Thursday, October 31, 2013


Red Sox fans are celebrating their first World Series win at home in over 90 years. For the rest of us, there's All Hallows Eve, commonly referred to as Halloween, tonight. Children and other candy lovers will show up in bizarre costumes tonight. Now that there is a call for costumes to not be offensive to any group, we'll see who shows up and who doesn't. No beggars, no sluts, no ethnic group, no fat clowns. It might still be ok to be a ghost.
Then there is Day of the Dead, All Saints Day, All Souls Day. . .so many celebrations, so many people not really knowing what they are actually celebrating.

Off to buy some candy for tonight's tricksters. Had to eat the previously bought candy because it had nuts. Did my duty, had a two year supply of Reeses and Snickers in two days.
My goal is to celebrate all the above days. Hope you do.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Merging Books, Merging Titles

In case you missed this....(sent in an e-mail from David Kaslow).
In a Washington Post Invitational contest, readers were asked to combine the works of two authors, and to provide a suitable description of the merged book. The prizewinners:

 "Jane Eyre Jordan" - Plucky English orphan girl survives hardships to lead the Chicago Bulls to the NBA championship.

"Machiavelli's The Little Prince" - Antoine de Saint-Exupery's classic
children's tale as presented by Machiavelli. The whimsy of human nature is embodied in many delightful and intriguing characters, all of whom are executed.

 "Green Eggs and Hamlet" - Would you kill him in his bed? Thrust a dagger through his head? I would not, could not, kill the King. I could not do that evil thing. I would not wed this girl, you see. Now get her to a nunnery.

"Where's Walden?" - Alas, the challenge of locating Henry David Thoreau in each richly-detailed drawing loses its appeal when it quickly becomes clear that he is always in the woods.

"Catch-22 in the Rye" - Holden learns that if you're insane, you'll
probably flunk out of prep school, but if you're flunking out of prep
school, you're probably not insane.

 "2001: A Space Iliad" - The Hal 9000 computer wages an insane 10-year war against the Greeks after falling victim to the Y2K bug.

"Looking for Mr. Godot" - A young woman waits for Mr. Right to enter her life. She has a loooong wait.

"Lorna Dune" - An English farmer, Paul Atreides, falls for the daughter of a notorious rival clan, the Harkonnens, and pursues a career as a giant worm jockey in order to impress her.

"The Remains of the Day of the Jackal" - A formal English butler puts his loyalty to his employer above all else, until he is persuaded to join a
plot to assassinate Charles de Gaulle.

"The Invisible Man of La Mancha"- Don Quixote discovers a mysterious elixir, which renders him invisible. He proceeds to go on a mad rampage of corruption and terror, attacking innocent people in the streets and all the while singing "To Fight the Invisible Man!" until he is finally stopped by a windmill.

"Planet of the Grapes of Wrath" - Astronaut lands on mysterious planet only to discover that it is his very own home planet of Earth which has been taken over by the Joads, a race of dirt-poor corn farmers who miraculously developed rudimentary technology and regained the ability to speak after exposure to nuclear radiation.

"Paradise Lost in Space" - Satan, Moloch, and Belial are sentenced to spend eternity in a flying saucer with a goofy robot, an evil scientist, and two annoying children.

"The Exorstentialist" - Camus psychological thriller about a priest who
casts out a demon by convincing it that there's really no purpose to what it's doing.

"People need a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope and be free."   Nikos Kazantzakis

David Kaslow, Denver University Horn Professor Emeritus. Author, Living Dangerously with the Horn: Thoughts on Life and Art and With Aspirations High: Discussions and Exercises for Musicians (Birdalone Books)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

October endings

Last days of October running down. Cold, wet end-of-October leaves on the ground. Drizzle in the air. The bright New England red maple leaves covers the sidewalk around the corner. Some oak, aspen leaves mix it up, the shimmering beauty will last a day or two, and then.... brown. More brown. Fortunately for October, its last day will be filled with other primary colors, coming in costume down the streets. Nothing says New England like the end of October.  And no-one says October better than Robert Frost.


