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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Friday, November 16, 2012

Start Me Up

First, a big shoutout for beloved friend Sarika Singh in Dharmasala. Yesterday/today (the 16th), Sarika greeted Nobel Peace prize winner Aung San Sui Kyi in India in a ceremony at Lady Shri Ram College. Sarika presented Aung San with a painting of the White Tara, a favorite of both women. Two notable alums of the Lady Shri Ram College. Two women who have changed the world, from a school that has changed the world.

Two of my favorite women in the world together. I feel connected through Sarika to the whole event. Feeling even more nostalgia and somewhat sad that we aren't going to Dharmasala to visit this year.
But it's a sadness wrapped in joy, as I know that a group for DU will be going and carrying on the tradition. But there is joy that I have that life-changing experience with Sarika and Lochoe tucked away.  Beautiful.

Speaking of sadness, watching Crossfire Hurricane last night I had a similar sort of sadness wrapped in joy feeling (maybe it's just a feeling going around, with no free flu shots to prevent it). I love the Rolling Stones. Fifty years of music, fifty years of  I Can't Get No Satisfaction. If I were still on a Call Me rif today, I'd say the Stones are Call Me Survivors. Not maybe. Really.

All those years, all that madness, decadence, bad boy performances. True, there were the ugly days, the days of Altamont, the days where going to a concert was code for going to a riot. Almost lost myself on the way to my engagement dancing to 'I Can't Get No...' and that was just a jukebox playing in Provincetown MA.
I never remember sitting down at a Stones concert.  Mick would start us up and off the crowd would go. Did my first Thanksgiving Day Race in Manchester CT in a Stones shirt. Can't remember a party without the Rolling Stones. Even have fond memories of a Jumping Jack Flash skit in a class, Hartford Ct, with Tom Smith. How can you not love the guys who put the music first for fifty years, the guys who knocked decadence on its head and lived to tell the story?

So, where's the sadness? Not for days gone by or the knowledge that I'll never be that young again. Sadness for my dearest friend, soul seeker, soul buddy Tom Smith. There wasn't a song on Crossfire that I haven't danced with Tom. And many more. So many good times, so much sweetness, raucous laughter, and deep love. It's been several years now that Tom has been in a home. It's a good five years since Tom has recognized me, several years that he hasn't recognized his wife Shelley, Jessie, Ian or Max.  The man who was knighted more than fifty years ago by friends, students, colleagues as  tied with Geoffrey Chaucer as 'World's Best Storyteller' was slowly taken by early Alzhiemer's. My sadness is that Tom no longer shares all the memories, no longer feels the love and the pure joy of the days when we all thought we could dance and laugh our ways out of sadness.
Still want to have a last dance with Tom.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why I Wake Early

Was this a final good-bye or a dress rehearsal? To my left, several dozen ducks sat, feather to feather, in the pond. No movement at all, not a ripple in the water, not a duck re-aligning itself. Freeze-framed perhaps. All in order, as if waiting for the photographer to shoot.

Up above, an air show coming from all sides - straight lines, symmetrical and asymmetrical, fancy, or simple. Surely, National Geographic has set this all up for an end of fall look at nature. But no-one else was there. Somehow, I had gotten a free show for the dress rehearsal. Call this a four-star review.

And homage to Mary Oliver, who is one of the reasons why I wake early.

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

In happiness and kindness I start my day. Actually, I start a bit bewildered also. Looked at yesterday's post and can't figure out how it shows up as it does. Supposed to be a Call Me Maybe youtube video about Moby Dick. That's yesterday's technology; this is today's start in happiness and kindness.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Call Me Ishmael

Call Me Ishmael. Long ago, 161 years to be exact, Herman Melville introduced us to Ishmael and the great white whale. Moby Dick. Still an American classic. Definitely in the top ten of novel beginnings.

Call Me Maybe. No Ishmaels today. Lots of Maybe.
Sad to admit, several degrees in English in my back pocket, I never finished Moby Dick. I used to joke that should be my epitaph. But I've not finished so many other books, papers, projects, articles that I figured such an epitaph could only be "I never finished so many things."
I'm over all that. Over all of the epitaph stuff, with the exception of promising myself every year that I will read/re-read Moby Dick. Call Me Persistently Optimistic.

