be so much easier.
And yet, I love it. I hold his hand all the way every day from where I park a block away (mostly because not doing so results in a 20 minute walk instead of what should be about 4, but also because I like to).
Most days he’s fine and he cracks me up with his unique take on the world. We pass his afternoon bus driver Ramon and Damian has decided the other drivers we see sitting in the queue are “Jamon” and “Bamon.” He needs to look in the bus’s big side-view mirrors to see the words “SUB LOOHCS” to remind me yet again that it’s actually “Bus School backworst.”
This morning, the Monday after the shootings, I told him he had to have a good walk with me despite the gloomy weather and to “be good” because there will be a lot of sad people today.
He quietly held my hand all the way today, as if he knew he just should today more than any other day.
We got to the front door and while there were more parents dropping their kids off than usual, nothing was amiss in Damian’s world. As we do every day, I crouched down and we hugged. I told him to be a good boy and he ran through his no’s (“hit-ting. Scream-ming. Kick-ing”) like usual. He gave me the double European cheek kisses he’s been doing for years.
With Damian, this routine will probably continue for many more years. Even as he grows and proceeds through the grades, he probably won’t get to that stage of wanting to “look cool.” And you know what? I love that too. Most parents “lose” that type of interaction around Damian’s age. I’ll get to have it for much longer, maybe forever.
20 sets of parents in Newtown never will again with their six and seven-year-olds.
Like the town’s “Kissing Oak,” all of Newtown is broken and changed – and will always remain so. But, like the resilient tree, the community will root itself a little deeper; build up scar tissue and somehow, in some way, continue to grow and sprout new life. New Hope.
This morning I felt the tears welling up again in my eyes as Damian relaxed his hugging grip from my neck. Parents and teachers around us were remaining strong in this time of impossible despair.
From his point of view, all was well and there were none of the outwardly sad people I’d mentioned.
“Papa!” Damian whisper-yelled in his unique way of speaking, “Sad people, tomorrow,” and bumbled off into school.
Sad people every day buddy, for a long, long time.

Thanks, Steve. Beautiful prose, beautiful thoughts.

Accountability for Teachers

What part of the teacher accountability evaluation will recognize the extraordinary, absolutely heroice, leadership all those teachers (and staff members) took at Sandy Hook last week?
I've read ad nauseum about teacher accountability, matching merit increase with student performance on state mandated tests. The restrictions put on what teachers can and cannot teach, how they should teach or not teach are endless. The pressure to get young students to master the long vowel, hard consonant and other tricks of the literacy trade is immense.
I'd argue that some accountability is reasonable; I'd argue also that some skills, inner wisdom, and creativity don't quite fit into our obsessive desire for quantitative measurement.
I can't stop thinking about those teachers who marched their kids into closets, back rooms, and libraries. These teachers not only led kids into safe places, but keep them calm, read stories, and shared love. Talk about teaching, talk about having a lifelong impact on a student. How high does the evaluation scale go?
True, most of the teachers have been trained in what to do in event of a crises, but putting that training into action is a whole other story. I hope there is a 'Grace Under Pressure' category and that these teachers smash the statistical norm into a black hole.
I've been one to criticize public school teachers in the past for the usual reasons, but I'm finished with that. Thanks to all of you out there who protect and teach young children. No test can rank order your skills

Monday, December 17, 2012

What Can Be Said?

Our hearts are broken. Ripped apart and raw. Some of the hearts will never be healed; none of our hearts will ever be the same. There's a cumulative effect of all these tragedies; it's not that we become more resilient. We become more fearful, afraid of strangers and strange places. We can't figure out where and how to place our trust. We lock up and lock out. We detach just a bit...then a bit more...and more. Can we ever return to the state of radical innocence?

Here's a photo and short piece by Robert Wright for today's entry.

The day after Newton; thinking about CT

by Robert Wright on Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 12:58pm ·

Yesterday, the day after the tragedy in Connecticut, was a pretty somber day. We decided to lay low and not run around shopping or anything like that. About mid afternoon we decided to take a ride out to Loxahatchee to get some stuff at the farm. A little festival was going on. The screams of kids, which typically grate on me, almost sounded soothing. A birthday party was taking place under the Pavilion near the BBQ stand. Kids of 4 or 5 rode a little pony in a circle with looks of joy and wonder. We decided to take a walk down by the river. Florida had been doing that thing it does, where the weather matches the mood. The day before, Friday, almost as soon as the news came out, spot heavy showers poured down, the forecast having been for sunnier skies. Then on Saturday, the day started out gloomy, then by day's end, rays of sunshine finally burst through the layer of clouds. A sign of hope? I'll take it. We sat quietly for a while. Birds bleated and whistled, oblivious to the goings on in the human world. It felt better having seen those kids and having taken in some serenity. But as we headed home I couldn't help but wonder about the parents. What would they say to their kids? What could they say?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Seven Ages of Man

The prodigious word hoard of Will Shakespeare didn't exclude women; just included all of us under the Man umbrella. But today I am more concerned with the seven stages than our gender identity.