O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.
                            By Robert Frost 1874–1963

Monday, October 28, 2013

Familiar Demons

Gina Barreca is a great writer, full of wit and wisdom. She teaches at UConn and has articles and books galore. They Used to Call Me Snow White, but Then I Drifted is one of my favorites. I read this post quickly on on her FB page this morning and then went back for a second read. On the more careful reading, I realized that the phrase was  'familiar demons,' not 'family demons'. Wonderful what a reader can do to adjust the prose to her own projections.  A good read, either way. Pick your demons.
Gina Barreca
From a 2009 Psychology Today piece on depression, written by Kathleen McGowan, for which I was interviewed:" 'I really think of myself in those early days (during college) as somebody blindfolded, walking underneath an emotional piñata with a bat,' Barreca says now. A professor of English at the University of Connecticut, better mostly because she learned to stop torturing herself....Over time, with the help of a smart, committed therapist, she figured out how to step around emotional chaos rather than stir it up. Barreca rejects what she calls 'the narcissism of depression,' the mental habit of taking wretched feelings seriously and burrowing into them. Instead, she thinks of depression and sorrow as familiar demons who arrive as unwelcome visitors. They're nasty, and they wreck the place, but eventually they move on. Enduring them is part of life. 'The hardest thing in the world to learn is a sense of humility in the face of this, that these things are going to pass,' says Barreca. (Just in case you needed to hear this tonight.)


Friday, October 25, 2013

Multiple Realities

One of those pre-frost mornings. Almost frost, but not quite. A white dusting shines across the grass of the Great Lawn Park as the sun rises.
The tall yellow and brown grasses blow lazily under the pink-stained sky. The pond is still and dark, but must have shouted 'It's too cold to drop in here this morning, so not a bird, duck or flock of geese to be seen. I am alone.

Sirens, horns, sounds of emergency or disaster shock me out of my easy reverie. Somewhere, probably within a mile of where I stand, something bad is happening. A trip to the emergency room, a fire, car accident, truck overturned. The siren blasts and honking horns last for a few minutes, and disappear.

I stand between two realities signaling the beginning of a new day. Heading home towards a hot cup of coffee,  the sounds and the silence of my early morning walk remind me that everyday is a walk among multiple realities.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

When You Stay with a Thing

Following is an excerpt from the Fall edition of the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax, VA. The author is my brother Garrett.

by Garrett Phelan
I am not sure Frank Sinatra, Al Pacino, or Buddy
Rich would be considered by many as great
dharma teachers, but the dharma shows up in
strange places. Recently I have been moved by
their teachings.
I have stayed with mindfulness meditation for 15
years. The core of my practice is coming to
sangha: sitting meditation, gentle movements,
walking meditation, and sharing my practice
with loving speech and compassionate listening
as best I can, moment after moment, day after
day, month after month, year after year.

I have been thinking about that – “staying” with
meditation -- after reading an article in

Smithsonian Magazine, an interview with Al
Pacino. Pacino tells this story about being

invited by Frank Sinatra to his concert at
Carnegie Hall.

Buddy Rich, the drummer,
opened for Sinatra. Pacino had no idea who
Buddy Rich was and thought he’d have to suffer
through a boring opening set before Sinatra
came out.
“Well, Buddy Rich starts drumming and pretty

soon you think, is there more than one drum set

up there. Is there also a piano and a violin and a

cello? He’s sitting at this drum and it’s all

coming out of his drumsticks. And pretty soon

you’re mesmerized.

And he keeps it going and it’s like he’s got 60

drumsticks there and all this noise, all these

sounds. And then he just starts reducing them,

and reducing them, and pretty soon he’s just

hitting the cowbell with two sticks. Then you see

him hitting these wooden things and then

suddenly he’s hitting his two wooden sticks

together and then pretty soon he takes the sticks

up and we’re all like this (MIMING BEING ON


separates the sticks. And only silence is playing.