Speaking of Call Me....Do you think those Men of Intelligence - men strategizing wars and ways out of war, the spies who come in from the cold in Tampa are saying 'Call Me Stupid"?

If not, they should be. Maybe it was Anderson Cooper who said last night, "this is like a Greek tragedy without a hero." 

And what about "Call Me Stupid Also" husband-surgeon of Jill and her twin sister?   Don't know about you, but I wouldn't want his scalpel splitting open my anesthesized body these days. Think he might have some other things on his mind? 

Just don't call any of the players central intelligency.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Nuns on the Bus

There is room for everyone on the bus and no need to throw anyone under the bus. That was the consensus of the ecumenical and eclectic group gathered in front of Senator Michael Bennett's office this morning to hear from the Nuns on the Bus and local representatives of the people. Sister Simone Campbell, director of Network, somewhat high ranking Nun on the Bus, spoke this morning. She's the same legal sister/nun who spoke at the Democratic National Convention and went one-on-one with Paul Ryan to explain to him that his budget proposal was immoral. Yep, Immoral. Her pitch was of the 'as a good and practicing Catholic, how can you propose and support a budget that keeps the poor impoverished?' variety. And she knows her numbers. Looking for a fair budget offering a hand up, not a handout. That's a moral budget.

It was a powerful rally this morning, a rally with speakers who got to the point and stayed there, but didn't stay too long. Smart. Sensible. Fact-based concepts. Everyone a believer that the government of the people is meant to help all the people. Believers that a budget is a moral document, a document that puts a stamp of approval on one goal and not another. A document that defends spending money on x, but not y. It's in the numbers. A call and response meeting. Representatives from many, many faith groups and non-faith based groups. Bill Calhoun spoke with passion. Anna Koop from the Loretto Sisters was on hand.

Brisk air, brief comments, bountiful hopes. Almost every speaker emphasized the fact that most people are not looking for a handout, but a hand up. What difference would it make if people believed that support systems of all kinds and the government offices were offering a handup instead of a handout?  Can't get away with calling a hand up an entitlement; a hand up is what makes a democracy.  I'm a strong believer in free speech, but wouldn't mind if the term 'handout' were eliminated. Change a word; Change a mind. Have to love the Nuns on the Bus.

(for those of you not acquainted with the culture of nuns, here's my totally unqualified personal picture)
From my father's perspective nuns were the teachers who rapped your knuckles with the ruler. Hard raps and many of them. I grew up with a more nuanced perspective: they were the wicked penguins of the Church, admonishing me to stop talking and laughing during mass. But they were also the people who helped the very poor in the surrounding neighborhoods. Then they became the women helping the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised around the world. After Vatican Two, many of them threw off their habits and walked away.  Got PhD's, got married, had children. Others stayed in the field, offering a hand up to those in need. Sister Pauline was one of those.

The sisters, regardless of whether they stayed on or left,  kept the faith. I've never met a nun or ex-nun who doesn't seem to have social justice in her epigenetic system. It's an irony of the nuns' worlds: they don't reproduce, don't have babies. But they pass along the social justice trait to those they encounter. Power. Staying Power and stealth.

When the good sisters finally caught the Pope's attention and concern, it was clear they were on to something.  Maybe it was just the new mantle, new branding that made him suspicious. The Leadership Conference of Nuns? Who put Leadership and Nuns in the same title? Turns out, the Vatican didn't like that Leadership Conference of Nuns, the nuns who aren't so sure they support the aging doctrine of the best of all the old boys' networks. The Vatican immediately sent the boys out to reform the Leadership Council.  Guess what? It didn't work. Sister Simone Campbell and her sister believers took to the road to deliver their message and their support for a fair budget.

Most of the sisters in the trenches are getting older and there aren't many younger women joining. Someday the nuns will be a footnote in a book on church history or fodder for dissertations. But my money is on not a one of them going gently into the good night. They will each be fighting the good fight to the bitter and blissful end, raging against any dimming of the justice light.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Power Meets Power

You'd think all the good news about the elections - demographics as destiny, women still own our bodies, Citizens United couldn't buy it, marriage is about love, not gender - would be enough to keep me satisfied and away from the media for just a couple of days. But there's always something I follow right into a black hole of the ridiculous.