I've just been reading the Washington Post Article on latest global health trends. Good work on the front end - fewer birth and early childhood deaths.
And at first it appears that there is good news on the later stage with more people living longer. But there is a catch to that...longer living includes longer times of being disabled and in pain. No going gently into that good night these days.  Seems to me that it is about time for a poet to grab on to this huge, almost overwhelming, study and revise The Seven Stages of Man for contemporary times.

I am stunned that the report says high blood pressure, heart and alcohol are in the top three things associated with death. I sure need to read a bit more than headlines to wrap my head around that one. And it is indeed perplexing that many of those who live longer live with some sort  of dementia or Alzheimer's.  So Shakespeare's seventh and last stage is now lasting longer?

                                   Last scene of all,
     That ends this strange eventful history,
     Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
     Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

The study calls to mind not only Shakespeare but also the masters of Greek tragedy. Any hubris involved in the effort to prolong life?  Irony was not lost on the tragedians.

Perhaps when the carpet installation is completed here and I'm back to my own space and systems I won't be so inclined to take a simple summary of a global health report and try to turn it into a tragic play.  It that's the mind's musings today as I pack up and head out the door this morning.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Twelve Steps

Depending on one's culture, almost any number is magical somewhere. The Five of the Pentagram, Seven, Nine....The All in One. But it dawned on me late last night as 12/12/12 was disappearing, that The Twelve Steps of A.A. probably deserves a huge shoutout on the Day of the Twelves.

Thousands of lives have been changed by the Twelve Step Program - and it doesn't seem to matter much if one is a caregiver, alcoholic, an addict of any sort, a supporter, family member, friend or foe. There is nothing, as far as I know, about following the Twelve Steps that doesn't make someone a better person. Can't think of anyone ever hurt by a touch of humility. So here's to the Founders and followers of the Twelve Step Program.

And last night, my friend Kathryn, guest blogger a while back, made up a Book of Twelves for Merrillyn, Mardi and me to talk about in a holiday get together. I particularly love one of those categories:  Twelve Precious Gifts I'd Love to Give and Who Would Get Them. It makes me smile just writing the words. If you have time, play with that idea for a while. Even the idea of giving something special to someone is enough to make one feel good.

Well, I'm off to pack up my car for the day. Carpet installers coming soon, most of the boxes have been packed up and brought downstairs. Four different events to get to today in three different outfits. Luckily I belong to a local health club so I can make my changes there instead of in what will be a house of disarray as the workers remove the old rug and install the new. Where will all the dust and dirt go? Hate to think about that.

We'll see if the computer makes it through the various unpluggings and repluggings. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

26 Steps to Harmony

All sorts of people seem to be excited that we are living a day of magical numbers. 12/12/12. Hope it works for them. For me it has taken that 3x12 minutes to get my desktop up and going this morning. Don't think many of us will be around for the next day of numerical symmetry, so hope this one works for all the marriages, divorces, babies being born, proposals being sent...whatever it is you believe in. Must be some harmony in those numbers.

Speaking of numbers and harmony,  last night I met another happy couple who had found one another on e-harmony. Seems to me that the seasoned members of the community are doing quite well on e-dating. I know of at least five couples - ages 50 plus - in the throes of love, via the internet. And they are all perfect matches.  The couple I met last night have been married for seven years. He's more senior than she; her first husband died very young as a Freedom Fighter in Chile. The man's wife had a prolonged illness and died in her sixties. The man, an engineer, had drawn up 26 qualifications for a woman he would want to date. Being a nurse (don't mean to be stereotyping by profession here), she didn't have a bulleted list divided into categories to be checked off, but they clicked anyway.
Click, click. He wouldn't reveal his 26 qualifications, but did say she didn't meet the 5'8" height qualification. How's that for a 'Making a list, checking it twice' kind of attitude? At any rate, as Will would say, 'All's well that ends well.'

Another couple at the dinner met on Harmony, but at a time before Harmony went internet. Magazine ads only. Sure, I'd heard the horror stories, the OMG nights. And I know people lower both their ages and sizes in their personal descriptions, but what's a pound, inch or year here and there. Too many good stories to not pay attention to the phenomenon.  It's time for someone to churn out a book on successful marriages/long-term partnerships that came from internet dating among the post 50 group. Lots of good stories out there.

By now you are probably wondering when the 26 Steps to Harmony, the title of this post, are going to show up. They aren't. Just saying, I met one person had 26 steps listed, and found his way to harmony. Maybe we all need to think about our own 26 steps and start taking those steps, whether they have to do with relationships or not.

Packing up little stickies, notes, scraps of papers on my desk so the carpet installers can do their work tomorrow I came across a Seamus Heaney quote on the back of a sales slip. Don't remember how the two pieces of info came together, but here it is:

We must keep our feet on the ground to signify that no-one is beneath us, and lift up our eyes to signify that nothing is beyond us.

Let's take it to 12/12/12 with our feet on the ground and our eyes lifted, measuring out our 26 steps.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

You Are Now...