The entire audience is up, stood up, including

me, screaming. Screaming! Screaming! It’s as if

he had us hypnotized and it was over and he

leaves and the audience is stunned, and we’re

just sitting there exhausted and Sinatra comes

out and he looks at us and says, ‘Buddy Rich,’ he

says. ‘Interesting huh---When you stay with a

thing.’ “
Pacino’s story and Sinatra’s simple statement
resonated with me. Surprisingly, some of my old
negative story habits came up and I began to
think about all the things I wanted to do but
didn’t stay with because of fear or perceived
failure, or image and ego. But I was able to turn
that around to begin to look: at the passions,
loves, healthy, good things I have stayed with in
my life. I decided to reflect on what were those
right actions I stayed with.

My top five were my
marriage of 44 years, a lifetime of sports and
appreciating how my body works, teaching
teenagers for over 35 years, reading and writing
poetry, and mindfulness meditation. I realized all
of these practices were challenging for me and I
had many “failures” along the way with all of
these practices. But I stuck with them. I learned
from the “failures” and “mistakes” and I kept
practicing. I kept practicing these things because
something in me told me that these were worthy,
right actions. In each of these practices I was
transformed for the better at some point
regardless of how “successful” I felt.

 I learned,
after much suffering, that seeking to be
successful, well-known, respected, only got in
the way of the practices I had come to love.
I thought about the fifteen years I have stayed
with the sangha and the practice of mindfulness.

What I realized as I reflected on Sinatra’s
response to Rich’s performance and the
audience’s reaction: “Interesting huh—when you
stay with a thing” -- was that transformation
occurs when you stick with the sangha. When
you stay with the practice.
So these last 15 years of the practice of
meditation have taken me on a journey of
embracing my suffering, looking deeply at old
habits and responses, and becoming in touch
with the pain of my ancestors. It hasn’t always
been pleasant or easy. Transformation didn’t
come quickly. At times I thought I could never
change. But I stayed with it. One night recently
at Sun and Moon Sangha, I shared about my
anger and how it controlled me for most of my
life. Afterwards, a woman came up to me to
thank me for my sharing because her anger
controls her and she said, “It’s hard to believe
that you were ever angry.” Interesting---huh.
When you stay with a thing.

Fall 2013 The Newsletter of the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax Page 6


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Whose Character is this?

Lots of reading to do today, catching up with Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans by Dan Gaum and Visit from a Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.
Book club discussion tonight about Nine Lives and a visit, talk and workshop with Jennifer Egan at Lighthouse Writers tomorrow.

Having spent half my life or more in higher education, I still obsess over completing the assignments, contributing to the discussion, asking meaningful questions. That's all self-imposed. I'm always slightly envious of those people who can say, "Oh, I didn't finish, so don't spoil the ending," or "I was just to busy to read this month." I'd love to have that freedom, love to say, "'la de da, life just took over and I ran amok in nature and chick lit this month. I'll read Dostoevsky in the darkness of winter."  Not going to happen.

It never used to be a problem to read a couple of books simultaneously, but it's a little harder now. Chaucer, Kafka, Jane Austen, Yeats were easy enough to compartmentalize.
But that was graduate school. This is now. I have both 'required' books on Kindle, which means no easy page flipping and going back to check minor things. Nine Lives is about nine lives, a person a chapter, over and through the times in New Orleans after Hurricane Betsy through Hurricane Katrina.  Nine chapters about each of the characters and then chapters on each individual throughout the years.
Goon Squad is about a group of characters linked by the music business. Again, it's follow the bouncing ball to find various characters and their connections.

These aren't deep, profound in the old-fashioned way, books. But by the time I finish mixing and matching the characters along with the plot, something profound might emerge. If not profound, at least puzzling.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Memories are Made of This

Returned from the bounty and beauty of being with family and friends in Washington DC.
Note to school administrators and tourists: I know the cherry blossoms are special and that they are one of the driving forces that send people to  DC in the spring. Trade the blossoms for a trip in October. The sun is shining, the humidity is among the missing, the crowds are nowhere to be found, flowers still bloom and the green is deeper. No crowds. None. And I'm telling the truth. It may be that in a normal year, where the government, parks, monuments and workers are humming at a traditional pace none of this is true. But re-opening week was a real treat. Exhibits are still in place, grounds are open and people are smiling. No crowds. I'll be back next October for sure.

