Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Celebrate Openly

I do not sufficiently show my gratitude for being alive. What an off chance it all seems to be, what a lucky coincidence.  

I haven’t yet  sufficiently expressed my appreciation for the beauty and wonderment of raw, wild nature.  

I need to celebrate more openly the pleasures of learning, of conducting research, of reading and writing, of painting a picture, of observing shapes, colors, designs and patterns of life.

Alain de Botton recently wrote about the importance of culture in helping us to develop traditions and rituals for celebrating life’s meaning.  

Even in the most dire circumstances, life can be filled with spirit and grace. It can be celebrated. I have witnessed this while living in desolate rural areas and in densely populated urban areas, in villages suffering food scarcity, in places of war, and political unrest.  I have seen life celebrated in many languages and in various ways, through learning in educational institutions, museums and libraries, and in simple community rituals, showing it in the way they line up in meaningful ways on the sides of hills and deep into valleys. sharing traditions of language and culture and song.  

I see ritual and celebration in the way animal herds gallop, the way birds fly in flocks, the way fishes move in the waters.  I see celebration and meaning in cloud formations, and in the many stars that shine in the black night of the sea.

Susan Gubar wrote about ways of seeking the gift of grace by being receptive to a sense of beneficence or loving kindness.  This might be acquired many different ways such as engaging in quiet meditation, through dance or breathing and body exercise, by taking long walks in nature, bike riding, running alongside a road, or while painting a picture, making a craft or playing music,  in the simple act of appreciating literature and the arts.  

It may be felt in the results of a magnificent piece of research, or in the development of a new technology or in the discovery of a new way to do something.  All offer the need for morality, appreciation of spirituality and community; a feeling of grace. 

It may even be felt simply through the execution of routine acts of love and friendship such as a ritual sharing a glass of wine at sunset, or a cup of coffee while watching the sunrise, or hugging a child, patting a dog on the head.

Leaving it at this.  I say, I wish to learn to be positive about all people who celebrate life and who seek to understand its meaning whether they do it through cultural expression, education and learning, scientific discovery and/or religious practices.  

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A Scattered Approach to Dying

“When someone is cremated, can their ashes be strewn around?” I ask. 
“You can place them  anywhere you want” she replied, “after the death is registered.”

“Then in that case,” I said, “Scatter some of my ashes into the winds.  Throw some under that apple tree in front of our cottage and drop the rest into the ocean. Don’t bury me anywhere.  I’m too claustrophobic.”

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Unfinished Official Business

I imagine the work left behind in my old office is still there, some of it piled in the corners, papers spilling over onto the floor, reports clogging up the bookshelves and stacked up in the hall closets, very little of it filed properly, but for some registered items.

Someone picked up the baton where I left off.  Like workers before me finding it always there, never ending, forever needing attention, filling up the desk, spilling onto the floors, clogging up the bookshelves.

The best part of the work day was that early moment in the morning when I took off my coat , sat down at my desk or my workbench and pondered what needed to be done, appreciating the morning quiet before the storm, the steady beat of rain drops on a metal roof,  thunder rolling across the sky, silent slushy winter snowstorm filling up the streets, causing much churning of ice water through guttered curbs, hurried runs for fresh cups of coffee and a sweet roll before the first early meeting.  Quick notes drawn up of ideas to be fleshed out in the coming months. Dreams sketched on chalkboards and paper, typed up in our computers, discussions with a colleague during an early phone call, commitments made, promises offered.

The worst part of the work day was the begrudging moments of administrative matters, pushing for decisions to be unreasonably made by 10am without exception, promptly reporting the irrational results on single sheets of paper and filing them endlessly in alphabetized folders, costing monies that might be better used on people needing real services, rather than to things mattering not at all, but to administration. I’m not sure they even remember why they asked it to be done anymore, once it is properly filed.

I see our results, those steel shards of war, crushed peoples, green phosphorous clogged waters, murderous politics, plague outbreaks, journalistic lies, top heavy unearned wealth.