Yesterday it was David Petraeus. Well, not actually David Petraeus, but the women of David. Bombshell. Chick No. 1 is so good looking, so athletic, so military and so, so into doing things on a lark that we think we can actually understand how the relationship developed between them. After all, this was Afghanistan. What else is one to do after the lights go down? Simple, easy seduction on both sides. Power meets Power. Aphrodisiac squared.
But then the loony tunes part begins. Super hot Chick No. 1, feeling a little insecure, a tad worried that she's going to be replaced by even sexier, super hot chick 2 throws out a threat. Bitch slapping of the highest order. Super Hot Chick 1 to Super hot Chick 2: You lost. Now get lost. Or. . .

Think we have a plot going here.

And then, as if it were the Mad Men, Fifties world, out come the photos of the beloved, supportive, family-believing, faithfully married for 38 years wife. Age-appropriate wife. Holly.

Not a super hot chick. Silence. Loud silence as  the photos are revealed.
Even the local paper this morning has the photo from the past of supportive wife standing next to super hot chick No. 2. I flash to Elizabeth Edwards. Not quite dowdy, but.... And the cancer thing. What's a good-looking ambitious man to do? Power needs Power.

Surely the Petraeus scandal ranks a bit higher on the seduction scale than the Edwards' scandals de jour. What is one excessively coiffed man with many secrets of his own compared to the excessively medaled man with the secrets of the country on his computer?

Back to Holly. On the one hand, we sort of like that old-fashioned Holly Petraeus look - she's not going to get into a doubleton or a menage a trois and give away intelligence secrets. Chicks 1 and 2 look as if they could easily trade one secret for a better one, or even make up a secret. Yet, yet...the elephant in the room, at least the few places I was yesterday, was the word dowdy. Holly. So fifties, so pre-feminist, so way back stereotypical that our plot sours. Someone finally says it: Why did she let herself go, let herself become so dowdy? How could he not fall for Hot Chick 1?

In the meantime,  we've spent millions, developed hundreds of classes, trained therapists to help girls feel good about themselves as they are, to feel good about and good in their bodies. That's what we say, but what do we really think? What flashes through our minds uncensored? How are we doing, really doing, on that body-image thing?

It's an odd connection, but it's Junot Diaz who has gotten me thinking this way. I don't necessarily want to admit that the 'dowdy' word - and all the baggage that comes with it - entered my mind. But it did. Turns out the real question has nothing to do with compromised computers, but with the thoughts and images that sit in silence in our heads. With the least provocation, those images are unsilenced.
It's about imaging, stereotyping, and all the generational, cultural muck beneath the surface. I can stop those thoughts, cover them up, deconstruct or reconstruct, stuff them back almost into unthought. But not quite.

If that's all a bit scrambled, that's probably as it should be. Late last night I wondered what response, if any, I might have had to the Petraeus thing if I hadn't heard Junot Diaz speak Saturday night. Diaz talked a fair amount about sex, violence and cultural silence. Spoke about images - i.e. the proud 'machismo man' image and what really lies behind such images.
There was more, of course. I probably should have stuck with the powerful messages about art, the power of words, the difference between a writer and an artist, and gone home uplifted. There's no art at all in my telling of the Petraeus gossip. But pure art in Diaz provoking us to think about cultural images and cultural silence.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Too Much Information

Getting old isn't one of those things I'm crazy about. This morning, about 6:30, bundled in my puffy jacket, a hat and gloves I headed out to find the morning sun. Simultaneously, mini-groups of junior-highish looking students were walking my way. Not one of them had gloves on. Girls had their fingers scrunched in and up their sweater sleeves, a few boys allowed their fingers the freedom of rolling into a fist and sitting inside their sweatshirt sleeves. Not a glove, mitten, jacket to be seen anywhere. The young women in head scarves must have been thanking their religious traditions for keeping their ears warm.
You remember that age, those ages when being cool meant everything; being uncomfortable didn't matter. If Noah's ark had come floating down Monroe Street to pick up storm survivors, the Phelan brothers would have stuffed their bright yellow slickers under the bed and then headed out the door.
The rules of the street, the playground, the cool.
But I am free of all that. Being older, white hair creeping along the sides of my hat, no-one cares what I wear. Oh, a bathrobe and slippers might get a nod, but I could be in a gigantic, down-filled snowsuit and not a head would turn. Doesn't sound like much, but  it's one of the age advantages I see.

