Wednesday, November 19, 2014

When Did Kindness Come to Be for Special Occasions Only?

A dear old childhood friend (reconnected with on Facebook in recent years) posted a link to an idea for children leading up to the holidays: a calendar with suggested random acts of kindness.  This friend is a person who embodies kindness every day in every moment with everyone she meets; an exemplar of the cheerful goodness to which I aspire but only approximate on my best days.  She is the kind of person that does not need such a calendar to remind her to bestow kindness on those she meets. 
http://www.coffeecupsandcrayons.com/random-acts-christmas-kindness-printable-advent-calendar/
The heading on the graphic does not say that this is for children, but that is the intended audience. There are many admirable ideas on this calendar, that would be good for adults to follow through on as well: donating books to a public library or hospital, doing yard work for a neighbor, donating toys to a charity, calling a distant relative, donating food to a local food pantry, paying for a stranger's coffee, taking supplies to the local animal shelter, taking cookies to the fire station. 

What concerns me is some of the other suggestions, things that I think should be happening many times a day every day, 365 days of the year with both adults and children: like smiling at everyone, giving compliments, picking up litter, feeding the birds.  

I am reminded of another occasion, a year or so ago when someone else I know (sadly no longer on my Facebook friends list), when given the task of engaging in a daily single random act of kindness, proudly announced on day one that she had smiled at someone she did not know well, and on day two that she had opened the door for someone else.  Two behaviors that I practice multiple times a day, every day and have since childhood.

I thought at that time, as I think today on seeing this list of ideas, how has it become that behaviors like smiling, being polite, being helpful, that should be part of every one's normal every day behavior, are now being treated as special events that have to have a special holiday designation or done as some random kindness project.  

It seems that kindness like grades has become inflated, one gets more credit than one is due for what should be common daily behavior. 


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Nuclear Nightmares

When I was growing up in a blue collar neighborhood in California I was aware that my experience of the world was very different than that of the children around me. I was preoccupied with issues and concerns to which most of my neighborhood playmates seemed oblivious.  A few decades ago I read Annie Dillard's An American Childhood, and was taken aback to discover that Dillard too had little awareness as a child of the international and national economic and political issues of the 1950's and early 1960's.  

One topic obsessed me more than any other between 1956 and 1963: nuclear war. My father possessed a huge volume of photographs collected by Life Magazine that included thousands of pictures of the death and destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (it also contained many photos of the horrors of the Holocaust in Europe but that's a story for another day).  The images of cities utterly flattened by atomic bombs, and picture after picture with piles of bodies haunted me day and night.  
http://records.photodharma.net/notices/the-bombing-of-hiroshima

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/atomic-bombing-hiroshima-nagasaki-69-years-gallery-1.1892958?pmSlide=1.1892944
Along side my father I watched dozens of television documentaries on the use of atomic weapons in World War II, the current testing of atomic weapons, and the future possibilities of nuclear weapons. Supper conversation often involved discussions about the cold war and the likelihood of nuclear weapon use.  Sometimes family Sunday drives in the late 1950's and early 1960's included visits to local bomb shelter retailers.

Every week when my parents took me to the public library, in addition to the children's fiction I checked out each week, I would sneak copies of all the pamphlets on the librarians desk about how to recognize the signs of nuclear attack, what to do in case of attack, and how to fashion a bomb shelter in your garage. I read each of these pamphlets repeatedly and memorized every smidgen of information they contained.  (I am grateful that I did not know as a child how absurd and futile such advice was). 

Each night, I would lie in bed awake, wondering if each plane that flew over head was an enemy bomber carrying nuclear weapons. Since my house was positioned near the landing approach for San Francisco International Airport, there were dozens of planes passing overhead every night.  I would freeze motionless, listen to the sound of the engines, trying to guess which one might be delivering death from above.  Any flashes of light, or distant rumbles made me imagine that a bomb had been dropped nearby. 

As I lay awake I thought my way through constructing shelters from lumber and plywood (which we had) and sandbags (which we did not).  Sometimes I would hunch in bed under the covers in the "duck and cover" position that we were taught in school during earthquake/bomb drills.  