A couple of days in Boca Raton (pronounced Ratone, if you must know) where the air temperatures are in the high seventies,/low eighties and the ocean is a lusty inviting 75 degrees would soothe anyone's soul. Sure did mine. We happened to be there just in time for the holiday boat show, and had front-row, sitting on the dock of the bay, seats. Those boat owners and their friends sure take the prize for best decorated boat seriously. The creative images just kept floating on by. On our last night, after a perfect day on the beach, Rob had selected four short pieces of non-fiction, one for each of us to read and discuss as a group. Elena got the tale about manatees, I got one about the aunt and niece who had taken hundreds of photographs of local Native Americans over the years, Roscoe got the environmental philosopher, etc. The essays were all in a book SEASONS OF REAL FLORIDA by Jeff Klinkenberg, who grew up in 1950s Miami.  So these were Jeff's tales of tracking down unusual and unknown people and getting their stories. A great reminder how many anonymous people out there doing good deeds or following unchartered paths.

Well, it's about 10 degrees out this morning and there's a light dusting of snow on the ground. The great Colorado irony is that I'll still need sunscreen today. Go figure.

My e-mail is down for some unknown reason so I checked the NYT on line and am passing along the article about the American Psychiatric Association's approved and official 5th edition of what's called the Bible of Mental Disorders, the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual (DSM).

Depending on your daily activities you'll be happy or unhappy to know that Hoarding and Binge Eating are now full-blown disorders, not just sub-species. Having binged on my fair share of twinkies in the dark ages and Ben and Jerry's in the more enlightened age, I'm keeping my mouth shut. I'll let you know when I binge on broccoli.

And all those young kids diagnosed as bi-polar? Most of them being switched to some sort of  disruptive mood disregularity disorder. As the article says, 'all sorts of deals were cut' by psychiatrists lobbying for one categorization or another.
I don't know about you, but given the revised definitions and editions, wouldn't it be a good idea to erase whatever label someone has after five years? Should be a statute of limitations on being defined as 'xxx' on school records once someone decides that 'xxx' is really 'qrt'. Given the amorphous nature of designated disorders, perhaps there should be no category for anyone under a certain age.
Just thinking. Maybe we should all be categorized with one sort of genetically modified disorder and let it go at that.

Time to unpack.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Take Five High Five

Another giant down in 2012. I'll leave it to you to go down  your own nostalgia land with Dave Brubeck and all that jazz. Take Five for Dave today.

Along with taking five, I'm giving a high five to all those people who still use dictionaries - and use them on line. Merriam-Webster reports that the two most looked-up words on line in 2012 are capitalist and socialist. That's a high five to all those voters who wanted to know exactly what those words meant as they decided how to cast their votes. What an encouraging sign to know that people don't just fall for the good guy/bad guy labels, but actually want to know what the labels mean. I shouldn't be so shocked, shouldn't have such little faith in people's desire to understand before they act, to question authority. But, sad to say, my cynical self all too often tags people as uninformed. Love being wrong on this one. High Five again.

On that cheery note, I'm leaving for a few days. We're off to Florida to see Rob and Elena for an early holiday celebration. There is something in me that is just a tad gleeful that I'm getting out of Dodge just as the snow and rain are coming. Looking forward to seeing all those palm trees decorated and hearing the waves lapping ashore.

Hope your weekend is long also.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Railway Horse Barn

"I was in town and my good friend Andy asked me to stop by, so here I am," chuckled Bill Clinton.
Talk about a show stopper. We were at a luncheon sponsored by iDE - International Development Enterprises - yesterday and were fortunate enough to be present for the man who couldn't make a bad speech even if he tried. And this was Clinton at his quintessential best. Passionate, powerful and short. He was in town Monday night for a big speaking engagement, and former CO House Speaker and friend of Clinton, Andrew Romanoff,  persuaded him to make a surprise stop at the luncheon.

These days, Andrew Romanoff is out of formal politics, dedicating himself to humanitarian causes, specifically the non-profit iDE.Why and how were we there? Melissa Schaap, director of the 1010 Project, a small non-profit working with grassroots community organizations in Kenya, invited us. Melissa had been a colleague at the University of Denver, as Director of International Service Learning. Usually, I'm reluctant to go to luncheons sponsored by big organizations. For me, the luncheons often take too long, have too many speakers, and somehow force me to eat far more food than I would ever eat mid-day on my own. Somehow, as speakers speak, I nibble my way from the first bite of a roll right on through the last puff of puff pastry.
And then there is the parking, and...and.

But this invitation had some nice parameters: one could come anytime after 11:00 for social time; the luncheon would begin promptly at noon and end at 1:00. Guaranteed. The luncheon offered a variety of sandwich choices to be made beforehand. That sounded good also. The event was free, or as free as any non-profit raising money luncheon can be. It always feels good to support Melissa's work, because she is always making good things happen. Of course, there is an ask, but that too is announced upfront.