Walking, talking and eating were the common denominators in each half of the trip. Music also played an important piece in each half, as did poetry. My brother Garrett is learning the Irish pennywhistle; his wife Jane and Guido (the 36 year old parrot) sing. Food and drink are healthy, thoughtfully and lovingly prepared in this house. Both Garrett and Jane are 'brown shirts' in the Thich Nat Hanh tradition of Buddhism. Meditation and gratitude in abundance in this house.  Love shines everywhere.

The gathering at Tom and Kate's house on the other side of the city was also filled with music. Four undergrad college friends, Fred, David, Tom and Roscoe and three out of four of the wives (Kate, Roz, me) were part of the reunion. On Saturday the operas of Verdi and Wagner permeated the house, as NPR selected and played the Top 10 operas from the two men all afternoon. Tom and Fred played the cello and flute at night. I learned there is no topic that doesn't bring a poem to David's mind. Prodigious wordhoards in this reunion. Once again, food is thoughtfully, carefully prepared. Kate has everything under control, with Roz as her stand-by support. Love and light shine everywhere in this house also.

In six days, at two different homes, I might have had two food products that were processed - and each of those was at a restaurant, not a home. All that organic, local food clearly added depth to the wisdom already present.

Laughter rippled through both houses. So many memories and near-memories (not sure if this is true, but it's what I think I remember) bounced off the walls of both homes, so much mirth in the present.

Another set of memories wrapped in a week of love and affection. My gratitude cup is overflowing.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Failed Chemistry

In DC today and everything is back in business. Well, almost everything. Of course, none of the cafeterias or food courts in any of the museums are open. Twelve hours isn't exactly a lot of time to buy food and set up a kitchen - especially if those are all night time hours. But the museums are open and people are smiling. Until January, but that's another story.

Yesterday morning, 10:30, at the Denver airport, wasn't sure I'd be here. The same two spots showed up on the security screening device that always show up: one on the right shoulder and one near the pelvis. The last six times I've traveled by plane those spots came up, so I was in for the intermediate shakedown. This time, however, my hand failed me, and some random chemicals (so they say) caused a larger alarm to go off.

Buzz, buzz, now two attendants were escorting me so they could go over everything in my bags, same bags that made it through security first time around. Chemical testing of Ocean, my nasal spray. Insides of shoes pulled out and inspected. Then into the closed door room for complete body check. The guard assured me she wouldn't be too rough. I told her to be as rough as she wanted, just to be fast so I wouldn't miss the plane.  Questioned by several about the drugs I take. Figured they wouldn't know what turmeric was, so named that and beta glucan.  As no-one knew what they were, there seemed to be agreement that was the reason.  But the very last rubdown was on my feet. Horror! My damned feet failed. More buzzes, and more people. I was reminded to just answer the questions, and not ask any. A quick phone call to some superior. The explosive expert gave me an ok. Another body check, another thorough baggage check. Still nothing in the nasal spray. The ghost on the phone had apparently given permission for me to continue if every one of the checkers agreed I was ok.  Agreement. Free at last. I made some unnecessary comment. A TSA officer replied he didn't necessarily like going through all of this either, especially when he wasn't being paid.  Chagrin.

I would have understood it all better if I had failed the hand and foot test for coordination. Would have understood if I had failed that chart of elements that always shows up in a chemistry test or if I had gone down on an organic chem test. But the hand and foot chemicals test? Can't figure that one out.

Great to be in DC, the House of Dirty Business on my right and the world's largest phallus to my left. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Heading off to a vacation to visit family and friends in Washington DC. Appears I won't be going to the Smithsonian and lots of other places on the traditional DC journey. But I know I am in for a special time with Garrett and Jane and Roscoe's wonderful college friends. A long time ago it was that those guys were undergraduates at Carleton in cold, cold Minnesota, but the spirit and creativity still march forward.