At some point, after the nuclear scare of October 1962, the intensity of my fears faded.  The sleepless nights and nightmares slipped away. But I never lost my anti-nuclear, anti-war convictions, which translated in adulthood into political action and advocacy. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

finding center again

Objectively the summer of 2014 was perfectly fine...subjectively it was miserable...I could not seem to find my center...I went nearly the whole summer without writing anything new...poetry eluded me...no stories percolated.


Yesterday I accidentally hit upon the cause when I took a small table and my journal outside to write in the mellow late afternoon. Most of the summer had either been to glaringly hot, or pouring rain.

Suddenly the words just began to flow...and I realized that this was the first summer that I had not had a porch on which to write in the afternoons...our old house had a covered porch where I would frequently sit, even when it rained, to write...but last September we had the old house (which was a dangerous fire trap and health hazard) demolished and hauled away...leaving only an open yard...lacking shade (except in late afternoon) and cover from the rain. 

Now I know that before next summer my sanity requires the purchase of an outdoor umbrella so that I can find that calm center from which to write. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

confessions of a former optimist

I have always been an optimist. Or perhaps I should say I was always an optimist until the last few years. This has little or nothing to do with my personal life experiences. I maintained an optimistic outlook during unemployment, poverty, cancer, divorce, and many other personal trials, and recent years have been kind to my husband and I in many ways. 

Moreover, my optimism had was not based on ignorance of the worlds problems and issues. My parents brought me up to be highly aware of the dire circumstance of poverty, war, brutality, pain and suffering that others in the world suffered. I was brought up to care about and fight for equality, freedom, and opportunity for others. I was a realist optimist. 

I can remember reading Linda Goodman's Sun Signs in high school and she had this very apt description of Aquarius that fit me to a "T": 
"Lots of people like rainbows. Children make wishes on them, artists paint them, dreamers chase them, but the Aquarian is ahead of everybody. He lives on one. What’s more, he’s taken it apart and examined it, piece by piece, color by color, and he still believes in it. It isn’t easy to believe in something after you know what it’s really like, but the Aquarian is essentially a realist, even though his address is tomorrow, with a wild-blue-yonder zip code." 
Goodman, Linda (2011-02-23). Linda Goodman's Sun Signs: Aquarius (Linda Goodman's Sun Signs Set) (Kindle Locations 175-178). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition. 
Later few years later in college I read Yevegeny Yevtushenko's A Precocious Autobiography  and identified strongly with this passage: 
"My optimism which had been all pink, now had all the colours of the spectrum in it, including black, this is what made it valid and genuine." 
I made my career in sociology a discipline focused on understanding the realities of social life; and I focused on topics of inequality (wealth and poverty), economic and political power (its uses and misuses), and environmental problems. I became more and more versed in what was wrong with human societies, and still I retained optimism that if people properly understood the sources of those problems they could struggle together to make a better world. 

But some where in the past decade, perhaps just the past five years I lost my way. I have come to believe that many of the problems the world is facing can not be fixed, at least not in a way that allows human societies to move forward from where we are now. The inequalities have become so huge, the gaps in power so large, and the many of the environmental problems irreversible without immediate, dramatic reversals in energy, transportation, and food policies that I know will not happen because of those overwhelming inequalities and power differences. 

It feels to me on a daily basis as if those in control of the multinational corporations and the worlds' wealth are deliberately driving humanity towards the edge of destruction, because they believe that there is more profit and more power in creating impoverished and powerless masses, and that the accumulation of vast wealth will some how exempt them from the disasters to come....and who knows, enormous wealth provides a lot of cushion against catastrophe so perhaps they are right. Whether they are right or wrong they are acting as if they, and their children and grandchildren will be immune. 

I do not believe humans are headed to extinction - even as we drive many other species to extinction - but I do believe that we are headed to a lot of hunger, disease and death, and the break down of much of modern industrial society.  

I also believe that within that disaster lies the possibility for vibrant, localized, lower tech, sustainable communities to come out from the other side of the disaster - perhaps many decades on the other side. I also believe that there are people around the world who are doing enormously good things to build social capital, make connections, create local food webs, advance new forms of spirituality  and environmental awareness, and to create support networks that may be the tenuous bridges that we will need to reach that sustainable future on the other side of disaster. 

