Many thanks, late at night…

liebster awardI am grateful to have been nominated for the Liebster Award by late at night… (a great blog that was also nominated). Here are the rules of the award:

1. Post eleven facts about yourself.

  • am a mother of a wonderful, brilliant, talented daughter
  • am a big lover of dogs
  • have been twice married/twice divorced
  • certainly am hoping for a chance to find another love
  • could buy a New York City block with my student loan debt
  • have an unpublished novel
  • am very disappointed in Congress
  • can be funny and irreverent
  • am loyal, and at times have been stupidly so
  • was born in Brooklyn/grew up in New York
  • am a big fan of Rachel Maddow

2. Answer the questions the tagger has set for you and create eleven questions for people you’ve nominated.

  • Book or movie?

Truly Madly Deeply, a 1991 movie with Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson

  • Superstitions – Do you have any?

You won’t see me walk under a ladder.

  • What scares you the most?

bugs and Republicans

  • You are ship wrecked on a deserted island, what 4 things do you wish you had with you?

a shower, a bed and blanket, my computer, the life I left behind

  • What movie can you watch over and over?

Groundhog Day

  • If you could be any famous person, who would you be?

Jane Goodall

  • Do you have phobias?

More than I can count

  • What do you wish you had more time for?

I think I have enough time for everything.

  • Do you have a hobby?

Nope…well, writing for my blog?

  • If you could have any author – living or dead – write your biography, who would you choose?

Doris Kearns Goodwin

  • If you could un-invent something, what would it be?

Plastic

3. Choose eleven people (with fewer than 200 followers) to give this award to and link them in your post.

There are so many wonderful blogs, but I am not able to find 11 blogs that advertise the fact that they have fewer than 200 followers. I’ve got my eyes out, though!

The Daily Creative Project

Canadian Hiking Photography

4. Go to their page and tell them.

5. Remember, no tag backs.

I confess I don’t know what “tag backs” are.

The political is personal

obamasFor something to become deeply held, I have to experience it first. Faith, for me, is visceral, and the minute it becomes a matter of intellect, I’m lost. So it seems with patriotism. I am left cold by the sight of an American flag hanging off a pick-up truck barreling down the road at 90 mph, but the sight of our first couple holding each other in a loving embrace leaves me in tears.

I wept on and off throughout the day yesterday, Inaugural Day, and today find myself thinking about it. Over the course of my adult life, I have at times feigned indifference to the goings-on in Washington. During the George W. Bush years, for example, I could barely say his name much less engage actively in political life. With President Obama, though, whom I admire more than any other US president for his downright decency, I am inclined to hang on his every word and to believe that, with him at the helm, the good will out.

It is this deep hope that forms the foundation of my patriotism, this sense that darkness runs backward to the corners now so that we might see our way forward to a life that honors all life.

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I’m done, John Mackey

john mackeyI lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for nearly 30 years and came of age in Berkeley, where I went to college and where my daughter was born. I took for granted that eating healthful, organic food was my due, if not my birthright, in part because it was readily available. Near me was a food co-op, and I shopped there regularly.

When it was taken over by Whole Foods Market in 1990, I became a devotee. In fact, since then I have lived in several other states and have carried my devotion with me. I now live in Washington, DC, and for 13 years have shopped in every Whole Foods Market in the Washington Metropolitan Area. Several days ago, though, after listening to an interview with Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey, I decided I would never step foot in the man’s markets again. I’m done with him.

Mackey has been hawking his book Conscious Capitalism, and it was this he was meant to discuss in an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep. When asked what he thought about Obama’s health care law, however, he said it was a “fascist” program. In subsequent interviews elsewhere, he admitted this might have been a poor choice of words, but his contrition proved disingenuous as he went on to say that the law would raise his company’s costs and to suggest that, as a result, it would ultimately have a negative impact on healthcare coverage for his employees.

In 2012, Whole Foods Market reported earnings of more than $1 billion. Cashiers there start at $10/hour. I can’t abide corporate greed.

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People of the lie

no assault weaponsWhen M. Scott Peck published People of the Lie in 1983, I was hungry for it. Five years earlier, I had read his seminal work, The Road Less Traveled, and it had so changed my life that I hoped he could continue to offer a level of spiritual guidance I was not able to find elsewhere. A studied meditation on the nature of evil, People of the Lie is stunning in many respects.

While I have forgotten much about the book, what has remained with me all these years is the story Peck, a psychoanalyst, tells of a depressed patient who comes to him after his brother commits suicide and who, over the course of therapy, reveals that his parents gave him as a Christmas present the very same rifle his brother used to kill himself.

I remember I could barely take in air when I read this section because I realized that the kind of evil Peck described was all around me. It was not the easily discernible evil of a mass murderer but rather the more subtle form of evil that arises out of an utter lack of empathy for others and a complete inability to see or to tell the truth about oneself.