That's a lot of words to describe a luncheon. But the compelling cause right now for iDE in Denver is turning what was a 19th century railway horse barn in Curtis Park into headquarters for 30 international development organizations by summer 2013. Imagine members and volunteers from a large number of organizations, all dedicated to developing sustainable market solutions/projects around the world. Imagine the creativity, the collaborative thinking that will occur within the old horse barn. Some people were saying this is one of the first projects of its type. Denver Housing Authority is involved, Denver Urban Gardens will be situation in that space, as will Engineers Without Borders, The 1010 Project, and many others. Think of the energy coming from the people engaged with the small and large causes whose major goal is to bring positive, sustainable change to the world. I don't know about you, but I'd sure love to find a way to be in that space.

This seems to be my week for shout-outs. The vision behind this collaboration deserves a big shoutout, as do the folks raising money to renovate the building. It feels good just imagining the conversations that will occur in the horse barn. Wow.

The luncheon started exactly at noon, all the food on the designated tables, and ran as smoothly as any luncheon event I've ever attended. True, it did go longer than the promised hour. But no-one planning the hour was expecting President Clinton to show up. I'll spend an extra twenty minutes any day listening to him rouse a crowd. And I bet the people in charge of 'the ask' were pretty delighted to have his voice behind the cause.

Good things going on.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


It's Colorado Gives Day, a fact hard to miss if one lives in CO. It's a day in which one can go on line and easily make a donation. More than 1,000 non-profits are on the list, and they are categorized in all sorts of ways that make giving simple.  It's a great idea, apparently cuts down on transaction costs and gets huge support.

However, I've been reading that it's better to figure out the sum total of what one chooses to give and then donate to just a few orgnizations, making your dollars go further.  It's not as if the size of my donations, especially in the United States, will do anything significant on their own. I do know that $20 a year will provide food for one student for the school year at Gamru School in India. I know not a penny is going for anything other than supporting the school itself, as the website, chartibale giving site, etc. are all run by dedicated volunteers. But for the most part, that's not how the world goes.

Still, I love CO Gives Day, and pay no attention to the 'give more to fewer' advice. It's very empowering, at least for me, to make a list of organizations I want to support and then go through the list on line and give , easily and smoothly, to non-profits who are meaningful to me. So, if you're near your computer, pull out the credit card and make yourself feel good.

I'm feeling really good, because I went on-line a couple of days ago, made my donations early, and am just waiting to see that they cleared today, the official day.

Speaking of giving, I didn't mean to give my personal cosmetics, such as they are, to anyone. I went to a health club yesterday morning and in my rush to leave for an appointment, left my cosmetics bag behind. Well, it's not been found. Gone. What would anyone want with my lipstick, foundation, dry skin cream, sun screen, gloss?  I don't know, because I surely wouldn't want someone's used lip gloss, but that's just me. Even worse, and I hate to admit it, these items are more expensive to replace than I want to admit. Guess my next donation is to products for me. Alas. Still glad to have given on CO Gives Day. Hope you are supporting whatever is important to you.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Happy Endings

Not sure yet if there is a happy ending to my fiscal cliff tale. But here's a true story to brighten your day and begin your week.

About a year ago at a Denver Pen Women's meeting, a woman whe prefers to remain nameless mentioned she had received an e-mail that had been passed on by someone about needing to find a home for a dog. (for the sake of an unjumbled narrative, I'll call our namesless friend Joy).
The e-mail listed a phone number for a friend who was helping the woman who needed help finding a place for her dog.The woman who owned the dog was losing her living space, so the dog needed to be placed quickly.

A bit puzzled by the e-mail for a dog placement, with no reference to the woman's needs, prompted Joy to call the given number on the e-mail for more information. Joy spoke with the woman who left her phone number, and shortly after the phone call, the friend brought the woman and the dog to Joy's house.

Long story short: the dog jumped up on the couch, put her head in Joy's lap, and sat quietly while the women chatted.
After a short conversation, Joy thought it would be fitting if the woman and her dog stayed with her for a while. Apparently the woman had lost her job because she could no longer see well enough to do the work. There was no-one in her immediate family able to help. So the woman, with poor vision at best, was headed for the cold winter streets. And with a call out for a home for the dog, the woman would head for the streets without her one safe companion.

Joy told the tale to the Denver Pen Women a few days after she had brought the woman and her dog home with her. She mentioned to us that the woman had no clothes, really nothing other than the dog. A few of us gave a few dollars to Joy so that she and the woman could shop for some shirts and whatever necessary. Joy assured us the woman was lovely, lovely but distraught. Turns out she couldn't see because she had cataracts. Through the winter days Joy helped the woman navigate the medical system and have cataract surgery.

Fast Forward. On Saturday, December 1st this year, Joy announced she had enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with the woman. A year ago, this woman was about to be just another body in a blanket on Denver's streets, looking for food or money. Today she's a working woman, renting a home with another woman, able to see the world and see her future.

Let's give a huge shoutout to friend who doesn't want to be named because she doesn't feel she should be praised for just doing the right thing. And here's another shoutout to all those people quietly changing the world, people who don't feel they need to be acknowledged for 'just doing the right thing. They are all around us.