I know some of those people doing good work and dreaming good dreams. Most of them are far away from me and I only have contact with them through Facebook. It is this lack of direct connection that I think has given birth to my despair.  I want to be part of the bridge building, but no longer know how to make the connections.  I know longer feel it in my soul the way I once did. I feel weighted down by the presence of so many whose response to the uncertainty and fear that they feel in their bones is to cling to a mythical past that never existed and demand that nothing change or that changes should be to a more restrictive, narrower, meaner, less inclusive future. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pictures in My Mind

This morning an old friend posted a beautiful picture of a transitory moment when sun through a window was captured by an elegant, blue blown glass vase and then scattered across the room.  Without his picture I am sure that you are having difficulty imagining the fragile luminosity of this moment. 

It has been said so often as to become trite that a picture is worth a thousand words. But trite does not mean untrue. Well crafted words, whether poetry or prose can evoke elaborate mental images, even whole worlds in our minds. But the right single photograph can fix one moment, one experience that defies adequate description  and make it available for sharing and keeping for several lifetimes

Richard's picture was taken with his cell phone camera because as he said if he'd taken the time to go upstairs to get his good camera the angle of sunlight would have changed and the moment would be gone. The ubiquity of cell phone cameras and small pocket sized digital cameras has made the capture of such fleeting moments of beauty, wonder, delight, and humor easier than ever before. 

I am suddenly saddened as I think about dozens of astounding images in my mind, stored with hazy imprecision from a life-time of paying attention that cannot be shared with anyone else, and become fuzzy even to me. 

I particularly wish that I could borrow a TARDIS or some other vehicle of time travel and take a digital camera back to my 22 year old self, standing on the top of a hill in San Mateo, watching the setting sun slide beneath the gray marine layer and for a few brief moments turn the city of San Francisco into sparkling gold sandwiched between a lowering fog and a leaden bay. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Burgeoning Green Life

Thirty-nine years, six months, and 17 days ago, I left California where I had grown up and moved to Kentucky.  It was January 1975 and California had been green, rainy with roses blooming. Kentucky was cold, dreary and gray. But three months later spring came to Kentucky, and with it the miraculous abundance of green, growing things. 




Nearly four decades later (some of which were spent in Pennsylvania and Virginia before I found my way back to Kentucky), and I still ceased to be amazed by the exuberance verdancy of eastern woods, forest, fields, roadsides, yards, empty lots, etc.  Indeed any tiny open space in which something might grow, things DO grow. 

People who have lived here all their lives do not appreciate how different this is from the western part of the United States. And people who live in the western states fail to realize how different life is when green growing things can actually flourish without attention and even threaten to take over your home and yard without constant vigilance. 

Currently the entire state of California is in advanced stages of long term drought - severe, extreme or even exceptional drought. The image below is from May 2013; before the drought these hills would have still been green.  ( http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/RegionalDroughtMonitor.aspx?west




But even long before the current drought, California was a place where substantial diligence was required to grow things.  For a lawn to grow, a yard had to be carefully seeded and watered regularly every year in perpetuity.  Our Kentucky lawn (pictured at top) was completely dug up last July for a new septic system, the dirt bulldozed back in place, a few grass seeds were scattered, but no other attention was paid - only rain, sunshine and nature operated on the yard. This summer it is as if the construction never took place.  

Every spring and summer, we must continually beat back the forest to keep it from swallowing our home. Already the pathway and gate that used to lead from our property to the neighbors has been completely enveloped in new trees and shrubs.  It is both beautiful and awesome in its fecundity. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

In praise of my life and times...

Back in 1991 for a few brief weeks a wonderful little jewel of a television show flashed like a comet briefly across the airwaves and died away into obscurity. Its title was My Life and Times. In the year 2035 an elderly man named Ben tells about episodes in his life (out of sequence) cover moments from the late 1970's to 1999. 

The show starred some amazing (at that point quite young) actors including Tom Irwin in the role of Ben, Helen Hunt as Ben's first wife Rebecca, and a glowing, ethereal Claudia Christian as his star-crossed love Jessie.  Only six episodes were aired between April 24, 1991 and May 30, 1991, but those few episodes made a significant imprint in my psyche. 