Speaking of spirit and creativity, last night as my head hit the pillow I reviewed the day and realized there is something wrong with my Tuesdays.
Here's the schedule, ever so briefly. Early morning go for a walk, have breakfast, check e-mail and post on blog by 8:45.  Go to stretch class scheduled from 9:00 - 10:00.  Leave stretch class early and drive across town to writing workshop from 10:00 - 12:00.  Eat lunch, check e-mail, texts, and study bridge book. Go to bridge class from 1:15 - 3:30. Stop at store, get home by 4:30. Cancel plans to go to non-profit open house. Eat and pack. Go to History Colorado lecture on Denver Parks. There are variations to the schedule; sometimes it's the theatre or a musical event on Tuesday night, but there's always something. Thursday is a similar sort of day. Every other Thursday a teleconference call from 5:00 - 7:00 with one non-profit committee. Other days, other committees, or book club, or writing group or whatever. And there's always room for my writing group that doesn't write, but talks about writing. My favorite meeting of all.

So........where is the room for spirit and creativity? I feel like one of those over-programmed suburban kids. But I'm the one who managed to do the scheduling. It's usually the worst in fall. Long around August I get my 'back to school' nostalgic desires and find ways to get back to school. So I overbook in anticipation.  Long about half way (right now) I get the over-scheduled blues and start missing classes here and there. Guess that's why I'm always signing up for beginner-intermediate bridge. I never make it through one semester. 

Anyway, I'm going to take some time while away to figure out how to de-program myself and leave chunks of time free for spirit and creativity.
Back at you after my trip. Hope Washington is in a better place when I leave than it is right now.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Delight, not Pleasure

The group of men had pulled three tables together in the small Greek bakery on Colfax. Between sips of coffee, hand gestures, and laughs they never stopped speaking Greek.
We walked past them, by the bakery trays smelling of anise and honey, and sat under the television where a different group of men spoke Greek.
Once we were seated and had ordered the anise biscuits Nora reached into her bag and pulled out a tiny booklet of poems she had selected for me.
Nora Jacquez is a wise woman, very wise. She's taught literature, practiced law, published several bi-lingual books and has been a passionate activist for social justice for many decades. Hers is the heart that keeps on giving.

We spent the first part of our talk catching up on the activities of Sister Nazrene in Pakistan. Sister Nazrene, runs a school in Pakistan, with two other Sisters and a group of teachers. Sikh, Muslim, Catholic are the predominate religions of the young students. They also teach trades to some of the older women in town. Sister Nazrene was to be in Denver these past several weeks, but, at the last moment, was denied the right to travel. Apparently she was among the social activists who weren't able to travel from Pakistan these past weeks. Guess there was just too much positive Malala press in the west to let other Pakistani social activists join in the quest for freedom and education for women.

From there we spoke of the woe that is the United States these days, and made our way to the poetry. There, front and center of Nora's small collection, was A Brief for the Defense by Jack Gilbert. Took my breath away to receive one of my favorite poems from one of my favorite people.
We spent the rest of the afternoon talking about the lines from the poem. We centered on the italicized lines (my italics) and their significance to leading a good life. What does the poet mean when he says 'we can do without pleasure, but not delight.'
What do you think? Where do you find delight?

     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 cafés 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.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fountain of Youth

Drove into a rainbow at 8:00 this morning and back home again in pouring rain and hail for half an hour. Hard to predict what the rest of the day holds.

I think I found the secret to staying young over the weekend. After a certain age, when things get into a rather predictable pattern of meetings, classes, travel, writing, bring in a couple of children for a couple of days.  Afraid your body is withering, your mind wandering? Hanging around with a couple of kids who are bright, energetic, whimsical and strong-willed, and you'll find your body and mind abuzz. No stopping - other than for lunch - from 6:30 a.m. until dinner time. Just when you think it's time to sit back and relax, one of them will ask if you can hop up the stairs on one foot. The other will want to know the names of the planets, in order, by size. Can you name? Can you do?

No sitting back and letting either body or mind get flabby. Up and alert at all times. Are zoos good for animals? How many yards has Payton Manning thrown for touchdowns this year? Do you have tornados here? Is that cheese processed? Why would the government shut down parks? What freezes faster, hot or cold water? Can I try on all your scarves? I'll make a different style from each one. In science, we made environmental staplers from juice boxes, and the staplers can also shoot straws.