Friday, November 30, 2012

My Fiscal Cliff

Now I know what it's like to almost fall off a fiscal cliff. It's a long story, not worth listing all the details. It might be enough to say that there's been some changes in benefit options at the university where I worked, so I had to make some changes within the overall packet offered or choose another plan entirely. I stuck with the organization (shall remain nameless, but it's the big U. retirement fund).
All sorts of paperwork had to filled out; Roscoe had to sign ERISA papers, the Human Resources office had to sign off on my official retirement date, notary signatures. If you know the drill, you know the wads of papers necessary to make a simple change.

Finally got all the papers signed, and sent them off  so changes could be made - again, these are changes within one system.  On Tuesday, I find I have a voice mail from someone at the corporation. "Here's the number.  Call back as soon as you can."  I call twice and leave voice mail messages. No response. I go on-line to my account, and see that my account is down - way down. Almost 2/3 of my hard-earned money and University investment gone. I am officially poor, and will have nothing to leave to my sons. I make phone calls to several people, and get no responses.

I call again yesterday (Thursday) and finally get a human voice. Problem is that I've heard the recorded message so often I think I'm listening to a recording so begin my rant and hear a human say, "This is XXX speaking, it is not a recording. But the conversation may be recorded."  Swell. Nice way to start off. I have to remind myself I am the person with the problem. Offense, not defense.
I go through the drill, he takes many minutes pulling up my accounts, while simultaneously assuring me that my money isn't lost, the transfer is 'just between buildings.'  I suspect in my head that 'between buildings' means in some sluggish cyber-space, but I picture someone shuffling a couple of envelopes from Main Street to Colfax.

I'm assured my money will show up on line by Monday. Seriously. I'm also reassured that I'm not the only one who has had problems with the way they do these transfers. Even told of people with hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars being absolutely shocked and awed to look on line to see
hundreds of thousands of dollars missing. I suddenly realize that this person doesn't get my situation at all. If I had many millions of dollars and lost a few, it would be a heartbreak, a sobering, horrifying moment. But guess what? I would survive on a couple of million less. It's the people like me, with modest sums, who are thrown off the cliff by seeing that 2/3's of their savings have disappeared.

I am 99% sure I'll be back to you early next week to report that my dollars made their long, virtual journey. In the meantime, stay away from those fiscal cliffs. Enjoy the weekend. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Damon Runyan therapy

... It's the birthday of my late brother Shaun... or Shane, as some of the record books have it. Or Sully, as you may know him from some of my prose. A legend in his own time, and way beyond. "Shaun's my name; grinning's my game" was his slogan. He was bigger than life when he lived, when he was in a coma, and is still bigger than life in his death.

It's an odd and timely thing, I suppose, that I came across a psychiatric evaluation done on him fifty (50) years ago. Reality check on the eighteen year old/boy man.

Impulse Disorder and anti-social behavior. That's not new. That diagnosis is at least five years old, maybe even diagnosed at birth with that.  They forgot the already deeply set Alcoholism. Some brain talk, abnormalities in temporal lobe, maybe a result of heavy hits to the head...maybe whatever.
None of us has ever seen him have a convulsion, but he's put on anti-convulsant medication.
There's more.

But here's the one I love.

He is correctly oriented in all spheres (whatever that means) and has a marked speech mannerism (i.e. mumbling almost inaudibly in a charactured (sp?) Daymon Runyon fashion with a completely inexpressive face. This appears almost bizarre but there are presently no clear indications of a schizophrenic illness.

Daymon Runyon fashion? There's one for the DSM, whatever number it may be. Googled Daymon Runyon and here's some of what I found: First, it's Damon, dear Dr. Analysts. And, by the way, the word is caricaturized, not charactured.  And here is Damon, caricaturized in The New Yorker.

 Runyon’s distinctive idiom—half overheard, half cooked up—captured a slang that yearned to be fancy, like two-tone shoes.
There's more to say - lots more. Oh, we all knew that unexpressive face, and found it immensely more likeable than the teeth gritted, brows furrowed, enraged face. I think we even liked it more than the grinning face, because we were never sure if the joke was on us.  
We knew that mumble, half perfect prose, half outrageous bad guy slang.
  I don't know which doc wrote that phrase, but figure he was probably middle-older age, a man who loved the author/sportswriter/Guys and Dolls writer Damon Runyon. A therapist looking for truth in words and images, trying to figure out what it is that doesn't fit in a category or box. Not sure the analysis is worth a 1962 nickel, but it is interesting. 
We always thought of Shaun as a McMurphy character, an Irish tragic male, a man on the edge.
Here's another take on Shaun from my brother Garrett today.


My dead brother speaks in my sleep

waits for me in my pockets,

sits at the barstool of my heart

and guzzles my blood.
He speaks in tongues, smells hunted,
he weighs nothing, but cannot rest.

He ministers to me at midnight,

dresses my wounds when I am weary. 
And, my dead brother hides in my closets,
and occupies my unoccupied territories.