Work everywhere lies strewn around in offices and on floors, stuck in files, cut into small strips to keep it secret.

It is unfinished. I am not sure that it is yet begun. 

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How Long Must We Be Losers?

My vote won the popular vote, but lost the electoral vote. Perhaps your vote won the electoral vote and lost the popular vote.  In any case, we have a new president-elect.

It is neither simple nor easy for many of us to accept the results, especially since in this instance, the winner forcefully declared that the election was rigged and said he would decide after the election whether or not to accept the results. Now that he is sure that he has won, he accepts the results and no longer declares the election rigged.  

Upon what should our own acceptances of these election results depend?

In two previous presidential elections losers of the election declared that they intended to reject every proposal our newly elected President Obama would make.  They told the press that no matter what he proposed to Congress, they would reject it.  This was not just any one casually saying no to an acquaintance.  It was our elected officials of Congress saying no to our newly elected President, not based on evaluation of the proposals, but instead, upon sore losing.

What a shameful response to our democratic system and its process of checks and balances.

In this most recent election, Trump lost the popular vote.  But he won the electoral vote.

He won, but not overwhelmingly.
It seemed that he won by a lot, because so many pundits were wrong and had predicted his demise.

I have been listening to the barrage of explanations for the results of this election by pollsters, economist, journalists, comedians, congressmen, psychologists, psychiatrists, fortune tellers, winners, losers and bloggers.  I am neither pleased nor satisfied with any of the explanations.

I find them all wanting.

But most of all, I find arguments by the winners telling us to accept the results, wanting.  They are asking us to do what they did not. They did not embrace the man we previously elected, they refused his proposals, they ridiculed him, called him names, they lied about his citizenship and religious affiliation, they ridiculed his background his family, his ideas. They did all that they could to make our elected president seem fraudulent and illegitimate.  

It is most unfortunate that our newly elected president Trump participated in all this lying and negativity.

How does one stop a vicious back and forth response to previous sore losing?

There are ways and means that we have worked out to control hatred and violence when it brews in weak political systems.  We know how to manage it, to reduce its terrible force and damage.  There are alternatives to racism and sexism and brute force responses to ethnic rivalries that have been tried and worked. There are ways and means to stop the poor from being further shafted, to rein in the rich and powerful, to further develop and share infrastructure and services, to stop brutalizing our natural environment, to control outrageous behavior of banks and corporations. There are ways and means to manage corruption and crime, to flag liars.

We know how to do better.

This leaves me believing that this is not the time to capitulate.

It is now the time to clearly state our intentions to keep going, to be part of this great system we share, whether it is through peaceful demonstration or actively monitoring the actions of our newly elected officials. We must continue to be part of the debate.

Now is the time to work even harder to prevent our leaders from declaring war and bombing and attacking other countries with fake excuses, such as weapons of mass destruction that do not exist. Because we already know that this could happen. 

Let us not allow our leaders to weakly stand by when a huge natural calamity such as floods, fires, earthquakes, or dangerous infectious diseases erupt and threaten our very existence. Because we already know that this could happen. 

Let’s be prepared with a good government plan and program to respond to it, to prevent it from becoming yet another highlight of our disaffection with each other. Because we already know that this could happen.

If a good idea is proposed, let’s get behind it and support it, regardless of who proposed it.  And if it is a bad proposal, let’s argue against it.

This is not the time to allow our people to become ravaged by conquerers who may argue that winners take all.  After all, parties win our elections.  They do not win our country.  

Our country is something we all share.  And we also share responsibility for monitoring our newly elected officials and ensuring that they implement government programs as we intend, through negotiations, compromise, using objective and fair implementation practices.

Let’s get serious about serving a democratic government by learning more about what it takes to be one, and acting accordingly.

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I Did Not Forget to Vote

Once upon a time there was a little girl.  And a little boy.  They heard about voting and wondered what it was.

So they asked their moms and dads,

“Mom, Dad, What does voting mean?  Why do you vote?”