Emma and Colin, ages 11 and 9, got my mind and body going for three solid days and I'm feeling much the better for it. I'm not sure tutoring in school or assisting teachers is as effective a fountain of youth potion.  But hanging out with lively, imaginative young people surely is.

Question of the day? How to maintain that total 'being in the moment' mode without injections from the fountain of youth?


Friday, October 11, 2013

Peace Prize Organizations

So the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize this year. I have no arguments with such a laudatory organization, and am comforted in knowing that it exists.

But...there's always that 'but' with me - I just liked it a little more when people won that prize.  Not the European Union or the Organization for fill-in-the-blank, but real human individuals. It strikes me that we all need to be reminded that one person (or even three) can make a difference in the world. It's the old 'Be the change you want to see' attitude that seems to need some pumping up today, not major organizations of anything. People, real people, working in the trenches sometimes, deserve recognition. They deserve the Peace Prize, and we deserve the right to be reminded of the power of personal action.

 The award today brings me back to 2010 when the Supreme Court rolled back the restrictions on corporate political contributions. Corporations are not people, some of us chanted in our protests. But enough complaining. I am thankful the Organization is against chemical weapons.

But I am on to more joyful things. My two grandchildren and son Chris are flying in to Denver this morning, and my weekend with be focused on non-political, more joyous things. Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Eyes on the Prizes

Just a day ago, E.M. Forester's 'only connect' was on my mind. But it's another day, and in a still disconnected world, I want to share another perspective on how and why our little world turns as it does.  Lots of eyes on different prizes.

Republicans Shut Down Prefrontal Cortex

By Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker

09 October 13
The article below is satire. Andy Borowitz is an American comedian and New York Times-bestselling author who satirizes the news for his column, "The Borowitz Report."

n an escalation of the stalemate gripping Washington, House Republicans voted today to shut down the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls reasoning and impulses.

The resolution, which passed with heavy Tea Party support, calls for a partial shutdown of the brain, leaving the medulla and cerebellum, sometimes referred to as the "reptilian brain," up and running.

The Tea Party caucus cheered the passage of the bill, which was sponsored by Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who called the measure "long overdue."

House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) offered no timetable for restarting the prefrontal cortex, telling reporters, "It will most certainly remain shut down during any negotiations with the President. That's the only leverage we have."

Representative Bachmann agreed: "The President can go ahead and put a gun to our heads. There's nothing there."

While the G.O.P.'s decision to shut down the prefrontal cortex rattled Wall Street, the neuroscientist Davis Logsdon said it should be seen as little more than a symbolic vote, noting, "It's actually been shut down since the 2008 election."
-------------------------I'm sure my pre-frontal cortex is working as it's supposed to. What about yours?
Enough government politics for the day. Good news is that Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Well-deserved indeed. It's been a long time since a Canadian has won the prize, and made me wonder why Margaret Atwood has never won. But that's another story. Politics of another sort, I suspect.

Tomorrow is the big announcement for the Nobel Peace Prize. There's a lot of hype and marketing - branding, if you will - for Malala Yousafzai to win.
But there's another kind of Malala anti-hype going on. Apparently lots of Pakistanis think the whole shooting on the bus was arranged to give Pakistan a hero, that it was a western plot to focus attention on the inequities in Pakistan. AP reporter Kathy Gannon says, 'Many see Malala's international acclaim as a Western drama played out to heap more criticism on their country.'           
Just passing on the news.
Ah, politics.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Only Connect...