But back a day. Yesterday as I stood in line to get a prescription filled, a man suddenly screamed out PHENOBARBITOL and DILANTIN. Yes, I was in line impatiently waiting to pick up a prescription.
One of the pharmacy assistants was trying to move the line along, so she was getting a list of the meds people would be requesting once they got to the window. This way, or so I assume the thinking went, the prescription fillers could fill the prescriptions and have them ready almost immediately after the person checked in. Pleasing the customer or client, or whatever we are these days.

Think about it. Did I really need to know that the man standing next to me, apoplectic because he had forgotten his ID card, was in danger of having a seizure? Does knowledge bring responsibility? Was a heart attack looming, an artery clogging, blood thinning or clotting down the line?
Why should I know what drugs everyone in line needed? Did anyone need to know that I was picking up something that probably could be replaced by a diet full of fiber or that some nights I don't fall asleep easily? Did I  need to know who's anxious, who can't sleep at night, whose mood might flip if that little plastic container doesn't appear soon? Finally the eager-to-please assistant got called to some other duty. I'll trade five more minutes in line for less information.

On a non-whiny note, Junot Diaz comes to town tomorrow and I can't wait. Dinner, talk and a reading at Lighthouse.  Just a short way to go in This is How You Lose Her and I'll be all Diazed up for the events. Lighthouse is on a roll, and I'm glad to be part of it. Won't wear my snowsuit there - or ask who is on what meds.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Whiter than White

And it's not about politics, this whiter than white. White snow and white shirts only.
Still feeling guilty about the 70 degree weather in Denver, while people on the east coast have had both a tropical storm and an arctic storm in a week's worth of time. The romance is gone, no longer fun to snuggle under four blankets; by now the blankets scratch against the skin. Cold, snow, rain - ugh! And I'm putting sunblock on my face in the morning.

Nuns on the Bus will be in Denver Tuesday morning at MiCasa. What's not to love about a busload of nuns on the road campaigning for economic social justice? Strategic also, as many people think the end of
 the presidential campaign is the end of campaigning. No. Just the beginning.

Speaking of campaigning, I'm trying to collect money and donations for an incredible school in India. It's a school for the poorest of the poor. Most parents send their kids to this school because it's the only place they can get one decent meal a day. Without the meal, most of the 5-10 year olds would be working a construction site, carrying rocks, with their parents. I love the director and love the spirit of the little school. Magic happen there, all day, every day.  The DU Project Dharmasala group is heading to Dharmasala before Thanksgiving, so if you can think of a way to help oup, please do.

You can go to, click on the website and/or watch these videos. Wish I were on my way to India to spend some time at the school and visit Thangde Gatsal Studio with Sarika and Lochoe. There are many, many mysteries in India, but one of the major ones, to me, is how the poorest of people, with no electricity and certainly no array of cleaning products from Costco, keep their kids' white shirts whiter than any I've seen in the suburbs.
Enjoy the shorter video. It's a true picture of the school, the director and the teachers...and the beautiful children.  (This one is short enough to send on Twitter etc to friends if you so wish.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What Are You Going To Do?

Joyful, loud sounds from the air on this morning's walk. All those free-flying birds, heading south or hunkering down here, must be celebrating the election of Obama. After all, who cares more about the environment and clean air than they do? They must be warbling tunes, little calls and responses, repetitive refrains that claim the 'president's got our feathery little backs.' Environmental victory, we hope.

Cheers to Cheryl Curtis in CT who posted any detail of importance on Facebook last night. Cheers to my niece Sierra, who cast her first presidential vote in MA last night. Cheers to everyone who got out the vote, any vote. Cheers to FL, a state that thrives on keeping the suspension high, the tension aquiver. A shoutout to Nate Silver for keeping us sane throughout.