                           Happy Birthday, Shaun. Still bigger than life.




Boo, Bruce and Pat O'

From my fave,  Pat O'Driscoll. One of the smartest guys you'll ever meet.

Your post on Boo yesterday reminds me of a lyric from one of my most fave artists, Bruce Hornsby:

They say he's funny, got a loose screw
Stay away, he's a threat to you
Give him a break, what do we know
Might turn out we would like him so
We fear what we just don't know

(Ain't that the ever-lovin' truth?

And yes, no surprise that the unforgettable title of that song is "Sneaking Up on Boo Radley," and it ends with this WONDERFUL closing chorus:)

They say he's crazy, they say he's gone
We play our tricks, make up funny songs
Down the street, walking sadly
My little sister, loves him madly
Feeling like the Man From Gladly
Sneaking up on Boo Radley

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Probability of Boo Radley

After pounding out my post yesterday, I took a walk and met friend Ginia Paige for a cup of coffee. Her daughter Shannon was buying her first house yesterday and new car today. Rites of passage all over the place. Describing the various places Shannon had thought about buying, Ginia said of one house, "I don't know. The neighbor just reminded me of Boo Radley. Glad she didn't go for that."

What are the chances that I would post on the values of literature, mention To Kill a Mockingbird, and an hour later have someone describe a potential neighbor as Boo Radley? And I would know exactly what she meant? Nate Silver could probably explain the probability to me, but I'll just take it as serendipity. 

Speaking of probability, what are my chances of winning the mega-millions power ball payout? Zero. Need a ticket to be part of the stats, and I don't have one. I'm always stunned by the number of dreams riding on those $2 tickets. So not wanting to have a dream deferred, it's easier not to have one of such magnitude. Here's the part where I could talk about Shirley Jackson's Lottery, but I'll take a pass.
The first lottery ticket I ever had (at least I think it was a lottery ticket) came from the President's Office at the University of Hartford. Steve Trachtenberg sent everyone (or at least faculty) a birthday card and a lottery ticket on the appropriate day. That's my memory, anyway. We all loved it, and loved the creative impulse behind the short-lived tradition.

Trying to stay away from the fiscal cliff during the holiday season. I don't think anyone is going to fall off, and I'm not willing to put even $2 on who will win what cut or increase what revenue. Let the pundits pick those bones apart.

Only bet I'd make today is that most of you have thought of someone as Boo Radley-like in your past.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What Are You Reading?

Went to a wonderful book club event last night where Jacquie St. Joan talked about her book, My Sisters Made of Light. The book is about honor killings, family, traditions in Pakistan; it's fiction but based on fact. Reading a list of facts is one way to learn about things like honor killings; feeling the fact and fallout of an honor killing through a story is another. For me, an unreformed, unrepentant Lit. teacher from the last century, I've always believed that there is far more truth to be found in fiction than in facts, a grander, higher truth, if you will.

It took me a while, but I did come to an understanding that the Bible is full of truth, one of the greatest stories ever told, even if the facts aren't always straight up. But this weekend, I realized that I'm way out of style. According to a non-fiction article in the NYT,  the College Board head and a team of folks more savvy than I are making sure that fiction doesn't show up too often in the core curriculum in schools. Precise in their numbers, the report suggests that by grade 4, half (50%) of the reading will be non-fiction; by 12th grade, schools better make sure that 70% of the reading is non-fiction.

I have nothing against non-fiction. I read it, write it, blog, think in non-fiction ways. I, too, speak in prose. But my world without fiction? I don't know about you, but reading Shirley Jackson's The Lottery gave me something to think about...and I'm still thinking. Now it's The Hunger Games.
Oh, I certainly learned a few  lessons and pondered the world through To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye. Each time I read The Great Gatsby I learn something new...and King Lear...and Antigone...and Othello and The Bluest Eye, and, and, and... From the Nancy Drew mysteries right on through the decades I keep learning from fiction.
 An accurate desciption of the acid burns on the face of a fictional, but surely representational, girl who looked askance at a man? Injustice? The dishonor of honor killings? I get it.

In fact, I was thinking about Antigone just last night as an offshoot of the discussion of sharia law. I'm not suggesting that the  fiction that deepened my understanding of truth, love, ethics, moral capacity should be the same fiction students are reading today.  But suggesting there's less value in fiction than non-fiction, setting a national standard to make sure only 30% of reading in the senior year of high school is fiction. My, my, my cynical self says, 'how will these students ever figure out how to write that college essay or compose a resume? Try separating the wheat from the chaff.

Ask me what I remember from chapter 8 of the U.S. History text. What about you? Textbook non-fiction that pleases everyone, offends no-one, and plays it utterly safe as a way to learn? Bland on bland never worked for me. And, as some of my more seasoned friends might say, 'Who's to say that the history books don't contain some fiction? Who are the Great Deciders on this national standard?'