E.M. Forster
“Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its highest.    
 Live in fragments no longer”    
"Only connect..."
  “Oh yes, you have learned men who collect ... facts, and facts, and empires of facts. But which of them will rekindle the light within?”
                                                                                            E.M. Forester
I'm of one of the generations of graduate students in English who came to believe that two words, 'Only connect...' held the answers to all the philosophical questions rumbling in our minds and bodies. We yearned to not live in fragments, although most of us did. In fact, for many of us, mind and body, passion and prose, feeling and reason split and divided us from ourselves and others.  It was the phrase 'only connect' that kept us pulling the fragments together.
The last person to utter that phrase to me was Bill Zaranka, now provost emeritus at the University of Denver. It was after one long administrative meeting, and to this day I can't think of any other words more appropriate.
There was nothing else to be said. Those two words still contained the universe.
So it was with great pleasure this morning to read 'Invitation to a Dialogue' by Peter Schmidt in the NYT and see the quote from E.M. Forester's Howards End used in a plea to administrators and teachers to stop teaching to the tests, to teach beyond the facts. Forget the empire of facts only. Re-kindle passion.
Only connect. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Changing Perspectives

She walked out the front door of the huge house on Sixth Avenue. Off to high school, with a huge pack on her back. Long dark hair, hair that only teenagers can move from side to side with a flip of the head. Beautiful in the  way that only teenagers can be.
Tall and lean, she had brown leather over the knee boots. Then about a foot's length of thigh and the shortest of short skirts possible. Don't think she was going to Catholic school. She smiled and said hello as I walked by.

I was wearing long, baggy black pants, a heavy fleece, wool hat and gloves. Same street, different costumes. My first thought was "She must be freezing, but obviously fashion trumps nature at her age. Glad I'm not there any more."  Am I really glad I'm not there anymore? Something free and unfettered was she, not waking up and worrying about how the weather would affect her choice of clothing. I might be glad I'm not that age anymore, but I miss that wild abandonment, the joy of choosing something sassy instead of something weather appropriate.

The incident reminded me of a FB posting by my niece Sierra, now on an internship in Israel. She posted "So sick of these Israeli men hitting on me wherever I go."  To a person, her feminist, favorite aunties (including me) posted back, "Just enjoy it, you'll miss it when it stops" sorts of messages.
How very unfeminist of us. We've all been brutally offended by the hits from seemingly lecherous old men. Now being hit on, flirted with, commented to, for the most part, isn't part of the landscape.

It's a complicated world out there, especially when one's perceptions of the past keep changing.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Lobby Someone

The skies were dark and silent this morning until a large white bird came from nowhere, skidded across the pond and came to a stop. Suddenly, as if the grand swish of the white bird was a wake-up call, the skies produced a symphony. All sorts of sounds coming from above. I take it as a signal that I don't have to be out before 6:30 on these dark, cold mornings. If the birds aren't ready to signal the beginning of the day, then I have no obligation to be out humming before they are.

Talked to several people who have been furloughed by the government. All were happy to learn that they would be paid for their forced furloughs, but absolutely bewildered why they can't go back to work if they will be paid. Strange country we're in, where people want to do their jobs now, especially if they are getting paid and they can't. Instead, or so I am told, they get paid for not going to work. In the meantime, the work piles up, case after case, project after project, all backlogged for the future. More madness than I can understand. Time to lobby somebody.

On another note, just a week ago someone was telling me about going to Hobby Lobby in Denver (a national chain for people who are crafty, so I've not been in one) and asking for Hanukah  candles. "We have none, and don't plan on carrying them any time soon."  Hmmm....doesn't say Christian Hobby Lobby does it? My friend went to the manager and was told the same thing, "We don't carry Hanukah items."

And the good news: Small item in the NYT this weekend, saying Hobby Lobby will be carrying Hanukah candles this year in New York/New Jersey in some neighborhoods. Translation: we will sell Hanukah candles in Hobby Lobby areas with significant Jewish populations.
Don't know who put the pressure on, protested the practice, lobbied the Hobby folks, but change has begun. In the meantime, glad my fingers aren't much for the crafting stuff, because I'd  have to find another store. I don't know if it's legal to only carry things for the popular holidays and the Christian holidays. Don't know if Hobby Lobby carries items for Ramadan.
Makes one wonder... items for the Easter Bunny, ghoulish objects for Halloween, but nada for Hanukah.
Shout out to those who forced the Hobby Lobby mold to be broken.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Minds are closed, and getting paid for not opening up. Why didn't I ever have a job like that?

Guess I was oversold and then became over-invested in the idea that an open mind was something to strive for. I suppose some people feel that open mind led us straight down the path to modern hell: civil rights, equal rights for women, Title Nine, the Disabilities Act, and gay marriage. Those open minds even passed the Affordable Care Act. What will those open minds think of next?