Now the other real test. The clocks have changed; it's dark by 6:00 at night. What are we going to do with all those hours that have been spent watching the news, the debates? What fillers will be posted on twitter, facebook, blogs? We officially have time on our hands, so how to put that time to good use? Read, meditate, watch reality shows, do all three simultaneously?  Timing is ironic - we have time on our side, but not the light.

As Mary Oliver asked, "What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?

Enjoy it.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How Many Messages?

62 e-mail messages appeared between last night's sleep and the early morning. Before looking, I figured there would be at least one message from Chico's with the latest sale on whatever showed up in the store last night, one healthy living tip by Dr. Andrew Weil, several messages that my friend Cheryl had posted messages on Facebook and the rest would be political. Dead on, with the exception of a Linked-in request.  And the two titles, "If you forward one message,"  and "If you read one message" each appeared twice. Several messaages from Barack.  62 deletes without reading by 7:30 a.m. Sad to say, I think life is going to be one big delete today. All for the good if the day ends with one big victory for the President.

Not a good day for reading the paper in print or on line. Trying to skip the political headline stories I looked at the fillers.

Good news: Chris Christie, one hundred concerts later, finally got recognition and a hug from Bruce Springsteen. Christie went home and wept with joy.

Bad news: Fifteen year old girl in Pakistan killed by her parents for looking at a boy. Mother threw acid on her.  From jail, the mother says, "She said she was sorry and would never do it again, but I had already thrown the acid. It is God's will that she died this way."
Enough for the fillers.

I was going to tell you a looong story about yesterday's adventure at the bank where I watched a short, rotund couple figure out how much money to take out of their account.
 Banker says, "$249.69 in the account."
Male says, "Ok, young man, you went to college. $80 will be taken from that account today from xxx company. How much do I have left?"
"$169.69, sir" is the reply.
Man looks at female companion. "I want to go to Zaidy's (deli in Cherry Creek) for lunch and then out to dinner. How much do you have?"
"I just have some change in my pocket, but we'll need that for parking." says the woman.
"Hey buddy, just leave $20 in the account, and I'll take the rest."

That's a lot of pastrami, bagel and schmear, don't you think? That's the short version.
Looking for a happy ending tonight.
End of message.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Stalking and Stealing

I know it's not so healthy to scroll through Facebook early in the morning, but I did so anyway. And found myself some great satisfaction after seeing Andea Dupree's (Andrea of Lighthouse Writers fame) comment about stalking Nate Silver. Several other comments from Nate stalkers. Just stalked him myself before stalking Facebook. Guess I'm in good stalking company. With that said, I'll be so relieved when there is no more reason for Nate-stalking - at least until countdown to Final Four in college basketball.

One plea to everyone: Vote. Not another political word today.
Keeping my thoughts and hopes for the people ravished, short and long-term by the storm.

Guest Blogger - Garrett Phelan. His poem If God Steals Me appears in Wonderful.

If God steals me, will there be an Amber alert?
Do you become who steals you or who looks for you?
Amber prayer beads roll over the fingers of
restless Palestinians near the Damascus Gate.
Their fingers linger in my body? Late at night
when they are restless they inflict pain?
For every wound that I've inflicted there is a scar on me.
Where do I go for succor when they suppurate?
They say all wounds heal. That's what they say.
But on this night I know they know nothing.
If God steals me, who will I belong to?
You, God or the wound a theft creates?


Friday, November 2, 2012

Happy Endings

It's hard not to think about Staten Island, the New Jersey shore, CT shore and thousands of people stranded, homeless, broke, and broken. It's not just the short-term devastation, it's the long-time, long haul to a future that has no pretty pictures - no new home in the suburbs, no new land, no new anything for a long time coming. What's to be done? I heard one woman interviewed in the streets last night saying "Face it. we're the working/middle class. We're the hard-working people who keep going no matter what. Who's going to help us? They'll just say 'Oh, they know how to deal. They can take care of it themselves.' Well, we can't take care of this one. Who is going to help us?"