It's true - I could have spent a tad more time on reading maps, learning how to get from a to z in the most efficent, safe way. I could have spent more time memorizing the names and relations of Henry's wives, could have gotten the genus, species, phylum taxonomy better committed to memory. But I can google that. I did happen to commit to memory that Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated and the world was off to war. I memorized some maps, but think I would have learned a whole lot more about power and changing maps if we had fictionalized some of those situations and sat around a large table pretending to be the conquerors deciding who gets which slice of the geographical  pie. 

And for the back to the core, non-fiction team, have you thought about who and what has turned young people back to reading - and loving to read - in the last decade?

 Just ask J.K . Rowling or the fictional Harry Potter. Eliminate Harry Potter books from the experience of young children and imagine how many avid readers would be lost. Here's a Harry Potter example.
Talking to ten-year old Emma in CT, somehow we got onto the topic of witchhunts in the early days of CT. She said, "I wonder why people were so paranoid back then?"
             Me:     "How do you know the word 'paranoid'?"
             Emma:  Harry Potter, of course.

How about just a tiny bow to fiction?

That's my non-fiction rant for the morning. Yes, I've read/skimmed the non-fiction - allegedly - newspapers this morning. Just asking for at least equal treatment.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Hope it was a fruitful, thankful weekend for everyone. Today’s guest post is from Christy Bailey, a talented and energetic woman whom I met at Lighthouse Writers. I love her way with words, whether spoken or written, and think you will also.
Mary Oliver asked us all what we are going to do with our one wild and wondrous life. Here's one answer for Mary.

"We all make different choices in life, and while no one path is better than another, I'm grateful for the life I've led, not always what I envisioned, not always easy, not always socially acceptable, but always rewarding in the ways I've come to value most.

At 45, I don't have a spouse or children, don't own a house or have much of a retirement account, don't have a big title or salary or even a benefits package, but I've traveled to 19 countries, resided in 12 U.S. cities, worked in a pub outside of London, served in the Peace Corps, run two marathons and five half marathons, completed five triathlons (sprint distance), hiked and snowshoed in more national and state parks than I can count, climbed three fourteeners (peaks above 14,000 feet) (two in one day), soaked in three of Colorado's natural hot springs as well as one in southern Bolivia, earned my MBA and MFA, edited a magazine for stroke survivors and their caregivers, and taught some form of writing to hospitalized children, homeless youth and now college students.

I've witnessed an active volcano, stood atop Machu Picchu, wandered through ancient ruins, saw original artworks in museums around the world, and encountered in their natural habitat a variety of wildlife including monkeys, sloth, an anteater, toucans, anaconda, pink dolphins, llamas, alpaca, capybara, flamingoes, whales, big horn sheep, moose, elk, and a mountain goat.

I've mourned the loss of a friend to a drunk driver and another to ovarian cancer and the brother of a friend to suicide and from these tragedies I've learned that life is short and must be lived fully and I've done just that.

I've lost my hair and journeyed to acceptance and I've written a 300+-page manuscript about it and through the experience have found my purpose in life: to create a world where it's ok to be hairless. And best of all is that I've experienced much of this with you, my friends and family, and these adventures not only shaped who I am today but have bonded us in ways that cannot be broken by distance or even time. And so during this season of gratitude, I am thankful for the gift of life and for you, the people who make it worth living."

Oh, and Christiy managed to get all her papers graded at the end of this semester, even while going through a new round of chemo for some aggressive breast cancer.
Christy Bailey

Friday, November 23, 2012

Desert - Winter Pilgrim

Still feeling the Thanksgiving love from and for family and friends. Full of gratitude for all of it, and grateful for phone, e-mail, texts that keep those far away closely connected.
Having done just fine in the dessert category yesterday, thought I'd eliminate an 's' and catch up with Winter Pilgrim, Ann Sieben. She's been on the path in South American for a couple of months now and is still determined to walk her way to Mexico City. From what I can tell, it's been a different kind of pilgrimmage, lots of long, isolated walks and those boots of hers have pounded more miles than most of us will walk in a lifetime. But it is heartwarming to learn that, as always, people are generous, kind and caring. Seems as if the fishermen of the coast are keeping her safe and well-fed.
So here's an update from the field and a brief description of the route she's on.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Day 70 How do you cross the Atacama Desert?

How do you cross the Atacama Desert?
(a) very quickly
(b) with as much water as you can carry
(c) by the foggy coast
(d) all of the above

Score well? The distances between the fishing shacks has thinned northward as forewarned, and the dunes are higher, the sand finer, the vegetation gone completely, and, new to the list of challenges, precipices, impassable ones. The high coastal cliffs have foreced me three times to jump in the beater pickups among the fishermens' catch and get rides around the impassable parts to the next collection of shacks. The fishermen for sure admire my adventure, but when it's just not possible to pass along the coast, and there are absolutely no villages or hamlets, or even lone gas stations along the interior highway, hitching a ride is the only way they'll let me continue. Sad for me, but reasonable. I've shortened the pilgrimage by about 120 kilometers because of this, and there might be a little more to come.