But this post isn't really about the TV show My Life and Times but rather about the wonders of my very own life and times, and how the Internet has transformed my personal experience of my own life. 

Yes, the TV show My Life and Times left me with memories, images and themes that have frequently surfaced over the past 23 years...but I could not remember the name of the series itself. Nor did I know the name of the actor who played the title role, although I would never forget his face, and always thought of this series whenever I encountered him in TV and movies. Yesterday, watching a rerun of Castle there he was, that familiar face, and it reminded me again of how I'd loved him as a young man in that short lived series.  

I wanted to find out if with all the movies and television shows now on-line was that half-remembered series out there to be seen?  But I didn't know his name, and I didn't know the series name. While I was pondering this problem, I happened to be reading recent posts on Facebook and  noticed that one of my friends had shared something from the page of Claudia Christian. Ah ha! I did remember that Claudia was in the cast (a name that I do remember because of her four years with Babylon 5). 

Armed with Claudia Christian's name it was off to IMDb.com the most useful tool for fans of television and movies. A quick scan of Claudia's filmography turned up the name of the series, My Life and Times, which I was surprised to see aired in 1991, some four or five years earlier than I imagined. Click on the link to My Life and Times on IMDb and there were all the other actors names, including Tom Irwin...so nice now to have a name to go with that so very familiar face. 

A Google search of the series title lead to some interesting things, including some articles written about the series at the time it aired. Best of all was a post on the blog Television Obscurities http://www.tvobscurities.com/articles/my-life-and-times/#comment-1080674 that provided me with a wealth of information, including the fact that: "My Life and Times was never repeated nor has it ever been made available commercially."
Having already done a quick search of Hulu.com and Netflix.com I suspected that to be so...but there was still Youtube.com to consider.  Sure enough someone named maureenkh1 has collected all six of the broadcast episodes broken into two acts (minus commercials) and shared them for everyone.


And because my life and times include blogs, and embedded video, I can share the first part of the first episode with you all.

When this series aired, in the spring of 1991, the Internet existed, and e-mail existed. But most the tools and resources that I used to aid my failing memory and bring that moment of my past back to life and share it did not.  The time I live in are both marvelous and perilous. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Dog Philosophy

All well brought-up dogs (and I like to think that ours are so), know quite well that there are two classes of things in the world: things Dog is allowed to chew and things Dog is not allowed to chew. 

The first category is usually fairly limited and includes designated "chew toys," Nylar bones, tug-of-war ropes, some treats, etc. The second category of forbidden items includes all the rest of the world, but especially blankets, pillows, dog beds, shoes, clothing, TV remotes, glasses, and many truly fascinating things. Many are all the more desirable because they hold the scent of beloved Human. 

As indicated previously the well brought-up Dog knows that he is not suppose to chew these wonderful things. However,  dogs are very philosophical beings, and they have developed a marvelous philosophical concept of "attachment." The basic axiom of attachment philosophy is that any item that becomes attached to an allowed chew item, automatically may itself be chewed. 

Suppose for example, that Dog's favorite and well-chewed Nylar bone becomes entangled in the blanket on the bed. It is not Dog's fault that the blanket is attached, no indeed. What other choice does Dog have but to chew the blanket in order to exercise his legitimate right to chew bone? None of course. 


Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Magic of Digital Books

I was a voracious reader as a child.  Mostly I read young people's "classics" (Alcott, Wilder, Sydney, Porter, Montgomery, Lovelace, etc.), science fiction (Heinlein, Asimov, Clark, Norton), and British fantasy (Nesbit, Lewis, Arthur) but cared very little for the contemporary teen romances of the likes of Stoltz and Cleary. In other words, I was a fan of the past, the future and the imagined but not so much of contemporary reality. 

The San Mateo Public Library had rich resources for a child of my temperament. Every week we went to the public library and I came home with stacks of books, all of which would be completed and returned for a new stack the next week. The children's department in the old main library held full series many of the old books that I loved, such as all of Louisa May Alcott's young people's novels, and every one of Edith Nesbit's magical children's adventures. I could read not only The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, but the Peppers "Midway" and "Grown Up" and the books for each of the five children. 