Early November brings chills, cold, winter greetings to that part of the country. Salt water in the subways, gas lines running long, winter clothes washed or burned away...What is to be done? Feeling hopeless and helpless to do anything, I determined to look for some glimmer of light, some uplifting story to help balance the sadness of the disaster. I've accomplished my goal for the day, and hope this anecdote uplifts your soul for the weekend. Doesn't take away the disaster, doesn't help anyone suffering from the storm. Better than a good story; it's a great one.  Heartwarming tale.

"You won't believe what happened to me yesterday," said Jan. She's one of the spirited ones at Dancing the Soul on Jersey St. in Denver. Ready for yoga and stretching, she rolled down her mat, found a strap, block and blanket.

No we won't. Just two days ago, we heard about Jan's midnight caller. She had received a call from a man at the utilities company, saying her power was out and he'd be glad to come in and fix it. Her neighbor had called the company, and as he was coming next door he'd be glad to fix hers now instead of waiting for the morning. She pulled on a robe, grabbed her little dog Susie, ran downstairs at midnight, opened the door, and let the strange man with a toolbox in. He fixed something and left. This story could have had a bad ending, very bad. But it's a good ending to a tale.

Jan's latest story: "Well, I never told anyone when I did this because you would have thought I was hopelessly naive. Early last summer, as I was walking Susie in the early, unheated part of the day, she pulled on her leash and headed towards a man on a bench. We chatted, he played with the dog, stood up and walked a way with us. He pointed to his house, three blocks away, where he lives with his mother. When we got to my townhouse I asked if he wanted to come in for coffee. I know, call me crazy. He came in, we walked through to the back patio, and then... "I hate to ask you this, but could you lend me some money? I just need to buy some tools so I can do a repair job. I will pay you back."

"You know how I am, big-hearted woman raised in the south. Always trusting people, so I wrote him a check for $50, told him I had to go to yoga at Dancing the Soul, so he left and I went to Stretch class. I never told a soul. Margie did tell me a strange man came into Dancing the Soul, looked around, said he knew Jan. But that was it. Figuring I'd look pretty foolish if I told anyone, I kept it all to myself," said Jan.

She continued, "Yesterday morning, with the utilities fiasco still on my mind, the doorbell rang. I opened the door, kept the storm door locked, and there stood the man with fifty dollars in his hand."

Great story. It's the truth. Sweet, oh so sweet. Take the tale with you. Share it if you wish.


Thursday, November 1, 2012


I can't remember a night as perfect for Halloween as last night in Denver. Warm sunlight in the late afternoon, crisp, clear air with a golden moon shining down.

But we got a better sense of a ghoulish Halloween, a trick or treating that turned a massive trick on New Jersey, New York, the CT shore and other places. No treats to be had with a crane dangling off a high building in NYC and a twisted, downed roller coaster at a NJ beach. Almost everyone I know now has power back on, and none of them has suffered damage. But thousands and thousands of others have, with houses ripped down, back ends cut off, flooding, destruction and despair. That's not even to mention the people still to be hauled from one hospital to another. I'm sure some finger pointing will come soon enough, but from what I can see most of the first responders and follow-up teams will deserve a year holiday, with pay, once the pressure decreases. No quick fixes here; lots of frustration coming up. Depressing and scary on Halloween night.

Back to Halloween. The takers were few in our neighborhood; maybe 30 kids at most. Of the thirty, I'd say almost half were large and unmasked...just a sweet smile and an open bag. The others had some fearsome masks and a few Lady GaGa types showed up. Slow, but nice.

On this morning's walk, going past the pristine, cleverly decorated homes on 6th Avenue I saw the remnants of Halloween on the ground. Tiny remnants, scrunched up papers in a variety of colors. All those crunched up wrappers are the same ones I crunched up and accidentally dropped walking from one house to the other long ago.  Other than Nerds, I want to know where all the new candy brands are. The candy brands have not changed since I was a trick-or-treater. No candy entrepreneurs, no creativity in candyland?

You know the colors and names - orange and yellow = Reese's peanut butter cups; brown and blue = snickers bars; rainbow colors = lifesavers; blue = almond joy; yellow or brown with colors = m7m's; shiny gold with red = twix; transparent with red = twizzlers. So it goes, with tootsie pops, tootsie rolls, heath bars, three musketeers, milky way. Same old brands, same old calories, probably same old sugar plus.

I still want to know what's new in candyland.