When I heard on this evening’s news that, in recent days, there has been an unprecedented spike in gun sales throughout the country and, in particular, that there has been an increased interest in buying the AR-15 rifle that was used in the Newtown killings, I was reminded of Peck’s book and of his ideas about the different faces of evil.

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“We lost a lot of babies today in this town….”

Family handout photo of Emilie ParkerSince Friday’s massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, a photo of Robert and Alissa Parker, parents of six-year-old Emilie Parker, has been circulating in the papers, online, and on TV. In it, Emilie’s father has his arm around his wife, and he appears shocked and dazed by news no parent should ever be made to hear. Her mother, a visible and crumpled tissue in her right hand, seems stricken with what had to have been disbelief and unimaginable grief. It should have been a very private moment between them, but the photograph will no doubt come to serve as an iconic image of one of the most tragic mass slayings in the nation’s history—a killing spree that left twenty children, all of them six and seven years old, dead from multiple gunshot wounds.

Any mother or father looking at the grieving parents of Emilie Parker—a lover of all things new, but food—would have to know that there could be no greater suffering than that. I had a very brief taste of it when, as a result of a lab test error, my own daughter, now grown, was wrongly diagnosed in her first year with what is often a fatal illness. For a few hours, I waited, alone, while her doctor ran the test again, and I remember feeling that, were she to die, I would likely not survive the loss.

I think only faith can make it possible to endure that kind of pain and to have hope for renewal in life. May the grieving parents of Newtown find it, if it is lost; hold tight to it; and be healed by it.

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The lesson in it

Jacintha SaldanhaI was sorry to learn today that one of the nurses who fell victim to a sophmoric prank perpetrated by two Australian DJs was found dead three days later. It is not yet clear whether Jacintha Saldanha, a 46-year-old mother of two, committed suicide or died of stress, but it is clear that she was deeply humiliated by a hoax that was aired around the globe, in which the DJs impersonated Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles with the hope of getting information about the hospitalized, pregnant, and severely morning sick Duchess of Cambridge.

The story got me to thinking about how, because of our capacity for deep and unconscious stupidity, we can destroy each other without intending it and how it is incumbent upon us, therefore, to become more conscious and to understand that everything we do and say, everything, matters.

Had DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian known they were about to destroy several lives, including their own, I’m reasonably sure they would have found something else to do with their air time. But, self-awareness and genuine sensitivity to others does not arrive easily, if at all. It is the work of a lifetime, this struggling to awaken, and it comes only when we are made to suffer ourselves over and over.

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Forewarned is forearmed

I’m telling you this now: If you find yourself watching a movie at the Prince Charles Cinema in London, you’d better not talk on your cell phone; otherwise, someone in a zentai suit will come from somewhere out of the dark and shush you.

This would be a great way to humiliate a nincompoop into changing all kinds of bad, if dangerous, behaviors. I, for one, would think twice about texting while driving if a ninja appeared in the passenger seat and clucked his tongue the very first time I had the temerity to do it.

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Knuckleballs

This afternoon in the car I listened to a radio interview with knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey. Although I’m not interested in baseball, I made myself stay with it, as I might make myself eat spinach. I always think it is good for me to examine what it is I reject out of hand.

I was taken with him, though, and especially with his knuckleball descriptions. They were as much poetry as any poem.  When I returned home, I listened again to the interview and transcribed certain parts.

 

At least it was a loneliness of my choosing

 

A knuckleball is like trying to hit a butterfly in a typhoon.

It’s impossible to throw a knuckleball on the outside corner.

You just simply get it started in the right direction

at the right height and

the ball is going to do what

the ball is going to do.

It comes in like a buck-toothed termite trying to saw through that wood.

With most knuckleballers

the velocity is anywhere from

62 to 69 miles an hour but

my knuckleball is anywhere

from 69 to 81.

You have an angry knuckleball.

I start my knuckleball about two balls above

the catcher’s helmet.

If I throw a 100 in a game I want

85 to be knuckleballs

and the other 15 will be

sliders, fastballs, curveballs, change-ups.

What have you.

Your dad left your mom early.

And your mom had a drinking problem

and used to take you to a bar called Joe’s Village Inn

when you were eight years old

you were abused by a babysitter and then more brutally

by a 17-year-old boy.

You went to live with your dad, I guess.

In your teenage years. Right?

Because your mom’s drinking was becoming more apparent to you,

and we should say that she’s been in recovery now

for many years,

and that’s great.

Yeah, she’s great.

But that was a rough time for you.

When you began sleeping in

vacant houses.

What made you do that?

How did you figure out

where to go?

It was lonely at home.

I would go into the library and look at the classified ads.

I would tell my Dad I was spending the night out.

I would find a vacant home,

and there was always a key

under a mat or under a flower pot

or something like that,

and I would just let myself in.

We always stayed at this hotel. It overlooked the Missouri River.

For years I would wonder,

Can anybody swim across that?

I thought,

I’m gonna do it.

I’ve spent a lifetime not taking any risks.

My teammates got out there.

They watched me get down into the shallows of

the Missouri before

I took off and tried to traverse it.