Consequently, I've taken to carrying 3 liters of water and walking well past the daily marathon target 8 of the last 11 days. Still, I'm enjoying the long walk along the beach. Soon enough, I'll be at the border and head interior to Lake Titicaca and Cuzco (for Christmas).

I don't recognize many of the fish I've been eating, being an East Coast girl, but the fishermen do a fine job preparing evening meals over hot embers of driftwood. There's an interesting monovalve mollusc in the mix, called lapa here, that's particularly tasty, along the lines of the meat of crab claws, and boiled, roasted, or batter-dipped and fried, is a delectable repast, sand and all.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
(National Geographic on the Atacama Desert)
Parts of Chile's Atacama Desert haven't seen a drop of rain since recordkeeping began. Somehow, more than a million people squeeze life from this parched land.

Stretching 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from Peru's southern border into northern Chile, the Atacama Desert rises from a thin coastal shelf to the pampas—virtually lifeless plains that dip down to river gorges layered with mineral sediments from the Andes. The pampas bevel up to the altiplano, the foothills of the Andes, where alluvial salt pans give way to lofty white-capped volcanoes that march along the continental divide, reaching 20,000 feet (6,000 meters).
At its center, a place climatologists call absolute desert, the Atacama is known as the driest place on Earth. There are sterile, intimidating stretches where rain has never been recorded, at least as long as humans have measured it. You won't see a blade of grass or cactus stump, not a lizard, not a gnat. But you will see the remains of most everything left behind. The desert may be a heartless killer, but it's a sympathetic conservator. Without moisture, nothing rots. Everything turns into artifacts. Even little children.
It is a shock then to learn that more than a million people live in the Atacama today. They crowd into coastal cities, mining compounds, fishing villages, and oasis towns. International teams of astronomers—perched in observatories on the Atacama's coastal range—probe the cosmos through perfectly clear skies. Determined farmers in the far north grow olives, tomatoes, and cucumbers with drip-irrigation systems, culling scarce water from aquifers. In the altiplano, the descendants of the region's pre-Columbian natives (mostly Aymara and Atacama Indians) herd llamas and alpacas and grow crops with water from snowmelt streams.
Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Digging with Gratitude

My heart opened with sheer glee this morning as I watched eleven deer running across the Great Lawn Park, prancing, gracefully dipping in the small stream and out again, off to somewhere else.

It's a minor miracle, my being alive and healthy this Thanksgiving, so I am off to give gratitude for a couple of days. Gratitude for the abundance of love in my life. So much love.

So, a couple of quotes. The Faulker quote from the Lighthouse Writers newsletter. No better place to find a good quote than Lighthouse, so here it is.

Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced
and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.
—William Faulkner
                                                    Let us all go off to produce and discharge.
“If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you,  that would suffice.” — Meister Eckhart

                                                      Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And here's to the past, the ancestors who brought us all from afar to the place we are now.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dust Bowled

Watched Part Two of The Dust Bowl last night. No, not a football game, the real Dust Bowl, as presented by Ken Burns. The first part dragged, for me, but not part 2. Ken Burns has the power to pull me in, push me out from sheer boredom and then suck me back. The vacillation between boredom and fascination is different with each series. But I'd give Part 2 an unqualified thumbs up.

It's not a pretty thumbs up, all that dust and dirt pounding down on farms, houses and people. Lots of suffering and death. Those dust clouds reminded me of scenes from the tsuanami in Japan. Huge, black rolling madness overtaking the land. It's a PBS series, so it will show up several more times. If you didn't watch, get yourself to do so. You'll be bowled over by the dust also.

Having also gotten caught up in Oliver Stone's History of the US for two shows, I'm beginning to feel like an entitled brat. How did those of us around now get to be born into such relatively easy times? I know, times aren't good for everyone, but looking back on the path others travelled to get us here, we sure are on easy street. Living the Dream. Everyday.

Speaking of the past, retreating ever so far backwards, I read this morning that Great Apes have mid-life crises similar to the ones we have. Maybe it's just genetics, not the fact that we have so much stress that lead to the sports car, the affairs, the new breasts, the new whatever is au current. Just in the genes. I'm not sure those folks living through the Dust Bowl years had time for mid-life crises. They at least had an excuse. But us?

That's the disconnected news, tuning up for a week of gratitude.


Monday, November 19, 2012

A Brief for the Defense

Poet (and my brother) Garrett Phelan recently sent me a copy of this poem by Jack Gilbert, noting that it reminded him of Mary Oliver's Why I Wake Early (posted last week).
 Jack Gilbert died five days ago and left behind some stunning poetry for us. He had his six months of fame, as he said, when he was won the Yale Young Poet award. But he kept writing after that period, garnered himself some awards and left us some poetic words to live by.

Brief for the Defense provides a solid framework for those days when we get stuck in 'Oh, the Woe that is in the World.'  The world is indeed full of woe, but that should not/does not deny our laughter. So many lines in the poem to love, such a call for a strong defense of laughter and love. In spite of.... We can do without pleasure, but not delight. 
Thanks, Jack. We need this.

A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered caf├ęs and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

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