Mom said, “It means to declare who you want to leaders of our country.”

Dad said, “Voting is an activity where you boil your opinion down to ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ about every four years or so.  It simplifies things.  It balances power.”

The other Mom said, “Voting is part of our constitution, it is an obligation.  It is like when I say, ‘Eat your vegetables, it is good for you.’  Just trust me.  You need to vote.  It is good for you.

The other Dad said, “Ahh, just fagettt about it.  It doesn’t make a twit of difference if you vote or not. The system is rigged. “

The little girl decided to vote.  The little boy did not.  Guess who won the election?

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Michael Moore recently put out a concerned CALL for action reminding us of the importance of voting.
We have the privilege of voting in privacy, and freely, and ONCE
and he reminded us of the power of our vote.

Of course,  many of us will remember to vote.

But his words also remind me that although voting is necessary it is not sufficient.
We, the people, must be more informed and more politically active,
look past our personal grievances, religious affiliations, ethnic identities and take on a bigger sphere of concerns.
We all lose when we aren’t concerned about the WHOLE of our country.

This means reading articles and listening to people who disagree with us.
This means reaching out to others and listening to their grievances.
This means being informed and choosing effective candidates at
local, state and federal levels.
This means “We the People” and not big business or rich interests.
We, the voters insist on good governance.

Starting this year, I want to see our elected Congress act, 
making decisions and choosing actions,
not through refusals to meet or talk, saying “NO” to compromise.
I want our representatives to act positively, through 
debate, discussion, deliberation, negotiation, and decision.
I want them to act through compromise.

Whether it was the drawing up of our Constitution, 
or the struggle to agree on any Bill of Rights,
or whether it is a contemporary problem needing agreement, allowing us to govern and be governed, we must learn to negotiate.  

In diplomatic circles, it is often stated half jokingly, that it is not until the various groups are relatively equally unhappy with the proposed solutionsthat a compromise deal can be reached.

We all lose when there is 
NO discussion, NO debate, No negotiation, No compromise.
When there is no negotiation, there is stagnation and fighting.
We all think we are right.  But that is not enough.
We have to listen to other people’s points of view and figure them into our decisions, to the best of our abilities.

We need balance in government using the deliberations of Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court, taking into consideration all of our people’s votes. We need to agree to use the system, wholly and effectively, and respectfully. 

I want a balance of power through governance,
not through personal name-calling and ridicule
not through wealth, pay-offs, cronyism and corruption.
not through refusal to compromise,
not through cheating and lying.
I want it through discussion, deliberation, decision and compromise, of individuals representing all of us.

And I want it now.


An Australian friend of mine sent me this performance of the haka,  a tradition of the New Zealand Maori tribe.

It is used when they challenge others.  
According to my friend, the polite thing is for the opposition is to watch and listen in respectful silence.  I hope you enjoy it.

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Remember that day?

A neighbor of mine for many years  gave me a copy of his memoirs, in bound and printed form. It was a book he had written by himself, with no idea of publication and sales in mind. He personally chose the title of the book, designed the cover and had the book copied and bound for further distribution to his family and friends, as he saw fit. 

I read the book with great interest and then shared it with another neighbor who asked to borrow it, and since then it has been loaned to another person who is supposed to return it to me when they are done reading it.  I am happy to share the book with others.  This book is not sold in any stores.  There are probably only 20 or 25 copies of the book in its entirety.  It is a book that is likely to be cherished for years to come owing to the fact that we all enjoy reading about the life of a friend or family member when it has been so carefully laid out and presented.

My neighbor is a retired architect who had a very successful career  in government who has authored numerous technical manuals and bureaucratic reports but never until now, a book he could call his own. The book he gave me as a gift is about his life, not his career.  It is about his childhood, not his life at the office.  It is a story about introspect and old friends, people who inspired him, people he loved, or who puzzled him.  In his book he tells funny stories and relays charming moments that changed his life forever.  I really enjoyed reading his stories.