It’s a big, fast-moving river. What happened?

Well, it’s big, it’s dirty, it’s fast moving.

Come to find out it has a significant undertow

and all of a sudden the river

swept me very far down, and my teammates

who were once standing right in front of me

at six feet tall

just looked like little ants

on the horizon.

I’m thinking I have a zero shot at getting to the other side.

And I know at that point it’s going to be a fight just to stay alive.

Every stroke was a determined stroke,

and I had given myself over to the fact that

this was it.

You know, I wasn’t gonna make it.

And I closed my eyes and started to sink.

I remember the sensation of weeping

under water,

and I was praying to God

to protect my family.

I had come to grips

with dying

and I started sinking

and right as I was about to open my mouth and

take in all of this water just to end it

quickly

my feet hit the bottom of the river and I surged up

and I survived.

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Filthy lucre

For a pipsqueak like me, The Millionaire was a godsend. Each week, the half-hour TV show opened with an exchange between puckish industrialist John Beresford Tipton, Jr. and his trusted secretary Michael Anthony, during which the former would give the latter a cashier’s check for $1,000,000 and would instruct him to hand it over to an unsuspecting, and always shaken, recipient, who was never to know where the money came from. Although Tipton well knew why he chose each beneficiary, we could only surmise.

Typically, those who were selfish with the money were undone by their own greed; those who were selfless with it were richly rewarded for their goodness. I knew things would go well for Tony Rogers, for instance, who used his money to help out a neighbor in trouble; or for Nancy Cortez, who used hers to coax her toreador husband out of the bull ring and into retirement. I didn’t need 30 minutes, though, to figure out what would happen to Nick Slade, an escaped convict who assumed the identity of Eric Lodek, a humanitarian who died shortly after receiving his check; or to Rod Matthews, who used his money to stick it to an old enemy.

The moral of each story was simple, really, and always boiled down to this: If you’re a conniving ass in real life, you’ll lose everything and end up all alone. I didn’t want to be a conniving ass. In my fantasies about what I would do with all that money, I was more a giver than a taker. If, for example, I bought my divorced parents tickets for a trip around the world, and if I also bought a ticket for my brother  just so I could get the little crapper to stop tormenting me, I could then feel justified in buying myself a few dolls, preferably ones that cried. If I bought a movie theater and Coney Island for my family, then I could buy myself a whole pizza and some baby turtles.

I was reminded of the show this past week because of the kerfuffle surrounding Mirlande Wilson and her claim that she had the winning ticket for Maryland’s Mega Millions jackpot, worth  a record-breaking $656 million. First, she said she hid it in the McDonald’s where she worked. Now, she’s saying she misplaced it.  As you can imagine, the media has crucified her, though it wasn’t difficult. All they had to do was to get her to open her mouth on the 11 o’clock news and then stand back.

I can’t help but think that things would have gone better for Mirlande had John Beresford Tipton, Jr., been her benefactor. With him, there was always the possibility of redemption.

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State of grace

When I’m not feeling ashamed of myself for a misdeed or an errant thought, I’m feeling ashamed of the human race, not because we are fallen before we arrive but because we become ridiculous once we get here. 

There are some, though, who redeem us. Jeffrey Gettleman is one such. East Africa bureau chief for The New York Times, Gettleman recently spoke with NPR’s Fresh Air host Terry Gross about his experiences as a correspondent covering Somalia and other countries. In the interview, he describes with so much humanity the magnitude of the suffering he witnessed while traveling throughout Africa with Times photographer Tyler Hicks.

Gettleman recounts, for example, how he saw “entire families sit on old-fashioned cholera beds, with basketball-size holes cut out of the middle, taking turns going to the bathroom as diarrhea stream[ed] out of them,” and he tells of an 84-year-old woman he interviewed who had been gang raped by young men. “Grandsons get off me,” she had begged.

Today, Gettleman receives the George Polk Award in Journalism for a story he broke in 2011 about al-Shabab, the militant Islamist group affiliated with Al Qaeda who just yesterday killed ten people at the National Theater in Mogadishu and then went on to boast about it in a tweet. In it, he writes about how the insurgents caused a famine in Somalia by driving out aid organizations and then prevented those who were famished, including a half million children, from fleeing the country. Hicks is also receiving an award for his wrenching photo of a starving child dying alone in a hospital.  

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Elsewhere in headline news: Kris Jenner tells the world that daughter Khloe Kardashian is fat…Jennifer Lopez has been a size 6 for the past decade…The Olsen twins appear on a recently released list of the 100 greatest fashion icons…Alec Baldwin is engaged to Hilaria Thomas, a yoga instructor…Actress Emily Blunt thinks First Lady Michelle Obama has skin like silk…Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn had sex with a blonde employee last summer and then paid her off…The Redskins will face the Indianapolis Colts in the preseason…British teen Conor Maynard is labeled the new Bieber…Painkiller sales soar around the US…

Photo of Jeffrey Gettleman