Times changed, demands of library space increased, and slowly all those old books disappeared. Libraries would keep The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, but none of the subsequent books; they'd keep Alcott's Little Women and possibly Little Men, but not Jo's Boys, or An Old Fashioned Girl, or Eight Cousins, etc. Most of Nesbit's books disappeared entirely. 

Early in the age of the World Wide Web and Amazon.com I began looking for my childhood favorites, but most were out of print, and unavailable even as used copies from second-hand bookstores. Until the digital book revolution of recent years. With the spread of e-readers, across the country groups of volunteers have begun digging through their stashes of old children and young people's books and painstakingly transforming them into digital content. Amazon makes these public domain books available free of charge to Kindle readers. 

Suddenly I am able to revisit Lucy Fitch Perkins'  The Scotch [sic] Twins and American Twins of the Revolution, and Alice Turner Curtis' delightful A Little Maid of Massachusetts Colony and A Little Maid of Ticonderoga, as well as Edith Nesbit's The Enchanted Castle and The Story of the Treasure Seekers.  

The greatest delight, however, is that some older books that I searched in vain for in childhood, can be found digitally today. 

I loved movies as well as books as a child, and was an enormous fan of Haley Mills, making an effort to see all of her movies (not just those she did under the Disney franchise). One delightful concoction, released in the summer of 1963 was Summer Magic. I was 12 and I was enchanted. In the credits I saw that the movie was based on a book by Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin called Mother Carey's Chickens (most people are more likely familiar with her popular Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm).  I looked for Mother Carey's Chickens for years, no, for decades, unsuccessfully. It had been out of print since the 1930's. 

Now, thanks to the hard work of dedicated volunteers who found and transcribed this classic work, I am presently reading Mother Carey's Chickens before bed at night, and thoroughly enjoying the adventures of Nancy, Gilley, Peter, Kitty, Mother, and Julia in the yellow house in Beulah. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Dog Ate Your Homework

For my two decades of teaching I thought that the apocryphal tale of "the dog ate my homework" was pure mythology. Then eight years ago, I found myself having to apologize to my students' for my dog eating THEIR homework!

I was forty-five years old before I had my first dog. In childhood I was for many years frightened of dogs. My great-uncle Tom took care of that by immersing me in the care of his lovable, boisterous kennel of hunting beagles, although I continued to be somewhat leery of large dogs for many more years. In college I had the opportunity to take care of a friend's dog for a month (his parents went to New Zealand and left the dog with him at college, but he was too busy with labs and research so I got to take care of most of Pokey's needs) and loved that experience.  

I wanted a dog for many years, but in my single academic existence of evening classes, trips to conferences, and long office hours I didn't feel like I was settled enough to care for a dog.  Instead I had a couple of much beloved cats. It wasn't until I married John in my forties that I had the privilege of having a dog as a companion. John's dog Missy was middle-aged when I met her, sweet, submissive, obedient, well trained,  and well-behaved dog in every way. She had been an adult and already trained when John rescued her some years before we met.  She lived to the ripe age of 19 years, quite ancient in doggie terms, and in her last years had cognitive difficulties that were endearing and heartbreaking at the same time. 

John didn't want to have another dog. He thought that there was only one dog for him and she was gone. But I knew we needed another dog. A year and a half after Missy's death, a young, large, female Shepard/Lab mix who was dumped in the neighborhood began to hang around our house and porch. Rosie the dog knew we needed a new dog and was persistent in her pursuit of the position. After a week we knew we had to take her in (or face the consequences of  a litter of pups a month or so down the road). 


We quickly learned that life with Missy had not  prepared us for life with a young, boisterous, dominant, untrained dog like Rosie. Rosie was a dog that was all heart, but she needed very strong "alpha" humans to take charge and give her not only love, but also discipline. Rosie chewed and ate things: sticks, socks, shoes, clothing, books, our students' homework (not ours), pillows, blankets, and one entire couch. Yes, Rosie ate and entire couch!