He and I talked at great length about the value of writing such a book, a personal book to be shared with family and friends and not a book to be submitted for publication, reviewed, edited and the like. Its purpose houses no future career.  He doesn’t want to sell the book to make money.  He wants to share his ideas and perspectives in printed format, and he has done so, very successfully I might add.

Personal writing can become part of a larger story.  Professor Lillian Schlisser published an historical book based on the letters and diaries of a hundred women who took the trip across the continent to Oregon or California between 1840 and 1870 in covered wagons. Without access to their hand-written notes their stories, Professor Schlisser could never have written such a personal narrative that unfolded so beautifully into an historical perspective.

Personal writing often goes beyond straightforward documentation of what happened.  It may also open the mind to think more imaginatively and creatively.

Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times reviewed research showing personal writing may lead to behavioral change and improved happiness.  Through writing and rewriting our stories, we may change personal perceptions about ourselves and others ultimately leading to improved health.

One thing I wanted to do but never got around to doing until I retired, was writing a novel that exceeded the boundaries of my professional, scientific and technical world that I lived in for most of my adult life.  My desire was to write stories that  are free-wheeling, imaginative and footnote-free, largely based upon personal experience, but not limited to it.

Years later, my personal novel and a series of short stories are written and re-written numerous times.  Chapters have been added, deleted and merged with other chapters.  Dialogue has come and gone.  Characters have appeared and disappeared.

It only required me to take moments out to write and rewrite.  There were no travel costs, no public speaking engagements because of it, no stress over trying to sell it.  It just is.

These unpublished stories are slowly developing a life of their own.

I open up my computer and see them on the screen and always enjoy relating to them.  Sometimes I rewrite a paragraph, reformulate a dialogue, redo a paragraph, choose or delete a word.

It is one of the most enjoyable things I have done, on my own, for no one in particular.

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Picking up a Romance Writers Report dated May 2015, I scanned through and saw an announcement on page 15 listing romance writers who had died between March 2014 and March 2015 and it included on the list, Gwynne Forster.

She was Gwendolyn Johnson Acsadi, a demographer who was formerly a chief of section in the United Nations Population Division.

In the mid-1990’s, we spoke when she retired from the United Nations.  At the time we were neighbors at Roosevelt Island, an island in the East River of New York City.

I asked, what were her plans?  

“This may surprise you, ” she said, “I am learning to write romance novels, writing under the pen name of Gwynne Forster. I would appreciate it if you would keep this a secret because I am trying to keep my publications as a demographer and romance writer separate.”  

Her decision to shift into such a different field intrigued me, and I could not help but follow her accomplishments over the years from successful demographer to accomplished writer of romance novels and  pioneer of African American romance fiction.  

She ended up merging these seemingly disparate experiences by using her research and demographic expertise to form stories. She took studies about birth and death, sex and reproduction, the consequences of unplanned pregnancies, issues of social class, economic poverty and brought them to life in the world of romance novels.  An illustrative example is shown here, in her book Fire Down Below.

At the bottom of the page of the Memoriam was a quote by Margaret Atwood saying,  “In the end, we’ll all become stories.”  
The question then becomes, who will write them?
In Gwen’s case she delivered her stories to us in a well planned package.

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A friend just asked me whether I thought that the world was really overpopulated.

“Overpopulated for what?”  I asked.
He replied, “Oh, you know what I mean.  Our whole life we were debating whether the world had too many people, whether we were going to run out of food.”
“That’s true,” I said, “but have you noticed that the longer that we debate this, the bigger our population gets and the more food we have to eat?   What’s the problem?”
“But,” he protested, “Don’t you remember the warnings of  Rachel Carson when she wrote Silent Spring? She tried to show us that there are repercussions to all those pesticides we were using to finesse our food supplies.  What about the arguments of Robert Malthus about overpopulation?”