Going to open my mind as far as it can open and see what comes this weekend. Wish I had a pin to prick all those inflated egos. Don't worry, I'd prick mine first.  I guess part of opening my mind will mean having a tad of compassion for those who don't agree with me. Just hope my mind doesn't go into smackdown.

Wild Geese Calling

The geese overhead were talking to one another this morning. Perhaps they were talking to me also. The eloquence of their talk called me to think once again about Mary Oliver and her wild geese, think about my place in the family of things. Hope the geese and Mary Oliver call to you also this morning.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

                                                            Mary Oliver

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Death of a Salesman on Smackdown Day

The first day of government smackdown left me, and lots of other people, reeling. The biggest jolt wasn't just reading the list of places and departments shutdown, but learning that at least one arm, one office, filled with attorneys and others dedicated to working on social security claims was furloughed. All those disability claims shoved into locked drawers only to be uncovered when the wealthy politicians are out of hot air and are weak from posturing as buffoons?  Sigh.

To top off a day of depressing news on line we had tickets to see The Death of A Salesman at the Denver Center. The good news is the theatre took us away from the news on CNN and Al Jazeer. No need to hear the news/entertainment reporters wax on about the shutdown. The bad news is that we were heading right into one of the most depressing plays of the 20th century.

It had been a long time between seeing the play and movie in the past and this production. The flawed characters, the twists of fate, family craziness, the enduring love swirling in and out of family relations, aging, the dreams and nightmares are still with us in contemporary life.  The drama and pain of families, vanished dreams, and angst still exist, just dressed up in different costumes and language.

Today's Willy Loman would be on serious anti-depressants and other medications. The debate would be whether he was in the early stages of Alzheimer's or just ordinary dementia. Fifty years of research and not much has changed except the name. From befuddled to dementia. Guess I prefer befuddled to dementia -- a kinder, gentler, less judgmental term.

Biff would definitely be of the oppositional defiance disorder category, with borderline personality and ADHD. Special Ed courses and meeting with school counselors would be in order today. During the play, watching Biff, especially during his early developmental years reminded me of a conversation I had with a woman on Sunday. Her grandson is eight years old and has been diagnosed as Bi-polar with ADHD. Who knows what labels Biff would carry today, how many meds he would be taking or trading to other students?  So I got lost in translation, so to speak, during the play. Stark, bitter and little redemption as it unwound.

I still like befuddled and brat as character descriptions. Always mistrust the too-many syllables per word definition disorder.

All in all, a smackdown sort of day everywhere I looked. Glad it's a new day, with sun shining overhead.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Government Smackdown

Walking a little late this morning, I passed by two different people swooshing their white walking sticks in front of them. If I hadn't seen one of them before, I would have thought they were mocking those blind politicians (not to mention their hearing impairments) who have led the government to shutdown. Elements of Greek tragedy, minus the lessons of wisdom and humility. Smackdown.

It's too beautiful a day here in Denver to allow the black clouds of government to block out the sun. After all, I think, I'll still be getting that once-a-month social security check that I already paid in advance. I took a couple of trips this summer to national parks and monuments, so I should be grateful for the glimpses of our national treasures in August. As for those of you who were waiting for the fall foliage in the Parks, tough luck. And tough luck to the 800,000 people who will be laid off, without paychecks this morning. Tough luck to those of you who love the Smithsonian, the Lincoln Statue in DC. Tough luck to those of you doing research at the Library of Congress. Most of all, tough luck to all those young folks who will become too cynical to actively promote or protest political causes. Better to stay away from government, better to block those metaphors, block the psychobabble. Turn off the television and go back to nature in a national park. Whoops. Forgot, you can't do that.   

As for the tea party characters, start drinking chamomile tea  and stop the testosterone boosters. I smell the rancid odor of too much testosterone way out here in Denver. And don't forget to cash your cushy paychecks. Personally, I never meant for you all to get rich on my dime. But I haven't the power to shut anything down to deter you. Alas.