With the help of a wonderful trainer at PetSmart, we learned to gently help Rosie become a good companion and pack member.  But in the process we learned more than Rosie did, about the nature of dogs and the wonder of the bond between humans and dogs. Rosie remained a dominant personality, and we had to continual establish our leadership with Rosie. We had to learn how to be assertive, calm, in control pack leaders at all times. A lesson that was as beneficial to us as it was to Rosie. 

For six years we had the wonder of Rosie's company. Then tragically, all too soon we lost her to a devastating congenital illness two years ago. 

We still have dogs, Molly who joined us during the last year of Rosie's life, and blind Bob who was added to the family 18 months ago, and the lessons we learned from Rosie have made us better able to related to Molly and Bob who each have their own unique problems and issues. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

The simplicity of childhood - NOT!!

I occasionally see an advertisement (such as a recent one for Weight Watchers) or a post on social media that expresses the idea that childhood is a "simpler" time, that children are carefree and joyous.  Children are not in control of their own world, big people control it; children lack the skills and the resources to do many things that they wish to do.  I'm not saying that children are never carefree or joyous, but even the best loved, well cared for child experiences enormous amounts of frustration and anxiety. I was reminded of this truth by the Facebook post of a friend - a young mother with three children, the youngest of whom, Story, is about three years old. Here's what she posted about Story today:
Reasons Story has cried today include but are not limited to:She ran out of chocolate soy milk; Seth let her play with a salamander and let it go; Seth found her another salamander and she couldn't bring it inside; The salamander didn't wait on her on a rock while she went potty; She was cold; She couldn't find her Lotso Bear; The cat wouldn't let her choke it;  She ate one hot dog and the other one wasn't magically cooked before she got done; She ate the other hot dog and it was the last hot dog; She cried so hard for another hot dog she remembered she wanted chocolate soy milk; She cried so hard for soy milk she peed herself; She cried because her pants were wet.
Not all children react so emotionally to the world, but all children experience fear, worry, anxiety and frustration on occasion. It has become common place to use children's fears - whether of the monster under the bed or in the closet - as the basis for humor, but to the child those fears are very real and sometimes immobilizing. 

Sometimes those fears are of something quite real, if ultimately unlikely.  I spent most of my childhood fearful and worried about nuclear war. I lay awake each night for long periods of time listening to every plane that flew over (and since we lived under the approach to San Francisco International Airport there were a LOT of planes) wondering if each one was the one that would drop the bombs.  Every time I went to the public library I gathered pamphlets about how to make fallout shelters.  I would devote hours to trying to figure out how to build a shelter in our garage.  I did not know then that all such advice for shelters was absurd and nonsensical. I took it seriously and made many careful plans about how my family might be saved from obliteration. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ups and Downs of Everyday Life

It seems to me these days, as my mind is no longer able to handle all the things it should. 

Yesterday was a day that I forgot to test my blood sugar, ate breakfast way to late to keep that blood sugar balanced, forgot lunch, entirely forgot  my morning arthritis medicines so I could barely walk by mid-afternoon, couldn't seem to find time for a shower and stayed in my night clothes and robe until 3 PM. But on the other hand, I managed to sit down first thing in the morning and handle three student crises through a multitude of detailed e-mails, grade exams for two classes, update discussion for another, and check blogs of a fourth class, thus managing to cross off half the things on my work to-do list. 

By comparison today, I tested the blood sugar, got breakfast, took medications, dressed, did housework and laundry, put clothes away, dealt with dishes and animals, spent some time outside with the dogs (beautiful day by the way), but at 3:30 PM I still haven't checked my work college e-mail, or done even one thing from the other half of the work to-do-list.  I can't account for my time though I know that some of it has been spent at the computer following bunny trails from Facebook to other Internet locations, reading stories, watching videos. 

Time just seems to vanish, and there is always something essential that does not get done. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Valentine Wish

May you make peace
with all your past,
forgive yourself
let go the weight
and rise on wings
to dance in snow
and pipe your music
to the stars.

sgreerpitt

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Nature's orchestra

At dawn freight train wind
hurtles rain in staccato bursts,

a cacophony assaulting the senses.

sgreerpitt
February 5, 2014