“Oh yeah, I get what you mean, now” I said.  “You’re talking about those hysterics who told us we had too many people on earth.  Way back when the US was a quarter of its current population size, people argued that we should reduce our population growth to zero, work toward a stable population.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we quadrupled our population, increased our GDP,  our food production went through the ceiling and we added a minimum of 20 to 30 extra pounds just around our waists, without even estimating what we added to our legs and our behinds.  Is that what you are talking about?”
“Yeah, something like that”.
“Well, I never believed in overpopulation.” I said, “Not even for a minute.  We are not overpopulated. ‘The more, the merrier’, that’s my motto  More people means more growth.  That is what keeps our economy chugging. ”  
“But what about all these people I keep running into, right when I don’t need them” he protested. “I get stuck in traffic every single day, at least twice.  Once on my way to work, and once on the way back.  Isn’t that overpopulation?  Wouldn’t it be easier if there were fewer people to contend with on the highways?”
“Heck, no” I replied. “That’s because we don’t have a mass transit system!  What are we doing all riding around in cars?  What happened to bikes, to walking, to public transit?”
“So, you don’t think its as simple as slowing down on population growth?  Listen”, he said. “When I was born in 1940’s, the United States had 130 million people. In 2046 , when I am 100 years old, we will have around 400 million.  I’m just guessing, of course, that I will make it to the ripe old age of 100, now that we have these newly improved life expectancies.  Don’t you think that all these people will negatively affect our public spaces, our national parks, our school systems and waiting times in doctor’s offices?  How many people does it take before we are overcrowded?”  
“Try to be alone!” he added, woefully. “Just try to find a place outdoors where you can sit there for an hour and not see anybody.  Just try it.  See what happens.  It is clear to me that we have taken over all the habitats on earth,  plants and animals, ours and theirs.  There is no place left to hide!” he exclaimed.
“Sounds pretty boring to me.”  I replied.  “Why would we want to be that isolated from people?  I love people.”
“Well, you might feel differently if you were a bird or other animal,” he said..  “How often can an animal  find a spot where they can sit down in a quiet place and munch peacefully on a carcass or take a drink from a stream without running into one of us?  They must have permanent indigestion from all our commotion.”
I replied to him, “That’s not because of overpopulation.  We don’t have to spread out like that.  We could cluster our living arrangements more densely, like bees or ants, and take less land from other animals, give them more space.  Blame that experience on our spreading suburbs.  That’s not overpopulation.”
“Okay, then, help me out here.” he said. “If every time I bring up an example of overpopulation, you make it sound like the problem is something else.  Is there, then, no such thing as overpopulation?  Shouldn’t we slow down population growth?”
“Nope,” I said. “We could keep growing forever. Relax! Let things happen naturally.  It doesn’t have to be orchestrated.  There’s no need to overreact. Nature knows how to take care of things, just you wait and see.  One untreatable infectious disease brings down our population size a whole lot faster than any slow, complicated policy change.  All it takes is a couple of unexpected food and energy shortages to do the trick without any need for intelligent action on our part.  And I haven’t even brought up the important impact of the inevitable war yet.”  
And with that, I walked away, fully confident of my position in this argument.


The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See  was produced several years ago by Greg Craven.  I find his video very compelling and pertinent to this discussion. 

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When do we need our brain stimulated?

Is it better after breakfast or before?
Is later in the evening more effective?

Should we stimulate the brain while reading our emails or during chat moments, or after our bike rides?  Before swimming or after yoga?
While taking our morning shower or after we finish the gardening?

Should we go on our dementia prevention program after taking the grandkids to the park or before?
Is it better to stimulate our brains during our volunteer work at the hospital with or without coffee?
How many months of alzheimers can I prevent if I walk five miles rather than three on a daily basis?

What stimulates the brain?
Cooking meals and mopping floors?
Computer work?
Caring for grandchildren?
Thinking out loud?
Writing poetry?
And does it matter whether I am doing brain stimulation alone or with a friend?

This is just too difficult to figure out.
Excuse me, but gotta go.
I’m too busy to bother with it anymore.

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